Help! My beta readers disagree

I often see complaints from authors that their beta readers are giving them conflicting feedback. “One wants more detail, another wants more action.” “One says this character is too bad, another says he’s too boring.”

 

So is it better to use just one beta reader? Or is there a way to reconcile different comments?

 

Using one beta reader means that you get one person’s opinion. This is useful, but limited. If the person likes thrillers more, then maybe they’re pushing for more action. Or maybe they prefer strong characters, or they’re focused on settings.

 

Using several beta readers will mean a wider variety of issues might be picked up, but it can also mean conflicting comments. Here it’s important to remember the golden rule: if they say something is wrong, then they’re probably right. If they tell you how to fix it, they’re probably wrong.

 

So in both the examples given above, the same issue is raised: in one case it’s the action/detail balance, and in the other it’s the characterisation. Maybe both sets of comments are right, because the passage gives off mixed messages. The fact they’ve selected this passage as not working right should be your cue to look closely at it, but you don’t have to agonise over their suggestions. Maybe the solution is something completely different.

 

What should the passage be achieving? Do you want the reader to feel the action? Then make sure your details are adding to the passage and not slowing it down. Do you want your reader to slow down and take a good look round? Then write the passage more clearly to show that.

 

Every reader will bring something slightly different to your book, and will take something slightly different away. It’s your job as author to ensure that they receive the message you’re trying to give. Not everyone will get it completely, but awareness of the ways in which the message is missed will help you refine your writing.

 

The most important thing to do is to listen to your beta readers and think carefully about their comments. Then remember that it’s your novel and you have final editorial control. So thank your readers for their comments and input, and then edit your novel as you feel best.

 

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