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Hiring a beta reader

Beta readers are a pivotal part of the self-publishing process. They read your manuscript with the eye of an “average” reader, helping to identify areas of improvement.

What beta readers do

Beta readers are essentially test readers. While some may comment on obvious grammar or spelling mistakes, the bulk of a beta reader’s feedback should be focused on their level of engagement with and reactions to the text. They may also comment on the effectiveness of world-building, characterization, writing style, and plot.

Beta reading can be a free service offered as an exchange among authors or from others who just like reading books. Some beta readers may read through a manuscript and offer inline comments throughout. Others may put together a short 1-3 page feedback report. Though I know authors are usually on a budget, I recommend seeking out paid-for professional beta reading services for a few key reasons.

Professional beta readers

A professional beta reader does not have to be an editor, but they will likely have had a lot of experience as a beta reader or completed training. Many professional editorial organizations offer short professional beta reading webinars or courses to help industry professionals add pro beta reading services to their business.

For example, I recently completed a professional beta reading webinar through the EFA that walked me through how to give feedback as a beta reader, how beta reading feedback differs from editing feedback, how to price beta reading services, and where to find clients.

Professional beta readers come to the beta reading job with the right mindset, understanding the differences between editorial feedback and beta reading feedback. If you hire a pro beta reader who is also an editor, you have the unique opportunity to get to know the editor and share your work with them at a much lower cost than professional editing. While beta reading is not a substitute for professional editing, the beta reading process can help authors determine whether it’s the right time to seek professional editing services.

Editors versus beta readers

As stated, beta readers give broad feedback based on their personal experience and evaluation of the book. Editors, on the other hand, provide specific editing suggestions related to word usage, ordering, syntax, and more, as well as consistent application of correct grammar and spelling conventions. Some editors may provide an editorial report or a style sheet as part of their service.

The editorial report and style sheet demonstrate the “why” of all of the editorial decisions an editor made for the author’s own use and understanding. For example, imagine an author is describing a suspenseful moment, a murder perhaps. An editor may say something like:

“Removing the filter and sequencing words (suddenly, before, and then) will increase the suspense of the moment. Let the reader experience the murder alongside your protagonist.”

Whereas a beta reader may say:

“The description of the murder felt like I was reading a laundry list of actions. The climax of the murder was not as exciting because I was bogged down in the details about the murderer’s actions.

Both the editor and beta reader are commenting on the same moment, but the key difference is the way in which the beta reader touches on their emotional response and their personal engagement within the moment. The editor provides a reason for why removing filter words will increase dramatic effect and keep the reader engaged. No personal response or reaction to the text is included.

Should I pay for beta reading?

Typically, professional beta reading services are not free, though they are usually offered at a significantly lower rate than editing, in the range of $1-3 per one thousand words. This puts a 50,000 word novel at $50-150 or a 100,000 word novel at $100-300 for beta reading. This can be an extremely affordable way to get vital early feedback on a novel.

When to hire a professional beta reader

There is no “wrong” time to hire a professional beta reader. Beta readers can be hired:

  1. After your first draft to give you suggestions and direction for self-editing/revision.

  2. After completing several revised drafts to make sure you haven’t missed any big picture elements.

  3. As a final look over before seeking a professional editor or querying a publisher.

  4. After professional structural or line- and copyedits but before proofreading.

The only time I wouldn’t suggest hiring a beta reader (and this is just my opinion!) is after completing a final proofread. At that point, you won’t be making any more changes to your manuscript and should be preparing to format (if you haven’t already) for publication.

Those are just a sample of the many scenarios in which hiring a professional beta reader may benefit your manuscript. Of course, you’re the author and can decide when the time is right for you.

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