If you’re new to the writing community, or you’ve been writing for a while but are now wanting to get serious about possibly polishing a story for publication, you may have heard the term “Beta Reader” a lot. Well, what are beta readers? Beta readers are people who read your work from the perspective of an average reader and give you feedback on your story. So, rather than going to the bookstore and grabbing a book off the shelf, they read your story and immerse themselves into your world even though it hasn’t been published yet.
Beta readers are, without a doubt, the best way to gauge how your book comes across to others. For example, you may think that Character A is strong and has a likable personality, but if you send your story out to four beta readers, it could turn out that Character A comes across as snarky while Character B is the more-liked person. Beta readers can also help find plot holes in your story and point out when they believe that the actions of your main character don’t fit with how they were originally presented.
So, the question is, do you need a beta reader?
The short answer is yes. Without a doubt, you need a beta reader. There are also alpha readers and critique partners, but that’s something for another day. Preferably, you would have multiple beta readers for your story to have a small sample audience. Some beta readers are unpaid while others are paid, and the feedback you get can range anywhere from “I like this book” to a detailed report that delves into your characters, plot, worldbuilding, and anything else that your beta reader may deem necessary to talk about. If you’ve read this far, you’re probably thinking, “Wow, I should really get a beta reader,” but be careful to distinguish your beta reader from your editor.
Anyone can read a story, and, if they’ve read enough books, they probably know how to form their thoughts on various aspects of different stories. Pretty much anyone can be a beta reader, but not everyone can be an editor.
What are editors? Well, we are! Editors can help you in a variety of different ways. From developmental editing in which they delve into the story and help you figure out what needs to be done for it to get published, to copy edits where grammar, punctuation, and spelling is evaluated. There are also line edits, proofreading, and editorial assessments that an editor can provide as well. Rather than telling you what they liked and didn’t like about the story, they help you get your story ready for sending it out into the world.
In short, beta readers are not editors, and editors are not beta readers. Beta readers are necessary part of the writing process, and you can use them until you decide to send your book to a professional editor. But you must remember that beta readers who charge for their work usually charge less than professional editors.
Why is there a difference in price?
Well, simply put, beta readers can only give you opinions as a reader to help you improve your work for other readers, editors go above and beyond to correct spelling and grammar, help tighten the structure of your work, and even go as far as researching and fact-checking certain things in your story. You pay an editor for the substantial work they produce; you pay a beta reader for their time spent reading your story and telling you their opinions.
I love having beta readers for my work, but I never dimmish the value of having a professional editor on top of them.