Alpha and Beta Reading by Vicki

Alpha and Beta Reading by Vicki

I just thought I’d let people know I will be available for alpha and beta readings starting in July. I will only able to take one each week in July due to Camp NaNoWriMo being held that month. Since I have nothing booked, I have four spots open. In August, and beyond, I will bump the available slots to two a week except during November where I will go back to only having one spot each week open. Also, during the weeks of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years I would prefer to take only one.

If you have any questions feel free to use the contact form and send me an email. I’ll schedule on a first come, first serve basis for the available spots. If you’re unsure about how I read please see my post Beta Reading 101. It will give you some insight into my process.

Now for some extra details about me:

  1. I prefer to read fiction, if you have non-fiction, or a memoir, that needs reading please email me so I can ask you a few questions before I accept or decline.
  2. There are three genres that I will not read, mostly because I do not feel I can give them the quality readings they deserve. Those  genres are science fiction, horror, and erotica. If you’re not sure what genre your book is, send me a summary and the first chapter and I’ll see if I can read it and give a fair critique.
  3. I prefer documents that allow me to add comments to a manuscript. I have read documents that are PDF, DOCX, DOC, and Google Docs and have been able to add comments to all of those formats. I’ve also read in ePUB format, but I won’t be able to let you know specifically on the document where I find issues. You’ll have to rely on my report for that.
  4. If something happens and causes your report to be delayed, I will contact you immediately via your preferred method of contact. I’m open to email, text message, Facebook messenger, smoke signals, and carrier pigeon. I don’t Skype, mostly because I don’t like people to see me in pajamas and nasty goat-woman hair.
  5. I’m not an editor, but if I find spelling issues and minor grammar issues I will tell you about them. If you need an editor, I know that Candace is amazing and looking to build her client base. Her prices are very reasonable, especially compared to some of the other editors you can find online (try searching via Google, it will scare you). I really wish I’d used her for Golden Opportunity, but I didn’t want to take advantage of a friendship. However, she will be editing ALL my work starting with Golden Seas.
  6. All readings are FREE. I do not charge for readings and will never charge another author to help them create the best work possible. I do appreciate heartfelt thanks and the occasional gushing compliment, but mostly because I like knowing my clients are happy and satisfied with the work I’ve done, and I’m a little vain.
  7. I will sign a NDA if you need one. For those who are not sure what NDA means, it’s a non-disclosure agreement. Yes, I have signed them in the past, and I am willing to sign them in the future. I understand how scary it is to give our babies to a stranger. We worry they will steal our work and claim it as their own. This is why I have no problem signing an NDA or other document to give an author an extra level of security.
  8. My opinions are mine alone and you might disagree. I understand you might disagree with my insights and critique. I usually tell an author to take my critique with a grain of salt. You should have more than one beta reader, five or more would be best. If other readers agree, or mention something I have said, then I would seriously consider changing whatever the problem is. Don’t rip your book apart strictly based on one opinion … please!
  9. If you’d like me to read after another round of revisions, I will. I think this is pretty self-explanatory.
  10. I do not keep copies of your work. Once I’ve sent the manuscript and my worksheet to you I delete every copy of your manuscript from my computer, cloud, and email accounts. I do keep the worksheet for reference purposes. Keeping a copy helps me keep track of the number of readings I do, and lets me track the authors so I can buy their books when published. Yes, I do buy the books that I’ve alpha/beta read. I think it’s the least I can do to show how much I appreciate the trust an author has given me.

I look forward to working with my next round of authors, if anyone needs a reader fill out the Project Needing a Reader form and I will get back to you ASAP.

V. L. Cooke

Camp Time!

Camp Time!

It’s almost that time of year again … that’s right ladies and gentlemen Camp NaNoWriMo July 2016 is just around the corner (Yes, I know it’s two weeks away)! For those who don’t know me well, I’m a huge believer in the work that NaNoWriMo does to promote creativity and writing throughout the year to people of all ages. This will be my third NaNo event in the last year, and I’m going for the triple crown in wins.

Last time I wrote 75,000 words of Golden Opportunity and this time I’m hoping to write 75,000 words of book two in the Custodian of the Golden Assembly series, Golden Seas. Also like last time, I am including the link for donations to the parent organization of NaNoWriMo, this is the only time I will post the link because I hate when people jam feeds with requests for money. My goal is $300 to match the money I have already donated. I have posted a few rewards and if you’re interested that would be awesome. If you’re not interested, I’m okay with that too. I truly believe that everyone should try to complete NaNo at least one time in their life to have a better understanding of how difficult writing can be.

On a completely unrelated note, I’ve been considering starting a forum or Facebook group to connect writers with beta readers or swap partners and to help new betas and authors understand how the process works. I’d love some input from you guys to see if you think it’s worth it or a total waste of time. Send me a comment and let me know what you think.

I look forward to seeing you all there, be sure to drop me a line and say hi. I love meeting new people and would really enjoy knowing that I have a little cheering section of my own. My name on the Camp NaNoWriMo forums is beansidhe1968 and I really hope to see you all there.

V. L. Cooke

The Care and Feeding of Beta Readers

The Care and Feeding of Beta Readers

It seems to me authors have a love/hate relationship with their beta readers and I wish to do something to correct the problem. I gave my opinion about how beta readers should behave from my own perspective as both author and beta reader. Now it’s only fair I do the same to the author half of my persona. Consider this your beta reader owner’s manual.

What is a beta reader-

A beta reader is a mythological creature, it allows us, as authors, to create the best work we can. They critique our work, highlighting what works, what doesn’t, and where we can improve our babies from the reader’s viewpoint. They are not our whipping boys, nor are they our editors, they are people and deserving of our respect.

I believe there are too many authors who confuse beta readers with alpha readers and I am about to clear it up for the uninitiated and uninformed among us. Alpha readers are those people we give our manuscript to in its unpolished, rough form. I repeat this to make sure we all understand this UNPOLISHED ROUGH FORM = ALPHA READER!

Alphas are typically someone you feel close to; someone who will be kind, but honest. Some of us use our fellow authors for this stage as part of a cooperative exchange. A manuscript swap or critique group. These poor unfortunate souls see our manuscript when we haven’t taken the time to check for typos, sentence structure, or plot errors that abound in a rough draft.

Beta readers are the people who see your manuscript after you’ve already done everything you can think of to polish it. After you’ve listened to the feedback of your alpha readers and you’ve sweated through revisions, errors, and late night rewrites, then you send it out into the world to see how it connects with an actual, non-emotionally invested, reader. Do not use your best friend for this unless you know that your best friend is brutally honest. I used my sister, both as alpha and beta reader for my novel because I know she will never lie to me. In fact, she’s more brutal on me than she would be on anyone else because she knows what I am capable of. Still with me? Let’s move on to the next step.What is a beta reader- (2)

I’m sure you’re wondering, where can I get beta readers? I’m so glad you asked that question. We find our betas through a lot of work, begging, and if necessary paying for these mythological beings to help us. If we’re lucky and they agree to do it without financial compensation then we’re ahead of the game. If we choose to pay, then it is up to us to do our due diligence and make sure that our reader(s) are consummate professionals and not scammers.

The first place I looked for beta readers was at the Goodreads Beta Reader Group. This is the same place that I started beta reading and it is like my home. I feel that I must give anyone considering this group fair warning. In recent months, more and more people are putting up ads to read and then hitting the authors who respond up for money. If you do not wish to pay them it will be up to you to ignore them. Also, several readers there take a significant amount of time to deliver their critique. Again, this is something you will have to deal with and is something I will cover later in this post.

There are several groups on Facebook where you can connect with other authors and may be able to find a beta. I’ve gained several clients from groups there and will gladly take anyone who needs a beta as long as they ask and are polite.

The last option I will discuss is the professional beta reader. I have no problem with anyone who chooses to pay to have someone read their work. I do feel that it is wise to seek out references from other clients. I also feel that you have to take a critique from someone who is being paid to read with a very large grain of salt. Especially if they do not find anything negative to say. Trust me, you can always find something negative to say about any manuscript.

What is a beta reader- (1)

So now you’ve found some beta readers! Good job. I’m sure you are wondering what you can expect from them. Let me guide you through the care and feeding of your beta readers.

Step One: Communicate! I cannot emphasize this step enough. It will make or break your relationship with your betas. If you would like it back within a specific time frame … tell them! If you want to know about character development … tell them! Plot development, pacing, whether you should kill off dear Aunt Bernice … ASK THEM! Betas are not mind readers, they do not know what you are looking for unless you tell them. So please keep the lines of communication wide open.

Step Two: Don’t be pushy. If you promised them two weeks to read without interruption, then give it to them! Don’t email every day asking for updates. Not every person reads at the same speed, and good betas can be reading for five or more authors at a time (my record was thirty waiting, but that will NEVER happen again!). Every time you expect them to email, skype, or send up smoke signals it is time  you’re taking away from them reading! If you’re not paying them be kind and not a asshat of epic proportions … please!

Step Three: When you receive your critique. Thank them, then read it. If you have questions … ask them (see step one). Be nice, even if you disagree. Ask for clarification, but don’t fight with them or get into a flame war on forums. Be a professional not a troll. I’m a firm believer in reaping what you sow. Be a snarky troll and soon no one will read for you. Don’t believe me? I keep a list of people I will never read for again. I doubt I’m the only one.

Step Four: Do not expect them to write a review for you on Amazon, Goodreads, etc. I do not know how this trend started, but I would like to slap whoever started it into the next millennium. Not only is it rude, but some sites would consider them false and remove them which could bite you in the derriere.

Step Five: Repeat. You will need more than one beta. Personally, I used twelve for my book and I am still waiting for reports from at least half of them. Go for a larger number and expect to only receive critiques from half or less. I know, it sucks, but it is far more common than uncommon to have a beta disappear and not ever hear back from them.

One final word on the subject and I will leave it alone … for now. Betas, most anyway, do not get paid. They don’t ask to be paid. As a matter of courtesy, don’t treat them like a slave. A copy of your book when it is published WITH a nice gift bag will go a long way in showing them how critical they were to seeing your book published. Don’t feel like doing a gift bag, or the reader doesn’t want it? Try a donation in their name to a charity, a gift card to Amazon (most of us read … a lot!), or even a handwritten note of thanks. It’s the small things that make us do this job.

Beta Reading 101 (at least according to me)

Beta Reading 101 (at least according to me)

One of the biggest complaints I see on various social media pages is about, and from, beta readers. Authors complain about betas who don’t give appropriate feedback, disappear, or want paid. Betas complain about authors who rush them, who give them butchered manuscripts (I’m actually guilty of this one), who expect them to do the work of an editor at light speed, and who argue over any feedback that might be negative. Now if the beta was part of a critique swap there are even more complaints. So I thought I would take the time to explain what being a beta reader means to me, how I do it, and what an author can expect from me.

My Beta Reading

First, let me state that not every beta reader does what I do so you cannot expect the same thing from each one. My process goes like this:

Step one: I correspond with the writer and ask what they are looking for in a critique. Some may want to know about character development, others might want to know about pacing. The biggest issue I have is when an author says “oh just run through it and let me know of any trouble spots”. I hate that. Trouble spots? What exactly do you consider a trouble spot? To me a trouble spot could be when your female protagonist hates a person for most of the story, including comparing them to a serial killer, and suddenly over the course of four hours falls in love. Another personal trouble spot is when an author starts every other sentence with a conjunction. If you are asking for an honest response from me, then please at least have the courtesy to act professional with your reader.

Step two: I read the work from beginning to end. I do this to get a feel for the story. I don’t stop in the middle, I don’t walk away, and I don’t write any comments about my perception until after I have finished. I want to experience this work as a READER, not as an AUTHOR. Each author is unique and expecting someone to write a story my way would be rude.

Step three: I reread the entire work adding comments. As a beta reader, I prefer to be given a manuscript as a Word document. I do this so I can add comments directly to it. I color code comments based on what I’m trying to show to the author. Since I only speak to them through the anonymity of the internet they have no way of reading my body language so I need to be very clear in my comments.

Step four: I reread the work again, except this time I use spellcheck, grammar check, and two other programs I won’t name here. If you want to know you’ll have to ask me. One of the programs is another spell/grammar check, the other is evil. The evil one helps me find overused words, sticky sentences, and more. It is the bane of my existence as an author, but it has shown me a lot about the mechanics of writing and my personal writing style. Then we’re on to the fifth and most brutal step of all.

Step five: Feedback. I use a worksheet that I created from several examples I found online. For any betas interested in using worksheets I recommend the one at Jami Gold’s Blog as a good starting point. At the end of the worksheet I add my own comments, including what worked for me, what didn’t, explanations for the various colors that I used, and finally I thank the author for trusting me with their masterpiece. I also caution them to take my feedback with a grain of salt. If another beta reader says similar things, then I’d pay attention. If it’s just me, then ignore it or not at their own discretion.

My Beta Reading (1)

 

It’s actually pretty easy to become a beta if it’s something you’re interested in. I found it to be one of the most important things I’ve done for improving my craft as an author.

There are several ways you can do this. Goodreads has a great beta reading group that connects authors with betas. Some are critique swaps so those who are both author and beta can connect with someone who writes in the same genre if that’s what you’re looking for.

Another great source is Facebook. Do a search for writing groups join several and offer your services as a beta. If you’re planning on offering the services for free (like most do) you will be swamped with work in a couple of hours.

My Beta Reading (2)I feel it is very important to point out that as betas authors trust us to be honest, communicative, and professional … even when we are not being paid. If you have some limits about what you are willing to read, please tell your prospective clients. They are not mind readers.

WARNING! WHAT FOLLOWS THIS TEXT MAY BE OFFENSIVE TO SOME READERS … PLEASE PROCEED WITH CAUTION!

In my opinion no beta reader should EVER tell an author any variation of the following statements. Before we get to the statements I want to mention all of these are based on my personal experience as a beta and an author and may involve several rude and downright hostile comments.

Statement one: “It was okay, but I could have told that story in less than 40,000 words” when discussing a 93,000 word manuscript.  My response to this statement when I read it went as follows ,”I’m glad you could tell my story in less than half the words I used for it. You’re amazing! Guess what, I’M NOT YOU!” I didn’t actually say that to the reader, instead I thanked them and filed in my mental file on how not to be as a beta reader/author.

Statement two: “I didn’t like the amount of bad language in the book, was it really necessary?” This one actually came from another author friend. My response would have gone something like this “Probably not, but that’s my choice as the author not yours. I swear like a sailor when I’m angry and it doesn’t phase me in the least to read an f-bomb multiple times in a book, if you don’t like it DON’T BUY IT!” Actually, I would love to say that to someone. In reality, I would politely thank them and tell them that I would consider their advice when I did my next round of revisions.

Statement three: “Were all the sex scenes really necessary?” This is another one that came from a friend of mine who is an erotic romance author. I believe that when an author tells you a novel is an erotic romance then as the reader you should expect sex, probably lots of it. As a beta reader if you don’t want to read erotica make sure you clarify that with your author before you start. I don’t read horror, I make sure that every author knows that before I agree to read for them.

Statement four: “I don’t think the material is really appropriate for a young adult audience.” Okay, this is a valid issue, however, if the author has given you an urban fantasy with a forty-something female main character who swears like a drunken sailor during fleet week, the odds are that it wasn’t intended for a young audience. Authors make sure that you are not giving an YA beta reader a hard core adult, curse word laden, sex fest. It’s rude.

Next time I will post the do’s and don’ts for authors when it comes to beta reading. Please leave comments and tell me what issues you’ve had as a beta or as an author. I’d love your insight.

V.L. Cooke