Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Thank You to My Friends

In a recent blog post, Joe Konrath, a successful indie author, wrote a response to James Patterson's commentary about the death of traditional publishing being the death of literature. One of the points Patterson made in an ad he ran in the New York Times was that without traditional publishing there would be no quality control over what is published. Actually, he inferred that there might be no more books, quality or not.

Konrath wrote that just because the publishing paradigm is shifting, the future of literature is quite safe. As to the issue of quality control, Konrath pointed out that there are good freelance editors - ahem, those of us here at The Blood Red Pencil among them - as well as critique groups and beta readers to help writers maintain a high standard of writing. You can read Konrath's entire post on his blog, A Newbie's Guide to Publishing. 

When I read Konrath's article, I found it supportive of the post Terry Odell did here last month on the value of critique partners, and it also reminded me of the recent experience I had with beta readers. In the past, I've been in critique groups that have helped me become better at this craft of writing, but I had never used a beta reader until I decided to go indie with my latest mystery, Boxes For Beds.

I didn't set out to get a beta reader. That happened in a round-about way when our own Dani Greer put me in contact with a good editor, as she did not have time to do a full edit. However, she did offer to read the manuscript and give some feedback. Her responses were quite helpful. She pointed out areas where the motivation for some actions was a bit weak, and she also made suggestions for strengthening the historical aspect. I had been so focused on the mystery and the relationships between the characters, I had forgotten about those little historical details that can firmly cement a story in a time period.

I also had another beta reader, Cathy Richmond, who was a member of the critique group I belonged to in Omaha, Nebraska and is a successful author of Inspirational Historical Romance. She read the manuscript after I made the changes, as Dani was not able to give the book a second read. Plus I thought it would be good to have yet another cold read, and I let Cathy know that I was particularly interested in feedback on the historical details and the motivations. She let me know where the changes had worked, and mentioned a couple of places that could use a little more clarification.

This is Cathy's latest book. Don't you love the cover?
The input from these beta readers, as well as the edit by Audrey Lintner, made the finished product much better than had I relied on my own self-editing, and reminded me that it is always so good to have a fresh perspective on a story. Back in the golden era of publishing that perspective would come from the editor at the publishing house, but since that no longer happens, we do rely on friends who will read for us, and for the freelance editors we can hire.

For those who might be interested, here is a link to an interview with Patterson on Salon.

Coming soon, Dani will interview two authors for whom she is a beta reader.  Both write very different mystery series, and they might give you ideas for organizing a team of your own beta readers.

Maryann Miller
is a novelist, editor and sometimes actress. Her latest release is Stalking Season, the second book in the Seasons Series. The first book, Open Season, is available as an e-book for all devices. To check out her editing rates visit her website. When not working, Maryann likes to take her dog for a walk and work outside on her little ranch in East Texas. Sometimes she plays on stage, but she does avoid computer games as much as possible. She is also very grateful for the support from her writing and editing friends.


  1. Beta readers are a valuable resource as long as they understand the fundamentals of story. An uninformed opinion is as bad as no opinion. It's tempting to pick cheerleaders to review your work. You want to hear it's fantastic. But, I'd rather have one Simon Cowell beta reader than ten Paula Abduls.

  2. Also, both books sound interesting. I will add them to my TBR pile. Thanks for the temptation. :)

  3. Diana, I can attest to the fact that you will love Cathy's book. She is a terrific writer. Not only am I a fan of her work, I was one of her beta readers early in her career.

    You are right about the beta readers. I would stick with those who have had extensive writing and/or editing experience.

  4. I agree having had a somewhat disastrous critique group in which a few of the members didn't really understand the writing process. I also learned that you should not send a manuscript to a group of readers until your writing is fairly polished. Beta readers aren't really developmental editors (although they'll often mention things that push a revision) and they also aren't proofreaders, worried about crossing "t"s and dotting "i"s, even though some of them will mention small errors too. It simply depends. We'll have more posts about beta readers (or "first readers" as they are sometimes called) from other authors, and maybe even cobble together a basic how-to.

  5. As to extensive writing or editing experience... I have to think about that, because it's fair to say an avid reader can probably provide some very good critique - maybe even at a level an author or editor misses. Sometimes they see the obvious, just as an innocent child notices things adults don't.

  6. Konrath -- YEA!
    Patterson -- BOO!

    Years ago, Arthur Godfrey recorded a song titled "Yea Boo." Yes, I know I'm telling my age because many of you probably never heard of Arthur Godfrey, a radio and TV entertainer who died in 1983. Nonetheless, the song title seems appropriate here, and you can even listen to it on YouTube, should you have a mind to.

    I love the underlying theme of this post, Maryann: teamwork. I also love Konrath's assertion that book publishing is not dying -- it's evolving. Part of that evolution involves control reverting back to the writer. When big publishers held the reins firmly in their hands, they could dictate content and presentation based on what was selling at the moment or what they perceived would be selling when the book came off the press a year or two later.

    Shortly after I started writing with the goal of actually completing a book, I decided not to go that route because I didn't want someone else determining that I needed to incorporate a steamy sex scene or detailed, gory action into my story. That would be my choice, based on the audience I wanted to attract and my writing comfort level.

    However, independent publishing, as noted, carries with it some weighty responsibilities regarding book quality. Beta readers can bring a fresh eye if they're strong readers, have a great sense of story, and are willing to tell it like it is. Good critique groups also bring a lot to the book-improvement table. Together, they can help you hone your manuscript into a smooth story ready for the expertise of a great freelance editor. Add to your team great cover and interior designers, and no one will be able to tell the difference between your book and one published by Random House.

    I do agree with Diana -- while I love sweet Paula, I think Simon is of far greater value despite the fact that he can be brutally acerbic.

  7. I think of a beta reader as a reader rather than a critique partner. When I was concerned that my first straight mystery might not have the chops since it wasn't my 'normal' romantic suspense, I asked another author who had said she didn't think she could review one of my romantic suspense novels because she didn't care for the genre, if she'd be willing to read Deadly Secrets and just give me a thumbs up or thumbs down before I spent money (and an editor's time) getting it out there. It had already been rejected by traditional mystery publishers for being "a cross between a police procedural and a cozy" which the publishers wouldn't know how to market. [Thank goodness for indie!]
    She did read the book and gave it a thumbs up (and a cover quote), but I still think if I'm looking for a beta reader for my next Blackthorne book, I'd be less worried about "authorial/editorial" credentials than finding someone who knows my writing, my voice, and the rest of the series.

    Terry's Place

  8. Terry and Dani, you do raise a good point about beta readers not having to be those with extensive writing or editorial experience. However, we need to make sure we are getting readers who are not simply fans who do not know how to give the kind of feedback we might need for strengthening a story. We don't need a fan club. Oh, wait. Yes we do, but that comes after the book is published. LOL

  9. Just a word from the traditionally published camp: some editors still do edit. As do some agents. I received valuable developmental guidance from a Berkley editor I pitched to on my own at a conference and who read the whole ms, from my agent, and from two editors at Sourcebooks, both of whom loved my story and wanted a hand in the final shaping of it. So it can happen!

    But I agree, maryann, that you want to bring it as close as is humanly possible to publishable status before seeking a traditional publisher or agent.

    And if you are self-publishing, this step is even more critical. Something that is too easy to overlook: no mater how it's published, your book must compete with every single title still in print to find its audience.

  10. Maryann please excuse the lower case in my note above—you are most worthy of a capital! I blame finger fatigue—I'm opening our summer home to ready it for my spring writing retreat and have been cutting back saplings all day. :)

  11. I thought your were texting, Kathryn. You evn missplled a wrod. :D

  12. I understand about the finger fatigue, Kathryn, as well as eyeball fatigue that often has me misspelling words, or wrds, as Dani put it. (smile)


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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