Recently, I was talking to one of my friends about paying beta readers or not. I hadn’t thought of the concept before, I’ve never heard of someone paying for it before. But sitting down to think about it, it leaves me with a bad taste.
I have always heard that publishing should be a relatively free service. As an author, you should never pay for an agent or for a publisher. But what about beta readers?
What kinds of services do beta readers provide? Are they any different from editors?
Beta readers function as another set of eyeballs on your story. They give you general feedback on the pacing, how the characters come off, how the pacing feels, etc. Some beta readers also go into a little bit of editing like checking for grammar and spelling mistakes.
I would like to argue, they differ from editors in this regards because they are not there to line-by-line edit your manuscript. Some do, but that’s not the primary mission of a beta reader. Most do it in their free time and they do it because they enjoy reading and helping authors.
A paid editor is there to go in-depth into the structure of your novel and do a line-by-line review of your manuscript. They’re there to help make it as perfect as possible in a technical sense. Editing is a professional service, while beta reading is not a profession that one can even study.
Having said that, there are no hard and fast rules about what makes a good beta reader. While with editing, there are certain rules and techniques that they study and then use to edit your manuscript. A beta reader is only as good as what kind of feedback they provide, how helpful they were to you in terms of giving you feedback on your story. While there are standards for what makes a good editor.
An author can also send their story to beta readers before they send it to an editor in order to help strengthen their first several drafts before paying to get a professional to look at it. And then get beta readers to look at it again afterwards to note if the story has improved or not. Not only that, but it’s wise to get several beta readers to look over your manuscript. If you paid every beta reader every time you asked them to read your story, on top of getting an editor, every writer would be broke! There would be no books!
But authors don’t give their books out for free...oh...wait!
Then you have ARCs or Advanced Reader Copies. A lot of publishers will send these out before a book is published to hopefully get reviews and gather interest. ARCs are given out for free through programs like Netgallery, which allows readers to get a free book and authors more readers. It’s a good marketing tactic at that point. But publishers do not charge for ARCs, the point is to get unbiased reviews and interest before the book comes out.
What about book reviewers?
Arguing that beta readers should get paid for their reviews is almost the same as arguing that we should pay everyone who takes the time to review a book on their blog or on Goodreads. There isn’t enough money in the world to pay everyone who ever leaves a review and generally paid reviews are looked down upon.
Yes, people pay others to review a product all the time. But when it comes to stories, it’s important to make sure that the reviews are unbiased because readers truly want to know if the book is worth it or not. A reviewer who is paid for it might be afraid to leave a bad review. And that would harm having bestseller lists. People want their books to sell well and get good reviewers because people genuinely think so.
Should they be solely readers or writers? Where do you even find them?
I saw an argument that beta readers should be fellow authors because that way they understand what goes into writing a story better then a reader does. Although, while I agree in a way, I also think that beta readers don’t also have to be writers. But finding beta readers among the writer community would be a good place to start looking for one.
Your peers among a local writer’s community act as beta readers when you give them copies of your latest chapter or read out loud what you brought. But you wouldn’t pay every single one of them for this when you come to the meeting would you?
In the same way, when authors post their stories on sites like Critique Circle or Scribophile, the readers they get also act as beta readers. When they comment on your manuscript or not, you are not going to pay them for every single comment they leave.
I think it is important to find beta readers who are familiar with what you are writing. Whether that be a specific genre, a POC reader to review any POC characters you have, a historian if you’re writing a historical fiction story, and so on so forth. They might be able to give you a better idea of where you could improve or not improve.
I had the privilege of having a Japanese woman read over the novel I’ve been writing and it was really helpful getting her perspective. I realized that some of the information I had read about some honorifics were in fact wrong, and not used as often as I had been led to believe.
What do they get out of it in exchange?
Having thought about it more, I have seen lots of authors mention their beta readers in author notes in the back of books. And I think sending a beta reader swag or thanking them on social would be alright. A lot of authors also send them free copies of the story once it’s published as a way to thank them.
In this regards, the beta reader gets a free book out of the deal that they would have otherwise paid for. And the author gets a reader’s viewpoint before the book ever hits the shelves. For the author, hearing your story is working helps them know if it’s worth pursuing.
Plus, if the beta reader is a writer themselves, they can always offer to exchange works with the author in question. In this way, they are bartering services to each other, benefitting both parties.
I think beta readers are important to the writing process and it helps make sure that you get eyes on your entire story where you might not on sites like Wattpad and it helps them know if they’re on the right track or not.
But I don’t think we need to pay beta readers for it unless both parties agree to it. Yes, they are offering a free services and people should be compensated for their time and effort. But not everything we do for each other has to involve money. Sometimes, it can just involve doing something because we enjoy it and want to see other people succeed.