We all know how helpful it can be to get someone else’s opinion on our work. Sometimes our own inner eye simply isn’t enough to catch all the problems with a manuscript, be they with the story, the grammar, or something else entirely. Hence, a good editor or beta reader can be worth his weight in gold if the insight offered results in a greatly improved end product. And that is, after all, what every author wants.
Firstly, it is important to note the difference between editors and beta readers. Editors are usually professionals who will look over your completed manuscript for a price, often in cents per word. They may specialize in copy editing, story editing, proof editing, or perform all tasks at once. A good editor can be very helpful, but also very expensive. Beta readers are usually more like your “average” reader. They can give you input on story elements that they liked or didn’t like, but don’t usually do any actual editing. They can be paid, but oftentimes are not, and can include anyone from friends and family to just casual acquaintances.
But how and where does one find these valuable readers? Well, there are whole websites dedicated to finding both as needed, however the best place to start looking is of course among people you know who might be interested. If you happen to know an editor who will look your manuscript over for nothing or at a reduced rate from normal, then you are fortunate indeed, as good editors can be very pricey and can have long wait times for getting their much-vaunted feedback. Friends and family might seem the obvious choice for beta readers, but you should approach them with caution: those closest to you are often more likely to avoid giving you any negative criticism for fear of hurting your feelings–which can end up hurting the overall quality of the manuscript instead.
Some writing groups or clubs are a good place to find willing beta readers as well, whether for free or for a modest charge. Sometimes even certain high school or college-level creative writing classes will involve peer reviews and critiques as part of the course. These might be worth looking into, particularly for those just getting started on a writing career. Again a word of caution, though: in my own experience, critiques from other students can be very helpful, but they can also be virtually useless–particularly the kind that come from students who only take creative writing for the sake of an “easy A”.
So, there you have it: a brief summary of beta readers and editors. Sometimes it only takes one or two really good ones to give your story that lift it needs to get noticed by publisher or agents (or the public, in the case of self-publishers), but it never hurts to get as many different opinions as possible, however minimal their input may be.