Sunday, July 12, 2015

What to Do with Beta Reader Feedback

By Kasie Whitener

Three of my four beta readers have reported back and their comments have disappointed me.

Two had trouble staying engaged and the third didn’t understand the purpose of a crucial scene. None of them liked the protagonist, a first person narrator.

Despite the frustration I feel with negative feedback, I understand the important role beta readers play. Giving work to readers with distance from the piece and from me is a crucial part of the revision process.

So what do we do when their response is mostly frowns?

I have an initial response which sounds more like a petulant child (“They just don’t understand.”) but I swiftly push that aside. It took a while to take it less personally.

I use questions about my beta readers to put their comments in perspective. Once I’ve done that, I can revise the work using the beta reader criticism as a starting point.

Who is the target audience for this book and are my beta readers in it?
The target audience for After December is women in their thirties and forties, generation X, or book-club, soccer-mom types. My beta readers were two college-aged women and two grandmother-aged women. So not the ideal readers. That said, the millennials are the age of the protagonist so they may have at least related with his primary conflict. And they did.

What does the protagonist want and did the beta readers recognize that?
I’ve had trouble with this question all along. Only one of the beta readers mentioned it.

Were there common complaints about the work?
They all disliked the main character.

What specific scenes or relationships were mentioned?
One failed to understand a pivotal scene in the book. Others mentioned scenes where the story dragged. One had concerns about the supporting characters and their development.

What parts did the beta readers like?
The younger readers said the characters were relatable. The older ones liked the conflict with his parents. They all loved the prose.

Armed with an analysis of my readers’ feedback, I approach this revision like a surgeon:
I know I need to make the protagonist more likable. I should develop personality traits like compassion.

I know a particular scene’s gravity needs to be better. Think of this like a film director: is the camera angle changing the meaning of the scene? If so, shoot from another angle.

I know I need to take a look at the supporting characters and define their desires better. I’ll need a tool of some kind like a chart or a table to sort those competing desires out.

Mostly I’ve just needed some space. Some time away from the work, to forget what my intentions were so that I can see if for what it really is. Looking at it through the lens of beta readers helps, too.

I’m excited to polish it even more. How have beta readers help you gain perspective on your work?

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