Okay, so maybe it only takes an author to write a book, but it certainly takes a community of beta readers and editors to make a book publishable. A small percentage of authors say they can self-edit and publish a book without any input, but that is a very small percent. Most authors rely on writing communities, beta readers, and editors in order to craft a flawless novel. Though writing is largely a solitary pursuit, once the first draft is finished, it’s important to reach out to others.
I rely heavily on beta readers. Without my betas, I’d be completely lost. With each beta, I look for something a little different. Some are great at finding plot holes, while others critique from an emotional perspective. Are the characters likable? Dialogue realistic? Are all the loose ends tied up by the end of the book? With my YA series, it’s especially critical to have beta readers. They can pick up on inconsistencies and continuity problems I miss.
Beta readers come in all shapes and sizes, and I’d recommend finding at least one who will be brutally harsh with you. If all your betas are related to you by blood or marriage, it’s unlikely you’ve found a good mix of betas. I think it’s essential to have a sister or cousin in your cheering section to boost your self-esteem and tell you how proud they are of your endeavors, but it’s equally important to find someone who will be brutally honest. While your sister might lift up your spirits when the going gets tough, your harsh beta reader is the one who’ll really hone that manuscript. And, since opinions may vary, I recommend getting more than one harsh beta. The more the merrier, in my opinion.
What’s the difference between a beta reader and an editor? Your beta is focusing on the story–characters, plot, overall enjoyment. An editor focuses on the construction of the manuscript–grammar, repetitive words, spelling. You might get some crossover. I have a couple of betas who will do some light editing by pointing out obvious errors, but what I really want from my betas is their overall impression of the story. What worked? What didn’t?
Once you’ve hammered out your story, you’ll want to work with an editor, especially if you’re self-publishing. There are different types of editing, some more involved than others. A substantive editor will work with you to develop the story, but this is generally a very expensive service. Your best bet is to swap critiques with a few good betas so by the time you get to the editing stage, you’re just looking at proofreading services.
Here’s a list of helpful sites if you’re looking for a beta reader, critique partner, or some writerly folks to chat with: