What all potential beta-readers, especially mine, really need to know

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The following edited description of what a beta-reader does is taken directly from Wikipedia:

A beta-reader is someone who reads a written work, generally fiction, with the intent of looking over the material to find and improve elements such as grammar and spelling, as well as to make suggestions to improve the story, its characters, or its setting. Beta reading is done before the story is released for public consumption. Elements highlighted by beta readers encompass things such as plot holes, problems with continuity, characterisation or believability.

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In effect, as a beta reader you are performing exactly the same function as a fulltime editor, not a critic. Some people simply fail to make the distinction, often unnecessarily taking the author to task, while completely forgetting that until its published, it is still a work in progress!!!

So far I have two volunteers, one English – the other American. When I’m not only happy with, but prepared to hand over my current WIP – Autumn 1066 for their close scrutiny, they’ll go to work. They are the novelist Andrew French (click on his name for his titles) and the prolific blogger here on WordPress, Colin Noel-Johnson.

As the novella is about a period in my country’s history which occurred almost a thousand years ago now, (nine hundred and fifty-one years to be exact). I’m not expecting to hear from many from across the pond wishing to volunteer. Or indeed anyone from the European continent come to that. Even so, should any of you care to take part in the exercise, your offer to help as a beta reader won’t be turned down.

Please email me at jackeason5@gmail.com if you wish to be added to the list. In cases like this, the more sets of eyes at work, the less chance there is of errors in the final product, prior to publishing.

Please remember that I have no intention of publishing the novella as an e-book. These days it’s the quickest way for any book to disappear from the public’s sight in Amazon’s cavernous slush pile, joining the millions of other e-books. To give it a fighting chance, it will only be published as a paperback.

PS – So much for my intended week’s break before beginning phase two. I’ve already begun…

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What it takes to write a book

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I’m taking one of my frequent breaks while writing my latest story to reveal how I go about doing it. I’ve spent the last twenty-five years honing the particular method that works for me.

First I write a paragraph. Then I take a cold hard look at the words I’ve written, in particular their order as I’m doing right now while writing this post. It is at this point that I begin to edit the words written, not only for ease of reading, but also from the point of view of spacing, capitalization when required, spelling, grammar and punctuation. While at the same time asking myself what other words can I use that mean the exact same thing, but still clearly convey my meaning to the reader, bearing in mind that there is alway more than one way to say something.

There is only one method when it comes to writing to be avoided at all costs. Sitting in front of your exercise book, typewriter or computer kidding yourself that by churning out thousands of words per day, that somehow by osmosis, doing so makes you a writer. It doesn’t! For the serious independent writer like myself, this line of thinking is a complete fallacy!

In the end all you have achieved is a big mess for someone else to fix, when you should have cleaned the manuscript up yourself before presenting it to your editor, if you use one!

All you have to do is think back to those bad marks you got in class for handing in sloppy work when you presented your essay or composition to your teacher? In this instance imagine that your editor is that teacher, wearing his or her ‘we are not amused’ expression on his or her face, at the prospect of having to make sense of your rambling manuscript…

We all see prime examples on a daily basis right here in the Blogosphere. If you can’t write an error free blog post, what makes you think you can write an error free book manuscript?

NaNoWriMo and other get it down quick notions have a lot to answer for! I’m pretty sure the concept was dreamt up by someone with an obsessive-compulsive disorder. 😉

Once you are finally happy with the paragraph, move on to the next and repeat each step I have mentioned. If your word count reaches somewhere between two hundred and fifty and five hundred words using this method, take it from me you have done a good day’s work.

Why do I limit the number of words I write each day? Simple – a little thing I call brain-fade! Ask yourself how long you can work at 100% capacity before you lose your concentration. This is precisely the reason why I constantly stop what I’m doing to take a breather. What you have to learn is to walk away from it! Go and make yourself a drink or get something to eat. In other words distract yourself. You can always return to it later. I normally work for no more than two hours at a stretch each and every day until I’ve reached the last word in the manuscript.

Each morning when I switch this laptop on, I open the saved file I’m using and once again begin the editing process by reading through what I’ve previously written. Often I see something that needs to be changed. Once I have corrected any mistakes during the daily read through, I can then begin to write the next paragraph.

See, its simple if you know how. My method of constant editing is not for everyone, but it works for me. Remember what I said earlier – a high daily word count is not a good thing unless you have no choice ie, you are a contracted writer for one of the big five publishing houses, where time is money and badly written manuscripts are the norm…

There is one last point for you to consider, turn off the in house spelling or grammar checkers within any writing software package you use. There is no substitute for having a dictionary like the Oxford English and its thesaurus close at hand. Learn to rely on the mark one eyeball like every writer worth their salt does.

PS – right that’s it, lesson over…

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The first progress post

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Does this place look familiar to you? If you read Forgotten it should do…

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Well I have begun. At the moment I’m in serious re-reading mode concerning The Forgotten Age. So far I’ve carefully worked my way through the first two chapters. I’m not just reacquainting myself with the characters, but also what happened in, around and beneath the Giza Plateau, as well as on the surface. I’m also making note of the seemingly random clues which most will have ignored, not appreciating their significance or even rejected as possible red herrings.

I always leave vague clues in every book I write. No doubt I’ll do the same thing when I come to write the sequel, just in case another is required by you in the future.

If you’ve already read Forgotten through thoroughly you will have noted the significance of above picture. DO NOT, I REPEAT, DO NOT SAY ANYTHING REGARDING IT IN YOUR COMMENTS. TO DO SO WOULD BE A MONUMENTAL SPOILER ALERT FOR NEW READERS!!! For those who have no clue what I’m talking about, do yourselves a favour and click on the above red link, get a copy and read it!

That’s about it for now. I’ve got more re-reading to do. More characters to catch up with both good and bad, plus more of those subtle clues to gather together…

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A rewrite is underway

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When I wrote and published The Seventh Age back in 2012, my thinking at the time was to get it out as quickly as possible before the winter solstice in that year, mistakes and all. Why? To appeal to those who firmly believed the Mayan calendar predictions that the world would end on December 21st of that year. Obviously it didn’t happen, but the book enjoyed a lot of success, selling in excess of a quarter of a million copies.

Now, having finally got round to re-reading it four years on, its time to produce a second edition, correcting the spelling errors as well as adding the few words missing throughout the story, principally to get the damned grammar nazis and assorted idiots of my back! Let’s face it, by not editing I gave them what they wanted. Unless they can tear a book apart, they’re not happy. And yet what really galls them to this day is that a book written by an Indie author became an overnight best seller despite the editing errors and their worst efforts.

So, this morning I’ve already begun while the rest of the world was still asleep. I’ll keep you updated with its progress. Meantime here is a direct quote from the original regarding the love affair between the two main characters Ithis, a crypto terrestrial and the archaeologist, Dr Nick Palmer at a critical juncture in the story:

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My heroine Ithis

From now on at night while he slept, Ithis entered his mind tenderly making gentle love to his soul, taking him beyond the normal wonderful sensations of lovemaking, ever mindful that she must not make actual physical contact – at least not just yet…’

PS – will it have a new cover? I have no plans to replace the original as it shows what the book is all about – time.

More later

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I Really Hate Grammar Checkers!!!

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As some of you may or may not know, I’m currently engaged in cleaning up my fantasy anthology Goblin Tales for its third and final edition. I’m doing this in order to produce a paperback version via Creatspace for all lovers of fantasy everywhere.

While I hate using any form of grammar checker, never the less I weakened once again to employ MS Word’s in-house system for the purposes of the exercise.

So far I’ve done one full run through to add every ‘Goblin Speak’ word to its dictionary. Now I am doing a grammar check, or at least I was until the stupid thing started to question perfectly acceptable words such as ‘himself’ when used correctly.

MS Word’s spelling and grammar checker simply fails to acknowledge the word, despite the fact that I have it specifically set up for British English. Instead it insists that I use ‘he’ or ‘him’. How can that be correct when according to the Oxford English Dictionary and Thesaurus its an acceptable word in the context in which I use it? After all, even Bing and Encarta which are linked to Word’s grammar checker agree with the OED for goodness sake.

Needless to say I’ve turned the damned thing off. The only thing to be said about proprietary spelling and grammar checkers is that they are obviously created by a committee of complete imbeciles! Don’t believe me? Just try the its/it’s test and watch your grammar checker argue with itself.

Life would be so much easier for all concerned if the scholars responsible for the OED had created one. To my knowledge, they haven’t…

It’s now time to get back to work. But before I go, there was one other thing I forgot to mention concerning the third edition of Goblin Tales. I was speaking to the creator of the Goblindom map Duncan Boswell the other day. He informs me that he has begun his preliminary sketches of all five goblins and Bejuss to help him produce the ‘family portrait’, which I need to add to the anthology.

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That old familiar feeling is back – tiredness…

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Unless you have all been living in a cave or on a desert island, or perhaps on top of a mountain, minus any form of internet connection, you’ll know that for the last several months I’ve devoted all of my time, concentration and energy to writing my latest novella, a love story entitled, Céleste, set in space.

Yesterday morning (Thursday the 4th) I finally finished it. The next stage is to go back over it by reading it through one last time before I reformat it, prior to publishing the Ebook version in a couple of weeks from now via KDP.

I’ll begin on monday morning, but not before. That will allow me the sheer luxury of taking a short break in the form of a three day weekend starting today (Friday the 5th) to clear my head in preparation for the task.

When you read Céleste’s tale, you will see that I’ve left a few things unanswered or hinted at, here and there. Why? To give myself the excuse for writing a sequel, (not that I need one) always providing of course that you all want more once you have shared in Céleste’s tale with her, and hopefully enjoyed it.

But not this year! I am now suddenly very tired. I need to rest and recharge for several months. Besides which, with my sixty-eighth birthday looming on the horizon (March 8th), its high time I took it easy for a while, don’t you think? I may even catch up with my own reading, starting with unread copies of books written by my friends Graham Hancock and Robert Bauval. The problem for me when reading any book by either of them is that I always guarantee to get story ideas. On the other hand my chess board awaits…

As I said in a previous post, I’ll let you know when the Ebook version is available.

Love to all,

Jack

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The last chapter beckons – or does it???

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With five chapters done and dusted, at the moment from my point of view, I only need to write just one more for Céleste to be novella length – approx thirty thousand words. It’s already knocking on twenty-seven thousand as it is.

For a while there I briefly toyed with the idea of maybe expanding it to fifty-thousand. But I quickly abandoned that notion simply because that would mean slowing the pace of the story, by bogging it down in mind numbing info dumps. To my great shame, I’ve done it in the past to pad out a story. No one wants that kind of thing interrupting the story line, myself included if I’m being brutaly honest.

So at 2am yesterday morning, once again I began the thought process necessary to carefully come up with all of chapter six’s twists and turns and maybe even an ultimate twist at the end, or not, as the case may be. Only time will tell when it comes to the latter point.

Meanwhile while I’m doing that, I’m also going back over the previous five chapters once again as I’ve done each time I’ve completed a chapter, looking for errors, inconsistencies, etc, etc while bearing in mind what both my fellow writers Nicholas Rossis and Derek Haines, have already commented on after they were good enought to read the .pdf copy I sent to them a week or so back.

Click on their highlighted names above to see their books on Amazon.com.

Now ladies and gentlemen I’d better get back to work, writing about Céleste and her love affair with David O’Leary, demands all of my time, not that I’m complaining mind you. Face facts, if you were me and you found yourself briefly sharing your life with an absolute stunner of a woman, albeit only in your mind, would you complain?

She’s got David firmly wrapped around her perfectly manicured little finger in the story. For him and me its a case of whatever Céleste wants, she gets. What can I tell you, we’re both madly in love with her. Were he real and we happened to meet, I would gladly punch him on the nose. That’s how jealous I have become of their relationship. Will I kill off the man she loves? We’ll see…

Now before you go, do yourselves a huge favour and click on her cover above to take a closer look at the fictitious women David and I positively worship before you hit the return key on your computer’s keyboard.

Thanks folks, more later,

Jack

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It’s Back To Work I Go

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I’ve heard from one of the two scifi authors, (Derek Haines and Nicholas Rossis) who I asked to check over the first fifteen thousand words of my latest science fiction work in progress – still entitled Céleste with the following as a possible subtitle –  love, hate and danger among the stars.

In Derek’s case, I asked him specifically to put on his English tutor’s hat when he read it through, as that is what he does for a crust when he’s not writing – teaching English to foreign students in Switzerland. The following is what he said in his email:

“Ok, I gave it a quick read. Great story developing! And I DO like the quantity of dialogue that is helping develop the characters. Not so keen on some of the adverbs in the dialogue tags though. Better to describe. eg; he said angrily. —- he said, glaring at him with rage in his eyes. The only other thing I noticed is that Internet should have a capital. Apart from that, great start!!”

Cheers Derek. It will be a while before I hear anything back from Nicholas, considering the impending birth of the child he and his wife Electra are expecting in a matter of days. So while I wait for him to eventually get back to me, the time for procrastination ended yesterday when I stopped re-reading The Hobbit for the nth time and immediately got back to work.

It really helps that from Derek’s considered point of view I’m on track with this one. How do I know that? Because in a follow up email he added: “It got my attention, so it works so far!” which is Aussie-speak for I like it. Coming from an author of his calibre that is praise indeed.

More later,

Jack

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Definitely a wood for the trees moment?

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This post follows on from the other day – https://havewehadhelp.wordpress.com/2015/09/02/a-message-to-the-slackers/ where one of the commenters (Ken Thackerey) questioned my thoughts on reviews being the author’s only real means of knowing how many people actually read a free copy of a book. He got me thinking further on the subject.

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Why do some books become best sellers? Is it the fact that the author promoted their book, hoping for sales, by initially giving it away once it was published? Perhaps it’s because the author publicised it on every book and social media site, not to mention their blog? Could it be because the author let it sit for a while in preorder mode, prior to publication? Maybe its the cover? Maybe its the fact that it was edited by a professional, or that a lot of money was spent having it promoted? Each one of them is standard practice, and yes they all help. But only up to a point. Might it have anything to do with genre? Not necessarily.

Then the penny finally dropped. It’s none of them or any combination you care to come up with. I’ll tell you why some books succeed while the rest don’t. It’s only taken me twenty years to finally figure it out. Call it a case of not being able to see the wood for the trees if you like. It’s blindingly obvious once you see it. The answer was staring me in the face all the time from the books in my library. It’s in yours too.

In this day and age, no matter the genre, or how much time and effort you put into bringing that story to life to make it stand out from the crowd, what any book needs is reviews. It doesn’t matter how good the story might be. Nor does it matter how eye-catching the cover is, or how much money was spent on having it promoted. To become popular, and therefore by osmosis, to be considered a best seller, if it doesn’t have glowing reviews prior to publishing, quite simply you are wasting your time. I’m not talking about those written by the general public after a book is published. Instead I’m talking about presale reviews.

Look at the cover of any book coming out of any traditional publishing house. Whether the author is a known quantity or a newcomer, all trad publishers ensure that each book they put out receives a smattering of excellent reviews prior to publishing, one or two on the front cover. Others inside after the title page, and maybe one on the back cover along with the author’s bio. It’s simplicity itself when you think about it.

What about Indies? Does this apply to them as well? Emphatically yes. I known what I’ll be doing with my next novella or novel before I publish it. Oh, and no more free samples…

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Come On, Own Up, How Many?

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Here is a question for all my fellow writers, both published like myself, and those who just love to write for the sheer joy of doing so. How many hours do you spend writing each day and how many words is usually involved?

Ever since I changed the way I write from how I used to in the past, when I would spend hours to achieve a daily word count in the thousands, I now stick rigidly to a short but extremely intense daily session. I find this is the method that works best for me. If you are wondering how long, these days I limit myself to adding no more than one to two hundred words per day. In my case I start writing at five in the morning, finishing promptly at eight am. I find that to continue beyond that three hour working window of 100% concentration, means that silly errors will inevitably begin to creep in due to my state of total mental exhaustion by the end of each session.

The rest of the day is taken up with a lot of thought about where the story wants me to go next, not the other way round, while I carry on with my normal daily activities. You must remember that a story is a living thing…

Years ago when I was still in the workforce I used to spend two to three hours writing each night from Monday until Friday. Then on the weekends I would write for twelve hours on both days. On public holidays the number of hours sometimes stretched from twelve to eighteen. While to the unitiated, endlessly pouring out words might seem to be the only way to write a story, trust me when I tell you it isn’t! In fact its often the worst possible way of going about it. If you don’t believe me, just look at the hundreds of thousands of poorly written books out there by writers who convinced themselves that high daily word counts is the only way to go. A daily three hour session is by far the best way from my point of view.

I would love to hear how you go about it, but I know you lot of old. Most of you are too damned shy! Don’t just leave it up to the normal three or four regulars to comment. There is absolutely no excuse for you not joining in. You never know, you might even gain some useful ideas and tips on the subject from one another. So leave your thoughts for others to read as comments below this post.

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