Monday, May 5, 2014

Beta Readers - Why They Are Important

I'd like to discuss beta readers today.  Before I started writing, I had no idea what a beta reader was.  Coming from the I.T. field, I'm certainly cognizant of the beta tester term.  In IT a beta tester would be used for testing a program to make sure all the bugs are worked out before it can be released to the public.  A beta reader basically does the same thing.

When you write a book, it is essential, in my opinion to solicit advice from your target audience.  If you think you know it all, you're wrong.  Readers can point out flaws that you won't see because of the way you think.  In my opinion, to write a book well, you need several things including: 
  • A proofreader other than yourself - Don't try to proofread your own work.  It's a good way to miss A LOT of mistakes
  • An editor, if you can afford one - Editors are extremely important in helping you craft your work.
  • Alpha Reader - This may be your editor, or it could be someone close to you who can give you immediate feedback.  They need to be tough on you otherwise their usefulness is limited
  • Beta Reader - After taking into consideration the editor and Alpha reader, you need to have other people look at your book before it's released for general consumption.
A beta reader should be someone who is well-versed in the genre you're writing.  Having a beta reader read your romance book when that person only reads sci-fi, isn't helping you.  You need someone who knows the genre and can point out flaws and plot holes, much like a good editor would.  Beta readers who already like your work AND can be critical are perfect.  They know your style and they can tell you when you get off the track. 

How should you give them your books?  I think that a lot of authors give out their books in chunks to the beta reader.  I'm different in that I want to give them the entire book.  It's not that the other idea is wrong, but I like being able to let the reader feel the entire flow.  I'm afraid if I only give them a couple chapters at a time, they may miss something because of the delay between readings.  I used my alpha reader (in this case my lovely wife, who is firm but fair) to look at various passages and chapters as I go through the entire book.  My alpha reader is also the first person to read the book in its entirety when it's complete.

So do yourself a favor, make sure you have a beta reader to check your work before you release it to the public.  It can only help make your book all that much better.

Good luck and happy writing!

On Getting Reviews

As an Indie Author, reviews are the lifeblood of my writing existence.  Reviews and word of mouth are two of the most powerful ways to get your story across to more people.  Think about it, when you look at a book on Amazon that you've never seen before, you most likely look at 4 things.
  1. Title - That's your first chance to sell your book
  2. Cover Photo - The eye naturally goes here next.  A poor cover will destroy your chances.
  3. Blurb - Another critically important thing.  If the potential reader has made it this far, the blurb is the thing that will hook them.  If it's bad, you've just lost a reader.
  4. Reviews  - Lastly, people want to know what other people thought of the book.  The more reviews you have, the better a new reader can gauge your book. 
So that means you'd like all 5-star reviews correct?  After all 5-stars is the best.  If a person sees that all 10 or your reviews are 5-stars then they are more likely to read it correct?  Well, yes and no.  You certainly want 5-star reviews, but more importantly you want reviews that are well thought out and tell you more about the book.

It's more important in my opinion to have a 3 or 4 star review that goes into detail about the book and tells the strengths and weaknesses of it rather than a 5-star review that just says the book was great.  Think about that.  If the review just says "read this book" or "I thought it was awesome" what does that tell you?  Not a whole lot.  A longer, well written review is worth ten of those non-informational ones.  Would I rather all my reviews are 5-star?  Of course, as long as I earned them.  If it's not, I can live with that.  One-star reviews that are informative can be very helpful, not only to you as an author, but to potential readers as well.  Would I like it?  No, but I can swallow my pride and take what the reviewer mentions to heart so that I can improve my writing in the future.

Other than the quality of the reviews, quantity matters as well.  Twenty 5-star reviews looks impressive, but 300 4-star reviews looks even better.  The more reviews, the more chances for people to talk about your book. 

So remember, next time you finish a book, but sure to reward the author by giving them an honest, thoughtful review.  It's the best thing you can do for them.

Good luck and happy writing!