Got a Question? (Limited Time Sticky Post)

Most of the time, the questions we receive are covered in past blog posts.  In that case, we’ll link to the post in a reply.  But if you have a question that we haven’t covered, we’ll be more than happy to do a blog post on it if we know the answer.  If we don’t know the answer, we’ll just admit we don’t know it. :)

For a limited time, we’ll have this at the top of this blog for anyone who’d like to submit a question.  Given our busy schedules, it might take a while to answer the question, but we will make every effort to do so.

Categories: Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Tips for Working with Beta Readers

Photo by Jo Naylor

I’ve been posting on promotion lately, but I want to switch gears for a moment to a post I’ve had rough drafted for a year concerning beta readers.

What’s a beta reader? Basically, it’s your guinea pig. A beta reader is someone who “beta’s” – tests – your book. They read through an early copy and tell you what things you should change, what things they like, and what things confused them. Depending on your arrangement they may also edit.

Ruth and Janet did a very good post/video on what to look for in a Beta Reader, but as an author who also does beta reading, there are things betas are looking for in authors.

1. “Do you have time to…”

If you’re lucky, you have those regular reliable betas who are always happy to read for you. But that doesn’t mean you should just drop it in their lap, or expect them to “know” that the beta is coming up because you mentioned it in a facebook status. Before you send a file, or even have a file ready to send, it’s a good idea to ask if they “will have time”.  I try to ask my beta readers a month or two in advance, and then again two weeks before I plan to send the file. This might annoy them (see #10) but it’s what I prefer from authors, so…

2. Deadlines

When you give a beta reader a deadline make sure this is REALLY your deadline. Don’t say, for instance, “I need this back by the end of the month” and then, two weeks until the end, start to panic because they haven’t got it finished early. When someone gives me a deadline I use the date to juggle my other projects around it – meaning I DO NOT do it early. Other betas may be the kind to finish in advance, but, to be safe, If you need it two weeks earlier,  give your beta reader that deadline.

3. “How far are you? Do you like it?” 

As an author I know the nail biting fear while waiting on your book to come back from the betas, but as a beta I have to say “Enough with the questions. Just stop.” When I send you back my notes, comments, and corrections I will answer all of those questions, and I’d bet so will your beta readers. Please, please, please don’t harass them. You’re likely to annoy them  and that can leave you beta-less.

4. Be specific with what you want.

Do you want your beta to edit or just make comments? As a beta I have discovered that nothing makes an author madder than unsolicited editing advice, which left me on the fence about whether to do any editing – or even suggest “maybe this needs edited” – for a long time. Your beta reader might be in the same place, so if you want/don’t want honest editing let them know. Something as simple as “All I really need is to know whether this flows/makes sense/is gripping. I have someone else editing”, then the beta knows not to do it. Conversely you can say “Do what you want: comments, editing, whatever makes you happy” for a no pressure “ok” on editorial suggestions.

5. Make sure your betas are a good fit for your book.

Just because your beta readers loved your last book, doesn’t mean they’ll like this one, especially if you switch genres or styles. Make sure you communicate to your betas what they’re going to be reading, even if you think you’re simpatico and they already *know*. Otherwise you’re likely to end up with tear stained emails from betas who hate, hate, hate your new book and everything about it. And no matter what we like to pretend, that’s a blow to the ego.

6. “How did you feel about ___?”

If there’s a part of the book you think needs attention, or that you’re not sure about, ask the beta readers in advance. Sometimes they didn’t pay especial attention to the scene you’re worried about (you could think of that as “it didn’t stick out to them, so nothing to worry about.”), and they may have to re-read it in order to answer your questions. As an author I have been guilty of this after the books come back from other betas, I run to the others and say “Did you think X was boring/too long/unbelievable/etc.” There’s nothing wrong with discussing things, but make sure your beta is open to it. Some do beta reading for a lot of authors and – especially if they’re doing yours free – may not have time for long discussions. In other words, consider whether they have the time to deal with your author quibbles before you dump them all out in an email.

7. “Wait – Here’s a new version!”

As an author I understand editing the book – even rewriting it – while it’s out to your beta readers. As it comes back from reader after reader, we tweak this, redo that, change this, and sometimes it’s barely the same manuscript we first handed out. The desire is to send this new, better – so, so much better – version to your betas who aren’t done yet and say “Hey, this is better. I’ve changed it. If you don’t read this one, all the comments you’re going to make may not pertain anymore.” But what you’re also saying is, “All the comments you already made don’t pertain anymore. Surprise!” That’s not to say you might not have betas who don’t mind this – or who *want* the newest version – but I’d suggest being cautious and at the very least offering, not demanding or just cold sending the newest version. And speaking of new versions…

8. “Don’t bother finishing it. I’ve changed my mind.”

As an author I understand this. Maybe it needs a new ending. Maybe it needs totally re-written. Maybe a beta pointed out a huge, huge timeline error that ruins the whole thing (heh-heh, Yeah, that’s happened to me) but when an author says “don’t bother to finish” some betas may feel like “Why did I bother to start?” I know you had good intentions at heart, no point in your beta wasting their time finishing up a story with notes you don’t need, or want, but at the same time it can come off as dismissive – “thanks for starting but I don’t really care anymore”. Your beta readers may be different.

9. “I’ve re-written it thanks to all your suggestions. Here’s the whole book back. Please read it again.”

As I’ve mentioned, many beta readers do beta for multiple authors, or are authors themselves. Though they may love your book, there’s a good chance they don’t have time to read the whole thing again. If you really think they do, you can always ask them, but don’t just cold mail them the newest file with a list of instructions and a new deadline, unless you already have an understanding. (Even with an understanding it’s still nice to ask, which brings me to my most important point.)

10. Do unto others.

Do any of these things irritate your beta readers? If they did, would they tell you? I’m pretty sure most of my beta readers are too polite to say I’m driving them nuts, and I know I am, so in the end the best thing you can do is treat your beta readers the way you’d want to be treated. Don’t set impossible deadlines. Ask them to pay special attention ahead of time. Make sure they know how much you value them, their time, and their contributions and make sure to thank them in either the acknowledgements or dedication of your book. Oh, and a free copy doesn’t hurt either. Which leads to my very last point.

A Bonus Tip:

Don’t demand reviews.

Even if you offer your betas a free copy, don’t expect – or ask for – reviews. Remember the version they read was in progress, and they may not have time to read your corrected version. Or they may not like to write reviews. Or they may not feel comfortable doing it. (I had a beta who refused to review anything she beta read because she felt it was wrong since she had “had a hand” in the book). If your betas do review, thank them, but don’t expect it.

Do you use beta readers? if so, what tips do you have to keep the relationship running smoothly?

Categories: Editing & Rewriting | 14 Comments

New Modifications on Amazon to Look Out For

It’s a good time to be independent. That’s part of the reason this site exists: to make sure authors know that it’s a good time to be independent and we’re here to help you make the most of it. And it’s about to get better: recent announcements from Amazon about modifications to ongoing programs are bound to benefit authors, especially of the independent variety.

The first announcement is a coming change to the KDP Select program and deals with how authors are paid. Currently, authors whose books are available through Kindle Unlimited and the Kindle Lending Library are paid based on how many times those books are “borrowed” through these services. Starting July 1st though, Amazon will start paying authors based on how many pages a customer reads the first time they read the book. If a page is on the screen long enough to be registered, it’ll add to how much the author is paid.

According to Amazon, authors who write longer works and feel short-changed by the current pay-by-the-rent format can stand to earn more if they can write long stories that are exciting and keep the reader involved. At the same time an author who writes a 100-page thriller novel is encouraged to maybe see if they can extend the story a little bit longer.

Of course, one shouldn’t write a book based on this sort of formula (or possibly on any formula(, but it might give some authors encouragement to try a few new things while giving other authors who already write longer books hope for a little extra income through KU and KLL.

The other announcement deals with changes to reviews and rating. You ever get that low review where someone just takes offense at something on your cover art or a typo in your author bio on Amazon or just to say “I did not like this book. It was totally stupid?” Sometimes they don’t even buy the book? Had my first of those recently, brought down my rating a little. Thankfully, with this little change these sort of not reviews will matter less in the grand scheme of things.

Currently, Amazon rates its books by averaging customer reviews. If you have a book with eight reviews, for example, and you have five four-star reviews, two five-star reviews, and one three-star review, your book’s rating will be 4.1 out of 5. Under the new system though, which they are already testing, reviews that are recent, have been written by a customer who bought the product, and are found helpful by other customers will be given more emphasis than other reviews. So if you have a five star review that’s been found helpful by twenty people and it was written last month by someone who bought the paperback, it’ll be given more weight in the rating than other reviews.

This is a huge change in the review and rating system, and has a number of positive benefits for both Amazon and people who sell their work through Amazon. It’ll not only prevent those fake reviews intentionally posted to bring down ratings, it’ll stop false reviews meant to pump up reviews (Amazon has had a heck of a time trying to stop these reviews, even suing companies that provide positive reviews to authors for a price). And if products have a few flaws around release, once the updates are done and people start reviewing the updated product, the reviews dealing with the product flaws will be less prominent and matter less in the long run.

Right now they’re still experimenting with the new system, and it’s only covering a small group of products, but once Amazon starts using it for all their products, it’ll change everything about the reviewing system! And it can only benefit. Assuming an author writes a very good book, customers looking at the reviews will get access to the most helpful reviews first and foremost.

Like I said, it’s a very good time to be an independent author. And it’s going to get even better. With more chances to get paid for writing the stories you love and not having to worry about length, and a new ratings configuration that keeps bad reviews from totally ruining your rating, authors stand to prosper more from doing what they love and do best. And I cannot wait for these programs to become available for all.

What are some modifications you’d like to see done to Amazon or other book distribution sites?

What are you looking forward to with these new changes?

Categories: Amazon store, Book Reviews, Business Plan, Marketing & Promoting, Writing as a Business | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Smashwords now Allows “Assetless” Pre-Orders

Image from blog.Smashwords.comIf you’ve used Smashwords pre-order function, you know that in order to set the book up you have to upload a version of the book. Mark Coker has strongly suggested uploading your final version, meaning that you’ve got your book completely edited and ready to go BEFORE you set your pre-order up. Organized authors might find this easy, but if you’re like me, you may find yourself finishing your final version at the very last minute. To  give authors wiggle room, Smashwords said you could upload a draft version, so long as your final version was uploaded at least ten days before your release date (that made sure that the final version arrived at all retailers in time). But it still meant formatting your book multiple times. For my last release I uploaded no less than five versions, including the final, meaning I formatted that sucker five times (I could have done it only twice, but being paranoid I kept uploading the “newest version” because of Smashwords’ preview function and the worry that the final might somehow get delayed and customers *might* end up with the unedited first version).

On the Smashwords blog, Mark Coker sites the need for a “final copy” as the reason only 10% of Smashwords books have taken advantage of pre-order:

This requirement created a dilemma for our authors.  If the book’s ready for release today, why should an author hold back the release for three or six months to gain the full advantage of a preorder?  You can’t blame these authors for deciding to release their book immediately, the day it’s ready for readers.

And he’s right. I’d have loved to take advantage of the three to six month pre-order period that industry leaders suggest, but because of that finished manuscript requirement I could only do one month, with the above multiple uploads.

No longer.

Today Mark has announced the “assetless” pre-order – authors don’t even need a cover to set up their book, only a title, description, category (such as romance, paranormal, sci-fi, etc.) and a release date up to twelve months in the future. That’s right. I’ve already given a release date of April 1, 2016 for my next book, and, as soon as I decide on a title for sure, I can set it up and start collecting pre-orders now. I’m free to make changes on it during that twelve month time and, if I have my next book titled (which I think I do) I can set it up and allow readers to pre-order book 9 the day they finish reading book 8! What a great way to take advantage of a reader’s urgency capture sales from people who have JUST finished your book and want to know what happens next RIGHT NOW instead of waiting six months to a year, and having to remind them why they wanted to order the next book in the first place.

Brilliant.

Amazon currently allows you to do pre-orders too, through their KDP (NOT KDP select, just the Kindle program in general), but they have a 90 day limit and they require a copy of the book. They do allow draft versions, but it still has to be formatted correctly and they want the actual book content (not a substitute place holder) so that they can “approve it”. Hopefully they will follow Smashwords lead again (Smashwords allowed indy authors to do pre-orders before Amazon did) and allow the assetless pre-orders soon.

You can check out Mark Coker’s announcement blog for details.

Have you ever done a pre-order book release? How did it work for you? Now that Smashwords allows assetless set up, does it make you more likely to set up a pre-order?

Categories: Uncategorized | 13 Comments

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