In this blog, I am sharing how I am mentoring a group of high school science students to write and publish a book about their science research experiences by April 2015 with the goal of selling 500 copies by the end of the school year.
The best-written, most finely crafted book can still be a flop if nobody reads it. Readers care about quality, which the author can improve during editing and revising, but they also care about things that interest them. Each target audience is different, and the author must appeal to the particular target audience to whom the book is written. The author who writes in isolation can miss the target and end up with a book that has little or no appeal. To solve this problem, an author should have a group of beta readers review the finished draft and provide feedback.
Beta is second letter in the Greek alphabet, and beta readers are the second set of editors of a book. If you are following my approach, your student authors will have already done a fairly thorough job of basic editing and revising in the first stage using the writing critique group approach. Now they will seek further comments from an outside group of impartial critics. This rules out friends and family—“it looks nice to me, dear” is not going to help the author. Good beta readers are other writers or editors, experts in the field covered by the book, or representatives of the target audience. These people can provide useful inputs for the book’s author.
Where to find beta readers is the first step. I would start with other departments in your school, such as the English teachers to beta read your book or digital media teachers to beta read your blog. Teachers have a stake in the students, and they will want to help. The earlier you involve other departments in the project, the better. This project is interdisciplinary, so it makes sense to work with teachers in various disciplines. Another source of beta readers is the community around you. We are finding writers, editors, and publishers in our area, as our school is near several publishing firms in Westchester County, New York. We even have a local writers conference scheduled right before our beta reader stage, so we have a great opportunity to seek help there. For experts in science, the subject of all our books, scientists and related workers in our community are logical choices. Finally, people in the target audience are good beta readers, so for the student authors writing to a youthful audience, that typically means asking other students. Asking students in the student author’s school is not ideal, however, as social considerations can get in the way and ruin impartiality. A better situation would be for two schools doing this project to serve as beta readers for each other. In this way, the student authors get feedback from their target audience, but not from friends or acquaintances.
The way an author asks for beta readers is important. You have to convince the beta reader that taking on the task is worth it. Some basic rules apply, such as being courteous and making the request crystal clear. The Book Designer’s “Five Things You Should Know about Working with Beta Readers,” by Corina Koch MacLeod and Carla Douglas gives guidance that is helpful. The bottom line is to get as much feedback as possible to ensure the book will appeal to the target audience.
Next week, my post will have a tip on how to do the final editing of a draft book.
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