Kate Mallinder: Beta readers – my experience and some top tips

Kate Mallinder

Kate MallinderAs part of the Asking for a Friend blog tour, Kate Mallinder shares her experience of beta readers:

When I first started writing I heard the term beta reader a lot. I wasn’t sure exactly what one was, all I knew was it was recommended I get a couple. I had this shonky first draft of the first story I had ever written and no idea what to do with it. Debra Bertulis, who I only knew on twitter at the time, suggested I try SCBWI, and I will be forever grateful she did. There I met so many amazing people all on their writing journeys too and that included Zoe Cookson, the blogger behind Madge Eekal Reviews, and with whom I swap manuscripts. I read hers and she reads mine. I’ve added up. That was seven years ago. She has encouraged me to keep going, loved my stories and endlessly chatted storylines. And I do the same for her.

With Summer of No Regrets I had longer to polish and get readers, but with Asking for a Friend there was less time. I finished the first draft at the beginning of August 2019 and sent it immediately to my editor and agent, both of whom have offered excellent editorial advice in the past. Despite this, I found it daunting as while my agent is used to my first drafts, my editor had only seen a polished manuscript from me before so I asked Zoe to read it for me, mainly to ascertain if it was rubbish or not. Fortunately she said it wasn’t and sent back pages of comments. She has read this story so many times, and she still loves it and I am so grateful for that encouragement and kindness.

Ashon Dragon



Tips on Beta readers:

  • A beta reader is a test reader. Someone who will tell you when a sentence is clunky, that you switched the name of a main character part the way through or if the ending fell flat. Another term is ‘a fresh pair of eyes’ meaning that once a reader has read a manuscript, they can never have that ‘first time read’ ability again. If they reread, they will be either consciously or subconsciously comparing with the previous version. Tip: don’t use all of your readers on one draft. Save some for later drafts.


  • You can ask someone as a one-off, if there’s a particular area of expertise they have, or you may go on to build an amazing, mutually-beneficial relationship, and in many cases, gain a friend.


  • You can swap chapters, pitches, synopses, bios or whole manuscripts. You can agree a set date when you swap, every month or so, or have it on a more ad hoc basis. Whatever suits both of you.


  • Finding a reader who gives the right balance of carrot and stick for you is vital. Someone who is too harsh can zap your confidence, but equally if they can’t suggest any points to improve, this is also unhelpful. Knowing both what’s working and what’s not is the aim.


  • It can take a while to build up trust. It’s a daunting thing to share your work but by doing so your writing will hugely benefit.


  • It helps if the reader ‘gets’ your writing. You don’t need to be writing the same genre, but there does need to be some warm feeling towards the way you write. Lots of people have read my work and offered feedback, but not all of it has been helpful. Remember, not all feedback is equal.


  • If a suggested change rings true, then consider making it. Like all edits, you don’t have to act on every suggestion. And on the flipside, only offer your comments as suggestions.


  • You both benefit. I find that I improve as a writer by critiquing others’ work. It’s said so often because it’s true – it is much easier to spot problems in someone else’s writing. It’s also often easier to suggest ways to fix them. But you also get to see what’s working, and all of this feeds into your writing reservoir.


  • Because it’s a two-way relationship, it doesn’t cost anything! Well, apart from when you meet up for a story chat and coffee.


  • The best beta readers challenge you to do better, to improve and think bigger.


  • With any luck, you will stumble across someone who loves your writing nearly as much as you love theirs. And you may even end up great friends.

Asking for A Friend by Kate Mallinder - front cover



Agnes, Hattie and Jake travel on the school bus together but don't know each other well. They plan a week in Weston as a 'study break' before exams but none of them admit the real reasons they need to get away. Agnes must find her sister. Hattie can't bear being home now all her friends have ghosted her. And Jake is afraid he's ill and has absolutely no idea how to tell anyone. Thrown together, what will happen when the secrets start to spill out?

A feel-good YA story from the author of Summer of No Regrets about valuing the friends that value you.


Twitter: @KateMallinder



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