Indy e-Con: The Value of Beta Readers

This article is part of a really cool Indy e-Confrence going on right now, based from Kendra E. Ardnek’s blog. You can click the picture below to check it out. 🙂

the value of beta readers

The Value of Beta Readers

There is no one secret to producing a good book. Hard work, patience, more hard work, dogged determination, and did I mention hard work? Yet it is so worth it. And, the more I write, the more I value one particular asset every writer should have.

Beta readers!

Beta readers are wonderful. Sometimes they are friends. Sometimes they are other writers. Sometimes they are people you’ve never met before but who have signed up to help you. Whatever the case, they provide an excellent new look at your own work, commenting on points you’ve missed because of your closeness to your story. If there are problems you are trying to ignore, they will be quick to point those out too. Grammar, plot, characters, awkward wording… everyone is different, and each beta reader tends to focus on different aspects of your story and will find different things. Together, they help smooth and polish your story to a great degree.

I first started writing, I didn’t even know of the term ‘beta reader’. I had help, but to me, they were friends who were helping with my story as I helped with theirs. Together we improved each other’s work. While I still beta read for friends, and they for me, I now reach out to other readers and get as much aid and new eyes on my story as I can. Without beta readers to provide feedback, I would be lost.

A writer can find beta readers in a number of ways.

The first place to look is among friends. You may have some friends (or fans) who enjoy your work and who are willing to correct your book for the mere chance of reading it. There are other friends who may be writers, and you can arrange a swap of manuscripts, each correcting the other’s work. And you can simply ask. If you are in a writing group, tell people what you are looking for and have them contact you if they are interested in helping. Create a form people can fill out (Google Forms is great for this) and post it on your blog and Facebook with a blurb about your book. You might be surprised at the number of people who want to read your novel.

There isn’t a set number of beta readers one ought to have: anywhere from five to twenty, as a general range. If you can’t interest anyone, there are writers who hire themselves out as beta readers, as well as professional beta readers you can hire on places like Fiverr. But generally, it’s not hard to find a handful of readers among your circle of friends and acquaintances.

Once you get your beta readers, you must loosen your grip about your manuscript and let people actually read it. Depending on the length, you may send the whole story at once, or in pieces. I prefer sending a novel in parts both because I can correct it easier in smaller chunks, and because it forces the reader to correct a section before finding out what happens next in the story.

At this point, I’ll create an Excel sheet, or a chart of some kind, with the names of all the beta readers, their emails, when I sent them a particular part, when I got it back, and when I corrected that part myself. It helps keep everything in one place, especially when you have a large number of beta readers.

Now remember, unless you are hiring these beta readers, they have a life of their own. I have had numbers of stories beta read and there are two main things I account for when beta readers sign up to help me.

Firstly, I consider how long it would take to beta read a story, then add a few weeks. Then I expect some beta readers to be late. Because life happens. Some readers might whip through your story and have it back in a week. Others might take two or three months. If you do need your novel back in a particular timeframe, encourage everyone to send what they’ve corrected to you by that date, even if they aren’t finished.

Secondly, there will normally be a small percentage of beta readers who end up not getting back to you. This is nothing against beta readers because I understand that things get busy. Just expect it. If everyone sends you your manuscript by the deadline you set, that is great. If not, it’s nothing to worry about. It happens.

Eventually, you start receiving feedback. I like to correct my novel as I get comments back. The cool thing about beta reading is that everyone picks out different things. Five beta readers can go over the same page and pick out different spelling, grammar, or plot mistakes. Together, they are a powerful force.

And there is something you might start to notice. Beta readers can disagree among themselves (unintentionally, of course, since they don’t know what the others have said). Some love a particular part. Others think it could be changed. Some love a theme. Others don’t quite get it.

It is important to approach beta reader feedback correctly. Remember, one book isn’t for everyone. There will always be some people who don’t quite care for a style or idea. There is nothing wrong with this. Take each beta reader’s comment into careful consideration, but they are not Gospel truth. You can keep the thoughts, or decide they aren’t right for the book, or pick and choose what you like. Now, if everyone is agreeing that something is a problem, then it likely needs some help, but otherwise use what comments you can and don’t feel bad if you don’t agree with all of them.

Finally, and this goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, treat your beta readers with respect. They deserve it. They have gone over your story, helping you improve it, just for the sake of reading it themselves. Make sure to thank them and maybe even mention them in your acknowledgements.

If you haven’t had beta readers before, don’t hesitate to find some. Once your novel is finished, but before you plunge into detailed polishing, send your book to beta readers for feedback. You won’t regret it.

New Fantasy Times: Advancing Fantasy Technology

Advancing Fantasy Technology

Fantasy equals a sword, a bow, and a golden prophecy, right? Wrong. Do you honestly think that the realm in which you live contains the smartest, most advanced people? Of course, ‘advanced’ can have plenty of definitions. That aside, you might be surprised to find the realms which people in this land deem as ‘fantasy’ have a few tricks of their own.

new-fantasy-times-pinsWhat is technology after all? A thin device which carries words and pictures. An invisible thread in the air which connects the aforementioned devices. A globe of glass which glows. A chest which keeps things cold. A metal box which hurtles across the country at high speeds… It’s not quite so grand as some like to think.

Plenty of worlds have their own forms of useful (and not so useful) tools. There are the Silver Shells, which one can speak into and their voice will travel outwards to all other shells which are properly tuned. The Ruby Crystals hold pictures, even if they do tint them all red. Fire globes can carry heat and light for up to a week. One ice globe can keep a whole room cool. Swooping, kite-like contraptions carry individuals from one place to another.

The abilities of other realms are not limited to comfort and information. To be sure, swords and bows are quite popular. They were used for over three thousand years in our own realm, you will remember. But I have seen many other weapons. Powders that burrow into the foundations and, once fire catches on them, nothing can put it out. Catapults hurl explosions at iron-clad walls. Tubes send such explosions half way across the world. Hologramic soldiers march in rank and scatter confusion among the enemy. Mixtures seeped in water to weary the limbs and terrify the hearts. Other realms are not lacking in imagination or resources, let me assure you.

It is not just about what great men can think up either. The very air of some lands is different from those of others. There is one realm where currents layer the breeze. Two people in the same current can speak to each other though they are miles away. In other places, pools capture images and stones leave impressions of who was last there, while wind caves catch voices and echo them through deep caverns of the earth.

How people communicate and what they wield is just the beginning. The realms themselves are hardly what so many histories nowadays show them as…all green and swords and golden light or else dark and stony and hard. The past is not always pleasant, nor the future always hard.

Fantasy worlds are destroyed as well and must rise from the ashes. Realms and creatures from other realms interconnect – be they coming from the moon or from the sea. Wagons roll north over great deserts inhabited by wolves. Sleek silver ships combat dragons in the sky over glittering cities.

Quite frankly, no matter how many different ideas you can twist or merge, you will be able to find an existing world within the details. There is no limit except your imagination…and your realm leaper abilities.

 

Have any questions, legends, or trending cliches you’d like Kirin Quillblade (or Elena) to address? Please comment below; he promises to at least read what you have to say between his realm leaper’s missions, even if he holds the rights to choose what to write about and what to ignore.

 

Join the Legend Seekers for monthly stories about the realm leapers and fantasy time-travelers, Kirin and Elena. Click here to sign up

Author Myths: Don’t Believe Everything You Hear

The writer’s life is surrounded by myths, both inside and out. ‘Oh, you are a writer? You must be rich?’ ‘A writer? Are you a starving artist? I didn’t think you could make any money that way.’ ‘Just write a book and put it out there, it will take off.’

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So…yes. Lots of myths. So I decided to collect a few; some from Facebook, some from articles I’ve read, some from things I’ve heard or heard of so much that they are now stuck in my head.

Myths on the Inside:

That you have to write every day to be a writer. Ok, so there is truth that you need to write to be a writer, and you need to keep writing and not just write every two months as the inspiration seizes you. But it is also fine to take occasional breaks and not write every day.

You don’t need an editor, editing yourself is fine. I tried this. Nope, not really fine. Though I’m an awful editor myself. I think even editors send off their work to others for correction.

There is no need to worry about grammar and punctuation. The publisher will assign an editor-minion to take care of it for you. Just dash off your book, and relax and enjoy your six-figure advance. Insane laughing. I wish, but no. Just not happening.

Just write you book, put it ‘out there’ and readers will come flocking to buy it. Sadly, no. For readers to love our book, they need to know about it. They aren’t going to come searching for something they don’t know exists.

Myths on the Outside:

That writing is easy because it isn’t a real job. Excuse me. Does your job fill your mind day in and day out, and take up all your free time? Do you know how hard writing is, both emotionally and physical (I mean, really, who has time for sleep?). Also, don’t you dare count my success by how much money I make. Success is about so much more.

While writing, you are unemployed and available for major tasks/projects. *chokes* Yes, I am writing. No, that does not mean I am free. Writing and free are like opposite ends of the spectrum…

People are self-published because no traditional publishing house would consider it. Hardly. Traditional publishing houses can only publish so much, after all. And did it ever cross your mind that maybe we wanted to be in control of everything ourselves?

Self-publishers shouldn’t charge money for their books – they should be grateful if anyone deigns to read them at all, so they should always give them away. The only reason I will not blast anyone who dares think or say this to ashes is because is because you are so ignorant about what goes into writing that I don’t even know where to start.

When you publish that book, you’ll make tons of money. Also, you won’t make any money at all. Marketing. Email lists. Followings… You could make lots of money, or you could make a little, or you could make a middling amount. There isn’t one catch-all figure.

Because you are a writer, you know how to spell every word under the sun as well as all the rules of grammar. Please, I am horrible at both. Sometimes even spellcheck doesn’t know what I’m looking for.

It is assumed you can pull plots or character out of thin air for a friend (or younger sibling). It’s really not that easy. You want to be a writer? Figure it out yourself. I’ve more plots than I know what to do with right now.

Of course, you want to read and critique anything a friend (or stranger) offers you. There is this thing called time, you know. I don’t have enough of it for my own work. And, unless I offer, I probably don’t have any to spare for reading everything else under the sun.

I’ve come to the conclusion that writers, like many kinds of artist, will always be misunderstood. Not by everyone. I have some very supportive family members. I also have one who doesn’t quite get it. But that is fine. That doesn’t make those who don’t understand stupid, even if we might want to shake them sometimes. One day they might understand. Or not. But it is something we will face, and it is something we’ll have to live with.

So learn to laugh at it. Laughter can make about anything better. Besides, quite often what a nonwriter thinks about a writer can be funny. Don’t worry about what others think. As writers, we need to have a strong confidence in what we do and why we do it, then accept encouragement, ignore discouragement, and keep on writing!

Do you have any writing myths to share? Either something you’ve learned or something someone has said to you? Comment below!

Caption Challenge: January #2

First the caption challenge winners…oh, wait. Last week was the month-long challenge, so we don’t have a winner this week. So I’ll guess I’ll just go ahead with the prompt.

fantasy

Picture from Pinterest

Anyone can enter this caption challenge; the only requirement is that you keep your entries clean.🙂 You’ve two entries (you can pick one, or two both). One entry is a caption, the other is a six-word-story.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Make sure your six-word-story tells a story, instead of just being a six-word caption. It needs to go with the picture, but it needs to stand alone as a story as well. Somewhere, they’ve turned into short captions, and I want to get them back to stories.

On Saturday I’ll pick a winning caption and I’ll post it next Monday along with the name of the winner and the next caption challenge!

January Prompt Challenge

Happy New Year everyone! I’m going to try something different with the first challenge of each month, so make sure you read the instructions below. But first, last week’s *coughs* last year’s winners!

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Caption Challenge winner:  SleepwalkingMK

“You want to know the reason? Just take a look in the mirror.”

Six-Word-Story: C.K. Heartwing

“What’s a soldier without a purpose?”

Congratulations, guys! And now for this week’s prompt:

prompt

Picture from Pinterest (source)

Yes, I know, it isn’t a collage. Another writer contacted me through my blog about starting a longer challenge, and I’d been thinking about it too, so we’ll see how it goes. Basically, for the first challenge of each month, I’m going to post a picture prompt and you have 100-250 words to write a short story/scene that goes with it. You have until January 27th to submit your scene in the comments below. I’ll announce the winner in February.  Anyone can enter, but keep your entries clean. No swearing, no gore or sensuality.

And yes, I’ll still be doing caption and six-word-stories for the rest of the month on Mondays. But I thought I’d see if any of you would enjoy a longer challenge as well. Have fun! 🙂

Christian Convictions: Writing on Sundays

I don’t write on Sundays. I’m not saying no one should write on Sundays, but for me – I can’t do it. Well, I could very easily, and that is why I don’t. I get so obsessed with getting this done and getting that done. I mean, seriously, a dozen novels in my mind… where is one to get the time?

And that’s the thing. For me, writing will take up any time I allow it. It is my job. And Sunday is supposed to be a day of rest. The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath (and yes, I realize the Sabbath and Sunday aren’t the same. The point is, we take one day a week from our normal schedule and business of work to rest, renew our minds, and worship God.)

I, early on in my writing, and with my dad’s leading, made up my mind that I’d not write on Sundays. I’d rest. I’d relax. And I’d pick up my work the next day.

We need to have time to rest. To recuperate. We can’t be working nonstop all the time or we wear ourselves out. God doesn’t do things for no reason, and resting one day in every seven is no exception.

Though I do ‘lose’ a day of writing each week, I have found resting on Sunday has benefited me and my life.

For starters, I have a solid cutoff. I aim to get everything for the week done by Saturday night because I won’t be working the next day.

Monday is a new week, which I enter fresh from a day of being able to ignore my plot holes or staring blankly at the screen. The day of clearing my mind lets me start the week with fresh energy, not to mention I get some extra sleep and file away more reading than normal.

Now, I’m not perfect. There has been a day or two I finished a scene really quick. Or a piece sprang into my head that I needed to write down. If I am stuck on a plot hole, the story runs through my head as I try to find some solution before I have to sit back down and write again the next day. But, as a general rule, I lay my writing to the side one day a week.

Choosing not to write on Sundays is a personal conviction for me. I don’t think it is a sin to write on Sunday, and I think there are those who can handle it without letting writing take over their life. But, as for me, I believe it is a Biblically promoted idea to rest one day a week. Not only does it open up time for us to worship God and reflect on matters we ignore in the hurry of life, but it gives us new strength and refreshes our mind to plunge back into the work of our story the next day.

New Fantasy Times: Independent Sidekicks

For this study, Kirin discovered that at least one character didn’t take kindly to being called a side-kick. Following which, said character wrote the following letter. Ladies and gentlefolk, meet Jagger, one of Ethaniel’s friends in Fidelyon.

Firstly, it’s companion, not sidekick. I mean, honestly. It’s not as if the ‘hero’ is any more important than we are, even if he does happen to be king, or chosen one, or something of that sort. Admit it, all of you. That term ‘hero’ is used for the person the story is focused on. The rest of us somehow are viewed as… less.

new-fantasy-times-pins-2

Surprise! We’re warriors and heroic in our own right too. Well, sometimes. I’m not saying every person in every story is heroic. But if the story were about one of us instead, you’d see what I mean. The only difference is that, instead of trying to run a failing kingdom and face down deadly enemies, we are standing guard, protecting our king from assassins… and still facing down deadly enemies. Though I’m sure if you were interested, you could find all sorts of fascinating things about us, even if our actions don’t change the fate of the age.

What do we do, then? I just answered that, didn’t I? We are… well, we are people. Just normal people placed in very not normal circumstances. (Just like the hero, I might add.) Though even that depends on the situation. Sometimes we might have prepared our lives to fight and defend others.

Because that is a great part of our duty. There are secondary characters, but the ones called sidekicks (shattered spears, who thought that term up? Did they have something against us to give us such a derogatory term?) Anyway, as I was saying, we companions are close to the hero, and so close to all the danger he naturally attracts (because what is a hero without an assassin before breakfast?). Hence we normally have our work cut out for us. Not that the hero is a poor fighter himself, but the enemy sends people against him without taking us into consideration. Which is both enraging and yet slightly convenient.

Still, like I said, we are just people, even if we are awesome people. There’s no one ‘type’. Some of us are funny, some serious. Some young, some old. We are generally loyal to our friends. All of them. We live, we die…

But such is life. In the end, we are no worse than the hero. Generally, we’re even better in one area or another. (Juggling and wielding twin blades would be my forte.) And I just have one note for all of you who still aren’t getting it.

Don’t underestimate us. Your regret at ignoring us will be the last thing you think.

Humbly,

Jagger

Caption Challenge: December #3

First the caption challenge winners:

909eece0d35b753601c3c42b8a8cb983

Caption Challenge:  Fereleth, Carrier of Light

‘Ha. Didn’t you ever hear of a certain useful thing called ‘assassins’?’

Six-Word-Story: Anne of Lothlorien

“Like I’d make that mistake twice?”

Congratulations, guys! And now for this week’s collage.

 

fantasy-prompts

Pictures from Pinterest

Anyone can enter this caption challenge; the only requirement is that you keep your entries clean.🙂 You’ve two entries (you can pick one, or two both). One entry is a caption, the other is a six-word story. On Saturday I’ll pick a winning caption and I’ll post it next Monday along with the name of the winner and the next caption challenge!

 

Self-publishing: Five Time-Saving Tools

A writer’s life is filled with so much more than the mere creating of stories. There is editing and proofreading. Marketing and newsletters. Blogging and graphics. We can take any help offered, and here are five free tools which have helped me save time and work the best I can.

five-tools-for-the-author

Grammarly

When you create an account in Grammarly, you can type directly into a document on the site, or you can paste into a document. Grammarly also offers some cool apps which will check your grammar and spelling as you type up emails or on social media sites.

Grammarly is split between a free version and a premium version. The free version catches critical mistakes, while you have to pay to see advanced mistakes. But it is still handy to find obvious grammar or spelling mistakes, even if it occasionally marks something as wrong that you decide to leave unchanged for various reasons.

MailChimp

Building an email list is essential for any author. MailChimp offers a free mail service for up to 2000 email addresses. You’re able to create signup forms, popup boxes, welcome emails, and various other cool stuff. You can create and save templates and track opens and clicks through Mailchimp analytics.

Hootsuite

If you are on social media at all, this is a great time saver. You’re allowed to add up to three different social media sites in the free version. Hootsuite allows you to schedule posts, either for each site individually, or for several sites at once.

Plus, Hootsuite has a cool dashboard where you can look all the information on a particular site, with columns for your posts, your feed, your messages, your scheduled posts, etc.

Canva

At some point, you’re probably going to make some graphics for a book launch, a sale, or your blog. Canva is a great free tool for this. With numbers of free templates (as well as others you can pay for) you get a head start on creating classing Pinterest photos or sleek Instagram posts. One of the best parts is that these templates are created for the optimal size of a post for that particular social media site, increasing the effectiveness of the graphic.

Pixabay

You’re going to need photos for the graphic you create, and Pixabay offers a great collection of royalty free photos. Though downloadable for free, there is the option to donate a few dollars if you wish to, but it’s not required. They have a wide variety of photos, especially when it comes to nature pictures.

These are the five tools or sites I use the most as I write and market. What about you? Do you have any favorite tools?

Caption Challenge – October 2016 #5

First the caption challenge winners:

fantasy-prompt

Caption Challenge: Anne of Lothlorien

“But they forgot their map and water and rations, so they got lost and perished of starvation and thirst on the way there.”

Six-Word-Story: Corissa, Maiden of Praise

“She rode alone to her doom.”

Congratulations, guys! And now for this week’s collage:

fantasy-prompt

Pictures from Pinterest

You’ve two entries. One for a caption, one for a six word story. On Saturday I’ll pick a winning caption and I’ll post it next Monday along with the name of the winner and the next caption challenge!