There are so many buzzwords flooding the industry that sometimes new authors, or even seasoned ones, can get a little confused.
Let’s start with Betas and ARCs. What are they? When are they used? How are they used?
Beta readers: A beta reader is your first test subject for the new manuscript. They are your critique partner.
Beta reading is done early on in the process, before sending the work off to an editor. The purpose of a beta read is not to point out grammar errors or spelling mistakes, but to look at your writing and story overall. What parts work well? What doesn’t work so well? Does one of the characters seem a little flat and need more development? Are there any plot holes? Are there unanswered questions or even plot points that are brought up but then just dropped and never mentioned again? These are the things that a beta reader is looking for. As an author, look for beta readers that are helpful, not ones that just to sit back and enjoy free books. Their job is to criticize your manuscript, not tell you how wonderful it is.
Don’t get overwhelmed by your betas, and don’t use too many. Find two to three people that you trust to be honest and give you real feedback and not just “I really liked xyz.” Read every comment and feedback from your betas and consider them.
*Protips for authors: It is still YOUR book and just because a beta suggests something, it doesn’t mean you have to take that suggestion. Consider their point, but if you still disagree, then leave it alone. If all three of your beta readers give you the same feedback about something, then maybe you should follow it. For example one of your beta readers decides that your MC needs to have blonde hair and blue eyes. That’s not a plot issue, it’s an opinion. Feel free to ignore it.
Do NOT use your best friend or your mom for your beta. Find another author or editor or other industry professionals that you can trade favors with and get constructive feedback from.
Example: I once edited a fantasy novel that had a GIANT, gaping plot hole in it, even though it had gone through several beta readers. The problem was not the beta readers themselves, but that they were too close to the author. I’m sure these betas would have done a fantastic job for a different author, but this author’s mom and best friend were always going to see the very best she had to offer and thus skipped over the logic and plot holes.
I’m not saying hide your work from those closest to you. I’m only saying find at least one person who will give you an honest critique. You want to publish the best, don’t you? We grow from criticism.
ARC Readers: An ARC is an Advanced Review Copy, or an early copy of the book. An ARC reader is one of the select readers you chose to give an early copy of the book to so that on release day they can post their reviews, thus boosting your visibility. ARCs can be distributed before the last round of editing is done because the point isn’t to find errors, it’s to get reviews.
The purpose of an ARC is to give people a head-start on reading the book so that on release day, they can leave reviews so other readers can read them and decide if they want to try this new book or not. ARCs are not the same as Betas. By the time it is in ARC stage, plot points are finalized. You are merely sending out an early copy to select readers.
Example: I know a couple of authors that release their Betas and ARCs at the same time, about a week or two before the book is set to publish. These aren’t true Betas. These authors are trying to skip the editing and proofreading stages by having their fans do these steps for free for them, but they are really limiting themselves by not having that initial critique back in the writing stage. It also confuses readers who think they are beta reading for these authors, so when they offer to do it for others, the confusion spreads, and the new author doesn’t get what they are looking for.
Editors: Every book needs a professional editor. Someone with a trained, keen eye that can take a unbiased look at your novel.
Editing and proofreading are not the same thing. Proofreading is finding all the last little typos. Editing looks at the way you use language and your grammar style to increase the readability and flow of the story.
*Pro-tip. You may think the feedback from your betas is all the editing you need, after all, a few of them sent you lists of the errors and typos. While that is a nice perk to have, most of the time, your betas aren’t professional editors and aren’t giving your novel a true review. Don’t be tempted to save money and skip the editor, it is not worth it in the long run.
Example: I’m an professionally-trained, working editor, yet when attempting to edit my own novel, I miss so many things. I recently sent a chapter to an editor friend of mine to look at. I was shocked at the amount of errors she found. Does that mean I am a terrible editor? No, it means you can’t edit your own work because you are too close to the subject matter.
Writing is a process, and that's why as authors, we need to be patient and not push books out too quickly (no matter what our readers beg for). The result is steps getting skipped and books that are OK getting published when, had you been patient, they could have been great. Remember excellence takes time.
Hiring an editor is the single most recommended piece of advice for all authors, whether novice or experienced, but it also is the least utilized one on the market. Whether you are self-publishing or intend to submit your manuscript to agents, professional editors can do something to help.
Why do I need an editor?
1. To Provide Objectivity.
It’s your baby, of course you are going to think everything is important and not boring and completely necessary for the story. But do others think that? You need someone with a TRAINED eye to help you make these decisions. If your document doesn’t need anything substantial, an editor can also act as a proofreader and catch all those tiny little nit-picky things you’ve overlooked. It’s not that you aren’t capable of putting in periods and commas yourself, it’s that you’ve looked at this manuscript so many times, your brain starts to ignore the mistakes that have been there the whole time. Having an impartial second eye look at it will help eliminate those pesky little issues. Even editors who write send their manuscripts to colleagues for help.
2. To Help You Grow as a Writer.
Editors can teach things you may not know about grammar, sentence structure, or even plottingand planning. Any newknowledge is good knowledge, right? We never stop learning to hone and perfect our art. A good editor can serve as a teacher to help you grow.
3. To Appraise What Kind of Editing is Needed.
You may think your manuscript just needs a proofread when developmental editing is needed, OR you may think your manuscript is a terrible mess when all you need are some line edits to clear the language up.
What if I can’t afford an editor?
Editing is an investment in your book and yourself. Having your manuscript edited by a good editor significantly increases your chances of being published. If you chose to self-publish, having a thoroughly edited novel will increase your sales and reputation an author. The real question is, can you afford NOT to hire an editor?
Will hiring an editor guarantee me a good book?
As an editor, I get this question a lot. Good is such a subjective term when it comes to novels, soI think people are asking “Will editing make my book marketable?” “Will editing help my book sell?” Yes, to a point. I’ve read my share of really terrible manuscripts, and no matter how much editing you door how much money you throw at the project, it will never be a book that sells well. That’s harsh, I know, but if writing were easy and anyone could do it on a whim, then the publishing industry wouldn’t be as successful as it is today.
Take the analogy of a professional football player. No matter how good that coach is, no matter how many times his team has won the Super Bowl, a player that can’t catch a football or doesn’t even know the rules of the game is never going to be the VIP of a pro team. A great player needs help, too.It doesn’t matter how well that player can play the game, they still have to train and rely on the coach to help everyone work together as a team. Coaches also helps with weaknesses to be the best player they can be and reach their full potential. Make sense? Think of an editor as your coach. We take what is there and help it reach its full potential.
The bottom line is, while a good editor will help the readability and flow of your novel, they can’t make it a “good” novel. That’s your job, you have to come up with the ideas, but hiring a professionally-trained editor will help polish what you have written.
Next time I will talk about what an editor does or doesn’t do more in-depth and things you should look for when hiring your next editor.
Until next time,
Jane Curry is the owner of Watch Jane Write and a member of the American Copy Editors Association (aceseditors.org) and The Editorial Freelancers Association (the-efa.org). She continues her education by earning certificates from both of these organizations and knows that the world of editing and grammar constantly changes, so she wants to keep up.