Editor or Beta Reader: Which Do You Need?

Over the past couple of months, I’ve been doing a lot of sample edits — which I love, because it gives me an opportunity to meet new authors, read new works, and exercise different parts of my writer-editor brain. All good things! One of the things I have noticed recently, however, is the number of sample edits I’m doing on novels that, in my mind, aren’t quite ready to bring in an editor.

Does that mean you shouldn’t come to me requesting a sample edit? Not at all! Just be aware that I may recommend a beta reader or suggest my own beta reading services, before I agree to take on a full edit of your work. Why, you ask? In a nutshell, because it makes no sense to have someone line edit your novel if you are doing a full structural rewrite in which whole chapters or chunks of the book end up falling by the wayside. I’m big into those home improvement shows, so let’s compare it to that. Hiring an editor before the beta read is like bringing someone in to redo your hardwood floors when your roof is caving in and your plumbing hasn’t been installed yet. Start with a qualified beta reader, who can help you ensure that your story flows from start to finish and the big-picture issues have been addressed, and then hone in on the scene-by-scene, line-by-line manuscript refinement you’ll do with a full edit.

So, is your novel at the beta reading stage, or the editing stage? Here are a few signs that you need a beta reader rather than an editor for your work:

(1) No one else has read the manuscript. Before doling out hundreds/thousands of dollars to an editor, someone other than yourself should read your novel. Why? Because they can point out big-picture things you may have missed. Check out this post to learn more about what a beta reader is, why you need one, and where you can find them.

(2) It is the first or second draft of your manuscript. Just because you’ve typed ‘The End’ doesn’t mean you have written a coherent story. That’s where your trusty beta reader comes in.

(3) You have difficulty succinctly writing your elevator pitch. If you can’t write in two sentences (normal sentences, not paragraph-long sentences) what your book is about, chances are good that your reader won’t be able to tell you that, either. A good beta reader will tune into that and should be able to ask you some leading questions to get you where you need to be with the manuscript.

When you think about things like structure, style, plot development, character arc, pacing, and the countless other things that go into writing a quality novel, it becomes clear that this novel writing business is a complex undertaking. Draw from writing friends you know, the writing group you belong to, or one of the websites I list in this post, to find a qualified beta reader to go through your manuscript in its early stages. They can help you identify the weaknesses in your story, so that you have some direction as you tackle early revisions.

I’ve started to push my beta reading service a bit more here at Adian, as well, as I’ve come to realize how many writers have missed the crucial process of having an informed critical reader go through their work. In fact, I’ve just added a “Deluxe” editing package to the services I offer, in which I work with clients all the way through from the beta read to the final proofread, and then provide assistance putting together your total book package (selecting a cover designer, writing the back blurb, etc.) and writing the sales copy, synopsis, or query letter that will be the next step in your publishing journey. Visit the Adian Services page to learn more about the new Deluxe Editing package.

The most important thing you should get from your beta reader(s) is a clear idea of your next step, whether that means revising your beginning, strengthening your character arc, or simply retaining the services of a professional editor. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Writing a novel is a long, lonely, often confusing process. In this day and age, there’s no reason at all to go it alone. Find qualified writers and editors to speed you along the way, and you’ll love the work that much more, and your writing will be better for it!