Beta Reader Guidelines

Elterwater Press welcomes Beta Readers who are kind enough to offer their valuable time to read and comment on our new titles prior to going to press. It's a key role in publishing, and we are always keen to hear test readers' feedback on our publications so that we can improve them before committing to publication. 

We have a simple process for becoming a Beta Reader. If you'd like to join our beta reading team, just pop over to the Contact page and fill in the form with your details and we'll be in touch. We'll have a discussion with you about what genres you prefer etc. Then when we have a title that you'd like to read, we'll send you an agreement form for signing, then once you've returned the form, we'll send you out the manuscript. We usually like to get your feedback within a month where possible, although some titles as less time-pressured.

What are our expectations of you?

As a Beta Reader, we’re not expecting a detailed analysis of the manuscript or an in-depth copy edit for grammar and punctuation (we have other folks to do that). Rather, we’d like you to read the book for the story and the characters, and tell us what you most liked about it, and anything you didn’t. 

We like to keep things simple for you, so rather than getting you to fill out lots of forms or response sheets, we ask you to mark up the manuscript following the guidelines below:

  • Tell us if you find yourself thinking about your laundry, grocery list, cleaning the toilet, etc at any place in the book. Zzzzz in the margin is clear enough.
  • Tell us if you loved something so we don’t accidentally delete it in a fit of manic editing. Hearts, smiley faces, ticks or exclamations in the margin are great.
  • Tell us if something jarred or dropped you out of the story, such as a word or phrase that feels out of place. Circle the offending word/s and make a note in the margin please.
  • Confused? A simple WTF or ???? in the margin will work. If you know what’s bugging you, please tell us. If not, don’t worry. We’ll figure it out.
  • Typos–if you see it, circle it. Don’t read for typos, though. Remember we have other pernickety people to do that.
  • After you’re done reading the Title, please let us know: (a) is there anything that happened that you thought shouldn’t have? On the flip side, (b) is there anything you thought the author was building up to but didn’t deliver?

As well as the above general feedback, we might also have some specific questions for the manuscript you're reading, such as use of language, a particular plot point or character. 

Thought triggers and prompts

Below are some thought triggers and prompts to help organise your thoughts and feedback. You might want to score the manuscript 1 (rubbish) to 5 (excellent) against the following list. Not all may be appropriate to the manuscript you're reading. It's really up to you.  

Opening Scene:

  • Does the story begin with an interesting hook, creating a desire to read more?
  • Does the manuscript begin in the right place?

Characterisation & Motivation:

  • Are the characters compelling, sympathetic, or someone you can root for?
  • Do the characters feel real and three-dimensional, with distinct voices, flaws, and virtues?
  • Are their goals clear and proactive enough to influence the plot (not passive)?
  • Do their motivations seem believable, with well-drawn and appropriate emotion?
  • Are the secondary characters well-rounded and enhance the story rather than overwhelming the story or seeming like they should be cut?
  • Are the relationships between the characters believable and not contrived?
  • Who are your favorite—and least favorite—characters and why?
  • What aspects are especially likable or unlikable about the protagonist(s)?

Plot & Conflict:

  • Are the internal and external conflicts well defined for each main character?
  • Are the internal and external conflicts organic and believable, i.e. arising out of characterization and circumstance rather than feeling contrived or forced?
  • Are there enough stakes and/or tension throughout to make it a “page turner”?
  • Does the premise avoid cliché and/or bring a fresh perspective to an old idea?
  • Are the plot twists believable yet unexpected?
  • Do the characters act or react to events in a plausible, realistic, or believable way?


  • Do scenes progress in a realistic, compelling manner and flow with effective transitions?
  • Does every scene add to and seem important to the story?
  • Does the story move along at an appropriate pace, without rushing or dragging?
  • Is there a hook at the end of each chapter or scene that makes you want to read more?
  • Is the story free from information dumps or backstory that slow the pace of the story?

Setting & Worldbuilding:

  • Are descriptions vivid and give a clear sense of time and place?
  • Do the details enhance rather than distract from the story?


  • Is the dialogue natural and appropriate for the story, not stilted or overly narrative?
  • Does dialogue move the story forward and reveal the characters?
  • Are characters’ voices consistent and distinct from one another?
  • Is there an appropriate mix of dialogue and narrative?


  • Does the writing “show” the scene with the senses, using “telling” only as appropriate?
  • Does the writing quality allow the story to shine through and draw the reader in, or are flaws jarring or intrusive?
  • Is the tone appropriate and consistent for the story?
  • Is the point of view (and any changes) handled appropriately and consistently?

Overall Impression:

  • Is the voice unique, fresh, or interesting?
  • Does the story deliver on the promise of its premise and opening scenes?
  • From a reader’s point of view, did you enjoy reading this story?

Additional Questions for Comment:

  • Is the story a good fit for the stated genre, and if not, why not?
  • What three things worked best for you?
  • What three things worked least for you?

Elterwater would like to thank Erin Quinn ( and Jamie Gold ( for their fabulous guidance for beta readers, which we have adapted and reproduced here.

Beta Reader Image