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Disagreeing with beta readers

June 29, 2010

For my own novels, I work with a beta reader, two critique partners, and several test readers since I try to cast a wide net and get different opinions from different people. I also beta read for other writers.

A few times, I’ve been asked, “What do you do when you just don’t agree with your beta reader? Do you just ignore her comments?”

No, I never do that. If you have a good beta reader, who sacrifices her time to beta read for you, and then proceed to ignore her advice, that’s bad manners and bad for your writing.

That doesn’t mean that you have to follow your beta reader’s advice every time. I have dismissed some of my beta reader’s advice, but never without careful consideration and not without first making sure I understand what she means and making sure I’m not just dismissing what she says because I’m too lazy or don’t know how to apply her feedback for revisions.

Beta readers are just people with opinions. Sometimes, they’ll be right; sometimes, they’ll be wrong. And sometimes, there is no right or wrong. What’s right for one reader will be wrong for another. We all have personal preferences and experiences that influence how we see fictional characters and situations.

For example, in Second Nature, I had Jorie – who is a writer struggling with her novel while a deadline approaches – send her visiting mother to have pancakes with Griffin so that she can stay home and continue to write.

I got shouts of outrage from my non-writing test readers. How could Jorie do that to her poor mother? How egoistical of her!

My critique partners, who are writers, reacted quite differently. They thought it perfectly understandable and acceptable that Jorie tried to get in some writing time while her mother was visiting.

So, what do I do with feedback that conflicts with my own opinion?

Well, I take it as a diagnostic tool. If a beta reader reacts strongly to a scene, there might be readers who will later experience this scene just like my beta reader does, while others might experience it more like I do.

So I try to address my beta reader’s concern in some way in the story.

In Second Nature, that meant Jorie still sends her mother off to have pancakes with Griffin while she stays home and writes. But she feels a bit guilty about it and asks her mother if it’s okay. So now I hope even my non-writing readers won’t think Jorie is a cold-hearted bitch.

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6 comments

  1. So, what do I do with feedback that conflicts with my own opinion?

    Well, I take it as a diagnostic tool. If a beta reader reacts strongly to a scene, there might be readers who will later experience this scene just like my beta reader does, while others might experience it more like I do.

    So I try to address my beta reader’s concern in some way in the story.

    Exactly what I do! Yay!


  2. Good to hear I’m not alone, then.

    The important thing is to not (just) address it in an e-mail to the beta reader, but in the story. I worked with writers who always try to justify their choices if they don’t agree with me. That’s not necessary. Readers won’t have those e-mails either.


  3. Yep, doesn’t matter if it’s in your brain. No reader has a pair of forceps to open your head and slip inside. So it’s gotta be on the page.


  4. “Beta readers are just people with opinions. Sometimes, they’ll be right; sometimes, they’ll be wrong. And sometimes, there is no right or wrong.”

    As a beta reader, all I can give the writer is my honest opinion, which is not right or wrong – it’s just my opinion. My opinions/suggestions may not be right for the story, which is not my story, it’s the writer’s.


    • You are right. The final decision needs to be the writer’s, but a good beta reader offers opinions that are based on experience and knowledge.

      Sometimes, we writers are too close to our own stories and don’t see the forest for the trees.
      So I know I always appreciate getting feedback from beta readers.


  5. […] reader told me that scene is her absolute favorite. Well, it’s what I expected. As I said before, beta readers and test readers bring different experiences, personalities, and preferences to the […]



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