Revise It! Recruiting and Using Reader Feedback

Beta Readers

Reader response can be one of your most important resources in the revision process–or it can derail everything and leave you confused and insecure in a corner, wondering why you even bother writing. Here are several steps to making your reader recruitment process smooth, easy, and effective.

Notice I didn’t say painless.  You’re asking for reader response, after all. You want to know what’s working and what isn’t now so you can process and fix it before you go onto the editor step. So a little(ish) pain is part of the deal.  😉

Before you go into the reader feedback stage, go back and make sure you’ve evaluated your reasons for revision. Get solid on your vision so that you know what questions to ask your readers, and you can evaluate their input effectively.

Readers can come a couple of flavors:

  • Cheerleaders – These are readers who read along as you’re drafting your manuscript. Their main job is to keep you accountable to goals and encourage you to keep going. Some writers don’t use cheerleaders, preferring to create free and solo, away from anyone else’s critique. Others (like me) swear by them. While I’ll do short works without cheerleaders, for me writing is an inherently social endeavor, so I need the constant feedback of my circle of readers to keep going.
  • Alpha Readers – Also called first readers. One or two people who read your manuscript just for the joy of it. Alpha readers only comment when they’re really jarred of the narrative or confused by something. I don’t necessarily use these because my cheerleaders tend to give me quick readers summaries after I finish a manuscript.
  • Beta Readers – After the alpha reader(s), the beta readers are your major source of reader feedback. Whereas alpha readers give unprompted reader-response, beta readers often get a list of questions or concepts to skim for and check. They’ll give your manuscript a more detailed look-over according to your specifications, often in exchange for an advance look at your epic story or as part of a beta read swap.
  • Gamma Readers – Readers who go over the manuscript in later stages and offer specific feedback. Can also be brought in at the end for endorsement purposes and final feedback about genre/audience for your work.
  • Specialty Readers – these can come along anywhere in the process, but they’re singled out for specific purposes. They might include sensitivity readers if you’re dealing with a particular area that you aren’t familiar with in terms of life experience, race, sexuality, disability, culture, religion, etc. They might also include readers with specific technical knowledge or expertise who can give feedback on whether or not your content sounds plausible.

Guidelines for Using Reader Feedback

  • Evaluate your reasons for revision. Again. Evaluate your reasons for revision. Clarity of purpose is one of the most valuable tools you have as a writer.
  • Decide what kind of readers you want to use. You don’t have to use all of the ones listed, and you may have some super-specific extra-special top-secret psi readers that you use for the ultimate in feedback.
  • Choose readers who actually enjoy your genre. They will inherently understand the tropes and expectations. Plus, if they like the story, they might sign up for ARCs and be able to give endorsements or reviews!
  • Use multiple readers. I would recommend three beta readers at minimum to give yourself a good variety of feedback. Using more than three is fine, but it can be overwhelming to process. Using less means you won’t have the varied perspectives. Also, if you can, try to have readers from different backgrounds or skill sets.
  • Compose a list of questions. Give them to beta readers so they have specific areas to look for. This can ensure higher quality feedback and be really helpful for your readers.
  • Compare feedback to your purposes. Make sure you hold strong in your vision, but also be open to getting new perspectives on your writing. That is the purpose of feedback, after all!
  • Be gracious to your readers. These are individuals who have given their time and energy to read your work and help you out. Gratitude is a great and classy response. Some authors list significant readers in their acknowledgements, while others offer free ARCs or do beta read swaps.

Note: at this point I’d love to make a huge shout-out to my awesome cheerleader readers and beta readers, who are incredibly supportive and picky at the same time. Y’all are amazing!

Greetings Authors! What kinds of readers do you use? Got any other tips for using reader feedback? Wanna acknowledge some awesome readers in your life? Give a shout-out in the comments!

Revise It! Evaluating Your Story Revision Goals

Why are you revising this manuscript?

Writing inside out means always coming back to the goals, motivation, and heart of your story. It means owning your deepest truths and convictions and then infusing them in every aspect of the writing process.

It’s owning your Push.

Good revising takes good planning, and good planning starts with knowing what your goals and mission and Push are for your story. Even if you’re revising this story on a ‘have-to’ basis because you’ve been blessed with a contract, returning to your own motivations will enable you to tap into more enthusiasm, energy, and productivity when you’re in the depths of “where the crap did THAT sentence come from?” or its sibling, “who wrote this? A five-year-old? Oh wait, no. I did. Whoops!” or their cousin, “holy infodump, Batman!”

Yes, those are quotes from my own self-revision process, lest you think that editors and coaches are somehow superheroes who can crank out perfect manuscripts with breathless ease. While expertise can make story-crafting easier, every writer still has to travel the same journey in revisions and self-editing.

Evaluating the revision process makes ultimately your life easier and gives you quantifiable goals that can work within your revision schedule.

Evaluating Your Story Revision Goals

Why do I need to revise this story right now?

If you’re under a deadline, this is easy to answer. You committed to producing the product, and now you’ve gotta buckle down and do it. The next step is just to figure out how to fuel your brain and creativity to get the job done.

If you’re not under an imposed, necessary deadline, consider carefully what would serve you and the story best. Setting aside your manuscript and allowing it to breathe is a part of the writing process and allows your brain to rest–and this doesn’t just mean novel manuscripts.

A romantic spoof short story I recently released, Hearts Ablaze, was written three years ago in a flurry of satirical creativity. Then I set it aside and worked on other things. When I returned to the story this past March and realized it was actually good, I was evaluating the story with three additional years of experience, not just wishful thinking.

Three years is an extreme example, but always consider the possibility that setting work aside could be part of your process.

What are three reasons I wrote this story? 

These don’t have to be deep, complex reasons. They could be a message on your heart, a desire to have fun, or an excuse to entertain yourself. One reason could easily be “because the owner of the magazine asked me” or “because I want to enter this contest” (although in both of those cases: why that magazine or that contest?). The important thing is that you know those reasons and that you write them down (or at least keep them in mind). Your three story reasons are your focus and your encouragement as you revise.

What are my publishing plans for this story?

Your plans may already be decided by the publisher or the contest. Otherwise, what do you plan to do with this piece? Are you writing a short story to tease out a future release? A quick novella to experiment with a concept? Are you working on a series of books? How do you plan on publishing them? Once a year? In quick succession over a year? If you’re looking to query a series for traditional publication, I strongly recommend outlining as much as possible ahead of time to show the house, and if possible, have more than one book written.

Or maybe you wrote this story for fun and don’t have any future plans. That’s fine too! That was a main reason why I wrote Hearts Ablaze. Just tuck the story away for later or keep it as a fun brain-game–but always stay open to possible publishing urges!

What does my ideal reader look like for this story–and what would I want them to say about it?

Picture your ideal reader. What do they look like? What do they wear? What kind of activities do they enjoy? What do you want that reader to notice about your story? Picture your ideal book review from that reader. Other than “I just bought a hundred copies” 😉 what would you want that review to say? Sure, you can’t actually choose what reviewers say, but you can revise your content to meet reader and genre needs (while still honoring your vision). This is a really helpful exercise when submitting to magazines and contests, because in those cases you already have the readership in line, which makes them easier to target.

Who can I share this story with?

You know your story best, and your excitement for that story is contagious! Part of writing inside out is knowing your motivations and passions and sharing those naturally with potential readers so they catch the fire. However, this passion can get stalled if there is anything in your work that you’re not comfortable owning.

Consider now the reactions of friends, family, and your present/future fan base. If there would be disapproval or concern over you authoring your story, that doesn’t mean you can’t go ahead. It does mean you should evaluate how much you want to invest in the story, whether you want to adjust anything during revisions, and how you want to present it to others. If you’re in a job that mandates a certain degree of self-censorship, consider using a pen name. Otherwise, this question at least forces you to understand the core of your story and identify your audience so that you own whatever controversial subject matter you’re working with.

Why do I like this story?

Always come back to this. Your feelings towards the story will always come through. Yes, an editor can help filter those things out, but why force yourself through something you aren’t enjoying? Especially if you have to write this for a deadline, make a list of things you like just to remind yourself of why you’re at this. Invest in your delight of your story and ‘bank it’ in different ways so that you can pull from that passion when you’re in the depths of seemingly endless detailed rewrites and revision. Make Pinterest boards. Collect articles or objects that inspire your work. Make playlists. Sketch. As a bonus, all of this passion can make marketing easier when you get to that stage!

Your story is worth your investment of time, passion, and purpose. And if after all of this, you’re feeling flaccid and indifferent, I ask again:

Why are you revising this manuscript?

Greetings, authorsmiths! I’d love to hear your answers for any/all of the questions above in the comments–and if you’re in drafting mode, I’d love to hear what your WIP is about, and what makes it so awesome!

 

Revise It! The Miniseries: Six Steps to Unpacking Your First Draft

First draft story revisions are just like unpacking after moving homes–especially if you move the way I do.

There is a world where items are meticulously packed into just the right boxes and loaded with absolute precision into just the right location in the moving truck.

I’ve moved over ten times in my life, and I do not live in this world.

In my world, no matter how carefully I pack, for some reason there are all these little random bits and pieces everywhere that still have to go in boxes or something portable while people are loading the truck.

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Actual boxes of random.

This is basically how I finish drafting a story too. I’m a plotter/pantser hybrid. Once I’ve outlined enough and have a list of scenes, drafting is mostly a straight-forward process.

Until the end, which is usually late at night because I’ve determined that I WILL FINISHED THE THING NOW. I cling desperately to the threads of the plot and shove all possible bits of climax and falling action and resolution in their spots, and then collapse with what is hopefully some kind of profound ending. Ish.

Then come the self-edits and revisions. Figure out where all those pieces are packed and hope that all of my best-laid goals and plans came through in one piece.

Rather like the toaster oven I’m still trying to find.

First draft book edits and revisions

 

Revise It! The Miniseries: Six Factors to Unpacking Your First Draft tackles six key areas in content revisions to get your first draft into great condition! And while there are a lot of different ways to revise, there are some fundamental sweeps that pretty much every manuscript needs to express your vision, please your readers, and, if your content editor is like me, get that lower rate due to being a fantastically-solid piece of self-edited work.

Maybe you’re a plotter that writes super-clean drafts. If so, then another checklist to make sure your revision goes super-quick can’t hurt so you can excel even more.

Maybe you’re a pantser who trusts that somewhere in that mass of words is a great story. I believe in you! But a great revision makes sure the world sees your brilliance.

And if you’re somewhere in between like me, welcome to the club! We have cookies. Once I find the cookie sheets and cookie mix to bake them. And probably a mixing bowl.

Cookie Quote

Ahem.

Revise It! The Mini-Series includes the following:

  • Get multiple flavors of readers (alphas, betas, etc) and learn how to process their input effectively.
  • Clean up your characterization and create three-dimensional characters who are irresistible to readers.
  • Sort out your plot with quick and easy organizer checks that clarify your original, beautiful vision.
  • Figure out how to identify and ditch boring parts (always keeping your genre and target audience in mind).
  • Learn to manage pacing, not just to speed up your story, but also to hold the pause button on significant moments of high emotion and drama.

Note: I’m not numbering these factors because everyone’s brains work differently, and if your process is working efficiently with your brand of creativity, then awesome! If your process isn’t working for you, then all I have to say is: 30 minute author coaching. Contact me and be there for the fun! 🙂

Greetings Authors! What are you working on lately? What is one area where you are strong in revising and self-editing? What’s one area where you could improve?

Essentials Elements of a Great Story Ending

News flash! I’m stepping down from my position as a full-time English and public speaking instructor to focus full-time on editing, writing, publishing, speaking, and coaching. I’ve been preparing for this for months, but in the last few days, with the craziness of the spring play out of the way and the seniors already off on their annual trip, it’s finally sinking in.

I’m leaving.

More than that, I am finishing this stage of my life and moving on to a new one. And that can be scary, but it doesn’t have to be. More than ever, I am focusing on ways to make this a strong finish for myself, my students, my fellow faculty, and even my classroom! And I’m laying the groundwork for my future career at the same time.

Finishing is finishing. And the stages of finishing a career path can be remarkably similar to those of finishing a story well. Here’s a checklist to make sure you’re finishing your story well.

story ending essentials

1.) Consider the genre conventions – hit all the notes for your type of story.

I work at a private school. The way I finish here is different than if I worked at a public school or a tutorial or a college.

In the same way, make sure you finish right for the type of book you’re writing. Romances often like HEAs (happily-ever-afters). In mysteries, you need to solve the actual mystery. In horror, there better be one creepy/haunting conclusion. When revising and editing, make sure you’re hitting those notes.

2.) Keep the same quality all the way to the end.

Teaching during the last two weeks of school can be brutal, especially if the weather outside is beautiful and you’re trying to teach advanced grammar. So what I do is plan some of my most interesting projects at the end of the year. Instead of tapering off, we go out with a flash of fun.

In the same way, don’t treat your book’s ending like “oh good it’s DONE.” When drafting, try to keep the excitement going through the finale. End with a wedding, a funeral, something momentous. Or at least great dialogue. Revise to polish your ending to a shine. Leave your readers with a great finish.

3.) Finish the character arcs – with each character, even the minor ones.

Even on the last day, I plan on greeting every student with the same warmth and interest as I did at the start–and continue checking in on their future plans! After all, life goes on for everyone!

Treat your characters the same way. It’s tempting to lose sight of those minor characters, but the mark of a good story is keeping track of all of the characters and where they end up (when possible–short stories and novellas can get away with disappearing characters more easily). Invest in all of your characters until the end and give them the send-off they deserve.

4.) Wrap up the narrative – and leave it open for the future. 

I’m not planning on coming back to this particular school (in fact, my husband and I are moving five hours away). However, I’m keeping open communication when I can with students, faculty, and staff. Relationships are valuable, both in and of themselves, and because you never know when reconnecting could be mutually beneficial.

In the same way, make sure to tie up all plot in your story in a satisfying way. What this looks like depends on the story, and again, length effects it. Some short stories and flash fiction can end right after the climax (and my novella Storm Warden actually flip-flopped the climax and the resolution). But generally, make sure your resolution actually resolves everything in your conflict in a satisfying way.

AND don’t forget to leave things a little open. If you’re writing a trilogy or a series, this is essential, but even if you’re not, chances are fans of your “absolutely-only-one-book story” might just want some prequel information or maybe a spinoff story or two. This is a good thing. It means they can’t get enough of your work! And having additional little stories can be great to throw on newsletters, blog posts, or even as a Kindle freebie or 99 cent deal.

5.) End with your readers’ favorite things.

Which of course means food and goofy videos–well, in the case of my students. End-of-the-year parties are a great way to celebrate conclusions.

In terms of your book, a feast might not be the ideal ending (although you can’t go wrong with treats, right? 😉 ). But during the revision process, take into account beta reader feedback and make sure you’re finishing strong with more of the same stuff they enjoy. Happy readers make for continuing readers (and happy reviews). If your readers liked the snark all the way through? Have snark at the end. If they’re there for the romance? Make the end have the most feels. Remind those readers why they’re reading your book–and why they want to yell at you to finish the next one!

6.) Make everything clean and tidy(ish). 

Naturally, I’m going to leave my classroom packed up and organized as much as I can, as well as invest in a hefty amount of dusting. But it won’t be perfect (especially not with that contact cement stain under the table–whoops!) And I’m grateful for the summer cleaning crew.

In the same way, make sure your book ending is tight and solid–but don’t stress about perfection. As a writer, perfection will never exist. What you’re doing is better than perfection: it is unique, beautiful, thoughtful, intelligent, and potent. Aim for all of those things–and then invest in a good editor or proofreader to deal with the details.

Any other tips for ending a story well? What are your favorite story endings?

 

Free Content Outline/Revision Worksheet!

Free ContentRevisionWorksheetThere are a lot of revision checklists and guides out there. Just typing the words into a search engine will yield plenty of people with opinions about what you should and shouldn’t cut–and there are a ton of variables. Genre conventions, audience expectations, and use of voice are just a few items that can alter how you revise a story. Therefore, I don’t generally adhere to a certain revision checklist.

What I do adhere to is a content check. Out of everything you do for a manuscript, getting content locked down is the one area where your unique ability to tell a story shines through. A good proofreader can catch your typos. A good line editor can shred your grammar and sentence structure. A good content editor can pinpoint story issues.

But ultimately, you are the one who can best tell your own story. Your mind, your ideas, and your vision all matter and being able to sort out and fix content issues yourself (with the input of a crit group or beta readers) is a great way to ensure that your own voice comes through in the revision process.

Now, if you’re a plotter, you might have an intricate plotting chart that tells you exactly where you need to go. After you write, you’ll need to go back and see if that plotting actually did the job.

If you’re a pantser and have just free-formed a story, then doing a content check to make sure you have all the parts in working order is a smart move. What those parts constitute is again a bit fluid (since there are different story structure methods), but as part of the process, you need to find something that works for you and stick to it.

Naturally, as a writer, editor, and author coach, I do have my own methods of organization that I modify to suit the needs of a client or a story. And since I enjoy sharing and giving away freebies, I’ve attached one of my basic outlining worksheets at the bottom of this blog post and added it to my resources page. It’s in Word form, so feel free to use it, change it up, copy and paste it, or otherwise alter it to suit your needs. I certainly do!

And if you’re looking for someone to provide feedback, thoughts, or a solid sounding board on your work, whether it be motivation, drafting, world-building, or marketing, feel free to sign up for one of my author coaching consultations! They come with notes, customized content, lots of enthusiasm, and the first one is free with absolutely no strings attached.

Content Structure and Purpose Worksheet

Why Self-Editing Helps You Market Your Book

Why Self-Editing Helps You Market Your Book (1)

Writing is a delicate balance of writing your unique vision and communicating that vision to your desired audience (and hopefully to individuals who realize they’re in your audience). After the trials and joys of drafting comes revising and editing, when you have to look at every aspect of your story and rip it to shreds in order to make it better.

Or so every quote would have you believe.

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While it’s true that editing is a matter of making your message clear for others, sometimes the whole prospect can be intimidating. I know it is for me! As much as I crave improving and fixing things, I feel dread whenever I turn a work over to an editor (yes, I’m aware of the irony considering I am one).

The reason is simple: yes, my work is a product to sell, and my left-brained marketing side is eager to get it ship-shape and off to see how it sails.

But my work is also a part of me and always will be. So is yours.

And that isn’t a bad thing. In fact, that’s something that you, as a writer, need to own with everything you have. Because no matter if you sign with an agent, contract with a publishing house, or indie publish, in today’s market it falls on the author to sell their books. There have been debates about the fairness of this, but arguing theoretical fairness doesn’t change the facts.

One fact: this market that demands author involvement and promotion is a great opportunity for you to discover and hold onto the passion that makes you write your stories. Hold onto that passion with everything you have. Remember it when you have to face selling your story. Learn how to hone and shape it and use it in marketing schemes.

This is your Push: the reason that you keep putting blood, sweat, tears, and sleepless nights into a field that really doesn’t offer any guarantees of monetary success or lasting fame.

Self-edits are the first step of this journey of ownership, because in analyzing your story after a period of time (a day, a week, a month, whatever you need), you have the opportunity to truly see what parts of you are within each page of your work. Use the self-editing time not only to reflect on what needs to change about the story, but also on what needs to stay the same. Know what elements are part of your essential branding and theme. What common threads weave through your stories? There are always common threads. What are the aspects of your worldview, your life experiences, your personality, your dreams that shine through?

Yes, you need to write in a way that reaches the market. Yes, you should absolutely clean up that manuscript with at least three editing passes (bare minimum). Yes, you need to make your vision accessible.

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But there are a lot of books getting published every single day. Not even being part of a major traditional house will do anything to ensure your success. Solid cover art, good formatting, top-notch editing, and money thrown at the right marketing ventures can all play a part.

There is one selling point of your story that no one else can duplicate.

You. The deepest inside part of you that seeps into everything you write whether you want it to or not. Your themes.

Your Push.

Know it.
-When self-editing and working with beta-readers, don’t just note what you need to fix. Make a list of things that you really want to/have to keep and why. You may have to negotiate on how you show those aspects, but it gives you a solid footing with an editor (and they’ll appreciate your self-awareness and foresight, as long as it comes with humility).

Own it.
-Understand these key aspects of yourself. One reason you might get stuck or having writers block is that something you’ve written or a plot line you’re using is in violation of an aspect of your Push. Knowing what are your deal-breakers goes a long way to solving your writing issues!

Use it.
-When you know your Push, it is a powerful way of marketing because you can authentically connect with others who have the same values, passions, experiences, and/or favorite things that you do! Plus, it helps build authenticity in your brand, and that is a potent, natural way of selling. Relationships are the way to build trust, and it is a lot easier to form natural, unselfish relationships with others as your genuine yourself.

What’s your push, #plothoppers? What makes you get out of bed in the morning and write? Feel free to share in the comments! And if you’re unsure about what any of that is and/or you want to know more, sign up for a free thirty-minute coaching session with me. Getting awesome books on their way to publication is one of my main missions (besides eating a fried tarantula), and I’d love to help!

Drafting 101 – There’s No One Right Way to Write

why-obsessing

As I considered the next stage in the Fundamentals of Writing: Inside Out series, I got a little hung up on drafting, because drafting ultimately is up to you. The writer.

You can read all the writing craft books you want, but ultimately, your writing process is unique to you. And that is 100% okay (Tweet This).

There are plenty of books to teach you the “winning way.” Trust me, I’ve read through a ton of them. I’m a massive improvement junkie who is always eager to learn new ways of doing things.

Crank out 5,000 words an hour! No, wait! Five pages a day. How about the “write something every day” method? Surely that works? But what about on days when there’s a death in the family, or you’re revisiting your lunch in the bathroom, or you just can’t find the words? Do you just force it? Maybe not. Maybe you should just slow down. Maybe you should outline more. Maybe you should–

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This is where I ended up going to Twitter or Facebook or getting chocolate or potato chips. Or exercising (irony there, I know). Or doing anything other than facing that blank screen with all those well-meaning voices in my head, trying to sincerely to help me, the same way I try to help you.

Here’s the best piece of drafting advice I can give you: have fun. Life’s too short for anything else (Tweet This).

Center yourself. Do whatever you need to do. Pray.  Write and try and fail and make mistakes and start all over again. Throw things if you need to. Eat chocolate. Give someone a hug. Watch TV. Be alone. Be around people. Mix things up. Try again.

Never forget to enjoy your writing, your research, your art. Whatever you want to call it. Find reasons to fall in love with your worlds all over again (Tweet This).

And never give up.