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.