Sunday, December 18, 2016

The "It" Factor

By the time I had figured out that Project 2016 was part of a larger project, I had already sent out a handful of queries. Most of them had gotten responses before I went back to work, but a couple were still outstanding.

I went ahead and got back to writing because, for one thing, I needed to keep myself busy and stay in the habit of working and, for another, I didn't want to hang all my hopes on this version of Project 2016 being the one that got picked up.

It's been long enough that I'd actually forgotten about all but one outstanding query (as an aside, those auto-response receipts are a godsend as far as keeping up with who has what and where). I've been working on other things, and the emails I sent back in early October are fuzzy.

So I was surprised this week when I found a response from an agent in my email.

Before anyone gets too excited, the email wasn't a manuscript request. It was a rejection. The sixth for this project so far.

I'm not generally bothered by rejections. What makes good fiction is pretty subjective, and sometimes your work just isn't someone's style. Frankly, you don't want someone who isn't one hundred percent about your work to represent it. And I'm not bothered by the number of rejections. Harry Potter was famously rejected a dozen times before it found a home. All manner of famous authors have seen rejections--Orwell, Faulkner, Stein, L'Engle, Alcott, Christie, Joyce--the list goes on. I've heard authors talk about seeing upwards of 50 rejections before finding the right match (though, I'll admit--I'm not sure I'd still be unbothered by rejections at that point).

The responses I've received from the people I've queried, thought they haven't been what I wanted, have all been kind and helpful. None of them have made me feel like I'm wasting my time with this project. In fact, from the way some of the rejections have been worded, I think I might have come pretty close to success once or twice--phrases like "excited by the query" and "interested in the premise," stuff that suggests that, if nothing else, there was something that gave the reader pause or piqued interest.

And that's great--it's really, really great. It means there's something in the story that people are into.

But it's also so frustrating that I want to pull my hair out.

In addition to these more promising statements, the emails I've gotten have mostly included some variation of "I didn't fall in love with it the way I need to to represent it."

Again, in the long run, that's a good thing for me to know. Whoever is going to champion my book needs to love it at least as much as I do. If someone can't reach that level of enthusiasm, they won't be able to fight for it. And my work not being someone's cup of tea is no big thing--there are plenty of books that are great that I'm just not that into. It happens.

None of this experience is abnormal. But it has left me asking questions.

What's the "it" factor? What makes someone fall in love with a book? What might my book be missing?

Obviously, there's not a hard-and-fast answer to any of those questions. What makes a person fall in love with a book is going to depend on the reader. The "it" factor can be anything from a particularly compelling character to a detailed and expansive world with thorough lore, to a timely conflict or the introduction of a fascinating piece of technology. My book may not be missing anything--or it may be missing a lot.

The process is a roller coaster. People have joked that being an artist is simultaneously feeling absolute narcissism and crippling self-doubt. That doesn't seem far off the mark. This question of what makes people fall in love with a book (which is really me asking "why aren't people falling in love with my book?" if I'm being honest) has got me on a bit of a downswing. But it's temporary. It always is. And at least I know that there is something worth keeping in this project.

I've still got two queries out. I have no idea what to expect from them, but I do have a plan for what I need to do next, which is about the best I can ask for.

I'll be taking next week off from the blog for the holiday. The blog will be back January 1 with a 2016 recap and, if there's news, updates.

Happy holidays, folks. Thanks for reading.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Let it Simmer

I'm about five days removed from finishing my latest draft.

The whole process for Project 2016/Delphinus Trilogy has been, to put it lightly, a total freaking mess. Originally, I was supposed to be sending out queries around this time. Maybe taking a break from submissions to do another pass through the draft just to make doubly sure that everything's polished as well as I can get it.

Instead, the notion that my stand-alone was actually a trilogy hit, and now I'm back towards the beginning of the process. It's not quite square one, but it's pretty close.

Anyway, I've made it over the first big hurdle. Draft one of the first book is finished. That is a victory, though it can be difficult to feel that way.

This first draft is ugly. Like, really ugly. I'm not going to be short of things to work on when it comes time to revise. Off the top of my head, I know a character has to be dropped, a couple of relationships need more fleshing out, there are some alterations that need to be made to some of the opening scenes to work in a little more world building, and the dialogue and body language in the back end of the draft (around the part where I started getting tired like a kid cramming to finish a paper the night before it's due) need to be overhauled.

That's just the stuff that I know needs work.

One of the pitfalls of writing, particularly of writing so much of a story in so short a time, is that it can, if you'll pardon the cliche, hard to see the forest for the trees.

I'm so in this story. I've been building the greater universe for it for a decade, and I've been spending literal hours every day piecing this specific draft together for over a month. The world and its characters are ever-present. Bits of their history and their conversations wake me up in the morning and keep me up at night.

Part of the reason that beta readers are so important is that at some point, a writer needs someone who hasn't had the entire world of the story living in their head. I'm not quite at the point where I'm ready for an outside set of eyes to look at the story, but getting some distance from the story is still the plan.

I want to do a round of revisions on my own before I pass the draft on to anyone else. But I'm really not in the right place to do it--it's all too fresh, and there are sure to be important gaps and flaws that I'll miss.

So I'm letting the draft simmer. I'm taking a couple weeks to let the story sit. I'm not fiddling with or looking at the draft until the 20th. By then, I should have a clearer sense of what it needs.

In the meantime, I'm doing other work. I've got a short story for an upcoming anthology that I need to write, a second short story that I hope to wrap up and shop around. There should be enough to keep me occupied until it's time to dive back in.

And maybe by the time I look at the draft again, I'll feel a little better about it, too. Maybe a little simmering is just what it needs.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

NaNoWriMo Plus

Ho boy, what a month.

For those that maybe missed the memo, I spent the month of November (and the last ten days of October) participating in National Novel Writing Month 2016. The goal NaNoWriMo official goal is to write a 50,000 word novel (or, for most folks, 50,000 of a novel) during the month of November. This shakes out to writing about 1,667 words a day. Tough, but doable, provided you make the time to do the work.

I did things a little differently. In the course of working on Project 2016, it expanded into a trilogy. I decided to use NaNoWriMo to pin down a first draft for the first third of the project. (In case there's still confusion: Project 2016 is not only suddenly a trilogy; it's a trilogy that I started writing out of order. The whole process has been sorta a mess--glorious, but a mess.) Based on my outline, I knew that 50,000 words wouldn't complete the draft, so I gave myself a different goal and a different timeline. I started work around October 20 with the idea that it would take about 75,000 words to complete the draft.

I found out that I was wrong pretty quickly.

By November 10 or 11, it was pretty clear that 75,000 words was an underestimation. The trend for Project 2016 seems to continue to be "This is more story than I thought it would be." I refigured for 80,000--which put me at an average of 2000 words a day.

Actual image of me around November 15
Still doable. A bit much, when balanced with two day jobs and a few days of migraines that left me completely sidelined.

Beyond the issues of not-enough-hours-in-the-day, other difficulties presented themselves. I've written before about imposter syndrome and how I frequently feel like I'm not a writer--or in the least like I'm not a good one. Nothing brings those feelings of inadequacy to the fore like trying to put together a first draft on a deadline. 
First drafts are bad enough. They're messy and half-formed and full of cliches and redundancies and really repetitive body language (really, AJ, you're gonna shrug again? Can't think of anything else to do?). First drafts written under a time constraint--even a self-imposed one like NaNoWriMo--feel a little bit like falling down a flight of stairs. You're going to make it to the end goal eventually, but it's going to be ugly and a few things are going to be knocked out of place or broken. I spent most of my forty days of writing battling to keep from giving up, reminding myself that this story is worth telling. I didn't always believe myself, and there are some days where, when I look back on the work I did, it shows.
But I made it through--or close enough. I made it to the goal of 80,000 words at 12:05 AM on December 1, technically five minutes after the end of NaNoWriMo. I counted that as a victory, whatever the official timing might say. 
The problem was, 80,000 words didn't finish the draft either.
As a point of reference, Evin runs about 85,000 words, so it's not as though a story spinning out this long is unheard of for me. But it did feel like the finish line kept moving on me, and that got frustrating pretty quickly.
I finished the draft yesterday. In total, it's just over 85,000 words. Some of this won't make it to the next draft--I already know that one character and their scenes are going to be dropped, and I've got a few ideas on how to do some streamlining. But for now, I'm going to let it sit. I've got a couple of short projects to wrap up, and I want to outline the third book in the trilogy that is Project 2016.
The draft is longer than I thought. It took longer than I thought, and it's ugly and messy. But it's done, and that in and of itself is a victory.
Did any of you do NaNoWriMo this year? Did you meet your goals? Tell me about it in the comments.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Evin Trailer

The blog remains on hiatus until the end of NaNoWriMo (I'm about 45,000 words into my 80,000 word project), but I wanted to go ahead and share the new Evin book trailer. Check it out below.

Remember, you can buy a copy of Evin through the following links:
Amazon US:
Amazon UK:…/…/B01JUT8H56/ref=sr_1_1…
Amazon CA:…/…/B01JUT8H56/ref=sr_1_1…
Amazon AU:…/ref=sr_1_1…
Barnes and Noble (Paperback and Hardcover only):…

Sunday, October 23, 2016


This has sort of been a year for me doing things I had said I wasn't going to do.

I wasn't going to start another project this year. (Technically I didn't I guess, I just expanded an already in progress project--but the outcome is the same. I'm starting work on another first draft.)

I wasn't going to write a series.

I wasn't going to do NaNoWriMo.

NaNoWriMo, for those that are unfamiliar, is National Novel Writing Month. It is, as the name implies, a month-long writing event. The goal is to write a 50,000 word novel draft in the 30 days of the month of November.

There are all manner of thinkpieces out there about NaNoWriMo from writers of all stripes and all levels of experience. The event has its supporters and detractors, and both groups are pretty vocal.

At the risk of making a generalization, I have noticed a trend in the articles that I have read regarding the merit (or lack thereof) of NaNoWriMo: professional writers--by which I mean writers for whom money from writing is either all or the bulk of their income--seem to think less fondly of NaNoWriMo than amateurs. 

This makes sense, I guess. The market has changed to the point where anyone with sufficient determination could throw 50,000 words on a page in November and self-publish their book in December or January. Even though most of these self-published novels won't see sales high enough to be threats to sales for authors with traditional contracts at bigger publishers, there is something uncomfortable about the idea of someone doing in a month, and seemingly on a whim, what can take literal years to do the "right" way. And having to fight for an agent or editor's attention for a work you might have spent months or years on against someone's thirty-day draft doesn't seem fair.

Beyond this, there are some more practical concerns. Marketable manuscripts usually run closer to 70,000 words than 50,000, so even if the writing on the November draft is perfect, it's probably not a complete novel--not for a publisher, anyway. And, if we're being honest, the writing on the November draft won't be perfect--a first draft never is.

You don't really have a true novel at the end of NaNoWriMo. You may have a great start, but you don't have a finished project. Not even close.

And, for me, I think that's the key. 

I am pro-NaNoWriMo. I can understand the frustrations, and I would hate to be an editor or agent on December 1 when I imagine hundreds or thousands of queries for 50,000 word rough drafts come to the slush pile, but I frankly think the benefits of this event are pretty great. Granted, my opinion isn't unbiased--most of the first draft of Evin was written during NaNoWriMo in 2011.

Sometimes, at least for me, getting the words on the freaking page is the most difficult part of a draft. I'm a perfectionist--at least when it comes to my writing. When it comes to revisions and editing, that's great, but it's not so great for the first draft. I want the words to be perfect--and of course they never are--so I keep trying to "get them right" before I get them on the page. Which generally translates to me never getting the words on the page. The looming deadline--50,000 words by December 1--helps serves as motivation. When I did NaNoWriMo with Evin, I didn't have a perfect draft by any means, but I had words on a page, and that's something I can work with.

And there's a community with NaNoWriMo. If you sign up on the official site, you can select your region and connect with other writers near you--on forums or in person (in public, well-lit places and in groups, naturally). This gives writers the chance to commiserate about their struggles, and struggles in a situation like this are inevitable, and provides a sounding board for ideas. Writing can be lonely under the best of circumstances. The marathon writing sessions that getting 50,000 words in 30 days requires can be even more isolating. ("Sorry, I can't go out tonight, I have to find some way to ad 1,600 words to a story that I have NO IDEA where it's going." "Sorry, I accidentally went to bed on time last night, so I'm 400 words behind.") This option to connect with other writers in your region--or around the nation--is a huge boon.

Honestly, my stance on all things writing is pretty much "do whatever lets you get the work done." If NaNoWriMo lets you finish a draft, then that is great (so long as you're realistic--it's not a finished product; it's a draft, and that is honestly still a crazy impressive achievement). NaNoWriMo has worked for me in the past. I'm hoping it'll work again.

I guess this post is basically my long way of saying that I'm going to be a NaNoWriMo participant this year. Since Project 2016 has expanded to a trilogy, I'm going to try to use the next month to pin down as much of the first draft of the first book as I can. I'm actually starting early (it's going to be considerably more than 50,000 words, so I'm giving myself more than 30 days).

What all of this means as far as the blog is concerned is that the blog will not be updating on the usual once weekly schedule. How often I post will depend on my where wordcount is. There'll be at least one post in the month of November, though I can't promise any more than that. If you're interested in keeping up with how things are progressing, check out my author Facebook page and/or my Twitter, where I'll be posting periodic updates.

Good luck to my fellow NaNos. See you in December.

Sunday, October 16, 2016


  I've never really bought into the idea of the solitary writer, sitting alone in a room pounding out page after page with no input from anyone else. I'm sure this is probably pretty close to how it works for some folks, but my process has never reflected this narrative.

 True, most of the actual writing is done on my own, more or less. I share a house with two other people and with two cats, so an actual private writing space is sort of a dizzy daydream, but the getting-the-words-on-the-page part happens when I'm allowed to work relatively uninterrupted. But I can't just thrown an idea at the page. The early stages of the process--of my process, at least--are things that I can't do on my own.

 Part of a text message conversation with my writing group partner.

I've written about my writing group partner before. She's generally the first set of eyes for any project that I write, and she's usually the person that I send the "final" draft to before I start querying. But beyond that, she's one of the first sounding boards for my ideas.

When asked if I'm a planner or a pantser, I usually say planner. I've discussed my outlines on here before, and even shared a picture of one on the Facebook page. And yeah, by the time I'm in a draft, I have a pretty solid plan. But, if I'm telling the truth, the beginning of a project is all pantsing. Every bit of it.

The earliest stages of a project mainly consist of throwing ideas at the wall and seeing if anything sticks. And this is where my writing group partner comes in.

In the past couple of weeks, I've sent probably two or three times my usual number of text messages. It's not unusual for she and I to send each other updates, especially when our schedules don't really allow for us to meet in person. But usually it's only one or two texts--maybe an update on where we are in the work or a question about when we're going to meet next. Lately, I've been sending little tidbits about characters or the world or relationships almost as quickly as I think of them.

It started with a message about not being ready to move on to new characters and a new world after finishing Project 2016 (which I guess I could call by its title now, since I sorta revealed it above).

"I think I'm too invested in my own story," I typed.

"You're never too invested in your own work," she replied.

I might have started brainstorming my way through the extra bits of Project 2016--which, by the way, is now a trilogy instead of a single book--on my own, but something about getting tacit permission from my writing partner sparked the fire further.

I started the first step of a new project--writing down literally everything I know about the story, world, and characters. And my writing partner has been my sounding board through the whole thing. 

"I'm thinking that I'll have to go back and tell earlier parts of the story."

"I'm not sure where the narrative for the first book is going to start, but I think I know where it ends."

"I've figured out who my narrators are."

 Technically, I guess I could have just written down these ideas without running them by anyone--it's never been part of our deal that we have to discuss every step of a project. I could have closed myself off and just started writing.

But there's something about sharing an idea with someone that makes you--or at least makes me--get more excited about it. 

For me, writing is always going to be a collaborative effort. The feeling of starting off with someone on my side makes the rest of the process less intimidating.

Monday, October 10, 2016


I generally don't feel like I'm very good at world building. Which is awful, because I seem to always want to write things that require a lot of world building.

Evin required me to build the forest and the worlds connected to it. The forest and the places the characters came from each had to have their own distinct ambience and identity. It couldn't feel like I was sending the characters to the same places over and over. I hope it didn't feel that way.

Project 2016 also demanded some world building--more, in fact, than Evin did.

See, Project 2016 is a set in the far future. And in space.

I love Firefly, but I will never understand why you go through the trouble of telling a story in space only to not have any aliens. Seriously. None? None at all?

There are several ways that this gets complicated. First, though my two POV characters are both human, they don't have lives like humans living today. Time, technology, and interaction with other sapient species have changed social arrangements and day-to-day activities for humans. It's up to me to determine how much has changed--and how much has stayed the same. I have to determine what technology exists, how it's used, and who has access to it. Beyond that, I have to figure out who came up with the technology first, because that's going to play a role in things like where the money is, who gets to make governmental decisions, and even what language people will speak--not just my human characters, but the other characters they come into contact with.

I also have to figure out my nonhuman characters--to build their species from the ground up. What about them is similar to humans and what's different? Why did these particular differences develop? How might these physical differences shape differences in culture (for instance, one of my species has a very refined sense of hearing--so they don't listen to music with brass or wind instruments because they can easily hear the spit moving through the instruments and it sounds gross). Does each species tend towards diplomacy or warfare? I also have to figure out how each species first came into contact with the others--peaceful first encounters might mean alliances, where violent once might mean long-standing grudges, and either is going to shape how members of different species interact.

And all of this is aside from the building required for any book--the characters' personal histories and their specific experiences with the framework of the world they live in and other characters associated with different groups, whether they're technologically savvy, if they've ever even seen a person from a different species.

There are so many moving parts that I'm not always confident that I'm doing a good job keeping track of them. Evin seemed like it was easier--though that could honestly have been more of a factor of my not knowing as well what I was doing.

For Project 2016, I built a universe bible. For me, it's a word document where I've listed the rules of the story's world--the history, notable people, some of the laws and political set ups. It has a brief description of each of the species and how they relate to the others, a history of how some of the important organizations and groups were formed and what the popular opinion of them seems to be.

I think I've been pretty thorough this time--more than I have been in the past. But I still worry that I've missed something. Part of the problem is that I don't usually know what aspect of the world I don't have pinned down until I need it in the story. And then I end up having to go back and put it in (and usually adjust everything around it so that things still make sense).

At this point, I know the world of Project 2016 well, and, as I said in the last post, I'm pretty fond of it.

Putting together the world of Project 2016 has been a lot of work, and I'm not sure how effectively I did it, though I can safely say I'm confident that I did it better this time than last time. And there's a lot of information that I have that's didn't make it into the project (though some of it may be in future projects, if I revisit this universe).

World building is the best and worst part of the process--there's so much potential for the story when you start putting the world together, but there's also so much that can go wrong or get out of hand (at what point does world building stop helping the story and start getting in the way?).

I'm in the early stages of world building for the next project, though I haven't completely left Project 2016. I still don't think I'm great at it, but I do think I'm getting better.

That's the best part of writing, I think. It's always hard, and sometimes I hate it, but I keep getting better--and I do love that.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Not Ready to Leave

Project 2016 remains out on submission (so far there have been 3 rejections, and I'm waiting to hear from another 5 that are currently out, and I have a list of about 20 more that I'm looking to send submissions out to).

This puts me in a strange place as far as working. I need to keep up my daily writing as much as possible. I've got a couple of other ideas that are roughly outlined. Reasonably, I could start on either of these new projects. Starting a new project would solve my "what should I work on" problem.

But there's a problem: I'm not ready to leave project 2016 yet.

As I think I've said before, project 2016 is very dear to me. I've been writing some version or another of this story since I was seventeen. I'm partial to everything I write, but project 2016 is special. It feels more complete than anything I've worked on--a benefit of having had the world and its characters rolling around in my head for ten plus years, I guess.

The manuscript as it is is about as good as I can make it. There's not really a lot left for me to revise or to edit. There is, at this point, nothing left for me to do on the manuscript.

I'm just not ready to leave the world yet.

The characters in project 2016, even the bit characters, are some of my favorite creations. I know each one's story backwards and forwards. I understand their relationships and their quirks. I have an idea of where they were before the story started and where they'll end up after the story's end. I know the avenues that didn't get explored in the story. There's so much more information, so many more scenarios that I could explore. And I want to play around with them.

Project 2016 was never supposed to be a series. I had one story that I wanted to tell, and the manuscript I wrote tells it. I was supposed to be done.

A couple of my early readers suggested that they'd like to see more with these characters and in this world--maybe pieces centered on some of the other characters or that lay out how the characters met or how the world ended up like it did.

I know these stories. I know how the situations arose. I know the history that the characters have with each other. There's a character that's in maybe two chapters of the manuscript whose whole life story I could recite. I hadn't thought about writing more in this world.

I haven't decided what my next project will be. As much as I love project 2016's worlds and characters, there are still other stories that I want to tell. I don't want my entire writing career to be spent in one story--even if I love that one story. But I'm also pretty sure that I'm not ready to walk away from the world of project 2016.

Maybe I'll spend a few days outlining--see which project tugs at me the most.

Too many ideas and too much enthusiasm for a story are good problems to have. But they're still problems--and I've got to figure out what to do if I want to keep on writing.

Sunday, September 25, 2016


Project 2016 is at the part of the process that I may hate more than anything else.


I think I've explained before that, with this project, I'm trying to get wider distribution--I want, for example, to be able to pick up my book at a big box bookstore rather than just being able to order it online. Meeting this goal means that I'll have to get my manuscript picked up by a larger publishing house--one of the "big five" publishing houses, maybe.

The thing with bigger publishing houses is that everyone wants to get picked up by them. Dreams of the seven-figure book deal start with signing a contract at a HarperCollins or a Macmillan. Given the option, almost everyone who writes would send their manuscripts to them.

So they don't give people that option.

There are two types of submission that an author can make to a publisher or agent: solicited and unsolicited. The second is pretty much what all unagented authors are sending out (with the exception of, like, if you talk to an agent at a conference and the agent asks them to send a query or something like PitMad, where an agent makes a request for a particular project). An unsolicited submission is essentially a cold call. Hey, here's my work--you interested? Smaller publishing houses accept unsolicited submissions from unagented authors. But the big five don't. If you're sending a submission to one of the big five, it's either because they asked you to or because you have an agent that's convinced them to take a look.

And so, since an agent is more or less required for me to take the next step up, I'm trying to find one with Project 2016. For the sake of full disclosure, I should say that this isn't my first time trying to make this happen. I tried to find an agent with Evin for a while, but, for various reasons, I didn't have success. I'll get to that in a minute.

Finding an agent is in part about matchmaking. Project 2016 is YA speculative fiction, so the genre of the book has to guide my search. I've made use of Manuscript Wishlist and Writer's Digest (in addition to generic Google searches) to try to find agents that are looking for work like mine. I find the name, I look at the agent/agency page to try to determine if I think I will want to work with them, and, if I think I want to query them, I add them to my list. My list right now has 15 agents on it. I might go back and add more later, but I think this is good to start with.

I organized my list according to which agents I was most excited about. I don't want to send out all 15 queries at once (what if one of the agents has feedback that might help with my next query?), so I set a loose order for sending out queries.

Queries are hard. Your query is meant to sell your story in a paragraph or two. It's not a summary--not exactly--but a short pitch. It's got to introduce your protagonist(s) and set up the stakes. For me, this is always pretty complicated. How do I pick the most important part of the manuscript when, to me, it's all important? Which characters absolutely have to be in the query? Of all of the conflicts that are in the manuscript, which is the conflict? It usually takes me a couple of drafts to get a query down--and I'm usually unhappy with it no matter how long I work on it.

I started with three agents. I tailored the opening paragraph of my query for each agent--making note of what the agent has said s/he is looking for and what I think my manuscript has to offer. Then, I follow up with my two-ish paragraphs about the manuscript and a paragraph about my publication history.

Depending on the agent, I add sample pages (usually they ask for the first 5-10 pages) and a synopsis (and oh my God, writing a synopsis is an ordeal worthy of its own post).

And then off it goes. The query packet is sent to the agent, and I wait for a response.

This is the point where I start checking my email every five minutes.

I call this phase of the process the land of a million rejections. When I was querying with Evin, I got discouraged pretty early. I sent out maybe five queries total and got five rejections.

It's worth noting that this isn't uncommon. Rejections--several rejections--are part of the deal. Sometimes the work isn't ready, and if that's the case, you need to find out. Even if the work is great, the agent might not feel like they're the work's best advocate. But rejection always stings.

Two weeks ago, I sent out my first three queries. And within three days, I had already gotten back my first rejection. It was very polite, and I don't think it was a form letter (which is encouraging, even though it's still not the outcome that I wanted), but I can't deny that I felt pretty bad about it.

Last time, this might have been enough to derail me. This time, though, I've got my list of agents. I got a rejection, so I sent out another query (and got another rejection--this one was a form letter, I'm pretty sure). The let down of a rejection sucks, but having an action that I can take in response--sending another query--helps keep me from getting too bogged down.

I've still got three queries out--two of them from the first batch I sent. I have eleven agents left on the list as it is. I'll probably add more as I do more research.

The querying roller coaster is rough and certainly isn't my favorite part of the process, but this time, I'm not going to give up--or at least, I won't give up so soon. And who knows? Maybe I'll find someone who is as excited about Project 2016 as I am. 

Sunday, September 11, 2016


Project 2016 has been through four readers and roughly three drafts, and I am about ready to call the revisions done. The current draft is back with my writing group partner for one more once over, but the opening pages are about a polished as they are gonna get, so it's time to start the submissions process.

I'll spend the next few weeks discussing how I've handled this process in the past and what I'm doing/how things are progressing with Project 2016. Most of what I'm going to do with Project 2016 is going to follow a more traditional approach--querying agents and sending submissions to publishers directly.

But this week, I tried something I hadn't tried before, and I thought it'd be worth looking at.

This past Thursday, I participated in my first ever Twitter Pitch Party.

These events are a relatively new alternative (or supplement, really--seems like most of the folks who participate also go the slush pile route) to the traditional querying process. The idea is that you tweet a short pitch for your manuscript with the appropriate hashtag. If an agent or editor favorites your pitch tweet, it's an invitation to send them a submission. This means that your submission gets moved to the top of the pile. It doesn't guarantee that you'll snag representation for your manuscript, but it lets you go into the next phase with better cards in your hand.

There are several of these events. The particular event that I took part in last week was PitMad, a quarterly event involving agents, editors, and some publishers. It's a twelve hour event--Thursday's was 8AM to 8PM EDT. You can pitch multiple projects, but you only get three tweets per project. A favorite from an agent, editor, or publisher is a request for a submission of the manuscript you pitched.

Since this was my first time doing this event, it was more learning experience than anything. I made my three pitches. Honestly, I'm not sure I did it well, but I didn't come up empty, and that's something. I wanted to show what my pitches were--to do sort of a postmortem on my PitMad work.

(Yes, you'll see my Twitter handle in these pictures; yes, you're welcome to follow me on Twitter, but that is where I talk about politics, so if that's gonna bug you, maybe stick to the blog and the Facebook page.)

Coming up with a pitch that expresses the charms of a 300-ish page manuscript in less than 140 characters is super difficult. My biggest mistake with this was not starting on my pitches earlier. I drafted three pitches a day and a half before the event. That may seem like plenty of time, but it meant that I didn't have a chance to have anyone else take a look at my pitches to see how effective they were. There wasn't as much time to rework and revise.

I don't feel like my pitches were particularly great. That said, I didn't exactly come up empty: I got one favorite on a pitch from a publisher. But more about that later.

I tweeted three pitches--one in the morning, one around lunchtime, and one just before the event ended.

My first pitch:

This one didn't get any hits. I thought the comparison was pretty strong, but it didn't leave a lot of room for details about the story itself--which I feel like you probably need in order to justify the comparison.

The hashtags, in case you were wondering, are the PitMad event tag, the age group tag (na for New Adult), and the genre tag (spf for speculative fiction).

Pitch number two:

This was the only successful pitch I had, and even then its success was limited. Without the comparison, I was able to introduce the main character's name and set up the exposition of the story, which might have been why this one got the favorite.

Pitch three:

Nothing on this one, either, but I did manage to work in some more specifics about the manuscript. I changed the age tag to Young Adult (my main character starts the story at 16 and is 18 by the end of it, so I'm in a little bit of a grey area there). I don't know if leaving the tag as it was would have made a difference, but that's something to keep in mind for next time.

All in all, maybe not a strong as it could have been, but it was definitely a learning experience.

My first big piece of advice to anyone considering participating in the next PitMad or similar event is pretty simple: be prepared. If I'd taken more time to prep my pitches, I think I would have been able to court more response.

The second big piece of advice I have is to do your research and know what you're looking for in an agent/editor/publisher. The thing with these events is that there's not a lot of vetting when it comes to who's able to favorite pitches. The draw of someone that wants to look at your manuscript is powerful, but you're not under any obligation to send a submission to someone just because they favorited your pitch.

I got one hit--from a publisher, not an agent or editor--so I did my research. I looked at the company's website, I looked at writer forums, and I looked at my list of goals.

For Project 2016, I want to go further than I did with Evin. While publishing Evin has been an excellent experience and I would happily recommend my publisher to anyone looking to put out a first book, I feel like I'm ready to take new steps. I'm not interested in digital-only publishing--ideally, I'd like to see Project 2016 on shelves in retailers and not just available for online ordering. What I really want is an agent, someone in a better position than I am to negotiate bigger deals for my work.

Bearing all these things in mind, I looked at what the publisher could offer. I've decided to pass on submitting. They seem like a fine outfit, but they don't line up with my goals.

So PitMad was sort of a mixed bag for me--I didn't come up empty, per se, but I'm not going to see any submissions from it. Still, the event was a good experience, and, depending on how things go with my querying over the next few weeks, I'll likely participate in other events like this again.

If you're interested in trying an event like this, here's a list of other similar events:
Pitch America (focuses on Latinx voices)
Hot Summer's Cool Pitchfest
Pitch Slam
DVPit (coming up in October)
Nightmare on Query Street
AdPit and KidPit (in November)

Monday, September 5, 2016


This blog has mostly focused on walking through the novel-writing process--or at least, my novel-writing process (such as it is). But this week, I haven't really been doing anything new. I'm deep in the rewriting slog for Project 2016, chugging towards getting it out on submission. My goal is to have it out the door by the end of this month or early next month--before NaNoWriMo starts, in other words. I don't think you could pay me to start submitting a novel in November/December. (Man, I have lots of thoughts about NaNoWriMo...but that's a post for another day.)

So I won't be discussing the writing process this week, since I've talked about rewriting already. Instead, I want to talk about something that I've mentioned in passing in a previous post.

I read and was read to a lot as a kid. I liked stories--which is not in any way unique. But it was several years before I made what may seem like an obvious observation.

People actually write these stories.

I mean, duh. But as a kid, I really didn't know that. Even as an adult, I sometimes forget that there's a person behind what I read and watch.

One of my favorite movies, Sunset Boulevard, centers on a man who writes movies. (It doesn't end well for him--and that's not so much a spoiler, since you know from the beginning of the movie that things don't end up going his way.) The writer character, Joe Gillis, sums up the way that writing sometimes gets viewed pretty well.

Joe Gillis:
Audiences don't know somebody sits down and writes a picture; they think the actors make it up as they go along.

This was more or less what I thought for a while. But when I was about nine or ten years old, I started reading the Harry Potter series. 

I was one of the kids that grew up with the series. I was about nine when I read the first book, and eighteen when the last book came out.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was loaned to me by a neighbor, who told me a little bit about the author. Specifically, she told me that the author used her initials as her author name because of concerns that people wouldn't read a book about a boy that was written by a woman.

At nine, I was not quite able to wrap my head around the sexism that implied, but I was able to latch on to the fact that a person  wrote this book that I enjoyed so much--and that that person was like me.

Rowling was the first author that I started to do research on. I wanted to know about her life and how she came to write this story. 

This is what got me started writing. Rowling, I had read, started writing little stories when she was a child.

When I was a kid, I had a different lifelong dream every week.  But this caught me. I started writing stories as soon as I read it. Not good stories--in fact, I'm pretty sure I never finished most of them--but I wrote. I even won a little contest in elementary school.

It was the first time that I realized someone could create a story and get it out there for other people to read.

My attention to my writing waned as I soldiered towards middle school. I was into everything as a kid, so the notion of picking my lane wasn't an appealing one. This spark would dim for a while.

By the time I was in eighth grade, I had almost stopped writing. I'd scribble little stories with friends, but nothing serious. The drive wasn't there.

 We read a book that year that reminded me that real people create the stories I love. The Outsiders by SE Hinton was one of the books in the unit that year. Apart from loving the book itself, I was fascinated by the author.

Hinton was a teenager--fifteen years old, at the start of the process--when she wrote The Outsiders based on the relationships between teenagers from different social classes in Oklahoma.

While I reread Harry Potter pretty frequently and have read all of Rolwing's other books (including the mysteries written under her Robert Galbraith pen name) and have only read Hinton's The Outsiders and only read it a couple of times, Hinton lit a more lasting fire in me.

Rowling made me want to write. Hinton made me need to write--and need to start writing immediately.

I made my first attempt at writing a novel that year.

It took me almost twenty years after discovering that authors were a thing and almost fifteen years after that first attempt to write a novel and get it out in the world. My getting started as an author may have been meandering and have come with several starts and stops, but I know exactly what it traces back to.

When did you figure out that there were people behind your favorite stories? What authors made you want to write? 

Wednesday, August 31, 2016


Evin is out in the world! Here's where to find your copy.


Eva has never seen the Forest of Evin, but her fate and the fate of the Forest may be intertwined. Sinister forces seek to pull the Forest apart, and Eva may be the only one who can save it. Eva must travel between worlds to keep the Forest together—but the Forest of Evin thrums with power and the force tearing it apart may not be the only danger.

Amazon US:
Amazon UK:…/…/B01JUT8H56/ref=sr_1_1…
Amazon CA:…/…/B01JUT8H56/ref=sr_1_1…
Amazon AU:…/ref=sr_1_1…
Barnes and Noble (Paperback and Hardcover only):…

Be sure to leave a review of the book when you finish with it.

Happy reading!

Sunday, August 28, 2016


The beta readers for project 2016 are starting to send me their comments, which means that it's time to start revisions.

Response to the project has been pretty positive so far. There's still some work that needs to be done, as I expected, but the reaction has been better than I expected and I might not have to redo as much as I had thought.

My relationship with my first drafts is complicated. On the one hand, they hold a special place in my heart. They represent my first steps into a world. They're the way I really get to know my characters. I'm able to experiment a little more in a first draft, since I know that there's plenty of time to go back and figure out what works and what doesn't.

On the other hand, I have to be a little detached from these first drafts. I mentioned in my post about beta reading that I don't assume that anything that shows up in the first draft will make it to the second. The cutting process between draft one and draft two is not unlike a George R.R. Martin novel--literally anything, anyone can go.

Normally, I don't mind this so much. Dropping passages may sting, but I'm usually able to find some way to keep a nugget of the passage. The original prologue for Evin got cut in the first round of revisions, but I was able to work parts of it back in in ways that served the story better. Characters might have lost some lines, but they still got to be present, even if only in passing.

Project 2016 is already a little different from Evin. It's been cooking longer, so I've had more time to work through the story and to pin down the characters. That's probably part of why the first draft is more cohesive on the whole than Evin's was. It's also going to be why making cuts will hurt more this time.

Reaction to project 2016 has been great. But there's one thing that the readers seem to keep pointing out. And if it's coming from multiple readers, it can't be a fluke.

It looks like one of my characters--one of these folks that I've lived with for years now--isn't going to make it to the next draft.

It's not the worst thing that could happen, I guess. The character in question is pretty easily merged with one of the existing characters, and meshing the two together will eliminate one character that's not pulling their weight while building up the one that remains. There doesn't seem (so far, at least) to be any major story issues with the draft, so the plot's not going to need a huge overhaul. As far as "back to the drawing boards" go, it's not a bad one.

But it's going to be strange. Like I said, project 2016 and its characters have been with me for a long time. It might be best for the story to say goodbye to one of them, but that doesn't mean that I'll like it.

I may find another place for the character to live. There's a lot in the world of the story that I haven't explored, and while I hadn't initially planned on spending more than one novel in this particular setting, the more I think about it, the more I think I'd like to come back. Maybe he can be fleshed out in another narrative. Who knows?

Cutting from a story is never easy, and I can't say that I'm looking forward to it. But it is a necessary part of the process--and I am looking forward to having a final, polished draft of project 2016.

Monday, August 22, 2016


I'm in that weird writing limbo again. Drafts of Project 2016 are out with readers, outlines for the next projects are still nebulous, and Evin is out in the world, so there's not a lot of heavy work going on as far as novels go--which is just as well. My day job has started back up, so I can use a little bit of a break. I'm still writing every day (barring a couple days where migraines made me useless), but it's low-impact stuff.

My focus lately, since I'm not at a point where I can bury myself in working on a novel, has been on trying to ensure Evin's success. I mentioned last week how readers can help with their reviews. (A couple of you have left reviews that have been very kind, and thank you for that.) And while word of mouth from readers and reviews on Amazon and the like are a huge boon, I know that I can't rely on you guys to do all of the work.

I have to figure out how to promote my book. But here's the thing:

I've never been really great at self-promotion. Generally, I prefer to let my work speak for itself. In other areas of my life, this works just fine. Need to know if I can act? Let me do an audition and you can see for yourself. Want to see if I can organize your paperwork? Give me a sample set to deal with. But Evin can't speak for me if people don't read it. I have to do the legwork and get it in front of people's faces.

It's a strange balance, trying to promote my work without being pushy or obnoxious or self-important. And I'm frankly not very good at managing that balance. I've sent out emails to people with whom I have pretty tenuous connections suggesting that they pick up my book or order it for their library. My Twitter, which has typically been the place where I talk about pop culture and politics has been doing double duty as an advertising account (again, my apologies to people who followed me for things like live-tweeting episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or observations about comics).

There have been a lot of emails and requests that have gone without response--which is not really out of line with what I expected. People are busy and may not remember the kid that used to hang out in the library ten years ago.

But there has been some forward movement. A couple of my emails have been answered, and there's the potential for some coverage for Evin and some events for me (as always, watch the Facebook page for updates on that). And Foundations has promotions assistants that are helping to get the word out.

So much of this publishing journey has been me sailing through strange waters. Through most of it, I've managed to find enough familiarity to not feel too adrift. With promotions though, I'm glad to have the extra guidance, because I am well and truly out of my depth.

Sunday, August 14, 2016


And so it's happened. My book is out in the world.

There's a part of me--the part prone to flights of fancy, the part that is most useful for writing and that gets SO IN THE WAY for every other aspect of my life--that expected immediate change in my life. Sales through the roof. Frenzied demands for my next book. The ability to, if not walk away from my day job, to at least be able to arrange my schedule comfortably.

But I'm a first time author published through a new and small (though growing, certainly) publishing company. The realistic part of me (the one that is, thankfully, louder most of the time) knew--still knows-- that I'm probably not going to be breaking any sales records. This isn't the book that changes my life, that lets me shed all identities but author.

The dream would have been nice, but I'm about where I expected to be. I'm selling copies mostly to people I know, though there have been a few people outside that circle that have picked up my book, and I've got a couple of book festivals lined up. I won't make the best sellers list, but maybe, when I go to agents and publishers with Project 2016 (which should be within the next month or two, if you were wondering), I'll have a modestly successful book behind me.

But even hitting that benchmark is going to take work.

I don't normally do calls to action on the blog. It's more where I work through my anxieties in the hope that maybe talking about my experiences will help me figure out how to deal with them--or tell someone else feeling similar things that they aren't alone. But frankly, I need some help. And if you've stuck around this blog long enough to be reading this, you might be interested in helping.

The actual point at which a book published by a small press is said to have had good sales varies--it depends on the press, on the genre, on the expectations at signing. I've seen numbers ranging from 100 to 1000 to 3000. Whatever the number is, it's pretty clear that I won't hit it if I'm just selling copies to friends and family. The book has to get in front of other people. This is where you come in.

Word of mouth is great. Tell whoever you want about my book! I have very little in the way of an advertising budget, so other people recommending  Evin is great.

The best thing that you can do as far as getting Evin out there is to review it. On Amazon, on Barnes & Noble, on Goodreads--wherever you have the option.

The reason is simple: the more reviews a book has, the more people see it. On Amazon, for instance, a book has to hit about 50 reviews before it starts showing up in the "people also viewed" or "people also bought" lists. If Evin makes it to those lists, the circle of people who might read it grows.

Reviews don't have to be sonnets or deep analyses of the work. A simple "I liked it" does just as much as a five-paragraph essay.

If you read the book, if you liked the book, do me a favor and leave a review. Getting to that 50 mark will open up so many more possibilities.

And if you wanted to know where Evin is now

Well, we've got a ways to go.

Thanks to everyone who's bought a copy of Evin so far. If you haven't snagged one yet, links to places to order it are in a list on the side of this page. Also, if you haven't already, check out my author page on Facebook. Not only will you be the first to know when new blog posts go up, you'll also get an early glimpse at some of the things I'm working on and news about up coming events (and there are a couple in the next two months).

Sunday, August 7, 2016


Evin comes out tomorrow.

And it all seems kind of unreal, even though the announcement is up on the publisher's website.

But I still don't quite believe it.

I'm essentially a ball of nerves doused in coffee even under the best of circumstances, so the prospect of this thing that I've created going out into the world has me feeling--well, feeling. Lots of things.

I'm excited. I've dreamed of being a "real author" ever since I figured out what an author was. This is the fruition of years of work learning the craft, piecing together the narrative, writing and rewriting. And this thing that I threw so much time and effort into has seen success. People who don't know me, who have never met me, have put their confidence in my work and are trying to get it in front of other people's eyes. I can't say that I'm not looking forward to adding published author to my list of accomplishments.

I'm also terrified. There is a part of me that is convinced that this is all a mistake. This part of me has been waiting for an email saying "Sorry, this was all a mistake" since I signed the contract back in May, waiting for something to indicate a loss of confidence from the publisher. And all of those nerves are nothing compared to the nightmare scenarios I've been imagining about readers.

It all comes back to one question I've been asking myself over and over: what if my book actually sucks?

I'm pretty proud of Evin. It's not perfect--no book is. It's not the best thing I could write now, but it was at the time that I wrote it. The handful of people that have already read it have reacted positively. And the publisher accepted it without asking for story changes.

But my imposter syndrome tends to shove all of that out of my mind. I convince myself that the book is going to fail. That I'll never be able to get anything I write taken seriously again.

There's no way for me to predict what will happen after Evin hits the figurative shelves tomorrow. It probably won't be as bad as I fear. It probably won't be as good as I hope. That I'll be a nervous mess through today and tomorrow is really the only thing that's guaranteed. But, if I make it through--and, if I'm being honest, I expect I will--then I plan to keep at it.

My first book comes out tomorrow. With any luck, it won't be my last.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Behind the Curtain

Before I was a sociologist--and maybe even before I was a writer--I was a theater kid.

I loved watching performances--music, dance, theater. I still do. But when I was about eight, I decided that I wanted to do more than watch performances. I wanted to be part of them.

Insert The Little Mermaid reference here.
So I took acting classes and did theater camps. I helped local community theaters on their work days, and I started following actors, composers, and playwrights. Where before I had only seen the finished product--the play unfolding on stage--I started to see all of the bits and pieces that go in to creating the spectacle in front of me.
It's hard to explain to someone who's never been back stage at a performance the (sometimes barely)  controlled chaos that's required to keep a show moving. It's a little like watching a duck swim from underneath. It slides smoothly across the surface, but below is a bunch of unattractive though necessary flailing. Now and then, though, there's the opportunity for people outside the theater community to get a glimpse at what it's like.

The Tony's are always great for this. Last year, especially.
 This opportunity to look behind the curtain has changed the way that I look at performances--which is a good thing and a bad one, depending on the day. I'm able to appreciate a well crafted illusion. I'm also more likely to notice when things go wrong or don't work. Someone who's not familiar with how a particular change is supposed to go won't notice if, for instance, a piece of costume is missing or a prop doesn't make it to where its supposed to be or if the people responsible for the effect don't know how to accomplish it properly.
I am occasionally (often) a pain to watch plays, television, and movies with precisely because I notice the little hiccups. The kind of stuff that folks generally are able to overlook. I'll be the one to point out that a change in the lighting was off or that someone wasn't where they were supposed to be. And comments like these are almost always met with the suggestion that I just ignore the flaws and try to enjoy whatever I'm watching.
But that's not easy. It's hard to ignore the strings once you've seen them.  
I've learned over the time I've spent trying to figure out how to be a better writer, that this applies just as much to my experience of reading as it did to my experience of performance. 
I don't just read things anymore. There's an ongoing critique that runs under everything that I read now. Most of it isn't a planned thing--I don't set out to read a book with the intention of picking it apart or trying to figure out the author's exact intent and the type of tools they had at their disposal (though sometimes I do, like when I read Kieron Gillen's writing notes for The Wicked + The Divine). But I inevitably end up doing the same thing I've done with performance for years.
And I tend to get the same response-- "Just try to enjoy it."
The thing is, I don't think being critical of the bits and pieces of a thing and enjoying that thing are mutually exclusive. I read the writer notes, which frequently point out flaws and lumps that I didn't notice on my read, for each issue of The Wicked + The Divine, and it's still my favorite comic series. I'm able to reread the Harry Potter books--which were pretty formative for me--and track the ways the writing changed and improved over the course of the series. It gives me a little thrill to realize at what point Rowling learned a new tool or what Gillen thinks he should have done differently with a character's dialogue.
It humanizes the people I look up to. It tells me that it's not going to hurt me or my work to acknowledge when I don't do things as well as I'd like or as well as I could. It suggests things that I need to think about in improving my own work. 
It makes me better.
So I'm going to continue to look behind the curtain, to try to see the work and the pieces that go into the things that I watch and read. 
My apologies to the people that wish I'd just sit back and enjoy.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Evin Cover Reveal

I'm pleased to announce that my novel, Evin is set to be published by Foundations, LLC in August!

Check here and my author Facebook page for updates.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Beta Reading

This week has been all about beta reading.

My writing group partner has gotten back to me with her notes for project 2016, so I'm working my way through those.

I also decided--mostly on a whim--that I would beta read someone's novel. Normally, that's not something that I do for people that I don't know well, but I'm trying to build a network, and I figure the best way for me to do that is to prove myself willing to help out.

Beta reading is an interesting part of the writing process. Most of the writing work, for me at least, is done privately--no input from anyone other than my writing partner, and even that is relatively rare. I build the outline on my own, I sketch the scenes and characters in my personal notebooks, and I pound out the first draft on my laptop at my house with on one but my cats looking in. The beta reader (or beta readers, as the case sometimes is) is the first person to see the work aside from me and the person meant to be the first to tell me what's gone wrong.

It's an uncomfortable situation all around, even when the readers are the same people each time. And it's uncomfortable on both sides. I, as a writer, go into this with the understanding that my work isn't perfect and that I will have made mistakes. I, as a human being, though, am not always excited for those mistakes to be pointed out. It's necessary, and in the end I'm always grateful, but it's still a rough ride for my ego (and, even with my imposter syndrome, I definitely have an ego).

The position for the reader isn't a whole lot better--and it's especially awkward when the reader doesn't know the writer that well (this, incidentally, is the position that my aforementioned whim has put me in). The reader has to make a sizable time commitment to go through hundreds of pages of prose to point out the lumps and flaws to a writer who may or may not be receptive.

There aren't really hard and fast rules for either side of the process. But, in the times that I've been on both sides, I've come up with a few guidelines that I make use of.

For the writer:
  • Ask for more readers than you need. Look, people are busy. Everyone is busy. If you say you have a novel draft that you want people to read, you're going to have friends and family and maybe strangers saying that they want to read for you, and they'll say it with enthusiasm. But then you'll send a 300-page manuscript draft, and they'll realize how much work it's actually going to be. Some of the folks you send it to will muscle through and send you thorough feedback. And some of them will never get back to you. It happens. It's no reflection on you or on them--but you still need feedback, so ask for more than you need. 
  • Find honest readers. It's nice to hear gushing praise of your work. But it's not really helpful. If you've decided to find beta readers, then you know that your work isn't perfect. Find people who are going to tell you what you need to fix. Relatedly, don't limit yourself to people with degrees in English or to people who read and/or write your genre. Their input is valuable, and if you can find an English major or a fellow genre writer to be a reader that's great, but most of your readers aren't going to have that background. Get a mix of honest readers.
  •  Don't shut down in the face of criticism. At some point or another, someone is going to give a critique that you don't like. They'll suggest altering a plot point that you were excited about. Or they'll think a bit of dialogue that you love is hokey or cliche. Or they'll say that you should really drop that 5,000+ word prologue that was the first bit you wrote of this story and the reason that you fell in love with the world of the novel because it's not really a strong start to your novel. (Yes, that happened to me, and yes, I was devastated). The thing is, unless you've chosen really awful readers--and you probably haven't--these critiques aren't mean spirited. Your readers are trying to help you make your work better. You may not like the things they point out, but don't dismiss them. That prologue that I loved so much? The reader was right. It did need to go. And the finished product of that piece is so much better.
  • Just because someone says it, doesn't mean you have to change it. By the same token, you have to use your own judgement. Don't dismiss criticism out of hand, but don't change something if you feel strongly about it. If you try the edit, and it doesn't feel right (and I know how nebulous that sounds, but a lot of writing is like that), then don't make the change. Your reader won't hold it against you.
  • Find something to distract you while you wait. Waiting for feedback is terrible. You've sent your work, a little piece of you, out to be judged and now you have to wait to see what the reaction is. If you let it, the anxiety will tear you up. So don't let it. Find something else to do--start another project, take some time for a different hobby, anything. Step away for a while and let it stew. Not only will you be refreshed by the time the work gets back to you, you might have a clearer view of the project yourself. 
For the reader:
  • Be honest. You don't want to hurt anyone's feelings, but just saying that you love the piece isn't really helping anyone. Your job as a beta reader is to point out when something doesn't work--when a piece of the puzzle is missing or a scene gets too confusing to follow or when the author is circling for a landing. If a writer sent you their work, they know there's room for improvement. They can more than likely take what you have to say--so long as you aren't a snot about it.
  • Say what you like. Just as important as saying what you don't like or don't think works is telling the author what you do like. For one thing, a little bit of praise makes the criticism easier to handle. For another, pointing out what the author is getting right helps them figure out where their strengths are. All my beta readers say they like a quiet character scene in chapter 3? I may make use of that in the next project. It also points out the things we ought to keep in the next draft. In my view, nothing from draft one is guaranteed to make the next draft--unless the readers latch onto it. If it hooked my betas, it stands a reason that it will hook the book's readers.
  • Be thorough. You just read 200-300 pages for someone. They want more feedback than a couple of sentences. Take notes while you read. Ask the writer what specific things they're concerned about with the draft you're reading. That will give you an idea of what to spend your time on and encourage the writer to consider where their weaknesses are. Good for everybody.
  • Be timely. From the moment the writer hits send on the email that contains their draft or puts the hard copy in your hands, they are going to be fretting. Waiting for feedback is nervy--especially when you're waiting for feedback on something that you've poured significant time and effort into. Don't make the writer suffer longer than they have to. Aside from that, the writer maybe on a deadline themselves, so your delays may translate to actual financial consequences for them. When a writer sets a deadline for a beta reading, do your best to honor it. If you're going to miss the deadline, let the writer know so that they can adjust.
These lists are by no means comprehensive or universal--everyone's got their preferences when it comes to beta reading, and the best thing to do is find people whose preferences are similar to yours. But these are definitely some things worth keeping in mind if you're a writer looking for a beta reader or a friend/acquaintance/whatever of a writer who has asked you to beta for them. They're certainly what I'm going to be making use of in the coming weeks.