Using Beta Reader Feedback & Highlighters to Analyze & Shorten Your (Long-Ass Fantasy) Novel

5 Mar

If you’re like me and know you could probably shorten your novel but have no idea how to go about doing that because “OMG, I love/need everything—the feeeeelz!”…then you just might like this post.

Writers who are looking for agents hear it time and time again: word count matters. But that doesn’t make it easier to contend with—especially if you’re a fantasy writer and you decided to create your own world. Finding beta reader(s) to take a crack at your novel can help you find some of your story’s problems. However, they won’t necessarily tell you outright, “Hey, I really think you need to shorten this book,” or, “Hey, I think you should cut X, Y, and Z out.” You may hear something more like, “This part didn’t really do much for me,” or, “I feel like it took too long for such-n-such to happen.” Some of that might be pacing or lack of development…or the opposite: too much development (in the wrong places).

Regardless, if you know you’ve written a doorstopper, then y’already know things need to shrink to have the best chance at finding representation and selling your novel (if that’s the route you want to go). My story is currently hovering around the 216K mark. I’m not expecting miracles—I truly feel this is a big story that will lose something vital if I try to take it to something like 120K, so I will pitch to UK agents or self-publish if I have to—but I do want to challenge myself to cut a minimum of 40K words. The good news is I found a ridiculously easy way to cut 25% of that goal with little to no heartbreak; the bad news is I still need to find where the other 75% (or more) is hiding.

So how am I planning to do that?

Well, I’ve talked about some of this before on the blog, but if you’re more of a visual-audio person and more specific examples then check out my video! You can easily adapt the process I talk about for your own particular needs. It’s certainly helping me see my novel in a more objective light, and I’m barely getting started. (Not claiming to be the first to do this, by the way. I just go about it differently.)

Oh, and here’s a helpful hint: when the highlighters stop flowing largely in the color(s) that you need them to: you’ve definitely got some issues…

How do you find ways to shorten a lengthy novel?


Working with Beta Readers

2 Mar

Repeat after me: my novel will not appeal to everyone. My novel will not appeal to everyone. My novel will not appeal to everyone. 

This may seem obvious to some, and maybe not so much for others, but this matters in some very big ways but also some very small ones.

Some people like having romance subplots in their stories. Others don’t. Some like detailed history and political intrigue. Others don’t. Some need happy endings. Others are a bit more open.

Do you see what I mean?

This is why before you can even decide what feedback to listen to or how to interpret it, you as the author must decide what your novel is really about, what’s most important in your story, and what it is you’re trying to achieve. (Chances are if you can’t sum up your answers to these questions in a couple sentences each, you need to give this some thought. And if your blurb is well over 200 words, then you’ve probably got too much going on.) You also have to understand your readers—what they like and don’t like, what they’re used to reading, and what makes a good story in their opinions.

You can make all the changes in the world, but none of those will matter if you don’t have clear answers to these questions.


Because without answers, there isn’t enough clarity to help focus your story, which makes it susceptible to being led in a direction that you don’t necessarily want it to go—and then you really won’t be happy with the results.

Why Finding the Right Reader(s) for Your Novel is So Important

Continue reading

Novel Aesthetics & Revising a Novel

23 Feb

Being that my background is in interior design and visual merchandising, one of the things that inspires me most and drives a lot of my storytelling choices is visual aesthetics. Looking back, this has especially been the case with my WIP, TEROH.

For better or for worse.

I like the subtle complexity of dark espionage stories, the suffocating sense of paranoia, and the way this genre looks on the big screen. I like elemental magic and the larger-than-life way it can be portrayed. I also like the look and sound of old black and white movies like melodramas and film noir—fedoras and glamorous femmes fatales, chiaroscuro lighting, mid-Atlantic accents, psychological drama…

And that’s what drove a lot of my choices while developing TEROH.

The strange thing is that, when I first started writing, I really hadn’t watched very many black and white movies. Just a few. So for them to have such a big influence on the style of my novel seems almost…disproportional, in retrospect. Nevertheless, it’s this very combination of elements that helped determine the spirit of this story.


Notorious, 1946. Image by RKO Radio Pictures (corporate author), The Kobal Collection. Photographer: Ernest Bachrach. – Chicago-Sun Times, Public Domain. Source:

What got me thinking about all of this in the first place is because not long ago, I watched the 1946 movie Notorious with Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman for the first time—and I realized something: the style of this film is almost exactly the blend of elements I’ve been trying to channel all along with TEROH. Not directly in a studied, intentional manner but in my own loose but inspired way. (There’s also some romance, I suppose, but it’s by no means the main story.) Granted, I tossed in some fantasy/occult elements, too, which is suited to a more gothic tale. Still, I feel like noir draws some things from the gothic genre, which I’m also drawn to at times. (Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea anyone?)

So why does any of this matter? Continue reading

Happy New Year! + 2018 Goals

1 Jan

It’s hard to believe another year has gone by, but it has—and much to my surprise, I’ve pretty much achieved my goals. (This is only surprising to me because usually, I don’t set any goals.)

Last year, I set out to achieve three things: (1) finish editing Book I of my fantasy series, (2) begin planning and writing Book II of said fantasy series, and (3) plan the end of a long-distance relationship I was involved in. (Notice how I used the past tense.)

#1 I’ve done; I’m still not “finished”, per se, but I’m “done” for now. I’ve sent the thing out to beta readers and am currently still getting some feedback to consider. So far so good. (Thought maybe I could be done with the whole beta reader process and edits based on that before now, but that was a joke. Still, I consider this goal “accomplished”.)

#2 I can also check off the list. Barely started actually writing the story just a few days ago so squeaked that one in. (My progress bar on the side of my website now reflects this.) One particular scene was in my head and I just wanted to get it down on paper. Since I’m still waiting on feedback for the first novel, I thought this would be a good time to get the second one going.

As for #3, well, things just didn’t work out with me and the ex-boyfriend. I think we were in very different places in our lives, and our lifestyles were way too different to really coincide. He was a lot more footloose and bohemian than me. Traveled light…that kind of thing. (And here I am collecting vintage furniture I don’t necessarily need.) There’s a certain appeal to that, but if you’re talking about possibly spending the rest of your life together and moving to another state…well, I’ll let you fill in the blanks.

There was also the issue of him changing his tune from “I can see us getting married” and nonchalantly asking me about ring styles to “I’m not sure I want to get married/believe in marriage anymore,” which is enough in and of itself if you ask me. #dealbreaker

That all happened back in February, in addition to having to put down my two very sickly cats of 17 years, and I’ve pretty much been single ever since. Actually, I think I’m a lot happier being single. Looking back on my dating escapades, I think I’ve always been happier single. Doesn’t mean I don’t get curious about men every now and then; I like men. (Well, some of them.) I’m just not sure I ought to be living with one. See, I happen to be responsible with my money, I live a pretty stable life, and I still believe that marriage can be a good thing. Unfortunately, none of those things seem to be en vogue with the guys I run into nowadays. (Because in my past lives, apparently, things were different. </sarcasm>)

I could really go on about this if I’m not careful, but that’s not why I started this post; I’m setting some new goals for the New Year, people. Three of them, to be exact—two that are writing-related and one that’s more personal. After all, that’s what I did last year, so y’know, let’s not get too creative.

Okay, I lied: let’s do two personal goals. There, I’m trying something new now. Continue reading

Using a Blurb to Shape Your Novel

8 Dec

When I finished the first draft of the final version of TEROH that I’m sharing with beta readers now, I decided to write a blurb (a short, intriguing description) about it. Since then, I’ve edited it countless times as I seek to balance how I want readers to view my novel along with their actual perceptions of the story they end up reading. It’s not so much the plot that changes in the blurb so much as how I pitch it.

There are so many ways to turn a thought or phrase, and each way holds a slightly different meaning.

This also pertains to the other novels I’m planning for my series. Unlike TEROH, I’m actually starting with a preliminary blurb before developing the novels themselves. (I’ve talked a bit about this before as well as how I’m using music playlists to shape the direction that my stories will take.) Looking back on my process for TEROH, I think there are some advantages to doing this. Continue reading

I’ve Got Something to Say: Why TEROH is Not My First Draft (or Novel)

17 Nov

I don’t think this is clear to people who haven’t been following me for very long, but the version of The Elementalist: Rise of Hara (TEROH) that I sent out to my beta readers recently—as many flaws as it still maintains—is actually not my first draft. Technically, it’s not even my first novel.

Granted, I still have a good amount of work to do on the manuscript, not having consulted outside eyes until I felt I had a solid understanding of the story’s soul, but the point I want to make is that this novel (and the series it continues to spawn) has not only seen several rebirths of its most basic concept; it’s also seen numerous cycles of development to a minute level of detail, which has allowed my subconscious brain to make connections between my ideas in ways that wouldn’t have been possible if I’d only spent one or two years on this project.

There are several reasons for this.

Element 7 Wordle 2

Continue reading

It’s done.

21 Oct

You guys. I have something important to tell you.

You know that novel I’ve been working on for over 10 years now? The one that started back in 2007 as a series of random journal entries that eventually became scenes, which eventually became a novel? The one that I rewrote several times just so I could “get it right” then edited more times than I can recall?

Yeah, well…it’s done.

No, I really mean it. I sent it out to beta readers. Today. Like the whole thing. Completed.

Does that mean it won’t see any more changes? No, but I’ve gotten it as good as I can get it on my own, so now I’m sharing it with others who can help me make it even better.

What Comes Next?

Well, once I’ve gotten feedback from my beta readers (thank you!), I’ll be reading through that then deciding what changes should be made to my story. After which…

See, now that’s where things get fuzzy. Do I get ready to send the thing to literary agents and hope that I can find representation and a publisher, or do I strike out on my own as a self-published author? I’ve been debating this for some time now, and I’m still no closer to an answer. I’ve been telling myself, “Hey, why don’t you do some submissions for a while and see how that goes? If nothing comes of it, you can always self-publish.” Which is fine. But the very designer/creator side of me really likes the idea of having a say in things like the cover and layout design of my first novel.

Besides, I’m hearing it’s tough for self-proclaimed dieselpunk writers to get any representation right now—simply for the fact that they identify their work as “dieselpunk”. And that’s messed up ’cause y’all know I’m all about dieselpunk. I’ve gotten very involved in that community lately on Facebook and am even one of the top profiles that pop up on Twitter when you search for “dieselpunk”. In other words, I’ve been branding myself a certain way and would like to continue doing so.

In any case, I could go back to brainstorming ideas for Book II, which I’ve already started. I might wait a few weeks on that, at least, though. Take a break.


Anyway, that’s what’s going on with me.

What Are You Working On?

Writing a novel yourself? Or maybe you’ve been reading some good stories lately. I wanna know!

What 9/11 Taught Me About Antagonists & the Importance of Compassion

11 Sep

I was riding with my mom to school that day when we heard the emergency broadcast signal turn on…and then the reports started coming in. Students spent the morning watching the story unfold on the news. It was a surreal moment, knowing that people’s lives were in danger and the only thing you could do was sit there and listen about it.

Today, I was driving in my car with the radio on. The station I was listening to started playing a tribute with clips from the attacks and some music in the background. I thought about the videos we saw, how some people made the choice to jump from the towers rather than burn alive. Made me wonder how I would have reacted in that situation.

Of course, I’ll never know—and I hope I’ll never have to. Still, the thought alone was enough to make me cry.

I didn’t personally know anyone who was physically there at the Towers back when they were attacked on September 11th.  Still, I can’t say that the events which took place that day haven’t altered my life here in America. We’ve exchanged personal freedoms for an increased sense of security—an exchange I question as to its effectiveness at deterring terrorists, if I’m honest. Our security measures were a reaction, and it makes me wonder if we continue to remain a few steps “behind” those we call our enemies. (Say what you will about al-Qaeda and other terrorists we face today, but they’re certainly not stupid.)

Of course, these thoughts and events have inevitably influenced my writing.

What 9/11 Has Taught Me About Antagonists

Continue reading

Beta Reading for The Elementalist: Rise of Hara

25 Aug

So. Since I’m like done-but-not-done with editing The Elementalist: Rise of Hara, it’s almost time for that all-important beta reading stage and I already have a handful of people who’ve been asking to be beta readers. Kinda cool.

Over the past month or so, I’ve been working on putting together a questionnaire for each “part” of my novel (there are 5 in total) to help me capture feedback that I’ll find most useful. For now, I’ve been sending out a Google Forms pre-screening questionnaire to folks who are interested in reading my story. It asks some general questions about reading preferences, the reader’s experience with writing, etc. and takes less than 5 minutes to complete. So if anyone is interested in being a beta reader for TEROH and providing their honest feedback, then definitely fill out that questionnaire, please and thank you. ^_^

After I collect some pre-screens and finish my current read-through, the plan is for me to send out my manuscript in 5 parts to beta readers. I’ll probably send all 5 at once unless otherwise requested so that readers can read and submit feedback at their own pace. This is a longer story, currently sitting at around 213K words; for non-writers, that’s like reading Crime and Punishment or a 700-ish-page novel, depending on formatting. If you don’t like reading longer novels, then you may not want to be a beta reader for this one.

Anyway, beta readers will be welcome to include notes or highlights on the manuscript itself, though I’ll be asking for specific feedback in the questionnaires themselves—mostly along the lines of general thoughts on a particular section up to the end of that section, the reader’s overall interest in my main as well as some minor characters, thoughts on larger plot points, interest in continuing to read the rest of the story at the end of each section…those kinds of things. (See example below.)

Beta Read Questions 1

Overall, I’m mostly interested in readers’ feelings and experiences with the story as they progress through it plus their big-picture thoughts. Though, I’m open to any feedback a reader feels compelled to share—be it grammar stuff, structural suggestions, or whatever. Regardless of what feedback I get, TEROH will definitely be visiting an editor at some point.

Here’s the thing: I need more time to finish this read-through of my manuscript. I’m looking mostly for cadence, tone, and flow while I read now as well as other small things that happen to jump out at me that I failed to notice before. It’s going faster than my last round of edits (much faster), but not as fast as I’d like because I’m a slow reader myself and am scrutinizing all 213K+ of these words one line at a time. *le sigh* Anyway, I’m going to be realistic and give myself until the end of September for now (tracking my progress on the right side of the blog), but I’ll send out an email to anyone who completes my pre-screening when I’m finished so you’ll know for sure.

Sound good? 🙂

Editing Progress & Stuff

6 Aug

So. Guess what? I’ve been making solid progress on the perpetual novel.

As I write this, my progress meter, as measured by completed scenes, reads at 92.37%. Translation: only 9 more scenes to edit then I’m “done.” (Don’t you just love those quotation marks?)

(Almost) Endless Edits

My goal is to complete all of my personal edits by the end of August. The progress meter is for all that remains…to a certain extent. See, I have a stack of notes scribbled on scraps of 1/4 sheets of paper that I’ve been chopping through, making sure each concern is dealt with in a linear fashion—that is, from chapter to chapter, beginning to end. Right now, I’m down to two notes, which means most likely, I don’t have much left in the way of structural edits to worry about. The remaining 9 scenes should go pretty smoothly.

I’ll probably even finish these edits by the end of next weekend.

Now, after that, will that really mean I’m “done” with editing? Not really. See, even after all of these edits, I’ve found it helpful to go back and reread the five “parts” or sections that I’ve divided my novel into because hey, every change potentially brings another problem. Like a disturbance of overall cadence or altogether omitted words.

Yup, can’t catch them all.

So far, I’ve only done this with Part I.  I started Part II but then other changes I made later required tweaking a few things in this section again. So really, I need to do a quick reread of Parts II through V—and I do mean quick ’cause I’m sick of looking at this thing. But like in the best way possible. (It’s funny what your brain picks up when all the major issues have been taken care of versus when you still have those to fix.)

Even after I do a quick reread of my edits, I expect beta readers will still find things because I always find something when I look back. I’m pretty much at the point now where I can’t rely on my eyes anymore. Beta readers will be very helpful for a variety of reasons. (I’m mostly interested to see people’s emotional and intellectual responses to my story, to be honest.) Though, even after I’ve gotten their feedback and taken that into consideration (meaning more edits), I expect I’ll want to hire an editor to look over my work for me—especially if I decide to self-publish.

Then, say I do find representation by a literary agent instead then later a publishing house if I go the traditional route. Naturally, they will require even more edits.

As you can see, “done” isn’t really “done” until the final proof of a novel is submitted for publication, really. As far as I know. In the meantime…