Today’s guest is freelance editor Danita Mayer. Danita beta read my debut novel, The Clerk (available now!), and her comments and suggestions greatly improved the manuscript. She noticed one particular logical gap that embarrasses me to this day.
You can find Danita at her website, Niche Editing, where she offers various editing and evaluation services. I recommend the affordable beta reading option myself, and we discuss beta reading in depth in this interview.
Q: What sort of background do you have in writing, editing, or publishing?
A: I don’t have a formal background in editing and publishing, having come to it through a circuitous route. I started out as a fiction writer, and in the course of writing my first novel, I picked up every book I could find on writing fiction. I took creative writing classes in college, attended workshops, and lurked in discussion boards. Somehow this, coupled with a background in tutoring, writing blogs, and researching led me to the world of fiction editing. Every day, I read a section or chapter from one of my many grammar or editing books. I am also continuing my education by taking online courses in editing as I expand my list of editorial services.
I think a background in publishing is helpful, but it isn’t the only route to take. I have used my knowledge of animals, art, biology, psychology, and retail to spot errors in manuscripts. Being observant and knowing how to find knowledge are invaluable in this career. Networking with other experienced editors is also a must.
Were you a reader growing up, or are you a late bloomer?
I have always loved books. I learned to read at the age of four, and one of my early memories includes bringing home huge stacks of books from the library. By the time I was seven, I was reading early classics, such as Call of the Wild by Jack London, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, and A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle.
Who are some of your favorite authors, and how have they influenced you?
I read all genres, but my favorite is science fiction and fantasy. I grew up with many famous authors such as Ray Bradbury, Robert A. Heinlein, Margaret Atwood, Terry Pratchett, and George Orwell. But I also have a lot of respect for women writers who take on military science fiction and space opera. A couple of my favorite authors are Lois McMaster Bujold and Elizabeth Moon. I think they have influenced my writing a lot in recent years, and my newest novel, when it’s published, should appeal to fans of their books.
What beta reading and editing services do you offer?
I started out beta reading, but now I also offer manuscript evaluations, developmental editing, and line editing services. I really like to help writers who are starting out or who are in the early stages of their manuscript.
What’s the easiest thing about beta reading? The hardest?
The easiest thing about beta reading is that I can do it anyplace. I enjoy sitting in the coffee shop while I work on a manuscript. I find it relaxing to focus on a new story, and it works perfectly around my otherwise hectic schedule. The hardest part about beta reading is when I’m caught up in an interesting manuscript, and I have to force myself to go back and look for flaws. It’s easy to get lost in the narrative sometimes, but I can’t help the writer properly unless I look at the story objectively. This can be hard to do when I form an emotional attachment to the story.
Another hard part of beta reading is when I have to send back a manuscript with harsh criticism. Sometimes writers tell me their story is in the final stages and close to publishing, only to get a shock when I return their beta report with a list of errors, style issues, or plot holes that were overlooked and might require major revisions. It can be hard for the writer to face, but it’s much better to address those issues before publishing.
What advice would you give beta readers?
If you are considering becoming a beta reader, it would be useful to take a creative writing class, join a few writing groups or attend some workshops first. This type of experience can help you learn to spot style issues such as poorly written dialogue, overused clichés, inconsistent point-of-view, and other problems that happen often in novels.
Beta reading can be fun and casual, especially if it is done as a hobby, but to really help a writer, it is important to understand how to give constructive criticism. A writer is interested in whether their story is good or bad, but understanding how to improve it requires helpful and specific feedback.
What advice would you give authors who submit their work to beta readers?
Before sending your novel off to beta readers, make sure you have done a couple of rounds of self-editing. If the manuscript is riddled with typos and poor grammar, readers will focus on that, and completely overlook your stellar plot or interesting characters. A few errors are forgivable, but a poorly written document will be hard for readers to navigate.
Once you are ready to find beta readers, I suggest looking for your tribe. Sometimes writers complain that their genre is not popular enough to obtain beta readers, but what they really need to do is figure out where their tribe is hanging out. Look for writing groups that cater to your specific genre or sub-genre. If you cast too wide a net, it is easy to get discouraged when readers don’t immediately offer to read for you.
You’re both a writer and an editor. How has beta reading and editing other people’s manuscripts improved your own writing?
I don’t get as much time to write as I used to before I started beta reading, but it has definitely helped me to see past the surface of a story to the underlying structure. This is a great skill to have when trying to find and correct traps that I tend to fall into. I have a tendency to shy away from creating flawed characters, and after a while they all start to look or sound the same. Beta reading has challenged me to break that pattern by creating more tension for my characters. Now I give them scars and force them into opportunities to turn their flaws into strengths.
Beta reading is also helping me to get over my fear of having strangers read my work. I’m getting my first novel dusted off and ready for a round of beta reading. I can’t wait to see what feedback I get. So far, I have had friends and critique partners read small excerpts from my work, but this will be a much bigger step for me.
I’d like to give a giant thank-you to Danita for taking the time to do this interview. Again, be sure to check out Niche Editing for all your editing needs. Every manuscript needs a beta reader or editor to rake it over the coals, and Danita’s rake-over-coals skills are fantastic.