Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Is my writing “good enough” for readers? How to find out.

By Morgan Tarpley

I so did not want to hear another “It was good” or even “It was great.” I needed specifics, and I had to find a way to get them.

What I needed to know was is my book “good enough”? To find out, I had to go past the fact that the first readers of my manuscript were people who love me and may sugarcoat the truth. 

But lavished praise for my writing is what I need, right?


What do your first readers really think?
That is not what a writer needs. We need the truth, so we can learn our weaknesses and polish our manuscripts and projects until they gleam.

When I completed my first manuscript, I was concerned about this exact issue—gaining valuable reader feedback. Several of my readers were family members and close friends, and I did not want to receive the standard “You did a nice job.”

I had to find a way to gain constructive feedback and determine if readers “really” liked my book. After much thought, I put my journalism training to work and wrote down questions to ask them. These questions turned into a simple questionnaire for readers to fill out after they read my book. I feel it was exactly what I needed.

I asked questions such as: “What stands out in your mind about the book?,” “What were you surprised about? Or thought was too obvious?” and “Was the ending satisfying? If not, why?” plus more.
It got readers thinking and critiquing. And surprisingly, it was quite a positive experience. My readers were able to be brutally honest, but in a format that was not done in a criticize-me-to-my-face sort of way. They were just answering questions I had asked.

In using the questionnaire, I found that when you ask specific questions people are more apt to tell you the pros and cons of your work. When they are not blindsided with your enthusiastic “don’t you think my baby is beautiful?” approach, the readers have space to step back and analyze the work.

What did they like? What didn’t they like? If they liked it, what did they like about it? It’s simple enough, right? You just need to know which questions you want to ask.

For more information about first (beta) readers, I recommend checking out Books and Such Literary Agent Rachelle Gardner's fantastic post - "Who Should Read Your Unpublished Work?"
Have you developed questions for your first readers? Or do you have another favorite method of gaining constructive feedback? I’d love to hear about it.
Morgan Tarpley is an award-winning newspaper reporter and photographer in Louisiana. She is also a historical novelist currently seeking representation and a writes about travel and the writing life on her blog, Pens on a World Map.

Besides writing and traveling to over a dozen countries, her interests include acting in her local theater, photography, Civil War re-enacting, and singing.

For more information about Morgan, visit her website ( and blog ( You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or Goodreads.


  1. Good questions there. I'm the opposite in that family and close friends never get to read unless it is published.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Dale! We have to find out what works for us. :)

  2. Morgan, great idea. Hadn't thought of doing that, guiding your beta readers to provide very constructive criticism.

    Thank you for sharing it, together with Rachelle's post.

    1. Thanks, Ian! And you're welcome. Glad it was helpful. :)

  3. Love your questions. Their worth asking ourselves, even before we hand the ms to a beta reader.

    1. You're so right, Alice! We should ask ourselves these questions first. :)

  4. That is a really good idea! Definitely something to do! Thanks girl!

    1. You're welcome, Jenn! :) Glad it was helpful! It's helped me out a lot!