People have funny ideas about what it means to be a writer. Here are some common ones I’ve heard from fellow authors, publishers, editors, and professionals in the field.
1) You must be rich if you published a book
The chance to make money and become ‘rich’ on a book is 1 in a million. It’s no different than any creative art or business venture. A few make it big, some can manage a semblance of living wage, many are starving for their calling.
2) Publishing is a get rich quick scheme
Oh boy is this a delusion. I blame the popular media lens where the one in a million get held up in celebrity culture and normalized as rich and famous. It all looks so easy, so desirable, so flawless, so very very fake.
Writers put countless hours into their work and promoting it, even if conventionally published. Also, publishers (self or conventional/traditional) make almost nothing on the published product.
3) You do nothing all day but write about day dreams (Fiction Authors)
Okay, this one isn’t that far from the truth, but, let’s look at the complete truth of the matter.
Ever heard of a man named Tolkein? He created his own languages with grammar rules, pronunciations, and slang. So did Sci-Fi author Gene Roddenberry. Ever seen a specs manual of one of the famous Enterprise ships or alien ships? SO. MUCH. WORK. With a lot of structure, science, and academics behind them. Authors spend countless hours preparing before writing the book. Mapping out complex social systems and structures, hundreds of character sketches, and outlining are just some of the work authors can put into a book. They do this to make it believable, enriching, and immersive for you, the reader.
For those of us that don’t character sketch or map or graph or whiteboard everything — “Discovery Authors”— we can sometimes end up rewriting dozens of times or more. And I’m not talking about the standard four or so revisions a completed manuscript goes through. This is rewriting by deleting tens or hundreds of thousands of words, and spending long hours every day writing again and again and again. Just to get it right.
4) Your work is done after you write the book
All a first draft has to do is exist – Jane Smith.
After that first draft? Edits. Revisions. Marketability. Publishing. Cover artists and designers. Formatters. ISBNs. CIP data. ONIX data. Meta data. Laws and copyrights. Beta Readers. Revisions. Edits. Printing. Distribution. Sales. Marketing. Availability. Author Events. Book Events. More Events. Advertising. Marketing. Bleeding. Crying. Hair pulling. Networking. Blog posting. Social Media. Driving around selling books from the trunk of your car. Explaining over and over what your book is about. Agents. Websites and content. News releases. Interviews. Business. Accounting. Numbers. Contracts. Contractors. Sub-Contractors. Bills. Business laws. Your first born. Taxes…
Should I go on?
5) Publishing with a conventional publisher means I hand them my manuscript and they take care of things
Again, I blame the media/celebrity culture. Publishing has been significantly impacted by the economic concerns of the modern world. They don’t have teams of editors to spend hours on your manuscript. They often hire contractors. They don’t know your book as well as you do. They know the market. And they know how to edit, expect revisions. Oh, and marketing your book? That’s mostly up to you, dear writer. Yep, even if you’re conventionally published. There are no freebies, you’ll be pulling from your own pocket and working your behind off. That advance, you often have to pay it back.
6) It’s not a real job
If you took that arts or humanities degree or that degree someone didn’t understand and got the “what on earth will you do with that education?”. It doesn’t stop when you turn it into a profession they don’t understand. Don’t believe it’s a real job? Can you do 16 hour days every day of your life to make four dollars a year? Sorry… I’m ranting a bit. But seriously. It’s a real job. It’s a really difficult job. Anyone who tells you it isn’t is lying. Don’t believe me? As a few freelancers or authors or communications professionals, see what they say.
7) “I can’t do it” and other self-doubt lines
It’s work. It’s a hell of a lot of work. But you can. Believe me. You can do it. What does it take? Walk away from those doubtful words. Focus. Finish a manuscript. Then another. Learning. Dedication. Laughing at yourself. Forgiving yourself. Not comparing yourself to others. Hard work. But, if you want to do it enough, or, if like me you can’t stop doing it because you might suffocate to death and drown in untold stories, then you’ll do it.
Okay, maybe you aren’t all that confused about Alpha and Beta Readers. Maybe you’ve got an awesome team behind you. Great! But a quick internet survey clearly indicates there is confusion abundant for new and veteran authors and those readers who might be interested in such a role.
What is an Alpha or a Beta Reader?
Well, the short of it is:
Alpha Readers assist writers by offering a reader’s perspective for a manuscript after an initial draft. The manuscript often has not been edited. It’s not uncommon for an Alpha to read before the author edits the first draft.
Beta Readers assist writers by offering a reader’s perspective for a manuscript which has been edited and is shortly due for publication.
What do they do?
They read. The main goal is to provide feedback to the author to help them gauge audience reception, improve and catch last-minute plot/story holes, and catch embarrassing errors that can easily occur after review after review and hour after hour an author and their professional editor put into a work.
How are they different?
Alphas look at a book for general issues in the story, they don’t concentrate on grammar or punctuation or syntax. They do focus on abhorrent characterization, missing dialogue, missing description and general appeal of the work.
Betas look at a book for appeal to an audience, they catch plot holes, grammar, punctuation, spelling issues, characterization issues, and focus on reader experience including why they loved sections or were thrown out of the book by something.
What’s so great about them?
For the Readers
Alpha/Beta Reading offers the reader sneak peaks into upcoming books, or gives them an opportunity to get goodies from the writers they love before anyone else does (alphas usually get the work even before the editor). It’s a pretty awesome gig for the bibliophile.
For the Authors
Alpha and Beta Readers offer invaluable perspectives from different walks of life. Some authors seek out Alpha and Beta Readers for their experience, cultural awareness, profession, and genre likes to ensure their work is on the mark with facts, industry, and reader perspectives. They’re a first or last line of defense against the never-ending edit stream, helping to stop major problems and minor annoyances.
What isn’t so great about them?
For the Readers
Good Alpha and Beta Readers can also end up spending time on a manuscript they despise or by an author who is ‘precious’ about their work – as my communications consultant has described. Authors who are precious about their work, who struggle with criticism can be a big turn-off for great readers. As with all art, which is a very personal creative endeavor, it makes sense for authors to hold their works close to their hearts. As a professional artist who seeks to make a living off of their talent, it doesn’t make sense to let that care and investment create a barrier to growth and connection with fans. The impact on reputation is strong. Adam Dreece offers a great example for how to handle criticism point blank from a fan (and Alpha and Beta Readers are fans).
For the Authors
Good Alpha and Beta Readers are hard to find. Authors need constructive criticism, keen eyes, and willing hearts. The reader who just reads works to offer an ‘it’s good’ or ‘it was okay’ is a hindrance on a team of professionals. This is why I advocate that Alpha and Beta Readers be compensated for their time. Good ones are working for the author. They deserve to be paid or somehow appreciated for the time and energy they’re going to put into a work.
There is a great deal of contention in the community about this. Some readers and authors believe whole-heartedly they should not charge or pay for these services. Others won’t waste the time on readers who aren’t professionals. Why? Professional Beta Readers tend to offer higher quality works, are often other authors and editors and reviewers with industry experience, and can deliver constructive criticism. But not always. There can be a great number of fee charging individuals who also just don’t cut it.
How Do I Become an Alpha or Beta Reader?
It’s all about networking, and how you present yourself. But first, you have to decide if you’re going to do it for free, or professionally. If professionally, you may have to set up an actual business. Check with your local municipal, provincial/state, and federal offices regarding a home-based business.
You’ll need to decide if you’re Alpha or Beta Reading or both.
Next, decide how much time you’re willing to dedicate. Make sure you’re willing to offer constructive feedback by deadlines. A little research can go a long way – find question sheets or checklists online to help identify key issues to look for.
Know any authors? Ask them if they need one.
Another great resource is Goodreads.com. There are many groups set up just for readers and authors to connect. Find an author’s post seeking a reader, or put a post in the right group/topic indicating your favorite genres, themes, topics and authors and that you’re available to Alpha or Beta Read.
There are some online groups and community groups set up as well. Check your local library, writing association and guilds to see if they have any connections you can tap into.
Not a professional? Don’t worry. Audience readers who enjoy the genres they read in still have a lot to offer. If there are sections you hate or love, the authors need to know that.
How Do I Get an Alpha or Beta Reader on My Team?
Ask supportive friends and family who can offer truthful, constructive feedback. Or check out Goodreads.com (which you should be on already if you’re a published author). There are many groups set up just for readers and authors to connect.
A google search or inquiry to your author community might yield professional reader groups or editors willing to Alpha or Beta read for a nominal fee. An editor Alpha/Beta reader is good, they’ll catch a lot of things audience readers won’t. Have both on your team, audience and professionals, but make sure you offer compensation to both. You’ll create a team of loyal supporters who can help bring magic to your manuscripts for years to come. Not to mention, you have a small group to tap into for reviews. I recommend you have no less than 5 and no more than 15 for a manuscript. Integrating comments can be a real challenge from more than 15. If you have more than 15, split the group. Have two phases of read through with two different Alpha/Beta teams. Alternatively, ask some to offer reviews online shortly after/before the book is published and some to Alpha or Beta Read. While reading the reviews, you should take notes on areas for improvement and success.
Want to know more or want Catherine on your team (she’s an editor/Alpha/Beta Reader too!)? Contact her.
Nine ways to conquer your writing stress from thesis to novel to essay and everything in between. Come to think of it, these nine things apply to just about all types of stress…
1. Retrain Your Brain
You obsess about not writing and are riddled with guilt because you should be writing.
Stop it. Silence those unhealthy, intrusive thoughts. If you are obsessing about ‘shoulds,’ you won’t be able to write when you actually sit down to do it. You burn out your brain and body by expending energy worrying instead of actually writing. Focus on Whatever You are Doing Right Now. Breathe. Count to Three. Focus on what you are doing right now. Are you sitting still? What is around you? Walking? What do you hear? Staring at a computer screen? What do the keyboard and mouse feel like beneath your hands? When you are done, do the same for whatever comes next. Stop wasting time on ‘shoulds’. Live in right now. You will write. You will finish the project. It’s more important that you be mindful. If you are having trouble breaking the obsession cycle, reach out to a professional therapist or doctor in your community. Workplaces, universities and schools, health programs and clinics often have free or low-cost resources.
2. Create a Schedule and Stick to It
Writing is a project: Conception – Composition – Completion. You have deadlines. Set milestones and reachable goals. One day you may dedicate six hours to researching and the next two hours to outlining. You may do a lot of prep work. You might not actually write anything for a while, but it’s still writing work. Don’t know where to start? Try AuthorMedia.com. Make your schedule achievable. We all want to finish and move on to what is next. It’s human nature. It’s natural. Don’t fight it, it’s part of the driving force behind your creativity and creation, but DO set it aside.
DON’T allot 10-16 hours to work. You will turn into an exhausted, angry, caffeine fueled ball of chaos with anxiety so tangible you will pixelate before your friends’ very eyes. A human mind can only focus for so long (anywhere from 8 seconds to 20 minutes according to various sources). The body can only be in one position for so long. You will do your best work in shorter, focused bursts when you are rested and healthy.
3. Take Breaks
You know the negative effects of sitting too long. You start to shift after 20 minutes. You perch on the edge of your chair, unaware of or ignoring your need to get up. Move.
You are torturing your body. You are working against yourself. Move. Not only will your body thank you, your mind will to. And, your project will get done faster. Author James Patterson takes breaks during his writing routine. Put these in your schedule and stick to them. Take them when you need, but remember, this is work. Keep your breaks under control. They are not an excuse to procrastinate.
4. This is Work
Treat writing like work. A thesis, a novel, a short story, a poem, a blog, they are all work. They require research, time, and effort. Make and keep a schedule, set goals within reasonable time frames, and reward your successes. Stop making excuses, stop torturing yourself. Stop avoiding and stop overworking. Be present and be focused. Act like this is a professional task. Get the resources and materials you need. Consult experts. Operate with professionalism. Do your job.
5. Have a Sacred Space
“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”
― Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own
Dedicate a box, a table space, a library or café, or an office to your writing. You don’t have to have an entire room, but a room or space designated solely for writing will make you more productive and help your focus. Appreciate the space you choose, settle in, and blaze ahead. Lock the door to your mind and ignore distractions. Find inspiration from Writing Spaces: Where 9 Famous Creatives Do Their Best Work. The work you are doing is important. Treat it so.
Creativity and focus are yours when you are healthy. Exercise is a need. Stop avoiding it. You want to do it. Your body sends signals of stress through muscle tension, stiffness, feeling cold, nausea, headaches, blurred vision and itchy eyes. Fidgeting? When was the last time you went for a walk, to the gym, or ran through yoga or martial art poses? An exercised body is an exercised mind. Sitting for extended period of time can restrict circulation, causing lapses in memory and cognition. Get up and go.
7. Eat Properly
You want that comfort food. You need that comfort food. You crave it. You might even rage until you get it. Having a complete meal feeds your brain and body – your most important writing tools. Skipping meals or grabbing quick fixes increases your costs and adds empty calories, which drives you to eat more. They also deprive you of the nutrients you need to keep your work flowing. Invest in yourself. You are the only way this project of yours is getting done. That novel won’t write itself. That brain and body won’t write without food.
8. Get a Life
Take care of all of your needs. Your brain is built to do more than one thing. So is your body. Dedicate your time and energy to other areas of your life and watch your creativity spark and stamina grow. Walk away from that computer and socialize. Take a shower or a bubble bath. Take care of those other to-dos. Go on a mini-vacation, or even a real vacation. Get enough sleep. Most importantly, have fun. And lots of it. It can help inform your writing. It’s the best way to overcome that writer’s block. There are a number of models in psychology regarding the dimensions of wellness/well-being. Check out eight of them here: http://campusrec.eku.edu/eight-dimensions-wellness
9. Reward Yourself
You are working hard. Compensate yourself for it. Spend time in your favorite place, go out to your favorite restaurant with friends. Go on a date (with yourself, significant other, a friend). Read a book for pleasure. Do nothing for a bit. Reward that hard work and dedication. You deserve it.
Juggling multiple jobs, family life, and additional responsibilities (school, charity, elder-care, etc) on top of being self-employed as an author, editor, and consultant means a regular balancing act. I am no expert, but I have achieved a working peace with the Work-Life balance I have in my life now. The thing is, it keeps changing on me.
Many of us have long days that end in being overwhelmed. A typical day in the life of the average indie author may include: kids (sleep schedules, extracurricular activities, daycare, homework, health care, education, recreation, feeding, clothing, cleaning), parents and extended family (care for the elderly, errands, family get-togethers), ourselves (exercise, eating, sleep schedules, recreation), our partners (coordinating schedules, building relationships, quality time, emotional and psychological support), piled on to that are education, friends, errands, volunteering, repairing and maintaining dwellings, finances, pets, commuting, vehicle maintenance, work (deadlines, changes, restrictions, conflict, networking), self-publishing, writing, editing, working as our own publicist and accountant and not to mention the hundreds of passwords, pins, names, faces, emails, tasks, dates, events we need to remember. We feel at a loss as time passes us by.
Declutter. Our lives are filled with clutter that throw off our author work-life balance: thoughts, noise, stuff, schedules as full as possible in fear of missing out on something. Declutter your work space, declutter your home, your mind, heart and spirit. Let go of anything that is not serving you, anything that collects dust in the corners, that creates unnecessary work or that you are not willing to dedicate your time to. Check out Becoming Minimalist’s Blog for 10 Creative Ways to Declutter.
Set reasonable boundaries for your time. In the words of a wise comedian Bob Newhart, STOP it! Take a deep breath, exhale. Focus on what you are doing right now. Stop worrying about what is to come. Be aware of what you are looking at, doing, and saying fully, mindfully. In a world of multitasking mayhem, the art of focusing and finishing one thing at a time has been lost. Stop working through breaks and lunches, or skipping meals. If you are on a phone call, focus completely on that phone call. Slow down and become immersed in what you are experiencing right now. Set clear boundaries and don’t compromise yourself or your time for anything that isn’t a priority. Oprah offers great guidance about beginning to set personal boundaries. A lack of reasonable boundaries around your time is a sure-fire way to undermine work-life balance and increase your stress. It can be especially difficult for self-published authors who wear a dozen or more hats to get the job done, but trust me when I say your creativity and writing will thank you.
Plan and Prioritize. Take your days one at a time, but plan ahead. This may sound contradictory, and it is in a way. It’s a difficult practice. Plan and prioritize a strict sleep schedule, more time in the morning or evening for yourself, and quality time for your family and you. Plan meals in advance, this also helps save money and time on groceries. Plan and prioritize going outdoors and exercise. Prioritize and plan fun. But be open and flexible to changes. Stick to what is important and necessary at work, and at home. Mike Robbins offers 3 Ways to Re-Prioritize Your Life. Stuck on prioritizing at work when everything seems to be important? LiquidPlanner has a solution for you.
Learn to say NO without feeling guilty. To truly declutter our lives, we must learn to say no gently, but firmly. We can only handle so much in life. Is it healthy? Is the stress it brings manageable? Is it enjoyable? If it isn’t absolutely and truly necessary or important just say no. Don’t know how? Start with 11 steps from Wiki-How. Saying yes to too many things both at work and home is one of the biggest reasons people become off-balance.
Acceptance. Accept and respect that you have limits. Accept that there are things that you cannot change, that you cannot control (especially other people). Balance is a practice whether you are at work or home, accept that you will never achieve perfect balance. Adjust your focus, effort, and time that as your boundaries and priorities change and don’t feel guilt over it. Working yourself to exhaustion will lead to worse consequences down the road; not to mention, it will deprive your creative brain of the space it needs. GoodLifeCoaching Blog – Living the Creative Life offers a great article about accepting your limitations.