Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Beta Readers, Editors, and Friends with Opinions

If you have a contract with Megapublishing, Inc., they may take care of everything to do with editors.  For the rest of us, some huge issues lurk around the question of finding readers for your MS.  Issues like: when where what why and how.  I certainly don't know the answers to all of those.  In particular, I haven't figured out how, if you need to hire an editor, you go about finding a good one (other than the usual word of mouth advice; if taking that I'd want to a) know the other author pretty well, and b) check out their work to see if the editor succeeded).  But, as always, I have thoughts and opinions.

When: I'm still experimenting with this.  In the past, I have waited to inflict my work on share stories until I've gone pretty far into the editing process.  I'm trying now to share more as I go--not necessarily with an editor (I'm not ready for that until I finish drafting the story, at least) but with a beta-reader, someone who will mostly just enjoy the story (or not) and maybe pass on a bit of a reaction, let me know if I'm completely out in left field.  Also: if you give a reader part of a story, they may help hold you accountable for writing the rest, so as to find out how it comes out.  This is a good thing.  Later, of course, I need a story editor who can help me sort out where I'm going wrong, and finally a line-editor to catch the last of the typos and small errors.  I'm pretty good at this, but no one is perfect, especially when editing her own work.

Where: Okay, I just put that in because it's part of the litany.  But I could make it an answer about where to find a beta-reader.  I find them at work.  Try the PTA meeting.  Your book group (I at one point managed to get my book group to read my MS and offer critiques.  They were very kind, somewhat helpful--and out of that experience I connected with two other writers to form a writing group that is still the basis of my editing exchange).

What: The "what" changes as you work through the project.  As noted above, you might want someone to kind of do a reality check early on, and let you know if you should continue or rethink.  Later, you need the various forms of editing on the finished draft.

Why: If you have to ask this, you probably should keep your day job.  Seriously.

How: This one's the killer for us Indie folks.  We don't expect to make a lot of money from our books, so shelling out the big bucks for a pro editor doesn't seem very feasible.  So here's my take on it: while a pro is probably best, any reasonably competent editor is better than none.  So you find a grad student in the creative writing program or a wanna-be English teacher, and work out a deal.  Maybe they aren't perfect.  But they will, if at all competent, be able to tell you where your story stops making sense, and when you've changed point of view three times in a single paragraph.  Join a writer's group and let them critique the work.  And finally, your proofreader could be anyone who is really good at spelling and details.  Actually, it's not so much about spelling (your spell check will tell you it's "weird" not "wierd") but about knowing the homophones, having a good vocabulary they can gently point out that you meant "ablution" not "ambulation" or that most likely in 1873 they didn't use the expression "put the pedal to the metal."  Ask your Mom or that cousin who always sends back your email with corrections.

Oops, I think my "how" drifted back to "what."  Where's an editor when I need one?


  1. I've not used a beta reader yet, but I've been one for several others and am always delighted to offer my thoughts, for whatever they're worth.

    1. I didn't realize it at the time, but of course that's what my library buddies were, the ones who read each new Ninja Librarian story as I finished it!

  2. Mmm... my beta readers were probably my web followers and fellow guinea pig lovers, since all of mine have been posted chapter by chapter on line so far (and then come off again at publishing). They tend not to be as critical as I am though.

    I've been lucky to find an amazing editor lurking among my friends, but so far she hasnt crossed out great splurges of paragraphs saying "No, no, irrelevant, stick to the story!" Only the odd line or seven.

    If you go to Smashwords, though, Mark Coker compiles a list of people who do editing and other services at reasonable rates for indies. As in not rip off. With guidance on how to spot rip-off merchants. And I think there's a beta-reader exchange forum at World Literary Cafe.

    Nice post, Rebecca!

    Jemima at Jemima's blog

  3. Great info, Jemima! I'm like you--I have a friend that is really quite good (and she has been known to gently suggest that a whole chapter isn't quite working).

    By chance, Melanonce at Ink Out Loud blogged today with some suggestions about how to edit or comment on someone's work. Only part I don't agree with is the bit about suggesting how to fix problems. I'm with the school that says the editor point out the problem and the writer fixes it.

  4. Blast. I can't seem to add a link in these comments.

    At least this way I hope it's legible.


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