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

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What Do/Should Writers Read? What Do You Read?

Anyone who knows me, knows that I am an avid reader as well as a writer. I tend to pick authors that I enjoy and read their entire body of work in chronological order. This not only brings me enjoyment, but it shows me their development as an author from their early to contemporary work.

One of my favorite authors is Stephen King. His early work is strong and definitely got stronger. When he suffered his accident and nearly died, his work suffered a bit after his recovery. He even threatened to retire, but thankfully, did not. I use him as an example because he also has one of my favorite quotes by an author:

If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time — or the tools — to write. Simple as that. – Stephen King

In the past eight months, I have written and published two novels and four short stories. I have also read somewhere around 20-25 books during that time. This may not sound unusual, but I also work 50-60 hours per week at my “day job”. How do I do this? Time management is one technique. Even though I work a lot of hours, I have a job where I travel to a destination early on Monday and return late on Thursday. There is a great deal of down time. Reading helps me to block out and reduce the stress of travel. It also makes flights pass by quickly. I often alternate reading and writing as I am on long flights. The writing depends upon my seating situation. If I am in a middle seat between to portly people, it is difficult to get out the laptop or tablet to write, so I resort to reading.

Before I started writing, reading was an escape. It was a way to de-stress from the pressures of my work and allowed me to relax and go to sleep. Since I have published my own work, it is also a way to assess other authors and look at their development as writers.

A prime example of this came to me through circumstance. A literary magazine reviewed my first book, Frankly Speaking, and compared my writing style to Elmore Leonard. I had heard the name and associated it with movies like “The Big Bounce” and “Get Shorty”, but I had never read any of Leonard’s work. I began reading from his very first novel, “The Bounty Hunters” which was published in 1953. It was a western, which took me by surprise. My book is a detective novel and I didn’t see the similarities. I’m not typically a reader of westerns, but stuck with Mr. Leonard. I noticed the lack of complex plots and well-developed characters in his early works. He also tended to end the novels abruptly without fleshing out the ending. Sixteen years and five novels later, he published “The Big Bounce”. It was his first non-western novel, but wasn’t really in the detective genre. I could, however, begin to see similarities in my use of dialog and narrative when compared to his work. I could also see his development as a writer over the 16 years.

An opposite example of this development would be in the work of James Patterson. I have read his work sporadically. I thoroughly enjoyed his early works, especially in the Alex Cross stories. His later work, however, is watered down. Most of his books these days (which seem to come out on a weekly basis) are “with” books. What I mean is that the cover will have James Patterson’s name in huge letters and then, somewhere at the bottom, there will be a line in smaller font that says “with …”. I have a feeling that the person whose name appears after the “with” is the actual writer and is writing books based on the James Patterson characters with his blessing (and substantial percentage of the profits). This is a phenomenon where a successful author has become a business and his books are like McDonalds franchise stores. I don’t read James Patterson books anymore.

My reading tends to be author and genre based. I read Harlan Coben, John D. MacDonald, and Jonathan Kellerman for the genre. I read Stephen King and Elmore Leonard for the writing style and enjoyment.  I read Hugh Howey’s books because he has hit on the formula and success that all self-published authors aspire to. I also read non-fiction books that help me with my craft. These range from books on self-publishing to works by other authors that give writing advice. Stephen King’s book “On Writing” is one of the best that I have found. I use this as a reference book. Even if you don’t like King’s books, he gives great insight and a candid view into the mind of a writer. It is amazing, based on his youth, that he is alive, let alone a successful writer.

If you are, or aspire to be a self-published author, I recommend that you read books by your competition in your genre. You can learn a great deal from the successful authors and learn even more about what to avoid by reading authors that are not successful. You’ll marvel at the typos, grammatical errors, and other pitfalls that are the bane of self-publishing. You can read some of my other blogs to find ways how to rise above this.

Again, I go back to Stephen King’s quote and paraphrase. If you are not reading, you shouldn’t be writing. Find or make the time to do it. You can’t write in a vacuum and expect to be successful.

I look forward to your comments on this post.

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