Beta Readers vs Developmental Editors


Original Article can be read here: Beta Readers & Developmental Editors

The editing industry has multiple terms to explain the duties of various positions. If you hire a developmental editor, your results will be much different than if you hire a simple beta reader. Each has their own purpose and application, so it’s important that you know the difference before making a hiring decision.

What Does a Beta Reader Do?

A beta reader can be just about anyone: a professional editor or a close friend. A beta reader, depending on who you ask, may just be reading the story to give you an overall critique. Or they could be going through it with corrections in mind, also offering in-depth feedback on things like plot, pacing, and character development.

The editing industry, especially the online freelancing portion, varies greatly from person to person. One might call herself a “developmental editor” when in reality she’s doing nothing more than proofreading your work. Reasons for this misleading terminology range from the editor not knowing to the editor knowing that most of their clients won’t know the difference.

So, how do you know what you’re buying?

You should have a conversation with your beta reader beforehand. By definition, a beta reader is supposed to simply take on the role of a post-publication reader. They might help you pick up on some obvious spelling errors, but their main purpose is to give you their feedback on the story and tell you what they thought could use improvement.

However, they will not be making these changes for you.

What Does a Developmental Editor Do?

Unlike a beta reader, which could be your mother or your best friend, the developmental editor you hire should have professional experience in the industry. A developmental editor will be looking at the following aspects of your manuscript:

• How your story reads as a whole and whether it meets reader expectations
• Any weak spots or plot holes that need to be addressed
• Pacing and whether it’s appropriate to the structure of your story
• Issues with dialogue versus narration or point of view
• Characterization, including consistency in voice and motivation.

If you’re working with a truly professional developmental editor, they will work with you to make sure that their feedback is understood and implemented in a way that retains your voice. Their job is to suggest changes to your story in ways that will improve the manuscript as a whole.

A real developmental editor does just that: they critique and edit the development of the story. Keep in mind that a developmental editor may not focus on your grammar and spelling. They will likely solely be focused on helping your story along.


When in doubt, always have a conversation with your editor beforehand so that you know exactly how they work, what their process is, and what their service covers.

You might be hiring the best line editor in the world. They will catch all of your spelling, grammar, and punctuation mistakes—but when they turn your book back to you, you’ll be left scratching your head and asking, Why didn’t you even comment on my story? Here’s why—because line editors just make edits, line by line, to correct grammar mistakes.

It can be a little confusing when you first step into it all, but you’ll be sure to make the right choice now that you know the key differences between these services. Establish relationships with freelancers who offer a variety of services and you can be confident that you’ll always have someone on hand, no matter your problem.