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

10 Big Mistakes New Authors Make

by Truitt Collyns

hunt-and-peck-2

1. Limiting your marketing venues

With the rise of digital platforms most new authors know to take advantage of online social media marketing (Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Breitbart), but most stop there. And in doing so, you prevent yourself from reaching so many key demographics: the elderly, Luddites, obese people with fingers too fat to type, the poor, convicts without access to electronics, people who never really considered owning a phone or computer, or even those who prefer spending time outdoors. But fortunately, there’s many other marketing avenues available even to the most inexperienced authors that will give your work the necessary exposure. Try, for example, taking a printed copy of your book to your local library and reading it loudly in a crowded area. If it’s a comedy, make sure to laugh boisterously at your own jokes, and if it’s horror, scream during the most intense sections. If time is not a factor for you, consider transcribing your first few chapters in chalk on the sidewalk, preferably in your town’s highest foot traffic areas. And if money is not a factor, skywriting is another option.

2. Writing for fun

Simply put, writing is a job, no different than being a doctor, plumber or general secretary of the United Nations. And just like those jobs, it’s a soul-crushing, mind-numbing endeavor that will make you question the purpose of your existence daily. And although if you have the talent and put in the hard work it’s likely to pay more than any of those jobs, it’s still not something anyone would consider fun. So if you’re going to quit your day job to write full time, make sure you’re doing it for the money and fame and not because you think it’ll be easier and more relaxing than teaching autistic children how to read.

3. Getting a professional book cover

You’ve all heard the maxim “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” It’s one of the first things they teach you in school. That’s right: Even little children know that you’ve got to look inside a book to know if it’s worth reading. Yet new authors will pay hundreds of dollars to graphic artists to design a book cover, when that money could be spent on more important things, like food stamps, alimony or insulin.

4. Forgetting to cultivate your image

Just like musicians and actors, authors aren’t really selling their books – they’re selling themselves. Experts say that after the title and the first chapter, the most important part of your book is the author photo. Readers want to relate to the people telling them stories. Do you think Stephen King would be nearly as popular as he is if he didn’t inspire people by showing them that even hideously ugly people could attain fame and fortune? And what’s more likely: that people like Dan Brown for his sharp blazer/sweater combos, or for his writing? And JK Rowling showed millions around the world that you could be a successful author and a woman.

5. Disregarding the competition

Most new authors feel their work can succeed on its own merits. They tell themselves that so long as my story is well-written and people can relate to it, I’ll have done my job. But real authors know how cutthroat this industry is. To get ahead, you’ve got to be willing to go on the offense. Let’s say I’m a prospective buyer and I’m looking for a new sci-fi adventure story. Am I just going to pick a book at random? More likely, I’ll choose work by an author who doesn’t support ISIS, or whose writing doesn’t “suck a bag of dongs.” People forget Robert Ludlum rose to prominence after publicly decrying Tom Clancy’s use of “underage orphan ghost writers.”

6. Forgetting to tell your publisher to get an IBSN

7. Putting page numbers in the middle of pages instead of at the bottom

8. Not paying tribute to any of the myriad satanic secret societies to which so many agents and editors at New York publishing houses belong

9. Using the “hunt and peck” method of typing.

10. Forgetting that agents and publicists are open to bribes, blackmail and extortion. 

Six Huge Changes Coming to the Publishing Industry in the Next Decade

by Qate Blanjett

book publishing

By the year 2028, scientists project more than half of the earth will be populated by people. Global warming will have escalated to the extent that the five largest corporations will be air conditioning manufacturers. The largest city on the planet will be Tokyo and the largest country will be Africa.

Taking into account current financial, academic and social trends, experts project the publishing industry is likely to see the following turbulent changes to its present platform.

1) Free book rental

Due to increasing unemployment in the Western world, millions will have a surplus of spare time but diminishing disposable income in comparison to previous eras. To resolve this problem, many governments will start subsidizing the publishing industry by purchasing large amounts of books, which will be stored at local facilities for open to the public. Readers can go to these places to not only peruse new and old titles, but also to rent books completely free of charge, provided they are returned within a predesignated period of time.

2) Mental link between authors and readers

In the next few years, we’re likely to see companies offer titles that can be downloaded directly to artificial memory chips already installed in a reader’s cerebral cortex, but by 2028, we’ll go a step further. Readers will simply visit their favorite author’s website and for a nominal fee, will be able to “mind-link” with the author and have the latest installment of their favorite saga telepathically transmitted to them. This will also benefit authors by saving countless hours of typing time.

3) The return of papyrus handscrolls

As we’ve seen in the past decade, despite the convenience and availability of emerging high-tech formats, many readers still prefer traditional forms of media. Therefore, we’re likely to see a 1400 percent increase in the amount of handscrolls sold, and the big publishing houses will devote at least 30 to 50 percent of their workforce to transcribing the latest best sellers on these scrolls.

4) Poorly written books will no longer be profitable

Places like Harvard and MIT are already at work on an algorithm that can tell whether a book is good or not. No longer will popularity and acclaim be subject to the whims of the literary critic or the Amazon reviewer. This algorithm will provide every single piece of literature in existence with an unbiased “value score” determining its literary merit. New novels – by debut self-published authors and firmly-established giants alike – that fail to reach a certain threshold will be removed from bookstores and likely deleted from existence.

5) Harper-Collins will buy a five percent stake in Penguin Random House

This will happen on July 18th, 2023.

6) Publisher and author dynamic likely to change

It’s very likely that, due to increase market pressure and a rise in the number of potential clients, established authors will be pressured heavily by publishers to produce work in a timely manner. In one possible scenario, a representative of the publishing company will inject a load of small nanobots into the author carrying a payload of strychnine in polymer sacs that, should she fail to meet a deadline, will be torn and released into the bloodstream causing instant paralysis and death.