Beta Readers on the Attack—When Critiques Get Personal: Guest Blog by Bonnie Bracken

Wallis Simpson 1936
courtesy of Wikipedia

What happens when a writing critique strays from  constructive criticism and becomes an attack on the writer and her writing? I invited historical novelist Bonnie Bracken to share her experience with her recent critique experience. If you’ve ever felt attacked by a beta reader or critique partner, you’ll want to read this.

When I decided to write a novel with Wallis Simpson as my leading lady, I knew my battle to seduce the senior female demographic would be sizeable. They grew up with Edward VIII as a handsome prince, touring the world for the sake of the monarchy’s popularity. He was the original celebrity, held up in the everyday girl’s mind to sell the fantasy: maybe someday he’ll pick me. The same thing happens today: single girls are secretly disappointed when they find out the latest heartthrob got a girlfriend and—gasp—it wasn’t them.

So when Edward picked a woman whose appearance was opposite to the angelic standard of beauty, the press didn’t have to work hard to make her unpopular. She was subjectively ugly with sharp features and dark hair, so half their work was already done. All they had to do was stoke the fire. They painted Wallis blacker than any other woman of the twentieth century. She was the original That Woman, and the nasty press about her was second only by the vicious attacks against Monica Lewinsky. (By the way Monica, my admiration for you is without limits; your recent interviews are the picture of bravery and strength. Brava.)

I knew this sentiment was out there. I knew it. But the level of vitriol and venom in these women’s reactions to my work shocked me to my core. It was as if Wallis personally banged their boyfriend and then with a toss of her hair walked out the door without so much as a good-bye. That heartless bitch.

How much leeway does an author have in assigning thoughts, feelings, or traits to her characters, especially when writing #historical #fiction? Click To Tweet

Examples from the Critique

“You’re writing a book about Wallis Simpson? You can’t do that.”

“I still don’t understand how a man could be with someone who’s ugly and mean. It doesn’t make sense. There’s no way he’d be with her.”

“Trust me, I did a report on Wallis. She was anal retentive and was extremely fearful of people thinking she was a slut.”

When I heard that last one, I immediately thought, “Are you sure you don’t mean you don’t want people to perceive you as a slut?’ In all of my research (which includes reading half a dozen biographies and all the base documents they stem from: the FBI Files, documents in the London Archives and the German Foreign Policy Documents) I’ve never once read this sentiment. Not once. In fact, Wallis was the opposite, embracing her sexuality in the 1920s at a time before we really had a definition for the new modern women. So here we hit our first nerve of the day: The reader projecting their skeletons onto a character where those skeletons don’t otherwise exist.

I’ve practiced pitching this book on anyone with ears, so I started expecting the “Wallis was a witch” reaction from the sixty-plus demographic. Inside I would brace myself and say, “We’ve got another victim of Lord Beaverbrock’s press barrage on our hands.” I have won over some of these women once they read my book. In fact, I get most of them in the end, but it’s a fight. Mostly because their preconceived notions are so embedded and sealed with confirmation bias. It’s a hard shell to crack. But it’s crackable when presented with enough hard facts.

Killing the Messenger

However, this last weekend I took a severe, critical beating at my writers group when I presented a chapter where Wallis attends her divorce hearing to separate from Ernest Simpson. The critique comments started off with the same old slop: learned bias and not the words on the page. But this time something new came up. Continue reading “Beta Readers on the Attack—When Critiques Get Personal: Guest Blog by Bonnie Bracken”

4 Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your NaNoWriMo Manuscript

November is history, and so is NaNoWriMo 2016. If you’re like most NaNoWriMo participants, you’re pretty excited about ending November with 50,000 words—maybe you have the first draft of a novel, maybe only a third of a longer manuscript. Nevertheless, you’ve written a bodacious number of words in thirty days, and you’ve accomplished something pretty spectacular.

For thousands of would-be novelists, December means it’s time to start down the path to publishing.

Please don’t be one of those writers who rushes to publication. Instead, try these four ideas: Continue reading “4 Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your NaNoWriMo Manuscript”

Writing Fiction: #AmEditing Tips From @ChangeItUpEdit

Thanks to paranormal romance author Shonda Brock for sharing a Q&A about editing tips on her website. Please join us there to learn more about editing … and about me!

Please welcome Candace Johnson from Change It Up Editing and Writing Services.

Candace Johnson is a professional freelance editor, proofreader, writer, and ghostwriter who works with traditional publishers, self-published authors, and independent book publishers in both fiction and nonfiction.

We asked Candace to help us demystify the editing process for new authors. She also shares tips on how to find the right professional editor for your book.

Continue reading “Writing Fiction: #AmEditing Tips From @ChangeItUpEdit”

Beta Readers Can Save You from Embarrassment—Guest Post by Chandi Wyant

beta readersAs a professional freelance editor, I encourage every writer I work with to use beta readers. Most fiction writers know this is an important step, but did you know it is equally important when you write nonfiction? You’ll do yourself a huge favor by gathering your posse early in the process to learn what works and what doesn’t in your manuscript.

Author Chandi Wyant, who is working on a travel memoir about her solo forty-day pilgrimage in Italy, offers another important reason to seek that valuable input.


A beta reader is a not a professional editor, but rather, a volunteer who reads your manuscript to provide feedback before you publish it, or before you submit it to agents or publishers.

I recommend seeking beta readers who are familiar with your genre and who are not close friends or family members.


Why a Memoirist Needs Beta Readers

Utilizing beta readers is an excellent idea for all genres. I’m going to focus here on why they’re essential for memoir.

Many authors in this genre write about traumatic things in their lives, and this is very challenging to do without sounding whiny.

This is where a beta reader can step in and save you from embarrassment. All authors are too close to their manuscripts and need an outsider’s perspective—and a memoirist is particularly entwined with her manuscript because it’s a piece of her life.

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I have seen twice, with my own manuscript and with a friend’s, that beta readers saved us from the embarrassment of putting our book out into the world when it wasn’t ready.

My friend (who writes nonfiction like I do) was sure her book was ready for publication, but a beta reader told her, Continue reading “Beta Readers Can Save You from Embarrassment—Guest Post by Chandi Wyant”

Lessons Learned from Writing the Second Novel: Guest Post by Kristen Otte

One of my favorite perks of working as a freelance editor is developing a relationship with an author. I recently had the good fortune of working with author Kristen Otte on her just-published second YA novel, The Evolution of Lillie Gable, the second in her contemporary young adult Eastbrook series. Each novel in the Eastbrook series stars a different main character, but secondary characters carry over in each story.

I asked Kristen to share some of her insights about writing a second novel, and she graciously agreed to share her thoughts about the challenges and lessons she learned. Take it away, Kristen!


ForKristen Otte writing the second novel most of us, writing the first novel is an adventure. The process is long and arduous with moments of excitement, terror, and anxiety. But once the novel is out in the world, it’s time to start on the next project.

Writing my second novel was a much different experience. The process was fun, pleasant, and fast because I learned a few tricks from the first go-around. Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you tackle your second novel.

  1. Outline. I didn’t outline my first novel, so writing the first draft was difficult. I often sat down to write without knowing the next plot point in the story. For book two, I planned the character arcs and created a chapter-by-chapter outline before I started writing. Did I veer from this outline? Absolutely. However, having the general framework plotted allowed me to write faster and better.
  2. Create a Distraction-Free Writing Environment. We all write better when we remove the distractions during our writing and revising time. I turn off the Wi-Fi and flip my phone over so I don’t see any notifications. Some days are easier than others to get the words down, but removing distractions goes a long way to being a consistent writer.
  3. Trust Your Beta Readers. With my first novel, I was terrified to let other people read it in the early stages. The second time around, I was happy to send a draft of my novel to my beta readers. They sent fabulous, honest feedback, and I didn’t hesitate to make changes to my story structure, even if it wasn’t what I originally had in mind. Did I make every change they suggested? No, but when a few readers mentioned similar issues, I knew they were right. Trust your beta readers. They make your work better.
  4. Pay Attention to Your Critics. Some authors don’t bother reading reviews. I am not one of those authors. Maybe some day down the road when I sell millions of books, I will ignore reviews. But for now, I read every single one. Even if a review stings, I can learn from a critical review. For example, many reviews of my first novel, The Photograph, commented that they loved the story but didn’t enjoy the amount of basketball play-by-play scenes in the novel. I kept that criticism in mind as I wrote The Evolution of Lillie Gable. Like The Photograph, the main character is a basketball player. The basketball aspect plays into the plot, but I cut back on the detailed basketball scenes to appeal to a broader audience. Listen to your readers and reviewers for any patterns that can help you write an even better book the second time around.
  5. Learn from Your Editor. I mentioned this tip before, but I think it’s worth saying again. Your editor is your creative partner, and he or she can help you become a better writer. When I began the revision process for my second novel, I pulled out the style sheet from my previous novel’s edit. I used the notes, comments, and feedback from my fabulous editor to aid my revision effort the second time around to create a better novel before my editor laid eyes on it. [ED note: Kristen’s a great student! If she continues at this rate, I’ll soon be out of a job!]
Your editor is your creative partner... #amediting #editingtip #writetip Click To Tweet

Writing my second novel was fun. I loved the process and the final product of The Evolution of Lillie Gable. But now, it’s on to the next project!


The Evolution of Lillie Gable by Kristen OtteEvolution of Lillie Gable

Meet Lillie Gable—high school sophomore, outgoing, beautiful, athletic, and funny . . . She is the life of any party. Her boyfriend, Jake, is a smoking hot senior, and Lillie is on track to be a starter on the varsity girls’ basketball team this year.

But trouble looms behind the façade. Lillie’s home life is a wreck. Her father is hiding a secret, and Lillie is determined to find the truth, even if it tears apart her family.

While she searches for the truth about her father, the last thing Lillie needs is a feud with Angela Barrett, the brass, bleached blonde senior who is the queen of the rumor mill. Angela is determined to ruin Lillie’s reputation because she has set her sights on Lillie’s boyfriend, Jake.

Heartbroken and humiliated, Lillie can’t return to the life she once knew. Does she have the strength and resolve to forge a new path now that everything is changing?


Kristen Otte is the author of The Adventures of Zelda series and two novels, The Photograph and The Evolution of Lillie Gable.  Visit her website to learn more about Kristen and her books.


 Candace Johnson is a professional freelance editor, proofreader, writer, ghostwriter, and writing coach who has worked with traditional publishers, self-published authors, and independent book packagers on nonfiction subjects ranging from memoirs to alternative medical treatments to self-help and on fiction ranging from romance to paranormal. As an editorial specialist, Candace is passionate about offering her clients the opportunity to take their work to the next level. She believes in maintaining an author’s unique voice while helping him or her create and polish every sentence to make it the best it can be. Learn more here.

Respecting the Author’s Voice in Editing

Respecting the Author's Voice in EditingAn editor’s work on a manuscript is something that should never be obvious to a reader. In fact, the only time a reader should even think about editing is when it isn’t there or isn’t very good.

When an author who is shopping for editorial services contacts me, one of the points I stress is my commitment to respecting that author’s voice.

Whether you’re a seasoned professional or you’re venturing into publishing for the first time, your voice deserves respect. As your editor, my job is to help you remove confusion, suggest improvements, and polish your words—not rewrite your manuscript.

An editor’s work on a manuscript is something that should never be obvious to a reader. #writetip #amediting Click To Tweet

Continue reading “Respecting the Author’s Voice in Editing”