Hello dear reader. It’s been a while. I’ve been away from the internet for most of the holidays. It wasn’t exactly planned, but it wasn’t terrible either. Hope you had a great holiday season, happy new year, and and a general good go at things.
As for me, I have news about my recent novelette The Peculiar Case of the Luminous Eye. I finished writing it early December and shared with beta readers and Patrons, but now I’m taking the next step and reaching out to publications!
I just submitted Peculiar Case to Asimov Magazine and I’m hopeful it’ll find a home in one of their upcoming issues. You never know how these things will go, but I’m feeling great about this story. Publishing it in a reputable place will help me achieve one of my many goals of 2019.
Specifically, I want to expand my fan base and make my next novel, Grim Curio, a best seller. I’m hoping Peculiar Case is able to take me a step closer to both those goal.
Seth Godin said something along the lines of, “Don’t go looking for agents, write something so compelling that they come looking for you.” That’s my mentality right now. There very well may come a time where I actively search for agents, but till then, I hope to publish Peculiar Case somewhere where it will be noticed and unable to be ignored.
So that’s what I’ve been working on the past month. Cross your fingers for me. And if you’ve read any good books lately, be sure to let me know in the comments.
I recently finished the best beta reading experience of my career. It ran smoothly, my beta readers were thorough, turn around was quick, and on the whole results were as good as I could ever hope.
So today I’m paying it forward by sharing my approach to running a beta read so that you can have as positive an experience as I did.
What is a beta read?
For the uninitiated, a beta read is the process where a writer shares their manuscript with a reader or a group of readers who then provide feedback. This process comes before professional editing, or if you’re a self-publisher and on a budget, sometimes substitutes for professional editing entirely.
How many beta readers do I need?
Before you begin, you’ll need to gather a group of beta readers. You’retarget should be around 7 to 15 beta readers.
Since beta readers are rarely professional editors, they’ll often pick a theme such as grammar, character, or simply their enjoyment level and comment on that throughout. So it’s best to have a group of beta readers, and the more you have, the broader and more valuable your feedback will be.
Add to this that several beta readers who sign up to read for you likely won’t even start reading. They may have overbooked themselves or life otherwise got in the way, so you’ll want a cushion for those who inevitably don’t make it through.
Having a large group of beta readers ensures that enough will finish to offer comprehensive feedback. 7 to 15 seems to be the sweet spot, but I wouldn’t gather more than that because it can quickly become a logistical nightmare.
How do I find beta readers?
There are several tactics to gather a killer group of beta readers. It starts with an easy to use sign up form, incentives, and a pitch delivered to the right groups.
Create a beta reader reward
Start by figuring out what you can offer your beta readers in return for their help. They’re basically working for free, so it always helps to sweeten the deal. I’ve given away free books, stickers, bookmarks, and hand-made postcards.
Whatever you choose give away, make sure it’s something you’d like to receive and doesn’t break the bank. We’re not trying to get one time beta readers, we’re trying to build a dedicated group of long term fans.
Build a form using Google Docs
Now that you have your reward figured out, you’ll need an easy way for beta readers to sign up, and for you to keep track of them. Google Docs is perfect for this because it’s free, and sign-ups export to a spreadsheet.
Create a form using google docs and ask for all the info you’ll need. You’ll want to ask for names, emails, and addresses (so you can send them their rewards).
I always throw in a few questions to filter out beta readers I don’t want. For example, if my book is horror, I ask how much they enjoy horror and for them to list their favorite horro novels. If they don’t enjoy it, then their feedback likely wont be very good, so I don’t invite them along.
You’ll want to attract people who will be your target audience, so take some time to write a short blurb. This hook should attract readers to your story. You’ll also want to explain the process and time frames of your beta read.
You’ll use this pitch everywhere you reach to people, including on your signup form, so make sure it’s as clean as you can make it.
Invite readers to sign up
The internet is surprisingly full of people who want to help writers publish. You just need to know where to find them. When you reach out, use your pitch which should contain several links to your sign up form.
Here’s how I look for beta readers, in the order I search. I will work my way down this list until I’ve gathered enough readers to do a proper job.
Previous Beta Readers – If you’ve ever held a beta read before, then start by reaching out to those who already helped you. If you treated them right, they’ll often jump on the opportunity to beta read again.
Newsletter & Blog – If you have a newsletter, mailing list, or blog, send out a message asking for beta readers. Fans will often enthusiastically support you by beta reading.
Social media – Be sure to reach out to your social media following. If you’re on twitter, let the #writerscommunity know about it. There’s also a beta reading community on Reddit. If your piece is short, you can try /r/DestructiveReaders, which is great for short stories or single chapters but will also have a thread where you can ask about beta readers. I’ve also reached out to /r/scifiwriting and other subreddits. There are hundreds of other places to look, don’t be afraid to dig around.
Friends, family, and co-workers – If all those other options fail you, there’s always the old standby of people you know irl. Don’t be afraid to ask them, but also don’t be hurt if they’re the flakiest.
As you can see, there is a world of people out there waiting to become your beta readers. All you need to do is come up with a good pitch, and send them to your signup form.
How do I run a beta read?
Once you’ve gathered your team of beta readers, you’ll want to start the process right away. The longer you wait, the more likely people will drop off early.
The three things I find most important when it comes to running a beta read are communication, incentives, and tracking readers progress. The only tools you need to cover all of this is email and Google Docs.
Why Google Docs?
One of the most difficult challenges is in running a beta read is delivering and receiving your manuscript. Some readers use Word, others Scrivener, others Open Office, but all can use Google Docs for free. So there’s a very low barrier.
When you send files such as Word, etc, you’ll find yourself waiting for periods of time for the comments to come back. Then when they do arrive, you’ll either need to compile all the documents together, or go through each one by one. All of this is a headache and can sometimes be demotivating.
I’ve since stopped providing Word and Open Office docs to each reader and instead only provide a single Google Doc which all readers share. This way, all feedback is in the same document, beta readers can see and respond to each other’s feedback, and you know exactly how far through the document each reader is at a glace.
After you have your Google Doc ready for beta readers to comment on, you’ll want to be a communication guru. Write regular updates informing your beta readers of what’s going on in the process.
This regular communication is necessary to help motivate readers to come back to your story after a few days away. Remember that they have lives, and sometimes your writing isn’t the most important thing they’re dealing with, so gentle reminders go a long way.
But even more effective that this are small incentives, in our case, badges.
The best way to motivate people is to gamify the beta reading process by offering achievement badges. This is just like when you win a badge in a video game. Here’s an example of my bages in action.
You’ll be amazed how well these badges work. All you need to do is come up with a list of achievements beta readers can unlock that you can easily track. Let them know about the badges and give them a timeframe.
When I announced my badges, beta readers immediately started reading and commenting on my story. Afterward, several let me know how it made the process more fun for them.
One of the problems with sending out a giant word doc is you’re in the dark for the whole process. It sucks to sit and wait blindly without knowing if people are even reading.
With the Google Docs, this isn’t an issue at all. And with the Google Form, you can add more ways of manually tracking how far through the process each beta reader is. This helps with sending rewards, keeping track of who’s lagging behind, etc. Good tracking keeps things running smoothly.
When the beta reading process is over, don’t leave your beta readers in the dark. Be sure to follow up with thank you gifts, and reach out to them periodically to let them know the status of your story now that they are done with it.
Chances are, your beta readers are pretty invested in your work at this point, and they’ll appreciate knowing everything that’s happening.
So that’s my process reduced to a single blog post. If you want more detailed info, I have great news! I’m writing a book on beta reading called Running a Perfect Beta Read: The Indie Author’s Guide to Harnessing Incentives, Technology, and Communication for an Out of This World Beta Reading Experience.Sign up for my Perfect Beta Read newsletter to be notified when it’s released.
Early Access is here, and it’s on Patreon now! For the past year, I’ve been working on a way to deliver Early Access stories to you so you can read and support my work before it’s published. Today is the day where it all comes together.
Starting with my brand new novella The Peculiar Case of the Luminous Eye, you can read my upcoming works before anyone else. In fact, the entirety of Peculiar Case is available in early access right now. Read it today!
The Peculiar Case of the Luminous Eye
A distraught client comes knocking in the dead of night seeking Willem, a detective specializing in supernatural anomalies. Her employer, a wealthy recluse with macabre sensibilities, suffers from an otherworldly disease—ghostly blue parasites live in his eye.
Willem set’s to work at what may become the most dangerous case of his career. With the help of Dr. Florence, a gifted surgeon and Willem’s infatuation, they seek to save their client’s life. But things are worse than they feared, and soon it is they who will need to be saved.
Early Access is a new feature I’ve put together on Patreon—it’s how you can read my upcoming works before they’re published. They’ve gone through several rounds of editing, including a developmental edit, beta read, and a round of high-tech machine-learning-fueled proofreading.
While Early Access works will have several free to read parts, to gain access to the entire story you’ll need to be a Patron, which you can become for only $1. Great news, that $1 will also earn you my complete library of ebooks! That’s 2 published novels, 3 short stories, and 1 Early Access novella. And if you stick around, there are 2 more novels planned for Early Access in 2019.
Lately, I’ve been contemplating my goals and the steps I need to take to accomplish them. I’ve been reading lots of books on psychology, success, and becoming a thriving artist. One thing I’ve learned is, if you don’t define your goals, put them out there, and define the steps that will lead you to success, then it likely won’t in the way you imagine happen.
So I’ve once again updated and redefined my goals, and now I’m putting them out into the universe to see what happens. My goals are lofty, but I know they’re achievable if I work deliberately.
In the coming year, I have one major goal and several sub-goals that will help me achieve it. Let’s start with the big one.
What I’m listening to while I write this post:
6,000 dedicated fans
When I say dedicated fans, I mean the people who eagerly await my next release and jump on the opportunity to buy my next book. That’s a high number and will be difficult to accomplish. But it’s also a deliberate number.
I’ve read that an artist with a following of 6,000 fans should generate enough income to survive off their art. While I likely wouldn’t quit my job at this point, it would set me up financially to invest in polishing my writing, marketing, and packaging far more than I can now.
Originally, I was thinking of setting my goal lower. 6,000 dedicated fans is a lot, after all. But I’m taking some of the advice from 10X Rule by James Clear which argues that you should set goals 10 time higher than your initial estimates.
I think that’s a smart plan, so I’m setting my primary goal for 2019 high and taking deliberate actions to accomplish it.
What follows are my sub-goals that will support my primary goal of 6,000 dedicated fans in order of priority.
Regular release schedule
The past two years I’ve been working hard on preparing for regular releases. I have several projects in the works that are starting to see the light of day in one form or another.
To keep this sustainable, I plan on alternating release from full-length novels to short stories or novellas then back again. The end game is to maintain a cadence of releasing something every six months or so.
This will take a lot of work, but I think with the alternating formats, it will be possible. In fact, I’m currently set up to release 3 books in 2019: The Peculiar Case of the Luminous Eye, Grim Curio, and The Gin Thief: Episode 2.
Build a robust creative team
Of course, publishing content is my top priority. You’re not a novelist unless you publish novels. But building a “creative team” is just as important. Art isn’t created in a vacuum, and I don’t intend to be a solitary author who rarely emerges from the shadows.
I want to create a thriving community of like-minded people. People who actively participate in the creation, production, and distribution of art. And before I sound too snobby, I’m really talking about everyday readers like you.
There are several ways you can participate. To be a part of my creative team, you first need to sign up and make it official. There’s really no commitment, just a desire to read, review, share, or finance my art and in return receive special access and cool rewards.
Fix back catalog issues
I have a few wrinkles I need to iron out in my back catalog. The two big one have to do with Discovering Aberration and The Gin Thief.
Discovering Aberration is held back by an awkward intro and editing issues. I attempted to fix them a few months ago but went overboard on my edits. So starting in about two weeks, I’m going to tackle this problem once and for all! It’s driving me nuts.
Next, I have The Gin Thief: Ep 1 that’s been waiting for a second episode for years. I’m not happy that this has taken so long, but I’ve talked about reasons in the past. Now I’m talking about solutions. It’s time to get a move on, and in the early months of 2019 Episode 2 will be written.
Part of my new release strategy is to release Early Access content regularly on Patreon. Patrons help me finance things like editing and cover design. In return, they get ebooks, Early Access content, and more.
The Peculiar Case of the Luminous Eye is the first work to hit Early Access. It’ll have a proper announcement in the next week or two. As long as I keep the quality of my Early Access works high, I think I’ll be able to attract fresh blood.
Most authors focus their marketing efforts online, and as a result, it’s easy to drown in the noise. Of course I’ll use the web as best I can to get the word out about my work, but I believe offline experiences are more important now than ever.
In 2019 I plan on offering offline experiences whereever I can. These may come in the form of mailers, printed and signed Early Release chapters, etc. I want to create cool things that you can touch and interact with.
My first instinct was to write 100 patrons. Attracting patrons is hard as hell. But I need to aim higher than that and work smarter at it. If 1,000 of you offer your patronage at any level in return for free books, Early Access content, and even surprise gifts, I’ll be able to afford extra polish on my releases.
Next year, I really want to schedule a Sci-Fi / Fantasy convention tour so I can meet you in person. Conventions are where I’ve always been the most successful at selling books and attracting fans, so this would be massive. I don’t know if I can finance this on my own, but with enough patron support, I will definitely be able to.
What’s the end goal?
6,000 dedicated fans is a tall order, but it’s just a step on the road to my lifetime goal. By the time I die, I want to be considered one of the best writers of my generation. I want to be known for pushing genre conventions, embracing literary elements, and having created more than one masterpieces. I want my fiction to affect the world.
That’s lofty, I know. But other people have done it before me. Why not I? It’s always been a dream of mine to labeled among the best storytellers. So every year, I need to take steps toward making that happen.
2018 was all about improving my writing. 2019 will be about spreading the word. And 2020? Who knows. All I know is the struggle will continue, and every year I’m getting one step closer.
The world is a messed up place right now. No two ways about it. I could list everything wrong with the world, but I think you already have a pretty good idea. So I’ve decided to pick an issue, and by the end of reading this, I hope you’ll join me and try to save the world.
What’s the worst that could happen?
People fret about politics a lot right now, and believe me, I see a lot of concerning stuff. Stuff that literally disgusts me. But what I’m talking about isn’t a political issue. It’s a world-wide issue. And it has its sights on us and our children.
I’m talking about climate change. Please divorce from your mind politics for a sec. I believe the implications of climate change are real, but even if it’s not a sure thing, I think I have a sane argument why everyone, no matter you’re political leaning, should do something. And that something doesn’t need to be difficult.
Why should you care?
Everyone agrees there is climate change occurring at this point. Even right-wing politicians admit there is change and it’s measurable. Their argument now is that there’s no way of knowing whether or not humans are causing it.
Let’s say we’re not the culprit. Is that enough reason to not attempt to save our planet? That’s like arguing against car insurance. I don’t think I’ll be at fault, but if I get in an accident, I want to be covered.
So, whether climate change is real, or whether it’s our fault, those aren’t the issues. The issue is, we’ve measured it, experts say it’s happening, we should take out an insurance policy just in case. We should take steps to save the planet, whether or not you’re certain it “needs” saving.
But how can I make any difference?
First, don’t depend on our government. They are inefficient in the best of times. The government won’t save us in time. They’re too short-sighted, too focused on their next election, too preoccupied by lobbyists, to beuracratic to make a difference when we need it. And we need to start now.
That means it’s up to us, the consumers of the world, to make daily choices that affect the planet in a positive way. A few of us alone will make a dent, but en mass? Friends, we can change the world. All we need to do is take small steps in their daily lives, buy products that support our need for a planet to survive, and companies will notice and adapt.
Trust me, they bow to the flux of the market. And who is the market if not us? Where your money goes, they will follow. That’s what speaks in this world, that’s what forces change. Cold hard cash. But you don’t have to make a donation. All you need to do is make a few small changes in your shopping habits.
Fight climate change in the grocery store.
There are many things we can do to help the planet, but if our efforts aren’t focused, they will dilute. We need to attack this problem one step at a time. So let’s start with one of the worst offenders. Let’s start by stopping our support of the largest emiter of greenhouse gasses in the world.
So if you care about our planet, if you want this to be a place your children can grow up in, then please cut back on the beef and dairy.
I hate the idea of it too. I love eating hamburgers and I enjoy milk in my coffee. It won’t be easy, but we need to make an impact where it will do the most good for the planet.
To begin, cut your beef and dairy consumption by half. If we can get a movement of pro-earth thinkers cutting back on beef, even cutting it out entirely, we’ll be taking a major step toward saving the planet.
Besides, you’ll probably lose a few pounds in the process. Save the world and look sexy doing it.
Please consider this. Tell your friends. It’s our home, our children’s home, that’s at stake. We need to take steps now.
Nimona, a graphic novel by Noelle Stevenson, is a cozy read. It takes place in a world where the bad guys are often more admirable than the good guys. The hero and the villain have a backstory that adds depth to what could have been a fairly shallow story in less caring hands.
In fact, you could say that about every aspect of Nimona. It could’ve easily fallen into cliche, but never does. It’s familiar enough to be comfortable but different enough to be unique, and the ending will give you the feels without pummeling you over the head EMOTIONS.
I think Noelle Stevenson was very smart about how she added complexity to Nimona. Every major character has a secret, a defining flaw that shapes how they view the world. It’s an excellent device that creates compelling character arcs for all without belaboring the storytelling.
Beyond this, there’s an underlying sweetness to the characters that took me by surprise. This is where the coziness comes from. Things have happened to them that forces them to be at odds with each other, but there are stronger forces that keep them coming back to each other even in the worst of times.
But even though it’s sweet doesn’t mean it’s bland or without a touch of darkness. Every character has a hidden depth, but I don’t want to give any of it away as it’s integral to the story being told. Suffice to say, what you see on the surface of any character is a result of something else that will be revealed in time. It’s a balance that works really well.
The artwork is simple yet charming. The characters have just enough complexity to keep you engaged the whole way through. And the plot has one or two twists and turns which aren’t earth-shattering, but they are solid and fun. If you want an easy read that promises to be a good time with a perfect ending for the story it’s trying to tell, then I highly recommend Nimona.
I drew a balloon. I’m experimenting with drawing a series of things of a similar shape. No significance to anything really, except for there are a ton of balloons in the house from my kids 6th birthday. He’s so big now! Anyway, hope you like it. Trying to get back into drawing consistently again.
How much of your memory actually happened? Are you sure your perception of reality is correct? If you can’t remember the details of a movie you saw last month, how can you be sure the memories of your life—those imaginary images that define who you are in relation to the world—are memories at all?
You make up your memories anew every time you remember them based on all the information at hand. That means based on your current condition, or even the current social climate, the things you are remembering have actually been altered by your own brain. It happens to all of us. And the more you remember, the more the memory changes as it’s rebuilt over and over again.
I’ve been thinking about this lately since I started reading the book You Are Not So Smart by David McRaney which dives into the many tricks your brain pulls on you that alter the way you perceive the world and yourself. Get this. How can you know who you really are if your brain is constantly shifting the things that define you?
There’s no way in nature, that’s for sure. Only human invention gives us a way of peering back to see a version of ourselves that used to exist but has since been transformed by endless rewriting. Things like pictures, video, audio recordings, and even writing are can give us that glimpse. But even that is filtered through your current mind.
So when you watch a video of your younger self, you can imagine the feelings you might have felt. But the more you watch it, the more your memory of those feelings are rewritten, gradually transforming into a numbness. The more you remember, the more numb you become.
Maybe searching our past in an effort to define who we are is a bad thing. I don’t think this is a fresh idea. You’ve heard the phrase, “live in the now.” Lately I’m thinking that’s more relevant than I ever gave it credit for.
To be honest, I don’t remember a lot about my childhood. There a little images here and there. I remember stories that I’ve told about growing up, stories I’ve told myself, but I don’t really remember the experiences. I wonder if I’m alone in this, or if others remember only the stories the way I do.
Leave a comment letting me know how your memory works. Do you actually remember events? When you think back, does it feel like you’re reliving a scene from a movie, or is it far removed from that? Are you like me, and everything’s a story of a story of a story?
And if you’re memory is altered with every remembering, how can you be certain of who you really are?
This blog post was inspired by You Are Not So Smart by David McRaney.