I strongly believe in the value of crit partners and beta readers. I also believe in gaining alignment and setting expectations upfront. Especially when those of us in the writerly world occasionally exchange reads, what’s needed in a critique varies from author to author.

Here’s a few insights into what I’m looking for in a beta read or critique. YMMV.

Descriptive vs. Prescriptive

In my day job, I’m often gathering user requirements and communicating the use case to our product team and software developers. I’m very careful to present what a user is trying to do and what their experience is using the software and how the software isn’t meeting the user’s needs. What I don’t do is tell the product team or software developers how to fix the issue. They write the code, not me, and I would break a whole lot of things in the software if I tried to tell them how to fix a thing.

When I look at my writing, I find Mary Robinette Kowal‘s take on critique very handy. She describes three types of feedback:

  • Symptoms – This made me feel this way.
  • Diagnosis – This made me feel this way and I think this is why.
  • Prescriptions – This made me feel this way, I think this is why, and this is how I think you should fix it.

When I have beta readers looking at my story, I am specifically looking for Symptoms. In particular, I’m looking for Symptoms that can be expressed as:

I didn’t believe this. It just wasn’t plausible to me.
I didn’t care about this or I skimmed this section.
I didn’t understand this.

I highly recommend checking out Mary Robinette’s post and video on both providing and receiving critique. She goes into even more detail on giving critiques and also receiving them.

The compliment sandwich

When I first started providing crits, I was told to always give a compliment sandwich, in which I start with something positive then follow with constructive critical feedback and finally end on a positive note again.

This is a useful tool for those learning to critique. It’s potentially useful forever. Receiving constructive feedback is not just hard, it’s brutal, and balancing the critical commentary with positive or encouraging comments can be incredibly helpful. A danger here is the recipient who focuses only on the compliments in the compliment sandwich and mentally dodges the critical feedback which is essentially the meat of the sandwich. Another challenge is when the complimentary and critical elements conflict, leaving the recipient confused.

Me? I do best with a sort of open-faced sandwich, if that’s not taking the metaphor too far. If you’re ever beta reading for me, please lead with the critical feedback. Don’t hold back calling it out as it happens throughout the text. Go ahead and tell me when something pisses you off or when something confused you. I am happy to hear when you think something is not plausible or if something seems out of character. I definitely want to know and be able to address when I might have written something problematic.

At the same time, I do want to know when something in my book makes you smile or laugh out loud. Bonus points to us both if a foodie moment makes you hungry enough to go get a snack. I need to know about those reactions. I need to know if my emotional elements worked or if they fell flat or were too subtle.

And so, dear crit partners and beta readers…

When it comes to what I’m looking for from crit partners and beta readers, that’s about it. Trust me, that’s already a lot. There might be more I’d be looking for from a subject matter expert or sensitivity reader, yes, and that’s probably an entirely different topic for another day.

I truly appreciate those who take the time to work with me to beta read my work. I hope this was helpful to you too.

This year has been complicated. In fact, right now, I’m waking up to the dawn of a new year in one time zone while it is still the previous year in the time zone where I actually live. I’m in between 2018 and 2019 and it’s an interesting time to look back and also to look forward, I think.

Matthew has been talking to me about what drives me. His perspective is valuable to me, not just because of who he is to me as a partner but also because he can observe objectively and provide shrewd insight.

We both agree that I am driven to continually accomplish and achieve, so much so that I run myself ragged. With every story, every deadline, I think if I can just finish this or hit that deadline, I’ll be happy. But then I immediately dive toward the next goal, writing the next story and hitting the next deadline. Where was the happy?

I agree with Matthew that I need to celebrate more. Savor. Be happy about what I’ve accomplished.

What did I do in 2018?

  • Moved from Phoenix to Seattle
  • released Total Bravery
  • turned in Fierce Justice
  • turned in Forever Strong
  • released Siren’s Calling
  • signed a 4 book deal with Sourcebooks
  • recorded 20 Minute Delay with Gail Carriger
  • featured author at Coastal Magic Convention
  • survived pneumonia, again
  • panelist at RWA national conference
  • survived medical challenges
  • instructor and staff on the Writing Excuses workshop and retreat cruise
  • panelist at Emerald City Writers Conference
  • featured author at Fresh Fiction Readers ‘n Rita’s

There’s more, though those are the highlights. Every book has an entire cycle of draft/edit/revision involved. Every convention or conference has preparation.

I also did all of this in parallel to my day job. I did this while Matthew was away on orders. I managed to keep Corbin and myself fed and in reasonably good health. I even improved both our physical fitness levels. I faced depression and anxiety, learned to recognize what they were doing to me, and am taking steps to navigate through.

That’s awesome. Looking back on 2018, it was a lot of accomplishments in the face of a number of challenges behind the scenes and I did some great things.

Looking forward?

I have hopes and dreams. I have ambition.

I want my writing career list to be more focused on actual writing.

I am exploring new genres.

I am trying to remember to celebrate with each accomplishment and enjoy each burst of happiness as I go.

Piper Surviving Deadlines by Focus on WritingI made a careful decision to have a stronger focus on writing this year. As an author, one might think I write, therefore I have a focus on writing.

But here’s the thing: when an author goes to events, the author isn’t writing much, if at all. When an author is doing book signings, the author isn’t writing much. The priority is to spend time with you, the reader, and rightly so. It’s important and I love meeting readers!

But all those events take away from writing time. There’s also travel that both takes away from writing time and is generally exhausting.

I maintain a day job career in parallel to my author career and I do travel 85% of my time for the day job. Add writerly events in there and I am sometimes away from home for up to 3 weeks at a time. I don’t take vacations, I take time off from the day job to attend writerly events and conventions. There’s no down time and without down time, my creativity suffers.

Last year was rough and much of it was due to the killer schedule I set for myself. I wrote 5 full length novels and several short stories through the course of the year in addition to throwing myself into my day job for the most challenging project of my day job career.  I am proud of my work.

There’s no way I can maintain the pace. I wouldn’t survive.

This year, I’ve decided to manage my time carefully and only attend writing retreats. At these retreats, my writing productivity has been amazing. My intent is to come through 2017 with high quality writing and the foundation laid to do great things with my writing career in the future. My priority is to provide great stories to my readers. This year, I’ll focus on writing.

Even if you don’t see me in person, you can play Find the Piper all over the internet for insight into my writing and hijinx:

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And of course, I can be found on FB and Twitter, as well as Pinterest and YouTube.

Come 2018, I’ll be looking at events again. I’ll be out there to meet readers and network with pros in the industry. Moving forward, I’ll be carefully balancing these priorities so my writing — the core of me as an author — is still strong as I participate in upcoming events too.

If you’d like me to attend your favorite convention or reader event, please contact the event coordinators and request me. It’s the best way to let events know you want me there. These events are for you, readers. Let them know who you want. 😉

I’ve written many, many words in the last year.

HIDDEN IMPACT released in November 2015 as the first Safeguard novel via Carina Press.

EXTREME HONOR released in January of this year, the first in my True Heroes series from Grand Central Publishing’s Forever imprint.

I’ve completed and turned in developmental edits for DEADLY TESTIMONY, the second Safeguard novel. And I’ve completed both my developmental/line and copy edits for ULTIMATE COURAGE, book 2 in the True Heroes series.

That’s four novels, a lot of words.

I have two more contractual deadlines this year and have still more words to write. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Matthew J. Drake and I drove into the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee today and we’ll be two of about twenty writers in an intensive writing retreat.

There will be many words.

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All Aboard for a Cruise!

Piper’s last trip to Cozumel was 2003

In less than 48 hours, it will be all aboard the Independence of the Seas for the 2015 Out of Excuses Writing Workshop and Retreat for a Western Caribbean cruise!

The summer, it isn’t over yet.

I am about to embark on a nautical adventure of epic proportions with such great company as Mary Robinette Kowal, Brandon Sanderson, Howard Tayler, and Dan Wells. I admire all of these people, not only for their writerly works but also for their podcast: Writing Excuses.

I’ll be working on Deadly Testimony, a Safeguard Novel, on the cruise because if I don’t, my editors at Carina Press may be incredibly angry with me. (I’m on deadline!) Somewhere in there, I also hope to record the next episode of #EMEPiper. There may be a Piper Travels or Piper Notes video coming out of the cruise too. Hopefully.

But first and foremost: WRITING.

I’m looking forward to several of the workshops scheduled for the cruise. There’s sessions on description, worldbuilding, revision, giving critiques, deconstructing structure, writing with multiple viewpoints, dialogue, and much more.

It’s been more than a decade since I’ve been on a cruise and I’m delighted to be leading a discussion on one of the excursions at Grand Cayman as well.

There’s so much nifty about this coming week, I can’t even hope to describe it all. So there will be pictures and video and podcasting involved. 😉

See you when I return to port!