There’s difference between beta readers, critique partners, and editors. As I understand it, a beta reader reads the finished manuscript to comment on the overall story. The main thing you want to know is if she liked it or not.
If she says yes, you can do your happy dance. If she says no, she may not be able to say exactly what she didn’t like. She may say only, “It felt wrong.”
The fact that she senses something out of kilter is enough for you to go back to your story and re-read with a dispassionate eye. You may have to put it aside for a few weeks in order to be able to do this.
A critique partner works along with you, chapter by chapter or scene by scene. She is an essential part of your journey, helping you spot flaws before they magnify into major problems.
An editor — or editors, as you may have more than one — doesn’t care as much about the story as he does grammar, spelling, and typos. Your editor may hate your story, but he will point out that you changed tenses in a sentence, or were head-hopping, or had your heroine yell “You’re a xenophilic!” at the hero without your looking it up first to make sure she knows what she is yelling about.
I’ve asked friends to be beta readers. I’ve had critique partners (and need to find some new ones since my last group disbanded). And I’ve asked professional friends to edit. I value their opinion.
This past week the shoe has been on the other foot. I’ve been reading a manuscript both as a beta reader and as a critique partner. Oh, and editing/proofing along the way. It’s not easy because I have to put my own writer’s hat aside. I use an Oxford comma; my friend doesn’t. I have to stifle the urge to add a comma in every string of phrases or words. It’s an internal battle of wills, believe me.
When I send it back all marked up I will repeat what I told him at the beginning when I accepted the assignment: these are suggestions and you can delete them or accept them, whichever you want. Because what I see as an error may be exactly how he wants it written. And, I could be wrong.
Does editing someone else’s manuscript make me a better writer? I think it has to. If I see an error in his work, I am more likely to spot it in my own. It sharpens my skills, and that has to be a good thing.
Oh, and while editing/proofing my friend’s work, I’m also proofing the galleys on mine. It’s my fourth time to go over the pages — three previous editors have marked them and sent them to me for approval. I dare not disapprove. These people work for the publisher. Their job is to make my writing better, not be my Facebook friends.
I have a week to get this done, so I may have to slack off on my friend’s book until then. Release date for “A Question of Time” is October 13.
Just letting you know:)