Beta Reading and Editing Are Both Vital

Do you really need both beta reading and editing?

Why yes, yes you do.

Why? Because they serve rather dissimilar purposes.

What’s Up With Beta Reading?

A beta reader is a person (more than one is generally better) who reads your stuff and helps you polish it. They are looking for flow, for a good story, and for really whatever you tell them you want them to concentrate on.

Now, they are not here to tear you a new one. But at the same time, they are not here to tell you how wonderful you are all the time. Despite how lovely and ego-boosting that is, you are doing yourself no favors if you just surround yourself with fawning sycophants.

But for the love of manuscripts, please don’t give them anything to beta read that you have not yet edited.

But it does not have to be absolutely perfect editing.

In the Between Time, Between Beta Reading and Editing

So, let’s say your awesome beta readers have helped you out. What do you do? Well, you edit some more, of course.

But, but, I just edited, for them.

Er, okay. You’re still not done.

This time around, you want to be addressing their concerns, their complaints, and their suggestions. Personally, when I beta read for others, I will do everything from tell them I think a sentence landed well, to giving them ideas on rewriting vague or wordy passages. And I will also do some basic researching but will also make suggestions.

Here, in between, you’re getting the MS in shape for the editor.

Uh, why am I editing for an editor? Isn’t that a lot like straightening up before a house cleaner arrives?

Yes, and no.

Edit for the Editor

So, why do you edit for an editor?

Because they’re costly, silly!

And they can take a while. So, if you can fix your split infinitives problem (or the like) on your own, editing by a professional will take less time.

What if I edit so much and so well, that I don’t need an editor?

That will never happen.

This is nothing personal, so please don’t think I am being mean. It’s more that we get so close to our own work, we are unable to see its flaws. Beta reading is for spotting continuity issues and flow and making sure it’s a good story. Editing is also for continuity, but it’s also for grammar, spelling, punctuation, word choice, etc.

The Four Flavors of Editors

There are different types of editing. And yes, I am lumping them together here. That’s deliberate.

For most indie authors, unless you really start to make it big, you will probably only be able to afford one form of editing.

Developmental Editing

This is editing for story and for voice. If you’ve worked with good beta readers, then you have more or less gotten this done already.

Copy Editing

Here’s your grammar, punctuation, etc. Some beta readers do some of this (I do). But this can be subsumed into the next one.

Substantive Editing

If you can only afford one form of editing, this is what you want. They will go a bit beyond copy editing to work on style and phrasing. Your beta readers might do a small amount of this, but do not expect them to do the heavy lifting.

In particular, independent editors, or consultants (that is, generally people who do editing for indies) will generally be a mix of this and copy editing.

Proofreading

This is the last line of defense before a draft goes live. Proofreaders catch all those nagging little typos, and they will fix formatting. If you are published traditionally, then the publishing company will still do this. But if you are self-publishing, this is all on you.

Beta Reading and Editing and You

I don’t pretend to have all the answers. This is really just a collection of all the wisdom about either which I have gathered over the years.

If had to give exactly one piece of advice about beta reading, it would be to work with people who you trust will tell you the truth, but not abuse you when they do so. And if I had to give just one piece of advice about editing, it would be to ask around, give editors a test run, and pick whoever you work best with.

And for both beta reading and editing, my advice is—learn grammar rules as well as you can. A well-put-together manuscript is going to be beta read and edited faster, and you’ll have less you’ll have to do after each step.

To get the most out of beta reading and editing, respect people’s time, skill level, and mental energy. In other words, do not give people a garbage can full of unfiltered words.

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