Friday, September 30, 2011

Betas are Better than Alphas

(Note: I know I said I'd post on Thursdays, but a sinus infection sort of obliterated 'thursday' and I woke up with an Nyquil hangover on Friday. Forgive.)

Beta SP used to be used for high end video production before everything became digital.
The Beta Band was this awesome Scottish band that was around for a nano second then gone (but not forgotten, see High Fidelity soundtrack) and that was about all I knew about beta (except it's the second letter of the greek alphabet.)

Last week I came to the realization that I needed beta readers. I have great crit partners, who have been reading my work in chunks - in real writing time - for almost a year now. They know my characters and my world inside and out. The know my motivations, where there have been major changes, and what I've been worried about. In short, they know too much. They could never read BookEnd the way a reader would - the way an agent would.

Rachael Harrie came to the rescue again with her beta swap board. I found two wonderful beta readers (hey Yvie, hey Sharon). I mean, I'm saying they're wonderful because they've even agreed to read my 85K book and that seems a huge gift. If they like it and give me some useful feedback, that's gravy. I'm looking forward to getting their work, too.

I also reached out to an amazing, powerhouse editor and writer I met at a conference last May. Becky Levine wrote The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide (essential, whether you have a writing group or not.) I asked her for some quick advice on what to look for in a beta reader. She gave me comprehensive advice and suggested we beta for each other. 


Then said, HECK YEAH!

Can't get over the generosity of the writing community.

So, below is my synthesized list (from many sources) of what I think is important when looking for a beta reader. 

Beta Readers
1) Understand the difference between a crit partner and a beta reader. Here's a link to a post by Mary Kole at KidLit that explains some differences. For me, a beta reader is the stand in for the reader (buyer) and the gatekeeper (agent). For that to work, they have to read your book when you are completely done with revising it. Also, the kind of feedback a beta would give is more general and not quite so specific (missed a comma, this is an en dash, not an em dash) - not that those kinds of things can't be included, they can. I just don't think that should be the focus of a beta reader.
2) Write a 'want' ad for the beta reader.
Include specifics about who you are as a writer, what stage you are in (querying? planning to in the next 6 months?), what the genre is etc. It might be helpful to include what you think comparable titles would be, to give the beta reader an idea of where your book would 'live' on the bookshelf. 
Then list what you want from the reader: light/medium/heavy feedback; one time beta read or ongoing beta read relationship; can/cannot handle tough love (Be honest here. everyone wants to say they can handle it, but if you truly can't, then the feedback you get from a reader who rolls this way will be useless to you).
3)Let them know that you are available to reciprocate and read for them (if/when they are ready). I believe you must be willing to do this. You want you and your beta reader to be invested in the relationship. I also offer to bake cookies for everyone who reads for me. Choc-chip-mint cookies. I know, so good.
4) Finally, don't forget to discuss what format you want to receive/give feedback in and the timeframe - is there a deadline looming for you or your reader? What can you expect and what can they deliver. Clearing that up in the beginning will avoid disappointment later.

Now a question: What do you want from a beta reader? What's your best/worst experience with beta readers? (OK, that was two questions, remember sinus infection?)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Soundtrack Of Our Lives

I have to have music on when I'm writing. But what does the music you listen to say about what you're writing? And how does it influence your writing? I don't know, but I sure do like to ponder.

Galley Cat created writers' playlists on spotify. And Stephanie Meyer's playlists are famous. Since I'm about to start reading the Magician King, here's a link to Lev Grossman's playlist for the book.

So, what are you listening to while writing today? And why?

I'm an almost ridiculously optimistic person (on the inside - outside is 100% snark), but I find myself listening to David Sylvian's Secrets of the Beehive and Joy Division radio on Pandora. It absolutely does not influence my writing, at least that I can see. But it does serve as an 'engine' that propels my writing.

Over at Waibel's World there was an interesting post about writing and music. Instead of the Ouija board, we use shuffle to determine your musical proclivities. Here's what you do:

Put your itunes (or other digital music listening device) on shuffle and honestly write down the songs that pop up in order. Then match them to the descriptives below.
It's sort of like one of those foldy-things you'd get in elementary school (cootie catcher). And it's never right. But I'm liking this playlist a lot. Might keep it.

Opening Credits:  Sovay - Andrew Bird

Waking Up: Struck by the Sadness of Love - dimbodius

First Day of School: Oh Yeah - Ash

Falling in Love: I Gave You All - Mumford & Sons

Fight Song: Steady As She Goes - The Raconteurs

Prom: Tourniquet - Drugstore

Life: Like Eating Glass - Bloc Party

Mental Breakdown: I Wonder Who We Are - The Clientele

Driving: Oxford Comma - Vampire Weekend

Flashback: Stop! I've Had Enough - Levy

Getting Back Together: Say Something New - The Concretes

Wedding: See You In The Next One - The Verve

Birth of Child: The Only Living Boy in New York - Simon & Garfunkel

Final Battle: Push - The Cure

Death Scene:  Sarah - Bat For Lashes

End Credits: 
 Believe- Trans Siberian Orchestra

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Something I Know, Something I Don't - Keeping Up with the Blogs

I am having trouble. I can't keep up with the wonderful blogs I find. I'm like a digital version of hoarders; I collect interesting, shiny, lovely blogs and then stuff them - sometimes still in their original packaging - into an overflowing list of blogs I follow. One day I'm going to be buried alive by the blogs I follow but, lamentably, don't read.

Help! How do you manage your reading list? Do you have any tools (I know Google+ seems like a good place to start) or tricks? Is there a way to prioritize your following list? Do you rotate them? Am I over thinking this? (duh)

In exchange for the answers to above I am offering something I know a lot about: Event Planning. Sure, you may not be throwing a bat mitzvah or baby shower anytime soon, but file this away for when you do.

Six tips for planning a party at a venue*:
Whether it's the local VFW or a swanky 4 star hotel, you need to:
1) Do a tasting. Even if you've been there before, even if everyone tells you the food is great. Taste it for yourself. Have them do a selection from your proposed menu. Ask about special meals: vegan, kosher, dairy-gluten-free.
2) Negotiate on the contract. There's never a need to be mean or bridezilla with a venue. Treat them with the respect they deserve. BUT. Know that there is always wiggle room. If you have a budget of $1000 for a small lunch, tell them it's $800 and see if they can work with you. One thing that venues can often waive if you spend enough on catering is room rental fees. See what they can do. There's no shame in asking (nicely).
3)Do you need a sound system? Music? Flashing lights? A dance floor? That all comes from A/V specialists and not from catering. It's an additional cost. Talk to A/V about what you need carefully.
4) Do I need to say this? Review the contracts carefully. There are things you will be responsible for when you sign on the dotted line. And if your expectations are not listed on the contract, the venue doesn't have to deliver. Make sure you have everything in writing. That's why email is so awesome.
5) Following up from the above, when you have a phone conversation, follow up with an email reiterating what was discussed.
6)What's a catering guarantee? Literally, it's the number of lunches/dinners/'covers' you agree to pay for in advance. That's why you never give a guarantee that's above the number you expect. You don't have to worry if one or five more people show up unexpectedly. A good venue can serve extra covers (within reason) when needed. What you don't want is to have paid for 50 covers and have 25 people show up. That's also why you don't give a guarantee until the last possible moment, when you are sure(ish) of your numbers. As a loose rule, assume 10% drop off and guarantee for that number (50 guests, 5 won't show up, guarantee for 45).
Hope that was helpful. If not, then tune in next time as I share with you my Salsa recipe.

*These are my opinions on how to plan an event.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


This is a red leaf in my green tree:

These is one of my fuzzy socks that I dug out of the crawl space:

And this (what you're looking at) is my new blog look. Do you like it? Being married to a designer gives me an inferiority complex, but I wanted a change and I got a change. That's what happens when we pack summer away in cellophane bags and shake the mothballs out of autumn.

 Autumn arrives by the clock on Friday. In my world, it's already here.

Another change: I'm going on a schedule. I will be posting on Tuesdays and Thursdays ON PAIN OF DEATH! Or, at least pain of guilt. Then, as and when I feel like it, I'll post other days. I'm participating in Alex Cavanaugh's Insecure Writers blogfest, so I'll definitely be posting on Wednesday, Oct. 5. and I'll be bringing a big bag of neurosis, so be there or be square.

What else?
Oh, is anyone else wasting time on the beta Pottermore site? Hours run down the drain when I'm on that site, though I have yet to successfully brew a potion to cure boils. If you are on Pottermore and want to Wizard Duel instead of revise your WIP, let me know your screen name. Mine is WillowSilver82.

And that's the end of my nerding out for this week.

I'm going to go roast marshmallows with my kids.

Monday, September 12, 2011

10 Years

"Nostalgia, the vice of the aged." Angela Carter

This past weekend seemed custom-made for nostalgia. My husband and I celebrated our 20 year dating anniversary (because we're nerds - I think I mentioned this before?). It was the somber, soul-wrenching 10th anniversary of 9-11. And mom is staying with me - stunning me with non sequiters like "What ever happened to Trista?" a girl I last saw in fifth grade.

So, I've done a lot of thinking about the past in the last couple of days. Some of it good, some of it bad and some of it cringe-inducing. On balance, because I'm an insufferably positive person, I think I've done OK. I work hard at my marriage because it's worth more than rubies, and I love my kids as hard and well as I can.

But I'm proudest of becoming a writer. It's the one thing I've done completely by myself. It's practically magic, the way I 'forged in the smithy of my soul' (sorry, James) a new identity. I know, I'm patting myself on the back for something that countless others (and all of you) have done already. But for years I didn't think I'd have the courage to do it. For years I let myself believe that I couldn't, shouldn't. And then, two years ago, I stopped standing on my own way.

What are you proudest of doing in the last 10 years?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Short Fiction OR I Suck at Economy

As part of Rachael Harries Platform Building Campaign, we're doing some flashing.
I've never done flash fiction before. Seems awfully newfangled to me. And anyway, I've always been terrified of short stories. Writing them well seems so difficult, employing an economy and elegance I just don't come by naturally.

The rules are to start with "The door swung open." and hopefully, end with "The door swung shut." Extra points for having both and being exactly 200 words. I don't have a snowball's chance in hell of that, but I'll give it a go.

When I'm stuck in my wip, or just want to understand a character or situation better, I write a scene about them- a scene that will never be in the book. This is really liberating especially since my POV is first person. In these 'exploration' scenes I can really let loose. So the below is a snippet of a 'deleted' scene.

I'd love to know what you think. I'd also like to know, what do you think of writing short stories/flash fiction? Can anyone do it, or is it a special talent?

Update: I think I was supposed to say that you can 'like' my entry here. I'm number 196. thanks!

Rachel Sew and the Gold Man

     The door swung open and Rachel stopped dead. It was only the black cat she sometimes fed, come for more scraps. It was well past dusk and the gold man was late. He’d said to leave her things behind, but it pained her so. On the day she’d been made, she’d been given clothes, a word locket, a home and a living. But it was a long time before she could barter for things she chose herself.
     The first time she’d gone into the package store with a basket of woven flax, Mr. Tend gave her the credit to buy anything off the first shelf. She looked at each item carefully, picking up a tea set, so delicate and white that it had a bluish cast. She passed on to the next item, a clothes mangle that would make washday easier. It was the practical choice and she felt like she should want it, but didn’t. She passed on again.
     When she saw it, she blushed. She wanted it desperately, and she was sure wanting something that much was wrong. Still, the shawl was exquisite. It was black and satiny with a fringe that tickled her arms when she tried it on. Embroidered roses bloomed across the shawl; red, yellow, blue, purple. Rachel was sure that there were no such roses in all the world.
     The door swung open. The gold man’s shadow fell across her doorway, her cat twining around his legs.

     “Aren’t you coming, Rachel?” She wrapped the shawl tighter around her shoulders and stepped outside as the door swung shut.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Building that Bridge

I’m taking part in Rachael Harrie's wonderful platform building campaign. I think it’s a fun, community building event and I like poking around other people’s blogs, having them poke around mine.

But there’s a bit of controversy about author platform building. At conferences, everyone attends the platform building session. There are online classes on it on Writer’s Digest, Media Bistro and Pennwriters Online, to name a few.

And agents weigh in on it’s importance on their own blogs and in agent chats.

So everyone’s talking about it. But not everyone agrees that it’s a good thing. Some say that the author platform is the single most important investment of time and resources a writer needs to expend. These people are usually selling something. Others say that the only thing that a writer should do is write – the rest is someone else’s job. These people are usually living in their dad’s basement watching too much Comedy Central.

So here are the pros and cons as I see it.
If you are a newbie, or you are newly committed to making writing a priority, having a blog (and following other blogs) tweeting, facebooking, google+ and whatever else the evil geniuses come up with - it's all good. It will all add to your knowledge of the industry and other writers. 
You're name in lights! 
You can be googled (for more than your lame tumblr pics). An agent who requests pages, or who just likes the sound of your query can find you online and see  that you are engaged in a professional way.
Discover your voice
Nothing begets writing like writing. How you communicate across your platform says a lot about you. I don't mean that your writing voice needs to match your author platform voice, not at all. But it's another way to develop your professional 'writer's' voice.
Whether it's feedback on your writing, your query letters, your synopsis – or your new haircut, there are voices out there that are listening. You may feel like you are in your cubicle, closet or bathroom, typing away in solitude, but you're not. 

What you are learning is subjective, sometimes inaccurate and often contradictory. You can't swallow it whole, you can't agree with everything or you will go mad. You need to develop discernment pretty sharpish. 
Your Name in Lights!
And your bitchy book reviews, your f-bombs, your semi-naked new year's photos. You need to be careful of what you put out there.
Discover your voice
And it's scratchy and unappealing. You sound like a teenaged seal with croup. What I mean is that you need to discover and hone your voice. And, just like in your writing you need to edit.
You’re preaching to the choir. Most of your followers are other writers, not (necessarily) your reader sweet spot. Are you gaining an audience or just hanging out with other writers waiting for a reader to walk by? (I know, writers are readers.)
And the biggest con?

Time spent shoring up the platform is time NOT spent writing.

But I think that time spent thinking of writing can be just as important as writing.

Do I have to be the cornball to say it? A platform can easily be turned into a bridge (geddit?)

So, what do you think? Author platform, hype, essential or somewhere in between?
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