The importance of beta readers and editing for self-publishing

Red pen

My post last week on The costs of self-publishing one book. By the numbers., elicited some passionate responses and more than 900 views so far. The response proves to me that authors, new and seasoned, are curious to know if they are on the right track.

All I can share with you is my experience–the good, the bad and the ugly–of my first effort at self-publishing Haunt My Heart.

One of the biggest points of contention in that post last week was the discussion that I spent too much on editing (or in the case of the copy editing too little). Some suggested I could have used beta readers for the editing or a critique group and saved that expense altogether.

I consider the building of my writing career to be the same type of investment one would make with any new business or franchise. No one starts a new business for absolutely no money. It cost money to make money and cheap is not always the best way to go. Sure you can rely on beta readers for your editing and make your own book covers in Canva or Word or whatever program you manage to manipulate successfully, but is that the best course? Does the quality truly reflect the image you want readers to have? Is it your best?

For the record, I do utilize beta readers but their input comes well before I ever send my work to an editor. Once I finish the first draft, I follow Stephen King’s advice from On Writing and let the story rest for a week or two. Honestly, the longer the better. As an author, there’s always another story to be working on or a book to promote, or other authors’ works waiting patiently on my Kindle to be read.

When I go back to that story, I reread it with fresh perspective. It really is like the King says, almost like reading someone else’s work. Next I scour through the manuscript for my personal demons: ly words, just, that, only, feel (show, don’t tell), was and all passive voice. I pay close attention to my POV and make sure I haven’t slipped out of character. I comb through those pages with care until I know I’ve done everything that I can from my biased perspective.

Then I send it to six of my trusted beta readers. One is my first reader and not a writer, but she tells me what I need to hear, not necessarily what I want to hear. She tells me when my characters are whiney and unlikable or do ridiculous things that make no sense. She points out when I’ve had three days and no nights or my timeline is so wonky there’s no way it will work without time travel. The other beta readers are also writers.

Their time is especially precious because I know they have their own projects as well but their input via Word track changes is priceless. They catch things readers overlook or are oblivious to like dialogue punctuation and POV head hopping.

After I consider the changes/suggestions from all six, I pour through the manuscript yet again, polishing and shining until it’s the best I can make it.

Then I send it to my editor. And she makes 1,091 comments of suggested changes. Not. Even. Kidding.

Some of the changes, on Haunt for instance, were things like simultaneous actions. Two things that are physically impossible to do at the same time. Like these examples:

Sarah joined her in the car, shutting the door against the cold.

(How did Sarah join her in the car if she shut the door at the same time? One thing happened first: Sarah joined her in the the car, then shut the door against the cold.)

Floating up and then out from his body, he stood beside it.

(Pretty sure you can’t float and stand at the same time: He floated up and out from his body, then stood beside it.)

Apparently this is a pretty common rookie mistake I make when trying to vary my sentence starts. I had 62 simultaneous action comments from my editor to correct. I challenge you to find one in Haunt My Heart now, ha!

My editor makes both structural edits for me and light line edits in the first round. More line edits in the second round. And usually a third run through before we call it a done deal. At that point, I send it to my copy editor/proofreader for a final run through. My copy editor is an eagle-eyed grammar Nazi. For real.

The final stage is formatting.

I do not have the patience for formatting so I hire it out and it’s back in 24 hours. I could spend a week on it and still not have it right. I know my limitations.

The last step for me is a final read through for any last-minute typos or formatting weirdness.

By this time, I’ve read through my work eight to ten times. All the way through. Honestly, I sort of hate it a little by then, but I do it. For you.

Nothing turns me off quicker than to find mistakes in a book. It happens to everyone. I found several in the latest edition of The Stand  by Stephen King and other bestselling novels. No one is immune.

But I do my best to avoid it with several layers of editing. Every time. And when I do find something wrong, I fix it.

No one is perfect but that doesn’t mean we can’t aspire to be.

Want to read my first self-publishing effort?

Get Haunt My Heart here: Amazon Kindle     

3D Haunt my HeartBook Description:

A Civil War soldier dies to save his men. Can he find true love to live again?

Sarah Knight has a job she’s good at, a quirky BFF, and a boyfriend who’s bad for her. When Sarah unearths a Civil War artifact on a ghost hunt at Chatham Manor, she brings home more than a souvenir.

Lieutenant James “Tanner” Dawson fought for the Union, working as a supernatural liaison for his Major General in a secret Masonic offset called the Brothers of Peril. When he’s hexed by a witch, he learns the only way to save his men is to die himself. But death is not the end. Awakening 150 years later, he knows if he wants to be corporeal again, he has to find true love to break the hex—a task no easier in 21st century than it was in the 19th.

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3 Responses to The importance of beta readers and editing for self-publishing

  1. Your experience with self-publishing is invaluable. I’ve submitted my own first novel to an editor through a self-publishing group in Whitman, MA. Looking forward to and at the same time dreading her suggestions to improve my story.

  2. Pingback:Money, money, money – the results of self-publishing one month recapLisa Medley | Lisa Medley