When writers finish their book, a common question I see is, “What’s next? Who should review it before it gets published?” It’s a great thing to consider. Some writers edit their book a few times then publish it on amazon. If you’re a trained editor, that should be fine, but it’s always a good idea to bring in fresh eyes to review your work. When you’ve read and edited your book so many times, it’s easy to miss small things because you’re too familiar with it. For example, no matter how many times I read The Purple Door District, I still missed the fact that one of my character’s names was spelled incorrectly.
Actually, five of us missed it, ha!
Now, I want to make this very clear from the beginning. These readers are using their personal time to help you. It’s important for the author to show them respect (and for the readers to also show respect to the author). As an author, don’t pressure readers to get the work done. As a reader, understand that the author has put their heart onto paper, so when you provide critique, make sure it’s constructive.
So who should you talk to?
Beta Readers: Beta readers read your book through the earlier stages. They give their initial impressions of the book, point out plot holes, inconsistencies, or anything major that they feel needs to be changed. This is a great opportunity to make a list of things for the beta readers to look for if you’re concerned about particular scenes, characters, or plot points. This feedback can help you turn your writing into a much stronger book and fix things that might otherwise seem broken. Take what they say into consideration, and perhaps ask if they would be willing to read a second draft.
Also keep in mind that you, as the author, don’t have to make all of the edits. These are opinions, after all, and you ultimately have control over your book. This applies to all the feedback you’re given.
Sensitivity Readers: Sensitivity readers are a subset of beta readers who review works to check for cultural inaccuracies, bias, representation issues, stereotypes, problematic language, etc. I personally use sensitivity readers because I write about characters outside of my scope. Example, I’m a white bi-sexual woman, but I also write about black heterosexual men, as well as Native American, Hispanic, Latino/a, and Indian characters. I want to make sure I’m representing everyone correctly without showing any bias or including accidental racist undertones. Now, there’s an argument going around that books shouldn’t need sensitivity readers, and if it’s fiction, why should it matter? In my opinion, correctly portraying people and cultures is very important, and I want to make sure my readers can see themselves in the characters and aren’t offended by my work. We already have enough racism going on in our country today, our books don’t need to add to it. I know I can’t please everyone, but I can at least make an attempt to appeal to the masses and not be ignorant to the needs of those outside of my scope. For more information about sensitivity readers, check out the link above.
Editors: This goes without saying, but you should have an editor look over your book. Again, no matter how many times we read our work (even if we’re editors ourselves), we’re going to miss things. We’ve built the entire world in our head. We might know what we mean in a sentence or paragraph, but an editor can clean it up to make it clearer for readers to understand. You can hire different types of editors too, whether they’re copy editors, line editors, or they kind of do it all. Expect to pay for an editor. They put a lot of work into their craft and should be compensated for it.
Proofreaders: A proofreader is one of the last people to look at the book and will skim it for any final spelling or grammatical errors. While editors can do this as well, it helps to have another pair of fresh eyes on your book even after the editing stage. I had two proofreaders who caught things my editor and I missed. And the proofreaders even found errors that one of the other proofreaders missed. My proofreaders review my book just before I click print, that way any egregious errors should be caught.
Except Carlos…your misspelled name will live on in infamy.
ARC Readers: Arc, or advanced reader copy, readers are the ones who first get your printed book in their hands. They may be tasked with leaving reviews on Amazon or providing quotes you can use when marketing your book. They may also catch any final errors that you missed, or problematic plot devices. At this point, everything should be pretty clean, but it does sometimes happen that an arc reader will point out a name the author forgot to remove, or perhaps a red herring that shouldn’t be in the book at all.
In extreme cases, ARC readers, or early critics, might point out a major objection to a book like what happened in Amelie Wen Zhao’s Blood Heir. The author pulled her novel from printing because of objections readers made about the depiction of slavery. Some critics denounced the novel, calling it “blatantly racist.” It’s possible having a sensitivity reader on the manuscript may have helped with this issue. In response, she said she intended to write the novel from her “immediate cultural perspective” and address indentured and human trafficking in industries across Asia instead. This situation started a twitter explosion on whether sensitivity readers are needed or not, and it still continues today. Be that as it may, it was the ARC readers who made the objections and caused Zhao to halt her book, which may have helped her save face in the end.
As a note, I think Zhao reacted with professional grace and respect. She took her reader’s objections in stride and sought to fix the issue rather than condemn the readers for their critiques.
These are just a few people who can review your book before it’s ready for publication. Make sure, too, that you’re giving your book to people who will provide honest feedback and won’t just say, “Omg, I love this. It’s amazing!” or “This is garbage. Throw it out.” Neither of these is helpful (though it is nice to receive the praise). And when you receive feedback, be gracious and understand that these people are just trying to help you. They aren’t your enemy. They aren’t trying to make you fail. They truly, and honestly, want to make your book the best it can possibly be. If you’re not able to handle critique, you may want to reconsider publishing so soon because, believe me, this world is filled with critics (both good and bad).
Another thing to keep in mind is hiring editors, sensitivity readers, etc., does not come cheap. Make sure you budget for it, or find other arrangements with the readers. Whether it’s swapping book edits for book edits, or giving free copies of your book to readers, make their time worth it. If you respect and appreciate them, they’ll respect and appreciate you.
What about you? Do you have particular readers you go to when you finish a book? What’s helped you the most? Let us know! Also, if you’re an editor, sensitivity reader, proofreader, beta reader, or ARC reader, feel free to post your services below!