Personal editing. Professional results.

Buy beta reads, or a development edit?

December 29, 2023
Posted by:
Ron Seybold


For the author who's looking at a full draft, ready to do more work on it, beta reading can help a book evolve. It can be vexing to find beta readers whose insights are useful. I told the authors in my monthly manuscript groups that for every four commenters at our table, probably one or two would truly "get" the intention for the book.

Beta reading has become a business. Professional editors will beta-read your draft for prices that start around $800. That’s without in-line comments, and you get only one voice. It can add up, that payment for betas.

There are limits to what you get from free beta reads from your tribe members. They may know your work already and be too kind to be completely truthful. They might not beta-read often enough to know how to compose notes that can steer your way forward. You're less likely to get a review of all elements of a manuscript, from characterizations to voices to tone, onward to sentence variety, watching for good access to contexts. Development edits watch transitions and pacing, measure showing versus telling, and check point of view for consistency and potency.

A 15-question beta reader list is my essential item for good review comments.

You'll also have to juggle conflicting commentary from multiple beta readers.

Develop your book further

Another way to push a book forward is a development edit. It will get you a measure on what you've intended as your one true direction for a book. We explore the book’s message and theme, doing some top-level work to write a short statement about what the book means, and what it intends to say to readers. The copy you create for your Amazon page is derived from this summary writing.

In contrast, a good line edit supplies the language you might be missing to prop up and clarify motivations from a character. “But why” is a frequent question we answer in a line edit.

Everyone who publishes — themselves, or through a press — could use more editorial passes. Line editing is key, because it assures you that your language is leading the reader where you’ve decided they should go.

What you want to avoid is going straight to a copyedit without development or line edits. A copy editor is there for sanding and painting, not raising the walls and laying pipe and writing. Your commas should be great after a copyedit. Whether those sentences with great commas belong in the book is what development and line editing do.

Beta partners are one way to go on a tight budget. You need a read and edit. The commas are important. At the One-Page Salon at Radio Coffee & Beer, one of the performing authors said being stylish still means being clear. She said, "You can win all the awards you want, but I'm still looking for a period or a comma."

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