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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

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? 🙂