What do you do when all of your beta readers have totally different advice?
I've traded beta reads on the first section (approx. 50 pages) of my manuscript with four other writers. I was expecting the beta read to unearth any overarching issues, but instead the feedback barely overlaps. A scene one person loved another hated. A line that gave someone an ah-ha moment is tagged by another person as unnecessary. There are a couple small overlapping points, but for the most part I'm having trouble finding patterns.
Obviously, to some degree this is how books are. A book I love might not be someone else's cup of tea. A scene that speaks to me might not speak to others.
But in the context of polishing a manuscript till it shines, how should I interpret this?If there's no consistency in feedback, how do I proceed with editing?
Do I just go with my gut, taking each piece of feedback individually?
Do I go solicit a few more betas to see if they add any consistency to the mix (or just continue to complicate it)?
Do I focus on the one or two consistent things (two of three people wanted to see more of one of the scenes - an easy fix) and assume a lack of overlap means there aren't any glaring red flags in those first 50 pages and it's time to get some full manuscript reads?
Or something else entirely?
This reminds me of a very old, but always painful comedy sketch in which a lady trying on her new hat says to her husband "I'm going to wear this to the Ladies auxiliary meeting today; what do you think?" and he replies "Shouldn't you put on a dress?"
Because of course, she was asking about the hat whilst wearing her only her slip.
Her failure to ask a specific question led to the very unsatisfactory answer.
So first: what are you asking your beta readers to do?
"Do you like this?"
"Do you think this works?" might be too general.
"Where did you stop reading?" or "where did you get confused?" are often what I ask my interns to tell me when they're reading something for me.
As to your question: beta readers are useful for pointing out problems, but not fixes. If there's no consistency in what they say, you've probably got a book that doesn't have big problems. Not every reader likes every book.
But only probably.
In reading only a chunk, rather than the whole, you might not have all the info you need. A lot of structural problems show up after page 50 and I've got the editorial notes to verify that on a lot of novels.
Time for some whole-novel reads.
I'm sure our coterie of enlightened commenters will also have contributions on this topic.