What have you got to lose?
Writing a novel is an all-encompassing, mind-expanding affair. There is nothing like the flutter in your heart after your ideas first take shape upon the page. Your pour your heart and soul and six months of daydreaming into this world you’ve created. It is, more than anything, a labor of love.
So, first off, congratulations! The fact that it exists at all is amazing, and you made it happen. Everything that happens next is just icing on the writing-life-hustle cake. Take a moment to celebrate.
Writing is also exhausting, and time consuming, and tedious, which is to say nothing of the glacial pace at which publishers move, a pace designed to try the patience of a saint (and let’s be real, you are not a saint). Even when you get that first draft completed, there are so many steps before you can see your name in print. There are synopses to write, formatting to tweak, and proofreading to do. It’s superficial, and very important. You will need a polished manuscript before you can submit it to an agent or begin self-publishing, and it never hurts to hire someone to help you get it there.
You can expect to need, at the minimum, a content editor and a proofreader, possibly a line editor as well. There will be rounds of edits, restructuring, and rewrites. All of this adds up to hundreds of dollars and hours of your life. But there is a much-overlooked professional that can save you big in the long run. Of course, I’m speaking of the professional beta reader!
Beta readers provide objective feedback on early drafts of your work so that you can fix the problems before you invest too much time into them. From plot holes to narrative inconsistencies, badly developed characters, to an over-reliance on clichés, a talented reader will alert you to your areas of weakness and provide suggestions for improvement. This will save you time at a fraction of the cost of a content editor.
So the question is: why should you pay for this service when you can probably find it for free? First off, you can absolutely find them among your friends and fellow writers, and you absolutely should. You want as many beta readers as possible, but the ideal range seems to be five to seven. Most people do not have seven people who can give them timely, concise feedback on their work, and that is where a paid beta reader comes in. Hiring a professional comes down to three main advantages: diversity, objectivity, and familiarity.
Diversity matters. When it comes to your novel you want as many different perspectives as possible to see it to avoid embarrassing errors. Professional beta readers are trained to spot areas of insensitivity toward other cultures, religions, and sexuality. What reads as unremarkable to some will read as offensive to another, and it is your job as an author to be aware of this.
Objectivity is crucial. Your friends are not objective. Fellow writers are not objective. People who know you simply aren’t objective. Your work needs objective feedback, and a professional is going to be much better at doing this. Since it is coming from a stranger, you will be more receptive to it.
And finally, familiarity with the genre pays off. Beta readers are passionate about books, and they tend to find their niche. Although theoretically a person could work with young adult to nonfiction to adult contemporary to serialized paranormal romance, there is so much amazing work out there that specialization happens naturally. As a result, they will be familiar with your genre and better able to help you develop its themes.
With their affordability and versatility, a professional beta reader is a great investment for your novel, and when you find a good one you won’t want to let them go! Most beta readers get jobs through referrals, so ask your fellow writers who they use. If you’re not part of a writing community you can find them through advertisements on Reddit, Upwork, Goodreads, and Fiverr. There are also professional beta reader groups on Facebook. Beta readers are an underappreciated tool in your writing arsenal, don’t let them go to waste.