Monday, May 31, 2010

Beta Readers


How do you pick your beta readers? Do you have any besides friends and family?

My brother is 18 months younger than I am, and loves to read. He doesn't always have time to read as much as he likes, but he will always take the time to read one of my books. I have heard advice saying that friends and family are not the best reviewers, because they tend to be biased. However in my brothers case, he takes that into account and always seems to come up with what I consider, useful feedback.

He read my latest novel, and really liked it, except for the ending. He felt that one of my characters, whom I killed off, needed to come back. I actually agree with him. I had the similar idea when I was writing the book, but then I went to see a superagent Donald Maass seminar. He said that most novels don't push the edge, don't tug at the heart strings hard enough, so I thought that maybe if this character remained dead, it would cause a much greater emotional reaction. However, it made the story much too tragic, instead of emotionally satisfying.

I have since changed the ending so that this character makes a surprise return, and I do like it a lot.

I have a couple more readers slogging through that version of the book, and we'll see what they come up with. I'm feeling pretty good about it now, but I'd like to hear from the new readers.

These two are people that I see at the gym 5 times a week. They are both heavy readers of popular fiction, so I respect their opinion about what's good and what's not. That's not to say that I will listen to everything they say without filtering it through what I like, but I would consider them more objective than friends and family.

That's all that I use right now. I'd like to get a couple more good beta readers, but it's tough to get readers that like your genre, and style of writing.

How do you pick your beta readers? How many do you have?

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The reading we do

For today's offering, I'd like to cheat a little bit and direct our readers over to a post on another blog, which does not deal with writing so much as with reading, and how the different types of reading we do nowadays (online and offline, fiction and nonfiction, linear and non-linear, and social-networking style reading) might be conditioning us in different ways.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Feedback


I sent my latest work to a fellow writer for some feedback. She gave me her honest opinions, some good, some not so good. So now the question is, what do I do about it?

She didn't like the beginning, in fact made a comment that if she was reading for fun, she would have stopped already. Hmmm, I think the beginning needs more work.

However, the comment was related to the fact that she didn't like my out of sequence start. She felt it was confusing. The reason that I did it that way was so that I could get the story going with some action, I didn't have to do a huge info dump.

I read one of her stories (which was great) and she tended to set things up more linearly than I do, so I'm thinking it could be a taste thing. But what if it's not? What if the beginning really is confusing to most readers?

I'm trying to take that into account, while I try to process the rest of the comments.

The good news was that once she got to page 60, she really got into it, and couldn't put it down until she had finished it a day later. The comments at the end were that it was a great story.

So what do I do with the comments? I think I need more feedback. I have a couple of other readers that are making their way through it, but their progress has been really slow. Does that mean something? I don't know. It could be as they tell me, that they have been extremely busy. It is getting near summer after all.

So I have received some pretty good feedback, but I'm struggling a little as to what to do with it.

I'll wait for the other two readers before I make any changes, but right now feedback seems to be one of those things that is like "be careful what you wish for".

How about you? Have you ever received feedback that you didn't know what to do with?

Monday, May 17, 2010

My notebooks

I have developed a dependence on notebooks.

The hand-written notes I produce as part of writing are messy. At various times my notes fill spiral notebooks, duo-tang folders or three-ring binders. My notes are written sometimes to generate ideas, sometimes to record ideas, and sometimes to outline them. My notes are produced quickly and in great quantities, normally in ink, and with lots repetition, lots and lots of scribbles and occasional doodles. They are made of some complete sentences, many phrases, and oftentimes, individual words or even abbreviations. My notes include diagrams, circles, lines, arrows, and sometimes crudely drawn tables. They make no sense to anyone but me, and if I allow them to sit long enough without incorporating them into a story, they age to the point where they make no sense to me either. In this case, I tear them up (always tear, never crumble) and throw them out.

I cannot say for certain that this kind of activity is always helpful. Sometimes, for sure, it is. But other times, I suspect it is merely a good way to put off the real work of writing for another hour or another day.

So how many other notebook junkies are here? What are your notes like? And do they help you write, or merely procrastinate?

The Importance of a Good Beginning


Have you ever thought about what it would be like to be a literary agent? What if the next time to walked up to your computer and opened your email, you had 200 new messages staring back at you, all saying "read me".

What if that happened every day of the week? including weekends. How would you go about finding the 1 or 2 gems in the mountain of rocks?

How much time could you afford to spend on each item before you ran out of hours in the day?

OK, now think about the fact that you have to read all these after you have spent a full day at the office? and... it happens every day.

Do you think you might get a little jaded? Do you think you might feel like every message is the same?

Are you understanding why it is so hard to get an agent's attention? The biggest problem is that you have to stand out from the crowd.

I sometimes go to West Coast Hot Rod shows to check out the cool cars. If you like rolling art, these shows have some fantastic examples of what can happen when creativity meets old cars. There are numerous examples of cars that have been modified and customized specifically to stand out from the pack. And when you see one of these cars by themselves on a city street, they definitely do.

However, when you go to a show and see a few hundred of them side by side, they all start looking the same. The same is true of our stories. As the agent reads through literally thousands of queries in a year, they all start sounding the same.

So what do we do? Give up?

Not a chance.

The best strategy is to work on your beginnings.

Work on the first sentence of your query until you absolutely cannot make it any better. As the agent is skimming by your query, you need to grab their attention and not let them loose. That all starts with a great beginning.

Once you have the first sentence, work on the first paragraph. After the first paragraph, work on the second. Spend as much time crafting the beginning so that the agent keeps going.

Now work on the included pages. Whatever the submission guidelines suggested, make sure they are as good as you can possibly make them. Start with your first sentence, then the first paragraph, then the first page. Every one of them has to be as good as you can possibly write them.

If I were the agent, I know that I am going to skim the work. Even though I know that there are a couple of rubies hiding in the pile of shale, I am going to race through them so that I can quit reading them and get onto something a little more fun. Make sure you have spent enough time on your beginnings, that you stop the skimming.

What about you? Are you spending enough time on your beginnings?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Do the Write Thing for Nashville



While it is heartening to see the rest of the news media waking up to the fact that Nashville was overrun by water, the magnitude of the destruction breaks my heart.

There is a charity auction going on called "Do the Write Thing for Nashville." It's still going, and there are still some wonderful prizes with more being offered every day. Check it out if you haven't already!

Nashville is one of America's vibrant and best cities. If there is something in the auction that interests you, please consider bidding.


Monday, May 10, 2010

Kindle or iPad?


I really hate the names of both of these products, I really do. When the Kindle first came out, I wondered who in their marketing department had partied a little too much the night before, and hadn't come prepared to the planning meeting. When the iPad came out, I wondered what they had been smoking.

I usually like product names that reflect the usage of the device, but I guess it's not always possible to get them, or the ones they can use, are just as bad or worse than names that have no hint of the what the product does.

Since I am a gadget geek, I have one of each device. So the burning question is, which do I like better?

It depends.

I absolutely love the Kindle for the pure reading experience. It's light, the screen is fairly sharp, and it truly is visible, even in direct sunlight. For the beach reading experience, the Kindle wins hands down.

Where it doesn't work as well, is for the total book experience. For some of readers, the cover is a big part of the appeal, and it's really hard to get a decent looking cover with only shades of gray. That doesn't really bother me too much, but I do sometimes feel I am missing a little something with my Kindle books.

Where the iPad excels, is for the reading indoors experience. The high resolution screen, the page turning animation, the great color saturation, all make for a nice reading experience. In low light, it can't be beat. It's true you can get a book light for the Kindle and read that way, but I haven't yet found a light that works all that well with the Kindle screen material. I always get a glare.

Where the iPad sucks, is reading outside in the sun. That for me, is not a big deal, since I'm not really a sun worshipper (I don't tan, I turn red and then burst into flames). The other bad thing about the iPad, at least for the moment, is that the prices of the books are definitely higher. I think that this is going to change going forward, but for now, I can still get books cheaper on my Kindle.

So which one do I read on?

Both.

The great thing about the iPad is that it can run the Kindle app. So at lunchtime at work, I read my book using the Kindle app on the iPad, and before I go to sleep, I read the same book on the Kindle. The Amazon whispersync technology let's me keep track of the last place I've read from either device, and I can start there the next time I open the book. It's like having your cake and eating it too. I get the best of both worlds.

If I had to pick one, just for reading..........

I would pick the Kindle. But the versatility of the iPad for email, web browsing, mapping, etc. cannot be touched by the Kindle, so if you need that capability too, the iPad would be a good choice.

What about you? Which device do you prefer?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

When FAIL Meets Research, Bad Book Decisions Get Made


“Men don’t read.”

How often have I heard that in the past five years? A lot. Also: “Boy’s don’t read.”

I’ve been challenging this statement, not because I believe it’s false, but because it makes no sense. Who says men don’t read?

So within the last year, I’ve gone on a hole-poking expedition.

Me: “Who says men don’t read?”

Answer: “Uh, don’t know.”

Me: “I think your conclusion is based on a lack of evidence.”

Answer: "Asshole."

Online, it goes like this:

“Men don’t read.”

Me: “I assert there is a lack of evidence to support your conclusion. Prove it.”

Answer: “Here’s a NEA poll/paper. Here’s a Gallup Poll.”

Me: “I assert the NEA is a flawed research body prone to inaccuracies because scientific research is not their major function. And that Gallup Poll was from 1994. Do you have any recent, cross-referenced, non-politically biased data to support your conclusion?”

Answer: “Here’s a more recent AP-Ipsos poll!”

Me: “Of only 1000 adults, over the phone.

Answer: “So?”

Me: “Do you answer a caller ID that you don’t recognize?”

Answer: “No. So what? There is an error sample rate.”

Me: "What’s the difference between the reading habits of people who don’t answer blind phone calls or only have a cell phone and do not receive poll calls, and the reading habits of people who talk to strangers over the phone?"

Answer: “I don’t know.”

Me: “Nobody knows. Oh, and that poll doesn't back up that statement, it only says more women than men who took part in the survey read on a regular basis. And the poll is about book reading, not reading in general. Oh and...”

Answer: "Asshole."

Now, I have anecdotal evidence from multiple sources that say men aren’t buying books. Several bookstore employees have personally told me, from multiple bookstores, that over the years they are losing male buyers and gaining female buyers.

And I believe them.

But that’s buying, not reading.

Here’s some other anecdotal evidence:

  • Every single one of my male friends read books
  • All these adult men purchase books
  • All these adult men, including myself, purchase books online from either Amazon or B&N
  • SINCE 1999. Every. Single. Male. Friend. For over a decade.

Now, if someone would point to me data revealing the sex of most of Amazon’s or B&N’s book buyers, I would really love to see that data.

I do buy books at a bookstore. But, like my adult male friends, this is a very small percentage of my book purchasing dollars.

But again, we’re talking about buying, not reading.

Anecdotal means “based on anecdotes or hearsay: consisting of or based on secondhand accounts rather than firsthand knowledge or experience or scientific investigation.

Here’s my assertions:

  • I believe publishing industry people when they say men aren’t buying their books
  • I believe my male friends buy many books through Amazon and B&N
  • I believe the NEA is not a trustworthy source of scientific based research
  • I believe phone polling of reading habits is fundamentally flawed
  • I believe correlation does not imply causation
  • I do not believe people who tell me men/boy’s don’t read

What do you believe about men and reading habits?

And if you have any real data, I would love to see it!

Monday, May 3, 2010

I have seen the future of reading


I have seen the future of reading, and it's awesome. I am a total gadget geek and I had to have the new iPad. WiFi only connection wasn't good enough for me, so I pre-ordered the 3G model and it arrived yesterday. One word. AWESOME

Yes, I know, it doesn't do everything a netbook does, but I don't care, I have a laptop for those tasks. What it does do well is surf the web, run cool apps, show stunning slideshows, amazing videos, and lots of other things.

One of those other things, is display books. It's large color screen makes it great for displaying very detailed renderings of the text of the book, but it can also display crisp images. If you think about the printing costs of sharp color images in a typical book, the costs are prohibitive, while including them in an ebook only costs a few megabytes.

I'm not saying that every book needs, or even wants to have high resolution color images, but I can imagine that even including a few as needed, could be an incredible advantage over a printed book. For instance wouldn't it be great if you could include a detailed map of your world? How about one that's interactive so that users could explore it as they are reading the story?

I realize that like any new technology, it can be taken too far. Remember when word processors first came out and you could suddenly use a 100 different fonts? (Yes, I am dating myself) Some people did use all the fonts with the disastrous results that the document was unreadable. I see the same thing happening with some of the interactive technology possible in eReaders, but I also see that at some point designers will settle on a style that feels right, one that makes sense, much like happened with documents in Word. Yes, you can use multiple fonts, yes, you can use underlining, bold, and italics, but with a judicious tasteful application, I feel that documents now, are much better than they were 30 years ago, and that's the future of reading. I don't know about you, but I can't wait.

Just for fun, I've thrown in an example of just how far the technology can go. I personally think this is too far, but as with the documents with too many fonts and colors, at some point, the industry will settle on something great.