#AmEditing | How #BetaReading Boosts #Book Sales

Beta Reading 8.5.16 Pinterest
From Pinterest

Some writers and authors may wonder at the real value of investing in a beta reader and what kind of services will actually be provided.

“Well, I’ve got a cousin who reads lots of books. He’ll help me.”

“My best friend is an English teacher; she’ll give me good advice.”

While these options may seem like solid and cost-effective solutions, relying on friends and relatives for constructive, literary feedback can put writers and authors at a disadvantage. Most especially if that close circle of advisors errs on the side of camaraderie over criticism.

Since Merriam and Webster kind of let me down in their definition of “proofreading,” I decided to test the vast information waters of Google and got a Wikipedia definition of “beta reading” that is a bit more extensive, and articulate to boot.

…a non-professional reader who reads a written work, generally fiction, with the intent of looking over the material to find and improve elements such as grammar and spelling, as well as suggestions to improve the story, its characters, or its setting. Beta reading is typically done before the story is released for public consumption. Beta readers are not explicitly proofreaders or editors, but can serve in that context.

See? All kinds of fun things going on in that definition. Let’s unpack some of it, shall we?

“a non-professional reader” — Now, looking at that, you might jump back to the beginning of this article and say, “Hey, my cousin isn’t a professional reader.” Or, “Neither is my English teacher friend!” And this might be my only bone of contention with Wikipedia’s definition: beta readers should be professional readers. Granted, not every single reader in your audience will be a professional reader–they don’t need to be. However, if you want an honest, educated, and sometimes hard-to-swallow reading of your book and an effective opinion on how those non-professional readers will receive your book, you want someone who knows how to read books critically and not just for passing pleasure.

Ahh! Not “critically”?! Right?

Yes, critically, because there will be professional readers–critics, of course–who may (or eventually will) read your book, and their opinions are the ones that get passed around on social media and will reflect on your book. Which, for some of those non-professional readers, will determine if they buy it or not. What you need to ask yourself is, will your cousin or your best friend be honest with you about your writing even if their opinion is unflattering? This is where growth as a writer comes from, being able to take constructive criticism that doesn’t feel “constructive” when it’s being heard or read.

But, like Amanda Shofner’s quote above says, you need to remember that a beta reader’s opinions are not about you personally–even though your work feels deeply and inherently personal–but your book. The object that will reflect your work ethic, your effort, and your professional image as an author. Writers can also expect comments that are strictly personal opinions–even from professional beta readers. An author doesn’t have to take every piece of advice/criticism/guidance provided; you want the story to be yours, and it should be. But a beta reader can make sure that your story will be presentable and meet commercial readers’ expectations. Something a non-professional reader may not be able to provide, even if they are willing to be blatantly honest (with minor exception to that English teacher, actually).

“typically done before the story is released” — Unlike proofreading, beta reading does not have a specific place in the publishing process other than before you release the book to the public. However, if you’ve already published the book and you’re getting reviews that mention inconsistency in character development, plot structure, or the entire narrative’s arc, a single round of beta reading would definitely help to clear up those kinds of issues.

“not explicitly proofreaders or editors” — This much is true. Not all proofreaders are beta readers, not all copy editors are beta readers, and not all beta readers are proofreaders or copy editors, but they most certainly can overlap. Effective proofreaders and copy editors will comment on things that a beta reader would comment on, but they may not change them for you. On the flip side, effective beta readers will comment on issues with grammar, spelling, punctuation, even if they may not know how to change or correct them for you.

Overall, investing in beta reading services is making an investment in yourself, your craft, and your potential book sales. The adage that you need to spend money to make it didn’t become an adage for nothing. Hiring a beta reader will boost your book sales because the results will show every kind of reader that you cared enough to put out the best book that you could by making effective use of all the tools at your disposal.

Have you hired a beta reader recently? If you haven’t, would you consider it now? Would love to read about your experiences and opinions in the comments below!

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#AmEditing | How #Proofreading Boosts Book Sales

Proofreading 8.3.2016 Pinterest
From Pinterest

As if the very act of writing isn’t hard enough, right? The passion and dedication it takes to sit down and put your heart and soul in a Word document is highly commendable, but then you have to make sure your commas, semicolons, and parentheses–not to mention adverbs, adjectives, and nouns and verbs–are all in the “right” places (some of which are subjective) and consistent. And that is only the tip of the writing and publishing iceberg.

Did any of that sound like a foreign language to you?

That’s why you need professional proofreading services–especially in a publishing world that might see your genre or category of writing as “less than” (erotica, horror, and paranormal writers, just to name a few, I’m looking at you). Every ounce of validity and credibility that can be given to these genres is needed to generate strong book sales and fan followings. Two surefire ways to generate validity and credibility is to make sure your language is clear and active and to make sure your style choices and punctuation are consistent throughout your manuscript.

Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary takes a somewhat simplistic point of view on the process of proofreading:

To read and correct mistakes in (a written or printed piece of writing)

And I only say that because beta reading and copy editing, which I’ll write about in more detail in later blog posts, could technically be described the same way. However, the specificity of proofreading is based on where in the publishing process this particular style of editing occurs. In one of the last-ditch efforts to catch errors before going to press, a proofread is a penultimate reading that looks at every element of the document, from layout to commas, to make sure it is clear of spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors and layout or style inconsistencies.

In most cases, a manuscript will be given a copy-edit, beta read, or developmental edit before it receives proofreading services. Proofreading traditionally “fixes” things like word usage errors (they’re for their, you’re for your, etc.), making all the quotation marks and apostrophes look the same (“curly” or “straight”), or minor formatting and layout inconsistencies (like applying a half-inch indent to each new paragraph or using periods, em and en dashes, and ellipses the same way in serial data).

Even though a good proofreader will make comments about larger issues if they have been left unedited (like plot inconsistencies, major language issues [subject-verb agreement or switching between past and present tense], and applying major layout or formatting styles [prepping for Kindle publishing]), these issues are usually met and resolved by a copy editor, developmental editor, or beta reader before sending the manuscript to a proofreader.

Have you invested in proofreading services recently? Why or why not? Did you have a good or bad experience? I’d love to see some of your stories or experiences in the comments below.

#NaNoWriMo2015 | This Year’s Goal

Source: NaNoWriMo.org
Source: NaNoWriMo.org

Hello Fellow Writers, Readers, and Annual Novelists!

NaNoWriMo is up and running, and I’m so sad to say that I won’t be starting a new novel this year. I won’t even technically be taking part in NaNoWriMo (or, National Novel Writing Month) as a word-tallying member of the website, that is.

I’m going to be taking part in my own version of NaNoWriMo, which I will handily call NaNoFinMo, or National Novel Finishing Month. In 2012, when I officially began taking part in NaNoWriMo, I actually completed the story I started writing. In 2013 and last year, I only got about 3/4 and 1/2 way through those stories, respectively.

So, for this year’s NaNo goal, I will be taking the first two weeks-ish to finish the serial killer novel I began in 2013 (working title: Survival Instinct) and the last two weeks for the dark lesbian erotica I chronicled last year (working title: Midnight Ladies). Though, I think that “little” collection may take me beyond that amount of time. Maybe Survival Instinct won’t take the full two weeks at the beginning of next month *crosses fingers, partakes in wishful thinking*.

What’s great about this is that I technically don’t have word counts to meet each day, because my overall goal is simply to finish the stories, get a rough draft I can “trunk” until I feel ready to come back and polish them. My plan right now is to chronicle the spectacle adventure as I did last year: so, tune in to the same MeliSwenk channel for the same MeliSwenk fun as you had last year!

You did have fun with me last year, right?

Because I certainly had fun with all of my readers last year. And, I’ll be glad to get back into some regular blogging, too! I have recently cut some of the fat and scored some extra time for networking and general, all-around friend-making.

Looking forward to getting started! Who’s with me? And, what are your writing goals for NaNoWriMo (Or, NaNoFinMo) this year?

#NaNo Update | Bringing the #Characters to Life

And, since I know you’ve all just been waiting for it, we have a surname for Julia’s family: Edwin. Ah, Meet the Edwins: Kevin, Kathy, Julia, Jessica, and Joe. Yeah, that feels right.

Today, I spent some time going back over what I’d written and making some small editing changes. Punctuation and continuity errors and such. I also spent some time focusing on the details, because I’ve realized that’s where the characters really come to life. In the details. Their nuanced conversation and the choices they make in the knowledge they have can make them pop off the page or lay flat. It’s tied up in the moment where solid writing intersects with the clarity of a character’s fate.

Sometimes, for some characters, all they have is waiting for fate to come along and happen. Some characters go headlong running toward their fate with teeth bared and claws sharp, grabbing for it, pursuing at a break-neck speed. Julia and her family are meandering into the hole fate has dug for them; some characters never see it coming. This is the bad thing that happens to good people, unexpected bumps in the road–in a road that already feels so bumpy.

But, it is also the depiction of the resilience or the complete breakdown a character experiences that can make them pop or flop–being an effective writer means being able to show the reader what the resilience or the breakdown does and putting the reader in that situation; showing them what can happen when a person is faced with what seems insurmountable but can be defeated with courage and self-awareness.

Words Written Today: 1,263

#NaNo Update | Control of Information

If there’s one element of story writing that I love it’s the control of information, and I have so much more respect for writers who handle this element deftly. I thoroughly enjoy a good plot twist, and unlike other readers, I love it even better if I never saw it coming. I also enjoy red herrings and unsolved mysteries–sometimes things don’t come with happy endings.

In my third story, with Julia, there has been a current of information that has been murky since the beginning: who “owns” the house they just moved into and what is its history. I mean, it’s easy to find out who’s purchased the house and then lived in it and fixed it up. But, how did it get there? What’s up with the attic? And, should they really be utilizing that treasure trove of furniture “stored” in the low-ceiling basement?

Who has what information and when will it come out? Joey, Julia’s younger brother, and Julia herself heard a warning and the actual danger straight from Hale’s mouth. Their parents also heard about the history of the house from Hale, but when will they get together and compare notes? What will have to happen?

For now, though, Julia, Kevin and Kathy (her parents), and Joey and Jess (her younger twin siblings), are settling in quite nicely. Their house, so far, has been warm and welcoming to them. But, how much longer will that really last?

Words Written Today: 1,407

Reviews | #RobertAickman: Or, Exploring Potential for #Strange Encounters

Robert Aickman - Wiki
Source: Wikipedia

I first learned about Robert Aickman (1914 – 1981) in the September 2014 edition (Issue 148) of Rue Morgue, and since then I have learned that this author had the respect of many in his cohort (from the same time and contemporary) but not nearly their level of visibility. He’s been virtually an unknown, so far;  but within months of what would have been his 100th birthday, Rue Morgue asked us, “But, what about Robert Aickman?” And the response is, “Boy, that man could write some strange stories.”

And that’s exactly what he called them (p.31, Rue Morgue, Sept. 14). It is almost as if he brings together the perfect blend of literary prose with elements of the strange, supernatural, and fantastic — it depicts a life set to explore the potential for strange interactions.

The stories I’ve managed to comb from my local library appeared in short story collections: The Oxford Book of Twentieth-Century Ghost StoriesI Shudder at Your Touch: 22 Tales of Sex & Horror, and Shudder Again: 22 Tales of Sex & Horror.

And, strange interactions are exactly what Aickman delivers in “Ringing the Changes”, “The Swords”, and “Ravissante”, respectively.

Source: Amazon.com
Source: Amazon.com

Michael Cox included “Ringing the Changes” in The Oxford Book, and it was a great place to start to really get a feel for Aickman’s perspective and tone. He uses details and genuine interaction to set the mood and bury our feet in “reality” only to allow the strangeness of Gerald and Phrynne’s unconventional honeymoon (due to their 20-year age difference and the low status of Gerald’s work position) to fly off the page. The changes they experience as a newly married couple are counterpointed against the major changes the bells bring to Holihaven every year. Never on the same day and never after the same amount of ringing, changes in life are unexpected and as Aickman points out, it’s all about how you face them.

Source: Amazon.com
Source: Amazon.com

In her first sex and horror anthology, Michele Slung included “The Swords” much to her own joy — and I wouldn’t blame her. Being able to talk up Aickman right now is plastering a perma-grin on my own face. Not to mention, if you watch British horror TV shows, you may already know about this short. Focusing on the path of decisions a young man makes toward his “first experience”, Aickman’s unnamed protagonist starts by admitting that it is “to beginners that strange things happen, and often, I think, to beginners only” (p. 132). It couldn’t have helped finding the young woman of your dreams at the unique sideshow of a fair that was “pretty and old-fashioned, but no one could say it cheered you up” (p.136). Mildly, it might not have been the best choice, but being young and inexperienced will do that for you. Additionally, this story could be used as an exploration of the delicate relations between men and women — how one is viewed by the other, what is “typically expected” on a date, and how each reacts to or anticipates the fallout of a traumatic experience.

Source: Amazon.com
Source: Amazon.com

Michele Slung brings back Aickman in her second anthology, Shudder Again. “Ravissante” (a loose French translation turned up ravishing or charming as the meaning) is structured in a frame and comes with comparisons to Henry James’ “The Romance of Certain Old Clothes” and “The Aspern Papers”, even a little bit of “The Turn of the Screw” with the calling at the end. However, since I’ve never read any of those (shock, horror, gasp!), I’m coming to this story completely clean, and when I think of frame stories I always think of Shelley’s Frankenstein — “In order to tell you this story, I’ve got to tell you that story.” So, Aickman begins with another unnamed protagonist who will take us to meet a struggling artist — controversial and only kind of sought after — and his oddly dressed and almost always silent wife. I think maybe she just doesn’t dig a party scene, but I digress. More than a couple years after the last party they share, the protagonist hears of the artist’s death and his listing the protagonist as co-executor of the will. That isn’t even the strangest part of the story; remember, there’s a frame in place. The protagonist takes a painting and the manuscripts his friend edited from the estate the wife anticipates destroying. But among them is a small discovery, a harried, surreal memory from the artist of a strange Madame A. and her desires in meeting an artist who appreciates her former husband’s work. In this case, I think Aickman was going for “Ravishing” as the title, more than charming.

After getting just a taste of what Aickman creates of fiction, I can’t wait to get my hands on more. According to Rue Morgue, an established and known publisher from the UK, Faber & Faber, are re-releasing Aickman’s collection, which includes a novel The Late Breakfasters and a novella, The Model. I can’t wait to get my hands on it!

Have any of you ever read Robert Aickman? Are you hearing about him for the first time? Do you know of other anthologies he has been included within? I’d love to hear about it!

#NaNo Update | Establishing Location

I’ve put my poor little family (and still without a surname!) in quite a strange little house, and now I’m at the point in Julia’s story where the family is interacting with the house and finding their places within it. In the basement is a collection of discarded furniture in various styles from a variety of different eras–it’s clear the previous tenants were not just upgrading or remodeling.

I wonder what made those families leave, without their belongings?

Julia just found out that her parents were given some kind of information about the history of the house–which has been scant since the beginning–by Hale, but she isn’t quite ready to hear it yet. So, she doesn’t ask, and when she does, she doesn’t give her mother a chance to answer. And now Joey has disappeared from the backyard.

It is a strange and unsettling little house Kevin has brought his family into, but what is Hale’s angle in all of this? He seems a little too interested in Julia, Kathy, and their family. He also doesn’t seem to like Kevin very much? Was his bumping into Julia’s dad at the cafe more than coincidence? And why was he warning Julia about the attic, to be careful there?

The location seems to be becoming as much of a character in this story as any of the people. I only wish I had all day to write! Glad I was able to get some in though.

Words Written Today: 1,678

#NaNo Update | Into the House We Go

So, I managed to write a little bit this morning on Midnight Ladies, and I got Julia’s family into the house they will be living in when she’s approached by her lady. Julia’s mother, Kathy, has a history with the man who’s renting the house to them, and her dad is quick to stop any unnecessary nastiness from Hale Moriarty–the landlord. He even zeroes in on Julia because she looks so much like her mother.

But Hale is not the worst this family will face [Ooh, crap! I don’t think I’ve given them a surname yet!].

Now, I’ve established the home’s location as old, old as dirt, a home that was constructed before any other people were there and which was consumed by the nearest city as it expanded its borders. It’s only been owned by the rich and eccentric; so it has all the modern flare within its ancient walls. Recently, it fell into ill-repair and Hale doesn’t want to fix it himself. How did he come into ownership of the place?

Hm, guess we’ll have to tune in next week… Same story time, same story channel.

Words Written Today: 977

#NaNo Update | Continuing on with Third Story

So, this is my first stretch of writing in Midnight Ladies that doesn’t count toward a word count. It’s kind of nice, just to write, for writing’s sake. 🙂

Anyway, I started the third story–Julia’s story, which is taking on a great pace so far, and it feels like real writing. I don’t know how else to describe it, except to say that it feels like I’m writing words that sound like they belong in a book. Constructing Julia’s world, her parents, siblings, and the strife of moving into a new house, the stresses of small-town living and small-world connections, has happened quite easily today. It feels real (there’s that word again).

Meeting these characters–especially Julia’s mother, Kathy–so far has been interesting; and I have to admit that I love the feeling of having to pull myself away from a story. It makes it that much easier to go back the next day. Or, in my case, the next week–unless I can find some time in the next couple days…

Hopefully there will be more Midnight Ladies to update about sooner rather than later.

Written Words Today: 3,036

#NaNoWriMo Day 24: Winning

Winner-2014-Web-Banner-NaNoWriMo

I validated the part of my short story collection that is complete and returned a count of 53,689! Whoo!

And Vivi’s story is finished! Whoo!

This has been such a blast, and I hope that you are all doing well and sticking with it [they are basically the same thing!]. Writing a novel is no easy feat, and having this every year lets me stretch my writing fingers, while the other 11 months of the year I’m a very happy reader and editor!

I do plan to continue this collection to its conclusion, and I’ll post updates here whenever I do. I’m already setting up the next storyteller, and getting the ladies ready for one more story before turning in for the night. I also plan to post more advice pieces for the rest of the month, to keep all my fellow November Novelists motivated! 🙂

I wrote 5,699 words today, to end with a 2,237 average daily word count.

How are all of you doing so far?

Total Word Count, so far: 53,689/50,000