This year, I made my first foray into beta reading, where I learned the importance of providing questions to help guide your readers’ focus. In this post, I share the list of questions I asked my beta readers, and the reasoning behind my question selection, and I’d love to hear your thoughts. *Includes a FREE downloadable worksheet*! →
This year, I made my first foray into beta reading with my contemporary YA novel Holding Up the Sky. While the process was terribly nerve-wracking, it was ultimately very rewarding, and I learned a number of valuable lessons. One such lesson was the importance of providing your beta readers with a list of questions to consider.
There are countless methods to conducting a successful beta reading process, and I am by no means an expert. But one thing you absolutely MUST do is make it clear to your beta readers what kind of advice you are seeking. Using a list of questions is an excellent way to do this, as it helps direct the beta reader’s focus, and encourages them to keep an eye out for certain things, when they are assessing your manuscript.
In this post, I explore the list of questions I provided to my beta readers. Since Holding Up the Sky was at a fairly advanced stage by the time I sought feedback from others, the questions are quite specific, but you can most certainly be more open ended! If you’re interested in using my questions for your own beta readers, I’ve provided a downloadable worksheet at the end of the post. I hope you find them helpful!
Below is the list of questions I provided to my beta readers. To assist with ease of navigation, I grouped them into categories, and allowed my beta readers to answer the questions either on the provided sheet or within the manuscript—whatever was easiest for them. For each of the questions here, I have provided a short comment which indicates why I asked them!
Does the story capture your interest from the very beginning? If not, why not?
—do I have an effective “hook” or do I need to rework the opening?
Did you notice any discrepancies or inconsistencies in time, place, or any other details?
—are there inconsistent details I missed during my own edits?
Was there a particular event or piece of dialogue that made you smile or laugh?
—are the lines I intended to be funny actually funny?
What events, monologues, or pieces of dialogue made you feel the most emotional?
—have I set the right tone and intensity for the parts I intended to be emotional?
Are there any parts that frustrated or annoyed you? How so? Where, exactly?
—are there any parts I need to rewrite to avoid unintended reader frustration?
Were the plot twists and revelations believable, yet unexpected?
—have I foreshadowed the plot twists effectively, or have I been too vague or too obvious?
👓 PACING & CLARITY
Did you get oriented fairly quickly as to who is telling this story, and where and when it is taking place? If not, why not?
—are the MC’s voice and the setting clear enough right from the beginning?
Did the story progress at an appropriate pace? Are there any parts that felt rushed or that dragged too much? Where, exactly?
—where do I need to adjust the pacing, or add or remove certain scenes?
Do the scenes progress in a smooth manner with effective transitions? Mark in the MS any transitions or scene sequences which you found abrupt or unclear.
—which scene transitions or sequences need to be revised?
Were there any parts that confused you, or took you out of the story? Mark these in the MS.
—which sections do I need to expand or rewrite to improve clarity or comprehension by the reader?
Are there any parts where you became bored? Where, exactly?
—where are the dull moments that I need to rework?
What did you like about the MC? Was there anything about their character that irritated you or put you off?
—is my MC relatable and sympathetic enough to hold the reader’s interest?
Did the MC’s character development over the course of the story feel realistic to you? If not, why not?
—does my MC change and develop in an authentic way, or does this require more attention?
Were there any characters that you strongly disliked or that you thought were not believable? Explain.
—does the reader dislike the characters they are supposed to dislike, or are there some who may need reworking?
Who was your favourite character and why?
—which of my characters are likely to be the most popular?
Were there any relationships between the characters that bothered you in some way? If so, why?
—have any character relationships come across as unhealthy or strange when they were not supposed to?
Did you find the tone consistent for the story and appropriate for the genre and age group? If not, explain.
—have I used a suitable tone and writing style for my intended audience?
In general, was there anything about the writing style that you found jarring or intrusive?
—how much more time and effort do I need to put into line edits?
💧 SENSITIVITY ADVICE
Did you find the MC’s struggles with [insert sensitive issue(s)] to be generally relatable?
—are people who have experienced similar things to my MC likely to connect with their story?
Do you think these issues were displayed in a realistic way throughout the story? If not, why?
—which aspects of the sensitive issue(s) explored in the story may require additional research?
Do you have any advice as to how these issues can be portrayed more sensitively, if required?
—what other considerations or methods might I use to ensure the story is appropriately sensitive?
Any other comments?
—what else do I need to know or consider regarding the sensitive portrayal of these issues?
Was the ending satisfying and believable? Did it differ significantly from how you thought it would end?
—did the ending of the story have the intended effect on the reader?
From a reader’s point of view, did you enjoy this story?
—how likely is it that people would choose to read this story?
Which were your three favourite chapters and why?
—if I had to submit any three chapters to an agent or publisher, which three should I choose?
Any other comments?
—is there anything else I should know or consider about the story?
If you’d like to use my questions for your own beta readers, feel free to download the worksheet below!