How to Get Helpful Feedback on Your Writing

As a ghostwriter, nonfiction author, and novelist, Shawn Smucker has a lot of experience collaborating with others. In his own work, he makes it a regular practice to invite others into the editing process by asking beta readers to read his manuscript before the final draft is written. 

In an interview with hope*writers, Shawn shares some of his pro tips for finding readers who can help spot a manuscript’s weaknesses before it goes to press. Beta readers can be an integral part of the writing process for any author. 


Who to Ask

The first step in choosing beta readers is deciding how many readers to ask. Recommendations vary among writers, but Shawn suggests asking between three and five readers who belong to your target audience for their feedback. The more readers involved, the more widely the opinions will vary. With too many beta readers, it can be difficult to find a consensus on what needs revising in your manuscript.


There are three important factors to consider when asking readers to help you: 

  1. Will the reader have the time to dedicate to reading a full-length book?
  2. Are they avid readers of the genre of book you are writing?
  3. Will they be willing to give you honest feedback and critique?


When to Ask

Before completing the final draft of your manuscript, your last step is to invite your beta readers to critique your work. It’s wise to thoroughly edit your manuscript for content, sentence-level copy, and word-level mechanics multiple times before passing it on to your beta readers. Give readers your very best work so they can provide feedback on issues with your story that you may have missed or been unable to resolve on your own. 


What to Ask

Because beta readers are not publishing professionals, they will need some guidance when offering you feedback. The questions you ask your readers will be specific to your needs, your genre, and your particular writing challenges. If you’re not sure where to begin, Shawn offers this list of basic questions to get you started. 


Questions for Beta Readers:

  1. Does this story work? 
  2. Are you interested in the story? How do you respond to the characters? 
  3. Is there anything about the first three chapters you find off-putting? 
  4. Does the ending engage you as a reader?


Be sure to ask readers to explain WHY they responded a particular way to elements of your work. Their “why” will help you revise your manuscript for a stronger final draft. 

 Beta readers can be a helpful tool in the writer’s toolbox, but remember that they don’t have the final say in your story. Ultimately, you get to decide what will stay, what will go, and what needs revising.

Need tips for creating a writing rhythm or guidance from a seasoned novelist on how to write fiction? Click here for free access to our entire conversation with Shawn and take one step towards balancing the art of writing with the business of publishing.


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