Episode 78

What Can Beta Readers Do For You?

Today we are talking about new imprints, working with beta readers and editors, and hiding your expertise.

Music licensed from Storyblocks:

“More Jam Please” by Raighes Factory

“Sunset in Los Cabos” by Humans Win

“Barcelona Night” by Yagull Music, Storyblocks Label

“Shake It and Break It” by Humans Win

“St Louis Blues” by Humans Win

“Singing the Blues” by Humans Win

Rosemi Mederos:

If you have plot bunnies coming out of your plot holes, it’s time for a writing break.

Today we are talking about new imprints, working with beta readers and editors, and hiding your expertise.

The Writing Break cafe is open, so let’s grab a table and I’ll fill you in on some publishing news.

to close in the first half of:

McGraw Hill has shut down McGraw Hill Professional. The backlist will still be available for purchase, but they will no longer be publishing new business books. In a heart-stopping move, the business editorial team was laid off and books already in production were canceled. Yikes. Authors are being allowed to keep their first advance.

Now, get ready to hear about some new imprints. Let’s hope that these don’t shut down while your book is in production:

Penguin Random House UK is launching Fern Press. They are “seeking writers who are breaking new ground, from scientists, historians, leading global thinkers and activists, to singular literary voices, critics, creative artists, pioneers in technology and design, and more.”

For writers of horror, this October, Canelo is launching Canelo Horror, which aims to "honour books and authors that have shaped the genre while charting its own territory to offer the most unique and chilling novels being written today."

For Spanish writers, HarperCollins is launching a new Spanish-language imprint called HarperEnfoque. They’re seeking “authors that challenge the way we think and encourage us to be a catalyst for change, both within our immediate sphere of influence and beyond.”

For graphic novelists, there’s Ten Speed Graphic, which is part of Ten Speed Press, which is an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group at Penguin Random House. Were you able to follow that thread? “With the growing demand for high-quality, innovative, and immersive graphic content around the world, Ten Speed Graphic and the team behind it will go deeper into this dynamic space, particularly in fiction, webcomic adaptations, and licensed publishing.”

For writers of children’s books, there’s Paw Prints Readers launching this fall from Baker & Taylor. “Paw Prints Readers will publish works exploring diverse cultures and backgrounds. Emerging readers will evolve through Paw Prints Readers’ four-leveled program aimed at ages four through seven and up.”

And, finally, Australian publisher Hardie Grant is launching Bright Light, a children’s imprint for the North American market.

The Booker Prize long list has been announced. You can find a link to that and to all of these news stories in the show notes of this episode and on writingbreak.com. Now, let’s sprawl out on the Overthinking Couch to discuss hiding your expertise.

In the September issue of Writing magazine, novelist Jane Johnson discusses her process for writing historical fiction. “Historical fiction takes a long time to write. Not only do you need to be an expert in your subject matter, but you also have to hide your expertise!”

Authors often struggle with this precisely because researching their book took up a great deal of time. The research becomes so precious to them that they cannot part with all that trivia, even if it is bogging down the book. This applies to not only historical fiction but all writing, including nonfiction. Have you done enough research for your book? Great. Have you included so much of that research into your book in a way that feels unnatural or slows down the pace of your book? Not so great. I invite you to pass an editorial eye across your manuscript and rethink how much and how little research is in your work in progress.

And now, let’s visit an independent bookstore that’s more than a bookstore.

The Novel Neighbor in St. Louis, Missouri, is a corner bookshop with an inviting green awning beckoning you inside. Once inside, you’re greeted with hardwood flooring and bright yellow walls…even the brick is painted yellow. You’ll discover a couple of reading nooks as you walk along the white bookshelves.

oman-owned bookstore began in:

The Novel Neighbor has always considered itself more than a bookstore. USA Today seems to be in agreement since it reached out to The Novel Neighbor for assistance in restarting the bestseller list I told you about last week. The bookstore’s owner, Holland Saltsman, suggested raising the visibility of independent bookstores through a collaboration involving Bookshop.org and the American Booksellers Association. The Novel Neighbor will produce content for USA Today, including a book recommendation column and a spotlight on an independent bookstore each week (just like us!).

Now, let’s take a look around and see what we find.

Today we’re looking at the gorgeous St. Louis in Watercolor: Living History in the Gateway City by Marilynne Bradley. “Artist Marilynne Bradley has spent half a century immortalizing and updating treasures of St. Louis landmarks in the vibrant pigments of watercolor. This collection of local scenes beautifully captured in paint documents the pleasures of the good life in St. Louis: the applause of a good play, the sounds of music, the satisfaction of a gourmet meal, the cheers of a crowd at a sporting event, and the beauty of St. Louis’ unique architecture. Writer Jennifer Grotpeter captures the essence of the image in animated memories and offers the reader a connection with the culture of St. Louis.”

Other books by Bradley you might want to check out are St. Louis in Watercolor: The Architecture of a City and Once Upon a Time in St. Louis: An Illustrated Trip Through the Past. All three full-color books are available in hardcover, which is exactly how you want to experience these books.

Now, let’s find a quiet corner for today’s writing tip.

Last week I said that the writing tips for the remainder of the season were going to be for independent authors only, but actually, this segment pertains to those seeking traditional publication as well because we’re talking about both beta readers and editors, not because they’re alike but specifically because they’re quite different. Way back in episode 10, I offered you 4 dos and don’ts for working with beta readers, so you already know how to select and work with beta readers.

How important is the beta reading process? That depends on your manuscript, your genre, and you as the author. A medical textbook would require highly specialized beta readers called subject matter experts. A kindergarten teacher working on a childrens’ picture book could use their students as their beta readers.

Would a poet need beta readers for a book of poetry? If you’re putting together a collection of short stories that have already been published elsewhere, what are your beta readers going to do for you? No matter what kind of book you’re writing, the question to ask is, what do I need from my beta readers?

An author might need general remarks, specific feedback, or maybe just encouragement. When guided properly, your beta readers should be able to provide you with exactly what you need. Just remember what you don’t need from them: copy editing. Your text is being edited for content, so new typos will continue to be introduced. You will need a copy edit when all is said and done, yet some beta readers believe checking for typos is part of the beta reading process. It’s not. Two things will happen if you don’t stop them: (1) they’ll run out of steam midway through the book; and (2) they won’t share substantial comments about the book’s plot, pacing, or characters. Refer to episode 10 for more on guiding your beta readers.

The curious thing about the beta reading process is that you’ll receive conflicting comments about how to revise the book. This is because, simply put, everyone is different. Our lived experiences and biases inform our opinions and values. This is what makes life interesting, but it is not possible to please everyone, and you might not want to implement some of the changes your beta readers suggest.

For that matter, you might not want to implement some of the changes your editor suggests, and you don’t have to either. However, a good editor will know how to keep their preferences out of their editing. Editors are trained to edit in a comprehensive way that leaves their ego out of it. We edit with disappearing ink–that is, we do our best to remain hidden so that no one knows where we did what. Your voice and the book’s message is at the forefront of every one of your editor’s suggested modifications. For more on the editing process, refer to episode 64.

Saying that you get what you pay for when it comes to professional editing feels mean because everyone should get the chance to tell their story but not everyone has a large budget for professional editing. Editing can be pricey, but it is worth it if you’re working with the right editor. This goes for self-published and traditionally published authors. If you’re seeking traditional publishing, an editor will help you improve your work so that the manuscript you shop around to literary agents and publishers is more likely to be selected for publication.

While an editor should be included as one of the services provided by a publishing house when you sign a book contract with them, editors at traditional publishers are overworked and might not have enough time to give your book the focus it deserves. They’re looking for manuscripts that do no t need a full makeover. Some traditional publishers outsource editing to freelancers, which might mean that you don’t get a chance to discuss the changes directly with the editor. Yes, I do speak from experience.

As for where to hire these glorious editors, we’ll talk about that next week. But for now, I’ll say you can find me and my favorite editors in the Editorial Freelancers Association directory. Link in the show notes.

That is all for today. Thank you for listening and remember, you deserved this break.

If you would like us to visit your favorite independent bookstore, feature your favorite independent author (even if it’s you), or discuss something you’re overthinking about, please email me at podcast@writingbreak.com.

Thank you for making space in your mind for The Muse today.

Writing Break is hosted by America’s Editor and produced by Allon Media with technical direction by Gus Aviles. Visit us at writingbreak.com or contact us at podcast@writingbreak.com.

About the Podcast

Show artwork for Writing Break
Writing Break
An award-winning podcast for writers and readers

Listen for free

About your host

Profile picture for Rosemi Mederos

Rosemi Mederos


Rosemi is the founder of America's Editor, a book editing company.