Polarizing Thoughts in Writing: Should You Pay for a Beta Reader?

Hey there! I figured this week we might as well dive into yet another polarizing topic. I mean, the last one I posted all about why you may need a sensitivity reader got me my first comment about how I was wasting everyone’s time and was a worthless writer (I consider that a win…and they obviously didn’t read the article). After all, if I get no reaction, am I really making anyone, including myself, think?

Anyhow, this week a question came up in one of my groups about finding beta readers. Common enough question, really. They can be hard to find, especially quality ones. But at the end of the question was a comment that the poster was originally willing to pay $100 for the beta read, except people were quoting her much higher than that.

Let me tell you, there were a lot of “NEVER PAY FOR BETA READERS” knee-jerk reactions, and I’m here to tell you that yes, that’s generally true.

But not always.

When I expressed that, I got those same knee-jerk reactions.

But I will remind you: just because one person wants to hire a beta reader doesn’t mean they’re wrong. You don’t know what brought them to that decision in the first place. So yes, by all means, tell them it’s not necessary to pay for a beta reader. But if that’s what they want, we should respect those wishes.

What are beta readers?

Let’s back up a second and define beta readers for those of you who aren’t familiar with the term. Beta readers are like your book’s first testers. They generally read a lot in your genre, so they know the tropes and can see when there are problems with a story. They read for fun. Oftentimes, the author can provide specific questions for the betas to respond to so they can find the problems in their story.

Beta readers are looking for any story problems to help the author improve the book before they start sending it out into the world.

Where are beta readers?

Typically, authors find beta readers in reader groups, often online, or they may exchange manuscripts with other authors for feedback (technically, exchanging with another author is considered alpha reading, as authors are professionals in the field rather than the intended audience, but few writers make this distinction).

So…you pay them?

Not really. Very rarely does anyone pay for this service, and it’s pretty standard to assume no payment.

However, there are some people who offer paid beta reading services. From what I’ve seen, the going rate is about $1 per 1000 words ($80 for an 80k word manuscript). And a lot of writers will get pretty mad when they see this.

Now, let’s just mention one elephant in this room. Wouldn’t this just be like content editing? I mean, yes, it could be considered content editing. Or at least a form of it. However, content editing will likely come with more detail, in-depth analysis, and a higher price tag. Editors likely have more experience in the field as well.

Paying for a beta read is like paying for a less intense form of editing.

So when should I charge for beta reading?

Short answer, rarely or never.

Long answer, it depends. And it’s up to you.

The idea behind charging for beta reading comes from the idea that our time is valuable. And I get that. Usually, this matter is resolved by offering an exchange or, if you’re a reader and not a writer, just getting a chance to be part of the book creation process.

But when there is a professional offering various editing services, beta reading may be part of them. These people may not want to do an exchange of services for a number of reasons, such as if they don’t have anything ready for exchange, already have all the help they need, they are solely editors and live off the money they make on their freelancing time, or don’t have the time available if it’s not paid work (freelancing can be tight).

Another option is that an author may want to pay for this service. And at that point, it’s about understanding their needs and meeting them as best you can as an editor. It’s part of that professional relationship.

Ok, then when do I pay for beta reading?

Honestly, ultimately, this decision is up to you. But here are a few examples of why some authors prefer to pay for beta readers:

  1. They’ve been burned by free readers in the past (such as getting many readers who take the book and become unresponsive).
  2. They’re looking for unbiased opinions and feel that paying for the service would offer that.
  3. They do not have time to find free betas or do a service exchange.
  4. They’re on a tight timeline or are struggling to find the right beta readers online.
  5. They want a more professional opinion (again, this would be considered more alpha reading than beta reading).

Concluding thoughts

I hope you can see how this might be polarizing. Many authors are adamant that you never, ever pay for beta reading, but in my experience, that’s not always fair. Just like it’s not fair to judge people who have their reasons for paying or for charging.

Should you charge? That’s up to you. You might get a lot of hate for it. But that’s still your decision and your time.

For me, I never charged until I had a client come to me and insist she pay me for beta reading. I don’t know her reasons, and it wasn’t my place to ask. I offered a service exchange. I told her I don’t typically charge for that. I offered anything I could to avoid charging her.

And guess what? She still insisted on paying me.

Again, whether or not to pay or charge for betas is a question to be answered by each person, and each situation, individually. So while we can offer all the advice in the world, we need to respect other people even when we don’t agree with their decisions and understand that there’s probably more to it than we can see from the outside.

Just like pretty much everything else in life, right?

Write on, my friends. ❤

~~~

Do you have polarizing thoughts on this polarizing topic? That’s ok! This is a conversation, and my only intent is to remind us to be considerate of the needs of others and remember we don’t have all the details of this decision.

But if you share your thoughts below, I’d be happy to chat!

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