Beta Readers vs Editors vs ARCs

by | May 7, 2018

By Craig Tuch

We’re sometimes asked by self-publishing authors about the role that beta readers, editors and Advance Reading (or Review) Copies (ARCs) play in the process of publishing and promoting a book. If you’ve ever had any questions, I think you’ll find this article by Craig Tuch (@HiddenGemsBooks) compares all three and explains how they can all be helpful. I think you’ll find it interesting.


 
For most of the writing process, telling your story was likely a very solitary process – leaving you alone with your characters and world for long stretches as you worked to get everything just right. And now, with the last paragraph written, it’s finally time to let other people read it.

I’m not talking about your fan base, though. We’re still not ready for them.

No, before we send it out in the world there are a whole set of other readers that may need to take a look at it first. And you don’t want to ignore these readers, because their sole purpose is to either make your book better or help you sell more copies.

I’m referring to beta readers, editors and ARC reviewers.

Although some of the lines between these three groups might seem a bit blurry, they each serve a distinct and important purpose in the writing process and should be involved at different points. Here’s a quick chart that summarizes some of those differences.
 

Main Benefit to Book How Many When to Involve
Beta Reader Story Improvement 2-5 Near final draft
Editor Clarity & Polish 1 Final draft
ARC Reviewer Marketing & Sales Many Final draft or publication copy

 
Let’s dive a bit deeper into each so you can decide for yourself what the differences are and whether you need to use them.

Beta Readers

A beta reader is someone who reads your entire book and provides you with detailed feedback on your story and character. They’ll tell you what works and what doesn’t. Some examples:

  • Are your characters developed well enough? Did they act in ways that made sense with who they were?
  • Was your storyline easy to follow, or filled with plot holes?
  • Did they see your surprise twists coming a mile away?

A beta reader is giving you what might be the first impression of your book by someone other than yourself, so it’s important to take that feedback seriously. At the same time, it’s important to remember that everyone comes from different backgrounds and with different opinions, so it may be a good idea to get more than one beta reader involved. Just remember that you need to manage all of the comments that come back, and the more readers you have, the bigger that job will be.

What you do with that feedback is also up to you, and while there’s no rule that you have to act on each and every piece of criticism, it’s most important to at least focus on areas that multiple readers had issues with.

Of course, hearing anything negative about your labor of love might be tough on your ego, but it’s one of the most important steps to improving as a writer – and is also the reason why it’s rarely a good idea to ask your friends or family to beta read for you. Whether consciously or not, they may attempt to spare your feelings by not giving honest feedback, especially about problem areas. Luckily, there are plenty of other ways to find beta readers, so it’s best to try those avenues first.

Just keep in mind that beta readers are not editors or proofreaders. It’s not the beta’s job to find spelling and grammatical mistakes, and they likely aren’t trained to catch them all anyway. They should be focused on the bigger picture, which is why of the three groups, they should be involved earliest in the process. The plot or character issues they identify might require the most extensive changes to your story, so using them too late can risk having to do more extensive rewriting if you’re too far along. That being said, you still may want to wait at least until after your first draft, or even after what you consider to be your possible final draft.

Editors

The editor’s job is to help you polish your manuscript into something that’s ready to publish. Editors are far more suited, and trained, to do this than beta readers, and their services can be broken down into four different categories.

With the exception of developmental editing, these services would generally be used after you’ve incorporated the feedback from your beta readers into a final draft. Editors will go through your draft line by line, fixing or identifying issues.

Editing isn’t cheap, but at least some level of it is essential for all books. Exactly what level of service is needed is really project and author dependent, but here is a quick description of each type of editing service.

Developmental Editing

This is the most comprehensive (and consequently most expensive) service and looks at the content and structure of your book as a whole to help determine how it can be improved. This can be similar to beta readers but is done by a professional and usually on an early draft – or even just based on your early outlines and ideas. While hiring an editor would normally be done after beta reading, this is the one exception.

Line Editing

The purpose of this service is to comb through your book, line by line, fixing up stylistic and language issues in an effort to provide clarity. The line editor may also rearrange sentences or phrases to improve the overall flow of your paragraphs or chapters.

Copy Editing

The copy editor is focused on finding grammar, spelling and punctuation issues, as well as checking for consistency within your story. For example, if your raven-haired beauty in chapter one is suddenly a fiery redhead in chapter four, that’s something they would note and either fix themselves or bring to your attention.

Note: Copy editing is similar enough with line editing that some editors just combine the two, while others provide the services separately.

Proofreading

The cheapest of all the editing services and usually the bare minimum for any book getting ready for publication, proofreaders are hired to do a last pass on your final draft. They’re looking for things like typos, extra or missing spaces, repeated words, or formatting issues. Since any further changes to your book run the risk of introducing more of these issues, proofreading should be done at the end, once all other beta reading and editing is complete.

Unlike beta readers or ARC reviewers, you usually only need a single editor to work on your book – or at the very least, a single editor per editing service – although many editors offer all of the above and sometimes provide discounts for buying multiple services for a single book.

Once the editing is done, your book is ready for the final group of readers.

ARC Reviewers

ARC stands for Advance Review Copy (or Advance Reading Copy) and as the acronym suggests, it’s a complimentary copy of the book sent out in advance of publication so that reviewers can read it and post reviews before it hits the stores. For this reason, the ARC reviewers are the final group to get your book before it’s released out into the world.

Ideally, ARCs would be sent out in that space of time between getting your final, proofed copy back from your editor and publishing it – but depending on your timeline and how long it takes reviewers to actually read your book, that may not always be possible. However, it’s perfectly fine if reviews come in after publication, and in fact, some authors don’t even send their review copies out until after the book is available for sale.

Other authors choose to send ARCs that have not been fully proofread. While there is some risk with this strategy, as long as reviewers are warned ahead of time that the version they’ve been sent hasn’t gone through a final edit, they will hopefully refrain from calling out small issues in their review. But it would be unwise to send out a book any earlier than the final proofing stage, when larger issues may still exist.

But why do you even need reviews in the first place?

While the idea that free copies = more money sounds counterintuitive at first, some studies have shown that reviews actually make buyers 63% more likely to make a purchase, and produce an average of 18% more sales. But they can even help towards sales indirectly. Many marketing services, like Bookbub for instance, require books to have a certain number of reviews before they will promote them.

That means you need more than a handful of reviews, although how many you want is up to you and how you plan on getting them. Review services can make the process a lot easier for a price, but building your own team by seeking out bloggers or reviewers is time intensive.

Either way, unless you’re stacking the deck with friends, family or fans (none of which are recommended if you plan on having them review on Amazon, given their stringent rules about reviewer bias and affiliation), you may end up with at least a few unfavorable reviews. You can’t please everyone, and even the most critically acclaimed books ever have some bad reviews.

If that does happen, hopefully the reviewer is at least constructive and helpful in their critique, giving you something to learn from – but even if they aren’t, just try to remember that a few bad reviews can actually improve sales by providing an air of legitimacy to the entire set.

So the joke’s on them…

Craig Tuch has been involved in the writing community for many years, and during that time he was able to identify the difficulties that self-published and independent authors have in promoting, marketing and improving their books. Hidden Gems was started in 2015 and offers an ever-expanding list of services to over 1500 authors to help them reach more readers and sell more books.

Photo: BigStockPhoto

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3 Comments

  1. Ann Crewdson

    Thanks for explaining the differences between–beta readers, editors and arc reviews in the cycle of publishing a book. Thanks also for explaining the different stages. I have two questions 1) Where would you put fact checkers and sensitivity readers? 2) You’ve also mentioned publishers relying on reviewers and that “some studies have shown that reviews actually make buyers 63% more likely to make a purchase, and produce an average of 18% more sales. But they can even help towards sales indirectly”–how much is this driven by reviewers on social media? What about the selection and order librarians who are way too busy to get on Twitter or social media to voice their opinions? How much weight is given to each type of reviewer?

    Reply
  2. michael n. marcus

    The discussion of beta readers says: “Are your characters developed well enough? Did they act in ways that made sense with who they were? Was your storyline easy to follow, or filled with plot holes? Did they see your surprise twists coming a mile away?”

    These issues apply to fiction, but beta readers can also be valuable for nonfiction. They may notice such problems as repetition, gaps and items in improper sequence. Maybe Chapter Four should really come after Chapter Six, or be combined with Chapter Eight. Maybe certain abbreviations and acronyms should be explained. Maybe not everyone recognizes an obscure actor, inventor or politician; or knows which countries participated in a certain war.

    Also, do the book title and subtitle make sense? What about chapter titles? Often a book evolves after these items are selected and some may have to be modified.

    Maybe photos and charts are in the wrong places.

    Are there items in the table of contents but not in the actual text, and vice versa?

    Reply
    • Craig Tuch

      Completely agree, Michael. Thanks for the additional examples. Beta readers are important in all genres of writing, both fiction and non-fiction.

      Reply

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