Tag Archives: Writing

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.

 

 

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!

*******

Cameryn

How I’m Getting Back in the Creative Game

I recently wrote about pulling creativity out from a bad job. This is something I’m just getting started with myself. I’ll admit: I took some time off of writing. I didn’t want to, but struggling with work and family problems, I was too exhausted to think of anything creative to say. It’s a bad excuse, and one I wouldn’t accept from anyone else, but there it is. Now, I’m back. And here’s my game plan.

1. One hour a day- minimum. This used to be my pattern. Even if I had to be at work at 6 AM, I would still get up an hour early to write. I’m going back to this. It’s important to my mental health. This time I haven’t been writing has been unfortunate. Some people are morning writers, and others are night writers. I have a friend who swears by scheduling one night a week as Write Night, and she writes not stop all evening. Every day works better for me, in order to form a solid habit.

2. Pour my problems into my writing. No matter what’s going on, I’m going to use the emotions and problems to fuel my writing, rather than take away from it. This was something that I used to do, but I reached a level of exhaustion I’d never experienced before, and I stopped. That was stupid. Never again.

3. Don’t get stuck in the editing swamp. Always be on the first draft of something. I don’t know about you, but first drafts are just good for my soul. I get all excited as ideas flow into my brain, about this chapter or that character. I need that excitement and creativity in my life! So instead of ignoring Project B for 6 months to edit, I’ll edit Project A as I write Project B.

4. Take a backseat. I’ve always been a pretty ambitious person. I decide I want something and put all of my energy and focus into getting it. Recently, this hasn’t served me so well. I get focused on something I think I want, spend years trying to achieve it, and then realize it’s not going to make me happy. So now, I’m trying to take a more laid back approach. Go slow and see what works. This applies well to writing because I’m not going to rush through rounds of editing to get something to a publishable state. I’m going to take my time. I’ll still write every day, but not push myself to meet word count goals. I’m going to let my work marinate.

Do you have any writing rules for yourself? Let me know!

How to Draw Creativity from Unlikely Sources: The Bad Job

“Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any.” -Orson Scott Card

Often, people think of their day job as the necessary evil to make their creative dreams possible. I fall into this trap myself. And I have a particularly tough day job. Every day, I work a minimum of 12 hours. Yes, that’s not a typo. I often work between 12 to 14 hours a day. 5 days a week. For months on end. It’s the unfortunate truth of the television industry.

There are a lot of tough aspects about my job: the long hours, the low pay, and the constant contact with a few people with MASSIVE EGOS. (I’ve worked on 8 different tv shows, and let me tell you, it’s not the people at the top with the big egos. The people at the top of my show are all awesome! It’s always people in the middle, who are grasping for power.)

While my case of long hours might be extreme, almost everyone has unique problems with their job. I love the short story Orientation as an example of crazy workplaces. Office Space is of course a great example, as is this clip from NCIS.

Here’s how I use bad bosses and ridiculous jobs to fuel my creativity:

Writing it out. The simplest, and maybe most effective, way to process what’s going on when you’re starting to feel a bit crazy. I’m no nonfiction writer, but it’s nice to pound out my problems on the keyboard.

-Using character motivations and emotions from the day. When I go and sit at my keyboard, it’s impossible for me not to fuse something about my current situation with what I’m writing. Whether it’s simply a single line, or a motivation for an entire scene or story, putting your current feelings on the page is a great way to write emotion. The reader will really feel them!

-Live through your art. Dreaming about wild adventures and daring romances is the perfect escape from the narcissistic drone of your boss behind you as you take on the same repetitive task for the day. (Corporate accounts payable, this is Nina speaking. Just a moment.)

-Dream a little harder. Wanting out of a particular situation can be inspiring to work harder to move on. Take action, make changes, and get ready for your future!

If all else fails, your bosses can’t be as bad as these guys, right? (Although mine would definitely compete with Miranda Priestley for craziest demands.)

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Querying: A Necessary Evil

I totally understand the necessity of the querying process. It’s rough, but think about what would happen if we could just call up our top-choice agent and say:

“Hey, I write fantasy YA. Want to represent me?”

“Sure, sounds great. Send me your book. I’ll get it to the publishers and it’ll hit shelves next week!”

Barnes and Noble would be flooded with crappy, awful books that we would all have to avoid, and awesome books would get lost in the shuffle. Agents simply don’t have the time to give full attention to the hundreds of thousands of writers that want to be published. We have to prove ourselves, somehow. That being said, I hate, hate, hate querying.

I started querying two weeks ago. So far, I’ve sent query letters to 18 people. I’ve gotten 5 rejections, and 1 partial request. I’m still waiting to hear back from everyone else. I knew it would be hard, but I didn’t realize that the over-thinking, the constantly checking my email, and the relentless waiting would get to me as much as it has. Staying positive is so hard. I’ve always been kind of a Negative Nancy, and, starting with the querying process, I’ve been determined to turn it around. I have a mantra that I’ve begun to repeat to myself in between prayers. “My work has value. Someone will love it. Good things will happen.”

This has been my querying journey (and let me tell you, I’m just beginning):

July-December 2014– Agent research. I hunted down a large group of agents that take fantasy YA and put them together in a long list of website links. I threw around query ideas, and had a long document with about six rough queries in a row. I also spent these six months editing BLS until I thought my brains would fall out! Revisions and more revisions, my friend. It really helps!

January 2015Finished edits for my book and started to play around with getting together a really solid query letter. After writing one that I thought was decent and informative, yet short enough, I sent it to about 5 beta readers to have a look. Unfortunately, none of them had queried before, but they all gave me useful advice. I edited it until I was really happy with it.

First Week of February 2015– I smiled at my polished query, said a little prayer, and sent out 5 letters over Monday and Tuesday. Within 24 hours, I had two rejections. Both were kind, saying that my work looked interesting/promising but it wasn’t right for their list right now. I was happy to see that they didn’t say “your letter had typos and your writing needs more work!” but I didn’t want to be too stubborn to see what was happening. Such quick rejections signaled, to me, that perhaps my letter wasn’t sharp enough. I studied my letter and decided that, while it was a good length and well written, it wasn’t catchy. It needed to be memorable, even if I had to take out important story elements to accomplish that.

Second Week of February 2015– After spending 5 days reimagining my query, and having it scoured by a few more beta readers, I felt confident in sending out a lot more letters. Between Monday and Friday, I sent out 14 queries, and along with three rejections, I GOT MY FIRST PARTIAL REQUEST!!!!!! I danced all around the office, and my boss, who was on the phone, got super weirded out, but that’s okay. Because AN ACTUAL AGENT actually wanted to read 5 CHAPTERS OF MY BOOK! I was thrilled and sent it out immediately. (No word yet, but that was Thursday and it’s only Monday- and a holiday at that- so I should give it some time).

Here’s my plan for the rest of the month:

Third and Fourth Week of February 2015– Send out another 6 queries to agents this week and perfect my 2 page synopsis, so that I can send out more queries to people who require those (I have 10 agents I really like picked out). With any luck, I’ll hear back from the agent who requested a partial, and she’ll want to read more! And hopefully, more agents will start requesting partials. I just started the process two weeks ago, and I know most agents say 4-6 weeks, so now is when I have to start being a patient person. (I just snort-laughed into my coffee as I wrote that. Patience is for suckers -or healthy, well-adjusted people, if you want to look at it that way. Punching bags, pizza and headaches are for people like me.)

I hope other querying writers agree with me when I say that there is majorly conflicting information on the internet with regards to queries. Some people say that if you don’t get 50% of the agents requesting more material than there’s something wrong with your letter/chapters. Others say that, because everything is so subjective, that anyone requesting material is a good sign. I’m going a bit out of my mind with all of this. Seriously. Everyone says querying is hard, but I didn’t think it would affect me at a base, cellular level. Fair warning to soon-to-be queryers. Better write some positive, inspiring messages to yourself on your bathroom mirror. I have. Here’s some good ones to get you started:

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The last one is my favorite. It cheers me up every time! All the best to those who are querying like me. I always find it inspiring to look back at now successfully published writers’ blogs and see how they handled the querying process. They all had rejections as well. I enjoy Sarah J. Maas’s blog a lot. She has a few posts from her time querying. Take a look. 

2014 vs. 2015, Hopes and Accomplishments

2014 has been an interesting year for me, both personally and professionally. The year was full of professional accomplishments and personal trials. My family has been wrought with deaths, divorce and health struggles. It has certainly taken a toll on everyone. Yet, professionally, I wrote a book that I am about to start querying and I’ve moved into a dream company of mine, Nickelodeon, as a production assistant.

So here is my year in review:

Trials:

-Health struggles for my nephew

-Marital struggles of close family members

-Death of my grandfather

-Health struggles of two other grandparents

-Getting let go from a job I liked

Accomplishments:

-Getting a better job on a better show

-Starting to work for my dream company

-Finally living alone in a wonderful apartment

-My IMDB page has gotten pretty long

-I won at National Novel Writing Month on a separate book project: A YA Sci-Fi project.

-And the biggest one: Completing the first draft (and several rounds of revisions after that) of my first book, an epic fantasy called Burn Like Stars!

So, for 2015, I have a few specific goals:

1. Get a literary agent. This is a task that I will be starting mid January, after I wrap up my final Slow Edit of my book. It may take all year, but I will be querying hard and long to achieve this one!

2. Get a promotion at work. I work in television as a lowly PA. However, in 2015, I hope to get a promotion of some kind and leave the unappreciated ranks of PA-dom. The job can be very fun, but it is long and hard work with much physical labor and very little financial reward. Here’s hoping that I’ll be able to pay my bills by the end of 2015!

When Life Gets In The Way: Holiday Edition

The past few weeks, I’ve really been struggling to get anything done with my book. I’ve previously posted about my struggles with the Slow Edit, a difficult process and the final step of book editing before I start querying literary agents. The Holidays have, in particular, caused much of my lagging for several reasons: time commitments and obligations, lack of a set schedule and family drama.

There’s no way around it, the holidays slow everything down. In my naive idealism of my own focus abilities, I was sure that going home for Christmas for 2 weeks would be the perfect opportunity for me to STEP UP my writing game, stay focused, finish my perfect query letter, et cetera. How very wrong I was! With my sisters coming into town as well, my parents house was full of people and full of stereotypical holiday drama. It’s hilarious just how little I was getting done! (We’re talking one day, I only got 1 page of edits done. Seriously. 1 page.)  So, here I am, half way through the final slow edit, Christmas is over, and my hope to start querying in just a few weeks is sounding less reasonable. We’ll see!

Heading back to LA now, I’m leaving earlier than planned in hopes that a few days at home before I have to go back to work will be the answer. Here’s hoping I’ll be able to catch up to my goals!