Beta reading, an editing, or proofreading – how do you pick the right one? With so many services on offer for authors it can be confusing when trying to identify which is right for you.
Author Buzz UK is here to help demystify these terms and help you learn what role each one plays in the production of a published book.
A bata reader is someone, either professional or casual, who acts like a beta tester for your text. Beta testers are users that use a system while it is still fairly new. In theory all of the problems have been identified but only letting some end-users use the system will really tell.
Like the beta tester the beta reader is an early reader. A good beta reader will give you an insight into the mind and reactions of future readers.
This can be hugely beneficial for identifying points that, while technically correct, take a reader out of the story or cause them to stop reading. A professional beta reader will provide a great advantage to an author in the late revision stages of manuscript preparation.
Think of beta reading as a test screening for your book.
Casual Beta Reading
Most of your beta readers are likely to be know as casual beta readers. Early readers who read your unpublished manuscript in exchange for you reading theirs as well as friends and family. This level of beta reading can yield good advice but is not wholly reliable.
Professional Beta Reading
Professional beta readers generally specialise in a number of genres and, in exchange for payment, will give you a quality service. A good report from a decent beta reader in this class is invaluable. However it pays to do your homework as not all professional beta reading services are equal.
An editor, especially a freelance one, will focus on the technical aspects of your work. While they may pick up on some of the same areas as a beta reader they are not there to critique your writing craft to the same degree.
A copy editor is there to help you make your manuscript as professional as possible. The SFEP have a great FAQ on what a copy editor does.
This is generally the final stage of review for a manuscript. The story has been tuned with the beta readers, the text had been brought up to standard by the copy editor, and now the proof reader will go through it and pick up on any grammar, spelling, or punctuation issues that have slipped through.
The SFEP have a solid FAQ on what proofreaders do.
A warning about casual proofreading
Many writers groups offer casual beta reading and proofreading to their members. This is a useful tool in the early stages of manuscript preparation but it is no substitute for a professional proofreader at the final stages.
Comparison of Proofreading, Copy Editing, and Beta Reading
In order to help clarify the difference I have created a table that compares the roles of proofreading, copy editing, and beta reading. It comes with one obvious caveat. While professional beta reading should offer the full scope as indicated here, friends, family, and exchange readers might not.
Proofreading, Copy Editing, and Beta Reading comparison
|proofreading||Copy Editing||Beta Reading|
|Spelling, grammar, and punctuation correction||Yes||Yes||Maybe|
|Consistency of spelling and grammar||Yes||Yes||No|
|Consistency of in-universe ideas||No||No||Yes|
|Formatting from scratch||No||Yes||No|
|Evalution of opening hook||No||No||Yes|
|Suitability for audience||No||Yes||Maybe|
|Suitability of word choice for audience||No||Yes||Maybe|
|Suitability for genre||No||No||Maybe|
|Repetition and wordiness||No||Yes||Yes|
|Overall story structure||No||No||Yes|
|Identifying hang up moments||No||No||Yes|
|Major plot/character issues||No||No||Yes|
|Minor plot/character issues||No||Yes||Yes|
|Believability and realism||No||Maybe||Yes|
|Identification of clichés||No||Maybe||Yes|
|Further checks needed?||No||Yes||Yes|
The Maybes explained
Spelling, grammar, and punctuation corrections are frequently picked up by beta readers but not consistently. This is not an area of focus for most beta readers and you should not expect this to be a comprehensive review. Generally, the more obvious or egregious examples are highlighted. This is the domain of a good proofreader.
Formatting issues are sometimes picked up by beta readers. Like with spelling and grammar, beta readers are not looking for formatting issues and are likely only to report the issues that interrupt or spoil reading. This is the domain of a good editor.
Suitability for audience review is something that the best beta readers provide but this tends to be limited to professional beta readers only. Casual or “exchange” beta readers might not examine this issue. This is the domain of a good editor.
Suitability of word choice for audience is picked up by even fewer beta readers than general suitability for audience issues. While some professional beta readers may pick up on such issues your average beta reader is looking at your work not as a fellow professional writer but as a reader. Picking beta readers from the target audience for your work will generally yield feedback that may indicate suitability of word choice indirectly. This is the domain of a good editor.
Believability and realism of story is a significant area for beta readers. Even the most casual beta reader is going to pick up on this area. Editors should pick up on it as part of overall “fact checking” but a genre specialist beta reader is likely to be far more demanding and therefore helpful to you as a writer. This is the domain of good beta reading.
Fact checking with beta readers tends to be limited to the question of if they can believe the information you have given them. Depending on genre and the beta reader this area may be handled as part of the reader’s awareness of believability and realism. This is the domain of a good editor.
Textual structure is unlikely to be picked up by a beta reader unless there is a deficiency that interferes with reading enjoyment. This is, without doubt, the domain of editors.
Identification of clichés is technically the role of an editor. However, Beta readers are sensitive to a class of cliché not always picked up on by editors. The clichés of over used plot devices and character types. Unless you have brought something new to a tired idea your beta readers are likely to either tell you they found that character or plot boring or (with professional beta readers) inform you it is somewhat hackneyed. Between editor and beta reader support your story should be cliché free.
Suitability for genre is one of these areas that gets overlooked far too often. It is an area that agents and publishers are mindful of while casual beta readers might not pick up on. A professional beta reader that is well versed in the genre in question should be able to offer you an assessment of this area.