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.
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.