Beta Reading and Editing – two parts of publishing process
by Connie J Jasperson
Indies rely heavily on what we refer to as beta readers to help shape their work and make it ready for editing. But in many forums, I've seen authors use the term interchangeably with editing, and the two are completely different.
As a reader/reviewer, I see many indie-published works that are difficult to read. They are often published by authors who don't realize the importance of working with an editor, although it is apparent that they have had assistance from beta-readers.
What is quite disappointing to me, is the many traditionally published works that seem to fall into the same lack-of-good-editing category, and I am at a loss as to why this is so.
So what is the difference between a beta reader and an editor?
Well, there is a HUGE difference.
Beta Reading is done by a reader and usually happens at the end of an early draft. Beta reading is meant to give the author a general view of the overall strengths and weaknesses of his story. One hopes the reader is a person who reads and enjoys the genre that the book represents.
The beta reader must ask himself:
This phase of the process should be done before you submit the manuscript to an editor, so that those areas of concern will be straightened out first.
Editors and other authors usually make terrible beta readers, because it is their nature to dismantle the manuscript and tell you how to fix it. That is not what you want at that early point. What you need is an idea of whether you are on the right track or not with your plot structure and your characters, and whether or not your story resonates with the reader.
Editing is a process, one where the editor goes over the manuscript line-by line, pointing out areas that need attention: awkward phrasings, grammatical errors, missing quote-marks or a myriad of things that make the manuscript unreadable. Sometimes, major structural issues will need to be addressed. It may take more than one trip through to straighten out all the kinks.
In scholastic writing, editing involves looking at each sentence carefully, and making sure that it's well designed and serves its purpose. In editing for scholastic purposes, every instance of grammatical dysfunction must be resolved as both grammar and rigid adherence to the program’s style guidelines supersede personal style for the purposes of getting your thesis accepted and obtaining that degree.
Editing for fiction involves structure, grammar, acceptance of a writer’s style, and corrects instances of lazy writing habits. The writer and editor work together to improve a draft by correcting errors and by making words and sentences clearer, more precise, and more effective. Weak sentences are made stronger, nonessential information is weeded out, and important points are clarified, while strict attention is paid to the overall story arc.
Do your self a favor and try to find a reader who is not an author to be a first reader for you. Then hire a local, well-recommended editor that you can work with to guide you in making your manuscript readable, and enjoyable.
If you notice a few flaws in your ms but think no one else will notice, you're wrong. Readers always notice the things that stop their eye.
In my own work I have discovered that if a passage seems flawed but I can't identify what is wrong with it, my eye wants to skip it. But another person will see the flaw, and they will show me what is wrong there.
That tendency to see our own work as it should be and not how it is, is why we need editors.
Nothing improves your writing chops more than writing every day. Deadlines can be daunting but say what you will about not being able to write under pressure—I think that is when I do my best work.
Blogging regularly offers me that mix of self-imposed deadlines combined with the opportunity to riff on my favorite subject—the craft of writing. Much of what I have learned over the past four years has come about through researching topics for my blog.
I wasn’t always an Indie. In 2011, I signed up for a free WordPress blog under duress. My former publisher (Lord Voldemort) forced me to. He swore it would help get my name out there, and give me a regular platform for my opinions. That blog is long gone, and those posts were pathetic attempts to write about current affairs as a journalist, which is something that has never interested me.
And, although I hate to say it because we parted ways rather messily, (Lord Voldemort) was right about blogging. But, it wasn’t until I stopped trying fit into the mold he had designed for me and began writing about my interests that I learned to love the craft of blogging. That is also when I began to grow as a writer because I have to work hard to proofread my own work and then publish it. If I am not vigilant, it posts with “warts and all.”
I don’t like warts in my work.
Blogging has made me a “thinking” author, as well as a “pantser.” I can write using the “stream of consciousness” method, or I can write it several days in advance by putting together a quick outline about whatever is interesting me at the time. I just do the research, and the post begins to write itself.
I have made many friends through blogging, people all over the world who I may never meet in person, but who I am fond of, nevertheless. My author blog is where I develop seminars on the craft of writing. I find that talking about my obsession helps me organize my thoughts.
But it only works if you are passionate about what you are discussing.
Real life regularly intrudes on my writing life, so I also write about the difficulties of traveling while vegan, the challenges of having two children with epilepsy, the dysfunctionality of growing up with a father suffering battle-related PTSD.… you get the picture. Whatever I am thinking about, I post a short piece on it.
Having a blog on your website and updating it at least twice a month is a good way to connect with your readers on a human level. Fans will enjoy hearing what your writing goals are, and want to know where you will be signing books. Also, they love to know what you are reading.
I do recommend publishing short pieces—flash fiction. Little off-the-cuff pieces of less than a thousand words are fun to write and often find their way into your larger work, as they are a great way to brainstorm ideas. At the bottom of each flash-fiction piece, I post a disclaimer that it is copyrighted, such as:
Once I realized that I could talk about whatever I wanted, Life in the Realm of Fantasy was born. My first posts stunk like last week’s garbage, but they were a beginning. With every post I wrote, I felt a sense of accomplishment, and the next post was better.
Now I spend Sundays putting my blog posts together and look forward to the time I spend here, exploring the craft of writing.
Life in the Realm of Fantasy has evolved over the years because I have changed and matured as an author. Four years ago I would never have felt comfortable publishing my poetry. Now, I regularly post short works and poems on Fridays, some bad and some worse—but all them exercises in creative writing.
At first, it took courage to lay my work out there because letting people see my work unedited by my editors made me feel like I was a teenager all over again, getting ready for the prom and hating my hair. I feared the flaws I saw in it.
Now I feel more like I am sharing it with my friends, and I feel good about it.
To repeat myself ad nauseum: If you really want to grow as an author, you must write. If you want your name out there on the internet as an author, you must blog.
If you are wondering how to get started, please check out my post, #amwriting: Blogging is writing too. There, you can find detailed, step by step instructions for getting a free blog, and getting started on either WordPress or Blogger. I blog regularly on both platforms, and they are not too hard once you learn the ropes.