Some refreshing honesty came my way today from a friend who is a virtual assistant and writer. She gave me my first paid writing job many years ago, now. She admitted in a blog post that she’s tired of blogging. She’s been blogging consistently for six years plus and is word weary. It appears that I am too by the dearth of posts over the last year or so. A similar thing happened with an author who sends a weekly newsletter for other authors. It was just too much and she took a significant break before resuming this past week.
Any writing exercise (blogging, newsletters, social media) can become a grind even when writing is what you love to do. Conventional wisdom says authors need to blog consistently and post regularly on social media to build their audience and keep their current audience engaged. But what happens when the well goes dry and you feel like you’ve eked out the last drops of engrossing text? It’s time to take a break. Maybe a month or maybe longer. There’s nothing wrong with a break. Life is always in flux and as circumstances change. Sometimes your writing time is condensed or even evaporates. Both have happened to me at different times—and it’s okay.
So, if you’re dreading coming up with next week’s post or, consider what would happen if it didn’t get written. No. The earth won’t stand still and the sun will still rise and set as usual. Your readers won’t run off and desert you. They're busy too. You have permission to take a break and breathe. Get outside. Have lunch with a friend. Do something out of the ordinary for yourself. Recharge and find inspiration away from your laptop.
I’ll be attending (Lord willing) a Sisters in Crime meeting this Saturday and the topic is oddly enough, inspiration. A notebook is tucked into my purse for this one. I need all the help I can get and suspect others do too. Talking to other writers is always a help when you’re scrounging for a bright idea. They understand the pain.
What I’ve learned in my break from blogging is that first of all, it was needed. It took some pressure off and I could concentrate on research and writing the next book. There were also some lovely life events that filled my days with joy and it was good not to have to think about a blog or sometimes writing at all. (Appalling, right?)
Now, that a new year has begun, will I blog again? I think so—as time permits and topics catch my attention. I’ll take it as it comes with no firm plans. What about you?
When I started out in 2012 with my debut novel, The Time Under Heaven, it seemed the possibilities were endless for the indie author. I’m happy to report that it’s still true, but the independent author has to be nimble and ready to be a student of marketing strategies to stay in the game to sell books. This has never been truer than this last year and for the foreseeable future. Here are some of the major things that I’ve grappled with.
1. Amazon is still driving the bus in e-book sales and book sales in general. They can change the rules, bring the big publishers to the negotiating table to lower prices, and merge Create Space into Kindle Direct Publishing with a wave of their magic wand. Here’s what I’ve learned over the last couple of years. Pay attention to what Amazon is doing and follow the rules. READ their instructions and ask them questions. I’ve found that they are usually prompt in coming up with the right answer. Yes, I’ve had some frustrations with them as well, but overall my positive Amazon experience is still intact.
2. The email promotion sites that used to sell lots of 99 cent books for me aren’t performing as well as the first three years of using them. Even fellow authors who’ve snagged the mighty Book Bub promotions tell me that downloads are way down from what they used to be. This has caused me to be very careful with my marketing budget and keep track of which sites perform the best for me. I’ve stopped using those with consistent low returns. Even if the promo is just $10 or $20, why should I happily hand over my hard-earned cash for nothing? When I’m running a 99-cent sale, I need to sell 29 books to break even on a $10 promotion. KDP pays a 35-cent royalty on the 99-cent book. If the site fails to produce at least quite close to that, I’ve dropped them. My list of email promo sites has shrunk significantly and some sites have raised their prices significantly which make the stakes higher. It’s also more difficult to schedule with the more effective sites, so I apply early and often with a Plan B in my hip pocket should I not get the desired slot.
3. AMS and Face Book ads are here to stay and indie authors must at least learn about the system. Yes, I find them a bit daunting and out of the realm of my expertise, but I’m beginning to find some success with Amazon ads. I’ve had a bucket of failures, but I’m learning. There are lots of experts out there who can give good advice about figuring this marketing avenue out. I did purchase KDP Rocket, which is software to help authors find the most effective keywords for their books and for AMS ads. It’s a helpful tool and I hope to make better use of it this year. Dave Chesson, an author and the creator of KDP Rocket has some very helpful marketing courses using it if you’re interested. As for Face Book ads, they have been a waste of money overall.
4. Should I go wide or stay exclusive with KDP Select? That was a big question for me in 2018. I’d found going wide to be ineffective in 2013 and 2014 with Smashwords. I moved all of my books at that time back to KDP exclusively and reaped the benefits of Amazon’s book-borrowing program. This was before the Kindle Edition Normalized Page (KENP) measurement. In the olden days, if 10% of your e-book was read you were paid a nice royalty. Amazon changed the rules and we now have KENP to measure earnings.
With the launch of Draft2Digital, I decided to see if pulling a couple of books out of KDP Select and publishing through D2D would help sales. I found D2D to easy to work with and they are prompt to respond to questions. Royalty payments are later than Amazon’s schedule and can take up to three months to receive. While I did sell some books, Amazon sales FAR exceeded anything D2D did in distributing to Barnes & Noble, Apple, Kobo, and a couple more booksellers. I’ll be moving books back to KDP once again. There are authors who swear by going wide, but it’s been a bust for me.
The year ahead looks promising, but full of hard work to keep books visible on Amazon and downloading to Kindles everywhere. I was ready to throw in the towel quite a few times in the past year—ask my poor, patient husband who listened to my complaints and frustrations with marketing. It’s not the simple and easy business that started six years ago. It’s much more complex and indie authors must be business savvy to keep up. Although my goals are modest for book sales, it’s still a lot of planning, record keeping, testing, and going back to the drawing board. Persistence, continuing education, talking with other indies is necessary to stay the course, all while writing the next the book, which the good Lord willing I will do this year.
I invited my editor, Rose Ciccarelli to share her thoughts on dialogue. It's often difficult to write natural sounding conversations between your characters, so here are Rose's insights.
Dialogue is more than words. It can show the reader how your characters interact. In every scene, characters talk (or avoid talking) because they WANT something. They may use different strategies to get it, communicated by words and actions. If one strategy doesn't work, then a character will try something else. That scene construction leads to conflict and forward movement in your story.
The simplest way to make dialogue realistic is to invest time listening to how people really talk. Tune in at a baseball game or concert. Eavesdrop on the booth behind you in a restaurant. Listen to children chatting at the bus stop. What you’ll notice is that people don’t give a summary of events because the person they’re talking to already knows the situation and remembers what’s happened to this point. Also (although there are exceptions) people seldom say exactly what they mean. How often have you heard a real person say something like: “I’m being extra particular about ordering my meal from the waiter because I want you to think I’m in control when actually I’m really nervous about being out with you for the first time.” That may be an extreme example, but on TV last night, I heard this line of dialogue: “You are a bad woman because ...” I cringed for that writer.
Beyond listening to real people talk, WATCH how they interact. Listen for what isn’t being said. This observation can spark ideas about what characters do when they want to avoid communicating. Do they fidget? Dive into their smart phones to play Sudoku? Actions say more than words about how your character interacts with others; they show rather than tell readers about the scene’s undercurrents.
Sometimes, just listening to real people isn’t enough. Writing believable dialogue in historical fiction is a challenge. The writer teeters on a tight rope between evoking a sense of the period and being unintelligible to modern readers. If you’re writing period dialogue, look at books written around that time, or for the 1920s on, movies. Note words and sentence patterns that convey a sense of the time while still being understandable to modern readers. Arm yourself with a good etymology dictionary to avoid anachronisms, but use discretion too. Even if you’re right about a word, if a reader wonders about it, then you’ve pulled them out of the story. An example is the word “bouncer.” It’s been around since the mid-1800s, but if I read it in a story set during the Civil War, will I wonder?
Dialogue is an indispensable building block for constructing scenes. Using these tips can result in characters that interact in engaging, believable ways, so that readers keep turning the pages to find out what your characters will say (and do) next.
The ever-changing world of publishing offers a buffet of options for the writer who wants to hold an actual book with his or her name on that front cover. It’s a wonderful feeling, I must say and many readers prefer a paperback over an e-book even in this day of the tablet. So if you’ve decided to go indie and publish on your own, allow me to share my five-year experience with Create Space (CS) which is a division of Amazon.
Before taking the plunge with CS, I did my homework—reading blogs, talking with experienced independent authors, researching writer forums, and exploring several printing/publishing options. I took a year to study because the opportunities were overwhelming and a little scary.
There were plenty of vanity presses which would charge me several thousand dollars for the privilege of holding my book. In fact, I would be holding onto several hundred books for that matter. Packages ran from $1,000 to over $5,000 for printing, and then I was also required to purchase usually a minimum of 500 books on top of that. There were also hybrid presses—a little bit vanity and a little bit print-on-demand. There were still plenty of costs, which was what I was trying to avoid. When I checked out Create Space, everything fell into place. It easily met my goals which were pretty basic.
1. No cartons of books to be stored somewhere and sold out of the trunk of my car.
2. I could purchase books at cost and in any number from one to hundreds.
3. My book would be immediately available on Amazon.com.
4. The account was free. No payment from my savings required.
5. Royalties were generous.
6. I had control over everything—cover, book design, description.
7. A quality product.
8. Revised book files could be uploaded for free after the book was published. (Typos happen.)
If your goals are along the same lines, the POD option in my opinion is the only way to go. I like the ability to order a few books for gifts or for a special event. I have no storage angst. If I find a typo in my file even after the book is published, I can upload a corrected file for FREE! Access to Amazon’s storefront as well as setting up my own CS store gives the book excellent exposure. Depending on the type of ISBN used, books can be available through the big distributors like Ingram and Baker & Taylor. If I’ve pressed the wrong button in my book setup, a CS customer rep has the magical powers to undo whatever I did wrong.
Now, if you have an aversion to the ginormous Amazon, you can find a reliable alternative. I’ve also used Snowfall Press, another POD company. They have many of the same features as CS. I’ve found them to be excellent as well.
So if you’re ready to test the POD waters, do your research and take the time to understand Create Space’s process. They have plenty of instructions, forums, and other guidance to help beginners, as does Snowfall. Here are some helpful links for further study: Create Space and Snowfall Press.
It used to be a ten-pound dictionary and a thesaurus by your side when you put pen to paper or fingers to the keys. The Encyclopedia Britannica was also necessary for research. And probably a trip to the library was on the list. You'd need more reference materials of some sort. Hurray! Those days are long gone.
I can do it all from my laptop as I type this blog. However, there are some books you should have in your personal library to help hone your writing skills. You may want them on your Kindle or other device, but when it comes to some reference materials, personally I like to have real live books to look at, mark up, and spread out over the table.
1. Dictionary - you still need one, but www.dictionary.com is easy to use and beats lugging around a massive tome.
2. Thesaurus - the one at www.dictionary.com lives side-by-side with the dictionary. Very convenient.
3. The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. So MUCH in such a little book. E.B. White is the co-author of this classic on grammar, composition, and writing style. Indispensable! You remember E.B. White - Charlotte's Web, of course!
4. Grammar book. The one on my shelf is Essentials of English by Hopper, Gale, et al. Doubtless, my editor wishes I would refer to it more often. Punctuation can be confusing at some junctures--comma or semi-colon. Do you know which to use? Are you splitting infinitives? e.g. 1. She decided to quickly walk to the store or 2. She decided to walk quickly to the store. (1.contains the split infinitive)
5. For fiction writers, an informative book is Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne and King. From dialogue to point of view (POV) to character development, this book teaches you how to tell the story succinctly. The book also inlcudes exercises which reinforce the chapter themes that are helpful.
6. Style Guide - The Chicago Manual of Style is a must, which is online. www.chicagomanualofstyle.org. I also have The Little Style Guide to Great Christian Writing and Publishing by Goss and Goss. This style guide is cross-referenced with the Chicago Manual of Style and is extremely helpful with Bible studies and Christian writing in general.
7. Specialty books - Depending on your genre, you'll want books that are bona fide resources on the topic. Wikipedia ---probably not. When writing Bible studies, two or three commentaries, a Bible dictionary, and a good study Bible are essential references to have on hand. Many are online, so your shelves don't have to be jammed with dusty research tomes. Two of the best sites are www.blueletterbible.org and www.biblestudytools.com.
A series of books - Howdunnit has volumes of crime information, from poisons to how crimes are solved. If you write mysteries, these handy references can help you construct a killer crime.
There you are! A quick list for writers old and new. If you've been pounding a keyboard for any length of time, you probably have your own favorites. And some that have been mentioned may be dog-eared copies on your shelf. Write on!
One of the biggest challenges for indie authors is gathering reviews for their titles. Reviews are everywhere today. We count on them before we purchase almost anything. Cars, repair services, doctors, clothing, toys, and books. Everyone has an opinion and you'll find thoughtful and helpful reviews, but also mean-spirited ones, along with the bizarre. Once you have a product for sale to the public, it's fair game for reviewers. It's an integral part of marketing strategy for every vendor.
Readers love to see that a book has lots of reviews, which means it's been read by lots of people who actually cared enough to post their thoughts on Amazon or other sites. Book promotion sites usually have a minimum number of reviews required before they'll promote your book, which makes reviews crucial as well. Reviews have an influence on future sales and visibility in the marketplace.
So how does the process work?
1. You have to ask. Start with your readers. At the end of your book, make sure you add that request for a review. I love eNovelAuthorsatWork's blurb. Include the blurb in your newsletters to subscribers too.
2. Your beta readers or fan readers can also be asked. Provide them with a free copy of the book before you publish and reviews can be ready to go when the title is live. Be careful though and make sure reviewers indicate they've received an advance copy for their honest review. Check out Amazon's review policy to do it right. If these reviewers are posting to other websites, they should carefully follow the guidelines of the site for reviews.
3. Seek out bloggers or reviewers for your genre that follow the requirements of Amazon's guidelines. Choosy Bookworm, Library Thing, and others have programs that meet those guidelines. Paying for reviews is a big no-no on Amazon. Don't fall into that particular trap. If discovered, those reviews will be deleted and you may receive a warning or worse from Amazon. If you do purchase a professional review from Kirkus, the review can be used in the Editorial Review section of your book's page. It can't be posted with a rating as a reader can do so by logging into their account.
4. Check out a post from the other side of the fence. Julie Whiteley writes about book reviews from the reviewer's perspective. This is an excellent article and very helpful for writers in forming expectations about reviewers.
It's hard to accumulate reviews, although if you're fortunate enough to snag a Book Bub promo, you may end up with a ton. Reviews are all part of the business and my advice is to work hard to obtain them the right way. Good or bad, they're of value to you as a writer and to the buyer who's looking for the right book.
Maybe one percent of readers will leave a review, which is discouraging. Be prepared for one-star reviews as well as five. That's the tough part of being the public eye. The big guns have disparaging reviews as well as high praise. You're in good company.
There are lots of places print your book if you want a tangible product. It's also a great feeling to actually hold your book, which is one of the reasons to create a paperback edition. My experience is with Create Space, which is a division of Amazon.
Before entering the publishing arena, I did a lot of homework--as in a year of research. I talked to indie authors, checked out lots of websites and blogs about print-on-demand (POD), vanity publishers, hybrid printers that offer a bit of POD and vanity press. There were plenty of horror stories--lots of money up front, purchasing hundreds of books, etc. I decided that POD was the best path for me and I chose Create Space over several others who offered the same services.
The biggest advantages of print-on-demand were these:
1. I was not responsible for storing inventory, and thus forced to sell books from the trunk of my car.
2. No money out-of-pocket.
3. No requirement to purchase books as part of the deal to print my book.
4. I was in control.
5. Amazon would place me on their website.
6. I could order books at cost in any amount.
7. Depending upon the type of ISBN I chose, major book distributors like Ingram and Baker & Taylor would be able to sell my book.
8. I can upload a revised book file at any time for free after publication.
I'm not convinced of any serious disadvantages. Traditionally published authors may have that extra bit of help, but authors lose control over their work and the cover design, and are expected to build a viable platform for marketing. I have found Create Space to be responsive to questions, helpful when I've clicked the wrong button (they can work magic to undo whatever it was I did), prompt with royalty payments, and tax documents. They even offer a CS store which does give authors greater royalties than directly through Amazon. I can even generate discount coupons there. However, I haven't found that readers want to set up an account with CS even with a coupon. They're happy to purchase through their existing Amazon account.
The ease of ordering a few books for a special event or to have them on hand for gifts is convenient. Amazon may be the ginormous retailer of the day, but they are customer focused. The account is free and if you want additional paid services like editing or cover design, they're available. I haven't used these services, so don't have an opinion on the quality.
If you're ready to jump into the POD industry, please do your homework. Study the POD company's requirements, royalty information, how they pay, etc. Use their templates for uploading your work. It makes formatting a breeze. You'll experience less frustration and more time to write the next book. CS has forums, online guides, and actual people answering telephones to help.
I'll also mention Snowfall Press which is a POD printer as well if you have an aversion to Amazon. I've found them to be reputable and an excellent alternative to Amazon.
Here are some helpful links: Create Space
Your book is now available on Amazon. It may be available on Smashwords, Kobo, I-Books, etc. So how do you get noticed in a sea of over a million books? How do you stand a chance of just breaking even on your editing expenses?
The quick answer is you must market your book with both paid and free advertising. Marketing? What's marketing? An ad in the newspaper? A TV commercial? Probably not. In my writing business adventure of the last three years, I'll share some lessons learned.
The first piece of advice is to make certain you have an ebook that functions well on the sites you sell it. However, you should also have a paperback version. Why both? Most of my sales are ebooks. The ebook market for independent authors has blossomed profusely over the last couple of years. There are literally hundreds of websites who will promote an ebook for you (for a fee). Paperbacks are still relevant in the age of the tablet. You cannot autograph a Kindle copy at a book festival or speaking engagement. The local bookstore doesn't sell ebooks, but they can sell your paperback. Even though my revenue stream from paperbacks is small, they are an invaluable component of my marketing plan.
Before you panic about your non-existent marketing budget, there are lots of free ways to get the word out on your new book. Here are a few to consider.
1. Use your author platform. This includes your website, Face Book page, Twitter, blog, and any other social media outlets you use. Face Book has many reader groups and some allow you to post sales or launches at no cost. Be sure to read the group's rules before posting. You don't want to be banned on your first outing.These groups are also excellent ways to connect with readers of your particular genre. I recently participated in a Face Book event with a group of mystery authors. The virtual event was a success, garnering new subscribers to my newsletter and there was a nice increase in ebook sales.
2. Send a press release to local newspapers or arts organizations. They may or may not pick it up as a news item, but they can be very effective. Some might scoff at such an old-fashioned approach. However, I've received invitations to speak because of press releases, sold books at the speaking event, plus seen a bump in eBook sales afterwards. I've also received grants to speak, which combined with books sales made for a good month.
3. Make connections with local organizations. Many clubs are looking for speakers and interesting topics. If you enjoy meeting new people and talking about writing or an area of expertise, this may open doors to sales. It requires a little courage and a well-rehearsed elevator speech to pitch yourself, but meeting potential readers personally can gain new fans. Sometimes it provides extra income in speaking honorariums or fees.
As I stated above, there are lots of web marketing sites to promote your ebook. You'll find a list on the Readers and Authors page. Results are varied with each site. Fees range from free to several hundred dollars for a promotion spot. Some sites only accept free books. Others accept bargain priced and free books. Each site has different rules regarding genre, pricing, number of reviews, etc. Read them over carefully. Caveat emptor. There are lots of sites with few subscribers and unmotivated subscribers. There are also scams. Take the time to read through the site's information. Please peruse the author specific links on the Readers and Authors page for more detailed information.
No one can guarantee the number of downloads or return on investment (ROI) when you run a paid promotion. One site may consistently give you good sales and then a promotion with them tanks. What day of the week should you run a sale? Who knows? Much of this is like predicting the stock market. You need to experiment and develop your marketing plan over time. What worked last year may not work this year.
Marketing takes up a great deal of time, researching promo sites, posting info about your sales, sending an email to subscribers. You need to set aside a chunk of time each week to tweak your plan, and look to the future to schedule sales and new promotions.There are lots of risks in business and marketing is risky. It's an area most authors avoid. It's scary, uncertain, and takes money. Start small and work into paid promotions (you can afford) on a consistent basis. Not marketing your book(s) guarantees a low profile unless the Book Fairy decides to sprinkle some sparkly dust on your tomes to attract readers.
When I was starting to get serious about marketing a couple of years ago, the best advice I received was from another mystery author, R. P. Dahlke. After bending her ear about the dismal results of free promotions, she said, "You have to run paid promotions to get sales." She was right. Her rule of thumb at that time was 10% of the previous month's royalties became her current month's marketing budget. Using that, you won't get into debt or run amok throwing cash to every promotion site. If your royalty amount is zero, drop Starbucks for a month, and use that to start. I'll also recommend purchasing her little book on marketing. It's only 99 cents and you'll get great ROI on that. Here's the Amazon link.
One of the most time consuming and daunting tasks for writers is to get noticed. If you've checked out Amazon and the number of books lately,you'll see what I mean.A veritable bottomless pit of books is now available for your Kindle. Before you launch a book or really spend money on marketing, a platform that connects with readers is crucial. There are many ways to build your platform and there are lots of articles about this very topic, but I'll boil it down to a simple list and throw in some links that will help you get started or improve your existing platform.
For the shy and reclusive writer, the platform thing is painful. It's even uncomfortable for extroverts. We put ourselves out in the public arena and that's a little scary. We're vulnerable and now we've dipped our toe into the spotlight---what are we thinking? But we need to engage readers and it's best to start early--before the book is launched. The good news is that most of the tools we need to start are free and accessible through the Internet.
1. Start a blog. Yes, there are millions of bloggers out there, but a blog is an excellent way to connect with readers. It's also an excellent way to hone your writing skills and become more disciplined. Blogger and Word Press are the big guns in blogging and you can create a blog for free. If you're not sure what you could ever write about on a weekly basis, check out author blogs and get a feel for what others are doing. New content is important, so plan to have a weekly post with something fresh for readers.
2. Build your website. I am a DIY sort of person and have found Weebly to be exceedingly user-friendly for someone who doesn't know HTML code. There are other places such as Wix that offer free websites, so shop around before hiring a web designer to do the work. There are lots of bad author websites--some because they're never updated and others are just bad. Take a look at a variety of author websites and find those that make you want to stay a while. What makes them enjoyable or easy to navigate? Incorporate those features into your own. Learning to use Weebly templates gives you control and immediate access to change things on the fly. I do like control, so there you have it.
3. Social Media. Oh, there are so many ways to connect to millions of people on Twitter, Face Book, Instagram, Google+, Pinterest, Tumblr, etc., etc. While there are some who say you must be everywhere and posting constantly, I say no. Pick two or three that you actually enjoy, so you'll want to post writing updates, and other news to share with the public. It takes time to build an audience on any social media unless you're already a celebrity. Peruse social media, look at privacy and security settings, and get comfortable with how they work. Using social media is a constant process and there's something new to learn all the time. You also have to guard your writing time and social media can take over your day.
4. Join a writers group. Writers need support. Who else understands the world we live in? Sisters in Crime has been an excellent organization for me. I've met lots of other mystery authors who have generously given advice and help in building my own platform and marketing. I also belong to a couple of other groups where we share writing adventures, business advice, and generally shoot the breeze. It's easy to become discouraged and a little lost in this career path. Fellow writers can sure help.
5. A platform is not about selling. What??? This one is tough. Of course we want to sell books, but endless self-promotion is tedious. Offer helpful content, review someone else's book your audience might enjoy. Interview another author on your blog or do a podcast, share some writing tips....connect, connect, connect. The hard sell gets old quickly and you don't want to be labeled as a used car salesman...umm...annoying author. Be fun, approachable, and uniquely yourself.
6. Build an email list for your newsletter. This is really important once you have a book out there. People who sign up for your email newsletter are fans and you'll want to let them know when a new title is coming out, when you're doing a book signing, and when you're having a special sale. You can sponsor giveaways, special discounts, and more. This truly builds your reader base, so be sure to include a sign up opportunity on your website at the very least. These are people you want with you for the long haul, so treat them well.
The writer's platform is a long term commitment, not built in a day or two, but it can be quickly dismantled if not managed well. Plan well, build strong, and stay committed.
What is a Writer's Platform?
What's a beta reader? That question has been asked plenty of times when I mention the term. So here's the definition: a beta reader gets to read my manuscript after I've finished the revisions and before my editor gets her hands on it. Betas offer input on everything from the plot, to characters, to settings---everything. Nothing is off limits. My readers are six women who've agreed to give me honest feedback about each book I write. They were handpicked by me because they meet the qualifications below:
1. They love to read and know a good story a mile away.
2. They know and like me well enough to give honest opinions.
3. Each has a different perspective to offer and they're creative.
The betas have improved each book with their insights, corrections, and sound advice. Although I haven't taken 100% of the recommendations offered, the majority of comments have been incorporated into the manuscripts. This part of of the editing process is indispensable to prepare for the editor and to polish the book.
Because beta readers are entrusted with an unpublished manuscript in electronic form (which tends to be extremely portable), I've developed beta reader guidelines which clarify responsibilities and expectations. I strongly recommend doing the same with either your current beta readers or for the group you may be forming. If you are serious about writing as a business, procedures for your business practices are fundamental. A great deal of trust is placed upon the beta readers, which is one of the reasons I choose readers I know and give them guidelines, so there's no guessing.
As a courtesy, my beta readers are contacted before a manuscript is ready and are asked for participation. Everyone's schedule is busy, and I never want to obligate/overload a beta reader. They are much too valuable for that.
Speaking of value--beta readers as a rule are not paid, but I always send a token of appreciation. A copy of the final product is always welcome.
A sample of beta reader guidelines is provided below.
BETA READER GUIDELINES AND PROCEDURES
Thank you for agreeing to be a beta reader for Your Publishing Name. We LOVE readers and we’re happy to have you as part of our team. Your input is essential to us in producing outstanding books for readers and it’s our intention to make this process interesting and fun.
How Beta Reading Works
1. Your Publishing Name does everything electronically. Manuscripts and your comments will all be by email.
2. You will receive the manuscript as a Word file. A deadline will be stated in the email. Deadlines are generous and will usually be about four (4) weeks.
3. Comments should be made using the insert comment feature in Word. Please do not worry about punctuation, missing words, or other mistakes in the copy. It is a draft and will be professionally edited before publication. We do endeavor to give you a clean copy so that typos, etc. are not distractions.
4. Once you have completed reading the manuscript and have made your comments, email the copy back to the author by the deadline.
5. You may be asked to read the book once more after the editing has been completed.
6. Beta reading doesn’t make you any money, but you will receive a token of our appreciation in your mailbox.
The Kind of Comments We Need
1. Characters –like or dislike and why.
2. Plot – too predictable, too slow, not enough action, or an absolutely fabulous plot.
3. Inconsistencies, errors about characters i.e. tall, dark, and handsome in one scene, short and geeky in another.
4. Is the story visual? Can you see the characters in your mind? Are the places descriptive enough? Is there too much description? Are there scenes that are confusing?
5. Is the dialogue natural or stilted?
6. What you liked and disliked about the book. What you’d do to make it better.
7. We want HONEST feedback. Please do not be a softie and like everything. Authors must have tough hides. Every story can be improved and we’re counting on you to help us do just that. Readers are discriminating, sophisticated, and know what they like in a good book. We want to provide that product and your help is vital.
After the Read
You have a special place of trust in being a beta reader. You’re getting the first peek at a book before it is published. The manuscript you are entrusted with has not been through the formal copyright process, although the copyright is technically in place when fingers hit the keyboard. All titles will be officially copyrighted before publication. Please adhere to the following “Do’s” and “Don’ts.”
1. Contact information: Name, mailing address, email, and phone number.
2. Honesty, sense of humor, and some of your time.
With over 30 years in administration as a manager, paralegal, and administrative professional, my experience runs the gamut from finances, policy, contracts, and human resources. My goal is to help writers navigate the business side of writing with understandable and practical advice.