Lies Writers Tell Ourselves: My Beta Reader Doesn’t Get It

So you send off your draft to some awesome, kind beta readers, and they send you feedback. Most of it is great, but there are one or two comments that are way off base and show they really missed the boat.

Maybe they’re suggesting a character do something that character would never do. Or urging you to take the book in a direction that’s not at all where you want to go. Maybe their feedback shows a total lack of understanding about the genre. It might even make you wonder if they really read the book.


It can be tempting to ignore feedback like that completely. But the fact is, even if they are completely wrong about your book, they still had a reader reaction that prompted them to give you that feedback. Instead of throwing out their ridiculous comment, take a good, hard look at your book.

Why did they have that reaction?

What’s the real problem behind that reaction?

Forget their suggested solution. How would you fix it?

If they’re suggesting out of character actions for a character, maybe that character isn’t developed enough, or needs to be cut, or needs a stronger arc or voice. If they’re urging you to take the book in a direction you don’t want to go, maybe the book needs more conflict, or higher stakes, or a more unique hook. If they show a lack of understanding of the genre, maybe your book could be more accessible to casual readers. If it seems like they didn’t read the book…Well, if they were skimming, they weren’t drawn in. You have work to do.

I know it’s easy for me to read a suggestion and instinctively have a resistant reaction. I want to defend my book. I worked hard on that thing!

But I didn’t send it to my beta readers for validation. (I mean, sure, part of me wants validation. But that’s not the part of me that should be driving when I’m getting ready to revise.) I sent it to them to find out how I could make my book better.

Sometimes, they’re wrong, and the problem is actually something else entirely. But there usually is a problem.


Other times, they’re right, and I just don’t want them to be right, because the revisions would be a lot of work. In which case, TOO BAD FOR ME. Back to work it is!

These days, I happen to be blessed with awesome beta readers, and the feedback they give me is generally spot on. I am super lucky that way. So sometimes instead of asking “What’s the actual problem?” I instead wind up asking “But should I do even more than they’re suggesting?”

A wise friend of mine recently observed to me that taking constructive criticism is as much a skill as giving it. She was so, so right—and it’s a skill all writers need to learn.

Published by Melissa Caruso

Fantasy author of the Swords & Fire trilogy: THE TETHERED MAGE (Orbit, 2017), THE DEFIANT HEIR (Orbit, 2018), and THE UNBOUND EMPIRE (Orbit, 2019), as well as the Rooks and Ruin trilogy, beginning with THE OBSIDIAN TOWER (Orbit, 2020). Melissa's debut, THE TETHERED MAGE, was shortlisted for the Gemmell Morningstar Award in 2017. Melissa loves tea, adventure, and the great outdoors, and has been known to swordfight in ballgowns. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband, two superlative daughters, and assorted pets. Represented by Naomi Davis of BookEnds.

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