I’m a writer and a beta reader, so I understand both sides of the process. I’ve run my blog and have been writing novels and screenplays for years, but it was the editing process that really showed me the art of writing and storytelling.
I’d used critique partners, but they hadn’t stopped the 200 rejections. Eventually, I buckled down and hired an editor. With each edit I rewrote my book. That was a grueling process, but my editor opened my eyes to the possibilities of my characters. With each draft I learned more about myself and the world I’d built.
Once the edits were finished I began sending the book out to beta readers. As a beta reader I find that many don’t understand the difference between editors and beta readers. An editor helps compose the story and fixes grammar. A beta reader gives an opinion on the overall feel of the story, and the two shouldn’t be used interchangeably.
Indies authors may think that they can get around spending money on editing by using free betas, but it’s better that an author use a real editor to get them past that first awful draft. That first draft is always awful and any professional will attest to this. No matter how good an author is at storytelling they should not try to edit their own book.
The truth is that all this is generic information that any article on beta reading will tell you. The truth is that you, the author, will find many people who will be sweet about your story. My book began to thrive when I faced the harsh truth that the first draft was truly terrible. Here’s a few tips I’ve learned.
1. Know the purpose of your book before you write it.
2. Understand that rewriting, editing, and beta reading is part of the process.
3. Know your characters and realize that the reader only knows what you tell them.
4. Be aware that you are probably one of thousands who is writing a novel in your same genre.
5. Look for all the clichés of your genre and avoid them in your book.
6. Know when to take the advice of an editor or beta reader.
I’ve hurt many feelings with the first piece of advice. Sometimes people think if they love a type of story enough that they’ll write the next bestseller. It can happen, but will it happen to you? Really consider what your purpose is and who is your audience? I write love stories but not romance, so my books don’t fit with all romance readers. Due to the nature of my books I’ve had men enjoy them. I knew that I wanted to write books that deal with abuse, mental illness, racism, and socio-economic issues , so I’m more aware of each niche group of readers who are potential fans.
1. I’m also more aware of when a book goes off topic. Most of the time the outline changes by the chapter, but knowing the end goal keeps me in line. Even if an author is the most methodical at staying with the outline they still need that clear objective.
2. I’m dyslexic, so writing has never been easy for me, and it’s going on two years since I began the edits for my first book. I cried and vowed to give up every day, but by the second book I was a pro! I knew what I was doing, so it was mentally easier. Still I won’t publish any book until all the feedback is opinion on style rather than suggestions for making the book smoother.
3. I knew my characters so well that each one had a back story, quirks, and favorite foods. The problem was that I didn’t know how to write them. Learning how to introduce the characters and endear them to the reader helped me learn more about myself. The process became a spiritual journey.
4. My editor and beta readers made me aware of number four without actually saying it. They kept saying that my stories weren’t like other stories out there. This felt bad at first since romance readers expect a layout that I was not going to give them. Then I realized just how many books in each genre are similar, and those are the ones that make it to the finish line. Imagine how many will be published. As the author you are competing with published books and books that will be published. Look for ways to make your story standout so much it could become a classic or genre changer.
5. Don’t try to recreate a popular book! Think up a new angle and become the next big name. Don’t be content to be in the shadows.
6. For me number six is the hardest. I tend to write about topics that many aren’t familiar with, so a lot of times I’ve had to ignore the beta readers. My editor helps me tell an unusual and provocative story, and I tend to take all their advice. Sometimes the beta readers tend to want to be experts when they aren’t.
When I read for other people I always assume that the writer is the authority, unless it’s obvious they aren’t. Whether the beta is helpful or not with the story they will always let you know what type of critiques you’ll get once the story is published. So it’s helpful to have beta readers outside of your genre read your book to help you grow your craft. It feels better when men like my stories because I do write love stories.
I’ve been writing for years and I do a lot of research on the craft of writing, so I hope that some of these tips will help out other writers. We’re essentially a family.