The Big Bad Betareader

 

 

It’s scary, I get it.

You’re asking someone who is potentially a stranger to put their grubby paws all over your creation. To dirty it’s walls with comments on the plot. Smear mud on character development. Wee on info dumps. Put a massive turd in that unforeseen plot hole.

And the way you think about a betareader and their feed back is wrong.

You’ve asked them to read it as they would a novel, but you’ve also given them a much harder task, to find the mistakes. To do so, they have to look for them, they have to assess and point out its flaws. It makes the process intimidating.

So you take it to someone you trust.

To be kind enough to say the right things, not be too cruel, not pick on your work or show you how much it needs more put into it.

Because you already feel like you’ve birthed this idea, a monumental effort that left you gasping with tears and laughter and probably too much wine. I’ve been there, many times.

But you aren’t helping yourself if you give it to someone who will be kinder to your darling.

Give it to a stranger.

The hard part is picking the right stranger.

A lot of different people will offer different levels, but here is how I tackle scripts given to me. It comes across as more of a developmental edit, however I feel this is what beta readers need to do, as getting an editor who will also cover development can be very tricky. I’ve read many stories that were well edited but didn’t appear to have had any developmental editing at all. This can really put a reader off, and it needs to be more openly addressed.

I always want the scripts in Word so I can add comments and read it with ease, and this is also why I only ever accept shorter sections of a body of work, I don’t want anyone to think I’m nicking ideas. Don’t give your full book to a random stranger, it shouldn’t need to be said, but for novices this can be a harsh lesson. People do steal books, they will take your general premise and run with it. Research your beta before you give them the script.

After I’ve added all my notes, I will email the word doc back to the writer, and give a short summary of what I thought, probably emphasizing key points that I talk about in my comments, but especially anything I believe needs a lot of focus.

This is what I feel a beta reader should do, but its more complicated than that because how you critique someone matters. For writers just starting out, and its their first script, the easiest way to hurt someone is to say something negative in an insensitive manner. It’s also hard to tell people their writing needs serious work.

The points below aren’t just for betareaders, they are for writers too, because more often than not they are the same, and you should understand what goes into a good beta read.

 

  1. Always point out the good stuff

 

Every story has something going for it. Every story I’ve ever read had that original spark. Whether it was clearly evident in well written prose or deeply hidden under layers of badly constructed sentences, it was still there. A lot of beta readers wont necessarily do this, they point out the books flaws, its what they were asked to do.

I point out bits I like because as a struggling writer there is nothing quite like hearing that someone liked a very specific thing.

This is a fundamental part of the beta reading process because you aren’t just complimenting the writer, you are building up their confidence. So when they get that great review they don’t doubt it.

We look at a lot of our reviews and either don’t believe good ones or get completely bummed about bad ones, and this is not the right attitude. You need to have confidence, but you also need to learn where you can improve. Accepting both is a long and hard lesson. Beta reading really helps with that.

Plus, when you’re dropping a lot of truth bombs that can get them down. A nice comment is like finding the cookies to cheer them on.

 

  1. Don’t be useless

 

Yes, I know it’s a lot of effort to read someone else’s work thoroughly, however if you’re going to tell them something is wrong don’t just say that you don’t like something. There is nothing more useless than getting a message from a beta stating: I didn’t like this.

Didn’t like what? What the character said? Did? Reacted? WHAT?!

Be specific.

This was a weird thing for the character to say.

Okay great, but why? What’s the reasoning? When I leave these sorts of comments, I try to phrase it as per the below;

I thought the characters reaction was odd, because earlier on he said X, and this isn’t in keeping with that kind of philosophy. Perhaps amend to say Y, or try having him not respond at all since he disagrees.

This has the dual purpose of pointing out errors, but also offering a reason, and subsequent solution. It also allows not only for the writer to examine that one instance, but also gain a better understand of their characters as people, rather than puppets pushing along the plot.

 

  1. You are not the Grammar Police, but you are an informant

 

YOU. ARE. NOT. THERE. TO. EDIT.

 

Unless the writer has specifically said, hey, can you check the editing for me, leave it alone. I know it might be tempting, and I might point out a couple of serious flaws, but after the first couple I let it slide. This isn’t just about you not being there to edit, its to save you time too.

If I’m working with a draft I may say something really obvious if I see a few really bad mistakes. For the most part I stick to the following section;

  • Repetition: similar/same words too close together
  • Info dumping: too much description
  • Terminology: for words that are actually other words ie. Their/they’re

There are other things you can do as time affords, but these are the ones I focus on because it interrupts the flow of the story, which is what I’m interested in. You could do more as a beta reader, but ultimately, if the editing is poor, its worth stating so at the end or in your summary.

 

  1. Never rip the script

 

This shouldn’t need to be said, but part of what prompted this post was a tearful tweet I saw about a so called friend who tore their story to shreds.

You goal here should be to point out flaws, absolutely, but in a constructive manner that helps, and getting frustrated at what you might see as an inferior piece of work is the last thing a writer needs to hear. They are asking for your help. They are trusting you with a sliver of their soul. Don’t be an ass.

There are gentler ways of suggesting to them that the script essentially needs to be rewritten and these are ultimately about overarching plot points.

I’m going to tear myself apart for your example today.

When my editor told me one of my novellas needed to have the ending completely rewritten, he phrased it roughly (and more simplified) like this;

 

This ending is part of different story, one that should come perhaps later in the series. The focus should be on character X, and why she’s doing Y. The ending doesn’t serve either of these purposes, and ends up becoming less about her journey and more about Z. I also believe this other character is not coming across as you intend, and his character needs fleshing out to convey your intention in these ways. It would also be great to reduce the amount of time the MC spends on thinking, and give her more interactions with the rest of the alphabet, as these side characters are rich and have a lot of potential.

 

Believe it or not, he was far more eloquent than this, and I knew as soon as he said it, that he was right, and I pretty much rewrote the entire book.

Remember you are trying to help the writer not make them quit writing.

 

 

Finally, this isn’t a point, and shouldn’t need to be said, but it is for the writers waiting on betareading.

If someone beta reads for you, it doesn’t matter if they told you things you didn’t want to hear, THANK THEM.

I’ve done a lot of beta reading over the last 3 years, and I am amazed at how often I barely get a thank you back, or any response at all.

This is gutting. I have spent hours I could have been using on my own work, and having someone not bothering to respond to that work is awful. You never ask what it costs the beta reader to help you instead of themselves, or worrying about damaging your relationship when they do give their honest feedback. Being truthful to people whose writing journey you care about is fucking hard.

You are NOT going to like everything that they say, and this is why I always advise writers to get a second opinion. A third, fourth, however many it takes to help sort it out and be the best story it can be.

If you are a writer querying agents you NEED their feedback. You need that honesty if you are going to improve, and if you are seeking a betareader you want to improve.

Remember that when they tell you something you didn’t want to hear.

They are there to help you.

from

1 Book in 25 Days

I wrote a book in 25 days.

Lets cut straight to the facts as they are;

  • I don’t have kids
  • I live in a rural area
  • I have a short commute
  • I worked fucking hard at it

 

I love the book, I think it’s a great stand alone story and for me that’s a rarity.

It sprung into my head after I halted work on the Last Prophecy series because buying houses is expensive and the budget said no to editing. Hell the budget said no to my damn haircuts, but we negotiated over vodka. I gave up desserts for it as part of keto.

Scott, being the wonderful and supportive person he is, rightly pointed out it’s just a delay so those of you who’ve stuck with me this far, I’m sorry. I’m still writing the stories, but the release dates are totally out of my hands.

Instead I’ve done some beta recommended rewrites on Queen of Spades the last month, and this other idea I’ve titled Behind the Veil.

The book wouldn’t shut up. It wouldn’t go away. I sat down and wrote it with no idea what was going to happen. I don’t think it’s a steaming pile of garbage but the verdict is still out from the first beta reader.

So, how did I write it?

 

  1. Writers Block

 

When you don’t have an idea what happens next you need to think quickly and keep typing, keep writing, keep the momentum going. I’d start a chapter with a bang and finish it on a cliff-hanger of a comment which dragged me back into what happens next?

It kept the story moving briskly and my pace was very high. There was more to it than that but I’ve written articles on how I do this before.

 

  1. Sprints

 

Fellow writer Zack Riley runs a cosy little discord channel that allows me to do writing sprints. I normally run for an hour, and will do several hours all in a row with 15 to 30min breaks.

The sprints have a bot timer so you have a prompt to keep you on track. You start a sprint, add yourself & your word total, and go when the buzzer hits. There is no TIME to stop and think, you’ve got to write as many words as you can and you are only challenging yourself. It takes practice to do it on command, (I’ve been doing it for 5 years) but after a while you can just sit and work on the story.

When I started I’d be lucky to get a couple of hundred.

Now, on a bad session, I’ll get 1200 words or so. On a good one I’ll get 2.5k words.

 

  1. Outline

 

There wasn’t one. I just wrote Letitia’s story as hard as I possible could. I kept the story going as much as I could. Letitia may as well have been possessing me for how this story spilled out on its own.

I like to credit my imagination, but I read a lot of horror, I’d just never written it before, and it was exciting to be doing this for the first time.

You should have some idea of where it is going, just don’t be afraid if the story turns into something else, if its pressing you to write it, then its exciting, not just for you but hopefully the reader too! If its becoming boring and predictable to you, how is it going to feel to the reader? Try just letting yourself go, and sprints is a great way to do that.

 

  1. No breaks!

 

No capes, no breaks.

I would get up in the morning and write, I would write at lunch, I’d get home and write, and I’d write for as much as ten hours on a weekend. I felt invigorated and refreshed by the constant appeal of not knowing what was going to happen. The story that was whispering in my ear, kept me coming back, even dreaming about it. By the end of it I just wanted to go back and edit it because I was in love with it.

No games. No TV shows. Nothing but writing and reading breaks (with the odd Armello game with Zack).

It meant I watched a couple of movies with my husband. We live alone, and we’re far from friends, so my time was able to be utilized to write, and knowing it was important he was incredibly supportive and reminded me to eat.

 

  1. You can do this too

 

I am lucky in that I don’t have kids or other commitments that consume too much of my time. I live in a rural area I’m new to which means I don have many local friends.

But I work 40plus hours a week.

I have a dog that needs walking twice a day.

Hubby & I share the housework evenly. Sure he might have cooked more, but I do my part.

It was how I utilized my writing time. Rather than socialize on Twitter, I told people I was writing.

Rather than stuff around doing other things I focused solely on what time I sat down at my computer and how much writing I could put into that time. It wasn’t something I could do when I started five years ago.

All of this takes years to balance and even now I feel overwhelmed and overworked some days.

You can do this too, remember what time you sit down at a computer and ask yourself what do you want to get out of that time.

Do the writing sprints and get better with practice.

Take the story other places, let it guide you, learn to listen to it.

 

 

 

At the end of this all I want you to take away is that you could do this.

You could write a book in 25 days.

Ask yourself how you are utilizing your time, and what you want to get out of it.

Learn how to do writing sprints and how to fly by the seat of your pants. Even if you plot, you really just have to know what you are writing next, sit down, and do it.

I had to give up on a part of my life that had never made me happier. The Last Prophecy series is my calling to write. But while its on hold, and while I can write like this, I know a two very important things;

I’ve never been poorer, & I’ve never been happier.

I’ll write my own stories, my own way, and every time I figure out a new way to do it I’ll share it with you.Choose to be happy.

Letters To Writers

For 2018 Nanowrimo, a writer friend of mine decided she was going to do something different for her project; she wrote letters. She picked people she loved, people she resented, people who hurt her and she wrote every single one a letter. And then with a private website and password, she invited the people who’s letters she had written if they wanted to read them. She also invited them to respond, if they’d like, no matter what she’d written.

I was a little unsurprised I had a letter.

We had roleplayed for years together, discussed many creative topics, but along the way there were other things too, and I had no idea what she had in store for me. I considered shortening these to a few key phrases and decided not to, because it would devalue the letter.

I would also like to ask that you read all the through, because at the end I’m going to ask something of you.

 

Dear Eleanor,

Where do I begin? You’ve been such a huge influence on my life that the task of summarising it all in a letter, while simultaneously giving each section the time and attention it deserves, is a little daunting. It doesn’t help that you’re a fellow author. Maybe that’s where I should start.
You are, without a doubt, the first woman I’ve ever known personally that I have looked up to. That might sound harsh given that my mother exists, but that relationship is what it is. I lover her, but I don’t admire her. I admire your writing ability, but more than that, I admire your storytelling ability. They sound related, and to an extent they are, but they’re also vastly different. I am proud to say that the tattoo running down your back is, in my opinion, an apt description. Writers put words on the page. Sometimes they do it for themselves, sometimes they do it at the behest of others, but overall that is all they are paid to do. Storytellers bring words to life. Whether written or spoken, storytellers use words to bring others into another world. Storytellers are empaths and hypnotists. They steal you away from your own world and put you in someone else’s head. You are all of that and more.
Your co-workers might have called you ‘Wikipedia’, but you know what? Fuck them. Not because they’re obviously jealous of the wealth of knowledge that incredible brain of yours can hold, but because you need that knowledge. Being called Wikipedia isn’t an insult, it’s an achievement. What use is an ignorant writer? None, to anybody. Wikipedia is the repository of human knowledge about our universe. Each page of each novel you write is another entry in yours. I’m more than simply astounded by your incredible wit and knowledge, I’m jealous. You seem to know such a variety of information about every subject, and you won’t stop using it to worm your way out of every damn situation I throw at you as a GM.
I knew from that start you’d be a nightmare player to deal with, and I was absolutely right. I looked at every problem, every conflict, from multiple angles before I let you loose on them. Yet you still managed to outsmart me every time. There was always some legal loophole you knew about, or a trick with casement windows. Your personal repository of information is more than impressive, it’s downright unfair. It’s the entire reason I keep meaning to read more of your books. I’m more than a little ashamed about the fact that I never get around to it. I must have read the first five chapters of Hidden Monastery four or five times now. Life just keeps getting in the way.
I might be shockingly terrible at keeping up with your books, but I think I might have finally figured out why. As incredible as it would be to read your stories, to go visit the world that exists only in the Last Prophecy series, why would I ever settle for reading? Why would I read someone else’s account, listen to their adventure, when I have been an active protagonist in your story and fought your villains head on? Why read about anything you can go visit yourself?
I might not have been all that successful at times, and I had an almost comical habit of getting kidnapped (I still blame you for that. I’ll get my revenge somehow, someday.) but I have never felt more awesome and powerful. It was like living the most coherent and clever lucid dream. I don’t know if I could ever replace that magic with the written word. Or, maybe I’m a selfish little shit who doesn’t devote nearly enough time to supporting her friend’s projects. Obviously, I like my version better.

You are, without a doubt, the older sibling I never had. Maybe it’s because you have sisters of your own, but you seem so adept at guiding me through life. I never had anyone like that growing up. I had my mum, of course, but she’s always had her own problems to deal with, whether it be her mental or physical health. I don’t blame her for not being available, but I do sometimes wish I’d had older friends around that I could have looked up to instead. Well, I guess better late than never.
In the past, I’ve been the ones my friends came to for advice. I don’t know why. Maybe back then I talked a lot less, made me seem like I was a good listener. I still am a good listener, I just don’t have as many people around who are comfortable about opening up. I’m glad I’ve had you around to open up to. I know, for the most part, it tends to be for writing advice, but even then you could have told me to bugger off and you never do. You’re always there to help, no matter what it is or how busy you are.
There’s one incident in particular I should probably call to your attention, because I think your advice and perspective was what finally woke me up to what was going on. A few years ago I talked to you about some of the problems Lauren was dealing with. One of our mutual friends was making her feel miserable, and after talking to you I realised he was also being abusive. I thought he was just a self-obsessed idiot who couldn’t see her point of view. It wasn’t until a year later that I realised the situation was so much worse. I obviously won’t go anymore into that because it’s Lauren’s business, but I would have stayed blind if it weren’t for you.
To carry on from that, my experience with Lauren’s situation, and the advice you gave me then, helped prepare me for my own. Another letter in this book tells that story. Which I suppose I’ll have to trust you to read because you’ve never judged be before now… (Who am I kidding? You’re going to smack me and call me an idiot… but then you’ll probably name an RPG villain after him and let me kill him, so it will be fine in the end.) Anyway, there’s not much point in repeating it here. What I will say, though, is that it’s incredible how difficult it is to perceive these things from the inside. It took distance and a whole lot of perspective to realise what that person was doing to me. I don’t think I’d ever have figured it out without the variety of examples you provided me with when I was talking to you over Skype that day. And without the self-confidence you’ve restored in me, I don’t know if I could have stood up to fight any of those battles.

More than just an incredible storyteller and advice-giver, though, you are my friend. I value that more than all of the rest combined. Those features are what make you an incredible example of a human being, an overachiever, someone the world should know about. They’re not why I love having you in my life so much. I haven’t even begun to cover your compassion, humour and vulnerability yet. Oh yes, we’re going through all of that still. I’ve got at least another five hundred words to wax lyrical about you. I’m not going to waste them.


I’ve talked a little about this already when I mentioned receiving advice from you, but I feel the topic does beg its own paragraph. On top of everything else, you are an astoundingly kind woman. I don’t think a lot of people realise it at first because they get too intimidated by your powerful personality. Anyone who does get close enough, however, can see the heart inside the oncoming storm. (Yes, I did just compare you to the Doctor. You are the only person I could ever find worthy of that comparison. I mean, come on… the knowledge of all these concepts completely alien to me, taking me on wild adventures, talking your way out of just about any problem but being more than willing to fight when it comes down to it? I just have one request. Don’t make me be Amy Pond.) Someone who can get as angry as you do about things could only do that by feeling an incredible amount of love.
You’ve demonstrated this quality to me countless times, so it’s not like anyone just needs to take my word for it. You took me, and especially Emily, under your wing right from the start. Like a mama lioness you were ready to defend us against the world if we needed it. We rarely did, or we let ourselves think we didn’t, but I want you to know the effort is always appreciated. So is telling us that, day or night, if we ever ended up stranded or in trouble we were to call you rather than suffer. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve had someone I could rely on like that.


And, of course, it wouldn’t be a true exploration of the wonders of your personality without your sense of humour. For someone so clever and confident you tell jokes like a cheeky schoolgirl who’s just realised the teacher isn’t looking. You laugh like you’re just happy to be part of the group. Sometimes it makes me wonder if you used to be just like me, and then through some incredible power of metamorphosis you managed to turn into a superhero.
Just like a good superhero, sometimes you really do seem invulnerable, beyond human. You do too good a job of holding yourself up, pretending everything is fine. Even through all the stress you’ve dealt with over the past few years, and the heartbreak of losing your father-in-law, you carry on like it’s nothing. Maybe it’s because I don’t see you often enough to see that side of you, or maybe it’s because only Lucas and your close family get to see it. Either way, to me you are invulnerable and immortal. Occasionally I read posts about you crying, or you tell me about it yourself, and it just seems impossible. Of course, I know you’re human. I’ve just talked about the incredible capacity of your heart. I guess I fall too easily into looking at you as someone incapable of showing weakness.

Next time you visit those of us you left behind on Earth when you ascended to godhood, I’m sure everything will be exactly the same as it once was. I have no doubt that we’ll pick up exactly where we left off the last time we spoke, discussing novel ideas, roleplaying plans, and the infuriating reality of being a woman in the modern world. I’ll enjoy teasing you about your overused turns of phrase (Get it? Turns!) and you can wind me up about that time when, supposedly, drunk me tried to lay claim on your husband. At least I know your relationship is secure enough that both of you can continue to wind me up about that. (I almost died the first time he came to give me a lift and said, “I’m here, honey.”)

It’s incredible how big an impact you have had on my life. I’m so fortunate to have you in it, eternally blessed by your friendship every day that it lasts. And I have no doubt that it will last many, many more. It would take a miraculous feat of stupidity for me to somehow lose your friendship, and I don’t think even I’m capable of pulling it off. So I guess we’re stuck with each other for the foreseeable future – me with your infuriating intelligence and you with my peculiar penchant for wanting to date your villains.

All my love,

Lorna

 

 

 

It was Christmas Day that I read this letter.

I was blown away. The day had actually been a very ordinary day for me, and this was by far one of the most wonderful gifts I have ever received. I sat staring at the screen, disbelief o the tip of my tongue. To add to it, another friend of mine came along and said to me that I’d been there during a very dark time, that I was incredibly kind, and that I had helped them a lot. He doesn’t normally say these things, not quite so eloquently, and in such detail, and I couldn’t believe how many years had passed and he hadn’t said a thing, but wanted to now.

I didn’t believe it. I was sitting there, unable to deny or escape the truth of what these two wonderful people where saying about me. I was crying, this can’t be true, this isn’t true. It threatened to shred away so many doubts, so I showed my husband, asking why I was sitting there on Christmas day blubbering like an idiot. He just said; well of course its true, they wrote it.

And it was only fair to respond in kind, to tell Lorna how important she was to me. To make sure my friend knew that he’d been there for me too. So I wrote letters back, especially to Lorna, and after I’d given it a lot of thought, I knew exactly what I wanted to say.

 

Dear Lorna Honey, (sorry, couldn’t be helped),

 

I was wordless. For weeks. I kept coming back to this and wondering over and over how was I ever to respond? You have beyond humbled me, and at first I thought I did not deserve such praise.

Reading through the letter again, I have a response for every paragraph, every sentence, every word.

I can’t not, so I’ll take you down a memory I don’t think you ever saw.

I started writing books as a little girl, and go figure it was Disney princesses with no prince, I loved Aurora and the Wicked Queen’s evilness (indicative much?). I read Enid Blyton and made my own Faraway Tree in my head. And in a very big way I have one very special woman to thank for that. I know your mother has had her challenges in life, and she’s not necessarily into the same things as you, but I was lucky in that regard.

My mother read aloud to us all the time. Nearly ever night. I can’t count the books she’s read to us, it’s a library full of them. Hundreds at the very least, Lord of the Rings twice, and I boast about that but it also doesn’t express how rich my childhood was with fiction. I devoured books, and when we moved to a big city I found Goosebumps and horror in my local library. When I hit my teens not even my father’s books where safe, and one bored afternoon I picked up Terry Pratchett because the covers were weird. I think I tore through them all in a matter of days. I read to Kill a Mocking Bird in one night at school, and the teacher had us open our books to start reading in class the next day and I put my hand up and said I’d already read it. She didn’t believe me, until I threatened to tell the ending to the class. She looked flustered, didn’t know what to do, to her it was just a book, but it wasn’t to me. All my classmates stared at me, and that’s when I knew I was different. Truly different. It was the first time I was okay with that, and I was already fifteen.

After that, my weird reading and writing quirks were made a mockery of by most of my year level, and it made me a much different person than the one you know now, for a very long time.

Yes, in some ways I think we were a lot alike, and I wish there was some sort of clock where I could reset time and have gone to school with you, because I like to think we could have been besties. Because all the while you were complimenting me in that letter, you talked about times that were so dark and hopeless for me. Running those games was one of the few things that grounded me, and I am SO very glad you two walked into my games. You talk about my confidence, and I have to tell you the first time I walked into game shack I hid behind Lucas. I’m not good at making new friends.

But when we all sat down together, that game just worked. It was by far one of the most magical roleplaying experiences, but come to think of it, most of the games we’re in weren’t just amazing because of me, and as the saying goes it takes two to tango.

I saw so much of myself in you at first, and then I realised how horrendously wrong that was. At your age I was alternatively shy, confrontive, aggressive, and superior with my knowledge. I didn’t know how else to be because I was always ostracised for being me.

Yet there you were, doing you, with far more kindness and compassion than I had at your age.

And I’ll tell you the biggest secret of all. I envy you.

I wish I’d made your choices, I wish I’d been braver, I wish I’d started this journey sooner, and not wasted all that time and energy on fruitless things that didn’t matter.

You are such a beautifully complex person that no Dr’s companion does you justice, you’ll be a doctor in your own right one day.

Because I’ve seen you plan, I’ve seen you set your sights on what you want, and I know that you’re going to make it. It might not feel like it, but you are doing all the right/write things. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist).

My experience might have overwhelmed you at first, but I’ve got a lot of years on you, and I suspect by the time you get here your knowledge will far outshine mine, but most importantly, your achievements.

So now to the hard part.

I didn’t read the other letters. I didn’t have to. I knew there was something going on you weren’t telling me. And I’m sorry I was wrapped up in other things and couldn’t be there for you. That is all.

I have always tried to answer yours and Emily’s questions carefully, and with the due consideration they deserved, knowing, or at least hoping, that you would make the right choices. I was never afraid for you because even if you made the wrong one, you would still get through it, because you are unbreakable. Bend perhaps, sway maybe, but I don’t believe you can ever be torn down.

You will never be judged by me for mistakes you have made or decisions you regret, because I have all those and more in spades. And you’ll keep making them, friends, family, lovers, there are a host of bad decisions out there waiting for you. You’ll make them in anger, and frustration, and perhaps regret. But this is the way it is. This is where my experience comes from. Kindness is not an innate talent one naturally takes unless you are already predisposed to be like that. Kindness, compassion, and support are learned because you have suffered, you’ve seen it, and you want it to stop.

You will never be able to fix every problem. Finish every story. Read every book.

Things will slip and slide, life will get in the way.

I have weakness as do you, but we have strengths too.

You are so very brave. I was so proud of you when you finished your degree. More than you will ever know. I thought to myself; she did what you always wanted to, what you should have done. I should have followed that little girl’s dreams of being a writer, and instead I believed I needed to get a degree to get a job.

And here you are, getting a degree in writing, conquering Nanowrimo ingeniously, working on your creatively talents with the relentless pursuit I can only admire, and envy.

You fight standards and expectations and forge your own, you are a warrior in your own right. You are a dancer with words and expression, a fire I want to see burn on until I am gone. You are the person I wanted to be, and so if anything you said about me rings true, know that I see it in you.

I hope one day a young woman, bright and intelligent, writes you a letter like that, so you understand what a profound difference you’ve made on my life.

Never give up on you, because you are so beautiful inside, and you have so much yet I hope to see.

With all the love in the world,

Nor

 

 

Afterwards I decided that I needed to do something more. I couldn’t just let these letters lie, I needed to spread Lorna’s message, about how much we admire and love other people and you never know when that’s going to tear down walls of lies inside a persons own mind, or give them the courage to keep going, or save their life.

So I’m asking you to do it. Write someone a letter, with all the words of a creator, a sorcerer over a cauldron concocting fairy tales and stories among the stars, write a letter to someone who needs your magic.

To another author you admire, a painter who you love, and it doesn’t matter if they are famous or not, a person you’ve met in real life or not. Write them a letter. Tell them what you meant to them. There is not enough love and caring in this world and if you can take the time to read this far then please, take the time to tell someone else how important they are to you. You will never ever know how desperately they need to hear it.

creativity is intelligence having fun.

Helping Writers

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Its come about thanks to a Twitter post that my Book Tour schedule is full for the rest of year, and my Author Interviews are also heavily booked, so I wanted to ask that if you are a writer with a website you help too.


So, where to start?


This is both the easiest and the hardest part. You just get started, you open your website and start posting. Six months ago I hadn’t started this, and now I’m fully booked. You’ve just got to knuckle down, send out a well tagged tweet, and wait and see.


Plus… you know… I’m a writer too, you could ask me… *ahem* Moving on…


There may be other ways to do this, but I just went to other people’s websites, worked out how I wanted to set it up on mine, and got the pages ready. I use WordPress, and I am not great at it but I’ve got mine trucking along. The more you use it, the more you learn and get better.


Start by setting up your pages for Book Tours, and Author Interviews. Feel free to explore mine and other author websites on how they’ve gone about this. I also have another sub-section for archived author interviews. Then I have a space specifically for Indie and Traditionally published book reviews, which also has an archive. The reason I have separated the two is because I don’t want to show I read just one type, I want to show I read widely, and not every book is perfect. I’ll go into how I post reviews, both good and bad.


Draw up a Google spreadsheet/Excel/preferred scheduler and work out how often do you want to post. Once a month? Once a week? I do mine twice a fortnight, because I work full time and it does take a bit of time to put it up. I’m getting faster the more I post, but a Book Tour post will take about 30mins, and an Author Interview about an hour. Sometimes its less but I’m slower because I’m careful.


I therefore have two lines, for two times of the month, and then the corresponding months at the top of the column. Yes, I’m drilling down into basics but not everyone is familiar or comfortable with excel/spreadsheets.


On a second tab I list the name, email address, links, a marker whether I’ve emailed them and whether I’ve received all the relevant information I need to make the post at the time. I then have a folder in my emails for correspondence for Book Tours & Author interviews as two separate folders to help me stay organised.


Once you have your schedule ready for both you can do the following;


  1. Book Tour


This is easy, put a post up on Twitter offering spots on your website. Take it as first in first served and close it off quickly once you are booked up.

I then put the twitter tag against its date in my schedule, grab the details off the person via a DM, and send them an email with all the info I need. This is a drafted email I copy and past to save on time. It asks for the following information;


  • Book Cover
  • Blurb
  • Book link to Amazon (or most commonly used publishing site)
  • An author pic and short bio


I usually have word restrictions to make sure people don’t go overboard, it also helps to say to people that most blurbs are about 150 words, (fantasy 180). If people’s blurbs are longer you can politely let them know that, some people just dont know. If you or anyone you know is struggling with a blurb, put out feelers in your community to ask for help, or come to me, I am always happy to help.


Once they’ve emailed you, mark it off on the spreadsheet, and make sure to post it on the date. You can go to my website or just Google search Book Tours to get an idea of what other sites are doing and how they are displaying this information.


  1. Author Interviews


This is pretty much the same as the above, I have a drafted letter and enter people as I book them on the spreadsheet. For the interview of course, there are questions too. Its good to have something less formal and more customizable as a first or final question. The others are then pretty standard about writing, but find your own way of asking questions. Think about what you want someone to ask of you in your writing.


Limiting the word count here is paramount. Some writers can waffle on for hours about absolutely nothing, including yours truly.


You can also check out mine and other author websites for how they manage interviews.


      3. Book Reviews


This is not a service I offer.


I will sometimes give away reviews, but its rare.


The reason being is that there are a lot of authors who go out woefully under prepared, and that’s on their manuscript alone. I feel that way about my first novella, and so will be pulling it down off Amazon in the coming weeks, and offering it for free on my website. Its not a bad story, but it’s a slow world and character build.


I write fiction that likes to amble along beside you, not come up and punch you in the face.


We all write differently, and we all read different styles, we are allowed to not like everything we write and read.


Therefore when you go to start reviewing, be prepared for negative reactions. Not everyone is going to like, appreciate, or want your feedback. I have been dragged down into petty arguments by people who didn’t like what I thought of their book.


So I buy the book on Amazon usually, sometimes Kobo, and I leave a review on my website, Goodreads, & Amazon/Kobo.


I always try to use the critique sandwich; good stuff, bad stuff, different good stuff. It’s a great format, but points out issues to the writer.


When I first started writing I needed that desperately, and still do to a large extent. Beta readers are usually people you know, and in turn will be kinder. Someone’s who paid for your book is going to be far less so. You don’t need to be cruel, but you also don’t have to shower praise over it.


This is why I leave reviews for both Traditional and Self published books, because I like to make the clear distinction I dont see them any differently. I’m here for the story. I will rarely pick on editing unless its truly dreadful, and a deterrent to the book. I also don’t usually post anything less than 3 stars, and my reasons for doing so are that its seems cruel not to find anything nice about the story. Most stories that make it to any form of publication have something redeemable about them. When I come across a book that I’d rate that low, I am usually very specific in my review as to why.


If you are going to offer reviews please be prepared to expect a backlash if you give a book a less than savoury review, especially when its badly articulated and lacking in itself. If you are going to upset an author its better to phrase it well, and kindly, so they take the advice on board and look to improve themselves, rather than be bitter and tear you down in return. Which has happened to me. It was vile and unpleasant and its why I’m stressing that you be careful when doing this.


Here is the other thing to be wary of ⸺ some authors will refuse anything other than five stars.


This is why I prefer the anonymity of picking and choosing what I will and wont review, it doesn’t give the author a choice. This is just my preference however, how you want to review is up to you, its your website, and your reviewing platforms.


The most important thing to remember is that you dont have to do all of this, or do it this way. Go out and explore, work out what you want to get out of this, and how you want to go about doing that. All I get is the warm glow that I’m helping, and added benefit of website traffic. But mostly the warm glow.


My aim as always been to help other writers, with whatever I can, as much as I can. Will you join me?


Write the Darkness Within

“I don’t know how you did it.”

 

The compliment came when I announced I’d completed my 2018 goal of writing six books. They didn’t know how I did it. Thinking back, neither do I.

 

I normally write a blog post at the end of the year about my accomplishments and hopes for New Year, like it was a wondrous learning experience. I save the post for New Years Eve, an achievement of great pride, to tally up that I at least had something to show, and would finish on a note of peace and hope.

 

Laying claim to six books sounds like I had an awesome year, it would have been a great post.

 

I did not have a good year. I didn’t want to write that post.

 

I had a very bad year that has been proceeded by several bad years and my writing suffered for it. I’d swing between writing something great, the editor has said no major changes to A Phantom Presence, which was a first for me. But for him to then say that To Chase a Prophecy was not Ok, I think I rewrote it twice.

 

And I didn’t get those books to him on time, or in the condition they *should* have been up in. Because of all the real world distractions that dragged me down, and left me feeling used, hopeless, and above all tired.

 

So how did I write those books? With sadness. With despair. With a wellspring of unquenchable rage that this was all I had in the world that mattered, and it mattered to few more than to me.

 

It consumed me.

 

It was my waking wrathful thoughts and my bitter night time regret.

 

I sat at the computer when I was hot, tired, dirty, mind blank, with nothing left except that that burning anger at the world and all the things in it that had gone wrong.

 

My work wasn’t a reflection of my mood. It was what drove the stories I intended to write.

 

I burned through words as I tried in vain to exhaust the endless anger within me. All it did was tally up a word count I wasn’t trying to prove to anyone, not even myself. I’d write over ten thousand words a day and shrug it off as thought it was nothing, because to me, it was just what I needed to do.

 

There is no other way to get word counts like this, and if I have gained anything from it, it’s the ability to sit down at a computer and write ten thousand words in a day. Day after day. I am not proud of that because when I was writing those words, all that mattered was the story, the all encompassing desire to write ceaselessly on.

 

So if you need advice on how to sit down and write six books in a year, if you need motivation pull you through that work in progress, I don’t have it. I wouldn’t wish this feeling on anyone.

 

Because underneath all that rage, all that wrath, all that energy I had nowhere else to direct, I found I was made of a one very simple component.

 

Determination.

 

Where I had failed at so many things, had so much taken away, this was mine.

 

No one could take it from me, no one could stop me, and no one could tell me I was wrong.

 

I lit up words, destroyed people, created endless streams of nonsense tangled in tales that were from waking nightmares and bitter memories. And I made it beautiful, but my own.

 

No one can tell you how to write.

 

No one has a magic wand on a best seller.

 

No one knows the story like you do, and no one can write it like you will.

 

Write from the darkness within, and you’ll find what you need. I know I did.

 

There is always something to be thankful for.

Book Marketing

I am going to preface this by stating I don’t have all the answers.

 

There is a lot of information out there that doesn’t tell you certain things, like signing up with certain marketing companies doesn’t work unless you write their genre, or your book isn’t ready, or you write a series. And most of all as an indie author, I made a lot of mistakes I am hoping to show you how to avoid.

 

Here is what I have learned, and I know its worked because I have sold books. Not recently but when I release and follow this plan its worked very well for me, and I’ve done it 3 times now for 2 novellas and one book, that sold a thousand copies in its opening month.

 

Here is what I have learned about marketing my book to get that kind of response, and its simple, and stupid, but I learned a lot of this the hard way.

 

  1. Is your book ready?

 

No really.  Yes its been edited, yes its been gone over a million times by you and your editor, and a few beta readers, but is it *really* ready? I made the mistake all three times of rushing to my publishing goals rather than the book goals. I’ve backed off the last year to get it right, and I’ll still have made mistakes. One book I 100% thought was ready I haven’t published because it needs a rewrite, even though it got good feedback. I can just feel it. This is also the reason why trad published books take so friggin long to come out. They write, edit, rewrite, re-edit, copy edit, beta read, review, polish, re-beta, test, review, edit, polish… on and on until it is flawless.

Look at your book and ask if you’ve given it the same kind of love. You might not be able to do all of that, but you can do a lot of it. I recommend GOOD creative critics and beta readers, and Pro-Writing Aid, even if you do have an editor. We all miss stuff.

 

  1. Covers

 

This irks me a lot. There is nothing worse than looking at a really good book and people with terribly covers saying “But the cover shouldn’t matter! You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover!”

 

Why not? You do it. You aren’t going to touch a book with a terrible cover, you aren’t even going to read the blurb. But here is the thing I do get. Finding people to do good covers at a price that don’t look like something out of a high school project is hard. Fiverr covers tend to be very hit and miss, and more miss, or you can spend close to $300US to get a good photoshop one.

 

There are two solutions here: Finding decently priced cover designers who sell predesigned covers at lower rates, & Gimp.

 

The first, I can recommend Violeta’s current page and her Christmas giveaway. She’s a kind person, and her prices are very reasonable. There are others out there, but you have to know who to go for yourself.

 

If you are going to use Gimp I can tell you two things; its frustrating but worth it. I recently ran into very tight financial situation because we are trying to buy a house and just couldn’t afford a cover artist. I have spent a lot of time looking at covers in my genre, and ended up designing my own, which is the last one below.

 

 

 

No, isn’t as good, but it does at least fit with the theme, and it wasn’t too hard after I followed a lot of tutorials. The most important thing about this though, is to be absolutely sure that the images you are using are fine for ebook commercial use. That is NOT a can of worms you want to mess with.

 

  1. Blurb

 

This is the other way you are going to hook your reader after your cover has engaged attention as it’s a LOT harder than it looks. I am happy to help rewrite blurbs but I’ve found these simple rules work:

 

  • Limit of 150 words (180 for fantasy)
  • Hook first and last
  • Read the top 20 blurbs of your genre for flow and feel

 

There really isn’t much more to it than this, but it is important. Also get feedback for posting, say it aloud, review and polish. Its your first impression for your audience.

 

  1. Pick your Price

 

This may sound easy but its getting much harder. You don’t want to make your book too much but you want to be sure its not free. The trouble is that people are assuming the content isn’t very good if its only 99c, but how else to break into reader groups if you don’t make it as affordable as possible?

This is where promos come in handy, and you can get a lot of downloads for a free weekend, but you are better off advertising a more expensive book for a 99c weekend and then running a series of promos.

Check what everyone else is advertising in the top 100, and don’t forget to lower your pre-order price and up it when it goes live to what you  want it to be.

 

  1. Get your platforms in order

 

Website, Facebook, Twitter. You should have all three and while its hard to maintain them all, its worth it for exposure. If you’re struggling for content look at what other people are posting and offering. What are you talking about? How are you helping? There are numerous articles about how to create engaging content, but most of all you’ve got to work out what works for you.

 

KEY POINT: Do a lot of research on what tags to use and when, check trending tags, reach out and grow your circle.

 

 

So now that’s the basics sorted, how to get it actually out there?

  1. Books Go Social

 

I owe an awful lot to what I know about self publishing to Books Go Social Facebook groups. They offer a lot of entry level stuff that is super helpful they have a dedicated and friendly team, all under the wonderful Laurence O’Bryan and his thoughtfulness. There are a lot of media groups out there, but I generally found that just being part of the community they created and engaging some of their services was a great introduction to self publishing on a marketing level. You can also ask questions, get feedback on blurbs and covers, they offer a helpful service to upgrade your cover at a good price, and generally it’s a great learning field.

 

Here is the thing though, not every part of them is for you. Its great for books that are one off’s but not for series, but series are hard to market when the whole thing isn’t out. If you sign up to their Netgalley offers make sure to get a couple of months worth as while it is worth it, you need a couple of months, because people read slowly, take their time, and you need it to still be there for them.

 

They also have reviewing sections which are great for getting (NOT SWAPPING) reviews.

 

  1. Reviews

 

Apparently you are supposed to get a magical unicorn that farts rainbows at 30 reviews. I heard recently that Amazon had upped it to 50, which doesn’t surprise me giving the amount of services that sell reviews (do NOT  do this, ever, or swap, its against T&Cs).

 

giphy

 

So how to get reviews?

 

ARCs, Goodread giveaways, groups like BGS, Netgally, competitions for free copies on your social media sites. You have to work at it, its hard, and don’t expect everyone to give you a review, you quite often wont get one.

 

But you can ask, just don’t be pushy about it.

 

 

  1. Author Support Services

 

 

There are a lot of great services out there, but here are two I have used frequently in the past.

 

Alliance of Independent Authors is a great source of up to date clear information about what’s happening in the market. I am not a member, but will be next year.

 

You will see their members floating around and not only do I love these people I’ve seen them monitor and watch situations where people are buying reviews, faking popularity and other such great services that spoil it for the rest of us.

 

The best thing about them was that they had a complete list of safe websites to get promos from. It was absolutely golden, because it did 2 things. It helped you find good websites to advertise on, and which ones were dodgy as all get out.

 

The other cool one is Authors Unlimited and this very helpful and concise article about getting going.

 

  1. Promotions

 

This is the *HARDEST* sell (puns totally intended) because you have to spend money. After all the work you’ve done spending money seems like a complete pocket suck of the precious money you have for book selling. If you want your book out there though, it doesn’t hurt.

 

You basically need to plan months in advance for a promo weekend, book in with hosts of email services that for small fees will list or discounted (99c) or free book on their weekend newsletter. This is THE way to advertise for romance. It also gives you time to rack up the reviews.

 

There is also the magical BookBub deals, but I won’t go into it, because that isn’t for beginners. You need to have been doing this a while to get one, and they are VERY expensive.

 

 

  1. Books… write a lot of books.

 

A self published author who writes full time recently offered to answer questions. And I asked her how she does it full time, what was the kicker?

 

A book EVERY 3 to 4 months.

 

That is a lot of time, and so we return to point one of polish, review, edit, revise.

One book is never going to be enough all by itself. I know a lot of traditionally published authors turning to self pubbing for the books that their agents or publishers didn’t like the sound of, and they already have the reading base because of their traditionally published books.

 

So no matter how ready you think you are, you might not be. And that’s OK. This is a long game, and if you are here to make a lot of money then you aren’t my kind of writer. If you are telling stories you are doing what you love, even if its just a hobby for now, and if you want to get self published, you need to get to a point where you can release every 3 to 4 months, and you can’t do that if you stop writing.

 

So what are you going to do?

 

A writer's mind is never emptyInside rage demons, devils, and doubts

 

A Successful Author

The first time I was asked when would I call myself a successful author, the answer was easy; if I was writing full time it meant people where buying enough of my book that I could do what I wanted.

 

That was when I started four years ago.

 

It doesn’t feel that long, but an aeon of time has passed, so much of my life has changed. Much of it not for the better. And now I know how incredibly wrong I was.

 

I read over and over on Twitter about people making it, they get agents, advances from publishers and all the while a host of “aspiring” authors sit in the wings, clutching their precious creation of fiction, and weep for the day it will be them too.

 

It started to make me sad, seeing so many of them, and knowing I was one among the throng.

 

How could I possibly hope to be a successful author if I couldn’t even publish my books. After 3 very hard years I still only had half of what I wanted out there for readers.

 

One full time self-published writer told me she released a book every three to four months.

 

I hadn’t done that, I spent years in a vacuum of tragedy, seeking to find definition in a life that wasn’t of my choosing, of potentially being barren, of everything that was wrong and everyone in it who laughed at my aspirations.

 

Worse still, I started to see other stories that didn’t have a magical happy ending.

 

About how people’s books were given that gold status; sold to a publisher.

 

But then the advances they got, what happened to them afterwards, it was rare anyone truly made it on one book alone. I started to question what “making it” really meant.

 

Then other stories came out, how the publisher didn’t want another book from that author, how the author lost their way, the golden moment, a brief passage. More and more you read how authors make on average less than ten thousand a year. It doesn’t matter the currency, only that it’s not enough to be a full time author.

 

Authors who’d won awards for books they’d written previously, but worked in mediocre jobs because a publishing contract isn’t a magic wand that changes your life.

 

My idea of success was dwindling with every tweet I read, every article on what it meant to finally make it, only to fall down when no one was interested in your stories anymore.

 

Even the so called full time authors lived in perpetual fear that they weren’t real. They called it imposter syndrome, and even the thousands of reassurances from fans, readers, and writers alike did little to abate it returning in a matter of days in another self-depreciating tweet.

 

If traditional publishing wasn’t the way then what was?

 

I self-published knowing I’d done it because I’d be rejected by a traditional publishing, but hoping after my 21 book novella series was bought up by the masses a golden contract would be handed to me too.

 

I wasn’t prepared.

 

I published a mediocre novella, followed it up with an OK one, and then published a reasonably good book.

 

It was a learning curve, but I felt like a failure.

 

And I wasn’t the only one. For every indie author I saw out there with a brilliant story, who thought to go alone and self-publishing was the key, many have done it unprepared.

 

Bad book covers. Bad editing. Bad stories read by betas who were friends or fellow authors and didn’t want to be honest about picking up parts of the story that were lacking. Learning that your work needs honesty of good editors and beta readers, that not even the first, second, or third draft is perfect is the hardest, most agonising lesson for new writers. Many don’t listen.

 

Writing the story is possibly the easiest part. Its polishing the script, waiting on it to mature, sitting with it and going over and over it again to make it as perfect as possible that is the hardest thing.

 

I have spent too long bent over my keyboard crying for what might have been to let myself do this anymore. To let someone else’s magical success crush the life out of a story I believe in heart and soul. A person I believe in with everything that I have that has given me strength through the darkest hours of my life.

 

It’s me, I have a purpose, and its being an author.

 

But I had to redefine what I wanted my success to be, in order to be successful.

 

THE DEFINITION OF AN AUTHOR IS A WRITER OF A BOOK.

 

I am NOT asking you, I’m telling you, look it the fuck up.

 

I haven’t written a book. I’ve written many. I will write many more.

 

To be successful at selling a book you have to be a salesperson.

 

To be successful at getting a wider audience you have to be in marketing.

 

To be successful at making money writing you have to be good in business.

 

Being a successful author doesn’t require any of those things.

 

Not all of us will ever be able to “make it” to what our inner hearts believe is success without working incredibly hard, every day, and to a large extent have an inordinate amount of luck.

 

Its become very important to me that I realise if I want to be at peace with the event of never “making it” I have to redefine my answer when someone asks when would I call myself a successful author.

 

I am one.

 

Right now.

 

If you’ve ever written a book you aren’t “aspiring” to anything. You are successful at being an author. And if you’ve ever done it, you will have gone so much further than just about anyone you know. Sit back and think about it, how many people do you know had the tenacity to sit down and write a book?

 

Few.

 

In the greater scheme of things, very few.

 

And if you haven’t written a book yet I want to tell you something. Finally finishing that bastard isn’t going to magically make the world a golden, magical, fantasy. It will be the same world. But you, you, my beautiful, creative, magnificent, writer, will be a successful author.

 

 

Sunset chaser

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