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The self-publishing industry is booming, and if you’re a self-published author, so is the competition. Having your book professionally edited is an essential step in getting your story to stand out from the crowd. But who knew that editing services were such a pricey proposition?
Janell E. Robisch, a professional editor with over two decades of experience, will show you how to save money on professional editing by
I often encourage my clients and other writers to get feedback from alpha readers, beta readers, and/or critique partners or groups to improve their writing.
Unfortunately, this is not a perfect science, and even editors can disagree on whether this feedback is useful or not. Like reading “news” on the internet, as writers, we have to learn what feedback is useful and what is garbage.
If you can learn to wade through the good, the bad, and the ugly, getting feedback from readers and critique partners can be invaluable.
In this post, I give you some tips on how to deal with feedback in a way that will not only improve your current writing project but also help you to grow as a writer.
Tips for All Feedback
Having multiple readers can be especially useful for learning whether a certain piece of feedback will really help improve your work in progress. All readers are subjective, but how can we determine which comments and critiques are worth our attention?
A rule of thumb is to always pay attention when several readers give you the same feedback. For example, if three different readers tell you that a certain paragraph or scene is awkward, make sure to go over it until you can pinpoint the problem and smooth it out. If possible, ask those readers for specifics to find out where they stumbled over the text.
You can also use this rule for positive feedback. Mark sections to “leave alone” if several readers have lauded a certain sentence or paragraph.
When only one reader points out a problem, however, as the writer, you must be the judge. Look at the text carefully and see if you agree with the reader.
If it’s something as simple as a typo or misspelling, that’s an easy call.
If it’s something more broad like “I think you should kill off this character,” then you have a judgment call to make. Is it something that works for you? Do you think following this advice would improve the story as a whole or just cause other problems?
Never make a change just because one reader said so. On the other hand, never avoid making changes just because they are inconvenient. Really evaluate the feedback and then decide whether your reader’s suggestion would make your story better.
Tips for Conflicting Feedback
Conflicting feedback can be especially confusing, especially to a new writer. If half of your readers tell you one thing and half tell you exactly the opposite, what are you supposed to do?
First, try to distill exactly what element of writing your readers are having issues with. Take some time to either learn about or clarify that issue and see whether there are any resources you can find that the deal with it. Talk with a trusted writing mentor. The point here is to make the most educated decision that you can. If there is no “right” way to deal with it, then use your own personal preference. These preferences and writing styles make your writing unique and give it flavor.
In the end, it’s another judgment call.
Tips for Positive Feedback
As writers, we all love good feedback. When other writers or potential readers laud our work, we can’t help but glow. However, that big grin on your face isn’t really improving your writing.
You may think that positive feedback is worthless, but it can help you mark your progress as a writer and tell you when you’re moving in the right direction.
If you give your book to six carefully selected beta readers and they all have mostly positive things to say, then you are probably ready to move forward to the next stage. (See My First Draft Is Done! What’s Next? for an indie author guide to the stages leading up to publishing.)
Tips for Negative Feedback
On the other hand, taking negative feedback—or outright criticism—of your writing can be a real challenge. How do you keep a badly worded or insensitive review from making you want to stop writing altogether?
The first thing you need to do is step back and process the feedback.
Natural human reactions to negativity make it hard for us to deal with this kind of criticism, especially when it’s targeted at our creations. It can take some time to be objective enough about it that you can evaluate whether the feedback is helpful and determine what you should do about it.
Depending on how harsh the criticism is, this can take anywhere from a couple of seconds to several days or even longer.
Once you feel like you can face the feedback without screaming, you need to distill it to find out if it will be useful for you.
You may find that for whatever reason, the feedback isn’t feedback at all but rather needless trolling with no other point than to be negative. Anyone who is on the internet has run across the kind of people who leave spiteful comments and reviews just to stir up trouble.
How can you tell if your reader is a troll? Look for insulting language or comments directed at you as a writer or person instead of the writing itself. For example, take “I’ve never seen such dribble” versus “I’m having trouble connecting to the characters.” The first is insulting, but the second gives you specific, constructive feedback.
If you think that you are the victim of a troll, just move on, and make a note never to use that reader again. This is one of the biggest reasons for getting to know your readers and/or critique group well before handing over your writing.
You may find that the person giving you feedback doesn’t understand your genre. Be careful that you aren’t just saying this because you want to argue with your readers. See how their feedback compares to that of others before discarding it.
How can you tell if your reader is an amateur? Look for signs that he or she isn’t familiar with the genre. Readers new to a genre are often overly enthusiastic or extremely negative about tropes that are very common to it. For example, if your reader is “not into all this new agey stuff” and your book is visionary fiction, there is your evidence.
The Honest Brute
Here is the one you really want to pay attention to. The person who honestly (and without insult) points out the flaws and strengths of your writing is the one who can help you the most. Take the time to really evaluate what this person has to say as it will likely help you improve not only the book but also your skills as a writer.
When receiving feedback on your manuscript, always remember that this is your book. Own it, and own the responsibility for revising it in a way that you feel makes it better. Don’t let strongly opinionated readers turn it into something that you don’t even want to claim anymore.
In any case, whether the feedback you receive is positive or negative, considerate it practice for when your book or story is live and people start leaving reviews.
Reviews bring attention to your work, so although they lay you bare for comments and criticism, they are an essential part of the published writer’s life.
A lack of criticism can lead you to believe that you are flawless as a writer. Unfortunately, that in itself can lead to a degradation in the quality of your writing. Writers need to be open to new ways of learning, new techniques, and of course, criticism to keep improving.
How do you deal with feedback from readers on your own writing? How about feedback from editors?
Welcome! In this series so far, I’ve covered patience and self-editing. This week, I’ll cover how you can use readers to save money on editing and give a few tips on how to find them.
Why You Need Readers
If you are a career-track author, your editor should be a professional. She should be trained to help you with certain aspects of your manuscript. However, she is still only one person. It would be cool to be able to hire a team of editors, but most of us can’t afford that. If an editor is given a first draft and asked turn it into a structurally sound, grammatically clean, marketable manuscript, there are many more stages for her to go through to get to the end product than if she starts with a third or fourth draft.
So, instead of giving your editor your first draft, let your readers help you suss out as many problems as you can before you hand it over. When your manuscript is in better condition, your editor can take it further, and a cleaner initial manuscript means lower rates.
What Kinds of Readers Do I Need?
There are many names for the people who help authors as they turn their ideas into fully fledged books. Professional editors are among the last in line. Before them are the readers.
I am not going to tell you which kinds of readers to use and in what order. You can choose just one type or all of them. Each writer has a different process that works well for him. Some authors crave the reinforcement of reader feedback as they build a manuscript (alpha readers), while others prefer not to have that outside influence until their manuscript is solid and complete (beta readers).
However, I do recommend that you get feedback from at least one reader on your complete manuscript before you show it your editor. For my own writing, I sometimes show chapters to my critique group as I write. However, I prefer a round of self-editing before I get outside feedback on the manuscript as a whole. In any case, my work will have seen at least two rounds of revisions and usually two rounds of reader feedback before I send it to my editor.
Please note: It may be a bit of a process to find readers that are dependable that can give you the kind of feedback that you need. If you find good readers, cherish them, pay them in chocolate, and use them whenever they are willing to help you.
Alpha readers are your first readers. They read the manuscript as it is created or once the first draft is complete. If your alpha readers agree, you can send them your manuscript in pieces as it is finished and modify your work as you go on the basis of their feedback.
Beta readers see the manuscript after it is complete and usually after at least one round of self-editing. Beta readers are people who read books. They are your test audience and can be anyone from your grandma to your friends from work to online group members.
Because beta readers are like a pilot audience, make sure that at least some of your readers are readers in your genre. They will be less impressed by the newness of your subject matter and will be more likely to give you feedback that you can use in the competitive marketplace that is book publishing.
Most beta readers are free, but you can find paid beta readers or get paid “manuscript critiques” or “manuscript evaluations” from editors as well. This may not save you a ton of money, but it should guarantee that your readers finish your manuscript and get it back to you in a timely fashion (which many beta readers fail to do).
Critique partners are other writers with whom you exchange pieces of writing regularly. It’s a tit-for-tat system of “if you read mine, I’ll read yours.” Unlike alpha and beta readers, your critique partner has a vested interested in helping you out because he wants you to read and comment on his manuscript as well. He has also had the experience of writing and hopefully even studying the craft more than your average alpha or beta reader.
Online or in-person critique groups can be a great place to not only get feedback but also learn to give it. A great critique group can carry you through various stages in your writing career, but with any group, online or in person, take your time to get to know the group and make sure that it fits your style and your goals before submitting your own work.
Where to Find Readers
Critique Groups and Partners
To find writing groups, check your local newspaper, do online searches (“writers’ groups near me”), or start your own. I found my critique group through a statewide writers’ club that has chapters throughout my state.
Even if your local or online writing group doesn’t do critiques, once you get to know people, you might be able to find others in the group willing to exchange writing with you on an individual basis, and thus, a critique partnership will be born!
Kudos aren’t critical feedback, and they won’t make your book better.
Alpha and Beta Readers
Use friends, family, and coworkers, but choose carefully. Your readers should be the kind of people who aren’t afraid to tell you what they really think. Kudos aren’t critical feedback, and they won’t make your book better.
You can find alpha and beta readers through online or in-person writing groups (see Critique Groups and Partners).
Welcome to the second part of my weekly series on methods that indie authors can use to save money on editing.
Last week, I covered patience and the ways in which slowing down can save you, the indie author, money on editing.
Self-editing can also save you money, and it definitely requires some of that patience. When you complete the first draft of a book, especially your first book, you might be tempted to dive right into formatting and publishing your new book with Amazon KDP, Amazon CreateSpace, IngramSpark, Kobo Writing Life, or one of the many other avenues for self-publishing.
By doing so, however, you are taking a dangerous gamble. Not only is your book likely to be full of typos because even editor/writers make typos, but your book may also contain plot holes, character and plot discrepancies, overly convenient endings, and other sales killers.
You already know that as an editor, I am in favor of editing before publishing, but I am also in favor of at least two rounds of author self-editing before that professional editing takes place.
So, before you start looking for that stellar editor with just the right price, let your book sit. Fill your mind with something else, perhaps another project, for two to three months so that when you pick it up again, you are no longer seeing what you think should be on the page (a.k.a., experiencing author blindness) but instead are seeing what is actually on the page.
Your process might look something like this:
1. Finish the first draft.
2. Wait three months. (Maybe write a first draft of a new book during this time.)
4. Send the next draft of the manuscript to volunteer readers and get feedback.
5. Self-edit according to the feedback. Repeat steps 4 and 5 with alpha and beta readers until you believe that you have done as much for the manuscript as you personally can or are willing to do without an editor’s help.
6. Send the next draft to an editor or editors for an evaluation to see how far you’ve come.
If the editor recommends developmental editing (i.e., structural editing), you can work with him or her on this step if you’re not sure what to do, or you can do another round of self-edits yourself, focusing on structural issues.
If the editor recommends copyediting, you’re hopefully good to go on structural and big-picture issues and are ready to move forward.
My point here about self-editing is that by taking your time and fixing as many errors as you can with the help of readers, you can get a price on the lower end of your editor’s rates and maybe even skip developmental editing altogether.
How to Make the Most of Self-Editing
Establishing a process that works well for you will take time, and it’s one you’ll get better at the more you write and the more you see which steps help and which ones are a waste of time for you and your style of writing.
Some writers make many passes on their novel, each time looking for one specific item (e.g., overly used adverbs, too much telling vs showing, or point-of-view problems). If this works for you, great, but I warn you: the more you read your own manuscript, the less you’ll be able to really see it. That’s author blindness kicking in again. Editors get it, too, and that is why I recommend a separate proofreader once copyediting is finished. Unless you want it to take a year or more to finish every novel, take advantage of alpha and beta readers to help you see the things that author blindness will, well, blind you to.
Tips for Self-Editing
Here are some tips to help you make the most of your self-editing process followed by some resources with even more:
1. Apply rules only when they actually improve the story that you want to create. It’s easy to take the many writing “rules” out there and apply them universally, but thoughtlessly slashing your manuscript may cause even bigger problems.
For example, sometimes you need to tell, or summarize, less essential narrative to let the reader know what is happening so that you can get to the good stuff and really paint a vivid picture of important scenes. If you overly show a less important scene and extend it to several pages, you might lose your readers’ interest as they ask themselves what the point of the passage is and where the story went.
Many authors and even some editors focus on little details that will not matter to a reader as long as the story is tight and compelling. So when you are thinking about applying a rule to your book, ask yourself, “If I saw this in a book I was reading, would it bother me?” before you jump in with the red pencil. Alternatively, you can save the original passage, make the edits you are thinking about, and then compare both and see which is really better.
I know a lot of rules, but when I am editing, especially for big-picture issues, I read like a reader first. When my brain tells me that something doesn’t feel right or is just awkward or boring, it is only then that I get down to the nitty-gritty details and dissect the manuscript to see why it doesn’t work. Don’t waste time worrying that you overused a certain word or type of word until your alpha or beta readers point it out or you yourself are bothered by it when reviewing your manuscript after a break.
2. Start with the big-picture items first and then move to the smaller details. By big-picture items, I mean plot, characterization, structure, consistency, timelines and chronologies, tone, theme, and flow. By smaller details, I mean spelling, grammar, punctuation, capitalization, word choice, and consistency. (Yes, there are different types of consistency, but consistency is always key in editing.)
Don’t get bogged down in the little details until the overarching structure has been addressed.”
As you’re editing, if you see a spelling mistake, sure, you can fix it, but don’t get bogged down in the little details until the overarching structure has been addressed. You might end up deleting that sentence or passage anyway. So address the big picture first: How is your structure? Does it compel the reader ever forward, ever faster in a race to an intense, surprising-but-inevitable climax? Are the arcs of your main characters complete? Does your timeline make sense, or are your flashbacks confusing your readers? Does your dialog sound natural for each character, or is it stilted? Are your characters’ accents pulling your reader out of the story?
Only when you and your volunteer readers are sure that the story is in good shape should you start to worry about the rest.
3. Take advantage of free and low-cost resources. Any Google search will tell you that there are many, many free blog posts and articles out there to help you with self-editing. There will be a vast number of opinions on the best way to go about self-editing. I recommend that you find a few writing experts online that gel with your own ideas about writing and use them to help you figure out what to look for and what to focus on during your editing process. Some of my favorite resources are Writing Excuses,Helping Writers Become Authors,Writer Unboxed,Fiction University,Writer’s Digest, and This Itch of Writing.
Another source of inexpensive guidance is Amazon.com’s Kindle Unlimited. I have found a ton of books on the writing craft available to borrow with my subscription.
I’ll cover some more extended tips for self-editing in a future post in this series.
Other Resources for Self-Editing
Here are some resources that I have found particularly helpful:
In next week’s post, I’ll cover alpha and beta readers and critique partners in more depth with a little more information on how to find them and use them to your advantage in getting your book ready for professional editing.