Tag Archives: Novel

Beta Readers: the Good, the Bad and the Awesome

I’ve had a bevy of beta readers for the book I’m getting ready to query. I’ve gotten a lot of notes back and I’m still waiting for some, but as always, I’m learning a lot form this process! Here are some helpful tips I wanted to share, with Clueless pictures to go along with each.

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Not all readers will get you, even if your novel is a future bestseller.

Someone will always give you crazy, useless feedback. This time I had someone tell me my novel sounds like “middle grade.” That was it. No suggestions or explanation. Nothing. I had no idea what she was talking about. I was so perplexed by not only this but her long, LONG list of other problems that I didn’t agree with at all. Was I suddenly just too sensitive? Was I missing something?

As this was just a random beta reader I met on twitter, I decided to ask my other beta readers who I knew a bit better. Some of them were also from twitter (and the fabulous #ontheporch), but I’d seen their work and swapped before, so I trusted their advice. None of them agreed with her perspective and I certainly didn’t, so I just ignored it all. Unfortunately, I’d agreed to read and edit some chapters for her as well, so that was a waste of an exchange for me.

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If multiple beta readers say the same thing, they’re right… most of the time.

I participate in #queryswap on twitter this month, which was awesome! I exchanged queries and chapters with about 8 other writers. My query letter had two possible openings and I was hoping for some feedback as to which one was better. Unfortunately, my betas came back completely divided! Half passionately felt that Opening 1 was better and the other argued that Opening 2 was stronger. In the end, I had to trust my gut. Which one did I feel better captured my book? My tone? It still needed some serious work, but I went with Opening 1.

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Almost everyone will have something useful to say.

Almost everyone has something to offer your story. Even if they give 20 suggestions and only 1 makes sense to you, they’ve contributed. They put in time and helped you. Ignore the 19 crazy suggestions and thank them for the 1.

Sometimes the people that have the most helpful advice will surprise you, too! There were a few people who I was hesitant to give my novel to. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’ve been burned by beta readers who either promised to read my novel and didn’t, or gave me just heart-wrenching, rude feedback. I LOVE constructive criticism, but some people were just tearing me down needlessly! But then I decided to take a shot on some new beta readers. While I did get one not-so-good one, I got a handful of new AMAZING ones! I learned new things about my weaknesses as a writer which are going to be essential in my post-beta editing process! Totally worth it!

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Patience is key.

I always want to rush ahead and continue editing with new ideas, even while my betas are reading! But slowing down and waiting for their feedback is essential. If you’ve already changed what they’re reading, why are they bothering to read it? I am participating in Writer’s Digest’s upcoming Submissions Workshop with Fuse Literary, which will require me to submit my first few pages to agents earlier than planned. So instead of plowing ahead without my betas, I just asked them to have an early meeting with me to go over the first 10 pages, even before some of them had finished the novel. I got great, helpful feedback that gets me moving in preparation for this event without leaving my betas (and their great advice) in the dust.

 

 

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What I’ve Learned: Querying… Again

A few years ago, I attempted to query my first novel. It was nowhere near ready, but I wasn’t enjoying my job and took solace in the idea that I could find an agent, become a writer, and then quit! While the fantasy was not realistic, it was satisfying and I embarked on an elaborate querying process that yielded no results.

Now, I’m entering the query process again with a much more polished manuscript for my third completed- but fifth overall- novel. This process has inspired me to pull out my old excel charts and query drafts to get an idea of where I went wrong and how I can do better this time, besides the fact that I’ve simply written a better book. My last novel was a little dry in the beginning, not nearly as edited, and more stereotypical YA fantasy. Querying resulted in only a few requests for a partial and nothing beyond.

I’m very early on in the query process now (drafting my query and writing my synopsis while my beta readers read my novel), but I’ve already learned so much from doing this process again, and doing it right this time.

What I’ve Learned:

  1. Before you even write the book, look at what agents DON’T want 

If you’re writing a dystopian- stop. If you’re writing fantasy with a european inspired setting- maybe stop. Every agent I’m looking at now is asking for multicultural or non-european settings. This is something to consider seriously for us YA fantasy writers, who are in a flooded market.

Pay attention to the way the market is moving. Do a little research before you put your heart and soul into writing a novel. If you just read 5 fairytale retellings, probably don’t write one. After Cinder came out, literary agents were all asking for a fairy tale retelling, and boy did they get them! Within a year or two, the market was fully saturated. By the time you’re reading them off the shelves at Barnes and Noble, agents have moved on. Do a google search for literary agents and see who wants what to get an idea, but just remember that these things can change rather quickly.

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2. Really- and I mean reaaaaaallly- edit your novel.

No ones first draft ever popped out perfect. Hasn’t happened. Will never happen. Veronica Roth, author of Divergent, has talked a few times about how she hates writing first drafts, because she just wants to get to the editing. I thought this was hysterical, because I love the first draft, and the editing- not so much. But I’m guessing the reason why she loves editing was the reason why I didn’t like it- you see all your mistakes! You see the inconsistencies, the typos, and the characters who disappear from the story.

This is the time to fix those plot holes, make sure everything is tight and that no boring chapters remain! I was merciless with this novel, cutting out whole chapters and serious conversations because I didn’t want to read them when I was editing. If you don’t want to read them, then agents sure as hell won’t want to read them either!

3. Choose your beta readers carefully.

What I did wrong the first time was give out a copy of my book to any friend or family member who said they wanted to read it. What I learned? Some of my friends asked me several times for a copy of my book- then never read it. Don’t get me wrong, my first unedited novel wasn’t good, but it still stung. Then I also asked a family member to read it who gave me silly, rather insulting advice. She compared my main character to Katniss for reasons I still can’t understand. If she’d said my novel was super slow or needed some serious plot changes? Then sure, I’d get that.

A new critique partner of mine shared this awesome video with me, by writer Mary Robinette Kowal. It’s about how you need to be so careful what readers you ask for advice, because often they will “diagnose” and “prescribe” things for your novel without understanding. She cautions us writers against listening to this and recommends beta readers focus on the feelings they get, rather than getting too specific about problems and fixes.

I learned the hard way that my beta readers should be: 1) people who actively read your genre and will give you the kind of advice you’re asking for. 2) people who write your genre! I found some awesome new beta readers through twitter and the lovely hashtag #ontheporch. I recommend giving it a try!

4. Don’t avoid the synopsis.

Last time, I didn’t want to write a synopsis so I started by querying agents who didn’t require one. This is a) lazy and b) silly because some of the best agents ask for a synopsis! And other agents might ask for a synopsis with their partial request.

Also, writing a synopsis is great exercise as a writer. Condensing 90,000 words into 500 is hard! It was incredibly painful cutting out all my subplots and side characters (some of my favorites!), but it was an important exercise to see if the main story and main characters can stand on their own. Guess what? They can!

5. Have a hook in the query letter.

My first query letter went the standard route of introducing the book without any hook. Well, as I’ve mentioned, the story I was telling was dry, so I had a hard time summing it up into anything exciting. So I just didn’t. I didn’t take the hint that maybe the novel wasn’t ready. I just decided to write a not-so-good query letter with no hook.

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   6. Make sure your opening pages are your best pages.

Polish up those first pages that agents are asking for. Ask betas to spend extra care on the first 50 pages, but the MOST care on the first 10 pages. And when you’re done with listening to your betas and editing those pages, go over them again. And again.

One day, I’ll probably dust off that first book and fix it. It had some real gems within it, but overall it’s not great. The first pages are particularly slow. I was so tired of that book at that point that I just wanted to move on to something else. I wrote a few other novels in between, before I wrote this one. I knew writing this book that the first pages had to hook the reader. So I did! And after a year of working on it, I went back and added even more excitement to the opening pages, because I could and knew I should. I start off big, with a dramatic moment that sets the tone for the whole novel. And so far, my beta readers have loved it.

 

I wish all of you luck with your own querying process! I’ll share updates as I go!

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Cameryn

50 Books Challenge: 2016

I won the 50 Books Challenge in 2016! It’s been a few months, but I thought I’d share all the awesome books I read in case anyone is looking for some suggestions! They’re mostly YA, of course. What did you expect from a YA writer?

If you’re hoping to complete the 50 Books Challenge for 2017, then let me give you a tip: I kept track of all the books I read in my Passion Planner. There’s a lovely blank section in the back, so I printed out a blank list from 1-50 and filled in all my books as I went. I also marked up my monthly calendars with how many books I needed to have read when.

Here’s the complete list of books I read, with my recommendations at the bottom!

  1. Facing Your Giants – Max Lucado
  2. Wandering Star – Romina Russell
  3. The Vintage Teacup Club – V. Greene
  4. In the Eye of the Storm- Max Lucado
  5. Dreamstrider – Lindsay Smith
  6. The Darkest Minds – A. Bracken
  7. Glass Sword – v. Aveyard
  8. Cinder – M. Meyer
  9. Lady Midnight – Cassandra Clare
  10. The Great Hunt – W. Higgins
  11. Scarlet – M. Meyer
  12. Cress- M. Meyer
  13. Winter – M. Meyer
  14. Burning Glass – Kathryn Purdie
  15. Sleeping with Bread – The Linn Family
  16. Seven Black Diamonds – Melissa Mar
  17. Daughter of Dusk – Livia Blackburne
  18. Snow like Ashes – Sara Raasch
  19. A Court of Thorns and Rosese – S. J. Maas (the one re-read on my list!)
  20. The Heir – Kiera Cass
  21. Graceling – Kristin Cashore
  22. Flawed – Cecelia Ahern
  23. Beyond the Red – Ava Jae
  24. A Court of Mist and Fury – S. J. Maas
  25. The Crown – Kiera Cass
  26. The Star-Touched Queen – R. Chokshi
  27. Falling Kingdoms – M. Rhodes
  28. Rebel Spring – M. Rhodes
  29. Gathering Darkness – M. Rhodes
  30. Frozen Tides – M. Rhodes
  31. The Iron King – J. Kagawa
  32. Beautiful Creatures – K. Garcia and M. Stohl
  33. My Lady Jane – Hand, Ashton and Meadows
  34. Ice like Fire – Sara Raasch
  35. The Crown’s Game – E. Skye
  36. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – J.K. Rowling
  37. The Keeper of the Mist – R. Neumeier
  38. Shadow and Bone – L. Bardugo
  39. Ruin and Rising – L. Bardugo
  40. Siege and Storm – L. Bardugo
  41. A Gentle Thunder – Max Lucado
  42. Empire of Storms – S. J. Maas
  43. Three Dark Crowns – K. Blake
  44. Girls with Swords – L. Bevere
  45. The Black Key – Amy Ewing
  46. Supernatural Ways of Royalty by K. Vallaton
  47. Walking in this World – J. Cameron
  48. The Shadow Queen – C.J. Redwine
  49. Settle for More – Megyn Kelly
  50. Crystal Storm – M. Rhodes
  51.  BONUS- 365 Day Devotional – Max Lucado

Recommendations:

  1. A Court of Mist and Fury– Sarah J Maas didn’t disappoint with her follow up to ACOTAR! This one turns up the heat with some super steamy love scenes, but as always with Miss Maas, she tells a killer story to go with it. As Feyre struggles to overcome her PTSD, her bargain with Rhys kicks into full gear, but she soon starts to lose her love for the Spring Court and considers a different future!
  2. Lady Midnight– Cassandra Clare does it again! She always tells the best stories, with amazing characters, killer action, and forbidden romances. With the parabatai bond causing Emma and Julian to experience some strange reactions to their budding romance, Emma pulls away, but there’s a twist! The book left me on a cliff hanger and I’m dying for the next one.
  3. The Lunar Chronicles– I know, I know. I was behind on this one! I resisted the lure of Cinder the Cyborg for some time, but then gulped the entire series down in a week! So good. I love the light, fun writing style- even while covering some heavy topics. Approachable and enjoyable!
  4. The Falling Kingdoms series– A really fun fantasy series with lots of romance and drama to keep you turning the page! There are fascinating character dynamics that change throughout the series. I appreciate the idea that Cleo has more than one great love throughout the series. Because don’t most of us have a few different loves throughout our lives?

Happy Reading!!!

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Cameryn

What I’ve Learned: First Draft, First Book

I am currently deep in editing for my first complete novel, an epic fantasy called Burn Like Stars. I conceptualized the book for about eighteen months before I began writing. The writing itself took me seven months (some of this time I was between jobs and ultra-dedicated to word count), and editing has so far been taking me three months, but I think it will take me a total of six. The process has been lengthy, and I haven’t even started querying yet, but I have learned a lot! Here are a few major lessons:

1. Go for a walk.

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Stuck on an idea? Go for a walk around the block. Leave the headphones at home and bring a notepad. Stay focused on the story. I always have my best breakthroughs while concentrating on the idea as I walk around the fountain near my apartment.

 

2. Everything can be unwritten.

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Have fun and write what you enjoy. So what if you have a ridiculous amount of self-analysis in your first two chapters? You’ll take it out later. For now, your only task is to get your thoughts down on the paper!

 

3. You’re never too good for books.

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Reading books on writing is often scoffed at by true artistes. However, I always read them with a particular story in mind and always come out with more ideas! I am currently enjoying Writer’s Guide to Character Traits and Bullies, Bastards and Bitches.

 

4. Give yourself a break.

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Once you’re done with your first draft, give yourself time. If you’re like me, you want to plunge right into editing and get it done! However, you won’t be able to see your own mistakes clearly without some distance. I waited 6 weeks after my first draft to begin editing and I caught mistakes I was shocked I didn’t see when I read through it after the first draft. You will be surprised at your own crazy typos! (My favorite of mine- I spelled ‘the tree’ as ‘three.’ Talk about lazy!)

 

Have a great NaNo! I’ll be working on my Space Cowboy project, tentatively titled Outworld. Follow my tweets at @camerynf.