The Beta-reader Dilemma: Are we getting a clear perspective?

I’ve been struggling with the use and feedback of beta-readers recently. I’ve always used beta-readers to review and scrutinize my work, even back in the day when I could only knock out short stories. For the most part, my readers have been friends and family.

There was a period of time, years ago, when I used to frequent online writers groups for feedback. Sometimes the critiques from these groups were helpful, but most of the time it was simply a matter of unpublished writers trying to flex their literary muscles. I even ended up with an online stalker for a while – but that’s another story.

When I’ve used beta-readers for short stories, I’ve found that there are always those willing to provide honest, helpful opinions, whether they were positive of negative. I’m tough, I can take it.

But with my manuscript I’ve had a completely different experience, and it’s confusing me.

I have farmed out my novel to about 10 different beta-readers. I selected them carefully, from friends who are avid readers, to those I believed would be brutally honest with me. The problem is not one of them had anything negative to say about my novel.

This is where my red flag goes up.

In the history of writing there has never been one piece of literature that did not have its critics. Even the most esteemed writers, legendary writers, talented writers, have critics. So where are mine?

The way I see it, one of two things could be happening here. Either my novel is a work of genius and deserves a seat next to Great Expectations, or Wuthering Heights (not likely), or my beta-readers are simply so awestruck that I wrote a novel they fail to read it with a truly critical eye.

I am going to go ahead and assume the latter is the truth, because the agents rejecting my manuscript certainly don’t seem to be as dazzled as everyone else.

I wonder if this is like the reaction I might get if I wrote a song vs. a symphony. My song might suck, and I’m pretty sure everyone would tell me if it did. But if I wrote a symphony, either people would be so impressed that I wrote one in the first place or have no clue whether it was truly good or not.

Is that what’s happening here?

I’d hoped that my editor would have some words for me, but she loved it to!

I did consider paying for a professional critique. I even identified a few published critiquers (yes, I just made that word up) that might offer me a good evaluation of my work. But I stopped short of actually doing it. Maybe it was the fear of past experience repeating itself, or the idea of paying upwards of $1500 for an opinion that I might not even agree with.

Isn’t money supposed to flow towards the writer?

Maybe an agent will be kind enough to respond to my query with some hard-truths instead of the standard form rejection. Then I might get a clear picture of what I’ve created.

And while I’m eternally grateful and humbled by the feedback I’ve gotten on my manuscript thus far, I’m not misled into believing that my work is perfect. I am certain it’s not.

Has anyone else out there struggled with the Beta-reader dilemma?

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