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Professional Writing, Editing, and Proofreading

Lessons Learned: Why Beta-reading Is Not Editing

When I mention my editing business, I often hear writers say, “I don’t need that. I have beta readers. Why should I pay you for something I get free?”

That’s a great question. And I have some great answers.

Beta readers are great for top-level impressions on a story and characters, but it’s the details and the nitty-gritty, line-by-line hard work of revision and rewriting where an editor makes the difference, especially if you’re self-publishing or have a manuscript that’s been rejected in the past.

You are very unlikely to get the same thing I provide from any beta reader. There are many different levels of editing, so even if you’re on a budget, we can find a service and a price that works for you.

Here’s what an editor does that your beta reader probably can’t:

1. Client vs. Friend

This is very important in what kind of results you get when you have someone beta-read your manuscript. There are a lot of levels going on here and most of them lead to a sub-optimal outcome for the author.

Your friends may not be honest with you about what needs work. The friendship is more important to most people and it’s just common sense they won’t tell you what you might need to hear. Friends don’t question your word choices, call you on weak characterization, or tell you that it’s just not logical for your character to propose marriage in the last chapter when you built the story up for him to do just the opposite. Not only will I call you on that stuff, I’ll help you fix it so it works better for the story.

Example:

Beta/Friend: Wow, that was really a twist that Joe proposed in the last scene!

Editor: Joe’s proposal isn’t a twist. It is an unsupported reversal from everything leading up to that scene and thus feels out of character. Plot twists are fine if you can support them with how you’ve built the character and the storyline so that while not probable, they are at least possible.

Suggest showing a much deeper growing connection between MCs throughout the story so that when Joe gives up his big dream job in another city to stay, readers understand his motivation. This also gives the chance for increased internal conflict for Joe earlier in the story, or for some heightened tension between the characters in earlier scenes.

If I don’t get what you mean in a sentence, I’ll let you know so you can rework it. I won’t skim or skip anything that could use work. Of course it’s up to you whether or not to address the issues I flag.

If you’re self-publishing, please don’t rely only the feedback of friends, family or your crit group before putting your name on something the whole world is about to see.

2. Professional Approach

Beta-reading is a favor. The reader often does it for fun, but even in a reciprocal agreement, you only get out of it what that person has time to give you. If another author betas for you, she’s probably so busy with her own writing that she can’t give you the level of detail that you get with an editor. I’ll give every page the same careful attention and won’t just skim over anything. Editing your work is my job and I focus on what you need, not on what I have time to give you.

I also won’t be shy about giving an honest professional opinion about the work the manuscript needs. I’m not afraid to make suggestions to rework sections or sentences, and that’s not something the average beta reader will do. My personal experience with beta readers is that unless you ask very specific questions and give them a lot of guidance about what level of detail you want them to address, you can end up with either too much praise or vague comments with no suggestions on how to address the problems the beta reader actually mentions.

Example:

Beta comment: “I didn’t really like Joe. He’s seems kind of like a jerk.”

Editor comment: “Joe isn’t a character the reader can easily like. Suggest finding a way early in the book to make him more approachable. Maybe have him do something nice outside of other character’s view, so the reader sees who he is underneath. This will make it easier for them later when he does something unlikeable that’s necessary for the plot.”

3. Experience

I‘ve edited fiction for three different publishers and non-fiction for several financial institutions. So I’ve worked with authors of all levels of experience and I know how to get the best out of each individual’s writing. I know what acquisitions editors and publishers are looking for–and what they don’t want to see. I can help you prioritize the work that needs to be done on a piece. I can also make sure it conforms to Chicago Manual of Style guidelines, or those of any other publisher you plan to work with. You can trust that I know where you need a comma and that I’ll check your hyphenation for you.

I’ll spot passive voice, epithets, movements of inanimate body parts, POV violations, and call you on showing rather than telling–some of these are issues your beta reader probably can’t identify. I’ve read a lot of stories with both structural and technical challenges and I can focus on the elements that don’t work and how to fix them.

Unless your beta reader is a better writer than you are, chances are she’ll miss identifying important ways you can improve how you write (mechanics), as well as what you write (plot).

4. Learning Experience

Editing is rarely fun for the author, so a good editor should teach each writer something new, whether it’s about how to use a semi-colon properly, or ways to introduce description that feels natural and organic, rather than the common out-of-POV descriptions. I’d like you to be a better writer after working with me. I know that doesn’t mean I’ll lose a client, but it does mean that next time around you’ll need less editing—and you’ll save time and money.

Very few authors need no editing. That’s why even mainstream New York publishers have editors for the biggest name authors. I highly recommend even a proofread just to get another set of eyes on the document, but I guarantee if you go for an edit, you won’t be sorry.

Do you have any other questions about what you get with a professional edit?

 

2 Comments

  1. Good points in here, and as a writer I feel they’re expressed well. Thanks.

  2. I actually hired a proffesional editor named Mike Valentino and it was a rip off. I think he was running my writing through an editing program because he never provided any feedback. Luckily I found a beta reader who does EVERYTHING that you say a proffesional would do. I think that the ultimate tool for any fantasy writer is the social network deviantART.com

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