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.
If I had traditionally published my books, the publishing house would have assigned an editor to me and the whole process would have been mapped out, complete with details and deadlines. But as an indie, the editing ball was in my court just like every other aspect of bringing my books into the world, and I had quite a learning curve. Here are some things I’ve learned along the way about finding an editor, working successfully together, and navigating the multilayered, and sometimes intense, editorial process:
Understand what kind of editing you need.
Good editing can make indie books look indistinguishable from traditionally published books. But if you’re new to the business, or working on your first project, you might not know that there are different types of editing, or understand what kind of editing your manuscript needs. When choosing an editor, understand what services that editor provides. This may mean hiring more than one person.
The first type of editing is developmental. I think of developmental edits as big picture edits. I’m too close to my manuscript when the last word finally claws its way out of my overtired brain and onto the paper. I can’t see plot holes, character issues, places where the writing drags or where something doesn’t make sense. Skilled beta readers or a trusted critique partner can help with this, and so can an editor.
Once all the major issues have been solved and readers are responding to your story and characters in the way you’ve intended, it’s time to fine tune and hand over the manuscript for a copy edit. A copy editor will assure consistency throughout the manuscript. For example, I have a Jon in one of my books, and I would periodically spell his name John. A copyeditor will also catch overused words or phrases, correct grammar mistakes, and essentially polish the manuscript.
Finally, the manuscript will need a proofreader to give it a final look before publishing to find typos and small mistakes. I always proofread one last time after the proofreader, but that may just be my obsessive personality at work!
Use referrals to narrow the search for an editor.
Now you’ve got a handle on the different steps involved in the editorial process, and you know what your manuscript needs. How do go about finding the right editor? There are a ton of free-lance editors out there and it’s hard to sift through all the information.
I rave over my editor. I tell anyone who asks what a find she is and I regularly give out her contact information. When a writer loves their editor, you’ll know it, and an enthusiastic referral is a great place to start looking. Ask people in your writing community and on-line writing groups who they recommend, and then reach out.
Interview a few different people.
Ask these folks to edit sample pages of your manuscript to see what kind of feedback they give and how they deliver that information. Find out how they like to communicate and ask about their process. Does their style resonate with yours? Do they enjoy your genre of writing? What does their turnaround time look like?
When you hire an editor, due diligence upfront is important. Your work together will be a business arrangement certainly, but it will also become a trusted relationship, and you’ll want to make sure this partnership is a good fit.
Recognize that editing is different from drafting, and honor your process around it.
You’ve found someone to work with and you’re eager to get started. So, what’s all the fuss you’ve heard about editing? Why do writer’s lament this part of the process, wring their hands in angst, scream with frustration, cry into a bottle of wine?
Okay, so maybe all writers don’t do these things! But for me, and for many of my writer friends, editing is a different animal entirely from creating a first draft. And when I say this, I’m now referring mostly to the developmental editing phase. Drafting a novel fills me with creative energy. I lose myself in a world of my own creation and fall in love with my characters. Sure, I may get stuck in a plot tangle, but the overall writing experience is joyful.
Editing is different. On the one hand, the bones of my book are in place. I know where I’ve started, where I’ve ended up, and I have a lot worthwhile material in the middle. I know I have a good story and there’s relief and satisfaction in this. On the other hand, once I’ve turned in the draft of my manuscript after months of intensive work, I don’t even want to think about touching it again. I’m exhausted, and the idea of tearing it apart and reassembling it is daunting.
So, I have to honor my process and emotions around this. Here are some tips for making it through a developmental edit with your love of writing still intact:
- First, celebrate the accomplishment of finishing the first draft! Without a first draft you have nothing. But now the story is out. Good for you! I admit to popping a bottle of champagne in celebration within moments of typing the last word. Then, I send the draft off to my editor. While she’s working on the first round of developmental edits, the manuscript gets shelved while I gain some distance. I’ll actively work on another project during this time period, basking in the glow of my achievement.
- Recognize that it’s really hard to have your work critiqued, even when the edits are spot on. Although I know what’s coming, I’m never quite prepared for the emotional stress I feel when I receive a five-page editorial document filled with commentary, and my own manuscript covered in red ink. To be honest, I want to cry – maybe into that bottle of wine! I want to call my editor on the phone immediately and beg her to tell me she loves me and that I’m not a horrid writer. I’m sure she’s pleased when I refrain from doing this.
- Take time to process the critique. Once I read what she’s sent me thoroughly, I put the manuscript aside again for a few days, maybe a week. I let the ideas percolate. I begin to see that what she’s suggesting resonates with what I already knew. I take it seriously when she reacts to something in a way I didn’t intend. I recognize my own bad writing habits.
- Allow the creative process to re-ignite. Once I dive back in to writing, creative ideas for how to fix things start to flow, in the same way they did when I wrote the draft. I scribble notes everywhere, from the backs of napkins to the little pad I keep by my bed for middle of the night inspiration. I form a plan of attack. Then I call my editor. We talk. We even laugh. And I get to work.
- Recognize editing can take more than one go around. My editor and I will go back and forth, sometimes with a round of beta readers working on it in between, until we are both satisfied that content-wise this book is ready. Most of the work I do with my editor is developmental in nature, but she is very meticulous, so by the time the manuscript goes to the copy editor, it’s quite clean. We still both believe that extra set of eyes is important though, because at this point, we’ve both looked at it so many times we know we’ll have missed something.
My editor has become a trusted partner in my publishing journey. I know if something is bothering her, I need to pay attention. Likewise, I know that when she says my book is ready, it’s ready. She gives me confidence to move forward when it’s time, but also honesty when my work isn’t quite polished yet, and as an indie, that’s invaluable.
Editing is daunting, there’s no question. But understanding what the process entails, how you personally need to deal with it, and finding a trusted professional to work with makes all the difference.