What questions should I ask my beta readers? #amwriting

Using beta readers is vital for any book, fiction or non-fiction. But you have to use them well and in a focused way, so that you can work with their feedback and make sure your book is the best it can be. Here are some questions you can ask your beta readers (these are based on questions I’ve been asked and questions I’ve asked people about my non-fiction books)

What is a beta reader?

A beta reader is someone you get to test-read your book before it goes through the final stages towards publication. You can have several rounds of beta readers, of course, but they generally come somewhere before your final rewrite and edit:

  1. Plan
  2. First draft
  3. Second draft
  5. Third draft
  6. Edit
  7. Fourth draft and preparation for publishing (layout artist)
  8. Proofread
  9. Publish

Note: You might have a substantive edit before or just after the beta readers; if you have one after that stage, it’s an idea to add another beta read in afterwards, which would give you this:

  1. Plan
  2. First draft
  3. Second draft
  5. Third draft
  6. Substantive edit
  7. Fourth draft
  9. Fifth draft
  10. Edit
  11. Sixth draft and preparation for publishing (layout artist)
  12. Proofread
  13. Publish

Questions for fiction books

Questions for fiction readers will revolve around plot, character and setting:

What is your very first thought upon reading the first paragraph?

Do the characters seem realistic / attractive / interesting to you?

Did you spot any plot holes or huge errors? (I would ask the beta reader to mark up any small issues along the way)

Did you enjoy the story?

Did the pace of the story flag or go too fast at any point?

What made you want to keep reading?

What did you think of the ending?

What did you think of the setting? Would you have liked more or less description?

Did the characters speak naturally? If not, what could I do to improve this?

What was your favourite bit of the book?

What was your least favourite bit of the book?

If it’s a book in a genre: did this fit the way this genre works? Was there anything that jarred with the usual way this genre works?

Questions for non-fiction books

These questions will be slightly different and will relate to the audience for the book and the information it provides.

What do you think about the way this book is arranged?

What did you think the aim of the book was?  Do you think it achieves that aim? What could help it to achieve that aim (even) better?

Who did you feel the book was aimed at?

Was the book personally useful to you? Can you think of people it would be useful to?

Were any sections unclear or confusing? What could I do to make them better?

Were any sections particularly good? Why do you think that is?

Questions for all beta readers

Some questions are universal:

Would you recommend this book to a friend or contact?

Who do you think this book was written for?

What kind of person would most enjoy this book?

I hope you’ve found this post interesting and/or helpful. Maybe you’re a beta reader and this has helped you to do that job! Do share any other questions you ask or have been asked in the comments so this can build into the most useful resource possible – and please share using the buttons below, too! Thank you!

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Posted by on October 19, 2016 in Reading, Writing



Small business chat update – Alison Mead

Small business chat update – Alison Mead

Welcome to the latest catch up with Aly Mead  from Silicon Bullet. One of my original interviewees from 2011, we  caught up with her in August 2012 and again in September 2013. She had to skip a year for personal reasons in 2014 but came back in October 2015, and we were very glad to have her back. At that point, here’s what she wanted to be doing by now: “Keeping the work/life balance going is my aim for the next year.  Working hard but taking breaks, too.  I love building my network marketing team with Forever Living too: training and supporting team members doesn’t particularly feel like work, so I will be concentrating on growing this part of my business over the next 12 months”. Did she achieve this aim? Read on to find out!

Hello again, Aly! Are you where you thought you’d be when you looked forward a year ago?

I am in a good place at the moment, with a better work life balance and feeling quite content in life and work.  We have a new policy in our life of trying to fill our time with more experiences and less ‘things’ which means more trips, making time to visit people, and trying to take more breaks from work.  We got a puppy last year, which really takes both Paul and me away from our desks and let’s us out and about – and she is a gorgeous puppy, although I am biased!

My business is giving me the time and the finances to be able to follow this new lifestyle, and the bonus is I really enjoy what I do too.

What has changed and what has stayed the same?

I’m spending more time on my Forever Living business and less on my bookkeeping and accounts business.  There is still a good mix of the two and I never turn an interesting job down for Bookkeeping Training, but I am not going out promoting that business so much anymore.

Paul’s work for Dublin has also continued this year, which has really stabilised our income.

I have welcomed some fantastic people to my Forever Living team from all over the UK, and increasingly from Eastern Europe all from my blog.  I now have team members from Hungary, Poland and Romania as well as North Lanarkshire, Southampton, Dudley and North Humberside, amongst others, and a huge wide range of ages from early 20s to 70s.  I love how the business suits people from so many backgrounds, men and women, and I thoroughly enjoy coaching and supporting my team members old and new.

What have you learned? What do you wish you’d known a year ago?

I’ve been at this business so long now that I feel very comfortable in what I do.  What I need to remember is to always be willing to try new things, push boundaries, and be willing to go out of my comfort zone.  Also with Forever it is so important not to make assumptions about people.  Just be open and honest with any enquiries you get and let people make their own decisions on if they are interested.  My best team members come from the least likely enquirers!

I have learned though that some people join Forever Living and don’t want to be coached.  We have excellent resources available for new team members in the form of videos, training, and using Skype for mentoring sessions, but some people join and just want to do the business their own way, and approaches of support and help are rejected.  I have had to learn that that’s OK – no one HAS to take up the support offered.  I need to change my mindset to look on this as a positive, as it leaves me the time to help those that do want my support.

Any more hints and tips for people?

I now blog more with hints and tips which can help anyone in Network Marketing, not just Forever, so I suppose my tip is be open, honest and helpful and treat others how you would want to be treated, then you will find your business will grow and you will attract like-minded people.

BONUS NEW QUESTION: What question would YOU like to ask other small business owners?

Do you feel your business gets any benefit from using Twitter?

And … where do you see yourself and your business in a(nother) year’s time?

I’d be very happy in the next year to continue my trend from the last year.  Primarily I’m looking for more people who are looking for something a bit different in life who might want a Forever Living business like my own, whether you just want to join and do it your own way, or if you need more hands-on coaching and support.

I have already booked some experiences for next year, like seeing Johnny Peacock in the Para Athletics in London next July.  I plan to make sure I always have something great like that to look forward to!

What a great attitude to have, and it’s something I’m doing, too – we’ve been in business for a similar amount of time, and there’s a lot to be said for having the confidence and experience to be able to tailor your work so you get enough time to actually enjoy life – I managed to train for and complete my marathon this year by taking the same attitude. I love Aly’s tip about sharing your expertise – I’ve found my number of visitors on my website has grown again since I restarted blogging more frequently with free Word, business and transcription tips. It’s not giving your expertise away so much as sharing what you know to help other people, and getting known as a good person yourself. Long may this continue for both of us!

Find the Silicon Bullet website and blog online, and for the Forever Living side of things have a look at the Facebook page.

If you’ve enjoyed this interview, please see more small business chat, the index to all the interviewees, and information on how you can have your business featured (I have a full roster of interviewees now so am only taking on a very few new ones). If you’re considering setting up a new business or have recently done so, why not take a look at my books, all available now, in print and e-book formats, from a variety of sources. 

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Posted by on October 15, 2016 in Business, Small Business Chat


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How do I include quotations in my document? Should I change their language and spelling?

How do I include quotations in my document? Should I change their language and spelling?

Thank you to Vedrana Vojkvić for suggesting this topic to me via Twitter. She asked me for my input on a question she was discussing: what do we do if we are following UK spelling conventions and there’s a direct quotation that follows US spelling conventions? She also introduced the idea of [sic], asking to clarify that that is used only for actual errors in quotations, not just to highlight use of a different variety of English.

How do I include quotations in American English in my British English document?

This, of course, works both ways. If you are following US spelling and grammar conventions in your document and you need to quote something from a British English source, or you’re writing UK English and want to quote from an American source, should you change the spelling in your quotation to match the standard you are using in your main text?

Short answer: no.

Quotations are quotations from the original text. They should be quoted as they are, in the original.

When can I change a quotation?

There are a few occasions when you can and should change a quotation.

Note: every change you make to a quotation should be placed in [square brackets] to make sure it is clear that you have made the change.

  1. To make the grammar match the sentence in which the quotation is included. For example, you might write this: “Smith (2013) instructs the runner to ‘[go] with the flow, not setting off too fast’ (33), which is good advice,” where the original quotation ran, “A good runner goes with the flow, not setting off too fast”.
  2. When you need to explain something: “Smith (2013: 43) further states, ‘Those people [the running club members] can be very supportive’ in her seminal work.”
  3. When you need to cut text from the original quotation: “In this long passage, Smith (2012: 33) tells us to, ‘Watch out for your own over-excitement […] you must rein things in’.”
  4. If the quotations are in very archaic English and you have updated them into modern English OR the person you are quoting had a very individual use of punctuation or spelling and you have regularised it – in this case, you MUST state that you have done this in your introduction or a “Note about the quotations” at the beginning of your document. I would prefer to add modern English versions after the original in the first example and leave the quotations in the original in the second example.
  5. If you have translated the quotations out of their original language yourself – in this case, make sure to make a note of this in your introduction or a “Note about the quotations,” and if you have only translated some of the quotations, put a note [translated by the researcher] after those you have translated.

If you choose to emphasise something in the quotation that was not emphasised in the original, you must say that you have done this: “Smith says, ‘Everyone can run at their own speed and should not be pushed too far’ [emphasis added by the researcher].” (If the emphasis appears in the original, it’s good practice to add [emphasis in the original] after the quotation instead, to make that clear.)

When can I use [sic] in a quotation?

Almost never! I think that’s one for another article … However, to answer the original question, you would not need to use [sic] when quoting in one language (variety) in a text that is in another language (variety).

The golden rule of including quotations in your text

Always, always, always reference them fully so the reader can go and find them in the original!

This article has discussed how to insert quotations into a text, including what to do if they are in a different variety of English, whether you should change the spellings of quotations and when it is acceptable to change a quotation.

If you have enjoyed this article and/or found it useful, please do add a comment and/or share using the buttons below. Thank you!


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Small business chat update – Nicky Lloyd Greame

Small business chat update – Nicky Lloyd Greame

Here’s a Small Business Update with Nicky Lloyd Greame from the business coaching and mentoring company People and Potential, who we met first in July 2014. and caught up with in September 2015. At that point, she’d been in business for a couple of years and was settling in: this was her plan for the upcoming year – “I have just developed a new concept which will launch in the next few months, all about healthy, daily exercises for the mind.  I have a series of courses and products around it and I plan on rolling them all out throughout the next 6 months to a year. I now also have a new member of the team who will be helping me deliver all this new training to corporate clients and members of the public alike. Oh, and watch this space for the new improved website launch”. Let’s find out how she’s doing now!

Hello Nicky! Are you where you thought you’d be when you looked forward a year ago?

Yes, I actually think I am – only with bonuses.  Business is still growing: both my personal and corporate client base is growing.  I have just started designing a new online stress management course, which is really exciting.  I now have an amazing associate who I’m looking forward to expanding my business with – he specialises in hypnotherapy (amongst other things), so we plan on merging our skills to offer a variety of unique solutions for those struggling with their mental health – but for whom for some reason the NHS offering is not working.
What has changed and what has stayed the same?
My niche has remained Mental Health – particularly helping people with stress and anxiety.  I’ve started helping children a lot more, too, so I’m hoping to start doing that in a more group-based setting (offering workshops in schools and academies, etc.)… oh, and I have a book almost finished – the no-sweat guide to less stress (working title!!).  Exciting times!
What have you learned? What do you wish you’d known a year ago?
I’ve invested a lot in my practical learning this year – I feel it is really important to keep learning – so this past year has been skills such as creating online courses, writing a book and generally how to position myself as the go-to person in my field.  As for what I wish I’d known last year – to be honest, it’s that its OK to invest in yourself – in fact its better for your business.  A year ago, I was plagued with guilt about spending that kind of money on my learning – now I recognise that it’s an essential investment into myself, ny business and my clients.  It allows me to deliver the best service possible.
Any more hints and tips for people?
Keep learning – diarise at least an hour or two a week for research and learning.  Make it a priority – feeding your mind helps feed your soul.

BONUS NEW QUESTION: What question would YOU like to ask other small business owners?

How do you measure your success?  And how do you reward it?
And … where do you see yourself and your business in a(nother) year’s time?
I would like to have a best-selling book, at least two online courses and to have been able to have helped many more clients – particularly children and teenagers – through workshops in schools.
I love the way that Nicky’s gradually developing her offering while sticking to the core area that she wants to focus on, and having an associate who can add in extra services is a real bonus, too. I look forward to being able to link to her book next time!
You can find Nicky and People & Potential onlline at and you can email Nicky, find her on LinkedIn, or call her on 01924 361738.

If you’ve enjoyed this interview, please see more small business chat, the index to all the interviewees, and information on how you can have your business featured (I have a full roster of interviewees now so am only taking on a very few new ones). If you’re considering setting up a new business or have recently done so, why not take a look at my books, all available now, in print and e-book formats, from a variety of sources. 

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Posted by on October 8, 2016 in Business, Small Business Chat


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Why are my tracked changes altering their colour when I save in Word 2010, 2013 and 2016

We’ve already learned what Track Changes is, why we use it and where to find it, and how to customise Track Changes to suit our own preferences and learned how to work with a document that has Tracked Changes.

This article explains what to do when your tracked changes alter their colour when you press the Save button. It’s weird, it can be annoying, and your initials might disappear, too, which can be confusing if more than one person is commenting on the text.

Screen shots are from Word 2013.

Has your track changes markup ever changed colour?

This has only happened to me when working with a document that has originated from someone else.

You have made lots of changes in a document, and they show up in red, as normal (or whatever colour you have set for your corrections), but when you save, yours go into blue and your initials disappear. This might also happen if you’re working on a document which already includes someone else’s tracked changes: yours show in a different colour to theirs until you press Save. Then they’re all blue (or whatever colour the first person’s were).

What is happening here?

The original owner of the document has specified that the personal information of whoever is working on the document will be removed when they Save the document.

How to check whether your personal information is being removed upon Saving the document

To check whether this is the reason for your tracked changes changing colour, follow these steps.

Go to File (the extreme left tab in Word) and Options:

word options for checking trust center

Clicking on Options will give you this Word Options menu; choose Trust Center:

accessing the trust center in word

Click on Trust Center and then go into Trust Center Settings by clicking the button at the bottom right:

Trust Center in word

Once in the Trust Center Settings, you need to go into Privacy Options (it will default to Macro Settings):

Privacy settings in trust center in word

…. and once you have accessed Privacy Options, you will see that Remove personal information from file properties on save is ticked, which means that when you save, all references to your name are removed from both track changes and the properties of the file itself:

remove personal identification on save in word

Now, at this point, this can be “unticked” so that your changes stay in your colour (in your own view, only, of course) and with your initials (everywhere). But do stop to think: did the person who created the document do this on purpose? It’s quite a lot of clicks to make by accident, so I do tend to check this, see why it’s happening and then leave it as it is. I might change it so I can see my own changes then make a note to change it back before my final save, but in general, I leave it.

Why might someone choose to remove personal information in a document?

I’m not entirely sure that I have an answer to this. Maybe they have edited the document and don’t want their end client to be confused by lots of different names on the file. Maybe they’re a student who wants to make sure no one else’s name is on the file. I do tend to assume they have a reason, and respect that.

But this is how and why the tracked changes colour sometimes changes when you save your document.

This article has taught you how to work with a document that has been marked up using Track Changes where the colour of the track changes alters. You can read more about what Track Changes is and why we use it, how to work with a document including tracked changes and how to customise Track Changes.

If you have found this article useful, please share or “like” it using the buttons below, or leave me a comment to tell me what you think. Thank you!

This is part of my series on how to avoid time-consuming “short cuts” and use Word in the right way to maximise your time and improve the look of your documents.

Please note, these hints work with versions of Microsoft Word currently in use – Word 2010, 2013 and 2016 all for PC. Mac compatible versions of Word should have similar options. Always save a copy of your document before manipulating it. I bear no responsibility for any pickles you might get yourself into!

Relevant articles on this website

Track changes 1 – why use it, where can you find it, what can you do with it?

Track changes 2 – customising Track Changes

Track changes 3 – working with a document with tracked changes

How do I accept one reviewer’s changes?



Posted by on October 5, 2016 in Copyediting, Errors, New skills, Short cuts, Word, Writing


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Small business chat update – Tone Hitchcock

Small business chat update – Tone Hitchcock

It’s time for a Small Business Chat update, and we’re all happy that it’s time to chat again to Tone Hitchcock of Anthony Hitchcock Art & Design. I first interviewed Tone in May 2012 and then we did updates in June 2013, July 2014 and September 2015, at which point, when asked where he wanted to be in a year’s time, he replied,  “More film prop work would be nice, more museum stuff… and of course, I’ll be writing the next update from my yacht in the Bahamas…” Well, I’m not entirely sure that he was in the Bahamas when he last got back to me, but here’s an update on what he’s been up to, and some photos, of course …

Hello again, Tone! So, are you where you thought you’d be when you looked forward a year ago?

This year, I’m very happy to be able to say that I’m actually much further along than I hoped I would be. To be honest, being a propmaker, there isn’t really a grand over-reaching masterplan that I’m working to (cooked up in my Volcano lair, whilst stroking my pet shark with a laser on his forehead, obviously), other than to keep on doing more of the same, to try to get more into film and TV props, and to get the work to come in more regularly, and this does seem to be happening now.

Tone Hitchcock demon sculpture Charismata

A demon for a horror film (Charismata)

What has changed and what has stayed the same?

At the end of last year, I had a really bad dry spell, where everything I quoted for fell through. It got to the point where I was seriously beginning to wonder if I should pack it all in and get a proper job; my equivalent of a mid-life crisis, I guess. While chatting about leads with a friend who is also a propmaker (the splendidly named Clemency Bunn, have a look at her awesome work on, I was pointed in the direction of the Art Dept Facebook group, which has proved an absolute Godsend: rather like someone opening the door and finally inviting you in to the party where all the cool kids are! They post jobs there every day, and I’ve been working constantly ever since.

All of this coincided with my wife leaving her old marketing job, and taking on a new position working for the University of Bath. As it’s a part-time post, I’ve been much freer to take on jobs that otherwise would have left us overstretched, particularly with regards to childcare. I’ve produced props for Sadler’s Wells through Leviathan Studios, worked on the unbelievably large and impressive set for the upcoming series The White Princess (in fact, if you see publicity shots for the series taken in a stone passageway with a spiral staircase in it, you’ll know who detailed all of the ‘masonry!’), worked on some massive sculpts for Burberry with Johnny Mann Scenic Services, and created a series of props for the CBBC show Art Ninja. This last one in particular earned me extra Dad Points, as both of the boys are huge fans of the show.

Tone Hitchcock sculpture JMSS

2m tall waterhorse made for JMSS.

What have you learned? What do you wish you’d known a year ago?

One thing I’ve learned this year is not to undervalue what I do. It seems an obvious point, but often for freelancers, there is a massive tendency to take anything that comes along to allay the ever-present and nagging fear that every job might be your last. Sometimes, though, this can be counterproductive; I was waiting for builders to finish their part of a project to allow me access, and I had a week and a half to kill. I scouted around, and found a small production that needed a hand, so I thought I’d do them a favour. Long story short, they were an absolute nightmare to deal with, and a bit of a kerfuffle ensued over payment as a result. One thing that this confirmed for me was the importance of being a paid-up Union member (BECTU, in my case), as without them I wouldn’t have had much recourse. Lesson learned? Sadly, it is probably that trying to do favours for people is something that should be approached with the utmost caution, or not at all…

Any more hints and tips for people? 

A Top Tip for people trying to get into the same line of work is, as it is for most freelancers, is that Networking is vital. I’m terrible at deliberately trying to be businesslike, so this isn’t something that I’ve felt comes naturally to me. I can’t stand Linkedin, for instance, as most of it seems very self-serving, and often completely wrong anyway, but I am quite garrulous, and, in the case of the Art Dept groups on Facebook, I’d managed to do some inadvertent networking anyway just by actually making friends along the way. So, I’d say “play to your strengths“ – find a way of connecting with people that doesn’t feel contrived to you, and run with it. For me, that seems to be just nattering to people who I work with, and also Facebook (which is often the solitary freelancer’s equivalent of a watercooler chat anyway).

Tone Hitchcock trees Desklodge

Two oak trees in a hot-desking office in Bristol (Desklodge)

BONUS NEW QUESTION: What question would YOU like to ask other small business owners? 

The question that I’d always wanted to ask others in my boat was “Where do you get your leads from?” It felt terribly un-British to actually ask this, but when I did, the question was answered. Apparently, asking for directions gets you to your destination faster than driving up random roads and hoping for the best. Who knew, eh?

And … where do you see yourself and your business in a(nother) year’s time?

This time next year? More of the same, hopefully. I have some potentially ace stuff coming up (some of which was potentially ace at this point last year too, but is now a lot closer to potentially happening…), so I’m feeling very optimistic for 2017!

I love Tone’s honesty as well as the fabulous makes he shares with us each year. I’m glad there’s a union that can help, and I agree, it’s often those little jobs we take on to fill in a gap that prove troublesome; it’s very difficult to learn to go with the flow and accept the quiet times as well as the busy ones.

See what Tone’s been up to recently at Anthony Hitchcock Art & Design at You can, of course, email Tone.

If you’ve enjoyed this interview, please see more small business chat, the index to all the interviewees, and information on how you can have your business featured (I have a full roster of interviewees now so am only taking on a very few new ones). If you’re considering setting up a new business or have recently done so, why not take a look at my books, all available now, in print and e-book formats, from a variety of sources. 

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Posted by on October 1, 2016 in Business, Small Business Chat


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How do I highlight the text related to my comment balloon in Word 2013 and 2016?

I have already published a range of posts on issues with comment boxes or comment balloons, including ones on comment boxes suddenly going tiny, or comment box text running in the wrong direction, changing the language in your comment balloons. This article covers how to highlight the text that a comment balloon relates to.

Why can’t I see which bit of text this comment balloon is about?

As a default in Word 2013 and Word 2016, you can see your text and you can see your comments, but you can’t see which bit of text the comment refers to. Why? I have no idea. Microsoft tends to try to make things look simpler, but personally, I don’t find it helpful. It looks like this …


… and what we want to see is this:


How do I highlight the text that’s being commented on?

You can change the settings to do this by going to the Review Tab and the Track Changes area. You will see a box marked Simple Markup. Click on the down arrow to the left to access the dropdown menu:


Select All Markup.

Now the text that the comment is about will be highlighted when you’re looking at the document:


Don’t forget …

This only applies to your individual view of the document on your particular computer / screen. If your editor, client or co-writer wants to change this view, they’ll have to change it themselves. Send them here to see how it’s done!

If you have found this article helpful, please add a comment and/or share it using the buttons below. Thank you!

Other related posts on this blog

What to do if your comment boxes go tiny in Word

What to do if your comment boxes start running from right to left

Changing the language in your comment balloons

Customising your comment boxes – everything you need to know

Customising Track Changes

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Posted by on September 28, 2016 in proofreading, Short cuts, Word, Writing


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