Ignore Everything Your Readers Tell You!

Well, not everything. Spelling errors and factual errors such as brilliantly changing a character's name half-way through are pretty useful. But the best way to use the rest is to read between the lines.


Ken Schafer

10/22/20232 min read

You’ve gotten feedback from your beta readers. Now what?

First thing to do is see if there is any commonality among all your reader's responses, as the more people agree upon both praise and criticism, the more likely it will be that they'd identified something that the majority of your future readers will also feel.

Take your time to process their input and remember that if a reader doesn't understand or believe something, you cannot convince them that they're wrong, REGARDLESS of your ability to point to proof in your material. You can decide they were a lazy reader and that it's a non-issue, which certainly does happen. Before you do so, however, I'd highly recommend you go back to your other readers and verify they didn't have the same issue but just neglected or forgot to mention it--or you can address it in one way or another.

Listen very carefully to what they say and then completely ignore their suggestions.

Yes, you read that right. Ignore their suggestions, and instead try to figure out WHY they suggested what they did, as more often than not their suggestions point to a valid issue, but the wrong solution. The question you always need to ask when listening to their feedback is “what problem are they reacting to?”

For example, people may say they got bored in the middle of the book, and it didn't pick up again until 2/3 of the way through, so you need to add more action to the middle.

What you should hear is that they got bored. It is up to you then, to determine why. The root cause may be that your readers aren’t sufficiently invested in the characters, and that if you can fix that in the beginning then the middle becomes much more compelling. Or it might not need more action but more editing, that you're overwhelming them with minutia that isn't driving the story, and if you cut those out what's left is suddenly more immersive. Or maybe you haven't set up the driving questions, or mystery, or jeopardy strongly enough... and so on.

Which isn't to say that their suggestions might not be good ones, but you need to analytically decide whether they are really solving the problem they described or not.

Lastly, listen to those little voices in the back of your mind*

If you have your own doubts about the believability of a scene, or if you feel concerned that the ending feels too rushed, or whatever, don't just brush them off, because your own instincts are generally right.

* EXCEPT when the little voices are telling you to do things to people in the real world, eat quarts of ice cream, or that you're utterly infallible, in which case you should roundly ignore them and seek medical help. Now.