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My Thoughts on Paid Beta Reading

Discussion in 'Publishing' started by BWFoster78, Aug 27, 2015.

  1. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

    Note that all my thoughts below are working theories. The more I get into the business side of self publishing, the more, as with writing, I learn I don't know.

    First, some thoughts on developmental editing (Story) versus copy editing (Writing/grammar):

    1. I've read a lot of reviews lately, and I've noticed a trend. Readers will write stuff like:

    Too many typos. The plot was inconsistent. Wasn't it convenient that ... 3 stars.

    But they also write:

    But I'm going to buy the next book!

    For self respect reasons, I want my book to be as error free as possible, but on the business side, I think that time spent on copy editing issues are, to some degree, a waste of resources. My own tastes bear this out; I'm one of the pickiest readers that you'll find. Despite that, there are at least two horrible writers whose work I devour on a regular basis because I like their characters and stories.

    2. I just got up, walked outside, and threw a rock. I hit a copy editor. The rock bounced off and hit a dozen more. They're everywhere!

    Frankly, it doesn't seem to take a lot of skill to learn grammar and the standards put forth in the CMoS.

    Granted, some copy editors are better at smoothing out your writing than others, but if you're going to self publish, your manuscript probably should be pretty decent before even getting that far.

    3. Good developmental editors who can actually diagnose issues with Story and recommend treatments are hard to find.

    Thus, it seems to me that developmental editing, then, is much more valuable than copy editing. Here's my issue: If I can find a developmental editor who can truly fix my story, she'd be completely worth the money. I know this because I found someone like that. Neither my book nor my overall writing would be where it is without her. Unfortunately, she's not on Elance anymore and hasn't responded to multiple emails.

    So in searching for an new developmental editor, I quickly determined that I got really lucky with her. People who claim to be developmental editors mainly seem to be offering the service of error checking your manuscript for continuity.

    Not that that isn't a good thing, but as far as readers go, I'm not sure it's worth the expense.

    So I'm left with a problem. I'd love to have someone's input on how to fix my story, but it's a huge risk to pay someone hundreds of dollars and not get any actionable ideas for making the story better. So here's my thought:

    Instead of paying one editor $5/1000words, pay 3 "beta readers" $1/1000 words.

    I pay less and have 3x the chances of finding actionable help.

    Here's my first experience paying for beta reading:

    1. Elance for Abuse of Power

    Granted, I did not give detailed instructions. I just posted, "Hey, need a beta reader."

    The person I got seemed like a competent copy editor. Her overall comment was, "I found three punctuation/wording errors. Other than that, I liked the book."

    Though I'm glad to have the 3 errors corrected, probably not worth the $40.

    2. Frostbite Publishing for Abuse of Power

    For $30, they gave me a very detailed document with opinions expressed for each chapter. The sheer volume of paperwork was impressive.

    Almost zero actionable help, though. Basically, the beta reader liked each chapter.

    So after shelling out $70, I found out that my novella was perfect and that everyone was going to like it. Well, I didn't get to improve it, but I at least found out that it didn't need improving, right?

    That would have been good to know ... if I could trust that input.

    Subsequent to getting that feedback, I sent AoP to Nimue from these boards. She found multiple opportunities for improvement. I wish that she charged for her services; I'd send all my stuff to her.

    Bottom Line: If I can find the right beta reader, it's definitely worth it. I just have to keep looking until I find that person/people.

    Plan for Repulsive:

    The person I tried at Frostbite was new, and they have someone experienced in the superhero genre over there. I'm going to give them one more shot.

    I paid a guy over at kboards $14 to do a full developmental edit for a short story. There was a high noise to signal ratio in his comments, but he did provide some good actionable insight. He offers beta reading as well, so I'm going to see what he can do with the novel.

    For the third source, I'm going back to Elance, but I'm going to taylor my post much better to try to get what I want. It's still going to be hard to find someone, though. If I can, however, it'll be well worth the effort.
    valiant12 likes this.
  2. PaulineMRoss

    PaulineMRoss Inkling

    Beta reading is problematic. I find it one of the most troublesome parts of the process. It's absolutely vital to have solid feedback on the whole book, but finding people willing and able to do that is so difficult.

    I've used a mixture of my daughter, author friends, professionals and random strangers from Goodreads. My daughter is good at spotting weaknesses, but vague in describing them ("The ending feels unfocused"). The authors are incisive, and brilliant at spotting craft issues, but they can be too dogmatic sometimes. The professionals do seem to be too uncritical altogether. And the random strangers are - well, random. They respond as readers, which is perfect, but they don't always manage to explain their responses in a helpful way (although I find a little questionnaire helps).

    The one reason why I like the professionals is that they respond in a timely manner. It's a business, so they schedule the work, it gets done, you get the feedback at the specified time. For me, that's gold. I trust them to spot major plot holes, or moments when suspension of disbelief fails, or they get bored or confused, and I trust them to tell me whether they like a character or not. They won't necessarily comment on deep craft issues, but that's OK.

    So good luck with finding someone. And if you do find the perfect beta reader - hang on to him/her!
  3. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

    I agree with this big time. Definitely a huge plus!

    Yep. The good thing is that I'm going to be writing a lot of shorter stuff in the near future. At $1/1000words, it's pretty inexpensive to experiment.
  4. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    Beta reading is a service I'm working to offer Indies, because it is such a difficulty. I hate the thought of charging people for it, but hey, I'm also a writer and time is money. Anyway, I don't want to break any rules so I will just end with saying that paying a beta reader is worth the money if you find a good service. (elance is awesome, I'm on there too)
    BWFoster78 likes this.
  5. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

    I think it's really awesome if:

    1. You know exactly what you want out of the elancer.
    2. You're able to communicate exactly what you want.
    3. You can weed out the elancers who apply even when they don't have the skills you need.
  6. Ian D

    Ian D Acolyte

    Is there a difference between an editor and a beta reader, or do you see them as both? I've had to start paying for professional editing before I submit it to my publishers. Of course they then edit it too, but I think it speeds up the process if my mss is in tip top shape first. but I also need beta readers, not to critique, but just to give overall feedback, like market research, before i do the last edit. the beta readers will approach it as an ordinary reader while the editors will give it the professional polish to conform with industry standards.
  7. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

    I think there are three different things:

    1. A beta reader - someone who approaches the book as a reader and gives you feedback from a reader's perspective.
    2. A developmental editor - someone who understands the structure of stories and can diagnose fundamental problems.
    3. A copy editor - someone who can help tighten prose, fix grammar and punctuation issues, and make sure you're conforming to CMoS standards.

    In an ideal world, I'd use all three. In this world, I don't quite have the resources.

    For my latest novel, I sent my manuscript to 4 average readers and to 3 paid beta readers. I'm hoping that the paid beta readers combined can give me the kind of input that a good developmental editor would have given me for less cost. I will employ a copy editor at the final stage.

    My biggest problem with developmental editors - there are a lot more people out there who think they add value with this service than who actually are able to add value by providing this service. It is hard to find people who really understand stories at a fundamental level and who can really diagnose underlying problems.
    arboriad, J. S. Elliot and Mark like this.
  8. Russ

    Russ Istar

    There are a few gems for developmental/line editors if you find them.

    My wife and I were in NYC last weekend to (among other things) meet with her freelance developmental editor for the second time. She did a 12 hour meeting with my wife to review this round and her input was cogent and once again really helpful. I think their first meeting was 6 hours or so. She does not accept every change suggested but the book is a heck of a lot better for her input, and she is also helping her develop her author package and other materials as well. Top notch service. Pricey though.

    So when you find a good one, hold on for dear life. When my manuscript is done this is the lady I am going to.
  9. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

    Yep. The lady who did the developmental edit for Rise of the Mages was fantastic. Unfortunately, she's not on Elance anymore and doesn't respond to emails sent to her personal email address.

  10. MineOwnKing

    MineOwnKing Maester

    I have received great benefits in paying extra for an experienced developmental editor.

    She has become so emotionally vested in my work that she is willing to go the extra mile to see my work succeed.

    Therefore, when the job is complete and payed for, I can continue to bug her with tiny projects and questions and she does not charge me for that time.

    As our professional relationship continues to grow, I feel more confident in letting her 'tell it like it is', so that I can look back at something and change it without doubt and without arguing.

    However, I still pay for a top notch copy editor to provide a third set of eyes.
    BWFoster78 likes this.
  11. TheCatholicCrow

    TheCatholicCrow Inkling

    This might be because Elance and Odesk were owned by the same company for awhile. They've decided to move us all to one site (WorkUp) and have badgered us encouraged us to hurry up and make the move. I'm still on Elance since I've been working with a client on a long term project but the site keeps reminding us that it'll be shut down in coming months. It could be this... or maybe she's just no longer working as a freelancer.

    Maybe she's dead. Or in Witness Protection ... hopefully she's not just being a jerk but I guess it could be that ...

    Honestly, I don't know how you pick beta readers on that site. I've seen some of those jobs get like 30 proposals. (You get more if you post at the beginning of the month when everyone has more credits.)

    Did you get a release form of some sort from her? You can post a page of your text and a page of hers as an example of what you are looking for (if you choose to post it on Elance / WorkUp).

    Sorry if this is a stupid question but is this new piece part of a series or a stand alone?

    Finding beta readers on goodreads (or here) sounds like a good idea. I imagine you could strike a deal with someone else to swap manuscripts as well (if you have the time for that).
  12. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

    I think that this is it more than anything.

    I think that I define pretty well exactly what I want. The issue is that most people think they can deliver what I want, but they can't. The good thing is that, at $1/1000 words, I can afford to try them out, especially on my shorter pieces. And rarely do I ever get absolutely no value in return.

    Truthfully, the more I do paid beta reading, the more I like the advantage of 1) not committing my own time for the reciprocal part of it and 2) being able to trust that I'll get feedback on time.
  13. Ian D

    Ian D Acolyte

    I agree with BWForster78. Although with my publishers 2 and 3 are usually the same worker.
  14. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

    My 2nd Experience with Paid Beta Reading:

    Source 1 - A new freelancer from Elance $70:

    This time, I was a lot more specific about what I wanted. My job posting specified that I wanted opinions on how to make my story better. In a day's time, I got about 10 responses, and before the guy I ended up choosing answered, I strongly considered one of them.

    Overall, I'm torn with the overall results. He did a great job of pointing out my weaknesses - 1) not enough description, 2) the POV character thinking too much when he should be acting, and 3) my main character came across as way too whiny. Fixing these issues will definitely make the story better. On the other hand, they don't add much from a storytelling/structural standpoint.

    Source 2 - A developmental editor I found at Kboards $55:

    I used him before for a short story and, overall, liked his comments. Some of the things he points out are major Whiskey Tango Foxtrot moments, but he also asks questions that push me to make my story better. This guy is well worth the money. Not quite as good as the developmental editor I had for Rise of the Mages, but pretty durn good.

    Source 3 - a beta reading company found on kboards $56:

    The format of their responses is - I liked this and didn't like that. Any inconsistencies? What I ended up getting back was, "I liked this, this, and this." While that information is kinda sorta useful in a way, it doesn't help me make the story better. In the end, I literally only got one measly actionable suggestion from this beta reader. This is my second experience with this company, and I'm just not impressed. I'll not be using them again.

    Overall, the combination of the first 2 sources are going to help me make major improvements. I think I'll try to reuse both of them for my next project and replace the 3rd source with someone new.

    EDIT: I think, overall, paid beta reading is a good substitute for paying a developmental editor. If I would have solicited developmental editing on Elance, I'd have probably paid the same or more than I did for the three sources above combined, and it's doubtful that I'd have gotten the same amount of actionable suggestions.
  15. Mark

    Mark Scribe

    Some good posts here. I've found beta readers, but it's taken time (a few years). I set up a critique group on meet up. com, but the mix of poets, literary writers, genre writers and others didn't always work. So I set up a fantasy/sci-fi writers' group, and from this group I've found some good beta readers. One of the things I offer in the group is to critique novels the members have written. We've only just started this, but so far it's worked well.
  16. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver


    I think that exchanging beta reading services is a great idea when you're starting out. I learned almost as much from critiquing others' work as I did from having my own critiqued.

    Once you start thinking about improving the efficiency of your process, however, beta reader exchanged have two big drawbacks:

    1. It takes me 5-10 hours minimum to read a novel and give feedback on it. That's time I could be spending doing other things.

    2. I've found that people I pay money to are a lot more dependable, especially in terms of schedule, than people I'm not paying.
    Mark likes this.
  17. Mark

    Mark Scribe

    I agree with the second drawback, although so far my group has been reliable –*or at least the core membership has. And the core membership includes the most serious writers. I'm not sure the first drawback is such a drawback, because I learn a lot in the process, and because all the books are in genres I love, I've so far enjoyed each one. We normally critique a few chapters first, and then decide whether we want to critique the whole book.

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