Editors v. Beta Readers

So I was speaking to someone in the publishing industry about my unpublished Urban Fantasy novel, and how my agent and I are preparing to
shop it. “So what’s your next step?” they asked. I told them that I was
torn between taking time to gather some good beta readers or just
waiting and letting an editor get their hands on the book. “Which way
are you leaning?” they asked.

This was more difficult to answer.

I
totally respect beta readers, especially when they 

  1. Are familiar
    with the genre
  2. Take their task seriously (as opposed to just
    wanting to get a “sneak peek” at an unpublished novel, and 
  3. Are
    willing to make honest observations (as opposed to just lather the
    author with praise). 

Good beta readers can do wonders for an author and a
book.

On the other hand, I feel like this project is tight enough
to pass up beta readers and go straight to a professional. In fact, I
said something like, “I’d love to have a professional editor dig into
this story.” 
Hopefully, those words don’t come back to bite me.

Anyway,
I turned the question around and asked this individual what they
thought. The answer they gave me was a bit of a surprise.

“From
my experience, a good editor will catch a lot more things and have far
more insight into improving a novel than beta readers will.”

This surprised me, not because it could appear like a diss of beta readers, but because it jibed with how I feel.

A good editor is worth their weight in gold.

I’m
one of those oddballs who still respects the “old school” editor. Sure,
they’ve taken some heat as of late. What with self-publishing being all
the rage, many authors have seemed to rely less on the industry
professional, and more on readers’ perspective. After all, your book
should appeal to readers more than simply survive some editorial
checklist. As a result, the beta reader has replaced the editor in many
authors’ minds.

Perhaps it comes down to experience. Thus far, my
experience with editors have been great. They have definitely improved
my stories and made catches that were sorely needed. On the other hand
are writing friends who have horror stories about working with
unrelenting editors who required huge, unrealistic changes to the story.
So maybe it comes down to ones personal experience.

All that to
say, this individual’s opinion about editors catching a lot more than
beta readers really resonated. Sure, at certain stages in a book’s life,
beta readers may be valuable.  But I can’t imagine anyone being as
important to the production of a good story than a professional editor.

Your thoughts?

* * *

Mike Duran is a monthly contributor to Novel Rocket, and is represented by the rockin’ Rachelle Gardner of Books & Such Literary. Mike’s novels include The TellingThe Resurrection, an ebook novella, Winterland, and his newly released short story anthology Subterranea  You can visit his website at www.mikeduran.com.