Six (Sets of) Questions to Ask as a Beta Reader


If you’ve been writing for very long at all, you know that one of the critical tools in any writer’s arsenal is good readers. Sometimes these readers may come in the form of a critique group (sometimes called alpha readers) who read the story in progress. Often, they come in the form of beta readers–other writers and readers that read the entire novel and give feedback on the overall shape of the story. Personally, I think most writers–especially in the early stages–need both. 
But finding good readers can be tricky, particularly since, if you’ve asked another writer to read your work, there’s an implicit understanding that you’ll read theirs in turn. And being a good reader can be even harder. There are lots of blog posts out there on how to start a story. There aren’t nearly as many posts on how to read a story in order to give feedback. My aim here is to give you six (sets–okay, I’m cheating a little!) of questions to help you as a beta reader.

(If you’re reading this hoping to find directions on how to find a beta reader, may I direct you here instead?)
When you’re reading another author’s manuscript, the most important thing you can do is read as a reader–think about how you respond as a reader and try to articulate that response to the other writer. It goes without saying that your feedback should be honest and kind: someone has trusted you with their precious words, and you need to respect that trust. 
Also, don’t overwhelm the writer by detailing everything that you think needs fixing. Try to focus on a few areas that will make the biggest difference in revision. At this stage, you want to focus on big picture issues (plot, setting, pacing, character, mood and voice) rather than local issues (phrasing, grammar, style), since local issues are often things that might change in revision anyway.
Below, I offer questions you can ask as you read someone else’s manuscript to help pinpoint what suggestions to offer. (Alternately, you can also use these questions to guide beta readers who are new to critiquing. This is especially helpful if, say, you’re asking your roommate or partner to read for you. Though I also recommend branching out to other readers!) 

Questions about Plot:

Where does the story really begin?
Is it clear what the MC wants (consciously or subconsciously)–and is most of the action driven by her choices in pursuit of that?
Is most of the action rising action that escalates the conflict?
Where does rising action seem weak?
Where could readers use a break?
Is the ending satisfying? Why or why not?
The Cockeyed Caravan blog also has a great list of questions about plot.

Questions about Scene and Setting:

Which setting was most memorable—and why?
Does each scene have its own arc (goal-conflict-disaster)?
Does the end of a scene make you want to keep reading?

Questions about Pacing:

Where do you find yourself skimming?
Where do you find yourself wishing the author would slow down?
Where did you stop reading the first time?

Questions about Character:

What character do you enjoy the most—why?
What three words would you use to describe the main character?
Where do characters behave inconsistently?
Do you have trouble distinguishing between any of the characters—and why?
If you had to get rid of a character, who would it be—and why?
Does the main character ever surprise you? When?

Questions about Emotion and Mood:

What scenes made you the most emotional?
What scenes felt emotionally detached?
Does the mood shift in meaningful ways throughout the story?

Questions about Voice:

What three words would you use to describe the voice of this story?
Where is the voice especially distinctive?
Where does the voice seem bland or generic?
Note places where the dialogue bogs down or seems unrealistic.

Used with permission from Debbie Ridpath Ohi at Inkygirl.com: http://inkygirl.com/comic-use-policy/


By the time you’ve answered these questions, you should have some idea of the strengths of the novel, as well as areas where the writer can improve. As a teacher, I recommend using the sandwich method: start your feedback by praising what the author does well. Then offer suggestions for areas that could be improved. Close by returning to the strengths of the paper. Our goal as beta readers is to encourage the writer to improve their writing–not crush them so completely they refuse to write at all. (And though I’ve practiced this my whole teaching life, I didn’t realize how critical praise as until I got my own edit letter for the first time–the praise was the only thing that saved me, in the face of all the things I needed to work on).

If you’re still looking for more tips on giving feedback, you can check out this post on tips for phrasing your feedback to be most effective and this post on other ways to be awesome at critiquing.
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Rosalyn Eves is a part-time writer, part-time English professor, and full-time mother of three. She loves all things BBC, especially costume dramas and mysteries. When not wrangling children (and sometimes when she should be wrangling children), she’s often found reading. Her debut novel, BLOOD ROSE REBELLION, is forthcoming March 2017 from Knopf/Random House. She’s represented by Josh Adams of Adams Literary.

 

Find Your People

Writers often get a bad rap for being an anti-social bunch. Yes, it’s true: a large percentage of us lean towards introversion, which is why writing is such a good choice for us. We can express ourselves without needing to, you know, actually speak to people face-to-face. Plus, introverted or not, writing requires a lot of solitude. We need quiet to think and sort out our plots; we spend a lot of time in our own heads or alone with our notebooks or computer screens creating imaginary worlds and living the lives of imaginary people. Sometimes we even opt out of social events in order to meet deadlines, often working into the dead of night when everyone else we know (besides other writers) is asleep.

But despite all these hurdles, we’re really not as anti-social as many non-writers think. I think even we think we are—pride ourselves in it even—but I’ve been finding that’s not entirely accurate. Writers are, after all, communicators. Sure, the above mentioned hurdles prevent us from getting out as much as our friends would probably like us to, but social media for instance, especially Twitter, is crawling with writers. Cooped up inside, we crave some form of human interaction, so online we go, even if it’s just to let everyone know what we had for breakfast that morning (writing fuel, we label it) or to Instagram a pic of our fourth cup of coffee in our cute Keep Calm & Write On mug (yes, I have one of these. It’s one of my favorites).

Online interaction is all well and good; it’s important to network with other writers and industry professionals. I know I’ve learned a ton just from chatting with other writers on Twitter—things I never would have known, or at least would have had to figure out the hard way, if I’d never joined. But here’s the thing: there’s only so much shop you can comfortably talk online with who knows how many people watching. That’s why I feel it’s important to get out and meet other writers face-to-face. These are your people! They know exactly what you’re going through every day. Go hang out!

I just got back from a fantastic small get-together yesterday with other writers I met on Twitter. We all met up at a restaurant and afterward some of us went to one of our houses and stayed up late drinking wine and playing games. I considered it to be not just a get-together but really, a form of writer’s retreat, even though, here’s the thing: we didn’t actually write. Not a single bit. But we talked about it. We commiserated. We gave each other tips. We joked and told stories of writing joys and mishaps. We talked about what kinds of books were selling and what kinds weren’t and why that might be and gee, how the heck are you supposed to know these things when, by the time you see those books on the shelves, the industry has already moved past that fad, and gah, you can’t, you just need to write what you want to write and hope for the best and cry, and laugh, and shrug, and keep on trying.

It was fantastic. It was relieving, in a way, to be around other people who “get” it. These are things that, sure, I can talk about with my non-writer friends, but they haven’t experienced it. So they can offer sympathy, but they can’t say “ugh, yes, been there, done that, oh and I also did this, have you tried this?” And a lot of the things we talked about were not things we would ever talk about online (at least not in such detail) except maybe in private messages, simply because it’s not a good idea to talk about your specific querying struggles online, or complain about certain industry trends, etc. These are off-the-record type conversations only, because that’s your public face. You can get pretty goofy, sure, but you must still remain professional to a certain extent. In person, you can talk shop more. And you should. It’s important to see that it’s not just you—someone else also got a nasty rejection yesterday that made them cry, but that they haven’t given up yet and neither should you.

So if you haven’t stepped past online interaction with your fellow writers yet, I highly recommend you do so. Whether it’s by going to a conference, joining a critique group, or simply organizing a get-together with a few other local writers, get out there and find your people!*

*Disclaimer: Please be smart though. The internet is a wild place full of unpredictable characters. Meet for the first time in groups, or at the very least, in a public place until you get to know the people/person you’re meeting up with better and know whether you can feel safe with them. Use your head!
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When she’s not writing, revising, or banging her head on the keyboard (it’s all the same, right?), Megan Paasch can be found playing her ukulele (badly), knitting (rarely anymore, unfortunately), or herding two amazing, but rowdy little boys (pretty much constantly) with her husband. A native to the Pacific Northwest, Megan earned her B.A. in History from the University of Washington. (Go Huskies!) Her favorite history subjects were, and still are, Women in History, the Tudors, and the Celts. You can read more about her here. 

Should and Shouldn’t for Writers

When I was growing up, my dad had this cool little poem he used to say to us all the time, and I’m not even sure where he got it:

There are things you should do that you do want to do,
And things you should to that you don’t want to do. 
There are also things you shouldn’t do that you do want to do,
As well as things you shouldn’t do that you don’t want to do.

The thing to do is not to do the things you shouldn’t do,
But rather,
Do the things you should do, 
Whether you want to do them or not.

Now obviously that applies pretty straightforwardly to life, but I’m going to take it a bit more specifically today and talk about it in relation to writing. Because here’s the thing: I finished Draft Zero this week, and I haven’t touched it since, and for me, knowing my processes, that’s a thing I shouldn’t do. So, as a writer, what are some of the things you should do?

1. Just Keep Writing

Sometimes writing can be tough, and other times it’s easy. The trick to being a full-time writer is writing even when you don’t want to write. Some writers are binge-writers, and others do better with consistency. Like anything, you have to know what works best for you. But there will come a time, especially when you have contracts and deadlines, when you just don’t want to write. But you must, because the show must go on–the writing must get done. Our new contributor, Ilima Todd, just wrote this FANTASTIC post on that exact topic, so I won’t go into that too much. Just know that this is one of those things you don’t ever expect to happen to you, but it comes to us all.

2. Find Your Best Critique Partners

When I first started writing, I had no idea what a good Critique Partner was or how to get one. Well I’m going to pass on to you you some of the best advice I ever got on how to find them. (This comes from the mind and blog of LeighAnn Kopans.)

a. Watch pitch/query contests and twitter for writers you get along with talking about their books.
b. If their book sounds like something you’d love to read, OFFER TO READ IT.
c. If you’re at a similar stage in your careers, this will usually result in a return offer.
d. If you both benefit from each others’ critiques, you continue exchanging, and you are officially CPs.

Let me sum up: do not go onto social media and say “PLEASE READ MY BOOK,” because you’re basically begging strangers to help you remodel the bathroom you just tried and failed to build. But if you first offer to read for others, they will usually offer to read for you. And having critique partners who know your writing and love your work is probably the best thing any author could ever ask for.

3. Be Honest With Your IRL People

The other day, we visited my husband’s grandmother for her birthday. She also had some friends over, so she introduced me as a writer. The friend began to ask questions. The best one was, “how long does it take to write a book?” I tried to answer concisely, and she was legitimately shocked when I told her that from initial idea to first draft could be anywhere from a few weeks to a year, and another two to five years on top of that until publication (again, depending on the author and publisher).

Your significant other or extended family will never know what you’re going through unless you tell them. They may not be able to help you fix plot problems or grammar, but they can be a listening ear, they can help you remember to sleep, or eat, or shower. They love you, and they can help you do this if you let them.

4. Seriously. Just Write.

Whether it’s five words a day or five hundred, or zero one day and more the next, you are a writer if you want to write. There are literally no other requirements. You don’t have to want an agent or to be published, you don’t have to write every day, or every week. You don’t even have to want to write a novel.

But over time, you’ll learn more about yourself and what you want from this art you’re doing. And when you learn that, you’ll set goals for yourself. With goals comes progress, and with progress you’ll plan the way to accomplish your dreams. Then, and only then, will you know exactly the things you should and shouldn’t do.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a draft to revise.

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Darci Cole is an author of YA and MG scifi/fantasy, usually with a romantic twist. She spends her spare time making magic wands, reading good books, eating good food, and raising two sons alongside her incredible husband.

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Writers, Keep Your Promises

Hello writers! Nice to see you again!

During November I did NaNoWriMo, (National Novel Writing Month), as I have for the last four years. But something different happened this time.

See, as I draft, I’m usually also leaving notes for myself. My first write-through is ridiculously messy. Brackets all over the place, bits of outline here and there, cut scenes left behind so I don’t forget what I was doing when I come back to it. It’s completely unreadable by anyone’s eyes but mine.

I call this my Draft Zero. It is choppy, and sparse, and almost never does what I want it to. But it’s the bare bones of my story, and having it helps me go back to revise later, rewrite, move things around, and clarify things.

As I wrote this time, I tried to be more aware of a couple of things. I’m a big fan of the Writing Excuses podcast, and they often talk about Scene/Sequel format, and Promises to the Reader. I attempted to work a Scene/Sequel awareness into drafting, but it just didn’t work for me. I wasn’t ever sure if I was doing it right, and I felt too much pressure to make something blow up. (Thanks a lot, Howard.)

But the more I wrote, the more I’d find myself seeing things as a reader might. A little revelation of, “Wait, if I introduce this really cool thing here, I need to make sure I use it at the end.” Or, “Oh wait, they don’t know what that thing is…I should foreshadow it more before I use it like this.”

To be honest, I’d never considered Reader Promises in stories until I’d heard these authors talk about it. And the thing was, it made sense in a logical way, but I’d never seen it in practice, or looked for it. So it took hearing it repeated many, many times before I started seeing it. Once I knew what to look for in my own reader/viewer reactions, I started to notice it. Whenever something felt off, or I didn’t like something about a story, I would try to figure out why. Almost always, it came down to an unfulfilled promise.

Example: I just watched NOW YOU SEE ME again the other day. I LOVE that movie. Mostly. I love the mystery element of it, because the twist is one I never saw coming. The only problem I have with it is the very, very end, and I’ll tell you why it bothers me.

We spend the entire film watching four magicians pull tricks, follow anonymous instructions, build these amazing acts, and they are followed by another magician who shows us exactly how they did it. The entire first ninety-eight percent of the movie is all about telling us how magic is done, and how easy it seemingly is to make the rest of us believe that magic is somehow real.

And at the end? That last two minutes? They tell us magic is real. There was zero foreshadowing for that. Nothing in the whole rest of the movie even hinted at magic being real.

It was so anticlimactic it made me forget about the movie for months until I saw the DVD in the $5 bin at the store. I immediately remembered how much I hated the end, but also remembered how much I loved the first ninety-eight percent, so we bought it.

All this is to say, as writers we need to make sure we’re telling the story we promise to tell. If you begin a story with a murder and end it with a couple kissing and not discovering who the murderer is, you’ve either started or ended with the wrong thing.

How about an example of the right way to do this? In STEELHEART by Brandon Sanderson, (my apologies that I keep talking about it, I’ve been rereading this over and over for two months because it’s helping with my draft) the main character, David, is terrible at metaphors. If that were it, it would probably come off as kind of weird and maybe not every reader would catch it and it wouldn’t really make sense. But Sanderson makes it a point to tell us about it in more ways than one, throughout the book. David not only knows he’s bad at metaphors, but is constantly trying to think of better ones, impress others with them, and explain them when they don’t make sense.

And so it’s immensely satisfying when, at a point about two-thirds of the way through, he gives us a metaphor so ridiculous that it actually does make sense. And it succeeds in impressing a certain other character. Just thinking about it makes me smile, because the moment is perfect.

Keeping track of the things you’re promising takes practice, and beta readers. You can practice by looking for what your expectations are as a consumer of media, and then watching for how the creators fulfill (or don’t) that expectation. And when your beta readers say “oh, I hope THIS happens!” that is a good sign that you’ve foreshadowed something. If you want to foreshadow it, leave it. If you don’t want to, take it out, or make it more subtle. You don’t want unnecessary foreshadowing to get in the way of the main story.

Try it out! Maybe, if you’re going to see STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS this week, you have some expectations already. Maybe you don’t? Maybe your expectations will be blown away in the first minute of the movie. But whatever the case, try (though it will be difficult) to keep track of what you expect to happen.

Where did that expectation come from? Where and how was that promise made? And how, if at all, do the creators fulfill it for you? Is it satisfying? Does it make you feel happy? Sad? Bittersweet? Or does it make you grimace in dissatisfaction?

Let’s hope there’s none of that last, though okay?

Whether it’s with STAR WARS or some other book or movie you’re finishing this week, try this. Let me know how it goes.

May the Force be with you,

-DC

How To Say No

One of your favorite writers puts out a call for beta readers. You’re in the middle of revisions, but apply anyway because one time chance!
The next day, you come down with the flu, making it difficult to spend any time looking at a computer screen for either revisions or reading.

One of your writer friends offers you an ARC to read in exchange for review in two weeks. “Of course!” you say.
Anxiety strikes, making you not want to do anything.

Your best CP needs a quick read-through. “No problem!”
Your partner gets in a car accident that afternoon.

~

“Self, no. We need to finish our own stuff first.”

“Hey, I know I said I’d read this, but stuff came up and I really need to focus on other things for a while. I’m sorry.”

“We had a family emergency, man, I can’t get to it in time. You might want to find someone else.”

~

It seems like I re-learn this lesson every few months. I just want to help everyone. Partly because it makes me feel good to be that help, and partly because I know–in the writing community–that help given will always come back to help me. Writers are awesome like that.

All of the above examples (except the car accident, that was another bout of sickness) have happened to me in the last three weeks. I jump at the chance to help wherever I can, which is great when life doesn’t pour troubles down on me like Nickelodeon Slime.

I have a hard time saying the things in that second section above.

As you can tell, this becomes a problem. I’m currently in the middle of a bunch of reading I promised to do (because I totally wanted to and still do!) and with me being sick (physically and mentally) and dealing with sick children, plus family and church and school and work, it’s been a struggle to get through it all without everything blowing up in my face.

Has this happened to you? Am I making sense?

Luckily, I have amazing friends who have been completely understanding and have given me the extra time I need to finish it all. I’d be willing to bet you do too, even if you think you don’t. Still, part of me wants to put it all away and never volunteer ever again. I mean, I haven’t written anything in almost three weeks, and I’m feeling it.

It actually feels really great to just sit down and pound out this blog post. It’s on a deadline, and it MUST be done, and so I’m putting the other stuff aside to do it, but really. Hearing the keys click and feeling the rhythm of the words flowing, it feels so amazing.

We all know that feeling.

I’ve been telling myself I’d write after I finished everything I promised to do, but I’m starting to realize I can’t do that. One of my critique partners is always telling me to put myself first, and I have a really hard time doing that. But I need to.

Make me do it, guys. And you can do it too.

Good luck, friends. Write well. I’ll most likely see you in the morning.

-Darci

Get Thee a Community

Let me give you a glimpse into my writing life.

Every other week, my writing group and I physically meet to discuss and brainstorm 15 pages (ahem, or variations thereof). We are each other’s alpha readers, knowingly plowing through pages that are drafty and have notes that say *something romantic happens here* or *research 15th century churches* or the like. We point out plot holes, character inconsistencies (like that time when I had a character with two different last names in three pages – not a chick, didn’t get married), where there needs to be more reaction, any reaction, and reminders that blocking out the physicality of a scene is pretty essential. 

As I have finished a revision, I sent my current MS off to four beta readers, then jumped on two different forum pages (one specific to what I write and another where there are several people in varying levels of published) asking for some feedback on my query. I’m a member of half a dozen facebook pages for writers, seeing questions asked and asking my own, as well as communicating when face to face visits are possible. 

This level of activity spills over to my Instagram, Pinterest, Goodreads and Twitter as well. 
If you have never done any of these things before, this can sound like a pretty daunting level of involvement. There are times when I will have internet quiet for a while, but I’m pretty consistent about hitting all these things at least several times a week.
It is a lot of work and there is no way that I can deny that. Some of it is done while I’m listening to my daughter learn a new position on her cello, while tapping my foot while another understands the heartbeat of Baroque music at her viola lesson, or while watching my son kick a soccer ball toward the goal. Some of it is done when I am watching M*A*S*H or Scandal, or when I have ten minutes before dinner is ready. I transitioned into this level of activity – it didn’t happen over night. 
But let’s look at what happens because of this again. 
Four different people gave me feedback on the draft of my book. 
And additional four totally different readers are contributing after a more complete reading experience. 
And the request I had for people to critique my query granted me with six reviews. 
This is all happening before I submit a single query letter to an agent. 
Because as much as writing is a quiet, solitary, individualized creation experience, the feedback, camaraderie and flat out friendship that occur when we stretch beyond our awkward not sure what I’m doing comfort zones improve our writing beyond what was previously believed possible. I have had the opportunity to read some amazing books that aren’t yet, to share in the ebbs and flows of this writing endeavor that let me know what I’m experiencing is normal, as well as leaning to those who might be a step or two behind me in the journey with encouragement and offers to help. 
It’s the give and take cycle that allows writers to have success. 
How have you connected with people in the writing community? Suggestions for someone who is just starting out? 

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Tasha Seegmiller is a mom to three kids and high school English teacher in Southern Utah. She writes contemporary women’s fiction with a dash of magic. Her loves include Diet Coke, owls, chocolate and cinnamon bears. She is the managing editor for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association quarterly newsletter.

I Wrote a Book…Now What?

For every step on a publication journey, there are new questions and challenges. For this post, I wanted to answer a question that’s been asked of me more than once, and one I asked myself a few years ago after finishing my first manuscript.

As hard as it is to complete a manuscript, it’s sometimes even harder to know what to do when you’ve finished it. Should you revise it? Should you stick it in a drawer and hope nobody ever reads it? Should you send it to agents and editors right away? (For the record, the answers to those questions are almost always, Yes! No! and Heck no!)

I asked some of our regular contributors to pitch in and answer a couple of questions. First, what did you do with the first book you ever finished? (Because if you’ve just finished your first book and are feeling semi-paralyzed, it’s nice to know that others have been there too, and that the paralysis doesn’t last.) Second, what advice would you give to authors who are at this stage of just having finished their first book?

Here are our contributors’ responses:

Jenilyn Collings: After I finished my very first manuscript, I printed it out and gave it to my mom for Christmas–my poor, poor mother!–then immediately started writing something new. You’ll notice that I didn’t ever say I revised my first manuscript because, well, I didn’t. I also never sent it to anyone to critique, which was bad for the manuscript and lucky for anyone who might have been on the receiving end of that story. It was really, truly terrible. I occasionally pull it out to have a good laugh. Seriously, it’s that bad.

Probably the best advice I can give about what to do after finishing a manuscript is to let it sit for a while. Put the actual words away, but let yourself daydream about it. Fill in the blanks and gaps that you know are there and daydream about fixes for the scenes that aren’t quite right. I do make a list of changes that I want to make and ideas I’d like to include, but I try to stay away from actually making any changes for a few weeks. For me, I prefer to get critiques on a full manuscript, usually after I’ve done at least one revision (unless, of course, I am needing pats on the head and someone to tell me that it’s not REALLY the worst novel ever written and that it’s worth revising). I’ve found that if I get feedback as I’m writing, it messes me up and I end up trying to write the story for certain people instead of staying true to the vision I have for the story.

Emily Manwaring: Wait for a while (at least a month) after writing your first draft, read it again and revise before sending it out to readers for input. I’ve been excited and have sent things out early–to readers and to agents, and it’s always better to wait, step back, fix things (because there’s always something to fix after time!), and then submit.
It’s kind of old-school (esp since there are so many resources online), but the the Writer’s Market is a great resource–the original one–for all things query, agent, and publishing related (it includes how-tos as well as current agent and publishing information). If you don’t want to buy a copy, I’ve found that most (if not all) libraries have a copy at the front desk.
Rosalyn Eves: The first “book” I wrote was in seventh or eighth grade. My sister read it and adored it and it went otherwise ignored. I wrote a much longer manuscript my senior year of high school. I asked a generous author I knew to read it–he gave me some helpful feedback, and I spent the next year or so revising. I sent exactly one query letter out and never heard back.

When I finally sat down to seriously pursue publishing, I wrote another book. I workshopped parts of that book at the wonderful Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers conference and came away with a much better sense of how the publishing industry worked. I found people to read my work-in-progress (and they remain some of my best readers!). And then I jumped into querying after reading some blog posts on how to craft a good query letter and how to go about researching agents.
Then I started getting feedback, and realized I’d jumped the query gun. Since I’m naturally impatient, I struggle with this a lot. I want to launch my manuscripts into the world as soon as they’re finished. But this is generally a very bad idea, mostly because you waste your chance with agents who might be a good fit. As soon as I realized I’d queried too soon, I stopped sending out queries. I got more feedback on my story. I went to more conferences to learn more about publishing and querying agents. I spent more time researching. And then, finally, I started querying. That manuscript didn’t get me an agent–but it taught me a lot. And the next manuscript *did* get me an agent.
I think the next step after finishing should be some combination of: get feedback and let the manuscript sit. Often you can do both at once. Writers need readers–it’s almost impossible to catch every issue with our story on our own. And getting some distance from the story can help you make the  necessary changes and revisions. Once you’ve polished it as best you can, based on outside feedback (from people who know something about writing, not just family members or friends), then it’s time to figure out what publishing path you want to pursue and researching that.

Tasha Seegmiller: My first step with my first book was to sort through the mess. I had heard lots of people who were pantsers and said that the discovery process was what fed their creativity so I gave it a shot. I ended up with a jumbled mess. I had to create an outline of what I intended the story to be in order to have any chance of making what I had written work.
Also, I queried that book, entered it in lots of contests, placed well in a few based on writing, but time and again was told “the concept isn’t strong enough”. After my writing has improved and as I have been studying the craft, I realize that is true and know how to fix it, but it will require a total rewrite.
My best piece of advice is to find writers and other professionals in the industry who, through books or blog posts, speak to your writerly soul. Find a group, a strong network and even an organization of like-minded people. As a writer of women’s fiction, the group is much smaller than pretty much all the sub-genres of YA and at times, I felt lost. When I found people who wrote like me, had a process like me, and spoke truth regarding what I thought my work should be, I hooked on, became as active as possible, and learned at every opportunity. My writing has vastly improved because I understand it better.
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Elaine Vickers is the author of LOST AND FOUND (HarperCollins, 2016) and loves writing middle grade and chapter books when she’s not teaching college chemistry or hanging out with her fabulous family. She’s a member of SCBWI and represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of EMLA. You can find her at elainevickers.com on the web, @ElaineBVickers on Twitter, or generally anywhere there are books and/or food for her consumption. 🙂