Friday, March 6, 2015

Agentopia: Mary Cummings

Welcome to the March edition of Agentopia! For more information and to see other Agentopia posts, click here.

This month Mary Cummings from Betsy Amster Literary Enterprises is in the spotlight.

All about Mary Cummings:

Mary Cummings represents fiction and poetry for children and teens, from picture books to middle grade and young adult novels, including contemporary and historical, humor, mystery, fantasy, and multi-cultural. (No children’s nonfiction, please.) Cummings served for fourteen years as education director at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, where she organized an annual festival of children’s literature and selected judges for the prestigious McKnight Award in Children’s Literature. She represents both career writers and newcomers.
Please consult the submission requirements to learn where to direct your query.

1. What are you looking for in YA submissions right now? 

Many teens feel “different,” or try hard (desperately hard) to fit in to avoid feeling different. Who’s the real me? How much difference is okay? These are core and daily preoccupations. Books for teens that allow imaginative exploration and portraits of “difference” are particularly interesting to me. Whether the main character deals with difference that’s physical, or because of some extraordinary ability or circumstance that sets him or her apart, I’m looking for an interesting story – in both ya and mg - about how that difference has its drawbacks and (unexpected) advantages for the character. Especially in mg, I like characters with warmth, charm, accessibility, poignancy, humor, and grit, who grow and change in interesting ways along the story’s journey. I typically like an element of fantasy woven into the familiar world, but have delighted in a great range of work by my clients, from realistic fiction to high fantasy.

2. What's an immediate turn-off in a query, something guaranteed to get the author rejected?

Immediate turn-offs: a) attachments (don’t send!) b) impersonal, mass-mailed queries (“hello”) c) sloppiness and lack of professionalism (takes various forms, including such spelling and address errors as “Dear Betty” or “Ms. Cumming” or “I’ve decided to turn my hand to writing for children” or “Dear Publisher”) d) queries lacking sample writing, per our guidelines e) creepy sender email names f) stories with cliché elements (kid waking up to mom’s call, protagonist in first paragraph being assaulted and cursing, reader alerted to appearance of protagonist as she glances into a mirror, the crush with mysterious green eyes, etc.).

3. What's the story got to have to make you want to represent it?

Let me first say what the story should not have. Vampires and zombies: I’ll take a pass. Overtly religious content: not a fit for me. Dark themes, abuse: probably not. Moody romances that overshadow the multiple relationships in a teen’s life: no. The story needs to have consistency, flow, momentum, engaging voice. I’ve seen manuscripts start out wonderfully, with amazing characters – but the author can’t sustain the “lives” of these characters and shifts too often to subthemes or new characters, or doesn’t find solid footing as either mg or ya . I respond to a great range of work, so it’s hard to be specific, but my breathing changes and I have a “Wow. WOW” feeling that I always pay attention to.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Essential 10: The Query Letter

Great story idea? Check. Terrific writing? Check. Requests from agents? Goose egg? Near goose egg?

Before you toss that manuscript in a drawer, I want you to take a look at your submission package, which consists of three very important pieces: the query, the first page, and the synopsis.

If you’re querying, about to start querying, or hope to query in the future, this three-part series on getting yourself in tip-top shape is for you.

Necessary disclaimer: I am not an agent. I don’t claim to know all there is to know about writing the perfect query, first page, or synopsis. What I do have is my own experience, what I know has worked for others, and some perspective. As a Pitch Wars mentor for the past two years, I’ve read a lot of queries, first pages, and synopses. And I recently critiqued an abundance of queries and first pages as part of a preorder campaign I conducted for my debut Becoming Jinn (Macmillan, April 21, 2015).

With many of the same problems popping up over and over again, I wanted to share some essential tips for creating the strongest query package you can.

This month I tackle the query.

The Essential 10

1. Query the right agent. Don’t ignore this advice. It’s probably the most crucial element of querying. Agents aren’t being mean or narrow-minded if they say they only represent romance or young adult contemporaries. They say this because their job is to sell your work. And in order to do so, they must be aware of what editors want to buy. It would be quite a feat to know and have relationships with all editors in all genres at all publishing houses. It’s simply not possible. So if they say they only represent certain categories, believe them. Don’t think yours will be the exception because it’s just that good. It might be (I hope it is!), but it doesn’t matter. If the agent only knows editors who buy self-help books, he or she can’t sell your picture book. It’s a basic fact. If you adhere to this rule, you’ll cut down on the rejections in your inbox (as well as the irrelevant ones in agent’s inboxes!).

2. Personalize. How can you assure agents you are following tip number 1? By personalizing the query letter. You should be taking the time to research all the agents you are querying. If you are, then following this tip is easy because you’ve already read about them on their Web site, read interviews with them on some place like Literary Rambles, or checked them out on Agent Query. You know the genres they represent and the authors and books on their list. Which means you can kick off your letter with something akin to the following:

"Dear Agent,

Having read on Literary Rambles that you are looking for stories about sea creatures, I believe my 75,000-word Young Adult fantasy, MONSTERS OF THE ATLANTIC, may appeal to you."

Starting this way has the bonus of giving context to the pitch you are able to lead into. While I know there is mixed advice on this, with some saying to end with personalization, I’m a firm believer in starting with it—if it’s short like this. Knowing the title and genre do wonders for understanding the pitch and I think any negatives are easily outweighed.

3. Don’t forget the details. Your query is the first time you meet a blind date, a friend’s parents, your potential boss. It’s a first impression and the details matter.  They include:

  • All book titles are written in all caps.
  • Include the word count (rounded up, not 73,489).
  • Include the category (Adult, NA YA, MG, PB) and genre (fantasy; science fiction; romance; etc.). Resist the urge to create new genres. Your work will fit in one of the existing, I promise.
  • Don’t use throwaway words. The query is a writing sample. If it’s not good enough, agents won’t move on to your first page. Treat every sentence and every word in the pitch with the same care that you do your novel. That means not using the same word repeatedly, not using “look” when “ransack” is better, and of course, not having spelling, grammar, or other errors. Read your query over—many times. Ask someone else to read it over. And then you read it over again. And again.

4. Ground the pitch. One of the biggest issues in query pitches centers on the idea of grounding the reader. Remember that we are newbies. We have no idea if your book is set on this planet, in this time, has twelve POVs or one. Including the title, world count, and genre as I suggest above is one way to begin the grounding. But continue it by ensuring in your first couple of sentences that you give the reader a sense of what this world is. It can be done (and should be done) subtly with details sprinkled in that give us a clue, like if the character is in high school or lives on a spaceship. We understand the world via the details you include so you don’t have to “info dump.”

5. Be specific. Queries should tell the plot—and the specifics of your plot. With so many stories out there, agents need to know what’s unique about yours. To say someone faces a challenge or screws up is way too general. What challenge do they face? How do they screw up? Give us character, conflict, and stakes. We should know what your character’s story problem is. We should understand what he or she wants, the obstacles in his or her way, and what will happen if he or she doesn’t achieve this goal. Think of going up to the 25% point of the novel and then…

6. End with a zinger, not a cliché. Aren’t all YA novels coming-of-age stories when you get down to it? Aren’t all novels about a character facing a decision or a challenge? Instead of saying, “Will Mary find love?”—and, please, avoid the question form if at all possible—say, “Mary faces the choice of following the love of her life on a rocket ship to Mars or nursing her ailing father through the flesh-eating virus that’s slowly killing him.” End it with specifics, be as enticing as you can, and make the agent HAVE to read your novel.

7. Drop the cutesy. Agents read hundreds of queries a week. I assure you, an excess of puns, exclamation points, or “fun” facts about you that have nothing to do with the writing, get old fast. Unless you are a master of it, don’t try.

8. Ditto for the self-deprecating. Don’t welcome them to tear your work apart. Don’t tell them you know it could be better. Don’t apologize for your writing, for being a debut author, or being new to the writing world. Owning your work shows that you have confidence in it. Because if you don’t, why should anyone else?

9. Just the facts. Don’t be worried if your bio is short. It’s better to keep it to what’s directly relevant to writing or the manuscript’s topic than to try to pump your bio up by including references to the chapter book you wrote when you were seven or the instructions you wrote up for your husband on how to program the TIVO. There’s nothing wrong with being a new writer. In your bio, give your education or work background if it relates to writing or the novel itself. For example, if you are a nurse and your book is set in a hospital, that’s relevant. If you once spent the night in the ER, that’s not.

10. Closing remarks. Show that you understand an agent’s time matters. Don’t ask them to send you feedback. If they do, great. If not, never send an e-mail back asking for it. End your query with something along the lines of:

"Thank you for your time and consideration. I would be happy to send you a full or partial manuscript upon request."

Bonus 11: Overall, be professional. An agent is choosing to represent you as much as your work. And that means, never badmouth another author or book. It’s in poor taste in any context. But beyond that, here, in a query, understand that this publishing world is very small. You very well might be trashing that agent’s client, best friend, or colleague. Be professional above all else. Who knows? If you are, and your work isn’t right for this agent, you increase the chances of them passing you along to someone else or maybe asking to see your next work.

Join me next month for tips on the first page and the following month for a look at the dreaded synopsis.

Lori Goldstein is the author of Becoming Jinn (now available for preorder; Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan, April 21, 2015, sequel, Spring 2016). With a degree in journalism and more than 10 years of experience, Lori is a freelance copyeditor and manuscript consultant for all genres. She focuses on the nitty-gritty, letting writers focus on the writing.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Building a Concept #1: Igniting Inspiration

As writers we are blessed with the ability to find inspiration or snippets of stories in everyday situations. It may be overhearing an awkward conversation or seeing something unique on a particular day. It might also come at inconvenient times such as when we're washing dishes or driving and can't write it down.

But what if our inspiration runs dry? We've all been in those desert spots, grasping for something to develop into our next masterpiece and holding only air. If you're dealing with something similar now, read on for ideas on how to ignite some ideas to further cultivate.

Take a Walk
It's been proven over and over that getting the blood flowing in your body leads to better creativity and heightened brain activity. It also gives you the opportunity to focus on something other then your day to day happenings. In addition, where ever you take the journey can lend sights, sounds, and smells to trigger flashes of brilliance.

Become a Spy
You read that right! Immerse yourself a hub of human activity such as a mall, bookstore, coffee shop, college campuses, or other busy areas. Then use the senses to purposely listen and watch human stories unfold all around you. Before going, consider something to focus on such as a weird conversation or different characters you could write about. Then listen and watch as your mind takes over and zones in on these types of diamonds in the rough.

Read, Read, Read
Almost all of us are constantly told to read a lot. What a lot of us don't realize is that the advice doesn't just mean fiction. Magazines, newspapers, blogs, and websites offer myriads of interesting tidbits that could easily be expanded on. Just this last week, Sharon tweeted dozens of weird stories  from @UberFacts that would have been awesome jump-off points for stories. If you do read fiction and discover a nugget of story gold, write those titles down so you can use them as comp titles later.

It is very common for artists to use inspiration from their own life for their work. The reason this often works so well is that you already have an attachment to the story and the emotions are already present. It doesn't have to be something you experienced either. It could be something you remember happening to a friend or to someone you went to school with. It could be something that you remember hearing about that happened in a local or surrounding area. Using your memories as kindling for a story often becomes a therapeutic venture. To dive into those memories, arrange to visit an old friend, attend a reunion, or look through diaries or photo books from your earlier life.

Do you have a favorite way to  switch your mind into brainstorming mode? Please share it in the comments below!

Come on back on April 2nd for some tips on what to do with all those awesome ideas once your inspiration is cranking!


E.G. Moore
E. G. Moore is a poet, freelance writer, and storyteller. She is a long distance member of For Pete’s Sake Writers Group in Washington and is a Rocky Mountain Chapter SCBWI member. She loves writing stories that send her young readers on adventures they can't experience in real life. She’s excited to be the new blog assistant for YAtopia. When she’s not telling “Mommy Made stories” to her two daughters or nagging her husband to edit her latest manuscript, she can be found off-roading in her suped-up ATV, swimming, or in a long, plot-refreshing bubble bath. She tweets @egmoorewriter, posts on, and blogs at

Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Feels: An Author's Advantage

With puffy, red eyes I bring you good and bad news.

(Can we pause and take a second to appreciate my amazing, creative flow-chart-making abilities?)

Yes, it's true. Life doesn't always go as planned. And sometimes the way things go is a lot less fun than what we planned.

I know, I was surprised when I found out too.

Let me tell you a little story.

Once upon a time, there were three siblings. They all had red hair. And they were not the Weaslies. After many trials such as "She Won't Stop Touching Me" and "He Went in My Room Without Asking", the three became an inseparable trio. 

With impending adulthood in the horizon, the three made a pact. A pact that is totally reasonable. "When we grow up, let's all live right next door to each other and have a pool that stretches across the three backyards."

Adulthood came. The oldest one went to college, moved back home, got married and then moved to the next town, twenty minutes away from her beloved siblings. Eventually, the next two graduated from high school, got jobs, and did college. They still didn't have the three houses next door with the giant pool, but things were pretty okay anyway. 

Until...the middle one got engaged! Birds sang. Family cried tears of joy for the beautiful bride-to-be. And then she announced she'd be moving two hours away after the wedding. TWO HOURS. The oldest one cried lots of tears. Even though she was elated for her sister, she was sad to let go of their childhood fantasies and close proximity.

In the middle of all these tears, the oldest one giggled at a thought. "This gives me so much material to use in stories." 

And that concludes the story. I'm the oldest, by the way. Here's a super adorbs picture of us to tug at your heartstrings as you cry in sympathy for me and the three-house-length pool that may never be.

From left to right: Jen (the middle) , Bugy (the youngest), and me, Jessie at my brother's high school graduation.  

In case you got lost in that story and forgot the purpose, it was to tell you this:
-Life doesn't always go as planned.
-The bad news is that tears and not-so-fun emotions are a common side-effect.
-The good news is you're a writer.

You're a writer!

Not that we're generally cooler than, say, everyone else, but...we kind of have a one-up on them when it comes to The Feels.

See, when commoners non-writers get The Feels, they have to do things like:
-Talk it out
-Punch walls
-Scream in pillows
-Plants gardens
-Cry into buckets of greasy food
-Vent on Facebook and Twitter
-Play with sock puppets in therapy

And sure, we can and do participate in that stuff too, but we (and all other superior people artists) have something more.

We use The Feels to make art. Beautiful, sad, happy, nostalgic, dream-filled art. We get to take that moment of pain and make it something more. We get to immortalized our special human-moments. We get to make sure they matter to other people as much as they matter to us. We get to send stories into the world that connect us with other people. We get to use The Feels to create heart.

And that's pretty cool.


I would like to dedicate this post to my sister and brother. Thank you for being the kind of people who make me cry at the thought of you being far away. I love you. (And shout out to my future brother-in-law because I love you too even though you're kind of partially responsible for the giant pool not happening.)

Love, Jessie


Thursday, February 26, 2015

Guestopia: Interview with Rachael Craw, author of Spark!

Today, YAtopia has been joined by YA author Rachael Craw. Without wasting any time, let's get straight to it. 

Hello Rachael, thank you so much for joining us. 

Is this your first published book?

What’s it called?

Which genre?
Sci-fi premise with a pinch of Thriller/Contemporary and Romance 

Which age group?
YA, 14+ 

Is it a series or standalone?
First in a series. Stray is scheduled for release September 2015, Shield in 2016 

Are you an agented author?
Yes, with Chris and Barbara Else

Which publisher snapped up your book?
Walker Books Australia

How involved have you been in the whole publishing process of your book?
Walker Books Australia are an incredible team who really know their business and have a reputation for producing beautiful, high quality work. I was/am such a clueless newbie, so I was pretty thrilled to partner with them and follow their lead especially because they are so invested in Spark and it's success.

Do you have another job?
Nope, I am very blessed to be able to write full time (thanks to an extremely forbearing husband) before I started writing full time I was a High School English Teacher 

Did you receive many, if any, rejections prior?
My agents submitted the manuscript to one publisher before Walker who gave me a pretty fabulous rejection. They told me they loved my writing and would like to see anything else I produced in the future but weren't looking for sci-fi/genetic experimentation storyline at that time.

What created/what were you doing or watching when the first idea for this book sneaked up on you?
Hmmm, I just had my 3rd baby, so I was doing lots of night feeding and in a state of zombied confusion, so who knows. I just remember the unction to write hit me pretty hard, like a physical ache.  

How long did you plot/plan until you started writing it?
I knew I wanted to write YA, have a 17 year old female protagonist, a high school setting, and a fantastical element that gave my character superhuman abilities. I was quite keen to use a sci-fi premise to create that fantastical element but I didn't have a BIG idea. I sat on my bed one night and prayed for an idea and went to sleep and had the dream that became the prologue of the story. I was running through a forest at night with incredible speed, reflexes, strength etc then I was gripped by a terrible sense of urgency and I knew there was someone out in the dark who was in great danger. I had to reach this person before someone else - the killer - did. When I woke up I took it on faith that I had my idea and my brain had a party asking questions like: where did I get my strength/speed/reflexes from? why was someone trying to kill the person in the woods? how did I know they were in danger? why was it my responsibility? etc etc.

I'm a pantser, so once I knew the general gist of what the story was about, I just felt my way towards the end like walking through that forest blindfolded.

Once you started, did the story flow naturally or did you have to step in and wrestle it into submission?
Mostly it flowed but EVERY day I would sit at my laptop and have that moment of dread: what if I can't think of anything! 

How many drafts did you write before you let someone read it? Who was that someone?
I have a bestie in Christchurch named Audra who read every single word I wrote for Spark. Multiple versions, multiple re-writes. She was the ultimate cheerleader, devoured everything and was always demanding: MORE PAGES, PLEASE! Very motivating. BUT, Audra would admit it herself she had no ability to critique, she just loved everything. Ha! So I had professional assessor tell me the hard truth.

Did you employ an editor/proofreader or did you have a critique partner/beta readers before you started querying?
I went through TFS and Barbara Else did my first 2-3 assessments, then I had a year of mentoring with Chris (I like to think of them as good cop/bad cop) and then they offered to represent me as agents. They were completely amazing to work with. Lots of hard work, but totally invaluable.

Roughly how many drafts did it take before you sent the manuscript off into the real world?
I sent my first completed draft to TFS 

How many drafts until it was published?
Probably 4 or 5 while working on it with Chris and Barbara, then another re-write with my editor through Walker Books. 

Has the book changed dramatically since the first draft?
Yes, It was 150,000+ words when I first sent it to TFS (poor Barbara, what a waffling great nightmare) and was approx. 94,000 when it went to print. We dropped the first 4 chapters, cut 2 characters (the main character's father and another potential love interest). I changed the title from Borders, to By the Border River, to The Keeper, to Spark. I changed the roles from Keeper, Seeker, Trigger to Shield, Stray, Spark. And tons of little bits and pieces all over the show,

Are there any parts you’d like to change even now?
I am NEVER satisfied, I would edit myself into the grave. Handing the manuscript over is excruciating.

What part of writing do you find the easiest?

What part do you find hardest?
Having perspective.

Do you push through writing barriers or walk away?
Push, push, push. Like birthing a watermelon.

Eew! How many projects do you have on the go at the same time?
Just the trilogy. It consumes all of my brain cells, I have no room in my head for ANYTHING else. Sometimes I worry there is nothing else, that it's destroyed neurons that will never be replaced.

Do you think you’re born with the talent to write or do you think it can be learned?
I believe I was born with  a love of words, even from a very young age I would be captivated by the sound of an interesting or beautiful word but I believe the craft is learned.

How many future novels do you have planned?
I have just finished Stray (bk2) and sent that to my publisher and this year will be ALL about Shield (bk3) beyond that I have no plans but I have an unction to write some magical realism so who knows...

Do you write other things, such as short stories, articles, blogs, etc?
Before Spark I wrote scripts for amateur theatre, and screenplays that I never submitted to anyone and tons of cringe worthy poetry. I have no stamina for blogging. 140 characters on Twitter is just the right pace for me.

What’s the highlight of being published so far?
Random email through my website from kids who are beside themselves about Spark. It NEVER gets old.

Give me five writing tips that work for you.
1. Know what your character wants the most and deny them that thing
2. Drama is created by giving your characters opposing scripts (Sol Stein)
3. put your fingers on the keyboard and make them move up and down even when they don't want to
4. create problems for your characters, BIG ones that you have no solution for and trust that the solution will come
5. get your work professionally assessed. I don't regret any of the money I spent learning my craft. Its an investment.

And one that doesn't.
Hmmm, I don't think I've been given any advice that hasn't worked for me in some way.  

Can you give us a clue or secret about the next book?
'Spark' is like a superhero origins story where Evie must come to terms with her destiny and calling, her life interrupted by the synthetic gene in her DNA. 'Stray' (bk2) is a darker, moral dilemma story where Evie is torn between the people she loves, her duty and 'doing the right thing'. It takes you behind the scenes of the Affinity Project, the secret organisation responsible for the genetic experiment. When Evie chooses to help a Stray she defies everything the Affinity Project stands for and suffers the devastating consequences.

What question have you always wanted to be asked but never have? What would the answer be?
Occasionally, reviewers comment or wonder why I didn't set Spark in New Zealand but no-one has ever asked me why I didn't or they assume I set it in the States as a cunning marketing ploy. I'm afraid I didn't give it as much thought as that. I simply set Spark in the states because the premise of the story 'felt' very American. The original gene-experiment occurs in the early 70's and the Affinity Project's agenda was to create super-soldiers for hire, for military, political, corporate espionage. It didn't feel practical/feasible/believable to me to set that in New Zealand, makes it rather difficult to quickly deploy one's agents into the field at such a distance. But to be totally honest, I came to that conclusion very quickly and made no effort at all to try and come up with a justification for setting it in NZ, so perhaps that was lazy of me. I was completely comfortable with the American setting, to me it was just the kind of comic-book madness you'd expect!

If you haven't read Spark yet then WHY NOT? You must, it's absolutely brilliant. Find out more about Rachael and her books here:

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: My Top Ten Favorite Heroines From TV

Since my day happens to fall on Tuesday this month, I decided to do Top Ten Tuesday! This meme is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Today’s topic is Top Ten Favorite Heroines from TV!

1 - The Clones, from Orphan Black

If you've seen the show, no explanation required.

2 - Kenzi, from Lost Girl

Don't we all, Kenzi?

3 - Tamsin, from Lost Girl

Her character arc is one of the best I've ever seen.

4 - Kaylee, from Firefly

If you don't love her, you have no soul. My professional opinion.

5 - Petty Officer Anastasia Dualla, from Battlestar Galactica

This show has a lot of fantastic characters, but Dee had a quiet, steady strength that I think most people overlooked.

6 - Bo, from Lost Girl

Can you tell I love this show? A kick-ass, feminine, bisexual woman who doesn't apologize or agonize over her sexuality? Yes, please!

7 - Daenerys Targaryen, from Game of Thrones

Y'all know I couldn't leave out the mother of dragons.

8 - Claudia, from Warehouse 13

9 - The Pink Ranger, from Power Rangers

You go, girl! #notashamed

10 - Rocky Blue, from Shake It Up

Yes, I watch the Disney Channel. Don't judge me. I love Rocky!!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Beta Reading is a Gift Everyone Can Give

Image result for picture books everywhereAlthough I’m a freelance editor and get to read and work on unpublished manuscripts as my day job (I know, it rocks!), it’s still not enough. So, I often offer to beta read for authors with an early, and later, draft of a novel. It’s what I like to do with my free time. 

To be honest, I have to beta read all the books I've been instructed to edit as well because the same initial process applies. I need to read and understand the story and the characters, and consider how it makes me feel from a reader’s point of view before I delve into any edits.

Other than the usual considerations of characterisation and depth, of structure and plot, and so on, here’s some more general things I do and consider before, during and after a beta read.  

I’ll pretty much beta read any genre. Why not? If anything, it might introduce me to a category or genre I’d never have considered before. Plus, my eyes will be fresh and completely unbiased in my review. You don't have to be an expert to read a person's book, just being prepared to give honest feedback is qualification enough.

As I read, I do my best to make very few notes. I don’t when I read a published book I buy from Amazon or a bookstore, and so it's essential I apply the same reading attitude to an unpublished book. Otherwise, I run the risk of losing any enjoyment the story might give me as I’m too busy fussing over technicalities. My notes might simply consist of ‘passive’ or ‘telling’ or ‘repeating xxxx’ or ‘dialogue unnatural’ and so on. And I love to highlight. 

Image result for crazy highlighting book pictures

I’ll only make more detailed notes if there’s a section of the book I have to re-read or go back to check; it’s a sign that that particular scene or element isn’t working or perhaps there’s an inconsistency somewhere. Sometimes it could be my own situation, i.e. misbehaving children, snoring husband, etc., that prevents me from following the story, but more often than not, my instincts are right.

I focus on the look of the words on the page. Is there a lot of attractive and calming white space? Is there a range of sentence lengths? Do the paragraphs vary in size? Is there plenty of dialogue? That kind of thing. Because appearance affects a reader’s mindset and attitude when they read; it needs to appeal visually, just like a good dinner does before we tuck in!

My reports often babble on, I can't help it, it’s habit, but I do try my hardest to be as brief as possible in the initial contact. But I’ll say to the author, that if they’d like me to go into more detail on any specific points, then they only need to ask. I keep my door wide open to anyone I beta for, because rewrites are blinking hard, and if I can support in any way possible throughout, answering any questions or discussing a new idea or direction, then I will.

Above all else, I look for the positives and the strengths in the story and the author’s writing. Not only because encouragement and support is pretty much everything for an author at this stage with a WIP, but also because, for me, it actually makes it easier to weed out the weaker areas. I like my reports to feed back on what the author’s doing right as much as what they might need to work on.  

Image result for gift of readingBeta reading is a wonderful thing, and a gift every author and reader can give. To be a good writer, we need to read as much and as diversely as possible. And if we can occasionally do this whilst helping and guiding our fellow authors, everyone’s onto a winner.