Okay, so maybe it only takes an author to write a book, but it certainly takes a community of beta readers and editors to make a book publishable. A small percentage of authors say they can self-edit and publish a book without any input, but that is a very small percent. Most authors rely on writing communities, beta readers, and editors in order to craft a flawless novel. Though writing is largely a solitary pursuit, once the first draft is finished, it’s important to reach out to others.
I rely heavily on beta readers. Without my betas, I’d be completely lost. With each beta, I look for something a little different. Some are great at finding plot holes, while others critique from an emotional perspective. Are the characters likable? Dialogue realistic? Are all the loose ends tied up by the end of the book? With my YA series, it’s especially critical to have beta readers. They can pick up on inconsistencies and continuity problems I miss.
Beta readers come in all shapes and sizes, and I’d recommend finding at least one who will be brutally harsh with you. If all your betas are related to you by blood or marriage, it’s unlikely you’ve found a good mix of betas. I think it’s essential to have a sister or cousin in your cheering section to boost your self-esteem and tell you how proud they are of your endeavors, but it’s equally important to find someone who will be brutally honest. While your sister might lift up your spirits when the going gets tough, your harsh beta reader is the one who’ll really hone that manuscript. And, since opinions may vary, I recommend getting more than one harsh beta. The more the merrier, in my opinion.
What’s the difference between a beta reader and an editor? Your beta is focusing on the story–characters, plot, overall enjoyment. An editor focuses on the construction of the manuscript–grammar, repetitive words, spelling. You might get some crossover. I have a couple of betas who will do some light editing by pointing out obvious errors, but what I really want from my betas is their overall impression of the story. What worked? What didn’t?
Once you’ve hammered out your story, you’ll want to work with an editor, especially if you’re self-publishing. There are different types of editing, some more involved than others. A substantive editor will work with you to develop the story, but this is generally a very expensive service. Your best bet is to swap critiques with a few good betas so by the time you get to the editing stage, you’re just looking at proofreading services.
Here’s a list of helpful sites if you’re looking for a beta reader, critique partner, or some writerly folks to chat with:
It probably seems like I spend a huge amount of time beating up on small publishers. And, I do, but only because I want authors to know the difference between a reputable small publisher and an inexperienced one that will drag your career into the abyss. Today, I’d like to focus on the benefits of signing with an independent publisher.
The Benefits of Indie Publishers
Editing: Self-published authors must secure the services of an experienced editor, and this isn’t cheap. If you choose to sign with a publisher, editing and proofreading services are provided free of charge. Most publishers will go through multiple rounds of editing with an eye toward making your book as marketable as possible. After all, they have a vested interest in making your book a bestseller.
Formatting: If you’re one of those writers who really hates the technical aspects of the business, working with an indie publisher might be a huge benefit for you. You don’t have to worry about converting your manuscript into Kindle and Nook files, or setting it up for paperback, or making sure you give the cover artist the right dimensions. Some authors think formatting is a breeze; others don’t have the time or inclination to mess with it. Yes, you can hire a formatting specialist to do this for you if you still want to self-publish. But, if formatting isn’t your only hold-up, read on…
Distribution: Anyone can get their book on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords. Anyone can make your book available via Baker & Taylor or Ingram. You can do this yourself through CreateSpace. But, if your small publisher is willing to beat the pavement (or make phone calls) to get your book on local bookshelves, this is definitely an advantage. Book stores get calls from self-published authors every day, but when a publisher calls, they’re more apt to listen. Perhaps this isn’t fair, but this is often the case.
Marketing: Let’s face it–all authors must spend some time marketing our books. If you’re self-published or your publisher doesn’t provide any marketing support, marketing can be a huge time sucker. And, it can get costly as well. If you’ve never published a book, you’ll be shocked (not in a good way) at how much time you’ll spend marketing once your book is released. It seriously cuts into your writing time. But, if your publisher promises to promote your book (and this promise is either contractual or you can verify their claims by checking with other authors), then you have stumbled on pure gold, my friend. Some small presses give their new authors a list of reviewers. Some pay for blog tours. Some will set up book signings and pay for your participation in book fairs. Find out if your publisher will send out press releases or at the very least, maintain social media sites to help showcase your work. Every Tweet helps. Every Facebook post helps. The more your publisher does to market your book, the more time you have to write, and this is a win-win for both you AND your publisher.
One-stop-shop: If you’re an author who works a full-time job, coaches your son’s football team, leads a Boy Scout troop, works at a soup kitchen every weekend, etc, etc… you might not have time to format, market, and shop for a cover artist. Your publisher will still need your input, but the publishing process is much more streamlined. And, when you can trust your publisher to handle the details, there’s a slimmer chance things will fall through the cracks. Many authors choose to work with a small publisher because they simply do not have the time to publish AND write. Having someone else coordinate all the little things necessary to bring your book to life is a definite benefit–and a load off your shoulders.
Upfront Costs: This was my biggest reason for signing with a small publisher on my YA series. Not only was I frightened by formatting and clueless about the industry, I was broke. I didn’t have the money to outsource formatting, or to hire an editor, or to commission a cover artist. The idea of letting someone else bear the brunt of the upfront costs was very appealing.
Legitimacy: When searching for reviewers, I’ve found several sites who refuse to review self-published books. There is a still a stigma to self-publishing. Since anyone can publish, there are lots of poorly produced books out there that drag the rest of us self-publishers down. It isn’t fair, but it’s the way things are. Having a publisher’s name on a book does not guarantee quality, but we aren’t always dealing with reality–we’re dealing with the perception of others. While most readers won’t look to see who published your books, some reviewers will. And it isn’t just reviewers. Like I mentioned before, book shops might be more willing to listen to a publisher’s pitch. Book fairs, trade shows, multi-author signings… a publisher might be able to open some doors that are otherwise closed to self-published authors.
Community: There are some (not all) independent publishers out there who try to foster a close relationship between their authors. This, of course, is a huge advantage to the publisher who knows if their authors are happy and committed to each other, they’ll be more committed to the company and less likely to query elsewhere with future books. This is also a huge advantage to the newbie author who benefits from the guidance and encouragement from other authors who have been in their shoes. They swap tips, advice, pictures of their pets–they form close and enduring friendships. If you’ve spent the past two years locked away in your apartment working on your book, finding an instant author family might be a huge benefit for you.
If you’ve decided to seek out a small press, please search carefully. Every publisher is different. Not all will offer marketing assistance or a sense of community with other authors. Not all small presses will produce a quality product. You still have to do your homework. But, remember there are good small presses out there. Ask other authors. Research. Trust your intuition. And, most importantly, make the best decision for YOU.
Did I forget anything? Do you have anything you’d like to add or experiences you’d like to share? I’d love to hear from you… please leave a comment!