Your Guide To Beta Readers

beta reader

So, after months (or perhaps years) of blood, sweat and tears, you’ve finally finished your book, revised it, self-edited it and have proven to your friends and family that you’re not an unambitious, braindead waste of space slowly counting the days until death.

But hold on there. Before you consider self-publishing or reaching out to literary agents, you’ll want to consider sending your book to beta readers.

What are beta readers?

Beta readers are volunteers who will read your book and provide you with feedback. The name “beta” comes from the word “Betamax,” a popular home video format from the 1980s. People would often share and exchange these “beta” videos in much the way beta reading is the sharing of novels and ideas for improving them.

Beta readers are a good way to get a fresh set of eyes on your work, to address the numerous glaring mistakes, plot holes, poor characterizations, boring passages, cliches, overly graphic sex scenes, and embarrassingly obvious references to your personal life in your work.

It’s important to remember that a beta reader is not an editor. Remember, development editors help you with your overall structure, line editors look at your usage and diction and polish things up to make your manuscript sparkle, proofreaders look at grammar and spelling errors, grammar consultants tell you if you’re using the gerund correctly, book buddies are the shoulder to cry on, and then there’re critique partners, who are basically another word for beta readers but they’re also totally different and I’m not going to explain why,

And if that sounds confusing and overwhelming, well… maybe your family was right about you being a braindead waste of space.

Who makes for a good beta reader?

It will be tempting to ask friends and family to fill this role. But ultimately, these people despise you so much, it will be tough to get a fair, unbiased opinion. (If you’re anything like me, you wrote this book just to spite them for thinking you didn’t have it in you.) So who then?

Your best option is prisoners, if you have the right connections. Every great writer should have at least two or three wardens in his contact list.

Which brings me to my next point: You probably want different beta readers for each project. Anyone too used to you or your writing will have trouble judging you honestly. Fortunately, most prisoners will either be transferred, released, or executed by the time of your next release.

What should you want from your beta reader?

This is very specific to the type of project you’re working on. It will be beneficial to send a list of questions to your beta reader. Here’s some from my most recent project:

  • Are there too many descriptions of female breasts, or not enough?
  • Which female character’s breasts did you most enjoy reading about?
  • Did it feel like the breasts lacked strong character motivation?
  • Was the progression of the breasts throughout the story convincing?
  • Did the dialogue about the breasts sound natural to you (even the parts concerning the fake breasts)?

Through this process, my prisoners were quick to inform me that I’d neglected the breasts far too often. I’d (in a rather sexist way, I’m sad to admit) spent too much time having my female characters talking about the men in their life, instead of celebrating the unique individuality of their own breasts.

How do you implement and handle feedback?

It’s natural, upon hearing any sort of criticism, to want to verbally assault or threaten your beta reader. This is yet another reason why prisoners work so well. A quick scan of their rap sheet will make you think twice about threatening or insulting them. And that’s great because these people are here to help you on your journey and only want to make you a better writer.

And remember, you don’t have to heed all of their advice. Early on, one of my beta readers kept describing my female characters as “unsympathetic.”  While he enjoyed the titillating descriptions of her body, he kept saying he didn’t understand why the reader should care about her. I might’ve taken his advice, too, if I hadn’t learned he was doing four life sentences in Lompoc for strangling prostitutes.

If more than one of your beta readers describes a plot point as confusing, or certain character developments as unearned, then there’s probably something to it. Go through the comments they leave and pick the ones to keep and the ones to discard. If three people say you need to flesh out the part where your character finally reveals the secret about her breast augmentation surgery to her roommate, those are keepers. If you see comments like “Help. Please, I’m not supposed to be in here,” or “When I break out of here, I’m comin’ for you first,” those are the ones you want to discard.

And finally, make sure you politely thank your beta readers for their time.

 

 

Five Must-Know Facts About Manuscript Appraisals

by Qate Blanjett

laughing at book

Manuscript appraisal is one of the cornerstones of the publishing process. It can help you become a better writer and turn your book from a piece of trash even your best friends belittle you for to a best-seller. Simply put, manuscript appraisal is when someone reads an early draft of your book and gives you notes on different structural elements of your story, such as pace, tone, plot, and character.

The feedback you’re given can be life-changing. Many people don’t know this, but George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice was originally a series of cookbooks before a manuscript appraiser convinced him to turn in into the medieval fantasy saga we all know and love today.

Below, I ask and answer five questions about manuscript appraising which I think hope illuminate the process to the uninitiated.

Do I need a manuscript appraisal?

This is an important question to ask yourself. The short answer is, if you haven’t written a book and don’t want to be an author, then no. If so, then yes. The long answer is the same thing but written in a more long-winded, roundabout way that someone who does manuscript appraisal can help you make more concise.

What kind of appraisal service should I choose?

With the rise of digital publishing, more and more appraisal services have been sprouting up. But how is an inexperienced author supposed to know who to choose? Generally speaking, it’s more convenient to pick somebody local, but if you have a small budget, outsourcing the job to West Africa is another good option. Still, you have to be careful. Some red flags to look for:

  • Companies that require a blood sample
  • Companies that don’t have or know what a “website” is
  • Companies that offer an appraisal within 24 hours
  • Businesses registered as toothpaste manufacturers for tax purposes
  • Testimonials that refer to the company as a “bunch of shitheads”
  • Companies that only offer appraisals in the form of “would bang” and “would not bang”

How do I know if my manuscript is ready for appraisal?

Ideally, you’d like to have the best possible draft of your work ready when you start to appraise. But more realistically, you’re a really shitty writer, which is why you’re doing the whole appraisal thing in the first place. So just get to where ever you feel is good and let the people you’re paying do the hard work.

What sort of feedback can you expect?

This is a tough one. Because you’re really just tossing a coin. Some appraisers are less professional than others, and will resort to personal attacks and name calling. They’ll say your ideas are “borderline genocidal” and “a symptom of the decline of political debate in this country.” More level-headed appraisers will be more constructive and positive, telling you “you’re one of the ones who gets it” and “not afraid to offend the snowflakes.”

What should I include when sending in my manuscript for appraisal?

Below I’ve compiled a list of the definitely yeses, definitely nos and definitely maybes.

Definitely Yes

  • Your manuscript
  • A cover letter
  • A killer mixtape
  • A short synopsis
  • Some chocolates or other types of sweets
  • An author bio that forgoes some of your more personal beliefs, such as that of your views on miscegenation

Definitely No

  • Hair and most other types of human remains
  • Somebody else’s manuscript
  • A copy of an already published best-seller
  • Erotic photography of the author
  • A personal manifesto that definitely includes your views on miscegenation

Definitely Maybe

  • Deer hair
  • An assortment of jerked meats
  • An author bio that explains your fragile mental state and likelihood to resort to self-harm when faced with criticism
  • Erotic photography of an attractive person
  • Your return address

Five Tips for Writers Considering Self-Publishing – And More Tips

by Truitt Collyns 

cash money

Let me set the scene – perhaps it’s a familiar one. You’re sitting at your desk one morning, an open bottle of vodka to one side, a loaded pistol to the other. Your manuscript has just been rejected by your favorite publisher, such as, for example, Dragon Eagle Publishing. But even though a full day of raucous drinking and gunplay should cheer you up, it’s not going to introduce your masterwork to a larger audience.

So perhaps it’s time to consider self-publishing. But first,  reflect on why your story was rejected in the first place. For example, did you know that more than 75 percent of manuscripts Dragon Eagle receives are rejected solely because the author had an ugly-sounding name? Names like Jett, Shadow, Kirisitiana? That’s your aiming for – none of this John, Herman, Virginia or Gertrude nonsense. But it’s not always the name. For example, maybe you had some beta readers – friends, family, co-workers – appraise your work. Did any of them describe it as “bad,” or “not good,” or “not worth publishing?” Have any refused to talk to you since? Well, maybe that’s a sign you still need to make some minor tweaks.

But let’s say you got a great pseudonym, a clever title and a story people can at least feign interest in to maintain your personal relationships. Here’s some tips and information about the world of self-publishing we hope can guide you.

1. Do your research

This is probably the most important step your self-publishing journey because not all ebooks are created equal and not every solution is going to work for your project. Therefore, when you Google “How to Self-Publish My Ebook” don’t just look at the first page of results. This is going to require you to go to all the way to page 6 or 7. (Unless, of course, your settings are different and you don’t just get the standard ten results per page).

2. Your local neighborhood library is a great resource…

… of cheap labor because of its large homeless population. You can have these people write and post reviews to Amazon, Lulu and Goodreads, create ad copy, and even design covers if you hit the jackpot and stumble across a former art major and mother of three whose house recently burned down due to faulty wiring.

3. Promote your book

This one’s pretty self-explanatory. Once your book is ready to upload, you’re going to need to spread the word. So get to it.

4. Remember that books aren’t sandwiches.

This is an important one when considering your audience and their needs. Keep in mind, sandwiches are just something to provide humans with nourishment and energy. Books are also not washing machines, tiny umbrellas you put in cocktails, nice fleece blankets or 2008 Honda CR-V’s. A person who needs those things doesn’t necessarily need your book. (Books are, however, a well-maintained ceiling fan).

5. Consider marrying into a rich family, or waiting until you make your first million, to start publishing

6. Or, failing that, consider all possible corporate tie-ins

7. Make sure you’re using the subjunctive correctly

8. Enter every contest, even if your book doesn’t fit the topic. Trust me, the National Jewish Writing Society doesn’t want to read any more about the Holocaust.

9. Be the smartest, loudest and preferably tallest member of every writing organization you join.

10. You’re almost there.

So you’ve done everything we’ve said. You did your marketing research and promotion, you’ve created a cover, everything’s formatted, you know who your audience is and you feel success is on it way.

Well, you couldn’t be more right, because the next thing you’re going to do is hit the “Cancel Publishing” button, not upload your book to the platform and ask for a refund if you need to. Because you’ve passed the test and shown Dragon Eagle Publishing you’ve got what it takes to make it in this business.

Send everything to us and we’ll get the contract prepped and ready to sign. Welcome to the Dragon Eagle family, Mr. (or possibly Mrs.) Writer. Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?

 

Editor to the Letter

By Devin Harper

As the chief editor of Dragon Eagle, I’ve got a pretty easy job. Editing is, at its essence, a spirited dialogue between the author and editor. But since most of our authors are dead, I’m left with no choice but to publish their work the way they intended: word-for-word with zero revision or proofreading.

So instead, I’ve decided to devote my time to this monthly column, where I analyze pieces submitted to Dragon Eagle and offer advice on how to improve them. This first example comes from an entry into our short story contest last July. Let’s take a look at the opening paragraph:

John closed his eyes, knowing full well he would walk out of this room, and through the door that led to the outside of said room, the one he was currently in, a changed man. He opened his mouth and sucked in several deep gulps of the nitrogen-oxygen mixture – no breathing through the nose for him. Once his blood was adequately oxygenated, he took a step forward, first by lifting his right foot off the ground, and second by placing it back on the ground several inches ahead of its prior position. This process was repeated with the utmost of mechanical precision. In the gaps between his blinks, John was left to absorb and process the visual data. The carpet was a motley of red, green, brown, yellow, pink and orange and several other colors, but the walls, in sharp contrast, were of a single tan color, and, as he expected, John could not see his reflection in them. His body lurched forward of its own momentum and came to a halt. John, using his lower appendages as a fulcrum, stood there.

Pretty good. There’s a few things, though, I might change to tighten things up. For example, the sentence “He opened his mouth and sucked in several deep gulps of the nitrogen-oxygen mixture” is a little wordy. I might write it like this: “His mouth opened and drew in several deep gulps of the nitrogen-oxygen mixture.”

And I think the author has a slight tendency to use big words where a small one would suffice.  We could turn “Once his blood was adequately oxygenated” into “Once his body was adequately oxygenated.” With those changes, our edited paragraph might look something like this:

John closed his eyes, knowing full well he would walk out of this room, and through the door that led to the outside of the room, the one he was currently in, a different man. His mouth opened and drew in several deep gulps of the nitrogen-oxygen mixture – no breathing through the nose for him. Once his body was adequately oxygenated, he took a step forward, first by lifting his right foot off the ground, and second by placing it back on the ground several inches ahead of its earlier position. This process was repeated with the utmost of mechanical precision. In the gaps in his blinks, John was left to absorb and process the visual data. The carpet was a motley of red, green, brown, yellow, pink and orange and several more colors, but the walls, in sharp contrast, were of a single tan color, and, as he expected, John could not see his reflection in them. His body lurched forward of its own momentum and came to a halt. John, using his lower appendages as a fulcrum, stood there.

Let’s look at another example. This one comes from a blood-stained napkin an anonymous author slid under our office door one evening:

Strength. Beauty. Brutality. Honor. Decorum. Love. The men were out there, bodies heaving, mouths panting, ears listening, finally putting into practice what they’d only seen etched so passionately on chalkboards. For some, the battle inward was more harrowing than the one they were chasing outwardly. It was not just the darkness of defeat, for that they’d been prepared for since birth. No, it was the obliteration of the self that truly haunted them. Perhaps it was the intimacy, to be in such close proximity to the enemy, to look into the eyes of a man who could be your brother and taste his sweat. And in this moment they knew you’d have the cut off the head of sympathy the moment it reared its head.

Again, not bad writing per se, but a little wordy. You get the sense the author’s relying a bit too much on unnecessary jargon. With some minor edits, we’re left with this:

The Detroit Pistons defeat the Chicago Bulls, 107-91.