Tag Archives: beta readers

How I started writing seriously, got an agent, and other stuff

Once upon a time, my teen daughters complained about the required reading their English teachers assigned them in class. We spent a lot of time talking about what we loved to read, what made a good story, and what made one dry or boring.

This went on for months.

The more we talked, the more original story ideas our discussions produced. I’ve always been dramatic, always had a big imagination, and loved storytelling. If you write, you might be nodding right now, I don’t know. Anyway, after messing around a while, I decided to write my own story. And I did. Seventy thousand words of awesome premise and absolutely hideous writing. With no background in creative writing and a poor formal education, multiple learning disabilities remained a challenge. I had no clue what I was doing.

None.

BUT PEOPLE,  I LOVED DOING IT! The writing part. I just had to figure out how to do it well.

I used to dream some writer, who was further along than I was, would magically show up at my local Barnes and Noble and give me sage advice. I really did. That never happened. Then some gentle soul said, “Idiot! You need some help. You’re not allowed to write like Jane Austen anymore, with hundreds of pages of flowery description. Not if you want to get published. You need feedback from other writers, so you can learn. Your. Craft!”

Good advice. An though I would continue to write if I never published a thing, I hoped to someday see my stories in print. So, I persevered. I ended up joining some online critique sites and ultimately found an amazing group of women writers that form the bulk of my critique partners today. Thank you, Sisters of the Traveling Pens. You all rock baby kittens.

imagesCAKUM40E

They explained the definitions of common writing problems like, back-story, purple prose, superfluous descriptions, POV, slow pacing, flat characters, plot holes, conflict, and over use of the dreaded adverb.

Armed with new information, I wrote another book, a better one. My pen sisters shredded it. I rewrote and so on. Of course, in my ignorance, I continued to do everything wrong. I went to a writers conference and pitched my story to an agent. A really well known, super ninja agent. Oy.  She may have requested the partial out of sheer pity. I was visibly sweating and shaking, I was so nervous. She rejected the manuscript. She should have. It wasn’t ready. Did that stop me? Heck no, I edited my story (still wasn’t ready, people) and queried sixty agents at once. *sigh* Multiple rejections and non answers followed.

Back to the drawing board with another story that became my YA urban fantasy CRUX. After months of writing and rewriting, I queried J Taylor Publishing who accepted my story for publication. Yea! Thank you, J Taylor!

Yeah, that was beyond cool, but I still didn’t have an agent and my writing wasn’t as strong as I wanted it to be. I started several novels that I didn’t finish. I wrote another urban fantasy that I loved, but it had some issues. I grew weary of what always needed fixing. People kept saying, don’t write what you think will sell, write what you love.

What do I love … what do I love …?

I love young adult. I love southern gothic romances, alpha males, magic, and adventure. I love courageous heroes with attitude and feisty heroines that won’t quit.  Fairy tales and their retellings are a favorite, too. That was enough to inspire a brand new story. I wrote the sucker. Sent it to a few trusted beta readers who, again, gave me amazing advice. One of those betas suggested I query the lovely, amazing and talented Brittany Booker of the The Booker Albert Literary Agency. She asked for the full, read it, and a few days later offered me a contract. (Did I mention Brittany Booker is lovely, amazing and talented?) I did? Good. She is.

Wow. My eyes are still dilated from my talk on the phone … with my agent!

So, that’s how I got to this point—with a long way yet to go …

I’m sure I’m not saying anything new, but maybe that’s okay. Maybe it bears repeating that the overnight success stories we hear about are rarely that.  Reading about other writers who are pursuing their dreams challenges me to work harder.  I love reading about their ideas, triumphs, and yeah, even their failures—because mistakes say nothing more than that they had the guts to try.  These writers remind me to take heart, keep going, that it can take a long time, and that each new goal met really is worth the struggle. I guess that’s what inspired this post. The idea of hope.  And while much of writing is a solitary effort, it’s nice to remember we’re not alone. We wordsmiths are in this together.

Keep writing, people.

I’m cheering for us all.

imagesCAS5NFSZ

Advertisements

Dang it all, pull your pants up writers! (Yeah, I mean me, too)

This is about the separation of writers, critique partners, beta readers and readers.

Prepare yourselves. I’ve had another thought.

Long before writers become authors, they are listeners of great stories and then joyful readers. Those with writing in their souls go on to write. (Yes, I know you still like to read) but those who love to read without a need to write … read, hence the separation. Make sense?

Just go with it.

If you have good taste in books, it takes a long time to translate that into your own writing, but for beta reading, I still believe in my heart I can separate good, quality work from the meh works to the crap. There is a lot of crap. Some of it’s been written by moi so put down your torches and pitch forks, okay? The point is the ability to differentiate comes from early exposure and grows.

In the separation of the initial list above, I want to focus mainly on the relationship between beta readers and writers. Writers? This is where you’ll need to man up and get your grown up panties on.

Yes ma’am, you in the back, thongs are fine. Oh, it’s sir? My apologies, Mr. Jones.

Anyway …

A beta reader came to me recently concerned she’d hurt the feelings of someone she’d read for. She gave her honest, critical opinion and was met with crickets.

For shame writer, whoever you may be.

If you ask someone to read for you, you thank them and treat them like the little bundle of beta royalty they are. Unless you paid them (and I hope you didn’t) they just did you a favor. If they didn’t love it, that’s okay, they might have just done you another one, and saved you some serious embarrassment.
I don’t know how many times someone has read my work and made suggestions to make it shine. If they tell me what they loved, I’ll do it again. Likewise, they’ve pointed out the bad stuff, like when my main character was being a jerk. For example, when I first started writing, a beta reader said this … and I quote:

Beta Reader:  “Ugh your heroine is a big fat jerk. I want to smack her.”

After my eyes quit watering I answered: I need her to be a twit so everyone can see her lovely character arc and how much she changes throughout the story. You’ll love her in the end. Trust me.

Beta Reader: You’re so dumb, lady, if your readers hate your main character this much, they won’t read past the first chapter to see the arc grow. So fix it, woman, or watch your story go down in flames!

She was right of course.

Regular readers are not betas, they are not reading because it’s a favor they agreed to, or for money, or a commitment based on a manuscript swap. They will put a poorly written book down. So down! That is why I rewrote my heroine and made her flawed, but not jerky.

My betas told me when I did too much telling, when my writing was unclear, when my plot had a huge hole in it, when the back-story bored them to the point of zzzzz. Sometimes I had tense issues, head hopping or points that dragged.

Betas fix these things people! God love them, we need these folks in our lives!

 *cheering commences*

On my blog tour and during my book signing last week, many asked what might make them better writers. My tongue swells when people ask me this because I will tell you right now I am no expert, and I don’t pretend to be. What I can tell you is you need to get your humble on. Adapt with a teachable spirit or (unless you are a genius, and if so, congratulations, I’m jealous) you may doom your own writing.

As writers, we have to learn to take a hit; it’s what is best in the long run and what truly makes us better. We won’t grow, and eventually get good, if we don’t allow our betas to say what’s true. I don’t mean it’s okay for them to insult you or be heavy handed, it’s not. You also have to use your own common sense. But if we get to the place where we are so huggy- kissy-writer- family-friendly we can’t be honest anymore … we might as well get married and disband. Ya’know?

I know critiques hurt. Believe me! I always feel like I got slapped with a dead Mackerel. I tried so hard, what do you mean it didn’t make you weep with joy?

In truth, many of my beta readers are far, far ahead of me skill wise. They shred my work, but I try to be grateful, even if it hurts, because they’ve earned my respect and thanks. As a good friend pointed out …  “Remember beta readers have their own insecurities, too. They’re just as afraid of upsetting the author unnecessarily or offering bad advice or wording their criticisms in a harsh or unclear fashion or being called out for forgetting what the author wrote just one paragraph earlier.”

True dat.

I still give it my all when it’s my turn to critique. I’m polite but don’t sugar coat much and writers either listen or they don’t. Let me just say if a writer wants a writing career of substance, and ‘body’ of work, at some point, they’ll have to humble themselves, suck it up and listen.

… though he slay me yet will I love him…   Job 13:15

I’m suggesting just because you don’t understand something, and it stings a bit, that doesn’t make it wrong. Consider carefully. Sometimes it’s right.

Betas: on behalf of writers everywhere, we thank you! We are lucky you’re willing to spend time on our work, whether we always show it, or not.

So … What do you think? Let it all out, baby.