In the publishing process, there are many different people with various jobs required to take the manuscript all the way through to a printed book. For a newer author, some of these can be confusing, such as the difference between an Editor and a Beta Reader.
An editor is typically an experienced paid professional who works with the author to improve the book’s grammar, structure and story, while beta readers are usually unpaid volunteers providing general feedback on what they liked or not about the story and characters, what was confusing and so on.
Let’s take a little closer look at some of these publishing roles.
What are the Editor and Beta Reader Roles?
Many roles help take a raw manuscript and shape it into a published novel. The two most common that authors are not always clear on are editors and beta readers. Editors and beta readers very have different roles.
What is an Editor?
We often use editing and editor in a relatively loose sense for what we as writers try to do while writing, but in publishing, an editor is a paid professional, typically working for the publisher. They will work closely with the author throughout the whole process from acquisition to final publishing day to ensure the book is as good as it can possibly be.
This means working not only with the manuscript on many of the more technical and detailed aspects to help improve it but also starting with acquiring the publishing rights to the book all the way through to final proofreading, approval and printing.
What is a Beta Reader?
On the other hand, a beta reader is usually an unpaid volunteer who is reading the book at the draft stage to give much more general feedback. Their role is to represent the final reader and provide feedback to the author so they can get an excellent independent perspective on how they view the story in general and opinions of characters and storylines.
An author may choose to do this process more than once as they revise the manuscript through various drafts and edits.
Both these roles are valuable. They can help improve the book dramatically. If you are self-publishing, then all the tasks usually performed by an editor may fall to you or possibly require you to pay a professional yourself directly for these services unless you can find free alternatives.
What Does a Beta Reader Do?
Let’s look at the role of beta readers in a little more detail.
Beta readers are intended to represent the average reader. Everyone else involved in the process is typically from inside the publishing world and provides feedback from an expert perspective.
They are essentially a test audience who provide you with feedback that will reflect the opinion of a standard reader. Rather than the more technical feedback you’ll get from others, beta feedback will be an honest opinion on how they found the plot, the book’s overall pacing, and things like consistency throughout.
This can be extremely valuable, particularly if your book is a follow-up. They can help you realize and understand how your characters and plotlines are developing compared to earlier works to make sure they still fit in with reader expectations.
Even though it is not professional, don’t underestimate this feedback. It will typically reflect the average opinions of readers who you are hoping not only pay for the book but will leave positive feedback on the website they purchased from or give to friends.
Do You Need Beta Readers?
Many authors do not use beta readers, and the choice is entirely up to you. If you believe they can provide beneficial constructive feedback that can help you improve the storyline, you should absolutely go ahead and find some.
The issue can be that this does add an additional workload as you will need to find them in the first place, make sure you have clear instructions and communications with them and have time to follow up with them.
If you are still on the fence and are not sure if you have the time to manage multiple people, it can be helpful to at least try to find one or two. The feedback from at least a couple of people reading a draft can help you confirm that you have not missed any significant issues with your story, pacing, plot or characters you have created.
Sometimes it is just exceedingly difficult to get this perspective for yourself as you have written and read your book so many times by this point, you are just too close to see problems that others may see quickly and easily.
It is unquestionably worth putting the effort in for one or two different opinions.
Do Beta Readers Get paid?
Although there are paid beta readers, for the most part, they are free are doing it voluntarily.
Some authors will use friends, family or neighbors as their beta readers. Although you may feel more comfortable giving your book for the first time to people you know, one problem with this is that they may not want to provide you with honest feedback on problems or issues. They may hold back somewhat, and therefore you may not get a complete understanding of any negative or problem parts of your manuscript.
If you use people close to you, make sure you are very clear with them that you expect and appreciate the open, honest feedback. Follow up by making sure you don’t disagree and criticize, or you may find it challenging to get them to agree to help you in the future.
An alternate source beta reader can be amongst your fans. If you are a published author or have released a book for free, you may find some readers willing and happy to help you in exchange for reading your new book before everybody else.
If you have an email list, this can be as simple as sending out an email requesting help saying that you are looking for volunteers. If you don’t have an email list but have an author website, you can put a notification at the top of your site with contact information asking for help.
If you don’t have either of these, possibly because you are a new author, try finding and joining forums and sites. Make sure to read and follow the rules. There are plenty of sites so you should be able to find some that will let you release a sample chapter or a short story. You can follow up with a request for beta readers at some point later.
Paid beta readers could be helpful as they are more likely to give you honest, clear feedback as they are experienced in reading and critically commenting in a constructive, useful way for the author. Cost is obviously an issue for new writers, though.
Can beta readers steal your work?
One final question that can concern people is the question of theft of your book if it is not yet published. This is not something that many experienced authors are really concerned with as it is unlikely to happen.
Although theft is technically possible, by the time you send your work to beta readers, you have typically already shown it to others and are now giving it to multiple beta readers. This means should someone decide they want to try to steal your book, the weight of evidence is on your side as you have numerous people who can confirm that they have already seen this manuscript.
If you have spent a sizeable amount of time writing, it can be very concerning the first time you send it out, but I would encourage you not to let this stop you. There are no verified instances of this happening, and there are so many books written and published each year, the likelihood is incredibly low.
Get your book into the hands of others so you can get it published as soon as possible. It is worth the effort to help you create a better final manuscript. Good luck!