One of the biggest challenges authors face is getting early feedback. Many of us belong to critique groups, writer groups, or even have a trusty developmental editor that help us navigate plot pitfalls. I personally find the most important feedback comes not from professionals, but from the readers themselves. Beta readers, with their perspective being that of the consumer is absolutely critical. Editors and critique groups may love your book, but will readers? At the end of the day, the consumer’s opinion is most important.
However, the world of beta readers is a difficult to navigate. Where do you find these betas and once you find them, how do you manage their interactions with your work? Authors have struggled with finding betas who quickly consume and respond versus those who say they’ll partake but never produce notes. It gets even more confusing when you find that a pivotal plot point is loved by some, hated by others and you are required to go back and ask a thousand questions to discover the underlying reasons.
For my latest book, Night Legions, I needed a new method to work with my beta readers. I contemplated creating a GoogleDoc where they could mark up, correct, and comment, while at the same time, seeing the notes made by other readers. While this solved one of my issues, the second issue of managing the readers themselves would not be solved. I hate sending the frequent, “So, how’s it going?” emails. I wanted an easier method that required less effort from myself while I started in on other projects.
I’m not going to gush, despite its gush worthiness. BetaBooks was singlehandedly the answer to all my beta reader needs. The website, is fairly straight forward. It allowed me to upload my novel chapter by chapter, and lets me keep track of reader feedback, reader progress, and interact with readers as they respond to the chapters. It’s reduced the hours necessary chasing feedback or the need to harp on beta readers to keep moving forward. It will be my go-to for all my beta reader needs from this point forward.
Easy Beta Signups. For the few readers, you can easily input their email addresses and have them added. For those with a large number of beta readers, you can input their addresses in bulk or even provide a link where they can sign up themselves. Easy peasy.
Chapter Notes. When I beta read for authors, I always want to know ahead, what should I be looking for in each chapter. Betabooks allows you to give “pre-chapter notes” and then ask questions at the end of the chapter. This preps the reader and reminds them what they should be looking for. I think this helps align the reader to each chapter.
Chapter Feedback. At the end of the chapter, the reader can leave notes. You can respond as necessary and follow-up with more questions. This forum style setting also allows your members to see fellow beta readers’ comments and respond. Conversation between beta readers will help prevent redundant comments.
Track Reader Progress. Some beta readers keep notes on their own computer until they’re done. While it’s appreciated that they keep notes, I find it more helpful to see the comments as they come in. With Betabooks, I can tell when they last logged in, how far they’ve read, and what chapters they’ve left comments on. What used to take me hours to track is summed up in a single page and can be seen in just a few seconds.
Automated Follow-ups. Ultimately, I hate harping on somebody for not working at the pace I need them to. Betareaders are a gift, gems even, and pushing them is a delicate balance of need versus scaring them off. You can set Betabooks to auto send every few days after readers have been inactive. This is great as it appears the service is reminding them, not you. It helps take a bit of the heat off.
Great Customer Service. The service is relatively new, and early on, I had questions about the product and how to get the best out of it. Not only did I receive help, it came straight from the creators themselves. They’ve been thorough, helpful, and more than willing to answer a gauntlet of questions ranging from current usage to future plans. I wish every product had this level of customer service.
When starting out, you can test Betabooks for free. However, to get some of the more intense features such as the automated responses, you’ll go up to the 34.99 per month level. For the month or two I will need it at the end of each book, the money is well spent. At this point, I’m willing to pay to increase my production and help manage some of my administrative duties. I highly recommend check it out to see how it can speed up your workflow.
Check out BetaBooks and get started.
Whether you’re a first time client or a repeat customer, getting ready to have your story professionally edited takes a lot more than just finalizing the latest draft or having your plot notes organized. If you want to become the client your editor puts other clients on hold for, you need to be ready in every way possible. From an editor to my future clients, here is the wish list of things I hope and pray for everytime I download my latest project manuscript.
Be in the right frame of mind.
I’ll say it once, I’ll say it a thousand times–your editor does not hate your book. I have never had a single book come to my doorstep that I deemed trunkable. Some need more work than others, some need work in other areas, but every book I have come across can be saved. Nothing is worthless, nothing is useless. HOWEVER, you need to be prepared for it to be imperfect, for its flaws to be pointed out, for the often very long editorial letter of improvements that need to be made. Again–I don’t hate your book. Nor are you somehow a bad person for sending me a manuscript that needs a lot of work–that’s what you hired me for! I like your book and I like you; my list of improvements is me helping you to make it the best damn book it can be. And I’m very, very good at making kickass books.
Know what you need.
Sample edits exist for a reason, and that reason is not just for the client to give me a test drive–it’s me taking your book for a spin. They are an absolute necessity for first time clients, and they become vital whenever I hear the phrase, “I’m not in a writing group nor have I had any critique done, but my friends all say its really good.” That’s great, I’m glad that your friends are supportive of your work; it’s important to have a support network as an artist. However, your friends are not editors, and their opinions aren’t always helpful.
Before you hire an editor, do your homework. Find out what your book really needs. If you don’t know, tell your editor when you hire them to suggest one after the sample edit. This lets me know that you are aware of the work that might need to be done–such as full developmental overhaul and copyedits to follow, rather than just a run through of line edits–and puts my trust in you that you and I can work together.
There is nothing more frustrating for me, and terrifying for me, than the moment I have to tell my client that no, you’re wrong, you actually need this much work done and it will cost you x amount of dollars. I’m not a car mechanic, I’m not trying to take your money by making up extra work. If I tell you the book needs another stage of editing, it’s because it needs another stage of editing in order to do well in the competitive publishing market we all work within today.
Have a financial plan.
I am literally the most understanding editor you will ever meet, because like you, I am broke as fuck 99.9% of the time. However, I’m also hiring editors, cover artists, and PR to self publish my own novels. As a professional author, financial planning is something you need to get used to as part of your day to day work. So! While I will help you to put together a payment plan that doesn’t empty out your wallet all at once, I still need to be paid and paid on time. Because I too have bills to pay and they are all planned around my editing schedule. I’ll break huge editing job payments up into quarters or even more if I think it’ll take multiple months (it’s rare but it happens, think monstrous epic fantasy that needs to be broken up into multiple books–that kind of edit). Be sure to have money aside to pay your editor on time, and I will jump a bike through a hoop of fire into a swimming pool if you ask me to. Your editor will remember a great book, but they will love you for paying them on time. That’s how you actually become The Favorite Client.
Make the time.
I am not the only doing the work here; it’s up to the both of us to get your book done and done on time. If you’re just doing copy edits, this means going through and approving or denying all of my changes on Word via the Track Changes system. Takes a couple of hours depending on the length of the novel and how picky you are about each and every word of your book. Some clients will go and look over every single change before they approve it, and some clients are what I call Trust Fall clients, who trust that I know grammar far better than they do and simply approve everything without even looking. Either way, you can do it in a weekend at most.
But say we’re doing a full comprehensive–that’s three to four stages of editing we’ll be doing in one month (two if you have a monster novel), one week per stage if its under 100k, two weeks if it’s 100+, not counting time between stages for you to go over my work and make any changes that are needed. As a client, you have to be prepared to make yourself available to do the work that needs doing in a timely manner. Plan your calendar accordingly. Schedule out social events, don’t take double shifts for a few weeks–you do what needs to be done. Because as your editor is doing exactly that for you, we expect the same in return.
Know what your next step is.
Where are you going with this book from here? Do you plan to self publish it? Are you looking into publishing houses that are more along the lines of small to mid-sized indies? Or are you thinking about shopping it out to agents? Knowing what your plans are for putting this story out into the world is not only a huge part of knowing what you need, but it also helps your editor to determine the type of client you are or will become. If you’re self-pubbing a memoir, I’ll probably only see you once, and maybe I’ll get referrals from friends. However, if you’re writing a series, that means I can compile the style sheets for this story together with proper tags for hunting it down later. That way when you come back in a few months and say, “Hey, I have the sequel to that novel we worked on back in January,” I can pull up the style sheet, add the new places and names in, and make a flawless consistency check that keeps up with all of your work in half the time.
What I will also do for those who are looking to get into independent publishing is try to point you in the right direction. That is not something all editors do; it is something I do because I want to see your book succeed and it’s just nice to help people. I know quite a bit; sharing that knowledge means maybe you, my client, can tell someone else about The Good Places to shop their book around and avoid the hellscape pub houses that make up the naughty list of Absolute Write’s Water Cooler. Have a plan in place before you send me your initial email, and I can advise and make my own plans accordingly.
I know I’m asking for a lot here–I get it. I’m asking you to plan your finances, your social calendar, your mental state, and your writing career all in one go. I can tell you as a writer and editor both, publishing ain’t easy. You thought writing the book was hard–it’s not. Writing the book is easy; the only thing standing between the book and completion is you. Getting the book out in the world is not easy, it takes a lot of money, a lot of work, and usually a bit of sanity. For some crazy reason, I love it. Even when I want to rip my hair out that the client ignored my comments on a dragging plot line, I love it all. But I want you my client to know what you’re getting into.
“But what if things go south,” you say. “What if something goes horribly wrong and I can’t get the work done on time?”
Well, that’s when you put on your big kid pants, and you write me an email all about it. Tell me what’s up, what you need me to do, and when you need to reschedule for. Or if you’re rescheduling at all. The worst thing you can do to your editor is “ghost.” This happens when a client vanishes, doesn’t answer my emails, and leaves me hanging with a whole empty week–or worse a month–that I put aside for you and am no longer making money on. Until I get the email from you saying what’s up, I won’t rebook it. Because for all I know, the moment I take on a new client during what should have been your time, you’ll pop up with the edits all done and wanting to get through the next stage ASAP.
Trust me when I say, I get that things go wrong. Your dad goes to jail, your grandfather has a stroke, your basement floods and you spend ten hours straight working to clean it up–I get it. That is all crap that happened to me in the past year. Life does not alway bend to the will of our publishing schedules, so just tell your editor what’s going on and let us try and help. I will do anything in my power to make accommodations for you, it’s quite literally my job.
Editing is not a hire-out procedure, it’s a team effort between author and editor that requires hours of work and a great deal of compromise. But like all team efforts, when you work together towards a common goal, the results are incredible.