Question: I am ready to share my WIP with people (yay) but I have so many questions. I remember when writing my Bachelor's thesis I could send it off to different people and they would each proofread different aspects (spelling, formal stuff, comprehension etc.) would that be a good tactic for fiction too? At what point should I consider hiring an editor when traditional publishing is my goal? Is it necessary to put something like a none disclosure agreement in front of everything I share? (1/2)
or does that make me look paranoid? And what is a good tool for sharing your work? I figured something like google docs would work well bc it makes sharing things via link easy but then again is it good when everybody can read all the critiques other people have? I also figured I would share one maybe two chapters at a time and add some questions at the end of each section for people to answer. I really don’t know what the protocol is here, would be grateful for some of your awesome advice
Guide: The Feedback Process
First, congratulations on getting to this point! <3
1) “When writing my Bachelor’s thesis I could send it off to different people and they would each proofread different aspects (spelling, formal stuff, comprehension etc.) would that be a good tactic for fiction too?”
Sort of… Everyone has a slightly different process, but here are the typical steps:
Many writers share their manuscript with a friend, family member, or writer friend after the first or second draft is complete. This person is known as an “alpha reader” because they’re the first eyes (besides your own) on your completed story. The alpha reader’s role is to give you first impressions of the story from the reader perspective. Since this is an early and often unedited draft, they don’t need to worry about issues like typos, grammar, punctuation, etc. If the story or something about it doesn’t quite work, it’s their job to let you know.
Lots of writers choose to work with a critique partner, and sometimes more than one. Critique partners can be project specific, but usually they become part of a lasting partnership and your writing BFF. Your critique partner may even fulfill the role of alpha reader if you don’t have anyone else to do it. Their job is to give you thorough feedback on everything from conceptual and structural problems to plot holes and grammatical errors. Then you do the same for their manuscript when they’re ready, which is what makes it a partnership. Critique partners can be notoriously hard to find so don’t sweat it if you can’t find one.If you want to try, here are some places to look: online forums, critique partner match-ups (Maggie Stiefvater has one, and I tried to get one off the ground), writing groups, writing workshops, writing conferences, and social media. Again, don’t worry if you can’t find one. Lots of writers work without one.
Beta readers are probably the most common method used for feedback prior to querying or self-publishing, and many writers do two or even three phases of beta reading. If you don’t have an alpha reader and/or critique partner, you can use beta readers to fulfill the same function. Otherwise, you may choose to only do a single beta read. Whatever works is fine. Beta readers are typically found among your bookish and writer friends. It’s pretty essential that they’re either avid readers, writers, or both. The depth of feedback you ask them to provide is up to you, but once again this is more of an overall feedback and not really the place for editing-related feedback. Some writers will provide their beta readers with short questionnaires to fill out afterward targeting some of the writer’s specific concerns, like “Did you connect with the main character?”
Side note: Wherever you go to find readers, it’s a good idea to try to establish a bit of a friendship with them before sending them your whole manuscript. If you meet them in person at a writing workshop or conference, talk to them in e-mail or on social media for a little bit before making the exchange. If you meet them in a forum or on social media, spend a little while interacting with them and getting to know them. Do the best you can to vet them based on the relationships they seem to have with other writers, how together they seem to be, who they know and what they do, etc. If you can find someone that other people seem to trust, you can feel confident that you can trust them, too.
2) “At what point should I consider hiring an editor when traditional publishing is my goal?”
Here’s the thing about professional editors: they cost a small fortune. Depending on the length of your story, you will need to be prepared to pay anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000, give or take.
If you are pursuing traditional publishing, don’t even worry about it. Just polish your manuscript to the best of your ability and you’re fine. Agents and publishers don’t expect your manuscript to be professionally edited. If you go through an agent (as most writers do since few publishers accept unsolicited manuscripts), they will help make sure your manuscript is extra polished, and if they sell it to a publisher, the publisher’s in-house editor will edit your manuscript anyway. Publishers pay such small advances these days, especially to debut authors, it would be silly for you to be out of pocket for a professional editor. If your story is amazing and your writing is strong, an agent will be interested even if there are a few typos or other issues. As long as it’s clear you made the effort to polish it as much as possible, that’s what matters.
If you are self-publishing, it gets a little bit trickier. I used to advocate always using a professional editor when self-publishing, but the reality is many indie authors can simply not afford to spend that kind of money on their book without going into debt. The reality is that you’re extremely unlikely to make that money back anytime soon, so if you can afford to make that kind of investment without any hope of a near-future return, then go for it. But if that kind of investment would be a hardship, don’t even bother with it. There are plenty of alternatives, including just making sure you have a crackerjack team of smart people who are willing to help get your manuscript as polished as possible.
3) “Is it necessary to put something like a non-disclosure agreement in front of everything I share? Or does that make me look paranoid?”
Non-Disclosure agreements are not the norm. If you’re working with alpha readers, beta readers, and critique partners, you simply ask them not to share your manuscript or any story details. And, again, if you’re dealing with a stranger, it’s a good idea to get to know them a little bit and do a little surreptitious vetting before you enter into any sort of exchange.
If you’re working with a professional editor, it’s their job to read unpublished manuscripts, so they know better than to share your work or details about it.
Theft is extremely rare, but when it does happen it’s usually in situations where there was little to no vetting or establishment of a writerly friendship first. If you take the time to get to know someone a little bit first, you should have a pretty good idea of whether or not they’re someone you can trust.
4) “I figured something like google docs would work well bc it makes sharing things via link easy but then again is it good when everybody can read all the critiques other people have?”
Different people use different methods, but the most common seems to be Microsoft Word with its review feature. This allows the reader to make comments within the document without being able to change it and without others being able to see it. That’s the method I have used both as an author and a beta reader, as well as with my critique partners. Although, sometimes my CPs and I are lazy and we just use e-mail. I’ve never used Google Docs but I would definitely caution against allowing everyone to see each other’s feedback. When alpha readers, beta readers, and critique partners give you feedback, it’s for your eyes only unless you ask their permission to share it. So at the very least, you would need to warn everyone that their feedback will be viewable by everyone else, and that may not fly with some readers. Also, I would be worried about one person’s feedback influencing another person’s feedback. It just doesn’t seem like a good idea to me. If there’s a way you could do a separate Google Doc for each reader that only they have access to, that might be an alternative. Other programs I’ve heard of people using: Adobe Reader, iAnnotate, and WPS Writer. (Side Note: if you create a document that you e-mail to each reader, create a separate doc for each reader with their name in it. This way you don’t accidentally merge documents when you get them back.)
5) “I also figured I would share one maybe two chapters at a time and add some questions at the end of each section for people to answer.”
This is not the way it is typically done and I would caution against this method for a variety of reasons. Usually you would send the completed manuscript to your readers along with a target date for feedback to be returned. This allows readers to go at their own pace, which is preferable since some may choose to read the whole thing in one weekend while others may choose to do a chapter every couple days or so. Ultimately, it’s your job to make this process as easy on your readers as possible, which means giving them the ability to set their own pace. If you send it in chunks, you take away that ability and put added pressure on them. Plus, it creates a lot of extra communication and back and forth, which is not desirable.
6) Standard Protocol for Beta Readers
With alpha readers and established critique partners, the process tends to be a bit more personal since you probably know the person already. With new critique partners, you can establish whatever method works best for the two of you. But with beta readers, there’s a pretty standard process…
After you’ve gathered your beta reader team and have been given their e-mail addresses, you’ll compose an e-mail that can be sent separately to each one. This e-mail will thank them for volunteering as a beta, will outline what you are and aren’t looking for in beta feedback, and establish a deadline (preferably four to six weeks out.) Although Word Documents seem to be the most common, most writers offer alternatives for how feedback might be given. For example, you might say something like, “You’re welcome to leave feedback within each chapter, as you go, at the end of each chapter, or at the end of the manuscript.” You may also consider including a short questionnaire (ideally no more than 5-10 questions) that the beta reader can fill out at the end, in addition to whatever other feedback they provide. Give them any necessary instructions for that and let them know they can contact you at any point if they have any questions. Also, it’s a good idea to clarify your expectations should the person decide not to complete the beta read for whatever reason. Most writers will say something like, “If something comes up and you’re unable to complete this beta read, please be sure to let me know as soon as possible so I can find someone to take your place.” This way it’s clear it’s not a big deal if they can’t finish, and they know you won’t hold it against them. Finally, be sure to thank them again for participating.
The feedback will usually trickle in throughout the specified period. When someone sends you their feedback, simply reply with a big thanks and leave it at that. If you have a comprehension issue on some of their feedback and it seems like something critical, it’s generally okay to e-mail them and ask them for clarification, but this is something you should only do when absolutely necessary. Normally, you will not discuss a beta reader’s feedback with them. That feedback isn’t there for you to quibble with or otherwise defend against, and doing so will only ensure that this particular beta reader won’t want to work with you again in the future. You may get feedback that you disagree with, that’s difficult to hear, or is downright hurtful, but it’s up to you to figure out how to apply the feedback if at all. Remember: readers have all kinds of different opinions, and where one reader might say, “I didn’t find this character very believable,” other
characters (LOL! *readers*) may not feel the same way. If two or more people express the same opinion, it’s worth considering more deeply. If more than two do, it’s definitely something you’ll need to take a look at.
I hope that demystifies the whole process for you a bit! <3
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