Some Thoughts On Beta-Readers

Great advice!

Writing Is Hard Work

Every indie writer needs a good set of beta readers.  However, the choosing of beta readers is a task not to be taken lightly, and it is the writer’s responsibility to help the beta readers do their job efficiently.

I’ve chosen beta readers in the past who have been excellent at their job, and some of them unfortunately have not given the proper feedback to help me write a better novel.  I do not blame these beta readers for not providing the critique I needed, as I didn’t really give them the tools they needed to be successful beta readers.

The most important thing you can do when selecting beta readers is that you should select people who read often, who read the genre of fiction you are writing, and who are generally good communicators at least in writing.  You should also either pay them or reward them somehow for helping…

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The Science of Writing Slowly

When I wrote To Thee is This World Given, both my first and second drafts were written longhand on yellow legal pads, and even as I typed the third draft, every iteration of each reworked sentence and paragraph was handwritten on a combination of legal pads and post-it notes. The revisions to the fourth through the tenth, and final, draft were also longhand changes scribbled between the lines of the printed manuscripts.

I always assumed that my preference for longhand was just an old-school crutch, because my writing always seems to have a clarity that my typing does not.

But it turns out that writing slowly actually does improve the quality of one’s writing. The results of a study in the British Journal of Psychology, released in January, showed that participants who were forced to slow down their writing by typing with only one hand wrote with greater sophistication than those who were allowed to type quickly with both hands.

Typing can be too fluent or too fast, and can actually impair the writing process….It seems that what we write is a product of the interactions between our thoughts and the tools we use to express them.

[S]lowing down participants’ typing by asking them to use only one hand, allowed more time for internal word search, resulting in a larger variety of words. Fast typists may have simply written the first word that came to mind.

Another study released in 2011 found that writing by hand strengthens the learning process, while typing impairs it. 

The process of reading and writing involves a number of senses….When writing by hand, our brain receives feedback from our motor actions, together with the sensation of touching a pencil and paper. These kinds of feedback are significantly different from those we receive when touching and typing on a keyboard.

Our bodies are designed to interact with the world which surrounds us. We are living creatures, geared toward using physical objects — be it a book, a keyboard or a pen — to perform certain tasks.

For myself, I’m able to see inconsistencies and weaknesses in my writing more vividly when I write by hand, and they bother me more intensely, to the point I that can’t ignore them, then when I type.

One thing I’ve noticed in works by the indie authors that I have read, both fiction and non-fiction, is a hastiness. Even when the writing and editing are sound there is a hasty, rushed quality to it as if the author is not fully aware of what he or she has written.

It may be that the real difference between great authors and ordinary writers is not just innate talent, but the speed and haste with which they write.

Consider this quote from Hemingway:

Interviewer: How much rewriting do you do?

Hemingway: It depends. I rewrote the ending of Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, 39 times before I was satisfied.

Interviewer: Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?

Hemingway: Getting the words right.

Ernest Hemingway, The Paris Review, Interview, 1956

Or this one from Faulkner:

Faulkner: Since none of my work has met my own standards, I must judge it on the basis of that one which caused me the most grief and anguish.

Interviewer: What work is that?

Faulkner: The Sound and the Fury. I wrote it five separate times, trying to tell the story, to rid myself of the dream which would continue to anguish me until I did.

William FaulknerThe Paris Review, Interview, 1956

Or this one from Renard:

Style means the right word. The rest matters little.

Jules Renard

Or even this famous one from Twain:

The difference between the almost right word and the right word is … the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.

Mark Twain

If you would like to improve your writing just slow down.

You might also like my posts: A Few Thoughts on Writing, The First Draft of Anything is Shit, and The Hardest Thing to Do is Simply Write the Truth.

-k-

 

 

 

Text-To-Speech (TTL) as Editing Aid for Writers

No Wasted Ink

microphone2
As authors, hearing your manuscript read out-loud is an important step in the editing process. By listening to your text, minor glitches in your writing stand out and are more easily corrected. While many of us do read our work ourselves, it is often better when someone else reads your work so that you can focus your attention on errors and making a note of them on your manuscript.

Personally, this is one of the reasons I like to read my work at critique groups. It allows me to not only gauge the response to my work on other people, but I also get the benefit of the read. However, there are times when a critique group is not available or when you wish to listen to long passages of your manuscript. For those times, I recommend a text-to-speech program.

A Text-to-Speech program converts your typed text into speech. Most…

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AutoCrit Automated Editing — An Author’s Best Friend

AutoCrit is an easy to use, automated, online substantive editing tool for fiction of any length, be it flash fiction or an epic novel. It can be used at any stage of the writing process — from the first draft to the last — to help identify common weaknesses in your writing and any areas that may need your attention. And it’s awesome!

The aspects of your writing that AutoCrit examines relate to sentence craft, not grammar — it isn’t a copyediting program. It doesn’t flag misspelled words and punctuation mistakes.

When you upload your text, it generates instant reports on your story’s pacing, dialog, word choice, repetition, strength of writing (overuse of adverbs, passive voice, showing vs telling, cliches, redundancies, and filler words), and a comparison of your work to successful fiction.

When it locates potential problems, it lists them in the sidebar and highlights them in the text in the main window. It doesn’t make changes, or recommend any specific changes to make, it just suggests the number of any given problem to remove. It does allow you to make changes to your text while you are in AutoCrit and to export the edited text to you computer, if you like.

Because To Thee is This World Given has circular structure, where the first and last chapters, second and second to last chapters, third and third to last chapters, and so on, are mirrors of each other, we needed to be able to evaluate each pair of chapters side by side, so printing the reports out and making the changes in the manuscript itself worked best for us.

We’ve posted a sample of one of the reports from the 3rd draft of To Thee is This World Given here, so that you can see a real world example (the changes made to the 3rd draft with the help of AutoCrit became the 4th draft, which was the first draft sent to an outside, [human] editor). This sample report illustrates why you still need a human editor — the section evaluated was all dialog. AutoCrit can’t distinguish between dialog and narration, and since people tend to speak in the passive voice using a lot of filler words and vague pronouns, dialog will often be “red flagged,” even if it is fine.

There are three 12 month subscription plans available: for $60, you can evaluate up to 1,000 words at a time; for $96, you can evaluate up to 8,000 words at a time; and for $144 you can evaluate an unlimited number of words at a time. You can use any level repeatedly over the duration of the subscription, so while there are limits on the number of words you can upload at any one time with the first two plans, over the course of the year all three programs allow you upload an unlimited number of words. You can try it for free here.

We chose to go with the $60 / 1,000 word option, both because we were skeptical the program would be worth it and because we weren’t sure how unwieldy the longer reports would be. The service so greatly exceeded our expectations that it’s hard to put into words how satisfied we’ve been with it.  AutoCrit is the best $60 we ever spent.

One final “plus” — AutoCrit can help you gauge a prospective human editor’s competency. In the future, we plan on requiring potential editors to provide a sample edit of around 1,000 words that we can compare to an AutoCritted sample.

Wendy Van Camp on her blog, No Wasted Ink, also reviewed AutoCrit and provides a nice comparison of it to a few other automated editing services.

You might also like our proofreader, Chereese.

 

Need a Proof Reader? Try Chereese at GrammarRulesAtoZ

Because of complications with our editing service, Kirkus Editorial, which put us behind schedule, when we received our 1st pass proofs for To Thee is This World Given from 52 Novels (our eBook formatter and print book interior designer), we had to find a competent proofreader on short notice who would agree to do the work at a reasonable price on an expedited schedule.

Chereese with GrammarRulesAtoZ came to our rescue. Not only did she reply to our inquiry within twenty-four hours, she had our proofs back to us in four days and only charged us $150.00 (her rate is based on a flat fee of $1.50 per each double-spaced, twelve point font page).

Cheresse was great to work with and the process was simple and straightforward — you just email her your manuscript and when it’s ready she will forward you an invoice via PayPal and send you your edited manuscript upon receipt of payment.

GrammarRulesAtoZ has a no-frills website, but the service is competent and professional. We also recommend AutoCrit, which is an automated online editing service. While it does not offer copyediting and is not a substitute for a human editor, it is has been indispensable to us for early round substantive editing, and we can’t recommend it enough. You can learn more about it here. Another post you might find helpful is To Lie or To Lay, That is This Question, which provides a quick guide for how to keep lie and lay straight. Finally, you might also enjoy our post, Publishing: Odds and Ends and Lessons Learned

To learn more about our experience with Kirkus Editorial, see our post here

 

To Lie or To Lay, That is the Question

Due to our unfortunate experience with the editorial service offered by Kirkus Reviews, we needed to master the proper use of to lie and to lay.

We thought we’d share what we learned with you in case it might be helpful to you, if you have also had difficulty mastering how to use them. Additionally, a very helpful guide on how to use lie and lay can be found here.

When our first Kirkus editor changed all of our laids to lays and our second Kirkus editor changed all of our lays back to laids, we set about trying to learn the rule for ourselves once and for all (it turned out that both editors were wrong — both lay and laid mean putting, but what was being done was reclining).

[A full account of our experience with Kirkus Editorial can be found here ].

After struggling to make sense of some very obtuse grammarians, we realized that the distinction is really very easy to keep straight as long as one keeps in mind what lie and lay actually mean.

To Lie is to recline or rest horizontally.

To Lay is to put or place something somewhere.

Lie — recline or rest / Lies or Lying — reclining or resting / Lay* — did recline or rest / Lain — had reclined or rested

If you lie, you recline. If it lies it is reclining. If you are lying, you are reclining. If you lay*, you did recline. If you have lain, you have reclined.

Lay — put or place / laying putting or placing / laid — put or placed

If you lay, you put. If your are laying, you are putting, If you laid, you have put.

(*When using lay to mean reclined or rested, only do so if the reclining or resting has already taken place, and it makes sense to use it in conjunction with the word did. i.e did lay. If, however, the person is in the act of reclining, is currently reclining, or has already reclined, use lie, lies/lying, or lain respectively.

Did lay is likely the source of all of the confusion, but just remember that while it is possible that you did lay on the bed, it is not possible that you did lay the keys on the table, because lay, meaning put, is present tense, and you cannot be both putting and having put at the same time. Having put is having laid).

The “Recline/Put Test:” When choosing between lie or lay, lain or laid, lying/lies or laying, see if your sentence makes sense if you swap lie or lay with put or recline.

If put doesn’t make sense when you swap it for lay, you need to use lie. If recline doesn’t make sense when you swap for it lie, you need to use lay. For example:

Was he [laying][putting] in bed? No, he was [lying][resting] in bed.

Had he [laid][put] in bed for days? No, he had [lain][rested] in bed for days.

[Did] he [lay][rest] in bed yesterday? Yes, he [did lay][rest] in bed yesterday.

He [lays][puts] back in the chair. [BAD]

He [lies][reclines] back in the chair. [GOOD]

Keep in mind that lie will be followed by an adverb that answers when, on what, and/or in what direction :

  • lie down over there
  • lies down over there
  • is lying down over there
  • had lain down over there
  • did lay down over there

Lay will be followed by a pronoun or a noun:

  • lay it down
  • laying it down
  • laid it down

So once you lay something down, it is lying where you laid it.

We hope this helps! Some additional posts that may be helpful as well: our post on our proofreader, Chereese, who we highly recommend; our post about our experiences using AutoCrit, an online substantive editing program that we also highly recommend; and our post about the various things we’ve learned over the past year, Publishing: Odds and Ends and Lessons Learn.

 

Author Beware — Kirkus Reviews Editorial Service

We employed Kirkus Editorial, the editing wing of Kirkus Reviews Author Services, to edit our novella, To Thee is This World Given, in December 2014.

We chose Kirkus Editorial to edit To Thee is This World Given  both because of the reputation of the Kirkus brand and because we could not find any negative reviews from those who had used the service (to be honest, we did not find any reviews of Kirkus Editorial at all; we did, however, find reviews of Kirkus Reviews’ pay-for-review service for authors and micropresses from Alli and Michel Sauret— both discouraged others from using the service).

The idea that the Kirkus Editorial staff would provide oversight and trouble-shooting in the editorial process appealed to us. But in hindsight, we realize that assuming this would be the role they would play was our projection of the role we hoped they would play, rather than the role they advertised they would play. Reviewing their website in light of our experience, we concede that the only service they claim to provide is to job manuscripts out to an free-lance editors and collect the fees for the service.

Our first word to the wise — at no time in the editorial process with Kirkus Editorial are you allowed to know who is editing your manuscript or what their credentials are, nor are you allowed a new editor if you feel uncomfortable with the assigned editor’s abilities.

Our second word to the wise — Kirkus Editorial is part a family of services created by a company that does not give the customers of these services equal treatment and the same level of respect it gives others in the world of publishing.

Our third word to the wise — the “Big 5” is not an employer. An editor may have done work for particular houses and imprints that make up the “Big 5,” but if they have, they will likely say that they have worked for such-and-such house or imprint, not the amorphous “Big 5.”

Before we continue, we wanted to share some of the comments the editors at Kirkus made about To Thee is This World Given, to assure you that our account is not simply a case of sour grapes. The response we received was overwhelmingly positive:

“Impressive job”

“The descriptions are visceral and sensory”

“The dialog is generally outstanding”

“The characters are vivid and believable”

“The story’s pacing is excellent”

“The zombie element is handled with great skill”

“Brilliantly imagined and skillfully executed”

Our experience:

We opted to go with Kirkus Editorial’s three stage pro-package.

This package begins with “collaborative” editing. We assumed that this was their name for substantive line-editing, but this is not what we were provided. The manuscript received a very light edit, similar to what one expects from a beta reader. In fact, the editor did not catch anything more than our two betas did. And in the case of one of our betas, she caught substantially more than Kirkus Editorial’s editor did.

Particularly troubling was that the editor failed to catch a series of continuity errors that ran over 3-4 pages in the last chapter, nor did he catch point of view lapses that occurred throughout the story, including a lengthy lapse in chapter 2. We had specifically requested that the manuscript be read for this because To Thee is This World Given is written in third person objective, which is a very strict, difficult point of view to write in, making it easy to slip out of (there can be absolutely no “telling”).

Also troubling, the editor changed all of the “laids” to “lay.” By doing so, he was only exchanging one incorrect word for another. Both “laid” and “lay” are versions of “to put or place.” In all instances in question, the action being performed was reclining, so the correct word was “lie,” as in “lie back.” Admittedly, we had made the same mistake, but this was exactly why we had hired an outside editor.

[For a quick and easy reference guide on the proper usage of “lie” and “lay,” see our post here. ]

The 2nd phase of Kirkus Editorial’s pro-package is the copyediting phase. After making the changes from the first round of edits, you submit the updated text for copyeditng.

What one expects from copyediting is pretty straightforward — a manuscript returned with primarily mechanical mark-ups, i.e. punctuation, dropped/transposed/repeated words, grammar and usage errors etc. What was returned, however, was a very lightly edited manuscript with bizarre, highly questionable edits and very few true copyedits.

As with the first editor, the copyeditor did not know the proper usage of “lie” and “lay.” This editor changed the “lays” back to “laids,” thereby altering the tense, but not the action, of “putting,” in situations where the intended action was “reclining.”

Additionally, the copyeditor missed obvious mistakes, such as where the word “shadowing” was used were “shadows” was clearly intended (ex. “their shadowing ran ahead of them”). Yet while missing obvious errors, the editor made inexplicable changes, such as inserting dialog tags and filler words, changing active, “showing,” sentences into passive, “telling,” sentences, inserting sentences that popped a given section out of the 3rd person objective into the 3rd person subjective, and insisting on the incorrect usage of various words.

We contacted Kirkus Editorial about these problems, along with our concerns that the copyeditor was not competent, only twenty-three pages into our review, and before we had reached the end of the 2nd chapter. The Director of Kirkus Editorial stood by every edit, insisting that each was correct. The Director’s responses were dismissive — always some version of “if you don’t like it ‘stet it’ or reject it.” Her responses were also tone deaf — we hadn’t voiced our concerns because we “didn’t like the edits,” we did so because we wanted our manuscript to be edited properly, rigorously, and thoroughly. Our concern was, that based on the copyedits made, the assigned copyeditor did not possess the skills necessary to do this.

Of particular concern to us, because the point of view the story is written in is so critical to the story itself, was the Director’s response regarding the insertions that changed the point view. Her response strongly suggested that she did not understand the difference between the two types of third person points of view and that she was not able to discern the difference between a “telling” sentence and a “showing” sentence.

The final round of editing in Kirkus Editorial’s propackage is called the “final polish.” Our manuscript did go through the final polish, so we cannot comment on what it entails.

At no point did Kirkus Editorial acknowledge our concerns as legitimate. After contacting them a second time with additional problems we uncovered by the half way point in the story, the Director offered us a nominal refund for the final, 3rd stage of editing, which had yet to take place, and let us know that we we could go find another editor. We declined the refund and the “opportunity” to find another editor due to impending deadlines of which she was aware.

In the same communication in which we declined the refund and the “opportunity” to locate a new editor, we informed the Director of Kirkus Editorial that the copyeditor, whom she was defending as “one the best, who had worked with the Big 5,” did not know the proper usage of “lie” and “lay.” The next communication was an email from another individual at Kirkus Editorial summarily terminating our contract and refunding us $1,000.00 of the $1,500.00 we had paid.

At no time did we ask to terminate our contract or receive a refund. In fact, we expressed our desire to continue on to the 3rd and final stage due to our quickly approaching production deadlines. We expressed our hope that between the copyedits that were made, our own review, and the final round of editing that all of the errors would be located.

A thousand dollars is a lot of money, and while it was nice to suddenly have it, what we needed and what we wanted and what we paid for was top-notch professional editing, and we did not get that. Throughout, the attitude of the Director of Kirkus Editorial came across as patronizing and condescending. She appeared to have disdain for micropresses and authors, and to have assumed she was talking to thin-skinned rubes with hurt feelings and bruised pride.

In order to not forfeit our reservation on the typesetter’s production calendar (which would have required at least another four weeks to be re-slated), in the end we had to copyedit the manuscript ourselves, submit it to the typesetter, locate a proofreader, work with the proofreader to locate problems in the proof and any mistakes we missed during our rushed self-edit, make the changes, and pay to have the proof corrected.

The pubdate for To Thee Is This World Given was pushed back at least one month; we missed the deadline for the Writer’s Digest Book Contest; and we missed the window available to us for a reputable, not-for-fee, review. These are things that can not be compensated monetarily.

Looking back on everything, we realize that one of our mistakes was not insisting on terminating the contract after receiving the disappointing 1st round of edits. We received them early enough in the process to have allowed us to seek a new editor and still make our deadlines. But our ultimate mistake was in choosing a service that does not allow the customer to know anything at all about the person editing their manuscript. This was particularly galling in this instance given the appeal to “the Big 5” by the Director of Kirkus Editorial in her defense of her anonymous editor’s skills. We believe that one forfeits the right to extol the credentials of one’s staff or contractors when you refuse to release any information as to who they are.

We hope our experiences help you form an informed opinion about whether to use Kirkus Editorial for your editing needs. We are happy to provide copies of all of our communications with Kirkus Editorial, as well as the edited manuscripts and editorial reports.

While it is no replacement for a human editor, we highly recommend AutoCrit, an online editing program for works of fiction. You can read our full review of AutoCrit here. One thing AutoCrit can be helpful with, in addition to its editorial function, is in gauging a prospective editor’s skills. You could have the editor submit a short sample edit and compare it to AutocCrit’s sample. This is what we will be doing in the future. Additionally, we recommend our proofreader Chereesewho helped us at a moment’s call. She is affordable and pleasant to work with.

If you found this post useful, you might also enjoy our post Publishing: Odds and Ends and Lessons Learned.