An Unexpected Rant on Beta Reading Services.
Recently, I posted a call for beta readers (admittedly a bit too early, but hush!). My announcement on Twitter sparked up a rage I didn’t know I had in me. While now I feel much like Ross Geller did over his missing/eaten sandwich, I thought this was the perfect opportunity to clear a few things up with a few of you who reached out to me. Y’all gave me a heap of feels, and I need to exercise my thoughts for a while.
The Internet should know by now I don’t really apologize for having an opinion. That’s great, but I’m bending my own rules a bit. Just this once, I want to say sorry on my own behalf for the following sentiments. This topic is a sore subject with me (apparently – even though it really shouldn’t be). My opinion may not align with yours. I’m unrealistically throwing a mind tantrum over this. Now you get to reap the benefits of reading through this mess. Cheers!
Beta Readers: an Overview.
I feel compelled to point out a lot in this post. My primary point is that beta readers should not (REPEAT) should not be paid. Let that sink in for a bit. You good? Maybe?
The world-wide web provides numerous sources, so you may be plotting to spam me with your sources that counter my point/philosophy. Great! Here’s the source I’m sticking with for this post (SmallBlueDog.com).
What Beta Readers Aren’t.
Beta readers (BR) aren’t (and probably shouldn’t be) professionals beyond maybe having a pair of eyes and a reading comprehension matching your story. The general purpose for BRs is simply to examine your story and point out the weak characters, plummeting plot points, and overall problems with your narrative.
BRs give writers the ability to sample their audience. So, your BRs should be a part of your reading audience. Naturally, this is supposed to be obvious. SmallBlueDog.com says “Beta Reader means someone who evaluates a manuscript.” Somewhere in the world of indie publishing, people have blurred the lines between editing and evaluating.
The Price of Beta Reading
I’m a part of tons of editing, beta reading, and proofreading Facebook groups. I cannot tell you how many times I see on posts offers to beta read for sometimes over $100! I’m sorry. You may have paid-for BR services. I’m not sorry I think it’s not right. There’s obviously a market for you, and I’m not a part of it.
While scouring the web for possible editors and proofreaders, I found dozens of sites offering BR services starting at the low, low price of $250!!! Look, I’m sorry if you thought that was fair, but most of these people didn’t even have a book published, didn’t have more than ten books listed as “read” on their Goodreads pages, and didn’t even have a degree (or even a certificate). I’m affronted by how easy it apparently is to scrap money from unknown indie authors who haven’t done as much research as me and many others.
The Same as Proofreading & Editing?
Let’s be real for just a moment. Beta reading was never a substitute for editing or proofreading (although it is nice when one receives comments about missing periods or words and such). An explicit difference lies between all three of these parts of the writing process. If you pay for beta reading, you’re wasting money that could go toward a better cover, better editing (you know, from an actual professional), or marketing!
Beta reading should not be a part of your publishing budget. Typically, you find other writers who will need your eyes on their manuscript for future or concurrent beta reading. You find readers who just love to read or perhaps love your genre. You do not pay people who won’t even (most likely) care about your story.
One offer I received told me they’d love to read my Regency romance manuscript. Uhh. WHAT? What Regency romance manuscript? I write sci-fi! Good lord. This has been such a rollercoaster of emotions for such a bland topic. Sorry if I inflated your own rage. That wasn’t my intent, and I’m a little bit sorry.
If you’ve paid for BR services, I can’t tell you how you spend your money. I will tell you, though, that you’re doing it wrong! Reach out to other readers, network, grind your way through Facebook or Goodreads groups. These are the best ways to find other authors needing you to look at your manuscript. Unless you literally have no interest in returning the favor to authors in your target audience, there is virtually no excuse to pay someone to critically evaluate your manuscript.
You build a foundation for writing buddies. You provide someone else with valuable feedback. You gain experience thinking critically, which in turn gives you a better lens to look at your own story. You potentially build meaningful, lasting friendships and trust with other authors. I just don’t understand how this became a thing. Beta reading is not editing. It’s not proofreading. That’s why it has its own name separate from those roles in the writing process.