This is a follow- up to my Beta Readers, ARCs, and editors Oh My post.
After following some people on Instagram and the big divide in the author community about paying for beta readers or not—I’ve realized the problem lies not within paying for beta readers but with people providing proofreading services and calling it beta reading.
Yes, proofreaders should get paid, however, they should also have some form of formal training as well, even if it’s just a course offered through a legitimate organization.
BETA readers focus on BIG ISSUE items. The story, the character development, continuity (character sets a glass down but in the next paragraph takes a drink out of a cup in his hand, etc). Of course a beta reader is going to find things the editor missed, because the MS hasn’t been to editing yet. This is often done for free by a few choice people close to the author or other author friends (sometimes called a critique partner). It’s a general impression of the manuscript given from a reader’s perspective. This is BETA reading. Most people don’t pay for it, and really with the amount of volunteers in the reader community, you shouldn’t.
What I see people offering as “beta reading services” for is NOT beta reading. It’s either proofreading or manuscript evaluation.
A manuscript evaluation is a really in-depth review and analysis of a MS assessing character development, plot and plot holes, ways to further the story or suggestions of things to cut out. There are some authors that are lucky enough to have someone give them manuscript evaluations for free, but with the amount of work and knowledge that goes into it, it is a legitimate PAID service. However, just like you would for an editor, check the qualifications of the person giving you a manuscript evaluation. Is the person a professional editor? Then yes, pay them. Is the person an author that does relatively well and writes well-thought-out books themselves? Then yes, they have knowledge of what it takes for a manuscript evaluation-- pay them.
A MS evaluation and BETA read both give the author suggestions and ideas to improve the story and will help the author having to pay an editor for a comprehensive edit (which is super expensive and not all editors are trained in).
A proofread is a read-through AFTER the editor has done their job as a last check before the book goes to publication. It checks the little, but simple, things like missing or added commas and spelling, and it also checks the book for formatting errors like a paragraph on the wrong page or things looking wonky. This is also a PAID service and doesn’t necessarily need someone trained as an editor, just someone with the CORRECt knowledge of spelling and grammar rules and a keen eye for detail. (This is where a style manual comes into play and one of the reason style manuals are important.)
As with all services you hire, do your homework. Ask for references and training level. Ask for a sample. I used to say if they don’t know these terms, then they aren’t qualified. That’s not necessarily true as some training courses don’t use any terms at all, leaving that individual to assign a word to their services. Just make sure the person you are paying is qualified in SOME way because, in this industry, you can legally charge someone for editing and just run it through grammarly. (This is actually over half my clients. I re-edit after the book was sent to an “editor” who did nothing but run it through an auto program. It happens much more often than people realize and costs authors several hundred, or even thousands, of wasted dollars.)
Service Providers, why don't we all agree to use the same terms to mean the same things? It will cut down on confusion and help alleviate some of the drama in the book world. If you don’t have formal training look into American Copy Editors Association (www.aceseditors.org) the Editorial Freelancers Association (www.the-era.org) or just google “proofreader training courses”. Most of them are done online and are fairly inexpensive (possibly free??)
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.