Beta Reader Signup Questionnaires

For anyone who has looked for beta readers on forums or social media, you may know that people are eager to sign up, but not everyone follows through. Today I’ll describe one way you can better engage with beta readers early: having them fill out a brief signup questionnaire.

Why a signup questionnaire?

Handing out a signup questionnaire is a great way to learn a bit about your potential beta readers — with the added benefit of weeding out people who aren’t really committed to reading your full novel.

If they aren’t willing to answer a few simple questions up front, they probably aren’t going to stick around for the long haul.

How can I make a signup questionnaire?

I like to use Google Forms, as you can enable email notifications for when a new beta reader has filled out your questionnaire. As well, it’s really simple to set up a few multiple choice and/or short answer questions.

Basic questions

Here’s an idea of reader information to collect at the start of your questionnaire. You’ll want to learn a little bit about who they are, as well as what format works best for them to read your story and provide feedback.

  • The reader’s penname and email (so you can get in touch)
  • The reader’s gender and/or preferred pronouns
  • Where the reader heard about your book (e.g. Twitter, Reddit, etc.)
  • The reader’s approximate age (so you can tell what reader age category they fall into)
  • How the reader would like to read your story (Word document, Google Docs, PDF, epub, etc.)
  • How the reader would like to provide feedback (review feature, comments, email, voice chat, etc.)
  • How long the reader will take to read (provide you novel’s page count or compare its length to that of a popular book so they have some perspective)

You’ll want to give users options to skip any really personal questions. You can also let them maintain their privacy to some degree when you ask questions like “How old are you?” by allowing them to select from multiple choice age ranges that match reader age categories.

Learning about your reader’s tastes

As well, a signup questionnaire is a great way of evaluating whether your future beta reader is someone from your expected audience. This can be useful for evaluating where a reader is coming from with their feedback.

Here’s a list of questions you might ask:

  • What are your favourite genres? Subgenres?
  • What is your favourite age category to read? (MG, YA, NA, Adult…)
  • What are your favourite books in X genre?
  • What are your favourite books in X genre that you enjoyed in the past year? (Lots of people will quote classics in your genre as their “favourite”, so see what they enjoyed recently as well)

These types of questions will help you gauge what background a reader has and how good of a fit they are for your own book. For example, if you are writing an adult book and you’re receiving unexpected feedback from someone who said they’re between 15 and 18 years of age, you might want to consider that their feedback is less important than that coming from someone in the age range you’re targeting. (Of course, always pay special attention to situations where multiple beta readers are saying the same things!)

Using Google Forms to collect feedback

You’ll find that some beta readers love reacting in Google Docs almost every line, while some barely leave any comments at all. You (and your readers) may find it helpful to provide them with questionnaires each chapter or each quarter of your book, or perhaps just at the end. This can help you dig into their thoughts on areas you are concerned about, as well as gauge the reader’s involvement with the work and where they might be running into problems.

Some questions you might ask include:

  • At what point did you put down the story after you started?
  • What are the story’s strengths?
  • What are the story’s weaknesses?
  • Which parts of the story resonated with you?
  • Is the story’s climax believable and worth reading the book?
  • Did any parts feel rushed? Did any parts drag?
  • Are there any spots you became less excited about reading?
  • Is the book too long? Too short?
  • What is your favourite part of the story?
  • Who is your favourite character? Least favourite? Why?
  • Are there any aspects about the setting/characters/XYZ that were confusing?
  • What is your opinion on the quality of the book’s writing?
  • Does this story remind you of anything you’ve read before? (A great question if you’re hunting for comparative titles!)

Help! What if my beta readers still quit on me?

There are a number of reasons a beta reader might ghost you or otherwise discontinue reading your story. This happens to everyone, so don’t take it personally. For one, beta reading is a lot of work on their part. They have their own life and projects to worry about. For another, they may not be in your target audience and thus uninterested in the story.

If a lot of beta readers (who are within you target audience and have at least read past your first three or so chapters) are bailing on you before finishing the book, you should take a hard look at your manuscript for issues. Also consider following up with the readers to ask them at what point they became disinterested in the story and why (if nothing else, you might be able to get some feedback that way).

I always politely nudge readers if I haven’t heard from them within a reasonable time period, which can often encourage them to come back to finish (sometimes they just forget). You might also try giving readers smaller chunks of your book at a time and having them check in regularly with you to request the next chunk (and give you their feedback up until that point). In the event that you have readers dropping out, this strategy can help you target where their interest is flagging.

If you’re not having luck with beta readers, see if you can find a critique partner who will swap manuscripts with you. They’ll be more committed to making it through your story and providing feedback since they’re getting something out of it (your feedback). Moreover, you’ll learn a lot from the process if you’re new to critiquing other people’s work.

Doing a round with my critique partners before soliciting beta reader feedback is my own go-to process. Oftentimes casual beta readers expect a certain level of polish from your book and are not interested in reading someone’s first draft!

Photo by Prateek Katyal from Pexels

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