The Difference Between Editors and Beta Readers

I’m not sure why, but lately it seems there is confusion in regard to editors and Beta Readers. I have been an editor for about two years now and have been a Beta Reader longer than that.

Therefore, I’ll talk about Beta Readers first. Whenever I’ve been asked to Beta Read a book, I have always been given a polished manuscript, meaning it has been through a thorough edit and has been revised by the writer and is now close to publication quality. What the writer wants to know from Beta Readers are the answers to questions like:

  • Did the first sentence/paragraph grab your attention/interest and make you want to keep reading?
  • Are the characters realistic? Can you relate to them?
  • Are the characters emotions and reactions believable?
  • Do the minor characters add to and/or support the story line?
  • Does the story have conflict and tension?
  • Does the story move at a consistent pace?
  • Is there anything that slows the story down?
  • Is there anything that seems too rushed?
  • Do you find anything that seems unnecessary or unrelated to the story?
  • Is there anything you find confusing?
  • Do setting descriptions give you a clear picture of the story’s world and is it realistic?
  • Is the dialogue natural?
  • Is each character’s voice distinct?
  • Is there a good mix of narrative and dialogue?
  • Does the writing “show” and not “tell”?
  • Are the changes of point of view clear and handled well, with page breaks or chapter changes, consistently?
  • Is the writing good quality, allowing you to focus on the story and not be distracted by writing errors?
  • Is the story unique and interesting?
  • Does the story deliver on its premise?
  • Does the story fit the genre?
  • Did you enjoy the story?
  • Are there any scenes you think should be shortened or cut?
  • Who is your favorite character and why?
  • Who is your least favorite character and why?

As you read over the above questions, you should get an understanding that a Beta Reader’s job is to focus on the story and the characters. It is not a Beta Reader’s job to find grammatical, spelling, or other technical writing errors and point them out. They should only be giving feedback on what they liked and didn’t like about the story and why — the types of things they would discuss with other readers when discussing books both have read or suggesting the book to a friend.

Now, the editor’s job is very different from the Beta Reader’s job. A good editor will be looking for and pointing out ALL of the writing errors — wrong word usage, spelling, grammatical, punctuation, passive vs. active voice, better and/or stronger word choices, etc. In addition to all of this, the editor will also be looking for weak spots in the story — areas that need to be shortened or lengthened, more intense or less intense, the pace of the story, how well the characters are developed, do setting descriptions appeal to the senses, is the time line accurate, is the order of the story correct; is the language in the dialogue appropriate for the ages of the characters, for the setting, and for the time period of the story, and so much more.

As you can see the editor’s job includes some of the same aspects of the Beta Reader’s job, but it’s very important that the editor’s job come first because the editor is the one to help the writer produce their best possible work.

The Beta Reader is like a “test reader”. Their job is to read the manuscript before it is published, as a reader, in order to offer feedback on what they think of the story, setting, and characters from a reader’s perspective without having to be bogged down by lots of writing mistakes.

When the writer gets the Beta Readers’ responses, they can run through the manuscript one more time to fine tune it and be sure it will now be published in the best possible quality it can be. It should be ready for a multitude of readers before it is published and released to the world.

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