How to Get Good Writing Feedback from Beta Readers

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Getting feedback on writing is as essential to the writing process as breathing is to living. But unlike breathing, we don’t need feedback to survive, even though it often feels that way. The challenge comes when writers venture into the uncharted territory of requesting “feedback” without a clear plan, direction, or expectations. This can lead to misunderstandings and frustration.

As a writing coach who works closely with struggling writers to help them achieve their dreams, I get asked for feedback all the time. I always make sure to ask in return, “What type of feedback do you want? Do you need clarity on the voice? Are you curious if your imagery works?” When I provide feedback, I frame it with, “This is entirely my experience of what I’m reading…” I avoid positioning myself as the ultimate authority because I believe writing and reading are largely subjective.

Feedback can leave lasting impressions.

Think back to a time you eagerly shared your work with someone—a poem, a chapter, a book draft—and then asked, “So, what do you think?” Their response, “Well, it was alright, but you really should have…” can be crushing. Any fragile pride you had for your progress, overcoming procrastination, exploring a new form, or tackling a dream can be instantly deflated.

These words of discouragement can echo for a long time. How much weight do their criticisms unjustly carry, even after months of hard work? How motivated do you feel to continue writing? If you remember going from hopeful to hopeless in an instant, it’s worth considering how seeking feedback will impact you in the future.

Why do you want feedback?

Start by asking yourself this critical question. The obvious answers might be “to improve my writing” or “to discover narrative gaps.” Both are valid, but sometimes, at the heart of a feedback request, is a desire for approval or validation. There’s nothing wrong with wanting recognition. There’s no shame in wanting to be seen or heard when we vulnerably share our deepest expressions. Positive feedback like, “Wow, that’s great!” can fuel our motivation and inspire us to keep going.

If you can identify why you seek feedback, you’ll be better equipped to clearly articulate this when you ask someone for it. Declaring your intentions before inviting someone into the sacred space of sharing a subjective opinion can prevent miscommunication. For example, my “why” might be, “I’m in the draft phase of the first quarter of my book. I’m aware there are holes in the main character’s motivations—I just want to ensure that her actions are believable so I can confidently move forward with her brazenness.”

What do you want to know?

Another crucial aspect of feedback is pinpointing the specific insights you’re seeking to address “missing” elements—wrangling stray thoughts, plot disconnections, or action lapses. Writing stems from:

  1. What we think
  2. What we experience
  3. What we want to say
  4. What we actually write

Between these elements, our intended message might get lost in translation. This is where feedback can be invaluable. Something we believe we conveyed may be absent from the page. Feedback can highlight these gaps—if we ask for it specifically.

Guide your feedback request by asking targeted questions. For instance, “I thought I conveyed the logical order of her thoughts related to her big decision to move from New York to Los Angeles. Did her thinking process make sense, so by the time she made her choice, you understood why?”

Consider how feedback will be shared or received.

With all the communication channels available today, the medium matters. For significant projects, face-to-face feedback (or Zoom) is preferred to minimize misunderstandings. The feedback loop is sensitive, and words through email, text, phone, or Facebook Messenger can all carry their own implied tones.

By thoughtfully considering these elements, you can navigate the feedback process more effectively, ensuring it supports and enhances your writing journey.

 

Once the “why” and “what” elements of writing feedback have been established, I share how it will be delivered. I might say something like, “Now that I’ve had a chance to review the draft specifically for if and how the main character’s thought process was clear related to her move from New York to L.A., I’d love to pass along my thoughts over a Zoom call.” How we communicate during someone’s vulnerable time is as important as what we communicate.

When is feedback helpful?

At what point in your writing process will feedback be helpful to either affirm, refine, or redirect your efforts? Are you on the front end of your writing journey? Somewhere in the middle? Close to the end? Even though we’re excited, our words may not yet be ready for the world.

Sometimes we get over-zealous that we’re finally working on our book, or that we’ve gotten over a creative quagmire. We’re so excited that we’re progressing at all, we want to declare it to the world. And that means we may figuratively run out into the streets, eagerly holding pages, ready to shove them into the hands of anyone who’ll read them.

But, beware: a crushing blow of criticism might kill motivation, whereas a helpful point of reflection may carry your ideas along. Affirming, refining, and redirecting are three main benefits feedback can provide to move a writer forward. Knowing where you are in your story will help clarify what you need.

Consider the source

Lastly, consider who’s giving the feedback. I’ve had many clients tell me they shared their work with who they thought was “quiet Aunt Ethel” only to be met by said Anna Wintour wannabe. If you’re working on a romance novel and share your draft with Uncle Joe, who’s a technical writer, just because he’s a writer too, he may not provide any useful feedback. Feedback can entirely depend upon who’s offering it.

Get clear about the type of feedback you’re seeking and consider if that person is truly capable of providing it. Get intentional about exactly what you want and from whom when seeking feedback.

Putting yourself out there, with your words, takes courage. Protect your process. Be mindful of why you’re asking for writing feedback, exactly what you want to know, how the feedback will be shared or received, and at what point in your process you ask for it. Having intentions and communicating them ensures a more productive feedback loop.

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