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

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

The Pros and Cons of Writing a Series

Happy Friday!

Just a quick note for you today, as I want to share a guest post I recently wrote for author Margarita Morris’s website. In this article, I break down the unique advantages and challenges that writing a series offers, as well as provide a few tips for approaching one.

Click here to read “The Pros and Cons of Writing a Series.”

After you’ve read the post, feel free to leave a comment with your own experiences, tips, or any questions you have about the writing process!

 

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.

Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

Writing through Your Fear

Whether you’re a beginning writer or a seasoned veteran, writing can be scary. Fiction authors put out original imaginings that often hold deeper truths (or are falsely judged to reveal something about the writer). Nonfiction authors declare themselves an authority on a topic, who readers depend upon for knowledge or assistance.

When you think about it, that’s a lot of pressure (especially if you’re an independent author). It’s no wonder we writers get scared of our craft.

I’d like to tell you it gets better, that after the first novel the fear magically goes away. Maybe it does for some people. However, two novels and eleven nonfiction booklets in, I’m still nervous every time I sit down to write.

How Writing Fear Evolves Over Time

fear-of-failureBefore I had written my first fiction book, The Cogsmith’s Daughter, I feared I would never write a novel. I felt certain I would die with this ultimate goal, the one thing I felt meant to do, unaccomplished. Luckily, that didn’t happen. In fact, I went on to write a second book …

And I got even more scared. My fear evolved. I thought to myself, “What if that first book was a fluke?” and “What if everyone hates the sequel?” Now, as I write the third novel, the fear continues: “What if I grow to dislike this series? What if my readers don’t like the direction I take it? What if no one even reads it?”

Of course, my nagging thoughts aren’t limited to fiction. Every time I write nonfiction, I wonder who gave me the right to inspire or educate others (aka imposter syndrome). Who do you think you are, Kate?

When I try to market, specifically through paid advertising, it gets worse. “Why am I forcing my books on other people? What if I don’t earn back my investment? What if everyone who buys my books hates them?”

Don’t worry. I’m done sharing. (See? Even now I fear you’re judging me or growing bored!)

How to Overcome Your Writing Fears

conquer-fearFirst, if you’ve had similar feelings, know that you’re not alone. Second, know that, while your fear may never go away, you can write through your fear. How do you do that? Unfortunately, it’s one of those questions that you have to answer for yourself. But, here are some tips:

Know your enemy

You can’t fight an enemy that you can’t identify. Once you truly understand your fear, you can begin to move past it.

For example, I fear getting bad reviews, because they mean that people hate my books. But it’s not the reviews themselves I really fear. It’s rejection, judgment from others, and that I’m not as talented or intelligent as I want. At the very core of my fear is my own self-doubt. If I truly believed in myself and fostered more confidence, maybe I would be less scared of those inevitable bad reviews.

So, what do I do about it? I’m working on positive thinking to help me have confidence in the skills I currently have. More importantly, I’m continuing my education on writing craft to strengthen my abilities and grow confidence through experience.

What is it that you really fear, and how can you work through it?

Find a greater fear

Yes, bad reviews terrify me. But you know what’s worse? The idea of giving up on writing altogether.

Give this (morbid) exercise a try. Picture yourself about to die. Seriously, go all “writer” on it and set the scene as if it took place in your book. Now, with your death before you, answer what is worse.

Getting a rejection letter from an agent vs. hiding your manuscript on your hard drive

Encountering criticism from internet strangers vs. never meeting the people who love your books

Never drawing attention to yourself vs. never writing a single word

Are you really going to let fear stand in the way of what you want to do?

Drown out the negative thoughts

incentive-960045_640Most of my writing fear happens when I’m not actually writing. Those horrible words come to me when I first sit down at the keyboard, or when I’m trying to think through a troublesome scene while washing the dishes. A simple trick I’ve learned is to drown them out.

There’s lots of ways to do this. Start babbling aloud to yourself so you can’t hear yourself think. Scream “Stop! Stop! Stop!” inside your head. Turn on some music or a podcast. Try to recite the first page of your favorite novel.

I know it sounds silly, but anything you can do to stop the negative thoughts will help. Our brains love shortcuts. You see a growling dog, your brain says, “Run!” You see a pimple on your face, your brain says, “Ugly.” You go to write, your brain says, “You suck.” If you can retrain your brain to avoid negative thoughts (or even better, default to optimistic ones), you’ll also avoid the fear they bring.

Take inspiration from the experts

When all else fails, keep doing what you’re doing now — finding someone who understands and learning how they handle their own fear. Here are a few tried-and-true resources, available for free online or from your local library:

Making Fear Your Bitch by Jamie Davis — I almost didn’t write this article, because this podcast/transcript says it so much better. Seriously, that’s not insecurity talking; it’s just the truth. I’ve bookmarked it for future reference.

The Successful Author Mindset by Joanna Penn — A fantastic book. Penn shares her own fears (including excerpts from her journal), as well as addresses many other psychological issues that plague writers (e.g. perfectionism and the need for validation).

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield — Several writers swear by this as their go-to motivation book. Pressfield personifies fear as “Resistance” and covers all the ways you can and must defeat it.

You can put all of this into practice and start working through your fear today.

Take five minutes to identify the root of your fear, then imagine how your happiness would suffer if you continue to give into it. Then, drown out these thoughts with motivation and inspiration from others. And most importantly, write — even if it scares you.

Do it all again tomorrow. And the next day. As long as it takes.

Why? Because only you can tell your story. The world deserves your story, and you deserve the joy of writing it.


What fears plague you as a writer? How do you overcome your writing fears? Share your tips in the comments!

Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

Writers: Judge Yourself by Your Own Standards

‘Comparisonitis’ is the most infectious disease in the writer community. Can you blame us? When John’s book has 100 five-star reviews and Jane has written six books this year and Joe has landed a major publishing deal, it’s difficult not to feel jealous and shame yourself for what you are/aren’t accomplishing.

Here’s your gentle reminder to CUT. IT. OUT.

nanowrimo-badgeAs I’m writing this post, we’re halfway through NaNoWriMo 2016. National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is an online challenge where writers attempt to write 50,000 words in 30 days. Some writers meet this goal in 24 hours (seriously — here’s proof), while others struggle to write 1,000 words over the entire month. NaNoWriMo is a great way to kickstart your writing project and meet new writer friends … but it’s also a vehicle for self-doubt. As you watch your ‘Buddies’ word counts climb, it can spur you to work harder or make you feel like an utter failure.

What you have to remember is that NaNoWriMo — like all writing — is not a competition. There are an infinite number of stories to be told and billions of readers to read them. The only person you should be worried about is yourself.

Take it from my experience. During my first NaNoWriMo, I went in with a plan, rocketed through the challenge, and wrote over 80,000 words that would become my first published novel, The Cogsmith’s Daughter (Desertera #1). This year, I was utterly unprepared for NaNoWriMo. I didn’t have time to write an outline before November 1, so I went into the challenge with everything but a plot. Literally. This is my third book in the Desertera series. I have characters, a world, a list of questions to answer, and a looming series finale … but I had no idea what should actually happen in this novel.

Regardless, I powered through the first ~11,000 words. By this point in the book, I realized the key story structure issues and could already imagine a better story arc. I had a choice to make. I could continue with NaNoWriMo (which is honestly the path I recommend, especially if you’re writing your first book and just need to finish something), or I could stop writing, craft the outline I should have started with, and rewrite.

Initially, I didn’t want to stop writing. I was embarrassed to watch my friends out-write me, and I felt obligated to keep pushing because I had publicly committed to the challenge. However, I had to remember, this isn’t just me anymore.

Though writing is my passion, I’m not writing ONLY for fun. I’m writing to build a catalog of books, to make writing my full-time career, and to please a small (but wonderful!) readership. Winning NaNoWriMo, while a great accomplishment, can’t be my goal if it sacrifices the quality of my book or yields 90,000 unusable words that will delay my production schedule. So, I chose to fail in the short term to succeed in the long term.

writer-1Now, it’s your turn to look in the mirror. What are your goals for your writing? If you’re just writing for fun, do whatever you like! But if you’re writing for professional purposes, you might have to make some tough choices. Even if you’re also writing with hopes of creating a full-time career, your choices might not be the same as mine. That’s the beautiful thing about authorship: each writer, each book, each business is unique.

As you come up against roadblocks or simply notice recurring patterns in your writing or business choices, ask yourself three questions:

  1. How does this action further my writing goals?
  2. Is there a better way to work toward these goals?
  3. Do I feel satisfied and confident in this choice?

If the answers are unclear or nonexistent, it’s time to reevaluate. For me, pushing through NaNoWriMo would have yielded content, but it would have been poor content. By giving myself permission to plan and write my book properly, I will write a better rough draft, ease the publication process, and do what’s best for my business. Can you say the same about your writing choices?

*Note: this post is not an excuse to procrastinate or give up on your dreams. If you’re thinking of dropping out of NaNoWriMo or giving up on a draft just because it’s difficult work, you’re tired, etc., that’s not the same as making a small sacrifice in pursuit of a larger goal. Not sure? Let that nagging feeling in your gut be your compass.


Has comparing yourself to other writers been a challenge for you? How do you evaluate whether a writing choice is best for you or you just ‘keeping up with the Rowlings’? Share your tips in the comments!