Writer’s ego – taking advice (again)


Anybody know how to engage beta readers without sounding like an asshole?

Here’s the problem. I know my book needs work. It’s my first completed novel. What I don’t know is what needs to be modified from the perspective of the reader (ie: What doesn’t work, what sort of things to the readers do not like, and so on.) I also know that the reader is not always right, but the reader is always the reader and any complaint should be heard out. A decision to modify the work according to the feedback should be something that is deliberative. I genuinely want the readers to come back to me and give me honest feedback as to what stinks. Of course, those people are friends and family, they want to be supportive right? They don’t want to make critical feedback that’s going to make me feel bad.*

So today I had an exchange that ran: “So, tell me how much you loved my book so far.”**
“I only read the first two pages.”
Both of us laugh, “Sucked that bad did it?” I asked.
“No, no, I didn’t say that.”
The joking starts to cool, but I try to keep it going.
“Really, did you not like it? What sucked – I can’t fix it if you don’t say.”
“Oh, well, it was fine really.”

… This went on for a while before coffee break ended and I went back to work.

I did finally get some advice from this, and I feel like it was good and addressed some things I have been worrying about. It essentially confirmed my worry. The problem was that it was pulling teeth to get that feedback out, and I’m pretty sure I sounded like an ass in asking for it. As near as I can tell, the reluctance is that the work is a little rough, and in pointing out issues there is concern that I’ll take it badly or argue about the advice. All I really want to do is to improve, and even if I think the advice is crap, I do appreciate it. Of course, I also recognize that I’m asking people to read 95,000 words of something they may not like, and not because the writing stinks.


*I’m going to feel bad about comments describing any significant revisions.
** This was done jokingly, and appropriate in context.


12 thoughts on “Writer’s ego – taking advice (again)

  1. efrussel says:

    I’ll be honest, I’ve not had much luck with beta readers. I gave Aurian and Jin out to like twenty people and I got comments (at ALL) from four, comments that helped me from two.

    So, if you’re doing what I did and using friends/family as betas, make sure they’re people you don’t mind squeezing a little bit. Because you’ll have to. A lot of people have never done a beta before, and they don’t understand that criticism is wanted and even encouraged, or that you’re usually working within a time frame of some variety. MY advice to you: make both of these things clear from the get-go. And, also–when somebody does give you criticism, the best response is ‘thank you’. 🙂 Like you pointed out, your friends and family don’t want to hurt you, so they’re going to be a little leery of telling you what they noticed sometimes. Reinforce that they’re doing the right thing by saying thanks, and trying not to get too down on yourself, even if it is as a joke.

    On a side note: if you want, I’d be willing to take a look at it for you. I’m fairly merciless, in the pleasantest of ways. 😛

    Liked by 2 people

    • Good advice, as usual. I’ll take you up on the offer to read it, but I feel like I need to trade something for it, I’m not going to promise I’m a good beta-reader myself but that seems fair if/when you’ve got something. Where should I send it and what format do you prefer?


      • efrussel says:

        Traditionally, the price for my beta reading is two goats and a half sack of barley, but given the non-virtual nature of goats, I think I can waive that. 😛 And don’t offer to beta, because I warn you, I might take you up on it.

        Send me a Word doc (or something I can highlight and add text to in Word) at efrussel@gmail.com. That way, if I see a typo/have an in-story comment, I can just add it in there for you.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Nico Smit says:

    I still have to face this challenge, when the time is right. 75,000 words in on my first draft for my debut novel now. But I’d probably only get beta readers after draft three.
    Write an update if you figure out the best way to handle this, so I can get some tips 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ll totally write an update. So far though, it’s slow going. I have managed to convince at least 2 people to provide some real insight. Not much yet. Looks like the most important think to remain sane is to just have another project waiting.


  3. You have every right to ask for feedback, that doesn’t make you an ass. That’s the whole point of beta reading! 🙂 I imagine, though, that jokes about them loving it or hating it could make them feel uncomfortable, and thus more reluctant. I would keep it neutral – “What do you think so far? What’s working and not working?”

    You’re right that it’s hard to tell sometimes what really should be changed, and what’s just a personal reader opinion. That’s why having multiple readers helps – if you see the same issue come up twice or more, that’s a good sign it needs tweaking. But even if it only comes up once, if it resonates with you and makes you say, “Huh, that makes sense, I didn’t think of it that way but I agree with you,” then those are good critiques to listen to.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Matt Bowes says:

    You can drop a copy to me and I’ll give it a read-through. matt.bowes@gmail.com
    I’ll be honest and point out the parts that are broke.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Onion says:

    Give your beta readers the gift of anonymity. If I have learned anything from the interwebs it’s that people are very eager to let you know exactly what they think of something, so long as their words can never be traced back to them. Setup an anonymous beta reader comment site and prepare yourself for the onslaught.

    If you are still really desperate for feedback, then I might be able to carve out time on a chapter by chapter basis. I am certainly not shy about offering my opinion on things, especially as of late. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

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