Friday, September 14, 2012

The Christian Writer's Prayer

  • Reading two new textbooks.
  • Preparing new Power point slides.
  • Creating new assignments.
  • Creating new tests.
  • Traveling new routes to work (90+ miles round trip)
  • Fighting with the new college's computer program.
  • Screaming at old college's new computer program.
  • And answering emails from 200 students. 
     These are just a few of the new job duties that have me drowning in self pity. Why? Because other than this blog, I haven't written anything in over a month. And I miss it like crazy.

    You see, this semester I doubled by college work load to six classes at two different colleges and a high school. My husband is going back to school and I needed to be the breadwinner for awhile.

     Don't get me wrong, I love my job and believe with all my heart that God in his ultimate wisdom, perfectly equipped me to become a college instructor. But I also believe He is the one leading and moving me to write. And the creative side of my brain is crying to be let out. Or maybe that's just me, feeling sorry for myself; can't quite tell where that whimper is coming from.

    Ideas storm my head on the the long car trips to work, but I simply can't find the time or energy to do anything about them. It saddens me to miss so many blog friends' posts the last month and wonder what is going on in "writer world".  I feel so out of touch.

    I wish I was one of those writer's who could make progress with only a 20-30 minute window open to them, but my writing brain doesn't work that way. I need huge blocks of uninterrupted time with a stockpile of Coke Zero and lots of chocolate close-by. (One has to offset the other, don't you know.) Right now, I don't see any huge blocks of time floating my direction until maybe Christmas vacation.

     So in the meantime, I'll pray for a more patient approach. I'm grateful God sent these jobs my way, just when we needed them the most. His timing isn't my timing and I need to remember that.

 Next week's ACFW conference maybe just the shot in the arm I need. I've only been to one other conference. I attended The North Texas Christian Writers conference a year ago and learned so much. But there was one item that I brought home and immediately pinned to the wall above my writing desk. 

                       The Christian Writer's Prayer
Heavenly Father, let every expression from my heart bring honor to your name.
As it is in heaven, have your way in my life, so I can complete the work you have assigned to me.
Today, give me the right words to say. 
Forgive my narrow-mindedness as I seek to help others. 
If I am tempted to let other desires consume my time, deliver me from evil that prevents my picking up the pen and releasing the burden of my soul.
You are my King, possessor of all ability and wisdom.
If I should write any worthwhile words, they will be from you, and always for your glory.
                                                            --Frank Ball

I hope you enjoy it and recite it as much as I have this past year . . . and in the future. 

Friday, September 7, 2012

For Better or Worse . . . In Sickness and in Health

My parents on their wedding day - Dec. 1958
Two weeks ago today, my father, Bob Walker passed on from this life. Jesus welcomed a wonderful new angel into the fold when my father arrived. I rejoice in knowing Daddy is free from the shackles of the stroke that stole the better part of his life years ago. I'm happy that my dad is finally home, but I miss him. More than words can say.

 And I've been missing him for the last 18 years.

Only one year after retiring, my father was vacationing in Colorado when an abdominal aneurysm burst, leading to a debilitating stroke. After he came home from the hospital, only a shadow of the man we knew remained, and we grieved for all we had lost. It would never be the same. Gone was the mechanical mind that could fix anything, useless were the hands that had fashioned countless carpentry projects. Silent were the lips that offered such helpful, fatherly advice that steered our worlds back on track. And gone was the teasing grandfather my children would never fully know. In place of my strapping 6'3" father, was a child-like man who could no longer speak.

We've been told by many  medical experts that it was truly a miracle that my father survived the severity of the aneurysm. Others have not been so blessed. Some may remember the abrupt, shocking death of actor, John Ritter, of the old "Three's Company" fame. The cause was identical to my dad's. We were so grateful that Daddy survived, but the detour it caused in all our lives was not an easy one.

Especially for my mother.

 Her life changed  forever on that  fateful, September day. Not only did she lose her husband and best friend of 35 years, but her beloved role of wife had come to an end. The future was bleak, and I won't candycoat the emotional toll it took on all of us.

But we were never alone. Not once did we think God had abondoned us. In fact, that rocky detour forced us to lean even harder on our Guide . . . our Heavenly Father. And somewhere along that journey we all grew stronger. None more than my dear mother, Donna.

My sisters and I watched my mother transition into new roles of caretaker, teacher and nurse. Shy and reserved by nature, my mother was forced to break out of her shell and take on all the tasks my father had been responsible for. She lifted her chin, squared her shoulders and got out of her comfort zone, attempting things she had never done before.

 The woman forged a backbone made of steel and wrangled with insurance and medicare representatives to get  the best care for my father. She memorized every prescription and every dosage Daddy needed. She took thousands of blood pressure readings and made hundreds of doctor's appointments, accompanying him to every one. Even as his health declined over the last few years, she vowed to keep him at home and refused suggestions of admitting him to a facility. So we stepped up the care and my sisters and I pitched in and helped on our days off, but it was a mere drop in the bucket. Through it all, my mother never wavered in her beliefs, praying daily for  God's strength and direction. Her faith grew stronger with every passing year and filtered down to all of us.

At the funeral, when asked by relatives and friends, how she manged to hang in there for all these years, she smiled and recited her wedding vows, "For better or worse, in richer and poorer, and in sickness and health." When she took those vows, she meant them. She lived them.

And to me, that is the most beautiful love story of all.
Mom and Dad - Christmas 2010

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Praising God Through the Storm


And I'll praise You in this storm
And I will lift my hands
For You are who You are
No matter where I am
And every tear I've cried
You hold in Your hand
You never left my side
And though my heart is torn
I will praise You in this storm

--"Praise You In This Storm" by Casting Crowns

 It has been a stormy summer for us. I'm talking about the kind of storms that roll in, shake your faith and leave you reeling in their wake. We've had a few of those this summer and they are expensive, both financially and mentally. Here's a few:

#1: After returning from vacation, both air conditioners are broken. Tab-$800.
#2: Husband's college summer classes and financing fall through. This pushes back his graduation   and degree to yet another added semester.
#3: My father's fragile health takes a turn for the worst. Between hospital stays and hospice interviews we are pureeing food and battling his dementia.
#4: Air conditioner breaks again- a different part. Coolant needed. 
#5: Truck won't pass inspection without tires. Tab to fix: $90
#6: Truck breaks down. Tab to fix:  $430 
#7: Truck breaks down again,on the way to church- different part: Tab to fix: $200
#8: Car tire shreds to pieces, new tires needed. Tab to fix: $90
#9: Today I faced the cold hard facts. Novel won't be ready for ACFW pitching. Another year of waiting. 

      God is working on me. He's training me to follow Him through the storms and not rely my own instinct to cower, hide and dive for the cover of my own self-pity. I'm learning to praise Him in the bad times.

    Through all the storms of my life, He's been holding out His hand and offering the umbrella of his love, yet I've stood there and argued with him while the lightning flashes overhead. I planted my feet and scream my anger over the booming thunder, "Why are you letting this happen, again? Why don't you do something?" I know my usual routine, for I have been here before. Sink to my knees, cry out ranting accusations and then wallow in the mud around me.

    This time when the storms hit, I kept my eyes on Him and His outstretched hand.That's when I saw it-- a heart-wrenching sadness filled His eyes and I wasn't sure if tears or raindrops were falling on His cheeks. With the zap of the next lightning bolt, His pain was transferred to my heart and it's intensity yanked the air from my lungs. His heart was breaking at my refusal to follow him, breaking for me. I stood there, transfixed, as beyond him, a dawning light grew brighter. Then I suddenly understood what He was trying to do . . . what He had always been doing.

     He knew the way out of this storm. Out of all of the storms.

     He called my name and beckoned me to his side. All I had to do was take that first step, but I hesitated. I didn't want to relinquish control of my life, control of my destiny. I'm used to being the leader, the one in charge and I like that role. I've got goals and dreams and I know how to get there. On my path.

     If I followed Him once, would I have to do it again? What if His way wasn't better?

    A suffocating Darkness settled  around us as the raindrops pelted my skin.Still, he waited. My drenched clothing weighed me down and a bone-chilling cold crept through my body. Doing things my way was painful. It hurt. Worst of all, it always had the same dreary consequences.

    Once more God called my name. I raised my eyes to find both His arms wide open. The love in his gaze poured through me like warm honey and all fight left me. I surrendered my will in that moment, and I took that first step. A smile lifted the corners of His mouth. I took another step and light danced in His eyes. A few more steps and I heard the sound of His laughter. He swept me into His arms and His warmth radiated through every fiber in my being.

    The storm raged on around us, but we were trudging through it together. The cold didn't numb me, my soaked clothing doesn't drag me down, self-pity doesn't keep my feet mired in the mud. I am His and He is mine. I sing his praises over the wind and the rain. The louder I sing and the more I praise, the lighter the sky becomes. Off in the distance, there is one more faint rumble of thunder and the sun's rays return. Now, I can see the silver linings He has provided along the way:

#1 and #4-Repair man felt sorry for us and adds coolant for free. After prayer, leak stops by itself.
#2: Husband was able to quickly find a job for the summer.
#3: We are taking things day-by-day. Church members are praying and extended family members have offered their help to us.
#5; Able to find good, used tires.
#6: Husband happens to sign up for a new credit card the month before. Able to charge expenses.
#7: Originally quoted $1200 price. After I prayed, mechanic said he took a second look and the problem wasn't what he thought it was. Didn't charge for labor, only the part.
#8: Daughter was driving home from college and reported the car shaking. Upon inspection, a miracle she made it home on that tire.
#9: This is God's book. When He is ready, the doors will open.

"That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong." II Corinthians 12:10

Your Turn: What Storms are you facing today? Have you invited God's umbrella of love to cover you? Sing His praises and be ready for His blessings.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

What I Learned From My Beta Readers

Meet three of my betas: Rona, Me, Donna and Lauryn
     Meet my Beta Readers!!!
     This wonderful group of women are all dear to my heart, and I'd love to brag on them for a bit. Not only have they given their time and advice, they have been a non-stop source of encouragement and support to me. These 8 readers range from age 75 to age 23, are college educated, and all but one are avid readers of the romance genre.

Yes I know what you're thinking . . . so I'll go ahead and say it . . . I struck gold with this bunch of ladies!!!!!
As you can see they are all beautiful. In fact the black and white picture was sent because the group were undergoing Mary Kay facials and no one had on make-up. So funny!
More beautiful betas include: Darlene, Delayne, Diana, Natalie and Andrea 

What I Learned From my Betas:
At our critique party the betas gathered in my living room for a round-table discussion of the book. Each betas had listed their answers ahead of time on a worksheet. During the discussion, my beta reader, Delayne took notes for me on her computer and did an outstanding job. Here's a summary of what they said:

  • Scenes to keep: The betas took turns listing the scenes that resonated with them. One scene was consistently listed as a favorite and I couldn't have been more shocked. In this scene the hero and heroine are riding double on horseback when they are caught in a terrible rain/hail storm. The betas praised the description of this scene, so I knew I had to keep it in the book.Various other scenes touched various beta's hearts and I made a tally sheet of all they mentioned as favorites. All of these will probably stay in the book.
  • Scenes to alter or change: Once scene bothered two betas as being too intimate too soon into the story. The heroine comforts the hero when he breaks down and ends up on his lap. Others liked it, but during the discussion we all agreed the same tender effect of the scene could be achieved in a different way.We also spent time discussing scenes that could be cut. In one scene, I had my hero daydreaming during a board meeting about the first kiss he'd shared with the heroine the night before. I loved the scene, but it was cut since it didn't propel the plot. 
  • Errors and problems: This was so enlightening, because the betas caught a lot of things I hadn't thought about. Number one on the list of things that bothered my betas, was my villain was not nearly as threatening or evil as expected from the set-up. In addition, they didn't feel the villain's blackmail scheme was solid enough to do any real damage.The second topic brought to my attention was too much "hot and cold" plotting between the hero and heroine. However, the betas admitted it kept them reading. One wise beta commented , "Frustrate your characters, not your readers." A few, very honest betas admitted that the religious aspects of the book were too heavy-handed. The prayers and religious discussion were too long and needed to be condensed. Another beta pointed out a security breach on the hero's property that I had overlooked. A few readers voiced concern that the heroine never bothered to call the police for anything. "If she's so smart, why doesn't she report this guy." Well, believe me, my heroine is much smarter in the revisions and so am I.

What I've Received From My Betas: 
I'll admit it took a certain amount of courage to share my "baby" with the rest of the world. Two years of my life were in that manuscript and I didn't know if I had what it takes to be a writer or not. I had written a story I would like to read, but I didn't know if it would resonate with others. During the March-June process, I learned the truth. The payoff far outweighs the risk.  Here's the gifts my betas gave to me:

Unbridled enthusiasm and on-target advice: From the start, the readers were excited to be a part of the critique process. When I sent chapters in emails, their sweet comments and excitement about the next installment kept me smiling. Their eagerness to help still astounds me. Because of their honest comments and suggestions, I am busy revising and I can tell the book is already better.

Encouragement and support: During the three months the betas were reading, we would cross paths at parties and gatherings.They were so eager to talk about the portions of the book they had read. Discussions involved actors and actresses they saw in the movie of my book. Movie??? One beta wrote, "I’m ready for it to be made into a movie.  The scenes would be spectacular—at least all that my mind imagines…. I am so enjoying your story." Wow, that was encouraging shot in the arm.

 Free advance publicity: Although the betas "assignments" officially ended at the critique party, their support of the novel has not. This surprised the pants off me. At reunions, graduation parties, camping trips, Mary Kay parties, you name it . . . one of these betas will spread the word to anyone within earshot about my book. I sit there in blushing mess as they eagerly tell complete strangers about the book I've written. I don't have to bring up the topic, they do it for me. Their belief in me is so overpowering, I can't let them down. I can't be lazy and give up on this project. The betas have done their job, now I have to do mine. Where God leads, I will follow. Whatever happens, I know I'm not alone on this journey. My betas are watching . . . they are waiting . . .  they are praying for my success.

Your Turn: The gift of our Savior is the sweetest present of all, but there are other gifts too. What gift(s) have you received lately that didn't involve a gift bag or box? 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Beta Party Time: "Booking It" Behind the Scenes!

     My nerves were a little on edge. In less than 48 hours, all eight of my beta readers would converge in my living room for a critique session. I wasn't so worried about their opinion of  my book . . . I was more frantic about the party itself. See, I tend to be a perfectionist-- you know--the kind of hostess that can't relax enough to enjoy her own parties? 
     This time I was determined to break that pesky hostess habit and organization was the key. With a little behind-the-scenes help from Pinterest and my novel, this was the BEST party I've ever thrown! And the MOST fun, too! Here's some simple and thrifty ideas for your next beta critique party or book club party.

Party Theme.
  Let your party theme be determined by the book or manuscript you will discuss. My novel is a contemporary romance set in the rugged mountains of Colorado. My hero is a horse rancher and cowboy, so a Western theme worked well for me. My heroine is a Texas architect with  unusual, Columbine-blue eyes. So, my primary color for the party decorations was a deep violet-blue, or as close as I could come to it. Of course, romantic elements such as hearts, roses, and chocolate were a must. 

Dinner Menu

     I told my beta readers in their invitation, the dinner menu would be based around one of the meals mentioned in my book.That kept them guessing until they walked through my door. I picked  an episode where my characters shared a meal at a Mexican food restaurant and built my party menu around it. Like my hero and heroine, my beta readers munched down on chips and salsa for appetizers. For the main entree, I served homemade sour-cream chicken enchiladas with re-fried beans and Spanish rice.
      Iced tea is my heroine's favorite beverage and it happens to be my my betas' favorite choice as well.
      At one point in the book, my heroine makes a chocolate cake and tops it with homemade icing. Although her cake falls, I'm glad to say my chocolate cake did not. It was totally yummy . . . and yes the icing was made from scratch.  ( I am making myself hungrier with each paragraph I type! So let's move on.)


Party Decorations
     Keep it simple and use what you already have around your home.

  •       Table Lanterns. In keeping with the Western theme, I dug out several Mason jars and drinking glasses from my cupboard. After all, I do live in Texas, so these are always on hand. I ran off copies of my romance scenes onto card stock paper and cut out two heart-shaped holes in the paper. I inserted the paper inside the jars and trimmed it to fit. I placed a battery operated LED candle in the bottom of the jar so the light would shine through the heart-shaped hole.It gave off a nice glow without fear of flames or smoke from a real candle.Then I screwed the lids and rings on the jars and wrapped the neck of the jar with blue ribbon. Western-themed stickers helped fill some blank spots.

The LED candles were inexpensive and quite a hit.
  •      Table Centerpiece. In my book, my heroine receives two bouquets of yellow roses, one from the hero and one from the villain.  I placed one vase of yellow roses in the center of the dining table. Around the roses, I positioned some of my favorite Julie Lessman romance books, along with some of my  writing books.  I printed some of  the love scenes from my book onto red paper and cut them into numerous confetti-style hearts. These decorated the table from one end to the other, adding a splash of bright color against the blue tablecloth.

  •      Coffee table Centerpiece. At one point in my book, the heroine mentions to the hero her love of chocolate. Later, she finds a vase of flowers on her coffee table, surrounded by a wide assortment of chocolates.When my hero sends flowers to my heroine, he writes a short poem on the card. I couldn't resist this romantic touch from the story, and I placed a second bouquet of yellow roses on the coffee table. Then I  included some of my favorite chocolates.( I'm sure my heroine would approve.)

Party Favors
     I made a variety of Christian themed book marks and placed one beside each beta's place setting. 
Simplest party favor for a book party!


  •     Photo Gallery Guessing Game. Over the course of writing my novel, I had clipped pictures that best matched the visions I saw in my head. Now that my betas had read the book, I wanted to know if they could match the correct picture with the correct characters, settings, rooms and homes I described in the book.Using the same blue ribbon, I strung up the pictures over the blinds of my sliding glass door, allowing lots of room. This was a great filler between the appetizer and entree dishes. The betas had a lot of fun speculating and taking their guesses as to who was who.
Guess who is who and what is what?
  •      Trivia Quiz and Prizes. After dinner, we gathered in the living room and I provided paper and pens for the trivia quiz over the book. The questions were simple such as: "What are the names of the heroine's niece and nephew?" This was a fun icebreaker and the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners got to choose their book prize from among a basket of my lightly-read book collection. 
When it's too hot for a fire, use candles in the fireplace for ambiance.  But don't set your books too close!

Discussion time
     We began with a prayer, inviting God into our discussion. I urged each beta to be totally honest and not hold back their opinions. I can't get better as a writer, unless I know where I'm making mistakes. Using the completed worksheets they had brought with them, we began our discussion.( More about what I learned from them in the next post.)

Your turn: Have you ever thrown a book club party or been to one? Any cool ideas you'd like to share? 

Coming up: What I learned from my betas. 


Friday, July 20, 2012

Steering Beta Readers in the Right Direction

  "What do I want my beta readers to critique in my manuscript?"

 That is the first question an author should ask before enlisting the help of betas. Communication is key to a successful experience with beta readers as discussed in the previous post, 10 Tips To Enrich Your Beta Reader Experience. According to survey results obtained from both authors and beta readers in the  Beta Reading Survey, the breakdown of  author preferences included:

  • 21% want betas to focus on spelling and grammar errors only 
  •  5%  want betas to focus on characterization and plot only
  • 74% want betas to look and comment on all of the above (spelling, grammar, characters and plot)

  "What method of reader feedback do I prefer?", should be the second question an author asks.While most of the authors in the survey, preferred that their beta readers critique and comment in Microsoft Word's Track Changes, several claimed they were unfamiliar with the track changes editing feature and so were their beta readers. 

 I found this to be true in my own experience. Few of my betas were familiar with the track changes feature and I that is why I chose a different method of feedback.

Advantages to The Critique Worksheet:    After the betas had completed the full reading of the manuscript, I sent them a two-page Critique Worksheet along with a chapter-by-chapter synopsis. The betas were asked to complete these worksheets before we all met together to discuss the novel. There were several advantages to this method:
  • The worksheet contents steered my betas to the information I most wanted to know.
  • Betas were able to provide their most honest answers before entering a group dynamic. (Subtle peer pressure can change opinions and ideas and I wanted to avoid the "jumping on the band wagon" effect. )
  • Betas had time to reflect on the contents of the worksheet and mull over their answers. 
  • The chapter synopsis jogged their memories and saved them a lot of re-reading time. 
  • The worksheet served as the outline/agenda for our 3-hour discussion of the book. 
Critique Worksheet Contents:
 In my case, I did not want to bog down my betas with line-by-line edits so I asked them to focus more on plot scenes, characterization, plausibility and pacing. I knew the manuscript was too long and needed to know what scenes to cut. Here's what I asked:
  1. List your favorite scene or scenes. List any that touched you, stood out, made you laugh etc. What did you like about the scene? (Excel chart was provided)
  2. List any scenes that bothered you, seemed implausible, or didn't like. What was it about that scene that bothered you? (Excel chart was provided)
  3. Briefly list any spelling errors, repeated phrases, words that you felt  were overdone.
  4. Time to vent! List anything about the book, plot or the author's style that annoyed or bothered you.What are the author's weak points?
  5. In your opinion what are the book's strong points? What are the author's strong points? 
  6. Use the following scale to rate the manuscript’s elements:
1= Consistently worked for me
2= Worked most of the time
3= Could use some tweaking
4= Had concerns, bothered me
5= Needs help 

Pacing of the plot:

Realistic Dialogue:

Use of Christian/Inspirational elements:

Balance of action vs. introspection:

Believable Heroine:

Believable Hero:

Believable Conflict:

Believable Romantic Elements:

Believable Villain- Marcus:

Believable Villainess- Kristen:

Motivation or Goals of Characters:

Story Held Your Attention:

Rate the Introduction:

Rate the Middle of the Book:

Rate the Ending of the Book:

 I hope you have enjoyed this post. I believe it is always wise for authors to do their homework, before we ask our betas to do theirs.
Your turn: If you enlisted the help of beta readers, what would you want them to critique in your manuscript?

Coming up: Behind the scenes: Critique party ideas.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

10 Tips to Enrich Your Beta Reader Experience

 Beta readers have the enormous potential to steer out manuscripts right down the path to publication. They are often that first voice of reason to find the flaws we authors simply cannot see or have overlooked in the maze of revisions, additions and edits. 

However, in my research, I was shocked to find so many authors were disappointed, angry or hurt by their experiences with beta readers. Some of their complaints included: too little or no feedback from the reader, harsh or hurtful critiques, readers that back out or quit the project, readers that tried to rewrite the story, and readers that shared the author's manuscript without permission. (See Beta Reading for helpful survey results.) 
       Surprisingly, we authors may be most at fault here. If we haven't done our homework, how can we expect the betas to do theirs? I believe with a little preparation and planning, authors can head off these problems before they start. Based on my research and recent encounters with my 8 beta readers, here are 10 tips to create a worthwhile, productive experience between the beta readers and the author.

1. Choose wisely! Choose beta readers that either write or read your genre. No matter how much someone likes or supports your writing efforts, they may never connect to your manuscript if it is not in their preferred genre. "Paranormal-vampire" readers may be bored with the slower pace of a regency novel and never finish it.

2. Choose beta readers that represent your target market and have time to critique. Your betas should know up front, the length and word count of your manuscript, so they can decide if they have the time to devote to your project. In addition, I would suggest that you use readers of various ages. My beta readers ranged from 23-75 years old and the differing viewpoints offered a rich source of information. 
     Something that worked quite well for me was a "book club approach". When I enlisted their help, I let all 8 of the betas  know they were reading the same chapters at the same time and all had the same completion date, after which we would schedule a critique session. Knowing we were all in this together, sustained the focus on the manuscript. 

3. Complete your manuscript before enlisting the aid of beta readers. Don't keep your betas waiting for chapters or installments,  or they'll lose interest. Make sure your manuscript is as polished as possible, otherwise, beta readers may be turned off by numerous mistakes and errors they find in the early chapters. Before my betas saw the manuscript, I had done two rounds of editing. I was finally to a point where I was proud of my effort and needed more pairs of eyes to look it over. 

4. Clarify your expectations to your beta readers. Communicate to your betas what you want them to do. Are you looking for help with grammar and spelling? Do you need more feedback on plot movement? In my case, I asked my readers to ignore grammatical errors for the time being, and focus on the flow and continuity of the story. Were the characters engaging? Did they care about them? Was this a plausible plot?  What scenes could I cut? I needed to know these things more than spelling or passive voice errors.
      I suggest authors don't bog down beta readers with detailed requirements. That is a professional editor's job and probably out of the scope of most beta readers. Keep it general. This will increase your chances that your betas will complete the entire manuscript. 

5. Clarify your expectations for beta readers' feedback. What is your preferred format? Will it be a face-to-face verbal discussions with your readers, or do you  prefer Microsoft's track changes feature? How often are you expecting to receive feedback from betas? Be specific.

6. Discuss and clarify amount of manuscript you will be sending to your readers, then stay on schedule. Do your readers prefer one big chunk of manuscript up front or would they prefer smaller doses?  According to the "Beta Reading" article mentioned above, most readers prefer a few chapters at a time or else they feel overwhelmed and bogged down. This was the preferred method of my beta readers as well. Every week I sent 4-6 chapters to them in their emails and gauged their progress. For most, this was the appropriate amount per week.

7. Set a final deadline for completion of the reading. Deadlines are the best motivators for most of us, and beta readers are no different. However, you must be flexible on this. Remember the readers have a life outside of your manuscript and they are giving up their time, without pay, to help you. Adjust the deadline, if necessary. I didn’t confer enough with my readers as the deadline approached and found out later, that three of the eight did not finish the manuscript before the appointed deadline.

8. Stay in contact with your readers. This is crucial for maintaining the morale of your readers and touching base on their progress. But don't bug them! An occasional email asking if they have received the appropriate chapters or if they have any questions will suffice. They need to know that what they are doing matters and their efforts are appreciated. Thank them every chance you get, don't  just wait until the end to thank them for their time and effort. A kind word goes a long way when it comes to cooperation.   

9. Construct and distribute a critique worksheet for your readers. One of my best ideas as confirmed by the betas! After they had completed the reading of the manuscript, I sent each of them a critique-group discussion worksheet asking for their honest opinions on things like "scenes they loved and why" and "scenes that bothered them and why". I provided a chapter by chapter synopsis as a reference guide. I wanted the betas to reflect individually on these points, before we discussed these together, thereby reducing peer pressure. (More about the worksheet in Friday's post.) 

10. Host a Beta Reader Critique Party.  This may not be possible for every author, but I am blessed to have all my betas living within a 30-mile radius from me. A critique party thrown in their honor, seemed like the perfect thank you for their efforts. From the dinner menu to the decorations, the theme for the evening was based on the book. Each beta brought their completed worksheets to the party and this served as an outline to help streamline our  critique discussion . (More beta party ideas in a future post.)

These are my best tips, but maybe you have more.

 Your turn: Have I left anything out? Do you have any more tips you'd like to add?Any positive or negative beta experiences you'd like to share? Which tip or tips do you find the most helpful?

Coming Up: The Beauty of the Beta Reader worksheet.

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Beauty of Beta Readers

     Okay. I admit it. A year ago, I didn't have a clue what the term "beta reader" meant. I could tell you more about a betta fish than I could a beta reader. After several childhood years tending our family's fish aquarium, I was well acquainted with the beauty of the betta fish--but but not the beauty of the beta reader.

     What a difference a year makes! Although I'm a newcomer to the writing world, I'm a fast learner. Recently, I enlisted the help of 8 wonderful beta readers to critique my  first completed manuscript. Over the next four posts, I will be sharing all I learned about the process and what I've gleaned along the way.

     For those unfamiliar with the term "beta reader", it refers to someone who voluntarily reads an unpublished manuscript in order to give the author constructive criticism. "Betas", as they are often called, are a wise author's first stop in the critique process, before going on to the next level of professional editors and paid critiques. I've noticed several published authors, and writers in the blogging community recommend the use of trusted beta readers to not only test a new author's storytelling ability, but also to edit manuscripts for grammar, punctuation, plot and characterization problems. That's a tall order!

     Did you know the "beta reader" is a fairly new term and is derived from the software industry. According to,"beta" refers to imperfect versions of software given to testers for the purpose of  detecting and finding flaws. The tester's purpose is to "break" the software if possible, so the manufacturers can correct the problems and make a more perfect product. Beta readers serve much the same function.

    While some authors struggle to find reliable beta readers, I was blessed that my betas sought me out.

My Bit of Back Story: 
      Originally, I began my novel as a gift to my mother. She'd asked me so many times when I was going to write a book for her, so I began a book I never really expected to finish. But God had a different agenda, and I began writing for Him.
      For 18 months, only my immediate family knew I was writing a novel. Last fall,  my husband let it "slip" to his family, after I won second place in my first contest. He was proud of me, but it was an uncomfortable time. When friends and family members wanted to know more, I couldn't even discuss my plot or characters without blushing and stammering. I couldn't see myself as an author, but they could. Their genuine interest and support spurred me to finish and edit my manuscript.
      Earlier this spring, my  three sister-in-laws and a niece asked when they could read my book. By now, I was ready to let them. I had edited "my baby" to the best of my ability and was proud of my progress. It was time for new eyes to take a look at it. My two daughters, my sister and my mother also joined the group, bringing the total to 8 beta readers. Best of all, they were all experienced readers of the genre.
       From March through late May I sent 4-6 chapters each week to my betas until they finished reading the manuscript. Then I planned a beta critique party for early June, while the story was still fresh on their minds. I learned so much from the process and their feedback, I can't wait to share it all with you in future posts. 
     Before I close, check out the gift I received from my beautiful betas. One of my readers, in cahoots with my husband, printed all 678 pages of my manuscript in binder form, including a lovely front cover scene. As you can guess, when they presented it to me, I blubbered like a baby . . . but I wasn't the only one.
Coming up: 10 Tips to Enhance the Beta Reader Experience!      


Thursday, June 28, 2012

On the Road--Doc Ends It All With Smokey and the Gunfighters

I know . . . I know . . . you were kind of expecting Smokey and the"Bandit" in the title, weren't you?
Doc shivered in his boots when these guys came looking for him.

    Our vacation with Doc is drawing to an end. If you've missed any posts in our series, here's your chance to catch up: Meet Doc gnomeDoc and the Jenkins Reunion, Doc Goes to Church, Doc Gets a Taste of the DesertDoc Encounters Poop, Pool and PhysicianDoc on Route 66Doc Visits the Grand Canyon,  Doc Visits Las Vegas.
     It is the last day of our vacation in Arizona and we're taking votes as to what we want to do. After much discussion, it is lunch time and we decide on a return visit to an unexplored section of the Grand Canyon. We pour into two vehicles and we're off, with a pit stop to eat  at the "Steakhouse" restaurant. Our other family members had visited this particular restaurant the day before. Overnight, my nephew, Duane, has worked up the courage to try something he saw on the menu--fried rattlesnake.

The small portion is delivered to the table and with all eyes on him, Duane takes his knife in hand and saws . . . and saws . . . AND SAWS! The poor guy has to stop for a breather as a bead of sweat appears on his forehead. My husband cracks up at this point and I can hear a furtive giggle from Doc, who is resting comfortably in my purse. Duane looks around and asks in a  breathless tone: "Am I doing this right?"

      How should we know? The rest of us just run when we're close to a rattlesnake, we don't hang around to eat it. Duane gives up on the knife and picks up the piece with his fingers and bites into bone--or spine--or something inedible.( Surprisingly it doesn't taste like chicken). His wife, Stefanie, bravely gives it a try and because there is so little "meat" involved, they send it back and it's marked off their bill.
     Lesson learned.
A different view from the Southern rim. 
     Afterward we tour the far south-eastern rim of the Grand Canyon and today, the wind is whipping around at 65mph. We learn that in the 1800s a hotel was built on the site that overlooks the GC. Since few guests could tolerate the rough trail ride to get there, the place soon closed.  The canyon looks completely different from this vantage point and I get a little camera happy. Again, I am struck by the fact that the view we are witnessing just doesn't seem real. It is so vast and breathtaking.You did so good, God!!!!
You can just make out the "green" river in the middle-- the reason for this beauty.

     We're heading back to the campground when Doc asks us to pull over. It just so happens Doc's favorite celebrity is posing for pictures at the park entrance. Smokey the Bear is here! Doc begs us to take a photo as he converses with his stoic pal. When Smokey mistakes him for the Travelocity gnome, Doc rolls his painted eyes in disgust, heaves a sigh and admits, "No that's my cousin." Afterward, a disgruntled Doc offers an excuse for the bear's obvious error. "His pants are too tight," he mutters, " and it's cutting off the circulation to his brain."
     We take another look at Smokey . . . (like you are doing now) . . . and you know what? Doc is  right--those are some super-tight britches on that bear!
Doc meets Smokey the Bear.
     Later that evening, we decide to close the day with one more trip into Williams. It is the final call for souvenir shopping. Out on the street, some colorful cowboys grab Doc's attention and he ducks out of sight, convinced they are after him. Before we know it, we are caught in the middle of a western gunfight-- although the gunfighters are more hilarious than they are threatening.
Even gunfighters need to party from time to time.
Our final destination is the Pine Country restaurant so we can have one more taste of those delicious homemade pies. 
Finishing our day with smiles and pie.
Writer's Reflection:
When we throw something new at our characters it can create tension for them--or humor. In Duane's case, the rattlesnake sampling  did both. Although the experience was a disaster, it was a funny one our family will remember for a long time Don't be afraid to let your characters try something new and get out of their comfort zone. It can make a great reason for minor characters to add a nickname or tease your main character. At the very least, a humorous incident might be a great ice-breaker for your hero and heroine. Happy writing.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

On the Road--Doc Visits Las Vegas

     "What? You've never been to Vegas?" My husband and I have been asked the question so many times, it's become borderline embarrassing to answer it with a humble shake of our heads. It seems we are just about the only people in our family, church and  . . . our hometown that have never been to Vegas. Even my best friend manages to fly there at least 1-3 times a year. Although she's invited us several times, the timing has always been off. So Las Vegas was added to our imaginary vacation Bucket List. 
     "Hey, guess what?"  It is the last few days of our vacation and my husband's eyes are focused on the computer screen. "Vegas is just 3 hours from our campsite. Let's go." With the sights of the Grand Canyon fresh on our brains, we pack up the next morning and head for Las Vegas. Since the rest of our family-party has already been there, they opt to take a second look at the Grand Canyon.
     I guess my first hint that we were "not in Kansas anymore," or Texas either, came at the fast food restaurant we visited before we got to the famous Vegas Strip. Doc mentioned he needed to freshen up for the upcoming photo shoot. I had to ask management for the restroom keys. I may be dating myself here, but I haven't had to ask for bathroom keys since the family road trips in the 1970's and that was for outside facilities at less-than-elegant truck stops. Upon closer review, the clientele frequenting the restaurant while we ate was . . . "interesting", to say it nicely. But I hadn't seen anything yet !!!!!
Can you see the likeness to us? 
       It was early afternoon when we finally found a parking lot and launched our plan to tour the fabulous streets of Vegas. Ever thought you had a game plan only to discover you didn't really have a clue after all? That was us. It was literally "the blind leading the blind," on the confusing maze of sidewalks, escalators and casinos. The Beverly Hillbillies had come to Vegas, that's what is felt like.
     We toured through several of the hotels including the Luxor, Ex Calibur and MGM. They were gorgeous and we made a few touristy purchases along the way. Even caught a glimpse of a lovely  bride waiting with her father outside one of the chapels. Outside, the landscaping and building architecture were true works of art and we snapped a few of Doc's favorites.
Lauryn and I pose amid the chaos.

Doc enjoys the view.
     But there are images I didn't have the nerve to record. I saw one guy dressed in cowboy boots--hey, at least that was familiar-- but I had to stare at the rest of his "interesting" outfit. Around his waist, he wore a  blue checkered-vinyl tablecloth that he'd tied in the back like a mini-skirt. A sleeveless mesh shirt covered his torso and a pioneer-style yellow bonnet covered his head. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that his ponytail stuck out of a hole in the bonnet. I could fill another column with all the colorful characters we saw, but suffice it to say, I wanted to cover my 19 and 23 year-old's eyes plenty of times. 
       The old Sesame Street song , "One of these things is not like the other--one of these things just doesn't belong.  . . . ." kept running through my head. WE were that thing that didn't belong here. It didn't help that my orange UT Longhorn T-shirt seemed to stand out like a sore thumb among the bikinis and abundant cleavage. More than once I murmured quietly to myself, "If the wind blows, I sure hope that woman has on underwear beneath that short skirt." 
     Oh no . . . it occurs to me that  I've become my own mother--in Vegas.
Didn't know photos were forbidden in the casinos till later, but Doc had fun.
     Oddly, it was my teenage son who made the most astute observation of it all. "You know," he said as we returned to our car, "the people here aren't nearly as happy as they were at the Grand Canyon." He was dead-on. They weren't happy, they weren't smiling, they weren't helping each other. They were stumbling around in a drunken haze, falling on the floor of  the hotel lobby as their amused friends looked on.They were pulling up to stop lights, opening their doors and throwing up in the street while friends laughed hysterically. Others were begging to be to be noticed for their handmade bamboo roses, while the braver folks pushed pamphlets offering prostitution into our hands. The word "desperate" comes to mind.
       I was relieved when we were on our way back to the campsite. Others have told me I didn't see the best side of Vegas and that I really needed to see it at night. That may be true, but if there's a next time, I'll need to go with someone who knows the ropes.
      And I won't wear my UT T-shirt.

Writer's Reflection: 
As writers we are taught that setting is hugely important to a story. But until my trip to Vegas, I don't think I understood the effect it can have on the psyche of a character. The setting has the the power to bond and unite as it did with us in the Grand Canyon, but it also has the power to intimidate and repel. Either way, we are swayed by our surroundings and act accordingly. Delve into the setting of your manuscript or WIP,  and see if the setting/environment is having an effect on your character's mood and actions. It should.  

How about the rest of you? Have you been to Las Vegas? If so, what was your experience like? Have you visited a location that made you feel like a "fish out of water"?  I'd love to read your comments.