Editors and Beta Readers – Vital for Independent Authors

Publishing contractThis post focuses on the importance of using an editor and enlisting beta readers if you are an independent author.

Let’s start by comparing/contrasting independent and traditional publishing. In traditional publishing, an author receives an advance (if he or she is lucky). This advance is usually a fairly small amount. The author may then receive royalties for books sold after a certain number. The royalties can vary from pennies per book to dollars if you are a bestselling author. In exchange for allowing the traditional publisher to publish your work, you receive editing, formatting, publicity, and marketing services. The quality and effectiveness of these services can vary depending on how much the publishing company believes it can make from your book. In the end, very few published authors make a living wage from traditionally published books.

Independent authors know that their world is a different one. All of the services mentioned for traditional publishers are either do-it-yourself or individually purchased from the many service providers out there. Future blogs will talk about which of these services make sense for independent authors, but I want to focus on the two that I believe are the most important and what you should look for in each.

editing2The first, and perhaps most important, service that an independent author should look for is editing. What is editing with respect to a book? There is no simple answer to this. I suppose that editing, in its purest form, is checking your work for punctuation, spelling, usage, and grammar errors. These things are important. You may think, as an author, that you are an expert on these things. You may very well be very proficient in these areas, but over the course of a 70,000 word manuscript consisting of your own work, you are going to miss something. Having a fresh set of eyes with some expertise can help save you embarrassing typos and spelling mistakes.

I am very fortunate. My editor is a dear friend, but not the type of friend that will tell me something is good when it is not. I mentioned before that, in my opinion, editing services can vary. The qualities that set my editor apart is that she is an avid reader and has writing ability of her own. She spots weak story elements and plot inconsistencies and is excellent at documenting them.

If you are using a friend, or anyone, as an editor, you must be able to take criticism and be willing to implement the suggested changes. It is rare that I disregard or disagree with the changes my editor suggests. Your mindset should be that your editor is the first reader of a particular work. If they have issues with elements of your work, this will be multiplied exponentially once you publish your work if you do not change them. You need to trust your editor and develop a working chemistry with him or her to be effective in producing quality work.

Finding an editor can be a challenge. There are, however, various services out there such as eLance and Fiverr. I have provided services on eLance and they do have a decent screening process where you can vet potential editors. I have used services on Fiverr, most notably for my cover art and trailers. Services on Fiverr are inexpensive, but you have to carefully vet your service provider or you might get what you pay for. Of course, I am always willing to share my editor. She is very good at what she does and has bandwidth to take on other clients.

BetaThe second focus of this blog is the use of beta readers. Beta readers are early previewers of your book that read through it after the editing process is complete. They look for story element inconsistencies and other elements of your book from the perspective as a fan and a reader. It’s a good idea to pick a couple of readers that are big fans of your writing, but are not afraid to give suggestions.  This process is like having a focus group or preview audience for your product that gives their opinion to you on a small scale before you release it to the relentless general public. Beta readers will spot things in your book that you and your editor missed such as inconsistencies in character traits, likability of your characters, and other intangibles. This is especially importance if your characters span more than one book in a series. You don’t want to publish a book in a series that has continuity issues with previous books.

One famous example of this, and he actually points this out in the forward of his second book of the series, is from David Morrell’s Rambo series. In the first Rambo book, John Rambo dies. When the book was made into the Sylvester Stallone movie, the studio had the dollar signs associated with sequels in their eyes. Since zombies weren’t in fashion back then, Rambo’s fate had to be changed in the movie. The interesting thing is that Morrell had the novelization rights for the sequel and had to right the second book in the series despite having killed off his main character in the first book. In his forward, he tells this story and basically says that he ignored Rambo’s death in the first book and just wrote the sequel. Of course, Stallone went on to make other sequels and Rambo eventually turned into a parody of the original character.

You might ask why, as an independent author, I am focusing on editors and beta readers. To answer that question, download some works from your fellow authors and look at the quality. There are some books of excellent quality in the world of independent publishing. And then there are some that are…not so much. Independent authors have a stigma, mostly perpetuated by traditional publishing, that the quality is lacking in their work. Those authors, such as Hugh Howey, that have survived and thrived in independent publishing have debunked this perception. In my work, I am trying to publish work of high-quality as well. I personally don’t believe this is possible without strong editing and beta readers.

I want to see independent publishing evolve into a force that overtakes traditional publishing. I don’t think that a group of corporate publishing wonks in an ivory tower in New York should decide what books should and should not be published. The recording industry has gone in the independent direction, and movies and television are following. Let’s work together as authors to make our quality stand up against the traditionally published work. Editing and the use of beta readers are a big step in that direction. If you use them wisely, you will recoup and exceed every dollar that you invest in your writing.

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Advance Reader Copies – Are They Worth it?

In January I released my 6th book. As I look back over the activities that I’ve used to promote my books it is like going from the Stone Age to the Industrial Revolution. I’m not quite to the point where I can just write. Actually, I’m pretty far from that. As I’ve built up a modest reader base, however, I’ve been able to employ some more advanced promotional techniques.

Issuing advance read copies is one of those techniques that I employed with my last two books. For the book, Frank IncensedI only issued a few. It was partly to get reaction from readers and secondarily to get reviews on launch day. I tried to give the readers enough time so that they could read the book and review it on Amazon, Goodreads, and any other outlet on the day the book was released.

I definitely saw some bump in sales and ranking due to this. For my latest book, Blood Orange, I was much more aggressive in seeking out advance readers. I issued 30 copies to the members of my street team (more on that in a subsequent post) and approximately another 80 copies to people that I sought out through my mailing list. That’s about a 15% hit rate. That resulted in about 15 reviews on Amazon the day that the book was released. Could this have been better? Of course. I was hoping for about 25-30 reviews. This book, however, had extenuating circumstances, but more on that later.

First, what is an advance reader and how does this group differ from beta readers?

Advance readers get the book when it is finished and ready to be published. It is the final edited copy. No changes will be made based on their feedback unless some big, ugly, hairy error is found.

Using advance readers is a coordinated effort. It takes a bit of organization, but you can use technology to help you. Free technology. The first thing I did was compile a list of those that volunteered to be advance readers. The best took I have found to do this is MailChimp. You can import a spreadsheet with your contact list. You can also, for a minimal monthly cost, add automation to the mix. This allowed me to send a reminder to my advance readers a week before the book was released, the day before, and the day after reminding them to review the book. All of this happened while I was happily Internet and eMail free on a cruise ship. The whole MailChimp process is a series of blog posts on its own. Look for that in the future.

There downsides to using advance readers. Of course. That’s why I’ve compiled another handy dandy pros and cons list so you can decide for yourself.

Pros

  • Releasing your book with reviews in place on day one helps your ranking on Amazon
  • You build further rapport with your readers and they enjoy being part of the process
  • Your book appears mature upon release. A lack of reviews makes readers nervous about spending money on your work
  • You get honest feedback from your readers that help you improve quality

Cons

  • Like with beta readers, you are forfeit sales to those that are advanced readers (or do you). I’ve had a number of advance readers purchase the book anyway
  • As with beta readers, you are putting your work at risk. This is true, but it’s at risk even after it’s released as an eBook on Amazon. Most readers tend to be honest.
  • You risk receiving bad reviews. Ouch. If that happens, It probably would have happened anyway, but by giving your book away, you probably increase the odds. You can combat this, of course, by picking your potential audience carefully. The worst review I ever received was my one and only two star review on Amazon. It was one simple word, boring. I was devastated, but when I dug a bit further, I found that the only other reviews this reader had done was for gardening books. And they were just as enlightening. My point is, if you write erotic romance, don’t send your advance reader copies to people who like Christian oriented books.

Advance readers can be useful. Even though the results were not what I hoped for on Blood OrangeI will be using this technique for my next book. The reason it wasn’t as successful for Blood Orangewas the timing. The book was set to release on November 13, 2015. I timed it to be ready for huge Black Friday promotions and planned a marketing blitz throughout the holiday season. If you remember what happened that night, Paris was attacked by ruthless terrorists. Part of the attack was near a sporting venue. My book centers on just that kind of attack. I immediately pulled back on promoting the book and didn’t bother my advance readers, or anyone else for that matter. I didn’t start actively promoting it until after the first of the year. It was a tough decision, but I still feel good about it and I still think the advance reader process is a good one.

Please, those of you who have different experiences with this or questions for me, please reach out through the comments.

The Pros and Cons of Beta Readers for Indie Authors

When I finished my first novel, the only people who read it before it was published were my wife and my editor. I was nervous in anticipation of their reactions, but the suggestions they gave me made the book that much better. Luckily my editor looked at the content and quality of the story along with the punctuation and grammar issues.

My second novel went to a couple of additional readers. I had heard of the concept of beta readers and my editor participated as a beta reader for various authors. A beta reader is someone who reads your book before the final edit. They look for things like the quality of the story, continuity (if your book is part of a series) and the overall appeal of the book.

At first, as I looked at the concept of beta readers, I was hesitant to give away free copies of my book. It was both a matter of trust and economics. As a fledgling indie author, every sale counted. The idea of giving books away, in my opinion, took profits directly from my pocket. Then I looked at this objectively. If these beta readers liked the book, even if they told two friends about my work, my sales could actually increase. Beyond that, I would be able to publish a better product. I know from my work in the Information Technology field, where details are extremely important, additional sets of eyes can help you catch things that you might have missed otherwise.

The group of beta readers that I used for this first attempt at this venture was a small group of trusted acquaintances including my editor’s sister, an English teacher, and a couple of other voracious readers. The benefits I received in return for this preview of the new book were immense. One reader spotted continuity and consistency errors between the first novel in the series and this one. The English teacher spotted some grammatical and punctuation things that my editor missed.

Overall, this was a huge benefit for me and for the quality of the book. Sales were not affected as this book outsold the first by a large margin upon release. For my subsequent novels, I expanded the universe of beta readers somewhat and also moved on to issuing advance reader copies. I’ll have more on that topic in a subsequent post.

I encourage all indie authors to use beta readers. It has helped me improve my product and has helped me further engage with readers. One of the aspects of the reputation of indie authors is a lack of quality. The use of editors and beta readers can help us overcome this stigma and improve the quality of what we produce.

When you are looking for beta readers, you can start with people who have been engaged with you during your writing process. I would avoid family members or fans. You don’t want a flood of positive feedback. You want realistic and constructive criticism that will help you improve and gain more readers and exposure in this highly competitive environment.

So, here are the pros and cons of beta readers as I see them. Your mileage may vary.

Pros

  • Improved quality of your work
  • Identification of significant flaws
  • Better continuity and consistency (if your book is part of a series)
  • More exposure through word of mouth
  • A better idea of how your book will be received

Cons

  • Identification of flaws could mean significant rework and delays in releasing your book
  • Compromising the security of your book. Dishonest beta readers could upload your book to unauthorized download sites. Piracy of eBooks is a huge problem.

It’s up to you whether you use beta readers. I have found benefits that I believe outweigh the downside.

As always, I would love to hear back from you. Tell me about your experiences with or as beta readers. Let’s help each other. Indie authors unite!

Independent Publishers – Outsource Your Marketing to Save Yourself Time

One of the recurring themes in my blog is the time-consuming nature of marketing your book if you are an independently-published author. You’ve heard me talk about my day job, time management, and producing more ‘product’. You might ask, where does marketing and PR come in when trying to increase exposure for your book.

This is the one aspect of independent publishing where I turned to a professional for help.  As an independent author, I had no difficulty navigating Amazon, Create Space, and Barnes and Noble to publish print and e-book versions of my book. I had an editor, beta readers, and a cover designer. What I didn’t have is market research to tell me things that I needed to know and to help me build my network. The collective knowledge of a marketing professional that handles many authors can be a huge help. Here are some of the areas where outsourcing my marketing gives me an advantage:

Key Word Research – Amazon and other publishing platforms allow you to select key words. These are terms that make your book appear in certain searches that readers might run looking for books to read. All of the marketing experts recommend changing these words frequently to keep your work popping up on the latest searches. My marketing professional is able to regularly give me keywords. Updating them on a regular basis is easy and effective if you know what words to use. Because of exposure to multiple authors and search trends, the keywords that I’m given have more credibility than just guessing at what words to use.

Participation in Blog Tours – Because a book marketing professional presumably handles many authors, they have a group that can be called upon for blog tours. Every independently published author should have a blog to increase exposure. When we utilize each others blogs, it opens up an entirely new list of followers that will exponentially increase that exposure. Book marketing professionals can help you increase your network and help other authors in the process by sharing your own blog followers.

Interviews – In addition to blog tours, my book marketing guy helps me by frequently circulating interviews about me and my writing on different venues. These venues can be independent author web sites and blogs, online magazines, and other similar vehicles that I might not have access to on my own. He is able to spin interviews from a pool of questions that I have responded to and time the interviews with upcoming events such as book launches, cover reveals, etc.

Third Party Validation – It’s one thing to post links to your book on hundreds of groups on Facebook or to your twitter followers, but having someone else do it for you increases your credibility. If a respected third party is telling their multitude of followers that your book is worth a look it goes a long way. In addition, most marketing professionals have many more groups and platforms for this information to gain traction.

Cafeteria Style Services – The marketing person that I use has everything from full-service book PR packages down to single reviews and interviews that are very reasonably priced. You can pick and choose the services you want. If you need a third party review, a podcast interview, posting on Facebook, or something similar, you can pick just these services and pay a one time or monthly price accordingly. I like this arrangement because it allows me to ramp up or down and then measure the results. This is an important aspect of using outside marketing, make sure you can measure the results and adjust your marketing choices accordingly.

Now that I’ve talked about outside marketing/PR services, I want to stress that you use caution in selecting them. Here are some guidelines to help you select the one that’s right for you.

Beware of Full-Service Only – I mentioned the cafeteria-style arrangement that I have. For independently-published authors that don’t have unlimited funds, this is probably the way to go. If you lock yourself into full-service, you may be throwing money away and the results of what worked and what didn’t may be murky. Make sure you are focusing your marketing dollars.

Talk to Other Authors – Before outsourcing my marketing, I talked to other authors that were further down the path that had marketing campaigns that I admired. I found that they were usually very forthcoming about what and who they had good experiences with and what and who to stay away from. I try to share this information as well. If anyone is interested in my experiences with my outsourced marketing, you can email me at don@donmassenzio.com.

Don’t be Afraid to Try Something Different – One thing I’ve learned through outsourcing my marketing is that it isn’t just the books that are being marketed when you are independently published. It is the author, the author’s thoughts, and the author’s image that get marketed as well. Be prepared to do podcast interviews, written interviews, giveaways, and other things that might take you out of your comfort zone.

Be Opinionated – If you are not happy with a particular aspect of your marketing or you feel that something is damaging your image, say so. You are paying for a service so you have a right to express your own ideas and input. Don’t be forced into a cookie-cutter marketing approach that is contrary to your vision.

I hope that these tips have been helpful to you. I have found much more success and have freed up time by outsourcing certain aspects of my book marketing. That being said, I try to keep my spending limits within the boundaries of the profit that I’m making on my writing. Someday, like all of us, I hope that my profit greatly exceeds what I’m spending, but until then, I want to keep these expenses in line. My marketing person understands and respects this. It has been a mutually beneficial arrangement thus far and I am hoping to gradually outsource more of my marketing chores so I can spend more time writing. I’m sure that is a goal for most of us.

As always, your comments and questions are welcome.

About Don Massenzio

Don Massenzio was born in Syracuse, New York, to first generation Italian American parents. He is an avid reader. Some of his favorite authors include Harlan Coben, David Morrell, Stephen King, and Hugh Howey. His favorite book of all time is ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.

Don began writing as a way to combat the long hours of travel and numerous hotel stays that are part of the ‘glamorous’ world of corporate travel. He uses writing as a therapeutic outlet. He recently took the jump to sharing his work with others.

His first published long work is the novel, Frankly Speaking. It is the first of what will be a series of books focused on the character, Frank Rozzani, a Florida private detective. The book is a throwback to the days of pulp detective novels with a tip of the hat to Jim Rockford from 70’s television and The Rockford Files.

The second Frank Rozzani detective novel, Let Me Be Frank is now available. His third book in the Frank Rozzani series will be coming out in April, 2015.

Prior to finishing his books, his published work was comprised of short stories that will be merged into a collection in the near future.

Find out more about Don at his web site:

www.donmassenzio.com

Independently-Published Authors – Your Best Marketing Tool – Reasons to Quickly Write Your Next Book

Fellow authors,

My post this week is all about the activity that most of us probably enjoy the least, marketing our work. You’ve probably seen my posts all over Facebook and my tweets. This is the part of independent publishing that I dread and that is the most cumbersome.

I’m sure most of us would just like to write and ignore the marketing. Unfortunately, if you want to gain exposure, this is an unavoidable aspect of what we do.

For the mundane marketing tasks, such as posting to Facebook and other social media outlets, I have found time-saving ways to raise the awareness of my product. I’ve also enlisted the help of a PR person to help me gain exposure through third parties like podcasts and blog interview tours.

I will make sure that future blog posts focus on some of these aspects of marketing. I have some great tips to share around posting on social media and using giveaways to build your mailing list, another very important aspect of marketing.

In this post, however, I want to talk about the best aspect of marketing for an independently published author, writing. That’s right, the more you write, the more exposure you’ll gain and the more product you’ll have to offer to the very deep pool of readers. Here are some reasons to write as much as possible:

1) More Product = More Potential Readers: There are a lot of consumers of books out there. The more offerings you have, the more exposure you will get with those readers if they like your work. If you only release one book every 1-2 years, you might fade from the memory of readers that read 2-3 novels per month.

2) More Product = More Potential Reviews: I’ve blogged about feedback and its importance in the past. It’s advantageous to get feedback on multiple works so that you can assess how readers are reacting to your work and make adjustments. It also gives you the chance to get reviews from multiple (non-family) independent reviewers which will help your profile on platforms such as Amazon.

3) More Product = Greater Traction: In traditional publishing, it takes an author an average of three books to gain traction. On a publisher’s schedule, this is a minimum of three years if you’re lucky enough to find a publisher that will wait for success through three books. Did you know that John Grisham had boxes of the book A Time To Kill in his garage until The Firm became a huge hit. It was his first book and probably one of his best in terms of substance. The good news is that we can accelerate that period of time and get to that three book milestone more quickly.

4) Less Product = Selling Your Book to Death: If you only have one book and you’re posting weekly to your favorite social media outlet, you’re going to hit the same targeted readers multiple times with your single offering. This can turn readers off to you’re single work because they are overexposed to it.

5) The more books you write, the more books you’ll sell: There is something called the Long-Tail Effect. This is the tendency of readers to go back and purchase older books by an author if they read a newer one that they enjoy. This is how I’ve discovered many authors. Harlan Coben is a case in point for me. I read one of his later books and liked his writing style and this caused me to go back and read his earlier work chronologically. If you are on your 4th or 5th book and it hits with readers, it is almost guaranteed that your earlier books will sell more.

Now, after my pep talk extolling the virtues of writing multiple books, that doesn’t mean you should do so without some important do’s and don’ts.

1) Make sure that what you are publishing is of good quality: Publishing 12 books that are not of good quality will not gain readers for you. A reader will take a chance on 1 or maybe 2 books, but continued quality issues will ensure that your books will not be read or attract loyal readers. Negative word of mouth spreads as fast, if not faster, than positive.

2) Consider writing short stories: If your an author of fiction, short stories can be useful for multiple reasons. First, they are a great way to practice your craft. Second, they can be published individually to give readers a small, inexpensive taste of your writing, or they can be collected into an anthology giving you another book to offer. Also, short stories can be a way to further gain exposure by offering them for publication in niche online or print magazines and collections. Hugh Howey’s Epic series, Wool, started as a short story.

3) Don’t rush to publish something before it’s ready: I’ve extolled the virtues of editors and beta readers. Don’t cut corners. Make sure that you have done all of your quality checks before launching. One slip in quality and your readers may abandon you.

4) Don’t be afraid to relaunch a book: Once you’ve published a book, that doesn’t mean that it will reach a peak early on and then fade away. Remember my John Grisham story. A Time To Kill is believed by many to be his best work and is arguably the best adaptation of one of his novels into a movie.

5) Play with pricing and giveaways: When you have a new book coming out, consider lowering the prices of your earlier books or using the free or progressive pricing options on Amazon to entice readers to impulse buy them.

The information in this blog evolves for me on a daily basis. If you take nothing else away from this, strive to learn from the tasks that you carry out to gain a positive reputation as an author. Remember, authors write books. Don’t pay attention to the artificial time constraints imposed on traditionally published authors. Break out of the box and keep on writing.

As always, your questions and comments are welcome.

About Don Massenzio

Don Massenzio was born in Syracuse, New York, to first generation Italian American parents. He is an avid reader. Some of his favorite authors include Harlan Coben, David Morrell, Stephen King, and Hugh Howey. His favorite book of all time is ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.

Don began writing as a way to combat the long hours of travel and numerous hotel stays that are part of the ‘glamorous’ world of corporate travel. He uses writing as a therapeutic outlet. He recently took the jump to sharing his work with others.

His first published long work is the novel, Frankly Speaking. It is the first of what will be a series of books focused on the character, Frank Rozzani, a Florida private detective. The book is a throwback to the days of pulp detective novels with a tip of the hat to Jim Rockford from 70’s television and The Rockford Files.

The second Frank Rozzani detective novel, Let Me Be Frank is now available.

Prior to finishing his books, his published work was comprised of short stories that will be merged into a collection in the near future.

Find out more about Don at his web site:

www.donmassenzio.com

Self-Publishing – Your Fellow Authors are not Your Enemies – Let’s Help Each Other

If you are like me, you are aware of the thousands of other authors that are in the self-publishing universe on social media platforms. We all belong to groups on Facebook and we promote our books, blogs, giveaways, and events. We start to see the same names over and over relentlessly touting our work.

As I first entered the self-publishing world, I viewed all of these authors as people that were competing for my readers. I wanted to out-promote and out-sell all of them. Over the past year or so, however, my view has changed. Instead of viewing my fellow authors as competitors, I have come to think of them as fellow pioneers. I selected the word pioneer purposely. Early American pioneers didn’t compete against each other. The amount of land and natural resources available were abundant. Pioneers worked together to build houses and cultivate crops so that they could all survive. If they had competed against each other, it is likely that none would have survived.

Like these early settlers, I believe it is important for self-published authors to work together. Besides writing, I have made it my goal to help authors as much as possible. We are encumbered with a stigma from those in the traditionally published world who perpetuate the notion that our work is not up to the same standard as the work coming out of publishing houses. In many cases, this is not a valid assertion. In some cases, unfortunately, it is true.

So how can we, as self-published authors, help each other? Here are some of the things that I try to do in my quest to pay it forward.

1) Share the lessons I’ve learned – I’m about to publish my third book. The experience of publishing the first book was one that was very daunting. I had no idea how to format my book for the Kindle and paperback platforms. I knew nothing about marketing. I just wasn’t sure what to expect. I read some books (by self-published authors) on how to get started, but a lot of the things that I tried were done on a trial and error basis. I made note of what worked and what didn’t. When it came time to publish my second book, I used some of the techniques that I picked up publishing the first one and it was a much smoother process. I felt like I wanted to share this information with other authors. That is the reason I changed this blog into a weekly post that seeks to help others with their writing and publishing. Starting a blog like this is simple. I highly recommend that other authors do this and occasionally share tips so that we can all improve the craft that we obviously love.

2) Read each other’s work – It is important to read the work of other self-published authors. The first self-published author that I read was Hugh Howey. For those of you that have been under a rock in the self-publishing world, Hugh Howey is the extremely successful standard model for self-published authors. He has made millions with his self-published works and, now that he has gained fame and respect, has doggedly refused to go the traditionally published route. While Hugh Howey is the standard, I make it a point to read work from other self-published authors. I have been pleasantly surprised in some cases and have offered advice in others. On the whole, I think that the assertion that self-published work is of a lower standard is greatly exaggerated.

3) Share your resources – There are certain tasks, as self-published authors, that we should concentrate on. Editing, marketing, cover design, etc. are just a few of the common tasks that we all must undertake to ensure the quality of our work. Everyone has different approaches to these things. Some work very well, and others have mixed success. Let’s share our techniques and tools that we use to handle these tasks. We can all benefit. If you have a great cover designer, for instance, there is no benefit to you to keep their identity and talent a secret. Share their name with other authors. Your cover designer will appreciate the work and the growth in reputation and fellow authors will benefit through having nicely designed covers. This same principle is true for sharing editors, beta readers, and outsourced marketing. I now have all of these things that are traditionally provided by publishing houses in place, and I am more than happy to share with other authors.

4) Make friends with as many authors as possible – Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ are excellent forums for you to make friends with your fellow self-published authors. You should trade reviews with them, share tips, and promote their work and interviews through your own social media network. Your readers will thank you for introducing them to other work that they may enjoy and you will all benefit from the combined strength of your networks. There are those short-sighted individuals that will yield their limited power and seek to trash your work. It’s just part of human nature. Like bitter movie or restaurant critics, those who disparage your work are just reflecting their own failures in many cases. The trick is to parse their criticism looking for things that you can act on to improve your work. If you find nothing, then acknowledge the uselessness of their critique and move on. Never, ever respond to a negative critique publicly. All this will do is give validation to the negative review and will make you look defensive.

5) Help other authors one-on-one – I recently had the pleasure of returning to my hometown. I had the chance to meet with one of my fellow high-school graduates who is also a self-published author. We traded some tips and agreed to read each others books. It was very enjoyable for me to discuss the things I had gone through face-to-face with someone with common experiences. Additionally, I am participating in my first group author event in April. It will involve networking and book signing. I have received a great deal of help from other authors that have gone through these events before in terms of what I need and how I need to prepare.

The bottom line is, we are all in this together. To use a sports analogy, when Michael Jordan played basketball, his presence on the team raised the game of all of his teammates. He wasn’t selfish in using his talent to help others improve their game. We have people like Hugh Howey who can be compared to the Michael Jordan of self-publishing. He is very willing to share his information and help us all raise our game. We should also seek to share our good information. There are plenty of readers willing to consume our work, so we should seek to provide them with the best quality product possible by working together.

As always, your comments and questions are welcome.

About Don Massenzio

Don Massenzio was born in Syracuse, New York, to first generation Italian American parents. He is an avid reader. Some of his favorite authors include Harlan Coben, David Morrell, Stephen King, and Hugh Howey. His favorite book of all time is ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.

Don began writing as a way to combat the long hours of travel and numerous hotel stays that are part of the ‘glamorous’ world of corporate travel. He uses writing as a therapeutic outlet. He recently took the jump to sharing his work with others.

His first published long work is the novel, Frankly Speaking. It is the first of what will be a series of books focused on the character, Frank Rozzani, a Florida private detective. The book is a throwback to the days of pulp detective novels with a tip of the hat to Jim Rockford from 70’s television and The Rockford Files.

The second Frank Rozzani detective novel, Let Me Be Frank is now available.

Prior to finishing his books, his published work was comprised of short stories that will be merged into a collection in the near future.

Find out more about Don at his web site:

www.donmassenzio.com

The Importance of an Editor and Beta Readers for Independent Authors

My blog this week focuses on the importance of using an editor and enlisting beta readers if you are an independent author.

Let’s start by comparing/contrasting independent and traditional publishing. In traditional publishing, an author receives an advance (if he or she is lucky). This advance is usually a fairly small amount. The author may then receive royalties for books sold after a certain number. The royalties can vary from pennies per book to dollars if you are a bestselling author. In exchange for allowing the traditional publisher to publish your work, you receive editing, formatting, publicity, and marketing services. The quality and effectiveness of these services can vary depending on how much the publishing company believes it can make from your book. In the end, very few published authors make a living wage from traditionally published books.

Independent authors know that their world is a different one. All of the services mentioned for traditional publishers are either do-it-yourself or individually purchased from the many service providers out there. Future blogs will talk about which of these services make sense for independent authors, but I want to focus on the two that I believe are the most important and what you should look for in each.

The first, and perhaps most important, service that an independent author should look for is editing. What is editing with respect to a book? There is no simple answer to this. I suppose that editing, in its purest form, is checking your work for punctuation, spelling, usage, and grammar errors. These things are important. You may think, as an author, that you are an expert on these things. You may very well be very proficient in these areas, but over the course of a 70,000 word manuscript consisting of your own work, you are going to miss something. Having a fresh set of eyes with some expertise can help save you embarrassing typos and spelling mistakes.

I am very fortunate. My editor is a dear friend, but not the type of friend that will tell me something is good when it is not. I mentioned before that, in my opinion, editing services can vary. The qualities that set my editor apart is that she is an avid reader and has writing ability of her own. She spots weak story elements and plot inconsistencies and is excellent at documenting them.

If you are using a friend, or anyone, as an editor, you must be able to take criticism and be willing to implement the suggested changes. It is rare that I disregard or disagree with the changes my editor suggests. Your mindset should be that your editor is the first reader of a particular work. If they have issues with elements of your work, this will be multiplied exponentially once you publish your work if you do not change them. You need to trust your editor and develop a working chemistry with him or her to be effective in producing quality work.

Finding an editor can be a challenge. There are, however, various services out there such as eLance and Fiverr. I have provided services on eLance and they do have a decent screening process where you can vet potential editors. I have used services on Fiverr, most notably for my cover art and trailers. Services on Fiverr are inexpensive, but you have to carefully vet your service provider or you might get what you pay for. Of course, I am always willing to share my editor. She is very good at what she does and has bandwidth to take on other clients.

The second focus of this blog is the use of beta readers. Beta readers are early previewers of your book that read through it after the editing process is complete. They look for story element inconsistencies and other elements of your book from the perspective as a fan and a reader. It’s a good idea to pick a couple of readers that are big fans of your writing, but are not afraid to give suggestions.  This process is like having a focus group or preview audience for your product that gives their opinion to you on a small scale before you release it to the relentless general public. Beta readers will spot things in your book that you and your editor missed such as inconsistencies in character traits, likability of your characters, and other intangibles. This is especially importance if your characters span more than one book in a series. You don’t want to publish a book in a series that has continuity issues with previous books.

One famous example of this, and he actually points this out in the forward of his second book of the series, is from David Morrell’s Rambo series. In the first Rambo book, John Rambo dies. When the book was made into the Sylvester Stallone movie, the studio had the dollar signs associated with sequels in their eyes. Since zombies weren’t in fashion back then, Rambo’s fate had to be changed in the movie. The interesting thing is that Morrell had the novelization rights for the sequel and had to right the second book in the series despite having killed off his main character in the first book. In his forward, he tells this story and basically says that he ignored Rambo’s death in the first book and just wrote the sequel. Of course, Stallone went on to make other sequels and Rambo eventually turned into a parody of the original character.

You might ask why, as an independent author, I am focusing on editors and beta readers. To answer that question, download some works from your fellow authors and look at the quality. There are some books of excellent quality in the world of independent publishing. And then there are some that are…not so much. Independent authors have a stigma, mostly perpetuated by traditional publishing, that the quality is lacking in their work. Those authors, such as Hugh Howey, that have survived and thrived in independent publishing have debunked this perception. In my work, I am trying to publish work of high-quality as well. I personally don’t believe this is possible without strong editing and beta readers.

I want to see independent publishing evolve into a force that overtakes traditional publishing. I don’t think that a group of corporate publishing wonks in an ivory tower in New York should decide what books should and should not be published. The recording industry has gone in the independent direction, and movies and television are following. Let’s work together as authors to make our quality stand up against the traditionally published work. Editing and the use of beta readers are a big step in that direction. If you use them wisely, you will recoup and exceed every dollar that you invest in your writing.

If you have questions about these topics or you want to be put in touch with my editor, please let me know at don@donmassenzio.com

Thanks again for making this blog a success. The viewership increases each week and I am happy to keep helping my fellow authors by publishing it.

About Don Massenzio

Don Massenzio was born in Syracuse, New York, to first generation Italian American parents. He is an avid reader. Some of his favorite authors include Harlan Coben, David Morrell, Stephen King, and Hugh Howey. His favorite book of all time is ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.

Don began writing as a way to combat the long hours of travel and numerous hotel stays that are part of the ‘glamorous’ world of corporate travel. He uses writing as a therapeutic outlet. He recently took the jump to sharing his work with others.

His first published long work is the novel, Frankly Speaking. It is the first of what will be a series of books focused on the character, Frank Rozzani, a Florida private detective. The book is a throwback to the days of pulp detective novels with a tip of the hat to Jim Rockford from 70’s television and The Rockford Files.

The second Frank Rozzani detective novel, Let Me Be Frank is now available.

Prior to finishing his books, his published work was comprised of short stories that will be merged into a collection in the near future.

Find out more about Don at his web site:

www.donmassenzio.com