Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Why I love Beta-Readers (and what they do!)

I'd never heard of the term 'Beta-reader' until a couple of years ago. Then, I thought it referred to those techie types who check computer coding or develop HTML. Instead, it turns out they play an essential role in helping to turn a novel from 'quite good' to 'very good'! The kind of person you definitely want in your Team!


What do Beta-Readers do?
Sheet from a 'galley version' (Dark Place to Hide)
Essentially my Beta-Readers 'read my book' as though they've just bought it. They usually receive a hard copy in galley format in the post, so it's formatted like a book, but isn't bound together. I produce this copy after I've spent several months pummelling the first draft and turning it into something that resembles a coherent and polished novel. Or after I think I have. 

My readers are a fresh pair of eyes, who do what I can never do - which is to read with no idea of what's coming next in the story. They are therefore able to react to it with immediacy. Fresh. Having worked on the book myself for many months and read and re-read it over and over; added to it, taken bits away and so on - I know it too well to be able to read it as a new reader. Their view is blank, uncontaminated by previews of the threads involved. They also have no idea which sections flowed naturally and instantly and which had to be squashed or bashed into shape over and over again!


What Beta-Readers don't do?
They are not editors, so my Beta-Readers are not asked to point out spelling mistakes, continuity errors or faults in grammar. At this stage, formatting issues (such as incorrect paragraph or tab indents) are not important either, as there will be more rounds of editing before these are all checked. If anything, the role of my readers is similar to a 'structural editor', where they are invited to comment on the building blocks of the novel: plot, sub-plots, threads, themes, pace, characters, setting, atmosphere.


The Specifics
I give my Beta-Readers a checklist, so they know exactly what I'm looking for as they read. It saves misunderstandings and helps me to state exactly what it is I want from them. I ask certain questions, suggest the amount and degree of detail I require and give a deadline for completion (of course!) - and a fee. Shown below are a few sample questions I used while working on my current novel, LOST IN THE LAKE:

  • This novel is book two in the Dr Samantha Willerby Series and follows on from INSIDE THE WHISPERS. It therefore needs to work as a standalone novel AND to work for readers coming to it after reading the first book in the series. Please comment on how successful you think it is in both respects.
  •  Do you think as a series book, LOST IN THE LAKE is missing anything in following on from Book 1? Or needs something adding/changing? (My intention is to avoid spoilers for people who read them in the wrong order). Would you have expected something different as the second in a series?
  • Can you comment on the order in which the plot evolves - eg Did you find out certain facts/reveals too soon/too late. Were they too complicated/too obvious? Explain a little.
  •  Did the story keep you guessing? Did it grip you and keep you turning the pages? Given there are several story strands, what held your attention most? Explain a little.

What happens next?
    The comments that come back from Beta-Readers tell me, first and foremost, how differently every reader interprets and assimilates what they've read! Because of our own backgrounds, personalities, influences, interests and even the mood we're in when we sit down with a book, our views on a story will vary enormously. One reader will find an aspect of the plot too complicated, another will like the challenge of the complexity, another won't comment on it at all. The issue then is to consider how I make changes. If ALL my Beta-Readers are telling me a particular character is too 'bland' or too 'whiney', for example, then I need to seriously reconsider how that character has been drawn. If one readers responds with 'I found Lynn too pushy' and another says 'I really like the way Lynn's pushy nature develops throughout the book' - then I have to stand back and assess exactly what I was trying to do. To change or not to change? To keep or not to keep? These will be the constant questions I work with intuitively over the following few weeks.

     The Hardest Part 
    For me, the most difficult part of the editing process is maintaining continuity as I smooth out the changes. This is especially true if the alteration is major, but even tiny changes feel a bit like working on a Fair Isle jumper and having to meticulously unpick all the threads that are 'pink' or 'grey'. I then have to close it up 'seamlessly', making it look like those threads were never there in the first place.

Photo: https://tomofholland.com
     Having said that, I also love the editing process! By the time I reach this stage with a book, I know the characters inside out and I love spending my day with them! I love trying to make the plot clearer, the dialogue sharper, the setting brighter, to inject the anticipation and jeopardy with more jolt and sting. With the framework already in place and all the details of the path of the mystery set up, it's a joy to go back into that world and tinker around. I ask questions all the time: Do we need this? Does this add anything? Is this overkill? With the help of my Beta-Readers, with any luck the end product will be a far better book!

LOST IN THE LAKE is available to pre-order on Amazon from July 13th and for release on September 7th 2017. It is the second in the psychological thriller series featuring clinical psychologist, Dr Samantha Willerby, and follows on from INSIDE THE WHISPERS.

More TASTERS about the new book to follow in the next two months! Or Click HERE to join my Newsletter for updates.

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  •  Over 400,000 books sold worldwide
  • Girl on a Train  a Number One Bestseller on Kindle in UK and Australia (2015 & 2016) 
  • Awarded Kindle KDP Top 10 'most-read Author' in UK 2016 & 2017
Find AJ Waines at: 
Blog *  Website  *  Twitter  * Facebook  *  Pinterest  * Goodreads  * Google+  

Join AJ Waines' Newsletter HERE or below:


Saturday, 4 February 2017

Book Review: Lie with Me

Lie With MeLie With Me by Sabine Durrant
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Based on one of my favourite subjects, the lies we tell, this novel is a treatise on deception and manipulation, with the flavour of one of my long-standing favourite characters, 'The Talented Mr Ripley'.

I was struck first by the beautiful writing style; flowing, immediate, detailed, absorbing. The pace is steady (don't expect sudden dramatic events), instead there's a gradual slow-burn as characters are revealed, mainly aspects of the unscrupulous lead, Paul Morris, a 'has-been' author, who has scrounged and sponged most of his life and who charms his way into opportunist situations, as slickly as he charms his way out of tricky ones.

Paul runs into an old acquaintance, Andrew, whose sister he barely remembers dating years ago and is invited to dinner, where he meets the recently widowed Alice. From the start, Paul's intentions are entirely dishonourable. He lies about his finances and success, claiming the luxury apartment where he lives is his own when, in fact, he's flat-sitting. In Alice he sees an opportunity to gate-crash well-to-do society and he scores an early victory by bagging an invitation from her to join a group taking a holiday in a Greek villa. Paul has dim recollections of visiting the small island before, ten years ago. It was at this time that the 13-year-old daughter of a friend of Alice went missing there, a mystery that was never solved.

As he whiles away the summer by the pool, Paul finds himself genuinely falling for Alice, who is on her annual pilgrimage to the island to raise awareness of the unsolved murder. Jealous of Alice's closeness with Andrew and in order to impress and ingratiate himself with her, his lies and slights of hand multiply. But events on the island turn sour and when the police come to the villa with questions about fresh crimes and the discovery of a grave, Paul's intricate web of deceit starts to backfire.

From this point on there is a subtle shift in dynamics. The reader is fully aware of the hole Paul is digging for himself - but wrapped up in his selfish and narcissistic existence, he is not.
Needless to say, I thoroughly recommend it!

View all my reviews  

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-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
   Inside the Whispers is the latest Psychological Thriller from AJ Waines 
(and FIRST in the new Dr Samantha Willerby Series)

(The first four novels can be read in any order)

  •  Over a Quarter of a Million books sold worldwide
  • Girl on a Train  a Number One Bestseller on Kindle in UK and Australia (2015 & 2016) 
  • The Evil Beneath Number One in 'Murder' and 'Psychological Thrillers' (UK Kindle charts)
  • Awarded Kindle KDP Top 10 'most-read Author' in UK (2016)
Find AJ Waines at: 
Blog *  Website  *  Twitter  * Facebook  *  Pinterest  * Goodreads  * Google+  

Join AJ Waines' Newsletter HERE or below:


Thursday, 5 January 2017

Favourite books on How to Write

It's that time of year again. 2017 opens up and fresh starts are in the air. New beginnings. Hurrah! Ding-ding...silence please - as this happens to be the time in my schedule when I have to gear myself up to begin writing a NEW suspense thriller.


The first thing that happens when I consider starting a new book is terror sets in. I crumple inside with weedy thoughts of 'Er, how do I do it? What's that again?'  You'd think after having written five novels (with another for release later in the year), I'd know what I'm doing, wouldn't you? Far from it. I always face the same feeling of panic and ineptitude when I consider starting from scratch again. A blank page is only ever a blank page.

That's where experience kicks in. Experience tells me I've done it before, so I ask myself 'how did I do it, exactly?'

My first response if that I need to be 'ready' - and for me, being ready is about having a great initial idea, a hook for how a book will grab a reader. Then I need a sketch of a plot - not so much that I know every single twist and turn, but enough so I have a sense it would work. I map out plot points within a three-act structure on a time line and also as a list at this stage - but everything can be shifted around at any point. I also start to get a feel for who is involved. Whose story is it? Who will the narrator be? Will it be in the present or a mix of time-frames? Will there be just one point of view or more voices telling their own side of what happens? An unreliable narrator?

This is the point where I go back to some of the 'how to' books I've found useful in the past. I think, like many writers, I'm still looking for that magic formula, that road map of how to make a novel work! I know it doesn't really exist, but there are some rules and pointers out there and here are some of the books I use to help keep me on the straight and narrow (in no particular order):

Patricia Highsmith Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction
Stephen King On Writing
Louise Doughty A Novel in a Year (I read this years ago before I'd ever written a word of fiction and thought a novel in a year was 'outrageous', 'ridiculous', 'impossible' - then wrote one in a few months!)
James N Frey How to Write Damn Good Fiction
James Scott Bell Plot & Structure 
Orson Scott Card Characters &Viewpoint

Something else starts to happen when I know I'm ready to write. I find the novel starts 'writing itself' when my back is turned, doing other things. By that, I mean that bursts of dialogue come at me while I'm watching an unrelated film or break through my sleep at two o'clock in the morning... I have notebooks everywhere in the house so I can catch these will-o'-the-wisp snatches of conversations. They are important - they are the voices of the people in the story, they set the tone of the book and I need to grab them and keep them safe. I hold these in a pc file called 'scraps' until I know where they will fall in the narrative.

Today I will start sketching maps of the house where my main character lives and the area where the story takes place. And I've already got an opening sentence... 

Embarking on a new novel is like taking a huge breath, holding my nose and diving in. Here goes...

If you enjoyed this post, PLEASE SHARE it. Thank you!
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
   Inside the Whispers is the latest Psychological Thriller from AJ Waines 
(and FIRST in the new Dr Samantha Willerby Series)

(The first four novels can be read in any order)

  •  Over a Quarter of a Million books sold worldwide
  • Girl on a Train  a Number One Bestseller on Kindle in UK and Australia (2015 & 2016) 
  • The Evil Beneath Number One in 'Murder' and 'Psychological Thrillers' (UK Kindle charts)
  • Awarded Kindle KDP Top 10 'most-read Author' in UK (2016)
Find AJ Waines at: 
Blog *  Website  *  Twitter  * Facebook  *  Pinterest  * Goodreads  * Google+  

Join AJ Waines' Newsletter HERE or below: