For your reading pleasure, here are several articles about writing, publishing and promoting I’ve read this week and found useful, thought-provoking, and otherwise helpful. In this edition, I’ve once again focused primarily on the topic of writing, because I ran into several articles on writing that gave me food for thought and tools for improvement. Enjoy!
15 questions for your beta readers – and to focus your own revisions – Jodie Renner
So how do you find your beta readers? Perhaps through a critique group, writing class, workshop, book club, writers’ organization, or online networking such as Facebook, Twitter, or Google+. In the case of a YA novel or children’s book, look around for be age-appropriate relatives, neighborhood kids, or the children of your friends – or perhaps you know a teacher or librarian who would be willing to read some or all of it aloud to students and collect feedback.
To avoid generic (and generally useless) responses like “I liked it,” “It was good,” or “It was okay,” it’s best to guide your readers with specific questions. Here’s a list to choose from, based on suggestions from novelists I know. If you’re hesitant to ask your volunteers so many questions, you could perhaps have them choose the ones that seem most relevant to your story and writing style. And of course, if you first use these questions as a guideline during your revisions, the responses from your beta readers should be much more positive, or of a nature to take your story and your skills up a level or two.
As well as the 15 questions for beta readers, Jodie Brenner gives some suggestions on how to recruit beta readers and how to approach revisions, yourself, as a fiction writer. The article does a great job of helping a writer focus on what they need from the beta read process and how to use the feedback.
3 steps to invoke your inner Diva – Gigi Rosenberg
Some people says it’s good to fail. But try it. Fail. It doesn’t feel good. In fact, it’s one of the most painful feelings.
Recently, I did a reading that didn’t go as well as I wanted it to. I missed the mark, in my own eyes. For days, I couldn’t see this failure as anything more than embarrassing. So, how can this failure be good for me, I wondered.
When I analyzed what had happened, I realized that the reason I didn’t perform as well as I wanted to was because I didn’t invoke my inner Diva. For example, when we were rehearsing, it was very rushed and because I wanted to be “easy and nice,” I didn’t take the time I needed to make sure my set up — the location of the microphone and so on — worked for me. I probably needed five extra minutes but I didn’t ask for it. My attitude instead was: No worries. I can make anything work.
This article caught me at an opportune moment when I was about to push on through my reluctance and do a bunch of creative decision-making, when what I really wanted to do was be brain-dead, cocoon and see if I felt more enterprising and creative in a few days. It wasn’t about performance, though I was (and still am) trying to get my head around how to meld my stories and my persona and distill them into the look and feel of a tiny business card. It was harder than I thought, and I’m still not sure what I want to do. So, rather than force myself past uncertainty and indecision, I decided to wait and keep thinking for another month or so. It’s such a tiny and seemingly minor decision, but it will result in a concrete touchable symbol of my work and who I am as a writer.
How to Write Faster (and Why Maybe You Shouldn’t) – K.M. Weiland
Today, I’m going to be contradictory: first, I’m going to show you how to master a killer skill (namely, how to write faster)–and then I’m going to tell you why you shouldn’t use it.
This one is a fairly dense article with a ton of advice. For me, the issue is keeping the editor part of my brain out to lunch while I’m in the throes of creating the story and hauling it out word by slippery word from the depths of my mind. Before I learned to do that and and also learned that I actually can write more than 10,000 words without running out of steam, I couldn’t write a novel from start to finish.
This article looks at the big picture – how to be a successful author – and goes beyond completing the first novel. Weiland makes a compelling case for getting the next novel out there, and then the next. But, the message I took home was about developing stamina – about sitting down regularly and putting a significant chunk of text on the page. You do that by planning your story. I’m close to 50-50 planning versus pantsing a long story. By pantsing, I mean sitting down with a vague idea and a blank page and writing by the seat of the pants. I’m more successful when I do at least some planning, but I usually find myself in seat-of-the-pants territory within 20,000 words of story-writing. Weiland makes a strong argument for putting more effort into planning.
Publishing My First Book – Part 2 – S.A. Lovett
I talked before about the first stages of editing, from pre-round edits, to cover copy, to round one content edits. We attacked details with gusto, but moving into copy edits and final line edits, the details went microscopic. Clarity of prose, sensitivity of subject matter, echo words, punctuation—we looked at every sentence as through a magnifying glass.
It was worth all the debates over word choices—via email and in the comment column of Word’s Track Changes. The end result, we hope, is a seamless read. The reader stays engrossed in the experience of the book. Any spot where she could be “taken out of the story” and put the book down has been smoothed over. We want her to not close the book until the end, and then, be so sad it’s over that she’s itching for the next one. Hence the stress over detail that goes into editing.
This article offers invaluable insight into the process of getting a manuscript into the best possible shape before hitting the “publish” button. Lovett goes the traditional publishing route, so is dealing with several editors with different areas of focus, but the final product – the most flawless, polished novel of which she is capable, is a familiar goal. She captures the horrors of missing a glaring error, but she also highlights some other aspects of editing that are equally important, particularly editing for clarity.
Does Social Media Sell Books? – Derek Haines
After many years of being active on social media, and having accumulated reasonable followings, I’d have to say that the answer to this question is no, not directly.
I don’t know how many times a day I see, ‘Check out my book’, ‘You’re invited to an event’, or ‘Download my book for free.’ My reaction to these messages, which for me number in their hundreds every day, is to ignore them completely. Exactly the same as most people do I think.
However, social media offers the logical temptation to sell stuff, especially to those who are new or inexperienced. After all, there is a whole world out there and it’s just so darn easy to send a little message out to millions of people saying, ‘Buy my stuff because I’m really so cool’.
This article has some tips on developing an author platform on social media. Haines discusses what and how to market as an author. Haines believes that an author’s blog should be the center of his or her social media picture.
It’s easy to write a tweet or a facebook wall post. A blog article takes considerably more time to develop and polish. But, the blog will become a standing wave of relevant content over time, content that is searchable and constantly growing in depth and breadth. That finely crafted tweet or wall post is ephemeral by comparison. The point of using social media is to develop an audience for your blog. And by extension, your blog writings develop interest and curiosity in your books.
A Little of This, a Little of That
Learn from the Greats: 7 Writing Habits of Amazing Writers – Leo Babauta
Finding the ideal working habits that will allow me to write as consistently as possible is always something I’m exploring as a writer.
As I’ve said before, I try to make it a habit to write first thing in the morning. It helps me to focus and ensure that I’m getting my writing done.
I love reading about my favorite writers and what writing habits led to their success. Below, I share with you some of my favorite writers’ work habits … and it’s obvious that there’s no single way to success. Some like to write a certain number of words or pages every day, others were happy to write a page or a sentence. Some liked to write long-hand, others did it on index cards. Some wrote standing up, others lying down.
From James Joyce to Truman Capote to Stephen King, Babauta shares some of the work habits of prolific and acclaimed writers. This is a nice contrast to Weiland’s article. She emphasizes stamina. Babauta’s article emphasizes discipline. These are two sides of the same coin. You don’t develop stamina without possessing (or developing) the discipline to write regularly and make excellent use of the time you spend writing, whether you plan and outline or you don’t. The quirks and work habits of successful and even seminal authors were thought-provoking, and gave me some insight into my own writing habits.
As always, if you run across an article you think would be of interest in this series (or if you have written one!), I’d love to hear about it. Contact me via comment here or via social media.
Until next week, happy writing, and happy reading!