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  • Writer's pictureDebra Stang

Why Two Sets of Eyes Are Better Than One for Fiction Writing

After sending out a few manuscripts with embarrassing errors, I promised myself that I would never again hit the "send" key until at least one of my beta readers had looked at the manuscript and assured me the piece was good to go.

At first, I felt kind of silly about needing an editor–after all, I am an editor!

But after writing a manuscript, editing it, rewriting it, re-editing it, and so forth, it isn't long before all the words start to look like one big blur. They don't even resemble English anymore. That's when I pass the manuscript on to friends so that they can work their magic.

The errors they find are usually small and easily corrected–a typo here, a case of verb confusion there. But there have been instances when a beta reader has saved me some truly cringe-worthy moments. On reader–bless her!–caught the fact that one of my female characters had been pregnant for nearly two years straight. Another pointed out that my female protagonist "Kerry" became "Carrie" about two-thirds of the way through my story.

Finding a Beta Reader

It's great if you have a nearby friend who's willing to edit your work. If you can't locate anyone locally, perhaps you can find a writing group or a critique buddy online. If you strike out there, you may decide that hiring an experienced fiction editor is worth your money.

For instance, I work with writers who are just starting out as well as with those who have been in the business for years and just want a quick once-over before submitting their manuscripts.

To meet the needs of all my clients, I offer two levels of editing.


This level involves very light editing. I do a careful read-through for errors, and I also keep an eye out for flow and consistency. For instance, it's my job to notice misspelled words and the fact that the romantic lead had brown eyes on page 10 and blue eyes on page 125.

Substantive Editing

Substantive editing catches all the errors that copyediting does, but it goes a step beyond that. It also involves looking at the plot and the characters and pinpointing potential trouble spots.

Suppose, for instance, that Ed and Nathan are doctors who have despised each other since medical school. After a series of highly publicized mistakes, Nathan becomes the subject of an ethics committee investigation and Ed…does nothing.

I'd write a note to the author suggesting that Nathan's troubles should elicit some sort of response from his sworn enemy.

Or suppose a six-year-old child goes missing, and nobody in the town seems concerned, calls the police, or organizes a search party? Now, there are ways that the fact that a young child is missing could be concealed, but the author needs to be very, very clear about why the child's parents want to cover up the disappearance.

Creating a story is usually a one-person task, but it's always a good idea to get a second opinion before launching it on its way to publication.

If you want to contact me about my editing services, please visit my website.

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