Having someone read a draft of your work before self-editing or professional editing is a common thing to do. Getting the thoughts and opinions of someone unattached to your manuscript is invaluable as they will see things that you cannot see. Beta readers can come from a variety of sources such as friends and family, writer’s groups, or professional beta readers.
I would define a bad beta reader simply as one who does not offer helpful feedback. Things like “It was good” or “I liked the characters” or “It was kind of boring” aren’t very useful. Positive comments make you feel good, but what is it that made the story good? What did they like about the characters? It’s especially hard when receiving a negative comment. What was it that was bad? Without knowing any of these things, you don’t have the information you need to improve or build on your story.
So what should you do if one of your beta readers responds in this way? Here are a few ways to address this issue.
Ask for more details
It’s easier said than done, of course. A good beta reader would respond with additional details, but a bad one would likely keep it short and sweet. Something like “I liked it because it was funny” or “It was boring because it just didn’t grab me” might narrow it down a bit but still doesn’t help much. You might get lucky, and it doesn’t hurt to ask.
Have them fill out a questionnaire
As a writer looking for feedback, it’s good to have some ideas of what specifically you’d like them to respond on. The questions should be simple yet specific. Here are some examples to consider:
What did you like about the main character? What did you dislike about that character?
Was the plot easy to follow? If not, what parts did you struggle with?
Is the story believable? If not, what parts seemed unrealistic and why?
You can send this to a beta reader that has not provided helpful feedback, but it could also be good to have all of your beta readers answer the questions as well.
Bid them farewell
Sometimes a bad beta reader can’t be salvaged no matter how hard you try. It’s best to not be confrontational, especially if it is a family member or friend, but rather thank them for their time and move on. If you plan to write more books in the future, you’ll remember who NOT to contact for feedback.
A bad beta reader is certainly a waste of your valuable time as a writer, so how can you avoid finding yourself in this situation?
Avoid family and friends
Though this is often an easy source for feedback, it is likely that their opinions will be hindered by their feelings for you as a person. They may not tell you exactly how they felt about your story, perhaps to prevent hurting your feelings, and this is not helpful to you as a writer. You need honesty, so if you choose family members or friends to read your work, choose very, very wisely.
Stick with fellow writers
Writer’s groups are a wonderful source of encouragement and feedback. If you have in-person writer’s groups near you, meetings often will include readings of each writer’s work to gain feedback from all in attendance. Online groups can work well with an exchange of manuscripts—you read their stuff and they read yours. Since other writers know what they want to hear from you, they should provide you with the same detailed feedback.
Consider professional beta readers and evaluators
There are editorial services out there that offer beta reading for a fee. Though I can’t speak to what these services offer, I will say that pursuing a manuscript evaluation instead of a beta read can be a better choice. The service does come at a cost, but evaluations by a professional editor include a thorough analysis of your story, characters, plot, etc., which gives you much more in-depth feedback on your work than a beta read would.
With these tips in mind, you should be able to handle bad beta reader situations with ease, but most importantly, be able to avoid them in the first place.