Author Archives: Joleene Naylor

About Joleene Naylor

An independent author, freelance artist, and photographer for fun who loves anime, music, and writing. Check out my vampire series Amaranthine at http://JoleeneNaylor.com or drop me a line at Joleene@JoleeneNaylor.com

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

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

Why Bob Should Have Worn Sunscreen OR What is Targeted Advertising?

I recently discussed the need to advertise your book using targeted advertising – but what IS targeted advertising, and how do you do it?

image from openclipart.org

image from openclipart.org

Meet Bob, the knife salesman. Bob is a go-getter, and he wants to sell as many knives as he can. He makes sure the knife store has plenty of his knives in stock – Only hundreds of knife salesmen also have knives there. There are so many kinds of knives there that people don’t see his – unless they’re looking for them.

Bob needs to advertise.

First he goes to his family and close friends. Many of them buy knives, not necessarily because they need them, or even want them, but because they like Bob. Bob’s a great guy.

Flushed with success, Bob decides it’s time to go out into the wide world. He picks a park where lots of people go and sets up at picnic table. A few stragglers wander over, and he makes a sale or two, but for the most part people ignore him. They’re at the park for a picnic, not to buy knives. Unhappy with the number of people who purchased, and getting hot from all the sun exposure, Bob climbs up on the table and announces the knives again – and again, and again, and again. He then wanders around and butts into people’s conversations, shoving knives under their nose. The results are no better (though luckily no one calls the cops).

Disheartened, Bob hears about a place where he is guaranteed to sell. Other knife salesmen have had success there in the past. Hopeful, he hurries over to the emporium. He gets set up, he puts up his sign, and he starts his demonstration – only to discover that almost everyone else in the emporium is also a knife salesman. Sure, a few buy (he is selling different knives than they are), but it’s not the success he was promised because most of the fellow salesmen are there to do the same thing he is: sell, not buy.

Desperate, Bob dumps his inventory in the knife store (more on that later) and starts writing articles for newspapers and magazines. he writes about how to sell knives. He writes about how to sharpen knives. He even writes about the different kinds of knives, but the people who read the articles don’t buy – most of them are also knife salesmen. SO he thinks he’ll be clever and spend his time hanging out where the other salesmen hang out – he’ll leave engaging comments on their articles, but the only attention that really earns him is from – you guessed it – even more fellow knife salesmen.

So how can Bob sell knives? How can he get discovered?

Aggravated, he moves his knives to a smaller store with more discover-ability. Maybe he even makes his own store – only now he has a new problem. No one has heard of this new, small store. So what does he do? He goes back to the park, shouting and waving signs to tell people that this little store exists – the problem is, the people in the park STILL aren’t looking for knives.

Just as Bob has a hard time finding his customers, so do authors. We have the same discover-ability problem he had at the knife store. There are thousands upon thousands of books on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, and all the others. Unless you’re a best seller, or someone is looking for your book, there’s a good chance a customer will never see it, let alone buy it.

To combat that, we hit up our friends and family, then we go to Facebook and post, post, post. Only most of the people on facebook don’t want to buy a book from us – they want to see cat memes and read about how our kids/parents/pet fish are doing. They probably don’t mind us mentioning the books sometimes (they are a part of our lives) but they’re not interested in advertisement after advertisement. The same goes for the other social networks. We rely on shares and word of mouth from our “army of friends” but, unless you’re luckier than I am, those 700+ facebook friends *might* yield one or two shares of any promotional material, and generally they stop there – far from the viral-ity we’ve been promised.

So we run to Twitter. As authors, we’re told that Twitter is the be-all-end-all for book sales. I don’t know about you, but I recently organized my followers in “lists”. Of the 1,600+ followers, almost 900 are fellow authors – and those are just the ones I know personally or who say “author” in their description. 140 of the remainder are author promotion sites (many no longer any good), 130 are friends from facebook, and 60 are artists or photographers (following me for photos). Then we take away bands, news sites, inspirational quotes and the 25 brands/celebrities who follow me back, and that leaves me with a potential 265 people, most of which are Russian (I don’t know what they’re tweeting – they could be spam for all I know), and 50 of which are book reviewers who are probably there to advertise their reviews and services.

So how many readers am I reaching? Am I mostly just advertising to fellow authors, like Bob did at the emporium?

And what about blogging? Sure, we might make a sale here, or a sale there, but if we’re blogging about writing topics, who are we going to attract? Most readers don’t care about “show don;t tell” or “25 secrets to success” – it’s fellow authors who want to read those articles. Yeah, one of those authors might read our book, but is it worth the time for that one sale? *

This is why our advertising needs to be “targeted”. Posting “ads” in unexpected places may make a few sales (I once sold a book because of an image on Flickr!) but it’s not an effective strategy. When gauging the success of a “campaign”, we need to look at not only results, but how much time or money went into getting those results. Did we sit at the park all day – composing tweets, posts, sales images, and replying to hundreds of blogs – like Bob, and make 5$? Or did we spend twenty minutes filling out a form and make 20$? $1 a minute is certainly better than a 1$ an hour, and it can be done by targeting your ads to people who actually want to buy.

How do we target our advertising?  Rami Ungar has posted his results with targeted facebook advertising, and, as many authors mentioned in the comments of my last post, email lists can be a great thing (In the next day or two I’ll post my results from several different sites.). There are website listings, and forums and facebook groups just for advertising books to people who are *looking for books*. In fact there are hundreds of places promising targeted advertising. But  how do you choose which to use?

This is where fellow authors come in. Before you spend money advertising, or lots of time, take five minutes and either ask your author friends (you should have some kind of group you belong to, whether on FB or google groups – like the Ink Slingers) or just do a quick google search. Usually you can turn up a forum post from someone else asking the same question, and you can then quickly scroll through the answers they got.

If Bob had done that, maybe he wouldn’t have had to sit at the park all day getting sunburned.

Man-and-Sign

How do you target your advertising?

EDIT: *I’m not saying that author blogs are a waste of time – I enjoy writing posts to help fellow authors – but I do it for the enjoyment, not for sales. The same for an author blog where I post stuff pertaining to my books. It’s more fun than profit, and I do it that way accordingly. There’s nothing wrong with doing something that could be construed as advertising that doesn’t REALLY make sales if it makes you happy instead. But if you’re just doing it for sales that aren’t appearing – and you’re not enjoying it – then you’re wasting your time.

Categories: Uncategorized

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