The seven stages of getting feedback from a beta reader

When you get beta feedback on your novel, you’re likely to go through a rollercoaster of emotions. Read this post to prepare.

A woman reading a book beside a river

You’ve written a novel and edited it to the best of your ability. Congratulations!

But it’s not ready to make its own way in the world yet. First you need to go through the terrifying process of getting feedback from beta readers.

These are avid readers of your genre, who may or may not also be writers, who are willing to read your not-quite-final draft and shred your heart by telling you what’s not working provide honest feedback.

Getting feedback on a novel into which you’ve wrung your soul can be an emotional journey. Your story is amazing, but what if you’re deluded and it’s the worst thing that’s ever been written? Maybe you should throw away your laptop, go to live under a waterfall, and never write another word.

To help you navigate the potentially gut-wrenching adventure of getting beta feedback, here I explain the stages you can expect to go through as you get and deal with feedback on your novel.

(Note not every writer will go through every stage, and some of the stages may occur in a different order for some people. Note also most people recommend using a lot more than one beta reader.)

1. Confidence

You start out confident. You’ve edited so many times that your magnum opus couldn’t get any more stunning. Your beta reader will love it and lavish you with praise.

Hopefully they’ll catch the two instances where you repeat the word ‘the’. You’ll be able to remedy them in five minutes and then it will be on to the publication stage.

You’re ready for this.

2. Paranoia

Then you press send and doubt sets in.

Another human being could be reading your words right now, splashing through the fountains of plot and trampling through the gardens of character you so carefully tended.

What if they don’t like them? What if they laugh and think you’re the worst writer ever?

What if you are the worst writer ever?

Your beta reader might take your hideous sentences and tweet them so they can laugh at them with their thousands of Twitter friends. You’ll never be able to show your face online again.

3. Denial

Eventually you hear back.

They said some nice things and pointed out a few places that could use work.

But could they really use work?

No, your beta reader misunderstood.

It was quite clear why the dragon was under the sink, and of course the characters had to have a picnic in the holy glade before battling the narwhal because otherwise when would they talk about how angry Agnes was with the duck?

Your story is perfect and nothing needs to change.

You’re wrong. My story is perfect.

4. Despair

On the other hand, what does the narwhal have to do with the rest of the story? Maybe it should go.

And the duck is ridiculous.

The story doesn’t even start until the second half of the book, and when it does none of it hangs together. The characters make inexplicable decisions, and no one would try to wrangle a gryphon with a spatula.

Everything–EVERYTHING–needs to change.

How will you ever do this?

5. Depression

Should you even try to make the changes? Maybe they’re too hard.

Why even bother?

Even if you do get this book published, only your mother and your stalker will ever read it.

And one day the sun will swallow the earth and everyone will die, so what’s the point of anything?

6. Hope + more paranoia

But maybe that one change your beta reader suggested is doable, and that other one too.

You start to edit and things come together.

Points get shifted from your ‘to do’ list to your ‘completed’ list. Some go on a ‘disagree’ list.

And eventually there’s no more feedback to address.

You can breathe again. You like what you’ve done.

Finally you can hear the positive points your beta reader made. There are more than you thought and they’re glowing. Maybe your beta reader didn’t hate the story after all.

Maybe they loved it.

But what if they’re the only person who ever will? What if they lied about ever having read a book and they have zero judgement about what makes a good story?

Perhaps you should dye your hair, shave your eyebrows, and emigrate to Fiji.

7. Acceptance

You sit back and read your edited draft.

It’s better. It will never be perfect, but it’s better.

The misunderstandings your beta reader had will never happen again, and every fist thrown by a character is well motivated. The sunsets are dazzling in their vibrancy and never linger longer than a sentence.

You did it. You got feedback and used it to improve your novel.

And you saved the narwhal.

Well done.

A seal who is definitely not beta reading a novel
So I’m not a narwhal. What’s your point?

Does any of this sound familiar? What steps did I miss?

Why not subscribe to my blog? I’m planning to start querying soon, and I intend to share more in my monthly updates to my subscribers than I will publicly in my blog posts.

Author: A.S. Akkalon

By day, A.S. Akkalon works in an office where the computers outnumber the suits of armour more than two-to-one. By night, she puts dreams of medieval castles, swords, and dragons onto paper.

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