An Open Debate – Content Editor or Beta Readers: Who Comes First?

An Open Debate – Content Editor or Beta Readers: Who Comes First?

by Cody Wagner

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So I just finished the second draft of book 2 in my series. First off, can I get a major “Woot!” from everyone? Come on…I can’t hear you. OK, that’s better. The book was an absolute bear to finish, so I needed that.

All right, getting back on track now.

The thing is, I’m at a confusing crossroads and wonder what everyone’s opinion is to this question:

Cody connundrum

I think the correct, or most accepted, process is the content editor. But I want to present my thoughts on both sides and see what you think. This is an open dialogue, so I will be calling on people. That means you.

Content Editor

Again, I think most people believe this is the logical next step. Your editor is the person who will take your book and provide high level feedback (e.g., does it arc correctly? is there sufficient conflict/tension? are there POV issues? are any plot holes? etc…).

This is probably the most accepted route because your editor should be an expert who correctly helps shape your novel from the early draft. Additionally, if your early novel is in rough shape, you might lose potential fans if you utilize beta readers at this point. Beta readers have the potential to become fans (and even spread the word to friends/family), so a really rough second draft might turn them off.

Those are definitely valid points. However, I’m kinda leaning the other way right now. I’ve been back and forth on this over the last couple weeks, so if you ask me tomorrow, I’ll probably have a different answer. At any rate, let’s look at the alternative.

Beta Readers

First off, I should probably call these alpha readers. If I went this route, I’d still definitely use a content editor afterward. And after that, I’d still utilize true beta readers. But I’m really curious about having a very small group of readers see the manuscript first.

Here’s the deal. With the second draft of the book, I’m most concerned about the highest-level issues, ones that regular readers often see. “Regular” readers (not editors) often find the most obvious problems that other regular readers would notice. Now that I do some editing myself, I sometimes find myself losing the forest for the trees. I’ll be sitting there nitpicking a POV issue (that regular readers would never notice) while overlooking the fact the main character is talking to someone who was killed in the previous scene. OK, that may be a very slight exaggeration, but you get my point.

Another thing I like about using multiple readers early on is what I call “repetition reporting.” If one person sees an issue in your book, who’s to say they’re correct? But if three people report the same problem, chances are it’s something that needs addressing. And if that something results in major edits, your content editor may need to review those revisions, too.

Additionally, using a diverse alpha group can often provide insights you’d never think Businessman with lifebuoyabout. And those insights also may need to be seen by your editor. If I go with alpha readers for my LGBTQ book, I’d choose a straight reader, a gay reader, and a lesbian reader. And I suspect I’d get some very relevant feedback early on that may need content editing later. What if this happened in a typical beta reading step – after the content editor has already done his work? You’d have to look at paying for additional rounds with that editor.

Now that I’ve written this, I’m leaning even further toward using alpha readers. Someone throw some devil’s advocate arguments my way. I want to make sure I have all my facts before making the choice.


cody-wagnerCody Wagner loves to sing, mime (not really), and write. His award-winning debut novel, The Gay Teen’s Guide to Defeating a Siren, recently “came out.” See what he did there? Check out his writing and see more of his wackiness at, or find him on Twitter (@cfjwagner), Goodreads, and Amazon.

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1 Response to An Open Debate – Content Editor or Beta Readers: Who Comes First?

  1. I like the concept of “alpha” readers–knowledgeable people who read the really rough drafts and offer useful critique. I was fortunate to belong to a writers critique group who performed that “alpha” read and offered productive feedback that helped me to shape a better second draft of my novel. After some developmental work, I then gave it to “beta” readers–ordinary people who could report on the book from a reader’s perspective. So, I guess I vote “alpha” readers first, then developmental editors, then “beta” readers for best results.


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