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Because beta readers are entrusted with an unpublished manuscript in electronic form (which tends to be extremely portable), I've developed beta reader guidelines which clarify responsibilities and expectations.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.
Where does the time go? Suddenly it's pitch black outside, your spouse has gone to bed and you're working by the glow of a laptop screen. Time, our most precious resource remains stubbornly uncooperative when it comes to giving us more than 24 hours in a day.
Modern writers must juggle the complexities of constant marketing, plus get the next book written. We must be tech savvy to stay visible and sell books, which takes time. The most notable time sucker is social media. Our author platform constantly begs for pithy updates, new photos, retweets for fellow authors, etc.
Unless you have an agent who's arranging events for you, time is needed to set up appearances, write press releases, and check out writers conferences.
Then there's the day job. I would hazard a guess that many of us are still working an outside job that pays the bills while building the writing business. Family responsibilities, exercising, volunteering ... so when do you find the time to actually write? Personally, empty nest has been an excellent season of life for writing. During the hectic days of kids, school, job, church and library trustee responsibilities, there was absolutely no time to write. I couldn't make it a priority even though I made several stabs at it. Waiting I've found was actually a good thing. Now writing can be a priority without tearing my hair out. Not as many outside commitments help as you might expect. Life experiences and writing magazine articles before tackling novels benefited me too. A simpler lifestyle cleared the way. Here are some other ideas to consider if you're struggling to find the time.
1. Keep a schedule. Whatever format you use, make appointments to write, update social media, exercise, etc. Write it down and get serious about keeping these appointments. Maybe writing is at 5:30am to 6:30am before the family is awake or maybe it's from 7:30pm-8:30pm while the kids are watching TV or working on homework. Your schedule needs to be reasonable and flexible because life happens.
2. Use timesaving tools when it comes to social media. I use the free version of Hootsuite to post to Face Book, Twitter, and Google Plus. Within 20-30 minutes I can create two or three days worth of tweets or posts. Spend NO MORE than 15-20 minutes on Face Book or Twitter to catch up. If you don't, an hour flies by while you peruse the newsfeeds.
3. Limit TV viewing if you really want to get 5,000 words written. Once you're seated in front of the big screen, it may lure you to stay for hours.
4. Schedule down time. We all need a break--times to refresh. Rest is healthy and it restores creativity. Get outside, have lunch with friends, walk away from the computer to visit the real world. It is where we get our ideas. Staying healthy and de-stressing only benefits us and our families. The computer is addicting whether it's social media or writing. Make sure down time is on your calendar every week.
5. Make the most of waiting. Stuck in the doctor's waiting room? Waiting for one of the kids in the school parking lot? A small notebook tucked in a purse is a wonderful friend. Make notes about your plot or characters. Outline a blog post, compose some tweets, write down a few impressions about waiting.
6. The Fun Factor.The biggest indicator that being a writer is for me is that I'm having fun. If writing creates more stress than fun, reevaluate whether the timing is right. After all, timing is everything.
As the CEO of your publishing business, you want a capable team that helps you produce an outstanding product -- your next book. Any thriving business wants to recruit and retain great people.
The beautiful thing about the virtual world is that you can pull together a team from around the globe if you wish. Your cover designer can be located in South Africa, your editor in the U.S., and your proofreader in Australia. However, you want to make sure that your virtual team is legit and does outstanding work. Whether you have an online relationship or face to face, these tips will help you assemble the right publishing team for you.
1. Educate yourself on what is customary in each area of expertise. How do book cover designers compose a concept? This article from Publishers Weekly has tons of good information on book covers. If you're hopelessly lost when it comes to formatting your e-book, Smashwords has links to vetted formatters who can transform your final manuscript to e-pub or mobi files. But KDP and Smashwords have detailed guides about converting your Word doc to the electronic format. Get a handle on the process even if you don't tackle it yourself. What does a good editing job look like? Do you know what proofreader's marks mean? Be smart and do your homework in advance. Whatever services you outsource, as the CEO you need to know what good work looks like in every area. The big picture view is essential to the success of your book business. Ask yourself what you want your business to look like in a year...in five years.
2. Personalities matter. Just as in a traditional work setting, you need to be able to get along with your team. Interview a potential team member and take time to get to know each other. Face Time or Skype can help with your global team. Sometimes you'll connect with someone who just isn't a good fit or you aren't happy with their work product. Give the person the opportunity to correct what may be wrong and clearly state your expectations. If you just don't mesh, don't waste time, but kindly move on. Explain professionally why you are are doing so.Yes--that's the hard part. You may find that one of your freelancers will cut you loose as well. Focus on finding good people and be a great team player yourself. That means keeping your word, respect, being a good listener, and always ready to improve.
3. Locate team members. Word of mouth is still the best advertising. Talk to other authors in the writing organizations you belong to, especially those who've been in the business for a while. Friends and co-workers sometimes have leads on writing professionals too. I found my editor through a friend. We've been working together for almost three years now. It's nice to have face to face contact --the occasional business lunch, etc., so if you can find the right people locally that's a big plus.
4. Family members can be excellent choices. My youngest sister is a talented photographer and graphic designer. We've collaborated on three book covers and a book filled with her photos and my text. It's been a good experience. But, a word of caution--it's a professional relationship, with the complications of family ties. My sister and I have a great relationship that's able to withstand several versions of a cover until we're both satisfied with the result. Our hides are fairly tough when it comes to critiquing as professionals, so it works. However, it's not a great idea for everyone.
5. If you go out to look for a team member virtually, here are some places to find the people you need for your project. The Editorial Freelancers Association is the oldest and largest association for editorial professionals. Check out its site at www.the-efa.org/. Elance.com has plenty of freelancers to choose from in all areas. There are plenty of other sites as well. Do your homework and check out reviews for the sites. Don't be afraid to ask for references and samples of a designer's or editor's work. Editors and proofreaders should offer to edit/proofread a few pages of your manuscript to give you a taste of what their work will look like. Preditors and Editors is also an excellent source for freelancers. They also have lots of helpful information for writers.
The emerging author can be a huge target for scammers because in the end, writers want to put their work in the hands of readers. As my grandfather used to say, "Marry in haste, repent in leisure." Don't rush into a business relationship without being fully informed which includes how much the freelancer will ultimately charge you. Mistakes will still be made along the way, but many can be avoided by taking your time, learning the publishing business, and making wise people choices.
So...how much will it cost to produce and publish your book? The answer is--it depends. It depends on the paid services you'll need and how much you can do on your own. As an indie/emerging author you need a top notch book cover and content to meet the industry standards. How do you get from a Word document to the bookshelves on Amazon, Smashwords, and Barnes & Noble?
As your own publisher, you are responsible for everything--the whole enchilada. Here's where to start calculating the cost of your book.
A professional looking book cover is essential. While we're told not to judge a book by its cover, we do. I've purchased a book with an eye-catching cover over a dull one many times. Even if you intend to only produce e-books, you need a great looking thumbnail to entice readers. Unless you have experience in design, this is best left to a professional. You may have a friend or relative who's willing to help you out for free. Excellent! I've been blessed with talented friends and family in this category. The average cost of a book cover with a high resolution image for paperback and e-book, FaceBook banner, three concepts, three to five revisions runs $250 to $500. Of course, you'll find designers all over the price scale. Do your homework, talk with the artist, ask for references, look at the other book covers they've designed. Go with someone you can afford because there are more expenses to come.
If you do decide on a DIY cover, consider purchasing stock photos from Dreamstime or iStockphoto for high quality and high res photos. CreateSpace's cover creator feature can help you with cover design once you have the photos you want. Professional photos from these sites are affordable and have a royalty free license. Costs are under $50 to purchase the photo or photos you want.
Interior - Editing
Without question, you need an editor and proofreader. No matter how good you are, these two are a necessity. There are lots of freelance editors and proofreaders, which are two different animals all together. Within the editor category are copyeditors and substantive line editors. Each focuses on different aspects of the manuscript. My editor does both copyediting and substantive editing rolled into one. You'll find an excellent description of the differences at this link. Editors usually charge hourly or per page. Some charge by the project. Fees can range from $15 an hour to $100 per hour, or $1.25 a page to $8.00 a page. The Editorial Freelancers Association has a handy chart with typical fees. A 275 page book at $2.50 per page will cost you $687.50. Along with a price you can afford, find someone you can really work with. My editor not only polishes my writing, but has become a trusted partner who wants to see me succeed. She continues to push me to improve my writing with every book. However, you may have contacts who will work for free or at a very reduced cost.
Interior - Proofreading
The proofreader has the last look at the book. He or she will find those typos, punctuation errors, or missing words that seem to vanish when you're doing it yourself. Proofreaders generally charge by the hour or by the page as editors do. You can pay anywhere from a low $100 to well over $800 for a proofreader, depending on the length of your manuscript. A detail-oriented friend or relative with mad grammar and punctuation skills may be an alternative too.
The next consideration is who will take your manuscript and massage it into the correct format for a paperback and e-book. That can be you. If you use CreateSpace, many templates are provided with good instructions to upload your book. Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) also has detailed instructions to prepare your manuscript for upload. I've had success with both entities with a minimum of fuss. However if you're hesitant, there are plenty of formatters. Smashwords has a list of folks who are ready to change your manuscript into an e-book. Many times, editors offer formatting services too. The cost for each type of book runs anywhere from $25 - $150. Unless you have a complex book with photos, charts, illustrations, and the like, this cost should be under $100 per edition.
ISBNs and Copyright
Every edition of your book needs an ISBN (International Standard Book Number) These include hardcover, paperback, or audiobook. ISBNs can be purchased through Bowker. A primer on the ISBN is found on their website at this link. One ISBN is $125 or you can purchase a block of 10 for $295. CreateSpace offers them for free if you want the CS imprint as the publisher of your book. You can also purchase a custom ISBN with the imprint of your choice for $10. There are differing opinions on the value of owning your ISBNs. Ownership means control and if that's of utmost importance to you, buy the block of 10. KDP doesn't require an ISBN and assigns an ASIN (Amazon Standard Identification Number) to e-books. Smashwords offers a free ISBN for your book on their site or you can provide your own.
An automatic copyright is in place on your original work, but to be on the public record or to bring a lawsuit for copyright infringement, it must be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. The cost of uploading your book is $35 and worth the money in my opinion. Electronic uploads take anywhere from three to six months for a certificate. You don't have to wait for the official certificate to go ahead and publish your book, so this step won't hold up your timetable. I don't recommend mailing a paper copy; the fee is higher and the turnaround time is longer.
Below is a summary of your estimated book expenses, assuming you use CreateSpace and/or KDP which offer free set up. Your expenses will climb if you use Ingram/Spark, Lightning Source, or other vendors for printing. The other assumption is that you're paying for everything.
Book Cover $250
ISBN (bulk price) $ 30
Copyright Reg. $ 35
Estimated Total $1,365
I don't recommend using a vanity press which may charge you thousands of dollars up front for all of these services in a package "deal." You may never recoup them which makes you a non-profit entity. Do the hard work yourself as the CEO, keeping costs in line and the possibility of profit in sight.
Any new business has start-up expenses to get it off the ground. Fortunately writers don't have to hand over gobs of cash unless you absolutely can't wait to do so. There are three areas of expense you need to cover as a professional writer.
Every writer must build a platform which is accomplished mainly through social media and a website. The good news is that building a platform is basically free in terms of dollars, but costly in time. You do need to buy a domain name for your website. Depending on the number of years you purchase, this expense will most likely be under $20. The other expense you'll have in this category is a professional photo shoot. Don't scoff. Yes, your beloved spouse or dear friend can certainly take your photo and you can slap it up on social media. You can also take a blurry selfie. However, there's nothing like someone who knows how to make you look your best. You'll need a handful of different photos you can use on book covers, website, your LinkedIn profile, various social media sites, for press releases, and the list goes on. Readers and potential customers can connect visually and you'll look like the professional you are. Average cost: $150-$175.
If your laptop/PC is dying, now is the time to get a new one. Having the blue screen of death suddenly materialize on your main piece of equipment makes for a really bad day. But if your computer is healthy, this is one you can cross off the list. A new laptop costs $350 and up. You need an offsite backup for your files. There are several good services--some that are free for limited storage or you can purchase additional cloud space. Dropbox and Carbonite are familiar names in this area. An external hard drive back up is an alternative place to store your work and everything else on your hard drive. You can plan on an expense from $99 to $200.Or consider a high capacity flash drive to backup manuscripts, articles--anything you're working on connected with your writing business.That's less than $20. A printer is a necessity too. There's a huge selection in every price range. An economical HP inkjet has printed small quantities of flyers, brochures, and business cards for me, which has saved many dollars. Price $89.
3. Office Setup
Set up your home office like a business with all the "stuff" you'll need. This includes file folders, stapler, paperclips, a file box (to keep your records separate), paper, pens, pencils, etc. Not that you'll need a truckload, but having the right supplies on hand beats driving to the store at an inconvenient time. If you're not comfortable designing and printing your own business cards, there are some budget-minded online options, or check pricing at a local printer/office supply store. VistaPrint or PrintRunner may fit the bill for you. Personally, I use a Publisher template for my business cards and print them myself. The print-on-demand option works for me and I can change the design anytime without additional expense. Plan on $50-$100 for your office.
Investing in your fledgling business makes it official. You're a professional and pursuing the dream.
Who doesn't dream of working in pajamas, coffee cup in hand, laptop nearby, in total control of the day's schedule? I'm in. If you're a writer, then you're one of the lucky folks who can work from anywhere, as long as there's an Internet connection and a computer. Even if you're still at a day job, the writing gig is often a good source of extra income, which has been my experience for several years. Writers are more interested in plots, research, and all manner of editing, but are often puzzled about the business side of writing.
Here are the nuts and bolts of setting up your writing business without a nasty surprise at tax time. This first post covers getting your business set up correctly.
Am I Really a Business?
Whether you've written a book, freelance for magazines or websites, if you receive pay for it, you've attained the rank of professional writer. That means you have a business. The assumption of this article is that you are a sole proprietor--the head honcho, the big cheese, all powerful Grand Pooh-ba. A sole proprietor has no partners and isn't incorporated.
Naming Your Business
Every business needs a name and you can simply use your legal name such as John Smith or you can do business as (d/b/a) John's Fabulous Writing Service or maybe Big Words Writing. If you use a fictitious name other than your legal name to do business, you may be required to file a D/B/A certificate. Check the Secretary of State website for your particular state to find out the requirements. Usually these forms are short and easy to complete and yes, a filing fee will be required. My state doesn't require a filing, but it is a good business practice to do so when using a fictitious name.
This is the stuff you must get right, or you'll run into problems later on. Let's assume you're in the writing business to make a profit. How will you know when you've made one? How will you know if you've lost money? Where do you start? It can be daunting unless you have experience with financial reports, but if you have a stream of income flowing in and expenses going out, it's time to get organized.
1. Visit the SBDC near you. Most area community colleges have a Small Business Development Center (SBDC). It's a great resource for the business-challenged and seasoned business person as well. Make an appointment with a counselor to get off on the right foot as a CEO. Those one-on-one sessions are FREE! Most centers also offer a schedule of classes on a wide variety of business topics. Usually registration fees are low and you'll meet other entrepreneurs like yourself. It's a wonderful way to network and learn at the same time. The Small Business Administration also has lots of resources for start-ups.
2. Open a business checking account. It's much easier than trying to trace income and expense through your personal accounts. My bank gave me one for free with a low minimum balance. Consider including an additional signer --a spouse or trusted family member/friend who can deposit or pay bills for you when necessary.
3. PayPal is an excellent tool to pay bills and get paid. You can connect your business account to PayPal and a credit card. Reports are easy to generate from the site. Payments are secure and a breeze. I use this service to pay my vendors. An invoice and payment receipt are easily generated and I have all the documentation needed for the transaction. You can set up your account in just minutes.
4. Accounting. Before you throw up your hands and run screaming from the room, take a deep breath. Yes, you need to keep records of income and expenses. After all, it's how you determine if you've made any money. And that's important. Good records are vital for your income taxes. There are some free accounting software programs out there like Freshbooks or Wave Accounting which receive good reviews. Quick Books is popular, but isn't free. An accounting background is extremely helpful if you go with Quick Books. I don't recommend it for anyone who hasn't ever thought about a debit or credit. You can also set up an Excel spreadsheet with the basics. Quite a few accounting templates are available to assist you in getting started. You need a worksheet to track money coming in and a worksheet to track money going out. A balance sheet summarizes money in and money out, showing a profit or loss.
Time Management. I'd much rather be writing an exciting scene in my next novel rather than filling in information on a spreadsheet. However, with a bit of discipline, you can take care of this once a month in a couple of hours. It is worth the time and effort. As the CEO of your business, you want to know where the business stands on a regular basis. Key to getting it done with a minimum of fuss is consistency in your documentation. I maintain a file with paid invoices, and keep another one with income docs. My royalties are deposited monthly in the bank account. Once I receive the payment notification in my email, I print out the report. As soon as I make a business purchase the receipt and/or invoice goes in another folder. There's nothing more exciting than seeing income exceed expenses. If it doesn't, I have a meeting with myself to figure out how to make that happen. Otherwise, I congratulate myself on a job well done, treat myself to a cookie, and plan next month's book promotions.
Credit. Do you need it? I always caution against going into debt. Giving yourself some start up cash from your personal savings account is a good way to start. I began with a measly $500 and was able to put the initial investment back into my personal account within a year. However, a business credit card can be useful or if you already have several credit cards, dedicate one to just business expenses. Make sure you know which card is personal and which is business. Getting them mixed up creates headaches. Pay it off in full every month. Sound advice for any credit card.
Cold Hard Truth. Writing isn't a get-rich-quick scheme. It isn't even a get-slightly-rich-quick scheme. If you do, good for you. But hard work, and writing the best you can while constantly improving can provide steady income. Lots of freelance opportunities are available and if you're novelist or a writer of non-fiction, there are plenty of venues to put your work into the hands of readers. Be a professional in your writing and running your business. With perseverance and hard work, I believe your balance sheet can make you smile.
Remember tax advice comes from your accountant and legal advice comes from your attorney. Everyone's situation is unique. The information presented here is of a general nature. Always seek out the appropriate counsel.
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.