Editors, Beta Readers and the Rise of the Sharing Economy

Just as taxis face unprecedented competition from ride sharing companies, professional freelance editors are finding they now must compete with a deep pool of beta readers – highly qualified editors, university professors, English PhD’s, and sharp-eyed readers willing to proof and provide feedback about an author’s work for little or no money.

As the founder of BetaReader.us I provide a forum for this literary sharing economy – helping match everyone from book doctors to video producers with writers of all professional statures.

While this is a wonderful resource for indie-authors, don’t let any tell you they would not rather be published by a big house and work with a professional team to polish, distribute and promote their book. Signed authors also use the BetaReader Journal and BetaReader Bulletin Board to supplement services they receive from their publisher – crowdsourcing editing, proofreading and promotion needs. And why not if it is low/no cost?

Of all the sectors of the new literary sharing economy the most seriously impacted by crowdsourcing are those trying to make their living as freelance editors.

There is a time in every project – if you can afford it – to pay for the surgical precision of a professional edit. But in the meanwhile, through many drafts,  authors at all economic levels can afford as many beta readers as they want.

When to pay for additional professional services depends on the needs and wallet of the author. But in true indie fashion thanks to the new crowdsourcing publishing industry including BetaReader.us even the poorest author can afford to produce well-edited books.

I invite anyone interested in publishing – service provider, author, or observer to join the BetaReader.us community.

Jeffrey Marcus Oshins

New Business – Book Usher

In the age-old struggle of writers to somehow survive while they write, I’ve come up with a new angle.   Before I was writing grants and was doing all right,  but now there is very little discretionary funding from the federal government and most of my old clients are not calling leaving me very little grant writing work.   Time to try something new.

As I’ve gone about publishing my own books, by necessity I’ve had to learn how to make my own covers, do my own formatting, and publicity.   This involves mostly mastering Adobe Create Suites – Indesign, Photoshop, and a bit of Flash.   I also did a video on Final Cut Pro.

A good bit of advice is – if there is a gold rush you can make more money selling shovels and mules to miners than prospecting for gold.   In that vein (sorry) I’ve bought a new web address (www.bookusher.com).  I’m building a web site, and intend to offer my services to those who want help publishing their books.

The way I figure it, I can take them from the editing stage (with the help of some talented friends), to book production and publicity.   I can publish their book, if they like on Deep Six, and act as a regular publisher.  Or I can just give advice and provide production services. 

Come to think of it, I can also help them do query letters and contact agents if they want to go the traditional route.

We’ll see.

When To Publish A Sequel

When I wrote 12: A Novel About the End of the Mayan Calendar, I already had a sequel planned. After I wrote the sequel And We Shall Perish, I realized that some of the minor characters in the original 12 had not been fully developed and were acting only as props for the main character, Du Moss. I went back and rewrote 12 which resulted in the Eye of the Archer.

The reason I changed the title was that the idea of the end of the Mayan calendar had been replaced by another trigger date when the Sun rested in the eye of Sagittarius or the Archer. I never really mentioned the Maya.  The novel  was built around the Manoa myth, and the legendary King Dorado.  I didn’t want to tie it into Guatemala or Southern Mexico because the story took place in an allegorical Latin American country with the La’ku, an imagined civilization.

Another impetus to rewrite 12 came from a screenplay and I wrote based on 12.  When you write a screenplay it forces you to connect the dots so that the main character is on the stage and the actions takes place in a logical, accelerated manner.

By the time I was done with Archer, I’d cut out over a 100 pages and had still improved the development of  the minor characters: Kare, MG’s and Moss.

I had an ethical problem in releasing a book by a different title that was a rewrite of a novel already on the market. I withdrew 12 as much as I could, made it clear on the first page that parts of Archer had already been published in 12.

The upshot is that the sequel And We Shall Perish has been sitting in the wings for nearly two years. I’ve given Archer a good three months on it’s own, and now feel it is time to unleash Perish

I still have to design the cover and do the layout, but hope to release Perish within the next month.

The New Face of Publishing

In reading reports of the London Book Fair there was much discussion of e-books and self-publishing. One of my favorite smack-downs was calling traditional publishing “legacy”publishing. Also there were the usual reports of e-book millionaires and sales of hundreds of thousands on Kindle. I’m a bit suspicious of some of this hype about fortunes made on Kindle. There are so many books being published that you really have to be patient and let your audience build.

But I do enjoy the angst of the legacy publishing industry. Sure it’s schadenfreude because they really are such arrogant sob’s, the agents, editors, and publishing houses that think they are the true gatekeepers and defenders against the horde of writers who if not checked by them would flood the market with their ill-conceived works.

This is not to say that legacy publishing does not have valuable skills and knowledge. But one of their qualities does not appear to be adaptability. Too much of the old guard seems to be in denial. I responded to a recent blog where a legacy agent was warning of the whooping loses of self-publishers.

I responded that self or “indie” publishing is the rumbling you hear in the distance of the flood waters that are washing the old order away. Amazon, I wager, is making significant bank on self-publishers who collectively have to exceed in numbers legacy publishers and account for a significant source of revenue.

Do you think then that Amazon, the new market master, will not be devoting great effort and capital to the growth of indie publishing?

And as to the cost of entry – why it’s practically nothing. One of the alleged e-book millionaires spoke of crowd-sourcing his cover design and getting his proof-reading done by “beta” readers.

New Agent Hunt

I’ve had three agents over the years and generally found them to be harmless bunch except for the one who told me to rewrite a novel I’d written in the third person in the first person which I did and the result was he was gone by that time and I had revised the book and it was a lot different than the original (better – as any book would be if you tore it apart and put it back together again).

I know I’ve made a big deal about not needing an agent, but I would rephrase that to say don’t waste too much time on an agent.   If you can get one and a publishing contract do it.   If you can’t–publish yourself and move on to the next book.

I read a blog today where a writer was told his book was dead in the eyes of agents because he’d self-published it, unless he’d sold several thousand.   Well, it’s probably true.   But what’s the alternative–put it in your desk, hope one of your books get picked up and then use that as a platform to publish your old works?

I’ll go with my program, thank you.   Write, try and get an agent/publishing deal, give it six months, if nothing is happening publish it yourself, and write a new book.

I’ll share my new query letter tomorrow.

What Literary Agents Are Looking For

I found the article I mentioned in the Query Letter – email or letter post and thought it worthy of another thread.


Here Stephen Barbara of the Donald Maass Agency discusses the growing trend of writers who spend more time worrying about how their query letter reads than they do working on improving their manuscript.

So I raise the supposition again in defense of self-publishing – if an average agent receives 50 queries a day (this might be conservative see – Kristin Nelson of Nelson Literary Agency admits her agency has a dedicated query-reader to keep up with 150+ letters each day) and the majority are well-crafted wouldn’t an agent rather see a writer’s work that has proven herself in the marketplace even if with limited sales and reviews?



Anyone who has ever read any Tom Robbins – he of giant thumbs Even Cowgirls Gets the Blues and the body of Jesus Another Roadside Attraction –  will be amused about his quote in a front page Sunday NY Times story (NYTimes 4-1-12 Young Writers Dazzle Publisher (Mom and Dad)) about young self-published authors being delusional.  Tom who  can craft a simile as complicated and obscure as any professional author in the business placed himself in the unenviable position of criticizing teen authors saying  “What’s next…kiddie architects, juvenile dentists, 11-year-old rocket scientists?  Any parent who thinks that the crafting of engrossing, meaningful, publishable fiction requires less talent and experience than designing a house, extracting a wisdom tooth, or supervising a lunar probe is, frankly, delusional.”

Well, as I remember, Tom got lucky a long time ago and found an agent who took his crazy ass stuff on and that being a time of counter-culture found an audience.   I wonder how he would do today in this publishing environment and might not he be joining the indie ranks if he ever wanted to be published.

Seeing yourself in print, or the prospect of seeing yourself in print, has a way of sharpening your attention to your writing.   I wouldn’t be surprised if one of these young authors went on to be fine writers — if they aren’t all ready.   While I won’t be reading any of them, I don’t begrudge them or their parents putting their work out there.

Oh and Tom, careful what you say.  Remember the old adage – my enemy, may he write a book.