My Beta-Reading Experiment

I’ll be honest. I’m not very good at seeking feedback for my writing. I don’t like sharing things as I write them. I want to sit on it and polish it for a million years before it even sees the light of day. I’ve sent manuscripts to family members and close friends to ask what they think— and while this can be great for certain things (alpha reads, self-confidence, etc)— I’ve never gone beyond that comfort zone.

So, now having finished a serious revision, and in the mind to push myself, I wanted to do something broader and more critical. I also wanted to be organized and structured about it. As I’ve talked about previously, I’m a soft marshmallow when it comes to criticism, and I wanted to guide feedback in a way that would be helpful and not crushing.

This is what I did.

Photo Credit: Anastasia Zhenina on Unsplash

I started by setting up a Google Form and:

  • Created a series of questions that would cover what I needed answered about the manuscript, based off my own interest and of suggestions I found by researching.
    • Most questions I kept broad, but I did add specific details of the story to direct what I’m looking for.
    • And hey, if anyone is interested, I can totally write them out!
  • I made a list of people to send the manuscript to and asked them.
    • Trusted friends and family, along with, yes, fellow writers, inside and outside the genre I’m writing.
    • Part of the problem in my previous hesitant attempts at beta-reading was that I didn’t get enough variety and quantity of perspectives. Yes, this was due to not wanting influences that could be negative. I’d hoped to structure the questions so there was less possibility of that.
  • I sent the manuscript, with an overview of what I was looking for but not the specific questions, and how to access the form with the questions once they’d finished reading.

*Five months later*

Well, to start with, it turns out that asking people to respond in such a complex way was a bit too much to ask. Out of 15 people that I ultimately sent the manuscript to (over the course of several months), 5 have read it, and 0 have used the form.

(I’m still trying to decide if a 1/3 read rate is indicating something bad, or if people are just busy, which is totally legitimate.)

Most of them responded by sending back the manuscript with comments in-document and an overall thoughts letter, which I think is pretty typical in the world of beta-reading. The ones that said they’d go back to fill out the form… haven’t as of yet. People have lives beyond being my reading minions, that’s *dramatic sigh* fine I guess.

After a while, I simply followed up with them and asked some questions to compare and contrast with the comments I’d gotten from others. For example: “Hey do you think the beginning is slow?”

(The answer, by the way, is 4 out of 5 say yes. Ooops.)

Now it’s looking like I’m doing a second round of beta-reading. Because apparently I can’t stop torturing myself with the idea of perfection. Which I KNOW will never happen, because art is subjective and skills improve and perspectives are fluid and GAH why am I doing this to myself.

But I made some pretty big changes, including rearranging the first half quite a bit and rewriting a few chapters, and don’t I need perspective on that now to make sure I changed it in the right direction?

Anyway, moving on.

Despite getting really good feedback, and comments that helped me identify weaknesses I could then improve, I’m feeling more insecure about it than last time. Maybe before I was in a high of denial on how vulnerable this made me? I thought I’d get to hide behind data and my Google Form, and somehow disconnect feedback from the reality of receiving criticism on my manuscript child?

That’s not to say I didn’t receive positive comments. I got a lot of positive feedback, and everyone who’s responded said I met the ultimate test: they want to read more.

Am I going to try to use my Google Form again? Eh. I’m not sure. I think I’ll probably still put it out there as an option, but put the questions upfront, like in the body of the email I send with the document attached.

And yes, I know I need to put a limit on myself on how many times I do this. I can’t revise this thing forever. I want to get it actually into the world. And I need to get a move on, so that I can stop realizing six months later “Oh, I’ve improved as an writer, let’s change some things up!”

It feels close. I think the manuscript is almost there. Even if that means just forcing myself to stawwwwwp.

Until next time! I think my next post will be on how I cut over 30k words from my manuscript. I talked about it on my Instagram Stories a while ago, but I think it would be neat to revisit and write out the process. And hey, it might even help somebody.

About R. K. Brainerd

I've been writing since my pre-teens, mostly in the realm of fantasy and sci-fi. Taking interesting concepts and dropping complex characters into fantastical worlds is my jam. I also raise dairy goats and herd cats, the evidence of which can be found on my Instagram. Welcome to the adventure. View all posts by R. K. Brainerd

9 responses to “My Beta-Reading Experiment

  • Thomas M. Watt

    Getting beta readers is the most difficult and crucial step of writing. It’s the only way to truly determine the level of interest in your story and move out of your own comfort zone. Congratulations on your experiment; most writers are too fearful to take that leap.


    • R. K. Brainerd

      It’s definitely challenging me to improve! It’s intimidating but I rather relish it. Sometimes it’s easy to be stuck in my own head, and it’s difficult to know if I’m being fanciful with myself or actually expanding skills and moving forward.


  • Nicole Evans

    *whispers* Sorry I’m one of those who was too busy to read and is now getting pushed to round two beta reading! ❤ *whispers*

    But also, I loved reading through this process! I think the Google Form is a really cool idea and I'm sorry you didn't get the feedback you're hoping for! I think it could be just the reader's preference of feedback. Personally, I'm a bit comments-within-the-manuscript and then email/letter summation after type of person. I'm curious to hear how your second round goes (and happy to hype you up to get ready to query) and I WILL read this story this time, the laws of time be damned!

    Liked by 1 person

    • R. K. Brainerd

      Oh no don’t be sorry, it actually works out so much better! There were some big changes I needed to make so I’m excited you’ll get to see this version 🙂

      It totally is reader’s preference, which I totally understand! Hopefully it didn’t sound like I was complaining. I’ll take whatever I can get. I appreciate that people are spending time on this.

      I’ll be so glad to see what you think! I’m really looking forward to it. (Now I need to like actually send it to you lol)

      Liked by 1 person

      • Nicole Evans

        I’m very excited to read this version!!

        Oh gosh no, not complaining at all! It sounded–to me–more of a reporting on an experience and then just processing it, which made complete sense (but honestly, even if I had gotten complaining vibes, I wouldn’t have faulted or judged you for that, either).

        I am really hoping I can dive into it in August, after I wrap up some client work and my own edits on BLOOD PRICE!

        Liked by 1 person

      • R. K. Brainerd

        Ok good that’s what I was trying to do haha

        Sounds amazing!


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