Monday, 26 August 2013

7 Reasons Why Beta Readers Are A Great Help

As I find myself ear-deep in my xth editing round for my first novel, I keep stumbling upon reasons why beta readers are life- and sanity-savers. If you haven't had the help of betas yet, or maybe not even heard that they exist, here a short intro:

A beta reader is a person who reads a written work, generally fiction, with what has been described as "a critical eye, with the aim of improving grammar, spelling, characterization, and general style of a story prior to its release to the general public." - Wikipedia

What are the advantages of having beta readers?

1. Your beta readers don't expect a finished-for-print product from you.


They still go in with an eye towards improving your work, but with a different set of expectations compared to an editor.

2. Your beta readers can help make your manuscript editor-ready.

While betas might not always be able to fully erase the need for an editor (you might be lucky and have an editor as your beta), they can certainly help you get your novel ready for an editor's desk. Having betas to help you iron out plot inconsistencies, characterisation issues or mere grammar mistake will put your work in better shape to be picked up by an agent or editor.


3. Your beta readers can read with a focus on a certain aspect of your writing.

While an editor looks for the full package and has several things to tick off his list while skimming your manuscript, you can ask a beta to read your work with an eye for a certain aspect. My sister for example is great at characterisation and character descriptions. She just has a knack for knowing when they fit in and how much information is just right to get a picture across, but not halt the reading flow. Big surprise that she usually is my beta for all things character. This also brings me to my next point.

4. Your beta readers know you and your style.

Often beta readers tend to attach themselves to the authors they have enjoyed reading previous works from. Or they already know you because they are family and friends. Either way, over time you will end up with a core group of betas, that will know you and your quirks. They will be able to not only expect and look out for certain pet peeves of yours (there vs. their is a favourite of mine), but they will further be able to point out inconsistencies across a book series or highlight elements that seem repetitive across different pieces of writing. That is something an editor is usually unlikely to be able to do as a first time reader.


5. Your Beta readers are great supporters in the writing, editing and publishing process.

Beyond the fact that beta readers tend to be very familiar with your quirks, they usually also become great supporters and enthusiastic cheerleaders that are invaluable during the process of writing a book. 


6. Your Beta readers don't expect money for their time and advice.

Most betas read your manuscript purely for the love of reading or a certain genre. They do not expect money for their time or advice. However, do not forget to thank them for their valuable input. A simple thank you can go a long way.

7. Your beta readers can give a fresh perspective on your writing.

This is probably more true for beta readers you found through their love for the genre rather than friends an family. Not because your friends' and family's views will be naturally inclined in your favour (although they usually are), but more because genre beta readers haven't heard you talk their ear off about plot lines and they are more familiar with what usually works for them in your genre. After all, your family and friends might prefer a different genre or even non-fiction over fiction. 

Any other reason you would have liked to see listed? Any good beta-anecdotes to share?

Sunday, 18 August 2013

9 Different Channels for Reaching Readers

As I mentioned in my blog entry on platform management last week, it is important nowadays for authors to be present and approachable for their readers. 

Today, I will give a simple list of the different channels out there. These are a simple selection made based on personal familiarity. I categorised them into Basic, Intermediate and Advanced according to the amount of effort, time and strategy that goes into set-up. Basic and Intermediate channels don't require you to necessarily be a published author. Just pick your starting point and build your platform from there. As you go along, you will find a balance and figure out how to best interact with your fans through your chosen channels. 


Basic channels are free, online social platforms that merely require you to sign up for an account before you can get started. Sometimes it is even possible to connect these channels by signing in through a central facebook or google account. A central sign-in allows you to synch posts across platforms, meaning that e.g. your twitter posts will also show up on your facebook wall.

I am sure none of the examples in this category will be a shocking discovery. Your use of basic channels can range from short updates on your writing life, books, characters, general announcements and other interests to more strategic uses including polls, raffles, writing prompts, author encounters through events, etc. 
  1. Facebook
  2. Google+
  3. Twitter
  4. Goodreads

Intermediate channels require a bigger time commitment for set-up and can be a great addition once you have gained an audience through basic channels. Or they can be your starting point and you reach out through basic channels to spread the word about these platforms once you have published some content on them. As mentioned before, there is no real wrong or right way about what comes first. Everyone needs to figure out for themselves what they would like to tackle first. 
  1. Blog
    • Blogs should have a theme and be updated in regular intervals. A good starting cadence is once a week.
    • Category labels for different blog posts should be clearly defined to make navigation for readers easy and swift. 
    • If you don't think you can accommodate a weekly post schedule, consider sharing your blog with a fellow writer or blogger.
    1.1 Blog Tours
  2. Videos + Vlogs
    • If you feel comfortable in front of a camera and are familiar with an editing programme, you might want to think about posting your insights in form of a video blog. A vlog can also accompany a blog.
    • Videos are also an opportunity to let your readers learn more about you. You could do an introductory Author Q&A video similar to the ones that are done by publishing houses for debut authors. (Example for Alexandra Adometto) If you plan on posting on a regular basis you might even want to consider establishing a channel on a video hosting platform.
  3. Website
    • This is one up from a blog and ideally should function as a gateway to your universe: your blog, background on your books, widgets to connect readers to your other channels, latest news - the more thought-through your architecture on your website, the easier navigation in your universe will be for your readers
    • I think a great time to launch a website is with the launch of your first book. 

These advanced opportunities to interact with your readers have the prerequisite of you actually having published a book. Furthermore, they are usually handled by publishing houses or agents, if you are a signed author. 

Understandable as they require either quite a bit of organisation, sometimes monetary backing and in the case of my last suggestion some expertise. However, by reaching out a hand to other authors, your friends or local writing communities even these can be accomplished independently. It just takes a little faith, enthusiasm and some old-fashioned elbow grease.
  1. Book Readings
    • If you don't think that enough people would show up for you, why not get together with several other others and make it a book reading event? Or you might be able to get a local book store chain or library to host you and do some additional advertising to their customers. As with so many schemes attached to being an indie author, "initiative" is the keyword here.
  2. Book Fairs
    • Same principle as for book readings above. Think about banding together and renting a stand at a book fair or see if you can collaborate with local writing institutions to get a spot to present your book on fairs.

That's my 2 cents for today. I hope this list and short overview helped you better map out your channel strategy. Of course, I will probably touch on these channels and go into more details on how to utilise them in future entries.

So, got an idea on where to start? Any more channels to recommend? Any wish on what I should write about or elaborate on next?

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Platform Management: 4 Tips On How To Keep Readers Between Releases

A book is not written in a day. Seeing the release of a new book within 6 months of the previous is an accomplishment I can only applaud. However, most of the time more than 6 months lapse before a new book is ready for readers. That means that a gap will exist between book releases. Normally new title activities frame a book release between 1.5 to 3 months on each side. Additionally, book release activities follow a bell curve in terms of intensity, slowly building tension towards the release peak and then tapering out.

Since consistency is important with engagement whether online or offline, it is a good idea to build a portfolio of information and activities you promise to offer your readers on a regular basis. Treat your readers like friends that deserve steady attention and not just a desperate phone call when you are in trouble. Your interests are only half the equation and the better you interact with and listen to your readers, the better the relationship with your readership will be.

So, what can you do to keep your readers engaged?

1. Be present

Don't just crawl back into your writing studio once your book is out. Make it easy for your readers to reach out to you anytime. 
To be present, choose which online and offline channels you wish to utilise and dedicate time to maintaining each of them. Quality goes over quantity here. The more channels, the more time will obviously go into maintenance. That might result in a loss of personal dialogue. I, for one, have experienced the difficulties of trying to be in too many places at once on more than one occasion in my life. Usually, I ended up being stressed while my friends felt neglected. That's not the goal, so choose your battles.

There are a myriad number of ways nowadays for you to build check-in points for your readers. Stay tuned for a list in my next post coming 08-18 - Different Platforms for Engaging Readers. Sorry for the wait, but I don't want to overload this post.

2. Include your readers in the creative process

I am always interested to know what my favourite authors are up to. Where do they get their inspiration from? What is their writing process? How did they land on my most beloved characters? Sharing small tidbits and anecdotes on how the actual writing of the novel or book was for you means letting your writers in. It also gives them background on your end of the story. 

Additionally, readers can be invaluable as reviewers, beta readers or even as sounding board for ideas during the creative process. 
  • You are stuck on a scene? Why not start a poll among your readers and see where they point you?
  • You want beta readers to tackle your book before it goes into the second round of editing? I would be thrilled, if I got the opportunity from one of my favourite authors.
3. Challenge Them

This might be something simple like asking them to answer all questions in a community quiz correctly and see how they stand against the knowledge of other readers. Goodreads, for examples, offers the possibility to put together your own quizzes. 

Or you might create an event #hashtag on Twitter and ask them to create quotes for their favourite characters in your book.  Who knows where the resulting #hashtag dialogue will end up. If you wrote a non-fiction book, challenge your readers to come up with a tip for others in the community which addresses the topic your wrote about. The same exercise can be recreated on other social media platforms, e.g.: as an event on facebook.

Finally, people nowadays are very active and love a unique challenge. How about a photo competition with people capturing a scene or object from your novel? Or of them reading your book in an unusual location? 

4. Breach the gap with other pieces of work

There are a few authors where I want to know not only what their next work is going to be about, how the series will continue or what wisdom they will impart next. Much more I hunger for their witty way of putting together words, their great way of writing dialogue or the background story on my favourite character.

Since not all of us are build to be bloggers (and that is perfectly fine), you might at least think about completing smaller pieces of writing to present to your readers in between bigger releases. 

Give them a short story on a topic inspired by your characters, write up a personal experience or give a short essay on a topic either teasing your next non-fiction book or giving additional insight on a published topic. Coming from a fanfiction background, I also see the possibility of a social writing project, e.g.: on Wattpad, accompanying me during my novel process.

Before closing this out, I want to point out that the last point will not suit every writer. Instead it will depend heavily on individual writing process: Are you the type of writer who concentrates intensely on one project (Type 1) or do you occasionally need a break from your big project and go down other avenues now and then (Type 2)?

If you are a Type 2 Writer, Tip 4 should suit you as it gives you the possibility to share work with out the pressure of having to complete a full production. Word of advise, most of this "short content" should be offered for free.

If you count yourself among Type 1, then I think Tip 2 will take priority for you. From my experience, Type 1 writers usually conduct an incredible amount of research which most often never makes it onto the pages of the finished book. Maybe your readers would be interested in the avenues you explore there though. Research brings you to forks in the road concerning your worlds, characters or final topics included in non-fiction.

Inspired yet? What's your next step going to be to breach the gap for your readers?

Monday, 5 August 2013

Book Release Strategy: 7 Tips On How To Build Buzz

After the often more solitary process of writing your book, engaging your readers before the book release and seeing their excitement build can be a well needed energy boost to get your new title across the finish line. This holds especially true for self-published authors who often do not have a retinue of energetic editors, publishing experts and professional marketers at their back. 

Please note that the following tips apply mostly to e-book publishing.

1. Offer a reading sample for a first look

Get your readers talking about your book before release by teasing your new title with a short excerpt. You can make a sample chapter available via your blog or website. Try to make the e-book-sample available in all file formats that your final book will also be available in; e.g.: epub, kindle, pdf, rtf. You can find information on file formats on the book detail pages of different online vendors. Also, don't forget to include information on how to navigate to your website and social media platforms at the end of your sample for an integrated experience.

2. Organise an author Q&A session

Author Q&As can take place on twitter through a custom #hashtag, on your facebook page and in several other formats. It is important that you clearly advertise date and time for several time zones if you are planning a virtual, live Q&A. You can also organise a Q&A where you ask your readers to submit questions to an email address or on a social media platform. These types of Q&As can last a week or more with you promising to publish answers to the best questions each day of a week or even each week for a month. Finally for face-to-face Q&A meets make sure location and directions are easily accessible on your blog or website, if it is organised for a venue.
This is more relevant for authors who are releasing their second book. It can be hard to pull of pre-release Q&As for a debut novel. If you are releasing your first book you might, however, think about organising a virtual Q&A/fan meet between the three to six months mark after your book release. 

3. Make extras available step-by-step 

Nowadays it is important that your book is backed by an online platform (blog or website) which allows you to give your readers an additional experience beyond the book. In the run up to your book release you can reveal new elements with additional information on your new book on a week-by-week or day-by-day basis. The time cadence is entirely up to you, but it gives your readers something new to discover in fixed intervals while they are waiting for your book to come out.

If you are publishing non-fiction, these installments might be blog entries which expand upon the topic you wrote about. If you are writing fiction,  your website or blog should give your readers access to extras which give additional insights into your story, e.g.: first chapter of Book # 2 in a series, take-outs, bonus scenes or maybe notes on the history of your world if you are in the sci-fi or fantasy genre. 

4. Get active on social media and messaging boards

Start to get in on discussions on messaging boards for your genre. This is like research into your own genre and can make you aware of current trends. Participating in messaging boards not only gives you access to potential future readers of your books, but it also gives you insight into what readers of your genre value in the type of books you write.

5. Do a raffle for a number of free copies of your book

You can organise a raffle or quiz with a predetermined number of people having the opportunity to win your book for free for the release date. I would see this as an activity, you could plan for the last month or one which coincides with the pre-order start date of your book, if you have that option.

6. Ask subscription services, genre blogs and book clubs to promote your book

See if writer platforms like Writer's Digest are looking for articles for their newsletter, approach book review blogs or websites in your genre ( with the information on your new book and let book clubs (e.g.: on in your genre in on the upcoming new addition. This is going to be a more time consuming step as it requires research, persistence and patience. However, if you come this far you should already be a pro on tackling tough challenges.

This is actually something that should be kept until shortly after your book release, because if someone comes back on your inquiries they usually want to know where your book is available. If you have the url or information available ahead of time and want to give admins a good lead time, then you might want approach them a week or two before the release date of your book.

7. Create a #hashtag on twitter for your book

The idea of building buzz pre-release is to get your readers talking about your new book as well as making an effort as an author to interact with them. In order to do that you need a platform and even better, if it is one connected to your book universe. One of the simplest ways to do this is by creating a unique #hashtag on twitter and then actively joining into the discussion with fans. 

Another possibility is to open a dedicated facebook page for your book. Similar to the twitter #hashtag, you should here also make sure that you answer inquiries by fans. Most importantly, try as much as possible to give the interactions a personal touch either by pointing out great comments or by answering question by name. Additionally, ask questions yourself or challenge your readers with a poll to keep them engaged.

That's it for today. Of course, this is only the tip of the ice berg in terms of what you can do, but if you tackle these basics you can get off to a great start.

Thanks for giving this a read and I wish you all the best with your next book release. If you have any other great ideas I would love to hear about them in the comments below.