Jen’s Editing Tips – Beta Reader Etiquette 101

Most of us know how important beta readers are. They’re the ones who catch major flaws, cliches, loopholes, and other problems in our work before the rest of the world sees it. That’s why it’s so important we treat them with the respect and courtesy they deserve.

Jen's Editing Tips

Respecting beta readers seems like an obvious thing, right? Well, not to everyone. Unfortunately. Although most don’t mean to do it (and most don’t even know they’re doing it), many writers offend, snub, and/or annoy their beta readers.

To help you maintain solid working relationships with your beta readers, here are some basic etiquette tips to consider:

Say Thank You

Duh, right? Well, believe it or not, there are writers who forget to thank their beta readers. They’ll email them a story, wait and wait, and then dig into the feedback the second it returns. And they’ll completely forget to say, “Thank you!”

This. Is. Not. Acceptable.

No matter what a beta tells you about your story, you need to thank them for taking the time to read and evaluate it. Because they took the time to read and evaluate it. They didn’t have to, but they did.

A great way to prevent this major faux pas is to thank a beta before you read their feedback. That way, you won’t get distracted and forget.

Tactfully Reject

Asking someone to be a beta reader is sort of like asking them out on a date. You won’t know until you sit down and review their feedback if there’s chemistry between you.

Sometimes there is. Sometimes there isn’t.

If there isn’t, that’s okay. Thank them for taking the time to read your story and then–quietly–set their feedback aside. You don’t need to use it. You also don’t need to ask that person to read your work again. In fact, unless a beta asks to stay involved (usually a friend or family member), it’s rude to request additional input from them.

Which leads to the next tip…

Don’t Waste a Beta Reader’s Time

Rejecting a beta reader’s feedback is perfectly okay.

Rejecting a beta reader’s feedback and then sending them another draft to review is not.

Beta readers have busy lives just like the rest of us. Jobs, families, chores, projects, etc. Why would you ask them to read multiple drafts of the same story if you’re not going to heed their advice? It’s a waste of their time and, let’s face it, inconsiderate.

So, before you send someone a draft, ask yourself, “Will I use this person’s feedback?” If the answer is “no” (or even a shaky “maybe”), then be kind and leave them alone.

Keep Track of Betas

Some writers like to only use one beta reader. Some writers like to use many. It all depends on your personal preference and goals.

For those of you who like to use multiple beta readers, it can be hard to keep track of each one. Lines get crossed. Emails get lost. Names get mixed up.

That’s why it’s a good idea to keep a spreadsheet (or some kind of list) to remind yourself who’s who and what’s what (story sent, feedback received, thank you sent, etc.) If you do that, then you’ll have a much better chance of keeping everything straight. And you’ll have a far less chance of offending someone.

Don’t Badger

“Can you read my eleventh draft?”

“Do you think I should change my character’s hair color from red to blond?”

“Should his name be Bob or Bobby?”

“Would this sentence sound better if I wrote it like this?”

“What about this sentence?”

“And this one?”

Poke, poke, poke! If you badger your beta readers with too many questions or requests, they’re going to get annoyed. Really annoyed. So annoyed, they might stop helping you. Let’s remember, beta readers have lives, too. And, if they’re writers, then they probably have their own projects to agonize over. So, be careful. Don’t drown them in questions and countless drafts. Be wise and pick your “battles.”

Bottom line: Whether it’s another writer, a friend, or a family member, you need to treat your beta readers with the respect and courtesy they deserve. After all, most of them are helping you out of the goodness of their hearts.

So, what about you? What are some of your beta reader etiquette tips?

Don’t forget, my editing website is up and running! If you’re looking for someone to help with your story, check out Jen’s Edits and Critiques.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Photo credits: giphy

NaNoWriMo Tips – How To Deal With Deadlines

Since so many of you are participating in Camp NaNoWriMo this July, I thought I’d re-post a blog I wrote last fall: How To Deal with Deadlines. We all have our different methods of madness. These are some of mine when it comes to managing time and reaching goals. Hopefully one or two of them will help you achieve your own goals.

2013-Winner-Facebook-Cover


In all the years I’ve been writing, I’ve never taken on the mighty writing challenge of NaNoWriMo. But I have dealt with writing deadlines. Some of those deadlines have been enforced by other people (agents, producers, PR reps, etc.), while others have been self-enforced–or rather, self-inflicted. Case and point:

Last spring an agent requested my full manuscript. She ended up passing, but she liked it enough to recommended it to two other agents. So, I eagerly sent them my query letter. Less than ten minutes after I pushed the send button I realized I’d made a fatal mistake. It suddenly struck me that I didn’t like the first half of my book. In fact, I hated it. And I was petrified the two agents I’d just sent my query letters to would hate it as well. So–in a hyperventilating panic–I began chopping and revising my manuscript, all the while watching my inbox, certain one of those agents was going to ruin everything by requesting my now torn up material (such a major faux pas, I know, I know). Even so, I wrote and wrote and wrote. Faster and faster and faster…

Two months later, I had a completely updated book (100,000 words worth).

And zero requests. Zero!

Neither of those two agents ever contacted me. Go figure.

These disappointing and exhausting experiences of mine have taught me some important lessons about writing projects that are herded by deadlines. And I’d like to share some of those lessons with you. Hopefully they can help you during your tumultuous NaNoWriMo journey. (Or whatever deadline-driven trek you might be on.)

Chop out all distractions

imagesI know this sounds obvious, but it’s the most important part of the process. And it’s the hardest. Distractions are addicting (ahem, Candy Crush). Furthermore, most distractions are fun and bring us joy, so why would we want to chop them out of our lives? I don’t know how many times I’ve had to turn down going to the movies with a friend, or shopping with my sister, or visiting the Colorado Railroad Museum with my beloved nephews (trust me, if you saw their “WHOA!” expressions, you’d understand). And all because I needed to stay home and work on my manuscript instead.

And on that note…

Accept your loner status

alone-in-a-crowd.jpg.scaled.1000We’ve all heard writing is a lonely job. And it is. Even if you’re writing in a coffee shop, a library or a park, you’re separated from the rest of the world. It’s like an invisible barrier is erected between you and those around you, including your friends and family. The only people to keep you company are the characters in your head (and, let’s face it, those guys can get a little crazy sometimes ;-)). Personally, I think this is why a lot of writers get distracted so easily. We have an innate need to return to planet earth–to reconnect with our fellow humans–to remind ourselves we live here, and not in the fictitious other world we’ve created.

Unfortunately, when writing on a deadline, you don’t have the luxury of time to constantly re-root yourself in reality. If you want to make it to the finish line on time, then you gotta stick it out in that lonely other world with those real-but-not-real characters. And you must be able to cope with feeling disconnected, because you will.

My advice? During your darkest, loneliest moments, firmly remind yourself you’re not alone. Remind yourself that there are thousands of other writers cut off from the rest of humanity with you. I promise you won’t feel so alone anymore.

Commit at least ONE FULL day/week to writing

1197089396151240572hawk88_Calendar.svg.medNearly everyone in my life knows Saturday is “Don’t Talk to Jenna Day”. Saturdays are my think tank’s refueling station–the precious oil to my creative cogs. Saturday is THE day I write. From sun up to sun down I sit in front of my computer, writing and writing, until my eyes can’t stay open and my fingers start to cramp.

It’s intense, and it’s not always fun, but it’s vital to my production output. And not just because I get a ton done in one day, but because I get pumped up to do even more the following days. By dedicating a full day to writing, I find it a lot harder to turn off my imagination the rest of the week. No matter how tired I am, or how busy I get, I will find the energy and time to sit down and pour my thoughts onto paper. They’re just too warm and alive to coldly bury in my subconscious until the next weekend.

There’s no crying in writing

Okay, okay. There’s lots of crying in writing. And trust me, when you’re writing with a deadline in mind, you’ll probably cry even more. Mostly from exhaustion. And also the occasional–or not so occasional–bout of angry frustration. But you know what? You gotta suck it up and push through the emotional breakdowns. Just go grab a piece of chocolate, watch an episode of 30 Rock, and maybe listen to Journey’s, “Don’t Stop Believin'” a few times. Then get back to work. Go. Do. It. Now!

…Okay, that was my version of a tough love pep talk. Did it help? No? Whatever, go eat some more chocolate. GO!

Don’t be Miss Congeniality

misscongeniality-still8I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time saying no to people. Need a babysitter tonight? Sure, I’m there. Need a hundred cupcakes for that party next week? Of course, I’ll make them. Need someone to proof that business proposal? No problem, I’m happy to help. However, when it comes to writing on a deadline, I must stifle the urge to be Miss Congeniality and focus on doing what’s best for ME. I know, it sounds horrible. But when you’re on a deadline, you have to lace up the ol’ selfish boots and keep them on until the job is done. You have to constantly repeat to yourself, “Me. Me. Me…”, while telling others, “No, no, no…”.

Again, horrible, I know. But, unfortunately, necessary.

To lessen my guilt about this, I always give my acquaintances, friends and family a heads up: “I’m sorry, but I’m going to be crazy busy with writing the next month (or two), so I won’t be as accessible as usual. Sorry, sorry, sorry. See you on the flip side!”

Get it? Got it? Good!

Even when you’re not chugging, keep chugging

Concrete_sleeper_1638Okay, so maybe you can’t be a complete self-serving hermit during NaNoWriMo. There’s work, the gym, the kids, hundreds of errands, special events…No matter how hard you try to avoid or hide from life’s daily necessities, you can’t. The refrigerator isn’t going to restock itself. The bills aren’t going to be paid by the mythical money tree. The wedding of your best friend isn’t going to happen again (well, hopefully). But, don’t panic. It’s okay! You can keep chugging along on your project even when you’re not sitting at a computer or hovering over a notebook.

Example: Every day during my hour plus commute to and from work, I listen to a playlist I made for my book. As I listen to the inspiring songs I’ve collected, I strategize my next scene, or create a new character, or discover a plot hole. This way when I finally do get to a computer, I’m already primed and ready to translate everything I’ve “written” in the car.

Even so, I highly recommend keeping a small notepad on you at all times. That way if you come up with an idea and you’re terrified you’re going to forget it, you can quickly jot it down (because, as fun as scribbling on your hand or a paper napkin can be, chances are those won’t make it home–you know, because you accidentally wash your hands, or someone uses your inscribed napkin to wipe the pizza grease off their face!).

Just keep swimming…

This is the most important lesson of all: Just keep swimming. Just keep trying. Just keep writing! Swim, swim, swim. Try, try, try. Write, write, write!

Writing a book on a deadline is like running a marathon–exhausting, difficult and seemingly endless. But it will come to an end. Trust me. Just remember to keep your eye on the finish line and you’ll get there. Breathe. Focus. And push through the pain! You can do it!

Good luck everyone!

If you want to add me as a buddy on the NaNoWriMo website, you can find me under the name jenspenden.

Now, let’s get pumped!

The First 250 Words of Your Manuscript

Welcome to Twitter Treasure Thursday! As many of you know, I’ve been in serious revision mode the past few weeks with the second draft of my YA manuscript. And as many of you know, those revisions have been on the slower side because I’ve been so focused on the first chapters of my story. They are so vital for so many reasons: capturing a reader’s attention, building a solid foundation, introducing characters, etc.

stock-footage-typing-chapter-to-writing-of-the-book-on-typewriter-video-clip-with-audio-a-sequence-ofTo help me along, I’ve been reading a wide assortment of articles from agents, publishers, and other industry professionals. I want to know what’s expected, what’s cliche, what’s annoying, what’s exciting, and so on. Today’s gem, courtesy of @KathyLLogan, is a perfect example of advice we should all read and learn from.

The First 250 Words of Your Manuscript

Openings are vital to getting someone to read your book, especially agents. A reader might give you some time since they paid for the book (I usually read three chapters to hook me if it starts slow, but if you haven’t grabbed me by then, it goes back on the shelf no matter how much I may love that author’s past works), but an agent has hundreds of other books on their desk that might grab from page one. Their job is to find books they can sell. Your job is to give them a book they can sell, and that means a great opening that hooks readers right away.

To read the entire article, click here!

And for more useful advice, follow Katherine L. Logan on Twitter!

The Worst Ways to Begin Your Novel: Advice from Literary Agents

Welcome to Twitter Treasure Thursday! Today’s gem comes from the ever helpful Chuck Sambuchino. He offers a wide range of amazing tips from industry experts on how to make your first chapter shine. No matter what genre you write, these tips are sure to help you improve your work and avoid the pitfalls so many writers stumble into.

Female executive and banana skinThe Worst Ways to Begin Your Novel: Advice from Literary Agents

No one reads more prospective novel beginnings than literary agents. They’re the ones on the front lines, sifting through inboxes and slush piles. And they’re the ones who can tell us which Chapter One approaches are overused and cliché, as well as which techniques just plain don’t work. Below find a smattering of feedback from experienced literary agents on what they hate to see the first pages of a writer’s submission. Avoid these problems and tighten your submission!

To read the entire article, click here!

And for more useful advice, follow Chuck Sambuchino on Twitter!

Make Your Character Reactions Twice as Interesting

Welcome to Twitter Treasure Thursday! I discovered today’s gem while perusing my favorite Twitter hashtag, #amwriting.

Screen Shot 2014-05-21 at 11.32.33 AM

Personally, I’m always–always–looking for ways to improve my characters. Make them deeper, more likable, more relevant. So any tips or advice I can get on how to do this, I’ll take!

tumblr_mzm5il1HA61qdbhwwo2_500Make Your Character Reactions Twice as Interesting

Character reactions are just as important as character actions—if not, arguably, more important. What makes me say that? After all, character actions usually headline the story. When you look at a book cover, the character is always doing something. Wielding that sword. Kissing that dude. Running from that killer. So where are all these important reactions I’m going on about?

Click here to read the full article!

For more tips and advice, follow @KMWeiland!