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Sunday, April 21, 2013

Editors v. Beta Readers

So I was speaking to someone in the publishing industry about my unpublished Urban Fantasy novel, and how my agent and I are preparing to shop it. "So what's your next step?" they asked. I told them that I was torn between taking time to gather some good beta readers or just waiting and letting an editor get their hands on the book. "Which way are you leaning?" they asked.

This was more difficult to answer.

I totally respect beta readers, especially when they 

  1. Are familiar with the genre
  2. Take their task seriously (as opposed to just wanting to get a "sneak peek" at an unpublished novel, and 
  3. Are willing to make honest observations (as opposed to just lather the author with praise). 

Good beta readers can do wonders for an author and a book.

On the other hand, I feel like this project is tight enough to pass up beta readers and go straight to a professional. In fact, I said something like, "I'd love to have a professional editor dig into this story." 
Hopefully, those words don't come back to bite me.

Anyway, I turned the question around and asked this individual what they thought. The answer they gave me was a bit of a surprise.

"From my experience, a good editor will catch a lot more things and have far more insight into improving a novel than beta readers will."

This surprised me, not because it could appear like a diss of beta readers, but because it jibed with how I feel.

A good editor is worth their weight in gold.

I'm one of those oddballs who still respects the "old school" editor. Sure, they've taken some heat as of late. What with self-publishing being all the rage, many authors have seemed to rely less on the industry professional, and more on readers' perspective. After all, your book should appeal to readers more than simply survive some editorial checklist. As a result, the beta reader has replaced the editor in many authors' minds.

Perhaps it comes down to experience. Thus far, my experience with editors have been great. They have definitely improved my stories and made catches that were sorely needed. On the other hand are writing friends who have horror stories about working with unrelenting editors who required huge, unrealistic changes to the story. So maybe it comes down to ones personal experience.

All that to say, this individual's opinion about editors catching a lot more than beta readers really resonated. Sure, at certain stages in a book's life, beta readers may be valuable.  But I can't imagine anyone being as important to the production of a good story than a professional editor.

Your thoughts?

* * *

Mike Duran is a monthly contributor to Novel Rocket, and is represented by the rockin' Rachelle Gardner of Books & Such Literary. Mike's novels include The TellingThe Resurrection, an ebook novella, Winterland, and his newly released short story anthology Subterranea  You can visit his website at


  1. As a reader (definitely not beta) I have to agree with you that an good editor is worth her/his weight in gold. Books that are published by traditional publishers are still best. I do read and review books by indie publishers as well

  2. I've got both. After my critique partners get through with my work, then I print it for my 3 beta readers. None of them are writers. One is phenomenal at finding the rogue typo or repeated word, at plot holes, and inconsistencies that crit partners, who see the manuscript 1 chapter at a time, miss.

    Another of my beta readers is a book club leader and knows what readers love, and the other is very ADD. She makes sure my story doesn't have any boring parts. LOL

    So I advocate both crit partners and beta readers. :)

  3. As a professional editor who would never, ever publish my own book without hiring another professional to edit, I strongly advise writers use an editor at some point. I think Ane made a good point about the difference between the feedback you can get from a critique group and beta readers. Having used beta readers for the first time for my last book, I do see the value in getting input from them before going to the professional editor. The two that I used pointed out some areas that needed work that were not so much dealing with the craft, but places where I missed opportunities to add flavor to the story or firmly cement the historical period. An editor may have caught the same issues, but it was better to have those solved before I started paying bigger bucks to an editor.

  4. I use beta readers and an editor, and though I appreciate both, the editor is much tougher with me. And that's what I need...

  5. If I had a choice, I would never bypass beta readers in lieu of an editor. Good betas are hard to find, but putting all eggs in one basket (editor only) is seldom smart. Ideally, you have both. An editor is still just one person with a subjective opinion. Both are worth their weight in gold.


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