I came home from work yesterday to a wonderful surprise. I have a new 5-Star review for Caught on Goodreads. I’m always grateful for reviews of any type. Feedback is how authors get better. That said, when those reviews are positive and with a bunch of starts, well, that makes my day! Check out the review here to see what one reader thought of the new book!
Character: I’ve spoken about sympathy a few times, and I always made it a point to mention there is a distinction between sympathy and likability. Tyrion, and most of this cast, are horrible. The only thing more horrid than their actions is what was done to place them in this path. I had an advantage here that I don’t think other readers had. I read this book first. Now I’m eagerly reading the first book in the series simply to find out how Tyrion came to be the way he is and act the way he acts. He’s a brilliant character with devastating flaws that are all born of circumstances he couldn’t control. Readers will rip through the pages to find out if he can at least control himself.
Description: I’m pretty forgiving with description. If anyone argued that it was a bit hard to see some of the characters, I probably wouldn’t punch him, but the placement of the descriptive phrases allows my imagination to take over, which is preferable to me than painting a scene with words.
Thanks for reading,
You remember Anaerfell? It was one of the great covers in February’s Book Cover of the Month (made it to the final four)!
Well if you were looking for an excuse to pick it up (I already did), here’s one.
Joshua Robertson, the book’s author and a guy I’ve had the chance to sit on panels with and grow to truly respect, is selling the electronic version of Anaerfell: The Blood of the Dragons (see…headline makes sense now doesn’t it?) for just 99 cents in preparation for his new release June 7.
Blood and Bile is coming your way, and Joshua wanted to celebrate by making it next to impossible to avoid buying a copy of his work.
While Anaerfell is a bit farther down my TBR list than I’d like, I’m glad to have met him and excited to get to his book. If any of you are hankering for something to read, I wouldn’t pass up this deal. I’ve spent 99 cents on plenty of stuff, and this seems like a much bigger value than 32 ounces of soda.
So check it out. Even if you’re like me, and you just plop it in the TBR rotation, you’ll be even more glad you saved money.
Thanks for reading
Last weekend I received the feedback from my wonderful beta readers. Before I do anything else, I’d like to thank them. My deepest gratitude goes to:
Elizabeth Drake, Jenn Moss, C.L. Schneider, (The rest I’ll use first names only as they’re private citizens.) Ashley, and Alora. You all are amazing people and very busy, and it means so much to me that you took time out of your schedules and lives to provide this humble indie author some insight into the book. I didn’t imagine we’d have room for any sort of “acknowledgements” page, but eventually, I’ll be giving shoutouts to you and the alphas and editors. But today is for you wonderful betas because it gave me the idea for this blog.
The story writing and editing process is as unique as the author creating the story. I thought it’d be interesting for me to share with you what I look for from and in a beta reader.
What I ask of them:
I’ll do another post at some point on what I look for in an alpha reader, but the short version is I’m more demanding of them because I need my alphas to make sure I don’t look like a moron. My betas are there for me to be test readers. So what I did is send them my character analysis sheets and ask a few questions.
The character analysis sheet is just a term I made up to sound smart. All I do is ask the readers to rank the character, description, dialogue, world building, and exposition for me on a scale of 1 to then. I expand the “character” sliders to include sympathy, proactivity, competence, and power. This is how I review books; this is how I evaluate books, so this is how I like to receive feedback.
Then I ask what I feel the most important questions any author can ask the reader:
What do you think of the story as a whole?
What do you think about the main character (in this case Elele) at the beginning of the story?
What do you think of the main character at the end?
Would you want to read another story in which this character (and others) appear?
Then I invite the reader to add any thoughts they find relevant.
So I sent the book out to betas and gave them a few weeks (I try to let them have two days to read a single chapter or segment) to read the story. When I got the feedback, the first thing I did was thank them for their time. This is critical authors. These folks are reading your work, the least you can do is let them know what it means to have them offer their time.
Then I opened up a document and typed whatever comments they gave me. For those who quite frankly went the extra mile and sent back the document with notes in the copy, I saved those files to a folder.
I’d be very interested to see what others do via the comments below, but here’s what I do:
Respect everything they say. You’re going to hear feedback. You won’t like all of it. Heck, you might not like any of it. I turn my ego in before I open a document.
While everything each beta says is valuable, what I look for is overlap. What do they all love? What do they all hate? What do they all think? What trends do I see. This is why I tend to want between 10 and 20 betas. The bigger the sample size, the more likely you’ll have enough opinions to really help you sort things out.
I’ll peel back the onion a bit here. The number one bit of feedback I got from every single beta is, “The story starts too slowly. There’s too much information to swallow.” Or something to that effect. Here’s how feedback works in the photojournalism field. One person’s opinion is just one persons opinion, but if everybody who says anything says the same thing, that’s truth. They all wanted to start closer to the action. (And when I review Conflict and Suspense, I’ll talk about that a lot more).
So when the majority of the betas say the same thing, I trust that majority. But what do you do when there isn’t one?
Well, I sort of take the liberty to trust my own feelings. If it’s a mixed bag, I understand that people are going to like some things and hate others.
I put the bigger weight on the betas who fall within my target audience. They’re the ones who I care most about because they’re the ones I want to buy this story. Some of the beta readers I have here provided critical information, but they’re more secondary alphas than actual betas. I trust their options more in matters of style and craft.
So an example might be if one of my style and craft beta readers thinks the dialogue isn’t working, I trust that, because they’re experts. I do this even if my “main audience” betas gave my dialogue 10s. This works because if I improve the writing of the dialogue, the “main audience” betas are only going to like it more. I give those main audience more weight in terms of how they feel about the character and the plot.
An example might be YA themes. I’m not actually a fan of teen or YA books. I can appreciate them and respect them, but I don’t like some of the storytelling elements in those genres. So if one of my friends asks me to read a YA book, I read it, but I’m not going to tell them I don’t like this character of that character if I can tell it’s a genre bias. But if I sent a YA book to a 19-year-old, and she hates the character, then I’m real scared.
So that’s it. I look for overlap (what are they all saying or agreeing on). Then I give tie breakers depending on why I asked that person to beta read.
Armed with my feedback, I create a “revision plan” document in which I plan on going over each segment several times (one time per issue I annotate in my plan). Then I go over it again (another several times) for each document the betas sent me via the actual copy of the story.
Once I finish this draft, it’s off to my editor for a copy-edit, and then I send it out. How do you use beta feedback?
I want to say one more time how grateful I am to those beta readers who helped me out. I may not apply all of your changes, but everything you said was heard and noted. You’ve made me a better writer, and I can’t thank you enough for that.
Thank you for reading,
I just wanted to share a new review for The Journals of Bob Drifter that just posted. I don’t care how many reviews, good or bad, I get; I’m always happy to see them. I’m honored when someone takes the time to read and review my book. If you’re curious about what was said, head on over here and have a look!
Thanks for reading,
I’ve been starting the habit of reading more books on writing. It’s something I’ve always believed in, but didn’t really practice as much as I should. I read plenty, and I listen to video blogs and podcasts when I’m not furiously doing the other things that life has me doing. The thing is, we have to take the time to hone our craft, and it’s not enough to simply write. Writing without learning about the craft or trying new things won’t lead to growth.
I’d mentioned a few times how Caught was a bit delayed because my editor didn’t think Sal’s arc was clear enough. As is always the case when I hear feedback, even if I disagree with it, I started doing some research, and the book I’m currently listening to, Creating Character Arcs by K.M. Weiland, has at least got me thinking. See, my struggle is some characters don’t change. I like some of those characters. So I had to figure out a way of thinking that allowed me to distinguish between one arc and another.
Here’s one choice that’s important: The events your characters experience should change them, or the situation or people should change as a result of your characters.
That, to me, is the distinction that matters. I’ll post a “review” of the above book once I finish it, but I’m far enough along in that book to know I’ve pinpointed that choice as one every writer should make.
Tyrion from Betrayer’s Bane: This was the December Book Cover of the Month. I finished this book last week, and I’ll post a review on it in a few weeks, but Tyrion is a good figure to study. You have a character who’s come to believe a simple truth: Nothing is more important that the elimination of the enemy.
Without giving you too many spoilers, I will tell you what matters is he has a fundamental belief. Each plot point serves to in one way or another test that belief. As the story progresses, he’s even tempted by other things. Then his moment of decision comes when he has to choose to let go of that belief completely or hold to it. That moment of choice must feel realistic. The temptation to change coarse must feel tempting to the reader, and the moment of decision must come at the character’s most delicate frame of mind. Michael G. Manning does an amazing job of following those threads to a satisfying conclusion.
This story I feel less likely to have spoilers, so I feel a bit more ready to point out some of the specifics. Tony Stark has a fundamental belief in the beginning of the movie. Nothing matters as long as you have wit and money. There may be other (and even better) ways to say it, but this is him in a nutshell. Sure, when he’s captured he learns the pain of irresponsibility, but he still counters this with his mind and financial power, but he’s fighting the symptoms of the problem. He’s still pretty caviler about things until the his newest weapon nearly falls into the wrong hands. Here he has the chance to let let the responsibility go, or accept it and do something. That moment of choice is when we see Stark’s growth.
But what about those other arcs I like so much? I’ve been open that I like a character who doesn’t change. When a character doesn’t change, the world around him has to. This is the nature of a story. Something must change.
Captain America: From beginning to end, our hero is who he is. Yes, he gains power. Yes, his looks change. But those are superficial. He starts the movie a young man believing that truth and justice are worth fighting for, and ends his battle paying (or seeming to pay) the ultimate sacrifice for his belief. He doesn’t change. But every other character around him does. His belief becomes a beacon of light for others to look upon. Characters look to him and decide to follow his example, or reject him and become his opposition.
A great plot is an equally great place to start, but events (especially those as traumatic as the ones we see in literature) test people. If those people hold tight to their beliefs (regardless of their truth or falsehoods), the characters around him should be inspired by those actions (or they should try to kill him). If the people don’t change, the characters should. People crave companionship. If the world around us doesn’t change we’ll eventually change ourselves to fit in. Peer Pressure and Social Norming are examples of this truth.
How do you do that? Well, part of it is to consider how your character will react to the events you’re about to put him through? Who is your character at the beginning of the story? Who will he be at the end? Who were the other characters when they meet your main character? Who will they be at the end?
Plot shows a progression of events, but that’s just part of it. Characters should grow or help those around them grow. I thought I’d spend a bit of time offering my thoughts and seeing what everyone else thinks.
Thanks for reading,
Character: I mentioned in my review for Legion that Lance is the only character I could really hold onto. While I still think the reader has too many characters to track, things calm down, and we do get to know more of the other characters. I remember GG, a Junton commander. Basil has an amazing hero moment! Nhlappo is an interesting character as well. Those characters create an effective base and allow the reader to grow closer to the characters around them. I’d say that’s a definite improvement. Lance sort of disappears near the end of the book (not literally, like a spoiler, but his air time sort of falls off). The action is so quick, the reader shouldn’t really mind. Besides, I was more interested in GG’s arc at the time. This isn’t unexpected in a series. You’re going to meet a cast of characters, and some books may shift from character to character. I’m most looking forward to Nhlappo’s confrontation with Spartika. If book 3 delivers that, I’m a happy guy. I’d still like a bit more air time for those characters and fewer cuts to other characters, but as long as I have these guys to follow, I’ll be loyal to the series.
World building: I still think fans of Human Legion will latch onto this more quickly, but I was able to track this story pretty effectively. Now, part of this is because one source of conflict is the survivability of the planet. This clever source of conflict allows a nube like me to get familiar with Human Legion terms and characters as I learn about the story. I didn’t feel nearly as lost in this book as I did at times in book one. Part is because I have a book under my belt, the other is because of that particular plot line.
Description: This is the strongest area of Handley’s writing. He gives the reader what he needs without taking away the readers imagination. He has a nice mix of active verbs and carefully placed adjectives that help the reader visualize through observation instead of narration. He does himself a credit with how he draws the reader in with scenes and action sequences. Action scenes are key in science fiction combat books, and Handley has that part down.
Thanks for reading,