Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Don't Fear the Beta Reader!

I've just started getting back feedback on Heart of Steel from my beta readers (thanks, everyone!), so it seem appropriate that this week's post should be about handling the feedback you get from these previews. Putting your story in front of people can be scary and discouraging, especially if they don't seem to see the Grand Vision of Brilliance that you've cooked up, but don't fret! Here are some simple tips for getting and handling honest critiques.

1. Take a Deep Breath

This won't be easy. You've slaved away for however many hours/days/months on this thing and it's your baby. Trust me, I know. Churning out my first novel-length piece was exhilarating until I realized that eventually I wanted other people to see it. That was when I briefly turned into Gollum and wanted to hide my precious away from those nasty hobbitses who might say bad things about it.

Well, that's a beta reader's job. They're the first line of defense between you and the deeper waters of your target audience, and if your book has narrative problems or plot holes or whatever, you've prefer to know sooner rather than later, right? So take a deep breath (literally, if you need to) and relax. You will come out of this a better writer.

2. Ask Your Friends

Be careful with this. Everyone has friends who will declare that you've just written the best [genre] novel since [really well-known and wildly popular genre novel] and that you shouldn't change a thing. These friends are great for ego stroking, but not so great for critiquing. Yeah, I know. Counter-intuitive, right? Wrong! Find your friend(s) who are outspoken and opinionated (without being douchebags about it)--the ones who will tell you your new hairstyle looks horrible, or that, yes, you look fat in those jeans. These are the people you want looking at your manuscript, because they will point out any flaws it has. Tell them to be brutal.

3. Ask a Writing Community

This might be a face-to-face community, or an online one via Facebook or whatever. You might have shared interests with these people, but they have no personal interest in being nice about something like this. If they're fellow writers, then a) they're there to improve their craft via b) helping and being helped by others, so c) they will be sure to give the sort of detailed critique you really need. Therefore, d) don't be afraid to ask. Not everyone will be interested in your story, but those that will, will give you a lot of help.

4. Set It Free

This is one of the hardest things to do. You turn your project over to someone else, and then wait to hear back from them. It might be a short period of time for a short story, or possibly weeks for a novel, but you must be patient. Bugging your beta reader is only going to make them annoyed with you. You want an honest opinion, not a "fine I'm done now go away" opinion.

5. Don't Take It Personally

Here comes the hardest part: reading the feedback. Not just reading the feedback, but reading it with the dispassionate eye of a writer wanting to improve his or her craft, rather than a creator watching their magnum opus being torn apart. This is your opportunity to improve on your story before you release it into the wild. This feedback (if it's constructive) will help your story be the best it can be, based on the opinions of people sufficiently detached from the thing that they can offer honest feedback.

6. Fix Any Problems

Now, if you took #5 to heart, #6 should be relatively easy. In theory, anyway. Reading through the feedback, asking clarification questions, and actually analyzing where you might have goofed can be painful, especially if your beta points out a misspelled word or a punctuation error that you know in your heart of hearts you should have caught, dangit. You might feel stupid at the obvious things pointed out to you, but get on your big kid pants about this. It's better to have caught the stupid stuff now rather than after your book is Really Out There and some editor is wondering why you think you should be published if you keep misspelling "the" as "teh" or your sentences are so long people get lost in them.

Finding a beta reader can be hard, and trusting your manuscript to them can be even harder, but believe me, your work will be greatly improved. You just have to close your eyes and make that leap of faith.

And now, for something completely different...

I have some exciting news regarding my Weird Western novella Sheep's Clothing: I've found a narrator for the audiobook!

Zach Brewster-Geisz is a stage, film, television, and voice actor whom I met via the Audiobook Creation Exchange website. I really liked his audition for Sheep's Clothing, and he's agreed to narrate. He said he would have the first fifteen minutes done and posted by the end of this month, so I will post an update as soon as it's up.

Have a good week!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Secondary Characters are People, Too!

In this week's post I'm going to talk about the secondary characters you might have wandering around in your work. If handled improperly, secondary and background characters will seem like part of the scenery rather than add to the flavor of your world. Why? Because it's so easy to have your secondaries just exist for the scene (or two, or whatever) they're in and then get stuffed back in the creative closet.

This is a mistake, but an understandable one. Your main characters--your protagonist(s) and your villain(s)--carry the bulk of the story, so naturally you want to focus on them. Your heroes have motivations. Hopefully your villains have motivations, too, that sound reasonable to them, rather than just having them wander around aimlessly being evil at people. But the people milling around in the background? Who cares about them?

Well, you should. You created them for a reason, and even if they're literally only there for a single scene to contribute a single piece of needed info to your hero, they need lives outside the story. This might seem like a lot of hard work that nobody's going to see, and you might be right.  BUT, that guy milling around in the background might turn out to be helpful to your hero at a crucial moment.

Remember that crowd of train passengers in Spider-Man 2 that Our Intrepid Hero nearly kills himself saving from Doctor Octopus? They came to his defense when Ock tried to finish him off because they saw that Spidey was "only a kid", like any of their own offspring. They didn't have much in the way of character development, but they helped the hero. They might have been listed in the credits as Bystander on Train #1 through #9 or whatever, but they had a reason to jump to his defense.

Now, unless you're writing a sweeping high fantasy epic or whatever, it's unlikely that you're going to break out in mass quantities of background characters. However, you do need to know who your named characters are, at least, in case you need an unexpected ally (or obstacle) for your hero at a key moment in your story.

Does this mean you need to provide a complete backstory for every single character who has even a walk-on part in your novel or short story? No, obviously not. That would be a lot of record-keeping, and a project you should only undertake if you're planning on lots and lots of ground-level world-building. Even then, just focus on a small handful of people in your fictional city of ten million, or you'll be so busy making characters that you'll never get to your story.

In conclusion, while the focus of your story should be on your main cast, don't neglect that background characters. Making sure that at least you know who they are beyond the context of the story will help you make them more rounded for the reader. Mapping out what secondary characters are doing while off-screen will also help you get them in the right place at the right time for some additional support for your main characters, and who knows? Heroic Bystander #2 might become a fan favorite as a result.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Beta Readers Wanted!

Want to get a first look at my next project? Love reading? Enjoy quirky romance? Then sign up to be a beta reader!

My next project, Heart of Steel, needs extra eyes to help me iron out all the plot wrinkles, and you can help! As this is my first romance novel, I especially need your help in making sure the romance part of it flows organically to its conclusion.

Alistair Mechanus can't remember the tragedy that turned him into a cyborg ten years ago. He does remember the pain, both physical and mental, which has haunted him since, and he's retreated to seclusion on Shark Reef Isle. Hiding away from the world that broke him, he forms a plan for World Domination, believing that he can improve on the inherent societal flaws that he associates with his breakdown. However, when he sees his latest prisoner, he feels a spark of emotion in his internal circuitry that he has not felt in over a decade.

Julia's lush vacation was supposed to block out the incident that cost her job at the hospital. Now instead of swimming in Hawaii's blue waters, she meets an infatuated cyborg who needs the very compassionate care she wants to stop giving. When her overbearing wish-we-broke-up-already boyfriend Jim is injured, Alistair’s clumsy attempt at kindness goes spinning out of control, forcing Julia to trust the mad genius with her life.

Julia soon uncovers a vulnerable side beneath Alistair’s armored plating, as well as clues to unlocking his forgotten past. However, solving the mystery of who he used to be may cost him what remains of his fractured sanity.

If this sounds like your kind of book, let me know in the comments or email me at info(at)elizabetheinspanier(dot)com, and I will send you an e-copy in PDF, mobi, or epub format (please specify). I look forward to hearing from you!