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Thursday, July 18, 2013

How Beta Reading can Change Your Writing Life by @IntisarKhanani


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Many indie authors struggle with putting out a professionally edited book, in large part because a professional editor can easily cost $2,500 (that’s for substantive editing, not just copyediting). When you consider that the average indie author makes a whopping $800 a year, it simply isn’t financially feasible. After all, authors still need a professional cover designer as well as a proofreader, not to mention the importance of maintaining a budget for blog tours, giveaways and other marketing efforts. And then there’s the small matter of being able to buy yourself a cup of coffee now and then on your “profits.” What’s a writer to do?

Take a look at your craft. If you are fairly confident in your level of skill—and you have the unsolicited reviews to suggest that you can tell a strong story—then a team of beta-readers just might be your answer to professional editing (at least until you’re selling enough to afford one). While the cyclic process of editing and revision of your own work can’t be undervalued, beta-readers can provide the critiques and insights that can speed you through the process much faster than you could make it on your own.

After the release of my debut novel, Thorn, I knew that I wanted more editorial input into my writing process. I was happy with Thorn, but I didn’t want to spend ten years getting the next book right. I needed input from more than just my family and my writing circle. To tighten the timeframe, I recruited beta-readers to help me with my new series, The Sunbolt Chronicles. Those beta-readers changed my writing life.

More through accident than intention, I put together two teams of beta-readers. The first, a larger group of readers from diverse backgrounds, reviewed an early draft of Sunbolt and provided big picture feedback. I developed a questionnaire covering everything from what they thought of the setting, to questions I hadn’t resolved, to characters and plot elements I was considering cutting out. But they also found plot holes, suggested new scenes, and even pointed me in the right direction for starting the story. We had a “secret” Facebook group, which allowed for dynamic discussions. The FB group also helped me to get a consensus of opinion from my beta-readers, or to assess the level of disagreement. Taken together, the questionnaire and FB group provided me with a range and breadth of feedback for me to consider before revising. Collectively, this group acted as my editor.

My second team of beta-readers was composed primarily of word-lovers: grammar fans, a poet, and a fellow author. These readers functioned much as a copy-editor might, providing a very close reading with an eye to grammar, imagery, and the craft of writing overall. This tightened the language and flow of Sunbolt much more efficiently than any number of revision cycles on my own would have.

I am now completely on the side of Team Beta-Read. Until I’ve got a jingle in my pocket, I’ll be tapping my wonderful volunteer readers to help me shape and improve my stories. Heck, even if I can afford an editor, I expect I’ll still stand by my Team(s). I still use a professional proofreader to assure that those last typos and errors are caught, but the developing my Beta-Reading Teams means I have the budget to assure I can still invest in all the other areas of bringing a book to my readers.

Have you ever use beta-readers—or been one yourself? What was your experience?



Meet Intisar Khanani

Intisar Khanani grew up a nomad and world traveler. Born in Wisconsin, she has lived in five different states as well as in Jeddah on the cost of the Red Sea. She first remembers seeing snow on a wintry street in Zurich, Switzerland, and vaguely recollects having breakfast with the orangutans at the Singapore Zoo when she was five. Intisar currently resides in Cincinnati, Ohio, with her husband and two young daughters. 

Until recently, she wrote grants and developed projects to address community health and infant mortality with the Cincinnati Health Department—which was as close as she could get to saving the world. Now she focuses her time on her two passions: raising her family and writing fantasy. Intisar’s latest projects include a companion trilogy to her debut novel Thorn, featuring a new heroine introduced in her free short story The Bone Knife … and of course, she’s hard at work on the remaining installments of The Sunbolt Chronicles. 

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