Monday 11 October 2021

Beta Readers: Why You Need Them


By Marilyn Forsyth

When my first timeslip, Gwenllian’s Ghost, was (finally) finished, I was advised by an editor that it was 45 000 words too long to even be considered by a publisher (100 000 max for a debut author).

Well, I culled those 45K words. The problem was, I knew that story so well it was impossible to recognise whether I’d cut out scenes and chapters that were vital to the story. I needed to find readers who could look at my story with fresh eyes and give me objective feedback on what worked or didn’t work in my manuscript.

I needed beta readers.

What is a beta reader?

“A beta reader is a test reader of an unreleased work of literature or other writing who gives feedback (to the author) from the point of view of an average reader...This feedback is fix remaining issues with plot, pacing, and consistency. The beta reader also serves as a sounding board to see if the book has the intended emotional impact.” (Wikipedia )

How do you find beta readers?

My crit partners, family and friends, and members of my writing group, had all given valuable feedback along the journey. But I needed the point of view of readers who belong to my target audience—who actually read and love the timeslip genre—and who wouldn’t be concerned about hurting my feelings. My ego was not important; all that mattered was that the story was authentic and enjoyable.

I chose to go with a paid Beta Reading Service, and I could not have been happier with the result.

The Historical Quill  guarantee comprehensive feedback from at least 6 readers (I ended up with 8). I wrote a short premise of the story and readers were selected from those who indicated they’d like to see the whole manuscript.

The feedback was amazing!

Overall, it was very positive, (except for one reader who hadn’t read a timeslip before and thought the contemporary story unnecessary). After reading through all 8 critiques, I let the comments percolate for a day or so before I went back to my story.

I made note of each reader’s comments (positive and negative). If two or more commented negatively on the same thing, it was obviously something that needed working on. If one reader didn’t like something that another reader liked, I went with my gut in deciding what to do about it. I was lucky that some of my betas were from Wales and they were able to point out mistakes I’d made (with geography - Google maps is not infallible).

Like I said, I couldn’t be happier with the History Quill service. It was fast (6-week turnaround) and efficient, and most of the negative comments were constructive. They’ve helped me make Gwenllian’s Ghost the best it can be. I’ve asked for 5 of those beta readers to be on my ‘street team’ when my story gets published. Now, all I have to do is get Gwenllian’s Ghost out there.

Have you used a beta reader service? How was your experience?

Love to Love: Spring! The Botanic Gardens at this time of year are magical.

Love to Learn: my way around One Stop for Writers. Genius! (And they have an article about where to find beta readers here.)

All images are free to use.


  1. This sounds so fabulously encouraging, Marilyn! I'm so glad your Beta readers have advised so well. Of course, you're not without experience, having some terrific Aussie-based books under your belt. I can't wait to read Gwenllian's Ghost. One, because you wrote it, and two, because time slip novels fascinate me. Wales is also a marvellous bonus! Congratulations!

  2. Hi Miranda! It was a very worthwhile experience. Working through the suggestions is taking a while, though. I'm so glad you like timeslips and beautiful Wales - that makes you my target audience!

  3. This seems like a great approach to the process.I imagine if you are writing purely for yourself it would be difficult to accept and action critical feedback however if you are committed to the reader then this can only benefit the finished work. Good luck with this project!. It is a great read and deserves to be published.

    1. Hi! Thanks so much for dropping by. I totally agree about an author needing to be committed to his or her potential readers if writing for the wider public, which is why beta readers are absolutely essential. Thanks for the lovely feedback about the book, too.

  4. Hi Marilyn, thanks for sharing this. The Historical Quill sounds like it provides a wonderful service.

    1. They do! And they don't just provide that service, either. I recently attended a History Quill online session with Nicola Cornick, one of my favourite timeslip authors, which was very informative and inspirational.

  5. Hi Marilyn. Beta readers are so worth it. To them it doesn't matter if there are errors in grammar or punctuation or if there are mistakes in the writing. What they look at is the overall story, if they enjoy it and immerse themselves in it or if something's lacking or glaringly wrong that needs correcting. Invaluable feedback for a writer. Great that you had keen beta readers giving very useful feedback.

  6. Thanks Enisa! It was exactly that type of feedback I was after, having culled such a huge number of words from my story (i.e. looking for anything glaringly wrong or that didn't make sense). My crit partners are the best, but beta readers are the next step in the journey to publication.


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