Learning to Take Criticism, Both Good and Bad, from Beta Readers

Standard

Beta readersIn 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 student authors I am working with are starting to get beta reader feedback. These beta readers are English teachers, science professionals, and people in the author’s target audience. They all received a draft copy of the author’s book to read and were asked to provide feedback on the content. We used a Beta Reader Checklist for Authors to coordinate this process.

As expected, about half the beta readers have not responded yet, after about a month of having our books. This is normal. People are busy, and it’s the holiday season, so we have to expect to follow up and remind people what we requested of them. We also have to realize that some beta readers will not follow through for various reasons. They may be too busy, they may not like the book, or they may decide they don’t want to give feedback. Whatever the reason, about a one third return rate is probably normal—in other words, expect one out of three people you ask to beta read your book to actually provide a useful response. We expected this return rate, so we asked about three times as many people as we needed.

The responses so far are all across the spectrum. Some are detailed critiques of each part of the book, while others are just broad critiques of the book as a whole. Both types of critiques are useful. The important thing for the author is to accept all critiques graciously. Thank the beta reader now, and later on send them a free copy of the final book. Realize that an author is not obligated to use anything a beta reader says, but should approach each critique objectively. Some critiques may require further substantiation. For example, if the beta reader says some part of the book is not clear or requires more development, try to ask other people what they think. Don’t overreact to one critique and completely change the book. In the end, the beta readers provide a helpful second opinion that should be taken into account with all other critiques and editing comments.

My next post will be after the holidays and discuss the preparation for publication release.

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 Improve Your Draft Book – Enlist Beta Readers

Standard

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.

First Step for Science Authors: Write a Book Proposal

Standard

Tip#2In 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. 

TIP #2: Have students draft a book proposal as a first step in writing a book. Traditional publishers have always required a book proposal from a prospective author. It is like a business plan for the book, giving the summary of the book’s contents, the target audience, and a marketing plan to reach the audience. Each publisher has a different format for the book proposal, but they all have these essential elements. Even though we are self-publishing our books, by doing a book proposal first, we start out with the same disciplined approach to writing a book that a traditional publisher would give us. (Note: I got this idea from author/publicist, Carole Jelen, in an interview on http://bookmarketingtools.com called “How To Build Your Author Platform.”)

Here is the abbreviated book proposal we used:

  • A statement of what the book’s main focus or purpose is.
  • A general outline of the book.
  • Identification of sources for the book and where to find them.
  • Identification of the target audience.
  • A plan to reach the target audience.

What a book proposal does is get the students to consider their audience from the start. Unlike a term paper or other academic paper that is meant primarily for the teacher to read, a published book seeks to appeal to many readers. By identifying the target audience, students can put themselves in the place of the audience as they write. Students had difficulty with this first step, so I had to give follow-on guidance. One tip I shared from a writers conference I attended was to cut out a magazine picture or print out some other photo of a person representing the target audience and paste it on your computer monitor as a constant reminder to whom you are writing. There are many sources out there with good advice – I list some on the Resources page of my website.

Next week, my post will have a tip on scheduling out the project to build readership before publishing. 

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.