Why We Need Beta Readers and Editors

I recently mentioned to a friend that I was self-publishing my first book this November as an e-book, as well as a printed book. I told him that after I edit on my own, I will be passing my manuscript to beta readers, possibly a proofreader and after that, edit it again and then it goes to an editor.

To which he replied: “The editing process is never ending anyway. With the technology now with e-books, why don’t you just eliminate the beta readers and editors and publish your book now and get the readers out there to give their feedback and then revise your book again based on the feedback you get, and then publish it again.

My head spun a little.  So I said, “What do you mean? Revise my book again, even after I’ve already published it?” A bit confused, I added, “Why would I want to do that?”

He said, “Yes, keep revising the same book and publishing it over and over based on the feedback you get from readers.”

I asked, “The same book?”

“Yes, the same book. The one you have now,” he confirmed.

My head spun again. “You mean, just print what I have now and let the readers read and judge it without having beta readers read it first?”

He said, “Yes.”

I said, “But once my book is published—that’s it. I’d like to be done with it so I can move on and start writing other stories. Why would I want to keep revising the same book and publishing it over and over again?”

Completely nonplussed, I asked my friend what the advantages are of doing it the way he’s suggesting. To be honest, I don’t even remember what he said because it probably didn’t make sense to me.

For me, it almost sounds like he’s saying:
“Why don’t you rush and publish your book now, even if you’re not satisfied with it and it hasn’t been read by others who can help you polish it. Who cares? You’ll get feedback from readers outside anyway. You can use the feedback to keep revising and keep publishing THE SAME book, over and over again.

To me, it also sounds like: Why don’t you just put a product out there that hasn’t been tested? Who cares if it doesn’t work? You can keep revising the product anyway?

But wouldn’t I be setting myself up for failure by doing it that way?

First of all, why would I risk my reputation as a first time author and publish a book that’s not polished? Just to get it out there because I can keep revising it anyway? It doesn’t make sense. Also, what happens to the printed pieces?

After researching, reading articles and posts from other writers over the last 6 months on self-publishing and e-books, and seeing the results of self-published authors, my friend’s comment didn’t make any sense to me. I can think of a hundred reasons why I do not think his idea is a good idea. For one, beta readers are there to help you. They will read your book and critique it and give you helpful feedback. If I rushed and published my book now and eliminated the beta readers and editors, I would probably get feedback, but none of which would tell me if I made a typo on page 40 and 180, or that I should rewrite a sentence or a paragraph because something is missing, etcetera. Regular readers won’t give the same feedback. They will give general feedback, but won’t go into specifics like beta readers and editors do.

There are many reasons why a lot of e-books fail and why some succeed. I’ve read a number of posts from self-published writers who all give the same advice:

  1. First, write a good book.
  2. Get people you trust who aren’t family to read it and give you honest feedback (example: beta readers) before you publish.
  3. Hire an editor.
  4. Create a great book cover.
  5. Have a marketing plan.
  6. Know your target audience.

I’m sure my friend meant well. Maybe all he was trying to say was take advantage of technology. But even then, some of the things he suggested didn’t make sense.

At the end of the day, I am still sticking to my plan. My manuscript will still be going to beta readers. I personally believe that having them read it and critique it will help me polish my book before it gets published.

Here are links to some posts that I’ve recently read on self-publishing and why beta readers are important:

http://crimefictioncollective.blogspot.ca/2012/08/three-mistakes-you-dont-want-to-make.html

http://jennymherrera.wordpress.com/2012/05/01/four-reasons-why-you-need-beta-readers/

http://saraflower.wordpress.com/2012/07/13/beta-readers/

What do think? Eliminate beta readers? Rush and publish and keep revising and publishing the same book over and over again?

An Interview with Author, Stephen Clarke

I am pleased to announce that today’s post will feature my interview with the witty and funny author, Stephen Clarke. If you’re not yet familiar with Stephen and his books, this is the time to get to know him. I promise you that by the end of this interview, you will probably find yourself reading his website and purchasing his books.

I met Stephen briefly at the Paris Writers Workshop I attended last month. He spoke during the lecture on Literary Trends: Self-publishing and E-books. The panel consisted of a few self-published authors who shared their stories of how they got published. Each story was unique and eye-opening. Stephen’s in particular, amused me, made me laugh, and of course—inspired me.

What’s so inspiring about Stephen’s story was how he used his determination, his creativity and his sense of humor to reach his goals. He went from being self-published to selling his books to a publisher. It goes to show that as long as you keep going, keep believing and keep writing—you too, can get there.

Ladies and gentlemen, here is my interview with author, Stephen Clarke.

During the Paris Writers Workshop, you mentioned how you initially self-published and sold your books in a trolley around town. Tell us a little bit more about that experience.
SC: It was very liberating. I was told by several professionals in the book trade that my novel, A Year in the Merde wasn’t worth publishing. So I did it myself, the old way, that is, by finding a printer, a cover designer, and getting the software to lay out the pages. I was then free to do whatever I wanted, so I had fun with the blurbs, doing collages for the cover, adding fake endorsements, even the copyright disclaimer had jokes in it. I got 200 copies printed up, but I decided not to let anyone know I was self-publishing, so I invented a fake publisher called Red Garage Books and claimed that “we” (it was never clear who “we” were) had discovered this great unknown called Paul West, who’d written the all-true exposé of life in a big French company and couldn’t reveal his identity for fear of being fired or assaulted. I then started trying to sell the books door to door in English-language bookshops, and sold almost no copies at all until I got a mention in a freebie newspaper, after which suddenly I was getting 100 orders a day. I then sold the rights to a “real” publisher, who clearly thought the book was worth publishing after all. That’s a very brief resumé. What I remember most is six months or so of solid work (that’s after the novel was finished), a lot of panic, several troughs of despair, and a hell of a lot of fun.

With the recent success of e-books, should writers still consider traditional publishing first?
SC: It’s entirely up to the writer. Obviously e-books are a lot less difficult to publish and ship, but you miss out on being able to hawk them to bookshops, so I don’t know. If you want an instant world market and know how to use the social networks, I’d say go for e-books. In any case, Americans seem to have forgotten how to turn the pages of actual paper novels, and the rest of us won’t be far behind because we always end up following the American lead in technology. I’m sure my iphone will soon have a real-book detector fitted, and if it smells paper pages nearby it will refuse to turn itself on.

What advice can you give writers who have been rejected by Literary Agents?
SC: Either find another one, or don’t – it’s a very personal relationship, a bit like finding a sexual partner. Someone might think you’re cute but hate your smell. The same goes for agents, except your idea is the cuteness and your style the smell. Just because one or more says no, it doesn’t mean they all will. On the other hand, there are those who prefer to do without…

What advice can you give writers who have self-published but are struggling with book sales?
SC: Look for niche markets. If your book is about French blue cheese, make sure you’ve sent emails to every magazine, website, club and trade union dealing with France, cheese and blue things. You have to plug yourself non-stop. I still do this. Any time there is any friction at all between France and the Anglos, I will tweet about it, and any journalists interested in my opinion on the subject will get an interview. You have to be a blatant self-publicist, even if you’re doing OK.

What do you think makes a good story?
SC: Absolutely anything that grabs readers’ attention. The same story told by two different people will be as different as Shakespeare and Barbara Cartland. You have to make sure that your version is gripping.

What do you think makes a good writer?
SC: The ability to finish writing their book. And the voice. You have to find your own voice, your very own, personal way of narrating.

What book(s) are you currently reading?
SC: I am re-reading an excellent comedy novel called The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, by David Nobbs, and have just finished Robert Harris’s latest, The Fear Index. Though I prefer his historical stuff.

What is your favorite thing about being a writer?
SC: Giving readings and seeing people laugh.

Thank you Stephen for letting me interview you. It was a lot of fun.

Stephen’s book, 1,000 Years of Annoying the French is #1 at the Amazon.co.uk’s French History chart.

To purchase Stephen’s books, please visit his website or go to Amazon.com.

Look for Stephen on Twitter: sclarkewriter

E-books and Publishing

E-books, self-publishing and traditional publishing have been topics I’ve touched on a lot on my blog. I think as a writer who is “waiting” to get published, I’ve slightly become obsessed with hearing about experiences from other writers of how they got published, whether if it’s through a traditional publisher or not. I guess part of why I am so curious is because I am trying to decide which route to take, once my first novel is edited and ready.

If you’ve written a story and queried a few agents, got signed and not long after, got published—congratulations.

But if you are one of those who have been rejected many times, but still have stories brewing in your heads and you still keep writing books, I say, don’t ever give up. You are a writer and you will get published.

I’m sure you’ve all heard about the e-book millionaire, Amanda Hocking. What I find so inspiring about Amanda’s success story is the fact that despite being rejected by many publishers she didn’t give up. She almost did. But something inside of her told her that she had to try again. Good for her. Now she has a huge following and her stories are read all over the world, and she is only in her mid-twenties. During one of her interviews, she mentioned that she told herself she would get published by the time she was 26, and she was right. But it’s not about getting published at 26. It’s more about setting a goal and owning it. She set a goal, owned it and believed in it, and she succeeded. She didn’t let the agents and publishers decide her fate as a writer.

So how did she do it? Why are her stories selling so well, despite what publishers thought, and why are other e-books not as successful?

This is what I think: Amanda captured a huge audience the moment she published her first book and she sold them at the lowest price, knowing that she would write trilogies. She knew that charging less for the first one of each series would encourage the reader to buy it and decide whether or not they’d want to pay more and keep reading the rest of the stories. Turns out, they liked it so much that they continued buying her books. They wanted more, so she wrote more and she just kept going.

But not all genres can have trilogies and not all genres have an audience as big as hers.

No problem. We’re not all trying to be like Amanda Hocking. But we do want to be successful in whatever genre we write. So what do we do to have successful e-books?

Based on the things I’ve learned recently, especially from the workshop I attended a few weeks ago, here are a few things to consider before self-publishing:

  1. Don’t rush. If your book is not ready, don’t publish it.
  2. Edit, edit, edit before publishing.
  3. No matter what, unless you’re a Graphic Designer, DO NOT design your own book cover. Unfortunately, people do judge a book by its cover, and if it doesn’t look professional, they may not buy it.
  4. Advertise 6 months before publishing.
  5. Self-publishing means you do all the work. Advertising is part of your job.
  6. Make sure you have a platform. Knowing that you have followers before you publish helps you sell your books later.
  7. Even though self-publishing means you do all the work, you can still ask for help or hire professionals to help you edit your work, design your book cover, etcetera. Remember, this book represents you.
  8. Know your audience and market to them.
  9. Network.
  10. Keep writing. Write and publish a book every year. You want your readers to keep buying and supporting your books.

It’s a good feeling to know that getting published no longer means it’s only up to “them”. With the options we now have out there—it’s really up to us to decide when we get published.

Best of luck.

An Interview with Lori L. Otto, Author of the Emi Lost and Found Series

Recently, e-books and self-publishing have been hot topics on my blog that I felt the need to interview another self-published author. I came across some rave reviews on the Emi Lost and Found series on twitter and knew immediately that Lori L. Otto was exactly who I wanted to interview.

If you’ve contemplated on self-publishing or have questions on e-books and what it means to be an independent author, or you simply want to learn about the talented author of the Emi Lost and Found series, then this interview is for you.

Meet Lori L. Otto:

What inspired you to write the EMI LOST & FOUND series?
After reading a very popular young adult series, and its subsequent not-so-young-adult fan fiction, I realized there was a need for an epic, romantic series for adults.  I first didn’t really know what the story was going to be.  Instead, the three main characters revealed themselves to me.  After I had a clear understanding of who they were, the story began to unfold.

Did you always know you were writing a series, or did the idea happen in the midst of writing your first novel?
No, this was intended to be one novel.  When I outlined everything, it was all meant to be contained in one book, written in the same way it’s published now.  I wanted the three different narrators telling their stories, so when each of their story lines grew to more than 100,000 words each, I knew I had to break it up.  Fortunately, with the way I’d decided to use three narrators, that lent itself well to breaking it up into three separate novels.  That’s why there’s an intro by Emi in the first book and an epilogue by her in the last book.  

Who edits your books? Did you hire an editor?
I have a “team” of well-educated friends who love to read, and I consider myself lucky.  This means that about 10 people get to read the books before they’re published, and it’s amazing how each friend sees different mistakes.  I don’t hire them to do it– they do it voluntarily because they get to read the books before anyone else.  I also read and re-read the Emi Lost & Found series about twenty times on my own, and still found a few errors right up to the publication date.  I will say, I’ve received reviews from multiple people who compliment my editor because there are so few mistakes.  I do pride myself on this, and strive to have them be as error-free as possible.

Did you ever consider traditional publishing or did you always know you wanted to self-publish? How did you decide?
I queried agents for about nine months before I decided to self-publish.  I received quite a few rejection letters, many of them because of the length of the novels.  That seemed to be a big hang-up for a lot of agents, and in traditional publishing, I understand that can be a problem, putting forth so much money on a long book by an unknown author.  I totally see where they’re coming from.  But times are changing, and I believed in the books so much that I wasn’t willing to cut them down, and really felt like they would be successful in their entirety in e-book form.  This is what eventually made me decide to self-publish.  Even with their lengths (125,000 words for Lost and Found; 129,000 words for Time Stands Still; and 126,000 for Never Look Back), readers have devoured the series in a couple of days and begged for more.

Describe your experience with self-publishing. How long did the whole process take? Did you hire people to help you?
I thought the actual process of self-publishing was easy, and it didn’t take too long.  I first self-published paperbacks, using CreateSpace, because I wanted to have a physical book for myself and many of my friends, and also because I understood the process better.  When people would talk about formatting for ePub and things like that, I was a little frightened, but once I started reading the requirements of sites like Smashwords, Kindle Digital Publishing and PubIt, it actually was very easy.  They all accept files formatted in Word, so what was good for one site was fine for another with just a few modifications of the title page.  I published first on Smashwords, and did a lot of trial and error adjusting for about three weeks.  Mainly it was from viewing the book on my Kindle and seeing mistakes I hadn’t seen before.  (Many of my test readers had Smashwords copies to work with.)  I didn’t hire anyone to help at first, but the biggest lesson I’ve learned in this process is that people do judge books by their covers– and my original covers say nothing about the story.  Just recently, I’ve hired an illustrator to redesign the covers for me.  The first is complete, and the second and third should be done by late April.  I know that I could have this done cheaper than what I pay, but I think her work is worth it.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing?
Advantages: The author is in total control.
Disadvantage: The author is in total control.  
Self-publishing truly is a free-for-all at this point, with no standards to uphold.  I’m happy that I got to make all the decisions on what could be included, or what needed to be edited out.  But anyone who self-publishes will also be forced to face all of the bad work that’s been rushed to publication just for money.  The bulk of these are short stories (that aren’t necessarily marketed as such, but are often between 1000 – 5000 words) that are erotic in nature…and I’m using that “erotic” term rather liberally.  I’m not a prude by any means– there is a healthy amount of tasteful sex in all of my current books– but the things I’ve seen are shocking to me.  I imagine they make a lot of money, though, so it just encourages more and more of these stories to be slapped together and uploaded.  Sometimes, I think self-publishing is too easy.

Would you recommend self-publishing?
I would recommend it, and have to multiple other authors I know, provided they have proper expectations of what will happen and how much they need to be involved to generate sales.  When I published, the story about Amanda Hocking had been floating around the Internet, and I’ll be honest, I had very unrealistic expectations.  I didn’t think I’d become a millionaire overnight, but I thought I’d make more money than I have and didn’t think I’d have to work so hard to sell my books.  Marketing is the hardest thing about self-publishing.  I’m a good writer, but even though I worked in marketing for ten years, I still fail on a daily basis in this arena.  I’m pretty introverted, and that seems to work against me.

Would you consider traditional publishing if a Literary Agent approached you now?
Of course I would!  I’d be a fool not to.  I’m working on two other series now and am considering trying to get an agent for at least one of them.  Again, I believe that my books are good and that women who read them will be drawn to the characters, but my biggest problem is finding readers.  If an agent could help me with that, I might be willing to make a few concessions.

What makes someone an Independent Author?
I guess my definition is someone who writes and/or publishes without the backing of an agent or publishing house– a writer who is left to handle every aspect of writing, editing and promoting the book on their own or by using their own resources (time, money, etc.).

How do you market your books? What has been the most effective?
Not well.  😉  I have a Twitter account that I use, setting up different campaigns and scheduling tweets in bulk on a daily basis.  As you can imagine, this is tedious and a little exhausting, and I’m not sure how effective it actually is.  I know when I don’t tweet at all, I get very few hits to my blog, book sales pages, etc.  When I do tweet, even though I don’t have a lot of sales to show for it, the page counters tell me that the word is getting out there.  It’s just very hit-or-miss, and I haven’t found a way to target my specific market yet using Twitter.  I also do have a Facebook page, and quite a few people who’ve read my books have found me there on their own.  I only recently started using this as a tool to try to sell more books, because I figured most of the people who “like” my page have read the series already.  But, again, it’s a good way to keep the word out there and to keep the books top-of-mind.  If someone needs a gift for their wife, friend, whoever, they may decide that my series is a good gift after seeing a reminder post on the Facebook page.  I’ve used email marketing, which was helpful at first, but most of my list was made up of people I knew, so after they purchased the books, the emails just seemed to be redundant, reaching the same audience, and I was worried of becoming “spam.”  I’ve done a few book giveaways on goodreads.com, and while many people sign up to win– and many put the book on their “to read” list– this hasn’t seemed to really generate sales for me, either.  I’m a member of a few different Independent Authors groups online, and the members are very good in helping to spread the word about other Indie author’s books on Twitter and Facebook.  The Indie Author community is vast and very supportive of one another.

What are blog tours and do you participate?
I’ve never done a blog tour.  I know I should, and I know it would help, but I just haven’t taken the time to research what is involved.  

Is your book series only available electronically or do you also have printed copies?
It’s available in both formats.  The paperbacks can be purchased on Amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com.  E-books are available for the Kindle, Nook, iPad, iPhone, Sony eReader, Kobo, Android eReaders and PDFs for the computer.

If you could do it all over again, would you still pick self-publishing?
Yes, I would.  I wanted my story to be out in the world.  Even if I don’t have a million readers, the ones who have contacted me from South Africa, Ireland, Australia, India, and everywhere else in this vast world make this whole process worthwhile to me.  

What advice can you give writers who are having trouble deciding between traditional publishing and self-publishing?
I’ve encouraged writers to try the traditional publishing route first.  I do think that they have ways to promote the book that most Indie authors are lacking, and marketing plays such a huge part in the success of books and requires so much time and energy.  If they don’t find an agent after six to twelve months– and if they just want to share their story with other readers– then I’d suggest self-publishing.  The fact that I don’t have an agent is not a failure on my part, in my opinion.  It just means that my books didn’t fit into a traditional mold or category that the agents were willing to work with.  (On a side note, I think my books fall between genres, and if I had understood what this would mean for my book in the long run, I might have done something differently.)

What makes you unique as a writer? Describe your writing style.
I’m a very emotive writer, and I like developing characters.  I write stories that people can relate to and get involved in.  The worlds described in my books create a nice escape, and I think the situations are able to generate real emotions.  In fact, quite a few readers have told me they had to take breaks from my second book, Time Stands Still, because they couldn’t see the words through their tears.  Many reviewers have said that they feel like Nate, Emi and Jack are their friends.  That’s a huge compliment to me.

Who is your favorite author?
I love Vladimir Nabokov’s writing style.  I think Lolita is a fascinating story and a beautiful piece of art.

What is your favorite book? What are you reading now?
Again, I love Lolita for its prose.  Nothing compares to it, in my mind.  I love most well-written books with a love story, but I don’t read romance novels.  Right now, I’m re-reading the Hunger Games so I can be ready for the movie.  I thought Suzanne Collins wrote a thought-provoking series about what society could become– and it also gave me a sweet love story to follow.

Define a good book.
A good book provides an escape for the reader.  It can transport them through time and space, taking them to places they’ve never been and may never see.  It captures their imagination and leaves them thinking about the characters long after they’ve read the last page.  It’s something that keeps them up late at night reading.  It’s something they don’t want to put down, and something they want to pick up again to re-read later on down the line.

Define a good writer.
For my genre, which I consider to be women’s fiction, a good writer is someone who can get in the head of a certain character, and describe the world through that person… and then be able to do that with many other supporting characters as well.  She’s someone who knows the background of everyone involved so that they can accurately predict motives and reactions to make the story as real as possible.  She’s able to accurately communicate situations to let the reader develop their own feelings and emotions.

If you could describe your book series in one sentence, what would it be?
Having given up on her ideal love, Emi Hennigan suffers a great loss after taking a chance with her best friend– only to discover that what she’s always been looking for is still out there.

Are you working on your next book? Will it be part of another book series?
I’m working on five other books right now: three in one series, and two in another (which will eventually have a third book).  For those of you who have read Emi Lost & Found, the second series (chronologically) revolves around Jack’s brother, Steven.  The third series (which takes place thirteen years after Never Look Back) is about Livvy.  The other series are spin-offs of the original, where other characters take center stage.

And finally, what tips can you give writers who are considering self-publishing?
Don’t get frustrated and don’t give up.  (These are tips I have to remind myself of sometimes, too.)  Keep trying new things, and network with other authors.  Make sure your book is as polished as it can be.  Present it as if an agent just might pick it up one day and read it cover to cover.  It needs to be the best it can be.

Thank you Lori for giving me the opportunity to interview you. It was a blast!

For more information on Lori L. Otto and her Emi Lost and Found series, visit her blog at: http://authorlorilotto.wordpress.com/

Where to buy her books: http://authorlorilotto.wordpress.com/where-to-buy/

Check out more interviews.

Self-publishing e-books = Success?

Possibly.

Are you done writing your novel (and by done I mean you’ve written your best and you’ve edited it like crazy)? Have you been looking for an Agent but haven’t found one to represent you? Have you sent out queries to 5, 10, 30 Agents and have received nothing but rejection letters? Don’t give up yet. This article might just be your answer.

http://www.usatoday.com/life/books/news/story/2011-12-14/self-published-authors-ebooks/51851058/1

But could it really be that gone are the days of toiling over writing queries and receiving rejection letters? Could you really write a story and publish it without the help of a Literary Agent? And can you really get published and gain success all on your own?

Well, according to this article, with e-books, anything is possible. Just ask authors like Michael Prescott, Barbara Freethy and Amanda Hocking.

What do you think? I would love to hear your thoughts on this.