Beta Readers vs. Editors: Which Do I Need?

Apr 22, 2023 | Publishing, Types of Editing

You’ve spent countless hours pouring your heart and soul into your manuscript. It’s true—writing a book is a long and challenging process that requires a significant investment of time, effort, and resources. You want it to be the best version it can be before you attempt to publish. This is where beta readers and developmental editors come in. Once you have finished writing, it’s important to get feedback from others to help you refine and improve your work. You may be wondering…Beta readers vs. editors: Which do I need? Both serve a valuable role in the publishing success of a book, but they differ in their level of involvement and the costs associated with their services.

What is a Beta Reader?

finger guiding through a page of a book

Beta Readers are individuals who read your manuscript and provide feedback on the overall story, character development, plot, pacing, and other aspects of your work. They are a valuable resource because they can give you a reader’s perspective on your work, which can help you identify areas that need improvement or clarification. Beta readers typically provide honest (hopefully) feedback on the overall readability and enjoyment of your manuscript, rather than focusing on specific editorial issues.

How much do they charge?

Your average beta reader is typically unpaid and can be fellow writers, avid readers, or members of your writing communities. They read the manuscript prior to publishing or sometimes the pre-release of a book. You can offer a pre-release copy of the book in exchange for an online book review. However, there are also professional beta readers that are paid to give a higher-level critique of your work. The cost can vary widely, ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, depending on the length and complexity of your manuscript. I currently offer this service for $0.002 per word, which equals $200 for a 100,000-word book.

What is a Developmental Editor?

close-up of hands typing on a laptop

Developmental editors, on the other hand, are professional editors who work closely with you to provide more in-depth feedback and offer guidance on your manuscript. They focus on the big-picture elements of your work such as plot, character development, pacing, and structure. A developmental editor will work closely with you to identify the strengths and weaknesses of your manuscript and help you create a roadmap for revision.

You would benefit from a professional review from a developmental editor if…

  • this is your first book.
  • you’re tired and overwhelmed with your manuscript.
  • something is bothering you about your manuscript, but you can’t figure it out.
  • you are getting conflicting advice from your beta readers.
  • you have already tried to get an agent or publisher and have received multiple rejections.

The result of developmental editing is a manuscript that contains both tracked changes and embedded comments. There will also be a separate editor’s report that will outline the key problems and the suggestions that can be made to resolve these problems. They may also offer a manuscript assessment or a more detailed manuscript critique. See my post on the 5 types of editing for more info.

How much do they charge?

Hiring a developmental editor is a significant investment. The cost of developmental editing can vary widely depending on the editor’s level of experience and the scope of the project. Generally speaking, the cost of a developmental editor is significantly higher than a professional beta reader. Some editors charge by the hour and some charge a flat fee. The average fiction developmental editor, according to the Editorial Freelancers Association, charges $46-$50 per hour. I’ve seen rates much higher than this as well, up to $200 per hour. Flat fees are calculated based on the length and complexity of the manuscript. They can range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars, depending on the scope of the project. While hourly rates appear at first to seem like a more affordable option, the total cost can add up quickly if your manuscript requires a significant amount of editing.

Beta Readers vs. Editors: Which do I need?

close-up of several different hands on top of each other

Ultimately, the decision to work with a beta reader or a developmental editor depends on your needs and goals as an author (and your budget). If you are looking for general feedback on your manuscript and don’t have a lot of money to invest, beta readers are a good option for you. However, if you want to refine and polish your manuscript to a professional level, a developmental editor may be the better choice. I recommend you not completely depend on a beta reader to get feedback on your novel because they are usually not professionally trained and are designed to give you the perspective of a reader.

So when asking the question BETA READERS VS. EDITORS: WHICH DO I NEED?, consider this…using both beta readers and developmental editors can help you get a well-rounded perspective on your work and ensure that you’re addressing all the areas that need improvement. It can also help you avoid the common pitfall of relying solely on your own outlook, which can lead to blind spots. By carefully considering your options and choosing the right professional to work with, you can ensure that your manuscript reaches its full potential and resonates with readers. Both play a critical role in helping you get closer to a successful publication.



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