Livia Blackburne's Blog, page 8

May 19, 2011

E-books have been causing some pretty dramatic changes in the publishing industry. Whether you're a beginning writer, a traditionally published author, or a grizzled veteran with a large out-of-print backlist, you need to know about this new medium if you want to make wise decisions about your career.



Joanna Penn from The Creative Penn recently released an online course on ebook publishing, and she was kind enough to give me a review copy. I'll first share some of my favorite tips and thoughts from her course, and then give a more general overview.







1. You know how writers groan about having to hook an agent within the first few pages? Now with the advent of e-books, the opening pages are even more important. This is because ebooks are sold by sampling. Sites like Amazon offer the first few pages as a free download, and many readers decide whether or not to purchase after they read those pages.

 

2. For some good marketing tips, download the free e-book marketing guide at Smashwords.



3. Also, if you're looking to hire someone to help you convert your e-book into different formats, check out the E-book conversion services directory.



4. Book review blogs are a great way to get the word out about your book. There's a good listing of them at the book blog search engine.









5. There's  a lot of talk about e-book pricing and the race to the bottom for fiction, but nonfiction books are often left out of the conversation. Joanna brings up the good point that people are often willing to pay more for nonfiction, especially if the information is useful in a practical way (and especially if it will help people make money). For example, Joanna straddles the fiction and nonfiction markets, selling her debut novel Pentecost at 99 cents while selling her epublishing course for $39.99.



6. Two of the major e-book retailers, Apple iBooks store and Barnes & Noble, currently require publishers to be US citizens with a tax number. If you're not a US citizen, you can get around this by publishing through Smashwords, which distributes your book to Apple, B&N and other retailers regardless of your citizenship. You can also sell directly from your website through a service like e-Junkie.com, which offers a shopping cart service for five dollars a month.



I was very impressed by this course. It's a comprehensive introduction to e-book publishing, starting with some background information and then going to a detailed walk-through of the publishing process. The course is comparable in quality to a Writer's Digest webinar, but at half the price and with roughly twice as much content. There's about two hours of video, and all the information is also written in a PDF file for quick reference.



The course is targeted to beginners and those fairly new to ebook publishing. If you're wondering whether you are at the right level to benefit, I've created a handy little quiz with a sampling of the topics covered.



1. What are the major e-book selling platforms, and which ones are most important to hit?

2. What are the pros and cons of different e-book pricing levels?

3. How do good ebook cover designs differ from good print cover designs?

4. How much does it cost to epublish? What parts should you do yourself, and what parts should you hire a professional for?

5. How do you deal with ebook piracy?



The course also includes two screen capture walk-through videos of the entire Amazon and Smashwords publishing process.



All in all, Ms Penn's course is a thorough and comprehensive introduction to e-book publishing. I highly recommend it to anyone thinking about diving in. You can learn more about the course

at her website(affiliate link).



Have you ever published anything electronically, or are you thinking about taking the leap?











Hope you enjoyed the post!  To get regular updates from this blog, please use the subscription options in the left sidebar.Bamboo People Giveaway Password: Karenni


" Writers in the audience should go purchase and read it forthwith." Dana Hunter review of From Words to Brain [image error]



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Published on May 19, 2011 20:31 • 16 views

May 11, 2011

Note: Congratulations to Hektor for winning the signed copy of Bamboo People. I will be contacting you for your information.



A while back, Douglas Morrison was kind enough to interview me on his blog . An excerpt is below, and you can see the entire interview here.







Talk about how the mind interprets Point of View and narrative distance.



We are social animals, so our brains are wired to interact with other people. We are equipped with many tools to figure out what other people are thinking and feeling. Some of these tools include facial expressions, body language, our understanding of the situation, etc. As writers then, our job is to replicate these cues so the reader knows what the characters are thinking and feeling. It's an interesting way to look at the "show don't tell" rule -- you could frame it instead as saying that a writer should use natural emotion cues rather than just telling the reader that little Johnny is sad.







One particularly challenging social task is figuring out what someone else is thinking when it's different from what you are thinking. For example, if someone stole your friend's lunch while he wasn't looking, you know that the lunch is no longer in his lunch box, but your friend doesn't. Somehow, your brain has to keep those two ideas separate. It seems very easy now, but actually, children have a hard time with this type of task. And as a writer, I sometimes have trouble with more subtle variations on this. For example, if I'm not careful, my main character will start reacting to situations in ways that are more characteristic of my personality than hers.



In a number of my literary agent interviews, each has pointed to an increasing importance of a strong narrative voice. Any thoughts on narrative voice as it pertains to your field of expertise?





Livia: I took an introductory linguistics class during my early years as a grad student, and one interesting thing we learned was how everyone has their own unique dialect. We usually think about dialects as something shared by people of a certain region, but each individual person also has his own way of speaking, his preferred phrases and grammatical structures. On top of that, add a worldview, a past, and how that affects the way you see the world. Put it all together, and you have a strong narrative voice. Piece of cake, right?






Bamboo People Giveaway Password: Karenni


" Writers in the audience should go purchase and read it forthwith." Dana Hunter review of From Words to Brain [image error]



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Published on May 11, 2011 16:42 • 19 views
Note: Congratulations to Hektor for winning the signed copy of Bamboo People. I will be contacting you for your information.



A while back, Douglas Morrison was kind enough to interview me on his blog . An excerpt is below, and you can see the entire interview here.







Talk about how the mind interprets Point of View and narrative distance.



We are social animals, so our brains are wired to interact with other people. We are equipped with many tools to figure out what other people are thinking and feeling. Some of these tools include facial expressions, body language, our understanding of the situation, etc. As writers then, our job is to replicate these cues so the reader knows what the characters are thinking and feeling. It's an interesting way to look at the "show don't tell" rule -- you could frame it instead as saying that a writer should use natural emotion cues rather than just telling the reader that little Johnny is sad.







One particularly challenging social task is figuring out what someone else is thinking when it's different from what you are thinking. For example, if someone stole your friend's lunch while he wasn't looking, you know that the lunch is no longer in his lunch box, but your friend doesn't. Somehow, your brain has to keep those two ideas separate. It seems very easy now, but actually, children have a hard time with this type of task. And as a writer, I sometimes have trouble with more subtle variations on this. For example, if I'm not careful, my main character will start reacting to situations in ways that are more characteristic of my personality than hers.



In a number of my literary agent interviews, each has pointed to an increasing importance of a strong narrative voice. Any thoughts on narrative voice as it pertains to your field of expertise?





Livia: I took an introductory linguistics class during my early years as a grad student, and one interesting thing we learned was how everyone has their own unique dialect. We usually think about dialects as something shared by people of a certain region, but each individual person also has his own way of speaking, his preferred phrases and grammatical structures. On top of that, add a worldview, a past, and how that affects the way you see the world. Put it all together, and you have a strong narrative voice. Piece of cake, right?






Character Therapist Giveaway Password: Bosom Buddy


" It is a love letter to the writing and reading processes worthy of being read 'just for fun' or for research." Jessica Sams, review of From Words to Brain [image error]





















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Published on May 11, 2011 16:26 • 38 views

May 7, 2011

I recently read Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins, an eye-opening novel about child soldiers in modern-day Burma. It tells the story of two boys from different ethnic groups: Chiko, a Burmese boy forced into the Army, and Tu Reh, a Karenni boy whose family is driven from their home by Burmese soldiers. When chance events throw the two together, Chiko and Tu Reh get to know each other not as faceless enemies, but as people.



There's quite a bit of social psychology research on group identity, in-groups, and out-groups, but this story actually brought to mind some vision science experiments on a phenomenon called change blindness. The basic idea is that we notice a lot less than we think we do. For example, watch this video from psychologist Dan Simons.













The man who picks up the phone is a different actor wearing different clothes, but people very rarely notice the switch. We're less observant than we think.



But maybe we're less observant int his case because it's a video. Surely, people would notice changes in real life! And this is where we get another one of my favorite psychology experiments ever. It's explained in this video here.









In this experiment, psychologists posing as visitors to campus asked random pedestrians for directions. Halfway through the conversation, several people carrying a door forced their way between the speakers, and  took advantage of the distraction to substitute a different person as the direction-asker. Surprisingly, about 50% of the pedestrians did not notice the change in conversation partner.



The psychologists noticed that pedestrians closer in age to the direction-askers were the most likely to notice the switch. They guessed that this was because people paid more attention to individuals in their own social group.



To test this hypothesis, they reran the experiment, but this time the direction-askers were dressed as construction workers. And as predicted, the percentage of pedestrians who noticed the change dropped dramatically. It seemed that pedestrians labeled the direction-askers as construction workers and didn't notice any details beyond that.



I find it fascinating that people automatically sort the people they meet into different groups and adjust the amount of attention they pay to them. It's an interesting question to ask when building your characters. What types of people would your character view as part of her social group, and what types of people would your character see without really seeing?



This week, I am also giving away a signed copy of Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins. There are two ways to enter the drawing.



1. Share this post on twitter and leave a comment with your twitter handle.



2. RSS subscribers will find a secret word at the end of this article. To enter the drawing, e-mail liviablackburne at gmail dot com with the secret word in the subject line.

I will draw a winner on Wednesday, May 11 2011.



Hope you enjoyed the post!  To get regular updates on psychology and writing, use the subscribe option in the left sidebar.



Daniel J. Simons, & Daniel T. Levin (1998). Failure to detect changes to people during a real-world interaction PSYCHONOMIC BULLETIN & REVIEW



Bamboo People Giveaway Password: Karenni


" Writers in the audience should go purchase and read it forthwith." Dana Hunter review of From Words to Brain [image error]



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Published on May 07, 2011 08:43 • 19 views

April 27, 2011

In earlier installments, we discussed finding beta readersgetting them to read while respecting their time, and extracting useful feedback. Today we'll continue the "beta reading as experiment" analogy. The final sections of a research paper are the results and discussion. First I'll share what I learned about my own manuscript, and then I will generalize to some broader lessons. Also, I promised Jake that I'd have charts, and I aim to deliver.







So how did my beta reading experience go? These are the major themes.



What I did well: People kept reading. I was pleasantly surprised at the number of readers who finished in one or two sittings, stayed up late reading, or otherwise deviated from their normal routines. As expected, the closer a reader was to my target audience (young women who enjoy Tamora Pierce), the more she tended to like the manuscript. One definite high point was receiving an e-mail from a beta reader's sister saying she felt like the book was written just for her. I'm counting that as my first successful word of mouth referral :-)



What needs improvement: I was so focused on trying to keep the plot moving that I sacrificed depth. My readers found room for character development, world building, and scene setting. In my next round of revisions my focus will be on fleshing things out -- developing relationships, backstory, and world details. Much of it is convincing myself that I don't need a cliffhanger ending or knife fight in every chapter to keep the reader engaged.



Most controversial issue: My beta readers were pretty low key, but one particular subject brought out strong opinions of all possible shades. I had a slightly nontraditional romance thread, and here's a sampling of the reactions.



"EWWWWWW… Are you really going to put that in?"

"It was really really awkward."

"I really liked the tension between those two!"

"F---- Yeah! It made my stomach tingle."



(And no, it's not what you think. This is YA, folks. Get your mind out of the gutter. Besides, we've established already that my love scenes are very tame.)



Not only were reactions all over the board, but  people were very quick to attribute character flaws to fellow beta readers who disagreed with them.. Has anybody else had this experience? And if so, over what kind of passage?



So that was what I learned about my own manuscript. But what did I learn about writing in general?



Actually, it was a lesson I wasn't expecting. The beta reading process opened my eyes to the reader landscape. I really got to see how personalities and tastes affected someone's reading experience.



If you could represent my view of book quality before I did the experiment, it would've looked something like this.







The y axis represents a book's quality, and the error bars represent subjective differences in opinion.



After the experiment, my understanding is something more like this.







Here, the Z axis represents how much someone enjoys a book, and the X and Y axes represent reader characteristics, anything from their favorite genre, their attention span, their worldview, the number of traumatic childhood experiences they've had involving killer pigeons, etc. All come into play when they read a story.



Now I knew this already, in theory. In fact, I published an essay that talked at length about what a reader brings to the table. But I didn't really internalize this until I sat down (or e-mailed) with 14 different people and had 14 different conversations about my novel. Hopefully this epiphany will give me some psychological resiliance when I enter the land of queries and bad reviews.



So readers, what lessons have you learned from your beta readers?





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" Writers in the audience should go purchase and read it forthwith." Dana Hunter review of From Words to Brain [image error]



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Published on April 27, 2011 21:10 • 21 views

April 20, 2011

So far in this series we've talked about selecting beta readers, recruiting them, and getting them to read. Now is the part we've all be waiting for: getting feedback.



There are two challenges to soliciting feedback (especially if the beta readers are not writers themselves). First, readers might not have much to say beyond "It was okay." Second, even if they do say something,  they might just be telling you what you want to hear*. I tried to minimize these problems by doing the following:







1) Asking open-ended non-leading questions about my manuscript, and





2) Providing objective anchor points for subjective evaluations.



When a reader finished my book, I first asked them for general reactions. At this stage, writers tend to give detailed responses, while non-writers vary in how much they have to say. After I got a beta reader's unprompted response, I sent a list of questions.



The following questions are tailored specifically for my book, but they might give you some ideas.



1. On a scale of 1 to 7, please rate your average level of engagement throughout the book. (1 = you have to pay me to keep reading, 4 = I'll read it if it's lying around and I have free time, 7 = I am neglecting important life tasks to keep reading)



This was the closest I got to asking if they liked the book. To offset the ackwardness of putting betas on the spot, I tried to get as close as I could to an objective measure and provided concrete examples for different values of the scale. While people were still too nice to say that my book sucked, the concrete examples often prompted them to tell me how they arrived at their answer (i.e, "Six, because I found myself reading instead of going out to see a movie," or "Four and a half, because I stopped reading after chapter 10, but got more into it when I picked it up a week later"). This gave me a clearer picture of what people actually thought.



2. If your interest level varied throughout the book, can you tell me where it fluctuated and why?



This question was useful for picking up inconsistencies in pacing.



3. How did you feel about the interaction between [young impressionable protagonist] and [dangerous yet strangely intriguing antagonist] throughout the course of the book?



4. How did you feel about the development of [female protagonist] and [male protagonist]'s relationship throughout the course of the book?



5. How did you feel about [ZOMG major plot twist]? Did you buy it? Did you see it coming?



6. How did you feel about the climax and resolution? Did it feel believable? Was it a satisfying ending?



7. What would you say is the novel's biggest strength and biggest weakness?



My betas found this question obnoxious, like those job interview questions where they ask you about your biggest weakness (The correct answer is "I work too hard."), but it was good for balancing out beta reader personalities. For the overwhelmingly positive people, it was useful to get something that they didn't like.For the "praise is for pansies"camp, it was nice (and soothing to my ego :-P) to see if they liked anything at all.



8. Did you get a good sense of the characters? Were there any characters that were particularly well fleshed out or needed more fleshing out?



Note that different readers will have different criteria for strong characterization. For example, some readers thought my villain was my strongest character, while others thought he needed the most fleshing out. It turned out that the readers who thought he was strong were drawn to his dialogue and mannerisms (on-screen charisma, if you will), while the readers who thought he needed work placed more value on backstory and motivation. It's helpful to ask for clarification if you're not  sure what people mean.



9. What type of books do you usually read for pleasure, and what percentage of those books are fantasy? What about YA fantasy? What are some books that you think were done well?



The most important question in the survey. You must know where your readers are coming from, and what they are using as the gold standard. A comment on pacing from a classics lover is completely different from the same comment made by a thriller reader. The same goes for character development, plot structure, voice, and pretty much everything else. In general, people who regularly read your subgenre will be the most helpful, but I ended up getting useful tidbits from every beta reader regardless of their reading habits.



A few other notes:



1. You will be getting a lot of comments. Which ones should you actually address?



One rule of thumb is to address 1) feedback that immediately resonates with you and 2) feedback that doesn't resonate, but comes up too many times to ignore. Sometimes it's a tough call, which leads me to the second point.



2.It helps to have an objective and trusted sounding board to help you with borderline cases



When I wasn't sure about a certain piece of advice, I was lucky enough to have my critique group to bounce e-mails and ideas off of.



3.Don't argue with feedback.



Remember, you're a psychologist, and the last thing you want to do is contaminate your data by arguing with your test subject. Instead, think to yourself "my, what an interesting specimen of reader," and ask him to elaborate while taking copious notes. Then you can go home and write a five page psychoanalysis about how that reader's early relationship with his mother ended up giving him tragically bad taste in literature. (I'm just kidding about that last part. I swear.)



4.  Be prepared to give feedback on the feedback

I found that non-writers were more likely than writers to ask about the quality of their feedback. This is probably the because the process is new to them. So be prepared for the question, and use your judgment. Sometimes beta readers were curious about whether they agreed with others, so I went through their comments and summarized what other people thought. Other times, I just picked a few points and commented on those. I avoided bringing up issues I disagreed strongly with because I'm the type of person who once embroiled in a debate, MUST WIN.



5. Some other helpful tips from blog readers:

Friends of the blog have been sharing their own ways of getting feedback. Margo provided her beta readers with a PDF with the link at the end of each chapter to a Google survey with questions about what worked, what didn't, and what was boring. Jack does his writing on Google talk and has beta readers interact with him and each other using the chat function while he's actually writing.



Next week, we'll talk about what I learned from the experiment.  Now readers, it's your turn. Any suggestions for good questions to ask your beta readers?



*In experimental psychology, this is referred to as demand characteristics, when a participant develops a theory of what the experiment is testing and therefore doesn't act naturally. The most common instance would be the "good participant," the beta readers that tells you your book was awesome because they think that's what you want to hear. But there are also "bad participants ." One particularly mischievous beta reader (who may or may not be married to me) made a point of reading to the middle of the most exciting parts and then making an elaborate display of yawning and announcing that he was going to do something else. *sigh*





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" Writers in the audience should go purchase and read it forthwith." Dana Hunter review of From Words to Brain [image error]



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Published on April 20, 2011 20:01 • 46 views

April 16, 2011

"Mythology, science fiction and comic books are chock full of stories of heroes and their battles against the ills of society—the eternal struggle between good and evil. We are meant to view these two main characters—the Hero and the Villain—as opposites on the spectrum of ethics and morality. But are they really so different when you look at their individual traits and behaviors?





Contrary to popular belief, right and wrong, moral and immoral, ethical and unethical—are not always on opposite ends of the spectrum of good and evil. In addition, the people who fight for the cause on either side may not always look or act like the one you would expect. Science may finally give some support to the old saying: There is a fine line between good and evil."





Read the rest of this fascinating article by Andrea Kuszewski at Scientific American.


" Writers in the audience should go purchase and read it forthwith." Dana Hunter review of From Words to Brain [image error]



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Published on April 16, 2011 09:16 • 21 views

April 11, 2011

This is part two of the series An Experimental Psychologist's Take on Beta Reading. Read Part I (Subject Pools) here.  Again, I'm not claiming that these methods are the best for everyone, but hopefully everyone can find some useful tidbits.



Way back in the day, there was very little oversight for experiments involving human subjects. That era gave us classic studies like the Milgram Shock Experiments and the Stanford Prison Study. These studies revealed new insights about human nature but left many participants emotionally traumatized.



In these more enlightened times, human subject research is closely regulated to ensure that participants are treated fairly and ethically. One of the most important concepts involving human research is that of informed consent. In every study, we make sure the participant understands the risks and benefits involved in the experiment, and we emphasize that the participant may stop the experiment at any time.



Informed consent is extremely important for ethical research, but on a day to day level, it creates a bit of a balancing act for experimenters. We don't want participants to feel forced into something that makes them uncomfortable. But if we word things the wrong way, we sometimes give the false impression that our experiment is just a side thing that they can to join or drop at their convenience. There's nothing quite like waiting around at lab, 8pm on a weeknight, having booked the scanner for a nonrefundable $1000 slot, and hearing that your test subject won't be showing up because he decided to go drinking with his buddies.



Recruiting beta readers reminded me of this tightrope walk. On one hand, people have lives and are doing you a favor by reading your novel. On the other, many manuscripts die a lonely death in the depths of a beta reader's email inbox. So how do we maintain a balance between respecting our beta readers' time and getting feedback in a timely manner?







Below are some of my thoughts – drawn less from any deep theoretical insight and more from the practicalities of relying on strangers for the data that shapes my scientific career. Perhaps others in people-oriented industries can also chime in.



1. Expect Participant Dropout and Plan Accordingly.

No experiment has a 100% completion rate. People have lives, and things come up. Keep this in mind when you're deciding how many betas to recruit. (One of my beta readers gave birth a week after receiving my manuscript. Amazingly, she managed to get me feedback!  She wins the most dedicated reader award.)



2. Make Sure Your Betas Know What's Involved Before They Agree to Help You.

It's always best to make sure everybody's on the same page. When I recruited my beta readers, I sent out an email with the following: 1) a blurb for my story, 2) what I was asking, and 3) the proposed timeline. This allowed prospective betas to think about their schedule and decide realistically if this was something they wanted to do.



3. Make the Initial Commitment Small

Slogging through a full length manuscript can be painful if you're not connecting with the story.  Because of this, I didn't feel comfortable asking my beta readers to commit to reading the entire thing. Instead, I asked for a smaller commitment -- they simply had to finish the first chapter. If the combined pull of the story's plot and the readers' sense of social obligation was not enough to make them keep reading, that would be feedback in and of itself.



4. Set a Clear Timetable

 The biggest hurdle is getting people to start. My intuition is that things move more smoothly once people actually begin. Since my first chapter was only five pages, I felt comfortable asking my betas to read it within the first week. I also let them know I'd be checking back in a month regardless of whether they had finished the manuscript. If they didn't finish, they could simply tell me where they stopped.



5. Provide the Story in a Convenient Format.

This is huge. You want to make reading your manuscript as easy as reading an actual book. For this reason, emailed word documents may not be the best choice. I gave my betas a choice of 1) electronic word document, 2) ereader file, or 3) printed and mailed hardcopy. I used Calibre to make ereader files. For hard copies, I looked into binding options but ended up just printing double sided, single spaced, and stapling the manuscript in packets of 20 pages.



6. Send Periodic Reminders

 I ended up sending 2 reminder emails: the first at the one week mark, and the second a week before the deadline. I tried to make my emails less obnoxious by including anecdotes and stories, but I'm not actually sure if I fooled anyone.



And that's all for this week. Next week, we'll talk about extracting useful feedback. And now, dear readers, it's your turn. What are your beta methods?





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" Writers in the audience should go purchase and read it forthwith." Dana Hunter review of From Words to Brain [image error]



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Published on April 11, 2011 20:51 • 31 views

April 5, 2011

I didn't plan on running my novel critiques like a psych experiment. I just wanted some folks to read the manuscript and recruited/blackmailed some friends accordingly.



A week into the process, I noticed that I was using principles from experimental psychology to ensure better data from my beta readers. Another week after that, I realized that it wasn't normal to use words like "data" when talking about beta feedback. Then I began emailing my writing group with phrases like "I'm starting to notice clear trends emerging in the responses," and it was all downhill from there.



By now, I've embraced the "beta reading as psych experiment" analogy. But nerdy or not, I kinda like the way things turned out. Some writer friends requested that I post about my experience in more detail, and that was the inspiration for this next series: An Experimental Psychologist's Approach to Beta Reading.







In the next four posts, I will detail what I did last month. My approach is not the best for everybody, but hopefully folks will find some useful tips here and there.



Let's start at the beginning. You (a.k.a. intrepid author/mad scientist), have just finished your manuscript and are ready to start the great experiment. Let's call it "Affective Outcomes of [insert manuscript name] On the Reading Population." In other words, "Does My Novel Suck?  And If So, How?"



First step is to recruit subjects. (Actually, the real first step would be to design the experiment and test it on pilot subjects to ensure things are working. You could draw an analogy to fixing obvious kinks with your writing group before showing it to other readers. But anyways…)



How many subjects do you recruit? I started out shooting for 10 readers, and due to various unforeseen circumstances, ended up with 16. Why did I want so many? For the same reason you want large subject numbers in psych experiments. There's a lot of individual variation in taste, and unless you have enough readers, it's hard to tell which viewpoints are representative and which viewpoints are outliers.



How do you find 16 people to read your novel? The issue of subject recruitment has always been a tricky one, and where you find your subjects can have a huge effect on experimental results. For my beta readers, I recruited from three main populations, each with its advantages and disadvantages.



1. Friends and family who have been asking to read your novel



Pros: They will finally stop bugging you. Also, you know these people pretty well -- their preferences and their personalities. This is helpful for interpreting their feedback.



Cons: The biggest concern is whether you can hear their feedback without taking it personally and damaging your friendship. Know yourself and act accordingly.







2. Friends and acquaintances who read in your genre.



Pros: They know the genre.



Cons: I can't think of many downsides that apply to the whole group. If you don't know them very well, you might feel awkward asking them for help. Same warning applies about protecting friendships.







3. Writer friends



Pros: They can give you feedback from a writer's perspective and generally give more detailed feedback then non-writers.



Cons: The biggest practical issue is that beta reading is usually reciprical, so be careful about overcommitting yourself to reading too many manuscripts.



In the next installment, we'll get to the mechanics of recruitment and running the "experiment."  





In the meantime, tell me. Where do you find your beta readers?



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" A soup-to-nuts tour of everything that happens as our eyes and mind process the words in a story" Peter Meyers review of From Words to Brain [image error]



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Published on April 05, 2011 20:19 • 15 views

March 28, 2011

Note: Today's post is by Kathy Crowley, who blogs at Beyond the Margins



"Thus, we notice after exercising our muscles or our brain in a new way, that we can do so no longer at that time; but after a day or two of rest, when we resume the discipline, our increase in skill not seldom surprises us. I have often noticed this in learning a tune; and it has led a German author to say that we learn to swim during the winter, and to skate during the summer."

- William James, Psychology: The Briefer Course

A long time ago I worked in a neurobiology lab. I was a few years out of college and trying to support myself while I completed my medical school requirements (having frittered away my college years on things like literature, and writing, and philosophy, and Comparative Slave Societies… I was very liberal with my liberal arts.)







My job involved unpacking live frogs (delivered by UPS in boxes filled with a damp man-made moss), developing photomicrographs, washing beakers, incubating "quicks" (chicks with a dash of quail) and collecting data. This is how I collected data: I would place a frog under a clear plastic dome specially outfitted (by me) with thumbnail shaped cups spaced at measured intervals around the outside. I would then drop a live, squirming meal worm into one of these cups and record how quickly and accurately a frog turned and jumped for the worm.



(A little dull for me, but imagine how frustrating for the frogs.)



When I left that job and headed for medical school, my boss gave me a gift – a first edition of William James' Psychology: The Briefer Course. His inscription read: "One of the greatest neurobiologists – and wisest men – of our time." The quote at the opening of this post is one of many that I love from this book, and I think of it often. Most recently, I have thought about it in terms of . . . The Drawer.



We all know about The Drawer. It is the place (physical or virtual) where our writing sits quietly while we try to figure out if it's as bad as it seemed when we dropped it in there.



As in:



Kind and Patient Friend: "How's your novel coming along?"



Writer: "Oh, I decided to put it in the drawer for a while. You know, get a little distance."



The accepted wisdom on the drawer is that it allows us to return to our own writing with a more critical and editorial eye – the kind of eye we use when we read the work of others.



I don't disagree, but I think it's a little more than that. When we close the drawer and put the project out of mind – or THINK we are putting it out of mind – another kind of work begins. Previously dormant neurons yawn and stretch their little dendrites*. After tossing back cup or two of dopamine, they slip on their glial sheaths and get started -- making connections, clarifying ideas, strengthening characters, creating nuance. So that when we re-open the drawer and pull out the manuscript, we get not only distance and perspective, but also more depth and complexity.



Maybe it's time to rehabilitate the drawer, start thinking of it as an active rather than passive part of the process. Not a sign of stalling out or hitting a dead end, but instead its own stage -- a stage that happens to look very different from the writing/editing/revising stages.



There are writers who write something once and it's done. (I know – it isn't fair that they exist, but they do.) For me, though, and for most writers, it doesn't work that way. When I start my next novel, I will pencil some drawer time into my writing calendar (which I don't have yet, but I might someday, after I finish alphabetizing my spices and reading all the emails my kids' school sends out every week). When the time comes, I'll drop my little tadpole of a book in, then wait patiently to see what hops out.



Any thoughts on the drawer out there?



*No real neurobiologist would ever describe neurons as "stretching their little dendrites" -- but you probably knew that.




" A soup-to-nuts tour of everything that happens as our eyes and mind process the words in a story" Peter Meyers review of From Words to Brain [image error]



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Published on March 28, 2011 20:26 • 30 views