Beta Reader, Proofreaders and Copy Editors

This post is the thirty-third in a series about writing a novel. You can check out the list of past topics at the end of this post.

In the process of editing your novel, you may want to turn it others to help you polish your story. Today I am going to discuss beta readers, proofreaders, and copy editors.

Beta Reader

Related imageWhat is a beta reader?

A beta reader is someone who reads a work of fiction with a critical eye before it is released to the public. They may catch spelling, grammar, characterization, and continuity errors. Unlike editors, these people are usually unpaid and often see your work in a rough state.

The term beta reader comes from the software industry where “beta” testers try out software before a major release to the public in order to identify problems.

Why use a beta reader?

Many authors like to use beta readers to improve the quality of their work before submitting it for professional editing and critique. Beta readers may question why a character does or does not do something. They may catch errors such as a change of location (the fight takes place in a bar but is later told to have taken place at the school), the way a character is dressed (a blue shirt all of a sudden is red) or which characters are in the room at the time (Charles may have left for work but then appears in a scene at home).

The fact is that as authors, we are so close to our own manuscripts that we cannot see them objectively. Things that are clear in our mind, may not come across the same way to others reading it. We may leave out vital steps in an explanation and not realize it since we know what we mean. Beta readers allow you to fine tune and polish your work before presenting it to the world.

How to find a beta reader?

There are websites that provide directories of beta readers broken down by genre. Or you can post on writing forums that you are looking for a beta reader or even post on your own blog.

Of course, you can also find a beta reader in your family or from your fan base but be warned their comments may not totally be objective.

Finding a good beta reader – one who reads your genre and is of your target market in terms of age, gender and interest – can be a lot of work but worth it. You need someone who will tell you the truth without worrying about hurting your feelings. Writers typically make good beta readers as they understand the writing/creative process.

To use a beta reader, you need a “thick skin” to be able to hear negative feedback, absorb it, learn from it and apply changes derived from it.

Proofreader

Image result for proofreaderA proofreader is someone who looks over your manuscript for grammar, punctuation and spelling mistakes. A proofreader should see your manuscript AFTER all the editing and after beta readers have made their suggestions (and you have made all your changes). Basically, they should see your manuscript when it is ready for publication. Their job is NOT to make revisions but to make corrections.

In the world of publishing paper books, a proofreader was one of the last to review the book. They would be looking at the final copy as it would print. If there were too many end-of-line hyphens in a row or a blank section break at the top of a page, they would correct those and other esthetic issues in addition to checking grammar and spelling.

Nowadays, as software improves, the need for someone to proofread for spelling and grammar errors diminishes and you may want to use grammar software such as Grammerly or WhiteSmoke. These are comprehensive grammar checking programs but of course no software can completely replace having someone proof your work. (I will discuss these programs in more detail in a future post.)

Many proofreaders charge by the hour while others charge by the word. Copy editors also usually offer proofreading as part of their services.

Copy Editor

Related imageWhile proofreading is done at the end, an editor may work over long periods of time with a writer until the manuscript is perfected. It is a much more involved process that can take months. And while some may argue editing also refers to finding typos and grammar errors, editing involves one major factor that proofreading does not: content.

A copy editor reads your work and makes corrections so it follows the conventions of good writing. They can find flaws in your story or help you flesh out a sub-plot.  They refine word choices and make sure the manuscript’s syntax is smooth. The copy editor may suggest reorganizing, recommend changes to chapter titles and call out lapses in logic or sequential slip-ups. They will ensure continuity through chapters and ensure dialog is believable.

If employing both, use an editor first and then the proofreader afterwards.  Editors may charge by the hour, by the page or even by the word.

Previous topics

#1 – Deciding to write a novel – Writing Myths

#2 – Three areas to develop before starting to write a novel

#3 – Finding a Story Idea and How to Know if it “good enough”

#4 – Developing Characters for your Novel

#5 – Major characters? Minor Characters? Where does everyone fit in?

#6 – Developing the Setting for your Novel

#7 – The importance of developing conflict in your novel plot

#8 – To Outline or not to outline 

#9 – The importance of a story arc

#10 – The importance of tension and pace

#11 – Prologue and opening scenes

#12 – Beginning and ending scenes in a novel

#13 – The importance of dialogue…and a few tips on how to write it

#14 – Using Internal Dialogue in your novel

#15 – More dialogue tips and help with dialogue tags

#16 – Knowing and incorporating back story into your novel

#17 – Hinting at what is to come with foreshadowing

#18 – Tips for writing different scenes in your novel

#19 – Dealing with Writer’s Block

#20 – Killing a Character in your Novel

#21 – Keeping things realistic in your novel

#22 – Establishing Writing Goals and Developing Good Writing Habits

#23 – Using the five senses and passive voice in your novel

#24 – The benefit of research in fiction writing

#25 – Novella or Novel, Trilogy or Series – decisions for writers

#26 – Avoiding Plot and Character Clichés

#27 – Novel Writing – Endings and Epilogues

#28 – Fantasy Novel Writing – World Building, Dragons, Magic and More

#29 – Finishing your First Draft

#30 – Your Second Draft and Beyond

#31 – Picking Stronger Words and Watching out for Homonyms

#32 – Omitting unnecessary words in your novel

Tips for dealing with criticism about your novel

criticism2It never fails. Whenever my husband reads a draft of my novel, he has comments and questions. And somehow in our discussion (either while he is explaining what he doesn’t understand, or I am questioning him to better understand his point of view) our communication breaks down. One of us gets defensive…and I will admit that often that is me.

After thinking about it…I have decided that part of the reason is that I take his comments as criticism of my writing. He doesn’t understand a plot point or can’t see the scene that I can see so clearly in my mind. And often he is correct that I need to make a change because if he doesn’t get it, I can’t expect every other reader to either.

So while the process does improve my novel, it is a bit stressful for both of us. That gave me the idea of writing a blog about accepting criticism, whether it is from a beta reader or a book reviewer.

TIPS for handling critiques

Stay Calm – It is natural to feel defensive but that won’t help the situation. Keep in mind that we can always improve. Take deep breaths and just listen.

Don’t take it personally – Take more deep breaths and remember it isn’t necessarily an attack on you. (Though I know there are some reviews out there that will come across as a direct attack on you. Remember you can’t please everyone.) Someone can criticize your novel without saying you are not a great writer. They may simply see flaws in what you wrote, but that doesn’t necessarily reflect on you overall.

Give yourself time to cool off – I much prefer reading my husband’s comments and then later discussing with him. It gives me time to process what he is saying and reflect on it before we discuss them. But when that doesn’t happen, sometimes I react poorly. I assume he is attacking my skill as a writer. So instead of asking questions or responding, I need to take time to step back and reflect (or cool off). Hopefully, this will allow me a different perspective.

Remember the goal is to improve – Remember that many of these comments can be an opportunity to step back, evaluate your writing and find ways to improve. When you look at criticism this way, you may have an easier time receiving it. Never give up on trying to be a better writer.

Evaluate what is being said – And of course, there are cases where the criticism is unjust or just mean. In this case, any “advice” is not helpful and is best ignored. To help you pose these questions when you receive hurtful criticism.

Were the comments something you can control?

Does the critical person’s opinion really matter to you?

In the case of receiving feedback in the form of a review, it is often tempting to respond, justify or correct the person. DON’T DO IT! No matter what a reviewer says that is negative, do not respond.

criticismWhen dealing with a beta reader, it often is best not to respond to their comments either. Simply evaluate whether their suggestion will improve your book. If it will, then make your changes. If not, ignore their comments and move on.  Don’t give into your temptation to argue. Keep your knee-jerk reaction to yourself and be professional. “That’s a good point. I’ll take it into consideration.”

Remember your goal with beta readers is to improve your novel. (Book reviewers can help you improve your writing on future work.) You cannot improve without constructive criticism. Having something to fix doesn’t mean you are a bad writer or that your book isn’t worth publishing. You don’t have to accept every piece of advice you get but do take the time to evaluate if the suggestion will improve your book or writing.

And last of all, when dealing with criticism. Remember: it isn’t about you; it is about your book. They are not the same.

Using beta readers to improve your novel

You have written your novel and been through it many times tweaking and perfecting the plot and scenes. You just know it will be well received. But if you think it is ready for publication now, you are missing a valuable step in the self-publishing process. As a writer you have been too close to your work. You may have not caught plot inconsistencies or realized the characters aren’t staying true to themselves. One of the best ways to catch these errors before submitting your work to an editor is to have your manuscript read by a – or better yet several – beta readers.

What is a beta reader?

Student studying at desk uid 1427249A beta reader is someone who reads a work of fiction with a critical eye before it is released to the public. They may catch spelling, grammar, characterization, and continuity errors. Unlike editors, these people are usually unpaid and often see your work in a rough state.

The term beta reader comes from the software industry where “beta” testers try out software before a major release to the public in order to identify problems.

Why use a beta reader?

Many authors like to use beta readers to improve the quality of their work before submitting it for professional editing and critique. Beta readers may question why a character does or does not do something. They may catch errors such as a change of location (the fight takes place in a bar but is later told to have taken place at the school), the way a character is dressed (a blue shirt all of a sudden is red) or which characters are in the room at the time (Charles may have left for work but then appear in a scene at home).

The fact is that as authors, we are so close to our own manuscripts that we cannot see them objectively. Things that are clear in our mind, may not come across the same way in our book. We may leave out vital steps in an explanation and not realize it since we know what we mean. Beta readers allow you to fine tune and polish your work before presenting it to the world.  It is a professional way to make your writing better.

When to use a beta reader?

Beta readers should be used after you have self-edited and polished your manuscript, but BEFORE it has professional editing done.  Since beta readers will be catching mistakes and making suggestions, you will need to correct these before you want to pay someone to proof or edit your novel.

How to find a beta reader?

There are websites that provide directories of beta readers broken down by genre. Or you can post on places like World Literary Café or other writing forums that you are looking for a beta reader or even post on your own blog.

Of course, you can also find a beta reader in your family or from your fan base – but be warned their comments may not totally be objective. I have found using family (my mom or mother-in-law) or my best friend did not help as much as using my husband. He is the best at pointing out what doesn’t work, questioning character motivation and checking story continuity. If you do use family, make sure they are not your only beta readers.

Finding a good beta reader – one who reads your genre and is of your target market in terms of age, gender and interest – can be a lot of work but worth it. You need someone who will tell you the truth without worrying about hurting your feelings. Writers typically make good beta readers as they understand the writing/creative process.

To use a beta reader, you need a “thick skin” to be able to hear negative feedback, absorb it, learn from it and apply changes derived from it.

If you are interested in beta readers and want to read more, check out this website, which has a good three-part series on beta readers. It links to the last article in the series but in the second paragraph is links to the first two articles.