Seven Things to Look For in a Beta Reader

Have a beta reader give you feedback on your book

Selecting the Right Beta Reader is Key to Receiving Helpful Feedback

We’ve talked about the importance of having a beta reader to give feedback on our books. I hope you’re as sold on the idea as I am.

The next step is finding beta readers—not just any one but the right ones. If we pick a beta reader who isn’t a good match, they could do more harm than good, both for our book and for our career. If we pick a beta reader who isn’t a good match, they could do more harm than good, both for our book and for our career. Click To Tweet

The ideal beta reader should:

1. Be a Regular Reader

If they aren’t a regular reader, how can they provide usable feedback? While they don’t need to be voracious, they do need to read. Ask them how many books they’ve read in the past six months. Their answer will be enlightening.

2. Speak the Truth (in Love)

Beta readers who don’t want to hurt our feelings will tell us our book is perfect; they offer no value. Beta readers must commit to giving honest feedback but in a constructive way.

3. Respect Our Writing Voice

If a beta reader wants to change our writing voice, they will only generate irritation for us and frustration for them and us. They must resist the urge to reword what we write.

4. Know the Genre

Do they read and like our genre? If the answer is “no,” then they aren’t the right beta reader for our project.

5. Like Our Premise

Beta readers need to have a positive predisposition for our topic or story at the onset. If a non-fiction book has a thesis they disagree with or a fiction book with a storyline that irritates them, they will likely struggle through the entire project.

6. Be Committed

Will the beta reader finish the project? How long will they take? Too many people agree to being a beta reader but never follow through. See item seven.

7. Have Beta Reader Experience

Everyone at one time has no experience, so our book may be his or her first one. However, the more experience they have, the better the chance the results will be good.

For more info, check out the post about setting expectations with beta readers.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

Why Our Books Need Beta Readers

beta readersThe more people who provide feedback on our books the better. Of course, to be of benefit, this needs to happen before publication, when there is time to make changes. Although review by various types of editors (each pass focusing on different elements) is essential, basic feedback is first needed to work out the kinks, spot embarrassing errors, and correct deficiencies before handing it over to professionals. The more work we do before editors do theirs, the more they can do to improve it.Beta readers can give us critical feedback to make our book better before we move to the next step Click To Tweet

Once we do all we can ourselves, beta readers can give us critical feedback to make our book better before we move to the next step.

Beta readers can catch:

  • Typos: We all make them, but we don’t always catch them.
  • Spelling errors: Of course we always spell check our work; however, what about when we use the wrong word but spell it correctly?
  • Repetition: We write over time and can easily repeat an idea. When we move sections around, sometimes they end up in the book twice.
  • Logic blunders: Another set of eyes can take a fresh look at our logic.
  • Continuity oversights: To make sense, things need to occur in a certain sequence; sometimes we’re too close to notice when our words are out of order.
  • Bad writing habits: Every writer has a least one bad habit or less-than-ideal tendency, but it usually takes someone else to point them out.

While one beta reader won’t spot all these items, they will help us hone our work. Then we can tap a second person for another pass.

Beta readers help us become better writers and produce better work.

Next week: What to look for in a beta reader.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

Don’t Forget to Backup Your Files: A Writing Q & A

Question: I know I should backup my writing, but I don’t. What do you recommend?Writing Q & A: file backup options for writers

Answer: I’m so glad you asked. Having a good backup is essential.

It’s not a matter of if we lose some of our writing but of when.

In addition to using some of the file backup options listed below, each time I finish a writing session, I make copies of the document on my computer and another on a second computer. I also make a weekly copy of all my files on an external hard drive.

File Backup Options

For a free backup option, sign up for a Gmail account and email a copy of your work each time you finish writing.

You can also use services such as Google Drive, Dropbox, or FilesAnywhere for offsite storage. They all offer a free basic plan.

All these file back up options, however, require some effort on our part, so to automatically backup files to the cloud, I also use Carbonite. A basic plan is $6 a month. When you consider the time we invest in writing, this is inexpensive insurance.

Should Your Book Have a Prologue?

Should you use prologues?

I’ve heard many credible sources advise not to include prologues in our books. Yet, writers continue to write them, and publishers continue to publish them. Does that mean we can safely disregard this advice? I think not.

If we want readers to read all of our words, we shouldn’t bother with a prologue. Click To Tweet

Here’s why: I understand most readers skip prologues. That’s telling. Even more, I’ve read e-books that opened to chapter one, bypassing the prologue. So, if we want readers to read all of our words, we shouldn’t bother with a prologue.

Questions to Ask About Prologues

If your book, or work-in-progress, has a prologue, consider the following:

  • Can the prologue actually be relabeled as chapter one? (I did this for one of my books, and it flowed better.)
  • If the prologue contains back-story, can you reveal it later?
  • If the prologue establishes setting, especially world-building in science fiction, can those elements be moved to chapter one?
  • Is the prologue really chapter one of a possible prequel?
  • Can you delete the prologue without harming the rest of the book?
  • Is the prologue actually necessary?

If answering these questions helps you remove your prologue, then great. If not, then proceed, but know that some readers will skip it and some publishers may object, insisting you remove it anyway.

Prologue with care.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

Should You Form a Book Publishing Co-op to Produce Your Next Book?

Book Publishing Co-op

Last week we acknowledged no one has all the skills required to self-publish a book. The only solution is to pay a team of people to handle the critical tasks of book publishing. This includes cover design, editing, interior layout, photography, and so on.

Or is there another way?

Although it would take great effort, you might be able to put together a consortium of book writers. They can pool their collective talents to work as a team to produce each other’s books, with each author tapping his or her skillset for everyone else’s books. You could put together your own self-publishing co-op. If you have a book publishing skill to offer, maybe a book-publishing co-op is an option worth considering if you want to self-publish but have no money to do so. Click To Tweet

What a Book Publishing Co-op Might Look Like

Let’s say you’re an editing ace, but are lousy with a camera and don’t have a clue about graphic design or interior layout. Find an author who is also a professional photographer and another who does interior book layouts for a living. Then locate a fourth writer who does book covers for their day job. You edit their books and they contribute their individual expertise to yours. Of course a fifth author is helpful. This is someone who stays current with publishing options. They can serve as the logistical guru to keep abreast of production and distribution options. Then bring others into the group to handle other details, such as promotion, marketing, publicity, legal, and so forth.

Finding these people would be a challenge. But the Internet and social media makes it feasible, providing you have the time and patience to find the right people.

Though I’m not aware of anyone who’s formed a book publishing co-op, I’m sure there are already people doing this in concept. If you have a book publishing skill to offer, maybe a book publishing co-op is an option worth considering if you want to self-publish but have no money to do so.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

Can You Self-Publish Your Book For Free?

self publishing costsIf we publish our book with a traditional publisher, there are no out-of-pocket expenses. The publisher even pays us an advance. Although it might not be much, at least we receive some money at the beginning of the publishing process. Not so with self publishing. Self publishing costs money,

Self Publishing Costs Money

This is not the case when we self-publish. When we act as our own publisher, there is no advance and there are expenses, which can add up quickly. We don’t earn any money until we can sell copies of our book. And that can take a while.

Is there a middle ground, a way to self-publish without incurring a bunch of upfront costs? The short answer is, “Yes!” However, the wise response is, “No!”

Self-publishing without spending any money would require a huge investment of time, and the results would not be good. Regardless of how talented we are and how diverse our skillset, one person cannot cover everything required to produce a quality book. The finished product would look like an amateur did it. And it’s hard to sell a book that fails to meet the expectations of today’s buyers.Self-publishing without spending any money would require a huge investment of time, and the results would not be good. Click To Tweet

Here are a few of the self publishing costs we’ll encounter when we self-publish:

Cover Costs

People do judge a book by its cover. A professional impression is critical because there is only a split second to catch someone’s attention. Don’t try this yourself.

Editing Costs

Few writers can edit their own work and do it well. And your friend who majored in English is seldom the answer—nor is your mom, high school writing teacher, or second cousin who reads a lot.

Interior Layout Costs

Have you ever opened a book and sensed something was wrong? You’re not sure what it is, but you know the book is different—and in an odd way. This is because of a poor interior design, and those books are hard to read.

Photography Costs

Taking a quality self-portrait is improbable, and selfies are out of the question for a book cover or publicity shot. Just because you own a fancy, high-resolution camera doesn’t make you a photographer.

ISDN Costs

For any book to sell, it requires an ISBN. If you plan to only peddle books from the trunk of your car, you can skip this expense. Otherwise you need to purchase an ISBN.

There are additional self publishing costs, but these are the more critical ones. Though you might be the exception who has the experience and ability to do one of these tasks with excellence, no one can master them all—especially if you want your book to sell.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

Remove Self From Self-Publishing: Assemble a Team

Put together a self-publishing team to make your books shine.Self-publishing is a misnomer or at least successful self-publishing is. A better label might be team publishing. That is, when we self-publish, we must not do it all ourselves (though we can, we shouldn’t) but instead assemble a team, a self-publishing team.

Here are the players for our self-publishing team:

Author, the Self-Publishing Team Captain

The author (us) needs to write the best possible book: not a good one, not good enough, but the best. Then look for ways to make it better. We are the captain of our self-publishing team.

Beta Readers

Once the book is as good as it can be, tap others to preview it, but only ask those who will give honest feedback. People who won’t say what’s wrong, weak, or not working aren’t helpful and give a false sense of excellence.

Editor

Many people recommend three levels of editing or even four. I look for two and to avoid confusing industry labels, I use generic ones. First is macro-editing, which looks at the big picture: What should you add, delete, or move? Does the piece flow? How can it be improved? What writing idiosyncrasies do you need to correct? Then, after addressing all the comments from the macro-editor, a different person needs to do the micro-editing, which addresses the details of the writing: proofreading, typos, word selection, grammar, and punctuation. Select experienced professionals for both these editors positions. Don’t go cheap by asking a friend who majored in English or someone who likes to read.

Cover Designer

Hire a cover designer to make an eye-catching, powerful cover. Potential buyers judge books by their cover, often in less than a second. We have one chance to catch their attention, so don’t skimp on making the most of this opportunity..

Interior Designer

The layout of the book must follow standard expectations. No one notices when a book is laid out according to industry conventions, but everyone can tell something’s wrong when it’s not. Pay someone to do this right. Taking a team approach to self-publishing greatly increases the chances for success. Click To Tweet

Add these key players to build a successful self-publishing team. In addition we need help with marketing, promotion, and distribution. It’s also important to engage fans as part of the book launch.

Taking a team approach to self-publishing greatly increases the chances for success.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

Don’t Believe Everything You Hear about Book Publishing

Book PublishingSeveral years ago, I received a telemarketing call from a well-known self-publishing operation, a division of a well-known traditional publisher.  She wanted to talk about book publishing.

Although unwelcomed, the interruption didn’t surprise me, because a few years ago I had contacted them. Their business model intrigued me, but I dismissed them when I stumbled on a poorly produced book with their imprint inside.

At the time I was pursuing a traditional publishing deal and told the rep so. Not deterred, she keyed in on my excuse, telling me why my book publishing strategy was wrong. She spewed forth a well-honed tutorial of why I needed to self-publish my books first. I won’t claim she lied to me, but mixed in with the truth were some half-truths and over-simplifications.As we consider new information, we must exercise discernment, because we can’t believe everything we hear. Click To Tweet

Here’s what she said:

  • It’s harder than ever to land a traditional publishing contract. (True)
  • Traditional publishers won’t even look at your book, but they will instead rely on a one-page query. (Over-simplification: If your query grabs their attention, they’ll ask for a proposal, which could lead to them looking at your book. But most likely they’ll only consider your query letter.)
  • Traditional publishers want you to self-publish first. (Half-truth: If your self-pub book is a breakaway hit, then you’re in a great position to sign a book deal. If you have a well-written, carefully edited, and appropriately laid out self-pub book, they’ll have less work to do should they decide to publish it—but they may also wonder if you’ve already made all the sales you’re going to make.)
  • She guaranteed their parent company would look at my book if I self-pub with them. (Over-simplification: What they will likely look at is sales numbers of my book, not the book itself. Once a certain threshold is reached then someone may actually look at my writing, but not until then. Of course, I’m speculating on this, but it’s not practical for them to give every self-pub book full consideration.)

The book publishing industry changes continually and fast. What was true last month may not hold true next month. We must be in a continual learning mode, but as we consider new information, we must exercise discernment, because we can’t believe everything we hear.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

What It Takes To Land a Book Deal

You have likely heard stories of publishers turning down books that later went on to become bestsellers. There are also tales of agents who missed seeing a book’s potential, only to be proven wrong when someone else made it a success. These accounts prove that having a book published with a traditional publisher is far from an exact science.What's it take to land a book deal?

There are four variables to land a book deal. To find a traditional publisher, you need to have:

  • the right book,
  • pitched by the right agent,
  • to the right publisher,
  • at the right time.

That means you must have a well-written, interesting book, an agent who loves it, a publisher who will get behind it, and for all this to happen at the ideal time.

Furthermore, for any book to achieve success, whether traditionally published or self-published, the right set of circumstances must occur. These include a myriad of things, such as current events, the economy, the mood of buyers, competing titles, the weather, and so forth.To find a traditional publisher, you need to have the right book, pitched by the right agent, to the right publisher, at the right time. Click To Tweet

Most of these things are completely outside the control of writers. The one thing we can affect is the content of the book. As a writer, we determine whether a book is merely good or great, boring or interesting, similar to everything else or unique. Our job as writers is simply to produce the best book we possibly can.

That’s what our focus should be; the other things are mostly outside of our control.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

Where Should You Write?

As you consider when to write, it is also critical to consider the issue of where to write. Not only does this depend on your circumstances, but also on your personality.

where to write

While writing is often a solitary process, some prefer to do so in the company of others. They may opt to write amid the activity of family life. Their where is the kitchen table or even the living room with TV blaring.

Where to Write

Still others view the local coffee shop as their office of choice, making a morning commute, ordering their preferred java concoction, and remaining for several hours as they pound out their prose on laptop computer. I’ve heard of entire books being written in these settings. In these cases, while composing remains a singular effort, it is happily and effectively done in the presence of others.

The majority, I suspect, require quiet in order to write rightly. The presence of others serves only to stymie their creative flow and production efficacy. They need a place to write with minimal distractions and no interruptions.

While some enjoy background music, others prefer absolute silence. For all these folks, a dedicated space—preferably a private room—is a necessity. If others are present during writing time, they need to not interrupt and to respect the privacy of the writing sanctuary.

In making these determinations, sometimes the question of where needs to be ascertained before the when. For example, writing at a coffee house is incompatible with middle-of-the-night inspiration.It is also critical to consider the issue of where to write. Not only does this depend on your circumstances, but also on your personality. Click To Tweet

Where I Write

As for me, I prefer to write in solitude; coffee shops, the kitchen table, and the living room are out. It took a while to find the right spot, but I ended up taking over a spare bedroom, sufficiently isolated from the rest of the house. While not quite spartan in its furnishings, it definitely has a minimalist feel to it. There is no phone or means for music, the clock is not readily visible, and the lone wall decoration declares “writer at work.” It is my writing refuge.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

Discussing the art of writing and the business of publishing

%d bloggers like this: