Beta reading takes a special sort reader, someone with a critical mind and great communication skills. Mine are all either other authors or bloggers (sometime are both), and thus: they know how to use their words. This is a crucial part of being a beta reader.
If you have a beta reader who blows sunshine up your ass, fire them.
Okay, maybe don’t fire them, but use them as a fluffer instead of calling them a beta reader. Everyone needs a fluffer. We need a reader or two who gets us, who loves us and our words. But you need to have readers who are critical and will provide constructive feedback.
How many beta readers you have depends on you. I’m a little crazy — I need a lot of feedback to be absolutely certain that my story has every hole plugged with Gorilla tape and that the book is spit shined and polished and ready for the world (and the hordes of reviewers who will be reading it). Some writers only want a few people to read for them — too much feedback can be stressful and overwhelming. So find a number that works for you. If you’re newer, keep an eye on your reviews to help you figure out what you can work on while you figure out your beta reader sweet spot.
Here are a list of questions I have been asking my betas for years. This list was given to me by another author and honed over the years to this based on what I like/want to know, and you should not only hone this list yourself, but add questions regarding specific areas in your manuscript that you think may be problematic. I reserve any spoiler questions for AFTER they read with a followup question set.
*Note: I add these questions not only in the email with their instructions/deadline for their read, but also at the end of the manuscript.
1) Are there any points that the story slows down for you? Parts that you wanted to skip past or rush through?
2) Was there anything that didn’t make sense or bothered you?
3) Was there anything that you wanted more/less of?
4) Was the end satisfying? Believable? If you could rate it 1-10, with 10 being knocked your socks off, where would it fall? If it wasn’t a ten, what would make it so for you?
5) What was the best/strongest part of the book? What was boring?
6) If you could remove one or two scenes, what would they be and why?
7) Rate the sex scenes 1-10, 10 being YOWZA. Were they hot enough for the story? Bland, believable, boring, or did they strike the right note?
7) Thoughts on NAME – Did you like her? Why or why not? What would make you like her more? Did she (at any time) behave in an inconsistent, unbelievable way?
8) Thoughts on NAME – Did you like him? Why or why not? What would make you like him more? Did he (at any time) behave in an inconsistent, unbelievable way?
9) Did you find anything unbelievable? Contrived?
10) Do you feel satisfied with how their story was told based on your expectations? If not, do you have any suggestions as to what you’d like to see added or removed?