Who Helps?

Who, if anyone, helps you write and publish your stories?

In my last post I talked about how I didn’t think paid “professionals,” specifically editors, were worth their expense in indie publishing. The logical follow up question is, if not them, who? Who helps writers polish and publish their work? Or can you do it all by yourself?

Like in the previous piece, I’ll focus on the editorial side of indie publishing and ignore things like cover design and marketing. I’ll briefly discuss alpha and beta readers, critique and author groups. But what I, and I suspect other readers of this blog would really want to know, is who do you turn to, personally, for help in writing and publishing your stories? Please share your approach with us so that we can all learn. I certainly don’t profess to be an expert. Onward.

Alpha readers are people who read an unfinished, or unpolished version of the story and provide feedback on their experience. They are usually friends whose opinions the author trusts. Basically they are asked to say what, in their opinion works, what might not, and perhaps suggest ways to proceed. The YA author Alexa Dunn talks about submitting chapters of her work in progress to her alpha readers for feedback. And our own Mark Paxson has mentioned in a recent comment that he has exchanged the first 10 chapters of his WIP with another writer, to get feedback on it and how to proceed.

Critique groups, both in person and online are also a common way to get feedback during the writing process. I know of one self-publishing author who used an online critique group, however, it seems that she has settled on just one critique partner these days. I believe that our own Audrey Driscoll has at one time been a part of an in-person writer’s group that critiqued members’ work. I joined a discord group of mostly aspiring traditional authors with a scattering of published and self-published authors who will post their first chapters, or short stories and query letters for critiques, just to see how it works.

And then there are beta readers. Ideally these are readers who read a polished version of the story with the eyes of a regular reader. They can offer feedback on how a typical reader might find the book. They may suggest parts of the story that need clarification, or areas that are too wordy or unnecessary in their opinion. And they may also serve as proofreaders.

So how do you use these human resources, to help you produce the best story possible?

I’ll begin, just to start the ball rolling. I approach writing as a work of art, of personal expression, not as a commercial product. As with my painting, I want to create something that is as original and personal as I can make it. Though there are many cooperative and ensemble arts and complete originality is very rare, I view writing as a solo performance. Thus, no one sees my stories before I have written the first, second, and final draft, whatever that number turns out to be. In other words, the most polished version of the story I can produce. I write the story I want the way I want it, and assume that there are readers out there, somewhere, with similar tastes. Though please note, I don’t write to make money. If you want to make money, you need to create a commercial product, and you will likely need to write what your extensive market research has revealed about what your large target audience expects in its books.

Having produced my best copy, I then hand it off to my wife to proofread, knowing that, as my wife, she will feel free to criticize me, er, my work. And she does. Thankfully, not a whole lot, and I always find some way to address her concerns. For example she likes happily ever after endings for the romance elements of my stories, while I like to keep them somewhat open – life goes on after my story ends – and they keep open the possibility of a sequel. So my stories often imply an eventual happy resolution of the romance. However, in one case she didn’t think I had made that clear enough. I thought I had, and since I liked my ending, I added an additional scene with the couple after the original final scene with them, that better clarified their commitment to each other. In my most recent published work, she felt that I had ignored the fate of the other characters in the story at the end of it – the narrator should have been more concerned about them. While I didn’t think it was absolutely necessary, I did add a paragraph or two addressing her concern. In short, if she criticizes, I listen and usually find a way to address her concerns. She also finds the first 95% of my typos.

After my wife gets done with her proofreading, I send the story out to my beta readers. I have about half a dozen of them. Most, but not all of them, are readers who have taken me up on my invitation to email the typos they find to me so I can fix them, an invite I include in every ebook. They have stayed on and volunteered to beta/proofread my books before publication. As I have remarked before, their lists of typos rarely overlap by more than a couple of obvious typos. The more eyes on a manuscript, the cleaner it will be. And while I also invite comments and criticisms from them, perhaps because most are readers rather than writers, they rarely do make comments. But rarely is not never, and I consider any comments and suggestions they make just as carefully as I do those from my wife, and generally make changes to reflect their concerns. For example, in my yet to be published novel Berthold Gambrel suggested that I used a tagline a little too often, so I went through the MS either eliminating or altered the line here to there to reduce the number of times it was used. All my helpers, my wife and beta readers are all very helpful, and make my books so much better than if I had to do it all on my own.

So, in summary, while I closely guard my creative process, I also recognize my deficiencies as well, and welcome the help of others.

Now it’s your turn. Who do you turn to for help? I am sure we all have our own methods, and reasons behind them. Please share them in the comments below. Or, if you, like Audrey Driscoll, have posts on your blog about how you write and don’t feel like writing them again, please leave links to those posts in the comments below. While the name of this blog is Writers Supporting Writers, it is also a place where writers can talk about writerly stuff. Let’s do so.


  1. The first person I give my drafts to is my mother. She is, by far, the harshest critic I’ve ever met. 😀 Which is a very good thing; she’ll point out flaws and issues in the story and make me rework things I otherwise would ignore or not even think about. In my first draft of “The Directorate,” my mom *hated* Theresa Gannon, the main character. She recommended a lot of changes. Now almost every reader tells me how much they love the character, and that’s largely due to the suggestions my mom made.

    After that, I send the draft out to other writer friends to beta read. I’m always appreciative when they’re able to help me strengthen areas where my writing is suspect. Mark Paxson is great at picking up on details and word choices that seem off, and Patrick Prescott is excellent at forcing me to confront my ultimate fear: describing characters and things. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. kingmidget says:

    As I was reading this post, I was thinking “well, this is what I do …” And then I realized that there isn’t one way that I do this. That, in fact, it changes from story to story.

    First, when it comes to short stories, I don’t regularly seek feedback. I just write the thing and then put it up on my blog. Or not. But I don’t seek editing or beta reader input for a short story.

    For novellas and novels … it varies. I’ve hired Kevin Brennan to do editing of a of my couple of novels/novellas. He’s very reasonably priced and very good, offering different levels of editing for different price points.

    But … the last novella I published, I just relied on three beta readers. My wife, a good friend, and another friend who also writes my blurbs for me. They each found issues that needed to be addressed. But I did not run that novella by Kevin. Why? I don’t know. Other than maybe I wasn’t interested in paying for his service with that particular story. It was a surprise story that just kind of showed up and I wrote it in a few months, and I just wanted to put it out in the world.

    Meanwhile, as you point out, with my latest story, I got some input from an alpha reader. This is the first time I’ve done this. Like you, I tend to view writing as a solo activity — it’s my story to figure out until I’m done. But with the work in progress, I’ve been stuck for far too long and I thought having an alpha reader might help. And she did.

    So, short answer to the question posed here … it depends. 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    1. kingmidget says:

      I should have added that Berthold was also an early reader of that last novella. I asked him to read it and answer the question, “Does this work?”

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I belonged to a number of critique groups for years. My first 4 books were critiqued by them, chapter by chapter. The quality of feedback varies in those situations, and I had to strike a balance between trying to please everyone and figuring out which suggestions were valuable.
    For my two more recent novels, I relied on beta readers. One as a paid service and 6 volunteers. This is a more efficient approach, since beta readers get the whole manuscript and read it like a published book. With critique groups it’s 10K words a month.
    I will repost this on my blog as a follow up to the earlier post. Tomorrow if not tonight.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Marina Costa says:

    I usually have a betta reader who is also my line editor, because she graduated Literature and she sees all my commas and all my expression mistakes, besides more general opinions. But until I arrive to her final word I have other betta readers too.

    Sometimes the publisher has serious editors too, when the work gets with the publisher, but others do not have an editor to do more than correcting the mistakes appearing after they put in their specific format my word document (Indesign, some of them, and given that my mother tongue has contractions not using apostrophe, but dash = such as mi-am, v-ați, etc. – in such cases the part after the dash might slide on the next row after being put in Indesign, and that is inacceptable from grammar point of view).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Beta readers are great for pointing out both big and small problems, but before a book is published it’s good to have someone go over it to find problems with grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Some say that should be a professional editor, but I think it should be someone with a talent for attention to detail.


  5. I’m in an anthology out there that used a professional editor, and the professional editor used editing software. Ugh, it screwed things up. Colloquialisms, regional names, and the punctuation of compound-complex sentences. (Never sign a contract that doesn’t give you the final say on edits. Lesson learned.)

    I’ve used beta readers which are awesome for catching plot holes. I did have the service of a professional editor once, and boy, she was great! (And she didn’t use editing software.) Otherwise, I let the ms sit and edit it myself.

    Which means I have to constantly polish up my grammar skills. Virtually every day there’s something I’m looking up. (Like should I have typed “everyday” or “every day” just then?)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m constantly looking up niggling little grammar and usage questions, too. I bought the Chicago Manual of Style to make sure grammar, punctuation, spelling, and usage are consistent.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. kingmidget says:

      An editor who used editing software??? That’s no editor!!!

      Liked by 1 person

    3. That is a perfect example of how “professional” doesn’t always mean “capable of doing the job.” As you’ve said, beta readers are expected to zero in on plot holes, continuity issues, etc. I think we authors should be able to do our own final copy edits. And I now have my own copy of the CMofS, which I used a lot while editing my latest book. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Priscilla.
      PS: I think you got it right with “every day.” 🙂


  6. equipsblog says:

    My unofficial way to find typos is to hit send. (I only publish in a blog, and send texts and emails. So this does not really address your question, but it is a reality for some of us.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha! That’s a good one, Pat! Typos lurk until they hear that Send button being pressed. Then they jump out, giggling. And it’s true that typos aren’t as big a problem with blog posts as with books. Gnats instead of wasps, but still annoying.


  7. chucklitka says:

    Thanks for all the comments so far. It is interesting to see how many of you have tried different techniques.

    The thing about grammar is that for most of us, we publish one version worldwide, so that it is very likely that one grammar system will produce “wrong” results in some part of the English speaking world, and short of producing two or more local versions, there is no way to avoid this.

    I would have liked to have titled my book, “Some Day Days,” as “Someday Days” but “someday ” was either frowned on or not used in England, where the story is set. These days, if Google Docs says it’s a compound word when I run my story through it, I go with it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There are definitely regional variants in spelling, and also in punctuation practices. I think as long as we’re consistent, it’s okay.


  8. Anonymole says:

    Who? My 82 year old Editor Mother. She and one of my blog compatriots.
    Mother for technical, mechanical edits.
    Blogger / nemesis for structure and style edits.

    And that’s it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Nemesis, eh? Can be harsh, I’ll bet.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Anonymole says:

        Gotta have a will of iron, and an asbestos stomach to deal with PH.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Anonymole says:

    When are you guys gonna delve into the WordPress configuration and fix this site? Likes & follows don’t stick.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There must be a curse on this blog. I’ve fiddled with the settings to no avail and I think Mark has too. I haven’t contacted the Happiness Engineers, however.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I did some fiddling with it today and now there’s a Reblog button plus a few extra Likes. I’ll look at the Follow issue now.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Layla Todd says:

    So much goes into the publication and shaping of a good story and I definitely feel that more eyes help me see where my writing could expand and where it might benefit from contraction, as well as just get a better idea of how my story is being interpreted. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s good to get some reaction from readers who will describe their experience of reading before putting a work out to the general reading public, who don’t always do that.


  11. I like how most writers discover what works for them over time and adjusts as skills and needs change. Like Audrey, I was part of a face-to-face critique group for years and found it immensely helpful. When I felt like I was no longer getting challenged, I found a critique partner who rips apart my work, which I totally love. She’s ruthless. I care far more about what’s not working than what is since that’s how I improve. I get a book as good as I can get it, and then get a professional copy edit. I don’t use alpha readers and only occasionally use beta readers because they’re generally too nice.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Too nice isn’t helpful. Neither is mean-spirited criticism. A crit partner who can point out problems in a constructive way is ideal.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I follow a similar writing process to you. I first produced the best book or story I can which requires initial writing and a lot of editing. The my ordinary reader aka my mother reads it and then I send to my writing group

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The views of an ordinary reader (someone who reads a lot) are indeed valuable, and entirely different from copy-editing.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. chucklitka says:

    Looks like Mom is the go to editor.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. acflory says:

    Hi guys. Just a quick question: does anyone know why the text on this page is so faint? I have to get 2 inches from the screen to read anything. Sadly this has meant I can’t read the post either. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s strange. I just had a look. It’s a rather slender sans-serif font, but not to the point of being unreadable. It’s the same as the one in all our posts. I really don’t know.
      I hope this isn’t yet another issue with this blog! 😮


      1. chucklitka says:

        Weird. Looks fine on my computer. No idea why it would be hard to read, but I do think the problem is not on this end,

        Liked by 2 people

    2. I suspect WordPress has made some subtle changes to fonts recently, which may be dependent on which browser/device is being used. The text on this blog looks fine to me, but I do notice the text in the editor when I write posts is suddenly tiny.

      Liked by 1 person

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