Category Archives: Reading

Beta Readers? You betchya!

So we’ve talked about editors and how to find them, now let’s chat about the unsung heroes and heroines of the publishing process: BETA READERS.

You’re damn right I put that in caps ‒ they deserve all the accolades they get.

For those unfamiliar with the term, beta readers are those who provide feedback on unpublished work before it goes to an editor. They are an essential cog in the machine that is publishing. Beta readers provide an objective overview from a reader’s perspective while giving insight into character(s) arc, plot, world-building, narrative style, and any inconsistencies.

So when should you engage betas?

You’ve finished the eleventy-first draft of your story, you’re probably sick of the sight of it, and you’re at that point where it needs another set of eyes (or three) to see how it’s holding up. Enter your beta readers. Now it’s imperative to point out that beta readers are not editors. You may be lucky enough that one of your betas is an editor, and may pick up spelling and grammar issues, but that’s not their role and it would be pretty uncool to ask them to do so while also providing story feedback.

There are a couple of ways to approach beta reading. You can make a list of things you’d like your betas to look for: eg. character agency and development, any plot holes, narrative style, and even something as simple as: does it make sense. Super-organised writers sometimes provide their beta readers with a checklist or a framework from which to work. Others just let their beta readers have at it, where they can provide feedback via electronic notes on the document, or just provide an overview at chapters’ end or at the completion of the tale.

The thing here is to be clear about what it is you’re looking for from your beta readers, and can they do so within a time-frame. Yes, a time-frame is necessary, especially if you’re working to a deadline. Just be realistic.

 

superhero_t_shirt_by_bangbangtshirts.jpg

Art by BangBang Tshirts

 

So where do you find these mythical creatures?

I’m hoping you have a community you can tap into. This is a big ask of someone, and generally it’s an unpaid project. Reciprocity is your friend here – if you ask someone to beta read for you, don’t be a twat and decline if they ask it of you.

There are groups on Goodreads that offer beta reading, but like with anyone you engage to assist with your book, be discerning in your choices. Hit up your social media sites, ask for recommendations. There are also paid sites that have beta readers; again, be discerning.

You’ll have noticed that I’m using the plural here, because you’re going to need more than one beta reader. I’d suggest at least three, but no more than four. Having too many eyes go over your story and the waters may start to get muddy.

When it comes to choice, try to find those who read in your genre (or alongside it), and even one who doesn’t – mainstream readers will give you insight into readability across the spectrum. Don’t ask a relative unless you’re sure they’re going to give you honest feedback, not just what you want to hear.

And that leads into the next part of the beta reader process: YOU.

If you ask for honest feedback (which is a given, right? Right?) then don’t get all precious, don’t take it personally, and for the love of all things holy and unholy, don’t get angry at them or their feedback. They’ve given freely of their time, provided honest insight in a bid to help you with your book. Be professional. Should you not agree with some of the feedback, you don’t have to take it on. Although should more than one of your beta readers pick up the same thing, then you’ve got an issue that needs to be addressed.

Again: don’t be precious.

In the end, it will be your decision what to take on, and what to let go. But you’re cultivating relationships here, be professional. And be thankful. Beta readers are helping you. Appreciate and respect that.

So we’ll end on some bullet points:

  • Find at least three beta readers – some that read in your genre and, if you can, one that doesn’t. Tap your community (writer community, social media et al.) for beta readers or suggestions; check Goodreads, or websites that offer the service.
  • Be discerning in your choices, clear in your decisions.
  • Ask for honest feedback and mean it – don’t be precious.
  • Provide guidelines for what you’re looking for with the beta read, and ask if it can be met within a realistic time-frame.
  • Reciprocity is your friend – if someone you’ve approached is a writer, offer to beta read for them (and mean it).
  • Be professional. You may not agree with/like the feedback you receive, but this isn’t about you, it’s about getting the best out of your story. Leave your ego behind.
  • You don’t need to take on every point your beta reader makes; the decision to move forward with alterations or not, rests with you.
  • If more than one of your beta readers points out the same issue – it’s an issue.
  • Don’t be precious (yes, it needs reiteration).

 

Remember, beta readers are the heroines and heroes of your publishing journey, be respectful to and thankful for them – they’ve earned it.

Con Magic

It’s been four days since Supanova Sydney packed up, and I’m sufficiently recovered to write a little somethin’-somethin’ on why conventions are not just fun but necessary. When I was a kid, there was no real gathering place to get your geek on. Sure, there were comic book stores a-plenty, but most didn’t want you hanging around all day after you’d spent your meagre pocket-money on the latest edition of Wonder Woman, Batman or The Tomb of Dracula and the like.

Relegated to the back carpark of the local council while we read and traded and talked all things comics as we skateboarded, it was the closest thing to a ‘con’ we had. And we revelled in it. Halloween wasn’t a thing when I was kid, so the opportunity to ‘cosplay’ was rare to non-existent.

Fast forward more years than I care to admit, and the culture is celebrated in all its glory – it’s a wondrous thing, filled with joy and excitement and acceptance. Yes, there are still issues with misogyny and inclusion and consent, but overall my con experiences have been positive (I’m aware this is not the case for all).

While the last few years I’ve been herding cats… sorry, my kids and their mates through conventions such as Supanova and ComicCon, this year I was on the other side of the Supanova table helping kick-arse author Devin Madson hawk her book-wares, and specifically her new book We Ride the Storm. As you can see by the table display below, the artwork is amazing (book covers matter, kids!), and the stories within are just brilliant.

devin table

The great thing about being on the other side of the table – apart from being surrounded by amazing artists (which we were) – is chatting with people about their love of books, of stories, of the art of writing and how much the tales they read and the characters they discover are very much a part of them. As someone who has a passion for both writing and editing, seeing that same passion in readers, of those who want to be writers, is an incredible thing to be a part of. No back carparks for these folks, they are out and proud in the geekdom, and it lifts the soul.

Cons allow writers to indulge in our love of all things books, to reunite with ‘our people’, and I even managed to scarper over to Alan Baxter’s table and pick up the promised books (The Book Club, Manifest Recall, and Hidden City), all signed, of course. And got to side-eye Raymond E Feist who was sitting next to Al – the line for Feist’s signature is definitely something to aspire to!

I also picked up issue #1 of Melbournian artist and writer, Mark Sheard’s, new comic The Flower of Rhode, plus a set of six funky coasters he’d made – of course I need funky coasters to rest my coffee mugs on. And I watched on as he created new characters for the next issue of his comic. The man has talent to spare.

Yet it’s the fans, those who love everything about books and comics and gaming and movies, of art and artists and the incredible creations found in Artists Alley that make the cons what they are – they’re the heart of fandom, who make creators keep creating.

We met kids scouring local author tables looking for their next read, we spoke to book lovers and voracious readers, and chatted to an ex-MMA fighter who proudly showed the dress he’d sewn for his daughter (in two days!) and was specifically looking to buy from Australian indie writers as a way of support – he was an awesome human.

We saw Deadpools and Doctors, Wonder Women and Wonder Men, Jedis and Stormtroopers and all manner of Darths. There was anime and My Little Pony, Aliens and Ripleys and Lara Crofts, superheroes and villains and a horde of Vikings that truly took it to another level. Everywhere you looked was another amazing outfit, another intricate piece painstakingly hand-made. Not once did I see a kid turned away from wanting their photo taken with a character, not once did I see someone mocked for their attire – it was a delight.

But I think it was best summed up by a grandmother I was chatting to while we both waited on our caffeine fix, and who was attending her first con with her grandchildren. Her eyes sparkled as she looked around at everything, her lips spreading wider in smile as her gaze lit upon the elaborately hand-made cosplay of ‘Big Daddy’ from Bioshock.

“It’s magic,” she said, her whisper filled with wonder. “In a world sorely lacking it.”

She’s not wrong.

Review: Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames

As I’m recovering from the long weekend of Supanova, and I’m not in the right headspace for work… review time it is!

I finished Nicholas Eames’ much-hyped Kings of the Wyld last week, and while it took longer for me to finish than it should, it was more that I was time poor than a reflection on the novel, which I’ll break down in a moment.

But first…

HERE THERE BE SPOILERS. LIKE BIG, SPOILER SPOILERY SPOILERS. READ ON AT YOUR OWN SPOILERY RISK. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

Kings of the Wyld

Right then.

As I said, Kings of the Wyld has been much-hyped, earning rave reviews and high star-ratings so I was looking forward to stepping into this world. Over-the-hill mercenaries getting the band back together for a final quest to save the daughter of one of their own? Great premise, and big yay for having older protags – something sorely missing and not often explored in fiction.

It starts well, if a little slow (pacing is an issue with the storytelling, but I’ll get into that a little later), and we’re introduced to the first two of five protagonists: Clay Cooper (our storyteller) and Golden Gabe (whose daughter, Rose, the band is off to rescue). After collecting the three others: Moog (the wizard), Matrick (a despondent king grown fat), and Ganelon (a man turned to stone for the last twenty years), the band sets off to cross the infamous Heartwyld… but a lot happens before that. Like… a lot. There’s monsters of all kinds (so many, I lost count), the Silk Arrows who continue to rob Clay’s band whenever the chance arises, fighting a chimera, faking Matrick’s death, keeping ahead of bounty hunters Matrick’s wife sent after them… Like I said, a lot.

However, the humour does shine through – some of the one liners had me laughing out loud, and others had me groaning, but it is part of the charm of this book… and at times, saves it. That’s the thing with Kings of the Wyld, when I got to it’s end, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. I enjoyed it, yes, it was fun, and there is a lot to like about it… but there are issues. Some big, some not so big but important nonetheless.

I mentioned earlier that the pacing is off; we begin with the urgency of getting to Gabe’s daughter to save her – surrounded by a horde of unimaginable size, time can’t be wasted. But there are so many side-quests, interruptions, meanderings… the intensity and urgency are lost in what is the basic premise of the story. So many monsters are introduced and described – especially in the middle of the book ‒ that Rose barely rates a mention.

That can be forgiven because Eames’ prose and his narrative style does work to pull the reader in, and there are some truly beautiful lines and moments in this middle section. It’s also where we get to meet Dane & Gregor – the two-headed Ettin. The relationship between the blind and grotesque Dane, and his seeing brother who describes a hideous and shit world as beautiful and wondrous was a joy to read. It’s clear Eames has the skill to write complex characters with depth and a wealth of emotion.

It’s the Ettin that shows the flaws in the characterisation of our five main players…except, perhaps, for Ganelon ‒ my favourite of the band. This is where I struggled with this book, because there are some exceptional moments Eames has created. The conversation between Clay and Ganelon where they’re discussing the twenty years Ganelon’s been trapped in stone is one of the best of the book, with Ganelon wondering what kind of monster he must have been for his friends to not come for him. It’s moments such as these that lit the book for me, that showed the skill Eames has for conflict and character depth. But it didn’t flow through to all.

Yet there came a moment, when Clay lost his hand, and where I thought here we go, now we’re going to get some real agency. As shocked as I was (I’m pretty sure I gasped aloud) that Clay had his hand severed, it was that struggle to remain valid within the band, to continue to help his friends regardless I was so looking forward to seeing. And we do see a little of it; that determination and struggle to climb back up that mountain and rejoin the band was excellent.

And then…

And then…

I can hardly say it.

Ta-da! His hand regrew.

Why? Why do that? Why rob the reader of that moment? Of the moments to come from this game-changer? It felt like a cheat. That I didn’t need to worry about Clay’s or the rest of the band’s fate – everyone was going to be just fine. And if not? Magic was cure-all.

It just didn’t work for me.

Look, I’m sure there are going to be a lot of people who say I just didn’t “get” the book, and that’s fine, maybe I didn’t. But I need to be invested in the outcomes of the characters, to worry over them, to hope and cheer and yell at them because I want them to survive. Give me that threat of character death, the implausibility of survival, make me fate-invested. I see the scope of facing insurmountable odds and the ridiculousness of it that Eamses did show, but when balanced against those moments of depth… it was almost (at times) a tale of two authors.

Thing is, I did enjoy Kings of the Wyld. The fight scenes were on point, the humour was excellent, and some of the characters just shone. There were moments of brilliance within, but the hand… man, that hand.

On a Goodreads scale, I gave it four stars but it’s probably sitting just under that.

Don’t Be A Cock (*trademark pending*)

There’s little doubt you’ve heard of the furore/shitstorm/WTFedness going on over in Romancelandia regarding a certain author and their trademarking of a particular word to the exclusion of all other authors/titles. If you haven’t, head over to Twitter and the #CockyGate saga. Be careful, it’s a rabbit hole – you’ve been warned.

This isn’t how I intended to spend the start of my Monday morning, but I’m caffeinated and well, it’s Monday. So while I will wade into the sea of shit this author (she’ll get no naming rights here) has created, I’m not going to go into the epically stupid thing she’s attempting nor the blatant hypocrisy she trying to foist into her narrative (it’s outstanding), or the ‘How to Commit Career Suicide’ this so very much looks like. But I will address a few things; while this author plies her trade in the romance genre, this affects every author in every genre and sub-genre.

The first thing to get straight is that it’s a trademark she’s attempting, not copyright – two different things. If you’re going to go head-to-head with her and/or weigh in on this debate, please get that piece of information right. I’m not going to go into the legalities of it here, there are greater (and more willing) minds than mine to do that. But use the right term.

This author is using intimidation tactics to have other indie authors with the word ‘cocky’ in their book titles make changes or she will sue. Yep, you read that right. And one of the things she continually spouts is her “graciousness” to allow them to keep their earnings and reviews, so the changes they “must” make aren’t a big deal and won’t cost the author anything.

Yeah, that’s the bullshit I want to talk about. Indie, or self-published authors don’t have the backing (and funds) of those authors traditionally published. It costs money to edit your book, it costs money for cover art, it costs money for cover design/layout, it costs money to advertise. All of these expenses come out of the often very empty pockets of an indie author. Any changes to books currently uploaded to any and all platforms will require funds to have those changes made. It will cost not only money but time, and time lost often equals money lost, potential readers lost, potential sales lost. To threaten another author into doing so is delusional at best, reprehensible at worst.

All writers, myself included, write because to not do so hurts the soul. To have that passion stomped on, threatened, bullied, isn’t going to win you any favours, it isn’t going to win you readers, and it sure as shit isn’t going to win you market-share (or dominance).

Look, publishing is hard, getting your name out and your books sold in today’s market is hard, but you don’t go about it by stepping on other authors, you don’t go about it by trying to bankrupt other authors out of the market. It’s a big fucking table we’re sharing, and there’s room for everyone. And there are plenty of readers to go around.

Think of it as Ægir’s feast – your ale horns will never be empty, and there’s a regenerating boar outside providing limitless bacon for all.

Don’t try and block seats at the table, lest you want the chair pulled out from beneath you.

Oh, and don’t be a cock… unless you’re this ↓ fabulous!

cock

‘Tis the season to be… award-y

It’s that time of year again. Award season. Or the nominating and voting of such. It’s a time for writers to really pimp their wares for reader-voted honours, or to pray to all the gods (or none) that it will be their name on a nice, shiny trophy.

I have a love/uncomfortable relationship with awards and the award-season. I’ve been lucky enough to win two Australian Shadows Awards (short fiction & graphic novel), and that’s a pretty damn fine high, I gotta say. Yet the whole idea of pimping my work makes me all kinds of uncomfortable. Sure, it’s part of the gig ‒ I get that ‒ and I do pimp my work because I’d be a fool not to. Some authors, though, have a gift for it. Me? I will pimp the shit out of friends’ work I love, but when it comes to my own… <insert squirming here>

uncomfortable

What I do love about the award season is discovering new work and new authors. With so many books on the market, not all of which are good, and some that really have no right to be there (I’m looking at you, unedited books with shite covers), award season hones those great reads down for me. As an editor, my personal reading time is precious, so a poorly edited or plot-hole riddled book will make me stabby.

Speaking of segues, the first lot of awards are in – The Best of Fantasy Stabby Awards, as voted by Reddit. Not only does the ‘Stabby’ have a sword as its trophy (like, what else?), but this year an Aussie nabbed one of those swords for himself. Evil is a Matter of Perspective (Adrian Collins, ed.), put out through Grimdark Magazine.

The preliminary ballot for the Horror Writers Association Bram Stoker Awards has also been announced, with some Aussie and Kiwi writers making their mark this year as well. Big up Alan Baxter for The Book Club;  Lee Murray and Dan Rabarts for Hounds of the Underworld; and Aussie blogger Adrian Bookhead up for superior achievement in blogging for Grim Reader Reviews.

But wait, there’s more! The Aussie awards are open for nominations too: Australian Shadows, Aurealis, and Ditmar. Get eligible works in, folks, if you haven’t already.

Look, there’s probably a tonne more that are open, and the social media dance of books and nominations and votes and publicity and ‘read my book’ is inevitably coming, and it can be exhausting. Thing is, if your name isn’t King, Rowling, or Gaiman (for instance), chances are you work another job (or two) to pay bills and do things like eat. So award season is the opportunity to get your name and your work out there to new readers who just may buy your book. It may put you on the radar for future book deals. It could make a writer’s life a bit easier.

Conversely, awards aren’t the value of your work. I’ll say that again: AWARDS AREN’T THE VALUE OF YOUR WORK! I’ve read brilliant pieces that never won an award or made a shortlist. I’ve written stories I thought were pretty damn good that didn’t get a look in. It can be like a punch to the gut, no doubt, but awards don’t define you as a writer. They help, sure, and those trophies sitting on your desk or shelf are suh-weeeet, but once it’s all said and done, you’re still putting ink to paper (or fingers to keyboard).

What it boils down to is: MAKE GOOD ART. That’s all you can do. And if you’re shortlisted for an award, I tip my hat to you (it’s a fabulous hat). And if not? Keep writing, my friend, it’s the act of creating that draws you back to words, not the awards. Besides, there’s always next year.

 

Festivus Book Pimping: The Tide series by Anthony J Melchiorri

Next in the Festivus Pimping of the Books comes from Anthony J Melchiorri in the form of his military horror series, The Tide. If you’re looking for monsters with a voracious appetite then this is the book… books for you! Like seriously, these are some of the best developed and creepy AF monsters created.

I’ve read five in this series, with the sixth novel only just released (must get on that), and the writing is phenomenally good. Melchorri knows how to weave a tale and keep the action and the tension high pretty much throughout the books. You get small reprieves, but in this world of monsters, any reprieve is welcomed.

As there are six books in the series, I’m not going to give you a breakdown of each – that’d take too long, but here’s the back-cover blurb for the first in the series ‒ The Tide:

Captain Dominic Holland leads a crew of skilled covert operatives and talented scientific personnel. He’s taken them to all corners of the earth to protect the United States from biological and chemical warfare. When his CIA handler, Meredith Webb, gives him a mission to investigate a disturbing lead on a laboratory based out of an abandoned oil rig, they discover the most terrifying threat to mankind they’ve ever faced—a genetically engineered biological weapon called the Oni Agent.

Back in the United States, Meredith discovers a frightening connection between the CIA and the Oni Agent. But her investigations are short-lived when the Agent spreads and brings mankind to its knees. Cities burn as it turns humans into warped creatures hell-bent on destruction.

Dominic and Meredith vow to do everything they can to combat the Agent and find a cure. But will their efforts be enough to turn the tide—or is humanity’s fate already sealed?

the-tide

These are some badass creatures, and it’s clear Melchiorri’s has tapped into his background in Biomedical Engineering (do not let this man loose in a lab without a serious supply of caffeine) to warp humans into what the characters affectionately call “Skulls”. I’d so love to tell you why, but I don’t want to taint the joy of that discovery for you.

There’s a lot to love about this series: the characters are flawed and believable, the fight scenes are graphically awesome, the Skulls and the way their DNA warps them is most excellent, and the writing is sharp and on point. And guns. There’s a whole bunch of firepower in these books. Oh, and Melchiorri doesn’t shy from killing off characters – that’s a definite plus for me; sometimes you gotta make the hard call.

So if you’re looking to put some horror into your Christmas (and not just the horror of venturing into the Christmas crowds), then I can’t recommend this series enough.

Recommended for lovers of horror, military horror, apocalypse tales, killer monsters, covert ops, political bastardry, puppies.

Available in all formats.

Festivus Book Pimping: Dark Edges by Catherine Lee

Next in the Festivus of the Pimping of Books we’re going to hit some crime. Death and drugs and deception, oh my!  Catherine Lee is an Aussie crime writer, and her Cooper & Quinn Dark Series is really starting to gain some well-deserved traction. Combining murder mystery and police procedural, and set in the heart of Sydney, I was hooked from the first book.

Lee’s narrative is sharp, and the crimes she ‒ or rather Detectives Cooper and Quinn ‒ tackle, could almost be ripped straight from the headlines. That’s the thing with Lee’s books, the crimes committed (and investigated) mirror the society we live in, and while not a didactic narrative on the world’s state-of-play, it does make you think.

Dark Edges is the fifth novel in the series (there are two novellas), and the twists and turns in this story don’t let up. Just when you think you have a handle on it… bam! But that’s what I like in a crime/mystery novel – you discover as the detectives do. And Lee seems to be ramping up the tension and odds with each book.

Dark-Edges

Here’s the back-cover blurb for Dark Edges:

A football player in the prime of his life is found dead from an apparent drug overdose. Was it an accident, suicide, or something more sinister?
Detective Charlie Cooper is struggling just to keep awake after some upheaval on the home front. But life is busy for everyone, and Cooper is intrigued from the start with this baffling case. Jimmy Dallas was a rising star with everything to live for – would he really have stuck a needle in his arm the week before the biggest match of his career?
Joel Maguire, for one, does not believe his best mate would have knowingly injected himself with anything. Reeling from the shock loss, and dealing with some issues of his own, the Rangers’ star player struggles to put one foot in front of the other, let alone play finals football.
Australian rugby league takes centre stage in the fifth book of Catherine Lee’s page-turning Dark Series. Strap yourself in as Cooper and Quinn tackle the controversial issue of drugs in sport.

Each of the book works as a standalone, so you don’t necessarily need to read them all, but with over-arching character development for both of the detectives, and some secondary characters popping up now and then throughout the other books… well, BOOKS! Who doesn’t love to read books?

I can’t recommend this series enough. Cooper and Quinn are well-developed, well-rounded characters, each with their own flaws and quirks. Having the setting pretty much in my own backyard is a such a welcome change to the generic US-based books that flood the market.

Recommended for those who love crime, murder mystery, police procedural, stabby-stabby, shooty-shooty (yeah, that sounded way better in my head). Look, just buy the book… hell, buy the whole series.

Available in all formats.