Beta Readers, Critique Partners, Editors, Proofreaders, ARCs and Alphas
Welcome, authors, to another week of Jess’ literary ramblings. Last month’s post marked the end of my Market Entry for Authors blog series. Each post covered a few basic tips for approaching the author’s platform with a business mindset. This month’s post isn’t a part of that series, but I’d like you to keep that mindset while you’re reading. Writing is a passion, a joy, and, at times, torture. It’s not the kind of thing you do unless you love it. For authors trying to make a career out of what many consider a hobby, it’s hard to keep the business end of the deal in perspective because you’re working ahead of a paycheck. For many authors, the whole process feels personal. That’s exactly as it should be, but you have to be both the person and the professional after the writing’s done. Keep that in mind as you read on about the different levels of critique.
Q: What’s the difference between a beta reader and a critique partner?
In a word: expectations. It’s okay if your beta readers aren’t writers. At this stage, you’re gathering feedback. Don’t do anything with it yet. You’re not getting your front end aligned. You’re asking a mechanic to have a peek at your car because it pulls a bit to the left. But you’re on a budget, so you need to get a quote and take some time to think about your options. A beta reader’s first priority is to offer you insight into possible reader reaction. Understand that reading is an incredibly subjective activity. Something one reader loves may be something another reader hates. At this first stage in the feedback process, you learn something crucial to your book’s success: its target audience.
The difference between beta readers and critique partners is that you expect more from the latter. A critique partner isn’t there to tell you what they do or don’t like, although that’s certainly a part of the bargain for most. Their main priority is to identify specifically why something does or does not work. If you have a huge continuity issue you’ve overlooked, you can expect a critique partner to spot it and point it out. This is incredibly helpful to find and fix before you send your work to an editor. So at this stage, you’re gathering feedback and, depending on how big the bed bugs are, revising/rewriting your story. Crit partners may also offer specific advice on how to potentially correct errors, but that isn’t something you should expect. That’s a job for an editor, or for a crit partner who goes above and beyond for you.
A: From a beta reader, you can expect reader reactions. From a crit partner, constructive criticism.
Q: When is your book ready for an editor?
After you’ve sent your book to beta readers and critique partners (which can be done simultaneously) and received feedback, you should take some time to read all of the critiques and let the information settle. You may get some ideas with regard to specific points; make a note of them in a seperate document but don’t make any changes yet. Give yourself a few days to let your emotions calm, whether you’re tremendously excited to get started or scared that once you put it down you won’t pick it back up. Take out a calendar and set a date to come back to your manuscript and feedback. On that date, send your professional self to the meeting. Leave your personal self at home with a hot bath, a bottle of wine, and a good book.
Address the big issues first. This isn’t the first time I’ve said it, but it bears repeating. If you go through and make all the minor changes your feedback suggests, then rewrite an entire scene, you’re doing double duty. Many authors write and edit in what little time they can carve for themselves. You don’t have time to do the same task twice. Look at your feedback and open a new document or grab pen and paper (the latter works best for me because it forces me to slow down and really think about what I’m writing). Make a list of “big” items that will require the most work and, therefore, the most time to complete. Start on those big-picture edits if you have time after making your list. If not, get your calendar out again and set a date. If you’re stuck on a major point and getting frustrated because you’re not making progress, put a pin in it. Many folks will argue this point, but I’m going to say it anyway: it’s okay to leave a problem as it is when you send your work to an editor. You want a copy as clean as you can possibly get it. Sometimes, though, you need the help of a professional to guide you when a solution simply isn’t clear. When you’ve done all you can with the feedback you’ve received, then you’re almost ready to send your book to an editor. Walk away from your manuscript for at least a week after you’ve finished editing/revising/rewriting, then make one final pass to proofread your work, preferably in a format you haven’t yet seen it in (on your eReader, printed, or read it aloud).
A: After you’ve received and incorporated feedback and gotten your manuscript as clean as you can get it, send it to an editor.
Q: Do you need a proofreader even after you’ve hired an editor?
The short answer is yes. And no. You’ve had beta readers and critique partners and you’ve read this thing until your eyes have bled. After that, you’ve sent it to an editor for another two or three (or more) rounds of editing and repeated the process until, frankly, you’re sick of looking at the d*** thing. The title makes you cringe. You would think that, after so many passes, there couldn’t possibly be any typos left. That could very well be the case, but you and your editor have both gotten closer to the work. The professional and the personal sides of you have merged. This book isn’t your product anymore, it’s your baby. And you’re sure it’s perfect. Again, it may be. So who reads it next? Will it pass one more inspection or go straight into the hands of a paying reader?
Really, it’s up to you. Plenty of authors don’t hire a separate proofreader. I recommend it because that one additional pass doesn’t take much work on your end to approve/reject the proofer’s suggestions, and that one last pass can mean the difference between a 4 star review and a 5 star review. The decision, more often than not, comes down to cost. After you’ve spent a month’s worth of pay, more or less, on editing and possibly on creating a cover, you may find yourself leaning toward, “Nah, I don’t really need a proofreader.” That’s the voice known as Good Enough. He means well, but his older brother Highest Expectations wins the race every time. Hiring a proofreader can mean the difference between 98% accuracy and 100%. It can also mean the difference between 96% (noticeable to most readers) and 99%. Or any variation, really.
A: Hiring a proofreader is also a matter of expectations. Do you want readers to expect the highest level of quality from you? A proofreader can help ensure you meet those expectations.
Q: How do you know you’ve done all you can and your book is ready to publish?
After you’ve incorporated your editor’s feedback and you’ve got a solid copy in your hands (or on your hard drive), you’re ready to build your Advanced Reader Copy. This can be something as simple as a .docx file titled Book Title ARC by Author McWriterson. Some readers will prefer their copy in a MOBI, ePub, PDF, or other format. Calibre is a great, free tool that can help you convert to each file type. Be clear what you’re offering when you approach possible advanced readers and, if you are hiring a proofreader, make sure you let your ARC readers know that any minor issues will be addressed in the final stages of editing.
From these advanced readers, you’re not asking for feedback for yourself. Ideally, you’re approaching reviewers and book bloggers, asking them to post their reviews when your book launches. Why?
A: Because your book is ready to publish.
Now all you need is a marketing plan. So send your book out for a final proofread, send out your ARCs, and get to work on marketing asap!At this stage, if you’re able to offer a pre-order, it’s a great time to set that up (PS. this is a service Kate offers). Make sure you read each vendor’s guides very carefully, paying special attention to timelines. Amazon, for example, requires the FINAL copy of the book to be uploaded no fewer than ten days before its release. You can upload a “dummy” copy (or your ARC) before then, but as d-day approaches, you HAVE to have the final copy uploaded. You can not touch it again. Do give yourself time to go over the proofreader’s corrections (if you’ve hired one), and time to format your ebook. You may also hire a professional to do that part, as it is tedious work and you should be marketing right now. But in between editor and proofreader, while you’re sending out ARCs and making marketing plans, you can set up your “dummy” copy for preorder (I can not stress this enough, give yourself time to proof and format and market) and click Publish.
One last thing before you go: I didn’t touch on the “A” in Book Critique ABCEs because there is no A. However, I’m of the opinion there should be an A. Alpha readers are those special few who you can talk to about your ideas. They are those closest to you whose eyes light up when you tell them about the next greatest thing you’re thinking of putting together. They are your alpha “readers.” When you get an idea for your next book (if you can handle criticism at an early stage), ask your friend if you can run it by them.
And those are the ABCEs of book critique. Until next time, write on!