There Let Us Wallow (How to Accept Criticism)

EditingIt’s a scary moment when you send your writing out into the world. This thing you’ve created from part of your own soul, this thing you dreamt up and gave life to, your baby. You want to protect it from everything, want to keep it safe. But you can’t. Once it’s out there, it’s up for scrutiny, and not everyone will love it like you do.

So how do you cope when you receive criticism?

There will be a lot of people jumping in to tell you to ignore it, to learn from it, and not to dwell on it. “Learn to shrug it off”, they’ll say. “You’ll need to grow a thicker skin if you want to be a writer.” And it’s fantastic advice, it really is, but remember this too: your initial feelings are not only completely valid, but they can be healthy too.

So feel free to wallow, or cry, or shout, or swear you’ll never write again. Feel free to binge eat ice cream, chocolate, or cake. Get drunk. Shout obscenities. Climb under your duvet and hide there. Stamp your feet, thump a pillow, scream at the sky. Do what you have to do to get those feelings out.

Then go to bed.

There’s a reason people say that things will look better in the morning. It’s because they usually do.

So feel free to wallow today, but tomorrow, wake up ready to kick some butt. Wake up ready to prove your critics wrong by bettering yourself, improving your work, strengthening your weaknesses, and accepting feedback with grace and self respect.

Feel free to wallow, but tomorrow’s another day, and if you feel like you lost today, get up and march for victory in the morning.

Insecure Writer's Support GroupThis post was written as part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group blog hop. If you want to visit the other IWSG member blogs, or sign up yourself, you can do so here.

Lessons I Learnt from Writing my First Book Series

BooksComing to the end of my first series, and starting on my second got me thinking about what I wanted to do differently. About the mistakes I made, and the lessons I learnt.

Start Your Series Bible While You’re Plotting

I definitely learnt this the hard way. I started my series bible while I was writing book 3. I’ve never finished it. I spent much of my writing time flicking through the previous books looking up character names and fact checking. Having my series bible would have been so much easier.

You won’t remember side character names, or which side of your main character’s nose has the scar, or what they ate for breakfast that morning. Start your series bible right at the beginning, and keep it up to date throughout.

Plot Subsequent Books Before Writing the First

One word: foreshadowing. I had a lot of happy accidents with my first series, but it would have been great to have been able to purposefully place things that would be used in subsequent books. It links them together (and makes you look clever).

Knowing how the series ends before you start writing it allows you to place hints and little reveals along the way. It keeps you focussed, and keeps your characters focussed, and just makes for a tighter, more coherent series.

Release in Quick Succession (no one cares about an unfinished series)

Marketing your books is tough when your series is unfinished. There’s so much I’ve put off until the last book’s released. And I really feel for those quick readers, the ones reading a book a day, unable to complete the story. I worry that I might lose them in the wait between books. Many readers won’t even start a series until it’s finished.

I’m not the fastest writer, and I’ve managed to get the time it takes to produce a book, from plotting to release, down to around six to nine months, but I’d like to get it down even more. Pre-plotting all the books is a good start, allowing me to jump into writing book 2 the second book 1 goes off to betas.

Retain Your Beta Readers (but accept that you’ll likely lose some)

Picking up new beta readers part way through a series brings its own issues: do you send them the previous books and wait that much longer while they read them all, or get their opinion of it as a standalone? It could give an interesting perspective, but where do you find beta readers happy to read a random book from the middle of a series they don’t know?

Far better to recruit a good number at the start, understanding that you’re likely to lose some along the way, and keep hold of them throughout. After all, good beta readers are like gold dust, and you should be keeping them close regardless.

Outsource What You Can (and use the same suppliers)

Writing and publishing a whole series is a huge undertaking, and if you are aiming to publish in rapid succession, there’s a load of stuff you can outsource to save yourself the time and effort: editing, proofreading, formatting, blurb writing, cover design, marketing. Of course, we don’t all have endless budgets for this, so outsource what you can’t do yourself.

With a series, consistency is key. You want loyal readers to know at a glance which books are in the same series. Just as you wouldn’t change the main character’s name after book 2, where you can, use the same suppliers. You know what you’re getting, and, hopefully, there won’t be any surprises to deal with.

Story Worms (When You Don’t Have Plot Bunnies to Play With)

Wellington BootsMany writers talk about plot bunnies; when you get one little idea, and then it multiplies and multiplies, and very soon you’re overrun with baby plot bunnies. Sometimes too many ideas coming too quickly. It can be easy to get overwhelmed.

I, on the other hand, don’t get plot bunnies. I get story worms.

Out of the blue, I’ll become aware of one, buried deep in my brain. Sometimes I’ll glimpse its little head poking out, other times just evidence of its presence: holes, worm poo. I know it’s there, but I can’t get to it.

Far from being rapid multipliers like plot bunnies, my story worms need to be charmed out. It’s a gentle process requiring skill, patience, a little luck, and the ability to not care if you look a bit silly doing it.

I’ll do what it takes to get those worms out: worm grunting, worm fiddling, twanging, music, dance, or simply stamping my feet. And when a head finally breaks the surface, I have to grab it, pull it, and hope it comes out intact.

So while some writers are rounding up wayward plot bunnies, I’ll be in my wellies doing a rain dance. Because that’s the great thing about writing; we all have our own special ways of doing it, but it always helps to be a little bit crazy.

5 Ways to Find Beta Readers

What is a beta reader?
Let’s start by defining what a beta reader is, and why they’re so important. A beta reader is someone who reads your book before it’s published and offers constructive criticism. This feedback informs your final run of edits to make your book as good as it can be before publication or submission.

Why do I need beta readers?
Editing and proofing your own work is an almost impossible task. You’re too close to the project, you know what it’s meant to say, and you become blind to its problems and mistakes.

Betas can also read your work as readers would, with a detachment you can never achieve yourself. They’ll pick up on plot holes and typos you’ll overlook. They’ll react to the emotions and tension, be surprised by reveals. They’ll find parts that need clarification, or that move too slowly, characters that don’t work, dialogue that’s unrealistic, things that need more description, or less. They’ll tell you what works and what doesn’t with a perspective you can’t have yourself.

What makes a good beta reader?
Finding beta readers is easy, but finding good beta readers is hard. A good beta reader can be anyone; a reader, a writer, even a close friend or family member. You’ll hear it said that friends and family aren’t good options because they’ll try to save your feelings. This isn’t always the case. If you can trust them to be brutally honest, then they can be just as useful as any other beta.

Because good beta readers do need to be brutally honest. They need to be able to tell you when something isn’t working, when you’ve made a mistake. They also need to offer constructive criticism. “This doesn’t work”, or “this is boring” is no use to you if they don’t explain why. They don’t need to offer up solutions, that’s your job, but they do need to be able to explain their responses.

Good beta readers are worth their weight in gold, so when you do find some, make sure you keep hold of them.

Where can I find beta readers?

  • Ask friends and family. You need to be careful with this option and only choose people you can trust to be brutally honest. Beta readers are no use to you if they’re just being polite not to hurt your feelings.
  • Find reader groups in your genre. Search places like Facebook and GoodReads and you’re sure to find lots of keen readers.
  • Use fellow authors. Again, a search on Facebook or GoodReads will offer up several beta or review exchange groups.
  • Use your network. Post an open call for beta readers on your social networking profiles, and ask people to share.
  • Ask your mailing list subscribers. These are already fans of yours, and many of them will jump at the chance of reading your book before anyone else.

Where else have you found beta readers? What makes a good beta reader for you?

Why I’m an Indie Author

Bogus Caller Press Logo greyMy publishing journey began in the world of short stories, anthologies, and small presses. I love writing to a prompt, I work (quite) well with deadlines, and I enjoy trying to fit a story into a strict wordcount limit. I love trimming them down and editing the hell out of them.

But I wanted to spread my wings, stretch my legs, and switch from sprints to marathons. I knew I had something bigger inside of me.

When I first considered self publishing, it was still in its infancy; still viewed with suspicion, still considered to be the route for writers who weren’t good enough to get published. The first people I told about my plans actually laughed. But I wasn’t deterred.

I love learning new things and gaining new skills, so I decided right from the off that I wanted to learn how to do everything myself. There’s such a wealth of information out there, and so many people willing to help you on your journey.

When I published my first book, it came with such a huge sense of accomplishment. Not only had I acheived a long-held dream, but I’d done it by myself.

There are so many things I love about being an indie author, and so many reasons that it’s such a good fit for me:

  • I’m in control of everything, from start to finish.
  • My deadlines are more flexible. As the mother of two young boys, I’m not always as reliable as I’d like to be, but when the deadlines are self-imposed, they can be moved to fit my life.
  • I’m not waiting around for news. I always know what stage the project is at, and there’s no agonising wait for updates.
  • There’s always something new to learn.

Of course, there’s a lot of things I’ve struggled with. Marketing is a big one. I’ve heard it said by authors so many times, and I’ve said it myself: marketing is evil. Somehow, the creativity of writing feels totally at odds with the business of marketing. Marketing often feels dirty, like it sullies the creative work.

If you feel this way, all I can recommend is that you take a marketing course. There are lots out there specifically aimed at indie authors. Get recommendations from people you trust, and sign up. Doing a marketing course changed everything for me.

There are also things you need to outsource. And there are things you’ll want to outsource. I know how to format an ebook, but I outsource it because it’s a fiddle, and I just can’t be bothered with it. But I do format my own paperbacks. Any part of the publishing business you don’t want to do, there’s people out there to do it for you.

Always outsource your editing and proofreading, you just won’t see all the mistakes yourself. Always use beta readers. And, unless you really, REALLY are good at it, always outsource your cover design. It’s your shop window, and people do judge books by their covers, every time.

And decide if you want to write under an imprint. I do. Purely because I thought it would be fun to think up a name. So I publish my books under Bogus Caller Press. Some indie authors do, others don’t, I don’t think it makes much difference to readers.

Jumping into self publishing is a big decision, and a big commitment. If you’re willing to research, to learn, to take risks, to be flexible and to change your opinion about things, to ask questions and work hard, the benefits can be enormous.

Bogus Caller Press Logo

The Visionary (The World of The Paper Duchess)

The Visionary modelThe Visionary is the third book in The Paper Duchess series, and introduces Corinn; a powerful psychic who enjoys playing games with other people’s lives.

It begins up on Lynstock, the next terrace up from The Hope. Lynstock is quite different to Falside’s other terraces, and suffers from an increasing issue of over-population. Living on this terrace is the growing number of single men, and the lower class married couples and families.

Lynstock is home to most of the city’s industry and places of work, it is built up with tightly packed terrace houses and tall blocks of flats. It’s the activity hub of Falside, running 24-7, never sleeping. Even married women aren’t permitted to work, but there is one female profession that thrives here, and for the right price, the administration turns a blind eye. The oldest profession in the world; prostitution.

But the brothels on Lynstock aren’t like the dingy affairs on The Floor. On Lynstock, they’re gentlemen’s clubs; they’re classy, upmarket, and the slum girls that work there are clean, and well looked after, and very good at what they do.

Lynstock supports the polarity of the two traditional roles offered to women: mother, or whore.