Heartwood Policies and faqs

General policies

  • Editor retains right of refusal on delivery of manuscript sample/partial.
  • Nonrefundable deposit of 50% must be paid on signing of contract, the remainder must be paid within one week of delivery of edits.
  • Scheduling may change +/- 2 weeks without penalty, but a rescheduling fee outside the above is $50 per reschedule.
  • The editor’s name should not be used without signed agreement.
  • Sensitivity concerns will be flagged for referral to authenticity readers, and content warnings must be provided prior to editing agreement.
  • Payment plans are available but require paying in full prior to delivery of notes.
  • Full manuscript projects must provide a 5p sample, vision statement, and synopsis along with application for edits.
  • Line and copyedits will be returned with tracked changes, but author must apply changes themself.
  • Email communication outside of scheduling and contract count toward coaching time of package.
  • No money will ever be paid to client by editor.

genres considered

I am a fiction editor, so please do not send me nonfiction articles, manuscripts, or memoirs. Of the following genres, I work in middle grade, young adult, new adult, and adult. I am willing to consider select picture book or chapter book projects.

  • Science fiction
  • Fantasy (soft or low, no epic quests please)
  • Horror
  • Paranormal
  • Contemporary
  • Speculative
  • Thriller
  • Mystery
  • Historical
  • General fiction


  • 10% for underrepresented authors
  • 5% for verified referral
  • 5% for repeat client with new project
  • 5% for booking developmental and line edits together


Q: BUT JESS! Can’t I just run betas or swap with my CP?

A: Certainly! Do that! But let’s not pretend that’s “free,” for you or your trusted readers.

Hiring an editor whose sole agenda is helping improve your work on your timeframe can not only save you a lot of time, but it can save you a lot of heartache and confusion too.

It takes a lot of time and energy to prepare a beta, from finding people willing and available, whittling those volunteers down to the right audience for the project, determining what questions to ask, to understanding how to process their answers. I will always encourage betas and CPs, just like I’ll always try to share my best tips for finding and utilizing them. Learning how to run a beta is an acquired skill, and it comes naturally to very few. That time and attention may be better spent learning craft and finishing projects.

Furthermore, in the case of swapping full manuscripts, that’s a lot of trust and commitment to put in a virtual stranger. Schedules often conflict, authors get ghosted, and that’s barely brushing the surface of difficulties that can arise from swaps. CPs (critique partners), while wonderful and you should get some, are people too. They may not be able to focus on your work with the attention you need in a given time. Even if they can, misinformation about “best practices” abounds in writing communities, and the feedback received can run the gamut between weak sauce comments and empty praise to misguided advice never intended for your target audience or relevant to your vision or project.

Q: Do you accept payment plans?

A: Yes! Please refer to policies for more information on payment plans.

Q: Do you do second pass edits?

A: Yes, but second pass edits are only included in the price of specific packages. For an individualized quote, please schedule a consultation through email.



Heartwood Editing services


A developmental edit includes reading and assessing your materials in light of your goals, then suggesting methods, techniques, and possible changes to elevate your work to better match your vision. This level of edits is best for projects in their early drafts before undertaking revisions, or for projects that have been through multiple revisions and have stalled out. If you don’t know what to do with a project anymore, I can help!
Pricing ranges from $0.03-0.06 per word.


Line edits include a thorough reading of materials with inline markups and suggestions to strengthen the work’s clarity and impact. This level of edits is best for projects that have been revised and are almost ready for their final form. Another reason to perform a line edit is to learn how and why certain edits are made, simply to strengthen your craft for future projects and revisions.
Pricing ranges from $0.06-0.09 per word.


Copyedits are final stage edits prior to submission or publishing, ensuring your materials are as error free as possible, because the story is exactly how you want it to be, as are the sentences.
Pricing ranges from $0.1-0.27 per word.

Packaged Pricing for Edits

  • Developmental Proposal –$175– Pitch summary (300 words) + 25pp (6300 words) receive developmental edits, line edit summary, plus an hour of coaching
  • Full Manuscript for Self Publishing –$1500– Pitch summary (300 words) + manuscript (90K words) receive developmental edits, line edit summary, second pass developmental edits on first 100pp, plus an hour of coaching, with a 10% discount on line edits and copyedits
  • Partial Project for new writers –$500– 3 hours of coaching + developmental edits on synopsis (1500 words) + 25pp (6300 words)
  • Full Project for querying writers –$1000– Developmental edits + line edits summary for pitch (300 words), synopsis 1200 words), and manuscript (90K words), with 10% discount on line edits
  • Other packages available on request with coaching consultation.


Deep Prose and Clear Voice

(pulled from a note to a CP)

My main focus for vocal depth is finding places that need a boost to elevate the prose from (blocking and action) to “literature.”

Not just facts, but poetry.

The first layer is “What’s a cooler/more interesting way to X…?”

Second layer is “What’s a way to tie this description/phrase to the story theme/aesthetic/tone/plot?”

Third layer, and the only one that gets approval** for my own work into final drafts, is “How/what does X (description/phrase) mean to my narrator/speaker, and how would They frame X?”

**because no matter how awesome a phrase might be, if it doesn’t sound like it comes from my narrator’s voice, then it could throw the reader off at worst, but will weaken a reader’s connection to the narrator at best.

Page by page, I seek out a wide-angle thematic balance, and–when possible– book-wide character themes. Like, say romantic interest has a hard personality but a vulnerable ego, then I might craft their descriptions to relay that directly or indirectly by which devices I choose (maybe they’re compared to melons or maybe I just keep adjectives about their physical actions “crisp and brittle” while keeping descriptions of their voice “soft”).

I tend to go broad with these when it comes to characterization or repeat settings, sticking with things like seasons or basic elements (water, fire, +), so it doesn’t feel forced or too obvious.Also, the broader the theme, the greater span of sensory experiences and vocabulary range to use in expanding the character’s visceral reactions and word choice.

Random thing, but it’s best, for most readers apparently, to save the most intense descriptive language for moments when the narrator is first describing something (unless that scene is very active), or when it’s an emotional moment that the language can help bolster with “this is important” energy.

Hot tip: use your narrator’s zoom lens to spot concrete details, flaws, or specificity, rather than trying to describe everything anew or “completely.” Better to describe a character’s lone mismatched button than their entire outfit. Even when the narrative point is “excess,” attention can get lost easily in lists of facts, so the zoom is a writer’s best friend in that regard.

Character Connection Tools & Exercises

(that I depend on)

These tools work anywhere in a story, but I find they’re especially useful in early pages in forming a strong link between the MC and the reader, so that, by page 5+, the MC could just about do anything, and the reader will be like, “Of course they did that; that’s why I love them.”

Start the character with a clear goal and complication. I’m not talking about “Big Story Goal,” ie. Main Story Mission, I’m talking about a small scene goal that demonstrates who the character is and what they care about.

The bigger the conflict in the opening scenes,

the more personal that goal should be to balance it.

A quiet opening scene might get away with, “I just want to read this article and finish my coffee in peace without distractions.” A more active scene, with fighting, fleeing, and high stakes stuff, will need something much more personal to establish the reader’s link, like, “I can’t get caught/die NOW, just when I’m finally on the verge of X/personal goal.”

Some of the most common writing advice will seem to contradict this, things like “start in action” and “show don’t tell.”

But “start in action” actually means “start with conflict/tension” rather than, necessarily, high-stakes action. Without making us care about the character first, all that energy and action is likely to go right past the reader, who’s still trying to figure out why should keep reading *this* character’s story. Starting action-heavy makes that extra difficult for the reader to see, because we’ve got the “what” without a “who” or “why,” so leave readers as many clues as the prose can hold.

And “show don’t tell” is a racist construct for one, but it’s also totally unhelpful unless the character is fully established already and their motivations already made abundantly clear.

quick and dirty trick is

REGULARLY pair a show with a tell

to clue the reader into why and what XYZ means.

This is REALLY helpful if you’re ND like me, and your/your characters’ reasons for doing things aren’t the same as neurotypical people/characters expect.

When the narrator notices someone else gesturing a certain way, don’t just show the gesture, allow the narrator to interpret it for the reader. When the narrator makes a decision or reacts to something, tell why and what’s going through their head. It feels clunky at first, extra. But with practice, it can open up new avenues to connect with your characters and readers.

This especially matters when it comes to big character decisions; keep the reader close by making sure they know the narrator’s reasoning/logic train and sense the emotional complications that coincide.

For first chapters, and particularly first pages, no matter WHAT’S happening, keep the narrator in focus, front and center, because they’re the one responsible for ushering the reader into the world, situation, setting, scene, everything…

Start with them, even if it’s just a single line to establish POV and ensure that the MC is the reader’s first view of the story, and their narrative voice is the first heard.


  • If the character doesn’t have a natural goal in the opening scene, invent one. Or three. Play.
  • Write a bunch of sentences from the MC’s POV and voice, having them say who they are, what they want, and what they’re doing. I mean, a BUNCH. Push yourself outside the character’s comfort zone and experiment, in their voice, and play with how they’d explain their situation based on different moods. (My favorites– silly, regretful, angry, annoyed, sleepy, sad.)
  • Test it out.
  • Copy the first chapter into a new file and get to highlighting. Mark EVERY TIME the character makes a choice or reacts involuntarily. If the reason for the choice or reaction is undeniably clear, unmark it (ie. Character’s falling and they move somehow to protect themself).
  • If the reason ISN’T in the text, hit enter, and leave some spaces on the page to play with the question WHY? (The spaces actually help to carve out a breath for you as the writer.)
  • Insert an explanation. Doesn’t have to be perfect, just clear and in character.

Doing this sort of craft play often leads writers to identifying moments they rushed through, but remember you have complete control over the timing. A split second can equal a chapter’s worth of words as much as a short line can.

Usually these exercises open up a shitton of craft realizations, but YMMV.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that a story is never just about “what happened,” but “to whom it happened.” Readers care because they become invested in that Who, and character connection flows directly from your Who’s goal and what it means to them.

Critique Partner Horror Stories: Red Flags & Relationship Ruins

I apologize to readers who’ve been waiting patiently for me to follow up on my last blog about critiquing. Full disclosure, doing research into “red flags” and how many things can go wrong unearthed a metric crap ton of unresolved issues for me. I’ve been stewing all this time, allowing my thoughts to gel and my wounds to knit (closer to) closed.

Black and white image of a cracked heart-shaped stone.

Things can go very, very wrong in critique relationships.

Take what lessons you will from my experiences, and feel free to share any wisdom you’ve gained from your own journey in the comments below. These are things that have happened to me, presented here with minimal detail and fake names to maintain others’ anonymity.

Not What Some Think

The worst that can happen is usually not the problem most writers new to critique fear. Newer writers tend to share a worry about their words and ideas being stolen. Rumors abound about plagiarizing folks who wander the authorscape stealing precious work from the unwitting. To be fair, that may happen from time to time (though in a decade of meeting writers, I’ve never encountered one it’s happened to). Still, copyrights are easier to prove than ever if it comes to that.

Muted image of a beheaded statue of a woman with twinkling lights in the background.

Words and ideas are, generally, safe. Hearts and minds are much more vulnerable.


These folks just straight up disappear. They’ve asked to read, then *poof*; they never respond. It takes time to get used to this happening, but some portion of volunteer readers vanish once they get work. Whatever their reasons don’t really matter. No one can learn anything from silence, so let it go.

Being ghosted by a potential CP feels like any disappointment or rejection, but it’s a dull ache, like reading bad news regarding a place you’ve never been. It’s concerning but distant. Unanswerable.

Blurry, muted image of a young woman’s back as she walks past moving boxes.

But what if it’s a long-time critique partner who ghosts? It’s soul-crushing, confusing, and—in cases where the relationship was virtual only—frustrating as hell. Worse than unanswered, this feels like grief.

I worked with an amazing author woman, RED, for two years, through her first novel’s first draft and two of my own. We talked online every day about craft and process, spending hours on the phone (the actual phone, you guys!) discussing our stories and plans. We had the dream CP relationship, for me, at least.

Black and white image of a bald person standing in front of a window and reaching forward.

She became my best friend. [RED FLAG: *ting ting* Here’s where I should’ve checked my boundaries, made sure both of ours were safe for each other.] Our friendship grew beyond stories, and we kept each other up to date on everything—family stuff, personal stuff. I thought of her as a sister, included her in my heart. Then Red stopped returning messages, stopped picking up the phone, stopped posting new work. My dream became a nightmare in an instant, and I was helpless to stop it.

Losing contact with her was like losing a limb, and it still aches to think of her after two years of silence. I don’t know if I did something to hurt Red, or if her life just couldn’t contain “me” anymore, but all I can do is hope she’s all right and wish her well from afar. It hurts every day, y’all. Not just the Red-sized hole in my life but knowing that I must have harmed her horribly somehow.

Shallow Readers

All critique is valuable, even shallow critique, but it can be super annoying to deal with in a long-term partnership. By shallow I mean these readers skim so fast, nitpicking at minor things that catch their attention but not reading closely enough to absorb any story. The questions these CPs ask are usually answered in-text, often on the same page, and it can be extremely aggravating going through to triple-check that each detail they worried over was, in fact, already on the page. [RED FLAG: If your readers are more concerned about comma placement than character or plot progress, they may just be a bad fit.]

Blurry black and white image of a toy car on asphalt.

In my experience, this specific disconnect between critique partners is hard to address. Being skimmed by the shallow readers feels like drifting in a void, untethered. Swapping chapters or stories with them can also feel like blowing into a busted balloon. Maybe these readers just aren’t into the genre or style they’ve offered to read, or maybe it’s just the way they read. In any case, if the reading is too shallow and unhelpful, it’s best to move on to deeper waters.


Please don’t get me wrong here: I LOVE REVISING AND READING REVISIONS. To me, this is the most important part of being a critique partner. But… there can be hiccups. A revision is a story overhaul, not a quick-shine polish. Don’t promise a full revision and deliver a meager, incomplete edit. It feels like ordering chocolate cake but receiving a stinky, wet slipper.

I read a book for a guy I’ll call GRAY (super guy, positive, and a joy to talk to), chapter by chapter, critiquing his story in-depth—making notes on character, grammar, phrasing, plot, worldbuilding, style, formatting—the works, really. It took ages and a lot of energy. My investment in seeing his special idea become a published reality was huge. I rooted hard for Gray.

Black and white sketch of loose puzzle piece next to a puzzle.

Then many months later I was asked to betaread. I got so excited to see how he’d addressed the problems we’d discussed, how the world came together, how the characters had deepened and grown. [RED FLAG: I should’ve checked myself when my excitement flared here. I had Expectations, see, which means I had some fd up assumption that my and his other CPs’ advice was gold and Gray had fixed Everything. My hopes let me down!] Except… the “revision” repeated all the same problems as the original draft, and only about 100 lines out of 300 pages had changed in any noticeable way. The problems were still problems, and I felt used up, stalled out. I respected him too much, cared too much about his story, to stay invested. It’s one thing to ignore critique partners because of solid story and style reasons, another thing entirely to ignore prevalent craft issues and glaze over the work.

There’s no right way to handle this, and I’m not sure my way was even good enough for me. All I could think to do was say, “I’m afraid I have nothing new to offer” and hope he utilized the dozens of hours of work I’d already invested in his story. Needless to say, with him being a shallow reader of my own work, that partnership fizzled out, despite the years we’d both given to each other. It’s a shame, but it happens.

Self-hatred and/or Misogyny

I’m going to assume for the sake of this blog that the words above make you as sad and upset as it does me. Women writers hating on themselves, men writers hating on women—it’s just gross, and yet at least half the writers I’ve read for in the last five years have put this yuck down page after page.

Black and white image of a young white woman’s back as she hangs her head sadly.

I try to point it out carefully when I come across it. “This may be problematic,” I comment in my notes. Invariably the response I get from men is, “I didn’t realize that,” then they make no changes to address it. From women, the typical response is, “I don’t think so,” or “That’s the problem she has to learn to deal with better by the end.” And I think, “Oh boy, what self-respecting woman will read to the end to find that out?”

But that’s me, and I’m really sensitive because reasons. A polite “I may not be the best reader for this work” usually ends the partnership quickly. EXCEPT WHEN IT DOESN’T, which leads to the next red flag.

[RED FLAG: My life has sucked a hundred different sick and sad ways that I prefer not to repeat. Any story that plays similar experiences like they’re funny or “no big deal” are gonna rub me the wrong way into a DNF (did-not-finish)]


Sometimes these folks are obvious right away, if you know a draft is crappy and they have nothing but praise. But what if you’ve spent hours refining that draft and really do expect some positive comments to be genuine?

I exchanged queries with a woman, VIOLET, a few years back. She was new to the online writing community and wanted to create a critique group. I must’ve been in an extremely generous-with-my-energy mood (or I hadn’t learned better yet), because I walked her step-by-step through the process of creating a FB group, identifying places to find new members, helping her set up discussions, etc. She sent dozens of messages over the course of a few days, treating me like her personal help line. Meanwhile, she read my query and doted on it with comments like, “I don’t see anything to fix” and “This is such a strong query!”

Until I said the magically-cursed words, “I don’t think we’re a good fit” (because of her work’s misogyny and I didn’t want to keep defining and explaining every craft-term I mentioned). [RED FLAG: Here’s where I should’ve tuned out, because any sort of defensive posturing after I offered an easy out was guaranteed to be nonconstructive.]

Suddenly, Violet flew off the handle, verbally assaulting me, telling me my work was indecipherable trash, and that I was trash for quitting her group of old white women. Her unactionable praise became insults, and I was caught in this whirlwind of her anger, wondering what went wrong. She then blocked me and badmouthed me to who-knows-how-many people I have yet to cross paths with, and now she’s an agency intern. Go figure.

Blue-toned underwater image of a light-skinned woman facing off with a shark. The shark is focused on her, but she is meditative and focused within.

This ordeal felt like having my fingers caught in a garbage disposal. For months after it was impossible to trust my other wonderful CPs, and it threw me into a tailspin of doubting myself, questioning my commitment to the writing community, fearing my judgment of people’s character was worse than I ever imagined.

Racism, Ableism, Homophobia

Again, like with misogyny, I’ll assume these words stir your bile and get you in a resistance kind of mood. These unchecked -isms do more than spoil stories; they poison relationships. Though I’ll only dig into one personal experience (with racism specifically), these each present a veritable land mine of issues to wade through when critiquing.

My first-ever critique partner BLUE and I spent four years working together. I was a nobody who knew nothing and needed a good knock around. He was gentle with me as I took my first steps into critique and craft. If it hadn’t been for his encouragement and guidance, I don’t know where or who I’d be. He taught me so many things about publishing and story I can’t help but be grateful.

Somehow, I assume because I’m cis-presenting and white (read: often oblivious) and mask my otherness pretty well, I had no idea how problematic he was. Until I saw it and couldn’t unsee it. That 2016 election really shook the trees, it seems. [RED FLAG: I got warning signs and ignored them.]

Black and white image of a white woman holding a sign that reads “Racism is not patriotism.”

I tried to carry on carefully with Blue after I found it he supported Trump by avoiding politics completely, but not only is that impossible, the toxicity in his stories kept bringing all that up. I tried to explain, to show how harmful things were, to give him a chance to be the “great guy” he’d always presented himself to be. Alas, sometimes it’s best to just call a racist a racist and move on.

It still freaking hurts to see a mentor and friend without the rose tint of my unchecked privilege. I feel complicit, guilty, and hyperaware of how my implicit biases keep blinding me over and over again.

Muted image of a person sitting on a jagged cliff ledge.

These were all critique relationships that ended, most badly. I hope reading this helps someone else learn how to dissolve poor CP fits amicably, or to recognize in themselves what might trigger a disastrous split and avoid them.

It’s emotionally risky, this writing business, so please respect your time, protect your energy, and cherish those CPs you hope to keep.

Boundaries & Benefits: Crafting with Critique Partners (AuthorToolbox)

Because critique partner relationships are so dear to me, I’ll be blogging on this topic for a while. If you happen to be of the anti-feedback persuasion, feel free to roll on elsewhere. But if you’re an expert juggler of critique partners and have found different methods that work great for your process, please share them in the comments!


When I first sought feedback on my writing, I hit a lot of personal and social roadblocks, and I’d love to help others avoid the same. I had no idea what I needed in critique or how to give it, how to process feedback or act on it, let alone how to find CPs and work with them. I’m here for all you precious newcomers to gathering feedback, because I’ve been there–confused and desperate to learn.

I’ll go over the basics first–the types of critique relationships and how they work.

Setting Boundaries

Before getting into the nitty-gritty of critiquing, you have to choose what level of interaction you’re comfortable having with potential critique partners: in-person, online, or a variation between.

General Tip: Regardless of the setting, respect others’ space and time, and don’t behave or permit others to behave in ways that cause harm or shame.

Since in-person critiquing pretty much has the same boundary concerns any other social environment between mutual acquaintances has, I won’t focus on that now. Instead, let’s look at types of common online critique relationships.

Single Swap

giphyIn a single swap, two writers swap an agreed-upon length of work, which is usually a set number of pages or chapters. When arranging this swap, it’s good practice to state the expected time frame.

This can be as awkward as a blind date. Be patient, considerate, and wary.

Tip: ALWAYS start with a single swap before making a larger or longer commitment.

Return your feedback, and be gracious. Check in if your single swap seems to be taking forever (longer than agreed), but respect your potential partner’s time. Being pushy, argumentative, or expectant can result in getting ghosted.

If it goes well, awesome! Decide together if you want to keep swapping and how. If not, relax; it’s normal. You may find writers you connect with on a hundred levels, but that doesn’t mean you’ll connect with each other’s work. It’s not necessary to connect with works still in progress, but it won’t hurt. You can stay writing friends without being CPs.

Prolonged Swap

giphy1This kind of swap naturally follows the initial single swap if all went well. You may not be best friends yet, but you find a sync together that’s powerful. Whatever terms you decide on, it’s important to be honest if those terms become too demanding. Critiquing is valuable emotional labor–don’t discount your needs!

Pro Tip: COMMUNICATION is everything!! If you’re stuck, if you can’t meet a return deadline, or if you feel you aren’t getting what you need most from feedback, SPEAK UP!

Team Swap


I’ve had so many fantastic experiences with critique teams, and I can’t recommend them highly enough. Teams are usually a group of 3-5 writers who swap on a regular basis.

My favorite setup is The Ubergroup‘s draft team design: 4-6 teammates–matched by writing goals, genres, age categories, and/or critique styles–who swap a chapter per week in 6-week cycles (with one week off between). It’s rigorous, demanding, and oh-so-rewarding for building and maintaining craft discipline.

This format allows for relationship-building, story-investment, deep craft study, discussion, and all manner of benefits that come from being a team player involved with in each others’ lives. It takes time to work through a full novel, yes, but you have plenty of time to delve line by line, page by page, into each others’ stories. And when they reach the end, they’re fully-informed about your vision and story strengths to help you polish submission materials.

Pro Tip: Seek out writers who have craft experience you don’t, not just writers on the same leg of their writing journey. Learn from each other.

I’ve heard, but not confirmed, that many local writing associations have similar swap team arrangements, both in-person and online.

Open Swap


Open swaps encompass everything else. Maybe you critique for someone, and they betaread your work. Maybe you help with queries and submission materials, while your partner dives into plotting and worldbuilding your new project. I work with some CPs who never share their early drafts, so our partnerships focus on sharing craft books and podcasts, practicing techniques together, and creating character charts.

Do what works!

General Tip: Open swaps feel suspiciously like friendship. Cherish the emotional labor others give you, because it’s a gift.

Reaping Benefits

A quick list of what swapping (of any kind) can do for the writing journey:

  • Build/strengthen relationships
  • Grow your craft in new and unexpected directions
  • Develop craft skills through practice and validation
  • Get advice from experts in other fields
  • Add authenticity by broadening your perspective
  • Discover new writing opportunities
  • Improve your plot, prose, dialog, setting, worldbuilding, grammar, vocabulary, narrative voice, characterization, pacing, and overall storytelling

Writing is hard, but it shouldn’t be lonely. From idea creation to final product, input from critique partners is priceless. They are your characters’ first fans, your worlds’ first visitors, your secret weapons against stagnation, the ones who will commiserate with your rejections and celebrate your successes.


Next month I’ll explore some dos/don’ts of these critique relationships and red flags to watch out for with new (or even longtime) CPs. Please let me know if there’s anything you’d like me to add to this discussion? I’m always open to feedback!

Nano Blog and Social Media Hop2For more writing blogs, check out #AuthorToolboxbloghop or click on the toolbox.


5 Things To Do Before You Beta Your Book #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

I’ve been seeing a lot of resistance (negativity, misinformation, outright opposition) to the betareading process over the last few months, and . . . it upsets me.giphy4

I believe in the beta process the way toddlers believe in Bandaids. OK, so that’s a mediocre example. I believe in it like a good dog trusts its human.

Betas make books better, and better books make happier readers who will read more books. But what you get out of your beta, and where your story goes in revision, is up to you, not your readers.

If you’re worried a betaread will change your story, try following these five tips to run a successful beta to protect it (from others and yourself) while improving both the work and your craft.

1. State your vision for the work clearly, even if you don’t share the specifics with an audience.

This is the most important step, in my opinion. It can be as simple as “to entertain my readers with a fun adventure story” or as complex as “to inform readers about X and Y so that they walk away with a changed perspective on Z.”

Doing this will help you, as the writer, decide what feedback is most important to you and protect what matters most to you as feedback pours in. Not doing this step can be dangerous to your voice and confidence with your work.

2. Write down reader reactions you hope to receive.

I learned to do this after my first few betas, simply because it challenges me to think ahead to what I want to hear. For each major character or event, I jot down my hoped-for-responses. It looks a little like this for my most recent beta:

Main Character: “Poor __ tries so hard!” and “Yay! ___ figured it out!”

Primary Antagonist: “I hate ___ so much,” and, “Ohhhh… I see why ___ is like that now.”

Major Plot Event: “I did NOT see that coming,” and “Holy $&#@, what have you done to me?”

If I’m feeling ambitious, I’ll even plan ahead what I don’t want to hear.

Doing this step gives a metric to compare with actual feedback to, to better gauge how the story is meeting its goals.

3. Know your target audience.

This is the step I hear recommended most, and it bears repeating. Aside from age and genre category, though, I suggest going a few details further to identify your target.

Who is the reader who needs this story?

Where are they in life; where are they emotionally?

What is the obstacle they dream of overcoming?

Depending on which revision your story’s in, these answers could change. While it’s great to get positive responses from readers outside the target, it’s important to weigh that against negative or neutral responses within.

4. Decide on the one thing you would never change.

Ask yourself why you had to write this story.

Did an idyllic childhood memory spark the story in your heart, and you’ve poured yourself into reproducing that setting for others?

Are you an #ownvoices writer intent on sharing your personal struggle with young people so they can see themselves pulling through it, maybe even better than you managed?

Whatever your motivation for writing, pick the one thing that can’t change lest it become a different story — somebody else’s.

Then make a wish list of secondary items that are mildly more negotiable. This exercise helps to back up what you decided in #1 and keeps you flexible when receiving feedback.

If someone tears apart the thing you’ll never change, do you care? If three or more target readers take issue with a story issue of secondary importance to you, are you ready to address that item or remove it? What if it were a major publishing house suggesting the change? Would your reaction be different for different readers? (These are uncomfortable questions by nature.)

One of the most detrimental things a writer can do in revision is to lose sight of their “why,” their reason for this story, in an attempt to please every reader. Pick your battles and stand firm for them, so that you recognize the story you end up with as the one you aimed for in the first place.

5. Process your craft knowledge.

This is so tricky, because at any point in time, we know less than we knew before. So many of us, in love with our ideas or this or that string of beautiful words, lose sight of where we truly are.

When I finished my first novel, I had this euphoric rush of “Look what I did!” only for it to devolve into “Look at all I have to learn!”

I’m not suggesting anyone demote themselves in their mind or social media pages from “writer” to “aspiring writer,” but at least acknowledge how little or how much has been mastered. Learning never stops in this field.

Processing where your craft is right now will help when navigating feedback that hurts or cuts deepest at the author ego. Ask:

Are readers commenting about things being under or overwritten?

Are they recommending grammar or craft websites because of persistent weaknesses they’ve spotted that I haven’t seen?

Are they mentioning craft “rules” I’ve never heard of?

Before reacting with a slash and burn edit (or worse, lashing out at the reader), do some research and get up to speed on those craft concepts.

Not only will it improve your revision, but it will have you better prepared to tackle your next story.

I would love to hear what helps you prepare your mindset before you beta. What works best for you?

This blog post is a part of Raimey Gallant’s #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop. Find more handy tips by searching the hashtag on Twitter, or join us by clicking on the toolbox. Nano Blog and Social Media Hop2

When Losing Feels Like Winning #authortoolbox

I had my favorite kind of win this week, but it’s a strange one.

I submitted to #authormentormatch, provided my full MS and synopsis, *really* got my hopes up, and . . . wasn’t chosen. It happens. Usually, it’s no big deal.

I tried to hold my breath till I got feedback, but—this time—rejection slammed into me full forcegiphy.

(Read: the emotional impact of “losing” hit me Hard from all different angles).

Luckily, I knew feedback would come, and it was time to let the months of rejection process through tears.

Plus this. Because self care. chocolate-hazelnut-espresso-martini

I took time to recover, to open myself fully to what I could learn from losing. I wallowed and wept.

I troubled my poor husband way past his bed time.

The idea of quitting, or even taking a break, arose. Writing hurt so much, brought me so low.

But it was like that moment in Star Trek: First Contact, when Data is offered the choice to betray Starfleet to become human.

Lieutenant Commander Data: [about the Borg Queen] She brought me closer to humanity than I ever thought possible. And for a time, I was tempted by her offer.

Captain Jean-Luc Picard: How long a time?

Lieutenant Commander Data: 0.68 seconds sir. For an android, that is nearly an eternity.

–from IMDB

I considered it for 0.68 seconds. I’m no Data, but that’s all that thought needed.

I love writing too much. Even if I tried to quit or take a break, it would hurt too, plus I’d fail, because . . .

I love it too much.

Lesson: I knew exactly how much it means to me that I make my story WORK. 

So I turned my attention to another WIP, one I’m insanely excited about as well, and lost myself in the work.

When I received the feedback last night, it was a happy surprise. A full beta read+ a two-page critique/reader response. Something clicked. Then a lot of things clicked.

I learned something about my craft, not just my story. Because I was so open, so vulnerable, I was ready to see the bigger picture. And because this community is so wondrous and personal, with people giving and sharing with each other, I found my way forward.

Lightning struck; I built a plan, and today I’ll design the schedule to get it done.

I am so grateful to my newest reader, and to all the readers who’ve helped me grow as I have in the thing I love, as precious to me as air.

Y’all. Even the tears feel good in hindsight.

This is what 90% of “the writer’s life” will always be. We’ll write and share, edit and revise, listen and learn, because the rejections will mount forever. For every yes there may be a thousand nos.

Still, I love it.

I’d love to hear how other authors soldier on through rejection. What gets you through it?

Doing BETA Better

experimentNow that I’ve had some minor successes with my beta swap model, I’m ready to bring it back online and share the process. My Role Play – Beta Swap.

By role-playing as agents, publishers, and editors, we learn something in play that we learn otherwise only by making publishing mistakes.

oopsMost new writers make these mistakes, and it’s normal. It’s also one of the things that makes successful publishing such a slow process.

If you’re like me, you don’t want to spend a second of writing time wasting anyone else’s time.

Our mistakes = the slush pile. Rejections.

Self-publishers’ mistakes become the reason it’s so hard to stand out among the sea of other self-published mistakes.

snowflakeSo how do we make it easy for agents to make that full manuscript request, to believe in us and advocate for us?

How can we make it easy for buyers to say yes to our stories? How do we keep their interest and earn positive reviews?


Better yet, smart practice.

  • Critique Groups. Sharing early and final drafts with other writers puts extra eyes on every page. Whether online or in real life, critique groups can help writers become more professional by offering motivation, group deadlines, and regular feedback throughout the writing process. My favorite site for this is Scribophile.com, but I found my truest teammates in The Ubergroup. scribophile.png
  • Conferences. Networking with industry professionals and other writers at conferences that suit your genre or publishing interest. newyorkpitchbanner3
  • Workshops and Classes. Growing craft deliberately with feedback.wdu
  • Agent and Market Research. Understanding your story advocates by staying up to date with industry websites, blogs, and interviews.

But how do we decide that our story is ready to submit?

  • beta-readerThe Beta Reader. They read our fresh-faced revisions and give us their reactions, their reflections, their thumbs up or down.

What if that’s not all we want to learn?

And how do we take beta reactions and turn them into something useful?

How do we turn feedback into something that steers our craft in a positive direction, so we don’t crash and burn into slush?

role play situation.jpgMy  answer?

Industry Role Play!

It’s rough and silly, but it’s just the beginning.

I’m not implying that agents or slush readers sit around their offices with a grading rubric like ours.

I am implying that there are tendencies in the professional publishing world that create a thought matrix that sorts our submissions based on the professionals’ experience and instinct, and we, as role-players, can tap into that matrix.

Once we do, we can find out how our stories and craft measure up against industry standards. We can plan our growth, and we can improve our stories alongside our craft.

improveBeyond that, a role-play beta swap offers a deeper understanding of where we are in our craft now and what we should be working on next.

Since all beta readers won’t be equally-equipped to give feedback on craft techniques or genre requirements, by applying the role-play rubric, a reader can provide some numerical evidence to clue the writer into those reactions and compare their beta feedback in a quasi-qualitative manner.

victory.jpgRole play swaps are now open for applications on Reddit and Betabooks.co, and I’ll be sharing more about the process over the next few months as more writers participate. If you’re interested in joining up or learning more, please comment below!

If you are an industry professional and would like to comment or make suggestions or changes to our role-play rubric, please reach out to me @jesscreaden on Twitter.