Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

Should beta readers get paid?


And speaking of editorial services …

To charge or not to charge? That is the question.

Talking about beta readers — those tireless laboratory rats we feed our literary cheese to in advance of trying to sell it to the public. Sometimes that cheese is stinky, and we need someone to be honest enough to tell us that.

Over the years, most beta readers have provided their services for free. Whether as generous souls who just want to help or as voracious readers who can’t get enough words into their noggins, they’ve performed a labor of love for apprehensive authors. Above all, they’ve acted as first-line readers and not as editors, so the idea of paying for their service has seemed a little taboo.

Hypothetical, though: Let’s say an editor, like me via Indie-Scribable, takes on an editing client on the basis of a brief writing sample. The author wants proofreading and/or minor copyediting. To the editor’s chagrin, the book reveals itself, a little after the sample section, to be lamentably unready for prime time. It has many more problems than proofreading and minor copyediting can repair, on top of which it’s bloody long! Now, the editor can go ahead and take the client’s money, providing kind of a Frankensteinian suture job on the thing and signing off with, “Best of luck with your book!” Or he can tell the author the truth. And give up the job.

This has happened to me a few times already in my new outing as an editor of fiction. One writer told me that a number of his friends had read his book and said it was awesome. It was unreadable. I had to let him down easy.

It always breaks my heart to have to tell an author I can’t do what she’s asking of me. I can’t take her money. I can’t pretend that, when I’m finished “editing,” she’ll nail down an agent or sell hundreds of copies on Amazon.

But what I’d like to be able to do is tell her, “I’ll beta read this instead,” and charge a small fee. Much smaller than the editing fee.

I could also offer beta reading up front to authors who think their work isn’t quite ready for editing but is far beyond the first draft. Again for a small fee. Like $.001/word. That would come to $80 for an 80,000 word novel.

What do you think? Are writers beginning to see this as “you get what you pay for”? Or is there still something of a Florence Nightingale air about beta readers? They do what they do out of the goodness of their hearts.

I, for one, would be more inclined to pay for a beta reader if I knew she would be totally objective. Having friends and acquaintances read your stuff is always fraught with tricky angles. “I loved it” can mean, “I loved getting through this *&$%#^ thing!”

Anyway. Thoughts? Experience? Advice? Would you pay for a beta reader?

38 comments on “Should beta readers get paid?

  1. Phillip McCollum
    December 14, 2016

    We’re of the same mind on this. I’m still amazed so many people do this for free; bless their hearts indeed (not in the pitying Southern way). I think the rate you mentioned is entirely fair and can save a lot of surprise heartache.

    • Kevin Brennan
      December 14, 2016

      Thanks, Phillip. The more I see manuscripts that the authors say were beta read, the more I suspect the criticism they received was kind. At least when you pay a stranger for the reading, you can be confident you’re getting an unbiased opinion.

  2. islandeditions
    December 14, 2016

    I believe a professional editor should be paid, because they can bring much more actual editorial insight into the job than, say, an average reader. For that payment, however, the author should expect to receive a very thorough and detailed report on their MS. I don’t think you should ever expect to get that much from friends or other authors who beta-read. Like me, fer instance, Brennan! Although I am always happy to help in whatever way that I can. 🙂

    • Kevin Brennan
      December 14, 2016

      I wouldn’t want to confuse a beta reading with developmental editing, though. The latter is much more involved and detailed, and should cost more than copyediting. Beta reading, in my thinking, is more of a look at a book from a reader’s point of view, with identification of strengths and weaknesses and suggesting possible changes.

      But you? You oughta be getting a retainer from just about every writer on WordPress!

      • islandeditions
        December 14, 2016

        Hey! Then I could retire! Oh, wait. I have retired.

  3. 1WriteWay
    December 14, 2016

    Good questions. Personally I wouldn’t mind paying a “reading fee” to someone whose opinion I respect and who I know would give me an objective analysis. Maybe you could think about it being more of a consultation than strict reading, something that could be the beginning of a lovely writer-editor relationship. I know at least one editor who does something like that: she offers to consult, read the manuscript and then provide an opinion. It can be a one-time thing or more.

    • Kevin Brennan
      December 14, 2016

      I think you hit the nail on the head with the “objective analysis” angle, Marie. And I think it’s worth paying for. I like the idea of a preliminary consultation too, as a way of figuring out if the book is really ready for final editing. So often I’ve seen material that’s clearly a first draft that a young (usually) writer declares to be finished.

  4. onereasonableperson
    December 14, 2016

    When I started out writing, I paid a developmental editor all that I thought I could afford, which came out to about $.005/word. Honestly, I think I got pretty good value for my money, and I learned a lot.

    As I advanced through the learning curve, though, I discovered that editors in my price range weren’t exactly experts in their field. An edit from a single editor just wasn’t giving me all the feedback I needed.

    Then, I figured out a solution. Instead of paying one person $.005, why not pay three beta readers $.001 each? I save money and get much more well rounded feedback.

    It’s working for me so far. If I ever start selling enough books to go with a more qualified expert developmental editor, I’d like to try it, but for now …

    • Kevin Brennan
      December 14, 2016

      Three for less than the price of one! I love that idea. For $300 or less, you could have a range of opinions and plenty of valid criticism to work with. Then you’d have a much more polished ms for your copyeditor or proofreader to handle.

      Thanks for coming by to comment!

  5. pinklightsabre
    December 14, 2016

    Would totally pay for a beta reader and what you have outlined is more than fair.

    • Kevin Brennan
      December 14, 2016

      Thanks, Bill. I’ve never had a beta reader myself, other than my wife (who happens to be effing brilliant as a developmental editor). But if I wanted one, I think I’d be more comfortable paying. Less squishy that way.

  6. John W. Howell
    December 14, 2016

    You make good points for a beta read fee. I have gotten such good advice from beta readers that it would be worth it. I know a lot of editors are offering a beta read for a fee right now.

    • Kevin Brennan
      December 14, 2016

      Thanks for the 2 cents, John. I do think beta reads can be very beneficial, but they can also save an author the cost of full editing when the book isn’t quite ready. Yep, that’s definitely worth a few bucks!

  7. S.K. Nicholls
    December 14, 2016

    I don’t know if I would call it a beta read, though. A consultation read. Critical read through. Objective pre-edit read through to let you know if you’re ready for editing. I think beta read might get confusing to people who say….Hey, I had ten people offer to beta read my book for free, you shouldn’t be having to pay for beta reads. I offer all beta readers a free book for reading. All are helpful. Even the ones who say, “Hey, I couldn’t get through the first 15% of this book.”…lol Some do more than others, and expectations might be more if you are known as an editor.

    • Kevin Brennan
      December 14, 2016

      Good points. There’s a perception that beta reads are kind of informal, palsy-walsy looksees, and who wants to pay for that? I like “consultation read.” Maybe I’ll use that!

    • Audrey Driscoll
      December 14, 2016

      I agree. I think people see beta-reading as a final step before publishing or submitting a manuscript, a sort of test drive by a “real” reader to catch any little plot glitches. In my experience beta-readers are often fellow writers or friends, and their opinions may or may not be suitably objective. “Consultation read” or “pre-edit read” sound like good terms. The implication would be that a thorough edit would be the next step, preferably delivered by the person who did the pre-edit read. It could be a good way to establish a writer-editor relationship before any serious money is spent. But I think it needs its own label.

      • S.K. Nicholls
        December 14, 2016

        Totally agree. The relationship building is paramount.

      • Kevin Brennan
        December 14, 2016

        That’s what I’d have in mind. I hope to be able to offer some direction for revision, and if the author is in agreement then we could proceed to editing and preparation for publishing. It’s definitely a journey.

      • Audrey Driscoll
        December 15, 2016

        Could be a great idea.

  8. S.K. Nicholls
    December 14, 2016

    I would pay for an objective critical read through by a seasoned professional.

  9. kingmidget
    December 14, 2016

    I think Susan has it right. What you’re describing is really something different than a beta read.

    But I get what you mean. Over the last three or four years, I have read a couple dozen manuscripts produced by other writers and provided them with varying degrees of feedback. I haven’t done it in quite awhile because it was taking up so much time and I wasn’t charging anything for it. I want to help other writers, but I also have to have time for my own thing. And some of that stuff I read? Never mind.

    • Kevin Brennan
      December 14, 2016

      I hear that. Sometimes I think writers are so overjoyed to have typed “The End” after a few hundred pages that moving ahead to production is irresistible.

  10. LindaGHill
    December 17, 2016

    I haven’t read all the other comments, but I will as soon as I’ve written mine.
    I think the danger in starting the whole ‘betas must be paid’ movement is that not all beta readers are created equal. A totally unbiased reader can give you a ten thumbs-ups but if they’re unqualified to know how many thumbs they have, the good review is just as worthless as if your mother read it.
    The solution to this conundrum may be to advertise a beta-reading service provided by you as a professional editor. An author would be able to see the advantage in this.
    I’m particularly interested in this post since I’m currently getting up the courage to hang my own shingle as a freelance editor. I’m dreading precisely what you’ve said here, because I really hate disappointing people. Is it just me or is letting an author down the absolute worst in terms of treading on a dream?

    • Kevin Brennan
      December 18, 2016

      Thanks for your thoughts on it, Linda. I agree that different beta readers approach books with a different eye, and with different useful experience. But I’d say my position isn’t that beta readers “must be paid” but that they sometimes should be paid.

      I think a lot of writers benefit from having a bunch of unpaid readers evaluate their books. They get a nice range of ideas that way, plenty of encouragement, and no doubt a lot of contradictions too. But when they pay a professional editor, as you say, they get a different kind of opinion. One that says, “I’ve read a lot of manuscripts, I understand narratives, and I can see some areas you need to work on here.”

      And, from my own practical point of view, I can spare someone for paying for editing prematurely. I don’t think it’s letting an author down when you tell her she’s sitting on second base and has to do some more running before she’s safe at home.

      • LindaGHill
        December 18, 2016

        I like your analogy. Thanks, Kevin. 🙂 I really appreciate you sharing your thoughts on this.

  11. Deb Rhodes
    February 11, 2017

    I know there tends to be a stigma attached to paid beta readers, but writers who are dedicated to their work and who are not afraid to be told the truth are invariably willing to pay for a detailed, professional assessment of their novel. I’ve had many of them tell me they never used to pay for beta reads but got tired of the undependable beta readers who (maybe because they were doing it for free) didn’t always do a thorough job–if they even finished at all.

    I throw my heart into a beta read. I’ve been a bookworm for over 50 years, and a writer for nearly as long. Words matter to me. I make a point of being honest without tearing someone down. I point out both the positive and negative aspects of the novel.

    I’m sure there will always be those unwilling to pay for a beta read, as well as those who think it’s well worth the cost of getting a professional report on their story.

    • Kevin Brennan
      February 12, 2017

      Thanks for commenting, Deb. It’s nice to hear about your experience and what you bring to beta reading. I think the temptation is huge for writers to rely on their friends and family, or closer writing colleagues, bu they’re likely to be led down the primrose path that way.

  12. Tim
    March 29, 2017

    Been doing some Beta reads for some Indie Authors on a freebie basis. Avid/Rabid reader and aspiring author (couple articles in magazines that have long ago vanished.)
    After I get more experience and retire (I’m no kid) I will be looking to make a little change from my labor of love. I’m not looking to get rich or take food out of an editors mouth. To me even a token fee means the author is serious and isn’t going to just throw my hard work into the trash. I tell my authors up front that they may not like all my comments because I’m going to throw a flag and call BS if I see it that way. I trust them and they value my hard work, I won’t take on an author that doesn’t respect Betas.

    • Kevin Brennan
      March 29, 2017

      Thanks for chiming in on this, Tim. I agree that some fair level of payment is a sign of seriousness. An author’s investment in her own work. Of course, the average indie writer likes to get a variety of beta readers and can’t pay for all of them, but choosing one or two readers you don’t know and paying a reasonable fee for their time seems smart to me.

  13. Jesslyn Chain
    May 1, 2017

    I’ve been beta reading for a few years now, and I’ve recently adopted it as a career. I was very excited to see that all of you agree with the $.001 pricing point, as that’s what I’ve been charging. However, I’m wondering how all of you would go about finding a paid beta reader when you need one? I’m on the hunt for jobs, but it’s not the easiest to navigate when most authors want free betas.

    • Kevin Brennan
      May 1, 2017

      Thanks for stopping by, Jesslyn, and it’s good to hear that your price point is the same as mine. Seems pretty fair, and as I keep repeating, writers get an unvarnished critique for that. Good deal!

      So far my beta clients have all met me through this blog. I don’t know yet of a good way to market the service, at the risk of spamming too much on Twitter or something like that. If you come up with something, let me know! 😉

  14. Taiwo B.
    December 20, 2017

    I reviewed a book for a publisher and organised a giveaway for that book. Now, the publisher is asking me to beta read for them. I’ve never done this before so, I’m not exactly a professional but I’m not sure if I should charge. I feel like beta reading is somewhat like editing. I’m going to be reading the book while doing my best to document any errors or parts I didn’t like and I still have to present my findings in a way that won’t hurt the author too much. Shouldn’t I be paid for all that?

    • Kevin Brennan
      December 20, 2017

      I’d say so! Too late to negotiate something?

      • Taiwo B.
        December 20, 2017

        I’ll try. Thanks for answering!

  15. P Coll
    September 4, 2018

    Interesting that we crossed in cyberspace. I am a retired educator with vita and experience to believe I am a good match betaing **for some people**. Let me briefly give an example. I have done some fantasy/sci-fi work, poetry,vshort stories and fiction novels. However, I am not tech savvy. I don’t know the lingo. And I would not want to try to beta work that has cultural nuances I probably would not understand. I would not have an adequate background to comprehend in a way faithful to the author or concepts.

    That being said. I am a retiree on limited income and somewhat housebound. So. Within parameters of understanding, I would like to be paid a small fee for betaing. And, due to my background and the fact that it has reportedly been said, “I wish I had a beta like yours,” I would like to do a limited number of clients. I know I have the time and experience.

    To the point. Everything I need or do costs me something. In this society almost everything involves money. I would like to join in the home-based entrepreneurial economy. And need to as much as anyone. I think there could/should be a place for paid betaing.

    I do agree with you. Working with unfinished books should not be as pricey as when I used to do proofing in commercial companies.

    In my mind I would see this as a contractual service with expectations and fees negotiated for the complexity of the service requested and the length of time or manuscript. Again an example. It takes a lot more time and energy to work with an erased or written over document on a yellow legal pad than to cover the same work on a computer or typewritten hard copy.

    I apologize for length. I have been trying to figure out if this is possible for awhile. You got my noodling through part of developing the idea.

    Thanks for the space. Look forward to other people’s thoughts.

    • Kevin Brennan
      September 4, 2018

      Thanks for your comment. I think any experienced and earnest reader can do beta reading, if he/she is willing to be honest with the writer. That’s what the writer is paying for, after all: honesty.

      But I think getting paid beta-reading gigs requires some foundation-building — forging relationships with writers, publishing a blog that shows your reading interests and your expertise, writing book reviews. In other words, putting yourself out there to build a brand that writers can trust.

      It’s not easy, and you might not be able to charge for your first clients, just to collect some references.

      Good luck, though!

  16. Pingback: Beta Readers: Work Shouldn’t Be Free | C.W. Spalding

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