Nuts and Bolts: Beta Readers


Similar to the series of posts called “Tools of the Trade”, “Nuts and Bolts” will be referring to the more analytical and business components of writing.

I have some good news! I am feeling comfortable enough with some of my stories to send them off to beta readers. But, in order to do that I had to determine who these readers should be.

To date my criteria has been simple: Do you you like stories in this genre? Are you willing to read my story? Are you someone I trust? Are you willing and able to get meaningful feedback to me in a timely manner?

Google Forms and Stories

With this in mind, I sent a message to friends who had been interested when I mentioned my stories in the past, but before I did so, I created a Google Form. This Form contained the questions I was most interested in regarding the story I was sending. I then promised coffee and cookies for the effort and sent off the email.

The next trick I used? I put options at the end of that questionaire for what level of readership the beta reader would want to be considered for in the future: Alpha, Beta, Close to publication, Audience (read after published), and Never-Send-Me-A-Story-Again. Thankfully no one has chosen the “never again” option.

It’s still an experiment in progress, but so far I have gotten some beneficial timely feedback. And I’m collecting data on what level of interest these readers have for upcoming stories.

Using the Data for Newsletter Practice

I’m also planning on using this as a way to experiment with newsletters. I’ve now been to enough workshops to understand that an author has to build their platform as early as possible. And, I’ve also heard enough to know that I better learn how to utilize a newsletter now.

So, besides the copious amount of editing left to do, I am hoping that crafting a newsletteresque email just for my beta reader team will not only keep them excited but also give me invaluable practice for when it’s time to send updates to a more general audience.

To be continued…


Editing: A Process

Editing is a strange process.

This week I cut a story down from 9000 words to half its size.  It was almost as if I was smashing in a work of pottery still on the wheel in order to build a better vessel with the same clay.

Now the story is a skeleton of what it was and it’s still a difficult story.  I sense I will need a bit of feedback before I set about the difficulties of putting some of the flesh back onto it.

This week has been another key to my personal preparation for going through the novelette I wrote.  One more step in a series that began two years ago.

In late 2015 and early 2016 I wrote a full length novel, tried to edit it, and then realized I needed more experience in this craft before tackling the revisions on this book, the first in a planned epic fantasy trilogy.  So I went about trying out different ideas and tackling shorter length works in an effort to find my own voice and get a feel for what works as  a writer.

I’m in a stage where I feel like my writing is as fluid as ocean waves.  Some of my writing is razor focused and only needs a few edits on details while other pieces require a great deal more thought and change.

The trick has become learning how best to read those waves and channel the story through them.

I’m not writing this as someone who has figured it out yet.  But I am posting this as someone who is beginning to see a way through the maelstrom that is editing.


With spring in the Northern Hemisphere comes inevitable spring cleaning.  A chance to go through what I have and toss out what has served its purpose.  This year I have my work cut out for me.

Now that I’m mostly settled in, it’s time to organize everything left over in storage from my move in December.

Being the nerd I am, I actually read a book to prepare for it: “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo.  While I’m not sure I will be following her method in its totality there are a lot of takeaways for me.  One example is that I highly respect the idea that learning to declutter helps us learn who we are by what we find sparks joy in our possessions.

Ultimately, I am hoping the physical act of decluttering helps to hone my decision making skills for editing, a process that will essentially be decluttering and expanding my stories.

A Novella

“I’ve got a jar of dirt! I’ve got a jar of dirt, and guess what’s inside it!” –Captain Jack Sparrow, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

I started a fantasy novella last July as a means of giving myself a break from my first novel. It was meant to be completed in the month as part of Camp NaNoWriMo in conjunction with watching Brandon Sanderson’s BYU classes on writing. Unfortunately, I got busy and the plot was giving me a few issues, so it remained in stasis for a while.

Part of my reason for writing it was to get a microcosm of the writing process, like learning to bake a cookie so that I can eventually go on to creating a soufflé. Another reason for writing it was also because I’ve spent the last ten years putting the pieces of my high fantasy work together, I needed a break and proof that I was more than just a one idea and done author.

So there you have it, the main reasons I’ve been exploring short stories and this novella over the course of the last year is because I need the practice before I go back and work on my high fantasy trilogy.

So why am I going on and on about this?

I finished the novella yesterday! It doesn’t necessarily mean it will be released any time soon, but it is another step forward. And I’m looking forward to what the story can teach me about the editing process.

The reason I love the Pirates of the Caribbean quote above is because that’s exactly what I have in this draft.  It is what amounts to a jar of sand that I’ll use to build my sandcastles. (Writing as related to sandboxes is a popular metaphor shared by at least both Ted Dekker and Shannon Hale regarding writing.)

What should be coming sooner than a published novella however, is news about short stories: the rest of this month will be committed to the backlog I’ve created of short story and flash fiction drafts. I’ll be cleaning them up and sending them off for submission.

For tonight though, I’ll continue celebrating that another major rough draft is finished.




(Here’s the first in the Sanderson lectures if you’re interested:)

The Advantages of Longhand

(The above interview makes note of longhand but also has some fantastic general advice)

I am not one of those authors who will write everything out by hand and then meticulously copy it into the computer.  That being said, I am experiencing my own resurgence in using paper and pen instead of a strict computer model.

I’m finding that I’m less distracted when I’m plotting, creating character notes, and world notes by writing rather than immediately typing up my ideas.

Now while I may be using a computer first model for novels, for short stories, I have been writing a first and very rough copy by hand.  Once those are done, I enter them into my computer and make a few adjustments as I’m typing.

I am finding that with physically handwriting the stories, the ideas have a little more clarity in the early draft than some of my projects that were exclusively done on the computer.  As a result, I have been writing chapters of my novels in long hand when I find I need a little more momentum without the distractions that a computer offers.

All that said.  Here’s a quick breakdown of a few of the benefits I’ve found:

Retention – I quite literally remember more of the details that I’ve written.

Brevity – The physical act of writing at a slower speed keeps the superfluous words to a minimum.

Clarity – When it takes more time to write a phrase down, it is easier to keep the target in sight.

Edits – It’s far easier to make notations in different colors on a manuscript than to go through all the steps to get a comment in on the computer.  I also appreciate how it is ultimately always visible when you are looking at the physical document.  This is also why the edits on my first draft are all in pen/pencil on a printed copy.

Attention – I am far less likely to browse the web if I have a piece of paper in front of me than a blank document on a screen.  My attention is drawn to the paper, and while I may check my phone, I am still often more productive with the pen and paper method in the same amount of time as I would have spent on the computer.

I’m still working on my own process.  As I find more tips, tricks, and recommendations I’ll be sure to pass them along!

For additional reading:

The Very Weird Handwriting of Very Famous Authors

This Is What A Handwritten Novel By Neil Gaiman Looks Like 

(Both of the above links make me feel a whole lot better about my own handwriting style.)

8 Ways Writing Longhand Amps Your Muse

Tools of the Trade: Dr. Grip 4+1 Pen

Dr. Grip 4+1 Mint Green

I bought a version of this pen not long after I finished the draft of my first book.  The idea was that I wanted a precise pen as well as something I could carry that had multiple colors for note taking and editing without taking up a lot of space.

It has quickly become my first choice for on-the-go moments.

The grip is wide and comfortable and while my light version I got off of ebay feels a little flimsy it has held up well so far.

If you are also a writer who is often traveling I feel pretty safe recommending this pen/pencil to you.

The Nature of my Work

I have always enjoyed epic tales of fantasy.  There is an element of escapism in them captured in the moments where we identify with the protagonist and feel as if it is possible for us to also save the world.

It’s always hard coming back down to reality.

The story I’m working on is similar.  I have taken elements from the normal realm of fantasy and mixed them with our present reality.  In so many ways the result is reminiscent of my own life.

About six years ago, we found out my grandfather had cancer.  Up until that time, cancer and death had really only visited friends of the family, distant relatives, and pets.  I was woefully unprepared for depression, fear, and anxiety of the coming months.  As is so often true in life, it was also a time of a spiritual deepening and appreciation of life and love.

It was a moment where I realized to the core of my being, life is not a fairy tale.  Crap does indeed happen.  It cannot be planned, out of the blue a phone call can come and surprise you.  It can throw you a curveball that will quite literally knock you off your feet.

And I’m incorporating this into my story.

Over the years I have seen a lot of hard stuff occur.  Friends of our family lost two of their three children before they were the age of 18.  One in an accident in the woods and the other as a suicide.  I’ve been out fishing when a teenager drowned, the boy was pulled under and pinned against a log until there was no life left in him.  Onlookers were desperate to locate him but by the time we found him it was too late.

There is death.  There is a curse.  And we as humans are left wandering through it all, with the joy of life, but also the terrible grief of our existence in this world.

So my stories are not necessarily happy.  They are about good versus evil.  And they are very much about characters who have their options taken off the table.  Characters who continue on anyway because their hope is in the light as they scream their defiance into the void.

So yes, even I find myself a bit surprised with where I take my writings, but as I’m editing, I hope to be able to effectively communicate both the darkness and the hope.