Beta Reading: The Pros and Cons of an Outside Editorial Critique

As writers, we’ve all had that moment of doubt. Is my story good enough? Am I missing something crucial? When you’ve spent so long staring at a project, lovingly and agonizingly putting a piece of yourself into that future book or story, it can be difficult to take a step back and see the bigger picture of your piece.

That’s when a beta reader comes in. Beta reading is common in small online communities, from writing clubs to fanfiction groups. Your beta reader could be a stranger across the country hopping onto your Google Doc and looking for grammatical errors, or they could be your best friend crossing out half of your story in red pen.

So maybe you’re asking yourself now, “Should I have someone read this over before I submit?” And then you hit a wall, because you wonder whether you really want someone else’s hands on your baby.

While it’s certainly a personal choice whether you want anyone to touch your story, there are pros and cons to having a beta reader take a look at your piece before you release it to the world or submit it to an agent or publisher. And luckily for you, Mill City Press has some excellent tips.

Pros:

  1. Beta reading is free! You’re not dishing out any money to have someone go over your story with a fine-tooth comb. Instead, you’re usually getting a quick once-over from a friend or acquaintance that’s keeping an eye out for obvious typos or things that don’t make sense.
  2. Having comments on your story can be an excellent motivator. If your piece is unfinished and people are reacting positively to what you’ve written, your motivation and drive to continue writing are likely to skyrocket knowing someone likes the story you’re telling.
  3. A beta reader can turn into a fan. The person beta reading for you is likely to be interested in your story and might even buy a copy if you were to publish it for profit.

Cons:

  1. Some editorial hands can be pretty strong. If you’re not familiar with how a person edits or if you’re unclear about what you’re looking for, you might get a whole lot more than you’re expecting. Beta readers and traditional copy and developmental editors aren’t the same things, but you might get some developmental advice you’re not fond of anyway.
  2. People have opinions. Falling in line with the previous con, it’s not uncommon to get feedback on an unfinished piece about where your story should go. If someone is excited about the ending and trying to guess or suggest how things should play out, you might feel a sense of obligation to meet those expectations.
  3. Beta reading isn’t a traditional editing process. That means if you’re planning to self-publish, you’re getting fewer hands on your manuscript than you would if you’d hired an editor or gone through a more traditional publishing route, and you’re likely to see a few more errors in your published work than the average author.

When it all comes down to it, pick a beta reader you trust. Odds are you aren’t ready to publish just yet, but might need that little boost of confidence or editorial critique. Once you’ve found a good beta reader, you’re likely to come back to them later down the road.

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