Go ahead, hire that beta reader!

What have you got to lose?

Writing a novel is an all-encompassing, mind-expanding affair. There is nothing like the flutter in your heart after your ideas first take shape upon the page. Your pour your heart and soul and six months of daydreaming into this world you’ve created. It is, more than anything, a labor of love.

So, first off, congratulations! The fact that it exists at all is amazing, and you made it happen. Everything that happens next is just icing on the writing-life-hustle cake. Take a moment to celebrate.

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Writing is also exhausting, and time consuming, and tedious, which is to say nothing of the glacial pace at which publishers move, a pace designed to try the patience of a saint (and let’s be real, you are not a saint). Even when you get that first draft completed, there are so many steps before you can see your name in print. There are synopses to write, formatting to tweak, and proofreading to do. It’s superficial, and very important. You will need a polished manuscript before you can submit it to an agent or begin self-publishing, and it never hurts to hire someone to help you get it there.

You can expect to need, at the minimum, a content editor and a proofreader, possibly a line editor as well. There will be rounds of edits, restructuring, and rewrites. All of this adds up to hundreds of dollars and hours of your life. But there is a much-overlooked professional that can save you big in the long run. Of course, I’m speaking of the professional beta reader!

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Beta readers provide objective feedback on early drafts of your work so that you can fix the problems before you invest too much time into them. From plot holes to narrative inconsistencies, badly developed characters, to an over-reliance on clichés, a talented reader will alert you to your areas of weakness and provide suggestions for improvement. This will save you time at a fraction of the cost of a content editor.

So the question is: why should you pay for this service when you can probably find it for free? First off, you can absolutely find them among your friends and fellow writers, and you absolutely should. You want as many beta readers as possible, but the ideal range seems to be five to seven. Most people do not have seven people who can give them timely, concise feedback on their work, and that is where a paid beta reader comes in. Hiring a professional comes down to three main advantages: diversity, objectivity, and familiarity.

Diversity matters. When it comes to your novel you want as many different perspectives as possible to see it to avoid embarrassing errors. Professional beta readers are trained to spot areas of insensitivity toward other cultures, religions, and sexuality. What reads as unremarkable to some will read as offensive to another, and it is your job as an author to be aware of this.

Objectivity is crucial. Your friends are not objective. Fellow writers are not objective. People who know you simply aren’t objective. Your work needs objective feedback, and a professional is going to be much better at doing this. Since it is coming from a stranger, you will be more receptive to it.

And finally, familiarity with the genre pays off. Beta readers are passionate about books, and they tend to find their niche. Although theoretically a person could work with young adult to nonfiction to adult contemporary to serialized paranormal romance, there is so much amazing work out there that specialization happens naturally. As a result, they will be familiar with your genre and better able to help you develop its themes.

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With their affordability and versatility, a professional beta reader is a great investment for your novel, and when you find a good one you won’t want to let them go! Most beta readers get jobs through referrals, so ask your fellow writers who they use. If you’re not part of a writing community you can find them through advertisements on Reddit, Upwork, Goodreads, and Fiverr. There are also professional beta reader groups on Facebook. Beta readers are an underappreciated tool in your writing arsenal, don’t let them go to waste.

Celebrating Failure, Personal, Writing

I Got My First Rejection Letter! Five Things I Learned Failing to Publish a Romance Novel

Despite my attempts, I am not a serious person. I might know what a 401k is and have serious thoughts on the mpg of my hybrid car, but it’s all a facade. At my core, I am silly. I love rhinestones and tutus, I laugh at fart jokes, and I consume unhealthy quantities of bodice-ripping romance novels that I find in the Clearance section of Half-Priced Books.

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So it probably won’t shock you to hear that I’ve also tried my hand at writing one of those aforementioned romance novels. It was fun, and the story was silly.

Basically I wrote a short (55k words) tale of a millionaire who turns into a merman four nights a month and the scientist who loves him. Naturally it was set in a compound in rural Alaska. As they say, create the art you wish to see in the world.

When I had written a sizeable amount, I did what anyone with a healthy amount of self-esteem (inflated ego) might do. I submitted it for publishing at a few ebook imprints. And then the waiting began.

While I haven’t had traditional success yet (no one has offered to publish it), I did receive my first rejection letter! And that’s almost as good to me!

Actual footage of writing the manuscript, aka proof that it happened

Aside from the fact that it was a fun little project to write, I learned a lot about the business of writing, and I can’t wait to try again. Look out world, there is so much more paranormal romance where that came from.

Thus, I figured I’d share some of my thoughts here in hopes that writing them will make me remember them later.

The five things I should have done better (and might in the future):

  1. Learn ALL of the genre conventions and stick to them. I read a lot, so I naturally assumed I could write without thinking. I was wrong. Art has rules that aren’t always visible to the consumer, and when those rules get messed with, the reader gets mad. Romance, in particular, is a formulaic genre, and you have to get it right. I did not. One of the rules of the genre is that the characters need to meet in the first chapter. Mine met about a quarter of the way in. This is a no-no, so I had to fix it at the last minute. This is how I wound up hastily tacking on a prologue. Needless to say,the work suffered for it .
  2. Make sure your first chapter (or prologue) is perfect. This seems obvious, but is easy to mess up. How I messed it up is avoidable: I wrote it when I was pretty much over the story. But people fail at this for the opposite reason, too. Writing gets better with practice, and your characters feel more real after you’ve been writing them for awhile, so your later chapters are naturally going to be better than your first. Clearly the beginning needs to be written later in the process than its name suggests. This brings me to…
  3. Write your synopsis while you are still excited for the novel. In my defense, I did not know this would be required. This is a bad defense, because if I knew I was thinking of submitting it, I should have checked the requirements early and often, but even better-planned people than me can get this one wrong. You don’t realize how much you will be sick of your story by the end of it. You think you will love your characters forever and never think about pushing them off a glacier while on a routing hiking trip (no one would ever know). But you might be, so plan for this. Write your synopsis when you are about two-thirds of the way done with the story, right around when you’re writing your first chapter. Your synopsis is your selling tool, it is going to create the interest in your novel. Write it while you’re still excited about the project.
  4. Know when to cut your losses. You know how that first book in a series is almost always the weakest? That’s still the one that got published. I guarantee there are worse novels that author wrote that never saw beyond the publisher’s rejection email. That’s normal. Writing is fun! If your book is never getting better, move on. I promise your next attempt will be better.
  5. Celebrate failure! Writing a novel is an accomplishment, even if it isn’t up to Harlequin Romance’s line of paranormal ebooks standards. Celebrate it! Taking a risk is its own reward and you are amazing for trying!

And, because I have no shame, I present the rejection itself to you:

The rejection letter in all its glory 😍