The second part of my new Guide to Products and Services from Clarendon House Publications covers the Initial Editing Services which are available.
These are for those writers who have a piece of work on which they either need some competent feedback or something that they want fixing up at a mechanical level, sometimes urgently. I find that a great many students use these proofreading services to complete dissertations or essays (or term papers, as I think they are called in America). But the beta-reading service is particularly designed for fiction writers, and even more specifically for those writers who need some kind of gauge as to how they are actually doing.
It’s common practice to get family members or friends to read one’s work in its early stages. Even best-selling authors like Stephen King have done it. And there’s nothing really wrong with it as a practice, but it does have some pitfalls. The first is the obvious one: because they are your family or friends, they are probably going to a little anxious about hurting your feelings with hard criticisms. This is even more the case if they have seen you working as a writer and know how much of your heart and soul (and time) you have put into a piece. Feedback obtained from this kind of beta reader is often softened by such considerations and much more positive than it might otherwise be.
Another drawback to using friends and family is that they often feel under no obligation to get back to you within any kind of reasonable time frame. You can wait for weeks before hearing anything, if at all — and then, if you check on their progress, you frequently find that they have put the work to one side and haven’t even started reading it yet. Their relationship with you has other dynamics, you see: reading your work is usually being done as a favour, not as a professional duty.
The drawback to using my beta reading service is that it costs money — though as you will see in the Guide, there are significant discounts for members of the Inner Circle Writers’ Group and even more savings for subscribers to the Inner Circle Writers’ Magazine. Having spent the money though, you create a professional obligation on my part, and that comes with some kind of time frame for expected feedback.
But the Beta Reading Service doesn’t just provide you with some general remarks or comments such as those you might get from family or friends. They might be happy to tell you ‘This bit feels good, but this bit here didn’t work so well’, but they probably lack the experience or terminology to explain any further, leaving you almost as much in the dark about what to do as you were before. No, my feedback is broken down into categories, namely Ideas, Character, Reader Attraction, Emotional Commitment, Plotting, Style and Overall Fulfilment. I can divide fiction up this way because of an understanding based on the concepts outlined in my book, How Stories Really Work: the fundamentals of fiction lead to anyone familiar with them gaining a kind of ‘X-Ray vision’, capable of seeing immediately through the complexities of a tale right into its beating (or not-so-beating) heart. Using this vision, I can elaborate in some detail on both the strengths and the weaknesses of any particular piece of work. There are usually only one or two things ‘wrong’ with any presented piece, and, once the feedback has been given and explained, most writers feel empowered to go away and fix the piece immediately. What is even more interesting is that most writers instantly see what I am talking about and agree with me — which leads to an enthusiasm to revise the piece, rather than a begrudging sense of burdensome duty. Correct feedback obtained through professional beta reading should give writers the sense that what they were trying to say in the first place has been clarified and magnified.
‘Unighlighted Proofreading’, the next service in the Guide, is what it says: fixing up the mechanics of a piece of work without necessarily indicating where the fix-ups have occurred. This is much faster than its twin service, Highlighted Proofreading, and so costs less and gives a quicker turnaround.
In the next item in this series, we’ll look at both copy editing and some interesting workshops, unique to Clarendon House, which arise from an understanding of fiction outlined in my book.