Updated: Nov 13, 2018
Well, you've cleared the first few hurdles of producing a finished book, but now it's time to really dig in and stay strong until the end.
I warned you, didn't I?
If you're new to my book-writing series, welcome, and please check out previous installments. If you've survived the book-creation process up to now, you deserve a high-five, and perhaps a shot o' whiskey. Make that the whole bottle even, because you just conquered a form of hell on earth.
Finishing the writing of a book can feel like inheriting a million dollars, but is your manuscript truly ready to be set loose on the unsuspecting public?
This is where the beta reader comes in. I like to think of them as a firing squad aimed right at your book. You never know which one of them is shooting blanks, and which ones have genuine bullets that seek and destroy. The ones with the real bullets can be deadly.
Let's talk about the Blanky Crew. These guys are your friends. They love your book, yet will tell you what you need to do to make them love it even more. What's more, they won't make you cry. Perhaps your book has a great plot, but the characters are a bit flat. Or maybe you've created characters that are real enough to strangle you from the pages they're birthed from, yet the world they inhabit has less color than Dorothy's Kansas. In other words, you just need to do some tweaking and squeaking to turn that book into something awesome. You're on the Yellow Brick Road, and that's good.
What's not good is the feedback you'll be getting from the Bullet Brigade. Populated by barbs, wit, and the occasional troll, these people will tear your book to shreds like lions feasting at a kill. You might as well cut out your own heart and serve it up steaming hot on your grandmother's heirloom china, because they're just gonna rip it out of your chest anyway. This is where writers need to dig through the closet to don that thick skin that is buried in there somewhere under the cracker crumbs and moldy science experiments that are starting to grow hair.
Ferocious as the Bullet Brigade may be, some of their feedback has merit. It's up to you to separate the crap from the constructive.
Usually written by trolls, these comments are most recognizable by the fact that they will tell you that your book sucks, but they do not tell you why your book sucks. They are just throwing garbage at the ceiling fan only for the fun of watching where it flies before the flies that actually fly arrive. (Kudos to you if you worked that one out.) These idiots make it their mission to get their degree as Certified Annoyers of People, or CAPS. These CAPS need to roll under the couch and stay there.
This is very similar to crap, but what distinguishes the constructive feedback from the crap is the Constructoids' ability to explain WHY your book is crap.
As dismal as it sounds to hear your book described as something on par with cow manure, there is one good thing you should remember: crap is useful. Yes, you heard me. It's dead useful, for the following reasons.
Why Crap is Useful (at least in writing)
1. Writing crap can help you get all the beginner kinks out of your system. Like rinsing out a dusty wine glass before it gets filled with Apothic Inferno, it's smart to flush the bad stuff out so that good stuff can go in. You wouldn't want to drink coffee before removing the grinds, right? But the grinds are what creates coffee in the first place. Use, then lose.
2. It serves as a teaching tool. When you learn to recognize the mistakes you're making in writing (such as my horrible overuse of the hyphen------just call me The Hyphenator), you'll eventually learn to stop making them. You won't forget these mistakes if beta readers keep pointing them out, either, so consider this an advantage.
3. Crap makes the best fertilizer. Sprinkled here and there, you never know what can grow from it. You might have flat characters (crap), but if you have a great plot, the characters can be overhauled until the whole story blooms.
How to Find Beta Readers
1. Remember those writing groups on social media I told you to join? You now have thousands of people at your disposal to ask for their feedback on your book. There are even groups that make beta reading their main focus. Seek ye them out!
2. Don't ask your friends and family to beta read for you. They will not tell you the truth. They will tell you your book is good, even if it's crap. Though crap has its uses, it won't help you here.
3. Seek out book reviewers on their websites, but be sure to read their criteria for reviewing books. They have their preferences like anyone else, and will not appreciate being bullied into reading a genre that they hate. Besides, why would you want someone who hates your genre to read your book? They wouldn't do it justice. They also would likely have little experience reading other books in that genre, resulting in the fact that they would have very few books like that to compare it to.
The Third Draft and the Pretty Packaging
Now that you've received plenty of feedback, what you want to do next is to set your manuscript aside for a month or two while you work on your next project. When the month is up, pull out the manuscript and edit it once more, getting rid of the stuff beta readers hated, and perhaps vamping up what they loved. Run a spell check. For the love of God, why don't they have a hyphen check for The Hyphenator? Next, you ought to have it professionally edited and formatted if you can afford it. If you can't afford it, now you have something to save up for that actually pays off in the end. No book is ever perfectly without error, but you can at least make sure you did your very best, because a badly edited book just looks like you didn't care enough, like you just slap-banged something together and said "Buy it!"
Speaking of looking like you actually cared about the production of your book, now it's time to start shopping for cover art designers. Writers may know how to create entire worlds with nothing but a pen in their hands, but when it comes to designing book covers, they're often clueless as to what belongs on their book cover. You need someone who knows what cover elements indicate certain genres. Here are some examples of what you'll likely see on book covers of the following categories:
Romance: a scantily-dressed couple in a heavy makeout session.
Fantasy: Swords, mythical creatures, male or female warriors.
Science Fiction: Aliens, space ships, cyborgs, oh my!
Memoirs, biographies, and autobiographies: Large photo of the person being written about dominating the front cover.
Historical fiction: image of the main character in a dramatic pose, gazing off into the horizon.
Humor and Satire: Plain background with a single floating image, like mine.
I could go on, but I'm sure you get the idea. If you need some more inspiration, visit a book store and spend some time looking at the covers in your genre. That's what I did. It didn't cost me anything (unless you count the hefty sum I spent on other books like the deluxe hardcover version of The Princess Bride). Really, I need to stay out of the book stores.
How do you choose a cover designer? Begin by researching people who actually have experience designing book covers, ones with track records you can view on their websites. Just because someone is a fantastic artist, it doesn't mean that they have a flair for design. You want your book to sell, so the cover must be made attractive enough to get someone's attention, yet provide an indication of the genre and age group. I'll probably do another post on this topic alone, so stay tuned.
It's an unsurprising fact that pretty books sell. I admit it----I have bought books just because the covers were stunning pieces of artwork. When you're hunting for a designer, their work must be such that the covers they created practically yank your hand to that BUY NOW button. If you find the covers compelling enough to purchase books you will probably never read in this or the next lifetime, you've probably found your designer. Next, you might want to look at the books where they're sold online and see how many reviews they have. Lots of reviews means lots of sales, which probably were in part due to having pretty packaging.
On that note, I now take my leave. Don't want to overwhelm ya, so I'll see you in the next post of the How to Write a Book Series, title pending!
If you haven't seen my latest book release yet (now an e-book, but coming soon to print), please do check it out:
Share this article with a writer in need! Don't forget to subscribe to my website so you don't miss a post!