Month: August 2011

How Do You Find a Beta Reader?

I’ve had a lot of people asking me about beta readers lately, so here are my thoughts.

When I first heard the term beta reader, all I could think about was my beta fish in college. I had that fish for two years. I named it Jessifer. I don’t have that fish anymore, but I have beta readers. I also have alpha readers. I don’t have a set critique group, which can work differently from beta readers who might change from project to project.

Alpha Reader – Someone who reads a written work in stages as it is being written and provides feedback, often very positive, to the author for moral support and to spot any large issues as they’re happening.

Beta Reader – Someone who reads a written work as a completed draft and provides feedback, often constructive criticism, to the author for revisions and edits.

All writers seem to need different things since we’re all different. Yesterday I wrote about publishing your first book too fast. I wrote about that because more often than not, my own work needs some hefty read-throughs and revisions before it’s even close to ready for publication. I couldn’t do this without beta readers and it’s hard for me to imagine writing something so wonderfully perfect that it doesn’t need help from outside my own brilliance. And yes, I’m being sarcastic when I say brilliance. My first drafts are anything but brilliant. I have noticed, however, that the more I write the less readers I need. I think I will always need at least two.

So how does one go about finding a beta reader?

For me, friendships! My friend Scott G.F. Bailey has a mighty fine alpha/beta reader whom online he calls Mighty Reader. I’m not sure if she reads his work in the stages as it’s being written, but I do know she’s close to him personally, and she is an avid reader. He trusts her to read his work because he trusts her as a person. He also lets me and our friend Davin Malasarn read his work in draft stages. The three of us are beta readers for each other, and occasionally alpha readers on some things. We also blog together on The Literary Lab. We’re friends.

For my advice on how to find good beta readers – just get out there and make friends. If you’re reading this blog, you obviously make your way around the blogosphere. Put a call out on your own blog or social network for other writers or readers who are interested in helping you beta read. If that doesn’t work or the beta readers aren’t giving the kind of feedback you need, join a free site like Critique Circle. Everyone there is looking for critique help. You’re bound to find a few good matches for your work. Currently, one of my best beta readers is a friend I made through this very blog. She commented a lot on here, so I started following her blog where she only had 5 followers. We got to be friends and she ended up purchasing and reading Cinders. She loved it so much and gave me such great feedback on it that I let her beta-read my novella, Thirds. Now, she has read almost everything I’ve written. She’s fantastic. I had to make an effort to find her and build a friendship. I value that friendship and her help with my work. I also return the favor and read her work, as well. That’s often how beta reading goes, but doesn’t always have to work that way. Find friends outside of the internet who are willing to read your work in its first stages – people you know who love reading. They are often the best beta readers, and valuable to have when you need an opinion not colored with a writer’s viewpoint.

Are there different kinds of beta readers?

Absolutely. For me, a beta reader is someone I must trust and get along with. Two of my beta readers are friends I didn’t make online through writing. They are my two friends who don’t write. They are readers only, and their input is extremely valuable.

How many beta readers should you have?

As many as you need. I use a different amount of beta readers for different projects. Sometimes I need three, sometimes four or five, and I’ll ask different people to beta read at different stages of the work. For the first draft, two betas will work. For the third and fourth drafts when I’m getting close to finished, another two betas (usually Scott and Davin) will work.

Should your beta readers stick with you?

It depends. For me, I have beta readers who read almost every project I work on, but I’ve also had other people who have only beta read for me once. Sometimes a beta reader isn’t a good fit for you or a particular project. Sometimes a writer just needs different readers all the time. For me, it depends on the project for who reads what.

What if a beta reader is taking too long or isn’t working?

I’ve had this happen a few times, and it’s frustrating. But you have to remember that people are busy. If your beta reader promises to get back to you in a specific amount of time and they’re taking longer, then maybe there’s an issue with them not liking your work and they’re too afraid to tell you. Or maybe they’ve had something come up that is unrelated to your work. Either way, communication is key. If the beta relationship isn’t working and this person is a good friend, simply tell them you value their feedback, but for that particular project, it’s not going to work out. Keep it professional. No friendship is worth ruining over a book, so be cautious when choosing your beta readers, too.

I could go on and on about beta readers, but let me know if you have any advice here in the comments section. Do you have beta readers?

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in Working With Other Writers, 30 comments

Why Not to Self-Publish Your First-Ever Book So Fast

So you can take this with a grain of salt, but I’ve had four writers ask me about self-publishing in the last week. All four of these writers have recently completed or are completing their very first novel. All four of them have self-publishing floating around as an option or they have decided to go with it for sure. Some of these writers seemed fed up with the state of legacy (traditional) publishers these days. Some of these writers specifically asked for my honest opinion.

My honest opinion is that everybody is different, but if you’re considering self-publishing your first and only book so far, it might be a bad idea. Unless you’re 83 or dying of cancer and you seriously don’t have much time to write more books or try to publish another way, self-publishing your first book just seems crazy to me. Here’s some of the things you should consider.

The Long Haul

You’re in this for the long haul, right? You’re going to write more books, right? Then write some of them first before jumping into an irreversible state. Sure, you can fix typos and other problems fairly easily (although sometimes it can cost you…), but once people have read your work, you’ve established yourself. That book is up on Amazon forever as soon as there is one sale. Even if you unpublish it, the cover is at least still there to view (if you publish in print, not just eBook), as well as your name and all the book reviews. Goodreads won’t let you delete your book if there’s more than a certain number of reviews. Forever. Now, I don’t know about anyone else, but my first book sucked. Yours is probably five billion times better than my first one, but I’ll tell you one thing – those valuable lessons I learned about writing and publishing in between the time I wrote my second and fourth – unbelievable. Sure glad I didn’t jump in too soon. I self-published my fourth book, by the way. It was only at that point I truly felt ready in all respects.

Planning Strategically

When you do finally publish, stuff happens fast. All of a sudden you have even less time to write and work on more books than you did before. All of a sudden everything changes. Completely. Your emotional state is different. Your time changes. Your priorities change. Even in traditional publishing, it’s a good idea to have more than one book lined up ready to go. If you can crank out perfect books in 2 – 3 months, I’m seriously impressed. If you’re like me and it takes months and months to write a complete novel (not including edits and most revisions), then you should probably have some more books ready. This is, of course, assuming that you want your career moving at a steady pace. Most successful authors are successful because they keep publishing one book after another. That’s what can “make” you as an author. Some authors seem to be lucky to make it big off their debut and people somehow remember them even if they take 5 years to write the next book, but those authors do seem few and far between, and there’s usually a lot of marketing and money behind all of that.

I think it’s important to have a nice plan in place before you publish. It’s so very, very exciting to put your book out there, but have you planned what comes after that? Publishing is a career, or at least most writers see it that way. If you have a plan, is publishing other books in that plan? If so, do you have plans for them? Are they at least drafted? Have you made plans for taxes, long-term marketing and publishing budget, setting up a legal business, your website? Readers love to know when your next book is coming out, and wouldn’t it be nice to put that in the back of the first book you put out so you can try and guarantee an established audience who’s going to buy all of your work because they know they can expect more to come out soon?

Honestly, I didn’t think a lot about this stuff when I self-published Cinders. I sure wish I had. But I’m glad I at least knew Cinders was the right book to publish at the time, and I don’t regret it for one second. It just would have been nice if I’d had more of a plan for other books to come after that one. I’m also very lucky and glad that I had other books written by the time I published Monarch. Now I have three books coming out in three years and that’s comforting. But guess what? I’m still stressing out about that fourth book – the one I haven’t written yet, nor have any idea what it will be about. But it’s nice to know I have time to write it now while other books are coming out.

Time

I think the biggest mistake writers make is thinking that they’re running out of time. They get really antsy. They watch their birthdays slide by one after the other and they’re still not published. The truth is that, yes, publishing can take a very, very long time. Especially traditional publishing. It’s kind of insane how long it can take, so it’s depressing, absolutely. But I also think that it isn’t a bad thing to publish later than sooner. In the end, a few years probably won’t make that much of a difference in your career. It’s still going to take you as long to write books, right? So get some ready first and then publish them in a way that gets them in front of your readers at a good pace. If you’re traditionally publishing, it’s a great idea to write books while you’re querying or on submission and waiting.

And, of course, this is all just my opinion and you can wave your hand at me and say, “Bah!” Some of my good author friends did self-publish their first and only book, and they’re doing just fine as far as I know. I also know this post falls into the “advice people just choose not to take” category, which is fine, too. Still, I like to put this out there because it’s nice to share what I’ve learned, at least. But if you ask me if you should self-publish your first-ever novel, these are the things I’m going to tell you. I’m also going to direct you to these posts:

My Little Revision Secret (if you’re dying to see your first little baby in print, this might be a good solution instead of self-publishing)

Then If That Fails, I’ll Self Publish (a post with my thoughts on self-publishing for the wrong reasons)

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in Self-Publishing, 47 comments