Beta Testing

This might not be the right term for it, but it’s the one I use anyway.

Once my draft and primary edits are completed, I like to have 4-5 people who I trust read the book cover to cover, and give me their impressions. I actually wrote up about ten questions for Fugue in C Minor, and the beta readers answered those based on how they felt the book reached them.

It’s very useful to have beta readers who already read the type of novel you’ve written. But it’s also great to have an English teacher or professor as a beta reader. I got a lot of great feedback from the beta testing, so I highly recommend it.

Thing is, self-publishing doesn’t require any kind of quality control or market research. As long as what you write is original, you can self-publish anything.

But I think it’s best to do as much quality control as you can.

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What I Believe

I believe that inside every person is an artist: a painter or writer, actor, sculptor, director or inventor; something creative trying to make its way to the surface of being. Everyone has something magical inside them, waiting to burst forth and be amazing.

My books reflect that.

I think the sense of dread most people have, that says they have to get a job, pay some bills, conform to fashion and style and someone else’s ideal of the Human Dream keeps almost everyone from being their true selves.

I think that dread leads to job dissatisfaction, poor work ethic, crime, obesity, smoking, drinking. It leads away from thinking we can be accomplish whatever the hell we set our minds to.

Line Editing

The level of attention to detail required for line by line editing of your own work is staggering. A lot of writers I talk to say they use a professional service for this. It’s good to have someone else’s eyes look for errors. But you know what you meant to say, even if you accidentally left out a comma or a “the,” or if you really don’t know the difference between there and their. Professional editing helps a lot. It also costs a lot of money.

I was a copy editor at a newspaper once, so I know what to look for and how to find mistakes.

My wife suggested I look into becoming a professional editor of books. To humor her, I looked up what the existing services charge. For a 100,000 word novel it’s typically $400 – $1,000, depending on the service and what you want them to do. Some just read and mark your errors. But they’re willing to take more of your money to make corrections or suggest improvements. They typically promise a turn around time of about a week to two weeks.

I can’t imagine reading an unedited manuscript in a week. Week after week. I don’t know how high school and college instructors can do it, trudging through page after page of poorly-written papers.

I can barely tolerate line editing my own work.

But it has to be done.

Character Editing

This is something different from character development. What I refer to here is the act of making certain each character is unique, but also that each character is described uniquely. So it’s more about what the author and narrator have done than what the character has done.

In my spreadsheets I like to make sure I describe what every character is wearing the first time we see them. What color is their hair? What marks them as different? Do they have unique mannerisms. I put all of that in my spreadsheet. When were they born? Who are they related to? What is their secret? They each have a dossier!

In my timeline notes I mark the major events of their lives. You don’t want to refer to John’s gender re-assignment surgery three years before he became Juanita!

The draft I am working on right now is partly about making sure every character gets an appropriate introduction and description.

Inspiration

The reason I list inspiration as a step in the writing process is that, as a much younger person many decades ago, all of my stories came and went through the same thing: my ego. So now I try to pay attention more to the ways people do things. I’m not saying you should watch every sci-fi film or read every sci-fi book before you write your own sci-fi story. But it’s important to pay attention to how the real world works in order to find wisdom and little jewels others might miss.

One example of this was a bird I saw at work once, maybe three years ago. It might have been a robin or a starling. There’s this corner of the building where the black windows make a nook on the north side, about halfway from center to the east side of the building. You can see inside the building there, but I can understand how a bird could get confused. It started trying to fly into the window. Why it wanted to visit Cubeland, I don’t know. But it kept flying into this window, maybe five times before it flew back away from the building.

This scene is going into one of my future novels because it got me thinking about how human beings do the same stupid stuff over and over, hoping the results will change one day. They tend not to change. Flying into a window generally will not get you where you want to go, especially if you’re a bird.

So I watch and listen, and allow things to inspire me as I write. I don’t know everything. Don’t tell my wife I said that.

Composition

I think most writers prefer composition to planning or editing or marketing. Just sit down and write, right? For me, it’s important to get into an environment where I am alone. Or if not alone, it’s important to be in a place where no one around me is talking or listening to music or watching Dexter on Netflix. So I prefer to write at night when the kids are asleep, or during the school day. I have to have a tanker of coffee. And I have found that I write better, I’m more productive, when I use my little Netbook. It’s slow. It’s like molasses on the internet. And that’s great because I don’t need the distraction of the internet. If I’m away somewhere, Microsoft Word and Excel are all I have open. So I settle in, and just write.

I like to start by reading what I wrote the day before, remind me where I was. Then read over my outline for that chapter, so where I’m going. Then I start a conversation with the characters. “This is your situation. What will you do? What is true to your nature? You don’t know about the garbage you’re about to run into, but how might you handle it when you do?” I think of people who inspire me, good or bad. What would they do? I try not to imagine myself in the conflict because then all of my stories would be the same. And since most of us think we’re pretty reasonable creatures (most of us are wrong), all my stories would be boring.

If the chapter is really funny, or really sad, or loaded with some other kind of syrup, I try to to throw some other spices into it. Can you have a blooper at a funeral? An argument? Who wants to read about a normal funeral, anyway? They’re sad and quiet. Can your scene about a funeral be more awe-inspiring or respectfully funny?

I’m pleased if I write 1,000 words a day, excited if it’s 1,500, and exhausted if it’s 2,000.