What all potential beta-readers, especially mine, really need to know

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The following edited description of what a beta-reader does is taken directly from Wikipedia:

A beta-reader is someone who reads a written work, generally fiction, with the intent of looking over the material to find and improve elements such as grammar and spelling, as well as to make suggestions to improve the story, its characters, or its setting. Beta reading is done before the story is released for public consumption. Elements highlighted by beta readers encompass things such as plot holes, problems with continuity, characterisation or believability.

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In effect, as a beta reader you are performing exactly the same function as a fulltime editor, not a critic. Some people simply fail to make the distinction, often unnecessarily taking the author to task, while completely forgetting that until its published, it is still a work in progress!!!

So far I have two volunteers, one English – the other American. When I’m not only happy with, but prepared to hand over my current WIP – Autumn 1066 for their close scrutiny, they’ll go to work. They are the novelist Andrew French (click on his name for his titles) and the prolific blogger here on WordPress, Colin Noel-Johnson.

As the novella is about a period in my country’s history which occurred almost a thousand years ago now, (nine hundred and fifty-one years to be exact). I’m not expecting to hear from many from across the pond wishing to volunteer. Or indeed anyone from the European continent come to that. Even so, should any of you care to take part in the exercise, your offer to help as a beta reader won’t be turned down.

Please email me at jackeason5@gmail.com if you wish to be added to the list. In cases like this, the more sets of eyes at work, the less chance there is of errors in the final product, prior to publishing.

Please remember that I have no intention of publishing the novella as an e-book. These days it’s the quickest way for any book to disappear from the public’s sight in Amazon’s cavernous slush pile, joining the millions of other e-books. To give it a fighting chance, it will only be published as a paperback.

PS – So much for my intended week’s break before beginning phase two. I’ve already begun…

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Phase one ends. Now for phase two…

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A reconstruction of an Anglo-Saxon hall

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Yesterday I completed the historical phase of my current WIP Autumn 1066. As I said earlier, I will now walk away from it for a week before I begin phase two, the fictional side of the story. As I also stated earlier, this will be a novella. Or to put it another way, an extremely short book. Having written the historical side of things, means that the first phase stands at slightly over 6,300, or thirty pages in the standard 5×8 paperback size.

Once I have completed phase two, I will offer its text to my beta readers, either as a read only .pdf, epub or .mobi file, for them to offer their thoughts and undoubted criticisms (everybody is a critic – right?) But, only on the condition that they agree to write a pre-publication review, which I will add to the finished product when I publish it as a paperback, always providing its favourable and short – ten words or less.

If any of you wish to become one of my beta readers, partaking in the privilege of being able to read it long before the general public, please email me at jackeason5@gmail.com after reading this post.

When I have completed the story I will then email a copy to anyone who has requested to be a beta-reader for this my latest WIP. Think of it as your one chance to not only read it for nothing, but also to participate in a new book’s evolution. Definitely something to brag about to your circle of family and friends.

PSPotential beta-readers please note that as its as historically accurate as is currently possible, given the paucity of actual facts available, means that phase one leaves no room for expansion, unlike the fictional side.

Remember this also – all favourable pre-publishing reviews accompanying any book, providing they bear the actual name of the person responsible for them and not a pseudonym, are what always convince others to read any book these days.

I hope to hear from some of you in the next few weeks while I’m busy writing phase two…

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Avoid all the literary con artists on the Internet like the plague!

The words on the picture below reminded me yet again about something that sooner or later all writers come across – so-called litarary experts…18032992_1179548492167908_3489112258262059821_n

Somerset was, and still is, perfectly correct. When it comes to writing, no one knows what the rules are. I have no doubt that today’s literary experts, will vehemently disagree with that.

Which begs the question, why should you listen to them? You shouldn’t!

If one of them latches on to you by offering their help, ignore them with a vengeance. Why? Because without exception they are talking through their backsides. How many of them are failed writers? About ninety-eight percent. The remaining two percent have become so-called editors whose only aim is to take your money. Either by editing your MS at so much per word or line of text, or by offering to publish your book, once more at a price, in their capacity as the owner of a Vanity Press.

In the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth century, flim-flam merchants were easier to spot. People were always on their guard when it came to crooks and charlatans. Once the internet was born it opened up all sorts of money making opportunities for con-artists. Offering editing services was just one…

These days they tend to dazzle the unwary with their fancy internet sites promising to make you famous as a writer, but always at a cost. Some even claim to be professional editors, which is an out and out lie, because there is no such thing. As yet no universally recognised qualification has been devised within the academic world!!!

Don’t dismiss all small press publishers. not all of them are crooks.

Each of us old hands knows at least one good one, depending on the genre they specialize in. One who immediately springs to mind lives in South Africa. He goes by the name Joe Myndhardt. Joe is rapidly making a name for himself. He owns and runs Crystal Lake Publishing, specializing in publishing horror.

If ever there was ever an area where the words ‘buyer beware’ still applies, it very definitely is today’s literary world. If you enter with your eyes closed, I guarantee that you will be fleeced by the unscrupulous, and then some, believe you me…

Of course you are entirely free to ignore my advice. But don’t complain when you find you have been taken for a ride by yet another money grubbing fly by night.

Before you begin to write, take the time to talk to other writers. Those of us who have worked in the literary school of hard knocks for decades, are well worth your while listening to. Remember, we started out just like you as total innocents in what can only be described as the toughest market place there is. We’ve all made, and learned from, the same mistakes waiting in the wings to catch you out, long before you even thought about writing that book…

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Which is more important…

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…the cover or the book’s content?

Quite simply, if a story is not up to scratch, no amount of money spent on a cover and an ad campaign will help sell what is in effect, a lame duck! – (cardinal rule of publishing)

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If you listen to some writers who swallow everything they are told, hook line and sinker about spending money to market their books, the one thing they are adamant about is that it always takes precedence over the book’s content. This line of thought is nothing more or less than complete bulldust, designed to hook the gullible!

If your editing skills are not up to scratch, by all means pay to have your MS edited if you must. But that’s all you should be paying for!

All serious writers and bibliophiles know and have always known that the story is alway more important. Do you honestly imagine that the cover and marketing are the first thing reputable publishers think about??? These days there is far too much emphasis placed on how a book’s cover looks, as well as promotional video clips.

As I said in yesterday’s post – Let’s face facts, if a story doesn’t sell itself, there is no point whatsoever in pouring good money after bad by trying to improve its visual packaging in an attempt to make it stand out from the crowd in an already saturated marketplace! The only publications with pretty pictures I know that sell well are called glossy magazines or Bimbo fodder to you and I. When it comes to pictorial covers, those of us who have been in this game for several decades are all guilty of changing them in the past, hoping to shift more copies. Does it majorly improve any book’s chances? Rarely if ever…

Whether you like it or not the words contained within the book are what’s important, not the damned cover or how much money you spent on marketing! One last thing – before you see any financial profit from sales of your book, first you have to recoup your outgoings.

So if for arguments sake you spend the conservative figure of £200 on cover and marketing, and the paperback version is priced at £8.00, work out the number of copies you will need to sell, based on the bog standard royalty percentages shown below, just to break even.

Hardback edition: 10% of the retail price on the first 5,000 copies; 12.5% for the next 5,000 copies sold, then 15% for all further copies sold. Paperback: 8% of retail price on the first 150,000 copies sold, then 10% thereafter.

For god’s sake do the math!!!

At the risk of repeating myself yet again, ask yourself which is more important – the cover and the advertising, or the book’s content?

It’s a no brainer, always assuming you have a brain and know how to use it in the first place. Many independent writers never sell enough copies to recoup their outgoings. And yet they still insist on pouring good money after bad. Their completely unfathomable actions remind me of the old saying – “a fool and his money are soon parted”.

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At last I’ve got the historical characters almost sorted.

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As I’m now on the home stretch when it comes to the historical side of my current WIP Autumn 1066, I now have nearly all of the actual historical characters sorted. There may be one or two minor ones I’ve missed. Only further research on my part will determine that.

The whole story has led to one specific date in the history of my homeland, England. That date is October the fourteenth 1066, and the battle that determined our fate as a nation for many centuries afterwards. As I’ve mentioned previously (that’s if you have been bothering to read my past updates) it actually occurred seven miles northwest of the coastal town. Even so it is still referred to quite incorrectly by historians as the Battle of Hastings.

When I downed tools yesterday morning I had begun to assemble the players on both sides, led by Harold and William respectively, on the site in Sussex where it took place nine hundred and fifty-one years ago. This morning I begin writing about the battle itself, after I’ve posted this for you to read that is…

But what about your fictional characters, I hear the more inquisitive among you ask? You’ll just have to be patient won’t you. In other words wait until you get to read it for yourselves, when I publish it as a paperback.

Am I having fun with this one? Duh – what do you think? Of course I am. I can’t wait to begin the fictional side of the story. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves…

More later

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I honestly don’t know which is worse…

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…a story that moves at a snail’s pace, or one that has been deliberately padded out. Both are a big no no in my book, if you will pardon the pun. And yet many of today’s writers are guilty of using one or both practices, egged on by online proponents of both.

Anyone who has ever read any of my books can confirm that I wholeheartedly embrace fast paced writing. I for one do not want to wade through endless pages of off piste ramblings. So why should I make my readers suffer in the same way? Even my latest WIP Autumn 1066 is fast paced.

When it comes to a book’s characters, personally I do not need to know every minute detail about any of them. Just the salient points. Over the years many who have read and reviewed my books often complain about what they see as the minimal amount of information I disclose about my characters. Why is that? Because I tend towards the trickle method throughout the story. Why do I do that?

Ask yourselves this question – when you first meet someone new, do you insist on knowing everything about them? No of course you don’t. You want to get to know them gradually. Unless that is you are a nosey parker! In which case, the chances are that the other person will lose interest if you get too pushy, and move on. When you meet a character in a book, treat the encounter the way you would in real life. Be grateful for what I give you and fill in the rest by picking up clues in the book and using your imagination!

If you are one of those individuals who prefer to read pages and pages of agonising detail with little or no action, may I suggest that you stick to the writers of yesteryear.

I hate to break it to you but writing has moved on. We are now living in the twenty-first century, not the nineteenth! Today’s pace of life is such that before we know it, the world has changed beyond recognition and already passed us by. Hence the need for fast paced writing to capture the average busy modern individual’s fleeting attention span within two minutes or less…

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This is a stupidity free zone!!!

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These days it’s becoming increasingly difficult to ignore sheer stupidity!!!

How many times have you heard something said that totally annoys or baffles you? Here are a couple of classic examples said by people of learning, in particular several of today’s historians, who quite frankly should know better:-

‘Sir Christopher Wren built St Paul’s Cathedral.’ No he didn’t. He designed and oversaw its construction. Neither did Henry VIII build Hampton Court.

The same goes for anything said about Isambard Kingdom Brunel.   Isambard_Kingdom_Brunel_preparing_the_launch_of_'The_Great_Eastern_by_Robert_HowlettHistorians and others still tend to insist that he built the ship Great Eastern amongst other things, not forgetting the railway lines across the United Kingdom that he contracted to provide. But, just like Henry VIII and Sir Christopher Wren, Brunel did not actually get his hands dirty physically building anything he is acknowledged as being responsible for!

Even today there are still a lot of overprivileged chinless wonders living in rarefied circles who still insist on pronouncing names like Cholmondeley as Chumley, while at the same time perpetuating the myth that the construction of great houses such as Petworth pictured below, is solely down to their aristocratic owners rolling their sleeves up and turning to with hammer, nails, chisel and saw.

Complete and utter poppycock!

The owners commissioned others to design their grand houses and ornate gardens. Then a workforce of builders were employed to construct the former. big-3-9-2010125726P7680508Petworth-Hse076-J-Miller-06 Regarding the latter, Capability Brown and other landscape designers of his time only ever drew up the landscape plans for many of the ornate gardens surrounding the UK’s stately houses. Then employed teams of navvies and plantsmen to construct them as per the plans.

Then there are the things university educated radio announcers (in particular those employed by the BBC) say without realising how stupid they sound. Such as saying something along the lines of “you have just been listening to Valery Gergiev conducting the Royal Philharmonic.

This begs a simple question – how in hades can you hear someone waiving their arms in the air like a demented banshee? What they should have said was, “you have just heard Beethoven’s fifth symphony being played by the Royal Philharmonic, conducted by Valery Gergiev!

Then there is the proliferation of utterly cringworthy Americanisms such as “he disrespected me!” Sorry to burst your bubble, but what ‘he’ actually did was to show his disrespect for or to you! The same goes for a particular pet hate of mine and other writers such as newspaper reporters, the words going forward. Click on the words highlighted in red to read a newspaper article on the subject.

What complete idiot thought that one up I wonder?

Do yourselves a huge favour. Think long and hard before you open your mouths in the future. If you hadn’t already realised it, many abhor stupidity in its many forms. In that regard I’m no different.

One last thing – whether you choose to do this is entirely down to you. From now on whenever anyone inappropriately inserts the word ‘like’ into any given sentence within earshot of my lazyboy chair, I won’t hesitate to slap them around the head or throw something at them, given half a chance…

For god’s sake people, unless you want a thick ear, do please get these things right!!!

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