What’s a Beta Reader and Do I Need One?

 

What’s a Beta Reader and Do I Need One?

This post originally appeared at Almost an Author here.

All writers need feedback. Should you use a beta reader?

What is a Beta Reader?

The majority of people define a beta reader as a test reader, a person who reads your manuscript after it has been critiqued, polished, and edited. Most writers will provide a list of questions for their beta readers. These questions ask for general feedback about character development, plot, setting, and so forth. Some writers feel it is best not to ask leading questions, while others ask readers to evaluate certain areas that they think need attention. Beta readers are generally intended to catch big picture story problems or plot holes.

Some people use beta readers as editors and proofreaders, but betas are not a substitute for editing. Betas can stray into critique as well.

Paid Betas

There are many paid beta reading services. These might be considered a budget version of a content edit, or a first pass content edit, and seem to stick to test reading only. I had one individual offer to read my manuscript for free and she did a fair job. I provide a list of questions for my betas, but she had her own, which were similar to mine.

If you plan on using a paid beta reader, shop around. Ask for recommendations and referrals.

Ready for a Beta?

Free beta readers can be found in online groups. If you decide to take the plunge and use a beta reader, save time and aggravation. Submit the first chapter and see if they respond with appropriate and timely feedback.

It pays to be leery of beta reading offers from people who don’t read in your genre. There’s nothing like having a beta offer to read and then confess they do not like this genre right before they suggest rewriting the manuscript to please them. On the other hand, a good beta will be able to read across genres and offer constructive feedback.

I’ve gotten everything from single word answers to a full blown expository review. I always read all comments. One reader gave strange answers to the response questions, repeatedly citing an incident that wasn’t in my book. I wanted to ask if she’d been watching Netflix while beta reading. BUT, she did comment in track changes on my MS, catching several typos and a couple of crucial loose ends. Go figure.

I’ve met some amazing writers through beta reading groups. The community is generous and most try to do their best. A few people have reached out to me and helped me without asking for anything in return. I’ve met some wonderful writers who I consider to be some of my most valued critique partners and beta readers. They help me see things I wouldn’t have otherwise because I’m too close to the project. A good beta reader’s value cannot be overestimated.

My all-time favorite betas are two wonderful ladies in the UK. For some reason, the criticisms are easier to take and the encouragement makes me smile. “This part is a bit muddled” and “Brill!” just tickles my ear.

Do you use beta readers? Tell me about your experience.

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May Book Roundup

Book Round Up!

 

I decided to make one single post about my favorite reads of the month, rather than separate ones, since I read a series and, to be honest, I ran out of time!

I may read a few more this month, but I wanted to post about May’s kindle first reads selection in case anyone hasn’t picked theirs up yet. Am I the only one who lets the month slip by?

I began reading Cynthia Voight’s series of books labeled the Tillerman cycle. No less than three of my beta readers compared my writing to these books, so I thought I should check them out. The funny thing was, my readers weren’t all looking at the same manuscript.

⭐️

Homecoming

This is the first in the series. Four children are left to wait for their mother in the parking lot of a mall. When she doesn’t return, they decide to go in search of relatives. They walk across the country. I actually started this one at the end of last month, but put it here because it is part of the Tillerman series.

⭐️

Dicey’s Song

Newbery Winner. This book picks up where the first one left off. I would recommend this to any young readers, especially girls. I wish I’d known about this series when my daughter was younger. I recommend for all readers, especially girls in the age bracket of upper MG to YA.

⭐️

A Solitary Blue

Lovely book. Feels a little different than the first two. This is the story of Dicey’s love interest and his childhood.

⭐️

The Runner

Goes back in time to the children’s uncle and his high school days right before he goes to Viet Nam.

⭐️

Come A Stranger

Tells the story of Dicey’s friend, Mina and the prejudice she faces.

⭐️

I love the way the series show how lives are intertwined and connected. Each book is important and stands alone. Her writing style seems natural and unaffected, but powerful She doesn’t shy away from tough topics. The characters feel real.

⭐️

Sons from Afar

Dicey has two brothers and one sister. At the beginning of this book the children are a bit older and this one focuses on the two boys. The younger boy has never met his father. The book explores the differences between the two boys and the way they come to terms with the struggles of growing up without a father.

⭐️

Kindle First Reads

Valencia and Valentine

By Suzy Krause

I picked this one for my kindle first reads selection for May. This is an interesting book that has a character with some mental health issues. It is entertaining, funny, and poignant. I read it from cover to cover, if you can do such a thing with a Kindle book. It reminded me of Eleanor Oliphant, would you still at the top of my favorites list. There’s a bit of a mystery involved. The two stories meld together in the end. It’s a little sad and a little sweet. It’s a book that made me think, but mostly it made me feel.

⭐️

Tiger Eyes

By Judy Blume

Another one of my beta readers said that my story and style reminded her of this book. If only! Davey (a teen girl) is faced with a terrible tragedy and loss of her father when he is murdered while in his store. Davey, her mom, and Davey’s little brother travel across the country, ostensibly on a visit, but it turns into an extended stay.

This one had me crying. Beautifully done and heart rending. There were a few chuckles as well. I love this book. If you like emotional, touching, coming-of-age, I think you’ll like this book. This was made into a movie, but I haven’t seen it. Have you?

⭐️

Saint Anything

By Sarah Dessen

Sydney is one of the quiet girls. She doesn’t cause any trouble. That rule is filled by her charming brother, Peyton. When he gets behind the wheel under the influence, he runs over a boy on a bicycle, forever changing everyone’s lives. The boy ends up in a wheelchair and Peyton ends up in prison. Sydney decides to change high schools and meets a new set of friends. This is a novel of self-discovery and family relationships.

⭐️

The Nightingale

By Kristin Hannah

This was a re-read. If you haven’t read this book yet go get it!

⭐️

Little Women

I’m still rereading this one. You can never go wrong with Little Women.

⭐️

Did you see any favorites in this list?

What have you been reading lately?

 

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Managing Failure

Managing Failure

This post originally appeared on Almost an Author.

I’ve bumped into an old acquaintance again. It’s name is failure. Far too often I’ve kept company with this unwelcome guest.

Writers face rejection. It’s part of the experience. I need to remind myself of the nature of failure, and think about how to overcome the despondency it sometimes brings.

Failure is an opportunity to learn.

Growth isn’t easy.

In the midst of disappointment, it is difficult to see setbacks as opportunities. Missing the mark doesn’t feel like something to be happy about, but failure is one of the ways to learn and grow. If nothing else, the pain and suffering of failure illuminate the way not to go. It can be a gift, producing times of reflection and reevaluation, encouraging new approaches and different methods.  

Every challenge carries with it a risk of coming face to face with inadequacy, always an unpleasant proposition. But as much as failure hurts, stagnation would be unbearable.

“Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. One fails forward toward success.”

C. S. Lewis

Failure is inevitable.

The thing about failure is, it always comes up. It does not need to be on a to-do list. It just happens.

Discouragement can seep in and hinder all of the best-laid plans, but it’s good to remember that there are bound to be bumps in the road to success. These encounters are no reason to stop trying. Failure may be inevitable, but it’s not fatal. It’s not even permanent unless it is allowed to be.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

Winston Churchill

Failure is a sign of courage.

It costs something to compete, to be vulnerable. Sometimes it costs a great deal. Be brave. Dare to dream, to create. Step outside of the comfort zone.

Failing to reach a goal only happens when risks are taken. An even bigger failure is to never try at all.

“The greatest glory and living lies not in never failing, but in rising every time we fall.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

It’s okay to take a few moments to acknowledge the sting, as long as the setback is temporary. Get up. Try again.

There’s beauty in the persistent rising after defeat.

How do you encourage yourself after a failure? Leave a comment.

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☕ Book Break ☕ | ~Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler~

~Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler~

‘Beware against the sweet person, for sugar has no nutrition.’

Kate Battista  still lives at home, and runs her father’s house even though she is an adult. Besides dealing with her eccentric father, a scientist who spends his days in his  lab, she contends with her younger sister, Bunny. Despite her abrasive personality, her young charges at the daycare she works at love her. The parents and staff do not.

Dr. Battista cooks up a plan to wed Kate to his lab assistant, Pyotr. Pyotr must get married to stay in the country, and both men are agreeable to the plot. They neglect to consult Kate on the matter.

I love Shakespeare and Shakespeare adaptations. Anne Tyler has written a witty and well done retelling. Kate was multilayered and I felt myself liking her more and more as the story went on. Anne Tyler is a wonderfully skilled writer.

Having this familiar story reimagined in a modern day setting made me think about the attitudes towards women during the time of Shakespeare and today. The treatment of Kate in parts of the story sparked a lot of discussion around our house.

I’ve been involved in productions of The Taming of The Shrew and watched television adaptations, but, oddly, this is the first time I read a novel based on the story as far as I can remember. I plan to read more of these retellings in the Hogarth Shakespeare series.

There is some language in this book, and having it right at the start felt jarring to me. I kept reading because I read Anne Tyler before and liked her other work and because I like Shakespeare.

Humor

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Characters

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Storytelling

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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My Writing Journey~Sometimes You Need a Story

 

My life is divided into before and after. I’m in the after now.

Eight years ago, this coming April, my world turned upside down. Eight years ago, this coming April, I began the slow journey back. I hadn’t written a book then. Since that time, I have finished penning three.

When I got sick, my daughter became frightened. Who wouldn’t be? It was the summer before her freshman year of high school, and she spent her vacation taking care of her mother who needed assistance walking and bathing. It didn’t matter what I told her, or how many reassurances were held out, she was terrified. All the soft gentle words and reassurances never made it past her fear wrapped worry.

Sometimes you need a story.

I wrote her a book about a girl who was afraid her mother would die and leave her alone. In the book, the mother does die. The girl is not left alone, however. She has family and unlikely heroes to depend on. I wrote my daughter a book to make her laugh and cry, but most of all to help her see she was not alone and it wasn’t up to her to save the world. I think maybe it was both comforting and uncomfortable for her to discover how much I understood her.

She’s not a character in a book, and she is not this character. But young girls everywhere get angry with their mothers, at times think they’ve been abandoned, and generally feel treated unfairly by life. They’re often surprised when they discover their mothers were once girls and understand all of these deeply held, secret feelings.

Among the pages of this made up place filled with pretend people my daughter finally understood what I was trying to tell her. She wasn’t alone.

Sometimes you need a story.

A funny thing happened. Out of the story, two more grew. Each of these novels stand alone, and while they don’t lean on each other, they do rub shoulders, exploring the lives of the various characters in the same fictional small Texas town.

It’s quite a surprise to find at the end of these eight years I have three complete novels. I’d freelanced in my former writing life, and even written a novella, which resides in the dark recesses of my computer files, but I’d never attempted a novel length work.

As my health improved and my responsibilities shifted, I had more time to write books. With each novel, I learned better and went back, refining and polishing. I hunted down critique partners and entered contests. I was quite pleased with the feedback I got. Now I’m ready to start querying agents.

I’m telling you this tale because, as with all of my stories, I want to encourage and bring hope to the reader. Because sometimes you need a story.

Donna Jo Stone writes YA contemporary novels about tough issues but always ends the stories with a note of hope. She blogs at donnajostone.com.

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What Is YA and Who Reads It?

I gave the short answer: “When the protagonist is a young person.”

That didn’t quite satisfy. After all, scads of books have a teen as a main character, and those aren’t always categorized as Young Adult. A conversation ensued about various popular books labeled as YA.

It’s not as straightforward as one would think.

I thought I’d ask some YA authors.

“Young Adult readers range from age 13 up. Many of my readers are adults who prefer the “clean” nature typically associated with YA. Stories may feature mature themes, but do so without resorting to graphic sex or violence.”

Felicia Bridges, author of the award winning International Mission Force series

While Young adult novels are written for people between 12 and 18 years of age, about half of YA readers are 18 and up. Within the genre the categories include most of those that are found in adult fiction, such as Mystery, Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Sci-Fi, and more.

The protagonist is young, usually 14 to 20 years of age. The themes are relevant to teens and their experience. I think what defines the genre is the age of the main character, although coming of age novels for the adult market may also have a young protagonist, so that isn’t the only criteria.

“YA novels give insight into the issues teens are facing and the steps they can take to battle them. Sometimes those issues aren’t one the reader has faced personally, but viewing the struggle through a character’s life tears down judgments. And the world really needs less judgment and more understanding.”

Sarah Tipton, author of Betrayal of the Band, 2018 Carol Award Winner

Teens have a different set of problems they are concerned with, and this comes across in young adult fiction. Friendship, self-discovery, identity, and first love are all things adults can relate to, but these are in the forefront of teens’ thoughts as they navigate the turbulent years preceding adulthood.

Young adults are often idealistic and full of hope, and that is reflected in much YA fiction. It is entertaining and has all the feels. Some brings attention to issues we should take a hard look at and can foster understanding.

Recently I followed a conversation in one of my Facebook readers groups and was surprised at how many people suffer from literary snobbery and will not so much as crack open a young adult book. I think they are missing out.

Do you have a favorite YA novel? Share it. I’m always adding to my TBR list.

 

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☕ Book Break ☕ | A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

 

~A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness~

Many things that are true feel like a cheat. Kingdoms get the princes they deserve, farmers’ daughters die for no reason, and sometimes witches merit saving. Quite often, actually. You’d be surprised.

Coner wakes one night to find a monster peering into his bedroom window, but it’s not as scary as the nightmare he has every time he goes to sleep.

I read this short book in one sitting. Everything else I was doing had to wait while I read this masterfully woven tale of fantasy and a crushing truth that is oh-so-hard to bear. It is a frightful and tender story of grief. Coner has to grapple with his monsters, real and imagined.  Patrick Ness captured Coner’s mixed up feelings and inner turmoil perfectly. This one is going to stick with me for a while. Sweet and sad. The story is fantasy, but the emotions are raw and real.

A story about coming to terms with grief unlike anything I’ve read before.

When I picked the physical book up, it was surprisingly heavy. The illustrations are dark and dramatic, and the story heartbreaking. I felt the combination was artistic and effective.

 

Characters

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Page Turning

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Setting

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Emotion Provoking

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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#PitMad, NOLASTARS Spring Retreat, and Announcement

This coming Thursday, March 7th, is #PitMad!

PitMad is an opportunity for unagented authors who have complete novels. Writers pitch your novel in a tweet with appropriate hashtags. Agents search tweets for specific genres and if they like a tweet, the submission process begins.

If you’re on Twitter March 7th, please leave a comment or retweet my tweets to show your support at my twitter donnajostone. Likes are reserved for agents interested in my project.

I will be pitching all three of my finished YA novels. Last month I sent out a few queries for the first book in my series, but shifted gears with the intention of pitching all three at the next PitMad.

It’s a bit unusual to have three completed novels at the same time. The drafts were all finished around the same time primarily because I dictated them while I was waiting to recover from my cipro injury before I started editing. Hiring an editor was not an option for me at the time. My typing isn’t as good as it was before I got sick, but it is passable. Currently, I’m doing my best to reduce a 93,000 word manuscript to 80,000. I’m well on my way and hope to complete the edit before the 7th. It’s a pity I can’t take all those discarded words and put them on another project.

Besides editing, I’ve been writing synopses and working on tweets. Condensing an entire novel into a single tweet can be challenging. You only get 280 characters, including spaces and hashtags. It’s an excellent exercise in being concise.

NOLASTARS/RWA is having a Spring Writing Retreat Saturday, March 9th. Check it out. If you are local and are looking for a group, it’s a great organization. See how friendly we are?

 

 

In other news, this month I begin my new position as the YA columnist over at Almost An Author. Woot! My first Almost An Author post is scheduled to go up on March 21st. I’ll share a link on the home blog right here, so come back and visit, or you can subscribe to get posts in your mailbox, or visit Almost An Author.

Do you have any topics you’d like to see me cover in the blog? Leave your comments below.

Please consider signing up for the blog and/or my newsletter to keep in the know.

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☕ Book Break ☕ | ~Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu~

~Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu~

Moxie Girls Fight Back is the motto of these high schoolers who are fed up with being groped, talked down to, marginalized, and assaulted while those in authority turn a blind eye.

There’s a contrast between Viv’s reality and her grandparents, and that showing quite well without disrespecting either generation. The same sensitivity is shown when talking about people with different political backgrounds and belief systems.

As I was reading this I relived incidents from my own junior high and high school days. I think this book is a call to action. It’s not enough to just make it through until you graduate because the problem is never going to go away. It is a pervasive attitude that is passed down and tolerated unless boys are taught better.  

This book is set in a realistic high school environment where there is language, assault, and stuff that kids encounter. I would hope that most administrations would not be as blatantly anti-female as the one depicted in this book, but it reads as if it could be true. This is a book with feminist characters, and a simplified definition of feminism.

There is a bit tossed in hinting about two girls in a relationship. This encompassed all of a few sentences and felt a little odd, but I can see it playing out in real life that way.

This is a book about empowering girls to insist on an education and the right to walk the halls without being groped or worse. It’s a book about girls demanding accountability from authority. It’s fresh and thought provoking.

Well written and relevant. LOVED Viv and the portrayal of her family. Splash of romance. Besides being a compelling and well told story, this is a thoughtful book that could be used as a starting point for good discussions.

I definitely see the need for this type of book. This issue is not going to go away and I think novels can open our eyes and help us understand the world better.

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☕ Book Break ☕ | Clock Dance by Anne Tyler

~Clock Dance by Anne Taylor~

This story follows one character and told from one point of view, but it tells about different, life-changing periods of Willa Drake’s life.

Willa settles into her later years until one day she receives a frantic phone call from a total stranger, a neighbor to an ex-girlfriend of Willa’s son. The neighbor, after finding Willa’s phone number on an emergency contact list, mistakenly thinks that Willa is the grandparent to an unknown child.

Willa, not the assertive type, is unable to explain to the woman that she is not related. Over her husband’s protests, she decides to fly out to see if she can help.

The characters could’ve been my neighbors. Extraordinary storytelling about ordinary people. I felt a camaraderie with the main character as she slowly became more self-aware. The ending felt a little abrupt to me because I wanted to keep reading about Willa. I wanted her to find happiness and I wanted to share in it.

This is a story about a woman finally taking control of her life in a quieter way. I’ve known so many women who remind me of Willa. Society has taught us to go with the flow, get along, and fulfill our expected roles. I felt like this was a quiet rebellion after a long period of smothering a woman’s spirit.

Lovely, believable characters. Heartwarming and bittersweet at the same time. Satisfying conclusion, even if left me wanting more. I’ve added some of her books to my TBR pile. Amazing writing.

Characters

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Storyline

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Charming

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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