What do you mean a beta reader isn't an editor?!

Over the weekend, because my second novel (Corruption of Honor) is close to done, I made some Facebook posts about looking for editing and publishing services while a small budget. Do you know what the most common responses were?

  • CreateSpace is free. You don't need money to publish.
  • Get yourself some beta readers. They're usually free and better than an editor.

This is when I realized that the writers who made these comments (1) have obviously not read my post on the hidden costs of publishing, especially since I'm publishing in print, and (2) possibly don't know the differences between a beta reader and a professional editor. The latter issue may be one reason why so many indie authors get panned in book reviews for typos and errors in their books, and why indie authors in general get a bad rap (even if they did pay for an editor).

Beta reader vs. editor in general terms

  • Beta reader - Although there are people who market themselves as professional beta readers, a beta reader for most writers is Joe or Sally reader you met on an online discussion board (i.e. on GoodReads), or maybe you are friends with them and asked them to read your manuscript after you did a cursory review of it. The beta readers may flag inconsistencies and typos, and tell you whether or not they liked it, but that's often all they do. There are always exceptions to this, of course.
  • Editor - A professional who is paid to review and critique your book in specific ways. There are multiple types of editors - content editor, copy editor, line editor. Sometimes one editor will fill multiple roles. The less jobs your editor has to handle, though, the easier it is for them to handle the job assigned to them.

An editor's role in more specific terms

  • Content editor - This is the person who tells you when the dialog is weak, or there is inconsistent characterization. or the language isn't right for your genre or target market (i.e. your blacksmith saying "Dude!").
  • Copy editor - This is the fact-checker, the consistency monitor, the person who makes sure your words flow well and efficiently, and not just in a fancy way.
  • Line editor - Similar to a proofreader, this is the person who roots out typos and punctuation mistakes. The line editor doesn't care about whether the story is good or not, just whether everyone's names are spelled right throughout the novel, and whether your sentences all have the correct use of periods, commas, and semicolons. Some copy editors also line edit, and vice versa.

So, I hope I've given you a little more clarity on how a professional editor, especially a content editor or a line editor, can make your book be all it can possibly be. And, I hope you'll understand when you suggest a beta reader to me in place of a paid editor if I look a little put out.

Lastly, I want to give a shout out to Pavarti K. Tyler from Novel Publicity. I consulted her article on the point of editors before I wrote this so that I didn't get anything mixed up. A special thanks goes to her.