Guest Posts, Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

Guest Post: Six Things to Know About Writing a Book by Annette Abernathy

This week, I’m excited to bring you a series of three posts by professional beta readers Annette Abernathy and Allison Conley of BetaWitches.com. They’ll be offering writing tips, providing advice on how to sell your finished book, and sharing their must-know items for new authors. Annette is up first!

beta witches guest post

I’m a writer and a beta reader, so I understand both sides of the process. I’ve run my blog and have been writing novels and screenplays for years, but it was the editing process that really showed me the art of writing and storytelling.

I’d used critique partners, but they hadn’t stopped the 200 rejections. Eventually, I buckled down and hired an editor. With each edit I rewrote my book. That was a grueling process, but my editor opened my eyes to the possibilities of my characters. With each draft I learned more about myself and the world I’d built.

Once the edits were finished I began sending the book out to beta readers. As a beta reader I find that many don’t understand the difference between editors and beta readers. An editor helps compose the story and fixes grammar. A beta reader gives an opinion on the overall feel of the story, and the two shouldn’t be used interchangeably.

Indies authors may think that they can get around spending money on editing by using free betas, but it’s better that an author use a real editor to get them past that first awful draft. That first draft is always awful and any professional will attest to this. No matter how good an author is at storytelling they should not try to edit their own book.

The truth is that all this is generic information that any article on beta reading will tell you. The truth is that you, the author, will find many people who will be sweet about your story. My book began to thrive when I faced the harsh truth that the first draft was truly terrible. Here’s a few tips I’ve learned.

  1. Know the purpose of your book before you write it.
  2. Understand that rewriting, editing, and beta reading is part of the process.
  3. Know your characters and realize that the reader only knows what you tell them.
  4. Be aware that you are probably one of thousands who is writing a novel in your same genre.
  5. Look for all the clichés of your genre and avoid them in your book.
  6. Know when to take the advice of an editor or beta reader.

I’ve hurt many feelings with the first piece of advice. Sometimes people think if they love a type of story enough that they’ll write the next bestseller. It can happen, but will it happen to you? Really consider what your purpose is and who is your audience? I write love stories but not romance, so my books don’t fit with all romance readers. Due to the nature of my books I’ve had men enjoy them. I knew that I wanted to write books that deal with abuse, mental illness, racism, and socio-economic issues, so I’m more aware of each niche group of readers who are potential fans.

  1. I’m also more aware of when a book goes off topic. Most of the time the outline changes by the chapter, but knowing the end goal keeps me in line. Even if an author is the most methodical at staying with the outline they still need that clear objective.
  2. I’m dyslexic, so writing has never been easy for me, and it’s going on two years since I began the edits for my first book. I cried and vowed to give up every day, but by the second book I was a pro! I knew what I was doing, so it was mentally easier. Still I won’t publish any book until all the feedback is opinion on style rather than suggestions for making the book smoother.
  3. I knew my characters so well that each one had a back story, quirks, and favorite foods. The problem was that I didn’t know how to write them. Learning how to introduce the characters and endear them to the reader helped me learn more about myself. The process became a spiritual journey.
  4. My editor and beta readers made me aware of number four without actually saying it. They kept saying that my stories weren’t like other stories out there. This felt bad at first since romance readers expect a layout that I was not going to give them. Then I realized just how many books in each genre are similar, and those are the ones that make it to the finish line. Imagine how many will be published. As the author you are competing with published books and books that will be published. Look for ways to make your story standout so much it could become a classic or genre changer.
  5. Don’t try to recreate a popular book! Think up a new angle and become the next big name. Don’t be content to be in the shadows.
  6. For me number six is the hardest. I tend to write about topics that many aren’t familiar with, so a lot of times I’ve had to ignore the beta readers. My editor helps me tell an unusual and provocative story, and I tend to take all their advice. Sometimes the beta readers tend to want to be experts when they aren’t.

When I read for other people I always assume that the writer is the authority, unless it’s obvious they aren’t. Whether the beta is helpful or not with the story they will always let you know what type of critiques you’ll get once the story is published. So it’s helpful to have beta readers outside of your genre read your book to help you grow your craft. It feels better when men like my stories because I do write love stories.

I’ve been writing for years and I do a lot of research on the craft of writing, so I hope that some of these tips will help out other writers. We’re essentially a family.


About Annette

Annette Abernathy has a B.A. in psychology with a minor in Women’s Studies, and a professional certificate in photography with a background in visual storytelling.

Genres Annette Beta Reads: Romance, Historical Romance, Regency Romance, Psychological Romance, Historical Fiction, Women’s Fiction, Young Adult Fiction, Suspense, Erotica, Contemporary Fiction, Christian Fiction, Horror, New Adult, Mysteries/Thrillers, Literary Fiction

Writing & Publishing Articles

What Writing Taught Me About Exercise

writing-and-exerciseBelieve it or not, I used to be a “sporty” kid. Now, I’m not saying that I had great athletic talent (far from it), but I played basketball for seven years, tried cheerleading and volleyball for two, and rode horses competitively (and for leisure) until I went to university. However, somewhere along the way I lost touch with physical activity.

“Somewhere” means age 14 to 15. It started in freshman volleyball, when my coach played favorites (I was not one) and made the rest of the team miserable. Couple that with breaking my arm while horseback riding the following summer, and I was ready to give up sports. I went from a casual athlete to a proud, non-exercising emo kid (but that’s another story).

Since graduating university, I’ve tried to get back into exercise. It’s been a difficult journey, but I think I’m finally making worthy progress again. While I doubt I’ll ever be able to do the splits or run a mile again, I hope to be reasonably fit for my age and keep my body healthy.

exerciseSo, what does all of this have to do with writing? A lot, actually.

In my efforts to rejoin the world of exercise, I’ve noticed numerous parallels between my “health” journey and my “writing” journey. For more on how exercise can help your writing (aka the reverse of this post), click here. Maybe some of them will help you with your own goals, or encourage you to break out that old notebook or yoga mat (whichever you need most).

Step 1: Labeling myself

I don’t believe that you can have success as a writer until you identify as a writer or as “someone who writes.” Making this simple shift enabled me to write my first novel. This same logic applies to my exercise goals. For the longest time, I saw myself as a gym outsider because I don’t identify as an athlete anymore. When I started thinking of myself as “someone who goes to the gym,” I suddenly felt the permission to go. Silly, but important.

Step 2: Choosing my “why”

While I love writing for fun, it was never reason enough for me to finish a novel. It was only when I set a specific, short-term goal (winning National Novel Writing Month) and a long-term goal (becoming a full-time author) that I finished a book. Similarly, when I tried to exercise just because I “should,” I rarely did. Now that I have specific, health-related goals, I’m much more motivated to exercise.

Step 3: Playing the long game

Like writing, exercise is a long-term goal. In order to see any benefit, you must commit to doing it every day (or several times a week). At first, this sucks. But, after I made exercise a regular part of my weekly schedule, both going to the gym and working out while there became easier.

teamStep 4: Finding a partner

My friend Jonas and I hold each other accountable to our writing goals. While we work separately, we’re walking the path to full-time authorship together. Similarly, my husband and I attend the gym together. Once there, we work out in separate spaces, but we both leave feeling encouraged and confident.

Step 5: Making good use of the time

A productive writing session consists of scheduling the time, planning the scene, then writing with 100% focus and 0% self-criticism. I’ve learned to apply this same system to my gym sessions. The only exception? If I focus on working out, I feel like passing out. Instead, I listen to podcasts or people watch.

Step 6: Forgiving lapses

If you fail to write, don’t guilt yourself. Promise to do better tomorrow. Same goes for exercise.

Step 7: Tracking my progress

I keep track of my daily word counts in a spreadsheet. This helps motivate me to grow my totals and avoid a “blacked-out” day on the calendar. I’m going to apply a similar, weekly system for exercise to keep myself on track.

Step 8: Learning from others

We’ve all seen those “writers” who constantly complain about writer’s block or their misbehaving muse and never write. On the other hand, we’ve all seen those non-stop superstars who we want to emulate. You’ll find those same people at the gym. Every session, I see people come in, do five minutes on the treadmill, and leave. But then there’s Stair Master Guy. He’s a middle-aged man who has been at the gym literally EVERY time I’ve gone – always on the Stair Master, always drenched in sweat. Now that is commitment I want to emulate.

While I have a good start on my writing journey, I still have a long way to go on the road to physical fitness. However, looking at the parallels between the two gives me hope. If I can go from a grumbling, suffering, wannabe writer to a published entrepreneur with two novels, surely I can go from couch potato to routine exerciser. Neither path is easy – but then again, I heard somewhere that nothing worth doing ever is.

So, take it from me. Whether you want to write a book, run a mile, or achieve some other dream, you can do it. The going is slow and difficult and not always fun, but you will get there with patience, commitment, and a positive attitude.


What writing lessons have proved useful in other areas of your life? What non-writing activities have taught you to be a better writer? Share in the comments.

Fiction Blog, Writing Updates

Recapping My 2016 New Year’s Resolutions

Before the calendar officially rolls over into 2017, I want to share my progress on my 2016 New Year’s resolutions. While I surpassed my “realistic” goal of accomplishing half of my list, I still left seven resolutions unfinished. Some of these were conscious choices, others resulted from procrastination or neglect. However, each taught me valuable lessons that I’ll be carrying into 2017.

Writing

Writing with Thomas

1. Write five days a week (C, but based on past experience, LOL)

I had an epiphany this year – I don’t have to write every day. And, given my current situation in life, it’s almost impossible for me to write new material while editing/revising a completed manuscript. Next year, my goal will be to “create” five days a week (be it writing or editing). However, I did some form of creation for roughly half of the days in 2016, so that’s better than my past records.

2. Finish Desertera #2 (E)

3. Publish Desertera #2 (C)

4. Write Desertera #3 (DD)

At least I’ve started it!

5. Publish Desertera #3 (DD)

If I would have taken into account how much time my nonfiction projects would consume, I would have known this was unobtainable (aka LOL) for 2016.

6. Write a book for fun (LOL)

LOL indeed!

7. Write all nonfiction booklets (E)

8. Publish all nonfiction booklets (E)

9. Publish nonfiction compilation (C)

Business

Boxthorn Press Logo10. Publish two blog posts per week (C)

11. Read 50 books (C)

12. Make $1,000 from my author business (C, maybe DD)

13. Adhere to my marketing plan (C)

Started off strong, but petered out in the second half of the year. Takeaway: I need to refine my marketing goals and make a less time-consuming plan.

14. Send two email newsletters per month (C)

15. Update my author website/platform (revise each quarter) (E)

Personal

Family16. Keep Daniel and myself student loan free (DD)

17. Keep migraines to one per month (or less!) (DD) – Perhaps my best accomplishment of all!

18. Exercise for 30 minutes, 3 days a week (LOL)

We did really well for a few months … but not enough.

19. Record my three daily gratitudes (C)

Barely managed this. I think I’ll be letting go of journaling in 2017.

20. Visit a new state (E)

21. Go to the 9/11 Memorial in NYC (E)

We decided to wait on this one until our parents visit in the spring.

22. Visit home (summer) (C)

23. Visit home (Christmas) (E)

Final count: 16/23

I’ve kept this recap short and sweet, but if you want to a more in-depth reflection, check out this post. And yes! I am making resolutions for 2017 – you can read them here!


Did you accomplish all of your 2016 New Year’s resolutions? What did you learn from your successes and failures this year? Share in the comments!

Author Business & Publishing, Writing & Publishing Articles

How to Handle Book Reviews: Good, Bad, and Ugly

read-1702616_640.jpgBook reviews are the lifeblood of books. A healthy rating encourages potential readers to buy, makes an author eligible for merchandising from retail sites, and improves a book’s overall ranking on those sites. However, if enough readers read your book, eventually you’re going to get a bad review (probably several). Those dreaded one-star ratings are the cost of exposure.

After hearing a few author horror stories on the subject of reviews, I wanted to provide a public service announcement of sorts. Sure, several other authors have written on this topic already, but just in case mine is the first you read (or you want another opinion), here is my advice for how to handle your book reviews: good, bad, or ugly.

First, it is important to remember that you are not your book. Reviews are a subjective reaction to your creative work and not you as a person. (We’ll get to the 1% in which this is not the case in a bit.)

Personally, I try not to read reviews (good, bad, or ugly). This is not to say that I don’t try to cultivate them, or that I do not appreciate them (Seriously, if you’ve reviewed one of my books, thank you!). However, I know myself. A bad review can temporarily shatter my confidence and ruin a whole writing day. That’s not worth it to me, my work, or my readers.

My solution? I have my husband check my reviews for me (once a week or so). If there’s a good review, he lets me know. If there’s a bad review, he distills it down to only the constructive criticism (and leaves out any rudeness), so that I can learn from the review, without being upset by it.

You have to decide what’s best for you. If you’re a sensitive soul like me, try getting a spouse, friend, or family member to be your review buffer. If you’re a tough cookie, read all you want. As long as reviews don’t over-inflate or deflate your ego, there’s nothing wrong with reading them.

So, that’s my general policy. Now let’s drill down into the specifics. For the purpose of this article, “good” reviews refers to positive reviews, “bad” reviews refers to critical reviews, and “ugly” reviews refers to hateful or personal reviews.

five-stars

Good Reviews

Good reviews tell you two things: what readers like about your book and who likes your book. When you get a good review, take note of the reader’s praise and try to keep those themes in your writing. Also, do a little research on your reader. What other books have they liked or disliked? From their profile, do they fit within your target audience? These will tell you if your book is reaching the right market and give you an idea of where to advertise or how to promote your book in the future.

When I published my first novel, I checked my reviews often and responded to the positive ones (That’s all there is when only your friends and family are reading your book!) with a ‘like’ or comment on Goodreads. Now, I don’t respond to any positive reviews. It’s not that I don’t appreciate them (Again, I totally do — thank you!). It’s that A) I don’t want to offend anyone by accidentally skipping or not commenting on their review, B) it sets a precedent that I might also respond to neutral or bad reviews, and C) I really don’t have that kind of time. Note to my readers: if you want to have an actual dialogue about my books or receive a personal thanks, just shoot me an email via the contact page.

It’s worth noting that I have never responded to any reviews on Amazon or another online retailer. As a social network, Goodreads muddles the line, but on retail sites it is clear: do not respond to reviews. It’s unprofessional and the retail sites are likely to frown on it.

one-star

Bad Reviews

We all know these. They’re the ones that make us want to crawl under the covers or throw the laptop out of the window and never write again. But bad reviews can be good. Beyond providing you with constructive feedback, they tell other readers what this person did or didn’t like about your book, so that they can better judge for themselves. Your target audience can be persuaded by bad reviews (Is it full of cursing? Sounds up my alley!), and your non-ideal audience will be warded off (Sex? No way!), thus preventing another bad review in the future.

It is my policy to never respond to bad reviews. First off, I respect the reader’s right to their own opinion. Second, they’ve already “wasted” enough time with my book, they don’t need me saying anything to them.

Some authors make exceptions for this. For example, some will jump to defend a concept the reader clearly missed that could change their perspective of the book. Others will respond if a reader makes a factual error in the review. My professional opinion is to stay silent. Most times, you will only irritate the reader more, or never receive a response to your rebuttal anyway.

Here are a few other ways to react to bad reviews:

Remember, you are not your book. The conception of bad writing (or actual bad writing — let’s be honest, it happens) do not make you a bad person or unworthy creator. It just means you have more to learn. We all do.

Take comfort in that even the best books have bad reviews. This may come as a shock, but there are people out there who hate Harry Potter. I know, but it’s true. Go to the page of your favorite author and check out some of their book’s most scathing reviews. If they can survive it and have their work admired, so can you.

Go read some of your five-star reviews. Or social media comments or emails or whatever. Focus on the readers who get and love your work. They’re the ones that really matter.

Really need to respond to that disgruntled reader? Write a response and destroy it. Do this by hand so there is no temptation or possibility of posting it online. Craft your elegant defense or your childish slew of insults, then rip it up and throw it out. You’ll feel better without doing any damage to your professional image or online relationships. Venting to a trusted friend — NOT in online writers’ groups or forums — is another idea. Seriously, though, don’t put your gripes online. A) It can be found by readers. B) It still makes you look bad. C) Negativity will just bring other writers down. Don’t be that person.

If all else fails, I like to get existential. You are only certain of this one life. Is one person’s dislike going to keep you from pursuing your passion? I didn’t think so.

troll

Ugly Reviews

These are reviews that make personal attacks on your character, threaten you, or which are given to your book because the reviewer has a personal vendetta against you. Luckily, these are super-rare, but they can happen. Again, I strongly encourage you not to respond. Instead, contact the website administrator and ask for the review to be removed. If the review is not about the book or makes explicit insults or threats, this should not be a problem. It cannot prevent the reviewer from repeating the attack from a different account, but it is the safest and most responsible course of action.

No matter what praise or criticism, your books receive, remember that you are not your books. Their success or failure does not reflect your character or personality. While writing ability is very personal, it can be improved over time with patience and practice. Whether in book review responses (don’t do it!) or anywhere else online, always be respectful and courteous to readers. And most importantly, never let anyone else keep you from writing. 


How do you handle the different types of reviews? What are your best practices for authors? Share your advice in the comments.

Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips, Writing Updates

What Can You Do in A Year?

cork popSo often, we gauge the passing of a year by the calendar, a birthday, or a wedding anniversary. Today, I want to mark a different kind of anniversary. One year ago today, I wrote a reflection post on my recent move to New Haven, Connecticut (I’d lived there eight days at the time). In it, I shared my initial impressions of the city, my concerns about living in a new place, and my hopes for the year to come. Now, I’d like to look back and share what wisdom I’ve gleaned for others.

When it comes to New Haven itself, I’ll be brief. My first post talked about the beautiful architecture, the (seemingly) tasty restaurants, and the various tourist attractions. They’re all still there, and all still great. I also mentioned the potential new friendships Daniel (my husband) and I had started growing, and I’m happy to report that they are strong and thriving. The drivers are still idiots. And most importantly, Thomas still loves his life as Supreme Ruler of the Apartment (see below).

A few new things? The divide between the Yale elite and the homeless is shocking and heartbreaking. The amount of street harassment I’ve faced is alarming (my formal apologies to any urban women I ever doubted on the issue). But there’s also a new ice cream shop that has the best farm-made ice cream I’ve ever tasted. So, you win some, you lose some, I guess. No city is perfect.

My biggest concern moving to New Haven was that I would lose my sense of self, that my identity would be pared down to “Daniel’s wife” and nothing else. Hey, Past Kate: We’re so much more than that. Yes, to some Yale acquaintances I’m just “Daniel’s wife.” But, to those same people, I’m very often “Daniel’s wife, the wine expert” (because expert is easier to grasp than copywriter). What else? I’m Thomas’s mother, a loyal friend to many new people, a budding wine enthusiast, a small business owner, and yes, an independent author.

thomas 2A year ago, I was putting the finishing touches on The Cogsmith’s Daughter (Desertera #1). I was thrilled about (and terrified of) what my indie publishing journey might bring. Now, I’m pretty much in the exact same place with The Courtesan’s Avenger (Desertera #2). Only this time, I’m thrilled for a new reason (the first novel I wrote wasn’t a fluke!) and scared for new reasons too (what if everyone who liked book one hates the sequel?!).

I want to take a minute to reach out to all the aspiring or small-time authors out there. While I hope beyond hope that you get the coveted “lucky break” and reach instant bestsellerdom, chances are, you won’t. And that’s okay. Everyone’s journey is different, and you can only do the best you have with the resources available to you. But, if you’re sitting at your computer, considering hitting PUBLISH on that first novel, here are just a few things that could happen to you in one small year, based on my experiences:

  • Meet dozens of new author friends and readers
  • Earn your first (of many!) five-star review
  • Earn your first (hopefully not of many) one-star review
  • Sign a book for a new fan
  • Have your book nominated for an award (more info to come)
  • Have your book selected for a monthly subscription box (more info to come)
  • Earn a few hundred dollars from book sales
  • See your book in a library or bookstore
  • Participate in online events
  • Have someone say, “Oh, right. You’re the author!”
  • Have your book taught in a university class
  • See your book proudly displayed on your parents’ coffee table
  • Write your next book

Maybe some of these will happen to you. Maybe you’ll reach even greater heights. But if one year ago you’d told me all this (and more!) would happen to me, I would have laughed in your face. It just goes to show, you never know what can happen in a year.

Stay focused on your goals. Work those extra hours. And most importantly, keep writing.


Aspiring authors: what is one goal you have for your first year of publication? Published authors: what is one awesome thing that happened within your first year of publication? Share your experiences in the comments.