What is a Beta Reader’s Role?

Beta readers are people who are most likely to buy and read your book. They play an important role in your publishing journey, as they see your book raw, naked, and parts you wouldn’t even show your mother. Make sure they are on your plan, as they will look at it with fresh eyes and tell you things you don’t necessarily want to hear.

My daughter is a beta reader for a series of books by my client, edward branley, since his “dragons” series (Dragon’s Danger, Dragon’s Discovery) is exactly in her age range. [Edward will tell you one of the characters is based on her. ] She tells him if it works, if it doesn’t and why it’s right or wrong. She makes suggestions to make it better.

The Book Designer has five tips for working with Beta Readers. I believe in all of them, so I’m sharing what they said:

  1. Don’t Give Them a Draft Your beta reader is still a reader — a reader who might tell other readers about your book. It’s important to treat your beta readers right, and that begins with what you ask them to read. Don’t give them your first draft. In fact, be sure that what you give them is the very best writing you can produce on your own. Write your draft and set it aside for at least a week. Go back to it and rewrite it if you need to. Then set it aside for another week — again. Revise, revise, revise, until it isn’t remotely possible for you to do any better.
  2. Your Manuscript, Their Way Before you send your manuscript to your beta readers, ask them what format they’d like it in. Beta readers might want to print your manuscript or read it on a Kindle. If they prefer the latter option, send them instructions for how to get your manuscript on an e-reader. Do whatever you can to remove any obstacles that will prevent your beta reader from carving out time to read your book.
  1. Give Them Guidance Let your beta reader know what kind of feedback you’d like from them. Develop a checklist with questions you’d like answers to. Do you want readers to comment on the strength of a character, or the organization of a concept? If you create a specific list of questions around content, beta readers won’t spend their time punctuating sentences. Adapt your revision checklist to meet the needs of each book your write.
  2. Don’t Take it Personally Remember, it takes a great deal of time to read and respond to a book. And your beta readers will have opinions that might sting a little. Be gracious for any feedback a beta reader gives you, even if you don’t agree with it. Ask yourself, “Will addressing this comment make for a better book?” If so, take their advice and apply it to your next revision. If not, whatever you do, don’t defend yourself. Your beta reader already knows your position (you’ve done as you’ve seen fit, as evidenced by your manuscript) but they don’t agree. Thank them for their comments and move on.
  3. Return the Favour Remember, you’re not paying your beta readers to read your book. They’re offering feedback because they want to help or they’re interested in your book’s premise or topic. If your beta reader asks you to be a beta reader in future, seriously consider returning the favour. And when it comes time to publish your book, give them a mention in your acknowledgements. Everyone likes to see their name in “print.”

 

Still confused as to why you need one, or what they are? Read on… 

What is a Beta Reader, and why do I need one?

http://www.smallbluedog.com/what-is-a-beta-reader-and-why-do-i-need-one.html

What makes a good beta reader?

http://www.smallbluedog.com/what-makes-a-good-beta-reader.html

The few, the proud, the beta readers

http://fiona-skye.com/the-few-the-proud-the-beta-readers/

Honestly, I’d tell you that you need a beta reader to help you revise your manuscript before you go looking for an editor. If you need one, I think I can point you in the right direction for that editor.

Note: beta reader featured image from Fiona Skye

 

Umberto Eco and the Anti-library

umbertoeco
Umberto Eco image courtesy of Brain Pickings 

 

“The writer Umberto Eco belongs to that small class of scholars who are encyclopedic, insightful, and nondull. He is the owner of a large personal library (containing thirty thousand books), and separates visitors into two categories: those who react with “Wow! Signore, professore dottore Eco, what a library you have! How many of these books have you read?” and the others – a very small minority – who get the point that a private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you don’t know as your financial means, mortgage rates and the currently tight real-estate market allows you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menancingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an anti-library.”

― Nassim Nicholas Taleb
The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable Fragility

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My anti-library Kindle list

Taleb’s book is part of my anti-library, ironically enough.

Taleb’s quote above fascinated me, and I bought the book to read, but with the editing business going strong and the fact-checking side of the house prepping for the next issue of Genome Magazine, it’s on my TBR pile.  The good news is, now that school has resumed, perhaps the TBR pile can be dug into, perhaps at the beach?

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s  The Theory of Colours

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I have done some research on color theory and psychology, and my colors around the world blog post utilizing this as a reference. One of Goethe’s most radical points was a refutation of Newton’s ideas about the color spectrum, suggesting instead that darkness is an active ingredient rather than the mere passive absence of light.

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Light and darkness, brightness and obscurity, or if a more general expression is preferred, light and its absence, are necessary to the production of color… Color itself is a degree of darkness. 

 

Leon Leyson’s The Boy on the Wooden Box

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The Boy on the Wooden Box is on my Kindle since my son Jason went to hear Leon Leyson’s widow, Lis, speak on Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Fullerton Public Library. Leon Leyson was the youngest person ever saved by Oskar Schindler.  He was #289 on Schindler’s List. Be sure to read Jason’s take on Lis Leyson’s speech.

As a history major in my undergrad days, this time period has always had a deep impact on me. I am sure it will be eye-opening and emotional.

I’m reminded of Marlon Brando’s famous Playboy interview with Lawrence Grobel, in which he says that he used to read all the time, but finally stopped because information was of no use to him. Grobel interviewed him on his island in Tahiti; Brando told him that he no longer read anything except Shakespeare. Everything that was worth knowing was contained in Shakespeare. Brando said:

070936-glossy-black-icon-alphanumeric-quote-close1I used to read an awful lot. Then I found that I had a lot of information and very little knowledge. I couldn’t learn from reading. I was doing something else by reading, just filling up this hopper full of information, but it was undigested information. I used to think the more intelligence you had, the more knowledge you had, but it’s not true. Look at Bill Buckley; he uses his intelligence to further his own prejudices. Why one reads is important. If it’s just for escape, that’s all right, it’s like taking junk, it’s meaningless. It’s kind of an insult to yourself. Like modern conversation–it’s used to keep people away from one another, because people don’t feel assaulted by conversation so much as silence. People have to make conversation in order to fill up this void. Void is terrifying to most people. We can’t have a direct confrontation with somebody in silence–because what you’re really having is a full and more meaningful confrontation.

 

Epictetus’ The Art of Living: The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness, and Effectiveness 

the-art-of-living

Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle:

070936-glossy-black-icon-alphanumeric-quote-close1Some things are within our control, and some things are not. It is only after you have faced up to this fundamental rule and learned to distinguish between what you can and can’t control that inner tranquility and outer effectiveness become possible.

Epictetus‘ (c. AD 55 – 135) influential school of Stoic philosophy, stresses that human beings cannot control life, only their responses to it, keeping the focus on progress over perfection, on accomplishing what can be accomplished and abandoning unproductive worry over what cannot.

What’s on your Anti-Library List? 

Let me know either by commenting here, or on twitter @bookdoctordara.

Mark Twain on Writing: “Kill your adjectives”

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Mark Twain, who read widely, was passionately interested in the problems of style; the mark of the strictest literary sensibility is everywhere to be found in the prose of Huckleberry Finn . . . He is the master of the style that escapes the fixity of the printed page, that sounds in our ears with the immediacy of the heard voice, the very voice of unpretentious truth.

Lionel Trilling, “Mark Twain’s Colloquial Prose Style”, from The Liberal Imagination, 1950

Mark Twain

Twain was often asked for advice on the art and craft of writing. Sometimes he responded seriously, sometimes not.  Here’s a piece of writing advice on from a letter he wrote on 20 March 1880 to a student named D.W. Bowser:

“I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English—it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don’t let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in. When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them—then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice.”

I often tell my editing clients one of my favorite pieces of advice he gave. Twain famously said:

“Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” 


Bonus: “Give A Lick: Literary Postage Stamps” information for you philatelists! 

Mark Twain 44¢
(1835-1910)
Mark Twain
Issue Date: June 25, 2011
City: Hannibal, MO
Quantity: 50,000,000

Mark Twain is the 27th honoree in the Literary Arts series. “Our literary tribute this year rightfully honors Mark Twain, author of one of the greatest novels in American literature and the man whom William Faulkner called ‘the first truly American writer,’ said Postal Service Board of Governors member James H. Bilbray. “Mark Twain was a rarity, as he was one of the first writers to exploit the vernacular voice in his books, using the speech of common Americans,” Bilbray said.

Samuel Clemens’ family moved to the banks of the mighty Mississippi River when he was just a child.  Clemens developed a love for the river that would stay with him his entire life.

As a young man, Clemens met a steamboat pilot named Horace Bixby.  That’s when he decided to learn the craft, becoming one of the best pilots on the river.

As an author, Clemens took his pen name from his experiences on the water.  The Mississippi River is difficult to navigate.  To “mark twain” meant the water had been measured and was a safe depth.  In 1863, Clemens began writing as Mark Twain.

If it had not been for the Civil War, Twain may have remained a pilot who occasionally wrote newspaper articles.  But most business travel stopped along the Mississippi during these years, so Twain went back to writing.  His humorous stories of life on the river were a hit with readers then and remain popular today.

In 2010, the first volume of Twain’s autobiography was published.  It was his wish that it not be released until 100 years after his death so that he might speak his “whole frank mind.”  The volume offers a glimpse into the real Samuel Clemens – a man with strong political and social views who nevertheless entertained millions with riveting tales of life on the Mississippi.

More on the “Give A Lick: Literary Postage Stamp” Series

Dorothy Parker and John Steinbeck
Flannery O’Connor and Ralph Ellison
James Thurber and Ogden Nash
Bonus: James Thurber Cartoon 

 

 

Give A Lick: Literary Postage Stamps – Humorists Ogden Nash and James Thurber

What is the connection between Ogden Nash and James Thurber? Besides both being humorists, they published at The New Yorker during the same time period. In 1930, Nash’s first poem “Invocation” was published January 11.  Did you know Nash contributed 329 poems to The New Yorker between 1930 and 1971?

Meanwhile, the magazine ran a drawing by James Thurber for the first time in the February 22, 1930 issue. E. B. White had rescued Thurber’s doodles from being discarded, and encouraged the writer to publish his art work.

Ogden Nash 37¢
(1902-1971)

Ogden Nash.jpg

Issue Date: August 19, 2002
City: Baltimore, MD
Quantity: 70,000,000

American humorist and poet Ogden Nash wrote light-hearted, whimsical, and sometimes nonsensical verse. He often used an extremely large poetic license to create comical rhymes and puns. Ogden Nash is the 18th honoree of the Literary Arts Series.

An interesting couple of notes about the Ogden Nash stamp. It is the first time the word ‘Sex’ has appeared on a stamp; and probably also is the first time a limerick has appeared on a U.S. stamp.

U.S. Postal Service chief stamp developer Terry McCaffrey told CBSNews.com he expects to get complaints about “sex,” which is included in the six Nash poems in the background of the design: “The Turtle,” “The Cow,” “Crossing The Border,” “The Kitten,” “The Camel,” and “Limerick One.”

Nash poked fun at human foibles without cynicism. He wrote on many subjects, but all of his poems expressed his wry wit and demonstrated his playfulness with language. “I’m very fond of the English language. I tease it, and you tease only the things you love,” Nash reportedly said. He invented words and used puns, creative misspellings, irregular line lengths and unexpected rhymes to make his verse humorous and memorable. Because of his unique style, many consider Ogden Nash to have been one of the most accomplished American writers of light verse in the 20th century.

In a letter to the editor of The New York Times in 1969, Nash complained about stamps that would not stick to envelopes. He lamented, “The Post Office should supply a roll of Scotch tape with every 100 stamps, but mine won’t even sell me one. I’d like to go back to where I came from: 1902.”

Nash considered himself a ‘worsifier’. One of the most universally known verses is: “Candy is dandy/but liquor is quicker.” Others include: “If called by a panther, / Don’t anther,” and “In the vanities / No one wears panities.”

Did you know? Nash’s great-great-grandfather was governor of North Carolina during the Revolution, and that ancestor’s brother was General Francis Nash, for whom Nashville, Tennessee, was named.

James Thurber 29¢
(1894-1961)

James Thurber

Issue Date: September 10, 1994
City: Columbus, OH
Quantity: 150,750,000

One of the most popular humorists of his time, James Thurber celebrated the comic frustrations and eccentricities of ordinary people.  In Thurber-Land, the men are often sad, bewildered, and inept; the women are fierce and determined; and their dogs are indifferent to men a women alike, and are immersed in a fantasy world of their own.  Thurber is the author of The Secret Life of Walter Mittywhich portrays an oversensitive man who escapes from his nagging wife through his daydreams and the creator of numerous New Yorker magazine cover cartoons.  Writing nearly 40 books, he won a Tony Award for the Broadway play, A Thurber Carnival, in which he often starred as himself.

One of his books, My World and Welcome To It, was turned into an NBC television series in 1969-1970 starring William Windom. My World and Welcome To It, won best Comedy Series and Windom won Best Actor in a Comedy Series at the 1970 Emmys.

Thurber spent much time in and about the Algonquin Hotel in New York City.  Though never a formal member of the Algonquin Round Table, he was a favorite among many of its members including, Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley.

Thurber is the 11th honoree of the Literary Arts series. Read his “The Art of Fiction” interview the Paris Review by George Plimpton and Max Steele.

Did You Know?  As a child, Thurber’s brother shot him in the eye with an arrow during a game of William Tell. James Thurber lost his left eye, and the incident left his vision permanently impaired.


For the rest of the Give A Lick: Literary Arts series of blog posts, check out Dorothy Parker and John Steinbeck, as well as Flannery O’Connor and Ralph Ellison.


For Further Reading & Source Material: 

A New Yorker Timeline

Eighty-five from the archive: Ogden Nash

PR Wire “Literary Arts series Continues with Issuance of Ogden Nash stamp”
*Note: The cool thing about this link is that it shows you the full verses of poems used on the Ogden Nash stamp.

Poetry Foundation / Ogden Nash

Thurber House

Ten Facts about Caldecott Winner , James Thurber

Thurber Prize for American Humor 
*Note: The Thurber Prize for American Humor is the nation’s highest recognition of the art of humor writing. 

Give A Lick: Literary Postage Stamps – Flannery O’Connor and Ralph Ellison

Continuing on the Give A Lick: Literary Postage Stamp week, today I will be featuring Flannery O’Connor and Ralph Ellison. The connection between these two stamps is that they are the only two in the series that are intended for three-ounce letters.

Flannery O’Connor 93¢
(1925-1964)
Flannery O'ConnorIssue Date
: June 5, 2015
City
: McLean, VA
Quantity
: 20,000,000

Flannery O’Connor’s stamp is 30th in the Literary Arts Series, released in 2015.

Mary Flannery O’Connor was an American writer and essayist. An important voice in American literature, she wrote two novels and 32 short stories, as well as a number of reviews and commentaries. She was a Southern writer who often wrote in a Southern Gothic style and relied heavily on regional settings and grotesque characters. Her writing also reflected her own Roman Catholic faith, and frequently examined questions of morality and ethics.

The stamp shows O’Connor surrounded by peacock feathers—an homage to O’Connor’s love for the birds that she cared for on her mother’s farm toward the end of her life. She wrote about peacocks in a 1961 essay called “The King of Birds.” Today, three of those peacocks that were her pets have been returned to her homeplace in Andalusia, which has become a visitor center.

All three birds are named after characters in O’Connor’s work. The strutting male bird is Manley Pointer, after the scheming Bible salesman from O’Connor’s story “Good Country People.” One of the hens is named Joy/Hulga, after the woman whose prosthetic leg Pointer steals in the same story. The second hen’s name is Mary Grace, the “raw-complexioned girl” from O’Connor’s story “Revelation” in her collection “Everything That Rises Must Converge.”

The setting of Andalusia, including the ever-present peafowl, figures prominently in her fiction. If it is true, as critics and scholars have noted, that Southern fiction is marked by the importance given to a sense of place, then a major force in shaping Flannery O’Connor’s work is landscape. Andalusia provided for her not only a place to live and write, but also a functional landscape in which to set her fiction.

While living at Andalusia, Flannery O’Connor completed Wise Blood, which was published in 1952. Then her highly acclaimed collection of short stories A Good Man Is Hard To Find was published in 1955. She also wrote another novel, The Violent Bear It Away, published in 1960. Her second collection of short stories, Everything That Rises Must Converge, was published posthumously in 1965. A collection of nonfiction prose titled Mystery and Manners, edited by Robert and Sally Fitzgerald, was published in 1969. The Complete Stories, edited by Robert Giroux, won the 1971 National Book Award for Fiction. Then Sally Fitzgerald edited a large collection of O’Connor’s letters, The Habit of Being, which received the National Book Critics Circle Award after its publication in 1979. O’Connor’s Collected Works was published in 1988 as part of the Library of America series, the definitive collection of America’s greatest writers.

 

Ralph Ellison 91¢
(1913-1994)

ralph ellison

Issue Date: February 18, 2014
City: Kansas City, MO
Quantity: 30,000,000

Ellison’s stamp is 29th in the Literary Arts series, released in 2014.

With his 1952 novel Invisible Man, a masterpiece of 20th-century fiction, Ellison drew on a wide range of narrative and cultural traditions, shedding vivid light on the African-American experience while setting a new benchmark for all American novelists.

The stamp art is an oil-on-panel painting featuring a portrait of Ellison based on a black-and-white photograph by Ellison’s friend Gordon Parks, a renowned staff photographer for Life magazine. The photo appeared on the back of the dust jacket of the first edition of Invisible Man in 1952. The background of the stamp art shows a Harlem street at twilight.

Drawing deeply on European and American literature as well as jazz, the blues, African-American folklore, and popular culture, Invisible Man won the National Book Award in 1953. Ellison’s nonfiction writing, especially the 1964 collection Shadow and Act, has also been praised for providing touchstones for black artists who loved American culture but often felt excluded by it.

In case you missed it, come and check out the rest of the “Give a Lick” Literary Postage Stamp series: 
John Steinbeck and Dorothy Parker
Humorists James Thurber and Ogden Nash
[Bonus James Thurber cartoon]

 

 

Give A Lick: Literary Postage Stamps – John Steinbeck and Dorothy Parker

Inspiration comes from many places. Today’s blog post inspiration came from the Richard Wright quote of last week, when I went looking for an image of Mr. Wright to use as the focal point. His postage stamp led me to wonder what other literary wordsmiths had been immortalized on postage stamps.

The USPS started the Literary Arts series in 1979.  According to the USPS, “These skillful wordsmiths spun our favorite tales — and American history along with them.”

The full list of Literary Arts postage stamps can be found on the USPS website. I will be highlighting two per day this week, with perhaps a second week to come later on.

Today’s highlighted Literary Giants are John Steinbeck and Dorothy Parker.

John Steinbeck 15¢
(1902-1968)

Steinbeck_15_1979
Issue date: February 27, 1979
City: Salinas, CA
Quantity: 155,000,000

John Steinbeck was the first to be honored on the Literary Arts series. Steinbeck’s novels mirrored America’s struggle and victory over the Great Depression. His most famous novel, The Grapes of Wrath won the Pulitzer Prize in 1940. Other Steinbeck novels include Of Mice and Men, The Winter of Our Discontent, The Pearl, Cannery Row and Tortilla Flat.

I love the Paris Review’s “The Art of Fiction” interviews. If you haven’t read them, start with Steinbeck, Interview No. 45.

Listen to Steinbeck read two of his short stories, “The Snake” and “Johnny Bear” in 1953.

Dorothy Parker 29¢
(1893-1967)

Dorothy Parker
Issue date: August 22, 1992
City: West End, NJ
Quantity: 105,000,000

Dorothy Parker is 10th in the Literary Arts series.  Famous for her verses and her stories, she worked for Vogue and Vanity Fair, becoming their drama critic. She was published in Vanity Fair, Ladies Home Journal, Saturday Evening Post, Life (when it was still a comic magazine), and The New Yorker, run by her old friend, Harold Ross.

American journalist Vincent Sheean said: “Among contemporary artists, I would put her next to Hemingway and Bill Faulkner. She wasn’t Shakespeare, but what she was, was true.” John Keats in his biography of her, You Might as Well Live (1970) stated: “She wrote poetry that was at least as good as the best of Millay and Housman. She wrote some stories that are easily as good as some of O’Hara and Hemingway.”

A founding member of the legendary Algonquin Round Table, she was best known for her wit. Among her more memorable quotes are, “I don’t care what is written about me as long as it isn’t true” and “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.”

Read Dorothy Parker’s Paris Review’s “Art of Fiction” Interview No. 13.

Have you heard Dorothy Parker’s voice? You can hear her reading 30 of her poems at The Dorothy Parker Society.


Note: Featured stamp collection image courtesy of Birmingham Coin & Jewelry.

Check out the rest of the “Give A Lick” series:

Flannery O’Connor and Ralph Ellison
Humorists Ogden Nash and James Thurber
[Bonus: James Thurber Cartoon]

“Yes: I am a dreamer. For a dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.” Oscar Wilde

 There should be a law that no ordinary newspaper should be allowed to write about art. The harm they do by their foolish and random writing it would be impossible to overestimate—not to the artist but to the public. . . . Without them we would judge a man simply by his work; but at […]