Beta readers are an invaluable resource. They provide feedback on content, what’s working and what’s not working, and usually catch some of our pesky typos. Personally, I wouldn’t publish a book without the use of beta readers.
However, their role is quite different from that of an editor. Yes, they can identify problems; however, they may not be trained to provide solutions to those problems. They may catch a typo here and there, a grammatical error, or misspelling, but they’re not necessarily trained to inspect your document line by line, word by word, looking for the smallest of errors (nor should they as it may distract them from their primary purpose). They’re also not necessarily trained in the rules of grammar and punctuation, to follow a specific style manual such as the Chicago Manual of Style, to create a style sheet or a story grid spreadsheet.
What a beta reader does do, and very well, is let us know if the pacing works, if there are any confusing time jumps, jarring chapter transitions, unnatural dialogue, unrealistic characters, inconsistencies in time, place, or character descriptions. They let us know if the first chapter drew them in, if the story held their interest, where the story lagged or moved too fast. They tell us when they love or hate our protagonists, whether or not they care what happens to them, or if the story was too predictable. If there is a problem with description or too much narrative, they’ll let us know that as well.
Beta readers give us a sampling of how our target audience is going to respond to our book, giving us the chance to catch issues before the book is published. And while betas are an invaluable part of the publishing process, so are editors.
There are multiple levels of editing, including developmental/content editing, copy/line editing, and proofreading. Typically, the elements of each level of editing are as follows:
- Character development
- Showing vs Telling
- Timeline inconsistencies
- Plot holes
- Fact checking
- Spelling, grammar, punctuation, word usage
- Plot Issues
- Consistency (tone, style, voice, word choices, POV)
- Character Development
- Repetitive words, phrases, events
- Word usage
- Repetitive words, phrases, or events
As you can see, while there is some overlap, each level primarily focuses on different elements of your manuscript.
As writers, we want to put our best work out into the world. We want to provide an experience for our readers that we can be proud of. Editors and beta readers, together, help us to do that by catching things we can’t see for ourselves. And remember, editors are there to enhance your work. We want to help you take your writing from great to outstanding.
Jennifer Harris is an editor and co-author of The Catalyst Series as well as the standalone novel, Providence (J.L. Harris and D. Rankin). When she is not writing or editing, you can find her running, hiking, reading, or playing the piano. She lives in New England with her husband, two children, two dogs, and cat. You can find out more about Jennifer by visiting her website at InspiringCreativeMinds.com, or by connecting with her on Facebook and Twitter.