Words for Writers

WORDS FOR WRITERS: How do social media and writing/publishing work together?

WORDS FOR WRITERS: How do social media and writing/publishing work together?

Today’s topic suggestion comes from author Tina Chan. Thanks, Tina!


Okay, okay, so we’ve all heard it before – you need to get your social media in order if you’re going to be a writer in the 21st century. Here is something to keep in mind when you finish your book and start the process of querying (either to publishers or agents), or alternately begin the process of self-publishing your book: You Will Be Googled.

There’s lots of great articles out there about How To Win At Social Media (and how to make sure that when you are Googled, what potential publishing connections find leaves them with the best impression of you as a writer), so I’m not going to repeat that advice. Instead I’m going to dig down a bit and answer the WHY.

WHY must you Win At Social Media as a writer? Why must you use it at all?

What’s the point?

Why can’t we all just live in our little cabins in the woods and worry only about the writing part of writing, and let the publisher’s marketing team take care of everything else? Why must we be as accessible and as for sale as our books?

Well, partially because that’s how it’s always been. For as long as books have existed, the author has been held up as a selling point as much as the tale itself. This is part of being a published author, like it or not.

Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels sold well not only because it was an enchanting (and moralistic) tale suited for the children of the upper classes, but also because of his connection with his intensely private patroness, Henrietta Howard, and the gossip people loved to spread about them – and he didn’t quite deny. Beatrix Potter was unaware of her own early monetary success but was a consummate storyteller who entertained at parties, and who had family and friends clamoring to know what the next book was about and telling their friends. Charles Dickens did speaking tours, and was as known for his critiques and the weekly journal he edited for decades and his time in facinating prison as much as his novels. The Claudine books may never have done as well if they had originally been touted as being written by Colette instead of the scandalous, society-going, gossip-magnet Willy.

Each of these writers used their social influence to sell their work.

Writers always have; writers always will.

But we have an advantage that Jonathan, and Beatrix, and Charles, and Colette & Willy didn’t – we have social media to help us. And it’s free. (After factoring in the cost of devices, internet access, and software licences, of course).

Paid ads and print placements still exist, but while social media marketing can be fast-paced, exhausting, and sometimes frustrating, unless you elect to pay for digital ads, the only cost is in sweat equity.

And it comes with some distinct advantages that old school marketing doesn’t:

  • Social media is in people’s faces all the time. Our phones are always in our hands. More people scroll through social media on their commute to work than read the newspaper. Your marketing efforts – be they paid placed ads in a feed, or a conversation in comments, or an article you posted, or a call to action tweet – are literally right at their fingertips.
  • Again, it’s free. Unless you’re electing to purchase ads or specific software (and in the world of apps and startups, you can usually find something that does the equivalent of what you need – or at least close enough – without the high price tag. e.g. Canva vs Photoshop.)
  • It can be automated – thanks to Hootsuite, MailChimp, and other similar platforms.
    • You can spend a day setting everything up and let the automation handle posting at the right times, on the right dates.
    • There are now hundreds of low-cost promotion services as well, which will handle promoting your book to their feeds and newsletter subscribers, operating your sales and giveaways, arranging blog tours, etc. If you’re in the financial position for it, consider farming out the flogging. (Just check that they can actually do what they’re claiming, beware of extravagant promises, and review WriterBeware before you give any of them your money.)
  • Contrary to what common Social Media best practices teach us, the internet is a great place to provide long form advertisements and advertorials, as well as a place to provide whole or excerpts of short stories and books.
    • Lots of people are more inclined to buy a book if they have the chance to read some of it first, or at least get a sense of a writer by reading longform posts.
    • Most people only watch the first 5 mins of a video or read a 500 word blog post. But because there is actually no time limit on the internet, you can make your blog posts and videos as long as you personally want.
    • This also means you can post whole bundles of text as well – full chapters, long scenes, whole novellas and short stories. Obviously you can’t do it directly on social media, but you can link to places where the stories are hosted – Wattpad, Inkitt, Tapas, TappyToon, Archive of Our Own, Webnovel, RoyalRoad, Gravity Tales, etc. or even your own blog. It will be less discoverable on your own blog, but the links to the buying pages are right there on your own website.
  • Social media is a great place to build a rolling campaign or build groundswell – it’s much easier on social media than in traditional print/TV/radio marketing to start dropping hints every day of an upcoming project to build interest and speculation (for example, Taylor Swift’s lead up on Instagram to the drop of her music video “Me!” – though this may be a case where leaving room for too much speculation bit her in the nose. Some fans were very disappointed when they realized it was just a music video drop and not a clothing line, or that Swift was planning to come out as bi.)
  • It’s a great way to establish and reinforce your brand.
    • For me, that’s trope-challenging writing, academic-style engagement with fandom topics, and literary-style prose in a SF/F world. I carry that over into my social media and marketing by talking about those very things, yes, but also by engaging with other media that tackle those topics the same way – movie reviews, book reviews, current events, etc.
    • It gives you a place to do more than just shout about your books desperately (nobody wants to be around desperation), and instead provides you a subtler way to market your work by interacting with people. As my agent is fond of saying, Twitter is a Cocktail Party – keep it light. Talk to others. Engage, engage, engage. Build your audience organically.
    • It also provides you the ability to invite people to view (a curated) slice of your life. You can give people a peek into your wiring processes and behind the scenes.. You don’t have to TMI or share everything, but look, I follow Neil Gaiman as much for info about his books and series as I do for behind the scenes shots of David Tennant being a devilish goof, and Neil’s bees and dogs.
    • BRANDING. I keep the color palette of my social media sites, posts, headshots and website consistent so it’s obvious all of this combines to make the person who wrote those books.

Outside of the advantages that Social Media provides you in Marketing your work, it also straight up makes it easier for you to be a productive writer (if, you know, you can ignore the siren call – ironically – of social media). You can:

  • Find new writing software that works for you. I wrote Triptych, the first draft of The Skylark’s Song, and my first screenplay in Microsoft Word because that’s what came free on my computer when I bought my first laptop. And there was So. Much. Scrolling. UGH. I have since discovered Scrivener for novels (oh my god, I never write chronologically so the binder feature is so damn useful), and I have adopted CeltX and FinalDraft for comic and film scripts (intuitive formatting! Auto-fill production binders!) I know other authors who dislike Scrivener, and use something else, and screenwriters who hate FinalDraft. The point is, finding a software that works with the style of writing you do means that you’ll spend more time creating and less time futzing.
  • Collect media
    • Create an inspirational Pintrest board
    • Create writing playlists or inspirations playlists on Spotify, 8Track, etc.
    • Track articles and images on Tumblr
  • Find and contact festivals, events, and conventions. There’s something happening every weekend, all over the world, and you can find information about the events all over social media by following hashtags, groups, or simply asking.
  • Easily join social media contests (like #Pitchmad) that help you get your work in front of agents and editors.
  • Research and submit to festivals and writing contests.
  • Join writing motivation communities like NaNoWriMo or join in on impromptu or organized word sprints voa tracking hashtags or joining fan groups, writing groups, or lists.
  • Easily access research materials
    • GoogleMaps
    • Special Collections
    • Academic Articles
    • Book Excerpts
    • Blog posts and social media of subject experts like pediatricians, law enforcement officers, and historical textiles scholars (and the email addresses or DMs of said experts if you approach them politely).
  • Find or build your own writer’s community
    • Websites offering curated groups or circles
    • The ability to find and interact with beta readers and sensitivity readers
    • The ability to talk to other writers and ask questions, like at AbsoluteWrite, Duotrope, or WriterBeware but also by following hashtags like #writerscommunity or #amwriting
    • The ability to build organic groups of beta readers and critique partners through chatting with one another via social media.
  • Accountability – if you tell people about the book publically then you have to finish it, right?
  • Gives you the chance to build groundswell readership – publishing sites like the ones previously mentioned allow you to revise and rewrite a whole novel in real time based on reader feedback. (Pros and cons to that – I find it frustrating and stressful and disingenuous. Other writers find it stimulating, and exciting, and that it helps them produce their best work.)

And most importantly:

Social Media makes barriers of access permeable.

 

What do I mean by that?

I mean that Social Media has opened the lines of communication and access between authors and the people who buy their books. And authors and publishers. And writers and agents. And authors and reviewers. And authors and research materials. And authors and resources. And authors and their writing community. And, and and…

You can now talk and sell or pitch directly to readers, or book stores, or agents, or publishers. You can talk to other writers directly, or subject experts, or researchers.

It also means that people who traditionally blocked from this access (or had higher hurdles to overcome to gain access) due to their geographical location, disability, ethnicity or cultural background, income, etc. have more equitable opportunities and access to these same people and resources.

Social Media gives writers:

  • Direct access to publishers, editors and agents via
    • Organic conversations online, including the ability to ask clarifying questions regarding submissions or comment on articles or posts
    • Online Pitch competitions
    • Advice blogs and columns
  • The ability to share ARCS and review copies to a larger number of people, and  gives the actual audience and readership a platform to discuss a book, or trends in publishing, or tropes.
    • While there is immense value in trained critics and reviewers, there is also immense value in the audience speaking for itself. (Just look at how much Venom was panned by critics but embraced by the general audience. There can sometimes be a disconnect between what the critics hail as worth investing in, and what the audience does.)
    • This also has made the field more equitable in terms of which books get reviewed and what kind of buzz they garner. Selfpubbed or indie/small press publishers can’t always afford to (or even qualify to) submit to all of the big industry trades that require print copies to be mailed in, or require a fee. However, the rise in indie hobbiest book bloggers online means that a book can still be reviewed, making book review culture more of a meritocracy. Books with big financial marketing backing are now not the only ones that are being buzzed.
  • A megaphone and a platform for #OwnVoices
    • With direct communication with readers, agents, and publishers, those writers who have previously not had as much access to publishing opportunity or who were gatekept out of the community can speak up, and communicate directly with those who want their books.
  • Authors working with a disability – both physical or mental – can use social media platforms to have greater accesses to physical spaces (such as a library with lots of stairs but no elevators), or utilize software (like text-to-speech or screenreaders) to write, research, and pitch their novels. We can also use social media and new software technology to say, give a presentation to a school that our disability or mental health may keep us out of, or to read our book outloud to children on our behalf, or to take meetings without having to navigate travelling to the agent or publisher’s home base.
  • It also makes accessing research materials, locations, maps, images of places, and speaking face-to-face with agents/publishers/fellow writers without having to travel easier for authors at a financial disadvantage or from a low-income background.
  • Utilizing story sharing sites like Wattpad allows writers to tap into not only a community of fellow writers and their shared experience, but also have the advantage (dubious or not, as I mentioned above) of getting real-time feedback and critiques from the readers themselves. They provide the ability to workshop and live-edit a story as it’s being written.
  • As the resurgence of episodic storytelling like Game of Thrones has proven, humans love cliffhangers and ongoing stories and the joy of guessing what comes next. Social media allows writers to return to the early print publishing tradition of serializing a story – dolling out parts week to week, or month to month, without the increased costs of physically printing all those little chunks.
  • Allows authors to give things away to readers more easily – to find and reward those readers who like swag, prizes, letters, personalized emails, copies of their books, etc.
  • And it allows readers to give authors things (fanart, presents, feedback, thanks, letters, etc.) more easily as well.
  • Allows readers and fans easy access to author’s appearance schedule, and one that can be kept up to date more often and more swiftly as well.
  • Gives writers the ability to run a Fangroup or website for other people to discuss topics around your work with one another, like the fan groups and trade magazines / fan zines of old but more interactive, with a microphone for everyone.
  • And lastly, it connects writers directly with people who are willing to be sensitivity readers, and a much easier way to find them.

So while the lure of Tumblr is great when you’re in the middle of writing stall, and you may lose enough productive house to Instagram that you curse social media for ever being invented, remember that there are a lot more benefits to having it as a writer than not.

But don’t just take my word for it.

I asked my authorfriends way they used of social media, and they replied:

Alex White: Social media is how I got off the ground, making my contacts and creating an author brand. I use social media as a way to interact with fans, create community, and so on. And I’m pretty sure that’s despite my being terrible at it!

Alexandra Perchanidou: Asking opinions during research/drafting, research EVERYTHING that has to do with plot, depending on the world building. [Social media also provides you access to] Mentors: following the life/career of any author you aspire to emulate and learning from them without having a formal mentor/mentee relationship.

Wendy Lynn Clark: Co-workers: if you are full time writing, social media is listening around the water cooler to news, trends, etc. They will also celebrate your successes and empathize with your failures.

‘Nathan Smith: Social media allows networking from within marginalized identities on a much, much easier level than before—I can find other queer writers, readers, publishers, editors, cover artists, you-name-it, and bypass (some of) the frustrations of being queer in a non-queer environment. It also allows those voices an opportunity to have virtual meetings/discussions/dialogs that are so plentifully found in places like cons/festivals/events, but rarely inclusively.

Mike Perschon: Social media made my career, insofar as publishing and presentation opportunities. I’ve only once had to submit an article for publication. Every other publication I’ve made, and many events I’ve attended as a guest-of-honour or keynote came to me via Twitter or my blog.

Derwin Mak: Social media was helpful for me in that there are Facebook groups about anthology calls for submissions, and that’s how I found out about some markets. I’ve also seen writers develop a certain type of online personality to appeal to an audience, that is, selling the author as a personality/celebrity versus selling the book itself. However, I’m not convinced that going on social media to develop a reputation as a certain type of personality actually helps to sells books. Some writers aggressively pursue a left-wing persona, and some writers aggressively pursue a right-wing persona, and they get plenty of likes and followers (and dislikes and trolls), but how many of those followers actually buy their books?

A.J. Phoenix: Wow. Loaded question. There’s so many ways in which I know social media helped me. In fact, given that I go by a few nom de plume, I’m not sure I’d be an author if not for the internet. I was able to test out my original, unedited work with audiences over social media. I built my own community/brand, email list, and ARC team through social media. I met and learned from other authors in my genre because of social media. I learned how to advertise through the internet and social media. The list goes on. I’ve only touched upon the tip of the iceberg of what social media can do for an author.

*

Still have questions? Read more WORDS FOR WRITERS here or ASK ME HERE.

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JM FreyWORDS FOR WRITERS: How do social media and writing/publishing work together?
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WORDS FOR WRITERS – From Signing to Signing

WORDS FOR WRITERS – From Signing to Signing

Congratulations! You’ve signed with your first literary agent, and they love your manuscript! Huzzah! Bravo! Cheers! Mazel Tov!

… now what?

What happens next?

Working with your Agent

After you’ve had “The Talk” with your agent, and agreed to sign on as a client, one of the first things you will likely discuss with them will be what revisions they would like to see done on your existing manuscript (unless you already revised the book as a condition of offer).

You will likely also have a conversation about what other manuscripts you currently either have already complete, or what ideas you may have for future books or – if the book you signed on has series potential – where to go with the next books.

Remember, your agent is your ally for your future career, and they are the ones with their eyes on the market.

Shopping your Manuscript

Once your manuscript edits are complete and your book is ready to be sent out to publishers and editors for consideration, your agent will work with your to build a Shopping or Pitch package. This is where those Back Cover Copy, 1-3-5 Page synopsis, Market Comparisons, Series Potential, etc. documents that you ought to have been writing while you were sending the books out to agents to consider come in.

When you’re both happy with what you have, your agent will start sending out letters of interest (these days, more like emails of interest) to the industry connections they have. Editors, publishers, etc. They’ll talk it up at conferences and list it in their available properties if that’s something they do. They’ll work with the agency’s foreign rights partners and dramatic adaptations partners to pitch the manuscript around those parts as well.

You’ll likely get some nos, some partial or full reads and a pass, or some interest. The ideal is to have several editors at multiple houses wanting to acquire the book, which would result in a bidding war.  

Once you have an offer, you and your agent will discuss the terms of the offer (it may include a book tour, it may not; it may include an advance, it may not; it may include an audio book, it may not, etc.), request any desired changes to the phrasing or clauses, and then sign it.

At this point, the work of turning your manuscript into a book passes out of your agent’s hands and into your acquiring editor’s.

Working with your Publishing House

Editing

Once all the paperwork is signed with your publisher, your acquiring agent will reach out to you with a formal Editing Letter. You will likely have been in contact with them already, talking about the book and what they loved about it, and where they see it fitting in their hourse’s roster and marketing plants. But this will be the first real notice that it’s Go Time.

The letter will outline the strengths of the manuscript, and discuss any changes they propose. You can always talk with your editor if something is unclear, doesn’t seem to sit right, or would impede future narrative plans. Always make sure you guys have a through understanding of what you’re each talking about and are completely on the same page before diving back into revisions.

Sometimes these revisions are substantial and include complete burn-and-rewrites, and sometimes they’re like, four little notes. It all depends on what serves the manuscript best to make it a strong book product.

Once you and your editor are satisfied with the rewrites, a timeline for publication will likely be set, and the great spinning wheel of turning this manuscript into a Book starts cranking into motion.

Copyediting

Next, your manuscript will be handed off to a proofreader and copyeditor. Their job is to hunt down and destroy all those typos, comma splices, and mistaken homonyms.

Depending on the size of the publishing house, this might be the same person as your acquiring editor, or a freelancer they hire, or an in-house copyeditor. Either way, these edits should all serve to strengthen your manuscript, so if at some point you’re reviewing them and something is clashing, or they’re stripping out the voice, talk to your acquiring editor about it.

You may have a few back and forths, depending on what you want to accept or reject in their proposed changes.

Cover

Likely, you’ll have already been discussing your ideas for the cover with your acquiring editor. Remember, you as the writer don’t actually have the power to dictate or veto the cover ideas, but of course as the person who knows the story best you will be asked your opinion. Different publishers include authors to different extents in this discussion process.

Usually a cover is completed far enough in advance of the book that it can be used as the jumping off point for the Buzz Building that will take place in the 3 -12 months prior to the book’s release date.

Discuss with your editor what their marketing department has planned for the cover release, and loop your agent into this discussion so all three of you can strategize together.

Interior Design & Galleys

The next time you see you manuscript, it will be book shaped! After everyone’s signed off on the edits, your manuscript is forwarded on to a typesetter/interior designer, who will lay it out in book format. This is the time when they’ll add things like illustrations, if your book comes with them, or specific fanciful scene separators, or the title page.

Any specific imagery or layout choices will have likely already been discussed with your acquiring editor before this time, so now is the moment to review the book and make sure that it was translated onto the page correctly.

A “galley” is basically a dress-rehearsal for your book. You’ll be asked to review it (and hopefully with at least a few weeks lead time so you’re not rushed), and make sure that not only are major mistakes (like two chapter 4s and no chapter 5 ) or small weird formatting concerns (like cut off lines, or things that are italic which should not be or vice versa), or something else is wonky.

Where I’m given the lead time, I prefer to be able to print this out and see it “book shaped” to get a sense of the whole product, not just the story.

You’ll be asked to send back your fixes and then, for really reals, the book will be out of your hands forever. That’s it! No more changes! All done!

Marketing and ARCs

A lot of this work will probably actually take place alongside your work on what was requested of you in your Editing Letter.

Once you have your cover (and it’s been released), you can start using it in your own marketing initiatives. Authors are usually the ones who must design and pay for the little in-hand things like lapel pins, bookmarks, postcards, library posters, and of course whatever graphics you use for your own social media and website.

Your publisher will work to get the book out to review sites, awards, industry publications, and if they have the pull and the money, premium placement on a shelf, or book tours or appearances.  You may or may not be paired up with a publicist in the house to help with this.

You may have very little marketing support, if they’re a very small house with a very small budget, so in this case you may want to consider hiring a publicist yourself, or a social media advertiser, or a virtual assistant, or paying a friend in wine to put out a newsletter every month for you (thank you, Karen!). Or you may wanna just buckle down and do it yourself.

Either way, do some research and make yourself a plan. I have lots of advice on marketing your work in my other Words for Writers articles.

When the book is done-done-done, the publisher will make ARCs – Advance Reader Copies. Basically, pre-publication books. This should be the final book in every way except that they are available before the book’s actual release date.

These are sometimes paper, sometimes e-only. Reviewing the ARC will be the Final Chance Ever to find mistakes, but should be pretty clean.

ARCs are then sent out by either you or your publisher’s marketing team, or both, to reviewers, media outlets, contests, and industry publications. This helps to generate the vitally important pre-publication buzz for the novel.

The Big Wait

(Sometimes I think this stage is added simply so you can take a breather from your book and stop despising it after having reread and rewritten it about seventy million times. I’m always grateful for it though because it’s nice to have the time to refill your well with excitement and joy for your story.)

This is where the marketing plans start whirring into motion and you’ll start sending the ARCs out for reviews. They’ll start coming in so you can use them to support your marketing, and add them to your website.

This is the perfect down time to do all those little To Do list things you’ve been missing – update your website, write thank-you notes, get your social media queued up, arrange your book launch party, etc.

Time to go have another chat with your agent! Get them up to speed with the marketing plans that your publishing house is enacting, and talk through what you think you can add on your end, and from the agency, to support or augment that push. Makes some checklists, start some buzz going, and then…

Step back.

Do nothing.

RELAX. Catch up on sleep. Do your taxes. Spend time with your kids. Meal prep. Whatever sparks your joy.

And, eventually, when you’re ready to jump back into the creative well, start the next project you and your agent earmarked as your follow up. This might be book #2 in your series, or something else entirely. Check in with your agent, and then have fun!

Release Day

Time to get back at it!

On the day your book is released, it will likely be All Hands On Deck. You, your publisher, your editor, and your agent will be working in tandem to execute all of your social media blasts and marketing pushes. Try to set up as much of it as possible to be automated on the day-of.

Some people have their book launch party coincide with the release date, some choose to do it after, and some choose not to have a party at all. Research what works best for you, and make sure you have enough lead time for you/the bookstore to actually receive your box of books in the mail!

The Aftermath

The book is out, the party is over, the cake is eaten and your hand is cramped from all the autographs you signed. Bravi!

Don’t forget to keep your social media and website up to date with any changes that might come with the book – new fantastic reviews worth sharing, the announcement of a foreign language edition acquisition, an audiobook adaptation, etc. etc.

At the same time. take some time to refresh, recharge, and revel in what you accomplished before jumping back to the other project you’re working on.

You deserve it!  You published a book!

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Still have questions? Read more WORDS FOR WRITERS here or ASK ME HERE.

JM FreyWORDS FOR WRITERS – From Signing to Signing
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WORDS FOR WRITERS – Beta Readers

WORDS FOR WRITERS – Beta Readers

One of the most invaluable resources a writer can ever have is a second pair of eyes.

Called a beta reader (like a beta-tester in programming), a secondary reader, or sometimes just a straight up editor, having someone else read through your work is an invaluable step in the editing process.

This is important because while writing a story, writers live very deeply within them. We can be blind to all sorts of mistakes – little ones like typos, or big ones like failing to close a plot gap, or to make a Chekov’s Gun payoff, or changes to a character’s appearance, or simply forgetting to write a whole chapter. I’ve done all of these things. It’s easier to miss than you’d expect, because you think you’ve done the thing and when you re-read the story, you can easily see what you intended to put on the page, instead of what you really did put on it.

Of course, putting a story away for awhile and coming back to it with fresh eyes is a great way to find errors and ensure the book you’re working on reads as intended, it’s still easy to miss things, or to assume something works when it doesn’t. Afterall, it’s nearly impossible to be fully objective about writing we ourselves put on the page.

To this end, that second pair of eyes is a vital part of the process of turning a first draft into something professional and legible. Especially if you want to make sure that characters come off the way you intend them to, twists happen at the right moment and the right pace, and nothing is too predictable or too gonzo or simply doesn’t make any sense.

Secondary/Beta readers are also great because they may clock onto something that you missed – an opportunity to explore a way to tell the story better, or introduce a twist, or broaden something that they say in the book but you didn’t realize you’d put there.

The number of times I’ve said “Oh my gosh, I didn’t mean to put that in there, but that’s a much better idea than what I was going to do!” is nearly obscene. ~_^

And the truth of it is that as much as people would like to believe we are special and talented enough to be above needing those second set of eyes, not one of us is.  Not a single writer.

So, I usually run my books/short stories/screenplays/(and sometimes even my fanfics) through three to five levels of secondary readers, depending on the intended use of the story:

  • A friend/someone from my writing circle who likes my work  
    • Why? This is someone who’s read a lot of my work and knows my patterns and habits, both good and bad, and help me spot them and work with them. This is
  • A friend/someone from my writing circle who hasn’t read much of my work or doesn’t often read in this genre.
    • Why? Because someone who likes my work, or loves the genre I’m writing in, may be blind to the flaws of the story that come from me leaning too heavily on genre tropes or my own habits.

>>This is where I generally take the feedback from these folks and go do a re-write or a second draft.

  • An editor
    • Why? This is someone whose sole job it is to find errors, both structurally and/or line-by-line (depending on which kind of editor you’re working with), and help you as a writer improve both the manuscript and your craft. They’re trained professional storytellers.
    • If the book is already contracted, then this person generally goes last on my list, because it’s the editor at the house that’s going to be working on it and carrying it through to the end of the project. I’ll give it to my agent before this editor to get her feedback.
    • If this is a book I’m self-publishing, then I skip my agent as she’s not working with me on this particular project, and hire a freelance editor to work with me.
    • If the book isn’t already contracted and I am giving it to my agent to shop, then I usually work with a freelance editor in some capacity at this point to give it a look-over before it goes to my agent so I’m certain that the version going out to houses for consideration is the best that it can be.

>>Another draft usually goes here.

  • My mother
    • Why? She is the Queen Of Finding Typos. She won’t comment much on the story, but boy howdy if I spell something wrong her eyes go right to it!

>>Another another draft goes here.

  • My agent
    • Why? Because she knows what’s saleable and marketable, and she might ask me to make changes to make the book easier to sell.
    • Depending on whether the book is contracted or is going to be shopped around, it will go to my agent either third or last.

While securing Editors and Agents may not be the easiest thing, there’s lots of information out there on how to do it, so I’m going to skip straight to talking about where to find those friends/people in your writing community who are likely fellow writers and can act as your beta readers/secondary readers/extra set of eyes. And you, of course, for theirs.

  • Friends
    • Did you take writing classes with any friends? Do you have people in your life who just love to read and do so a lot?
    • Have you met any other writers online, via blogs, or communities, or contests, or sites like Archive of Our Own or Wattpad?
    • Have you cultivated a group of fellow writers you can ask?
  • Family
    • Is someone in your family in creative writing, or teaching, or journalism?
    • Do you have family members who love to read and can be helpful but objective about your writing?
  • Local Writer Community
    • Check out local writing contests, bulletin boards at libraries or campuses or bookstores
    • Does your school have a writing or book club?
    • Attend book launches to meet a wide variety of authors, not just the one launching – we usually go and support one another.
    • You can also meet fellow writers in the crowd at  literary festivals, or conventions.
    • Is there a local social group – like a local horror writers association, or a monthly meetup for a group, like a YA Author’s Pub Night?
    • Does the writer’s union/collective in your area have nights open for non-members, or if you are a member, socialization nights?
  • Online Writer Community
    • Check author websites and FaceBook pages to see if they foster a community of writers or hold contests, like Miss Snark’s First Victim or Gail Carriger.
    • Join your local NaNoWriMo Forum on the website, and follow their social media accounts. Many have a forum where you can post your search for a beta, and answer someone else’s.
    • Check out the forums and community boards surrounding your favourite conventions, fandoms, or fiction archives.
    • Does your local writer’s union/collective have an online community, facebook group, or posting board where you can search for betas?
  • Classes. Schools, and Courses
    • Take a course or after-school or community class in writing. You’ll make friends and find great support there.
  • Professional Editors / Betas
    • Consider hiring a professional to give your book a read at some point, because their job is literally to make your book better. And they have the education and skills to catch a lot of what you may miss or be unaware of.

In the end, no matter how you choose to find a Beta Reader, I cannot recommend one highly enough. And keep in mind that it is expected that their service will be reciprocal (unless you’ve hired a professional); if they read your book, at some point they are probably going to ask you to read theirs and offer critique and feedback in return. Be prepared to support and help them in the same way.

The Writing community is an awesome one, and we’re all ready to help one another succeed!


Got a question about the craft or business of writing? Ask it here.

Or read other Words for Writers blog posts here.


JM FreyWORDS FOR WRITERS – Beta Readers
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WORDS FOR WRITERS: The DO-ING Trap

WORDS FOR WRITERS: The DO-ING Trap

A young writer reached out to me on Instagram last month looking for some guidance when it comes to Character Development. She said that she was afraid that she spent a lot of time describing what her characters were doing at any given moment, but was failing to reveal why they were doing the thing, and what they were feeling when they did it.

This can be a problem for a lot of writers, especially those who aren’t thinking critically about the underlying layers and motivations of emotion in the scene they’re writing. Books, after all, serve only one real purpose – to tell a story that makes you feel something. The peril of simply reciting a character’s actions instead of revealing to the audience how they feel while they do them is real.

And because humans sympathize with others so strongly, the overarching way to make a reader feel something about a book is to share with your readership what the characters themselves are feeling in the moment. You need to provide readers with the opportunities to experience the emotion in tandem, and to watch those characters learn, evolve emotionally, and grow as people as the adventure happens.

Now, that’s not to say you have to drown the prose in blunt, obvious phrases like “I’m sad,” or “I’m so angry at you right now!” Novels are still, overwhelmingly, more successful when they can show and not tell.

I mean, I liked Lord of the RIngs okay when I read it, but ultimately I found it very boring as a story as it was a recitation of actions and histories and descriptions, with little to no glimpses into Frodo’s thoughts and feelings on the Quest. I couldn’t feel the weight of the ring digging the chain into his neck, I didn’t thirst with Frodo when he was parched, didn’t understand how bone-tired he was as he snuck through Mordor. I didn’t glory in the sun of the Shire on his face or the grass of the meadow below Weathertop on his feet.

But then Peter Jackson gave us this:

And this:

And yes, I am aware that this is a film, and a picture is worth a thousand words. But there’s feeling in these screencaptures, even as they’re static. In both of them you’ll note that Frodo is sitting down, resting, mind far away and leaning back on something.

But he’s not at all feeling the same thing, and his posture, body language, where he’s looking, what he’s holding, and how he’s reacting to the environment around him all gives the viewers a clue to what is happening to him internally.

And writers – lucky us! – have to do the same, but, you know, with letters instead of pictures.

When writing a scene, here are some points to keep in mind:

  • What is the Character FEELING in that moment?
    • What is their overriding emotion in this scene?
    • And what does that emotion motivate them to do, or not do?
  • What is the Character HIDING from those around them?
    • What secrets do they want to keep. Is it something dire?
    • How does holding that secret make them feel?
    • Is this secret distracting them from what’s happening? Are they paying attention?
  • What is the Character REVEALING Accidentally to those around them
    • If they’re hiding something, are they giving it away? Are they a good liar? How does that affect their body language? Can others tell?
    • What happens when the others around your character understand what they’re trying to hide?
    • If they’re not intentionally hiding something, they may still be giving clues away to something else – what do they looking, what are they wearing, how are they moving? What’s on their clothes? Think Sherlock here – and keep in mind, who in the rest of the group can read those clues, and how accuratly?
  • What is the Character REVEALING On Purpose to those around them
    • If they have a secret, are they hoping others will figure it out? Are they helping other figure it out?
    • Are they sharing information some other way, besides talking?
    • Are they actively sharing the info, or passively?
  • How does that affect the ACTIONS of the Character in that moment
    • Taking all the above into the account, what does the character do, where do they move, what actions do they make as a result?
    • (For example – if they are lying to their mother, would they go sit at the table directly beside her? Or stand further away? Why make that choice? To what advantage to them?)
  • How does that affect the BODY LANGUAGE of the Character in that moment
    • Are they excited? Bouncing on toes? Throwing hands in the air?
    • Are they exhausted, slouched against a wall or another person, struggling to stay upright?
    • Do they look guilty? Or are they cool as a cucumber about a secret they’re keeping?
  • How does that affect the PHYSICAL FORM Of the Character in that moment
    • What does guilt feel like? Squirming on the inside, heavy with shame, a headache?
    • What does happiness feel like? Lighter than air, the urge to dance?
    • What does hunger feel like? Curled in on stomach, weak, cold from lack of calories to burn, sleepy.
    • etc.
  • And lastly, why is the Character doing that particular ACTION at that particular time
    • If you’re adding actions just to add actions, sit back and think of how natural they are. Would that character actually do that thing, at that time, with everything else around them happening the way it is?
    • Stillness is also a choice, and it can be a powerful character-revealer, depending on how you use it.

Let’s do an exercise:

Go back to the moments where you character is DOING and not FEELING. Put a pin in them – flag it, highlight it, print it out and put an actual pin in it, whatever works for you. Then, when you’ve found several moments that need fleshing out… step away from the keyboard.

And act it out.

Say what your character is saying. Do what they are doing. And above all, trying to feel what they are feeling.

The first time through, do it exactly as your character is doing it; copy what they say and each action precisely. Mark the places where what they’re doing or saying feels stiff, awkward, or forced. It likely is.

The second time through, pay attention to those awkward moments, and try doing them a new way. Get into your character’s head and improvise; ball your fists, kiss the back of your hand if there’s a smooch, punch a pillow, pace, jump, use your body the way you really would if you really were this person in this actual situation. Make that cup of tea or take down that bowl from the cabinet.

Try to access the emotions of the character – and then pay attention to how those emotions affect your body.

When you want to cry, what happens? The back of your eyes burn, there a lump in your throat, your chest feels tight, your chin starts to shake, your nose runs.

When you’re elated, what happens?  Your blood feels fizzy, your heart beats fast, you bounce and hop on your feet, your head feels light, you’re giddy and giggle, your hands flutter. You can’t focus on just one thing.

When you’re furious, what happens? You slam doors, to grunt and huff, you punch the air, you stab your finger in someone’s face, your face flushes, your hands shake.

These physical reactions to emotion are a human  universal, and moreover they show the emotion the character is feeling rather than tell it. It’s like a cheat-code to getting your reader to understand what the people they’re reading about are feeling, are going through, without having to outright say that they’re sad, or elated, or furious.

When you reach the end of the scene, make notes on what you changed. Then run through it as many times as you need to find the right balance.

And then sit down to the keyboard and make those changes. I’m certain you’ll find the scene much stronger. The more you do this exercise, the easier it will get. Soon you won’t have to stand up to do it at all, you’ll remember that this is stuff you have to add into the prose and will do it as you write – practice, after all, makes perfect.

If this exercise doesn’t work for you personally as a writer, then try to find another way to access this emotional reality of your character as you’re working on the scene. Remember, emotion is the driving force of all action. What you feel dictates – or drives – what you do, and how and why you do it. This is no less true for made-up people.

And as always, I advocate that each writer try to get out of their PJs and away from a keyboard and take an acting class or two. In highschool? SIgn up for drama classes or join the club. Outside of school? Audition at a community theatre, or do evening improv classes. If you’re not up for public acting, read books on acting techniques, character motivation, and performance. Something, anything that helps you access the understanding that physical gesture is born of motivation, which is driven by feeling, which can reveal character. And then practice it.

Or watch movies, see what the actors do – how do they make you understand so clearly what they’re feeling, and why? And then practice describing that.

I promise, it will help you become a better writer.


There are also some great resource out there to help you understand how character drives motivation, which drives feeling, which drives action:


Got a question about the craft or business of writing? Ask it here.

Or read other Words for Writers blog posts here.

JM FreyWORDS FOR WRITERS: The DO-ING Trap
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WORDS FOR WRITERS – When Is The Story Done?

WORDS FOR WRITERS – When Is The Story Done?

This is a question that came in from social media, and I’ve been pondering the answer for a few months. I could say something glib like “When I’ve hit my publisher’s word count!” but of course, this question is, I think, more about when you know that you’ve finished telling the story you wanted to tell – beginning to end and with all the adjustments and edits added during the drafts.

I think, if I may projet, what you’re really asking is, when are you satisfied enough with the manuscript to call it “done” (or at least, done enough to start pitching around or to give to your editor/agent.)

And that’s a hard, hard, hard question for any author, but a doubly hard one for me – see I nearly always write the ending first.

When I start a novel, I usually start by writing the scene that is, for me, the most powerful, the most attractive, the most fun and filled with the most flavor of the book.  Usually it’s either the first act, second act, or third act/novel climax, simply because of the way my brain works. By that point I more or less know where in the timeline of these character’s lives the story needs to stop, and where it needs to start. But of course those things can slide depending on edits and the need for background info, epilogues, a better tie-up, etc.

For other writers, they plot the whole book before they sit down, so they know before they start where the ending is. And for others, they just write until it seems done, and solidify that endpoint during the editing phase.

But as for knowing when the story is finished?

Yowza.

That’s a hard question to answer.

Don’t laugh, but for me it’s when the story stops squirming. There’s this feeling I get in my stomach, under my skin, that’s like a wiggly itch – it’s the physical manifestation of knowing that something is off, I just don’t know what yet. When I read the book and there’s no squirm? It’s done.  You could also be really morbid and compare it to a pinned live butterfly as well – flipping and flopping all over the place, shedding wing-dust and scales all over the velvet. I have one pin in it – at the tip of a wing – but I have to get another pin into the other wing, and then another in the bottom wings, and another in the thorax and … yeah, okay, I know I sound like a serial killer.

But the idea is the same. When the story is pinned in place from all corners, and the full picture is spread out, beautiful, and legible, then the story is done.

A good way to check is to write the meaning and beats of each scene down on note cards as you re-read the book over, like this:


The Untold Tale

Chapter One:
Scene 1:

Beats: Forsyth sees Mother Mouth approaching with Pip through study window –  goes down to meet them in the foyer – they check for/neutralize spells on the body Mouth has brought – body is alive, it’s a woman – Forsyth brings her into the house and they set up a room for her – Forsyth stays by her bedside, ostensibly as a host but really to keep an eye on her in case this is a ploy

Needed Because: Sets up Forsyth as caring and overly servile; intros world, Turn Hall, Mother Mouth; sets up Forsyth as spy (readers don’t know yet); introduces Pip’s scars.


When you have all your cards for all your scenes, pin them to the wall and connect them with color-coded string – for example, anything scene/card that builds Forsyth as the Shadow Hand will be connected by, say, Purple, while anything about Pip and her scars is connected in green. You can also do this with color-coded highlighter marks, sticky notes, stickers, etc.

(I do it digitally via Scrivener, which has a pin-board and color coding built in.)

When you’ve done this all, step back and look at it – does every card have a string attached to it, or a color coded dot in the corner? Do all the things you’ve set up pay off? Do you have a scene that is a repeat of another, does it re-establish something that was already established once, or drags, or is superfluous? Did you describe the same place three times or did the character growth arc flipflop?

And if it doesn’t serve the overall story? Cut it. Or fix it. Or rewrite it.

I call those moments “decks” – we build a lot of decks for our characters to hang out on in fiction, but we should really be building staircases. Your staircase can have some landings, some places to rest up and catch your breath, but ultimately they should be going up up up. If your characters / plot / forward momentum is chilling on a deck with a frosty bevvie, then the deck needs to be rebuilt, tilted upward, and forcing your story back into motion.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying to book has to plow ahead, no-holds-barred. Your story can meander, and linger, and be slow, can treasure quiet moments and have multiple episodes that feed into the main narrative – that’s fine. So long as everything needs to be there. So long as it goes.

But a book should be waterproof and air tight, no matter how many words long it is.  Looking over it shouldn’t give you squirmies. Everything should connect, no scene or moment or even sentence should be meaningless.

If you can say that you have ruthlessly reviewed every plot point, every scene, every sentence – going from macro to micro – and can confidently and honestly say that everything that is there is something that needs to be there for the sake of the story, or the plot, or the character arc, or the world and/or word-crafting… then I think that’s when the book is done.

When all of the story that needs telling to make it a story is told, then then the story is complete.

I know it sounds complicated and rigorous, but with any luck, you’ll have your own intuitive version of the squirmies that will let you know when there’s still one more draft to do.

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Got a question about the craft or business of writing? Ask it here. Or read other Words for Writers blog posts here.

JM FreyWORDS FOR WRITERS – When Is The Story Done?
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