This post gives an overview of one of the many freelance roles that make up my working week – the editing role that, with echoes of Batman’s Commissioner Gordon, I refer to in my head as my “Commissioner Debbie” job.
As you may know, I work full-time from home in the comfort of my own study, overlooking the garden of my little cottage in the English Cotswolds.
My working week is a patchwork of many things, of which the largest is the role of Commissioning Editor of the Self-publishing Advice blog run by the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi).
Yes, that is a long title – and no wonder we often abbreviate this when talking amongst ourselves in the group to the ALLi SPA blog.
ALLi is the global organisation that brings together self-publishing authors from around the world to share best practice and to campaign for a higher profile for indie writing.
As its blog’s Commissioning Editor, my remit is:
to identify suitable topics for inclusion
to arrange for appropriate people (usually other self-publishing authors) to write guest posts
and to set them up to go live on the blog at the appropriate time
There’s a new and interesting post just about every day. To make it easier for readers to find what they’re looking for, the posts are loosely grouped into different strands according to the days of the week. For example, Monday is the “Opinion” slot in which writers sound off about controversial issues, and Thursday is the “Writing” slot in which we address topics related to the craft of writing.
Occasionally I write posts myself. This is either because my chosen topic is one that I’m well qualified to write about (for example, World Book Day), or because I’ve been inspired and informed by discussions on ALLi’s Facebook forum (a members-only group in which we discuss all aspects of self-publishing).
My latest post falls into that second category. Following a conversation about which version of English ALLi’s members choose to write in, I drew on my own experience of having lived in other English-speaking environments and stated my preference for adhering to British English (no surprises there). Although I can translate reasonably well into American English at least, I stick with what comes naturally. I also included quotes from authors writing in English in other countries, including the Scottish-born Catriona Troth, who grew up in Canada but now lives and writes in England (where she’s recently written a book set in Canada).
The post – which you can read in full here – received lots of social media shares (53 at the time of writing this YoungByName post) and a flurry of comments (16 at last count, to each of which I gave a personal reply).
It also gave me the opportunity to use a photo that my editor at the Tetbury Advertiser used to illustrate my latest column there. It shows making a speech on graduation day at my American-style high school in Germany, Frankfurt International School. Worth every bit as much as my high school diploma was the fluency I gained in American English, though I retained my British accent.
Following my post yesterday about how I’ve used beta readers to help me fine-tune my next book, you may be wondering how I found such a fine band of willing volunteers! If so, read on…
How do you find beta readers, willing to give up their time to help you further your writing project? Well, you just ask. “But who do you ask?” I hear you cry. “And why would they want to do it?”
Who to Ask
Best not to choose friends and family, who might be tempted to tell you what they think you want to hear – that it’s the best thing they’ve ever read. Worse still, they might hate it – not great for the relationship!
If you belong to a writing circle, commenting on each others’ drafts is probably something you already do – but if not, make the suggestion. You may find others are keen to do this, but just didn’t want to appear egotistical by being the person to raise the idea!
Equally, if you belong to a book group, ask for volunteers there. After all, people attend because they enjoy reading, and those who aren’t writers themselves may be pleased to be invited.
I recently read a short book called The Beta Reader by Elizabeth Eyles, who kindly offers to match up writers with beta readers. If you’d like to take advantage of her generosity, I’d suggest the decent thing to do is to buy and read her book before you do so. (I didn’t realise this until she’s volunteered to beta read Quick Change for me – she’s obviously practising what she preaches!)
Who I Asked
I found most of mine by putting a call out for volunteers on a private Facebook forum that I belong to – the Alliance of Independent Authors. This is the not-for-profit organisation that brings together the best self-publishing authors from around the world – i.e. those who take their writing seriously and aim for professional standards. I’m well known there because I edit the group’s advice blog, so I quickly had a list of volunteers. But it’s such a supportive group that I’m sure that anyone else would have had the same response, had they put up an engaging pitch for their manuscript.
The international element of the group is a bonus because it means I’ve had beta readers from other countries. I’m conscious that I’m a very British English writer, and I want to maintain that feel to my work, but without puzzling overseas readers with unintelligible Anglicisms.
In addition, I called on an online friend whose flash fiction I’ve enjoyed, Helena Mallett, author of Flash Fraction, a clever collection of 75 stories each 75 words long. As one of the stories featured a GP at work, I also called on my friend, Dr Carol Cooper (also a member of ALLi) to check it for accuracy. She’s not only a GP, but also a medical journalist, non-fiction author and novelist (where does she find the time?!) Her excellent debut novel, One Night at the Jacaranda, by the way, is currently on special offer on Amazon UK for only 99p for the rest of this month.
Why Would They Do It?
Volunteers who are not authors will be
interested in seeing what goes on behind the scenes of producing a book
flattered that you value their judgment enough to entrust them with your precious manuscript
be glad to have a sneak preview of your book before it’s published
The last two of those reasons also apply to volunteers who are authors. In addition, this group of people will be:
interested to see how another author’s work looks pre-publication
pleased to feel that they are helping an author friend produce a better book
possibly hoping you’ll return the favour
My Experience of Beta Reading
I’ve been a beta reader for several author friends and have always found it very satisfying to feel I’ve contributed to the fine-tuning of their books:
I’ve picked up factual and grammatical errors that might have slipped through until an eagle-eyed reviewer complained post publication
I’ve highlighted confusing plotlines.
I’ve spotted repetitive words and phrases that the author hadn’t realised were cropping up so often as to become funny, e.g. so many characters rolling their eyes that it was starting to sound like an affliction
All of these things were very easy to fix, and the authors were always grateful. It’s also rewarding to receive an acknowledgement in the book when it’s finally published and a free copy of the book (signed, if it’s a print edition). After all, who doesn’t like seeing their name in print?
Go For It!
If you still need justification for asking, bear in mind that if your beta readers enjoy your manuscript, they may be persuaded to post up early, positive reviews when your book is finally published.
I hope this overview gives you the courage to seek beta readers for your own books. Good luck and happy writing – and reading!
In case you missed it, I wrote another post about beta readers here:
(A post about one of my writing roles – as Commissioning Editor of the Alliance of Independent Authors’ blog of Self-publishing Advice)
Writing my latest post this morning on the ALLi blog, it occurred to me that many people who read my Writing Life blog will have no idea of the double life I lead.
Well, much more than double, really – I am a classic example of a multi-tasker (and that’s probably why I’m permanently tired!)
What is ALLi anyway? I hear you cry. And what are you doing writing on its blog when you’ve got a perfectly decent one of your own?
A Brace of Blogs
Actually, I’ve got more than one blog of my own. Echoing those car stickers that you see in rear windscreens saying things like “My Other Car is a Porsche”, my other blog is about book promotion, offering tips to authors on how to sell more of their books. Which in itself echoes the title of the book I wrote for Silver Wood Books a couple of years ago called Sell Your Books!See what I mean about the multi-tasking? That second blog is called www.otsbp.com – which is short for Off The Shelf Book Promotions. But back to the ALLi blog…
ALLi for One, and One for ALLi
ALLi (pronounced to rhyme with “ally” rather than “alley”) is the acronym for the Alliance of Independent Authors. It’s the professional organisation for self-published writers and indie authors all over the world, launched by bestselling novelist Orna Ross just over two years ago.
As a self-published author interested in networking with other writers and in improving my writing craft and self-publishing skills, I joined ALLi not long after it was launched. ALLi members may write guest posts for its blog of self-publishing advice (www.selfpublishingadvice.org), and after I’d written a couple of guest posts, I was flattered to be invited by Orna Ross to join her small staff as the Commissioning Editor of the blog. It seemed too good an opportunity to pass up, and so about a year ago I assumed the role, working from home, at hours that fitted in well around my other work and responsibilities.
The job of Commissioning Editor is to, er, commission articles for the blog, adding to its extensive resource of advice and information for authors who self-publish their work. There are specific themes for each day of the week, and I’m responsible for filling four slots each week:
Reaching Readers aka book promotion or marketing (Saturday)
To fill these slots, I track down ALLi members who have relevant messages and advice to add, and I give them a broad brief on what I’d like their post to be about. I plan the schedule of posts to provide a good variety and range of topics to appeal to writers in all genres, wherever they are around the world. When I receive the copy, images and author bio for each post, I input it to the blog via WordPress and add the necessary metadata and other details.
Keeping Myself Posted
By definition, I have to read every post – so it is a great way of keeping myself up-to-date and well-informed about self-publishing trends and developments, which complements the other writing activities and ambitions in my life.
But it was only when I was looking through the site index that I realised just how many posts I’ve written for the blog myself – some of them composites of comments by other writers, some them exclusively my thoughts. And it occurred to me that they might interest readers of my Writing Life site. So here are links to a few of my favourite posts, for your convenience:
But for now, I’m heading off to slip on one of my many other writing hats – working on my new collection of flash fiction, Quick Change, due out next month. If you’d like me to let you know when it’s available, please feel free to sign up to the mailing list for this title.
PS In case you’re wondering, my other car is a Ford Ka – but more about my vehicles another day!
An overview of my talk about self-publishing, given on behalf of the Alliance of Independent Authors, at last week’s Cambridge Literary Festival.
Last Sunday I had the honour of representing the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) as a speaker at the Cambridge Literature Festival, the new name for the Cambridge WordFest.
It was the first time I’d taken the stage at a major literary festival, my presence last autumn at the Cheltenham Literature Festival being over the airwaves from the Green Room via BBC Radio Gloucestershire, rather than before a studio audience.
It was heartening to have this opportunity to spread the word about the virtues and benefits of self-publishing at a major literary festival in one of the nation’s foremost university cities. It was also timely, as two days later I was due to launch at the London Book Fair a new book I’d co-authored with Dan Holloway, Opening Up To Indie Authors, which includes guidance on how self-published authors may work more effectively with literary festival organisers. I applaud the organisers of the Cambridge Literary Festival for their inclusive thinking, and I very much hope that this will be the first of many such events far and wide.
Behind the Scenes in the Green Room
Waiting in the Cambridge Festival Green Room, it was exciting to see prominent members of the modern publishing scene dip in and out between talks. I shared a coffee table with Dame Jacqueline Wilson, former Children’s Laureate, and remarked to the Astronomer Royal, Sir Martin Rees, that I would that evening be having tea with my cousin Dr Frances Willmoth, the author of an important book about the first Astronomer Royal. That made me feel more intelligent by association, at least!
Strange too, though, to realise what a small world publishing is. The first person I bumped into was a publicist who I knew from my time working for the children’s reading charity Read for Good. I also sat opposite children’s author Jamila Gavin, who lives and works a few miles up the road from my home on the other side of the country.
I was to do a double-act with editorial consultant Rebecca Swift, founder of The Literary Consultancy. Together we were to describe the current state of the publishing industry, including both traditional publishing routes and the newer self-publishing model. Rebecca appeared to know everybody in the Green Room, kindly introducing me to many of her friends, including Melissa Benn, daughter of the late, legendary Tony Benn MP. Melissa had just interviewed another notable politician, Alan Johnson MP, on stage. Melissa decided to join the audience of our talk, as Rebecca had been at hers. It’s a perk of being a speaker that you’re allowed to attend a number of other talks while you’re there, free of charge.
The Splendid Setting for our Talk
We headed off to the place designated for our talk, led by one of the many amiable and efficient stewards. Our venue: a historic and inspiring room with the wonderful name of Divinity Lightfoot. I thought this would make a great name for a character in a detective novel or a Bond Movie, but it turned out to be an elegant, airy room flooded with natural light in the Divinity School of St John’s College, Cambridge. The golden fleur-de-lys that dappled the walls were all hand-painted, the steward assured me.
We kicked off with a straw poll of our standing-room-only audience to help us pitch our talk. We asked who was trade published, who had self-published, and who was happy with their lot. About half a dozen hands went up for each of the first two questions, and none for the third. It was going to be interesting.
Sharing Our Advice About Publishing Routes
Becky kicked off the presentation, drawing on her background as an editor with Virago to create a vivid picture of how publishers and agents handle submissions. She knew how hard it was for a new author’s work to progress beyond the slush pile, and this led to her setting up her company, The Literary Consultancy, offering editorial advice to authors before they launch their manuscripts to publishers and agents.
When Becky founded TLC, self-publishing in its modern form was not an option, but as more aspiring authors learn of its potential, more are considering that route. I explained what modern self-publishing means and outlined the many opportunities it offers for commercial and critical success. I also dispelled myths and outmoded ideas about self-publishing, and I spelled out the difference between professional self-publishing, where the author assumes the role and responsibliities of the publisher, and the old-fashioned “vanity press”, in which a printing company converts a manuscript without criticism, guidance or quality control, into a printed book.
The Elephant in the Self-Publishing Room
Though one might have expected Becky and I to diverge, as so many of her clients have found success via traditional trade publishing deals, we actually concurred in many ways. I addressed head on the elephant in the room that some self-publishing advocates ignore: the importance of quality control. Many bad self-published books abound because it’s so easy for authors to click the “publish” button without proper proofreading, editing or formatting – but I endorsed Becky’s call for authors to polish their manuscripts to the highest degree before launching them on the world. Her services would be as valuable to self-published authors as to those seeking the traditional route.
The flurry of eager questions at the end of the session suggested that Becky and I had restored the faith and enthusiasm of the audience to persevere with their publishing projects, whichever route to publication they chose. The range of the audience members’ writing projects was fascinating and original, from an autobiography that required a soundtrack to the invention of new genres. Anyone for a crossover of a political satire with fantasy? Sounds good to me!
After Our Talk Was Over
Many guests stayed long after our talk was over to ask further questions and to pick up our business cards so that they could follow us up later. When I walked up and down the empty rows to gather any remaining TLC or ALLi leaflets that the stewards had kindly put on chairs, I was pleased to discover only two remained, demonstrating the audience’s serious interest in our services.
Several of the stewards attended our talk, lingering after the paying guests had gone to talk about their own publishing ambitions. I suspect most of these stewards are volunteers, taking part simply for the love of books, so it was a real pleasure to be able to help them, after they’d spent days taking such good care of festival speakers and guests like us.
I had only one regret: that I’d brought only one copy of my book promotion handbook, Sell Your Books!, for reference, instead of bringing more to sell. But I was delighted when Melissa Benn snapped up that copy.
I also went away with a new book myself, a beautiful hardback of the novel Dory’s Avengers by Alison Jack, a Cambridge-based author and editor whom I’d previously befriended on Twitter. She’d kindly brought me her book as a gift. She also obligingly took the photo shown here of Becky and me after our talk. Two days later, our paths were to cross again at the London Book Fair – but I’ll return to that in another post.
To share this interesting inside information about what it’s like to be a guest speaker at a literary festival, here’s a handy tweet: “Behind the scenes at a literary festival with @TLCUK & @IndieAuthorALLi at @CamLitFest: http://wp.me/pYPVV-2Tl via @DebbieYoungBN”
Taking advantage of some of the amazing technology that has helped make the self-publishing revolution possible, I’m posting up today the text of the speech I made to launch the Alliance of Independent Authors’ groundbreaking new book, “Opening Up To Indie Authors”, which I’ve co-authored with the wonderful Dan Holloway, under the wise editorship of the visionary Orna Ross.
More detail will follow on the ALLI blog tomorrow, including an extract from the book, but for the moment, sufficient to say it was a really successful launch, kindly hosted by the fabulous Kobo team in their vast and elegant stand at the heart of the exhibition hall. The picture of me here looking unspeakably pleased with myself is the result of having self-publishing superhero Hugh Howey congratulate me straight afterwards, saying “That was the best talk I’ll hear all year.” (I’d just read the closing chapter of the book, after my speech.)
You can read that chapter on the ALLi blog tomorrow, and I’ll add a link to it here once it’s gone live, but for now, here’s my speech. (You can also read Dan Holloway’s, which preceded it, on his blog http://www.danholloway.wordpress.com, where there’s also a great group selfie that he took of the team with Hugh Howey and Jessica Bell.)
Dan mentioned his theological training, which, although now overwrittten by atheism, provides valuable reference points for the Open Up To Indies campaign. I’d like now to touch on my own background, because it’s shaped the way I approached the task of co-authoring this book with Dan and Orna.
As my bio in the back of the book explains. I fell into self-publishing almost by accident. Like the curious Alice falling down the rabbit-hole, I stepped out one day and found myself in this extraordinary Wonderland in which old laws had been overturned, new rules were rising up, and I could never be entirely sure of what was coming next.
The Alice analogy is particularly apposite because not only are Alice’s adventures my favourite books of all time, but also Lewis Carroll self-published them. And having discovered self-publishing, my life, like Alice’s, will never be the same again. This has to be the most exciting age ever in which to be an author.
Sadly, I was persuaded by my school careers advisors. Long before the heady arrival of the modern self-publishing age, that my childhood ambition to become an author was unrealistic. I therefore channelled my love of writing into a career largely spent in public relations.
Public relations is all about fostering mutual understanding and cooperation between clients and the various parties who determine their success – not only the end-user of a product or service but anybody who may influence that end-user’s purchasing decision: the rest of the industry, the trade media, national press, Joe Public -whatever.
Co-authoring this book required me to tread that same old PR ground again. It was an exercise in stepping beyond my self-published author’s mindset to empathise with the parties that influence that important end-user of all authors’ products: the reader. It was about viewing the bookshop from the other side of the till; seeing the literary festival from the frantic desk of the event manager; perceiving librarians as mire than just the people who stamp your ticket.
Empathising with others is something that comes naturally to authors. But empathising is not always easy or straightforward, as I learned very early on in my first flirtations with PR: when I took on the role of playground peacemaker.
As a child, I instinctively wanted to help people get along. I wanted to unite people in friendship and cooperation and eradicate playground conflict. I remember spending one school dinner time being pursued round the school playing field by two angry groups of previously feuding girls. They were cross with me because in the hope of restoring their friendship, I’d told each separately – and inaccurately – that the other one wanted to apologise for the conflict. Appreciating their former adversaries’ apparent conciliatory attitude, they immediately made up. And then were after my blood when they realised I’d duped them.
Back to the present, I don’t think that my part in this book will inspire aggrieved gangs to chase me around the aisles of the London Book Fair. Instead, I hope I’ve helped build ling-term partnerships between all those parties who aim to bring great books into readers’ lives. Because books change lives. Books change lives for the better. And ultimately, the desire to do that is what unites all the parties served by this book: the desire to present great reading experienced that will change the lives of book lovers all over the world.
I’m confident that ALLi’s Open Up To Indies campaign and the Opening Up to Indie Authors guidebook, will only do good in making the wider world more receptive to self-published authors’ books, and so enable us all to change lives for the better through the power of the written word.
So let’s get out there and spread word about the campaign, and then – spread OUR words. Because together we can.