Thursday, June 22, 2017

You need beta readers!


We writers have a hard time recognizing our weaknesses or mistakes. We know what we want to say and believe we do so in the best way possible—but sometimes details in our minds don’t make it all the way to the written manuscript.

And some of us are weak on grammar, or story arc, scenes, openings, endings, writing with clarity, using dialogue, creating suspense, fleshing out key characters—and any number of other aspects of good writing.

We need beta readers! They let us know what works and what doesn’t in our manuscripts.

Mark Coker recommends we enlist between 12 and 30 beta readers. “You want readers who represent your target reading base, but you also want some diversity of opinion, so it’s okay to include readers who generally don’t read your category.”

Here’s another interesting tidbit from Mark: “…We found that the best feedback came from complete strangers who weren’t afraid to offend us.”

He offers several practical tips, for example: 

  • We can recruit beta readers on Facebook, Twitter, and other online groups.
  • We can ask our potential beta readers to pass the word on to their friends, “to create extra degrees of separation and to expand your readership.”
  • Use Google Forms to make applications for potential beta readers.
  • He shares a sample paragraph to use in the form’s introduction. 
  • Mark says, “before Google Forms, we provided readers with printed questionnaires within a printed manuscript. We placed questions after key chapters, as well as at the end…. Today…you can accomplish the same feat digitally by inserting hyperlinks to different Google Forms within key points of your book…[or] simply provide a final questionnaire at the end.”
  • Thank each beta reader with a personal email.
  • We don’t have to agree with or use all the feedback we get.

Don’t miss the resources in Mark Coker’s post, Making the Most of Beta Readers.


In Introducing the Beta Reading Worksheet, Jami Gold offers important tips, too. She works with fiction writers but her advice on beta readers applies to memoirists.  

  • “…Many of us find beta readers by offering to exchange our work with other writers in a ‘I’ll give you feedback if you give me feedback’ arrangement.” That way we offer our services, rather than money, for their services.
  • Jami describes A Bad Beta Reader,
  • and A Good Beta Reader, along with recommended “critique phrases” to use—don’t miss them!
  • What If We Don’t Know What to Look For or Ask About?
  • She also shares links to her Beta Reading Worksheet.


“I like to think of beta readers as sort of junior-grade editors,” writes K.M. Weiland. “They’re not full-fledged, bona-fide, paid-and-professional types…. But that doesn’t mean they’re any less savvy—or any less important.”

In her article, Why Non-Writers are the Best Beta Readers, K.M. says we usually recruit writers to serve as beta readers because they know the specialized aspects of writing well. But she warns us not to overlook non-writers.

She raves about the feedback she got from two non-writer beta readers. “I received two whoppingly good critiques… from non-writers…. Both …brought up concerns that my writing beta readers didn’t….”

Read K.M.’s post, Why Non-Writers are the Best Beta Readers, including her list, How to Choose a Non-Writing Beta Reader.


Kathy Pooler writes, “I value this beta reading phase and am very grateful to beta readers who volunteer to take time out of their busy schedules to provide me with their honest feedback and guidance….

“The beta reading process can be grueling because you want constructive feedback, but not everyone will agree with the content or quality of your writing and it does sting. However, I’d rather find this out before rather than after publication. I have learned to filter out the feedback that makes sense and disregard the rest. I try to keep an open mind because what I want most is to present my story in the best possible way.”

Click on Kathy’s Seven Tips for Hanging On To Your Voice Through the Editing Process to learn what we all need to do well: process feedback from beta readers and various editors.  

I hope you’ve found help from these recent posts on beta readers.  

Have you started lining up your beta readers?
Do you have tips to share with us?

Leave a comment below or a message on Facebook.





Thursday, June 15, 2017

Have you lined up your beta readers yet?


You want to publish a memoir of professional quality. That means you have lots of work to do. It also means you need to enlist the help of others also committed to professional quality.

Beta readers can serve as one of your most valuable resources—but what is a beta reader?

After you, the writer/alpha reader, do your best to polish your manuscript, a beta reader reads it and makes suggestions to help you make it even better before you send it off—to an editor if you plan to self-publish, or to an agent or editor if you hope to work with a traditional publisher.

Julie-Ann Harper defines a beta reader this way: “The term ‘beta’ is borrowed from the software industry, meaning the beta tests or reads your full manuscript to help you eliminate problems so you can improve its readability, its usefulness, and even its saleability before it’s published. Beta readers help with plot holes, clarity, pacing problems and of course mistakes.”

“Authors need beta readers to understand how people read their book and…to identify confusing or irrelevant spots,” writes Amanda Shofner. “Every author has weakenesses. You do, too—but you’re blind to them. Beta readers won’t be. And soliciting feedback from beta readers is your chance to address the weak spots of your manuscript…..”

Jami Gold explains, “Beta reading is not about the reader’s knowledge of the craft of writing, but about what works and doesn’t work for them as reader.”  She also says a beta reader “can offer feedback on big-picture aspects: story arc, character development, pacing, etc….” 

In her article, TheUltimate Guide to Working with Beta Readers, Amanda Shofner covers the following topics:
  • Why beta readers?
  • Who [do] you want as a beta reader?
  • How do you prepare your manuscript for betas?
  • What do you want from your betas?
  • How do you deal with feedback (without freaking out)?
  • How do you implement beta feedback?

K.M. Weiland lists seven things to look for in a beta reader. She says, “You want someone who:
  • Enjoys your genre.
  • Understands your intentions for your stories.
  • Likes our stories, in general.
  • Isn’t afraid to tell you what isn’t working.
  • Is an experienced reader and/or writer (both bring important insights…).
  • Is reliable and trustworthy.
  • You like—and who likes you in return.”

K.M.’s post also lists links for online communities to help you find beta readers. Don’t miss her article, 15 Places to Find Your Next Beta Reader.

Be sure to read Ann R. Allen’s excellent post, All About Beta Readers: 7 Ways They Can Improve Your Book. Though she often addresses writers of fiction, Ann’s points pertain to those who write memoirs, too. She covers the following:
  • I’m in a Critique Group—Do I Need Beta Readers?
  • Do Beta Readers Have to be Writers?
  • Should You Pay for Beta Readers?
  • Beta Read Exchanges
  • Tips for Authors in a Beta Read Exchange

Ann also offers 7 Valuable Things Beta Readers Do:
  • Find Repeated Words and Phrases and Confusing or Dropped Names
  • Flag Continuity Issues
  • Catch Dropped Storylines and Loose Ends
  • Alert Authors to Murky Motivation and “Unlikeable” Characters
  • Tell Authors When They’ve Lost the Plot
  • Fine-Tune “Sensitivity” Issues
  • Tell Us What Works!

The Write Life named Ann R. Allen’s blog as one of The 100 Best Websites for Writers for 2017. Be sure to check it out. You can also follow her on Facebook.

“Wattpad is a well-established website for finding beta readers. Scribophile is famous for the detailed and helpful critiques their members exchange. Beta Reader’s Hub is a source blog for beta readers.”

Beta readers, then, help you improve your manuscript so you can publish a quality memoir.  Their feedback allows you to make changes in private so that when your book is in print, you won’t be embarrassed in public.

For now, jot down a list of people who might agree to serve as your beta readers. Then come back next week for more info about finding and working with your beta readers.





Thursday, June 8, 2017

“Marked by inner scars, yet also empowered by your experiences”

When we begin writing a memoir, we believe it's for others. We believe our story will inspire them. We hope they'll fight and win their own battles because they learned from us how to do it. We hope our stories will inspire them to arrive victoriously on the other side of their messy stuff.

But as much as our memoir is for others, part way into writing our rough drafts we discover something much bigger is happening, and it's happening inside us, the writers. And that surprises most memoirists.

We discover we're on a journey of healing.

That's because writing a memoir includes writing about the painful stuff. Often our ache is so great that we can't endure the writing. But those who persist, who write anywaycrying and clawing and fighting their way through, if necessary—find that getting their stories into writing results in healing.

Writing a memoir changes us because if we give it the needed time and dig deep enough, the process helps us wrestle with ourselves, our memories, and God.

Writing a memoir can:  
  • help us make sense of hurtful, confusing incidents,
  • reveal answers that have too long evaded us,
  • process grief,
  • reshape our perspectives,
  • help us get un-stuck, and
  • move us toward healing, forgiveness, peace, and hope for the future. 

Secular studies show that writing can improve our physical and emotional health and, I'm convinced, it improves our spiritual health as well. The most powerful result of taking time to reflect and unravel is to discover the ways God was actively, graciously, mercifully working out His good plans for us—which you and I probably didn't recognize in the midst of the incident, or saw only dimly.

In that way, writing our stories helps us learn from the past, strengthens us as individuals, deepens our relationship with God, and makes us more grateful than before.

But we won't discover the many blessings unless we're willing to take the time and make the effort to put our stories in writing.

Let's look at what others say:

“When I first started writing out my stories, facing painful memories was difficult,” writes memoirist Kathleen Pooler. “As I kept writing, new insights revealed themselves…just through the process of facing them and writing about them. I experienced healing through reading my own words and began to feel I was on the other side of the pain.” (The Role of Mindfulness and Memoir Writing in Healing: A Reflection

It's hard to go back. To take a moment to stare at the burned parts, the ones seared into the fabric of my life,writes Amanda Hill“Sometimes it's okay to remember. Because in the hurt you see all the healing that's taken place over a lifetime. You take note of the way it's formed you.... You see for the first time how far you've really come.

“[T]hrough writing I've discovered that...protecting and preserving our stories is about discovering God's story,writes Mick Silva“What he did through us, with us, in spite of us.... To speak its life-affirming power in proper words and context, it can be the delight of our lives, an endless source of inspiration.

So we work out the pain, we work through it. Mick also says, “So face the pain. And how is that done? I believe that's done by writing with God.

“Some days I could not write and some days I could only write a little,writes Martha Graham-Waldon“But by the time I finished my memoir, I did have a sense of closure and resolution of my past that brought me to a place of peace in the present. Even though writing my memoir was painful, I know it would have been even more painful not to write it. To carry around the hurt and memories like a cloud hanging over my head would have been harder still. Instead, I was able to release the clouds into bursts of cleansing rainfall and healing sunlight after the storms.” 

Sherrey Meyer writes, “With each word typed, I felt changes taking place. The invisible scars created by years of verbal and emotional abuse seemed to loosen. Old hurts seemed to soften despite the painful process of remembering.”

She also writes, “Writing soothes and heals by extracting those memories from your inner being and on the computer or paper. No longer do those bad memories live in you. You have moved them to another place and time outside yourself. ” 

You’ll especially want to read Cecil Murphey’s words. He describes himself as a “hurting, fragmented individual” as a result of childhood abuse. He writes that after he became a Christian, “I grew beyond the pain, but those childhood memories remained. For most of my life, I wanted to obliterate them.”

He shares significant lessons he has learned since then:

“First, I couldn’t undo my agony, no matter how many times I relived the memories or wished my childhood had been different.

“Second, I… connected with people on a more-than-surface level…. I sensed their pain and felt deep compassion for them…. I assumed it was in spite of my dysfunctional background—that is, that I had overcome the trauma of a negative childhood. About four years ago, however, I realized I’ve been able to connect with others because I experienced pain and struggled for spiritual healing. I call that reusing my pain.

“The agonizing memories no longer hurt or cripple me. Instead I’m using my experiences to understand others enmeshed in trauma. At the same time, my soul remains scarred. For me, that means the trauma has been covered by God’s grace, even though the distressful memories won’t be totally erased. Not only do I accept those scars, but I’m at peace. Because I experienced emotional damage and anguish, I find common meeting places with others whose wounds still fester.

“Here’s the best lesson I’ve learned: Although I’m marked by my inner scars, I’m also empowered by my experiences. I need both. We need both.”  (Scars)

Recognizing God’s loving involvement in your life,
even through the painful parts,
transforms you and deepens your faith for the future.

If you doubt that, give it a try—
write your stories,
discern what God was up to
and discover how your life and faith have changed.




Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Share what you discovered in the dark




All of us have experienced heartbreak, grief, and anguish, but too often we avoid writing about them.

How about you? Have you avoided writing the painful stuff?

Which of your stories remain untold?

If you’ll make an effort to write them, you and your readers will receive blessings beyond your imagination. 

Did you miss Thursday’s post on writing about your pain? If so, click on Writing Your Untold Stories.


Thursday, June 1, 2017

Writing your untold stories


Pain. Ache. 

Heartbreak. Grief. Anguish.

All of us have experienced such woes, but too often we avoid writing about them.



How about you? Have you avoided writing the painful stuff?

Which of your stories remain untold?

Mick Silva says writers must be willing to take a chance—to risk examining our hard bits and pieces—and then to risk writing about them.

“That necessity to risk is why writing takes courage above all else,” he says. “Risking pain to seek the deeper truths about yourself and life, risking sharing what you know. Risking paying close attention when you experience pain or fear, knowing it means you’ve been chosen to understand, express and explain this particular view of it best….”

Writing about our sorrows can bring us healing, but there’s more: God can use our stories to give others hope and faith to get through their own heartaches.

God even planned for us to do so:


2 Corinthians 1:3-4 tells us that the God of all comfort reaches out to comfort us in our troubles so that we can comfort others with the comfort we have received from Him. That means writing about God helping you through your painful experience is a sacred calling, a ministry.

Take, for example, Dana Goodman’s experience: “During my intense grieving moments, other people’s stories gave me words to describe the ache that was indescribable. They gave me hope that a new day would dawn, and I would not be stuck in the black forever.” (Dana Goodman, author, In the Cleft: Joy Comes in the Mourning)

And so, we write:

“In a world that groans of brokenness
and screams of injustice,
it matters that we hold our creative candles
right up next to the pain.”

A word of caution: Writing about heartaches and tragedies can be excruciating—because to write them requires us to relive them. If we haven’t healed enough to write those stories, we must wait until we can relive them and write them.

When we’re ready to write the hard stuff, remember: Readers need to enter our emotion and live through the experience with us. They need to make an emotional connection with us.

To “hold our creative candles right up next to the pain,” we can employ method writing, a concept Bill Roorbach explains in Writing Life Stories.

Bill’s method writing is a spin-off of method acting. Here’s how that works: Before the curtain rises, the actor remembers a time in which he experienced the emotion he needs to act out. He spends time reliving that emotion so that when he steps on stage, he is wrapped in that emotion and succeeds in playing his part.

Method writing, then, requires us to step out of the present and into the past. We must take time (make time) to remember the event and rediscover the emotions that enveloped us.

Once we are reliving that emotion, we need to find the best words to describe it. That can take a long time, but it’s worth the effort.

We also must reflect on our accompanying thoughts and imaginings. We ask ourselves:

  • What was at stake? What did I have to lose or gain?
  • What life-shaking questions did I ask myself?
  • At the time, in what ways did I envision this situation would change my life?
  • What were my hopes, fears, and prayers?

When you’re caught up again in that event, get it onto paper or computer screen because that’s how you reach your readers—that’s how they join you in your experience, that’s how they learn from your experience.  


We need each other’s stories! We need each other’s hope!

What untold stories do you need to write? Others will benefit if you’ll put them in writing.

Ask God to help you.

Abba…
Help me write in all my weakness,
in vulnerability,
bruised and broken,
in tears,
crippled,
in poverty and pain,
waiting for your strength and your timing….
Bob Hostetler’s poem, A Weak Writer’s Prayer
  



Thursday, May 25, 2017

“A title that tolls off the reader’s tongue”


Choose a title that’s easy to pronounce and easy to remember.  Jerry Waxler points out that a good title helps a reader recommend a book to a friend.  I hadn’t thought of that before, but his point caught my attention. He says, “…the title should roll off the reader’s tongue when friends ask for a recommendation.” Good stuff, Jerry!


Denis Ledoux says a memoir’s title is “about the reader not about the writer.”

Choose a title that reaches out to readers and hooks them because, Denis points out, “Many things are competing for the reader’s attention [so] a title needs to be a player in the competition.”

Think about what your potential readers need. In his post, How to Choose a Title for a Memoir, Denis asks:

  • “What is your ideal reader struggling with? Where is his pain? Place a word or two that describes that pain into the title….
  • What outcome will the reader achieve when she reads this book?...
  • How can you involve the reader’s curiosity?”


Analyze other memoirs’ titles. Study advertisements. Examine article titles in newspapers, magazines, and blogs. Ask yourself “What makes them work?”

And then have fun crafting a few possible titles for your memoir.






Thursday, May 18, 2017

Your memoir’s all-important subtitle


Your memoir’s subtitle will help you accomplish your title’s goals, which are to:
  • establish a distinct identity for your memoir,
  • catch potential readers’ attention,
  • entice them to buy your book,
  • read it when they get home,
  • and recommend it to their friends.

A good subtitle explainsilluminates, sheds light on—a book’s title. It:
  • tells potential readers how your book is different from others,
  • hints at what readers will find within your memoir,
  • expands the meaning of your title,
  • and might allude to secrets within.

Brooke Warner writes, “The most popular trend in memoir right now is to identify your key theme or themes, and build a simple subtitle around that: A Memoir of Faith, A Memoir of Resilience, A Memoir of Love and Loss.” She says that type of subtitle works “because generally memoir readers are seeking out memoirs based on themes they’re drawn to, or exploring in their own lives.”

Don’t miss Brooke’s post, An Author’s Guide to Book Subtitles. In it she includes eight Key Takeaways for Book Subtitles.


Let’s experiment. Look at these titles without their subtitles:

Spiritual Misfit

Hillbilly Elegy

The Perfect Storm

Jackie's Girl

Love, Africa

Kisses from Katie

Did those titles intrigue you? Make you want to buy them? Give you a good idea of what you’ll find inside the book? Probably not.

Now look at those same titles with their subtitles. Notice how much more they reveal about the memoirs’ contents:






Are you pleasantly surprised at how well those subtitles work? They catch a potential reader's attention, offer a distinct identity for the memoir, and hint at what readers will find within the book.

The only subtitle that's too vague is Kisses from Katie: A Story of Relentless Love and Redemption, by Katie David Majors. Readers will need to look at the back cover to learn that at age 19, Katie moved to Uganda and adopted 13 children.

Below you'll find tips for crafting a strong title and subtitle:
  • Choose a title that’s easy to understand.
  • Choose a title that’s easy to pronounce. Read your title aloud. If it’s clunky or if it’s hard to pronounce, revise it.
  • Choose a title that’s easy to remember.
  • Consider the benefits of a short, crisp title.
  • Witty can be good, but only if it really works.
  • Be concise—be sure every word needs to be there.

Don't miss Susan Kendrick's What Makes a Good Subtitle and How Long Should It Be? It's packed with helpful info. 

Remember, if a traditional publishing house publishes your memoir, that company will probably have the final say on your title. On the other hand, if you self-publish, you'll choose your title.

Either way, work hard to create an excellent title.








Thursday, May 11, 2017

Have you crafted the perfect title for your memoir?


Traditional publishing companies usually choose titles for their books, but most of us here at SM 101 won’t be working with traditional publishing companies. Instead, we will self-publish our memoirs—and that means we choose our titles.

Because a book’s title is so important, expect to work hard on crafting the very best title for your memoir.

Let’s step back a minute: How do you decide whether to buy a certain book? The first thing you notice is the title, right?

If the title doesn’t appeal to you, you put the book back on the shelf. You want a book that makes you curious, draws you in, and makes it impossible to put the book back on the shelf.

If the title does grab your attention, if you’re like me you’ll read the back cover for more info, and you open the book and read endorsements that might be at the beginning of the book. But remember, it was the title that inspired you to do so. That’s why your title is so important.

So how do you piece together The Perfect Title?

Rachelle Gardner suggests you “identify what kind of feeling or tone you want to convey in the title” and ask yourself, “Does the tone of the title match the tone of the book?”

What is tone?

YourDictionary.com says, “The tone in a story can be joyful, serious, humorous, sad, threatening, formal, informal, pessimistic, and optimistic…. Tone in writing is really not any different than the tone of your voice. You know that sometimes it is not ‘what you say,’ but ‘how you say it.’…The definition of ‘tone’ is the way the author expresses his attitude through his writing.” (Don't miss all the good stuff in Examples of Tone in a Story.) 

Daniel Scocco offers additional tips—seven methods of crafting your title.

He suggests listing nouns, verbs, and adjectives that describe your story and “combine them into different phrases.”

Daniel also suggests describing an important turning point or climax of your story, noticing key words. “Mix and match these words,” he says, “to see what works for you.” I like that: “Mix and match.”

Read the rest of Daniel’s seven tips in his post, “Picking Your Perfect Title.” They are intriguing.

With Rachelle and Daniel’s tips in mind, begin jotting down ideas—lots of ideas. Use a thesaurus to look up key words and find alternative, more interesting words.

Then take a break from your title ideas. Over the next days and weeks, you’ll be surprised at new ideas that will spring into your mind at the strangest times of the day and night. Add those possible titles to your list and again distance yourself from them.

Come back later and take a fresh look. You’ll spot some titles that you can eliminate. Polish the other possible titles and again set them aside for a while.

Next time we’ll have more advice 
on crafting a compelling title for your memoir.

For now, have fun playing around with title ideas.





Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Tuesday Tidbit: Your memoir’s title


Last week we looked at giving your memoir a temporary, working title instead of a permanent title because the process of writing often takes the story places the author never expected. If that should happen to you, you’d have to change your title. (Click on that link to read last week’s post.)

While you write your memoir, in the back of your mind play around with possible title ideas.

When you’re close to finishing your manuscript, the time has come to get serious about choosing just the right permanent title.

Kathy Pooler offers good advice in her post, “Does Your Memoir Title Pack a Punch?” She lists questions she asked herself in crafting her memoir’s title: 
  • Is the title catchy?
  • Does the title strike at the heart of my story?
  • Does my title reveal my promise to the reader?
  • Does the title create interest for the reader?


For now, then, ask yourself Kathy’s questions and come up with a few potential titles for your memoir.


And there you have it: your Tuesday Tidbit.
We’ll have more tips on Thursday, so y’all come on back!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Choosing a working title for your memoir


I’m trying to pin down the perfect title for my memoir. I’m not ready to publish the book yet, but in the back of my mind I know I’ll need to craft its title soon.

If you’re like me, you have a list of potential titles, but the best one hasn’t yet jumped off the page at you.

What can you do in the mean time? You can give your memoir a working title—a temporary, unofficial title, a title under development.  It doesn’t have to be brilliant—only you, and maybe critique partners, will know what your working title is.

Did you know it might be better to give your memoir a working title until you pin down the just-right title?

Why? Because:



The process of writing
can take your story
in a different direction
than you planned.

Denis Ledoux explains it this way: “Over the time that you linger with your story, it will frequently begin to change—not the facts and the dates, but the interpretation and the metaphors and images you use, the vignettes you choose to include or omit.  You will see your stories in ways that you may not have seen it before….”

So if you choose a title before you start writing, you might discover, in the process of writing, that your story takes on a life of its own. If your memoir heads in a different direction than you planned, you’ll probably be left with a title that’s no longer just right.

With that in mind, choose a working title, expecting to change it later, depending on what you discover as you continue to write.

In fact, you might not pin down your permanent title until you’ve finished writing your memoir, but your working title can help you discover your final title.

So, now, put on your thinking cap 
and craft a working title, 
and be sure to come back next week 
for more tips on crafting a permanent title 
for your memoir.





Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Tuesday Tidbit: On “careful and honest articulation” in writing your memoir


"Writing about the spiritual life
is like making prints from negatives....
Often it is the dark forest 
that makes us speak about the open field.
Frequently prison makes us think about freedom,
hunger helps us appreciate food,
and war gives us words for peace.

Not seldom are our visions of the future
born out of the sufferings of the present
and our hope for others out of our own despair.
Only few 'happy endings' make us happy,
but often someone's careful and honest articulation
of the ambiguities,
uncertainties,
and painful conditions of life
gives us new hope.

The paradox indeed is that
new life is born out of the pains of the old."

Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out