Should You Rely on Friends to Edit Your Manuscript?
We all have at least one friend we trust with our messy drafts. It’s that friend who loves to read, who’s articulate, and who would happily agree to read our manuscript and give us notes. As a good friend, they’re invested in the success of our book. That friend is our #1 beta reader—someone we can bare our soul to without worrying about feeling judged, someone who has enough literary knowledge to offer useful suggestions and help us identify story elements that aren’t quite working. They can give us their impressions of the story and offer ways in which it can be improved.
Still, can a beta reader friend really replace a professional editor? No, not really. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t entrust your friend with your manuscript—beta readers can offer invaluable help during the writing process, but they can’t replace a trained expert. Plus, your good friend is the opposite of objective. If you’re ready to start working with a professional editor, check out our paragraph and sentence editing services for authors.
Beta readers vs. editors
Beta readers read for pleasure, while editors read with a critical eye. The former are a sample of your target demographic who can tell you how they feel about your manuscript and whether they liked your characters and premise. They might be able to spot a few typos or offer story ideas. Beta readers can certainly be a great help, but they’re still just amateurs reading for fun and entertainment.
An editor reads to fix inconsistencies, structural and developmental issues, character arcs, themes, and pacing. They’re focused on offering you the most relevant suggestions to bring out the best in your writing. They offer a different service from beta readers, and if you had to choose only one, you’d definitely want to go with a professional editor.
The advantages of working with beta readers
It’s normal to lose objectivity after spending so much time writing your manuscript, which is why it’s great to get a fresh pair of eyes on it. Your friends can offer a different perspective and read your story from the point of view of a potential buyer. In fact, you should find multiple beta readers—after all, you don’t want the subjective opinion of a single person to pull your story in an entirely new direction. With multiple beta readers—say, 12 to 20—you can get a strong consensus on what’s working and what isn’t.
A beta reader can be almost anyone—friends, family members, or even willing strangers who offer their beta reading services online. It’s usually easier for strangers than loved ones to voice tough criticism, so it’s recommended that you ask at least a handful of strangers to help. If you’ve already gushed about the details of your plot to your closest friends, they might not make good beta readers since they already know too much about the story. Another tip is to not be afraid of asking your beta readers to keep specific questions in mind while they’re reading or to focus on a particular issue you’re having trouble resolving.
The advantages of working with a professional editor
As much as you appreciate your friends, they can’t replace professional editors. A good editor won’t just make your story better—they’ll make you a better writer by helping improve your entire process and teaching you to recognize your faults and repetitive mistakes. They’re people who love reading but won’t read your manuscript for pleasure: They’ll go through it with a critical eye and look for ways to improve it, reading it as many times as it takes to give you the best notes and suggestions. They’ll focus on narrative and prose, overall and sentence structure, clarity, and voice, ultimately bringing your manuscript up to industry standards.
Editing comes in many different forms. If you’re in the early stages of writing and only have a rough draft ready, you can work with a developmental editor to address character development issues and eliminate plot holes. Developmental editors aren’t concerned with grammar and linguistic choices—their job is to smooth out your plot and offer suggestions to make even more of an impact.
Once your plot issues are all sorted out, you can hire a copy editor to focus on linguistic matters. These professionals read your manuscript carefully to detect any problems with structure, clarity, voice, grammar, and other linguistic elements. They’ll identify any passages with ambiguous or awkward wording and offer suggestions to polish them.
The final stage of editing is proofreading, which should be the very last step you take before publication. A proofreader’s job is to scrutinize your manuscript for any stubborn typos or mistakes that previous editors inadvertently added. Typos that evade several rounds of professional editing have a way of making themselves painfully obvious the minute your book is printed, so you don’t want to skip the proofreading stage.
Working with a professional editor is an invaluable experience for both seasoned authors and newcomers. Although we encourage you to also rely on your book-loving friends and beta readers for feedback, they can’t take over the role of an expert literary editor. To learn more about working with a professional editor, check out our developmental editing services for authors and take your writing to the next level.