1. ScaryMonster
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    ScaryMonster Active Member

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    Beta Readers vs Professional editors.

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by ScaryMonster, Mar 7, 2014.

    I was just wondering if it's appropriate for writers to ask if anyone wants to beta read their manuscript on this forum? That's kind of where I'm at now. I've asked family members and friends, but they're loath to be cruel to me. I've edited it about four times now and I'm sick of looking at it. I've considered sending it to a professional editor, but I don't have a spare thousand dollars in my treasury.
    Do you think its better to pay for a professional editor and go off their opinion or gauge the opinions of beta readers?
    I'm a reasonable editor, but I still keep finding technical mistakes even after I've read through it forensically! I honestly wonder, are writers capable of thoroughly editing their own work?
    It's a Science Fiction - Steampunk story about 45 thousand words and I'm planning to self-publish it as an ebook.
     
  2. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Actually, I don't even know what the policy is on this anymore. Maybe one of the mods could clarify.

    I'm against hiring a pro editor because chances are you'll never make back what you spent. A writer should be able to edit his/her own work.

    Of course. For some of the more experienced writers, like T. C. Boyle, the manuscript gets published as it is (i.e., without any changes from the editor).

    Good luck!
     
  3. David K. Thomasson
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    David K. Thomasson Contributing Member

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    The former. Do your research and choose carefully. But definitely the former.
     
  4. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    First, editors will not teach you how to write. It's your job to know your craft on a professional level before you submit the work to them.

    Next: editors do not take work and fix it so it reads professionally. If they could do that they would write and sell their own work and make a lot more money.

    Third: real editors, as against would be writers who call themselves editors, have experience with a publisher, in your genre. You can't afford them and they wouldn't accept you.

    Forget beta readers. You're thinking in terms od story and plot, things that require reading the entire piece. But if an editor would reject the piece on the first page because the writing didn't force that reacer to turn to page two, your great story will never be seen. So before anything else you need to know how to write for the reader, and know it well enough that they do turn the page—and do so because they find the reading entertaining. Anyone can inform. We learn all about how to do that in our primary education. Learning to entertain, though, that's a different matter, and requires a different skill set.

    Here's an easy test. Post about 1000 words, which is about four standard manuscript pages. If the people who critique the pages ask you if they can read more, you may be ready for that editor. If they don't, you need to work on finding out why they don't, and curing the problem.
     
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  5. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    as for hiring an editor, since this comes up so often here and on the 2 other writing sites i post on daily, i've had to prepare a stock post, to save typing time... hope you won't mind:

    in re hiring an editor [i provide editing services, though i caution against paying for them], you need to accept the fact that the money you spend on having someone else do what writers must be able to do on their own will most likely never be recouped from the sale of your work... so, if you do go ahead with it, be sure you don't need to make it back, because not even the best editor in the world can ever guarantee the work will be accepted by a paying publisher, or will sell well enough to come close to equalling what you paid, if it is... same goes for if you self-publish...

    also, no editor who can do a good enough job for you will be cheap... it will cost many hundreds, to several thousands of dollars [US] for a good, professional editor to bring your book up to publishable/readable standards, depending on how much work it needs, as there are several levels of 'editing'... from simply correcting typos, punctuation and minor grammar glitches, all the way up to a complete rewrite, if the writing quality is poor...

    those who offer to do it cheaply, will not be able to do much [if any] better than you could do on your own... anyone can set up shop and call themselves 'editors' these days, but few will actually be worthy of the title, so vet any you consider using very carefully and be sure to get a sample edit before entering into any agreement for services...
     
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  6. ScaryMonster
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    ScaryMonster Active Member

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    I'd like to thank everyone for taking time to comment on this thread. First off I'd like to mention that Hugh Howly gave me that advice about hiring a professional editor.
    The price I got was $20 dollars every thousand words.
    That's just for proof read, typo's and grammar.
    As it is, there may be one or two in the MS that I've missed, but I'm the sort of person who would be really annoyed if it went to print with these mistakes.

    I've gone through it 4 times, but because it's my own writing, I'm concerned that I might be blind to my own bad habits. Also, there's what I call the dreaded hot eye syndrome. I'm too close to it to be objective.
    In my opinion the story holds up very well, but I'm thinking about rewriting an info dump in the first chapter.

    I wrote this so I could try out self publishing it as an ebook on Amazon. So I'm absolutely positive it will be published.
    My first beta reader raved about it and I'm still waiting for feedback from others.
     
  7. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I think it's a good idea to find a good editor to go through your MS if you're ready for it and you can afford it; as others have said, good editors are not only expensive, they're very busy and just might turn you down if they're not interested in your MS.

    If you're not quite there yet or can't afford a good editor, I highly recommend beta readers. Hell, I recommend them anyway. Of course, as it is with everyone, some are great, some are good, some are bad, some are awful, some are none of the above but just useless. I know that sounds harsh and cocky, but that's just how it is. However, we've yet to encounter truly bad or awful betas because we don't ask random people, but people we've already interacted with, so we have a pretty good idea regarding their level and whether or not we'll get along on a personal level.
    The only exceptions are the ones we don't know but who contact us "out of the blue." They are a mixed bag: some have been great, some... not so much.

    I think it bears mentioning that someone's best beta is someone's worst: someone can be great at critting sci-fi, but doesn't know the first thing about romance novels or they can be really good with short stories, but just aren't familiar with the format of epic fantasies.
    We know we can offer some solid advice for certain genres and when it comes to certain skills / professions, but we also know our limitations (e.g. we're horrible at critting romance novels, so romance writers won't get much else out of us except fixing typos, grammatical errors etc).

    In any case, you notice which category they fall into pretty quickly and if they turn out less than helpful, just politely let them know it's not working out for you and move on to the next one until you find someone who's a great fit for your story and you. Those are the ones who are priceless.
    My and KaTrian's current WIP has been read by a bunch of betas and all of them have been useful in one way or another and some of them have provided extremely helpful feedback ranging from correcting typos to pointing out plot-related problems or inconsistencies to suggesting subtle changes to characters / the plot.

    Of course it's down to you whether you accept their advice and implement it to your story: just because someone says they think thing X would be better if done in way Y doesn't mean you should follow their advice if you don't agree with it. Learning to see which suggestions help or hurt your MS and your vision is absolutely crucial.
    I freely admit our MS has improved a lot since we found good beta readers and some of them have been so useful, our story wouldn't be what it is today if it wasn't for the time and effort they put into helping us.
    Oh, and just for the record, most of them are from this forum, so yeah, there are some truly exceptional betas here.

    The best things about beta readers imho are 1) they often offer viewpoints that you hadn't considered because everyone looks at things from their own personal point of view (nobody can notice everything and if they claim they can, they're probably either delusional or lying), and 2) you often gain friends in the process and there's no such thing as too many friends. Especially friends who belong to the network of people who work with literature, be they authors, editors, or whatever.

    In addition to betas, I highly recommend expert advisors if your story has elements that aren't your bread and butter. For instance, our MS is military-esque sci-fi, and since neither of us has served, we have consulted an army CQC instructor, a Navy SEAL, and a bunch of other current and ex soldiers when it comes to the military / combat stuff. They've provided excellent insights into the world of professional soldiers and while the story would've worked without their input, those little details add a lot to the realism of the scenes, which is what we're after.
    We've also consulted doctors (about different kinds of injuries), physicists (for, surprise surprise, physics-related stuff) etc. etc. All have been a great help and glad to offer their assistance. It's really surprising how many people just in your immediate circle of family and friends can help you if you know which questions to ask from which individuals.

    No beta or advisor has asked for money or compensation, so if you're not in a hurry, what have you got to lose? Especially since you can choose to ignore their input if you don't agree with it and you still lose nothing except a bit of time.

    Just my 0,02€.
     
  8. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    what advice are you referring to?

    do you realize that it's highly unlikely you'd ever make $2,000 [if the book has 100k words] from book sales, so won't recoup the money you spent on the edit?... and are you okay with that?
     
  9. ScaryMonster
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    ScaryMonster Active Member

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    Thank's T. Train, I currently have five people beta reading it. I'm waiting for their input before I make any more changes to the MS. I'll try to answer your post in a bit more depth tomorrow.

    Mammamaia! Hugh Howly the author of the Molly Fide and Wool series said: "Try to get as many beta readers to look at it before publication. Also, if you can afford it. It would be really smart to get it professionally edited."
    I can afford it, but I haven't decided to do it yet, I'll see what my beta readers say first.

    It might not sell for a lot of reasons, I just don't want that reason to be because its sloppily written. Not that I'm a sloppy writer or a poor editor. One does tend to become a bit obsessive when it's your own work.
    I'd prefer to be optimistic as to about it, I'd just get a real kick out of people reading it and enjoying it.

    I forensically read the whole thing for the third time. I converted it into an Epub file and put it on my iPhone. I find that reading things on different devices is useful in editing.
    I went to bed thinking,"At least it's now technically right!"
    I didn't look at it for two days and then I casually flicked through the copy on the phone. I found typos which I'd been completely oblivious to only the day before last.

    I'm sure there's some interesting mechanism in the human mind that causes this sort of blindness. The fact was at the time it pissed me off.
    I corrected everything I found, but it got me thinking about what Hugh said.
     
  10. David K. Thomasson
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    David K. Thomasson Contributing Member

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    Yes, with a few refinements.

    1. The universe of editors isn't cleaved in two, with the good ones in one corral and the non-good ones in the other. There are gradations on both sides, and while some in the good camp might turn you down, some in the good camp will work with you. That's point 1.

    2. "Afford it" is a relative term, relative to several possible variables. Some here consider that if you pay $2500 for an editor and don't recoup at least $2500 in royalties, you lose. But perhaps not. That view overlooks how much you might learn by working with a good editor. It's possible that in rewriting under the guidance of a competent editor, you'll become a significantly better writer. In that case we have a word for what you pay the editor: tuition.
    A competent editor would tell you that forensically is the wrong word (because it is), which raises the question of how many similar slips are in your MS that you and your beta readers won't catch. Speaking of beta readers:
    If your beta readers are competent at reading and critically assessing fiction, why aren't they making a living as editors? If they're not qualified to critically assess a MS, why are you soliciting their opinions?
     
  11. ScaryMonster
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    ScaryMonster Active Member

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    fo·ren′si·cal·ly adv. It's not the word one would normally use in that sentence, but I thought it carried a lot more symbolic weight than thoroughly does? I’d say it’s a stylistic choice which most of the reading public wouldn’t worry too much about.

    Also, I see the beta reader’s job as being to out plot holes and inconsistencies from the MS.
    As a cross section of the sort of people who will in the end buy this book, I would say they are more than qualified to critique it. Why are editors editing and not making a living as writers? Technical writing skill does not necessarily translate into talent.
    I’d take an expert editor's advice on any technical issue, but on style or plot I’ll use my own judgment.

     
  12. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    “Readers don’t notice point-of-view errors. They simply sense that the writing is bad.” ~ Sol Stein

    That's why you never give your work to friends. they're too kind. If you can make someone who doesn't like you say they liked it you may have something.

    As a kind of philosophical question, one that every editor is asking as they read: You, and pretty much all the people who went through your school system got the same education, to a greater or lessor extent. And culturally, you, and most people are exposed to the same entertainment norms. Further, everyone who's in competition with you for that publishing slot is sincere, dedicated, and wants to please the reader. So what makes you better qualified to write a given story? Do you have a greater understanding of the elements that make up a scene, or of the nuance of POV? Are you better grounder in the knowledge of what makes a given character compelling to a reader?

    Remember, you're in competition with more than 999 people for that yes from the publisher. And some of those people have been honing their craft for a decade or more. Many have attended workshops, and read widely on technique and craft. Some have been mentored by published writers.

    Do you have confidence that the one reading your work won't be able to tell, by reading, that you've not been published?

    Just a few things to think about before shelling out for that editor. And as Hemingway observed, “They can’t yank a novelist the way they can a pitcher. A novelist has to go the full nine, even if it kills him.”
     
  13. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    If readers don't notice those types of errors, why hire an editor in the first place if your SPaG is good?
     
  14. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    be sure to do at least one edit on a printout... you'll find things that way that you keep missing on a screen... to save paper and ink, you can go from double space to 1.5 or even 1.15, change margins to .5" all around, and print in 'draft' quality...
     
  15. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I thought points 1 & 2 were self-evident, but it's good you added the refinements.

    As for the above questions, I can only answer on my own behalf:
    1. I'm not really interested in editing other people's work for a living. I respect editors, it's just not my thing (I prefer writing and translating for a living). I usually beta (check grammar, plot holes, inconsistencies, offer opinions on characters, plot twists etc) other people's work so they'd beta mine and so that I can learn because I've noticed beta-reading other people's stuff has improved my grammar, my critical eye etc. a lot. But I still wouldn't want to spend hours a day doing that.

    2. All betas are not created equal. Some just don't have a solid grasp on e.g. grammar, but they can still notice plot holes or maybe they're experts at something you're writing about, e.g. they might know horses and notice some equestrian mistakes in your MS. Of course, some opinions won't really mix well with your work, but even those I try to receive with grace even if I'm going to ignore them.


    It's good to find a beta who's better than you, who has a great understanding of grammar (usually they are language professionals of some sort with a degree or two under their belts) but also understands the creative writing process and understands your style (i.e. is familiar with similar books and authors and their style), what works for that particular style and what doesn't. All this as long as they don't impose their own style on your MS.
     
  16. ScaryMonster
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    ScaryMonster Active Member

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    I've organized with a friend of mine who's an author of children's books and has also written a few books on art history, to help me. In exchange for some fact checking for her latest tome. I trust her to be objective.



    I have a mixed lot of people beta reading it at the moment, while I couldn't say they are professional critics by any means. I'd take into consideration, but be dubious about the opinions of ivory tower critics over a cross sectional sample of readers.

    I believe to write well, you have to have lived. In the final analysis, every story is about ourselves. If we have to have emotionally experienced (lived) the feelings involved, if not the actual situations of our characters. The work will then come across as truthful.
    I want the reader to share the mind of the characters for a little while. To be transported into the story without glitches that might shock them out of their suspension of disbelief.
    Beta readers are I believe great at finding these sorts of glitches.

    What I've noticed is that the issues my beta readers have mostly brought to my attention are parts I've felt needed work myself. I've reread those parts and technically they're okay, they say what needs to be said. But are like cold spots in the MS, if you can envision such a concept.

    Yes, I've come across some exceptional people on this forum. I've been meaning to take more of a part in the discussion here. It can become a little bit insular when one only interacts with their own small circle of local literary aficionados.

    Thank you for taking the time with this post, I'm eager get back into my MS and rewrite the cold bits. I'll keep everyone a prized on how it goes
     

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