Rude, Unhelpful, Vague: How to Handle Bad Beta Readers
Updated: Mar 5, 2021
In an admittedly raw mood, I googled "My beta reader's mean. What do I do?" after I received a few savage comments from a beta reader for my first official manuscript and my first time using beta readers. It was nerve-wracking, to say the least.
If you search for beta reader information, you’ll find a lot that tells you what they do and what to expect. You can even find articles written for beta readers on how they should act. But other than a random sentence in one post, I couldn’t find anything that mentions what to do when you have a mean (ie. rude, unhelpful) beta reader.
The general consensus seems to be:
“Expect comments you don’t like.”
“Criticism is what beta reading’s for.”
“Don’t take it personally; it’s all going to improve your story.”
And while I agree with this to an extent, there still has to be a limit.
Vague, rude comments without an explanation behind them are not helpful. Leaving no positive feedback for what worked to offset a plethora of negative comments is not helpful. And this took time for me to accept because I didn’t want to seem resistant to criticism or like I only thought the remark was rude because I disliked it.
However, once you work with a good beta reader who offers positive feedback and constructive criticism, you’ll start to see the difference and understand what is actually conducive to making your story better. Fortunately, I’d found a beta reader exactly like that. In fact, a little like Goldilocks I had three beta readers:
One who left only positive comments (although they were thought out, in-depth positive comments which were still helpful)
One who kept it balanced with comments about what she liked and constructive feedback on what could improve and how it might be changed to be better
One who wrote a few words of harsh criticism with no real reason behind it
After a good cry and totally doubting the worth of my writing and story, I dug deeper into the comments and the reader behind them. I considered each remark and compared them to my balanced reader’s notes, and I realized that they really didn’t make sense or add anything helpful. Plus, when I stalked the reader on Goodreads, I found out that she enjoys leaving one-star ratings and extremely harsh reviews like saying “This is the worst character I’ve ever read” and “I rolled my eyes so many times I scratched my corneas”. This discovery led me to make some changes to my screening form for beta readers.
So, what should you do with mean beta readers?
Realize that how they treat you is a reflection of them, not you. Some people just enjoy bringing others down, and there’s really no good reason why.
End the relationship. Thank them for their time (they did volunteer to read your unpublished work for you), but don’t argue or bring up your issues with them. This goes back to my first point because they probably don’t see a problem, and they could use your arguments to smear you for future readers.
Take a breath. Allow yourself to feel the pain of the comments, but then let it go. They weren’t your ideal reader anyway.
Take comfort from the knowledge that you know better now what to look out for in future beta readers. This was a good learning experience in your author journey.
I hope this helps as you write and begin your beta reader search. If you have any questions or want to share your own experience, send me a message:
I feel like this isn’t talked about a lot/ I’m still new at this and don’t have a large writing group where maybe this is talked about. So, I’m happy to chat!
PS. This article really helped me. He explains how Harsh Doesn't Equal Honesty, and you can have criticism with compassion.