Tag Archives: the difference between beta reading and editing

How to be a good Beta Reader #amwriting

Beta Reading is the first reading of a manuscript by someone other than the author. One hopes the reader is a person who reads and enjoys the genre that the book represents.

I am fortunate in that I have excellent friends who are willing to do this for me, and their suggestions are both kind and spot on.

This first reading by an unbiased eye is meant to give the author a general view of the overall strengths and weaknesses of their story. This phase of the process should be done before you submit the manuscript to an editor.

In my work, the suggestions offered by the beta reader (first reader) guide and speed the process of revisions, so that my editor can focus on doing her job without being distracted by significant issues that should have been caught early on.

If you agree to read a raw manuscript for another author, you must keep in mind that it has NOT been edited. The author is not asking you to edit the manuscript.

This manuscript is the  child of the author’s soul. Be sure to make positive comments along the way and never be chastising or accusatory. Always phrase your suggestions in a non-threatening manner

What are the larger issues that must be addressed before the fine-tuning can begin? If you are beta reading an unedited manuscript, these are the more significant issues you should look at:

How does it open? Did the opening hook you? As you read on, is there an arc to each scene that keeps you turning the page? Make notes of any places that are confusing.

Setting: Does the setting feel real? Did the author create a sense of time, mood, and atmosphere? Is the setting an important part of the story?

Characters: Is the point of view character (protagonist) clear? Did you understand what the character was feeling?  Were the characters likable? Did you identify with and care about the characters? Was there a variety of character types, or did they all seem the same? Were their emotions and motivations clear and relatable?

Dialogue: Did the dialogue and internal narratives advance the plot? Did they illuminate the tension, conflict, and suspense? Were the conversations and thoughts distinct to each character, or did they all sound the same?

Pacing: How did the momentum feel? Where did the plot bog down and get boring? Do the characters face a struggle worth writing about, and if so, did the pacing keep you engaged?

Does the ending surprise and satisfy you? What do you think might happen next?

Grammar and Mechanics: At this point, you can comment on whether or not the author has a basic understanding of grammar and industry practices that suit their genre.

Be gentle—if they lack knowledge, suggest they get a style guide such as the Chicago Guide to Grammar, Usage, and Punctuation, or if you feel up to it, offer to help them learn a few basics.

I know how difficult it is to share your just-completed novel with anyone. My friends offer comments that help me turn my vision of what the story could be into a reality.

For that reason, being the first reader for their work is a privilege I don’t take lightly.

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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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