Thursday, January 23, 2014

We Need Fewer Books on Writing and Publishing, More Books on Beta Reading

Seems to me everywhere you look, someone is waving advice in your face on how to write better and how to self-publish your brains out.

I read a lot of these books. Far too many, actually. And can count on one hand the books in this category that I find useful.

And if I got right down to it, I’d be able to count the best on just one little finger. It’s “Secrets of  Successful Fiction,” by Robert Newton Peck, published in the 1980s.

It doesn’t matter that this book came out well before the era of ebooks and self-publishing, because in this book Peck focuses on the fact that if you want to sell books, whether you’re traditionally published or not (though the term would have meant nothing to him at the time) you have to be your best promoter. You. Not your publisher if you’re lucky enough to go that route. You.

Because publishers are, at the fundament, risk-averse. Why spend time and money promoting an unknown when that money is more of a sure bet promoting one of the rare few who, at the end of all things, don’t really need promotion? There are reasons most authors don’t make gobs of money from their writing, and that is because they sit back and wait for their publisher to do the promotions. Peck didn’t do that, and managed, through crisscrossing the country and speaking, sometimes for free, to any group interested in hearing from him, to keep his books in print.

What seems lacking – or at least scattered throughout the Internet – is advice on finding, training, and otherwise taking good advantage of beta readers.

Oh, there’s plenty of advice. There is advice like this. And this. And services like this. But you’d think with the explosion in ebook publishing and self-publishing, finding beta readers wouldn’t be as convoluted as it is right now.

The first, obvious answer would be to create a web site or blog for beta readers (some that would be less complicated than, say, deviantArt’s service) but a quick search shows there are plenty of such blogs and web sites like that out there.

The misery is that I’m having trouble finding beta readers among my friends and family, the best advice I’ve heard out there. I don’t have time for local critique groups – they want to meet face to face, and given that I work ten-hour shifts sandwiched between 1 ½ hours of commute on each end four days a week, I don’t have a lot of time for that kind of thing. Going electronic seems to be the best route – but that’s after I’m through the electronic duty of teaching a three-credit English class after hours.

There’s got to be a way, though.

I still think the best idea I’ve had is to read my book to my kids – kind of my target audience anyway – or at least let them read it on their own. But I know the obligatory read is something no one wants to do, whether they’re my kids or not.

So, your solutions, folks: Where to find beta readers? I know firsthand it’s a lot harder job than it seems at first, so don’t think I don’t know what I’m asking.

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