Friday, 18 July 2014

5 Things You Should Know about Working with Beta Readers

This post originally appeared on March 19, 2014 at The Book Designer.

by Corina Koch MacLeod and Carla Douglas
@CKMacleodwriter @CarlaJDouglas
Image by aussiegall
If you’re a self-publishing author, you’ve likely either read or been told that you need to hire an editor. But a professional edit costs money, and while self-publishing gurus will recommend that it’s money well spent, not every author has the wherewithall for such an investment.

Strange words coming from two editors, right?

If a professional edit isn’t currently in your budget, what do you do? Answer: find a beta reader! While beta readers are not editors — they likely won’t have the training, years of study, practice, or the inclination to snuggle up with The Chicago Manual of Style, just for fun — we do think that they can be helpful additions to your publishing team.

Profile of a Beta Reader

The point of acquiring beta readers is to garner information that will help you write a better book. So ideally, at least one of your beta readers should be the kind of person who’d be most likely to buy your book. Why? Their response to your book will help you gauge which parts of the book will work for your audience, and which parts may not.

We also recommend that you find a beta reader who knows more about writing craft than you do. (As editors, you knew we’d say that, right?) Think about it. One of the best ways to get better at anything is to get feedback from someone who’s more skilled and knowledgeable than you are. And if you can find a beta reader who has read lots of books in your genre and has a clear understanding of how your genre works, you’ve struck gold.

Where to Find Beta Readers

One way to find beta readers is to work your social media platforms. If you’ve been spending time to develop a positive online presence and a reputation for being helpful, an unforced opportunity to ask for help may present itself.

If you’re still building your author platform, consider joining a site like Scribofile, where you can offer feedback on other people’s writing to amass “karma points,” which you can then spend on acquiring feedback for your work. Wattpad is another option for finding beta readers. You can upload your book and write a compelling blurb that inspires people to read and respond to your book.

Local writing or critique groups may be an option for face-to-face feedback. Go to to see if there are “crit” groups in your area.

Working With Beta Readers

Now that you’ve found your beta readers, consider the rules of engagement that will help you to create a healthy working relationship. Authors don’t usually pay beta readers, so any interaction needs to be positive and affirming. Presumably, this won’t be your last book, and treating your beta readers right will leave them open to helping you out next time, too.

Don’t Give Them a Draft

Your beta reader is still a reader — a reader who might tell other readers about your book. It’s important to treat your beta readers right, and that begins with what you ask them to read. Don’t give them your first draft. In fact, be sure that what you give them is the very best writing you can produce on your own. Write your draft and set it aside for at least a week. Go back to it and rewrite it if you need to. Then set it aside for another week — again. Revise, revise, revise, until it isn’t remotely possible for you to do any better.

Your Manuscript, Their Way

Before you send your manuscript to your beta readers, ask them what format they’d like it in. Beta readers might want to print your manuscript or read it on a Kindle. If they prefer the latter option, send them instructions for how to get your manuscript on an e-reader. Do whatever you can to remove any obstacles that will prevent your beta reader from carving out time to read your book.

Give Them Guidance

Let your beta reader know what kind of feedback you’d like from them. Develop a checklist with questions you’d like answers to. Do you want readers to comment on the strength of a character, or the organization of a concept? If you create a specific list of questions around content, beta readers won’t spend their time punctuating sentences. Adapt your revision checklist to meet the needs of each book your write.

Don’t Take it Personally

Remember, it takes a great deal of time to read and respond to a book. And your beta readers will have opinions that might sting a little. Be gracious for any feedback a beta reader gives you, even if you don’t agree with it. Ask yourself, “Will addressing this comment make for a better book?” If so, take their advice and apply it to your next revision. If not, whatever you do, don’t defend yourself. Your beta reader already knows your position (you’ve done as you’ve seen fit, as evidenced by your manuscript) but they don’t agree. Thank them for their comments and move on.

Return the Favour

Remember, you’re not paying your beta readers to read your book. They’re offering feedback because they want to help or they’re interested in your book’s premise or topic. If your beta reader asks you to be a beta reader in future, seriously consider returning the favour. And when it comes time to publish your book, give them a mention in your acknowledgements. Everyone likes to see their name in “print.”

Beta readers can play an important part in helping you create a better book — particularly at the revision stage of writing. After you’ve revised your book, based on their feedback, and once again made your book the best it can be, you’re ready for an editor (you knew we’d say that, right?).

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Thursday, 10 July 2014

25 Word Lists for Writers

by Corina Koch MacLeod

I like lists—especially word lists. They help me to make sense of the world. Below is a round-up of useful word lists for writers. Use them to check for and address potential problems in your writing.

Needless Words

We all do it—use words that clutter up our writing. If you know what those words are, you can hunt them down and obliterate them.

10 Words to Cut From Your Writing at Entrepreneur

Needless Words at Tech Tools for Writers. This word list is nicely packaged in a macro that you run in Microsoft Word.* Talk about a timesaver.

*See this 30-second video for how to add a macro to Word.

Craft Words

There are parts of the writing craft that many writers struggle with at some point in their writing journey—telling too much instead of showing, for example. Some clever word wranglers have taken the time to create word lists that can help you to attend to common writer missteps:

TellingWords at Tech Tools for Writers—identifies words that may indicate instances of telling

-ly Words at Tech Tools for Writers—highlights adverbs often used in dialogue, which may indicate that you're telling instead of showing. Often, he said and she said will suffice.

Historical Words

If you're writing historical fiction, it makes sense to familiarize yourself with vocabulary from the time period in which you're writing. These word lists will take you back in time.

100 Words that Define the First World War at the Oxford English Dictionary

Flapper Speak: Dictionary of Words from the 1920s and 1930s, by Margaret Chai Maloney

Glossary of 80s Terms at In the 80s

Genre Words

Some genres of writing have their own vocabularies. Learn the words genre readers will expect to read.

A Glossary of Science Fiction Jargon, by Eric S. Raymond

Sensual Words for Romance Writers, by Annette Blair

Gangster Glossary at Night of Mystery

Hard Boiled Slang Dictionary at Classic Crime Fiction

English Dialect Word Lists

For tips on writing with dialects, refer to How to Write Authentic Dialects, by Arlene Prunkl. These word lists will take you the rest of the way, eh!

A List of Quaint Southernisms at Alpha Dictionary

Glossary of English and British Words at Project Britain

Glossary of Canadian English at

Words from Other Languages

If you're writing a book set in a another place, or if a character's cultural background is of importance to the story, seasoning your story with the occasional foreign word or phrase is de rigeur.

French Phrases Used in English at the Phrase Finder German Loan Words in English at

Russian Words Used in English at Daily Writing Tips

Spanish Words Become Our Own at

The Yiddish Handbook: 40 Words You Should Know at Daily Writing Tips

Confusable Words

It's easy to confuse words that look or sound similar, or that mean something other than what you think they mean. These lists will help you to sort out some of the more common confusables.

Misused Words by Daily Writing Tips

Commonly Confused Words by Oxford Dictionaries

10 Words that Don't Mean What You Think They Do at Daily Writing Tips

Misspelled Words

Your word processor's spell check can catch most of your misspellings, but not all of them. Here are some words that sneak through spell check or trip up writers.

Common Misspellings

Words Often Misspelled Because of Double Letters

There are many more lists that I can add to this round-up. If you have a favourite word list, tell us about it in the comments below.

Image by Brian

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Thursday, 3 July 2014

How and Why to Bundle Your Ebooks and Pbooks


Ebooks or pbooks? 

What if you could have both? That’s right—your library, in both pbook and ebook formats. We often think in terms of one or the other, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

There’s an app for that

Ebook and print bundling has been available at the point of sale for some time via Amazon’s Kindle MatchBook, but a recently launched app from BitLit now makes it possible to get a free or low-priced ebook copy of the print books you already own.

BitLit’s target users are hybrid readers—its tagline is “the feel of a book and convenience of an ebook.” They’ve done their homework and determined that only about 4 percent of American readers are digital-only. As Mary Alice Elcock, BitLit’s content VP explains, hybrid readers want the look and feel of a print book, and the convenience—while travelling, for instance—of an ebook. And they can have this for the same price, or just slightly more, than the cost of a print book.   

So far, BitLit has partnered with more than 120 publishers and has 20,000 titles in its catalogue. They’re also running a “two for one” promotion in a growing list of bookstores. “The overwhelming majority of titles available through BitLit are not out-of-copyright works.” In other words, there’s no public domain epub file available, so BitLit is not in competition with sites like Project Gutenberg.  

I first heard of BitLit last fall when I read Porter Anderson’s interview in The Bookseller with Peter Hudson, BitLit’s founder. At that time it was still in beta. The idea intrigued me, though, so when I learned a few weeks ago that the app was now available, I was eager to try it. 

How it works

It’s easy. Instructions on the site are good for walking you through the process, but here are the basics.

1. Begin by downloading the app for iOS or Android. Create an account, and log in.

2. Choose the book you want to get an ebook copy of. To find eligible books, you can search by publisher, title, or author, or you can scroll through available titles. Many are free. Most of the others range in price from $0.99 to $4.99, with a few priced a bit higher.

It took me a while to find a book in the BitLit catalogue that I (still) owned in print. Keep in mind that it’s early days for BitLit, and they’re in the process of acquiring more content. 

3. Take a picture of your print book using the BitLit app. Tap the camera icon at the top right of your iPhone screen or the navigation icon on your Android device. Follow the prompts to scan your book, keeping it inside the contour lines provided. Here’s what my book looks like:

4. Print your name on the copyright page of the book and take a picture of it. 

5. When your ownership is verified, BitLit will email you an epub, mobi or pdf file, ready to read. They'll do audio, too. Elcock says, “We work with each of our publishers directly, and they supply their own files and metadata—as they would for any other vendor.”   

I received an epub version of Wayne Grady’s The Great Lakes—it was the first title I came upon that I owned a print copy of. The hardcover has many illustrations and photographs, and all of them show up nicely in Adobe Digital Editions.  

Why would you want ebooks and pbooks?

Rich Adin, who blogs at An American Editor, commented recently that if it were always available, he would always buy the bundle. Many would agree. There’s an appetite for bundling among consumers, and there are many applications for print and digital bundles. Here are a few:

For travellers: The convenience of packing a single device speaks for itself.

For teachers: Every class has a range of learners with a range of preferences, and you should be able to offer your students both formats. Digital reading offers so many benefits to students, especially those who are English language learners or who have learning disabilities: text-to-speech capabilities, read-aloud features, built-in dictionaries, variable text size, and the option to highlight and compile notes, to name just a few. Educators have only begun to tap into the learning opportunities made possible with e-readers.

For students: Ebooks offer the same advantages that they do for teachers. They’ll also save your spine and your posture by lightening your backpack! The dictionaries, notes feature and opportunities for social reading available on e-readers and tablets are changing education and literacy. Read in print if you like, then go to the digital text to search, expand your understanding, and share it with others. 

For higher ed students: The ability to scan a digital text for keywords is a boon for research and essay writing. But that’s just the beginning: computing and data analysis tools are changing both how we study literature and the humanities and how we understand them and make meaning. It’s thrilling. 

For anyone who might have to move: One day you will probably downsize—possibly from a few thousand square feet to a few hundred. If you already own a digital copy of your favourite books, it might be easier to part with print down the road. See benefits for travellers, above.

Is bundling a way readers can transition from print to digital? It seems like that would be the logical next step, but Mary Alice Elcock at BitLit says the research doesn’t support this theory. At least not right now. In time, that 4 percent who are digital-only will probably increase as readers become more used to digital text and as more books are available only as ebooks. In the meantime, readers have many choices about how they’ll read, and the important thing, really, is that they keep on reading.  

What about you? Do you have books in print and digital formats? Tell us how you use these bundled titles—we'd love to hear from you!

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Thursday, 26 June 2014

5 Things Editors Know About Readers

by Carla Douglas and Corina Koch MacLeod
@CarlaJDouglas @ckmacleodwriter

This article first appeared February 4, 2014 on Pubslush.

If you’re planning to self-publish or if you’re thinking about it, you’re likely aware that you — and your book — will benefit if you work with an editor.

How do you know this? Well for one thing, it’s impossible to get near the subject of self-publishing in the blogosphere without someone telling you to hire an editor. This advice is hard to miss — like a flashing yellow light at a dangerous intersection. And self-pubs are getting the message and conscientiously seeking editorial services as part of the publishing process.

But beyond the fact that editors catch typos and fix rogue grammar mistakes, why should authors care about editing? There is one reason, and to overlook it is risky.

You care about your readers. You want to give them a good reading experience and leave a good impression by meeting their expectations.

What exactly do readers expect when they read a book?

Editors know what readers expect. Why? The publishing industry has established these expectations over time and readers have internalized them. As publishing professionals, editors are privy to these expectations.

Here are five things editors know about readers:

1. Readers are more likely to finish your book if they read it “in flow.” There is no longer such thing as 100 percent distraction-free reading. When readers read a book on a tablet or smartphone, they can be summoned off-book at any minute by a text message or a Facebook alert. Authors are competing for reader attention.

For this reason, authors need to know the secrets to writing in a way that grips their readers — that keeps them in flow for as long as possible. They need to know how to pace a story to avoid lulls, and establish POV in a manner that allows readers to track seamlessly with characters. They also need to know what style decisions to make, so they don’t distract readers from the meaning-making process of reading. Editors know what trips readers.

2. Readers like all the essential parts of a book to be there, such as correctly styled headings to guide them through large swaths of text, or images, tables, and charts to illustrate or explain difficult concepts. Readers like familiar signposts — such as paragraph indents, or a row of space between paragraphs, to break up the text.

Ebooks are different from print books, and they operate differently, too. Editors know which features are essential in ebooks, and which features belong in print books, or work better elsewhere.

3. Readers like things to be where they expect them to be and to act as they expect them to act. If you like to get a sense of the topics in a book before you read it, you’ll likely consult the table of contents at the front, where you expect it to be.

In ebooks, a properly designed table of contents can always be accessed from the table of contents menu on an e-reader from anywhere in the ebook. If it isn’t there, readers have no options for navigating your book. There are other features that need to behave in predictable ways in ebooks, too, and editors know what these features are and how they’re supposed to work.

4. Readers don’t want to work harder than they have to. There are many things that authors inadvertently do to make readers work too hard, and some readers will just give up. Editors know that readers hate having to stop and figure out who is saying what in dialogue. Sometimes authors use style features (italics), or apply style rules (capitalization), in unconventional ways. These features and rules mean something to readers, and when they are used in unexpected ways, it can cause readers to pause and lose reading momentum.

Your writing and style choices should be clear, predictable, and consistent, and at their very best, completely transparent. If readers forget they are reading, you have done an exquisite job as a writer.

5. They may not say it in this way, but your readers will expect your book to have style. Editing is all about style — the decisions you need to make for the best possible reading experience. Editors are stylists who can show you how to make those decisions.Addressing reader expectations can make for a satisfying read and a satisfied reader. How do you find out what these expectations are so you can meet them? You can read lots of style guides, or you can ask an editor to help you.

Image by Living in Monrovia

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Thursday, 19 June 2014

2 Tools for Improving Your Writing

by C.K. MacLeod

Learning to write well is a process, and there is so much to consider—from story structure to the words you choose.

In self-publishing circles, there is a lot of discussion about perfecting plot, characters, and dialogue—the elements of story—but comparatively little airtime is given to the building blocks of stories: words.

Sometimes, the words we use can clutter our writing and jolt the reader out of the story. Strunk & White calls these words "needless words." That's good news. If these words are needless, we don't need them, and if your writing will be better without them, the solution is simple!

Needless Words

So, what are needless words? In a nutshell, any word that can be deleted without altering the meaning of a sentence or threatening correct grammatical construction is a needless word.
Strunk and White list some examples in the Omit Needless Words section of their famous style guide. Janice Hardy's Words to Avoid list is another terrific resource for learning which words you can do without.

Hunting down needless words is an easy way to clean up your writing because it often requires nothing more from you than to find the offending words and press the delete button. Excise these words from your writing and you're well on your way to communicating clearly.

Finding Needless Words

I know what you're thinking... Do I have to pick through every word in my 300-page book? You can, but I'm not suggesting that you find needless words manually in a word-by-word manner. Oh, no. There are tools for that. Nowadays, simple tech tools can help you root out those words that muddy your writing.

Below, I've listed two tools that authors can use to polish their prose: one for Word users and the other for Scrivener users.

Word Tool

In Microsoft Word, you can use a simple highlighting macro that will hunt down and highlight all of the needless words in your book in a matter of minutes. I call it the Needless Words macro, in honour of Strunk & White. You can then decide how to address those highlighted words (delete them!).

NeedlessWords macro in action

You can find the Needless Words macro at Tech Tools for Writers.

Scrivener Tool

Scrivener's Word Frequency tool is less sophisticated, but still worth a mention. It doesn't highlight needless words, but it indicates words you may have overused. You can then use Scrivener's Find and Replace function to find and scrutinize those words you've used most. In Scrivener, you can find the Word Frequency tool by going to the Project, Text Statistics, Word Frequency.

Scrivener's Text Statistics tool

Scrutinizing words is best left for the revision stage of writing, after the the big-picture elements and paragraph-level elements have been addressed. Taking the time to give your writing attention at the word level will ensure a smoother read for your readers.

Image by Matt Scott

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