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May 22, 2017
By Betty Kelly Sargent
Editor Betty Kelly Sargent answers writing questions submitted by readers. This month, she looks at how to handle criticism from beta readers.

Dear Editor:

It’s an ongoing challenge to get people to read drafts of my work. It’s a big ask and puts considerable pressure on generous readers. Any thoughts on how early to engage readers for feedback on a work in progress?
—Elizabeth L. Kelly

It’s always a good idea to show your work to a few trusted readers before sending it out into the world. You want it to be the best that it can be. But because, as you point out, asking for feedback is a big ask, I suggest that authors wait until they’ve completed first drafts before showing their manuscripts to anyone. Here are three things to keep in mind when you’re ready to ask for advice:

1. Choose people who know a lot about your subject matter: if you’ve written a sci-fi novel you probably don’t want to seek feedback from a gardening book author.

2. Ask the reader to be scrupulously honest—otherwise what’s the point?

3. Accept the suggestions that ring true for you, and discard the rest—in other words, always trust your instincts: it’s your book, your vision, your name will be on the title page, you are the creator and the artist.

As Neil Gaiman said in his essay “Eight Rules for Writing,” published in the Guardian in 2010: “Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”

If you have a question for the editor, email Betty Sargent at

Betty Kelly Sargent is the founder and CEO of BookWorks.