Five things which have helped me become a better beta reader

Beta Readers are invaluable to writers. They put their trust in them to read and critique their work. So what have I learnt since becoming a beta reader? 

1) Stick to guidelines and deadlines

Writers should give you guidance on what they want from you. Ask first if they would like you to offer help outside their stipulations. If other commitments mean you cannot meet the agreed deadline, tell the writer the situation and decline. If circumstances change while you are beta reading and you will be delayed, be professional. Notify the writer and check if this will be a problem. Don’t go silent and wait for the writer to chase you. 

2) Read through the manuscript more than once

We all read for pleasure, escapism and to experience something unique from another’s point of view. I like to keep this in mind during my first read-through and enjoy the work as it is meant to be devoured. Here, I focus on what works and summarise the central character and plot points in every scene. During the second read-through, I focus more on any constructive criticism. 

Doing at least two read-throughs allows you to get to know the story and the characters. You know the ending and how the characters will reach it. Think of it like a map and itinerary for a road trip. With it laid out, it is easier to go back and make suggestions to tighten the story. It also helps you spot inconsistencies and (my favourite) notice any foreshadowing you missed in the first read. 

A film example for me is Skyfall. I absolutely loved it the first time I watched it in the cinema. It had all the appropriate Bond moments, lots of action and good pacing. Then in subsequent viewings, I saw plot hole after plot hole. It also annoyed me that Daniel Craig’s Bond went from ‘New Boy’ in Casino Royale to ‘Old Dog’ in only three films. I no longer enjoy the film because the plot is weak, and the character arc is too sudden.

3) Keep a mix of positive remarks and constructive criticism. 

It’s easy to focus on just constructive criticism. I mean, the writer wants to know what’s wrong with it, don’t they? Yes, but also tell them what works. In my first read-through, I’ll record most of my positive comments. Tell the writer which passages are brilliantly written. Tell them where you laughed or cried. Be angry or upset when your favourite side character was killed off. Point out those comic autocorrect errors (mine switched “muttered” to “murdered” once). Congratulate them on their world building. Tell them how much you loved their characters and how they made you feel. 

When giving criticism, make sure it is constructive and offer solutions on how they can make improvements. Remember, be objective. This is their book, not yours. Don’t tell them how you would write it. 

4) Summarise your feedback

The writer sends you a 150k fantasy novel to beta read. You add your comments in the document, which is tallying up into the hundreds. This is a lot for the writer to go through and try to dissect. 

A quick summary of the key points is invaluable to the writer. Summarise in about 500 words what works and highlight the key areas you feel need improvement. Then the writer can look through the specific comments within the manuscript to find more detailed feedback. 

5) Set a meetup or a video call so you and the writer can talk through your feedback

A face-to-face meeting or video call will give you and the writer a chance to discuss your feedback. I enjoy doing these and it’s an excellent opportunity for you to clarify your thoughts and suggestions. Equally, it gives the writer a chance to voice their own ideas on how to improve a part you’ve suggested that may need amending. 

Are you a beta reader? What are your methods?


  1. 6. Buy the fabulous author lots of booze at the meet up.

  2. Pingback:How to read books for free (which aren’t detrimental to the author) – Emma Cox

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