Posted in Reading, Self-publishing, Writing

Why Beta Readers Make Books Better

That tongue-twister heralds news of my new flash fiction collection, Quick Change, due for launch later this month.

Cover of Quck Change flash fiction collection
Due for launch as an ebook on 21 June 2014

It’s a nerve-wracking time for any author when their precious manuscript is packed off for final editing and proofreading before publication. This week that’s what’s happening to Quick Change, the collection of flash fiction that I’ll be publishing as an ebook later this month. By the power of the internet, the final draft has zoomed across the ether to the other side of the country, for my editor Alison Jack to give it her expert treatment.

Last week it was the turn of the beta readers to read an earlier version of my manuscript. No, that doesn’t mean I’ve written my book in Greek.

What Are Beta Readers Anyway?

Beta readers are volunteers who read a manuscript prior to publication to alert the author to anything that might be improved. A great beta team will pick up inconsistencies and glitches that might spoil the flow of the story, e.g. a character whose name changes, an unbelievable  plot detail, or excessive use of the author’s favourite words.

  • One of my lovely beta readers spotted that I apparently have an obsession with recycling bins: the frequency of their appearance in this book has now been reduced. Or you could say, I’ve put out the bins.
  • Another reader pointed out that Belisha beacon should be capitalised because it’s named after the first Baron Hore-Belisha, a former British Minister of Transport. Well, did you know that? By the way, I can understand why they plumped for his second name.
  • One person alerted me to a recent change in the law that had made one scene in my book illegal. It was news to me. (And I bet that’s intrigued you – but no plot spoilers here, sorry!)

Interestingly, none of my eagle-eyed friends spotted the blind man that I had checking his watch. That anomaly only jumped out at me when I was inputting their suggested changes to the copy.  Which only goes to show that you can never have too many people checking over your work before you hit the “publish” button…

Publication Date Alert

I’ll be sending out a special newsletter to my blog subscribers nearer the launch date, Saturday 21 June, along with a free bonus story. To receive this alert, do either of these things:

  • If you don’t already subscribe to my blog,sign up here, and I’ll send your free bonus story with the next newsletter.
  • If you don’t want to join the blog subscribers list, but would like to be alerted when Quick Change is published, please add your email address here.

(If you’re already a subscriber to my blog, you don’t need to do anything – I’ll send you the newsletter anyway.)

In the next day or two, I’ll be posting here about how to find beta readers – useful for any authors reading this post, but also an interesting insight for non-authors behind the scenes of book production. In the meantime, I’d like to say a big thank you to my fabulous beta readers and editor by posting their links here:



English author of warm, witty cosy mystery novels including the popular Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries and the Gemma Lamb/St Bride's School series. Novels published by Boldwood Books, all other books by Hawkesbury Press. Represented by Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agents. Founder and director of the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival. Course tutor for Jericho Writers. UK Ambassador for the Alliance of Independent Authors. Lives and writes in her Victorian cottage in the heart of the beautiful Cotswold countryside.

19 thoughts on “Why Beta Readers Make Books Better

  1. No, you didn’t really have a blind man checking his watch, did you? And if you did, you should have left it in for the “book blooper reel!” 😉

  2. My betas have been awesome! They’ve found silly compound words I always separate, words I use way too much and one even had a sub-plot twist and character change that Ivloved so much I changed the ending of my story to accommodate! The biggest thing is getting over your own ego to listen to them.

    1. Haha, that is a very good point, Jennifer! I think the first impulse of many authors is to hide their stories away because they don’t want anyone to criticise them, but it’s really worth biting the bullet and sending them out to betas. Much better to get friendly guidance from them before publication than afterwards via an unfavourable review!

  3. Glad mine arrived – emailed in hopes from Scargill, N Yorkshire, on their guestmail thingy! First time I’ve done this … Not very profound, due to being on hols, but hopefully useful.

    1. Clare, thank you so much, it was really helpful. It’s such a useful exercise to have a mixture of viewpoints, both from people who know me as you do and others whom I’ve only met online. I hope you enjoyed your break – sounds like fun!

  4. Haha Debbie blind people check their watches too – granted, with their fingers, not their eyes. Can hardly wait to see the illegal scene, hope you didn’t put it out with the bins

    1. That’s true, I could have made it a braille watch – didn’t think of that. The illegal scene has now been legalised, sorry about that – but at least I didn’t have to put it out with the recycling!

  5. Exciting times, Debbie! Hope your book will be a wonderful success for you.

    Your comment about your characters always putting out bins made me smile. My editor told me I have the cleanest characters in literature, as they are always getting into, are in, or just out of the shower!

  6. Interesting article – a couple of questions though :
    1. Where does an author find Beta Readers?
    2. Do you send them files to be read as e-files or the printed page version?

    1. Helen, I’ll be putting up another post called “How To Find Beta Readers” in the next couple of days! I’ve emailed them their copies as a Word document – useful for using the “track changes” facility. But this was a short ms – only c. 11,000 words – so more manageable than a full length novel. Print or ebook would be better for a longer book, I guess.

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