Ask the Editor: How do I Know if My Beta Reader is Giving Good Advice?

14779520072_914171dbb7_oToday’s question is an important one for anyone using beta readers or critique groups:

I have a beta reader for my novel. She has had some good things to say, but I don’t agree with some of the changes she suggested. Should I trust that she is right? How do I know if her advice is good?

The short answer is that you really don’t have a strong way of knowing whether a beta reader is giving good advice.

In a perfect world, every beta reader would have an excellent grasp of writing style and story structure, but using a beta reader is a bit like reaching into a grab bag. Even if you know the person well, you don’t really know if they’ve been honest about their experience level or if they’re familiar with industry standards.

3925726829_f24d140f4a_oThe key to getting the most out of a beta reader is to focus on the reader’s opinion rather than their advice.

For example, your beta reader might say, “The character of Abby is so unlikeable. She needs to be nicer to Patrick and have more positive qualities.” While the beta reader is giving a specific suggestion of what to change, it is probably best to disregard the suggestion and focus on the reader’s opinion: Abby is unlikeable. There are many potential ways to solve this problem. Perhaps rather than being nicer, Abby simply needs to have clearer motivations for being mean.

Get to the heart of your beta reader’s opinion, but address the problems in a way that makes sense to you. And don’t assume something is definitely wrong because a beta reader didn’t like it. Every book does not appeal to every reader. It might just not have been that particular reader’s cup of tea. Getting multiple opinions is always a good idea!

Got a question for the Ask the Editor series? Leave it in the comments or email it with the subject line “Ask the Editor.”

5 thoughts on “Ask the Editor: How do I Know if My Beta Reader is Giving Good Advice?

  1. Doug Leppard says:

    Ellen good advice as always. Gives me the idea to create a readers group. Love to hire you as a mentor sent you email on mentoring, love to know when you can start.

  2. johnsonofdaw says:

    For advice I’ll go to a professional expert like Ellen, but I also want feedback from typical readers, preferably ones who don’t know much about writing but know what they’ll buy and what they won’t. I want them to be oblivious to who I am and how I might feel about what they say. And I don’t want them to think too much about their reactions or be too analytical. l want them to comment as they reads, e.g. : What the hell? Like her. Hate him. Boring. I’m confused. Intriguing. Yuck. Is he going to get her? Not very believable. This sucks. etcetera. Where can I go to find beta readers like that?

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