Beta Reading VS. Editing #amwriting

Once again, the question of the difference between beta reading and editing has arisen in one the many forums I frequent on Facebook. So, I feel the need to revisit a post from 2015, Beta Reading VS. Editing. If you’ve already seen this post, nothing has changed in the world of editing and beta reading since this first appeared. But thank you for stopping by!


Indies rely heavily on what we refer to as beta readers to help shape their work and make it ready for editing. But in many online forums, authors use the term used interchangeably with editing, and the two are completely different.

And unfortunately, some indie published works are clear examples of work by authors who don’t realize the importance of working with an editor, although it is apparent that they have had assistance from beta-readers.

What is quite disappointing to me, is the many traditionally published works that seem to fall into the same lack-of-good-editing category, and I am at a loss as to why this is so.

So, what is the difference between a beta reader and an editor?

Well, there is a HUGE difference.

Editing is a process, one where the editor goes over the manuscript line-by-line, pointing out areas that need attention: awkward phrasings, grammatical errors, missing quote-marks, or a myriad of things that make the manuscript unreadable. Sometimes, major structural issues will need to be addressed. It may take more than one trip through to straighten out all the kinks.

  1. In scholastic writing, editing involves looking at each sentence carefully and making sure that it’s well designed and serves its purpose. In scholastic editing, every instance of grammatical dysfunction mustbe resolved.
  2. In novel writing, editing is a stage of the writing process in which a writer and editor work together to improve a draft by correcting errors and by making words and sentences clearer, more precise, and more effective. Weak sentences are made stronger, nonessential information is weeded out, and important points are clarified, while strict attention is paid to the overall story arc.
  3. The editor is not the author She can only suggest changes, but ultimately all changes must be approved and implemented by the author.

Beta Reading is done by a reader. One hopes the reader is a person who reads and enjoys the genre that the book represents. Beta reading is meant to give the author a general view of the overall strengths and weaknesses of his story.

The beta reader must ask himself:

  1. Were the characters likable?
  2. Where did the plot bog down and get boring?
  3. Were there any places that were confusing?
  4. What did the reader like? What did they dislike?
  5. What do they think will happen next?

Beta Reading is not editing, and the reader should not make comments that are editorial in nature. Those kinds of nit-picky comments are not helpful at this early stage because the larger issues must be addressed before the fine-tuning can begin, and if you are beta reading for someone, the larger issues are what the author has asked you to look at.

This phase of the process should be done before you submit the manuscript to an editor, ensuring those areas of concern will be straightened out first.

Editors and other authors make terrible beta readers because it is their nature to dismantle the manuscript and tell you how to fix it. That is not what you want at that early point–what you want is an idea of whether you are on the right track or not with your plot and your characters, and if your story resonates with the reader.

Do yourself a favor and try to find a reader who is not an author to be a first reader for you. Then hire a local, well-recommended editor that you can work with to guide you in making your manuscript readable, and enjoyable.

If you notice a few flaws in your manuscript but think no one else will notice, you’re wrong. Readers always notice the things that stop their eye.

In my own work, I have discovered that if a passage seems flawed, but I can’t identify what is wrong with it, my eye wants to skip it. But another person will see the flaw, and they will show me what is wrong there.

That tendency to see our writing ‘as it should be and not how it is’ is why we need other eyes on our work.


Credits and Attributions:

Beta Reading VS. Editing, by Connie J. Jasperson, © 2015 first published on Life in the Realm of Fantasy.

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31 Comments

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31 responses to “Beta Reading VS. Editing #amwriting

  1. I am finding that I am not a very good beta reader as an author. I have a hard time keeping my mitts off the nitpicky stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

    • This is true, and is why we have such a hard time finding good first-readers. Most of my friends are authors! But my sister is a teacher, and my best friend is also an avid reader. They are good sounding boards.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Stephen Swartz

    When you know there is stuff that must go
    That’s editah!
    When you know it’s now ready to go
    That’s a beta!

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  3. how we can be beta readers as an auhtor?

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    • Hello! That is a good question. We can’t beta our own work – that is impossible. But often our friends who are authors will agree to be first-readers for us when our manuscript is at an early stage. Because they are authors, they may not understand that we are looking for more general comments on the flow, the story arc, character development, and large issues like those. In the early stages, line-editing is a waste of time, and when the book is done, you are looking for ARC readers. (Advance Reading/Review Copies) SO, Beta-readers are special, and I am very fortunate to have some wonderful first-readers who work with me.

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  4. “What is quite disappointing to me, is the many traditionally published works that seem to fall into the same lack-of-good-editing category, and I am at a loss as to why this is so.” You and me both, sister . . . and what’s worse is I have compared first versions with more recent versions of some well-loved books, and what was well-edited before now has typos and errors and other eye-stoppers. Eee gads!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow – I hope that’s not a trend. The original editors may have passed on, in some cases, especially for work that is more than forty years old or so. And work that is in the public domain is a free-for-all, with fly-by-night publishers grabbing on to what they can put on the market with minimal effort.

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  5. Pingback: Beta reading Vs Editing – LYNN HAMMOND

  6. I needed this a couple months ago

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  7. Reblogged this on The PBS Blog and commented:
    Very well said. Fav. Post Quote: Beta Reading is not editing, and the reader should not make comments that are editorial in nature. Those kinds of nit-picky comments are not helpful at this early stage because the larger issues must be addressed before the fine-tuning can begin, and if you are beta reading for someone, the larger issues are what the author has asked you to look at.

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  8. Reblogged this on Plaisted Publishing House and commented:
    What are your thoughts on Beta Reading vs Editing?

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Marie Krepps

    I have to say that I must disagree with the notion that all authors make bad beta readers. Honestly, finding a decent beta reader is difficult even when searching amongst readers. A reader may not be able to point out exactly what was right or wrong with the story. They may give vague, unhelpful answers. An author may get too descriptive. They may even try to rewrite your entire manuscript how “they would do it,” aka, in their own style and voice.
    The trick is finding that perfect in-between.
    I am an avid reader, a beta reader, and an author. I only beta read for genres that I am well read in so my feedback is sure to be helpful. I tend to want to give editing notes on occasion, but I refrain and leave that to an editor, suggesting they find a good one.
    I have spent years searching for beta readers who will give helpful feedback on my own writing and the few I have found that do the best job are readers and authors. Don’t get me wrong, I have author friends who are not good beta readers. I also have readers that aren’t.
    My point is, don’t turn away a possible beta reader just because they are also an author. They may be helpful. Maybe not, but only one way to find out!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hello! You must be a rare gem and your authors are fortunate to have you! Many authors are unable to restrain themselves from nitpicking. Often, that isn’t what the requesting author is asking for–the flow, character development–if the larger picture is what they are hoping for at this point, sometimes authors/editors get distracted by grammar and typos, which will be resolved in later drafts. Thank you for commenting!

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  10. Really good advice. thank you.

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