Most published authors feel that a book editor should not be the first person with whom you share your manuscript, hence the popularity of beta readers. There’s great value in viewing your work through a fresh set of eyes when you have done all you can with your manuscript. However, for most authors the value of free beta readers doesn’t lie in a new perspective, but rather in cutting out steep book editing prices.
What is Beta Reader Befuddlement?
Why pay an editor when you can have friends and family beta read your book? Of course, free beta readers or even a professional beta reader can help reduce the cost of freelance editing rates, but you should understand the limitations of the process.
Unless you actually find a book editor to do a free beta reading of your book, you are missing a crucial step in the process. Free opinions from beta readers will give you fantastic insights into what readers think, which will help refine the manuscript before you invest in editing.
However – in most cases – using enough free beta readers does not mean you can skip on making use of professional manuscript editing services. Beta reader befuddlement is the mindset that free beta readers and professional freelance editors for hire offer the same value to your manuscript – that they are interchangeable. A talented writer with a professional beta reader can certainly eliminate the need for developmental editing, as they uncover issues such as:
- poor characterization
- timeline inconsistencies
- poor organization
- weak arguments
- plot holes
- lack of pacing, etc.
As a talented author you may be able to resolve these issues with the help of your free beta readers, but unless you hire a proofreader or a professional book editor who is prepared to beta read for you and perform a free line edit, you will still need to pay a copy editor after making the changes suggested by your beta readers.
Working With Beta Readers
Beta readers would typically offer suggestions for improvement, but won’t actually correct errors in the same way that an editor would do it. Only the most committed, invested, and expertly trained beta readers will pick up and highlight every error in your manuscript.
Experienced authors and book editors for hire recommend you find a range of free beta readers with different backgrounds and skills to ensure the most well-rounded result for your beta reading process. Ask your writing partners or colleagues, or other people who have expressed an interest in your work, and critique groups to be beta readers for your book. However, be sure not to simply approach people out of the blue, even if you feel that you know them well enough. Choose people with whom you share genuine two-way connections as your free beta readers.
The Problem With Family Members As Beta Readers
Why did I not include family and friends in the list of possible free beta readers? Because friends and family are not adequately qualified to provide helpful reviews.
Firstly, they care about you and your relationship with them too much to be objective. You may think they understand this is not a time to sugar coat, but you can’t count on that.
Secondly, they understand your objective too well to see what readers may pick up. They will inadvertently overlook issues, since they probably share your biases. Since they share so many similarities to you, they may miss certain confusing colloquialisms and probably share your biases.
Thirdly, they know you too well. They are so familiar with your way of speaking and writing that your style subconsciously filters through the writing in front of them. Yes, they will probably pick up a large percentage of the errors, but the biggest readability issues will slip by them unnoticed.
Rather use beta readers who have no commitment to the outcome, other than helping you succeed, followed by an unbiased, objective editor to apply the final touches.
What If I Can’t Find Qualified Beta Readers?
Then you’d be better off hiring a professional editor rather than using family as beta readers. I’ve come across many author issues in the last 8 or so years, so don’t feel alone in your struggle. Here are some of the objections I’ve encountered regarding beta reading and editing.
How do I know the editor or proofreader won’t steal my manuscript?
Unfortunately, whenever you put yourself out there, you run the risk. It happens. All I can recommend is that you use beta readers you know and trust (rather than strangers) and hire a proofreader via hourly contract on Upwork. Or speak to other published authors who may be able to recommend book editors for hire. You can request a contract and non-disclosure agreement that covers your fears.
What if free beta readers don’t want to read the whole manuscript?
Ideally, you should hire a professional beta reader who can read your entire book, but you have to understand that unless a person is passionate and committed to the cause of being a beta reader, they have a life outside of your manuscript. They have to earn money and spend time on their own passions, which may or may not include family life.
It is really a sacrifice for someone to invest time and emotion into something when they’re receiving nothing (apart from the promise of reciprocal beta reading in future) in return. That’s why many free beta readers are only willing to read a couple of chapters. It can still be helpful, though, if you give each person a different chapter to beta read. However, you will need an editor to ensure the collective cohesiveness of your manuscript.
What if freelance editors for hire butcher my manuscript?
That also happens, but it’s less likely to happen if you self-publish. While developmental editing can be handy in shaping your work, most independent authors only hire book editors for copy editing after completing the beta-reading process.
When you publish via traditional publishers, you do lose some of the autonomy and your own decision-making with regards to your manuscript.
Ultimately, you get to make the decisions regarding the suggestions of your beta readers and book editors. However, years of experience qualifies an editor to spot mistakes your audience will spot, too once they purchase and read your book – which will be too late to make corrections. It’s important to lend extra weight to your editor’s suggestions, because Amazon takes the quality of their products seriously. Your book must be as close flawless as possible when you publish it online.
I’ve heard that editors make mistakes, too…
Of course. They are human, too. Professional book editors have an average 5% margin of error. However, if you’ve hired someone who comes highly recommended, not even the most discerning readers will spot them and your manuscript will still be 95% better than if you don’t hire an editor. The best way to prevent errors, is to hire a book editor recommended by other professionals.
How much does it cost to hire an editor?
If you’re seriously considering pursuing a career as an author, you will have to make some decisions and prioritize. Every achievement in life requires some investment. Even a corporate job will require more than just showing up. You will have to purchase professional attire, make-up, a briefcase, a nice car… Look for options when it comes to hiring affordable book editors. Some book editors for hire charge thousands of dollars for editing grammar and style issues, and yes, that can be hard for many startup authors to afford.
Instead, look for affordable book editors (these are the small, freelance book editors) who have significant experience under the belt. Better yet, hire someone on an hourly contract on Upwork and allocate a weekly or monthly amount of hours you can afford. This may take longer to achieve your objective of publishing, but at least you will have peace of mind that your work reads well.
As an author, professional manuscript editing services is a key investment into your professional image. S/he will spot mistakes that are less apparent to yourself and your free beta readers.
Can’t I just use book editor software?
Book editor software can spot up to 80% of grammatical and spelling errors, which makes it an alright option for editing grammar on short pieces of prose or blog posts. However, book editor software lacks the human element and emotional understanding required to give your book the depth you desire. Also, software is created using parameters, algorithms and dictionaries that may or may not apply to your writing style. It is never a good idea to rely solely on book editor software for writing books for publication. Also, if you add up the monthly subscription fees of a decent software package, you will find that it is actually cheaper to hire affordable book editors.
Beta Readers and Editors Provide a Rear View Mirror Experience
Did you know that authors have a blind spot? As an author, you have preconceived notions about your book. You understand your characters like nobody else. You are familiar with their backgrounds and their futures and you are likely to assume that the reader already understands vital information about them. The best book editors, in addition to editing writing issues can also improve the flow of your writing to make your book easier to read.
As such, an editor can ensure the best reading experience possible for your readers, thus securing future book sales. By going over the edits, you will see your bad habits (all authors have bad habits!) and common mistakes, and learn from that for future books. It’s an investment that keeps on yielding results.
Ultimately, your manuscript is in your control. Make the most of it by grabbing a copy of Editor’s Guide to Writing a Book on a Shoestring Budget. This book (available in hard copy and all digital formats) will show you how to avoid common issues that add zeros to your editing costs. Apply the easy action steps before you hand over your manuscript to free beta readers for best results.