Beta Readers and Editors
Consider beta readers and editors – what’s the difference? Does it matter which one you use to help with your manuscript? Why yes, yes it does.
Beta readers are people who read over your work. They evaluate it before it gets anywhere near a publisher. They might read for typos, spelling errors, grammatical issues, and punctuation problems, but that is not a very good way to work with them.
Beta Readers and Continuity Checks
Instead, you want them to help you with flow and continuity. If your main character is female and 5’2″ and has a chihuahua on page 4, then she should still be female, 5’2″, and the owner of a chihuahua on page 204, unless there is some on-page reason why she isn’t. E. g.:
- They are transgender, and successfully transitioned (with or without surgery) to male. Or the character no longer identifies as female or male.
- The character had a growth spurt and is taller, or has osteoporosis, and became shorter. Or maybe her legs were amputated (sorry, character!).
- She gave away the chihuahua, or it ran away, etc.
The last thing you want is for your beta reader to wonder where the chihuahua went, particularly if the little dog isn’t a big part of the story.
Good beta readers are in the demographics of the people you’re trying to reach with your novel. They like your genre or at least are willing to read in it and offer feedback. They don’t tear you a new one when they don’t like something, but they are also unafraid to tell you if something isn’t working for them.
Some Questions to Ask Them
- Are the characters believable? Are they distinguishable?
- Do you think the situations are plausible?
- Are there good descriptions for the scenes? Can you picture yourself where the characters are?
- Do the transitions work?
- Are the conflicts plausible?
- Is the conclusion a satisfying one?
Also ask about genre-specific issues, such as whether your mystery was too easy or difficult to solve, if your horror story was scary enough, if the technobabble in your science fiction novel was credible, etc.
The best way to get a beta reader is to be one! Offer a trade with another indie. Usually this work is done for free. So be kind, and either recommend your beta reader friend or at least donate a little something to one of their three favorite charities.
Editors are more professional than beta readers and are generally people you hire. They will do copy editing, where they check for typos, etc., although there should be a last pass by a proofreader before publishing, no matter what.
Editors can also check for continuity, but they will mainly read with the audience in mind. They are a good enhancement to the work of a beta reader, and are a good idea before you send your work out for querying.
The best way to get an editor is to do some research. Ask people you know are published. After all, an editor no longer has to live in the same city or country as you (but you will do best with someone who is a native speaker of the language your book is in). Work with the editor on a sample chapter. Do you get along? Are his or her suggestions reasonable? Are they slow?
And if you are absolutely, utterly stuck for funds, try a local college or university. You might be able to get an English major to help you, but be aware they probably won’t have experience and they may not be the best fit. But they may be all you’ve got.
And make sure to have a written agreement with them! This is a sample copyediting contract, and it’s pretty good. Be sure to change the contract to indicate the laws of your state apply!
Perhaps one of the best parts about working with beta readers in particular is that they can often be your most ardent supporters. After all, they are getting early access to your raw, unfinish stuff! For writers with street teams, it makes sense for fans to do more than one of these tasks. That is, if they want to.
Also, if you ever join a critique group, you will most likely be doing some beta reading. And you will be receiving that kind of work/info in return. Try to check your ego at the door (I know how hard that can be!). You are there to get feedback, and you cannot operate under the assumption that every person you meet is going to tell you how awesome you are.
In fact, if you are in a group where you are told how awesome you are all the time, then that’s a sure sign that you have outgrown a group and need to find one which will challenge you. It is, quite literally, the only way you are going to be able to get to the next level.
Above all else, be kind.