Beta reader reactions

The Adversarial Ally


Three Deaths – Josip Novakovich

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Jay Aitch

Full Member
Aug 29, 2014
Hello fellow Litopians,

I've just received my first proper beta reader feedback of a manuscript. Just the first fifty pages.

I found the experience instructive, constructive and daunting.

I also experienced some uncomfortable humbling of my ego.

What are other people's experiences, and is it reasonable to encounter doubts?
Jesus, man... the only times when I'm googling 'divorce lawyer in your area' is when my partner tells me what he thought about my newest chapter.

It's harsh. Sometimes it stings where you least want it to. My first reaction to criticism is always anger :oops: Fortunately, I can snap out of it really fast and remind myself "Hey! Folks are here to help you!"Once I get over this, the experience is actually quite fantastic. I start to see and appreciate the nice things that the reader said and how helpful they have been.

Once, I got annoyed with a colleague who was pointing some inconsistencies in my scientific manuscript. I told him how I felt and he said "Better that you hear it from me, because then you can change it. Once you send it for publication, the reviewer is not going to point out what's wrong with it. He'll just send it back to you with 'bullshit' written over every page. IN CAPITALS." I would say that the same stands also for fiction ;)
Thanks Bluma. You are right, of course. It's like any bad news, I suppose. The first few minutes, hours etc are full of emotion. Then with "distance" comes thought and consideration... and some degree of objectivity.
There is nothing more humbling than giving your work to someone to read.

And I say this all the time - the day we think we've ARRIVED and there is no further growth possible for our writing is the day we need to stop writing. :)
Feedback from beta readers has proved useful for me, helping to pick out inconsistencies. This is partly because I chose people who I know are observant and not afraid of speaking their mind—much like me—but being objective about my writing is impossible. I can tell if it works in regard to the spelling, punctuation and formatting, but does it work as a story?

Quite inadvertently, I also chose three readers who weren't big fans of my genre of crime fiction. All have gone on to read more crime novels. It made me realise how close-minded many people are, as well as how restrictive it is to have to write a book that conforms to the expected norms of a genre. We all have preconceptions: simply think how differently you'd react to strangers telling you they wrote romance or science-fiction.

It made me wonder afterwards, if it was better to choose readers who don't normally tackle my genre. Giving my novel to someone who only read crime fiction would inevitably lead to comparisons, whereas an inexperienced reader would offer an unbiased opinion.

As a bonus, one of my readers came up with a brilliant plot twist for a scene in which a burglar was surprised rummaging through the contents of a storage chest. I'd been so focused on getting the technical details of the consequent gunfight correct, that I'd missed an opportunity. I welcomed the suggestion, as I don't really have an ego when asking for assistance.

I'd find it more worrying if beta readers approved of everything I'd written.
Hang in there, Jimithyh. I'd be lost without Beta readers giving me a proper trashing when needed. Revealing too much of my dirty laundry, etc. I have six and I rely on them a great deal, which makes the editors job that much easier. Paul makes a huge point though, choose them well. In-genre (or as close as you can figure it) is critical, but also it helps if you know their outside of reading interests well. You might need to alternate some of them, depending upon the story.
Yeah. I almost always react defensively at first. Then I think about what the reviewer said...more often than not, they've got good points, and the result, once I've changed the MS accordingly, is a better book. Humility is key. With every review I learn something.
Beta readers! Can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em.:rolleyes: As Patricia says, they are great for identifying points where the story elicits a reaction other than the intended one, which is very helpful even while it makes you pull your hair out.
Think yourself lucky you can get beta readers! It is astonishing how many people don't feel they can find the time. Or how many prefer to read 'historical' or 'thriller' or 'horror' genres. Other people who tell me they 'never read books' (yes, there are such people). So cherish your beta reader Jimithyh for the wonderful person that they are!
I think you can have bad ones and good ones, depends if they're telling you where something didn't make sense or if they're telling you how they'd write it better, I reckon. Like others in this thread it's understandable to at first get a little feisty. I now like to read it, get angry and huffy, then go back to it a day later and marvel over how right they were. This doesn't happen with every reader, I think the good uns are diamonds in the rough. Those creatures that understand what you're trying to do and can push you to do better, or as is often in my case, push you to make sense. When you find them though, make sure you throw away the key and put a sign on them that reads "Mine".

Also agree with David. Oddly, my readers are people I don't know or lecturers (which works quite well given they don't need to be nice to me). Not one friend who showed an interest in reading my book has actually read any of it! I'm fine with that though, people got lives to lead and if they're not reader folk anyway then what can you do once you've tried the initial blackmail and got past the restraining order.
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The Adversarial Ally


Three Deaths – Josip Novakovich