I know it’s been a while. I ended up going back to school to finally earn a degree, something I wanted to do since I was 19 but was not able to until now. That coupled with a cross country move has basically taken up the majority of my time.
But don’t you worry, as fresh stories are a-brewin’!
In the meantime, check out the first podcast interview I did! I’m super excited about it, and plan on doing a few more.
I also will be having a fun surprise in the next month or so…stay tuned!
Check out what Mr. Tomlinson had to say about working with a traditional publisher and how to handle rejection.
Reinfried: What inspired your first book?
Patrick Tomlinson: The first book I ever wrote started life as a few chapters of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy fanfic. Later, it was cleaned up and scrubbed of any HHGG references and became its own thing, growing into a full-length novel in its own right. That book is now called GATE CRASHERS and just released through Tor Books on June 26th, 2018.
R: Once you were finished with your manuscript, how did you look for agents to pitch?
PST: With the best kept secret on the writing web: www.querytracker.net. It’s a search engine for agents and publishers. You can narrow your search down by agents currently accepting submissions, genre, a bunch of key factors. They rate agents with useful metrics like response time, recent deals, etc. Even if you don’t know a single person in publishing, you can get a list of your best dozen agents to target built in minutes.
Then once you’ve submitted your query, they keep track of who it went to, how long it’s been out, when it’s accepted/rejected, etc. They’ve gone to a subscription model, but for like $20 a year, it’s SO worth it.
R: I definitely wish I had known about that sooner! I’ll have to look into it for my next novel!
R: Many authors, myself included, get discouraged with rejections. How many did you receive, if you don’t mind sharing?
PST: Over two hundred.
R: What encouraged you to continue pitching regardless of receiving rejection after rejection?
PST: Rejection means nothing to me; it’s all a numbers game. The more submissions you send, the better your chances get.
R: What do you like most about working with an agent and traditional publisher?
PST: They do everything, freeing me up to do what I got into this to do in the first place: write books. I don’t have to worry about covers, formatting, copyedits, chasing payments, negotiating deals, knowing the ins and outs of audio, foreign, TV rights. I’ve got people for all that stuff. I just write, instead of having yet another full-time job.
R: Is there anything you dislike about the process as a whole?
PST: Not a damned thing.
R: What advice would you give discouraged writers?
PST: Toughen up. This ain’t flag football. Rejections never end for anyone. This never gets easier, you’re just presented with new kinds of obstacles and challenges.
I want to thank author Patrick Tomlinson so much for this insightful and encouraging interview! I highly recommend his books if you are a fan of sci-fi, mystery, and all around fun! I met him a few years back at GenCon and picked up a copy of the first in his Children of a Dead Earth series, called The Ark, and absolutely loved it.
Get your own copy of his newest book by clicking the image below. Thanks again, Mr. Tomlinson!
Many people think an author writes a book, sends it to an editor, makes changes, then gets the book published. There are, however, many other steps involved.
This Author Insights touches on beta readers – what they are and why writers definitely need them.
What Is A Beta Reader?
A beta reader is someone who reads through your manuscript, often more than once, for errors in spelling, grammar, continuity issues, and more. They give honest feedback knowing that the critiques will better the story, its characters, and plot.
A beta reader needs to give unbiased, honest critique of everything they come across in the story. Often, authors need to have conversations about characters and plot, too, to brainstorm better ideas for both.
Do I Need A Beta Reader?
Yes. Hands down. Without a doubt.
How Do I Select My Beta Readers?
Ideally, you want a handful of beta readers not only because different people will give different kinds of feedback, but also because some will catch what others might miss. In addition, it is a good idea to have people you are not very close with be a beta reader. Friends and family members often tend to give biased feedback and do not want to hurt the author’s feelings which, in turn, can lead to the manuscript not being as strong as it could be
What It’s Like To Be a Beta Reader
I used a good amount of beta readers for everything I’ve written, from short stories to novels. For all of my Grim installments, I needed to use not only the same beta readers from one story to the next – it was a series that has many twists and reveals in later books, and I needed to ensure any continuity errors were caught – but I also needed to find fresh beta readers to see if the story was captivating enough.
I sat down with a small number of my beta readers and interviewed each about what it was like to be a beta reader.
Reinfried: What did you enjoy about being a beta reader?
Matt: I love reading and enjoyed seeing the changes or redirection each draft of the story would take.
Joshua: Being the first to read a story is a great perk. I enjoyed sharing some of my experience with Jennifer that actually made its way into the story. I also loved being able to discuss parts of the story directly with the author to find out why she wanted things to go a certain way (insights other readers wouldn’t have access to).
R: What did you dislike about being a beta reader?
Katey B: It was sometimes hard to remember to not get totally lost in the story and to make sure to pay attention to continuity and flow.
R: Other than reading through the book in progress, what other tasks did you have?
Mandy B: I feel like I got to do a lot! I got to help proof character art, guide decisions in things outside of the book, be involved in upcoming unannounced projects, help design the beginnings of a graphic novel … the list goes on!
R: Why do you think beta readers are important to the progress of a novel?
Samantha Berezowitz: Having beta readers is like a restaurant using taste testers before they open – it’s important to learn people’s opinions before putting everything out there.
Katey B: It gives the author a fresh eye to look at the story. Writers spend so much time looking at the manuscript they get used to how everything looks and might become blind to potential errors or story flow issues.
R: Do you feel you had an impact in the book you were a beta reader for?
AuBrie: Yes. As a beta reader I was asked questions as I read, both individually and in groups, regarding characters and story line. I felt those discussions were definitely taken into consideration when reworking parts of the story.
Joshua: I would like to think I did. Some of my experiences were worked into the book (Russian and firearms). It really connected me to the book and its characters.
R: Would you beta read for another book if given the chance?
Matt: Absolutely. I love beta reading. I enjoy the story progression and seeing something you helped with come to life. My biggest regret is not doing it sooner.
AuBrie: Definitely. I love seeing the evolution of the story, and love being able to help in the development and flow.
A Solid Group of Beta Readers Is Crucial
As you can see, beta readers are very important to the progress of your story. Make sure you have constant discussions with each one, whether in group settings or individually. They will give you crucial feedback that will make your manuscript stronger and help your story flow even better than it did before.
Just remember this: do not take any critique personally! A beta reader is there to help you and to help your story; if they give feedback you don’t like, discuss it with them before you dismiss it or get offended. You need to be able to take criticism in this line of work, and remembering your beta readers want to see you succeed is something you need to always keep in mind.
There are so many tasks a writer must complete to finish a manuscript, from developing believable characters to organizing a plot from beginning to end. The latter, called story structure, is a common thing authors struggle with when writing any piece.
I recently discussed this frustration with Jeri Maynard, author of children’s books, young adult fiction, and screenplays. She also finished a two-issue spinoff comic book for Michael Watson and his FreeStyle Komics. In addition to her writing, she also teaches the craft weekly to a few students and offers a number of workshops about various topics.
She was definitely a fantastic person to talk to about story structure and the craft of writing!
Reinfried: Thank you so much for speaking with me about this!
Jeri Maynard: Thank you for the opportunity to talk a bit about the craft of writing! I appreciate it.
R: So let’s talk about story structure. It intimidates many people – myself included – because it feels like it takes away from the creativity that goes into writing the story. How do you feel about it?
JM: I understand exactly what you mean, and thought the same way until I started writing screenplays, which require structure to tell a story in ninety minutes. In theory, it’s a tool to help you tell the best story possible. Either way, you’ll find yourself looking at the structure of your story at some point in the writing process. Just keep in mind, nothing can take away your creativity except yourself!
R: So what does story structure look like?
JM: When I teach my students to write, we look at four things:
The main character (the MC)
The difficulties solving the problem
In short, that is the beginning, middle, and end. This is otherwise known as:
Act 1: The Problem
Act 2: The Conflict
Act 3: The Resolution
Specific things or events happen in each act. In the first act, you meet the MC, create a question the reader wants answered (the setup), and set your character off on his or her journey (the inciting incident). It doesn’t include backstory or much world building at this point.
In the second act, the MC struggles to achieve their goals and will meet intense conflicts. World building and backstory enrich the piece at this point.
The third and final act is the climax and the resolution.
A story with a simple structure often includes: the setup, inciting incident, mid-story reversal/twist, climax, and resolution.
Or it can include all the major plot points: the setup, enticing incident, new situation, change of plans, progress, point of no return, complications, raised stakes, major setback, final push, climax, and resolution.
Different writers call these different things, but they are all used to propel the story forward at break-neck speed. Some are pantsers and some are plotters, but regardless of which one you are, they are crucial to your story structure.
R: Panters? Plotters? What are those?
JM: Some people say, “I just sit down and write until I get to the end.” They are called pantsers. Other people say, “I make a complete outline with everything planned out before I start.” They are known as plotters.
R: One isn’t better than the other, though, right?
JM: No, of course not, but both kinds of writers will have to do story structure at some point. The plotters do it before they write, and the pantsers do it during editing. I also think there is a good middle ground which I’m currently calling (for lack of a better name) plot pantsers. These writers know the beginning and end. They may have a good mid-story reversal point or two and know where their MC meets the point of no return, but they may not know every major conflict or how the conflict leads to the next one.
R: Oh, I’m totally a pantser.
JM: Personally, I slide a bit closer to the plotter side since I use the typical screenplay plot points for my MC, my antagonist, and any other major characters. That helps me focus on keeping the conflict real and intense while still being character driven.
Keep in mind that it isn’t a question of whether a story is plot driven or character driven. Every story, even action ones, are driven by characters in conflict having to face the next plot step. It isn’t an either-or choice, but it’s both! Some stories may have more character and others more action-based conflict, but if your character is being dragged through the muddy swamp by an alligator with ninjas chasing her, I want to be rooting for your character and not the alligator or ninjas. Even if your character sits and lives in her head, please let something happen to her, even if it’s all imaginary.
R: So characters in conflict drive the plot.
JM: Conflict is the heart of the plot. It raises more questions, creates a barrier to reaching a goal, raises stakes, and so on. But conflict isn’t a crisis, though. If your mother is in the hospital, that is a crisis. If you get to the hospital and your sister won’t let you see your mother, that is a conflict.
Think of it this way: Your character wants or needs something, but conflict interferes with reaching their goal.
Each conflict should raise the stakes, be more intense, and directly affect the MC. Every decision they make has serious consequences that lead them farther away from their need or want or goal. Conflicts that aren’t driven by the MC’s decisions aren’t effective and should be cut.
We can go back to our MC with the alligator and ninjas – anything that interferes with her getting away from both can be a distraction. The reader wants to know two things: why is she there now and how will she escape. Thinking about the time she didn’t buy a pair of Jimmy Choo’s isn’t helpful unless it’s tied to the current conflict in some way. Or maybe she did buy them and can use the spiked heels as a weapon.
R: Wow, when you break it all down like that, story structure sounds pretty fun, even for a pantser like me! Thank you so much for all of the advice!
I will definitely have Jeri back for a second interview, as there is much more to discuss on this topic. Until then, check out Jeri’s newest book, a YA contemporary re-release called Panda Girl!
Many authors go through the same debate: do I self-publish or try to pitch an agent to have them help me get published? It is something I myself went back and forth on for quite a long time back when I was nearing the completion of my first book, Grim Ambition.
However, there is a third option: small publishers, or the small press.
A small press is a mix between traditional and self-publishing that can really help writers get a foothold in this insanely competitive market of becoming a published author. There are many pros and cons of publishing with a small press, but plenty of writers swear by it, and have become bigger authors because of one.
Magali Frechette, for example, is one such author. Her first book is published through Evernight, a small press for romance stories. I spoke with Magali to get a better feel of the process she went through.
Reinfried: Magali, thank you so much for sharing your experience with me to help aspiring writers!
Magali Frechette: Of course, I’m happy to help!
R: So, your book titled My Soul to Give. What is that about?
MF: Well, my main character, Celina, is a widow who’s in over her head when the demon she made a deal with turns out to be more trustworthy than the husband she’s avenging.
R: Whoa, that sounds really good! How long did it take you to write it?
MF: *nervous chuckle* That’s a bit of a trick question. I finished the original draft, which is very different from the published version, back in August of 2014. Then I rewrote it almost completely, revised three times, and edited it a total of 72 times. Yep, 72 times. By the time I was ready to query, it was in February of 2017.
R: That’s almost exactly how things went for me with Grim Ambition! I had it done, then revised the entire novel after I thought it was done, and after that, did a ton of edits. Although I don’t think it was 72 of them! That’s definitely a common thing I’ve found, when writers finish a piece only to revise and edit over and over, and isn’t something any author should fear, as you’re just making your work better!
What software did you use to write, revise, and edit your book?
MF: I used Scrivener to write most of the rewrite when I added the chapters of the male protagonist/antagonist – let’s face it, her love interest is still the demon she made a deal with, so he’s a bit of both lol).
The software helped me keep the chapters separated better in a visual way. However, it did take me a bit of time to get used to [Scrivener] though, but a free seminar on it helped. I then used Word for edits, as well as back-and-forth with beta readers.
I also use Pro-Writing Aid installed on Word since it helps me catch consistencies (UK spellings versus US) and basic grammar mistakes as English is not my first language.
R: Oh, I didn’t know that existed for Word! I’m going to have to look into it. I also just downloaded Scrivener for my next novel, so I may have to ask you a few questions on it!
MF: For sure!
R: So did you have to get an agent to go through a small press?
MF: Actually, I had aimed for an agent for a long time at first, but decided that with the type of story I had written – and a recommendation from an awesome friend, author, and beta reader – that a small press might be my best bet. I certainly don’t have any regrets not continuing to seek an agent, but maybe one day, depending on what I continue to write, I may try again.
R: So how did you find Evernight Publishing?
MF: When I happened on a Top 10 list for small publishing presses. I found it cool they were based in Toronto, Canada, and from all of the titles I was able to read/check out, I thought they would be a good fit for my types of books.
All the authors at Evernight are really supportive and have become good friends, and whenever I have any questions, since I’m still new to the whole publishing industry, they’re always willing to help out.
R: That’s fantastic! How long did the whole process take, from the end of revisions to publication?
MF: It was pretty fast, actually! The contract was signed April 20th, edits started June 5th and ended June 8th. That same day, the cover art was sent for approval, and after a bit of back and forth, I okayed it on June 11th. Release date was set for June 29th. So all in all, a little over two months!
R: Which is so, so much quicker than being published through the Big Five. Or even getting an agent, which can take many months, even years.
Do you have any tips for publishing through a small press for other authors?
MF: Definitely look for publishers that publish the types of books you’re writing. I also suggest reading the Index of publishers and agents at the AbsoluteWrite forums, but remember that all experiences are different, so take positive/negative comments with a grain of salt. Whenever publishers send you a revise and resubmit, never reply right away – sleep on it, even if it’s a few days. They’re there to help your book succeed, so what they’re recommending is always given with the intent of making it better.
R: That is fantastic advice. Thank you so much for sharing your experience!
MF: Of course! Let me know if you or anyone has any questions in the future!
All right, writers, that’s all for now. Be sure to check out Magali’s book, My Soul to Give, by clicking the image below, and as always, if you have questions, leave them in a comment on this post!
Writing a book or short story can seem like a difficult, sometimes impossible, task. How do you create characters people care about? How hard is it to organize your book, and what is the best software to use to do so? How do I make the story engaging enough?
Today I interviewed my editor and good friend, D. W. Vogel, sci-fi fantasy author of the engaging Horizon Alpha series. We delved into a seemingly difficult task for writers – character creation – to hopefully help any writers out there struggling with it.
Reinfried: Thanks so much for sharing some of your knowledge with me today, Wendy. I know character creation can be challenging.
Vogel: It definitely can be. I still struggle with it myself.
R: You’re currently working on the third book in your Horizon Alpha series, correct?
V: Yes, Horizon 3 is in editing status. I’m also working on a new series based on a super popular board game franchise that I can’t announce quite yet.
R: Well, dang, now I’m super excited! I’m a big fan of your work, and love the characters you create, ones that us readers truly feel connected to.
Tell me, have you ever created a character you disliked? One you hated to write but was necessary to the story?
V: The thing is, if they are necessary to the story, then write them you should. I love all my characters in different ways. Even the villains have motivations they think are as valid as the heroes’. Many aren’t folks I’d want to have over to dinner, but all serve a purpose, and for that, I love them.
R: I totally understand. I remember writing Alex, the main villain in the first book of my Grim series. Uncovering parts of him were shocking at times, and I was worried he was too evil – and questioned myself as I enjoyed writing his scenes the most. But readers absolutely loved Alex!
V: He was a great villain. Definitely necessary to the story, even throughout the whole trilogy when we got bits of his past from other characters. Alex was a cool villain.
R: Thank you! *laughs* I still chuckle at his name; it was fun to incorporate his hatred of his full name in the prequel.
Wendy, how do you come up with names for your characters?
V: Well, some are meaningful. Khalira, the main character of Flamewalker, is a slight tweak on the Muslim name, “Khalida,” which means immortal. Her nemesis Adon is the phonetic equal of Aiden, which means fire.
There’s a lot more room in fantasy and sci-fi to make up names because of how cool they sound, which is pretty fun. In the Horizon series, I was careful to come up with names form all nationalities since the Horizon ships are interstellar arks, carrying people from all corners of the Earth to their new homes.
R: Sounds way more involved than how I do it! *laughs*
V: Don’t you use an online name generator?
R: Once in a while when I’m stuck, yeah. And mostly for last names. I just think of the character long enough, get a real feel for being inside their head. Other times I picture what I think they look like and soon, a name will kind of just pop up. Like, she sounds like an Emma or he looks like a Shawn.
It was easier to come up with names for Souls, since half of the characters are the doppelgangers of those in the Grim plane of existence. So all I had to do was make them sound a bit more Western-y.
R: It’s totally a word.
V: It is now!
R: So yeah, Emma turned into Etta, Jaxon into Johnny, Shawn into Shane. I liked giving some of them different personalities than their Grim doppelgangers since it makes sense that characters wouldn’t be the same from one plane of existence to the other. Which is also why some Souls characters aren’t ones we see in Grim. I had to come up with new ones to make sure it wasn’t just a retelling of the same people.
Speaking of, how do you know if a character isn’t good for your story? Yours are always so well thought out, but have you had any that you’ve had to get rid of before a book was finished?
V: For the most part, by the time I sit down to pound out the story, I’ve generally plotted it out pretty thoroughly. Sometimes, though, changes to characters end up with so much rewriting that I realize where the story is going just doesn’t work for me. In the beginning like that, I can just toss out someone who just isn’t doing what they were intended to do.
R: Do you get rid of them entirely? Or sit through changes until they work out?
V: I’ve done both, honestly. Generally I end up adding to my manuscripts rather than subtracting. I write very sparingly at first, then go in and layer details, which makes creation of anything easier. Once you lay out the general plan, go back and put in smaller things, such as personality quirks or nervous tics. If for some reason a character has too much, or is doing something too far out of bounds of his or her personality, that’s where a new side character can show up.
R: That’s fantastic advice. I completely agree. Lay it out, then add details. Works with so much when writing.
When adding these details, what do you think makes a believable character?
V: For me, a likable character is someone who is being true to their own inner motivations. Even if they’re doing terrible things, as long as I understand why they’re doing them, and what brought them to that point, I can like the most awful of characters.
R: And do all characters in a story need to be likable?
V: I think all characters need to be relatable in some way.
R: Yeah, I mean, I’ve found a lot of times, I don’t even agree with choices my characters make. I think that if a character makes a bad decision that is believable, and based on who they are as a person – their fears are an especially good motivator for bad decisions – it’s easier to understand why they have done what they did, and relate to it as well.
V: Yep, exactly.
R: And that is how you create a believable villain, too.
V: It is. Villains are always so much more interesting than heroes, as you know. The key is to understand that the villain thinks he’s the hero. They believe in whatever twisted way that what they are doing is the right thing, no matter how much suffering it causes, just like your Alex.
R: Or your Adon in Flamewalker.
V: Yeah! A lot of reviewers pointed to Adon as a great example of this. You follow his story from the moment when a moral, upstanding blacksmith makes one bad decision, leading Adon down a path to unspeakable evil. You have to love him before you can properly hate him, and that’s what makes a believable villain to me.
R: What if you like a character but your readers don’t?
V: I don’t think “like” is the right word here. It’s too subjective. Just because I don’t “like” chocolate ice cream doesn’t mean it’s bad. If the ice cream itself is truly flawed, then no one is going to like it, and that’s when it’s time to head back to the Delete key and start over with that particular character.
R: Damn, you’re good. And I also now want chocolate ice cream.
I want to thank D.W. Vogel for her time and wonderful input when it comes to character creation. If you have any further questions about this topic or any topic for either of us, leave it in the comments below! Stay tuned for further Author Insights, and follow my site to get updates for when new interviews come out!
Guys, I seriously can’t wait to see what Vogel is working on with this board game series. So excited! And if you haven’t checked out her work, DO so. It’s quite fantastic.