How To Handle Beta Reader Feedback
You brainstormed and drafted for months, edited every word to perfection, and read your own scenes so many times over that you started to hate them. But you got there. You have a polished manuscript. Your blood, sweat, and tears are enshrined into those pages. When you then have to hand it off to a beta reader, it feels like you’re sending your vulnerable, newborn baby out into the world!
It’s no wonder that after all that, feedback can be hard to take! Especially the negative feedback.
We’ve all read and been told time and time again that writing is subjective. Your book isn’t going to be for everyone; even hand-selected beta readers. And even if they do love your book, they’re still going to find things to improve. You know that in your head — but your heart is feeling a little wounded.
Instead of hiding under your covers for six months refusing to write, there are ways you can improve at receiving feedback. It may not ever be fun exactly, but you can still take the edge off. Here are just a few tips.
Don’t respond for 24 hours
When you put your heart into a project, you’re likely going to feel emotional about the feedback. And that’s okay! That means you’ve worked hard and that you care! You don’t need to repress any of your emotions. However, you might want to wait to respond until those intense feelings die down a bit.
I didn’t get back into fiction writing until I was done with college, so I never took any creative writing classes that forced me to receive feedback. I wasn’t used to it at all. So, when I asked my sister (who has a lot of experience getting feedback) to review a chapter of my work in progress, it was hard to take when she saw so many things that could be improved. I cried and wondered if I should keep trying to write the book. But the next day, after getting some emotional distance, my brain started mulling over her comments and realized that she’d brought up some good points. I went on to revise it and it’s so much better than the chapter I originally sent her. But I was only able to see that because I gave myself some time to process instead of sending some emotionally charged response.
Don’t explain or defend yourself
When I read someone’s constructive feedback about my work, my first impulse is to explain to them why I made a certain choice — or how X really is important because Y will happen later in the book. Sometimes I feel flat out defensive because they are misunderstanding what I’m trying to do. However, you don’t want to defend or explain yourself to your beta readers too much to mar their advice. You need to know their honest reactions in order to know how your story is understood and received, and you can’t know how they would’ve reacted if you hadn’t explained too much to them up front. You can absolutely ask clarifying questions to make sure you understand their hang ups but remember if you publish your book, your readers won’t have the opportunity to have your choices explained to them like that. So, if you want authentic reader feedback, stay silent during the critique.
Get more than one critique
You want to take everyone’s feedback into consideration, but people are going to have different opinions. Some readers are going to relate perfectly to your character while others find them unauthentic. If that’s the case, how do you know what suggestions to take? That will always be tricky, but the best thing you can do is get a lot of different opinions. If one person has a problem with something and no one else does, maybe you can ignore that comment. If multiple people are saying the same thing, that’s where you’ll want to focus. When I asked my sister to review that chapter, I also asked my best friend. When that friend gave similar feedback to my sister’s, I knew for sure that the chapter had more issues than I’d realized.
Critique other people’s writing
I found that I do better receiving feedback on my own work when I’m giving feedback to other writers too. Before I did some major beta reading of my own, I took every negative comment or suggestion for improvement badly, thinking that it meant I wasn’t good enough or that they hated my work. Once I did more beta reading of my own, I realized that constructive criticism truly isn’t personal! I’ve loved the writing I’ve beta read! When I give comments, I’m only trying to help the author know how the writing is coming across so that they can make it the best it can be. And that’s true of the people who beta read for me too.
Read bad reviews of your favorite authors
Even if you know in your head that it’s not personal, it can still feel crappy to have readers not respond to your work in the way you wanted. So, if you really need to feel better, go read the one star reviews of your very favorite author — the more famous, the better. That can help you internalize that not every book is for every reader. No matter how successful you become, you will still find plenty of people who don’t like your book. When you realize that it happens to the pros, it won’t feel so bad when it happens to you.
In the end, write the book you want to write
Considering and using beta reader feedback to make edits can vastly improve your writing; I’ve experienced that firsthand. But at the end of the day, only you are the one who knows exactly what you want your book to be. There’s certainly a time and place to “kill your darlings,” but there’s also a time to be true to yourself and the story you want to tell. The more you practice, the more you’ll be able to tell the difference.