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[Disclaimer: I don’t actually know anyone who will read for beer, but my boyfriend did trade beer for bricks once. So, theoretically, it’s possible.]
Recently, I partook in a discussion via social media about the process/rates for hiring a beta reader. From this stemmed the question of actually paying for beta readers. The consensus was that beta readers were trusted people an author knew (not family, often fellow writers) who read a manuscript nearing its final version. For many years, this was the definition I knew, but the game has changed, as they say.

Authors have long hired professional editors to help whip manuscripts into shape. And now, authors are turning to professionals for the important beta reading step. Many of the editors I know offer beta services, and there are entire companies with teams of betas for all genres, fiction or non.

So, why? Why are authors paying someone to do what a few writerly friends could do? Drawing from my own clients and opinions of dissatisfied posters on social media, there are 4 reasons to hire a professional beta reader.

1. A Professional Won’t Flake

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One of the biggest complaints I see about free betas is that they disappear or don’t commit. If you toss a call into the void for beta readers, you never know what you’re going to get. Five people may respond that they love X genre and would love to read your book. So, you send out your manuscript. Three betas disappear, never to be heard from again. One responds with “I don’t feel like finishing/don’t have time to finish” and drops off the face of the planet. Assign whatever outcome you’d like for the fifth. The point is you’ve lost 4 readers and now have to find new ones.

Even if you have people you know, things can go wrong. Maybe one of your usual betas gets sick or has a baby. Maybe they think your book has flaws but is hesitant to bring them to your attention. For one reason or another, free betas may not deliver. That said, if you have a great team of people, hold on to them.

Of course, professionals can hit hard patches, too. But if you’re paying someone for a service, they’re a lot more likely to push through. Under extreme circumstances, they may need extra time, but extra time is not disappearing.

2. A Professional Will Deliver Feedback

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It’s happened to all of us. You send your manuscript to a friend hoping for feedback. They respond with “I loved this!” And nothing else. You’re majorly disappointed they didn’t give you more, and your attempts to wheedle more thoughts out of them flop, leaving you with the kind, but ultimately unhelpful, comments of a friend who was trying to be nice.

Whether or not it’s the feedback you want, a pro beta reader will send back at least overall thoughts on your story. Some offer a few pages of in-line commentary, and others may do a chapter-by-chapter breakdown of notes. Bottom line, regardless of what someone offers, there will be feedback in the author’s inbox because the author paid for a service, maybe signed a contract. Professionals are called “professional” for a reason. Beta reading a manuscript is a job, and they do their job.

3. A Professional Will Answer Follow-Up Questions

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Congratulations! You found a few free betas. They read your book in its entirety and provided you with helpful feedback. You just have a few questions about their notes.

And…crickets.

Professional beta readers are still doing their job by answering follow-up questions. Some may charge extra beyond so many emails/rounds of questions, but if they’ve proven their worth once, what’s an additional small fee to make sure you get all the answers you need? And if it turns out you have lots of questions that require a bigger service than beta reading, your professional beta reader may also offer developmental editing or manuscript evaluations (and if they don’t, they likely know someone who does). Hello, networking.

4. A Professional is Familiar with Your Genre/the Market

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This, to me, is one of the biggest reasons to hire a professional. One of the most common questions I get from people I’ve beta read for is “what genre do you think this is?” Sometimes, the author nailed the genre on the head when they emailed to enlist my services. Other times, they didn’t, and knowing your genre is so important, both for pitching editors/agents and for selecting categories on Amazon (in other words, for both the traditional or self-publishing route). Using myself as an example, my MFA in Popular Fiction means I’ve read extensively across fantasy, sci-fi, romance, and mystery, and I’ve made it my business to be familiar with crossover books/general fiction. I know the basic requirements for each. I know what’s in the market, what’s flooding the market. I’ve also made it my business to be familiar with publishers/agents and what they’re looking for. A free beta may know some of this stuff, or they may not. But odds are good your paid professional will have a pretty good idea.

Summing Up

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Professional beta readers present many perks the free version doesn’t come with. Your pro beta also doesn’t have to just be that person you paid to read your book. If you do it right, they can be as good a resource as the person copyediting your novel. Heck, if the person who normally copyedits your work is swamped, one of those beta readers may be able to help. In short, for a much lower price than an edit, you’re getting real feedback about your book, someone who’s knowledgeable, and a resource in the book world.

Like I said above, if you have a fantastic group of writer buddies, hold onto them. If you don’t, and you want to make sure you get the feedback your book deserves, consider going pro.

~Want me to beta read your story? Hop over to my editing services page for rates and what I read.

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