Beta Reading: What Feedback Should I Implement?

Last year, I talked about how to give useful feedback as a beta reader, and I thought it’d be a good idea to brush up on this topic from a new angle. Giving feedback is one thing, but taking it is another. How do you decide what feedback you want to bring into your editing process?

Whether you’re working with a beta reader, a critique partner, or even a paid editor, the thought process is relatively similar.

Let’s start with positive feedback. I sometimes hear people disparage positive feedback as “fluffy” and “useless”. It’s true that positive feedback is often the easier feedback to implement but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t serve a purpose. When you get positive feedback, it’s often a sign that you’ve done something right — a sign that you should not change or remove an aspect of your story. Sometimes, it’s even a sign that you should incorporate a little more of what the reader likes into other parts of the story.

Signs that you should be paying attention to positive feedback include;

  • If the reader is getting excited about where the story is going — asking questions, speculating on how the plot will unfold, taking note of potential character arcs, etc.
  • If the reader is able to pinpoint why they are feeling positive.
    • “I loved it when he did that, because. . . .”
    • “It made me happy to see these characters reunite, since. . . .”
  • If multiple readers independently express the same kind of feedback.

A lot of newer writers make the mistake of assuming that all negative feedback is inherently useful, since it’s not “pulling any punches” or “coddling you”. This is not true. While negative feedback may pinpoint your story’s week points, not all of it is going to help you produce a better story. Signs that you that you may want to ignore a piece of feedback include;

  • Sarcastic comments.
    • “Yeah, like that’s a good idea. . . .”
  • Absolutist insistence.
    • “And this would never happen.”
  • A lacking or vague explanation.
    • “This is bad. You need to change it.”
  • If no other critique expresses the same sentiments.
  • If other thoughtful critiques contradict it.

Negative feedback given earnestly (even if it comes with a little frustration) is more likely to be in good faith. For comparison, here are some signs that you should pay attention to the negative feedback;

  • Feedback that takes into account what you’ve already written.
    • “That part felt really strange, because it doesn’t hold up with how this character explained their magic a few chapters ago.”
  • Feedback that acknowledges emotional responses rather than pretending they aren’t there. No beta reader or critique partner is a truly objective viewer.
    • “I felt frustrated when this happened, and I think that’s because. . . .”
  • Feedback that asks questions.
    • “What motivates her to do this? I really want to know why because. . . .”
  • And like with positive feedback, if it’s repeated by multiple beta readers, then you should probably take it into consideration.

Overall, feedback that is willing to explain itself is easier to work with than pure, unelaborated reactions. And as the author, it’s up to you to read into those explanations and decide whether you find them insightful enough to take into account to when you edit the story later.

While contradictory feedback can be annoying (“Is this part of my story good, or is it bad? I can’t tell, since everyone says different things!”) it’s easier to deal with once you hone these observational skills. Is one perspective more substantiated than the other? Or maybe that part of your writing is actually pretty neutral, and whether a reader will like it is more a matter of taste than anything else. It’s also possible that there’s a little truth to both perspectives.

Ultimately, it’s up to you to weigh the commentary you’ve been given and decide what you want to lean into and what you want to lean away from.

And that’s my advice on beta reader feedback! If you find this helpful, then you can support me as a creator by buying me a Ko-fi or getting hyped for Shadow Herald‘s release in May. Thank you, and have a lovely day.

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