Five Tips to Help You Rewrite Your Story After Beta Reader or Editor Feedback

18 Apr 2024 | Editing

Title image: Five Tips to Help You Rewrite Your Story After Beta Reader or Editor Feedback

When you get feedback from your beta reader(s) or from your editor, chances are, you’ll have some mixed emotions. 

Before you even open their email, you might be feeling excited, but also daunted; intensely curious about what they have to say, but also perhaps exhausted and not sure you’re ready to dive into rewrites.

Hopefully, the feedback will give you a new perspective on your work, while also confirming the things that you felt were working well (or the things you knew weren’t quite there yet).

So how can you best engage with your beta reader or editor’s feedback and incorporate it into your next round of rewrites?

Here are some key things to remember.

#1: Give Yourself Time to Digest the Feedback

Receiving feedback on your work can be a bit of a roller coaster. You’ll want to set aside some time not just to read it, but also to really think about it.

Perhaps, when you first read your feedback, there’ll be things you disagree with. You might think your beta reader has missed something crucial, or that your editor’s suggestion won’t work. And you may be right. But after letting a bit of time pass, you could find that your initial reaction changes, and you’re more receptive to what they’ve said.

To give yourself some time and space for simply digesting the feedback, you might want to start a new document and jot down notes or explore possibilities – without committing to any particular change or direction for the story. (For me, this is a similar process to how I initially explore my story before I begin drafting.)

How long should you allow for this process of letting the feedback settle in your mind? I don’t think there’s any magic length of time – but if you’ve written something novel or novella-length, rather than a short story, I’d definitely recommend taking at least a full week.

#2: Focus on Common Themes in the Feedback

If you have a lot of feedback, it’s helpful to look for common themes. That feedback might be extensive notes from one person, across a whole manuscript, or sets of separate feedback from multiple beta readers.

Maybe a lot of the feedback relates to a particular area of writing: for instance, your dialogue might be great, but perhaps you need more description of people and places so your reader can visualise the story better.

Or the common thread in your feedback might be that a character doesn’t have enough of a place in the story. You may need to go through the novel shoring up their role. 

When you’re looking for common themes, it’s also useful to look for places where people disagree. Don’t assume that disagreements cancel each other out! Even if one person is saying “This scene needs more tension” and another is saying “This scene is too fast-paced and needs to be slower”, both are giving you feedback that you haven’t controlled the narrative as well as you should have in that scene. Perhaps the solution is to build the tension gradually but inexorably.

#3: Pay Careful Attention to Things Readers Didn’t Understand

If a reader doesn’t get something, it could be because they were having an off moment while reading that scene. Perhaps they forgot about the revelation two chapters earlier, or they didn’t pick up on the importance of a clue earlier in the scene.

But even if the reader has forgotten something or missed a detail, it’s on you to make sure that they understand what’s happening in the story

That might mean throwing in an extra sentence or two to remind them of something or to point their attention to a key moment in the scene.

Let’s say you’ve written this paragraph:

As Samantha waited, Jamie pulled a notebook from his backpack and shoved it into his locker, almost causing an avalanche of textbooks. “Let’s go,” he said.

You might hope the reader would instantly realise this notebook is the invisible-ink diary that another character was hunting for ten chapters earlier … but your beta reader may not make the connection at all. Instead, they think you’re just making a point about how messy Jamie’s locker is.

An extra sentence could clue readers in, like.

As Samantha waited, Jamie pulled a notebook from his backpack. It wasn’t the sort of notebook Samantha would have associated with him: the cover was bright pink, for one thing. But before he could ask about it, Jamie had shoved it into his locker, almost causing an avalanche of text books. “Let’s go,” he said.

#4: Try Out Different Ideas for Your Story (Briefly)

Sometimes, a beta reader or editor may suggest something that you’re not entirely sure about. Or, you may well find that the process of going through their feedback sparks an idea in your mind … but you don’t know whether it’s going to enhance your story or not.

I’d suggest trying it on for size. You could spend an hour or two exploring that idea by writing a new scene or rewriting an existing one. Does the new part feel like a good fit, adding a new dimension to your story? Or does it seem too complex, bolted-on, or not a good fit for your characters?

I know it can feel frustrating to “waste” time writing material that you don’t later use … but if trying it out lets you decide for or against a particular idea or change, then it’s time well spent.

#5: Give Yourself the Final Say … You’re the Author!

Whenever you go through feedback, remember, you’re the author. Your beta readers, editor, or anyone else giving you suggestions on your novel will expect you to make the final decisions. Sure, they’ll give their opinions and advice … but it’s up to you to figure out whether you want to take those on board.

Let’s say you’ve written a passage of dialogue that you really like, but it’s not advancing the plot. Perhaps your beta reader suggests you could simply cut that whole section. But you’re concerned that if you do, it’s going to throw off the pacing of your scene.

Instead, you decide to rewrite the dialogue, adding a third character who’s listening in … which makes the conversation more significant within the plot.

In some situations, you may simply have a difference of opinion with your beta reader or editor. That’s fine! If you’ve ever been in a book group (or read reviews of a book…) then you’ll know how varied people’s opinions can be. 

Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide what to do with the feedback you receive. You don’t need to make every change that your editor or beta reader suggests.

Rewriting can be hard work and it can bring up a lot of resistance … especially if your story felt “done” before you sent it off to your editor or beta-reader. 

But the process of getting, and considering, the feedback will not only make your novel so much stronger, it’ll help you grow as a writer, too. 

It’s important to preserve your unique voice and sense of the story (and a good editor will absolutely support you in this). Don’t feel that you need to follow advice you disagree with, but do be willing to consider ideas and maybe try them out, to see if they might add an extra layer to your story.

About

I’m Ali Luke, and I live in Leeds in the UK with my husband and two children.

Aliventures is where I help you master the art, craft and business of writing.

My Novels

My contemporary fantasy trilogy is available from Amazon. The books follow on from one another, so read Lycopolis first.

You can buy them all from Amazon, or read them FREE in Kindle Unlimited.

2 Comments

  1. kathryn radford

    Fine, practical advice. THANKS, Ali.

    Reply
    • Ali

      Thanks Kathryn! So glad this was helpful. 🙂

      Reply

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