In an ideal world, your book’s beta readers will give you feedback on these eight points. It helps if you ask them for this specific criticism in advance.

Writers are always itching to know what readers think – which is the task set to your beta readers. Any comment from these readers is of value to writers who want to learn more about human perceptions of the written word, their own work, and the art of writing. There are many times you might seek out feedback on your writing, but one special time is the moment you “finish” your book.

Before you set your book free into the world, seeking various beta readers who are willing to give you their impressions of your work can prove extremely useful. If you are so lucky to find a bunch of these generous people, this is the type of overview information you ideally want from them.

Title

The title can often sell a book. It can equally put readers off. Or confuse them. Or mean nothing to them. How does your title work for the reader? If your beta readers know you want feedback on the suitability of the title from the start, they can read the book while considering alternative titles. Maybe there’s a better title lurking inside your book that you haven’t thought of. Some authors do not give their books a title until the very end, or let the publisher do it. Your reader could look for key words that happen in all good books – the ones that jump off the page and present themselves as good title options.

Cover

The cover is either gripping or it is not. It should reflect the mood and genre of the book as best as possible. It should be informative. It should make you want to pick up and turn the book over to read the back material or – even better – open the book to the first page. The best book covers are literal or metaphoric representations of the core concept of the book. If there is artwork, does it come across well? Is it the best pick from the potential visual representations that come to mind as the reader moves through the book?

Length

This is a simple question with a simple answer. Is the book the right length? A yes or no is straightforward and helpful, but the devil is in the details. If yes, you can feel good about your intuitions. If it is too short or too long, can the reader give you more hints how to fill it in or carve some away? Changing the length of a book can be one of the hardest edits to make as its usually not as easy as “chop this chapter,” although it might be in some cases. Usually a reader might say something like, “The first third speeds along but the middle third drags in comparison”. That is harder to get a grip on but is still helps a lot.

Pace

Pace is the speed at which the reader is given information. It can modulate to get slower or faster, but the main point is that there is a pleasing rhythm to the entire book. Pace problems means the reader is jarred by sudden shifts, is confused by parts that whiz by without sufficient detail or put to sleep by long passages that suffer from very low information content (or way too much). If a reader knows in advance that you are interested in a “pace map” of the book, they can signal out any sections where the pace is particularly good or where it seems off. You could even get your reader to mark each chapter with a 1 out of 10 score for pace.

Characters

You don’t need a complete analysis of character from a reader just a blunt answer to one question: Did you feel strongly about all of the characters? You’ll be lucky if they all made an impact on the reader. Whether love or hate, it’s the emotional response to a complex, interesting character that you are hoping for. If your characters resonated, you can hope to dig further with another layer of questions. Whom did you like best? Who was the least believable? Hopefully these answers match what you expect. A very telling thing to ask a reader is to describe each character in a few words or sentences. If you’ve done your job, the reader will get all the main points you intended. You may even learn a few things about them you hadn’t considered.

Ending

A disappointing ending is perhaps the biggest frustration for a reader of any book. They’ve invested all that time and effort in you, they think you can write well and then you go and trip over the most important hurdle. Endings are sometimes the least developed parts of a book just because they physically come at the end. This can always be fixed with more work. Endings that seem illogical need to be rethought, but perhaps the worst endings are those that come and go without offering any feeling of catharsis or resolution. They sneak by without triggering any increase in heart rate. As many readers will admit, a great ending is often why they bother to read a book at all.

Suspension of disbelief

Reading a great book is about being enveloped in a different world. You want the reader to be absorbed into that world. One specific question you can ask is if they suspended disbelief and plunged into the story. If your readers have, the next question is whether it was sustained throughout the book. If it ever breaks, you what to find out where and why.

What is going on in the reader’s head is key to how they experience your book. Questions about where the story is going means the reader wants to keep turning the page to find out. Will the lead get his love in the end? Is this character going to die? Will the little girl get her wish? What you want least is for the reader’s mind to be troubled with questions about mechanics, logic, or consistency. This is the easiest way to force the reader out of your world. Why did he not catch these typos? Did I miss something – I thought the grandmother was widowed, now there is a husband? Horses don’t eat meat, do they? If you are getting questions unrelated to the unfolding of the actual story, you have a lot of work yet to do. If the reader jots down these kinds of questions, it will help your edits immensely.

Most memorable moment(s)

You will want to bring the quality of the book up to that of the best points and to make sure you have some true peaks. Ask your beta readers if there was one most memorable part. Hopefully they will enthusiastically answer yes and tell you a key moment. Most telling is whether it was predictable to you, as the writer. Sometimes readers reveal something in a lesser scene or some tiny point that you might not have intended or realized was a watershed moment.

Press on and ask for all their favorite parts, and it shows you what worked best. Be brave and ask for the parts they liked least. Another way to phrase this is to ask which parts they skimmed or skipped entirely. These are obvious candidates for the chop.

If your beta reader touches on all these topics, you should have more than enough feedback to learn from. What you want at a minimum is whether these eight core parts of your book package worked for your reader. If your beta readers are being honest, you’ll have feedback on eight important elements of your book: the title, cover, length, pace, characters, and ending and you’ll learn if you were able to make them suspend disbelief and take home a solid memory of your story.

 

The End

 

Related Posts
The Key To Great Writing
Eleven Ways To Take A New Look At Your Story
Authors: Use A Beta Reader To Get A Better Story
Develop Your Characters’ Goals And Discover Your Story
What Really Motivates Your Characters?

 

Dawn Field

About Dawn Field

Dawn Field has written 26 posts in this blog.

Dr. Dawn Field is a book lover interested in what makes great writing. After a 20 year career as a research scientist, her first book, Biocode, was published by Oxford University Press. Now a columnist of The Double Helix, Dr. Field is exploring new writing venues and writing a second book. Based in Virginia, Dr. Field is looking to collaborate with a range of fiction writers as a writing coach, editor, and consultant on the publishing process: fiedawn@gmail.com.

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