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


Review: The Emotional Wound Thesaurus

coverI was thrilled when I heard Ackerman and Puglisi had another thesaurus coming out, but—as much as I love the other installations—this is the one I’ve been waiting for, the one that I knew would take my writing the directions I want to go. Using this book will help writers, and thus readers, dig even deeper into the murky waters of the human experience.

How I approached my first read of TEWT:giphy

Reading a thesaurus is a unique undertaking, because the “cover to cover” approach is so dissimilar from the way I’d naturally use a resource like this. With that in mind, I made a list of some of the more obscure emotional wounds I have (for reference) and my characters have (for ideas). So, of course, plan in hand, I promptly lost myself in the opening pages instead, because just after the foreword comes a brief on “self-care for writers.”

If you get nothing else out of this review, go buy this book just to read this one page. If that doesn’t spike your curiosity, your Human may be malfunctioning. #sorrynotsorry

giphy2Fully hooked, I checked my list again. Tough choice: jump ahead and sate my curiosity, or see what else these amazing ladies have in store?

All right, I peeked a little, then I came back to the lessons and how-to. I’m no expert, but I have read the majority of my psychologist mother’s library, and nothing struck me as out of line with current psychological canon. Further, the lessons were accessible and easy to follow.

giphy3What I don’t recommend is *coughs* what I did, because I then read it cover to cover, just like I planned on not doing. I couldn’t help myself (refer to various emotional wounds which hamper self-control and addiction, lol).

I may never be surprised by another story line again, but I’m on fire to inflict my own characters with authentic emotional wounds now. This is my new go-to resource!

Personal Lessons from #Pitchwars 2017 #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

giphy6Fair warning: Some of these lessons might be carryovers from 2016, while I was lurking and cheering on friends. And there are a gazillion great lessons to learn from a contest like Pitchwars, but these are mine for now (and counting!).

  1. Subjectivity in Story

I thought subjectivity was something I fully understood. I’ve even *gulp* blogged about it.

But I was wrong. My thinking was incomplete, flawed.

giphy5Subjectivity is more than how one person perceives in general, it’s how perception slants taste and attitude on a rolling basis. This brilliant thread was key to helping me see that.

So, as I prepare to query my complex and quirky time travel paradox space opera, it’s important for me to remember that many potential readers may not be in the mood for what’s on my pages. giphy4Even if they are, my early pages and query (or pitch) need to alert them to the tone of my story quickly, or else I’ll be facing a wall of not-what-I-expected reactions.

  1. Punctuation

Anyone who knows me at all knows that I’m a huge grammar and punctuation junkie. But just because I was using punctuation correctly in my manuscript doesn’t mean I wasn’t drawing all the wrong kinds of attention. After a particularly enlightening mentor comment, I took another look.

Look at this madness, y’all.

giphyEllipses = I had 195, but now 34 and falling

Seems I love ellipses. Cutting these was tricky, because there are some moments in speech or internal dialog when the thoughts cannot connect, when the character is reaching for, but failing to find, their answer. So, in order to trim 93% of these pesky, disruptive punctuations, I looked line by line at what effect the ellipses had on the scene’s pacing and flow. I kept a lot of them, I think. And 34 may still be too many, but I’m alert to the problem now, at least.

giphy1Semicolons= 9, now 4 (totally OK with this)

That’s not so bad, right? Well, I hope not, but, writing YA, I decided none of my semicolons were necessary unless they were used within a list. Two long lists in one book? I’m OK with that.

giphy2Emdashes= 314, now 134 and falling

Emdashes are definitely an issue I have. Why do I have all these broken thoughts, and, better yet, why do my characters? I trimmed 58% of these, but I’ll take another look in my next editing pass to see if I can cut further.

The tricky part with this count is that I also used dashes for some of the epistolary logs, but maybe I shouldn’t, and importing from Scrivener makes em-dashes into “double dashes” instead. (Also, maybe I should remove the dash key from my laptop, because my pinkie aches to reach for it so often.)

  1. Attitude

giphy3Anyway–Back to the list! In every contest I’ve participated in, I’ve seen the same hopeful soar and desperate crash mentality. There are so many giving pep talks and reminders of “This is how the industry works,” that nothing I have to add matters. Still, keeping my own attitude in check (this time, at least—I’m no angel) has made this the best contest yet for me.

giphy9Emotions happen. Acknowledge and understand them, but don’t let them dictate personal interactions or spill out as vitriol into public spaces. Sounds easier than it is.

giphy10Meanwhile, support each other! There’s room for all our stories, not in this one contest, but in the world.

Those are my most valuable lessons learned through this Pitchwars experience so far. I can’t wait to see what else I learn once mentees are picked and celebrated, and more lessons and trends from the slush pile emerge.

giphy7How about you? Has lightning struck to help you with your writing process? Have you learned anything about yourself, your writing, or the community recently? Comment below!

Nano Blog and Social Media Hop2**This post is part of the #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop writing superhero Raimey Gallant. To find more monthly craft bloggers digging through writing craft, process, and life, visit her site or watch Twitter for our hashtag midmonth on Wednesdays, though I’m a few days late posting.**

The Right Way to Grieve a Human Being?

Who knows the right way to grieve, to honor the passing of another’s life, to channel and heal the hurricane of emotions?


Oh yeah? You all know how? And your way works for everyone? Every time?


Thanks, Dude. I can always count on you for support at least.

I don’t know the right way for someone else; I’m still learning the right way for me for the first time, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s different for everyone, every time.

In my all-of-one-day’s experience with grief, the best I’ve got is this:

A human being’s life is a sequence of their choices–their words, their actions, and their accomplishments.choices.gif

But what if most of their words were lies? What if most of their actions were abusive and malevolent, destructive and criminal? What if they had no accomplishments?

The definition of slander is “giving false representation,”

which conflicts with the cultural expectation that no one “speak ill of the dead.”

To speak positively without context is slander, and to speak negatively, in truth, is cruel?

I honor the dead by speaking the truth without judgment. I honor the choices made as the sum of the deceased’s life.

For example,

NarcissisticMask.jpgX raped women. Truth. No one made that choice for him.

X was a friend to women. Lie. He was a malignant narcissist always storing up his supply; friends were women he hadn’t used up yet.

X neglected and abandoned his children. Truth. He decided pursuing women, drugs, and crime was preferable to the hard work of parenting.

X was a good father. Lie. He used his children like he used everything else, to make himself look like the person people wanted to see.

Yeah, so truth hurts, much like grief, so let’s try a less “personal” example:

gorilla.jpgX was a gorilla. Truth. The dead animal was totally a gorilla, with gorilla parents and gorilla babies.

X was a chimp. Lie. Didn’t I just say “gorilla” parents and babies? Calling something different than its truth is destructive, confusing, and complicates the healing process. Just because chimps are more popular or less threatening doesn’t make a dead gorilla a chimp.

It’s not fair to the life a dead human chose to live if we annihilate the facts. It was his life to live, and he chose to live it through these choices.

Death does not rewrite the narrative of a life, and neither should the mourning process.

Forseti-Seated-in-Judgment.jpgI honor the dead with the truth lived. That’s not judgment, not demonizing, not damaging. Any damage done by the dead’s choices are their own; that’s their legacy.

And, as every single human being is equally responsible for their choices, so should each be remembered as to whether or not they met their goals, whether those who gave them the *most* were given anything in return, whether or not the facts match up to the hype.

narcissistic-abuse-cycle.jpgSaying “Yes, X did” when the truth is “No, X didn’t” is slander. I will not call a coward “brave” because he has done what all humans eventually do–he died. The very best talent the person I’m mourning had was his ability to recognize the goodness in others. He knew what was good, beautiful, strong, genius, forgiving, altruistic, whole, kind, driven; his keen perception almost never missed the mark. But he was not those things he saw, targeted, borrowed, then stole, and it’s a shame, because he obviously knew their value.

My testimony isn’t judgment, as I’m not a judge; I am a witness to a life full of choices, and I am in mourning for a person who actually lived–crimes, lies, wasted potential, broken promises, and all.

And it’s terrible and heartbreaking that he’s gone and can never mend what he broke and heal the rifts between himself and those who loved him despite his faults. That our love for him was not blind is a credit, not a failing, and, in the words of his oldest child:

“All I ever wanted was for the good in him to win, but it wasn’t strong enough to win in time, and now it never can. I feel safer now.”