Sharing the thrill of mystery.
Using them as Beta Readers is just one way to take advantage of our Members who are Readers. Beta reading isn't just nice, it's necessary. Find out why in this article from She Writes.
Beta readers can be tricky for any author. Read more about the experience writer Diana Paul had with her debut novel and why you should hire beta readers for your next book now.
I found my three beta readers for my first novel, Things Unsaid, after I had spent considerable time polishing the story. Looking back I wish I had learned about the importance of beta readers at a much earlier stage in the game. Had I asked them to read earlier drafts, my story would have been stronger earlier in the evolution of my work-in-progress. Their comments were instrumental in improving both structure and character development in Things Unsaid.
Now I am working on my second novel, tentatively titled Deeds Undone. It’s now time for me to start thinking of my beta readers, the two or three people whom I will trust with my story, a continuation of Things Unsaid, but transposed into a murder mystery, answering the question of what happened to one of the characters in Things Unsaid. It is a very scary thing—naked exposure to your narrative. Writing is so deeply personal. It opens the author to vulnerability, so sharing a yet-to-be-published novel with beta readers is a truly courageous act. Beta readers can save the writer a lot of time and energy in changing plot lines, character arcs, voice and just about everything else in the elements of a novel. An insightful beta reader can be an author’s best friend.
One of my beta readers has to know about the writing craft, ideally, a polite, professional and talented writer and editor. To maximize my time in rewriting and re-conceptualizing the story, I need a beta reader who appreciates the genre my novel falls in. I will return the favor and be a beta reader for one of their manuscripts. Fair is fair, and I am only too happy to do this. For my other reader or two, I want someone who can react as my ideal reader would. Someone who can tell me where the story drags, what characters are believable, what dialog pulls them in (and doesn’t). I want honesty but not brutal, destructive comments. I realized early on, that I don’t resist “killing my darlings,” even though Things Unsaid claimed three years of my life to write. I just wanted to move on to my next story.
After you've selected your beta readers, the tough part of selecting begins: listening to the critiques.
If you want honesty, you have to nurture your beta readers by responding positively to their first tentative (and it is always tentative) misgivings about something you have written, usually in the very first chapter. If you can’t handle negativity, don’t subject a beta reader to the task of tiptoeing around the weaknesses in your story. Being a beta reader is difficult first and foremost because the beta reader may be a friend and doesn’t want to lose your friendship. [Word of advice: Only select one friend as a beta reader. The others should be at least “arms-length” critics.] Also, all good beta readers do not want to undermine the confidence you are trying to sustain as an author. They want you to succeed.
You want your beta reader to be specific. Comments like: “It drags in the middle” gives the necessary heads-up that something is wrong, but you need more than that in order to repair the writing. So, ask questions: Why does it drag? Is it because the character is not changing enough? Is the story becoming repetitive? Listen carefully, because other readers may feel the same way.
Every story can be improved, but that doesn’t mean all criticism should be created equal. In the final analysis, the writer has to determine what feels right. Nonetheless, a fragile ego can block out worthwhile criticism that, if dealt with now, can head off being rejected later on or noted by professional book reviewers. Be a good sport and learn what the beta reader has in mind: both good and bad. If you are open to criticism, you will have learned another perspective that every writer should welcome. One caveat: if the beta reader has nothing positive to say—“This book is just dreadful. Don’t give up your day job.”—you should move on and find someone else who is both supportive and analytical.
Although the comments from the beta reader may require major revisions—for example, where there are plot holes or too many characters—you as the writer must figure out how to resolve the weak areas in the novel. Beta readers give honest criticism so that the writer can see where the scenes, plots, characters, can be improved upon and problems with the narrative solved. Beta readers’ pet peeves—“I don’t like anti-heroes” or “Sex scenes are disgusting”—are not at all useful if you believe both contribute to the story you have to tell. Following their recommendations would only crush your vision and voice. The beta reader who is your friend can be your muse as well: someone who understands the tone and voice of your story without trying to impose his or her own.
This is probably the most difficult task any writer has to go through, if the match is going to be compatible, even inspirational. Time and energy on the part of the serious beta reader are invaluable and I never take my beta reader for granted, just as I wouldn’t my best friend. Even if I don’t eventually incorporate most of their comments into future revisions, I respect the beta reader’s undertaking and know that other readers will have similar reactions. So the beta reader prepares the writer for future responses and reception from book buyers and reviewers.
One reader I relied upon for critiquing my writing is an author from my writers’ group. The two beta readers I asked (from the book club members) were avid readers—just the type of reader I was hoping to attract. I was very fortunate that my three beta readers proved to be so conscientious and insightful. For writers who do not have that kind of network, I would suggest a shout-out on Facebook in one of the authors’ groups or on LinkedIn.
I was able to meet with each reader individually to discuss in detail their comments and suggestions for revision on a regular basis, sometimes recording their comments. I only met with each of them after digesting comments, comparing with other beta readers, and waiting some time to clear my head in order to deal with the more problematic issues.
What can I say about beta readers? They are your muses, your inspiration... your best friends.
I found this little gem from NY Book Editors.
Check out the whole article and the links from clicking here.
You’re a writer, not a blogger, so should you still write a blog?
Personally, I’m in the benefit camp. For the reasons you’ll learn below, blogging is probably the best thing you can do while you’re not actively writing your novel to prepare you for the task.
Hello friends. Hope your new year is off to a good start.
One week into the new year, I decided to reflect back upon 2019. Last year, I tried to read 62 books. Fourteen of them were never finished, but I plan to read them this year. Because I check out so many books from the library at one time, I have to prioritize which to read first. Some of them have short lending times because they have a long waiting list. Twenty seven I didn't enjoy, for various reasons and never finished. This year, I'm off to a good start. I just picked up Stephen King's The Institute. It took many many months for me to finally secure the book. I plan to take my time reading it. Since I checked out the large print version, I get to keep it longer.
I'm able to read a lot of books because I don't watch a lot of tv, or movies. I did see The Rise of Skywalker. It didn't disappoint. Spoiler alert - I jumped out of my seat when Billie Dee Williams appeared. Awesome!
The year is getting off to a good start with writing. The people I've met online have been great. Every day, I learn some new aspect to writing or publishing. It has been a learning experience.
Kellye Garrett invited me to Crime Writers of Color, which was started by herself, Gigi Pandian, and Walter Mosley. https://www.crimewritersofcolor.com/about Check out the website.
Through them, I found out about literary agents of color. https://www.litagentsofcolor.com/.
It's important to network with other writers. Someone is going to know something you don't. Share your knowledge and gain something in return. Join.
Unfortunately, all the writing groups in Sacramento in which I participate have their events on the same day. The third Saturday of the month. Sometimes I have to pick and choose what to attend.
Capitol Crimes will host fantasy author Kevin Anderson on Saturday, January 18th. I checked out his website. To say that he has written a lot is an understatement. To learn more, visit, https://capitolcrimes.wildapricot.org/.
January 18th, California Writers Club - Sacramento will host Robin Martin and Susan Herman for their program Navigating Editor Service Options. Most writers will tell you an editor can be invaluable. However, they can also be expensive. Research before you commit. This program would be helpful for any author.
Black Women Tell Tales will also meet on January 18th at Underground Books. If you haven't checked out Underground Books yet, you need to. The owner is so nice. There are books there by authors of color I never even heard about, and of course the ones I have.
Regarding writing, I am working on my mystery manuscript right now. I've sent my thriller to some beta readers. Hope to hear back soon.
Last year I participated in NaNoWriMo. I found it helpful with keeping me on track. I managed to complete a manuscript within the month. I was less pleased with the website. It did a good job of tracking my progress, but less helpful with allowing me to connect with other writers.
I'm hoping this will be the decade I become a published author. Although, I'm learning that the process only begins once the writing is finished.
Have a good weekend, and a productive week.
Michelle Corbier is checking in today for her first blog post on our site with some great information for emerging authors. - Penny
Yes, it is finally autumn. My favorite time of year. I had a productive week. Hope you did too.
I was able to submit my manuscript to #PitchWars. If you are not familiar with it, check it out at https://pitchwars.org/ It is a mentoring program to assist aspiring writers desiring to publish their manuscripts. Established authors help you prepare your manuscript to present to agents in the spring.
There is also a program called #PitchMad where you can tweet information about your manuscript to agents and/or publishers. It is a 12 hour event that occurs every quarter. The next event will be in December.
I am taking a hiatus from writing. My next project will probably be a suspense thriller. I've toyed with some ideas. Otherwise, I intend to catch up on my reading.On Friday night, I stayed up until 3 am to finish Sex, Murder, and Double Latte by Kyra Davis. I recommend it. The story is fast and funny.
I am continuing my reading of African American mystery and crime writers. I am on my new read. I will share it with you next week.On Saturday, September 21st, I attended my first meeting of Capitol Crimes, which is the local branch of Sisters in Crime. The guest speaker was a librarian. She provided a lot of knowledge. Helpful to self-published and traditionally published authors alike.
The next event for Capitol Crimes, https://capitolcrimes.wildapricot.org, will be a tour of Sacramento's Old Historic Cemetery. Join us. It will be October 19th.
I have been in book clubs and read about book clubs BUT I love the idea of a Silent Book Club. (SBC) This was a concept I found online and wanted to share with you. One of the hardest parts of being in a book club is finding the time to read. The lovely thing about SBC is that you have time to read what you want to read and then, if you wish, discuss it with the rest of the group. There are established SBC's in the Sacramento area. Links will follow this post ---Penny
Silent Book Clubs
Silent Book Club started in 2012 with a couple of friends reading in companionable silence at our neighborhood bar. We loved books, and reading with friends, but most of our previous attempts at book clubs had fizzled out.
Often with traditional book clubs there's the scramble to finish the assigned book, and the pressure to have something smart to say. Wouldn't it be great to have a book club where you could just enjoy books, friends, and wine—without any homework?
We started Silent Book Club because reading with friends is awesome. We love hearing about what people are reading (often in their other book clubs) and we think it's important to put down our phones and be social. Real, live, breathing-the-same-air social, not hearting-you-on-Instagram social.
We also believe there's no shame in drinking alone, especially when you have a good book for company. In fact, most of the time we'd rather be left alone with our book, thank you very much creepy guy asking what we're reading. And, added bonus for the parents out there: your kids can't follow you into the bar.If only you had a bouncer for your bathroom. But you don't need alcohol to read with friends.
Silent Book Club is about community. Everyone is welcome, and anyone can do it. We encourage people all over the world to start their own Silent Book Clubs. We have more than 70 active chapters in cities of all sizes, and new chapters are being launched by volunteers every week.
Check out our calendar to find a Silent Book Club chapter in your town, or sign up for our newsletter to receive invites by email.
Bring a book, bring a friend. Then read, wine, repeat.
Sacramento - Meetup- Silent Book Club
When I was in high school I was in a book club, but I did not know it. My friends and I would read romance novels and “chick lit” from authors of color, then have fervent discussions during lunch that usually began with: “Girl, did you read…” or “Girl, I can’t believe…” We did all of that just to have fun. What we did not realize was that our informal book club was improving our health.
According to separate social relationship studies by physician Stewart Wolf and the scientific journal PLOS Medicine their findings suggest that spending time with close friends can:
The studies also suggest that the lack of close social relationships can negatively impact your health the same way smoking, obesity and the lack of exercise does.
Add reading to the mix and there are even more health benefits. For instance:
So what does this all mean? Spending time with friends and getting wrapped up in a good book is aerobic exercise for the brain and medicine for the heart and soul. So go ahead — join a book club or start one of your own. It’s good for you!
So you've finished your novel or short story . Are you satisfied with your working title? Maybe you haven't titled it all. Maybe you thought a flash of inspiration would hit you once you wrote the words -- the end.
No matter where you are on the spectrum of finding that perfect title for your work read Robert McKee's tips on how to perfectly title a movie. His tips easily translate to the written story and just might make you rethink how you title your work.
When Action Isn’t a Good Thing in Your Novel
By Julie Glover
I took one acting class in college. In addition to discovering I didn’t want to pursue drama, but simply storytelling, I learned some of the challenges of portraying a character’s persona to an audience just beyond the stage.
One tidbit was my takeaway that you need something to do with your feet, your hands, your body. Enter props.
When a partner and I performed a scene in class from Extremities (yes, the one made into a film that Farrah Fawcett starred in), I started the scene with a cigarette in hand. Looking back, I now realize that cigarette had zero to do with what was happening. It was merely a crutch to keep my hands busy so I didn’t look like an idiot standing there with no movement or gesturing wildly.
This happens to us authors with the page too.
For example, we need to write a scene with two characters talking, but something should be happening besides dialogue, right? Enter props. We put them at a kitchen table and give them tea to pour into cups. We put them in a car where they can fiddle with the radio dial and glance in the rear-view mirror. We get them to fiddle with their clothes, their jewelry, their wristwatch.
But is that action actually related to what else is happening in the scene? Does the action reveal something about the characters or the plot? Or is simply to keep our characters busy?
Let me lay out two examples below. The dialogue and setting will be the same for both. But contrast how the action doesn’t really matter in the first scene, but pulls its weight much better in the second.
Mary grabbed coffee cups from the cupboard and turned on the pot. “My sister’s arriving at noon. Or so she says.”
John leaned against the counter and watched the coffee. “When she gets here, you need to explain what’s happened.”
Mary had no idea how to have that conversation. How could she explain to her sister what she didn’t understand herself?
The coffee hadn’t finished percolating, but Mary shoved a cup under the stream anyway. Once it was full, she handed it to John and returned the pot to its place. She could wait for her own cup.
“Why don’t you tell her?” Mary asked. “You’re more diplomatic than I am.”
John added sugar to his coffee, three packets. “I don’t think diplomacy is your best bet. More like pulling off the Band-Aid, one quick yank and be ready for the scream.”
Mary pushed aside the family crest coffee cups and grabbed a nondescript one from the back of the cupboard, then turned on the pot. It was barely eight a.m., and she was headed toward a third cup. “My sister’s arriving at noon. Or so she says.”
John leaned against the counter and watched the coffee, as if it was a focal point to avoid eye contact. “When she gets here, you need to explain what’s happened.”
The coffee hadn’t finished percolating, but Mary shoved a cup under the stream anyway. Impatient with the coffee, impatient with the situation, impatient with her life.
Once the cup had filled, she handed it to John. “Why don’t you tell her? You’re more diplomatic than I am.”
The hot plate sizzled, and she returned the coffee pot to its place. She could wait for her own cup. By now, she should be used to standing in line for what she wanted.
John added sugar to his coffee, three packets. If only Mary could add that kind of sweetener to bad news. “I don’t think diplomacy is your best bet,” he said. “More like pulling off the Band-Aid, one quick yank and be ready for the scream.”
# # #
In the first example, there’s action in that they’re drinking coffee. But who cares! It doesn’t say anything about the two of them or the story. In the second example, that action is used to illuminate more about the characters and what’s going on.
Sure, you still don’t know what’s going on, because I purposefully kept it vague, but you have a much better feel for the characters and the mood. Even Mary pushing past her family crest coffee cups to get a different cup tells you something.
Because the action in your novel should matter. If it doesn’t, you need to either take it out or give it meaning.
Here are some places where you might find non-meaningful action in your work-in-progress:
Of course, you need actions in your novel that show the character moving about and going from place to place. And yes, sometimes the character wipes lint off his pants just because. So please don’t go hacking out every instance of “she walked to the door.” In an effort to compel the reader, don’t confuse the reader. Instead, maintain the continuity of a scene.
But make sure the overall action of a scene reveals character, advances plot, and/or provides tension.
Julie Glover writes cozy mysteries and young adult fiction. Her YA contemporary novel, SHARING HUNTER, finaled in the 2015 RWA® Golden Heart®. When not writing, she collects boots, practices rampant sarcasm, and advocates for good grammar and the addition of the interrobang as a much-needed punctuation mark.
Julie is represented by Louise Fury of The Bent Agency. You can visit her website here and also follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
By Penny Manson
The folks at Outskirts Press have a point -- self-published authors "carve their own paths and create their own destiny." With that in mind Outskirts Press gives writers five (5) reasons to be thankful for Self-Publishing.
By R. Franklin James
Eventually every writer must come to face to face with a vacant screen or blank sheet of paper, and the words that are stored in our head start to pour out—or they don’t. The compelling story we thought we had to articulate, evades us and we fall back on the mechanical: word counts, details, research—words on a page.
And that’s okay.
Writing fiction is learned. It requires craft and discipline and more than anything it requires inspiration—the inspiration that comes from listening to the voices in our head. Voices which convert to words, which lead to characters, to scenes, to the interaction of character and scenes, and how they all build upon each other to tell a story that transports the reader.
Writers must have the courage of convictions that words, and the joining of words into sentences and the melding of sentences into paragraphs and the linking of paragraphs onto pages, will produce a book that we hope will entertain, educate and perhaps make a difference.
Because at the core of it, at the very base of our being, writers are idealists with an incessant urge to get our thoughts and stories out of our heads, onto paper, and into the hands of people we want to reach.
But what about that muse?
Our muse is always with us, except for the times we ignore her presence. We may struggle with conjuring up the right word or the next scene, and beg that she appear. She looks at us in amazement because she has never left our side.
Our muse is our imagination.
She is the free flowing ideas that pour out of our fingers and onto our keyboards. If we hit a wall or become blocked it is likely because we are trying too hard. The quickest way to turn our back on our imagination is to “think” about it. Stuck? Then take a few minutes to get up and walk around, or step outside or watch some inane show on the TV. Still stuck? Then talk to your protagonist. Ask him or her what’s going to happen next? Who’s going to walk through that door, or cause the phone to ring, or send a letter in the mail? Try to imagine the unexpected, and let your imagination kick-in.
Maybe read a book. The author, Annie Proulx is quoted: You should write because you love the shape of stories and sentences and the creation of different words on a page. Writing comes from reading, and reading is the finest teacher of how to write.
But be careful, reading can be captivating but it’s not writing, read to prime the pump.
Still stuck? Then write a few words about why you feel stuck and what could be the cause. The idea is to prime the imagination pump. That is how our muse talks to us.
It is not enough to say: I’m blocked; I don’t know where my story is going.
Don’t write your story, write your protagonist’s story. Or, maybe write the villain’s story. Or, maybe write the end of a story.
The important thing is: don’t stop writing.
Even if it’s just a paragraph, write every day, and you’ll discover that the muse you’re desperately seeking has been seeking you. One of my favorite quotes is from legendary western author Louis L’Amour: Start writing, no matter what. The water can’t flow until the faucet is turned on.
We are the Sacramento, California chapter of Sisters in Crime. We promote the ongoing advancement, recognition and professional development of women crime writers.