Saturday, March 28, 2015

Thoughts From a Beta-Reader

Last night, my manuscript was handed back to me (by my first beta-reader) with a ton of revision suggestions. Most everything was scribbled into the margins, but there was also an extra page handed to me with some overall thoughts and comments. We had an opportunity to sit down and talk through her notes, questions, concerns, etc. Here's what I learned:

  • Some of my characters are just written better than others. This was a little surprising to me, but I completely understood what my beta was saying. She felt that she just knew some of these folks super well and that others needed to be fleshed out more. Some of her most directed comments were about my protagonist. Eek. Sure, she's driving the plot and clearly central to the story... but, it was some of her supporting cast members that were the most vivid characters.
  • Some characters sounded too similar. This was extremely helpful. I didn't necessarily pick up on this while I was writing. It is super important for each character to have an entirely unique voice.
  • Word choice. There were some words/phrases that I used a bit too much. One in particular stood out to my beta: plopped. She commented that she saw it a few times and that she didn't think it really had a place in my novel... even once. Funny thing: I don't remember ever even using it.
  • Plot holes. She definitely dug some up and now it's my job to fill them back in. Fortunately, the two of us were able to chat about how I might do that. I already have a ton of great ideas.
  • Realistic injuries/healing time. She reminded me that my characters aren't Jack Bauer and that this isn't an episode of 24. She said that I need to make sure that injuries inflicted on my characters are given a realistic amount of healing time. She's right.
  • Consistency with a new alien language. The example given to me was Tolkien's use of language in LOTR/The Hobbit. She emphasized that when I allow a new species to speak in their own language that I must know exactly what they are saying at all times. There's needs to be consistency. If an alien character is saying "hello" in his/her own language, then he/she needs to say "hello" the same way each time. If I'm inconsistent, my readers will certainly notice.
There's more, of course, but this should give you an idea of some of the comments I received. I plan to spend today working on these revisions. I'm also giving myself a deadline of a week to make all of these fixes. I don't want it to sit too long before I hand it off to my next reader.

This is my process. As I always say, different authors won't necessarily do it this way, nor should they. Find your own process and make it work for you.

Keep checking back. Things are moving fast right now!


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Beta-Reader-ing in Real-Time

It's weird to hear my character's names coming out of someone else's mouth. My first beta reader (not coincidentally, also my wife) has been talking about the book, sharing in her general excitement, as she reads. I didn't exactly expect it all to go down this way. My assumption was that she'd read the manuscript and then hand it back with a bunch of red scribbles, a coffee-stain or two, and some general thoughts and comments. What's happened instead, however, has been completely unexpected and super-helpful.

What's cool is that I'm getting to see and hear her reaction to my words, in real-time. As she reads, I'm listening to what she tells me about characters she both wants to hear more about and characters she needs to hear more about. Her thought bubbles are right out there to see, which is great for me, as the author. I know if she's curious about the things she's supposed to be curious about and if her attention is focused on something that it possibly wasn't intended to be focused on. When she has a "woah" moment after reading a chapter, I'm hearing about that right away. When she's kind of like, "what just happened", I can start re-working that scene in my mind, immediately. She's doing a lot of foreshadowing and predicting on the direction of the story, which is so much fun to listen to. I want to know what the reader is thinking, chapter by chapter, line by line, word by word. So far, this experience is giving me just that.

If only we always could have such insight into what our readers are thinking.
Then again...


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A Fresh Set of Eyeballs?

It's time. I've stared at this thing long enough. Right now, I'm half-way through my 3rd draft and I find myself consistently doing more reading than actual editing. That's not to say that there's not a lot left in my novel that needs re-working, revising, etc. I think though that, after looking at all of these words, after re-reading them so many times over the past year, I'm not really seeing it all that well anymore.

Take my first chapter. I can tell you that there's a lot that still needs fixing. I just am not sure that, this far in, my vision remains clear enough to identify what that is. I've let it rest in between drafts. There have been long stretches where I've done a lot of reading, separate from my book. My brain has taken a vacation, more than once. And still, I'm starting to realize that there are only so many times that I can read my work-in-progress.

It's time to set it all before a fresh set of eyeballs.

All along, I've told myself that I wouldn't let any beta-readers at this until I thought my manuscript was perfect. At this point, though, I feel like the entire process could use a real jump-start. Here's what I've decided to do: I've asked my wife to look at it. Once I finish my 3rd draft, she's going to do a read-through. Mind you, she has no idea (other than knowing the genre) what my novel is about. I want her to let me know what's working, 'cause I can't tell anymore. I want her to tell me what dialogue feels un-realistic or robotic, 'cause I'm now deaf to it all. I want her to pick out all the straggling clichés, cause, 'cause my hands are exhausted.

It tough, as a writer, to show your work to someone else when you know it's unfinished. In my case, it's especially difficult as this is my first novel and my wife hasn't really ever seen anything substantial written by me. To let her read what, in my mind, will only be a 3rd draft is tough.

Tough, but necessary.

I don't know if others would agree with me or decide on a completely different plan of action. Truth is, I don't really care. It is what, I believe, will work best for me. If I've learned anything throughout this process, it's that every author's process is his/her own.

So, what works for you?


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Why I'm Not Ready for #PitMad

Why the image of this gross old crock pot, you ask? Just hang on a second, okay? I'll get to that. Calm, yo self. It will eventually be a lame attempt at metaphor-ing it up, but please be patient. First, I need to vent about my lack of participation in today's awesome #PitMad. For those of you who don't know, it's an opportunity for authors in the twitter-verse to pitch their book ideas to eager agents, in 140 characters or less. Now you know (if you didn't already). On to the venting:

Gah, this is excruciating. I'm sitting here, reading all of the awesome submissions for today's #PitMad and I wish I could participate. My book is so close, I've now been working on it steadily for just over a year, and I'm bouncing all over the place at the thought of throwing my pitch out there to the wolves. Granted, I expect it to be torn to a bloody-pulp, but even that sounds freaking amazing to me.

Here's the thing, though: I'm not ready. It'd be easy enough for me to tweet my pitch out there, to see what ya'll have to say to me (good or bad). I have a bunch of variations of my pitch ready to roll. I'm ready in that sense. But the book, what would inevitably need to be ready for someone's else's (an agent's) eyes, needs more time in the crock-pot.

See what I just did there? Crock. Pot. Let that just simmer a moment.

See what I just did again? Simmer. Like in a crock-pot.

No matter how much I want to get the agent-ball rolling today, it would be the wrong decision. Why work as long and as hard as I have on this thing to rush it before it's ready? I still have months of beta-reader-ing and revisions to do. Currently, I'm on what I'd call a third draft and, just yesterday, I realized how far away I still am. The worst thing I could do right now (at least from an inexperienced/unpublished-author-point-of-view) is to false start. I need to take a step back, maybe use this day to really explore which pitches are getting the most favs, and then continue on at my own pace.

Remember, there will always be more #PitMads and similar opportunities available. This isn't my only shot. I'm seeing that my next chance might be June 4th.

The questions is, will I even be ready then? My magic 8-ball says:
I guess I'll just have to wait until then to know for sure.
good luck to all you #PitMad-ers out there. I'm rooting for you all!
...wellll, maybe not ALL of you.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Why You Shouldn't Spam Your Book At Us

Maybe, I'm incredibly naïve. Maybe, if I'm ever lucky enough to end up finishing my book and getting it published, I'll want to repeatedly wave it into everyone else's Twitter-faces. Maybe. I like to think I'll do it a little, but that I'll also have enough perspective-taking skills (and modesty) to temper it a bit. I like to think that I'll be self-aware enough not to do that, but then again... who knows?

You know what I'm talking about though, right? You'll be clicking on the #amwriting thread and expecting to "run into" other fledgling authors out there, share in the misery of struggling author-hood, maybe even get some recommendations/ads for new books out there. Some. Yet, so often, when I'm cruising through that hashtag (and others), I see so many authors out there spamming their books, their services, whatever to us all. Not advertising... spamming. And, honestly, I don't get it. Occasional advertising, is one thing. Spamming (in some instances I've seen the same person post every few minutes or so the same ad for their book, over and over) is a totally different thing, altogether. I feel it's important to differentiate.

Advertising = okay. Spamming = bad.

When I walk into the mall, I don't expect vendors to chase me around, follow me from store to store,  repeatedly blasting their wares into my line-of-sight. That's not to say that they won't (or shouldn't) advertise or try to sell me their stuff, but they're not going to do it so much so that I choose to avoid the mall entirely on my next day off. That would be counterproductive as they'd likely lose my business entirely.

Now, on twitter, particularly on the #amwriting feed, I am not expecting to buy anything. My purpose scanning that hashtag is generally to hear from other authors sharing advice on their writing processes, tips about the publishing industry, success stories, etc. Even still, I expect to see some advertisements for new works. It's awesome, in a community of writers, to see that some of us are actually reaching that goal, getting published. It's great that we have the ability and the technology to be able to dance around in front of a community of fellow writers, shouting, "Look at me, look what I did!" I, personally, love to support new authors and if there's a book out there that sounds interesting, or up my alley, I'm in. Sign me up. That's totally cool. Please tell me about your book.

Just please, don't do it that much. And you all know how much I mean. We've all seen it.

Ok, so what do I do when I see the same ad, repeatedly, within a short amount of time? I get annoyed. Sometimes I get angry, 'cause I'm trying to relax and read new posts. And then? I block you. I don't buy your book. I don't follow you. I just block you. And then the next time you try to talk about your book, I'm not going to see it. Sale lost, follower lost, and any chance at making a future connection or sale... lost.

And that's the beautiful thing about twitter. Unlike the mall, you don't have to leave the building to avoid that maniacal salesperson. You can just block 'em. For-ev-ah.

I might be in the minority, and if that's true then this post is just me complaining about a pet-peeve of mine that others can't relate to. But I think, I really do, that when I finally finish my novel I will be more conscious of how my posts might be taken by others. Sure, I'll advertise. I'll shout to the world about my triumph, even. Just not at the expense of annoying followers/potential buyers of my book until they block me.

Love, Tom

p.s. I'm tweeting and blogging about my journey writing my first book. Check me out @RimerTom

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

That Time I Finished My 2nd Draft

After letting the first draft of my manuscript rest for what seemed like forever (it was only a month), I did my first read through. At this point, where my WIP currently stands, I'm calling it a second draft. What surprised me was that I did far more reading than I did editing/revising, if that makes any sense. Sure, I fixed the obnoxious errors, typos, and god-awful sounding sentences... but, I really just wanted to get an idea of how it all sounded, how it all flowed.  Quite frankly, there was a lot of really good and a lot of really bad. Here's some of what I noticed:

*The first half of the novel was not nearly as good as the second half. This surprised me. I've read so much about people, agents, etc. saying that many authors start with really strong early pages, but then sort of peter out. For me, it was the complete opposite. I found that, starting off, I was doing far more editing and getting through a single chapter without doubting myself as a writer was more difficult. As I moved into the second half of the manuscript, I was reading much faster and was finishing chapters/scenes feeling like, "Man, that kicked ass." The key for me now will be matching the tone, pacing, writing of the 2nd half of the story with the first.

*I noticed I was reusing certain words and phrases way too frequently. This I did force myself to stop and address because it was annoying me so incredibly much. I have nothing further to say on the matter.

*Definitely found some plot holes. That'll take a little bit more thought and eventual tweaking, but at least with this initial read-through I'm aware of them. I won't allow myself to be done with the next draft until all of those have been fixed.

*Some characters are just written better than others. This is natural, I guess. I definitely will want to spend some extra time hanging out with a few of them on the next go-around, though.

So, now, I'm faced with a few other questions. Do I pick this thing right back up and get goin' on my next draft? Does it need to rest yet again? At what point do I need to start thinking about beta-reader-ing? When is it time to let another set of eyes feast upon my words?

At this point no one, and I mean no one, has seen my WIP. Not even my wife. She knows as much as the rest of you do: that it's a YA, SciFi adventure. I'm just now starting to get excited at the idea of receiving feedback, in whatever form that might take. I can't wait to share my story with others. Up to this point, it's only resided within the confines of my brain.

And that, my friends, is a terrifying place.

find me and more of my bookish rantings @RimerTom