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Can Free Beta Readers Beat Book Editors at Their Own Game?

Can Free Beta Readers Beat Book Editors at Their Own Game?

What You Need to Know

By David Callinan

It’s probably a given that the majority of authors can only go so far editing their own work. It’s partly a question of being too close to the page and the story, but even if you put the MS away in a darkened room for a period and return to it, you may still find it difficult to pick up every misspelling; every typo and grammatical error.
One reason might be that since you know every wrinkle, nuance, and minor event in the story, your eyes and your brain tend to skip over the words. You know what’s coming and you can anticipate events.

A good editor picks up everything, line by line, mistake by mistake.

I have experimented with using beta readers that offer their services via sites such as Goodreads.
My experience so far is mixed. One beta reader gave me as tough an edit as a professional editor (maybe she was one). No names, no pack drill, but I was impressed that she’d even gone so far as to check on Google Earth for locations mentioned in the MS, and whether a good claret is ever served by the glass.
She was superb. I doubt if she missed anything.
On the other hand, one beta reader just gave me a single page email opinion picking up one or two minor points.
I am expecting a couple of other beta reads in the near future. I will then combine them with the first and go through the book again. I expect there will be a lot of duplication, but every tiny error that is picked up is like gold dust to the author.
So, the jury is out as to whether a beta reader can do as good a job as a paid for editor and I suspect some beta readers are professionals offering services by the back door.
Some sound advice if you are operating on a budget would be to experiment with a number of volunteer beta readers. Perhaps the most important piece of advice is to really explain your precise requirements.

For example, ask the reader to comment upon (a work of fiction):

• Plot inconsistencies. Example: something happens or is said in chapter four that is contradicted in chapter twenty.
• Pacing: does the pace drop anywhere?
• Are the characters fully fleshed out?
• Too much/too little back story?
• Are you telling and not showing anywhere in the MS?

David Callinan is a published author (Gollancz, HarperCollins) and indie publisher.


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