Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Panel Discussion 4: Beta Readers - Do You Listen to Them?

It seems the panel discussion idea has become quite popular among my fellow author friends.  Today our third panel of authors will lend their opinions on the role of beta readers.  Here’s the question:

How much of your manuscript are you willing to change/edit based on your beta readers comments?  Or do you just use your beta readers to check for grammatical issues?

I would like to start the comments for this panel question.  Both Dave and I take our readers’ comments very seriously especially if there is an issue of confusion surrounding a character or scene.  Because we know what happens in the story, sometimes we assume too much.  This happened with our first book and once we got the comments back from our readers, we were able to see that there was definitely a few plot holes that needed to be fixed.  Of course, we also want our readers to point out the typos because frankly, after you’ve read the same book so many times, your eyes automatically “put” the right word in the sentence.  Once the typo is pointed out, all you can do is a *face palm* that you didn’t catch it in the previous 99 times you’ve read it and then go fix it.

T.L. Haddix:
It depends very much on the nature of the comments.  If I am fairly confident that my book is good, well-rounded, no plot holes, I’m basically looking for grammatical errors or typos when I send the ‘script to beta readers.  If I have doubts about the book itself, I’m looking for guidance.  My second book was a challenge to get to the finish line.  I had lived with the characters for so long that even though I knew there were issues with the plot, I just couldn’t see them.  Once my betas had the manuscript in their hands and feedback started coming back in, I was able to see the book differently, and fix the problems.  So, to answer your question directly, anything from minor grammatical corrections to major plot issues, or more succinctly, whatever the story needs.

Camille LaGuire
I am happy to get any feedback a reader will give me.  If they want to check my spelling, they can.  But what I really need them for is to hold up a mirror and show me what my work looks like to the outside world.  I don't ask them to tell me what to do, I just want to know how they react as readers.  I then decide what to change or not based on their reaction.

Ellen O’Connell:
While I'm interested in anything beta readers have to say, I give them a book before final editing and proofreading and tell them that. My theory is that I'm probably going to change some things before finalizing the book, so there's no need to spend time proofing work that may be revised. The feedback I want from beta readers is: (1) does the story hold their interest? is the pacing good? and (2) do the characters seem real? are they sympathetic?  Needless to say I'm not willing to just throw a story away based on beta readers, but I have made major changes in the two books I have out now because of their opinions. The one that stands out is that for both my current books, beta readers said the heroines were too strong - bitchy. Even though I didn't see it, I toned both those characters down. Feedback from readers is that the main attraction for each book is the female protagonist. Readers see them as strong yet likable women. In particular Anne, the heroine of my romance, evokes very positive reactions from readers. Am I glad I listened to my beta readers and changed those characters? You bet! So I am willing to make major changes, not necessarily if one beta reader mentions something, but if all or several do. I hope to have at least four beta readers for the next book.

Daniel Pyle:
I have a pretty stinking fantastic group of beta readers, and I trust them a lot.  If they told me I needed to change 100% of my manuscript, I'd do it.  In fact, if they told me to run into a lion's den carrying an injured baby gazelle, I probably would.  They all have different strengths as readers and editors.  Some of them are great at picking up the grammar and proofing mistakes, some of them are plot hole finders, and some of them notice things like stagnant pacing and flat characters and bad dialogue and run-on sentences.  As a group, they've got it all.  Without my betas, I'd be lost.  I owe them each a lifetime's worth of drinks and hugs.


  1. You're welcome. I have 4 more panel discussions to post and they are all very interesting.

    Thanks for commenting.

  2. We need to listen to our beta readers, of course, or else why have them? Good discussion.

  3. My original beta readers were my family and close friends, I think they were afraid to tell me how they really felt. Some told me words to fix to make the sentence sound better, and some corrected my spelling. But they all said it was a great story and it really boosted my ego. I have two beta readers that have volunteered to help me out (outside of my inner circle) and I cannot thank them enough. Great discussion!!