Polishing Your Manuscript, Post One: Get a Beta Reader
Morning, Angels! I’ve decided to start a new series of posts about one of the most grueling, sanity trying, beautiful, wonderful things in my life – being a self-pulished indie author. lol I won’t be using this as an opportunity to rant about my woes, or brag about successes, because let’s face it, while it would probably make me feel better, it’s not very productive. Besides, that’s what my friends’ ears are for. 🙂 What I WILL be focusing on is what I’ve learned after publishing six novels (with many more in the works), thus helping my fellow indies out (hopefully).
The idea of beginning this new series of posts came to me because I’ve started accepting novels for review, and as I’ve waded through them, I see so many things I wish I had the time to help other authors with, but don’t, unfortunately. Everything from cover designs to summaries to author bios to prose and even email etiquette. So instead of trying to help each of them one on one, I figured weekly posts (that you can subscribe to on the right side of my page) would be more realistic for me, and I’ll leave these posts up on my website indefinitely. I want to say, though, that while I know (believe me, I know) I’m not the authority on such things, or even an expert, having been through the process many times already, I have a pretty good sense of what works, what doesn’t, and where your oh-so-precious money is best spent.
Long story short, I like helping others, especially budding indies. I also know how daunting it is to have so many decisions ahead of you, down to the title of your book and how in the world you’re going to get your work in front of readers in a saturated market. It’s scary. It’s exciting, and most of all, it’s AMAZING that you’re willing to bear your heart and soul and are brave enough to try and do it all on your own. *stands and claps*
That being said, a couple times a month I’ll post helpful tips about each stage of the self-publishing journey, and hopefully you’ll take something away from each of them that will help your work shine a little brighter.
Today’s nugget of semi-wisdom?
Let me start by saying, please, PLEASE, my self-pubbing little angels, if you get anything right, please let it be the quality of your manuscript. Please! I can’t tell you how many MS’s I’ve passed over for review simply because of typos or a lackluster beginning. Because, after all, you could have a killer cover and a dynamite summary, but when a reader goes to sample your writing and it’s just eh, chances are, they’ll pass. And when potential readers pass, that’s no bueno.
That brings me to the first subject I’d like to cover when polishing your MS: GET YOURSELF A BETA READER. Or two or three or five.
So you’ve finished your story. Check. Read and reread a dozen times. Check. Put the manuscript away for while, then read and reread a dozen times more. Check check. So you MUST be ready to hit the “publish” button on Amazon and Smashwords, right?
You might think you’re done with your MS, but there’s oh so much work left to do. Writing a book is one thing, having it fit for public consumption is quite another.
But… but I’ve waited so long already and I just want to get it out there for others to read!!!
Patience, my lovelies. The extra effort will pay off. How do I know this? Because I released a book too soon, started soliciting for reviews, and guess what? Reviewers kept dinging me for things a beta reader and an editor would have caught. So much so, that it started showing up as a “similar comment” on Amazon. Yeesh. That hindsight can be a b*tch, can’t she? lol So lesson learned. Learn from me – get you some beta readers. They’ll catch your inconsistencies. Tell you where they started nodding off. Let you know if your beginning needs more work or if your ending didn’t satisfy. Anything you need feedback on, really. I wouldn’t rely on them for grammar and punctuation errors (I’ll cover finding an editor in another post), but sometimes they’ll point out glaring ones if they feel so inclined.
So where can you find one of these lovely beta readers, you ask? A couple places.
Friends and family. Two of my friends beta read for me, but they already like to read and have no problem telling me the truth (important qualities in a beta reader, obviously). So make sure if you approach someone you know with the request to read and critique your work, make it clear you want them to be honest and point out things they like and didn’t like. You’re not looking for someone to tell you it’s the most amazing thing they’ve ever read and that it’s absolutely perfect. Though we all secretly want to hear that, it’s not helpful.
Strangers. No, I’m not suggesting you run around your local Barnes and Noble and shove your MS in people’s faces until one of them agrees to give you feedback. I have no intention of getting any of you arrested. lol What I am suggesting is that you consider finding a writing group where you live, though I’m too dang busy to even consider it myself at the moment, but I know several writers who have and swear by them.
On the internet. Beta reading groups on Goodreads is another fantastic place. I found a fellow writer on there and we critique each other’s work. Finding her has been priceless for my writing!!! I’ve heard World Literary Cafe is a good place to go, as well, though I’ve never tried looking there myself.
In conclusion, whether you ask friends, family, find someone on the internet or in a writing group to critique your work, just make sure you find a handful of people to give you feedback. Two at the very least. And when you do, make sure you let them know what feedback you’re looking for; and again, make sure they know you’re looking for absolute honesty. How else will your work get any better?
On the flip side, while their opinions are helpful, please remember that YOU have the ultimate say on what changes with your manuscript. I’ve also seen writers get overwhelmed with all the feedback and don’t know what to do. I’ll tell you what I told them: always trust your gut. If you feel like the suggested changes better your work, then do it. If you don’t, it’s okay to silently disagree and keep something as is. What you’re ultimately looking for with a beta reader is a different perspective; sometimes you’ll agree, sometimes you won’t. And all of that is okay.
Did you find this post helpful? Share it with friends and fellow authors by clicking on one of the social media buttons below (hit the “share” button first if you’re viewing this via mobile). And don’t forget to comment if you have something to add or want to share your experiences on this topic!!! I’d love to hear from you.