The art of editing – Other editing services – 6 of 7

When reading I pretend I’m an editor, though when writing I realize that I am not – Fierce Dolan

Last week I talked about what you should expect from professional editorial services and how they can help you. This week I’m going to look at two other ways in which you can get feedback and advice, specifically working with beta-readers and reviewers, and what a great source of help they can be to you when editing and finalising your novel.

So, what is a beta reader? Basically, a beta reader is someone who gives you feedback on your manuscript before you publish it. They come fresh to what you’ve written and let you see it through the eyes of a reader. When you work with beta readers for the first time you’ll probably only involve them once you have a complete draft you want feedback on, but once you have worked with them for a while you may choose to let them see very early drafts.

How many you work with is entirely up to you. Some people work with just one which allows for much faster feedback and the development of a very close working relationship. Others use many so that each reader can play to their individual strengths in terms of feedback.

What is important is to make sure that both you and they understand what is expected. Tell your beta readers exactly what you are looking to get in terms of feedback and how detailed you want them to be. Let them know if there are particular scenes or characters that you want them to concentrate on. Any specific plot points that you want them to look at. And it’s always sensible to give a deadline.

One thing you must remember is that beta readers, like proofreaders, are not editors. They are acting in the role of readers, and doing it for free, because they love books and want to help in the process of getting them published. Be open to what they have to say and appreciate the time they are willing to put in to making your story even better.

If you get similar feedback from a number of them about aspects of the plot then you probably have something that should be addressed. If you are unsure whether something in your manuscript is working, it is invaluable to get impartial feedback. That said, as I discussed last week in terms of editorial feedback, you don’t have to make the changes that a beta reader might suggest. Do bear in mind though that if you take no notice of anything that your betas say they are unlikely to be willing to work with you too many times. It’s important to find a team, or the one, that works for you and develop a good working relationship.

So, what about reviewers? Reviewers help you later in the process than betas and editors. They are another set of readers, but this time they are looking at pretty much the final product. Again, what you get from them is impartial feedback but this time you want them to share their thoughts with the world as part of your marketing process. In the modern book marketplace, reviews are often the major way in which you can make your mark and differentiate yourself to potential readers. Reviewers really are a godsend.

All authors hope for good reviews but the one thing you must never do is try to suppress a bad one. If you go out and ask people for reviews to coincide with publication, then you live with what the people who offer to do it say. There is a good chance that they’ll have agreed to review your work, again unpaid and on their own time, because they like the genre that you are writing in. Then it’s down to you to give them a good experience so that they want to give the world a positive recommendation.

I definitely wouldn’t recommend it, but if you are self-publishing and choose to skip the beta reading and editing stages, reviews are your last chance to be advised of major issues with the story before you go public. They give you a very limited window of opportunity to at least address things such as formatting or spelling errors. Fairly obviously, this way of working is much more likely to lead to poor reviews.

One final suggestion. Don’t use family or friends as either betas or reviewers. Social media comes in to its own when you are looking for people to work with who have the skill and/or reading passion to really help you. Remember, you need unbiased and honest feedback. Jason Epstein put it well – “Editors and their authors seldom form deep friendships for the same reason that psychiatrists and their patients keep their distance: The relationship requires candor that mixes poorly with intimacy”.

Next week, I’m going to suggest some concrete editing steps you should take, including giving some examples of words and writing ‘tics’ to look out for. I also want to suggest ways that you can build a process into your writing and editing to help save you time and effort.

To your book’s success!

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