Saturday, November 20, 2021

How To Be A Constructive Early-Stages Reader | My Approach to Alpha, Beta, and Proof Reading




Hello my fellow readers, writers, and creatures of procrastination. 


Today, I'm going to be telling you about alpha, beta, and proof reading. I'll go over them one at a time, and in this order:

Alpha

Beta

Proof reader


I have been an alpha and beta many times (and am currently an alpha reader at the time of writing this) as well as an unprofessional editor for a friend that was in a pinch, and then a proof reader. With about... oh I don't know, three to four-is years of these kinds of reading added to my list of experiences, I've come to learn quite a bit about these processes. 



Introduction on this topic at large

Writers need readers to help them along their journey of writing and publishing. There's many different kinds of readers for the many different phases of a project, and some writers don't put all of these types of readers to use. But almost all of them tend to - and really should - have at least some of these readers on their team. 

These types of readers are...

Alpha readers - 1st draft reader

Beta readers - +2 draft reader

Proof readers - final/close to final draft reader


The goal of this post is to help you be the best early-reader you can be so that you both get a good experience out of your volunteer reading, and so that the writer whose work you are reading gets the most out of you as a reader.

We will discuss things such as reading a genre and/or work you dislike, go over different kinds of feedback and how to keep criticism constructive, how to keep up with the project your reading, and finding your strength as a reader in each department. 

One more note before we get into this: 

The most important thing to note about being any of these readers is that the writer will usually provide you with information as to what kind of feedback and help they need from you. 

So keep that in mind at all times when being an early-stages reader.


Alpha Reading

An alpha reader is a reader which reads the first draft of the work which needs reading. Usually the first draft of a project has no more than one alpha reader, given the nature of an alpha is to be selected based on the writer's comfort level and trust, and then mostly used to help the author get to the next draft.

Like all the different kinds of readers, there's some sub-categories for alpha reading. These are...


Motivation, accountability, and brainstorming

The very very first reader an author will take on is often going to be an alpha for motivation to write and to brainstorm the story. 

For my project Roslyn, what I was looking for in an alpha of this sort; someone who would read one chapter a day so that I would write at least one chapter a day and thus be motivated, and then that person would get to know the story through reading it so they could help me brainstorm and work through dry spells. 

I have been this sort of alpha reader twice now, and I've found that the key thing to remember - as both a writer who has had alphas and as an alpha myself - is that feedback on prose, realism, formatting, grammar, even the plot, is not what is needed

Your writer needs motivation and accountability to write the story, period; picking apart different aspects of it will come at a later time, with a later draft, and perhaps even a later alpha reader devoted to that. 

This does not mean that you shouldn't tell your writer when you like something - that can actually be a huge help during this stage of writing (when is it not, really?). But it does mean that this isn't the time or place for criticism, constructive or otherwise. 

Here's my dos and don'ts when I read as a motivational+brainstorming alpha:

Don't...

  • Comment on negative prose, grammar, punctuation, formatting, etc.
  • Comment on plot holes and loose threads 
  • Comment on negative character arcs 
  • Comment on negative scenes 

Do...

  • Comment on positive prose
  • Comment on the aspects you like about the story and characters
  • Comment on positive scenes 
  • Seek out things you like in the writing to comment on
  • Stay on the writer's schedule for reading (this is a huge part of motivation and accountability)
  • Be ready to brainstorm with the writer

If I had to summarize the most important thing about being this kind of reader, it would be remember that your purpose is to help this book be written. It isn't to fill in its holes and make it realistic, it isn't even to make the story likable and enjoyable - it is just to make sure it is written. 





Deconstructing the draft

These kinds of alphas usually come after the first draft is completed, instead of during its process of being written. Often times the writer will want this alpha reader to be the same one which read for them while they were writing (the motivational+brainstorming alpha), but this won't always be the case.

The job of this reader is to tear apart the plot, rip it into bits in peaces alongside the writer. Sniff out every problem, help your writer find all the things that need working on. It is to find the strengths and weaknesses of the story so that it can be rebuilt in a later draft. 

While this kind of alpha does involve much more bluntness and at times tough love, there is a right and a wrong way to do it.

Don't...

  • Be demeaning or critical on the faulted parts
  • Shy away from being honest
  • Use this as an opportunity to hate on/make fun of the story, characters, plot, prose, etc., whether the writer does or not
  • Pull apart prose, grammar, format, etc.


Do...

  • Keep an eye out for problematic areas
  • Help the writer reconstruct the problematic areas 
  • Answer the writer's questions/give your opinion truthfully, fairly, and constructively 
  • Remember to find strengths as well as *weaknesses
  • Comment on prose and scenes that you like as you read
  • Remember that this is a very vulnerable stage for the writer, and respect that

Summarizing this form of alpha reading, remember that your purpose is to deconstruct the areas the writer has chosen so that it can be reconstructed better and stronger. You aren't here to be a critic, you're here to be an assistant. You're looking for faults in the foundation so that it can be repaired.


*Before we move on, I want to touch on this specifically for a moment. 
It can be very helpful to have someone point out specific things that the writer seems to struggle with. Like in one case a writer I alpha read for struggled mostly with her scenes and characters feeling very distant, and the focus of the story being blurry at times. It was, all things considered, a more minor problem, but it affected the whole story.
So when I say "weaknesses," I do mean things such as "this plot thread falls flat" and the like, but I also mean that you should keep an eye out for things which seem to be a reoccurring theme that the writer struggles with.
Help them find that, and you may help them diagnose a large part of the problems in their draft.


Specific-Goal betas

Sometimes writers will have a very specific goal with a draft and/or a reader. For instance, they may just want you to look for problems with character arcs, or maybe they want you to focus on the world building. Perhaps they want to make sure their magic system is strong and understandable, so they want you to focus on that and pick it apart like a deconstructive alpha. 

There's really limitless possibilities in this regards, and this is also true for betas. So when you've been asked to alpha read for a writer with very specific goals, remember...

Don't...

  • Stray from the writer's request. They are trying to accomplish something specific, and feedback/critics on other things may be more of a hinderance than help 

Do...
  • Let the writer know when you enjoy different aspects of the story and its style 
  • Fulfill the writer's requests to the best of your ability 

Your goal here is to help the writer accomplish these specific tasks which they very likely have a sound reason for. 



General Advice for Alpha Reading

Alpha reading can be a difficult phase for both the reader and the writer. On the writer's end, they're trusting you with a very early stage of something they're putting a lot of time and work into. It's something that they, usually, have daydreamed about and worked for and filled entire notebooks with. It's precious to them, but it's also in the worst shape the story will ever be in. 

Most writers know their flaws to some degree, or at the very least know that a first draft - regardless of if they have edited it or not - is going to have a lot of issues. 

Because of both these things, you should be very honored if a writer has trusted you enough to ask that you help them through this stage of their project. 

And also because of this, alpha reading have be a very difficult thing. If this writer trusts you enough to make you their alpha, chances are they respect you and consider you a friend. Or perhaps you're a family member. In either case, that puts you in a very awkward position for pointing out the issues in the work (when the writer has requested it) and even for reading it at all if you end up not liking the story. 

So how do you read a story you don't like? How do you push through mountains of unpolished words and an uncompleted and hole-ridden plot when you don't even like the story? How do you admit that to someone who has put themselves in a vulnerable position?

I have been in that position more times than I'd like. Over the many WIP I've read for, I've adopted a sort of philosophy or guide for every one that I alpha for. That's the following.


Remember it is a first draft.

Or even a second draft, in some cases. Either way, it's early on, and the story isn't going to be perfect. That may very well be the reason you don't like it, and you might come back and read it when the book is published and find that you actually like the finished product. 

In most cases, your job as an alpha has nothing to do with whether you like the story or not. An alpha reader is chosen more based off of the person than off of their reading preferences. So to answer the question how do you admit that you don't like the story, just don't. If the writer asks, you should of course be honest and say something along the lines of "it's not my kind of story, but it is also in the early stages." Most writers will nod and find that to be a fair answer. 

But whether you like it or not, you should go through with alpha reading and be as useful as possible. For though it can be difficult, you've made a commitment that you need to follow through with by agreeing to alpha read.

However, I do find it easier if you...


Search for things to like about it.

Something I've learned is that I can pull myself through reading just about any project or book by picking out things I like about it, even if I don't like it as a whole. 

When I alpha read a story that I don't like, I make sure to look for moments I like, or for lines I like, for world building, characters, cultural things, aesthetics, etc., that the writer has done well. Because there will be something that the writer has done that is uniquely their own, or that is done really well, or something of the sort, and if you can focus on those good things and the strengths in the story, it will be so much easier to read through.

It will also be far, far more beneficial to the writer if you balance your critiques with honest though searched for compliments. This isn't just being nice, this is actually going to help them so long as you don't over-do it and praise the whole work out of sheer discomfort.  It will help them because they will not just know what they did wrong, or that you dislike, but they'll see what parts they're getting right, and they'll be able to hone in on those things and expand upon them in later drafts.

But again, remember that I said to balance your critiques and compliments; too much of either is not healthy for a writer - especially at this stage. And I don't mean to say that for every critic you must force a compliment, just that you keep it proportionate, honest, and put a little extra work into both things.


Don't critique stylistic preferences.

What I mean by this is that you need to understand the differences between a structural issue (be it in the sentence structure, the plot, the arcs, whatever) verses a preference issue. If you don't like the story, it probably is a matter of preference and personal taste; you saying that you dislike the writer's writing style, the world's politics, the aesthetic, etc., is not going to help in this area. Those things are for reviews of published books so that other readers can determine if they want to read the book or not based on their personal preferences.

If the writer ever asks, of course be honest with them. But remember that it is good to preface your response by admitting it is a matter of stylistic preference, and not of the integrity of the plot and things of that nature. 




Beta Reading

A beta reader is a person, usually one of many, that is reading anything beyond the first draft (so the second, third, fourth, etc.). They lean more on the "test reader" side of things than alpha readers do, and are depending on the stage of beta reading they are often writers themselves. 

Like all the different kinds of readers, there's some sub-categories for beta reading. These are...


Overarching story betas

These are generally accepted as the "first stage" or "first tier" of beta reading, as writers tend to go through multiple rounds and drafts with multiple groups of betas. 

Their job is kind of similar to the deconstructing alpha; they are to keep an eye out for plot holes, things that confuse them, things that they think should be expanded on, and so on. 

Here are my dos and don'ts for being this kind of beta.

Don't...

  • Comment on grammar, line editing, formatting, etc.
  • Turn a blind eye to issues or things that confuse you 
  • Assume another beta will point out something you noticed
  • Skim read

Do...
  • Comment on lines, scenes, etc., that you liked
  • Reread portions you're confused about to see if you misunderstood something before you point it out as an issue
  • (If you share the document with other betas) build off of other betas' feedback, especially when you had a different thought/impression/understanding from the other betas
  • Pay close attention when reading
  • Give your impressions and reactions to characters, situations, scenes, etc.

To summarize the job of these betas, remember that you are pointing out the remaining issues from previous drafts so that the writer can move forward. You aren't ripping apart the story, but rather keeping an eye out for loose threads. 

I don't focus on pointing out the writer's personal strength and weaknesses as much at this stage as I do when alpha reading, because at this point the writer probably has an idea for that. If they request that you locate their personal writing strengths and weaknesses, then go right ahead, but in general I prefer to focus on the story's strengths and weaknesses at this stage. 



Reaction betas

I may be making this term up, but it's because I've been this kind of beta even if it isn't accepted as an official category by the writing community. 

This is a bit different from the former category and leans more towards ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) reading, but it's earlier on in the writing process. 

I've been on beta teams a couple of times now where the writer specifically wanted me to read their beta draft like I would any other book, but they had other roles for different betas. 

So here's how I go about doing this. 

Don't...

  • *Read as a critic
  • Overthink your reactions
  • Force your reactions

Do...

  • Comment frequently 
  • Keep your reactions raw and honest 
  • Try to read it as naturally as you can

The format of reading as a beta, as well as the circumstances, make it hard to read the project like you would any other book. It's probably never going to be exactly the way you read a published piece, but do try to keep your mind in that general mindset. 

*Regarding this I'd like to note that this doesn't mean when you have a critique you shouldn't say it, nor that you should be a blind forced-fan of the story, just that you don't go into it trying to spot problems and the like. That isn't your job as this kind of beta reader.



Specific-Goal betas

This is pretty much the same as the specific-goal alphas; you're just trying to accomplish something specific to the writer's needs.

Don't...

  • Stray from the writer's request. They are trying to accomplish something specific, and feedback/critics on other things may be more of a hinderance than help 

Do...
  • Let the writer know when you enjoy different aspects of the story and its style 
  • Fulfill the writer's requests to the best of your ability 

Just like before, your goal here is to help the writer accomplish these specific tasks which they very likely have a sound reason for. And in the case of a beta-draft, this may be something they've struggled with through the entire process, so they really need you to focus on this area. 


General Advice for Beta Reading

This section is my general philosophy for beta reading. It's a much less personal process than alpha reading, but you will find some of the same notes from the "general advice for alpha reading" section.


Honesty is now even more important 

Beta reading can still be sensitive work depending on the writer, but at this point the story is more fleshed out and the writer has ironed out more wrinkles in the plot. Depending on the stage of beta reading (plenty of authors go through two to three rounds of beta readers) it may be better or worse, but generally speaking this is the time when critiques are more useful. 

I'd say it is more important as a beta to be honest than it is as an alpha (though of course honesty is always good), because if an issue gets past you it may make it into the final version of the story because the writer's eyes are adjusted to the project and they can't spot it (which is why they have betas to begin with). 

So remember, while you shouldn't rip the story apart, always point out what you think could pose as a problem. 


Stick to the writer's list of preferred feedback

The biggest thing that I'd like to stress for general beta reading, is remember to fulfill the writer's requests as much as possible. Almost every time I have beta read, the writer has provided me with a list of things they want me to do in regards to reading their work. The list is usually to do with their specific present goal for this project. 

If the writer you are beta reading for (or even alpha reading for) doesn't provide you with a list, it's always a good idea to ask if there's anything they want you to do specifically. 

I have had instances where the writer says no, and in that case I try to balance a bit of everything. I also, if I am in a shared document with other betas, will pay closer attention to the feedback they are and are not giving. 

This bit is combined with the next part:


Balance out the feedback from the other betas

For instance, if I see that most of the readers are mostly giving emotional reactions to scenes and the story, then I'll focus more on the structure of the story, on the plot, etc. Or if I see that most of them are taken the critical route, I will focus more on finding the really good aspects of the story and try to cheer the writer on (still telling them when I find problems that aren't mentioned, and still building off of other betas' feedback). 

Because really, encouragement and critiques are equally important to a writer and need to be balanced out well. 

On that note,


Keep your critiques balanced

I've said this already, but here I'm going to talk about how I go about doing this. 

When you point out a problem, it's good to preface it with a sign of intrigue, enjoyment, or a complement (always mean the complement you say, even if you have to look for it). Here's a made up scenario. 

Say I'm reading a story about a gnome knight, and then the point of view switches halfway through the story to some new character who is a sprite doing sprite things that I really don't care about and believe distracts from the story. I would say something along the lines of...

"Because of how long we went before a POV switch, I adjusted and grown attached to the gnome's perspective and experiences. So this new perspective feels disruptive, though I may enjoy it otherwise. Maybe you could introduce this character earlier on?"

The underlined parts are specifically what I'm talking about in this case, but I always try to format my suggestions and critiques this way. I like to explain why I think what I think, help diagnose the problem,  and then I'll usually say what I think might help phrased in a way that still invites the writer to come up with something else.  

And on that note, 


Know when to and when not to give an answer

Something a writer I've beta/alpha read for several times in the past said about my reading style is that she appreciates I don't offer answers all the time. Now that wasn't always intentional - sometimes I just don't know - but since that conversation I have begun putting it into intentional practice. 

So even if I do have an idea, one that I think to be "the" solution, I won't always tell the writer. Sometimes I'll prompt them with a question regarding the problem and not give my own advice or thoughts on it. 

I imagine I'm able to do this because most people I've read for are people I know fairly well and have read for repeatedly, so I've picked up on when it is appropriate to do that and when it isn't. I'm also a writer myself and have some vague idea of how a writer's brain works, as well as how stories work, so I can better understand which kind of reaction/feedback will be most useful. 

Of course, when I first began reading for writers I didn't know this. I didn't even know the writers all that well. And when that is the case now during my early-reading, I really focus on the list and I'm generally more forward with everything. 


Search for things you like about the project, even if you don't like the story

Especially when you don't like the story. Again, this has helped me through many a project and even published books. There will always be something you can pick out - the prose, the characters, the plot line, the style, the world building, the magic system, the culture, something. Find that something and hold on to it.

And if you do like the story, this is still a good thing to practice. Again, you don't want to over-praise or give a fake compliment, but a little extra work at enjoying the piece can go a long way. 


Don't critique stylistic preferences

This is the exact same advice as the section under "general alpha reading advice": 

What I mean by this is that you need to understand the differences between a structural issue (be it in the sentence structure, the plot, the arcs, whatever) verses a preference issue. If you don't like the story, it probably is a matter of preference and personal taste; you saying that you dislike the writer's writing style, the world's politics, the aesthetic, etc., is not going to help in this area. Those things are for reviews of published books so that other readers can determine if they want to read the book or not based on their personal preferences.

If the writer ever asks, of course be honest with them. But remember that it is good to preface your response by admitting it is a matter of stylistic preference, and not of the integrity of the plot and things of that nature. 





Proof Reading

Proof reading is the most stand-offish kind of reading talked about in this post. It is drastically different from alpha and beta reading, because this is most likely one of the final steps before the writer considers the piece complete. 

You may be one of several proof readers, or you may be the only proof reader. In either case, you should hunt through the manuscript for errors. 

The jobs of a proof reader are as follows.

Spelling and Grammer

This is pretty self explanatory. You're looking for grammar and spelling issues that the writer may have missed, and usually you'll be marking up a document designated for this to save the writer time.

Don't...

  • Line edit
  • *Change things on a whim
Do...
  • Correct sentence structure when needed
  • Correct spelling and grammatical issues
  • *Make sure your corrections are actually correct
  • *Determine what is intentionally breaking some rules for the sake of style and what is an actual error
  • *Inform the writer when you're unsure of a change
  • **When the author writes accents or speech impediments, make sure their accents are consistent to the formula the author presents

*These things go hand in hand. It is important to double check yourself when you aren't sure of something, especially for the former, because you don't want to change something that is incorrect to something that is even more incorrect. 
Google and mothers who excelled in grammar are your friends in instances where you know something is wrong, but you don't know what is wrong. 
It is also good to tell the author when you're unsure but still propose a change. 

Now, specifically on the matter of determining what is an intentional misuse of grammar and spelling on the authors end; writers will often use language, phrases, grammar, and spelling that is incorrect to correctly portray cultural things. 
For instance, typing "s'okay" is not technically correct where grammar or spelling is concerned, but it is something that English speakers often say instead of "it's okay." 
Sometimes these are easy to spot, sometimes they aren't. When you're unsure if a grammatical or spelling rule is broken intentionally or not, say to so the writer. 

**Similar to the last note I made is the matter concerning consistency in accents. Sometimes an author will write an accent or impediment but will not stay consistent to the formula they've made or are following. 
For instance, I once proof read for an author who had a German character that she wrote the accent for. She established using Vs in place of Ws that begin a word ("vhat" instead of "what) and things of that sort, but she would sometimes write words without the accent that I would correct. 
It helps when it's a real accent that you (the proof reader) is familiar with, but there may be times where a fictional accent is written. When that happens, you'll need to pay attention to the formula for how the accent works so that you can make sure it is consistent. 

Speech impediments work the same.


Continuity 

Continuity is very important, and very easy for writers to forget. I don't know how many times I've forgotten to write that a character has changed position in a room, so they just poof! into a new spot, causing much confusion. 

There's also issues with characters' appearances. I know of quite a few books where characters' hair colors change randomly, for example. 

Then there's everything that comes with fantasy: World building, magic systems politics, accents, language, and so on. 

One big instance of a missed continuity error in a published book is in the mermaid novel Deep Blue. A character, who is a mermaid, "walks" across a room. Those are the kinds of things you are supposed to catch.  

One of your major jobs as a proof reader will be finding the lack of consistency in these areas, should they happen, and point them out to the writer. Remember that, for all you know, this is going to be the final version of this story. You don't want to leave any mistakes in there if you can help it, you want your writer to have a polished and errorless manuscript (if such a thing is possible). 

This means that honesty is now more important then ever. If you're uncertain of something but thing it may be a problem, it's better to point it out and explain your confusion than it is to leave it unnoticed until the work is published.

That being said, here are my dos and don'ts.

Don't...

  • Ignore mistakes, regardless of if there will be future proof readers or not
  • Point out issues you have with the story - you aren't an alpha or a beta. Your job is just to clean up the draft, not the plot.


Do...
  • Pay close attention to everything you're reading; you never know where an error may come up
  • Point out the errors with the writing itself
  • Tell the writer when you're uncertain of something, and try to articulate why that is


And here's a list of continuity errors to keep an eye out for in a few different genres. 


General 

(Applies to all genres, not just those listed)

  • Inconsistency in character clothing, hair, and general appearance
  • Inconsistency in accents and language
  • Inconsistency in character position/location 
  • Inconsistency in culture 
  • Inconsistency in character knowledge
  • Inconsistency with mental or physical disorders
  • Consistency with timeline


Historical Fiction

  • Inconsistency regarding the era the story takes place in (ex. a weapon existing before its time, an event happening at a time that is past or as yet to come, etc.)
  • Characters using phrases, words, and terminology which would not yet exist, be accepted, or be understood



Fantasy
  • Inconsistency in the magic system 
  • Inconsistency in world building
  • Inconsistency with the politics 
  • Characters using phrases, words, and terminology which would be unlikely to exist in their world


Sci-Fi

  • Inconsistency with the technological systems and functions 
  • Inconsistency in world building 



Formatting

Unless the writer you're proofreading for is horrible at formatting (such as myself), this shouldn't be overly difficult. You'll just be making sure everything is formatted correctly, with indentations, paragraph breaks, dividers, chapters, font, font size, paragraph alignment, page breaks between chapters, and things of that sort. 

There's not really any "dos" and "don'ts" for this section. Just make sure that you are certain of any changes or edits you propose, as always. 



Applying to be an Alpha, Beta, or Proof Reader

If you would like to be an alpha, beta, or proof reader for a writer you know or follow, here are some things to consider about the whole thing. 

Consider before applying:

Do you like the story concept?

If you don't, don't volunteer/apply to fill any of these positions. Maybe you want to help out the writer because you believe in them, or because you want to show support, and believe you will be able to press forward while still being constructive, supportive, punctual, and encouraging. 

That is wonderful. But it isn't worth the chance of you really disliking the story and not following through with the commitment. 


Do you have enough time to devote to the project?

Most writers will give you some information on the story when they ask you if you want to read for them, or when they put out a general flier in search of readers. They should include their word count (and if they don't, ask them). 

If you're unfamiliar with using a word count to gage this kind of thing, here are some books you may have read and their word counts, to help you get a better idea for it:


Eragon by Christopher Paolini - 158,910 words

Fablehaven by Brandon Mull - 115,587 words

The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen - 105,948 words

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins - 99,750 words

The Maze Runner by James Dashner - 92,520 words

Most Percy Jackson books by Rick Riordan - 90k-125k words

The Ruins of Gorlon by John Flanagan - 86,673 words

The Giver by Lois Lowry - 59,189 words 

The Bad Beginning: A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket - 29,038 words 


Or, if you haven't read any of these books before, type the title and author of the books that took you the least and most time to read into the search bar at this link and compare the word count to the count of the work you are considering alpha/beta/proof reading for. 


If the author needs you to read their project by the end of the month, but the count is one that you can't balance with every day life, then you should just tell the writer no. 

And even if the writer says that they don't have a exact date in mind, you should set one for yourself so that you make sure you get it to them in a reasonable amount of time. Two to three weeks is a pretty fair amount for a finished work of an average word count. 


So if you don't believe you will be able to balance the story with your day-to-day business, it's better to pass this time around than to be a reader who drops off the face of the map (though I'm sure we've all been there at some point). 


Are you confident that you can meet the writer's needs?

Like I mentioned before, writers will usually provide you with some information to help you determine if you would like to read their work or not. When they do this, they also may specify what category of reader they're wanting (such as a general beta vs. a specific goal beta) and provide a list of specific needs they have/what your job would entail. 

Go down that list and see how many things apply to you, how many things you're confident you can provide, and things of that sort.

If you check off their preferences and are capable of meeting their needs, then this may be a good fit! 

(If the writer doesn't provide you with one, you could always ask, but they probably are more concerned with general feedback than they are specific things, so you probably won't need to worry about this bit.)


Where do your strengths as a reader lie?

This ties in with the section above.

Sometimes a writer may ask you what your strengths are, instead of giving you a list of preferences that they have. 

When/if that happens, it's important that you have some kind of idea.


Now having multiple early-stage reading experiences under my belt, I've been able to ask the writers and authors that I've read for what their experience with me as a reader was. What strengths I had that helped them and things of that sort. 

You can't really determine where your strengths are thoroughly if you have never alpha/beta/proof read multiple times, but you can make an educated guess based off of your own writing and/or reading experiences. You can also help the writer determine if you're a good fit by telling them what kinds of things you like doing and such - or if you have no experience in writing and early-reading whatsoever, they may have you read as a test audience of sorts. 

All that is to say, be honest with yourself and your writer. If you know your strengths and weaknesses, then tell them so they can determine if you're a good fit or not. 

If you're not sure of what your strengths are yet, let the author know and see what they think about it. 


Post Conclusion

Alrighty, I think that's just about everything. I hope this post has been helpful and informative. If it hasn't been, well, at least you got some procrastinating in for the day, right?

I'm thinking about doing companion post to this one, on the writer's side of things. As I have only ever had alpha readers for my own work, I wouldn't be speaking from personal experience but rather telling you what the authors in my life have told me about the process, and also what I've seen in my writer friends who have gone through these various stages of reading. 
If you'd be interested in that, please do let me know. 

And now for the comment prompt that all bloggers are socially required to give to feed the starving beast known as "algorithm" that we all keep in our basements and closets: 
Have you ever alpha, beta, or proof read before? What was your experience? Do you have any advice to share with other early-stage readers? Have you ever been an early-stage reader for a book that is now published? What is your favorite and least favorite kind of reader to be?

I would love to hear your answers, as well as your general thoughts.


Until next time, I remain,

- E.P.


Sunday, October 31, 2021

What I'll Be Doing this November | Introducing NoQu

 



Hello there. 

November approaches, and if you are a writer, I'm sure you know what that means.

Something which you may or may not be aware of is my great disappointment in one of the most popular writing communities and organizations, known for its 50k-in-30-days challenge.

The organization has always been left-leaning, which I found silly given it is a writing challenge, politics shouldn't play a part in it. But I still participated in the challenge and supported the organization as a whole. 

Over the past few years, however, it has become increasingly problematic (though I do so hate that word), as they have begun segregating their writers (as in they have made forums (forums, not individual threads) which only people of certain ethnicities are allowed to join) and creating absurd rules which inhibit freedom of speech (yes they do have the right to do this as a private company, but that does not make it right).  

Despite my appreciation for the team and people which I have met over the course of five-ish years through this program, these developments make it so that I can no longer support such an organization. That being said, I will no longer participate in their November - or any month's - challenge.


Instead, I have invented a new challenge to take place during November. I call it the "Not Quite Novel Writing Month," or "NoQu" for short. The challenge is to write at least 49,999 words in 29 days 1,439 minutes and 59 seconds.  

It is Christian and American Constitution based, but people of all beliefs and opinions are welcome so long as they can be respectful to each other.


Some features NoQu has are...

- A blog, which is designed for updates, news, inspiration, and resources for participants 

- A bulletin that will be sent out each day of November to inspire participants

- Forums and threads

- A community bookclub (beginning January 1st of 2022)

- We are planning on hosting giveaways and writing contests for the off-season

- An online store with NoQu-themed merchandise is being planned out


For now, NoQu does not have goal-tracking features. I will be continuing to work on the website and to build up an affective team, and with that I hope to find ways to implement the trackers sooner rather than later.


Before I go and leave you to prepare for your own writing challenge, and to maybe join NoQu as well, I'd like to tell you a bit about the personal touches I've included in NoQu.

- Indie authors -

I think it's pretty obvious that I really like supporting indie authors. Well, I'm hoping to increase that with NoQu. The bookclub will ideally always include at least one indie book, and the book giveaways will frequently be indie books.

This does mean I am less likely to host giveaways directly through Bleeding Ink, but I will still post about them here and put them on my giveaways page. 

That aside, things will continue as usual for Bleeding Ink, and my "recommend me an indie book" page will still be active and open. Really the only thing that will change is the giveaways portion. 

So, those are some of the ways that we'll be supporting indie authors, and I have a few other ideas in the works but nothing official yet.


- Community -

Community is such an important thing to me. A community of writers is what got me to stay interested in writing, it's what has grown me and gotten me to the point I'm at now.

Because of how important this is to me, I'm making it important to NoQu, too. I want people to find each other, to become good friends, to get good support from the community at large, to have a place where they feel welcome and wanted. 

When I was just fourteen I had that experience, and though it has since dissipated I will always treasure those great years. And now I want to use those experiences and pay it forward. I want NoQu to be what other programs were for me, but I don't want it to dissipate. I want it to be strong, supportive, lasting, and productive.  I want NoQu to be the place that introduces best friends. I want it to be a place that equips new writers. I want it to be the place that grows writers and nurtures authors-to-be. I want it to be the place that you can go to to get away - just like a good book. 

I strive to make NoQu into a community like that, and I am willing to put in the work to make it happen.



Okay, I think that's everything. I need to go prepare for midnight - NoQu is starting very soon, after all!  

If you would like to join NoQu, you can do so at our website. I sincerely hope to see you become part of our community.


Regards, 


- EP


P.S. NoQu updates to come.

P.P.S. I am currently very sick and posting this immediately after writing it, so there's only minor edits and everything is probably very rambly. Hopefully that adds to the experience. 


Sunday, October 3, 2021

Spoopy Season TBR

 

Hello hello,


While I abstain from celebrating Halloween, I cannot deny that I do in fact recognize "spoopy season" and thoroughly enjoy it. I love the excuse to put aside all of my current reads to enjoy more ominous works as fall is ushered in (though I have be celebrating fall since September first). 

I figured that, as I am doing this (and indeed already am in the process of this TBR) I would share it with you so that you may join in if you would like. 


A note regarding this list: These books are not all "horror" as defined by the Victorians or the people of the modern age. Some of them are just a bit ominous or gothic. Those that are genuine horror, I cannot give an account of because I have yet to read them.


Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

I include this though I actually read it in September as a part of my overalll fall-tar challenge (which, I now realize, I never posted about. Basically my goal is to read at least two autumnal books for each month of fall. For September I wanted to do one general autumnal book, and one spoopy one, thus the reading of Frankenstein early. For - pardon my side tangent - what is September but the preparation for preparation for spoopy season (which is for preparation for November)?

So basically, I did read this for spoopy season, I just read it before posting this. Review on that to come eventually maybe at some point possibly. 



The Vampyre by John Polidori

I read this one already as well, but I did it this month. Yesterday, actually. It is a very short story. 

I'm not one for vampires. They are romanticized and overdone. 

Vampyres, however, are a different story. Literally, a different story. Not too different, they're still blood-sucking perverts, but in this case they aren't romanticized. 

In any case, I read this despite disliking vampires for two reasons: 

1. This was written for Lord Byron's friendly writing challenge, the same writing challenge which. Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein for. So obviously I had to read it. 

2. I'm going to read Dracula and thought it would be cool to read The Vampyre first, given it influenced Bram Stroker. 



Dracula by Bram Stroker

I bet you had no idea this'd be on the list. Not at all. No clue. It isn't like I just mentioned that it would be. Pfsh. 

Anyways. You may be wondering why I'll be reading this when, again, I don't like vampires. For that I have a couple of reasons. 

1. Classics

2. spoopy

I haven't started this yet, so we're officially at the "to be read" part of this list. 



The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

As most people who follow me can probably conclude, I am not one for supporting, promoting, or partaking in LGBT content (which this is promoted as in the modern day). However, I'm very curious about this book and find it is a fascinating discussion piece, plus for my CC series I want to do something on Oscar Wilde and will need to have read his work to do that. 

I have a few other reasons too. 

1. Classics

2. spoopy 



The Complete Collections of Edgar Allan Poe

I have had a completed collection of Poe's work for a couple of years now and still haven't read it cover-to-cover. I love Poe's work though, and find him fascinating in general, so I'm going to finally try to get through the whole thing in one go. 



The Never-ending Story by Michael Ende

This is tentatively on the list, I'm not sure I'll get to it what with writing month approaching. It is not Spoopy, but it does take place during October, and the story is very sentimental for my parents so it's high time I got to know it.

Edit: Actually it turns out this takes place in November. Not sure why I thought it said October, but oh well. it'll stay on this list.


Alrighty I think that's all I have on my list for the spoopy books. I might have more I didn't mention, I'll maybe try to do an actual wrap-up for October and tell you all that I read and whatnot. 


Do you have any books you want to read before October has passed? Do you have any books in mind that I should add to my list?I'd love to hear from you. 


Stay spoopy!



- E.P.



Monday, September 6, 2021

CC: The Intentions of Classical Fiction

 



Hello reader,

Today I want to talk to you about classics. 
On my very aesthetic adventure, I realized for what may have been the first time how much I really do love classics. A few days ago, I was catching up with a friend who read Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen for the first time and was pleasantly surprised to find it not as romance-based as the movie. We discussed why that is, and that sparked a post idea.
Recently, I was talking with some fellow writers about Peter Pan and Alice's Adventures In Wonderland, and quickly found myself gushing about the latter (this is not because I do not also love Peter Pan, but rather is the result of the direction which the conversation went). 
I then thought I should write to you about my thoughts on Alice's Adventures In Wonderland.

With all of the above in mind, you can expect more posts regarding classics, all which will be tagged as the "Concerning Classics" (or "CC") series. And for today, we're going to talk about how classics compare to modern fiction.

This will be very rambley as I am writing this in the very early hours. 


One thing that I think really separates classic books from modern books is the intention of the story. 
In the modern day, we tend to write fictional stories just for entertainment. But often times, classical fiction has some kind of meaning or intent. Sometimes it's tucked away, an underlying theme that affects  the atmosphere. Sometimes it's blatantly direct. And yes, sometimes perhaps there is no real intent behind a classic story. But it is something that largely sets the older works apart from the current ones. 

May I give you some examples? 

Look at Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. This is a story about a woman whose constants in life are loss and mistreatment as she embarks on the path of life, striving to be an honorable and Godly woman and to always do right. 
In that case, the theme of staying true to your convictions, to staying true to the standards you have set and to the God which you have devoted yourself to, is quite obvious.

The intent, then, is much the same. 

In the case of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens... well, there are many themes (another trend within classical literature). One, though, is contrast. Contrast between who we are and who we become. Throughout the story we follow Pip, who starts as a young and poor boy but later receives an income from an unnamed benefactor or benefactress. 
He grows in many ways throughout the story. The best way I can think to describe this (forgive me if this makes no sense, as I said it is the wee hours of the morning when I am writing this) is that there can be severe contrast between shades of the same color. Baby blue and navy blue contrast against each other extremely, but they are both still blue. 
Pip in the beginning and Pip throughout the story are both still Pip, he is recognizable all the way through as such, and yet who he becomes and who he was is still contrasted so extremely (it's really very fascinating, perhaps I will do a discussion post dedicated to Great Expectations). 

The intent of this story could be a great many things, but I believe that one of the intentions is indeed to show the contrast of a person's individual growth. 


And what of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen? The theme is largely showing that both sides of a story are faulted. "Pride" and "prejudice" could refer to either Elizabeth or Darcy, for they both have pride and prejudice, which is something made clearer the more you advance in the story. 

The intent is the same. 



Even Alice's Adventures In Wonderland by Lewis Carroll has an underlying theme. 
Now before my fellow Alice fans get riled up about how Carroll literally made this story to be stuff and nonsense, please, read on.
I do not deny that this story was originally told to be pure lunacy (if you do not know how the story came to be, please do check back for another post later, for I have every intention of doing an Alice In Wonderland post which will go over that). In fact, just the opposite. 
Because you see, that is the theme: Nonsense. 
The meaning of this story, of the majority of Carroll's fictional work as far as I am aware, is that not everything needs to make sense. Not everything needs to be logical, factual, smart. Some things can just be pure fun. 

And that is the intent of the story Alice's Adventures In Wonderland, to remind you that you do not always need to make sense. 


And there are so many other examples, such as Peter Pan's conversation regarding childhood and growing up, Frankenstein's discussion about monstrosities and what makes them, To Kill A Mockingbird's general life discussion, Tuck Everlasting's moral of mortality and living, Lord of The Ring's moral of hope and doing what is right... The list could go on and on.

 

Something you may be thinking about all this is the fact that modern fiction has themes as well. To which I say yes, it does. But the thing that I believe truly draws a line between modern work and classic work is that classical literature's theme and intent are the same thing

For example, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collin's main theme is a girl who no one expected anything from standing against oppression and tyranny. 
While that is a very inspiring thing, and I am sure Suzanne Collins was hoping for it to be, the difference is that it was written more to tell a story than it was to have a conversation with the reader. 
This isn't at all a bad thing, so please do not think I'm bringing down modern fiction, but it is an interesting thing.


If you're not sure of what I mean, consider the differences between how stories were written then and now. 
Jane Eyre is also a story about a girl who no one expected anything from, and while she isn't causing wars and all that she is still taking many hits in a more realistic way. 
Because of this (as well as the writing style of that particular novel), we're going to use it in comparison with The Hunger Games. 

THG is first person present tense. This means that you're "there" with Katniss through it all. You're seeing it as it happens and you're seeing it from her perspective. 
Katniss is focused on what is happening around her, and as far as she is concerned there is no reader, there is only the here and now and the people right in front of her.

Jane Eyre is first person past tense. This means that Jane is recounting her story to you, the reader, and this narrative choice opens up the ability for her to talk directly to you about what is happening in the story with the hindsight she now has (this is literally how the story is written).

The former is written to be an experience, the latter is written to be more of a conversation. 

While The Hunger Games has great themes, it's intention is to be entertainment. 
Jane Eyre is entertaining, and indeed Charlotte Brontë surely intended it to be so, but it's intention is also largely to convey its themes. 

The reason I don't say THG is trying to convey something and be entertainment in equal parts, but that Jane Eyre is, is because of the difference between society back then and society today. 


As I said, the majority of classics have an intent. Through my rather basic understanding of the time in which most of these classics were written, and through my knowledge of the authors and the stories themselves, I have come to believe that making social commentary in your book is just what you did back then. 
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen, Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, and Alice's Adventures In Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass are all classics which have at some point had letters from the authors included in the printed copies. 
These letters were each public statements regarding the author's opinions on something to do with society. 
Oliver Twist's I cannot remember clearly (it has been some time since I read the letter), but I seem to recall that it had several letters in which Mr. Dickens called out society for numerous things regarding his story. 

Northanger Abbey had a letter saying that the opinions expressed in the story did not necessarily still represent the author's opinions in the present day.

Tom Sawyer's note expressed Mark Twain's desire that his story, while intended for young boys, would be enjoyed by all men and women and that it would bring them back to the days when they themselves were youths.

Alice's Adventures In Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass had an Easter letter encouraging children who were fans of the story to enjoy Easter Sunday, because one just shouldn't be solemn on such a wonderful day. 

These letters all express further what the authors have expressed in the narration of their books (although in Austen's case, it was to say she once did express her opinions in her work and now did not necessarily still hold to those opinions). 
These, as well as the many other examples of this, show that social commentary in a narrative was just the norm. 


Whereas today, we are more entertainment based. Once more, this doesn't mean that authors don't hope a reader will be inspired or that they don't represent their own opinions in their work. But the focus is different. 
Even an author who is just telling the story the way it goes (I am a writer of this sort) isn't necessarily inserting a moral, intent, theme, meaning, or social commentary to their story, but are rather just following the path the story naturally would take. 



To conclude the post, I think the main intention of every classic at the end of the day is to cause the reader to think. I don't think I've ever walked away from a classic without having thought deeply at some point during the reading process. 
Due to all of the above, classics bring so much to the conversation. From topics as heavy as death itself or as light as literal nonsense, they are written so strongly from their author's perspective that something new, something intriguing, is always presented. Maybe not throughout the story, maybe it's just one sentence, but it's always there. 

I think that this is a goal of the authors' for the same reason I think the social commentary is intentional. And I think that is often is for modern authors as well. But again, in the modern day stories are written to be experienced. In the classical era(s), it seems they were written more to be heard. 
So while one makes you think as if its happening to you, the other allows you to think as an outsider but with all the inside knowledge.  


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

**Some days later, though I do not recall how many.**

That is all for this rambled discussion regarding the intentions of classical fiction and how said intentions set classical work apart from modern. 

I know that this was rather messy and I'm sure I failed to correct paragraph breaks and odd grammar, but I did attempt to make it more readable than it was when I wrote this at a time in which the sun and moon were both asleep, while maintaining the character of it. 

That is to say, I tried, but I didn't try all that hard. 

I do so hope you enjoyed it nonetheless, and that it caused to be to interested in some classics if you were not previously. And if you were, or if this post brings you to pick up a piece of classical literature, please do tell me what you think on this matter. 

In a coming post (not sure when it will be coming) I will be discussions classical book-to-film adaptions, which will further go into the social commentary and writing style that were mentioned in this post. 

Do you have any particular things concerning classics which you would like my thoughts on? Please do let me know.


Kind regards,


- E.P.



 


Thursday, September 2, 2021

Bad Bookish Habits

 

Greetings. 

I've felt very busy lately and wanted to just talk about some fun things as opposed to doing any of the more deep posts I had planned.

So today, I'm going to tell you about eight of my bad habits relating to books. 


Pausing Books Partway Through

We'll do this one first because it's something that I know the majority of readers are guilty of. Maybe you're in a slump, on a book hangover, or just found another book more interesting, so you mark your page, set your book down (perhaps even with the full intention of continuing reading it while reading other books too), and then promptly forget to continue it. 

I currently have about seven books I've done this with, not including the book I most recently picked up (for I am still reading it). I also have three books that I DNF-ed, but left the bookmarks in in case I would like to continue with them (and in some cases they were temporary DNFs so I had every intention of coming back to them and of course never did).

("DNF" refers to books that you "Did Not Finish." If someone "DNFs" a book, it means they chose to put it down before finishing it. A "temporary DNF" is to imply pausing a book to return to it whenever you feel like finishing it.)


Leaving Dust Jackets Everywhere

When I get a hardback, I often take the dust jacket off of it for while I'm reading it so that it doesn't get damaged and whatnot. 

However, due to the bad habit listed before this one, this means I have a lot of dust jackets laying around while my bare hardbacks sit in piles. 

This actually can damage the dust jackets, as I just pile them up where ever, and often times end up accidentally putting other things on top of them. 


Using Inner Dust Jacket Flaps As Bookmarks

I often times will just randomly pick up a book and start reading it without actually planning on reading it. I'll start it knowing "I'm not actually 'starting' this book right now, I'm just curious and a bit bored so I'll read some pages" (which I suppose is a whole separate bad habit relating to the "pausing partway through" habit). 

When I do this I don't usually have a bookmark handy (because I wasn't actually intending to read at the time). So if I don't have a notebook to tear a page from, don't have a stray ribbon, and don't feel like pulling my own hair out to make a bookmark, I'll just use the inner flap of the jacket as a bookmark. 

This isn't necessarily a bad thing if I'm only reading the first few pages, but I did once get really far into a reread and still used the flap as a mark and it caused the jacket to be a bit out of shape.  
 

Buying Books Without Paying Attention to the Quality of the Copy

When I buy books, I usually just take the first copy on a stack/display or just pull a random one from the shelf. I think I built this habit from buying the majority of my books second-hand at thrift stores and the like.
This is something I was partly aware of doing for a bit, but realized that it was actually a fairly bad habit on my aesthetic adventure

The she-elf had found a copy of Nadine Brandes' "Fawkes" and was going to buy it, but found that the only addition the shop had was damaged (the dust jacket was tearing a bit at the bottom and along some folds, and I believe the corner of the hardback was crushed). She went and asked a worker if they had any other copies of it she could buy, and they said they did not.  
And then, they gave her a discount

That is when I realized it was a very smart thing to ask for undamaged copies or for a discount on the damaged one, for saving money equals being able to buy more books! 

Hopefully I can remember this lesson from the she-elf and stop buying so many damaged books. 


Buying Books Without Reading Their Descriptions

I like to go into books as blind as possible. I've found that a fair amount of books that I really like, I like because I read without any expectations (usually because an indie wrote them and I bought it before really knowing the book, or because I just found a family member's book laying around the house and impulse read it). 

So I try to read next to nothing regarding a book, and often end up skimming the actual synopsis. I especially do this when a book is by a popular author or if the book itself is popular. 

Because of this, I bought the book "All The Crooked Saints," started reading it (in fashion of the "I didn't really plan on reading this but did anyways" fashion mentioned in #3), and almost immediately DNFed it. I do intend to finish it at some point, but it struck me as rather pretentious and generally dull and weird (in a not good way) so I was in no rush to continue it. 

Had I read the description better I probably (for I still haven't read the description so I do not know for sure) wouldn't have bought it at all.


Buying and Collecting Nonfiction But Never Actually Reading Them

I have a lot of nonfiction books, largely historical nonfiction because while I am a fantasy geek, I'm also a history geek (note I say "geek," not "nerd." I am not intelligent enough to say I am a history "nerd," but I do thoroughly enjoy history). 
However, fantasy is much easier for me to read than my various nonfiction books. So while I have every intention to read all of my archaeological books, all of my Allison Weir books on the Tudors, all of my books about writing, and my one self-help book about dyslexia (I find it amusingly ironic that it's a book to help people read better), I just never seem to get around to it. 


Failing to Actually Review Books

I read a lot. 
I review very little. 
The story of the majority of reviewers.


Book Piles on the Bed

I think all book collectors can relate to having various piles of books on any available surface. I unfortunately accumulate a great number of them on my bed, as I sleep on a bunkbed and it is quite inconvenient to bring things up and down it.
So over time I develop a great hoard of books on the bed which makes sleeping rather uncomfortable. 

This is not healthy for the books or for me, so it is a habit I do really need to break.

 


Do you have any bookish bad habits that I didn't mention? Can you relate to any of the ones I did?  I'd love to hear from you.

Well my friends, that's all for now. I shall see you next time. 

Ever,

- E.P.


How To Be A Constructive Early-Stages Reader | My Approach to Alpha, Beta, and Proof Reading

Hello my fellow readers, writers, and creatures of procrastination.  Today, I'm going to be telling you about alpha, beta, and proof rea...