Please Vote!

I’m getting cover designs for my new Regency romance Faebourne and I need some help narrowing things down. Click here to see and vote. Which of those covers makes you want to pick up the book and read it? Thanks for your input!

(P.S. I know two of the covers look almost exactly alike, but the font and color of the title is different. So if you like one more than the other, let me know that too!)

IWSG: Celebrating

It’s time again for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Posts go up the first Wednesday of each month. Read more posts and/or join in here.

Right now I’m caught between the desire to land an agent or [reputable] publisher and the option to self-publish. This is mostly due to my own impatience, but it also comes in part from feedback I received from an agent at the San Francisco Writers Conference. My current manuscript is a YA contemporary update of Hamlet, and the agent said that’s already overdone. That I should go choose a lesser known Shakespeare play to rework instead. She said I could then sit on my current manuscript so I’d have it if whatever fresher thing I wrote took off, or that I could self-publish it. The gist was: it’s good to have another manuscript banked. At the same time, there are no guarantees. And it wouldn’t necessarily work against me to publish it myself since they wouldn’t technically be a series.

Well. I’ve got a couple agencies still reading the manuscript, so maybe not all hope is lost. But if everyone passes . . . I don’t know what I’ll do. At least I’ve outlined a couple more Shakespeare books to write as well.

Question of the Month: How do you celebrate when you achieve a writing goal/finish a story?

Depends on the achievement. If I land a contract (or agent, or option, though those things have then fallen through), we usually go out to eat. If I just finish a draft or something, I don’t do much of anything special. Maybe eat a cookie or something.

SFWC 2018: Beta Readers

There are three types of pre-publication readers:

  1. Alphas
  2. Betas
  3. ARC Readers

Alpha readers are your earliest critics. These are the members of your writing group that see your roughest work.

Betas are the ones we hear about most. They read the manuscript after you’ve tidied it up from the feedback you’ve received from your alpha readers.

ARC readers are seeing the final product. You’re not looking for feedback at that point so much as people to review your book and generate some buzz.

There is one other kind of reader, and those are live readers, meaning people who are reading the book as it’s written. This is specific to display sites like Wattpad, where you may post a chapter at a time to build an audience.

Finally, there is a subcategory of readers: sensitivity readers. Those are people from a certain backgrounds that can advise authors on whether or not the representations in the book are accurate—or potentially offensive. For instance, a white hetero author writing a black transgender character would probably want a sensitivity reader to look at the manuscript prior to publication.

Okay, so why even have beta readers? Well, think of it as similar to a Hollywood test screening. When a studio makes a movie, they’ll host small screenings to get feedback from general audiences. Then they may make changes to the movie based on that feedback. Beta readers allow you to fine tune your book. At the same time, you can build a fan base or community, a group of core supporters who (hopefully) are excited about your book and will spread the word.

How do you find beta readers? The easiest way is to simply ask. Start with friends and family, but also look into online communities where members might have interest in your subject matter. Put a call out in your newsletter or put links in your ebook back matter. There are readers who would love to feel like they’re part of an exclusive group that gets a sneak peek at a new book.

How many readers do you need? The number of alpha readers will usually depend on how many people are in your critique group. If you don’t have a critique group, well, you should definitely find one. But if you can’t, at least try to find around three people to read your rough work. When you’re ready for a beta read, you want more like 10-20 readers. For ARCs, you want as many as you can get. Same for live readers—you want to hook as many as possible.

The most important aspect of getting and keeping beta readers is engaging them. Make them feel valued and special, like they’re part of an exclusive club. Create a Facebook group just for them, and keep in regular touch with them. Give them something to do—be specific about what you’d like from them. And always thank them, even if they’ve given you feedback that’s difficult to swallow. These people have given you their time for free, so they deserve your gratitude.

You’ll get the best (meaning most useful) feedback if you ask specific questions. Just don’t ask too many, or else your readers will feel overwhelmed. I use the rule of three when considering feedback. If one person says they don’t like something, it might just be them. If two people say it, I’d better take a look. If three or more people have the same issue, I need to fix/change it.

That said, don’t start editing until your results are in and conclusive. It helps to give readers a deadline and maybe send a couple of reminders. Just don’t pressure them too much. Again, they’re giving you their time for free.

When do I beta? I wrote a post a while back about the order of the writing process. You will normally beta after your critique/rewriting loop is done but before the professional edit. This is because a professional edit costs money, and you don’t want to pay for that only to have to change everything due to beta feedback. Still, that’s no excuse for giving your betas shoddy material. It needs to be clean and polished for them in a way it doesn’t need to be for your alphas.

I’ve written all this in a lead-up to introducing a site I learned about while at SFWC. It’s called BetaBooks and I’m giving it a try with Hamlette. So if you’re interested in beta reading for me, please let me know! I’ll be posting chapters on BetaBooks as I revise. I hope you’ll consider reading and giving me some feedback. At the same time, we’ll be checking out how well the BetaBooks site works. Should be fun, so please join us!

A Scene

“Toya is ‘special’ to Yukito.”

. . . Well, until he heard it from Yuki directly . . .

Toya didn’t distrust Yue, exactly—if he had, would he have given Yue his power?

Yes. To stop Yuki from disappearing, yes. Yue, it seemed, was part of the deal.

“Toya!”

As though on cue, Yuki’s voice rang out, and Toya stopped walking long enough for his friend to catch up. Out of breath but smiling, Yukito halted beside Toya. “You have work today?”

“No,” Toya said. He studied Yuki for a sign that what Yue had told him was true. Was he special to Yukito?

Yuki’s smile faltered under the scrutiny. “Is something wrong?”

“No,” Toya repeated. He started walking again and Yuki kept pace beside him. “You seem more energetic lately.”

The smile returned in full force. “Yes! I was beginning to worry, but I feel much better now, ever since . . .”

Toya found he couldn’t look at Yuki. He stared straight ahead instead. “Since?”

“Toya, I . . .”

Something in Yuki’s tone brought Toya to a halt. He looked into Yukito’s eyes and wondered whether Yue was watching through them.

Yuki’s brow furrowed. He placed a hand on his breastbone as though to clutch—or shield—his heart.

“What is it, Yuki?” Toya asked.

Suddenly Yuki smiled again. “Nothing! I thought I’d forgotten my homework is all.”

Toya eyed him. Everything with Yuki was a negotiation. Toya constantly had to decide when to pursue and when to let go. This time . . .

He reached out and placed a hand on Yuki’s cheek. “Yuki. Whatever is troubling you, you can tell me.”

Yuki’s smile went slack and his eyes shimmered as though he might cry. “Toya . . .”

Toya waited. Why, oh why, did every interaction have to feel like being balanced on a knife blade? It was so exhausting. And yet there was still no one else Toya would rather spend time with.

Toya was about to relent, say something glib and continue walking, when Yuki pushed his cheek further against Toya’s hand. “Toya, I . . . like you.”

The words so startled him, Toya nearly dropped his hand. But that would have sent the wrong message, so Toya quickly overcame the impulse. “I like you, too, Yuki.”

“Really?” The eyes were so wide and searching, so hopeful, it pained Toya, even though the moment was a happy one.

“Really,” Toya confirmed. He felt a tightness release with him, a tension he hadn’t realized he’d been carrying. The hard edges of the world had softened.

Whatever else might happen, everything would be all right.

Toya dropped his hand. “Yuki . . .”

“Yes?”

Did you forget your homework?”

“N-no!”

“Come on, then. Maybe Sakura has made something to eat.”

“The Zodiac Clock”

I’m currently trying to find a home for this story I wrote called “The Zodiac Clock.” I don’t write many short stories these days, and I only wrote this one because there was an open call for submissions and I wanted to give that a shot. My story didn’t get picked for the anthology, so now I’m like, Well now what do I do with it? I think it’s a good story (though I’m probably biased), and I’ve been told to maybe write more and put out my own anthology, but before I go through all that, I’m looking for a place that might take the story first.

All this is a very long introduction to what I really meant to write about, which is: How I came up with the idea for the story.

I used to see this ad for a book called The Zodiac Cooks. It’s a cook book based on astrology, I guess? The image with the ad showed this blue cake divided into an astrological wheel/chart. Well, every time I saw this ad—every single time, even though I’d seen it a dozen times before—I’d think it said The Zodiac Clocks. Something about a quick glance at the image, and seeing the words out of the periphery of my vision—the cake looked a little like a clock, and “cooks” at a glance can be read as “clocks.” And I was sort of disappointed that it wasn’t The Zodiac Clocks because to me that sounds like an awesome book.

Well, as they say, if you can’t find the book you want to read, write it.

I didn’t write a whole book though, just the story. It does lend itself to expansion however. There’s potential there. I could either turn the story into a full novel or write more stories in the same world. I just don’t know yet if I want to do that.

Hopefully one of the places I’ve sent the story will want it. Otherwise I’ll shelve it for the time being.

Some stories start with the story and the title comes later. But sometimes you’ve got this great title and just have to find a way to make it happen.

In the Query Trenches

It’s been a while since I’ve made the rounds with querying. The last manuscript I shopped was Changers: Manifesting Destiny, which was eventually picked up by Evernight Teen and published *gulp* in August 2016. Has it really been that long? All the more reason to finish Changers 2!

With Manifesting Destiny I sent out 70 queries and received two offers, both from publishers, none from agents. Actually, when I queried The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller, I sent out 100 queries—I had vowed to stop at 100 and self-publish if I didn’t get any nibbles—and despite a lot of agent interest still only received two offers from publishers. (That one came out from Tirgearr Publishing in January 2016.)

I did send Brynnde to one well-known romance publisher. When they passed, I self-published it. I don’t really count that as a round of querying given that I didn’t try very hard. It was more like a shot in the dark.

So. Here I am with Hamlette. I’ve sent 46 queries, was briefly repped by an agent, but am now back in the trenches. I’ve had 19 rejections/non-responses so far, 3 requests for the manuscript, and am waiting to hear from the remaining 24.

I’d forgotten how difficult the waiting part is. I know I should busy myself with other work, but I keep wanting to check my email. Makes it tough to focus on my current WIP.

However, I’ve learned a lot from previous rounds of querying. Back when I was sending out Peter, I didn’t know you aren’t supposed to query agents and publishers at the same time. It makes sense when you think about it, but I guess I didn’t think about it, and therein lies the problem. So now, with Hamlette I’m focused on agents for now and may move on to publishers later, though given my track record, I may do better self-publishing. I think a publisher would have to be pretty special at this point to win me over. (Though of course Evernight will continue to get Changers!)

On the plus side, given how well my Peter query did (I had 17 requests for the manuscript based on the query), I at least have a good sense of how to structure a query in a way that gets responses. Though that may also just have been Peter; I’ve found writing queries for YA is a bit more difficult for some reason.

How about you? Ever run the querying gauntlet? Any tips or tricks? Or do you prefer to go straight to self-publishing? (I decide from manuscript to manuscript whether I’m going to query it or publish it directly.) Any small publishers you like? And if you’re not an author, does it matter to you if a book is self-published, small published, or comes from a major publisher? Where and how do you find/choose things to read? I’d love to know! Tell us in the comments!

IWSG: Schedules

It’s time again for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Posts go up the first Wednesday of each month. Read more posts and/or join in here.

This month—year—I’m mostly insecure about whether I’ll be able to finish all my projects! Which is why the question about scheduling is so apropos.

Question of the Month: What steps have you taken to put a schedule in place for your writing and publishing?

Answer: not enough!

I work from home, ostensibly as a full-time author. But with three kids in school, I really find my time split amongst errands, appointments, school functions, chores . . . It’s very easy to let the writing time slip away. That’s why this year I hope to rededicate myself to my work. Ideally, appointments and errands will be kept to just a couple days per week and the other three weekdays will be writing days. That’s not always possible, but it’s what I try to do.

I write on weekends, too. Usually one weekend day is a family day and the other is a writing day. Again, not always possible, but that’s the goal.

This year I’d like to pre-schedule anything I self-publish. Alas, I don’t know what will be finished or when! If Hamlette doesn’t find a home by April, I’ll publish it in May or June. I hope to have Faebourne done in time for a fall release. Somewhere in there, I’d like to get Changers 2 to my publisher as well. Ack! I’m feeling overwhelmed already!

Goals 2018

I prefer to set goals rather than make resolutions. Here are my goals for 2018, along with deadlines so we can check back in periodically during the year.

  1. Finish Changers 2. Deadline: 1 March
  2. Find an agent for Hamlette. Deadline: 1 May
  3. Lose 15 lbs. Deadline: 1 June
  4. Finish Faebourne. Deadline: 1 September

I’d also like to get started on Epiphanies, and certainly if Hamlette sells and an agent or publisher wants the next book in that series, Epiphanies would get bumped up the list.

For Changers 2, I have a great writing group that’s helping me get through it. For the weight loss, I’ll be participating in a study with 23 and Me that will ensure I stay active, plus I’m tracking my calorie intake. I’ve lost 6 lbs already, but do need to lose about 15 more to reach my ideal weight.

As for Hamlette, I have a number of queries out and some partials that agents have requested, too. Now that the holidays are over, I hope to start receiving responses (ideally of the positive kind). However, if I haven’t achieved this goal by 1 May, I’ll probably start planning to self-publish this book.

Of course, using the new year as a jumping off point is entirely arbitrary. You can wake up any day of your life and decide to make a change or set goals of some kind. But I think psychologically a new year is a nice feeling—the sense of a clean slate and starting fresh.

How about you? Do you set goals or make resolutions? What do you hope to achieve in 2018? I’d love to hear all about it!

Looking Ahead to 2018

I’ve been making a mental list of things to put on my 2018 calendar. Most of these are not writing related, but they’re things to look forward to.

February – San Francisco Writers Conference; The Book of Mormon
MarchMonty Python and the Holy Grail + Q&A with John Cleese
July – family vacation in NYC

Those are the big things, the events that are already scheduled. There is also a chance we’ll be going to Paris over the summer, but that’s not settled yet.

As for writing, I’ve mentioned my goals for the year before, but to reiterate:

  1. Find an agent for Hamlette or else prep it for self-publishing
  2. Finish Changers: The Great Divide
  3. Finish Faebourne
  4. Write Epiphanies

I’m giving myself through April to find an agent for Hamlette. If I don’t, I’ll self-publish it. I’ve had a couple of agents pass on it but say they’d like to see Epiphanies when it’s done, which is why it’s on the list. I should get going on it, but I do need to finish Changers 2 and Faebourne as well. Hopefully I’ll have more editing jobs, too.

What are you looking forward to in the new year? Any plans? Goals? Tell me all about them in the comments!