Knowing when to use your beta reader or when to hire an editor can be tricky. Let’s keep this simple for today, and talk draft numbers/number of beta readers that your story has been through. The longer you write, the more that you will understand what kinds of edits you need and when.
First Drafts/First Beta Reading: This draft needs only content comments. At this point we don’t care about commas or word connotation. We need to know if this draft has big, gapping plot holes. We need to know if the character changes from start to finish. We need to know major, story changing information.
This is the draft that you need a book coach/writing group or friend to keep you accountable for if you are struggling.
Second Drafts: Some writers don’t even consider using a having a beta reader until the second draft. Again, this comes with time. When you’ve written for a while, you’ll be able to tell some of the big novel-changing plot issues on your own. Second drafts are where you want to pull in your awesome beta readers and we want to focus again on content. We want to catch those big and small plot issues. This is the draft where we can start consider individual chapters. Are they working together to build a story? What details have we missed? Do we have some misspellings? Cool, let’s right click and see how you’re supposed to spell that word.
This is the draft that you can use either an editor or book coach if you want. If you hire an editor here, you want them to do a content edit.
Third, Fourth Drafts: Hello, scenes! This is the draft where we focus on the scenes. Are they working well together. Does each scene have tension? Do they transition us from place to place both physically and emotionally, or are there places where the transition is jarring and I’m taken out of the story.
Are my sentence lengths varied? Do I have the correct connotation here? Is there a better way to say this? Is this cliché? Cool, let’s say it in an original way. We can get picky about word choice and think about the smaller components that make up a chapter.
This is a great draft to get an editor.
Fifth Drafts and on: Okay, now we can care about the commas. And if commas aren’t your thing hire an editor to line edit your story.
Happy writing friends.
- Not Doing Your Submission Homework: You’ve written a book. You’ve had it beta read. You’ve revised it. You’ve sent it to a professional editor. You’ve revised it again. And now it’s ready for the world. So you send it to several publishing houses, but you didn’t bother to compare your story to the kinds of stories that they’ve published in the last couple of years. And, you didn’t bother to send it to the right person at the publishing house. And, you didn’t bother to send in a query letter. No, you sent the entire draft. That’s cool, right? Not even a little. Any of those mistakes will land you in the slush pile and not even one pair of eyes will ever read the first sentence of your manuscript. So make sure that you are doing your homework. You don’t have to read every book that they’ve ever published, but you should not send your YA paranormal romance to a publisher that is looking for space operas.
2. Not Playing by the Genre Rules: We all love a good rule breaker, but we don’t love the bad ones. I’m not saying that you can’t genre blend, because you certainly can. But every genre has certain expectations, and if you are breaking rules in weird ways without a good reason then your readers are going to ditch your book because they came expecting your science fiction book to contain some fictional science and all you’ve given then is a one scene with an empty Petri dish and a whole lot of romance that doesn’t tie into the empty Petri dish. If you’re going to break the rules, break them on purpose. Break them because you understand them, and not because you don’t understand your genre’s tropes.
3. POV: No one is asking you to repeat the horrors that were middle school English classes, but if you are writing a story from first person you will need to know what that looks like (I turn the corner). Same goes for limited and omniscient POVS (are we inside the character’s head or outside watching them as they go through the story?). It’s okay if you can’t readily tell me what the POV definitions are right this moment. Go home and google it. Learn how to use POVs correctly, otherwise off the slush pile you will go.
4. Your Novel is too Mundane: Y’all we live boring lives. Work. Bills. Ugh, do I have to make dinner again? I’m not complaining about that necessarily, but if you want me (or any other reader) to pick up your book then your characters cannot also live boring lives that look an awful lot like mine. Action, action, action. That doesn’t mean that bullets have to go flying on every page, but it does mean that I need tension. I don’t care if it’s romantic tension, situational tension, emotional tension, etc. Readers want some drama to entertain them after yet another exhausting day of being boring.
5. I’ve Read Your Novel and I Still Don’t Know What’s at Stake: If your main character’s goals or what’s at stake if they don’t accomplish their goals is unclear then off your book goes to the slush pile. This is why we focus all our rewriting efforts on the content issues for the first couple of drafts. We want to make sure that these types of things are crystal clear from the early drafts. Beta readers are invaluable for this very reason.
6. Your Story is Unoriginal: You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, but your story should have some originality to it. Just as each of us is unique, your story needs quirks and charm of its own. Ask you beta readers if your story is too unoriginal, and if they say yes then brainstorm together with your writing friends on how to spice it up.