I’ve come home refreshed after another lovely Saturday night in Perth catching up with my writing buddies and beta reading partners, Juanita Kees and Jennie Jones, at Juanita’s place. We dubbed it ‘Hotel Kees’ this morning because we get so incredibly well looked after by Juanita and her family when we take over (err, visit) for a weekend.
Juanita’s youngest son Daniel gives his bedroom over to one of us, and Gav always cooks a feast for the evening plus the most brilliant bacon and egg toasted sandwich you ever did see (which makes the perfect hangover cure for a Sunday morning).
I am so lucky to have found Juanita and Jennie. It is a tough road, this writing caper. Lots and lots of hard yards spent on your own, in your own imagination, typing words on a page that you will then delete by the bucketload later. It gets lonely, and having folk you can talk books and writing with (who don’t glaze over when you mention turning points and character arcs) are worth their weight in gold.
Positive people are worth their weight in gold, I’ve come to discover. So my motto from the weekend is, surround yourself with the people who give you wings, not with those who set out to clip them.
So, remember how last time on the blog I was feeling “nostalgic” and “zen”?? And, remember in the blog post before that, I was so close to finishing my fourth book, So Far Into You?
My feeling of zen lasted about a week, until my Beta readers started sending me their feedback for the book I’d just finished.
You see, I was so sure I’d wave that book into the world of Beta readers… and welcome their glowing feedback as it flooded back in lucious waves of WOW, WOW, WOW!!
Or not, as it turned out.
It wasn’t that my Beta partners didn’t like my book, they just didn’t love it. They didn’t get my hero… they didn’t particularly like him. They didn’t like the start.
Some of the comments were:
Gina has to go. (Gulp. Gina was the opening scene).
Seth is too nasty. We have to like your hero too.
I loved it from Chapter 8.
The ending is rushed.
The antagonist rolls over too quickly.
Something worse has to happen at the end.
I want another scene with Seth and Remy at the start.
We love Remy. (Everybody loves Remy).
So I cursed the world for about 24 hours, and then I re-read all the gold they’d sent me, and thought about how right they were.
So, with my very best pair of slash/hack editing scissors, I lopped off Gina’s head, and started again.
One of the hardest things I find is to get good distance from my writing. Because I know the story inside and out, and I know what my characters are feeling and why they do what they do, it gets very easy to not take readers with me… to make leaps and jumps that feel like they’re perfectly reasonable, while readers who don’t know the story are left floundering in a world of: “WTF just happened there?”
So tonight, I’ve finished this book AGAIN. Four years, three weeks and one day in gestation. I don’t know how much more of this pregnancy I can take!
A shout out to my wonderful Beta reading and writing friends, Jennie Jones and Juanita Kees, both of whom have had wonderful book-related news this week.
Jennie, Juanita and I met on Facebook last year, and then in person at the RWA Conference in Fremantle. We are all Escape Artists (published by Escape Publishing), and we’re living in West Australia, although I’m a fair way south of these two. This, by the way, is a good thing. I’m sure if we lived closer, we’d talk books and drink wine and very little writing would get done! After Fremantle we chatted loosely about joining forces with joint promotions or other bookish things… and this eventuated in the gem of an idea, that we form a Beta reading team.
So far, I’m proud to say, our record is exemplary! We started with Under The Cover Of Dark, Juanita’s follow-up story to Under The Hood in her Tag Raider series, staring the hunky Detective Mark and the lovely (but scarred) widow, Lily Bennetti. How could I not fall in love with Detective Mark when every line I’m reading has ‘Lily’ swooning over his cop charms? (And cop arms, and those big guns, – please, somebody stop me.) We had a giggle on Facebook mid-way through last year when Juanita posted a line about the sexy things Lily had been doing with Detective Mark, and someone (I think it was Susanne Bellamy from memory – thought it was ME!) So I wrote a little story about me, Lily & Mark which I hope to post here one day when Juanita says it’s okay.
Anyhoo… while we waved goodbye to Under Cover Of Dark and wished it well on its journey through the submission straits, I think next cab off the rank was my book, Fairway To Heaven, closely followed by Jennie Jones’ next book in her Swallow’s Fall series. This is ‘The House At The Bottom Of The Hill’ (the follow-up to Jennie’s blockbuster, ball-busting Escape’s biggest-selling wonder-book: The House On Burra Burra Lane). Yes, I am trying VERY hard to get Jennie to cull her book titles… but she does love telling a story on her front cover! Me, Jennie & Juanita call it THATBOTH… it’s much easier!
I like to think of Jennie as writing ‘Chardonnay Country’. You don’t find wheat fields, red dusty outback roads, sheep or cattle stations in Swallow’s Fall, instead it’s in the Snowy Mountains, all green and wildflower-filled, and the community and characters Jennie Jones has developed there never fail to make me giggle. I love visiting Swallow’s Fall, pet pigs and all.
Juanita’s writing is different. Her Tag Raiders series is romantic suspense… tackling all the tough issues like teenage gang culture, drugs, street kids, homelessness and the wonderful people who assist in the rehabilitation of these teens.
Is it any surprise that after the emotion she spent on the page writing Tag Raiders, she threw us a curve ball? Juanita needed a holiday. So off to a Greek beach she went, while we all chewed our nails waiting on news about Under The Cover Of Dark… and phwoar, have we enjoyed watching her Greek Gods in their speedos on Mykonos… my little heart be still.
Then Jennie, in the space of a few months, wrote my favourite story of everything she’s done so far: 12 Days At Silver Bells House. This is a Christmas novella set in Swallow’s Fall, and it is absolutely delightful. Talking about ‘Chardonnay Country’ I loved how her heroine crashes her car in a paddock near Swallow’s Fall and awaits her rescue more worried about how she’s going to get the box of wine out of the boot (trunk), than how she is going to get out of the aforesaid mud patch in her designer heels. This novella is magic!
And the huge news that’s had us all dancing: Under The Cover Of Dark has been accepted for publication by Escape Publishing this week! And Jennie Jones has news too… although I’ll let her tell it!
So huge congratulations to Jennie and Juanita. They are two of the most generous people you could meet in the Australian writing fraternity.
And while I’m dishing out the love: It’s also been a big week (month) for two other buddies, Jenn J McLeod and Kylie Kaden, both of whom have new books (Simmering Season for Jenn, and Losing Kate for Kylie) in print and e-book that have captured readers’ attention in Australia and beyond.
It sure has been a good news week! #girlwritersrock #australianwritersrock
I first met my wonderful Beta Reader, Marion, when His Brand Of Beautiful, published by Escape Publishing, was released in March 2013. At the time, I approached Marion (who reviews for the US website, Ravishing Romances, as Musing Maddie) to review His Brand Of Beautiful for me.
That review sparked one of those ‘online’ friendships you sometimes get where two people just click. One of the most interesting things is, Marion didn’t 4 or 5-star rate my book. She gave it 3 stars and a very honest, tactful review that included the things she loved about my book, and what she felt I needed to “unpack” more. I continue to love that phrase!
I remember Marion saying in an email to me after the review that she hoped her review hadn’t “discouraged” me. Why would it? 3 stars meant she liked it. Her review included this section:
“From the outset, their interactions were snarky, heated and volatile. Their attraction – instantaneous and sizzling. His Brand of Beautiful had a little bit of drama, witty humor and entertaining interaction between characters. Lily Malone’s descriptive prose was enchanting.”
How could any debut author not take positives out of a review like that?
Marion and I became Facebook friends and she offered at the time to Beta Read for me at a later date and I’ve just taken that offer up with my new novella, The Goodbye Ride. This time I’m self-publishing, mostly because my book is set over the June Queen’s Birthday long weekend and it seemed a shame to miss the opportunity to publish it in time for May/June.
The way I see it, there is a step between Critique Partner and book Publisher/Editor – and Marion’s Beta Reading & Proof Reading services sit right in that pocket. If you’re self-publishing, the opportunity for your book to be seen through such qualified eyes is gold.
“In the past, authors turned to editors at publishing houses and fellow authors for storyline advice. The self-publishing generation realises the value of cutting out the middle-man and hearing directly from the readers. I’m an avid reader and I know there’s nothing more frustrating than stumbling over errors that detract from a story. It’s very easy to miss simple spelling errors, punctuation or timeline errors when you’re familiar with your own writing.
“I like books with meat, that are not completely predictable and that keep their readers invested. I’m not good at accepting mediocre, so I challenge authors to dig a little deeper. I take time to consider what an author needs from me to help them create the best they’re capable of creating.”
I would add right here: Editors/Publishers read and reject a lot of books and read and accept a fair share too. Generally in this day and age, I think it’s fair to say Publishers/Editors don’t have a lot of time to spend tweaking a manuscript so it’s important it is in the best place it can be when you either provide it to a publisher, or self-publish it. I’ve been impatient before, and I’ve learned the hard way that impatience prior to making submissions isn’t a good mix! Note to self, Lily Malone, DO send your manuscript to Critique Partners/Beta Readers first!
“A Beta reader can provide the author with feedback such as strengths and weaknesses, timeline, character and plot inconsistencies, whether any laws of physics were broken, and whether or not they liked the story. Which scenes did they love? Did they laugh, cry, sigh etc. Was the story believable and was it credible.
“A proof reader can go a step further providing light copy-edits, and highlight text that might require re-phrasing, deletion or inclusion. Often, as authors become familiar with their work, it is easy to fall in love with a scene, thus becoming blind to its shortcomings. A proof reader can lend the scene a new set of eyes and give options for the author to consider, if it is not working in their eyes.”
In her Beta reading of The Goodbye Ride, Marion gave me what I like to term, “a lightbulb moment’. I like writing dialogue and while people tend to say that dialogue is one of my strengths, I can also be guilty of ‘telling’ my story through dialogue.
To illustrate, let me show you the version Marion read as Beta Reader, with where this scene is now.
Scene 1: (and the ‘chunk’ he refers to is a chunk of hair, for your context). The comments in bold are Marion’s.
Owen moved closer, trapping Liv between his big body and the Hyundai’s back wheel. “This damn chunk falls across your eye all the time. I can’t look at it without wanting to do…this.” He picked it up, tucked it behind her ear, and turned her insides into butterfly jelly.
“We’re going out tonight.” Owen scorched a kiss across her temple, so that it felt like a circle of flame branded her skin. “I’ll see you at your place about seven.”
“Where are we going?” I was expecting a ‘she breathed’
“It’s a surprise.”
She could feel pink flushing up her throat. “Do I need riding leathers?”
“Wear them if you want, but we’re not going riding tonight.” His mouth feathered from her temple, down her jaw, each breath hot with promise.
Liv shivered. “I never really liked surprises.”
“You’ll love this one.” I haven’t read the next bit to this yet, but what is happening for Liv at this point? What is her response to his proclamation of a surprise? I don’t know if it really matters, but you want to avoid letting the dialogue do all the talking if that makes sense.
Did it make sense? I thought dialogue was showing not telling… but when Marion picked this particular point up a few more times in the manuscript, that’s when it clicked. I also kept remembering that keyword from her review of His Brand Of Beautiful.‘Unpack more’. So here is this scene now. No doubt about it, when Lily Malone unpacks… she shakes out the whole dang suitcase!
Owen moved closer and Liv lost sight of his aunt’s retreating back and the camellia trees flanking the front steps. She couldn’t see anything but the solid wall of his chest and the mesmerising rise of his hand as he lifted it toward her face. “How can I think about transfer papers when this damn chunk of hair falls across your eye like that? How can I look at it without wanting to do…this.”
He tucked the stray hairs behind her ear. Roughened fingertips skimmed her earlobe, caressed the skin of her neck, and Liv felt all the breath squeeze from her lungs. Could Owen feel her pulse? Surely he could hear it?
“How should we celebrate all our hard work, Liv?”
“I don’t care,” she said. And she didn’t. Anywhere with him was fine.
“Should I surprise you?”
Liv had three pairs of jeans in her wardrobe, including the pair she now wore. She hoped he wasn’t thinking of anywhere too ritzy.“I never really liked surprises.”
Owen’s eyebrows arched. “You’ll ride the flying fox in the school playground but you don’t like surprises?”
“At least give me a clue about what to wear. I can hardly drag out the party heels if we’re riding the bike again.” That’s if I owned party heels.
“You’d look good in anything,” Owen said, banishing all thought of footwear from her brain as his mouth brushed her temple. “You’d look incredible in nothing.”
The husky promise in his voice—his hot breath on her skin—it turned her knees to jelly.
Owen breathed her scent, his nose in her hair. He nibbled a path around her ear. A shudder racked her body and she surrendered to the delicious things he was doing with his lips. Liv closed her eyes, slid her hands up his bare arms, great arms, shaping the muscles she felt there, loving the underlying strength.
It took a raucous whistle from the house to break through Liv’s trance.
“Bloody Mark,” Owen muttered against her jaw, lifting his head.
She took the chance to sidle sideways and hook her fingers under the door handle, her face flushed from a hot mix of embarrassment and desire. Owen held the door for her while she settled behind the wheel, glad to be sitting so he wouldn’t see her legs shake.
“Drag out the party heels if you like, Lovely. We’re not going riding tonight,” he said, big fingers splayed loosely against the window. “Tonight I want to end up somewhere with you that’s much more comfortable than the back of a bike.”
Another up and coming Aussie author, who is a great proponent for self-publishing and for self-promotion is the author of A Beautiful Struggle, A Beautiful Forever (with a new book, Alter, about to be published) Lilliana Anderson.
Lilliana also has Marion on her team of Beta readers, and this is her take on what Marion can provide:
“I need someone to pull apart my work and ask lots of questions. While it’s great having someone take a look at it and shout ‘Yay! Awesome!’ it’s not really conducive to the type of work I am trying to put out there. Some may have been happy with me releasing the book on the first draft and I’m not happy enough with that. That’s why I need Marion! I NEED her.”
Marion has now made her services more ‘official’ and has set up a new website with more information. She says her aim is: “To provide authors with an affordable proof or beta reading service, which helps produce a clean manuscript, enabling readers to remain engrossed in the story – rather than distracted by avoidable editing blips. I offer kind, honest comments laced with good humor and integrity.”
While she can tailor her services to each author, she identifies three levels of service: