Betas, Proofers, & Editors — Oh, My! They’re all different and used at different times. Yet, all of these services are useful for bringing out the best in your writing. When do you use them, and what are the differences? Can you use just one? Do you really need an editor if you have betas and a proofreader? Add to this the fact that there are different types of editors, each used at different times!
These questions and more pop up all the time in the forums and groups I hang out in. More often, I see people posting opinions on these things that are sometimes flat wrong, and other times merely different than my own views.
So, I’m going to explain these different mysterious creatures, and when I believe you should use each of them in the writing process, so you can choose which ones you need and which would just be nice to have. That will differ for each writer, of course, so I’ll just provide the information and let you decide for yourselves.
When and What
If you’re an outliner, now’s the time to do that. If not, skip the next step.
If you are the sort who created a detailed outline that goes chapter by chapter, scene by scene, detailing to goal, opposition, and outcome, down to each scene’s “Motivation / Reaction Units” (Google it), then once your Story Bible is completed, a developmental editor can be used. They’ll go through your story bible checking characters, MRU flow, etc. and make sure it all holds water.
This is before you write the draft, so it can really help prevent the need to rewrite whole scenes or even sections.
If you are a “pantser” who writes without an outline, or someone who uses only a top-level outline (which I normally do), then the developmental editor will be useful later in the process, not here. (You’d use them after you have self-edited your first draft.)
Draft Your Novel
Whether you’re a pantser, light outliner, or a heavy outliner who has used a developmental editor, now is the time to draft your novel. Once you’re done drafting, go through and do a light self-edit, but don’t yet worry about doing too much to it. Catch spelling, maybe rephrase some things that stand out, but not much more than that.
Beta Readers or Developmental Editor
- If you’ve already used a developmental editor, now is the time for some beta readers (3-5 is a good number). They’ll look for anything that stands out, plot bunnies, things that aren’t clear, and all the other things Betas catch.
- If you haven’t already used a developmental editor, instead of beta readers, consider a developmental editor at this point. They will tear your first draft apart and leave it bloody on the ground, but after you do surgery on it, you’ll have a much stronger second draft. If you can’t afford both a developmental editor and a copy editor later, go with the copy editor and just use beta readers here.
Revise Your Novel
Take the input you received and fix the problems. When done, self-edit it again but this time, really dig into it. Your goal here is to make it as close to publication-ready as you can. When you’re done, you have a second draft and more steps.
Light Copy Editor and/or Beta Readers
- If you used beta readers previously, now is the time to consider sending it to a Copy Editor. The copy editor won’t patch plot holes (your beta readers did that) and it isn’t their job to revise your work for flow (that comes later), but they will help with word choice and punctuation. Many people choose not to use a copy editor at this stage, however.
- Whether you used a developmental editor, beta readers, and/or a copy editor already, I highly recommend a round of beta readers at this point. You’re almost done, so this is where you catch anything that stands out, or which still confuses or jars your readers due to your sentence flow.
Revise Your Novel
Incorporate all the feedback you’ve received, and go through another round of self-editing. You end up with a nearly-complete third draft. Almost done…
Copy Editor (A Line Editor)
More in-depth than a copy edit is the line edit. In common online parlance, you’ll see this referred to as the copy editor, not the line editor. Most of the time, when some says they are a copy editor or suggest you get one, what they mean is line editor. Think of it as the difference between a light and heavy edit if that helps. This is the stage for the heavy copy editor — AKA line editor.
This type of editor is probably the most important service you can hire, not including beta readers. Even professional copy (line) editors who also write will hire another line editor if they’re able. This is because, despite what self-help gurus and scammers will try to tell you, nothing beats a second set of qualified eyes.
The editor will shred your golden words without mercy. Remember that this isn’t merely proofreading — most of what they’ll give you are suggestions and their advice, based on experience and training. They’ll also ensure formatting is consistent, and if you will be submitting it to publishers, they’ll ensure it is formatted correctly for the majority of publishers.
The best editors will recognize your unique authorial voice — if you’ve developed one yet — and they will respect it. This means they’ll add comments on any text they recommend changing. It alerts you to the fact that they saw it, recognized it as a stylistic choice you’ve made, yet still recommend changing it. (It’s a big deal, and your editor should treat it as such.)
Nonetheless, it’s still up to you which edits to accept and, if you have a style reason for keeping something they’d change, which to reject. Do so only after carefully considering the reasons for the edit, however. Not all our great writing ideas work out, and it’s time to decide whether the editor’s specific changes work better than what you had in mind.
Line editors catch punctuation errors, certainly, but most of what they do is to polish your writing. After spending months or even years buried in your book, no matter how prideful you are, you’ll find an editor to be a wise investment.
Go through the edits and comments. Accept most, but reject some if you have specific reasons not to use them. When you’re done, self-edit once again to catch any last-minute errors that might have snuck in while revising. One last step to go!
The proofreader is always the very last thing you do while writing the novel. The proofreader will ensure your book only has a few typos left when it goes to print. (That’s only sort of a joke — most books have one or two.)
Once you’ve been through all of this, using beta readers and a line editor at the bare minimum and preferably a proofreader, your novel is done. Time to format it for self-publication or for a particular publisher’s submission requirements (if they differ from the norm in some ways).
This is your Final Draft, and all that remains is to get it published one way or another. Best of luck!
Note: Always be sure to ask if an editor provides only copy editing or if they provide full line editing! Many (myself included) refer to their services using the commonly accepted wording, that of providing line editing under title of Copy Editor, because that’s what people expect to see. But you don’t want to be surprised, and receive only a copy edit when what you actually intended was to hire a line editor.