10 Things I’ve Learned After 7 Years of Blogging

Today, according to WordPress, is my 7th anniversary of blog writing (nearly 6 with this blog).  I started this blog because I got my first story sale with my short story Death Watch, which was published by the good folks over at Liquid Imagination.  Originally my blog was my website, and though I have since separated the two, a lot of people still find me through this blog.

When I started out, I really didn’t know what to expect.  And seven years later, I still really don’t know what could happen.  But here are at a few things I have learned since starting out.

1 – Getting traffic to your blog is hard.

It took me a long time, a really long time, to gather up any type of blog traffic.  I tried funny posts, writing posts, life posts, and mixtures of all three.  What I learned is the topics don’t really matter, it just takes time to start showing up in search results and for people to come to your blog looking for certain content.  Which leads to number two.

2 – Pick a topic for your blog

Pick a topic for your blog and stick to it.  Does that mean I don’t blog about life? No.  It just means that the general topic of this blog is books and writing.  I love the movies, video games, and hockey.  Sure I mention those in my blog, but I don’t think I’ve written blog posts on those things.  This doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to write on other topics, but you’ll get a better following if your blog has a theme.

There are exceptions to every rule.  My post, Eight Things I’ve Learned Since Moving to Washington is not writing related at all, but it is the only post that gets a hit at least once per day.

3 – If getting traffic is hard, getting a following seems impossible.

For the longest time, my family were my only followers.  It look a long time to work up to a decent following and to keep them following.  There are a lot of ways to get the regular following and keep them, and many of those are involved in these things I’ve learned.  The truth is, no advertising ever worked.  The only followers I ever got were from reading a post of mine and liking it enough to follow the blog.

4 – Losing followers is very easy.

People stop following a blog for many reasons.  The most common, you offended them.  Society has placed a lot of weight on being offended, as if it really means anything.  I’ve lost followers when they found out I’ve got LGBT characters in my novels. I’ve lost followers because I’ve mentioned I own guns.  I’ve lost followers because I made a Trump joke.  You will also lose followers if you don’t blog in a while.  I lost most of mine during my two year hiatus.

5 – You can’t please everyone.

So you may be thinking that you should sterilize your blog from any possibility of offence.  I tried that in the beginning of my blogging days.  Hell, I used to try that in the start of my writing days.  Well, fuck ’em. People will get offended by what you say.  If they don’t, does your writing carry any real passion anyway?  As I said above, people think being offended means something.  It doesn’t.  What I have learned is that more people appreciate the honest writer connecting with his audience than they do a sterilized blog.  You can’t please everyone, so don’t try.

6 – Listen to your audience.

Many of my blog post ideas come from blog comments or my social media.  I’m not saying you need to ask them what to blog about next, though you can a time or two.  But pay attention to what they are saying about your blog.  As a self published author, I noticed many of my readers were talking and interested in that aspect.  As a result, I wrote Self Publishing, a post in which I explored what Self Publishing was all about.  It took more work than most of my posts do, but it was also the most successful post.

7 – Read and connect with other bloggers

You really need to read and connect with other bloggers.  For one, you will see what is trending and discover what other bloggers like you are doing.  This will let you know if the topic you want to blog on is over-saturated or that it is of no interest to anyone.  But also you can work with others to do guest posts and other connections to attract their followers to you and your followers to them.

8 – Guest posts are great.

Guest posts are a great way to drive followers of others to your blog.  For a long period of time I was doing an author focus blog series that allowed guest posts from other authors.  It drove new eyes to my blog that may have otherwise not visited.  Don’t expect a ton of new followers from it, but you just might get someone poking around your blog for other stories.

9 – Don’t expect your blog to be a revenue stream.

I’m not sure I have made any book sales from people who came to read my blog.  In most cases it is the other way around.  People have come here after reading my work.  Some to complain, but most because they liked what they read and wanted to see more.  Also, ad riddled blogs suck to read (of course we have no control over the WordPress ads).  One ad maybe, or sponsored content is okay.  But some blogs read so heavily of sales pitches that they become no fun to read.

Also, don’t overly self publicize on you blog. It isn’t wrong, but it is a fine line between content and advertising.  The point of a blog is to connect with your audience, not sell them shit.

10 – It is okay to blog for yourself.

It is absolutely okay to write a blog for yourself with no aim to gain followers.  You might accidentally acquire a few anyway.  But not every blog has to be for fan connection or to gain more readers.  Some can be for the hell of it.  You can have as many blogs as you like too.  The choice is yours.

BONUS: We’re all full of shit.

Here is a bonus thing I’ve learned, everything on the internet about how to write a great blog is full of shit.  This one included.  What worked for me may not work for you.  Lord knows I read a lot of crap, that when I tried it, did’t work for shit.  More to the point, articles with things I’ve learned titles are there to help you see what was learned.  You can use it, or you can toss it.  The choice is yours really.

It is your blog, write what you want, but I’ve shared what I’ve learned.  Your results may vary.

Advertisements

Don’t Read Your Own Work After Publishing It

IMG_20130406_142102_592That is what I was told when I started writing.  Never, ever, ever read your work once it has been published.  Just don’t do it.  If you do, you will open a rift in time and space that even The Doctor won’t be able to stop.  Children will weep in the streets, entire cities will be lost, and Trump will be elected President of the United States.

It is another one of those “cardinal sins” of writing that seems to have just caught on and stuck.  The reasons are endless, but when you really get down to it, I am not sure what the point of this law of scribes is all about.

Perhaps it is the worry that you will cringe at your prior work and never write again.  The whole, I am the worst writer in the world and I need to stop.  Or maybe it has to do with the endless revision cycle that many writers can get into.  I’ve warned of this in the past.

Maybe it has to do with the look forward, not back, ideology.  This idea the progress only happens if you look to the future.  But if you don’t know your past, what is the point of the future?

That’s why I am of the mentality that reading your past work is actually a really good idea.  I promise the children will be fine, there will be no rifts in time, and no cities will crumble as a result of you reading your past published stories.  I am also pretty sure that Trump and reading have never been related.

Let me explain why it works for me.  I think you will see that, like most rules of writing, individual preference is really key.

One:

It helps me to find my muse again.  I have a terrible time with my muse.  She, like the writer she inspires, likes to travel.  The problem is she never takes me with her and never returns without me having to hunt her down.

Sure, she calls every now and again but she never seems to return until I start reading my work.  It is like she stops and goes, wait we wrote that shit.  We are pretty bad ass, lets do this shit.

Two:

It reminds me.  I have a terrible memory.  I need the reminder of what my characters were doing and what exactly I edited out before.  You see, when I write a story the story sticks.  And I forget that I cut our a scene, or that I changed a character’s gender.

My novels live in my head.  The world is continuing to go on well after I stopped writing the story, and when I go to write the sequel I don’t always remember where I stopped.

Three:

It builds my confidence.  This is especially true when I read my short stories.  I always go back to the publication that published them and read them again.

It reminds me that I am good enough to be published.  That someone else read my story and loved it enough to put into their publication.  It lets me know that I can do this, that it is worth the time out of my day to write something.  A lot like reading my reviews, I find it a reminder that other do want to read what I put to paper.

Four:

If I won’t even read my novels, why should anyone else? I know that is really silly sounding, but I believe it.  If a novel I wrote isn’t worth the time for me to read, and reread, then why would others read it once.

I suppose this comes from my leadership mentality.  I’ve worked as a leader in my day job for so long and I’ve always believed that I shouldn’t expect my staff to do anything I wouldn’t do.  And I guess the same goes for my readers. I wouldn’t expect them to read anything I wouldn’t read.

It may be four simple reasons, but they are the reasons why I will read what I write even after it has been published.  I don’t feel like my worlds have to die as soon as I put them to paper.

There really are not any rules for writing, your method is your own.  Feel free to break a few of them every now and then.  You just might find that you’re better for it.

I Call BullSh*t: Authors Shouldn’t Read Reviews

productReviewI know I haven’t been the best about blogging regularly lately. So many new things going on and so many excuses to give you.  So now, I wanted to get back into this with the regular feature I promised, but never delivered on. The I Call Bullshit series where I take things I was told starting out in writing and blow them apart.  The first one was on how I was told that social media marketing was really easy.  It is not.  This time I am going to go over a big one.

I was always told, don’t read the reviews of your work.  Just ignore them all and keep putting out books.  But that is complete bullshit. Perhaps if you are George R.R. Martin you can pass on reading the reviews, I suppose your success tells you what you need to know.  But even still, I think he should be reading his reviews too. And who knows, maybe he is.

First people tell you that everyone is a critic, and this is true. It is also true that you can’t please everyone.  Some people will genuinely hate your work and for no other reason than your style. Not every book is good for everyone. I think once you realize that, there isn’t any reason not to read the reviews.  Even the bad ones have something for you in them.

And there is the reason you should be reading your reviews, there is feedback from actual readers there. You would listen to your Beta readers if they told you they didn’t like something, you may not change it, but you would listen. So why wouldn’t you listen to the person who paid money for it? Some of that money you received.  Readers should be the reason you are writing stories. So to ignore their comments is a spit in the face of the reason you write.  Sure, you may write for yourself. Or you may write because you like to create. But if you took that writing and had it published in anyway, you did it because you wanted someone else to read it.  So you should be listening to their reviews.

Reviews, good and bad, are a precious gift. They are so hard to get.  I have had just one review on Volition Agent since July 6th of 2013. One review and a year of nothing.  Broken Trust has had just one review since itsrelease over a month ago.  And Dissolution of Peace has 20 reviews, but it has taken three years to amass that many.  So getting reviews is far from easy. I have given away free copies asking for a review in return. I have done promotions to get the book in thousands of hands through a KDP free day.  And, I’ve begged and pleaded with my friends to write a review. And it doesn’t come easy.

The point is this. Even a bad reviewer took the time. Something so many readers will not do.  They took the time to tell the author and other customers how they felt about the book. So I make sure to check them at least weekly and to read them. I do this because it is feedback. Feedback from someone who took the time to let other readers know what they liked and disliked.  It is the reviews that lead to a second edition of Dissolution of Peace, because there was consistent feedback that too many typo and grammar mistakes slipped through the cracks.  And it is the same set of reviews that has pushed me to get the sequel out.

And I am not just talking about Amazon or Goodreads reviews.  I am also talking about the blogger, the Facebook comment, the Tweet, and all the other ways that authors get a review.  We should be reading those because they speak volumes about what we are doing right and what we are doing wrong (or at least not to our reader’s enjoyment).

Because I will tell you my stance.  Getting no reviews for a full year, that stings a whole lot more than getting a sub-par review.  I am sure there are people who read it who must have liked it, but they couldn’t be bothered to review it. And that feels like I did something really wrong.

I have noticed a shift starting to happen in this “don’t read reviews” movement. That is the independent author.  Authors like me who are publishing our own work.  I am seeing more and more independent authors saying that we should be reading reviews. And I think this comes from the fact that we are typically the struggling artists who finally decided to take our work into our own hands and put it out there for the world to see. And, we are desperate to know if we made the right choice.

valid-stampThe main difference is that Traditionally Published Authors already have that validation. They have an agent, editor, and publisher that loved their work enough to put it out on shelves and stamp it with their name. Where as the independent author, the only validation that our work gets is from the readers.

But, as time passes I suspect we will continue to shift away from this idea that authors should avoid their reviews. I think it is important we listen to our readers and become better from it.

I Call BullSh*t: Social Media Marketing is Easy

Dung-heapI’ve decided to start a new regular post call “I Call Bullshit”.  In these articles I will take  common themes, rules, myths, and legends about writing and publishing, and I will call out the bullshit behind all of them.  Call me the Mythbuster of the writing world. Unless that violates some copyright, then just call me Richard.

Anyway, one of my favorite sayings is, “I call bullshit.”  Why? It has so much more of a punch than, “I don’t think that is true. ”

This time around I tackle the myth that Social Media marketing is easy.  You wouldn’t believe how much I heard this starting out as a business owner, and now as a writer.  And on the surface it sounds easy.

Here are some of the things I have heard:

All you have to do is post a lot and people will follow you and buy your products.

Once you have followers, the word will get out about your projects.

If you write engaging articles, people will continue to read your blog.

Getting followers is easy.

Well, I call bullshit.

I am not a social media expert, and I think anyone who claims to be an expert better have some concrete evidence to this title.  But, I have used social media for my old security business.  And I currently use if for my writing, and for Plasma Frequency.  I am constantly on social media, not just for business but for personal use too.

First, simply posting doesn’t attract followers.  You have to post things that either engage your audience or entertains them.  And you have to get them to like it enough to share (or ReTweet or ReBlog) it to their followers.  And it has to be good enough that their followers than choose to follow you.  This can be excellent articles, a hilarious Tweet, information that your audience might enjoy, or anything like that.

Again, that sounds easy, but it isn’t. Lets look at my author account on Twitter.  I’ve been on Twitter for going on three years.  Not a long time, but I have almost 4,000 tweets in that time.  Or,  roughly four tweets a day.  That doesn’t sound like a lot and compared to others, I am a novice.  But, even still I can only think of maybe twenty tweets that actually gained mass popularity and directly resulted in adding one or two follower.  I know of only three tweets that directly brought on 10 or more followers.

Now, my blog on the other hand does tend to attract more followers with each post.  I usually get one follower for every three to four posts I make.  But, I have had some posts, such as my self publish one, that brought on a ton of followers.  And my articles on writing tend to draw more attention that my promotional posts (I’m getting to that).

I haven’t had a a follower of Facebook is ages.  Facebook is becoming the vast wasteland of social media marketing.  And I will get to that soon.

Now, posts resulting in purchases…. I hate to tell you this.  But I can not account a single sale on any product to Social Media posts.  Not one.  For one reason it is hard to measure that.  I am sure people see my book is out and go buy it.  But my guess is most of those people were going to buy it anyway because they know me, or know my work.  They just needed the reminder it was out now.  But, how many people have read this blog and decided they wanted to buy my book?  There is no way to really know that.

I will say, as a big time consumer of books, I have never seen a promotional post by an author I didn’t know and decided to buy it.  My promotional post I mean “Here is my book link.  Please go buy it.” Followed by a link.  Any why not?  Well that is a lot like a hard sale.  Imagine walking into the car dealership, which is already a hard sell location, and the first think the salesman said to you was, “Here is a car, please buy it.”  You probably would leave.  And I doubt you would buy the car, you know nothing about it.

The same is true in social media.  You need to get people to buy your books because they like what you have to say.  That means they like what you post on your blog, the Tweets you post, the Facebook things you share.  And then, only every now and then, you give them a reminder that you have a book out.  Or you integrate reminders through out your posts.  I often reference my books and my magazine in posts.  But not in a “Buy me now” way, but in an example or a causal reference.  Like product placement on TV.

And that takes a lot of work.  I go back through my blog posts to add these links you see.  I have to constantly update my website and blog to show relevant books.  And even still those only result on a few clicks.

Promotional posts are not outlawed.  There are several promotional rules out there.  Some say the one-in-three rule, or the one-in-five rule.  I personally use the one-in-ten rule.  That is that one in ten of my tweets or Facebook posts are promotional.  Now, that doesn’t mean that I count my tweets.  It is a general rule of thumb.

Lets say you are lucky to have a vast amount of followers.  I certainly don’t.  But maybe you are lucky.  You may actually be unlucky.  Here is why:

Facebook has stacked the deck against authors, especially broke ones.  It is a game of percentages. Not all those people will see your posts.  Not even half of them will.  Not even a quarter of them, unless of course you pay for that.  Promote your post and it will pop up everywhere and to everyone, even people not following you. But it comes at a price.  Of my last few posts on my Author Page, only 2.5% to 8% of my followers saw the posts I made.  On Plasma Frequency’s page it was a bit better, 9% to 41%.  Note, the 41% was on those posts that were shared by others (like when an new issue releases and all the authors share).

So here lies the problem with Facebook:  Getting Followers, and getting those followers to see what you post.  The solution, and the only one I know of, is to pay Facebook.

But I am a small press that doesn’t make a profit.  My books are not making a profit yet either.  I am unemployed, trying to make a living off of writing.  I don’t have “extra” money to pitch into a Facebook campaign.  And even if I did, a little research will show you that there are plenty of people who didn’t get much for their money.  And what would I have to pay to get all my posts seen all the time? My wallet just started crying at the thought of it.

You may be thinking Twitter is the way to go.  Sorry, to tell you that simply being free has not solved the problem.  Getting followers can be easy.  Follow a shit-load of people and so many will follow you back.  Then, I know people who go back and unfollow all the people who don’ follow back… I call bullshit on that too, but that is another topic.

Anyway, I see people with 5k followers and following 5k people.  I follow 400 people on my account.  When I go on Facebook, I can go back for an entire day and read all the post from a day.  Maybe it would take an hour, or two tops.  Go on Twitter, I can read Tweets for four hours, and only get about 3 hours down my timeline.  There are so many people out there shouting on Twitter that things get lost.  Some of my favorite Tweeters are constantly missed by me.  I find myself skimming over my timeline and bypassing any tweet with a link in it.  Anything that sounds like “buy me”.

And that got me thinking. If I am doing that with 400 people, what is the person who follows me with 5k other people they are following.  I can guarantee they are not reading Tweets by a small time author with sarcastic humor.  So while Facebook will tell you that they are not showing your posts to everyone.  Twitter is showing it to everyone, but I contend that just as few are actually reading what you Tweet.

And, WordPress tells me how many views I get on each article I write.  None of them add up to all of the followers I have.  In fact of the last ten posts, the readers number worked out to about 25%, on average, of my follower count.  And that is just the ones that clicked the link.  Not that actually read the article.

And if that is the case, simply having followers does not mean they are hearing about your projects.

Write engaging articles, Tweets and posts, and people will read what you write.  Well, what the hell is engaging? You can answer that for yourself, but not for other people.  It sounds easy.  Just write about writing.  Sorry, but every independent author and writer out there is putting out self help articles on their blog.

So what makes yours stand out from the crowd?  Your personality.  Certainly the fact that this feature has “bullshit” in it will mean some readers won’t read it.  But, it is also giving this article a bit of my own style.  Regular readers know that I tend to have a rambling, sarcastic, and sometime crass humor in the topics I write about.  Every single one of my blogs oozes with my opinion, and that gives it my own flair.  You can get my information anywhere, but my opinions and humor you can only find from me.

All that still doesn’t mean new followers.  They have to find your blog, Twitter, or Facebook before they even decide if they want to read what you say.  And while WordPress does well to attract new people to my articles, the rest is up to me.  It isn’t easy.  And, I can write one really good article, but not everyone is going to read it.

Finally, getting followers is easy.  Three years I have been fighting my way up to getting good quality followers.  And you see, that is the real trick here folks.  Getting followers is easy.  You can get thousands of egg avatar followers on Twitter, but those bots aren’t reading shit you write.  You can use programs to gain more followers, or be part of “Team Follow Back” and get thousands of followers quickly.  But they are not reading what you say, and that defeats the entire point of everything you’ve been working for.  Why write at two thousand word blog, such as this one, if no one reads it?  Why keep tweeting away when no one is reading them?  That is not an effective social media marketing strategy.  That is a scam of trying to make yourself look popular in the hopes that you might get more followers based on your perceived popularity.  It won’t work.

There is only one way to get quality followers on any social media platform.  Time.  Develop a strategy and stick with it.  Modify it as you find out what works, and keep plugging away.  I certainly get more hits to my blog now than I did three years ago.  My interactions on Twitter have gone up.  But it takes a lot of hard work.  Why do think major companies hire social media team members to manage their pages?  Because it takes a full time marketing team to really work on it.  And let’s face it you are only doing it part time around all the other jobs of being a writer, publisher, and/or editor.

To say social media marketing is easy is complete bullshit.  Like all marketing, it takes time, strategy, know how, and hard work.  It also takes the added step of being social and being yourself.  There is nothing easy about it.

A Guide For Beta Readers

productReviewSo you’ve been tasked with beta reading a novel, or maybe you’re an author looking for what you should expect from your readers.  The real question, for you, is probably what do you do?  And when I look around, I don’t see many guides for beta readers.  So here is a guide you can use, whether you are a beta reader, an author, or an editor.

What Is Beta Reading?

I just finished editing my next novel’s manuscript, and I found it hard to get beta readers.  When I spoke to several other authors, I found that they too had this problem of getting new beta readers.  I think this is largely for two reasons.  The first is that many don’t know what a beta reader is, and two, many are intimidated by the idea.  Beta reading is essentially a trial reading.  A beta reader reads over an early form of the manuscript for an upcoming novel.  This manuscript is often a little rough, but largely publication ready.  It just needs a little bit of polish.  They are the readers that are trying out this novel for the first time.

Don’t confuse Beta Reading with Advanced Readers.  Advanced readers generally are receiving a finished, and publication ready, copy of the book called an ARC (Advanced Reader Copy).  They are reading a copy of the book for editorial purposed to review the book.  It is a very different thing than Beta Reading which helps to polish the book for publication.

What Are the Qualifications of a Beta Reader?

There really aren’t any specific qualifications needed to be a beta reader.  I think this is something that most people don’t realize.  It sounds fancy, so people assume that they can’t possible help out.  But a good author wants beta readers from a cross section of people, to give the best representation of his potential readers.

Some of the people that authors want to beta read: They want a mixture of men and women.  They want a wide age range with the bulk of them falling in the books target demographic, but they do want a few people a little older and younger than your target audience. They want people of various educational background. They want people from different belief systems.  They want people from different fields of work or study.  They want a few fellow authors or editors, but mostly they want regular readers.  They want readers of their genre and potential cross genres.  For example, Volition Agent is science fiction, but it has action and thriller elements, so when I selected beta readers, I chose a few action and thriller readers.

As you can see there is no “typical” beta reader.  So no matter where you come from in life, if you like reading and want to help an author mold his work, you can be a beta reader.

So, what should I expect?

Each author does beta reading a little bit different.  With Dissolution of Peace, I sent out a few chapters at a time to the group and then compiled there results and sent out the next set.  When my next two novel manuscripts I just sent the whole manuscript and waited to compile the answers at once.  Some authors are more involved and like to have you read a few chapters and then meet up on Google Hangouts and have a group discussion about those chapters.

Expect to get a Word or PDF document that is in standard manuscript format.  That means it will be double spaced and in a uniform font. It won’t be a finished book, remember it still needs its polish.  Expect to be given some basic instructions too.  Some authors are very specific about what they want, others are more open.  I’ve been more open on my last few manuscripts.  That is something that is entirely up to the author.  Some will want you to make notes using the Word Comment function (which is my favorite).  Others will just want notes on a separate sheet. I prefer a combination of both.

Also expect a deadline.  Authors are often working under deadlines and they need these notes back from you by that deadline.  If you can’t commit to that deadline, then don’t agree to be a beta reader.  Authors are expecting responses from all of the beta readers (typically authors don’t select a lot of beta readers, I go for around ten).  So if the deadline doesn’t work, it is best to say so.  This way another reader can take your place.

What do I do?

Read.  But make notes while you read, either on a separate sheet or using Word’s comment function.  Do NOT change anything on the author’s manuscript, unless they have instructed you to.  And if you do, make sure you turn on Word’s Track Changes function.  Otherwise, the author will never know what you changed.  If you aren’t allowed to make changes to the manuscript but you see something glaring, you can use the comment feature to point it out.  Author’s don’t mind you pointing out typos and grammar issues, but that generally isn’t the focus of beta reading.

What Should I be Pointing Out?

I think this is the number one question beta readers want to know.  Here is a list of some things.  Authors may ask for more, but this generally covers all the bases.

Questions that Pop into your head – Point out to the author when and where a question came to mind.  Sure, it could be answered later, or not at all.  The author can see if he is putting the right questions in your mind during the right parts of the story.

Areas where you lose interest – Point out areas where you begin to lose interest or your feel like the author has slowed down the story too much.  For example, you might read a long drawn out paragraph about a starship’s engines and you feel your mind starting to wander rather than focusing on what is being said.  Point that out.  It could be what is called an “info dump” and we need to fix that.

Dialogue that doesn’t work – Perhaps some of the dialogue seems fake.  Or you don’t think a street thug would use such proper English.  Point out confusion areas where you are not sure who in talking.  Also point out scenes where dialogue is taking place but you don’t know where it is taking place at.  Dialogue absent of scene.

Passages you had to reread – Point out areas you had to reread a few times to understand.  It could be an awkward sentence, or an over technical passage.  But if you had to reread it, it is probably worth pointing out.  It is also worth points out if you reread a passage because you like it a lot (see below).

Story gaps – Point out things that the author doesn’t seem to explain.  There are gaps in the story line or something you don’t follow.  It is easy for us authors to forget you don’t live in the same world we created and while we know this happened in the “background” it may not be obvious to the reader.

Plot Holes or Weak Plot Points – Plot holes are dangerous for authors and weak plot points are sometimes even worse.

Unbelievable Story Elements – I like a good twist as much as the next reader, but I don’t like being completely shocked to the point I’m screaming “yeah right!”.  I like to read a twist and be both surprised but also think back and realize I could have seen it coming.  A character who can suddenly stop bullets with her bare hands on the last chapter, but there was no hint to this ability anywhere in the book before, is something you may want to point out.

Use the expertise you do have – We all have knowledge about different things.  Don’t be afraid to share it.  I recently read a book where a character carried a Glock (pistol), and the character repeatedly “flipped off the safety”.  As a Glock owner, I wish I had beta read that novel so I could have told the author that Glock’s have no external safety to flip off.  The safety is ingratiated into the trigger.  In my next novel, Broken Trust, the location of the novel is based on Lagoon Valley (though modified), near my hometown.  The problem was, I refer to the lagoon.  One of my beta readers pointed out that a lagoon is a body of water near a coast.  Not the case in my Lagoon Hills city.  It is really a lake.  The point is you have knowledge that you can, and should share.

Tell the Author of your Ignorance – Just like you have expertise in certain fields, so does your author.  And that tends to mean we do one of two things: We either show off our knowledge and really it has no point in the story.  Or, we assume everyone knows what we are talking about, and it leads to confusion.  Point out both of these to the author.

That’s out of Character – Point out things you see a character do that you feel are not in line with the character.  Characters evolve, but generally not suddenly.  If it doesn’t seem right point it out.

I loved that line – Here is where beta readers tend to forget.  They forget to praise what they like.  Even now, I listed it way on the bottom of this list.  I suppose it is human nature to point out what is wrong first.  But you need to tell an author if you liked something.  Did one line stick out in your mind or hit a special cord with you?  Tell the author this.  Did you love an action scene, or a character’s particular dialogue, or did you love a particular twist?  List those for the author too.  List the stuff you liked for the author too.  Let them know where they really hit the nail on the head.

General thoughts – Here is another point beta readers tend to forget.  I like to take a moment at the end of each chapter (or section of chapters), and again at the end of the novel, to tell the author my overall general thoughts on it.  Both the good points and the bad.  Things like: I really liked how character X is starting to come to her own in this chapter, but I wish she wouldn’t have been so weak with Character Y.  Or, I really loved this action packed chapter, when it was over I couldn’t wait and dived right into the next chapter.  Any general thoughts are good for the author to consider.  Maybe they were looking to slow things down, or speed things up, or give a since of romance.  Your general thoughts will tell them if they hit that mark.

Characters – I think this is another point that authors need from beta readers, but are often left off.  Give a thought on the novel’s characters.  I like to do this as part of the summary.  I go through each of the characters I remember and I tell the author if I like them, didn’t like them, and why or why not.  I tend to get more detailed and explain what I liked and didn’t like about each character.  It gives the author a better idea if they are hitting the mark with how the readers feel about a certain character.

NOTE:  Never get insulting with you comments.  The criticism you give should be constructive in nature.  That doesn’t mean some of your comments won’t sting a bit, but as long as you are constructive with your comments it is fine.  Here is an example: “You’re being foolish if you think a woman would ever say that.” versus “I don’t think Character Z would really say that.  It doesn’t seem inline with anything she’d done or said before.”  See the difference.

What will the Author do with everything I note?

That depends on the author’s process.  I will wait until I get all the notes back from all the beta readers.  I read all the comment made.  I then reread the manuscript and go through each area line by line.  Chances are, if the majority of the readers comment on something, I will make changes to correct it.  If just a few, or even only one, reader comments on something then I have to decide on that change on a case by case basis.

This is one thing that I have seen frustrate a few beta readers.  They complain that the author didn’t make some of the changes they suggested.  The truth is the author did take your suggestions under consideration, but in combination with all the other reader’s suggestions.  If nine readers like that Character X is a jerk, but you hated this about him; chances are the author will keep him as a jerk.  That isn’t to say that he won’t tweak Character X based on some of your suggestions.  Remember this is the author’s novel and they will make changes they feel best suits the story.  But rest assured, they did read everything you had to say and took it all as important.

What happens next?

Well for me, I like to adjust the story based on the reader comments and then send it to my editor.  Other authors do the beta read step twice and will get a different set of readers to read it again.  That is up to the author.

Summary

So now you have a guide on what to do as a beta reader.  I find beta reading a lot of fun and an excellent chance to really help develop an author’s story.  As an author I enjoy getting beta reader feedback, it is often the only time I get a direct feed into a readers thought on my story.  With this guide you can be an effective and excellent beta reader for any author out there.  No go forth and help an author out.

Being an Artist in Tough

frustrated_writer_200I’d like to start off by reminding people that writers are artists too.  This seems to get forgotten for some odd reason.  We think of painters, sculptors, photographers, graphic artists, and even musicians as artists.  But for some reason people don’t think the same about writers.  Writers are artists of words.  We paint pictures in your mind.  We sculpt characters into life.  We make music with our plots.  But, as any artist knows it isn’t easy to be an artist.

First, most people assume art is a hobby.  I’ve touched on this before in other posts.  But it really aggravates me how many people refuse to see my art as a potential career for me.  We are a corporate world.  We see a nine-to-five, cubicle bound, TPS report filing job as being “real” work.  If you think you want to be an artist when you grow up, expect to be frowned upon by friends and family (unless they too are artists).  Not all of them, no.  But you would be surprised how few of them will really truly support your work.  They will see this as a hobby.  They will see it as something you do when you are not working.  They won’t understand your desire to do it full time, it is foolish to expect to make money from creating art in your basement.

Which leads me to my second point.  Making money in the arts is hard.  Of all the artists out there, I think musicians and actors (performing arts) are one of the few to regularly command big bucks.  But even only a fraction of the performers out there hit the “big time”. If you paint, you probably won’t make a lot.  I’ve certainly made it clear how hard it is to make money as a writer.  From others in the arts, I have seen that it is hard to make money in most of the arts.  And to make good money someone has to “discover” you.

Hitting the “big time” is rare in the arts.  The reason is that you have to be discovered.  You have to find your niche and get someone’s attention.  Not just anyone’s attention either.  But the attention of the “movers and shakers” of your particular art.  If your a short fiction writer, that is one of the big time markets.  If your are a novel writer that is one of the traditional publishers out there.  This is if you really want to be the next big thing.  But, most artists out there want to be found.  And so many of them are shouting “pick me” to the people the hope will “discover” them.  I’ve seen a lot of excellent talent give up because they just can’t be heard among everyone else that needs attention.

Of course, you can simply publish your own art.  I see this in more than just writing.  Painters and Sculptors will sell there work online, or attend art shows.  Writers can now self publish with relative ease.  YouTube has allowed movie makers and performers to reach a large audience.  Just about all art forms can “self publish” in one way or another.

No matter if you self publish or get found, you will have to promote your own work.  That is the bigges pain in the ass of all this.  I struggle with it all the time.  You will beg for reviews, sales, mentions on on other blogs, and ask all your friends to please help you get the word out.  You will quickly find that most of your friends and family, or even your social media followers, will not do much to help spread the word.  Most of them won’t even bother to click the link you posted.  And even more will simply start to ignore you because of you are over doing it.  If you are expecting your friends and family to buy and review your art, don’t hold your breath.  So few people take the time to review anymore, your friends included.  You’ll count on your friends to support you.  Give you an opinion on your work.  Don’t do it.  Trust me, you have friends that will repost everything you say about your art.  But not nearly as many as you thought.  And so few of my friends have ever purchased anything I’ve written.  And those that have, less than half (maybe less than a quarter of them) have written a review.

You’ll try to advertise.  But finding the right audience is a talent that can be hard to perform.  You’ll have to attend conventions, art shows, and much more simply to get the word out.  And all this takes away from your time spent creating art.

You will also hit a lot of rough patches in your quest to make your art a career.  You’ll get a bad review.  You’ll have a lack of ideas.  You’ll get depressed and think you can’t possible make your art a career.  You’ll reach out to your friends for support and they’ll ignore you.  Or tell you that “they don’t read”.  You’ll get rejected by your favorite venues.  You’ll get rejected by a mentor or someone you looked up to.  Someone will bash you for your technique.  Someone else will say you lack the education to pursue your art career.  You’ll get so down that you’ll think you were foolish to ever give art a serious try.  You’ll think it is time to give up on this and focus on getting a “real job”.  You’ll cry at night because you just wanted that acceptance letter so bad, and you were shot down.  You’ll be heart broken because you hoped your closest friends would read your work and they don’t.  You will hit a point where you realize walking away is the easiest thing to do.

And that is when you have to make choice.  But, if you really are an artist to your bone you will realize that, no matter how easy it seams, you can’t walk away.  You will have a moment when you realize that even though it is tough, you know you have what it takes to be the next big thing.  You will realize that art was always something more than a career to you.  You will rise up and make the choice to push forward.

You will still be hurt when the people you love don’t see your art as more that a “hobby”.  But you will network and make additional friends that enjoy the same art you do.  You will make the effort to learn how to use social media without driving your followers away from over promotion.  You’ll learn how to advertise.  You’ll find conventions, and shows, and other ways to get your book noticed by the people that really matter.  You’ll learn that the “movers and shakers” certainly have an important part in the art world, but they are not who you create your art for.  Your art is for the people who want to see it.

You will work to put out more of your art so that while you may not make much per piece, you’ll have a wide variety of art to choose from.  You’ll also realize that money isn’t the real reason you ever made art in the first place.  And you will get back to making your art for yourself and let the money come second.  You’ll realize that you may have to work for years before you get discovered and that is okay.  You may need to work your day job and work on your art on the side.  But you won’t care anymore because you are still creating.

The rough patches will always come.  I hit them still all the time, even when I try to be rational about it.  But you will also hit some great times.  You will get excellent reviews.  You’ll have a moment of pure inspiration.  A friend you never expected will show up with a kind word and a helpful tip.  You will get an acceptance letter.  You’ll find a new mentor.  Some one will tell you how your work inspired them to try it. You will be reminded of why you really wanted to be an artist.

And that is the moment you will realize that being an artist is tough, but you can’t imagine doing anything else.

The Difficulty of Turning a Hobby into a Career

There are a lot of careers out there that can be hobbies too.  Painter, Photographer, gaming, sports, blogger, and of course writer, these are all examples of careers that are also hobbies.  There is nothing wrong with being a hobbyists, and you might even make a few bucks on a hobby.  Some hobbyists work very hard on their hobby, and I am not saying this is a bad thing.  But some of us take a hobby, and decide to make it a career.  But there are a ton of stumbling blocks a long the way.

As a writer you take on being in business for yourself.  You have to have the drive to work even when no one set deadlines, or when there is no boss telling you to get something done.  This can be difficult for writers.  We tend to be day dreamers and get distracted with ideas and fun little thoughts.  We can also be distracted by a shiny new book that we just have to read.   All off these things make working for yourself a challenge, which often ends in a lack of time to complete tasks.

The financials of turning a hobby into a career are another matter to consider.  If you plan to publish your own books, then you have to pay for a lot of things.  You’ll need a freelance editor, a cover artist, an ISBN, and order proof copies a long the way.  Even if you don’t self publish, you will have the cost of marketing (don’t count on publishers to do it all).  Also include travel expenses for conventions and workshops to improve your skills.

Oh, and you cannot forget the Tax man.  I am not a tax professional, so I don’t have many tips on this.  I can say that you should keep track of all your expenses and income related to your career.  And though you may not make any money at first, your ultimate goal is to start making a profit and that means you’ll eventually be paying taxes.  As a business owner, I do recommend you find a trusted tax professional and get some tips and tricks from them.

You will likely need to keep a “day job” in order to make ends meet.  They truth is that starting any business, including the one that used to be a hobby, means that you need money.  Not just to start-up your business venture, but you need to plan on financing your self for the next 5 years.  And, you probably have a few bills of your own to deal with (or probably tons of bills).  This all means that you will likely need a real job at first.  You will need some way to help pay everything that needs to get paid.  You may be lucky and have a spouse that can work full-time and support the whole family.  Unfortunately, especially here in California, that seems to be getting rare.

The major downside to having to get a day job is that it means a significant cut into your time to focus on writing and being a writer.  If you really want to make this happen, then your work hours get extended signficantly.  In my case, I work 40 hours a week.   So that is a big cut into my time.  The sad thing is most people don’t understand either.

You will need to improve your skills and start networking with others.  This means you need to attend workshops, conferences, and conventions.  This is one area that I missed out on until this year.  There are a lot of online ways to network.  Of course there is Facebook, Twitter, and the like.  But there are also online writer groups, which allow you to network and improve your skills.  There is also NaNoWriMo.  You can also find many other online conferences and workshops to attend.

But there also in person ways to network that you can’t miss out on.  Conventions and writing conferences are held for various genres and range in size.  Some are free, some will cost.  There are travel expenses to consider in this.  But if you want to be good at your hobby turned career you need to attend these things.  You need these things to propel yourself to the next level.  Even if you just want a hobby, you can’t go wrong with learning more.

But traveling to all these conference to network and market gets costly.  It also gets a bit tiring.  But the cost is the biggest stumbling block for me.  And, as I will touch on below, family doesn’t always understand.  There could be fights over the cost, or the fact that you can only afford to go by yourself.  There will be some you are dying to go to (for me it in LonCon3) but you just simply can’t go.  At least not without causing a divide in your personal life.  But, make the best effort to go to any conference you can.  Make the effort to learn.  When you are not writing, editing, or marketing, you should be learning about how to get better.

Now here is where your dedication of taking this to the career level is tested.  Most of your friends and family don’t understand what you are trying to do.  They see the “hobby” as just that.  They can’t understand that you want to make this a career and that means you have to dedicate your time to this and sacrifice a lot of other things.  You work a day job, you need to work on your writing, and eventually you need to sleep.  That means that you miss a lot of other things.  You might not watch much TV.  You might spend a lot of time locked in your office.  And you might not get to the dishes that day.  And, in the case of my wife, she doesn’t understand that.  It is hard to make them understand that you are essentially working two jobs.

Since I enjoy writing, it only embellishes the hobby mentality.  Since I am having fun, I clearly can’t be working.  But that isn’t the case.  There are a few parts of writing that I really love.  Writing the story, developing the characters, and seeing the cover art are all things I love.  Editing, marketing, and coming up with titles all stress me out.  I dread that part of the job.  But I also know that when it all comes down to it, it is worth it.  In any case, because you love to write it can often give the appearance that you are having fun and choosing writing over your friends and family.  In some cases you are, but you are also doing this for them.  It is important that your family, especially your kids, see that you are trying for your goals so that they can put hard work into their own goals.

The success rate it low.  That is the one major problem with turning a hobby into a career.  There is a low success rate.  How many aspiring authors fail?  How many give up?  It takes a ton of work, and there is no guarantee of making anything of it.

I don’t think people understand the amount of work that goes into this.  It could be that you ran out of money.  It could be that your family nagged you too much and you quit.  It could be that you become impatient waiting for success.  It could be that you simply ran out of time to accomplish anything.  Or it could be that you just didn’t think it was worth it anymore.  It is hard to work for yourself, and it is hard to make people see your own vision of your future.  But you need to decide what your vision is and make a goal of it.  If you can hold out for just a little bit longer, you just might make it.  You just have to find people who trust that you are not just a hobbyist, and there is a career to be had.  Good Luck.  Now go set those goals.

The “Cooling Off” Period

So I finished yet another first draft for a novel.  I’ve come to the part of creating that many writers suggest, the cooling off period.  Some call it “letting the manuscript rest” or “getting away from the story for a bit.” This is the time after completing that first draft that you walk away from the manuscript and let it rest for an extended amount of time.  This is supposed to disconnect you from the story and give you a chance to see it “fresh” eyes.

File this under: Reasons Your Book Isn’t Published Yet.

I’ve tried this cooling off period before and I don’t see any point in it. I find it as nothing more than wasting time when you could be getting that book ready for market by starting the second draft.  Instead you waste a month, two months, or even six months waiting for some magic to make you forget the story.  If you are really passionate about what you write you won’t forget the story.  I think this is just a stall tactic for writers to avoid something they hate… editing.  It is also a great way to avoid the even scarier prospect of publishing your work.

Editing is important, and it is necessary to get your work published.  This paranoia that you will miss something if you don’t let it rest is irrational.  You will have beta readers to catch what you miss, you will have an editor to catch anything else that slips through.  So why do we need to waste time with this cooling off period?

I wanted to try this cooling off period.  I really did.  As I finished this manuscript I told myself to give it a rest, wait a month and dive back in.  But come on. A whole month?  There is no way I can do that.  It has barely been a week and I am shaking with the need to reread and edit it.  It is driving me nuts.  I can’t focus on any other projects because all I can think of is Liam, Rachel and Talya waiting for me to share their story with the world.  So all this cooling off crap is going out the window.

I say that you should throw it out too.  Get your book out there.

But a lack of patience isn’t the only reason to skip this.  I’ve talked about those writers stuck in the revision cycle.  They are stuck revising their story again, and again, and again.  The story never goes anywhere.  And I have to say that this cooling off period plays right into this.  As you go back and check over the manuscript and you wait again.  Then you find more.  Then you want to change this.  Now let it cool off again.  Oh, and now I need to change this.  Oh, great now another author has come out with something similar so let me change that.  And now, let it rest again. And, ah hell it has been three years since I wrote this, I know so much more now.

Guess what? You’re still not published.

I don’t think that people realize just how much time they waste on this tactic.  I’ve heard the argument that you can write something else while you wait.  Which I understand.  But if a story is yelling for you to work on it, why hide it in the closet? And even if you do write another manuscript, unless you get past the cooling off period, all you have is a collection of manuscripts with no readers.

Personally I think you should go with what works for you, so long as you keep pumping out fiction.  But I think the cooling off period does little more than waste time and give writers a false belief that they can fully edit their own work.

Listen to Your Critics

free-lemonsWait, what? No I didn’t typo the title of this blog.  I really do plan to talk about reasons you should listen to your critics.  Sure there are countless blogs posts about all the reasons you should ignore your critics.  I have even written one (or two).  There are lots of great posts on how bad reviews and the critics of your work should be ignored.  You can’t please everyone and you can’t win them all.  But, after careful consideration, I am not sure that is really the best tip to provide authors, or any artist for that matter.

Working in the art industry, and we can’t forget that writing is an art, attracts all kinds of people.  You have the people who love just about everything.  You have the people who hate just about everything.  Then you have the people who really don’t know what they like or hate.  And finally you have the ones who know what they like and why they like it (and they usually know why they don’t like something too).  One might argue that you can also attract the jealous artist.  The one who wants to do what you do (and probably could) but they never bothered to really work at it.

In the past two years I have written a ton of book reviews.  I realized that reviewing a book on Amazon and Goodreads really helped authors.  Soon I was writing them for Plasma Frequency, and now I am writing them for my own blog.  And in all those reviews, I used to feel guilty when I wrote something critical about a book.  I felt like maybe I was being a jerk.  And I knew how critical reviews bothered me sometimes.  But I’ve realized that I am only sharing my opinion.  Other readers, and the author, can take it or leave it.  It is just my opinion, and I am but one reader.

But over the past few weeks, especially after all the inspiration I got from WorldCon, I have realized that perhaps I am thinking about reviews the wrong way.  That ignoring the bad ones, and basking in the good ones, was not necessarily the best method.

First, we should get this out of the way.  There is one review that you can always ignore.  That is the review that just bashes your book to bash it.  There is no logic to the reviews.  That would be the “This book sucks because I said it sucks but I won’t tell you why it sucks” kind of review.  Any blog reviewer worth your time won’t publish a review like that.  But on Amazon and Goodreads you will see those from time to time.  When I say you should ignore those reviews, I mean just that.  Don’t bother with it.  Don’t waste your time getting it removed or asking all your friends to vote the review as being not helpful.  I just mean ignore it.  It isn’t worth the time you put into it.

Recently I have seen an explosion in sales and reviews for Dissolution of Peace.  I was lucky to sell five copies each month in the past six months.  And I thought five was a great month.  I also seemed stuck at 12 reviews for a long time.  But now, I find myself looking at my 18th review on Amazon.  And 28 text reviews on Goodreads, which is great in my opinion.  I’ve also sold an average of 1.75 books per day (not counting my free promotion earlier this month).

So things are going well right?  Yes, and no.  There are some critical elements in these reviews.

I’m consistently seeing reviewers that love the story line of my book.  There has been a sprinkle or two suggesting better character development, and another sprinkle or two that love the characters.  There have been a few that hate the ending.  There have been a few that love the ending.  But one critical comment has been consistent.  They don’t like the grammar and spelling.  They seem to find errors that I didn’t catch.

Anyone who follows this blog knows that I am very self conciseness when it comes to grammar.  So my first step in dealing with this was to follow the advise we see across the blogging world.  I simply ignored it.  In fact, anything critical, I ignored.  Anything that people loved I relished in, I noted it for the sequel.  I even bragged about it.

But that is a disservice.  Not just to the reviewer, who took time to review the book (which we know many readers do not do), but it is also a disservice to yourself.

Every artist can grow.  And listening to your readers is a great way to learn where you might want to focus your growth.  It also tells you what you can fix to increase your sales.  For example, I’ve hired a new editor to review and fix the mistakes in Dissolution of Peace that I simply can’t catch.  Once she fixes those, I’ll update the book with a new version.

But grammar isn’t the only critique I have got.  I am looking into how I develop my characters and the way I end my novels.  I am looking into what it is that people really enjoy about the way I write stories.  I’m listening to my readers, even the critics.  Because that is how I will grow as a writer.  That is how I will become better.  And once you think you can’t get any better, you’ve become to arrogant and your readers will eventually notice there is no progression in your work and you will fade out.

So while critics are everywhere, they are also extremely helpful to the arts.  You, as the artists, may not take all their tips.  I am not saying you have to.  But I am saying you should at least listen.  You will benefit from that. If the majority of readers have a consistent complaint, I would suggest correcting that aspect of your writing.  Either in your current book, or in future works in progress.  For those more 50-50 splits, the choice is yours as an artist.  It could be something to change, or it could be that your style is not their style.

But if you want reviewers, you have to listen to them.  You can’t bash them and ignore them.  You can’t accept only the good.  You have to listen to your critics.

Self Editing and What are Beta Readers

I’ve mentioned this several times, but my work goes through a process before I set it up for publication.  A quick summary:

I write it.

I self edit it.

I send it to Beta Readers.

I self edit it (again).

I send it to a professional editor.

I fix it.

I have it published.

When I list it all out like this it seems very simple.  But anyone who has ever put words on paper knows it isn’t so simple.  Most writers understand the first part.  Write it.  And most writers are capable of sending it to a professional editor and changing what they mark up.  But many writers miss the middle parts.  And, like a sandwich, the meaty parts are in the middle.

Self Editing

IMG_20130406_142102_592If you’re going to send this off to professional editor, why is self editing so important?  Well, two things.  Editors are humans too, they won’t catch everything.  Especially if your manuscript is error plagued. Second, you will quickly find that you discover a lot about what doesn’t work in your story’s plot by doing a self edit.

When I self edit, I find that I still miss a lot.  So I learned a little trick, and tried it out for the first time with the Volition Agent manuscript. I printed the entire manuscript and went over it, using a red pen to mark up what changes I needed.  I use the red pen because it stands out.  So when I went back to make changes, I could find them quickly and fix them quickly.  I print it out because it gives me a chance to read my words in a different way than I did on a computer screen.  When you look at your words in a different way, things stick out that you would otherwise miss.

When I self edit, I look for the following things:

Grammar mistakes.  This is the first thing I look for, though I am also the first to admit I am very bad at catching them.  Though I did find that having the manuscript printed in front of me (versus on my computer screen) was much easier at seeing these things.  But still, I recognize that grammar is not my strong suit so I do my best with checking for this stuff.

Punctuation errors. For me, this is most often missing punctuation.  No period.  Using a period when I meant for a question mark. The other thing that I have a habit of doing is putting a quotation mark at the end of the paragraphs during multiple paragraph dialogue (by one speaker). So I have to remove those.

Typos. I type at 60 words a minute with no errors.  But when I write my stories, I typed at 80-90 words per minute with a lot of errors.  Some have told me to just slow down.  But when I type from my mind, my mind goes much faster then 60 words a minute.  Probably much faster then 90 words per minute.  So I often find a lot of typos, missing words, or added words.  Easy to fix, and really easy to spot when you read it.

Plot Errors. I’m not an outline writer, so I ofter find things in the early chapters that I missed or didn’t need to continue the story for the later chapters.  I’d say 90% of my red marks on my manuscript this time around were for plot and prose issues.  Either to remove something or to add something.  In fact, I reworked the entire ending and will be going back to add 5 new chapters throughout the book.  Some will say this is why outlines work.  But I also know many outline writers.  They too say the bulk of their self editing goes to the plot.  The most important part of your story is the plot, followed by how you tell it.  Remember this doesn’t just include missing or extra plot points.  This includes all aspects of your story not related to the above topics.

Said Tag.  English teachers love to tell you about the 1,000 different way to say ‘said’ or now I think they want to make it a million ways.  It is all a bunch of bull. It is made up by English teachers (just like the author’s message). Said is the simplest (and most over looked) word to describe dialogue.  Since I write a lot of official reports at work, I am am trained to write “stated” on most dialogue in my reports.  So I often find my stories are loaded with “stated” instead of “said”. So I have to fix those.  But the best way to break up dialogue is not with “said” but with some type of action.  For example: “I’m writing my blog,” Richard didn’t even look away from what he was doing.  His fingers still clicked on the keyboard. “I’ll take care of the garbage when I am done.”  So where applicable, I avoid using any dialogue tag and use action.

Repeated words.  My characters like to look at each other a lot.  They also love to smile.  So I often over use those two words.  Repeated words are not always bad, sometimes it is required to make a point.  But overuse of any word will be noticed by a reader and can become jarring.  So I look for those.  I also look for repeated phrases and dialogue points through out my story.

What are Beta Readers?

I’m having a heck of a time finding beta readers for Volition Agent. I think this is largely because people don’t understand what a beta reader is.  If you know video games, beta testers get their hands on an early copy (not finished) of a game.  They get to play it and in return they provide feedback to the game developer.  They let them know about glitches in the game, issues with game play, story elements that seem out of place, and an overall opinion of the game.  The developers take that information consider it all and then make changes where they think they should.

Beta readers do the same thing.  They get an early copy of the book.  They read over it, point out mistakes, things that confused them, story issues, grammar mistakes, and provide an overall opinion of the story.  The writer takes all this information and uses it to make the book better.  Just as a developer won’t change everything the testers complain about, an author won’t change everything.  But they will make the story better as a result of the Beta Readers’ input.

Authors need a cross section of beta readers.  I recommend you get a few who don’t read your genre.  I recommend a few that are writers.  Also a few that are editors.  And then a few that are just readers of your genre.  Can you have too many beta readers?  Yes.  If you get overloaded with information it won’t do you any good.  But if you have too few readers, then you won’t get a good sampling for your book.  The number is up to you.  Somewhere between not enough and too much is what I recommend.

Beta Reading shouldn’t be confused with Advanced Reader Copies (ARC).  Typically ARCs are finished.  They are handed out to reviewers in exchange to get review quotes to hopefully use on the book itself. That’s how all those review quotes wind up on the book the day it is published.  Sometimes review quotes are gathered from Beta copies, but that isn’t the purpose of a beta reader.  The beta reader is there to improve the work so the author can put out the best story possible.  Advanced Readers are there so the author can better market their work.

Why self edit again?

If you took all the information from beta readers, and did nothing with it.  Well that would be a complete waste of everyone’s time.  While you might not change everything the beta readers point out.  If the majority of them say that a certain scene doesn’t work.  It would be best if you made it work.  Once you make significant changes you need to review those changes for yourself, the same way you did the first time.  That will involve a whole rereading.  But it is worth it to put out the best book you can.

Once you’ve got the meat together in you sandwich, it’s time for the top piece of bread.  Get a professional editor and have them review it.  Then your sandwich, um I mean story, will be ready for the masses.