Many self-publishing authors look for beta readers to give them perspective on their novels before they go to a professional editor for further help. An author doesn’t need a developmental editor to say the whole storyline is implausible and they yawned from beginning to end. Any reader of fiction can probably relay that information.
Doing a few beta reads is a great way to get a sense of the kinds of problems you’ll encounter as a dev editor, and it will give you some insight into author-editor relationships. It’s a low-risk way to dip your toes in the water.
If you’re interested in doing fiction development for a career, try volunteering as a beta on a few projects. You’ll soon learn if it’s for you!
What’s the Difference?
A beta reader is generally just reporting their experience as a reader – “I thought too many events were implausible” – whereas in development, we try to give more guidance than that based on an informed opinion. That is, we understand how fiction works, how to solve problems that arise, and otherwise have professional expertise that sets us apart from readers who simply enjoy reading.
Often, beta readers are discouraged from trying to offer such guidance as without experience and training it’s easy to send an author down the wrong road or to simply not understand what an author is trying to accomplish. So, instead of trying to solve the problems in the manuscript, your goal is to find them and (for your purposes, not the author’s) try to figure out what’s causing them.
Doing beta reads can be a good way to sharpen your skills and even to start building a clientele. People who trust your beta reads will be more likely to be willing to pay you to do a dev edit.
To become a beta reader, hang out on Twitter and look for #amwriting hashtags. Many of these authors will be interested in finding beta readers. There are also beta reader groups like Writers Helping Writers on Facebook.