Create a Specialized Group For More Interaction

Last week, I discussed why it’s important to create a Facebook (FB) page now regardless if you’re published or not. Now, there’s a catch with the Pages, and this is the overall lack of interaction with your followers. I’m not saying you won’t have any interaction with anyone—just not as much the Page gives you the illusion of having. This is because of the inability to tag people in posts (unless in comments, but even then it’s unreliable) and not everyone who likes your page will see every post you make. So what is a good alternative? Why have a FB Page in the first place?

The reason why I recommend getting a FB Page first is because it is the first steppingstone into building your platform. It’s simple, and it’s relatively easy to get people to follow you. If someone wants to support you, and they see the link to your Page, all they have to do is Like it. Not much commitment required on their part since they may or may not see your posts in their news feed. Basically, they’re another number, and it makes you looks good. But what if you (and your followers) want more than that? What if you really want to connect with people who are supporting you? What do you do then? Well, after you’ve established how you post and what sort of things you will be posting, you move on to the second steppingstone—creating a customized group primarily for your followers.

Now, to do this, you can create a Facebook Group or even a Google Plus group or something on Twitter—or all the above. There are numerous social media outlets out there, and all you need is the ability to create a group. Once you have that group, you can send a personal invite to those people who like your Page. Explain to them how you will be posting even more stuff in the group and that you welcome interaction. Not only that, but what you post in your group has a higher chance of showing up in people’s news feed than the Page. For the most part, people feel privileged to be invited to such a personalized group, and the fun really begins because now you can tag people to strike up a conversation or to show them a picture or a quote that made you think of them specifically. They feel included, and people like this.

Why not just create a Facebook Group first? Why start with a Facebook Page? First off, there are no rules as to which one you should do first, but I have found people are more inclined to Like a Page rather than join a Group. This is because the thought of a Group gives the impression that more commitment is required (in order to have proper interaction). I like to use my Facebook Page as the gateway to my Group. When someone likes my Page, I send them a private message thanking them for liking my Page, and then I invite them to my Group if they’re interested. Never add anyone to the Group without their approval. This is regarded as rude and may stress out the individual because the last thing they need to put up with at that time in their life is another Group (no matter how awesome it is). Rather, leave the decision up to them. Tell them about it, share the link of the Group, but let them go to the Group and decide for themselves whether or not they want to join. If they join—wonderful! If they don’t, then don’t take it personally.

How long should you wait between creating a Page and creating a Group? While there is no absolute rule to this, I recommend waiting six months to a year before creating a Group after you’ve made a Page. This is because you need to build up your credibility and establish your FB presence, so when people see you have a special group they could join, they won’t hesitate joining because they know you. Also, when you create a Group, you may find it difficult to keep up with constant activity on both sites. I post 95% more in my Group than I do on my Page, but I still keep my Page active because I have specific things I make sure I post there to keep it alive. Otherwise, all my energy would go into my Group. It’s hard to multitask. You don’t want to give your followers duplicate posts because that could lead to them unfollowing you on one (or both) of the sites.

Some people say self-promotion does not work for authors, and they may right. The internet is so bombarded with information and everyone clambering to get on top, that it is really almost impossible to reach a huge mass of people—almost impossible. However, if you stop focusing on the larger scale but connect more individually with each person, and it becomes a real connection. Over time you’ll realize how many followers your actually have.

This is why I recommend interaction through your own Group using your Page as your gateway to the Group. Some people have more success than others using Pages than Groups or using Groups than Pages or something altogether different. You need to determine what works best for you and what your method is to reach your audience. It takes time, patience, and confidence. If you have low self-esteem, don’t make it so much about you. Rather, make it about others—seek to be a source of encouragement, inspiration, and a safe haven on the otherwise cruel place known as the internet. As they come to appreciate what you have to offer, they’ll come to respect you and hold you in high regard, and this gives you confidence.

If you’d like to compare my Page and my Group as an example, you may find them here:

Page: www.facebook.com/AuthorKellyBlanchard

Group: www.facebook.com/groups/AuthorKellyBlanchard

P.S. With the Page and with the Group, you have the ability to customize your URL so it’s not merely ‘facebook.com/(a long series of numbers…)’. Be sure to look into that. It helps give you a more professional presence.

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Should You Create a Facebook Page?

Facebook offers a unique tool for artists, writers, businesses, and anyone looking for an audience. This is the feature of a ‘Page’. The difference between your personal timeline and a Facebook page is, you don’t have to be friends with everyone on your page in order for them to see the content you put out. They ‘Like’ your page, and poof! They’re part of your audience. You can post whatever you want without worrying about what others may say or think because, honestly, there isn’t much interaction on the pages. People who’ve liked your page are your captive audience until they decide to unlike it.

Now, of course, there’s always a catch, and the catch here is that you can have 500+ likes, but only 25 of those people will ever see your content on their News Feed. Why? Because Facebook is like that. Facebook tries to encourage more interaction by telling people, “If you like, comment, or share posts from the pages you’re on, you will see more content from those pages.” Otherwise, you, as the creator of the page, can pay to have your content boasted in order to reach a wider audience.

So, why all this talk about Facebook Pages here on my blog? Because a lot of writers ask, “I’m not published yet. Should I create a Facebook Page?” Despite all its flaws and inconsistencies, my answer would be, “Yes.” Why? Consider a Page as the first steppingstone in building your online presence. It’s easy. It’s relatively simple, and you don’t have to worry about breaking some kind of rule (as you might in a group or so) when posting your content. Consider this as your place to discover who you are online, how you like to present yourself, and how you’re going to promote yourself. It’s like the playground to marketing. Yeah, whatever you post, real people will see, and some might respond. You get to learn how to flex your marketing muscles, “Okay, this works…and that doesn’t work. People like this, so I should do more of it.” And so forth.

Not only that, but a lot of times publishers these days will ask you if you’ve established a platform (aka fan base). If they see your page with over five hundred or a few thousand Likes, that will make you look better to them because they can see that even before you finish your book, you were working the market.

Okay, so you got yourself a page now, and you’re probably staring at it asking a few questions:

  1. What am I supposed to post?
  2. How often am I supposed to post?
  3. How do I get people to like my page?

To answer the first question, “What am I supposed to post?” you need to determine what the Page is specifically about. Is it about you and your journey as a writer, or is it about a specific book you’re writing? I highly recommend you make the page about You as a writer because in that way it will be all-encompassing of your work, so you won’t have to host multiple Pages to cover all your books.

Now, once you’ve decided what it is about, you can begin posting. You have a captive audience, but you want to keep it in mind with the general theme of your page. Here are common things people post on their Pages:

  • Photos (things that inspire)
  • Quotes
  • Snippets from your story
  • Tidbits of your day regarding writing (e.g. “My characters have go COMPLETELY off the outline!!!”)
  • Share other people’s work to promote and help them
  • If you have a blog, post link to the blog posts
  • If you’re posting a story online, post links to the story
  • Do giveaways
  • Ask questions
  • Share your accomplishments, fears, and tears with your followers
  • And so much more.

Now, on to the second question, “How often should I post?” The answer is simple: every day—multiple times a day if you can. You see, the more you post, the more visible you are to your followers, and the more chances they have to interact with you, and that, in turn, can bring you even more followers. But don’t stress out if you can’t find a lot to post about. Post as things come to you, and try to make it natural.

The third question asks, “How do I get people to like my page?” First off, make sure your page is attractive to people. Give your page a unique, eye-catching banner (sometimes called a ‘cover’).  Make sure the banner is something that will catch people’s attention rather than deter them. Once I saw a banner that was covered in roaches, and I’m sorry, but no–I don’t do bugs. Just seeing that banner guaranteed that I wouldn’t click ‘Like’ on that page. So make sure your banner is something a bit more warm and inviting.

How do you create a banner? If you know an artist who’d create one for you, approach them with the request, but be willing to pay because that’s the courteous thing to do. If you want to try creating a simple one yourself, try this link: Timeline Cover. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s free, it has all the right dimensions, and they don’t include a watermark on the final product. I always click on ‘Start Designing a Facebook cover’ (upper right hand corner), and then select the blank background option, so I can just work from scratch although you can use whatever they have to offer. Just know you’re not going to get absolutely high quality work from this because it’s extremely limited with tools, but it’s an affordable alternative when you don’t have the personal artistic skills and can’t afford an artist to create it for you. When creating your own banner though, be sure you have the rights to the pictures just to be safe. To do this, look up stock photos.

So, you’ve made your page attractive with a brilliant banner, but how do you get people to your page to like it? The easiest way to get likes is to announce to your FB friends and family that you have a page, and that you’d appreciate anyone and everyone who heads over to it and gives it a like. Outside of that, you shouldn’t go to someone else’s page and say, “I liked your page, so go like mine.” That is rude, and 99.9% of people won’t return the favor.

Now, a tactic some people have used with me is private messaging me a sincere, personalized note in which they really appreciate the content of my page, and they’ve liked it, and they ask that I take a look at theirs. They may or may not ask me to return the like. However, because they’re sincere and took the time to really look at my page to see what it was about in order to craft a personalized message, I’m more prone to go to their page and like it. This only works if it’s an honest message and not something vague like, “Hey, I like your page a lot. Would you mind liking mine?” While that’s nice (because you didn’t demand a like), taking a moment longer on the person’s page to discover what it’s really about and putting that in the message goes a lot further: “Hey, I just love the pictures you share on your page! Very inspirational! I’ve given your page a like. Would you mind checking out my page? <insert link>” This is one way to get some likes.

Another way to get more likes is to join groups that are related to your craft (if you’re a writer, writing groups, artist—artist groups, etc). There may be some marketing or promotional groups you can join as well. Remember: always follow the rules of the groups because you don’t want to spam and get kicked out. If you’re uncertain of the rules, contact an admin and ask for permission to share your page. Many groups will have a specific day set aside for such promotion because they don’t want the group spammed all the time by people constantly sharing their work.

Now, once you find these groups, if you jump out and say, “Hey! Like my page!”, don’t expect many likes. Why? They don’t know you. You need to establish a presence within the groups before expecting anyone to follow you. To find out more of how to do this, take a look at my earlier blog post about The Etiquette of Self-Promotion.

Remember though, your page is nor your personal Facebook Timeline. The page is not where you post pictures of your pets, children, or anything personal—unless it’s directly related to your craft. Keep your private life private…unless you want everyone to know about every element of your life.

So, should you create a Facebook Page right now even if you’ve never published a book and haven’t even completed the book you want to publish? If you want to create one, then yes—go ahead. Even if you’re unsure, remember that you don’t have to share your page immediately. It’s not like people all over the internet will see it as soon as you create it. You can take your time molding it into what you want before inviting anyone to view it.

Creating a Page is easy. Building a following takes more time, so you need to be patient and dedicated to it. Might as well start now.

If you’d like to see my Facebook Page, you may find it here: www.facebook.com/AuthorKellyBlanchard. I post a lot of pictures that could inspire settings or characters for stories. Occasionally I post quotes as I come across them, and I talk about my own writing experience when something thought-provoking or humorous or exciting happens. It would be good to see you there!

The Etiquette of Creating a Book Cover: Author & Artist

Book covers are important. They are the image by which your book will be judged. Everyone says, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” but honestly, if the cover doesn’t catch our attention, it’s unlikely we will read it. When you sign up with a traditional publisher, they have their own graphic artists who they will assign to your book, and you will work with them. They have their own process. What I want to focus on though is when an indie author is working with a graphic artist to create the perfect book cover for their self-published book. However, when working with another creative mind, there is an etiquette that must be considered for the best results. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Make sure the artist and you work well together.
  2. Come prepared with an idea for the cover.
  3. Don’t settle for less. Follow your gut. Be honest but respectful.
  4. Give the artist creative license.

Make sure the artist and you work well together. As exciting as it is to be at the stage where you need a cover for your book, remember you might not get along with the first artist you encounter. So, before assigning her the task to design your cover, communicate with the artist. How well do you communicate? Are there any misunderstandings? Do you just have a bad feeling about it? Can you be honest with the person? If anything raises a red flag in your mind, do not follow through. It’s better to delay the design of the cover and find the right artist than to force cooperation between the two of you when there is no chemistry. Trust your gut.

Come prepared with an idea for the cover. When I had my first book cover designed, I had no idea what I wanted, so I told the artist the basic idea of the story. When he came back to me with a proof of the cover, I wanted to cry in horror. It looked like a boring textbook—gray and lifeless. But of course the artist didn’t know better. He never read the book. How could he create a proper representation of a story he’s never read? Armed with this knowledge, I sat down and imagined what the book would look like on the shelf of the bookstore—what did the cover look like? From there, I sketched out a very rough idea of the cover and sent it on to him. With that, he was able to work his magic. The lesson learned? It is better to have a vague idea of what you imagine the cover to look like than no idea at all. However, keep in mind, the end result will likely be nothing like you imagine—it should be better than you imagined.

Don’t settle for less. Follow your gut. Be honest but respectful. There will be countless of versions of the cover. With each one, if something doesn’t feel right about the cover, express to the artist what you think the problem might be and ask her if she could change it. The artist won’t see the cover like you do because she is working so closely with it, so you need to point out when something doesn’t feel right about the cover. Neither you nor the artist should get irritated with one another when you’re nitpicking. Both of you should be patient and working with one another. If the problem doesn’t seem to be resolving, take a break. Get away from it in order to look back at it with new eyes. When you come back, you might not see the problem at all—or you might have a better way of explaining what exactly the problem is to the artist.

Give the artist creative license. If you can create your own cover, then do it, but if you can’t, then let the artist do her job. You may present an abstract idea for a cover, but it’s her job to put it into the concrete. Unless the cover is completely illustrated by the artist, most artists will use stock photos for the pictures of the cover, and unfortunately those may not be exactly the look you wanted for this character or that one. The artist should be able to manipulate it to look closer to what you want, but it will be slightly different than what you imagined.

As an author, you may have googled images that you would like to see on your cover, but do not expect those pictures to be used unless they are stock photos. It is okay to find pictures you like and even actors you imagine for your characters, but in the end, accept the fact that none of those pictures will likely be on the cover at all. Otherwise, there is potential of getting in trouble with copyright laws and such. You don’t want that headache. The graphic artist will try to find pictures that are extremely close to the ones you chose, but they will not be identical, and this is good—it makes it unique to your own work.

Now, if you do want to choose pictures that you can use, look up stock photos. Here are a few sites:

www.istockphoto.com

www.dreamstime.com

www.123rf.com

www.dollarphotoclub.com

www.shutterstock.com

And there are many, many more! Find the pictures you like, but don’t purchase anything yet because the picture might not fit perfectly into the cover that’s being created, and an alternative photo will have to be chosen. Show the artist the pictures you’re thinking about, and let them create a mock cover. Once you’re satisfied with the cover, the artist will tell you which stock photos you need to purchase. Is it your responsibility to purchase the stock photos? Yes—unless the artist and you came to some kind of agreement beforehand. This is something you will need to discuss with them just to make sure you’re both on the same page.

When you are working with a graphic artist, the two of you are on the same team. You want the same thing—the perfect cover. Both of you should be patient and professional about it.

Also, authors, if you’re looking for covers and you don’t want to go through the stress of working with an actual artist, you can find pre-made covers for a reasonable price here: www.selfpubbookcovers.com.

Now artists, you may work with an author who is very insecure and doesn’t feel comfortable asking you to make changes. If you sense that is the kind of person you’re working with, be patient with them and reassure them that you want the perfect cover for their book. When you finally think you’ve arrived at the perfect cover, then here are some questions you can ask such an author:

  • “Is the background exactly the way you want? Should any of the background elements be changed or altered in any way?”
  • “Do the elements in the foreground meet your approval? Does anything stand out that shouldn’t? Or is there something that should stand out but doesn’t?”
  • “Do you approve of the color of the cover? How is the lighting/shadows?”
  • “Are your name and the title positioned where and how you want them? Do you approve of the font?”

If the author approves of everything but you still get the feeling he’s not being completely honest (with himself if not you), you can recommend he think about it for a day, and if he’s still content with the cover, then your work is complete.

If you’re the artist, the last thing you want is for the author to come back to you further down the road and finally confess, “I really don’t like this element of the cover. Could you change it?” When this happens, you have to consider how much you’re going to charge for revisions after the job has already been completed and such. That is stress no one wants to deal with.

If you’re the author, the last thing you want is to be stuck with a cover you secretly don’t like. It’s very hard to promote your work and be excited about your book if you dread the cover. If you’re not excited about it, no one else will be excited about it, and your sales won’t get off the ground. The cover does affect your confidence, so it’s better to be open and honest with the artist during the process rather than regret it later.

However, artists, there will likely be authors who are perfectionists and constantly asking you to change their cover over and over and over again even though it’s really good. There will come a point where you will simply have to put your foot down and calmly but professionally inform them that you can only do a certain number of revisions and after that any additional revisions will be an added cost.

Authors, don’t freak out when I say that to artists. Most artists won’t tack on any additional cost because they really want to work with you and have the best cover for you. Nevertheless, if you push them too hard and are unreasonable, they will stand their ground.

Once you find an artist you work with splendidly and their fees aren’t unreasonable, don’t let him or her go. You can have a wonderful working relationship that could last through book series, and this also allows for consistency of the book covers.

Remember, both of you are creative individuals coming together to create the finished product of a book. Give each other space and respect. Be professional, be honest, but also be considerate.

In the end, you should have an impressive masterpiece.

Summary of Former Blog Posts

Today’s blog post is going to be a recap of all my previous posts with links to each one. People ask me about specific elements of writing, and I realize I’ve already discussed those elements, so I direct them to that post. Here’s a chance for everyone (including myself) to get caught up on the different topics I’ve covered. I may do these kinds of posts periodically to keep everything in perspective.

Post 1: Let’s Talk About Telling – This post discusses what exactly ‘telling’, so it’s easier to identify in your own writing in order to help you ‘show’ better.

Post 2: How ‘Said’ is Redundant – The common dialogue tag is ‘said’, but due to punctuation, it is also redundant and lends itself to telling rather than showing.

Post 3: More on Dialogue Tags – Dialogue tags have their place in writing, but these days they are often used as a cheap way for the writer to write a conversation between characters without putting much effort into it. However, the writing can be stronger and much more vivid by using body language in place of the tags.

Post 4: The Adverse Adverb – Stephen King says, “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” While I wouldn’t go that far, most of the time adverbs only weaken the structure of a sentence and the writing. They can be replaced by more concrete words therefore creating a stronger experience for the readers.

Post 5: The Playground Experience – In order to know anything, you have to learn about it. Sometimes you learn the hard way, but sometimes your learning experience can be fun. The ‘Playground Experience’ is writing stuff that you never intend to publish only because you’re writing it for the practice.

Post 6: Practice Makes Perfect and then Publication – With writing, we’re not immediate masters of the craft, and we need to recognize that. Instead, we need to take the time to stretch ourselves in writing different things in order to learn this or that element of writing rather than the sole purpose of writing for publication.

Post 7: The Personality of Writing – If you ignore your writing obligations or skills, writing will give you the cold shoulder when you turn back to it. The longer you go on ignoring it, the harder it will be to write when you finally decide to pick up the pen. Is it worth it? Absolutely. The persona of writing simply wants to make sure you have the commitment to sit down and write before it floods you with ideas and inspiration.

Post 8: Paint Pictures With Words – ‘Show, don’t tell’ is the common rule among writers, but are you supposed to show every single detail?? No, and this post shows you how to determine what to include in description and what you could leave out.

Post 9: Movement in Description – There should be motion in the words that describe the scene. To me, the scenes play out like a movie scene, and the camera is always moving—in a logical manner that doesn’t sicken the viewers. The description of writing should reflect that, but how? This post shows.

Post 10: Shifting Points of View (POV) – Writers are commonly encouraged not to switch POV in the middle of a scene. While I see their point, I disagree. Multiple POV’s in the same scene takes practice to master, but it must be practiced (and therefore allowed) in order to master. Once this tool has been well-refined, it can show the scene in ways that limited POV cannot, and this broadens the horizon of the story.

Post 11: The Key to Dialogue: Listening – A lot of people struggle to write dialogue. One way to overcome this is to listen to others talk. As writers we tend to get caught up in our own thoughts and not pay attention to what is being said around us, but we write about people, so we should take the time to stop and watch them and listen to them. Pay attention to their speech pattern, choice of words, etc.

Post 12: Speaking of Dialogue – There are some elements of speaking which do not transfer well in writing, and this limits your audience. We discuss it in this post.

Post 13: Necessary Narration – ‘Narration’ can be another word for ‘telling’, and because of this, a lot of people won’t talk about it since you’re not supposed to ‘tell’. However, narration is important. Through this tool, we can get inside our characters’ minds, feel their emotions, and relate to them. The key is to balance the ‘telling’ with the ‘showing’.

Post 14: The Origin of the Narrative – Most writers begin their writing career as a child writing in their diary. This means they start writing in ‘first person’, and when they finally begin writing actual stories, those stories tend to be in ‘first person’ as well. Eventually they may dabble in ‘third person’ writing or may opt to stay with ‘first person’. All of this determines the narrative of the story.

Post 15: Punctuation of Cinemagraphic Writing – How should punctuation be used today? The semicolon is losing ground. The ellipsis should definitely be limited as should the colon. The one that’s gaining more ground surprisingly is the dash, and this post goes into more detail in it.

Post 16: Determining the Person – Should your story be written in first person, second person, or third person? Here we discuss the pros and cons of each one.

Post 17: Overview of the Different Tenses – Usually most writing is done in ‘past tense’, but it is becoming more and more common for stories to be written in ‘present tense’. However, there are more tenses than merely ‘past’ and ‘present’, and this post discusses them.

Post 18: Flashbacks and Tenses – Flashbacks are tricky, but with the proper use of tenses, the transition between past and present events can be smoother.

Post 19: Author-Based Characters – Due to the fact that most writers begin by writing in their journals then transfer over to story writing, they usually write the main character as themselves. This is dangerous because readers can sense it, and it will turn the readers away from the story.

Post 20: Author/Character Relationship – There are two kinds of authors: Interactive and Static. Interactive authors are constantly communicating with their characters throughout the process of writing, but Static authors are set in their way of how they’re going to write, and the characters must do their will.

Post 21: Describing Your Character Upon Introduction – When your character is first seen in the story, natural instinct is to pause the flow of narration to give a full description of your character. This disrupts the story and can be jarring to your readers. There is a smoother way to bring your character to life.

Post 22: Notice What You Notice – In order to write description of a scene better, it’s important to recognize for yourself what you notice when you walk into a room. This helps you write more realistically.

Post 23: Immortal Words – Our words have a lasting effect, especially those printed on paper. Yes, there are ways such words could be destroyed, but if preserved, they could essentially last forever. It’s important remember the far-reaching effect your story may have on future generations.

Post 24: Plot: The Spine of the Story – What is the story about? Sure, we can have fantastic characters, but if we don’t have an actual plot to follow, the story won’t be memorable.

Post 25: Different Kinds of Outlines – Outlining a story is one way to stayed organized and motivated to write, but there are different approaches to outlines.

Post 26: Timeline Outline – This specific outline draws everything on a horizontal line rather than vertical. It helps keep dates straight as well as what’s happening where when there are multiple plots to a story.

Post 27: When TO Use an Outline – Outlining isn’t for every writer, so there is a time to outline and a time not to use an outline. This post discusses the proper time when to use this tool.

Post 28: When NOT To Use An Outline – A continuation from the previous post, this one focuses on the other side. It discusses when it’s proper not to use an outline.

Post 29: When To Step OFF An Outline – You might have completely outlined your story, but then the story decides to change direction on you. This is all right, and you should heed the direction of the story even through it takes you off the outline you had planned.

Post 30: Production Writer’s Block – Unofficially there are two kinds of Writer’s Block, and here we discuss the first kind which is ‘Production Writer’s Block’. It can also be described as ‘In-Progress’ writer’s block. It’s when you’re working on a story and hit a brick wall.

Post 31: New Project Writer’s Block – The second unofficial Writer’s Block is when you’ve finished your story and now aren’t sure what to write next.

Post 32: Always Try To Write Your Best – There are a lot of influences out there in the world, and there’s a lot of pressure of how you should conform your writing to what’s acceptable and marketable. However, you should only write the best you can at that time in your life. Always try to sharpen your skill. As time goes on, you’ll look back with fresh eyes, and you won’t be happy with what you wrote, but at that time you wrote the best you could write.

Post 33: A Method of Revision – When you go back to your old work and decide to finally do something with it, the work will need some polishing up, and the first thing you need to do is revise it. This post discusses an approach to revision to help familiarize you with the process.

Post 34: Steps To Editing – The next step of polishing your work is to edit it. This post goes into detail of how to approach editing.

Post 35: An Approach to Proofreading – The final step of polishing your work is proofreading, and this post shows how proofreading differs from editing and gives a warning that most writers don’t consider when they’re polishing their work.

Post 36: The Etiquette of Readers Part 1: Casual Reader – Sometimes we all need encouragement and motivation. What we really need is a cheerleader. We don’t need them to criticize us when we make a mistake but to cheer us to get back up and keep going. This is where the Casual Reader comes into play.

Post 37: The Etiquette of the Reader Part 2: Beta Reader – Unlike the Casual Reader, it is the Beta Reader’s job to critique our work. It’s not fun, but it’s an important step.

Post 38: Emotions: Let Your Characters Feel – Emotions are fundamental to human life, to our experiences, and how we react. Due to its great importance in real life, emotions shouldn’t be skimmed over in significant scenes of our stories. It might make us feel uncomfortable, but we need to let our characters feel.

Now we are entirely up-to-date.  I have a lot more material to cover, but you’ll just have to wait until next week to see what will be discussed next. Thank you for your patience. See you then!

The Etiquette of Readers Part 2: Beta Readers

Last week we identified and discussed the role of Casual Readers. Now we’re going to focus on the more popular role of a Beta Readers.

While Casual Readers tend not to be writers, Beta Readers are usually on the path to becoming editors and are writers themselves. First thing to recognize about Beta Readers is there is not a one size fits all. You may not agree with someone’s method of critiquing because they’re looking at it all wrong, and they’re always negative, and you just can’t seem to do anything right. If this is the case, try getting another Beta Reader, but always do a trial run with them first. Send a sample of your writing, see how they critique. If you two seem to get along, then work from there.

With Beta Readers, it is up to them whether or not you send your work as a complete manuscript at one time or chapter by chapter. This is something the two of you must discuss. Simply be aware, the more you send, the longer it will take to get anything back to you. It is also important to remember that you should have revised and edited your work at least once before sending it to a Beta Reader.

With a Beta Reader, it is important to understand one thing: their job is to tear your work to shreds. Yes, this is difficult. It’s hard. It’s painful. However, it is important. This is also preparing you for when your work must go before an editor. It’s helping you understand your work better and develop thick skin.

Now, on this topic, there is something very important to realize. If you have people read your work, and they stop at a certain point and can’t read further, you must investigate—not only where they stopped but from the beginning all the to that specific point. Look at description, dialogue, character development, scene setting, plot development, writing style. Are the characters cliché? Are they too perfect? Are they relatable? Is there a moral issue in the story that’s causing the problem?

Most people won’t tell you why they didn’t like the story because they don’t know. Some might know, but if you’re stubborn and stuck in your way when it comes to writing, they’re not going to be very honest with you because it takes a lot of time and energy to explain to you the problem.

I don’t volunteer to read anyone’s writing anymore. If I can’t finish a story, I find out exactly why that is, and it’s usually more than one issue, but this one issue brings up this other issue which breeds another one and so on and so forth, and the writer is left thinking, “I can’t write!” And I’m respond, “No, you can! You’re very good at it, and you wrote an entire story which is an awesome accomplishment!” but then I’m lost at how to encourage them to step back, have faith, and tackle things one at a time.

If you’re confident in your writing ability and believe the story you wrote is important for the world to know, then nothing can tear you down. Yes, there are people out there who want nothing more than to completely rip writers to shreds. It doesn’t matter how much effort you put into something or the importance of certain elements and specific scenes, they don’t care. I don’t understand those people, but when I encounter those people, I don’t bother to justify my writing or explain myself. They have a right to their own opinion, and no matter how many times I revise my work, it won’t make them happy, so I just nod and tell them, “Thank you. I will take it into consideration,” but then I’ll go back to my story and set the criticism before the characters and listen to them protest loudly, “Why would I do that?! What would my motives be? That makes absolutely no sense. No, no, and no!” And they cross their arms, threatening me with Writer’s Block if I even attempt to revise in the suggested manner.

This is why you must know why you wrote everything in the story, why it’s important to see how the pieces connect.

However, there are some unofficial guidelines we can all use.

WRITERS, if you give your work to a Beta Reader to critique, expect them to do several things:

  1. They will read your story from beginning to end in a timely manner.

  2. They will make notes on everything that jumps out at them.

  3. They will ask questions.

  4. They will point out errors.

  5. They will not correct or change anything for you.

  6. They are not your brainstorming buddies (unless agreed upon otherwise).

  7. If a Beta Reader cannot complete your novel for lack of time or simply disinterest in the story, you should not be offended but find another Beta Reader.

  8. You must remain professional.

  9. Honesty is key.

BETA READERS, if you volunteer to read someone’s work to critique it, there are a few things you must recognize:

  1. You are obligated to read their entire work and critique it in a timely fashion.

  2. If you cannot complete their work, you must inform the writer of this and explain why.

  3. Do not volunteer to read someone’s work out of pity especially when you’re disinterested in their story.

  4. Look for positive aspects of the story as well as the negative.

  5. You must remain professional.

  6. Honesty is key.

Now notice, I said Writer and Beta Reader should ‘remain professional’ and that ‘honesty is key’. WRITERS, your story may be your baby, but when you’ve reached this stage of your story, you must distance yourself from it and become professional about it. This makes any negativity toward your writing easier to accept and to view objectively rather than subjectively. BETA READERS, being professional while you work allows you to do your work properly without fear of the author lashing out at you and blaming you for your criticism. Even if that were to happen, you can take everything in stride and carry on.

Honesty is the most important element in this process. Writers must be straightforward and honest with their Beta Readers of what they expect from them and when they need the story’s critique completed and returned to them—set a deadline. Beta Readers need to be able to say ‘no’ when they have too much on their plate or when they feel their style of critiquing will not work well with a specific author. Beta Readers should be able to express their opinion without too much concern of how the writer will react since the writer should react responsibly.

Are these hard and fast rules? No. They’re completely unofficial, but they could help to eliminate stress and frustration on everyone’s part. You may approach this subject any way you want.

To summarize: while you are writing or in the middle of revising and editing but need encouragement, find a Casual Reader (or several) to be your cheerleader. Once you’ve revised several times and are now ready for the next step, find a Beta Reader and understand everything is about to get serious, so be professional, and keep honesty between the two of you. This will help you face the harsh realities of publishing.

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Author/Character Relationship

Last week we discussed author-based characters, but let’s focus on the relationship characters have with their authors. These are people in our heads who want their story told so badly, and we are their own means to be made known unto the world. It’s a hefty task, if you think about it. But when it comes to characters, there are two kinds of authors. There are those authors who hear their characters’ voices in their head, can see them clearly, communicates with them often, and has little say in what they will and will not do. And then there are those authors who don’t have that relationship with their characters. Let’s break this down a bit more.

Interactive Authors are those interact with their characters. To them, their characters are very real people, and the rest of the world is very unfortunate not to see or have a chance to communicate with them. That’s why these authors write. The characters are so vivid and strong and real, their story must be told. This makes writing fun and enjoyable, but it also runs the risk of making it very difficult.

Fleshed-out characters are those who have a say on everything you want them to do. Not only that, but they’ll also whisper in your ear a profound twist at the worst (or best) of timing, and all you can do is sit there and stare stunned because suddenly everything makes sense—suddenly the character has a new layer of depth to them you had never imagined. However, as I mentioned, if the character doesn’t want to do something, it won’t.

Characters have a secret superpower—the ability to curse the writer with Writer’s Block. If you try to force the character to do something, he will go kicking and screaming all along the way, or he might fall silent and completely close off and glare at you. Without the open interaction with the character, you will find your imagination falls short, and it will run dry. When that happens, you flounder about for ideas, explanations, something—anything! And the character won’t talk to you until you’re ready to listen. So either you’ll throw the story away and never finish it, or you’ll knuckle down, back up, and figure out where the problems began while keeping an open mind toward the characters. You will know when you’re getting close to the problem. There is a game children play where one of them hides something, and the others have to find it, and if they’re getting closer to the item, the child says, “Hot,” but if they’re getting further from it, he says, “Cold.” The same idea applies here. As you get closer to the problem, the character will hint, “Hot,” but if you drift further from it, the character will become silent again. Once you’ve landed on the problem, the character will be like, “FINALLY! Now, can I tell you what I want to do rather than doing what you wanted me to do?” Sometimes it wastes words and time doing this, but you always learn something.

Now there are also Static Authors. These authors don’t have such communication with their characters. I’m going to be honest, I don’t understand how an author can ‘not’ have that interaction with their characters, but I have run across people who look at me weird and ask, “Your characters actually talk to you?” to which I want to respond, “Your characters don’t?” However, every author has their own style. I have found though while listening to Static Authors explain their story and what problems they have encountered, their stories are very author-controlled. The author wants this story to turn out this way and have his character do or say this or that, and there is very little room for negotiation from anybody outside the author (friends or family) or even inside the author’s mind (characters). With Static Authors, the characters have little to no voice because they realize their writer won’t listen to them.

As an Interactive Author, sometimes the characters of Static Authors talk to me because their own authors won’t listen to them. It makes for awkward conversations at times when a Static Author comes to me to brainstorm a problem they’ve encountered, and along the way I hear like the nagging voice of a character that isn’t even my own, so I ask the author, “Have you tried talking to your character?” I always encourage the author to listen to the character and communicate with them, because that resolves problems the quickest. I can’t always be around being the meditator between author and character, and it shouldn’t be that way.

Some writers are very mechanical and have to have anything and everything figured out about their characters before they even begin a story. This can be both good and bad. Good—because it helps you thoroughly think out your story and develop the characters and storyline. However, it can be bad because no matter how much you prepare ahead of time, the character and/or story may simply not want to go that way, and if you try to force the issue, you run the risk of Writer’s Block. So, no matter your approach to writing, always keep an open mind.

So, is it weird to communicate with people that don’t even exist? Does this borderline insanity? For people who cannot discern the line between reality and fantasy, then yes—it does borderline insanity, but for the most part, authors are acutely aware of the line. They love to cross it back and forth all the time, but they never blur the actual line.

“If I’m a Static Author, is that all I’ll ever be?” or likewise, “If I’m an Interactive Author, is that all I’ll ever be?” No. The kind of author you are can change over the course of your life depending on what you are encountering in real life and how you respond to it. If you are going through a difficult time where everything seems to be out of your control, you might switch from being an Interactive Author to a Static Author because you want one realm of your life to be under your control—no arguments. Static Authors, you might decide one day to let loose and just have fun with writing and not be concerned with whether or not it is publishable work. And you can always revert back to the kind of author you’re most comfortable with. Neither of them are wrong, and there are things both kinds of authors can learn from each other.

So what kind of author are you?