Beta feedback isn’t about you. It’s about your book. -Amanda Shofner (part 4 in my series on writing and publishing)

Beta readers.  They’re an absolute MUST if you want to end up with a good manuscript.  I think this is one of the main things that separates the “I wrote a book and I put it on Amazon” people versus those who really put work and sweat into their book.  However, beta reader feedback can, at times, be a bit harsh.  But if you have a good beta reader, they’ll tell you everything they love about the book along with everything that isn’t working.

My experience with beta readers has been amazing.  That doesn’t mean I agree with everything they say.  Books are one of the most subjective things out there.  90% of people will love one and the other 10% just won’t.  It’s not their thing.  No book will appeal to all people.  With that in mind, take beta readers comments with a grain of salt.  And don’t take anything personally.  Your writing is your writing.  You are you!

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Here’s the process I go through.  First, I send my finished manuscript out to 4-5 beta readers.  I read all their comments as they send them back.  I cry over a few.  I cringe over others.  I rejoice over the praise.  But I wait to do anything about them until I’ve let them sit in my mind for a few days.  Usually, I realize they were right about some things, and I find way to fix them.  Other things, I’m not so sure about and I wait more.  One thing I do know for sure is that if multiple beta readers bring up the same thing, I need to fix it.  If only one beta reader points something out, maybe that’s worth fixing too, but maybe it’s just that person’s opinion.  Those kinds of comments need to be really thought out with my vision of my own manuscript.  I’ve had one beta reader point something out that gave me a kind of “aha” moment and the manuscript was so much better.  I’ve had those same kinds of comments I never changed at all.

The key to all of this is to get beta readers.  Don’t be the person who thinks their manuscript is perfect just the way they wrote it because it isn’t.  I promise.  You need outside perspective.  You need people who will be honest about the good and the bad.  A beta reader is no help at all if they don’t find anything worth changing!

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Perhaps the hardest part in all of this is where to find beta readers you trust.  While your mom might be a good person to run your book by, she might not be the most objective.  Still, give it to her anyway because it will make you feel good!  🙂  I’ve found my beta readers mostly through forums that I’ve joined and gotten to know people on.  The Absolute Write forums were my very first (“share your work” and “old people writing for teens”), and my best beta readers are still people I met there.  The people on these forums are other writers.  They know the basics and can point out the flaws.  They are also usually huge readers, which is a big benefit.

And one last piece of advice, get beta readers who read in your genre and at least one who doesn’t.  If you can convince someone who doesn’t normally read in your genre to like your book AND those who do read in your genre to like it, then you really have something!

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Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. -Anne Lamott (part 3 on writing and publishing)

Revision.  For some writers it’s the bane of their existence.  For others, it’s their favorite part.  I’m probably somewhere in the middle.  I love plotting, so I love the first draft, but there’s also something satisfying about cutting unnecessary scenes, making characters more three-dimensional, making the setting more rich, and having those “aha” moments that make the whole story better.

I know every author’s process of revising is going to be different, but I’ll share a little bit about mine.  First, I just read through the manuscript with track changes on.  As I read, I make small changes to things like misspelled or missing words, a sentence that is just clunky, or adding little details that pop into my head.  I DON’T make huge plot or setting changes.  Instead, I mark things that I know need work and make comments about what I want to change in those scenes.  Those might be scenes I don’t think are necessary or scenes I need to add or even plot points that aren’t working or may have a whole in them.

Once that is done, I usually let it sit for a few weeks.  This gives me some perspective.  Of course, during this time, I don’t stop thinking!  The things I marked as needing changes are in the forefront of my mind.  Sometimes, without even consciously trying, solutions for some of the problems just pop into my mind.  Other times, those solutions are HARD to find.  And sometimes there isn’t a solution at all and an entire section has to be completely rewritten.

When I go back to the manuscript, I work on those larger changes.  I move scenes around.  I write new ones.  I delete old ones.  I add description.  I make sure my words are pretty.  I look at dialogue tags and make sure there aren’t too many but that there are enough.  I look at character growth and make sure there is some.  Basically, I look at the rough first draft and polish it until it feels like something I could let someone read!

And then that’s what I do.  I let people read it.  These are called beta readers and I’ll have a whole post next time on how great they are and how every author needs them!

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You can make anything by writing -C.S. Lewis (part 2 of my series on writing and publishing)

So you have an idea, now what?  Well, you have two options: create an outline and plot out your book OR sit down and start writing and see where it takes you (we call this being a “pantser”).  Personally, I like to outline.  I think it creates fewer problems.  For example, you start a story and don’t know exactly where you’re going so you write one thing early in the book and then something that contradicts that later.  Then you have to go back and reconcile them so the book fits together as a whole.  I know a lot of successful people are pantsers.  I just prefer to have an outline.

Now, when I say outline, I don’t necessarily mean a document that contains roman numeral headings and subheadings, etc.  I don’t do a formal outline.  It’s more that I know where my story is going.  I know what the key, pivotal scenes are going to be.  And I always know how it will end.  I also realize that in all of that, things will still change.  I will get ideas as I go that change the details of how I get to the end.  As I get to know my characters, they will make decisions that weren’t in my general outline view of the book.  The outline just gives me a sense of direction and I feel it helps me to write a faster draft.

Yes, a draft.  It’s not a finished product.  It’s not even necessarily very polished.  It’s exactly what it says it is:  a draft.  I don’t worry too much about beautiful writing.  I don’t pay tons of attention to great dialogue tags.  I’m getting the story onto paper (or into a document on my computer…).  That doesn’t mean I’m totally sloppy.  I try to write a solid draft, but still, there will be so much to change.  For example, I think I have 11 drafts of Borrowed Magic on my computer.  And those are 11 drafts with significant changes!

It sounds easy, right?  A rough, messy draft shouldn’t be all that hard!  Wrong!  It might be the hardest draft for some writers (although I LOVE plotting, so I really like writing the initial draft) because you have to actually sit down and do it.  You can’t mean to do it.  You can’t say you’ll work on it tomorrow.  You have to have the discipline to actually get it done.  One thing I hear from a lot of my writer friends is that they have tons of unfinished manuscripts.  They either lost interest or didn’t know where it was going (another reason I outline…).  My biggest advice:  just write and write everyday.  If you get stuck on a particular scene, skip it and come back later.  You just have to get that first draft onto paper.

And then comes the even harder part — revising.  More on that in my next post!

Ideas are the root of creation. –Ernest Dimnel (part 1 in my series on writing and publishing)

They say everything starts with a good idea, and since Borrowed Magic came out, I’ve been asked one question possibly more than any other: Where did you get the idea?

I’ve been wanting to do a series of posts on the process of publishing and thought this concept of idea would be a good place to start.  After all, no matter how much you study about setting, plot, and characters, it leads you nowhere unless you have a great idea.

In my experience, the initial idea for a book falls into EITHER setting or plot or character.  The first book I ever wrote (which I still hope to do a TON of revisions on and publish one day) came from an image in my mind, a scene, a setting.  It was the tone of that scene that I wanted to capture.  Interestingly enough, that exact scene isn’t even in the book anymore, but the ideas that evolved from it are.  The book I’m currently writing came from an idea about a character — a young woman who’s grown up in an isolated religious community.  That evolved into this character being naive about so many things and yet so capable and strong at the same time.

Borrowed Magic evolved from a plot idea.  I started writing it during the whole dystopian craze.  Knowing I was going to start something new, I asked myself what the themes of dystopian were that I might be able to apply to fantasy.  The one I came up with was the idea that the world isn’t quite what it seems.  In so much dystopian, there’s a clean, shiny version of the world that is presented by whoever is in charge, and then there’s the real world, the dirty one, the one people are actually living in.  Once I had a theme, I thought of ideas of how I could apply that to a magical, fantasy world.  And that’s where Borrowed Magic came from.  The characters all evolved later.  As did the setting.  It was that one plot point that drove everything — at least at the beginning.

Other people may find ideas in other ways, but for me, the easiest way is to focus on one of the three elements of fiction:  plot, setting, or character.  Choose one of those that fascinates you and develop it.  You’d be surprised at how much can come from one great idea!  (more on developing an idea in the next post…)

This is just cool…

Wordle: EthanSo, I was reading a blog post over at Addicted to Books and I came across this awesome tool.  It’s a site that allows you to go in and enter your ms and then it makes this word cloud for you.  The bigger the word, the more it’s used.  Obviously, I have an MC.  Anyway, the other thing it does is to give you a list of every single word and how many times you used it.  I glanced through the entire list and was pleasantly surprised.  Any word that I’d really used a lot was “a” or “and” or something like that.  After all the editing I did to cut overused words, that made me happy (not that there aren’t a few words I could still cut — as a beta recently pointed out).

Another tip Angie had in that same post was to highlight all the “-ly” in the entire manuscript.  Then you can see if there are too many adverbs.  Now, this does include a lot of words like family and only and stuff, but it does work for the adverbs too.  What a great idea for editing.  She has a few others if you want to go check it out.

Starting a novel in the wrong place…or why partials get rejected.

The title for this blog entry came from litaray agent Kristin Nelson.  Back in May, she blogged about the two biggest reasons partials aren’t turned into fulls.  And since she was someone who requested a partial for me but didn’t request the full, I really read this closely.  The first reason was that the novel started in the wrong place.  When I sent my partial to Ms. Nelson, it did start in the wrong place.  It took me a long time to realize that and to recognize where the right place was.  And I wasn’t totally wrong.  The scene I started with is still the scene I start with, just at a different point in that scene.

The second reason Ms. Nelson lists for a rejection is minutiae.  In trying to get the story going, the author gives all details of characters, their interactions, everything about them…you get the idea.  The story isn’t really moving forward.  Instead, scenes are created for the sole purpose of character development.  She reminds that relevant character details should be “seamlessly woven” into scenes that move the story forward.  In my case, I’ve never been satisfied with my second chapter.  I always felt like it stalled, but there was information in there that needed to be there.  When I read this from Ms. Nelson, I realized that minutiae is exactly my problem with some of my early chapters.  I start with the story and then kind of take a break to develop things before going back to the story.

I thought long and hard about what to do and (eventually) had an epiphany.  I needed to move my current chapter five or six to chapter 2.  The other details I need to work into the story.  Now we just need to see if I can do it well.

Stephenie Meyer’s “Midnight Sun” Leak

I don’t know if any of you follow the “Twilight” series.  I personally love it, but I know it’s not for everyone.  Whether you like it or not, every writer out there can understand her anger at the posting of a portion of her “Midnight Sun” manuscript.  It’s about 12 chapters, and looking at how far along that is in “Twilight,” I would guess that’s about 1/3 of her book.  Here’s a link to where she talks about it on her web site.   Personally, I hope she can let go of her initial anger and annoyance and finish the book.  Everyone who would have bought it before will still buy it.  I’ve read the chapters she posted and it doesn’t finish the story.  There’s still so much to be told.

In other news, my editing has gone well this week.  I’ve done chapters 9 and 10 and think I will finish chapter 11 today.  That brings my chapter percentage up to about 33, but if you look at the actual page numbers, it’s almost 40% completed.  Yea!!!!  I guess some of my later chapters are shorter.  I think it’s going really well, and I love the changes I’ve made and the different dynamic it adds to portions of the story.

OK, OK, I love Chapter 8, and the revisions were definitely worth it.

Because I’d worked so hard on chapters 7 and 8 I was feeling a little edgy on whether or not they were good.  I mean, did I really fix the problems my betas had pointed out?  Would they still have concerns?  Trying to get a clearer answer, I sent the two chapters (fully edited) back to one of my betas and asked her to skim through and see what she thought.  It was great news.  She really liked the changes, thought the scene and characters were a lot better developed, and even pointed out a few particular details she really liked.  So now I’m happy again and confident that things are going well.

I’m sick of chapter 8!!!

I’ve decided the set-up part of writing a story is one of my weakest.  I see the connections in my head and I know they’re there, but I don’t tend to show them enough that a reader feels connected.  Anyway, I addressed this problem in the first few chapter of my re-write, and I think it was very successful.  Now I’m addressing it again in chapters 7 and 8.  The problem being:  my MC (main character) moves locaitons, meets a whole bunch of new people, and starts falling in love.  In other words, set-up.

I’ve been pouring over both of those chapters for almost a week now, and yesterday I finally finished.  I think they’re better.  In fact, I think they’re good.  I changed a lot of stuff, even how some characters act or react.  I added a whole new scene and changed 70% of what was left.

Was it worth all the work?  YES!  And now I’m ready to move forward to less intimidating sections.  Hopefully, it will go much quicker.  I don’t really have any more huge set-up sections.

Blackberry frustrations…

I have a Blackberry Pearl.  I love it.  It’s red (my favorite color), and I like the big screen, the calender, the little scrolly thingy (you know).  But now I am frustrated.  My little scrolly thingy (what is it really called?) doesn’t always work right.  It gets stuck and at any given time won’t go up or right or left…  I’m kind of getting sick of it.  So far, I’ve still been able to use it all right, but sometimes I have to let it sit for a while before I try again.

I went online and found someone who told me how to take the ball out and clean it, but it didn’t seem to work well enough.  I might just have to break down and buy a new ball or something.  Who knows?

On another note, my editing is going well, but slowly right at this moment.  The two chapters I’ve been working on are tough ones because I need to get the characterizations and world just right.  If I don’t, it’s not set up well for the rest of the book.  Anyway, I’ve done one of the chapters.  When I’m done with the next one I’ll be super excited.  After that the changes to be made are more routine, and a lot easier.