Introducing the Beta Reading Worksheet!

by Jami Gold on August 12, 2014

in Writing Stuff

Question mark surrounded by text: The Beta Reading Worksheet -- What to Ask & What to Answer

This past weekend, I guest blogged at Anne R. Allen’s site with a post about beta readers: where to find them and how to keep them. The guest post built off several articles I’ve shared here on my blog, such as my suggestions of how to find beta readers and my advice about being a good beta reader ourselves.

As I mentioned in the guest post, many of us find beta readers by offering to exchange our work with other writers in a “I’ll give you feedback if you give me feedback” arrangement. That structure means we have to do a good job with our feedback if we want to continue our beta buddy exchange program.

A Bad Beta Reader…

One commenter on my guest post at Anne’s blog wondered if much of the advice is just common sense. Well…yeah. *smile*

Giving the type of feedback we’d like to receive is like a writers’ version of the Golden Rule. Unfortunately, common sense isn’t as common as it should be.

Virtually every writer who’s received critique partner or beta reader feedback (and sometimes this includes feedback from supposedly professional editors) has horror stories. Most of us have come across critiquers who insult us and/or our writing. Or those who try to steamroll our voice or rewrite the story to match their vision.

Those horror stories are shockingly common. So “common” sense? Nope.

And then there are the flat-out unethical critiquers Jordan McCollum posted about last week. I’m appalled at the behavior Jordan pointed out as happening to her or those she knows.

I hope we’re all in agreement that it would be unethical to:

  • withhold feedback from the author and then trash it in an online review after it’s released, or
  • negatively review a book we’ve beta read without reading the final version to see if the issues were resolved, or
  • engage in any of the other points she makes in her post.

Agreed? Good.

A Good Beta Reader…

Yet, just as harsh criticism isn’t helpful because it discourages and causes defensiveness, false compliments aren’t helpful either. So how can we be honest about things we don’t like without being mean?

Author Connie Flynn advises that we should avoid “Why did you…?” feedback comments. Why questions along those lines tend to put people on the defensive. She instead shares these excellent suggested critique phrases:

  • I don’t understand…(whatever it is).
  • The detail seems…(to slow the pace, insufficient, whatever).
  • The…(character, setting, etc.) is coming across…(feisty, depressing, important, etc.). Is that what you intended?
  • Did you want to convey (irritation, happiness, whatever)?
  • How did…(Sally get to the store, John saw down the tree, etc.)? (Use to point out missing information.)
  • Wouldn’t a character…(who has such and such a trait) do or not do…(such and such)? (Use to point out inconsistent behavior.)
  • Wasn’t…(John a blue-eyed man, Sally submissive, etc.) in Chapter (xxx)? (Use to point out inconsistent information.)
  • Carol’s (goal) seems to be… . Is that correct?
  • Your story question seems to be… .
  • I’m confused about John’s motivation.
  • And most important . . . I really liked… . (end on a strength)

These phrases echo many I’ve used over the years, and I haven’t had anyone tell me yet that I’m too harsh, so… *smile* They seem like good suggestions to me.

What If We Don’t Know What to Look For or Ask About?

When we first start beta reading, we might not know what kind of feedback is possible or appropriate, and I wondered if a cheat sheet of what to look for might be helpful. Enter my friend Shelly Chalmers, who sent me a “beta reading worksheet” she’d downloaded from an RWA forum, which I recognized as the judging scoresheet from RWA’s Fantasy, Futuristic, and Paranormal chapter’s On the Far Side contest (one I’ve judged several times).

I’ve mentioned before that RWA members have the benefit of a large variety of writing contests, especially compared to other genres. These contests are generally well run and use scoresheets to assist judges with objective scoring and feedback.

In other words, these scoresheets contain a couple dozen questions probing the writing quality and storytelling craft of a contest entry. Sounds like a good start for analyzing stories of a beta read, doesn’t it?

Maybe when we beta read, we’re not sure what to look for or comment on. Or maybe when we request a beta read, we’re not sure what questions to ask our beta readers. To that end, I took the idea borne from Shelly’s email and the RWA forums and put it on steroids. *grin*

I’ve entered and judged a lot of contests, so I had over a dozen scoresheets from which to grab ideas. With profound thanks to RWA and its chapters for the original scoresheets, I took pieces and parts and merged them into a new creation, a single Frankenstein listing of points to consider for a beta read.

Introducing the Beta Reading Worksheet!

First, a note that this worksheet should not feel like an obligation, nor is it meant as an all-inclusive list of every question possible. Instead, these questions are meant merely to trigger thoughts of what worked and what didn’t. Depending on our process, we might even be able to use this worksheet for self-editing by gaining insights into the areas to study and improve.

For more of that “common” sense…

  • If this doesn’t work for you, don’t use it.
  • If you instinctively know how to approach all but one area of analysis, it’s okay to look at just that one section for ideas.
  • In short, as with all things related to feedback, take what works for you and ignore the rest.

Screen shot of the two-page Beta Reading Worksheet

(click on the image to zoom)

Click to download the Beta Reading Worksheet — MS Word ’07 version (.docx)

Click to download the Beta Reading Worksheet — MS Word earlier version (.doc)

On contest scoresheets, questions like these are typically answered with a score of 1 to 5 to come up with an entry’s ranking:

  1. Needs Extensive Work
  2. Fair
  3. Good
  4. Very Good
  5. Excellent

Of course, we can use these questions however we want, as a checklist of things to think about, a master list of questions we could ask, or any other of a dozen uses. Remember, this is a tool, not necessarily a to-do list.

Personally, I wouldn’t send this whole list to a beta reader because it could be overwhelming and distract their big-picture reading. Instead, I’d ask a few overview questions (like from the last section about marking issues). Then if the beta reader requested more direction after they were done reading, I might send this sheet or a good portion of it. For me, I want my beta readers to use these questions only to organize their thoughts, not to direct their reading—but my goals are not necessarily your goals.

Hopefully, Connie’s suggestions above and this worksheet will help those of us who struggle with knowing what to say and how to say it. And don’t forget to check out my guest post at Anne R. Allen’s blog with more beta-reading tips. With any luck, we’ll be able to keep the writing and beta-reading communities helpful and encouraging. *smile*

Do you have horror stories of bad or unethical beta readers? Or have you heard from others with those stories? What do you think of Connie’s comment wording suggestions? Do you struggle with knowing what to ask your beta readers or knowing what to comment on when you beta read? Will this worksheet be helpful?

P.S. Don’t forget to check out my other helpful writing worksheets.

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86 Comments below - Time to Add your own.

Tamara LeBlanc August 12, 2014 at 6:51 am

I’m gonna say it…you’re an effing Goddess!!!
Yesterday I was perusing your posts, looking for nuggets of wisdom I’d either missed or wanted to go over again and found, of course, a crap load of amazingness!! And as always, this post does not disappoint!
The beta worksheet you included…wonderful! Thanks for that 🙂
And yes, like most authors who need feedback I’ve had some iffy betas. One told me that my red-haired heroine’s copper hair wasn’t appealing…she seriously said that most people aren’t attracted to “Gingers” and I should think about changing it to blonde or brunette. YES, she said that!
Hey, some people are just stupid.
Thank you for your wisdom and have a great writing week,
Tamara

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Jami Gold August 12, 2014 at 9:12 am

Hi Tamara,

Ugh. That’s awful! Nothing like turning a personal opinion into a “rule,” much less stating that diverse stories aren’t welcome. O.o

I’m glad you recognized that we don’t owe awful betas a repeat opportunity. 🙂 Thanks for sharing and for the comment!

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Sharon Hughson August 12, 2014 at 8:52 am

I did several posts on my blog about my experience with beta readers and my first novel. Since I didn’t know what to ask them to look for, I did research and then came up with my own checklist (somewhat similar to yours).
As an author, we should have an idea what things might need work in our manuscript. I know I’m abysmal at describing because I despise lengthy descriptions. Since my novel is a fantasy, the element of setting is extremely important. So I asked my betas to comment about both of these things.
In my mind, if an author wants to get the best feedback they need to ask the right questions. I think the phrasing suggested in your post is great. I was lucky that all of my betas prefaced their comments with “if you like it, use it and if not, ignore it.” This kept me from being too emotionally vulnerable when I read their input.
Truthfully, we would be wrong to ignore any input. We should consider it carefully. If more than two of my betas commented on something in my book, it got changed. Sadly, my protagonist was deemed unsympathetic by all of them and that required major rewrites. Now, when I read her she seems too flat. I may have gone too far and taken away the snarky spunk that appealed to me in the first place.

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Jami Gold August 12, 2014 at 2:12 pm

Hi Sharon,

Great point! Yes, I kept this worksheet generic to all genres, so certain elements specific to our genre aren’t on the list. But as I mentioned, this isn’t meant to be an all-inclusive list of everything we could ask (which could be infinity long 😉 ). And I would say that we don’t want to ask all the questions anyway because we wouldn’t want our beta readers so focused on the questions that they’re not paying attention to the big picture of the story.

That said, as you mentioned, genres with large amounts of worldbuilding might want another question or two about setting. Romances might want questions about the chemistry between the characters or other elements of the romance plot. Suspenses or mysteries might question the quality of the mystery or “keeping readers in the dark.” Thrillers might add questions about the villain/antagonist or stakes.

As you pointed out, the more we know about our weaknesses, the more we can focus on those specific areas. That feedback is going to be far more useful for us than overwhelming our readers with too many questions about issues we’re not actually concerned about.

And I agree that even if we disagree with the specifics of the feedback, we can usually find a nugget of truth to consider. Maybe they’re interpreting a character’s actions wrong because they’re confused about the motivations we laid out in the previous chapter. 🙂 Especially when we hear similar feedback from multiple readers, we should listen.

But as you discovered, we also have to find a way to make the feedback work for us. That means ensuring we’re not losing our story or voice along the way. Good luck with finding that balance and thanks for the comment!

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Erin Quinn August 12, 2014 at 10:04 am

Great blog, Jami, but I’m going to disagree on the point of a beta reader. A beta reader is foremost a READER. You don’t want your reader looking for problems or following a roadmap to make sure you’ve hit the mark. You want your reader to read like a reader–for enjoyment. I boil my Beta questions down to these few:

1. Tell me if you find yourself thinking about your laundry, grocery list, cleaning toilets (etc) at any place in this book. Zzzzz in the margin is clear enough.

2. Tell me if you loved something so I don’t accidentally delete it in manic editing. Hearts, smiley faces and exclamations in margin are clear enough.

3. Confused? A simple WTF or ???? in margin works. If you know what’s bugging you, tell me. If not, don’t worry. I’ll figure it out.

4. Typos–if you see it, circle it. Don’t read for typos, though. I have other readers who do that.

5. After you’re done reading the book, please let me know…is there anything that happened in the book that you thought shouldn’t have? On the flip side, anything you thought I was building to and didn’t deliver?

This last question always gives me the best feedback. The reader usually finds threads that you lost, changed or didn’t realize you were weaving. 🙂

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Jami Gold August 12, 2014 at 2:33 pm

Hi Erin,

I actually agree with you. 😉 Yes, a beta reader is first and foremost a reader, which is why they’re not a replacement for editors. And if we sent this full list to our beta readers, we’d likely overwhelm them and/or get them focusing on too many details and not enough on big picture thoughts.

I love the “notes” in the margin approach you’ve taken. 🙂 And that last question is great! I came up with a similar one (the “promise of the premise” question in the Overview section) as part of designing this worksheet, and I think I’ll add it to my personal list (that question might uncover unintended themes too).

Previously when I’ve asked for a beta read, I’ve usually stuck to 3 issues:

  • Anything that takes them out of the story (confusing wording, voice/characterization seems off, too repetitive, no conflict/tension, etc.)
  • Pacing issues (too slow, feels too “one note,” not enough of an arc, scene goes on too long, etc.)
  • Emotional feedback (stream-of-consciousness emotional reactions)

By no means would I ever send out this whole list to a beta reader–unless the reader requested it because they felt unable to analyze on their own. Even in that case, I’d probably give them a few overview questions (like either of our short lists), and then ask them to NOT look at these questions until they were done reading. In that case, they’d be using these only to organize their thoughts and not to direct their reading.

Again, this is all about what works for each of us. We each probably have different weaknesses we want readers to check, so I wanted to come up with a “master list” of sorts that could help us identify those weaknesses.

Also, I know many writers who want to beta read, but don’t know how or think they wouldn’t be good at it. For those, I wanted this list to give them suggestions on the things they can look for or to help them get their brain into the right mindset of having a critical eye. Lastly, as I mentioned, some might find this list helpful for self-editing.

So it’s all about taking this as a starting point of ideas, and not as a to-do list. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your insights and questions for beta readers!

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Hetty van Boven December 17, 2015 at 1:31 pm

Thank you, this really resonates with me and I hope you don’t mind my copying and putting it in my research folder.
I am a long way from needing Beta readers, but do have a circle of friends who say they would love the job!

Hety

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Jami Gold December 17, 2015 at 5:31 pm

Hi Hetty,

Aww, thanks! I hope it’s helpful for you. 😀

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Tara April 26, 2016 at 7:17 am

Hi Erin,
I know this is an old post, but I just wanted to say thanks for your beta-reader questions. I hope you don’t mind, I’m going to use this for my first attempt at finding a beta reader. 🙂 Thanks!

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Anne R. Allen August 12, 2014 at 10:58 am

Great worksheets, Jami. And thanks for the heads-up and link to Jordan McCollum’s piece on abusive betas. Sociopaths and bulles abound online, so it should be no surprise they offer to “beta read” when all they want to do is inflict misery on their fellow human beings, but still, I was kind of shocked. I hope writers will be extra careful now when vetting a beta.

So much of the feedback we get is going to be based on the reader’s agenda and not on the work, so we need to consider the source for every suggestion. Some people hate redheads. Some people hate chocolate. Some people hate everybody who isn’t exactly like them. We can’t let their quirks affect our work. Just take what resonates and leave the rest.

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Jami Gold August 12, 2014 at 2:40 pm

Hi Anne,

Thank you for the push to come up with this worksheet. 🙂

And so true about how reading is always subjective. Every beta reader I know has different “hated” words. One hates “smirked,” another hates “wiped,” another hates “slackened,” another hates “startled,” yet another hates “stifled”–and no, I’m not making any of those up. LOL!

If I were to avoid every “trigger” word of every beta reader, it’d affect my voice, because I’d be paying attention to their word choice and not mine. As you said, people have their quirks, and we can’t let those affect our work. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Inderpreet Kaur Uppal August 12, 2014 at 11:42 am

It is a very comprehensive post. I like all the tips and good vs bad points for beta readers you have given.
Common sense is quite uncommon.
I am venturing into beta reading so this is god sent.
Thanks and I will visit again.

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Jami Gold August 12, 2014 at 2:41 pm

Hi Inderpreet,

Good luck with your venture into beta reading! I hope this helps. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!

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Christina Hawthorne August 12, 2014 at 12:24 pm

An excellent post, Jami, and thank you for the worksheet. How it works for me I won’t know until I use it, but my first impression is that it’s excellent and at the very least an excellent starting point. I agree with Connie’s wording suggestions, but then I don’t see where there’s room for a confrontational style in the beta reading process at all. 🙂

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Jami Gold August 12, 2014 at 2:43 pm

Hi Christina,

I’ve had beta readers insist that I make a certain change, and that’s certainly “confrontational.” As I said, unfortunately, we’re likely to run into horror stories.

Good luck figuring out the best way to make the work for you. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Mary Roya August 12, 2014 at 12:26 pm

That worksheet was a god sent. Sometimes, I just don’t know what to write when I review a story. I usually just give my impressions.

I’ve always thought if you don’t like something, its okay. Just be fair and kind when you report on the book.

Very much enjoyed your article. Thanks for sharing.

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Dawn Linse August 12, 2014 at 1:46 pm

Jami,
This is great! I needed to find something about expectations for a beta reader. This is awesome. Thanks for all your tips, very much appreciated.

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Jami Gold August 12, 2014 at 2:51 pm

Hi Dawn,

I’m happy to help, and I hope you find a way to make this work for you. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Jami Gold August 12, 2014 at 2:44 pm

Hi Mary,

There’s nothing wrong with giving impressions either. But I know when I go to review a book, my mind often goes blank with nothing more to say other than “Uh, I liked it.” LOL! Hopefully these questions will help get a bit deeper than that. 😉 Thanks for the comment!

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Ally August 12, 2014 at 1:45 pm

Thank you for this excellent resource Jami! I love the way this is set up and the delineation within each area. A definite must in a writer’s toolkit!

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Jami Gold August 12, 2014 at 2:46 pm

Hi Ally,

You’re welcome! I hoped that by showing the various sections, those headings alone might help us focus our thoughts. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Robert Doucette August 12, 2014 at 2:35 pm

Thank you for the Worksheet. I am finishing a novel and plan to pursue the “I’ll review your if you review mine” method. Your worksheet will be very useful.

This leads me to bad reviewers not mentioned yet. Some reviewers stop after the first paragraph saying “It’s OK, I guess. It’s not my thing but it’s fine.” Another type ignores the book in front of him says, “Rather than talk to you about the romantic cozy you’ve written. Let me tell you about the dark, violent Joseph Wambaugh version you should have written.”

Both of these examples come from writing seminars where speakers privately reviewed previously submitted writing samples.

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Jami Gold August 12, 2014 at 3:17 pm

Hi Robert,

Ugh. Yep, there’s no shortage of horror stories, unfortunately. I hope this helps you figure out how to keep things on track with your feedback and with what kind of feedback you’d like to receive in return. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Laurie Evans August 12, 2014 at 4:09 pm

Thank you! I love all your worksheets. Very helpful.

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Jami Gold August 12, 2014 at 5:20 pm

Hi Laurie,

You’re welcome! 🙂 I hope it helps.

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Carradee August 12, 2014 at 4:21 pm

As a teenager, posting fanfic online, I remember outright begging in an author’s note for someone to leave a negative review, and I’ve always figured that negative comments I disagreed with would be useful fodder for building characters that differed from me.

Considering my attitude about that—and my own, erm, background (*cough* I’ve yet to get a troll harsher than family *cough*)—I personally find it most effective to toss a story at a beta reader with instructions to “Say whatever you like.” Their responses can tell me as much about the reader as they do the about the story, and I can always ask a clarifying question or three later, if I need to verify the root of a particular comment.

Even in everyday life, if I get an urge to scoff or recoil at something someone says, I try to force myself to stop and evaluate how I’d respond if the words came from another source, to seek the truth buried in the words. Sometimes the truth’s about the speaker rather than me. Sometimes the truth’s hidden in what isn’t said rather than what is said. But there’s truth in it somewhere, and a knee-jerk reaction is a good indicator that a particular truth is something I should pay attention to.

I read psychology textbooks when I was 9-ish, and the entire Bible before that. There’s likely a connection.

All that aside, though, I’m well aware that I’m not exactly, well, normal. Your worksheet would certainly be good for the more technical/trained-in-writing type of beta reader. It makes me want to create a layman version, though. 😀

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Carradee August 12, 2014 at 4:23 pm

Note: My attitude also may be why I don’t mind if folks review based on beta copies. That is what they read. My stories are rarely significantly changed from one form to the other, though.

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Jami Gold August 12, 2014 at 5:35 pm

Hi Carradee,

Understood. For many stories though, there could be huge changes from the beta read version to the final version–and only the author would know for sure. So I can’t think of a situation where it would be appropriate for a beta reader to review what could be a very different book unless they knew the issues they’re bringing up still existed (especially if their review is negative and/or focuses on the problems they saw in the b-r version). Thanks for the clarification! 🙂

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Carradee August 13, 2014 at 8:54 am

True, but if there have been significant changes, the comment/review will eventually get downvoted/replied to.

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Jami Gold August 13, 2014 at 9:29 am

Hi Carradee,

That’s a possibility, but not a given. (…at least on a place like Goodreads or Amazon, although I suspect it’s more common on Wattpad, where you have experience.)

On Amazon, the number of reviews–especially for new releases–is generally fewer, so a misleading negative review could do a lot of damage before being “corrected.” And potential readers might not trust the downvotes/replies anyway due to the reputation of sockpuppets and trolls on Amazon and Goodreads. Trolls abound in both directions. :-/

In other words, there’s a good reason for stating that behavior (essentially reviewing the wrong book) would be unethical on platforms like Goodreads or Amazon. Other platforms, such as Wattpad, might have their own code of conduct. Thanks for the comment! 🙂

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Jami Gold August 12, 2014 at 5:31 pm

Hi Carradee,

Good point about following up with clarification questions! In my experience, many authors don’t do that. I suspect there’s an amount of embarrassment about going back to someone for a story they didn’t 100% love. But when I’ve asked follow-up questions of my readers, I’ve gotten great information.

(NOTE to anyone reading the comments: These are not defensive or whiny questions like “Why didn’t you love my hero?” but “digging deeper” questions like “Were there specific lines or aspects that made my hero unlikable, or do you have any suggestions for how to make him more likable?”)

And thanks for sharing your advice about considering the source with feedback–both in what they say and in how we react. If you do come up with a “layman’s version,” let me know. I’d love to see it. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Kirsten August 12, 2014 at 7:48 pm

I’ve been incredibly fortunate when it comes to finding other writers to read my work, in part perhaps because I’m always eager to read theirs! Since I’m always looking for tips on offering better feedback this worksheet is another slice of awesome. 🙂
I’m curious though. Where does critique leave off and beta reading begin? Is critique reserved for the earlier stages of the story creation process, and beta reading for the nearly finished product? Would the questions on this worksheet be useful for critiques as well as beta reading?

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Jami Gold August 12, 2014 at 9:40 pm

Hi Kirsten,

That’s a great question, and one that everyone might have a different answer for. 😉

In general, critique is more detail and writing craft oriented, perhaps going line-by-line through our work. Because of that intensity, critique groups or partners typically look at a chapter or so at a time. As you noted, some partners or groups will send work as they complete it to get feedback on the direction of the story or other elements while drafting is in progress. Some of us need that intense feedback, and some don’t, so there’s no “better” or “worse”–only what’s right for us.

In contrast–and in general–beta reading is more high level, analyzing the story as a reader and not (strictly as) a writer. To that end, beta readers usually read a completed draft all at once. They’re looking at the story as a whole–big picture stuff with less zooming in. Some of us want overall impression feedback, and some don’t. Again, no wrong answer.

Obviously, there’s some overlap between the types of feedback we might give or receive. Either style could result in feedback about likability of characters, point of view, telling vs. showing, believability of plot events, etc. However, the all-at-once reading style of beta reading tends to aid with feedback of the overall arc of the story, plot, and characters, simply because readers can see the full picture, while critique reading might spread out over months, which makes it harder to remember the arc threads from chapter to chapter.

Of course, there are exceptions to all of this. 🙂 Some people in critique partner exchanges might read all at once, and some in beta reading exchanges might ask for help mid-draft.

As far as this worksheet, the gist of most of the questions came from contest scoresheets, which typically analyze the first X number of pages. So many questions probably could be used with critiques. Some questions are focused more on the story as a whole, and for those, they’d be more appropriate for beta reading only (unless as part of one of those all-at-once exceptions to usual critiquing).

I hope that helps explain where the fuzzy lines between the terms usually fall. 🙂 Let me know if you still have questions. Thanks for the comment!

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Kirsten August 17, 2014 at 2:01 pm

Your answer totally cleared this up. 🙂
I’ve had some writers look at my story chapter by chapter just as you described, and while I learned a LOT from that process, I lacked the big picture feedback that is possible from a straight through reading of the story.
Now I know what to ask for in each situation, and what I can offer when reading others’ work as well.

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Jami Gold August 17, 2014 at 5:34 pm

Hi Kirsten,

I’m happy to help. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!

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Laura W-A August 20, 2014 at 8:54 am

That helped me, too. I asked for someone to read a partial draft once just to see if the writing was any good, and the person freaked out because the book wasn’t done. She also said she couldn’t comment at all on a separate scene I sent her because there was no background info. All I wanted was to know if the *writing* in that scene was good! Argh. I don’t think I even used the words beta or critique – I just asked if she would read something… Now I know what to ask for. 🙂

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Jami Gold August 20, 2014 at 8:57 am

Hi Laura,

Interesting! Yes, if we’re not on the same wavelength as far as expectations, others might be very confused when our request doesn’t come with specifics. Thanks for sharing that example! 🙂

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Shelly Chalmers August 12, 2014 at 8:04 pm

Thanks for the shout out – and nice work! You bring in some very intriguing points to keep track of throughout the beta read. Definitely getting added to my resources to pull out. Thanks! 🙂

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Jami Gold August 12, 2014 at 9:41 pm

Hi Shelly,

Personally, I’ll probably go through these questions only after a read, just to make sure I covered everything in my notes. 🙂 Thanks for the idea and the comment!

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Jacqueline Driggers August 13, 2014 at 1:51 am

Well, I offer something in the way of beta reading that I haven’t ran across too often. I do beta reading for a fee, as part of my list of writer’s services that I offer. The fee is based on the number of pages in the book, so a person with a 50 page book would pay much less than a person with a 300 page book. What I do is read the book in pdf format, highlighting any areas that I think need attention. In addition, I have a page by page word file that goes with this, with my comments and thoughts as I read the book.

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Jami Gold August 13, 2014 at 8:59 am

Hi Jacqueline,

In my big post with a list of where to find beta readers, I mention a few sources for people beta reading for a fee, so I knew the concept existed. 🙂 Everyone has to decide what works for them as far as time vs. money (and depending on the fee… vs. would the money be better spent on a trained editor). Thanks for sharing your perspective!

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Mary Anders August 13, 2014 at 2:02 am

Fantastic post! I’m going to pass this sheet out to some of my beta readers and members of my critique groups. It’s true that a writer may not want all betas or critique partners to be focused on every one of these elements, but it certainly provides a wonderful starting place.

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Jami Gold August 13, 2014 at 9:01 am

Hi Mary,

Exactly! We have to find the method that balances obtaining the information we want with the risk of overwhelming. 🙂 I hope it’s helpful. Thanks for the comment!

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Cecilia August 13, 2014 at 2:49 am

thank you so much. I am going to link this post to my writers group so they can come and read it for themselves. Terrific advice.

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Jami Gold August 13, 2014 at 9:01 am

Hi Cecilia,

I’m happy to help. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!

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Serena Yung August 13, 2014 at 1:37 pm

Horror stories about beta readers trying to change your whole voice/ style? Yes!!

There was one story where I was writing in a more flowery, Victorian prose style, with a few metaphors (not A LOT of metaphors, but some.) The people beta reading for me clearly really dislike more flowery Victorian prose, haha, because they told me to trim those metaphors and make it “economical”. I’m not saying they’re wrong, because being economical and having next to zero metaphors is a valid style. Just saying that it wasn’t helpful to try to change my Victorian-esque style into their Hemingway style, haha. Of course I wouldn’t want to write purple prose, but I wanted SOME metaphors and elaborate emotional descriptions. In fact, I was trying to emulate “The Mill on the Floss” by George Eliot, which is one of my favorite books ever—the complex psychological and emotional descriptions are AMAZING. 😀 Yes, I know that many modern readers dislike Victorian style prose, but readers who DO enjoy reading 19th century novels DO exist after all, so you could say I was sort of targeting that bunch of readers, lol.

One of Jordan’s tips on how to be an ethical beta reader really struck me: Remember to put in a lot of positive feedback as well! This is very important partly because it’s helpful to tell the writer what IS working and therefore the writer should keep doing, and also because writers are emotional creatures; if you make them feel good about themselves overall (though you also make them aware of some shortcomings), they will be more likely to be open to criticism, haha. Having an all-negative critique may make writers defensive, as they are emotional human beings after all, with a pride complex, lol.

Great questions on this worksheet! The questions I would most like my readers to answer would be:
–were there any parts you found confusing or that you didn’t understand?
–were there any moments where my character acts inconsistently, or their actions don’t make sense from their motivations? (So I either wrote this wrong, or I didn’t make the motivations clear.)
–any out-of-character moments?
–any plot holes? (OMG I hate plot holes so, so, so much!! Grrr….!)
–What are your overall feelings about each of my main characters? Do you like/love/dislike/ hate them? Why? Do you sympathize with them? Why? Which character is your favorite, and why?

(Too many why’s, perhaps, haha.)

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Jami Gold August 13, 2014 at 4:00 pm

Hi Serena,

Ooo, great example! I know I’ve read some stories where I’ve commented on a couple of voice or POV related issues at the beginning of the story, and then I see that’s just the author’s style.

What I’ll do then is edit those comments to point out what seems to be their style and asking if that was intentional. I might note whether I know of any marketing issues (i.e., whether the style might affect sales), but I never tell the author that they need to change it or “correct” the issues (although I might note “If this wasn’t intentional, here’s an example of how to make it more xyz”).

So that’s a way we can point out potential issues while still respecting the fact that we don’t know the author’s goals. That’s not the only approach to balance informative and respectful, but that’s what has worked for me. 🙂

Great point about why we want to include positive feedback as well–in addition to the issue of needing to know what they’re doing right, authors will take the negative better if it’s sandwiched between the positive.

And I love your questions! Thanks for sharing your insights and thanks for the comment!

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Serena Yung August 13, 2014 at 7:19 pm

I like your approach. If only all beta readers were as sensitive and considerate as you are! 😀

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Jami Gold August 14, 2014 at 9:54 am

Hi Serena,

I’m not perfect, but I try. 🙂 Thanks!

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Julie Musil August 13, 2014 at 1:41 pm

What a great idea! It’s nice to know that my little beta circle seems to work this way naturally, but it’s great to have a guide like this. Thanks so much.

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Jami Gold August 13, 2014 at 4:01 pm

Hi Julie,

Exactly! I’ve never used a list like this for my beta readers, but I’ve probably unconsciously answered many of these questions when giving feedback. So it might be helpful to have it written out for reference. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Serena Yung August 13, 2014 at 2:04 pm

Oh I forgot to add: I think one of Jordan’s tips was to not create a profile for your author’s book on Goodreads? Well, I still made new book profiles for these four Chinese online stories, because since they are online stories, their authors will probably not make formal book profiles for them (most of them don’t try to publish their stories in print or ebook form either), AND they’re in Chinese, so it’s even less likely that they’ll make a profile on Goodreads, lol. But then I really do want to display what I’m reading, and therefore I created them as book entries (since they ARE kind of “books”; they’re novels.)

I think the worry is that a beta reader will create a book profile and then trash it with one star reviews and destructive criticism? Well, since I committed to reading these online stories, I must quite like them already, otherwise I wouldn’t commit to them, haha. So I will most likely give at least 3 star and mostly positive reviews anyway. 3 Stars means “good to very good” in my book, lol. No pun intended…

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Jami Gold August 13, 2014 at 4:05 pm

Hi Serena,

Interesting! Yes, Jordan mentioned that item as making a profile of a to-be-published book, but I think what you’re saying here is that these stories aren’t going to be published, so they’re an exception. If I understand correctly, I agree with you. I think the issue is more about making profiles for books before they’re ready. Thanks for sharing that unusual situation! 🙂

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Judith Anne Horner August 14, 2014 at 10:53 am

Thank you so much for posting this. I have subscribed to your newsletters.

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Jami Gold August 14, 2014 at 10:54 am

Hi Judith,

You’re welcome! I hope it’s helpful. 🙂

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Nancy Raven Smith September 8, 2015 at 10:48 am

Great article on Beta Readers and how to help guide them to the answers you need! I’d like to add something I learned as a screenwriter before writing books. As the article mentions, don’t pay attention to the suggestions for fixing a problem from a beta reader. But I was also taught that if 2 or more beta reader make different suggestions about the same thing, that means there is a problem there for the author to work on.

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Jami Gold September 8, 2015 at 10:57 am

Hi Nancy,

Very true! While beta readers might not have the right ideas for how to fix a problem, we should still take a close look at what triggered their thought that something needed work–especially if we get similar notes from more than one reader. Thanks for the comment!

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Redd Becker January 22, 2016 at 4:15 pm

I’m in the process of enlisting beta readers and this is very helpful. Thank you

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Jami Gold January 22, 2016 at 4:17 pm

Hi Redd,

Happy to help, and good luck! 🙂

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Kim Daniels March 6, 2016 at 3:15 pm

This is so incredibly helpful for us Beta Readers. Thank you for putting it together!

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Jami Gold March 9, 2016 at 2:56 pm

Hi Kim,

You’re welcome! I’m happy to help. 🙂

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Clifton Hill March 24, 2016 at 7:15 am

Great notes, Jami, but I’m not seeing the “magic button” that provides a big list of beta readers for me without any effort. Ah well.

Did have a question related: Anyone aware of an effective, consistent way to provide an ARC ebook to betas that would allow them to annotate and then access and provide those notes? I know how to do this for a Kindle eReader, but android Kindle App doesn’t appear to allow a way to access the annotated notes for a “document” (any item not purchased in the Amazon store). I’ve heard it is easy to do from the Apple Kindle app, and not sure on epub ereaders like Kobo and whatnot.

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Carol Nissenson April 14, 2016 at 8:43 pm

Maybe it’s because I write YA, but I find getting beta readers is the toughest, because ideally I want someone who would be part of the potential market for my novel. A 45-year-old man is probably not going to be entranced by the same novel that would delight a 14-year-old girl, whereas an adult mystery has a very broad potential audience. Sometimes parents are wary of letting kids participate. Kids, on the other hand, are dealing with a lot of required reading for school and are hesitant to add more if they know nothing about it.

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Tam Francis May 19, 2016 at 10:50 am

This is spectacular! Thank you so much for sharing this. I’m just getting ready for a round of beta-reads for my time-travel, murder mystery, paranormal romance! Woo hoo!

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Jami Gold May 19, 2016 at 4:59 pm

Hi Tam,

You’re welcome! I hope it’s helpful. 🙂

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Monica August 31, 2016 at 12:34 pm

Thank you very much for this list! I have an one beta reader reply with excellent information. However, I needed to make sure the others did the same. I love the worksheet! I suppose that I never thought a beta reader would do those awful things! It makes me really nervous to get a beta reader offline now. The ones I currently have are local. I’ll do more research before I reach out to more beta readers.

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Karee December 29, 2016 at 6:20 pm

Great resource! I don’t have a beta currently, but I always use these resources to double-check my work and make sure it’s easy to read (which sadly takes reading my own stuff till I’m numb to it!)

But I’d like to add, from witnessing others using betas, that it’s also as unethical to leave ONLY POSITIVE beta reviews (I’ve seen people do this in fear of hurting the writer’s feelings, ALSO to make the writer look bad later on [to make the the beta look like a better writer later on]). I’ve flat out had someone tell me a chapter was CRAP, but you know what? It’s was amazing advice because I felt something was off but couldn’t pinpoint it, and trying to fix it led my writing to evolve. So NOT point out mistakes doesn’t help the writer, it doesn’t help them learn how to tell the stories they see in their heads, especially when a reader gets the guts to offer constructive criticism after the piece has been published. It’s also discredit’s the beta AS a beta/editor for future projects – especially when their motive for withholding needed corrections prove to be for personal gain.

And thank you for sharing these! Learning how to Beta-read absolutely helps writers improve before handing it to a beta. Great resource <3

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Jami Gold January 16, 2017 at 12:03 pm

Hi Karee,

I know that feeling of being numb to our own work. (I have a post about how to gain distance that might be helpful?)

I completely agree with the problem of only leaving good comments too. When I reach out to beta readers, I get very specific about how much I want to know about problems they find and give other reassurances that I won’t be offended by negative feedback.

As far as trying to make a writer look bad, yikes! Thanks for chiming in with another issue to watch out for! 🙂

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Margaret January 16, 2017 at 6:36 am

Thanks so much for the worksheet, it’s really useful to me as I’m a first-time beta reader and writer looking very shortly for beta readers; this really helps me to prioritise what I’m looking for feedback on, in a format that hopefully won’t scare people away! My next challenge: finding the right beta readers! 🙂

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Jami Gold January 16, 2017 at 11:50 am

Hi Margaret,

In some ways, that’s a never-ending challenge as well because any good ones we find might not be available when we need them. So I wish you all the luck, and I’m glad this could help! 😀

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