Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The Power of A Good Beta Reader, and Other Thoughts on Indie-Publishing

On my morning walk with my friend Greta, (you can find Greta's books here) we were talking about indie vs traditional publishing. Greta paid me a compliment, saying that my books are just as polished as a traditionally published book. Which was really sweet of her, but I have to say that wasn't always the case, nor did I ever really expect it to be. 

(You can read some of those long ago blog posts about my decision to indie publish here:

The truth is, it took me awhile to find the right editor and beta readers, and to learn the importance of branding and meeting genre expectations. I'm definitely a better writer since I first started indie-publishing, not just because of my own personal growth, but also because of the support system I've cobbled around me.

In a few days, my novel The Billionaire's Beagle will be live on Amazon. I'm excited about this one and its sequels. I got the notes back from my friend and beta reader, Terry Black. (Terry's a brilliant writer probably best known for the 1980's movie, Dead Heat. He also wrote for a number of TV shows.) Anyway, Terry's notes made me laugh out loud, and even though, of course, his remarks contain spoilers, I thought I'd share it as an example of the power of a good beta-reader.

I read your book, and enjoyed it very much!  Looks like you’re tapping into the intersection of dog lover and romance lovers, which is surely a huge group (and by the way, includes my mom).  This one reads like a winner.

“Wheel-chair” has no hyphen.
Doctor T. J. Eckleburg may be too obscure a reference. I know the story of The Great Gatsby (I tried to read it in high school, and saw the recent movie) but the name does nothing for me.
“Wes wondered how Betty, a fart factory, could stand being around herself.”  This made me laugh out loud.  (Lisa wonders that about me sometimes.)
I also liked the line, “Since I can’t force you to marry, I’m giving you my dog.”  Comedy gold.
“Wes preferred live creatures…other than Betty, of course.”  Okay, I’ll stop quoting funny lines and try to be constructive.
The first time you mention “Letty’s father’s incarceration,” I wanted to know just a bit more before we drop the subject.  Not tell the whole story, just a few more tantalizing details.
Mention that Harper is her sister sooner.  “Letty wanted to be happy for her sister Harper, but…” I have enough trouble remembering real names, let alone fictional ones.
“She pulled away knowing she couldn’t take one more minute of feigning sweetness…”  Put a comma after “she pulled away.”
“But clattering roused her from her funk.”  I suggest “the sound of clattering.”
Maybe this is just me, but I’d hose off those shoes instead of throwing them in the trashcan. Maybe it’s a guy thing.  Later we learn she doesn’t like them anyway, so maybe this is okay.
I love Vanessa, the other woman!  The romantic rival is often the most interesting part of a romcom, because she can (and should) be seriously flawed.  And Vanessa doesn’t disappoint.
Nitpick:  Sometimes Florence is called Florence, sometimes Floe.  I kind of like Floe, once we know what her real name is.
“…this is my daughter Felicity…”  Add “but we call her Letty,” so I’m not left wondering who she means.
“My mom has a Yorkie named Dorkie.”  That’s really dumb.  Please keep it.
“You would hate Arizona too if you had to wear a fur coat everywhere.”  I don’t understand this.  Why does she have to wear a fur coat?  Does this speak to Barbara’s vanity?  If so, this needs to be better-established.  (And the sentence needs a comma.)
“..rescue a drowning four-year-old…”  I’d like this changed to “rescue a struggling four-year-old,” because drowning seems too serious and awful.  Or maybe it’s just me.
“But you’re smiling.  That’s a good sign.”  This line of dialogue is too far separated from the question it addresses, so we have to go back and see what he’s talking about.  Try to place them closer together.
“… sci-fi piece about a failed exploration of the caves in Kiev.”  What makes it sci-fi?  Couldn’t that happen in real life?  If this is going to divert his attention from Betty, it should sound more interesting. “…a sci-fi piece about a cave in Kiev that was a portal through spacetime, infested with dinosaurs.”
“make-shift” has no hyphen.
“Wes had a reputation for being forgetful, although he preferred the word ‘preoccupied.’”  Sounds like me.  I’m just saying.
Zimba – no, the lion in Lion Kingis Simba.
“..she collected herself and blinked away her tears.” Seems an overreaction to the mere mention of selling her mom’s house.  Can she collect herself withoutblinking away tears?
“I hate liars more than anything in the world.” Nice bit of conflict brewing.
“Is it better to be truthful and kind?” “In an ideal world, everyone would be honest andkind.”  Use the word “truthful” in both places, keep the wording parallel.
Wes wonders “Where’s Kate Spade or Steve Madden when we need them?”  No guy would wonder this.  Women’s shoes are utterly foreign to guys…except gay ones.  If you don’t believe me, take a survey.
Letty says, “We are buying you a hat.”  But we never find out if she did.  Maybe a quick summary line here…?
When we learn that Wes was in Cozumel, it seems an odd surprise.  He went to Mexico, and we weren’t told about it?  Did he feel bad about leaving the dog behind?  “Dogs aren’t good fishermen, Letty,” he might observe.  “They’re not very patient.”  You might explore that.
“Max’s voice lifted in question.”  That should be “Max raised an eyebrow.”
“…the sun melted into a puddle of pinky orange.” Make that “pinkish orange.” Sounds a little too cute otherwise…unless it’s a guy thing, I can never tell.
“Bette Midler’ house?” Letty asked.  “You have some glitzy friends.”  Letty should take a moment here to wonder what’s going on, especially since they talk about “telling the truth” in the next few lines. How does a blue-collar hotel worker rate A-list friends?  She might wonder if he’s a latter-day Howard Hughes…then dismiss the idea as nonsense.
“He’d learned a long time ago that Vanessa was a terrible gossip and the last thing he needed was for someone to kidnap the dog…” I know this foreshadows Betty’s kidnapping, but he should worry more about Vanessa blabbing to Letty about his net worth – surely a more pressing problem.  Plus, you need a comma after “gossip.”
When Vanessa mentions that Letty’s dad is in prison, she adds, “So you didn’t know.”  He might press for details here (even if she won’t explain).
“Outside of Portland.”  She closed her eyes.  “It’s pretty up there.”  Maybe a couple of Portlandian details, by way of contrast with Orange County.
“In the end, most of us end up in the hospital wearing gowns that expose our fannies.”  I love how this line puts a funny spin on everyone’s fear of inevitable death.  My vote for Best Line of the Novel.
When he laced his fingers through hers, I want her reaction to that.
“somethings” should be two words.
This scene shows a nice rapport between them.
“mafia” should be capitalized.
“…dashing through the streets while the Mission: Impossibletheme song played.”  Maybe play with this: “He was trying to save democracy, and somehow cheesecake was involved.”
“The intruder wore a hood…”  Whoa, there was an intruder? Say so sooner.
“The woman…angled her breasts in Wes’ direction.” Do women do this, really?
“openminded” is hyphenated.
The last chapter ends with them having a romantic dinner on his boat, and this chapter begins the following evening.  It feels like there should be a daytime reaction scene from Barbara and Floe, between these events.
By the way, I want to see more of the dog – especially in scenes where he doesn’t belong, like the hotel kitchen.
“…there’s two ways of dealing with disappointment,” Wes said.  But both choices are destructive and wrong.  Isn’t there a healthy choice?  How about, “there are manyways of dealing with disappointment” – not so close-ended?
“obsesses” should be “obsess.”
There is value in processing pain…”  Opening quote missing.
“Maybe she was the one who had a problem.”  Very nice.
“sparsely furniture” should be “sparsely furnished.”
“Vanessa was fishing for a ‘and so are you’ compliment.”  “A” should be “an.”
“…please tell Floe that Letty would like a tomato bisque soup…”  End this request with, “and send her mom in here.”  Since Mom comes in anyway.
“Hs gaze told Leo that he expected him to serve the soup.”  Add, “Leo hastened to comply.”
Also, I’d like to see a bit of Leo’s presentation, if only to confirm that he’s offering a terrible deal.  You don’t need to tell us actual numbers, maybe just suggest he’s in the wrong range.
“…he was happy to see a painting of what looked to like a young Letty…” Delete the word “to.”
“After Letty learned of how much Was had helped her mom…” Delete the word “of.”
“Although, Betty was a beagle and Letty a person.” Funny, but delete the comma.
“gift-basket is two words, not hyphenated.
“But, here, give it to me.”  Delete the first comma.
“if sold, and she considered that a pretty big if, would be hanging…”  Put everything between commas in parentheses.
“He promised himself that in the future, he would let her reach out to him.”  Add this: “he wouldn’t press too hard, but would let her reach out to him.
“Like day-old pumpkin pie…”  Pumpkin pie has to be a lot older than that, before I won’t eat it.
“So, he’d gone.” Delete the comma.
“What do the security tapes tell us?” Lincoln asked. Establish they’re in the Security Office.
In this scene, Lincoln grins and then smirks, which seems very insensitive to a potentially serious problem involving his boss.
Two pages later, Lincoln says, “Let’s call the police,” unlike his earlier amused reaction.
“Remember, we made the vow.”  This line’s confusing.  You mean, the vow to tell the truth?  Add, “Tell the truth:  what’s going on?”
“I’m going to be sick,” Letty whispered to Claris. I don’t mind that she feels sick with betrayal, but Wes’ last line of dialogue – “Now see here” – isn’t sickening enough.  Wes should say something that inadvertently sets her off.  “Put the gun away, she’s scared enough.”
“What am I going to do with her?”  “She needs a psychological evaluation.”  “I was talking about the dog.”  This is an old joke, but it’s always funny, here especially.
“I, huh, don’t feel like…”  “Huh” should be “uh.”
“Where are all these people going at this hour?” You might add, “They can’t all be visiting incarcerated relatives!”  …or not.
“He shook his head, dismissing her joke.”  You don’t need “dismissing her joke.”
I think “wack-job” is spelled “whackjob.”  You might check that.
“ten-minutes” is not hyphenated.
“net-worth” is two words, not hyphenated (though “self-worth” is).  I should add that the following paragraph is well-written, very effective.
“’He’s not my boyfriend.’  But maybe he would be if she let him?”  I suggest changing this to: “‘He’s not my boyfriend.’  But Dad’s words had started her thinking. Maybe he’d be her boyfriend – if she let him.”
“Sir,” he said breathlessly, “I must speak to you privately.  We have something of a crisis.”  Mention that it involves the dog – but don’t tell us anything more than that.
I wonder what it’s about.?” Extraneous period.
“It’s just like the parable of the ten talents.”  I have no idea what that is, but it sounds really interesting.  Maybe a word or two about it, before you explain the parallel.
“…something of a beer belly.?” Extraneous period.
I love the names of the puppies.
“So much love,” Wes said.  “More than we know what to do with.”  I love this bit of dialogue, but I’d like to see a gesture of affection as they’re talking, tio really bring it home.
“Dan trying to secure twinkling lights” should be “Dan was trying to secure twinkling lights.”
“Bill the concierge and Marco the master chef who were bouncing on their heels…”  Needs a comma after “chef.”
Epilogue is very sweet.
And I’m done.  Good luck with this!

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