When to use a beta reader and when to hire an editor

Authors often use beta readers to give them feedback on their work and I think this can be a great way to get a sense of a reader’s experience of the novel. That’s why I have a Beta Reads and Critique Partners forum for Club Ed for Writers members.

A thoughtful reader can tell you what they liked, where they got confused, plot events that struck them as implausible, or scenes where the pacing might be off. They can convey their expectations and let you know if you’ve hit the mark regarding genre conventions. For many writers, that’s enough information to do a good revision.

But sometimes hiring an expert can save you a lot of time and trouble.

A while back, I went to my primary care doctor because of a suspicion-looking skin condition. He examined the area but didn’t make a diagnosis. He sent me to a dermatologist, who told me ten seconds after looking at the problem exactly what it was and how to treat it. It was so easy and straightforward I wished I’d gone directly to him in the first place.

An expert editor has seen all kinds of manuscript conditions and can identify most issues right away. They will almost always have a clear plan of action for you to follow.

My primary care physician could probably have diagnosed my situation by relying on what he learned in medical school and looking at a couple of textbooks and maybe calling up a colleague. But neither he nor I would have been as confident about the diagnosis and treatment plan as I was when I went directly to the expert.

If you’re not sure how to fix problems beta readers have identified in your work or if you don’t have the skills to implement the necessary fixes, that’s a good time to investigate hiring an editor.

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