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I completed the first draft of my debut novel, now split into three books, and enlisted a developmental editor for refinement. I'm deliberating the ideal timing to involve beta readers in the process.

One option is to engage beta readers before the developmental editing phase. I seek their comprehensive feedback on the entire manuscript to identify potential issues and gather diverse perspectives before the editor's input.

I'm also considering involving beta readers between rounds of editing. This involves having them assess each revision, allowing me to integrate their insights into the refinement process. This way, I can balance addressing significant structural changes identified during developmental editing and fine-tuning specific elements based on reader feedback.

I'm torn between these two approaches and would appreciate any insights or advice on which might be more effective in enhancing the overall quality of my manuscript.

2 Answers 2

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I’m a developmental editor (also called a content editor) for a living, and for what it’s worth, I recommend saving beta reading until after dev editing, at least by default.

The reason is that generally speaking, dev editing is where you make the biggest revisions to a manuscript, and beta readers are mostly useful for fine tuning. Beta readers can help you figure out where your plot needs to be tightened up, or where certain characters need more room to breathe, but they can’t usually give you meaningful advice on how to completely restructure a plot or create a character arc from scratch.

Remember that most beta readers do not have the necessary expertise to recommend big changes to your story. They are most useful for giving you a preview of how readers will react, and that’s not useful until you’ve already made the really big revisions.

Even if your beta readers are also experienced authors, that’s still not the same as the kind of feedback you’ll get (or at least should get) in a developmental edit. They can tell you how they would write the story, but that isn’t the same as the best way for you to write it.

I say this is all by default because it’s always possible you or your editor might be in unusual circumstances that would change things, this is just what things are like for most of the clients I work with.

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A developmental editor, as the name implies, is an alpha reader and should be employed during the stage where you are trying to figure out the overall storyline, the basic structure of your plot and the personality of your characters. Beta readers – that is, members from your target audience – should come after.


Ideally you would do the following:

  1. First draft
  2. Alpha readers: general feedback on plot, characters etc. (this can be other writers in your writer's group or a developmental editor)
  3. Second draft
  4. Beta readers: more specific feedback on the details of plot, characters etc. (these are members from your target audience)
  5. Third draft
  6. (Submission to agent: feedback from agent)
  7. (Fourth draft)
  8. Submission to publisher: feedback from editor
  9. Final draft
  10. Copyediting: typos etc.
  11. Printing

That is, from one draft to the next you want the necessary changes to become smaller and smaller and the feedback to change from the overall idea to the large developmental arcs to how each scene works. Ideally you have alpha and beta readers that don't make large changes necessary later when the agent or editor return the manuscript to you, but sometimes that happens, because their expertise is often larger. But professional writers often have other writers as alpha and beta readers.

The alpha and beta readers should be different people, and you should have several of them, because you want to know if more than one person notices some things, or whether one person's critique is maybe due to their personal taste and not actually a mistake you want to rectify.

If you want to employ a professional developmental editor during the alpha and beta reading stages, you could replace some or all of the other alpha readers by that person, depending on how much you want to rely on their opinion and trust their expertise. If they are really good and know their job, replace alpha readers by them, but do always, if possible, get some feedback from members of your audience during the beta reading stage. Do not rely on a single person.

That's what I would do.

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