Just a warning: I my come off sounding like an angry parent, and I’m going to try very, very hard to be diplomatic about this, because I love authors. They are my chosen tribe, my people. I love to help them, and I love working with the written word. So, thinking about how many independent authors end up frustrated with the process of hiring a freelancer, and then seeing the result of their efforts in the form of lackluster job postings at freelancing sites, frankly, it breaks my heart.
Even though traffic through my WordPress site has picked up in the last couple years, I still rely on sites like Guru.com, Elance.com, and Upwork.com to fill in the gaps between projects. Because I’ve been freelancing since 2011, and using similar sites just as long, it’s impossible for me to calculate just how many job postings I’ve applied to, let alone read, over the years. But, across all of those ads, even across platforms, I’ve noticed a frustrating pattern: lack of informative data.
“Show, don’t tell” is a commonly cited rule among authors, editors, and literary professors the world over. The dreaded “infodump” is to always be avoided. “Showing” language is implied to be better writing; however, “telling” language can be just as active, clear, and compelling. Cecilia Tan at Uncanny Magazine makes a solid argument that strong, readable (i.e., “publishable”) writing can both show and tell!
In the last two posts, I’ve discussed beta reading and proofreading and how these processes will enhance the writing in your books and ultimately boost book sales. The more professional and easier to read the content in your book is, the more likely people will buy it, tell others about it, and leave you shiny 5-star reviews—no matter what genre you’re writing in. But in the vast world of fiction, genres like horror, erotica, paranormal, and sometimes sci-fi, can be seen comparatively as “less than” their literary and more “slice of life” type counterparts. If your work falls under any of those (or any combination of those) styles, investing in any one of these three services will do a great service to your book or novel and its subsequent sales.
Going a step beyond beta reading and proofreading, copy editing is far more invasive as a process. It is looking at the construction of the writing, each sentence, to make sure the words within that sentence work well together and to make sure each sentence builds to the next one without being redundant, overly complex, or laden with passive and unbalanced language. Unlike its more simplistic counterparts, copy editing will take on issues with layout, formatting, and developmental continuity (at every level, from running headers to table of contents to lists of figures and images to the color of your protagonist’s hair and the name of their one and only cousin).
Because this process is much more invasive and, in my opinion, more strict, I chose the definition provided by the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. Yes, it is a British source, and it’s an articulate and detail-oriented definition that leaves little to doubt. That’s precisely what I like about it.
Here is how they define a copy editor –
A professional copy-editor begins by checking that the copy is complete. Do the chapter titles and other elements match the list of contents? Are all the illustrations to hand? Is there a list of captions? What system of referencing is required? Are there footnotes or endnotes? Then the editor cleans up a copy of the document, fixes page set-up, spacing and fonts, cuts unwanted formatting, creates a stylesheet and starts to identify problems.
Working through the material, the copy-editor corrects errors in spelling, punctuation, grammar, style and usage, but also very long sentences and overuse of italic, bold, capitals, exclamation marks and the passive voice. They correct or query doubtful facts, weak arguments, plot holes and gaps in numbering. In fiction, they also check that characters haven’t changed their name or hair colour, look for sudden changes from first to third person and monitor the timeline, among other things.
And, here is how they define copy editing –
Copy-editing takes the raw material (the ‘copy’: anything from a novel to a web page) and makes it ready for publication as a book, article, website, broadcast, menu, flyer, game or even a tee-shirt.
The aim of copy-editing is to ensure that whatever appears in public is accurate, easy to follow, fit for purpose and free of error, omission, inconsistency and repetition. This process picks up embarrassing mistakes, ambiguities and anomalies, alerts the client to possible legal problems and analyses the document structure for the typesetter/designer.
One of the things that beta reading, proofreading, and copy editing seem to have in common is that they all look at the “larger” and “smaller” elements of the document simultaneously. It then becomes a matter of who fixes what and when. If you are pursuing the craft and services of a copy editor, it is most likely you have not published your book yet and it has not been under a proofreader’s loving gaze. You may copy edit before you select a beta reader, but you don’t necessarily have to. Especially, if you can find a beta reader who copy edits. (Or, a professional readerwho does all three…)
Having a clear understanding of what a beta reader, proofreader, and copy editor bring to your document will help you select the right services for your document—no matter which stage of the game you are in. The great thing, in this quick-pub age, is that you can now, technically, perform these services at any stage of the game. However, knowing how hard it is to delete stuff off of the Internet, it may be a good idea to be more proactive, take some time, and get your manuscript edited before you publish.
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 Wikipediadefinition 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!
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.
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.
Even though I haven’t been very regular here at the blog–I mean, last year’s NaNo stuff is still up for Pete’s sake–I have been active in other forums. Mainly, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Though, I’m sure you all already know about FB and Twitter because I’ve employed modules here, I just thought some of my readers may enjoy and employ Pinterest for story boarding, collecting character-bio ideas, and sorting articles on publishing, writing, and editing advice.
And, I’m sure you all needed one more outlet to collect data from, am I right? #infooverload
Though I have plenty of other boards that may interest the casual Pinner, especially ones with an affinity for Marc Bolan or Tim Curry, here are the few of my boards that other readers, writers, and book aficionados may enjoy!
Abigail Carter at the Writer.ly Community has been gracious enough to share her publishing woes with the world in a generous attempt to make it easier on the rest of us. Though Amazon.com, Kindle, and CreateSpace are pretty ubiquitous to the self-publishing realm, IngramSpark is coming up behind rather quickly. I’ve heard the name tossed around a bit, but this is the first eye-witness experience I’ve seen detailed by an actual author using their system.
From the sounds, it isn’t a slick and smooth process–but, is anything in this business slick and smooth besides the final product? Unlikely. Abigail discusses the design, uploading, and final cost issues of working with IngramSpark and if it was ultimately worth it.
Read the entire article by following the link and enjoy a brief excerpt below.
I decided to publish the paperback version of my book, Remember the Moon with IngramSpark because I felt they had a better ability to distribute my book across a wider range of venues (actual bookstores) than Amazon’s CreateSpace.
At first glance, it seemed like it would be an easy process. Post a pdf of the cover and the interior, upload and voila! Get a proof and you’re off and selling! Of course reality is always more painful.
Narrative Magazine has released the information for their Winter 2015 Story Contest. Grand prize is $2500, and your $22 entry fee will grant you three months of access to Narrative Backstage.
We’re looking for short shorts, short stories, essays, memoirs, photo essays, graphic stories, all forms of literary nonfiction, and excerpts from longer works of both fiction and nonfiction.
The contest is open to previously unpublished fiction and non-fiction pieces no longer than 15,000 words, and with the March 31, 2015 deadline, there’s plenty of time to write or spruce up a substantial work to meet the established submission guidelines.
As always, we are looking for works with a strong narrative drive, with characters we can respond to as human beings, and with effects of language, situation, and insight that are intense and total. We look for works that have the ambition of enlarging our view of ourselves and the world.
Any of the stories submitted are also contenders for the $4000 Narrative Prize and Story of the Week. The story will be judged by the magazine’s editors, and winners will be announced April 30, 2015.
Narrative winners and finalists have gone on to win the Pushcart Prize, the Whiting Writers’ Award, and the Atlantic prize, and have appeared in The Best American Short Stories, The Best American Nonrequired Reading, and others. View all the recent awards won by Narrative authors.
At the Writer.ly Community, Abigail Carter takes us along with her publishing journey, and she’s exploring the elements as she faces them–much like other self-published authors are. Here, she’s presented with the obstacle of a media plan to get recognition from a distribution company–just another channel the book must pass through before getting to the local book store.
The distributor asked Abigail to send a copy of her book along with her media plan. Justifiably so, Abigail was taken off-guard–as any one of us might have been–at least the distribution representative was kind enough to give her a quick list of the typical elements.
I think the most important part of Abigail’s article, though, is the fact that she turned to her own connections in order to fulfill the media plan’s requirements. Sometimes, we can forget the power of our own connections.
You can learn from Abigail’s lesson by clicking the link below, and you can enjoy an informative excerpt summarizing the importance of a media plan to a distributor.
“Media plan?” I said, no doubt sounding like every other naive self-published author he deals with on a regular basis. He went on to explain that the plan would list any readings I had scheduled, how many people invited, attending, etc.; scheduled media events such as radio interviews or TV (as if!) or newspaper articles; a copy of my media release and anything else I had planned around the launch of my book.
Writer’s Digest is holding a Short Short Fiction Competition, without listing their genre or non-genre requirements, for pieces under 1,500 words. Winners up to the 25th place will be compensated financially, but first place can take home $3,000, national exposure from Writer’s Digest magazine, and paid travel for the Writer’s Digest Conference. All entrants will be given the opportunity to attend a webinar hosted by award-winning author Jacob Appel.
The deadline is December 15, and authors can register and pay online or offline. Entry fee is $25 per manuscript. Winning manuscripts are scheduled to publish in May 2015, with early orders being shipped in June. Stories will appear in the July/August edition of the magazine. All winners up to 10th place will be published in the magazine and receive copies of the 15th Annual Writer’s Digest Short Story Competition Collection, 2015 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market, and the 2015 Guide to Literary Agents.
Follow the link below to enter and see winners’ spoils in detail. Good luck!