Beta Readers, Critique Partners, Editors; They’re all the Same, Right?

Today’s post is a little different from the usual. I was asked to write a guest post over at Live, Love, Read, and I chose to write about something I feel could have value to all of you here as well — the difference between critique partners, beta readers, and editors. Rather than copy the article in full though, I’m going to use the handy re-blog feature and turn you over to the lovely ladies that host the Musings of the Eternal Dreamers series, for which the post was written. There a lot of other articles from that series which might also be of interest, so be sure to check them out as well. Enjoy! 🙂

Live, Love, Read

eternaldreamers

Beta Readers, Critique Partners, Editors: They’re all the Same, Right?
by Kisa Whipkey
Acquisitions and Editorial Director, REUTS Publications

Beta Readers. Critique Partners. Editors. These are all terms that swirl around the writing community, and authors are encouraged to collect them all, like Pokemon. But that advice, while true, rarely includes the order in which you should use them. And there is an order, trust me. We’ll get to that in a minute, though. First, let’s look at what each of these important roles entails and how they impact your journey as an author, because, contrary to what some believe, they are most definitely not the same.

I’ve written about the different types of critiques several times on my own blog, so feel free to check out that article as well. For now, here’s a small preview detailing the three review types pertinent to today’s discussion.

The Critique Partner

Every…

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Featured From the Archives: Motivation (Or the Lack Thereof)

Yep, I went archive-diving again. I do have new content in the works, but time, health, and other forces keep conspiring against me. Which means I either dredge something up from the archives, or post nothing at all. And since I am battling a rather large dose of the Blahs right now, this article felt particularly relevant. You’ll see why in a moment.

Motivation (Or the Lack Thereof)

by Kisa Whipkey

Originally Posted on 2/8/13

Writing requires two things to flow smoothly — inspiration and motivation. I’ve already ranted about the fickle nature of inspiration here, so today, it’s motivation’s turn.

We’ve all had those weeks where it feels like we’re carrying around 500 pounds of iron. Where even breathing is too much work, and the lure of creativity pales to that of our bed or TV. But life can’t just stop, can it? No matter how much we don’t want to deal with anything, wishing to bury our heads in the proverbial sand, we have to suck it up and carry on. And while that attitude can get you through the dreary act of day-to-day chores (barely), it’s as good as cyanide to your muse.

Muses are easily chased away by anything from stress, to illness, to exhaustion. That perfect combination of inspiration and motivation? It only strikes like a lightning bolt in a blue moon. If you wait for it, you might get a whopping 3 days a year to write, and they’ll land on days when you don’t have more than two seconds to yourself. Guaranteed. So what do you do instead? What do you do when motivation leaves your sails deflated and your muse MIA?

Just like inspiration can be tricked into making a reappearance, you can kick-start motivation. Everyone has their own methods, but here are some of mine. Feel free to give them a try if you’re suffering a bout of motivation-less Blahs, like I am.

  • Read:  I find reading relaxing, so whenever my muse decides to take a vacation without me, I turn to books. Reading puts me back in the literary frame of mind, and nothing is more inspiring than reading someone else’s brilliance. You never know, maybe some of that brilliance will rub off on you like the dust from a butterfly’s wings.
  • Listen to music: Music is such an integral part of my storytelling process that it’s no surprise this is on the list. Since it’s the root of all my inspiration, spending some quality time surrounded by the songs tied to my works-in-progress can jump-start my inner projector and get things back on track. So if you don’t already use music as the excellent source of motivation it is, try creating a playlist of songs that invoke your story in some way, either the emotional content, the visuals, or the overall tone, and see if your muse will decide to come dance in the melodic rain for you.
  • Watch TV/Go to the movies: Storytelling is storytelling, and sometimes just being immersed in it can be enough to rekindle the sparks of motivation. (Yep, I just gave you license to be a couch-potato. You’re welcome. 😉 )
  • Chat with your critique partner: No matter how lame I’m feeling, a critique buddy can instantly get me fired back up. Plus, I really hate to let people down, so my sense of guilt for being a slacker can sometimes be enough to spur me back into action. If you have a critique partner, you already know there’s nothing better for motivation than commiserating with a fellow writer. If you don’t have a critique partner, find one. It’s amazing what having a little accountability can do.
  • Work on something easier: I find blogging to be exceedingly easy compared to fiction. (Although this week has been like pulling teeth, so maybe this theory is a bust.) Anything that uses what I call “Essay Voice” doesn’t require as much thought for me. So I use it to get the words flowing. If fiction has come to a grinding halt for you, try working on something else. Either something that has fewer expectations of greatness because you’re less invested in it, or something that uses a less formal voice. Even Tweets and Facebook can count. Sometimes. Just don’t let your social-media addiction derail any motivational value you might get from them.
  • Deal with the To-Do list: I’ve found that I can’t write a darned thing when my To-Do list is as high as Mount Everest. So when my internal stress-alerts start to sound like a bomb about to explode,  I take a deep breath, set aside any thoughts of writing and tackle that list one step at a time. Eventually, I get to the end and am able to write burden free. Distraction is a writer’s worst enemy, so whether you’re worried about finances, your house needs a thorough bath, or your DVR is about to overflow and erase all your favorite shows (No? That last one’s just me? Awesome), face the demon. Take the time you need to deal with that particular set of worries. Balance your checkbook; figure out where all your money is going and how to stop bleeding green. Clean your house. Watch those shows. (I really want you to be a couch potato, don’t I?) Do whatever you have to in order to clear your head. Then get back to writing, when motivation isn’t being buried beneath six feet of stress.
  • Take a nap/bath/shower: Creativity is akin to dreaming in many ways, so doing things that promote that state of mind always helps. For me, those activities are sleep (which is also beneficial if you’re a walking zombie and can’t even function, let alone write), or anything related to the shower. Don’t ask me why the combination of hot water and bubbles cues up the movies in my head, but I swear, the shower is the best place for me to write. If only they made waterproof laptops I could install in the tile wall. Point is, whatever location is most conducive to your imagination, go there. Maybe it will trigger something.
  • Force it: This rarely works for me, as evidenced by the somewhat lackluster drivel of this post, but for some people, it’s the only answer. If I try to force it, kicking and screaming like a kid about to go to the doctor for a shot, I spend the whole day staring at a blinking cursor and end up with four sentences I delete later anyway. So this is a last resort kind of thing for me. But maybe you’re the kind of person that can grit your teeth and force your muse to play like a bully forcing an unlucky victim into a locker. If you can, then more power to you. My muse is too fragile for that kind of brutality. It would leave me forever if I tried that approach.
  • Give up and wait for the Blahs to pass: Sometimes you really just need a day off. I’m an admitted workaholic, so I take a true day off once every 3-4 months. (A “true day off ” meaning that I plunk my butt on the couch and watch as much TV as I can in a single day.  See?  You wouldn’t be alone in couch potato-land. Come join me; it’s fun!) And I immediately feel guilty for it. But sometimes, you really just need to recharge the batteries. Our beloved phones can’t run on empty, so why should we? Remind yourself it’s okay to be a slacker every now and then, and give yourself a break. The Blahs will pass once your battery hits full and motivation will return with a vengeance.

Now, it’s your turn. What are your strategies for jump-starting motivation? Maybe you have some nifty tricks up your sleeve that I haven’t tried yet. Feel free to share in the comments below.  😉

From the Editor’s Desk: Link by Summer Wier

I know, I know, lots of book reviews lately! What can I say? I’ve been a reading fiend. (Okay, not really. I was just really far behind on my reviews and finally had a chance to start catching up.) But today’s post comes to you as part of a blog tour, so if you must blame anything, blame that. Although, I think after you hear a little more about today’s book, you won’t be feeling the need to place blame at all; it’s a cool one. I promise.

It’s also one that I had the pleasure of assisting into the world, hence the title of the post. Everyone knows what that means now, yes? I can skip the disclaimer? (For those who don’t, it means I was the editor on the project, and this is my way of sharing my excitement for it with all of you.) Then let’s get to the review, shall we?

Link

by Summer Wier

Link Cover

For seventeen-year-old Kira, there’s no better way to celebrate a birthday than being surrounded by friends and huddled beside a campfire deep in the woods. And with a birthday in the peak of summer, that includes late night swims under the stars.

Or at least, it used to.

Kira’s relaxing contemplation of the universe is interrupted when a piece of it falls, colliding with her and starting a chain of events that could unexpectedly lead to the one thing in her life that’s missing—her father.

Tossed into a pieced-together world of carnivals and gypsies, an old-fashioned farmhouse, and the alluring presence of a boy from another planet, Kira discovers she’s been transported to the center of a black hole, and there’s more to the story than science can explain. She’s now linked by starlight to the world inside the darkness. And her star is dying.

If she doesn’t return home before the star’s light disappears and her link breaks, she’ll be trapped forever. But she’s not the only one ensnared, and with time running out, she’ll have to find a way to save a part of her past and a part of her future, or risk losing everything she loves.

Dreamy, fluid, and beautiful, Link pairs the mystery of science fiction with the minor-key melody of a dark fantasy, creating a tale that is as human as it is out of this world.

Link is, in a word, unique. I’m not sure I’ve ever come across a book quite like it. It’s solidly science fiction, but I’ll admit that for the first third (up until a certain scene I can’t talk about because it would spoil it), I did wonder if it wasn’t actually dark fantasy. The truth is, it’s sort of both, crossing and blending the genres in a way that’s wholly original and entirely fascinating.

The thing I love about this one is that it’s not nearly as straight-forward as it seems at a glance. Yes, it is YA, and as such, features the usual teenage angst and romantic sub-plot, but it’s also handled in a way that feels authentic and doesn’t detract from the multi-layered plot that forms around it. Kira approaches her situation with all the acumen and maturity expected of a seventeen-year-old who’s suddenly had everything she’s known ripped away.

Mystery, adventure, and even danger face Kira as she struggles to come to terms not only with the fact that there’s more to the universe than she ever imagined, but also with the truth behind her past and her own identity. Wier manages to keep what is arguably a very personal journey for Kira at the center of the story, weaving an intricate and even somewhat plausible world (as a recent discovery by Stephen Hawking supports) around a framework that is easy to relate to and entirely human. The relationship between Kira and her mom is especially poignant, and something not often seen in YA literature, where absentee parental figures tend to reign.

The first in a trilogy, Link sets the stage for what promises to be an exciting and refreshingly original contribution to the genre. With simplistic prose that is at once lyrical and genuine, Wier paints a splendid, sometimes emotional tale that barely scratches the surface of what her world has to offer. She’s definitely a debut author to keep an eye on, and I, for one, can’t wait for the second installment.

Book Links: Amazon | Goodreads | Barnes & Noble

Book Review Wednesday: Split the Party by Drew Hayes

Hey, look! We haven’t had one of these in a while. But as I continue to corral the chaos of the past few months back into at least some semblance of normal, they should be appearing more frequently. Today’s post is special, though, because not only is it a return of the Book Review Wednesday, it’s the release date for the book featured. That’s right, today is the day Split the Party by Drew Hayes is released into the hands of readers everywhere. So check out my thoughts on it, and then go wish Drew a brilliant book birthday by purchasing a copy for yourself. Sound good? Good. 😉

**Disclaimer: I was hired to proofread Split the Party, but the opinions expressed below are entirely my own and were not impacted by the author’s ability to use commas.**

Split the Party

by Drew Hayes

Split the Party by Drew Hayes

My Rating: 5/5 Stars

Fleeing from a vengeful king has sent the former NPCs across Solium’s borders, into the kingdom of Alcatham. As wanted fugitives, they head to the small farming village of Briarwillow, hoping to blend in, lay-low, and avoid trouble at all costs.

Unfortunately, Briarwillow has problems all its own, and its troubles quickly become theirs. If they hope to survive long enough to escape, they’ll have to tackle an all-but-forgotten mystery buried at the town’s border, as well as seek the wisdom of a mysterious group of mages.

With time, magic, and at least one god against them, it will take everything they’ve got to save Briarwillow, and themselves.

The highly anticipated sequel to Hayes’s unique, role-playing-game-inspired NPCs sees the return of everyone’s favorite non-player characters. Exiled and on the run, the gang ventures into new territory, both physically, as they cross the border into a new kingdom, and figuratively. While still infused with all the charm of the original, fans of Hayes’s work will also quickly notice a distinct shift in the overall feel of the narrative, moving into slightly darker arenas and taking on heavier, almost somber undertones. Hayes’s signature humor is still present, of course, but the backbone of the story feels more serious and deals with themes that resonate more deeply on an emotional level than the first book did.

The pacing of this one is quite a bit different as well, sauntering at a slower, more controlled clip, and the scope of the world the NPCs explore is smaller this time, hovering around a single location instead of sprawling across a massive kingdom. But where a certain video game franchise attempted something similar and failed, Hayes succeeded, taking the opportunity to more fully flesh out the characters and overall mythos of the world.

The one thing I was perhaps a tad disappointed with was the lack of interaction between the real world and the adventurers. That was part of what made the first one so brilliant, in my opinion, and this one doesn’t really have that same aspect. Yet. It’s obviously coming in future installments though.

In a way, Split the Party almost feels like the start of the series rather than a sequel, as it was very episodic in nature, less sprawling, and felt like the base for something much larger. Even though there were a lot of obvious references to the first installment, it still felt a bit more like a side-step than a step forward in terms of answering the questions we were left with at the end of NPCs.

That said, the plot of this one is definitely self-sufficient, and while my questions might not have answers yet, I was left feeling satisfied and looking forward to the next one. So I suppose the best analogy would be that it was like watching an episode of my favorite show in the middle of the season, rather than the season finale.

Anyway, take that for what its worth. I’m still a huge fan of this series, and all I can say is, “MORE PLEASE!” 🙂

Book Links: Amazon | Goodreads

Featured From the Archives: My Love Affair With Complex Narratives

Confession: I was going to use today’s post to wax poetic (or completely fangirl gush, I hadn’t decided yet) about one of the books I finished recently. But then I realized that next week already has two book reviews scheduled. So instead of subjecting to you to four straight posts of reviews, I figured I’d pull something from the archives. You’re welcome.

This particular post (which I can’t believe was written over TWO YEARS ago already) does have a certain relevance, though. Not just in my own work, but for what I look for in general. I suspect that a large portion of you out there are writers. And I further suspect that most of you, if not all of you, are aware of my position as Head of Acquisitions for REUTS Publications. (That’s not my official title, by the way, but you know what I mean.) And I would hazard that of those who both write and know I actively cull the query trenches for new victims (did I say that? I meant authors —  talented, amazing authors) there are even some who have heard or seen the #MSWL tag/site.

In case you haven’t though, that’s short for Manuscript Wish List, and yes, I have a profile there detailing what I’ve been tasked with finding. In it, you’ll see that I list “intricate, multi-layered narratives” as one of the things most likely to tickle my fancy. Some have even submitted with that particular desire mentioned in their query. But it seems not everyone really knows what that means.

Which brings us to today’s topic: defining exactly what I mean when I say “intricate, multi-layered narratives.” Keep in mind that this was primarily written in reference to my own work, but the definitions toward the bottom are certainly useful for querying authors. (And to those thinking of submitting to REUTS/me: bonus points if you use the correct terminology in your query. 😉 )

My Love Affair With Complex Narratives

by Kisa Whipkey

Originally Posted on 3/29/13

I had a revelation this week — I’m completely infatuated with complex narratives. More than infatuated, I’m like an obsessed stalker. I already knew that my WIP was a complicated son-of-a-gun, with layers upon layers of intricate plot threads. But when my “simple” rewrite of The Bardach suddenly decided to morph into a complete overhaul with an added web of complexity, I started to wonder if it was a pattern.

Every writer has their go-to storytelling device, and apparently, this is mine. Like some kind of virus viciously mutating my fluffy little ideas into beefy, hulk-like variations with mental disorders, complex narration has spread through almost all of my plot bunnies. I suppose that really shouldn’t be a surprise, given the type of entertainment I tend to gravitate toward (they do say writers should write what they love to read), but still.

Why do I feel the need to complicate everything? Is it to push myself out of my comfort zone, testing my limits as a writer and forcing myself to rise to the challenge? Or is it simply that those are the stories I most enjoy as a reader? I’m honestly not sure, but I suspect it’s a little bit of both.

I’ve been writing for a long time now — over 20 years if you count the embarrassing grade-school attempts my mom continues to mortify me with whenever she gets the chance. (Love you, Mom!) And I’ve been an avid reader for even longer. So maybe it was a natural progression that I would grow past the simple narratives and start searching for things that were more complicated and therefore interesting.

I think all of us start to feel storytelling overload in this entertainment-soaked digital age. Eventually, storylines become predictable, plot twists become stale, character archetypes become as familiar as our siblings. So when a book/movie/show/game manages to keep us on our toes with an unexpected curveball, we are instantly intrigued. I know I go from only halfway paying attention to fully engaged in T minus 2 seconds when I run into a story that is different, refreshingly intricate, or surprising in some way.

Complex narratives add that extra depth to a story, regardless of medium. When done well, they’re almost invisible. The only thing readers notice is total immersion in the experience. We’ve all felt it. It’s the difference between mildly enjoying something and being so hooked that you’re glued to the edge of your seat, riveted until it ends; finishing a book and then promptly forgetting it, or being consumed by the need to share its brilliance with everyone you know. In short, it’s exactly the kind of reaction every content creator hopes to elicit from their audience.

What exactly are these complicated creatures I simply cannot live without? Well, there are several types of complex narratives, including these fine specimens:

  • Flashbacks: The interjection of a past scene or memory that illuminates the current situation or provides insight into the character’s backstory.
  • Dream Sequences: Similar to flashbacks, this oft-scorned device introduces atmospheric foreshadowing, additional information, or mystery for the reader.
  • Repetition: Just like it sounds; the literal repetition of a scene, clue, theme, etc.
  • Swapping POVs: We should all recognize this one. Head-hopping has become a pretty popular method for providing readers with multiple perspectives inside one plot. Just make sure you keep the identities clearly separated, generally with a scene or chapter break.
  • Converging Plotlines: Two seemingly unrelated, simultaneous plotlines that converge at the end, where the connection and overall message of the piece is finally revealed.
  • Circular Plotting: The story circles back around to the beginning.
  • Backward Storytelling: The end is shown first. We then work backward toward it, explaining how the characters got there in the process.
  • Framed Narration: A story within a story. Or in my case, a story within a story within a story. It’s up to you how many layers deep you want to make it. As long as you can keep it all straight and clear enough for the reader, it’s all fair game.

I’ve used them all in some form or other without even realizing it. You probably have too. Even my first forays into storytelling (I’m not counting those frightening grammar-school moments, no matter how much Mom insists they’re legit) contained flashbacks, dream sequences, and framed narratives. Those of you who have read my short stories know that I graduated to a hybrid of backward storytelling and circular plotting with Confessions, and have now gone even further to converging plotlines in the new version of The Bardach and a combination of about 5 techniques, including repetition, in Unmoving. It’s taking an exhausting toll on my muse, that’s for sure, and has me screaming, “What’s wrong with a little simplicity?”

The fact is, there’s nothing wrong with it. The standard three-act structure with no fancy trappings has been the traditional storytelling format for thousands of years. But complex narration builds on that, creating a richer, more engaging experience for everyone. Isn’t that what every writer wants? To connect deeply with their readers? I know I do. I want to make people feel the way I have when reading some of my favorite books — nearly all of which utilized at least some of the techniques listed above. Maybe that’s where I learned it, emulating my favorite authors while searching for my own literary voice. In the end, who really knows? All I know is that my stories would feel extremely lacking without their complexity. And that’s as good a reason as any to keep including it, even if, as I strongly suspect, it’s at least partially responsible for my slacker status on the prolific-meter. 😉

How about you, do you prefer simple or complex narratives? Sound off in the comments below!