Tuesday, February 9

Posted by Laurel Garver on Tuesday, February 09, 2010 15 comments
As I mentioned in this post about my process so far with gathering critiques, I thought I'd share the set of questions I gave to my beta readers, the group that looked at my cleaned-up rough draft manuscript in its entirety.

Feel free to swipe this list and/or adapt it for your own use.

Beta reader questions

Dear Friend,

Thanks for your willingness to read over and offer comments on my manuscript. As you read, please mark (yes, you can and should write on these) any areas you think I should give more attention. Feel free to e-mail comments as you go [your address] if that’s easier. I’d like to receive everyone’s comments by [deadline].

Here are a few things to watch for:

Are the characters engaging and adequately complex? Do you care about them and enjoy getting to know them deeply, even the antagonists?

Are characters’ voices distinct in the dialog? If not, note where you hear problems.

Do the peripheral characters work in supporting the main story without being overly distracting? If not, note which ones are troublemakers.

Does the main character adequately change through conflict, climax and resolution?

Does the story move forward and keep you reading more? Note where your interest lags.

Do the plot twists and complications work, or do they seem contrived or hokey? Do characters appear to have sufficient motivation for what they do? If not, note where you “just don’t buy it.”

Are scenes paced well in terms of building and releasing tension? If not, note places where the story drags or races.

Does the [theme description; i.e. understanding vs. judging] theme of come across in a non-preachy way? Note anything that strikes you as heavy-handed.

I’ve played with a dozen title possibilities and I’m not married to the working title I'm currently using. If you can think of a better one, please suggest it.

Note word choices that don’t quite seem right in terms of tone within a scene, or because a particular character just wouldn’t use that word.

Please note any spelling errors, grammar gaffes, punctuation funkiness and missing words (sadly a big issue for me—my brain seems to fill in what isn’t actually on the page!).

Note any continuity errors you see (e.g. wearing a coat in part of the scene and not having it later in the same scene).


Do you provide guidelines for your readers? If not, why? If so, how did you develop them? What key questions would you add to my list?
Categories: ,


  1. Excellent idea to give your betas some guidelines. I hadn't thought to do that before.

    I do give them free rein to mark the paper up!

  2. Thanks for posting this. I usually give free reign. I will bookmark this for later use.

  3. I usually ask my critique partners about my ending to make sure that it wraps eveything up and leaves a satisfying conclusion.

  4. Tamika: I used mostly non-writers as betas, so I figured they'd need guidance about what to look for. This also implied my permission to be more critical than they'd usually be.

    Christine: glad it's helpful!

    Aubrie: That's a good addition to the plot section--"Do the plotlines wrap up adequately?" or maybe "How well do plot lines wrap up? Did you find the ending satisfying?"

  5. For my crit partners, I usually don't have to provide anything because we know what we're all seeking. However, if there is a certain issue I'm really questioning or struggling with, I'll ask them to pay particular attention to that and give me feedback. Great list, btw. :)

  6. Thanks for sharing your list, Laurel! I'll pass it on to my critique partners as well. :)

  7. This was great. Thanks for sharing what you do with Beta's. How does one go about finding a Beta? I have CP's now, but I would like a fresh set of eyes when it is all said and done.
    I usually send my CP a chapter at a time and ask specific things regarding that chapter. So, far, it has worked.

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. This is infinitely helpful--even just for myself while I write. While aware of all of these points, it does become tricky, juggling all important areas and perspectives when you're writing, rewriting, rereading, rewriting some more, and editing.

    I haven't handed questions over to my writer friends/writing group members who are critiquing for me, but I think questions like these would be very helpful, especially for the rewrite of a story or chapter.

    I'm also bookmarking this post. Thanks so much!

  10. Great list! I haven't found betas or a crit group yet, but when I do - I will def. keep these ideas in mind.

  11. Roni: if you ever decide to test out a manuscript outside your crit partner circle, lists like these can be helpful, especially for nonwriters.

    Karen: glad you found it helpful. Sometimes without guidance, readers will only do nit-picky line edits and miss the big picture things.

    Kelly: take a peek at my earlier post linked at the top of this one for some ideas about finding fresh eyes. I heartily recommend getting some nonwriters in the process (people who are voracious readers)--and a spread of ages as well. The over 50s have an amazing eye for theme and charaterization gone awry.

  12. Erin: thanks for stopping by and following as well. Checklists can be an awesome thing in the revision process. Manuscript Makeover by Elizabeth Lyon goes tons deeper than I have here.

    With critiquers, lists can be helpful if they don't do critiquing as a regular thing, if they are tackling a whole manuscript and if they're likely to give bland "great story" kinds of comments unless you tell them otherwise.

    Amber: cast your net wide and you should be able to find quality readers--whenever you feel ready to take that step.

  13. Hey! How come I've never seen this sheet?

    Apparently I've been muddling through without guidelines.... ;)

  14. Simon: You're one of my GAMMA readers, silly. Also, you gave us perfectly good crit guidelines when you started Philly Literati last May. I have them here somewhere in one of these enormous piles on my desk.

    This list was for my betas--mostly book club friends and voracious-reader church acquaintances, none of them writers. I will likely put together another comprehensive list for my epsilon readers who read the revised ms. in toto.

  15. You're ahead of me! I'm definitely swiping this for my beta readers when I need them. :)