Category: amwriting

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During our “Now What?” Months, we’re talking to Wrimos who’ve published their NaNoWriMo projects and asking them about the steps they took to make it happen. Today, Dan Frey, author of recent release The Retreat, shares some tips on practices to get your novel published:

I’ve wanted to be an author since I was 10, when I first read Tolkien. I was a weird kid who didn’t fit in at school, and my parents were going through a messy divorce. But I found refuge in fantasy, and devoured The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. When it was over, I didn’t want the story to end, so I started writing what we’d now call fan-fiction, while dreaming that one day I’d write a book of my own.

But then, life happened. My interests shifted. I wrote plays, then advertising copy, and eventually worked my way to a career as a screenwriter. Which was incredibly exciting, but it could also be creatively frustrating, since none of my work was getting produced.

I first heard about NaNoWriMo on the podcast Scriptnotes, where Grant Faulkner discussed the program with John August. I was so inspired by the idea, I joined the community that day, and decided to try it myself.

With an idea that I’d been kicking around for a year, I dove in and started my first novel, The Retreat, in November 2017. I completed 50,000 words within the month, which put me within range of finishing a draft by the end of the year.

After a few rounds of revision, I eventually found an agent, who sent the novel out and got some interest, but alas, not a buyer. Nonetheless, I was so encouraged by how fulfilling the process had been, I decided to try another NaNoWriMo in 2018, and started work on a sci-fi book called The Future. Again, I got a strong start in November, and finished it off that momentum.

While I was working on the second book, to my great surprise, The Retreat DID find a buyer. Namely Audible, which saw it as a good fit for release as an Audible Original. It debuted on the service in December, and it’s available now!

Shortly after the sale of The Retreat, my agent took out my second NaNoWriMo book, and got interest from multiple publishers. That book sold to Del Rey, who actually offered a deal for 2 books (The Future and another that I’ll write next).

So I’ve done 2 NaNoWriMo’s, written 2 novels… and somehow sold 3 books in the process (many thanks to my amazing agent Zoe Sandler at ICM!). More importantly, I’ve achieved a childhood dream, and I know that 10-year-old-me would have his mind blown if he could see what lay ahead.

I hope NaNoWriMo inspires many more people, and for anyone contemplating their first or tenth novel, here are a few practices that I follow:  

1. Know where you’re going, but don’t plan every detail.  

If you want to actually finish a book, it’s helpful to have a broad-strokes idea of the major plot turns, but leaving room for discovery along the way keeps the process interesting. To me, the ideal outline is a stack of 30-50 note cards.

2. Write about something you can’t shut up about.  

Instead of “write what you know,” write about something you want to talk about endlessly. The subject you’re hoping someone else at a party is up for discussing and debating into the wee hours. Whether it’s fashion history or 90’s video games, finding a world you’re driven to learn about and wrestle with will give you endless material.

3. Listen to your community.

Share your book with friends, family, and other writers, and then (the hard part) honestly listen to their feedback. Don’t justify or defend your choices; the reader is never wrong.

4. Rewrite aggressively.

First drafts are full of the joy of discovery, but the wheat is separated from the chaff by drafts 2 through 5+. Build a process so you can iterate systematically, rather than spending hours moving commas.

5. Journal daily.

Even if starts as just a page a day of random thoughts, I don’t know of any better practice to cultivate sanity, discipline, honest self-reflection, and creative flexibility.


Dan Frey is a writer of film, television, theater, and now fiction. With his screenwriting partner Ru Sommer, he has developed projects for Fox, Paramount, YouTube Premium, and the Disney+ streaming service, among others. The Retreat is his first work of fiction, and his second, The Future, will be published by Penguin Random House in 2020. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife Casey and their poodle Winston. On Twitter, he’s @wordsbydanfrey

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Every year, we’re lucky to have great sponsors for our nonprofit events. Fiverr, a NaNoWriMo 2020 sponsor, is here to help you with some editing tips to get your novel ready to publish:

You and your manuscript have spent a lot of time together over the past few months (or maybe even lifetime). Take a minute to marvel at your masterpiece. You started November a writer and ended a novelist. You did what most people only dream of—you sat down and wrote the darn thing. Bravo.

It’s totally normal to want to take a breather and step away from your first draft for a while. Once you’re ready to dive back in—because you wrote those 50,000 words, and they should be read!—reread it. See what’s working and what needs to be rewritten. When you’re finally happy with the revisions and ready to start thinking about publishing, it’s time to finally ask for some help. Call in editors, designers, marketers, etc. Editing, polishing, and designing your novel before you’re ready to publish is key, and you’re going to want to call on professionals to make sure the process is as smooth as possible. 

The path to publishing is different for everyone. Some want to connect directly with publishers, while others are planning to self-publish. For both paths, there  are websites like Fiverr. Fiverr—the freelancer marketplace—launched a new store that includes hundreds of digital services for taking your manuscript to the next level. 

Check out our tips below for editing, designing, and promoting your novel: 

  • Editing 101: Get a fresh pair of eyes on your manuscript to do deep developmental edits, catch mistakes, and utilize feedback to strengthen your manuscript. Find freelancers for everything from content editing to proofreading to beta reading.   
  • Make a lasting impression, from cover to cover: All the effort you put into writing your novel will be for nothing if you don’t capture the attention of your readers immediately. Packaging your novel right is important to position it for the market. Hire an expert for freelance services like cover design, book interiors, illustration, book blurbs and more.  
  • Ready, set, launch: You may be planning to pitch your novel to traditional publishers, or are looking to market on your own. Who is your target audience? What is your angle?  Come prepared with a book proposal, professional book trailer, and a solid marketing plan in place.

Ready to roll up your sleeves and get to work? Here’s a novel idea: visit Fiverr’s store to get started.

Top photo by Adli Wahid on Unsplash.

Fanfiction sometimes gets a bad rap, but it can be a great form to help you develop story ideas with characters you already know and love. Today, writer Monique Busacay is here to share some of the best things about fanfic:

It’s a warm afternoon in 2004. I’m in my 6th grade computer literacy class, finishing up an assignment that was teaching us how to use different search engines (before Googling became a word). Upon submission, a friend of mine shows me a website called fanfiction.net.

I didn’t understand fanfiction, at first. Fifteen years later, my understanding has transformed into an outlet for when I need a break from mid-20s crises and lore so complex it needs its own book.

Fanfiction, or fanfic for short, is any form of writing in which characters and their respective universes already exist. The definition by itself exhibits one advantage a writer can have over writing original fiction: a world is already established for them. No long nights slaving over character appearances or favorite foods or how they’d react if another character professed their love for them. Even then, a writer can defy the world that’s been created and bring the characters into a new light. Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen can be thrown into 2019 where Instagram exists and dragons don’t. Tony Stark and the rest of the Avengers can be alive and well in a D&D universe full of goblins and mana potions. Behind the fanfic door is a plethora of possibilities and fans creating new stories for already-beloved characters.

That’s another quirk of fanfic: the familiarity of the characters. We’re all so drawn to our favorites in all forms of media. Whether you stan Katsuki Bakugo or All Might in his true form, the writer is able to single out their favorites and utilize or manipulate their given personality to their own stories. Jesse McCree can be a doting father to a little girl instead of working for a covert division of Overwatch. Link can wield his hands for sign language at a school instead of a Master Sword in the middle of Hyrule. Writing fanfic has drawn me closer to my favorite characters. Every word is written with care. I can mix canon lore with a story of my own. Overwatch can be a coffee shop, Zelda can be an heiress to her father’s hotel. The creativity doesn’t stop and I’m sure more writers out there can come up with more prompts to support their peers.

The NaNoWriMo community itself is a motivating, driven group that always inspires me to keep writing yearlong when I’m unable to participate in the events. Fanfiction communities are the same. Writers across Archive of Our Own, WattPad, and more are their own worlds of kudos and comments, alongside being a hub of the most accessible creative works on the Internet (It’s all free!). I’ve met so many writers on Ao3 who love the same tropes as I do. We message each other to beta-read works, to toss around ideas, to scream about real-life problems. It’s a wonderful way to start writing, especially for those who may be intimidated by starting from scratch. I wish I could meet every writer I’ve met through fanfiction in person; we’re friends beyond words and bending canon to our liking.

To the writers out there who are doubting writing fanfiction, I say go for it. Fanfic is just as valid as its counterpart, and it has its perks. Perhaps one day, someone will stumble upon your work late at night, craving a new adventure with their favorite characters. And that joy is what makes fanfic all worth it.


When she’s not hand-drawing charts and writing practice questions for pharmacy school assessments, Monique is an active writer in and out of the internet. You can find her practicing poetry in a bullet journal or smashing out fanfic on a Saturday night in the comfort of her own home, because all of her social media is closed to the public.

Top photo by Artur Tumasjan on Unsplash.

Looking for advice on editing your manuscript?

If you have questions about how to turn your first draft into a polished, submittable manuscript, we’re here with a professional who can give you some answers! 

Literary agent and editor Elizabeth K. Kracht will be joining us tomorrow, February 6, at 1:00 PM PST, for a live webcast to chat and do some query letter crafting exercises from her new book, The Author’s Checklist: An Agent’s Guide to Developing and Editing Your Manuscript

The bad news: even really good manuscripts have weak spots that are enough to garner rejections from agents and publishers.

The good news: most of these problems are easy to fix—once the writer sees and understands them. 

After several years of evaluating manuscripts, Elizabeth noticed that many submissions had similar problems, so she began to make a list of the pitfalls. The Author’s Checklist offers her short, easy-to-implement bites of advice, illustrated by inspiring—and cautionary—real-world examples.

Elizabeth K. Kracht is a literary agent with Kimberley Cameron & Associates, and a freelance editor. She often participates in writers’ conferences nationally and internationally and lives in Tiburon, California.

Every year, we’re lucky to have great sponsors for our nonprofit events. Today, Nathan Wilcox of Writers’ Clearinghouse, a NaNoWriMo 2019/2020 sponsor, is here to help you with an in-depth publishing how-to:

So you finished a novel. You’ve spent hundreds of hours writing. You’ve studied writing manuals. You’ve edited until your eyes crossed. You’ve recruited your friends to provide feedback. You’ve completed one of the greatest of all human accomplishments: You are a novelist.

The hard part is done, right? You’ll just send some letters off to agents and sit back and wait for them to come begging. Only it’s most likely not the agents that come calling. It’s their little red gremlin friends bent on destroying your will as an author: rejections.

Rejection is a part of being an author. Even the greatest authors have faced piles of rejections, and unless you’re ridiculously lucky, so will you. Personally, I’ve had 147 rejections across two manuscripts. Rejection is going to happen, but the truth is that it doesn’t matter. What matters is acceptance – you only need one “yes” to make all the “no’s” irrelevant. So rather than worry about rejections, let’s talk about how to get accepted.  

All those rejections are exactly why we spent a full year studying why manuscripts are rejected and how authors can improve their chances of going from rejections to acceptance. From what we learned, we formed Writers’ Clearinghouse with a mission of making it easier for authors to get feedback and to get noticed.

Step 1: Query the right agents. 

In this new-fangled internet age, there is honestly no excuse for not researching the agents you plan to query. The information is out there, it is easy to access, and it is (mostly) free. 

First, make sure that you find agents that represent your genre and target audience. Agents are people (hard to believe, I know). And just like you and me, they have certain types of books that they like to read and certain types they don’t. Compile a list of agents that represent the genre you write. The easiest way to do this is to visit one of the many agent databases out there:

Once you’ve found agents who are interested in what you write, then you should narrow your list. There are over a thousand agents out there. And unless you’re writing something like literary westerns in verse, there are probably hundreds that represent your genre. We recommend working in batches of 10-15 queries at a time. Here are a few questions that can help:

  • Do you want a young, hungry agent? Or a more established (but potentially more selective) agent?
  • Do you have any connection to an agent – met them at a conference, went to same university, live in same city, grew up in same area, have serious blackmail dirt?
  • When you read her bio, how did you feel about her? Did an agent stand out as someone you’d really like to work with?
  • Did an agent mention liking or looking for something that is similar to what you’ve written?

Once you have your list, thoroughly research those agents. What kind of books do they currently represent? Which authors do they represent? What have they sold in the past? Are they open for queries? All the information from this research will allow you to make sure that you are querying the right agents and that you are writing a query letter that appeals to their specific desires. 

Step 2: Write a query letter that captures an agent’s attention. 

Agents receive hundreds of query letters EVERY WEEK. They make decisions based on a small slice of information, and for pure survival, they have to look for reasons to reject submissions, not accept them. So how do you make it as hard as possible for them to reject your query? 

Follow the formula: Agents have certain expectations regarding query letters, and if you don’t meet those basic requirements, it will result in almost instantaneous rejection. A query letter is a sales letter. You are trying to get an agent to bite on your manuscript, to read the pages you’ve submitted, to ask for more. 

Luckily, a lot of really smart people have written articles on how to write a query letter. And because they’re all very good, I’ll let you read them yourself: 

Get your letter reviewed by a professional: Remember, you only have one shot to impress an agent. The future of your entire novel (all those hours, all the sweat and tears and frustration) rests on 300 words. That’s why we recommend you have an expert look at your query letter before you send it. A list of services that will help you polish your query letter are below:

Step 3: Write an amazing opening. 

An agent read your query letter. Her hand wavered above the big red REJECT button, but something caught her attention, and she thought, “Alright, let’s see.”

Now that agent is going to read your writing sample. Typically, this will be the first five to ten pages of your manuscript. There is an old adage that the first sentence is the most important sentence, the first page is the most important page, the first chapter is the most important chapter. The reason is obvious: if a reader doesn’t get past the first sentence, the first page, the first chapter, she won’t read your book. The same thing applies to agents.

Luckily, just like with query letters, a lot has been written about how to craft an amazing first chapter. Here are some of our favorites:

There are many more articles. You can also find webinars, videos, and workshops through your local writing association or conference. The point is that those first five to ten pages need to be dynamite, because if they’re not, the agent will not request any more.

Get your opening reviewed by a professional: Just like with the query letter, I would suggest that the first ten pages of your manuscript are far too important to leave to chance. After all the time, effort, and yes, money, you’ve put into your novel, a review of the pages that will sell it is a small investment, especially since you can get a review for as little as $20. We had a harder time finding services that will review only the first few pages, but here are a few:

Step 4: Have a publication-ready manuscript. 

You’ve researched the best agents, you’ve written the perfect query letter, your first ten pages are unforgettable, and an agent has just asked to see your full manuscript! This is it. You’re on your way! 

Or… you wait six months and hear nothing – except your own whimpers. Trust me, I’ve been there. My latest work received several requests for the full manuscript when I queried, but when I sent it, I just got silence, crickets, the radio static from a post-apocalyptic drama. 

What went wrong? I never would have known that the first third of my manuscript was critically flawed if one (incredibly kind) agent hadn’t taken the time to write me a page of notes. Critique groups are great. Beta readers are really helpful. But you know what? Unless you’re really lucky, your beta readers and critique group (as amazing as they are) do not know what it takes to get a book published. 

You know who does? Agents and professional editors. Many editors provide a quicker, cheaper assessment of your manuscript that tells you exactly where it stands. If it’s ready to go, they tell you. If it needs work, they tell you where. Then, you can decide what to do next: submit it, revise it, hire a professional editor. But at least you know that you are not wasting your time by sending out a flawed manuscript. 

Below is a list of companies that provide manuscript evaluation services. We, of course, suggest Writers’ Clearinghouse, not only because we’re the cheapest but also because we provide a comprehensive breakdown of your manuscript in twenty areas along with a score that you can use as part of your queries to tell agents exactly how great your manuscript is.

  • Writers’ Clearinghouse: $350 ($50 + $5 / 1,000 word) — Frequent discounts; Evaluation in 20 categories with comments and suggestions by former agents
  • Writers’ Digest Shop: $730 ($3 per page) — High-level comments in key areas, independently contracted editors
  • Manuscript Critique Ninja: $595 (up to 100,000 words) — 20 years industry experience, editorial letter and creative suggestions
  • Friesen Press: $499 (up to 60k words) — 5 – 6 page editorial letter, professional editor
  • Page Turner Manuscript Evaluations: $1,440 — “Big picture deep analysis” in 10 areas
  • Strong Tower Publishing: $490 ($10 + $2 per page) — Top-level analysis and page-by-page discussion without specific suggestions 
  • Clear Voice Editing: $660 ($2.75 per page) — Overview of strengths and weaknesses as well as detailed feedback at the chapter level

Finally, to finish my story, I purchased an evaluation from Writers’ Clearinghouse for my manuscript (because I’m not only an owner, I’m a customer). I just wish I’d been able to do it before I sent my manuscript to all those agents because the Writers’ Clearinghouse review told me the exact same thing that agent did (practically word for word). The problem was there the entire time. If I’d only found and fixed it before I sent my manuscript to all those agents, I might be on my way to publication right now.

Step 5: Keep writing.

Sometimes, we can do all the right things, tick off every box, follow every step, and things still don’t work out. And not every book is going to find an agent much less a publisher. 

So, what’s an author to do? KEEP WRITING!

You’re a writer, after all, so WRITE! Start the next project, use everything you’ve learned, keep getting better, and then do it all over again. 

But first, I think you owe it to yourself, to your work, to your characters, to your world, to do everything you can to get your book published. You’ve spent countless hours writing that manuscript. You’ve sacrificed for it. You’ve paid for conferences and workshops and tutorials and writing manuals. You’ve called in every favor and strained every friendship to solicit critiques and beta readers.

So why wouldn’t you spend the time and money to give that work every possible chance to succeed? And in the end, it’s not that much time, it’s not that much money. For less than $400 you can have a former agent or editor review your query letter, first ten pages, AND entire manuscript. 

Is your writing worth it? I think it is.

Nathan Wilcox is a business development expert turned author who quickly learned how frustrating and opaque the process of getting published can be. He founded Writers’ Clearinghouse to take the guesswork out of publication by providing low-cost evaluations that tell authors if their manuscripts are ready for publication and if not, where they should focus their efforts. To learn more about Writers’ Clearinghouse, visit us at writersch.com.

Top photo via Adobe Stock images.

Ready to pitch your novel to the pros? Here’s a message from The Book Doctors to tell you how!

You wrote your 50,000 words (or got pretty close!). You’re a winner. You felt the high. Now what are you going to do with your precious manuscript? That’s where we, The Book Doctors, come in.

For those of you not familiar with Pitchapalooza, here’s the skinny: You get 250 words to pitch your book. Twenty pitches will be randomly selected from all submissions. We will then critique the pitches during a live webinar on March 14, 12PM PT, so you get to see what makes a great pitch. At the end of the webinar, we will choose one winner from the group.

The winner will receive an introduction to an agent or publisher appropriate for their manuscript.

Beginning February 1, 2020, you can email your pitch to nanowrimo@thebookdoctors.com. PLEASE DO NOT ATTACH YOUR PITCH, JUST EMBED IT IN THE EMAIL. Include your title and your name at the top of your pitch. All pitches must be received by 11:59PM PT on February 29, 2020.

We will also crown a fan favorite who will receive a free one-hour consult with us (worth $250). On March 15, 2020, the 20 random pitches will be posted on our website, www.thebookdoctors.com. Anyone can vote for a fan favorite, so get your social media engine running as soon as the pitches go up! Connecting with your future readers is a vital part of being a successfully published author today. And this is a great way to get some practice. Voting closes at 11:59PM PT on March 31, 2020. The fan favorite will be announced on April 1, 2020.

If you purchase a new copy of our book, The Essential Guide To Getting Your Book Published, by April 2, 2020, we’re offering an exclusive one-hour webinar where you’ll get the chance to pitch your book. Just attach a copy of your sales receipt to your email and we’ll send the link to the webinar dates.

NaNoWriMo Pitchapalooza Success Stories

It’s been a great year for past NaNoWriMo Pitchapalooza winners. Gloria Chao won the 2015 NaNoWriMo Pitchapalooza with the novel that would become her critically-acclaimed debut American Panda. Her second novel, Our Wayward Fate, came out in 2019 from Simon Pulse. Gloria also sold the rights to her next novel Rent a Boyfriend with publication planned for fall 2020. Read Gloria’s winning NaNoWriMo Pitchapalooza pitch.

“Winning Pitchapalooza gave me confidence and the courage to keep fighting. It also helped bring my manuscript to the next level.”

–Gloria Chao

In 2016, May Cobb ran away with NaNoWriMo Pitchapalooza. She’s been capturing attention ever since. This time it was a “heated six-publisher auction” that ended with Berkley winning the rights to publish her latest thriller The Hunting Wives, which was pitched as In a Dark, Dark Wood meets Mean Girls. Berkley plans an early 2021 release. Read May’s winning pitch.

“Having my pitch selected as the 2016 winner for Pitchapalooza was such a boost! Of course it was wonderful to win, but even more than that, having the Book Doctor’s feedback on my pitch was instrumental.”

–May Cobb

Stacy McAnulty has been on fire since she won our third NaNoWriMo Pitchapalooza. Her latest middle grade novel, The World Ends in April, is out now from Random House Books for Young Readers. Shelf Awareness gave it a starred review and called it “a smart, funny and emotionally candid book.” Stacy also signed a deal with Random House to publish another middle grade novel, A Penny Doubled, pitched as How to Steal a Dog meets Brewster’s Millions. Look for it in spring 2021. Read Stacy’s winning pitch.

Cari Noga was one of our first NaNoWriMo Pitchapalooza winners. Her winning novel, Sparrow Migrations, went on to be a semi-finalist in the 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest, then she received an acquisition offer from Lake Union Publishing. Her latest novel, The Orphan Daughter (Lake Union Publishing), released last year. Read Cari’s winning pitch.

Are you feeling a little unsure about exactly how to craft your pitch?  We’ve got you covered.

10 TIPS FOR PITCHING YOUR NOVEL

  1. A great pitch is like a poem.  Every word counts.
  2. Make us fall in love with your hero.  Whether you’re writing a novel or memoir, you have to make us root for your flawed but lovable hero.
  3. Make us hate your villain.  Show us someone unique and dastardly whom we can’t wait to hiss at.
  4. Just because your kids love to hear your story at bedtime doesn’t mean you’re automatically qualified to get a publishing deal. So make sure not to include this information in your pitch.
  5. If you have any particular expertise that relates to your novel, tell us. Establishing your credentials will help us trust you.
  6. Your pitch is your audition to show us what a brilliant writer you are, so it has to be the very best of your writing.
  7. Don’t make your pitch a book report.  Make it sing and soar and amaze.
  8. A pitch is like a movie trailer.  You start with an incredibly exciting/funny/sexy/romantic/etc. close-up with intense specificity, then you pull back to show the big picture and tell us the themes and broad strokes that build to a climax.
  9. Leave us with a cliffhanger.  The ideal reaction to a pitch is, “Oh my God, what happens next?”
  10. Show us what’s unique, exciting, valuable, awesome, unexpected, about your project, and why it’s comfortable, familiar and proven.

Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry have appeared everywhere from NPR’s Morning Edition to The New York Times to The Wall Street Journal to USA Today. They have taught everywhere from Stanford University to the Miami Book Festival to the granddaddy of American bookstores, Strand Books in New York City.

Their book, The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published, is the go-to book on the subject, and contains all the information you’ll ever need, taking you through the entire process of conceiving, writing, selling, marketing and promoting your book.

When you finally finish your NaNoWriMo novel, the options for taking the next step can be overwhelming. Today, writer Sarah Beaudette of The Spun Yarn gives you a few tips on finding beta readers that will help you take your novel to the next level:

When NaNoWriMo ends, you’ve probably finished both your draft and your self-congratulatory cake, bottle(s) of Scotch, really involved vegan lasagna, (or whatever you do to celebrate). Once you’ve taken time away from the manuscript to regain some precious objectivity, you are now entering The Editing Realm. 

Here’s where it gets tricky if you actually want this baby to make it into the world. For one thing, you’ve got a lot of options: self-editing, developmental editor, self-publishing, traditional publishing… the list is nearly endless.

BEFORE you engage in this choose-your-own-adventure terror, it’s fairly standard to get a few beta readers. If your book is your baby—something you and the universe have created using your genetic material and life experience but which will ultimately live out in the world—who are the first people you trust to hold this fragile, precious, bloody thing?

The people who love you and who you love the most. Natch. Many writers send their newborn draft to their parents, partners, and best friends. This is all good. The writing experience is raw. You need to be acknowledged for the incredible work you’ve put in. You need to share the exultation, and to hear how beautiful it is, how perfect, how new.

After that? It could be a few years or a few months, because your book is not actually a child, but it if it were, you would need to send that kid to kindergarten. You would need to put that beautiful child into the hands of an experienced, loving, qualified stranger, who can help you guide it to its ultimate potential. 

Here are a few things to look for when you’re casting your beta reading net:

1. You need compassionate strangers. 

You need to know what you’re really looking at here. The [kindergarten teacher/beta reader] loves [kids/books], and they can be honest about what your [kid/book] needs to succeed, in comparison to the hundreds of other [kid/books] they’ve seen. 

2. You need people, plural, so you can view suggestions as objectively as possible. 

Your instinct is going to be to disagree with people, because you wrote it the way you wrote it for a reason: My kid is perfect! You’re open to feedback, but it should be persuasive. It’s hard to get more persuasive than two people who have never met one another, and who independently agree on the same thing. If two babysitters say that Jimmy likes to smear his boogers on the dog when you’re gone and neither babysitter has met the other… well. When it’s time to decide how to edit, you want that decision to be clear by virtue of consensus. When it comes to beta readers, one is not enough. 

3. You need professionalism: people who stick to a deadline, and actually, you know, read the whole book. 

You think we jest. Ask your writer friends how many people (even within their inner circle), have read the whole book, in a reasonable amount of time, and have given a thoughtful, thorough, opinion. You can tell when someone skims. If they skimmed, how can you trust that feedback? And why did you go to the trouble in the first place? Were you trying to write the best book you could write, or did you just want to tick the beta reader box and go on telling yourself your kid is perfect?

4. It would be great if your beta readers have read a lot in your genre. 

Each genre has its own standards, conventions, tropes. If you wrote a western, you don’t want people focusing more on your prose than your action. The reverse is also true. If you wrote an upmarket women’s fiction manuscript, a thriller fan might think it’s moving more slowly than it should. Moreover, someone who reads a lot in your genre can tell you when you’re relying too heavily on genre tropes. They can also tell you when you’ve got something the genre hasn’t seen enough of, and really needs.

5. You need your beta readers to bring the reading experience to the table. 

If you wrote a YA, who but an actual teen can say if your dialogue is like, so awkward? If you set your story in Alaska, you better know an Alaskan. If you really think you nailed it, test it. Be courageous. Who is your book is for? Find those people. They want you to succeed and they’ll be excited to help you level up.

Like anything, finding beta readers takes some work. There are services out there that help standardize the experience, give you what you pay for in terms of demographics, deadlines, structure, depth, and actionability. Or you can do it on your own. That’s the great thing about writing today. You actually can choose your own adventure, and if you want to survive this gauntlet and come out with a wise, seasoned, brilliant book that will take over the world, you’re going to need some help along the way. 

Sarah Beaudette is a writer and Chief Editor at The Spun Yarn, where they believe that writing is hard and getting honest feedback shouldn’t be. Learn more about feedback that empowers authors to make decisions at thespunyarn.com.

Top photo by Tamarcus Brown on Unsplash.

People tend to think that authors only write alone, but that definitely doesn’t have to be the case! Today, writer Sharon L. Clark discusses some of the ways that finding a writing group has helped her with her writing:

We’ve all heard how writing is a solitary pursuit. It can be a challenge to sit in a room full of people while trying to listen to the voices in your head so you can put it all down on paper.

I mean, everyone does that, right?

Writing with a group doesn’t have to be difficult. I’ve found that some of my best work has come out when I was surrounded by my circle of like-minded authors. Through my regional NaNoWriMo writing group, I was fortunate to be thrust into a room full of talented people who wanted nothing more than to reach their word count and drag me, kicking and screaming, along with them. Their blind faith in me was infectious and I found myself—after my first NaNo—recruiting others to meet weekly, planning dinners, and trying to be that voice of inspiration that keeps a struggling author from walking away. 

There are astounding benefits to finding or building your personal writing clan. 

First and foremost is accountability. It may just be me, but when I’m home there are a million other things that I should probably get done before I sit down and indulge my writing habit. The dogs are always in need of a walk or a snack, the laundry is never ending, dinner won’t cook itself, or my DVR is full of unwatched episodes of my favorite shows. But when I go to an outside location to meet other people who are expecting me to write, it’s as though I can finally give myself permission to indulge my creativity.

Plus, the others will be able to see if I’m doing nothing but watching endless funny animal videos.

You can find information for basically anything on the internet, and that includes hints and tips on writing techniques. But how much more do we retain by being able to ask questions of a live person who has been there and done that? The writing community around you is a wealth of knowledge about whatever you need to know. Whether it’s plotting, fighting through writer’s block, or using new software, chances are better than good that someone in your writing community has experience they will be more than happy to share.

For me, personally, the most rewarding aspect of finding my writing group has been their support, encouragement, and friendship. The circle of authors I met through NaNoWriMo are wonderful sounding boards, cheerleaders, editors, and friends. I genuinely enjoy being around them and, even more importantly, I trust them. I trust them to be honest but not mean, to build me up without exaggerating, and to be there for me when I need a boost as I hope they know I’m there for them.

I strongly encourage you to look at the groups in your nearest region. Try a few on for size until you find the one that’s just right for you, and you will find that the rewards will be plentiful and well worth the effort.


Sharon L. Clark is an author, wife, and mother living in Des Moines, Iowa. She has written a collection of short stories and serials and one of her short ghost stories has been included in a Halloween collection, Chills Down Your Spine: A Scary Halloween Anthology. More samples of Sharon’s work can be found on the writers’ website Channillo and on her website SharonLClark.com, or you can follow her writing journey on Twitter or Facebook.

Top photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash.

Happy Friday, writers! 

Tag yourself: which author persona do you use most often?

[IMAGE DESCRIPTION: A meme showing four different writer “profile pictures”. On the top left is LINKEDIN: A man in a suit typing on a computer with a fancy messenger bag beside him, with the NaNoWriMo logo on the bag. On the top right is FACEBOOK: two women writing together at a table with computers, a ukulele, and mugs of coffee, with the NaNoWriMo logo on the wall. On the bottom left is INSTAGRAM: A notebook propped up against a couple of plants on a wooden desk, with the NaNoWriMo logo on the notebook. On the bottom left is TINDER: A woman with the NaNoWriMo logo over her face, flinging her hair back on a bed while books magically seem to fly around her.]

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There can be many challenges to writing and editing… and even more when multiple languages are involved! If you’re a writer who dabbles in different languages, NaNoWriMo writer Claudia Schmidhuber has some tips:

For many of us NaNoWriMo starts with questions like these: Who are my characters? What is my plot? Where are my 500 gallons of coffee? For some of us NaNoWriMo starts with a question like this: Which language do I write this in?

If you didn’t grow up in an English-speaking country, or grew up speaking more than one language, you might have run into that exact problem. You might have wondered if you should give writing in the language you’re less comfortable with a shot. Particularly when your second language is English, you might have considered that writing in English instead of your native language will give you a larger audience later on. Or maybe you’re just in the mood to challenge yourself. 

There’s a variety of issues that are likely to hold you back. You don’t want to spend half of your writing time looking up words you don’t know, you think your grammar isn’t up to par, and maybe you feel like your writing won’t be good enough if you write in a language you’re not as familiar with. Many of us have been there. And we decided to go for it anyway. 

Here’s what you can do to make things easier for yourself (other than getting those 500 gallons of coffee): Find fellow writers who speak the language you’re writing in, be it in forums, on Twitter, on Discord, or in whatever other spaces are available to you. It’s not so much about having someone to correct your spelling and grammar – honestly, spell check will help you out quite a bit here – but more about having someone to ask, “Hey, do you actually say this?” You’ll learn vocabulary, idioms and phrases at school and later on you’ll find out that no one who speaks the language you learned actually says those things in real life.

If you struggle with vocabulary, don’t hesitate to put words in your native language in the middle of a sentence. Go ahead and write entire sentences in your native language. Make sure you can find them again later and look up those words once you’ve come to a point where checking a dictionary won’t interrupt your flow of writing. Don’t be scared of the Grammar Police. You’re learning a language and you’re allowed to make mistakes! You’re doing something really impressive and, no matter which language you’re writing in, your first draft doesn’t have to perfect. 

At the end of your foreign language adventure, you’ll know tons of new words, you’ll have great new friends to practice that other language with, even when you’re not writing, and most of all, you’ll be extremely proud of yourself for writing a whole story in a non-native language.

Claudia Schmidhuber is a frequent NaNoWriMo participant from Germany. She started writing as a hobby while pursuing her BA in Literature and wrote her first novel in English. She hasn’t looked back since. You can follow her on Twitter @ahlettuce.

Top photo licensed under Creative Commons by Clair Pickworth on Flickr.