How to Improve Your Draft Book – Enlist Beta Readers

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Tip#6In 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.

Subscribe to this blog at https://bryanholmesstem.wordpress.com to get email updates of my posts with weekly tips you can use in your classroom as I describe how I am mentoring six high school science students to become published authors by April 2015. Also, please give me your feedback, and please share blog posts with other teachers or anyone who may benefit.

How to Teach Editing and Revising – Set Up a Writing Critique Group

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Tip#5In 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.

Writing can seem easy as you work on the first draft. The words just flow. Then you begin to look over that draft, and you realize that you could do better. You edit and revise, again and again. After awhile, you almost see mirages of words you edited before, and it becomes impossible to see mistakes.

For students writing a book, this is a real problem. They need to get another set of eyes to look at their draft to help them fix the mistakes. Yet who has time to read and reread a draft book, let alone edit and revise it? Most teachers don’t have that kind of extra time, and other people rarely are interested enough. Only another writer would be willing to help. Therefore, the best people to review a writer’s draft work and help with editing and revising are other writers.

I have six high school science students writing and publishing their own books, so I organized them into a writing critique group. This group is a circle of writers who are dedicated to editing and revising one another’s work. These groups can be organized in different ways—see The Writers Craft for a good description. I told my students to pair up and edit and revise each other’s books, then pair up and do it again with a different person. You can download the Writing Critique Group Guidance I gave them. When they finish, they will all have a well-written, final draft that they can share with beta readers.

Next week, my post will have a tip on how to find beta readers.

Subscribe to this blog at https://bryanholmesstem.wordpress.com to get email updates of my posts with weekly tips you can use in your classroom as I describe how I am mentoring six high school science students to become published authors by April 2015. Also, please give me your feedback, and please share blog posts with other teachers or anyone who may benefit.