Editors vs. Beta Readers: Author Psychology

More than once I’ve talked about the differences between beta readers and editors, the importance of editing, and advised that if you’re serious about becoming an author, you should find an editor for your books.

I want to talk about this one more time (don’t groan too loudly now, everyone) to further elucidate a specific point.

You ask: ‘WHY do you keep advising that an editor be separate from a beta reader?’

Short answer: A beta reader does not (and usually cannot) look at your work the same way an editor does.

You ask: ‘What does this have to do with the psychology of an author?’

I answer:


#32 Editor:Beta psychology

Even if the beta is good at editing, an author’s subconscious response is going to be different simply because of the way human brains work.  Terminology programs our psychology.  In plain English: we’re automatically trained to think of betas and editors differently, because the terms have different meanings.

This is a very good thing.

Think about it for a minute. If you’re a member of a writing group or you have a regular group of beta readers, your reaction to receiving their feedback is at least SLIGHTLY different from the look on your face when an editor sends back your work marked up in red.  (If you don’t have an editor yet, use your imagination, writer.)

From a beta, you are supposed to receive opinion: feedback on how other people react to your book- the plot, the characters, the story as a whole.  From an editor, you are supposed to receive critical feedback that will help you improve the book.

One could say that an editor’s job is not to like a book, it’s to make sure other people will like it. Which is a rather simplistic way of putting it but you can see my point.

90% of the time, a beta will not be able to objectively step back and look at the book the way an editor will. Can they objectively look at it? Yes. But the same way an editor will? No. Not usually.

[NOTE: this does not apply to critique partners. Just alpha and beta readers.]

For example, let me show you how my feedback to a person differs based on my function as an editor or a beta reader:

Beta reading:
I give opinions and feedback on how well I liked/didn’t like the story– including the specific elements as well as the whole– and how well I think their target audience would respond (if I’m not personally a member of said target audience). I’ll point out major flaws that detracted from the story. That’s it. I’m not looking at it as an editor.

Now. If I go back to edit the same book, or if I’m editing any book, I approach it far more ‘clinically’. I consider the spirit of the book and what the author was trying to convey. I pull apart all the elements and examine them individually as well as together with each other and as a whole– in the big picture of the whole story. I identify the story flaws and language flaws (syntax, style, grammar, punctuation). Then I respectfully communicate the flaws and issues to the author, with suggestions on how to fix them and corrections of things that are wrong (grammar, punctuation). I also point out their strengths and what was well done in the story.  (This mostly applies to the content or line editing phases, copy editing is less intensive, and proofreading completely different.)

Most people in the writing world make the same kind of distinction between beta feedback and editorial corrections, which is one of the main reasons I personally advocate having an editor who is distinct from your betas, even if the editor did beta read the book.

An editor’s mindset when they look at your work is unique in focus.  But it’s a vital mindset to have, and one that’s crucial to your improvement as an author and to the (hopeful) success of your book.  (This is also why it’s important to find a good editor, as well as one with whom you can work comfortably.)

FYI: this is my advice to you, based on much personal experience and observation. I’m not criticizing those who use beta readers as editors, or those who disagree with me on how vital this perspective is.

Have you ever had something professionally edited (freelance editors count)?  Did you notice a difference in the way you responded to it from the way you responded to beta feedback?

Merry Writing… and may editing always end well for you!


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