Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Why I Need a Beta Reader...And So Do You

With some family health issues, today I offer you some words from the vault. I've used many different beta readers over the last few years and have found their feedback is as good as gold.

Why I Need a Beta Reader...and So Do You...
Do you have any non-writers that read your work?

I was asked this question at ACFW conference by a fabulous author who critiqued my first twenty pages and offered loads of good advice.

I had to answer her question with "no."

I have wonderful critique partners. I'm fortunate to have both an online critique partner and a face-to-face group full of astute critiquers. These people had all offered help that was invaluable.

Then there were the people who read parts of my story. Family. My husband. Friends. A member of my church. These people offered mostly their support. I am so blessed to have such encouragement.

Simple details. An opening of a door that didn't close. A cat that appeared out of nowhere.

Such details are in the writer's head and in my case I thought my on the page explanation was all present.

Deborah Raney explained that oftentimes other writers will miss these details as they write and as they critique. That's one reason why its so important to have beta readers, not to replace our critique partners but in addition to them.

If you are involved in the computer world at all, you are probably very familiar with the term "beta testing." My husband is an avid gamer and has been excited to be involved in beta tests for several computer games. In exchange for free play, he goes to the forums and writes about all the "bugs" he detects. Most of the people testing these games are just your average game player and have no inside knowledge of the software.

Hence the beta reader. He or she is willing to provide the service of testing your manuscript to let you know where the bugs are.


  • Are your characters realistic? Are their motives believable? 
  • Does your plot move logically from one event to the next? 
  • Are there unexplained holes? For instance, in my case a character closed the door but hadn't opened it. 
  • Have we left out details that are necessary to the plot?
Beta readers can be good at finding the big picture.

Sometimes the words beta reader are used interchangeably with critique partner. 

However, I think there is a lot of value in having a beta reader who is neither a writer, nor a close friend or family member.

I decided to enlist a friend from high school that I haven't seen in years. I thought she was a good candidate because we are not currently in close contact so I didn't think her honesty would be hindered. She is also a frequent reader so I thought she would be likely to notice issues of details. 

Here is some valuable feedback from my first beta reader:

So as a reader I felt the beginning of the book was smooth and a quick read.

For instance, Mother Anna, she needs a line or two about who she is.

For me anyways, I need the background stories to fully involve myself in the novel. or I lose interest. 

Although, I found that I had to go back to points to figure who some of the characters were and how they related to the story.

It's a great idea for a fictional novel and you have a great piece of Americana. I would love to know when you have completed this and have it published. 

(Here's to hoping on that last point).

So what did I gain from having a beta reader? 

First of all, I have decided I would love more of these and I'm willing to bribe them because the feedback is invaluable. 

Secondly, my beta reader was able to see the big picture of my story in a different way as a reader. She spent less time focusing on the grammar/mechanics and so was able to give me an idea of how the "average" reader might read my story (does such a thing as an average reader exist?)

Thirdly, she was able to give me objective feedback (although I think my critique partners are also wonderful at doing this). 

So how do I find these people?

  • Network, network, network. If you blog, its possible a blog reader might be a good fit. I am just exploring the world of LinkedIn, but it offers networking groups that might be excellent for finding beta readers.
  • Sites like Critique Circle can be a great way to find those willing to read your work. 
  • Join a book club. What better way to find those who love to read than joining a book club. (Since my book club consists largely of my family this would not be a good fit for me).
  • Think of college friends, MOPS members, moms of those in your children's activities, those you chat with at the gym. There are so many possibilities.
  • Pray.
  • Think target readership. This is a biggie. Who is the audience of your book? Where might you find these people? Hanging out at the local gaming shop? Going to bowling league after all the kids are in bed? These might be the perfect places to find a future beta reader.
Very important...make sure you give back. Beta reading is a lot of work, though the person might be willing to read your work for free make sure you give back to them in some way. Critiquing is often a partnership with give and take, beta reading can be more one-sided. Be appreciative of the advice they are giving. Offer cookies and flowers and lots of words of affirmation.


Do you have a beta reader? If so, how did you find them? 

Monday, February 8, 2016

Writers, Read!

I remember the twists and turns of Jane Eyre...even though it's been nearly two decades since I lastread the book.
I often reflect on the tragedy of Wuthering Heights, and the devastation of The Great Gatsby. Even though I read those books before Jane Eyre. There are stories that rooted themselves in my heart, and they were on high school reading lists, the pages of a high school textbook--Thoreau, Fitzgerald, Shakespeare, Poe...

During college, the only thing I recall reading is Amitai Etzioni and a social geography textbook..my reading of fiction was very little. But after college, I'd read as I worked out, and devoured books that everyone talked about.

And then, there were several series I read as a young mother,
raising my children in the quiet of a West Texas sand storm.
There were books scattered here and there these past ten years, many that I never finished because of lack of interest or a whining toddler. But, this past month, I have had a great desire to READ. I have devoured about 5-6  books, and continue to have one on my kindle and one in paperback for my convenience wherever I am at.


I feel like it's God pushing me to the next level of writing by giving me the desire to actually read the market I long to write in. When stories model the flow of character, plot, and conclusion, we grow as better writers. If we become out of touch with what is out there, then our writing and pitching and proposing  will flounder.

So, what have you read lately? Learned anything new about your own writing?




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Angie Dicken is a full-time mom and lives in the Midwest with her Texas Aggie sweetheart. An ACFW member since 2010, she has written six historical novels and is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of The Steve Laube Agency. Angie also spends her time designing one-sheets and drinking good coffee with great friends. Check her personal blog at angiedicken.blogspot.com and connect at:
Twitter: @angiedicken

Friday, February 5, 2016

Key Elements of Crafting a Romance by Sandra D. Bricker

Casey here: I'm excited to have the sweet and fun Sandie Bricker sharing with us today! Sandie has written dozens of novels, including one of my favorite series by her, the Emma Rae Creation books. SO fun!! Sandie is here to share some tips for what makes a great romance. Thanks for joining the conversation today!

An interviewer recently asked me, “What makes writing romance so appealing to you?” I
had to really think about that. I suppose I attribute my love for a romantic happy ending to my childhood, largely spent plopped in front of the television watching sitcoms … or negotiating with my parents for some extra money to go to the movies yetagain. At a very young age, I loved the idea of the wrap-up. Whether in thirty minutes for my favorite TV show or ninety at the local theater, tying things up with a happy bow thrilled my soul.

And then came The Great Discovery:  Romance novels!

For me, it started with writers like Danielle Steel … Rebecca York … Jennifer Crusie … Oh, and then the beautiful discovery of the inspirational market. Back then, there weren’t too many heroines like me in Heartsong and Love Inspired novels, but the books came regularly. Every month, fresh possibilities for my imagination: a new story … a new relationship … a new adventure. No matter the sub-genre – general market fiction, suspense, comedy, or Christian – my favorite novels, the ones that moved me to the core, were always set firmly into a foundation of romance. They got me every time.

To my readers, this likely comes as no surprise. Everything I write – even if it’s not a branded romance – has a strong thread of heart-pounding ever-after romance. Consequently, I’ve thought a lot about the necessary elements of crafting a romance that readers will remember … characters they’ll root for … an ending that will stir thir souls.

Here are my basic building blocks:

A hero and heroine readers will fall for. If they’re not likable, relatable, and free of cliches, they’ll never make it into the hearts and minds of my readers. Are they flawed? Of course. Unpredictable? I hope so. But unredeemable? Never.

An early “meet-cute” that sets up what’s to come. “Meet-cute” is a term that dates all the way back to the 1940s, usually related to film or television where a future romantic couple meets for the first time in an entertaining and sometimes amusing way. I’ve found that those first moments between a hero and heroine set the tone for everything they’ll experience – together and apart – for the duration of the book, so it better be good.

Carefully crafted romantic tension. I’ve read some books where the chemistry between the hero and  heroine starts off at a fever pitch. Unfortunately, even in cases where it’s been somewhat interesting at the beginning, I find most of those authors have trouble sustaining and building that tension throughout the book. I like to think of the spark between my main characters like a fireplace on a cold winter night. First the kindling and the match … then a few added logs set into key positions … an eventual crackling, roaring fire and you’re ready for s’mores!

Obstacles, hurdles, and traffic stops. Readers of romance tend to enjoy taking a
bumpy ride-along with the hero and heroine as they face down the challenges of being together at last. This can be particularly difficult in the case of writing a series when each book needs to stand alone, and yet the challenges must be sustained over two or three separate books. When Jessie and Danny in the Jessie Stanton series, for instance, got together at the end of Book 1: On a Ring & a Prayer, how was I going to keep the  story moving in Book 2: Be My Valentino? By the time I got to Book 3: From Bags to Riches, the challenge wasn’t simply to keep readers interested in their story, but to carefully craft the hurdles and obstacles that would keep them turning pages to find out how on earth this hero and heroine can possibly overcome their mounting set-backs. Early reader reviews indicate I was successful in that endeavor, which is an enormous relief because, above all else, satisfying my readers is my #1 priority.

Film critic Roger Ebert once said of Nicholas Sparks: “Readers don’t read his books because they’re true, but because they ought to be true.” That sums it all up for me.


Ah, the beauty of fiction … and the joy of a perfectly crafted romance!

SANDRA D. BRICKER was an entertainment publicist in Los Angeles for 15+ years where
she attended school to learn screenwriting and eventually taught the craft for several semesters. When she put Hollywood in the rear view mirror and headed across the country to take care of her mom until she passed away, she traded her scripts for books, and a best-selling, award-winning author of Live-Out-Loud fiction for the inspirational market was born. Sandie is best known for her Another Emma Rae Creation and Jessie Stanton series for Abingdon Press, and she was also recently named ACFW’s Editor of the Year for her work as managing editor of Bling!, an edgy romance imprint for Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas.She has recently handed off the imprint to another managing editor so that she can return to focusing on her writing again. As an ovarian cancer survivor, Sandie also gears time and effort toward raising awareness and funds for research, diagnostics and a cure.  

HOW TO CONNECT WITH SANDIE:

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Writer's Sandbox: How to champion your fellow author (and not annoy everyone else...)

One of my big struggles since becoming a published author is marketing.

Not only my own (which definitely is a struggle) but how to best market my fellow authors that I want to support!

My last post I got "real" and talked about the insecurity that comes when you feel like support from other writers is "eh" at best.

So I wanted to spin it to the other side today.

There are a LOT of authors out there. And quite a few of them I count as "friends" even though we may only be acquainted on Facebook.

But there is NO way I can champion them all. I just can't. None of us can. There isn't enough time in the day. And if I shared EVERYONE'S Facebook memes, my followers would be beating a path to the unfriend/unlike/unfollow button.

I am not perfect at this. In fact, sometimes I'm BAD at this. But wanted to share a few tips, not based on what I DO, but what I STRIVE to do. There is a difference. LOL. (Kinda like when I tell my kids they don't need dessert but sneak a little ice cream when they're in bed! Shhhhh.... don't tell....)

So, my confession aside, here are my tips --

BE HONEST. Sharing a post and saying, "BEST BOOK I'VE READ ALL YEAR" when you struggled to finish it might help the author in the short term, but it will damage your credibility when your readers pick it up and see the less-than-stellar writing. Personally, I'm a fan of the "if you can't say something nice, say nothing at all" rule.

DON'T OVER PROMISE. One of the lessons I learned in the corporate world, I believe said by our CEO at the time, was "Under promise, over deliver." Better to beat our promises than not to deliver on them! When agreeing to influence/review a friend's work, don't set unrealistic expectations. "I'll have it reviewed next week" and then get to it a month later. Or worse yet, "I'll leave you a glowing review" but then actually READ the book and not be able to review it at all because nothing you could say would be positive.

SHARE SMART
. Don't let your page or your timeline become a walking advertisement, for your books OR your friend's books. Your shares and "advertisements" should be balanced with engaging content, or find a way to MAKE the share engaging. "I just read this book by Pepper Basham set in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Oh my goodness it was so good and made me want to take another weekend trip to Gatlinburg! Anyone have a favorite spot to visit in the mountains? I'd love some ideas for our next weekend away!" Or something like that!

PERSONAL DOESN'T ALWAYS WORK.
"My friend wrote this amazing book -- go read it!" will garner a little less enthusiasm than "Oh my goodness, I'm swooning right now! Just finished When Fall Fades by Amy Simpson, SO. STINKIN. GOOD!" The first shows clear bias and may put a question in your friend's mind.... Did she REALLY like it or is she just super biased? The second is much more word-of-mouth friendly!

TIMELINE OR PAGE. A lot of authors, myself included, have both a personal FB timeline and an officially author page. Many promotions, I share both places, because only a small portion of my friends like my page and only a small portion who like my page are my friend. SO, for authors who have pages, always share from their PAGE and not their TIMELINE. This helps them get more likes, and pages are HARD to get views on sometimes due to FB algorithms. Shares help visibility of their page and ups the helpfulness of your share!

VARY IT UP. We have so many social media options. Facebook, twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, blogging.... There are so many ways to help promote. Mention their book on your blog. Share or post on FB. Retweet on Twitter. Post a pic of you and their book on Instagram. Have a board for covers and links on Pinterest. You don't have to do all of them. But varying it up will help from overloading any one site with advertisements.


But regardless of HOW you do it, supporting each other is important. No, you can't support everyone. And there is no "perfect" way to do so. But word-of-mouth is still the BEST marketing for books, and chances are that when it's your turn to be published, you'll be looking around at your fellow author friends and hoping THEY help you promote too.

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Krista is a follower of Jesus, a wife, a mother, and author of Sandwich, With a Side of Romance, A Side of Faith and A Side of Hope. AND nnow the author of A (kinda) Country Christmas! She blogs about finding JOY in the journey of LIFE at http://www.kristaphillips.com. She is represented by Sarah Freese of Wordserve Literary.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

How Readers Become A Blubbering--Grab-a-Tissue Mess




AND WHY WE WANT THEM TO...


Engaging readers in an emotionally driven scene becomes the key to a memorable story whether the means is humor, sadness, scary, enraged, true love, etc,.



In fact, mistakes can be forgiven even outweighed if the reader has memorable pieces of story to recall. 

The scene can be goofy, over-the-top, or corny as long as the reader is elevated to give an emotional response.


My all time favorite emotion scene is the opening of Romancing the Stone

The character's name is Joan Wilder. She is a world famous author of romance stories. Her editor is bugging her to finish the next best seller. 


Romancing the Stone-IMDB
Scene: Joan is sitting in her apartment at a flimsy table. She has headphones on and is reading this last scene of her completed work out loud: Jesse, the hero of all her stories, rides over the hill just in time to save the girl. He kills the bad guys then scoops her up on his horse and they ride into the sunset. Joan is a blubbering mess as she reads "The End."

Her emotions are over the top spilling out her eyes and pumping laughter from her lungs. Joan searches her house for a tissue, willing to use toilet paper, paper towel, anything and only finds reminder notes to buy more tissue. As a last resort she blows her nose in a post-it stuck to her fridge with one word written on it--tissues.  


I WANT TO BE THIS KIND OF WRITER!!!
DON'T YOU?

How can this be achieved?

1. Show don't tell.
2. Paint scenes in 3D...yea even 4D
3. Present character's POV with their gut perceptions. Not what is necessarily proper but what he or she really does in each scene. Make men men. Women can be tough and feminine. People die, weep mournfully, laugh uproariously, belch in public, fart, trip, stutter, and even do things right!
4. Show don't tell.

To demonstrate we happen to have a few published Alley Cats who are excited to share an emotion powered exert from their book:


From: Shadowed by Grace by Cara Putnum--


She crept toward her mother's narrow bed but couldn't force herself to look into her mother's eyes, not when the woman had read her every though with a glance from the moment Rachel had first breathed.


I still can't write his name, as if the very act of doing so will cause him to evaporate like the mist. I can't because when I am with him, I am alive. It is as if I hold my breath until the next moment he is with me. Too long and I feel sick as if I will expire from lack of air.






From:  In His Grip by Amy Leigh Simpson-Coming Spring 2016--

         After the violent shriek of the tires and deafening roar of twisting steel all had fallen silent. Her screams had faded to intermittent hiccups and sniffles. The eerie hush of the falling rain like a blanket of white noise smothering the wreckage. Minutes or hours might have passed as her small body, suspended inches from the crushed roof of the car, wriggled against the cutting pressure of the seat belt. Then a groaning sound. A snippet of hope that her parents had survived. She whimpered, fresh tears dripping in the already frozen tear tracks down her forehead. Never had a sweeter sound graced Joselyn’s ears than when her father’s gruff accent assured her she wasn’t alone.
         Charisma? … Joselyn?”
        “Daddy. Oh, daddy, I’m here. I’m—I’m scared.” She shivered hard, trembling uncontrollably from the cold that had long ago soaked through her winter coat.
        Her father didn’t assure her everything would be all right. Somehow she knew nothing would ever be all right again.



From A Side of Hope by Krista Phillips—

       Air lodged in her lungs. Her body refused to breathe. Blood rushed to her head, and the world tipped on its side.
       Her hands grasped for something to hold her up and fell upon the back of the chair. It didn’t make sense. Why was Adam here? Today? After all these years?
       Reuben stood, arms folded across his chest, giving the new guest a fierce look. “Tilly, you know this guy?”
      The man with dark hair and sharp gray eyes fiddled with his hands for a moment then shoved them into his pockets. He looked—older. Age had only agreed with him, though. Light lines creased his eyes. His jaw was still strong and solid, covered by short stubble that begged for a razor. Gone was the immature “boy” whom she’d once thought she would love forever. In his place was a man whose presence threatened to destroy everything. “I—I didn’t realize you had this much company.”
      Words jumbled in her brain. “It—it’s my birthday. I didn’t know—I mean, they surprised me.”
      Stew, Allie’s husband, flanked Adam on the other side. “Tilly, who is this guy?”
      She blinked and swallowed. What should she say? Most people—those few who would even remember him—probably thought Adam a good-for-nothing guy who was long gone years ago.  No one had even mentioned him for well over a decade, and no one, not even her best friends, knew her secret.
      Her eyes set on Adam again, and suddenly the years slipped away. She was twenty-two and facing the man who chose a career over love and shattered her heart into a million pieces in the process. Words stuck in her throat, hollow and lifeless. She blinked. The only thing she could think to say was the truth. “I’m sorry. Everyone—” She looked around, her eyes touching on confused and bewildered faces. “This is Adam. My husband.”



From: The Thorn Keeper by Pepper D. Basham

      David moved to miss the scalpel, but the blade pierced into his forearm, producing another bite of pain. With as much force as he could muster, David slammed a fist into Clayton’s face, sending the man and his crutch sprawling off balance and onto the floor.
      Clayton growled, reaching for another bed rail to regain his balance, and grabbing the blanket covering poor Mr. Sacks instead. The new arrival attempted to slide back in his bed, as far from Clayton as he could, but the madman turned the scalpel on him. Blood riveted from Clayton’s nose as he hovered over Sacks. David charged forward to make another attack, but Catherine’s sudden appearance behind Clayton froze him in place. She hadn’t made a sound. Careful and precise, she raised a white ceramic bowl into the air, and without hesitation, smashed it down onto Clayton’s head.
      Time slowed. Clayton stared at David, a look of pure surprise then curiosity crossing his face, before he crumbled to the floor in a massive heap.
      David looked up at Catherine, who looked back at him with as much of a wide-eyed expression as he must have shown. She released a long, slow breath as if she’d been holding it since they entered the room.




As a writer inundated with edits, deadlines, etc, you may not even realize the extent your driven scene or paragraph impacted a reader to respond outwardly. In their own setting with your book in hand, she burst out laughing. He gasped. She yelled a warning. He screamed the right way to turn. The book was slammed shut while the reader gained their composure. THEN curiosity forced them to open the cover again.

Pumping up emotional scenes to spring to life is crucial because they drive readers to want more. Read more. Laugh more. Hope that the character will live, kiss, make-the-right-choice-to-the-last-page more. 

Of all the scenes, chapters, paragraphs, sentences, words a writer writes--these emotion soliciting response portions are the most important. Because they are memorable.

Are you pumped???

I can't wait to read your comment(s)!


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Rock climbing, white-water rafting, and hiking top Mary's list of great ways to enjoy a day. These can be found in her stories as well.

Mary writes young adult mystery/suspense, is honing marketing and writing skills, and loves to pen missionary and tell Bible event stories on her ministry blog, God Loves Kids. She has finaled in several writing contests.


Visit Mary at her websiteblog, and her ministry blog to families: God Loves Kids. Or chat on Facebook or Twitter

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