Lure your beta readers WITH COOKIES!

by Ksenia Anske

Photo by Amanda Hoffman

All of last week, since I posted a call for Beta Readers on Twitter and Facebook and then posted that I got 50+ responses, a ton of people kept asking me: "How did you get so many beta readers?" and "Can you help me get beta readers too?" and "Isn't it too many people to deal with?" and "How do you sift through so many critiques?" Here is a blog post for you on this topic.  It's really easy.

All you have to do is, LURE THEM WITH COOKIES! Here is how:

Berner Honiglebkuchen. Berner what??? Nobody is interested in your story alone. First and foremost people are interested in why you wrote your story, and how come you spend your time writing and not doing nails or shopping for the latest bag or chatting hours away over a drink or fishing for a new car with your buddies or <insert another popular time waster here>. It's because when you start as a writer, you're a nobody. You are not Stephen King or J.K. Rowling or Haruki Murakami. You don't have 20 novels under your belt with fans catching your every breath. But, you are a human being with your own pains and worries and likes and joys and interests. And no matter how you turn it, we're all human beings and we love being connected. We're social animals, we can't be alone, we go crazy. So if you like Berner Honiglebkuchen, I'm so happy to find out that you know what it is, I shout: "Me too, me too! Do you like them slightly melted or chilled over night or..." And so the conversation continues. When you bake your Berner Honiglebkuchen, of course I want to try it! Moral: talk about WHY you write. People will want to read your stuff.

Macaron. Be polite and smooth, like a macaron. Really, don't shove your tray of cookies right under people's noses, yelling in their faces the recipe and how you made them and how they will taste. Nobody wants you to tell them how it will taste, they want to discover it on their own. Worse, what if they grew up in France and know about macarons more than you? You risk being publicly humiliated. Instead, tell everyone you're baking macarons for the first time, share your fears on how they might come out burned or too sweet or not crunchy enough, and people will try to help. I mean, you know how hard it is to make a macaron at home?!? You try it! It's in our nature, to help, we want to see each other succeed. We're not evil, really. We're awesome. If you only open up and will receive our help, we'll run at you with our own recipes, we'll wash your baking trays, we'll even offer to buy the ingredients for you and mix them up and set the timer. In other words, ask with humility. Share your fears, be humble, expect the answer to be NO and be ok with it, thank people for considering. And people will help.

Russian tea cake. Keep some kind of a system to remember people you asked and keep your word. As in, if you said you will send them your draft on a particular day, actually do it. If you said you need them to finish reading your draft on a particular day, actually go out of your way and personally remind them. You can't expect people to do things for you in a timely manner, if you yourself are a flake. It doesn't matter if they did it or not, still thank them for their time profusely, because they even considered chewing on your russian tea cakes. Alas, their grandma just send them a box of home-made snickerdoodles and they will pass on your offer. Because they don't know what a russian tea cake tastes like. Instead of getting pissed, ask them if they'd be interested in tasting the next batch, err, your next draft. If they would, put a reminder for yourself, and then let them be!!! I keep getting messages on Goodreads with people asking me over and over again to Beta Read. Guess what, I would've considered if they didn't overdo it. Let me be, I'm busy! But tell me more cookies are coming soon, and I might be interested. By the way, I use Batchbook to keep track of all my Beta Readers. Check it out, it's awesome.

Chocolate chip cookie. Everyone loves a chocolate chip cookie. But many people forget that it's an art to make one that tastes good. If you ask for feedback from Beta Readers, do take it. No matter what kind of feedback you get, don't throw it away because it's something you don't like or because it sounds like they have no idea how to make the perfect chocolate chip cookie. The rule of thumb I use, if 8 out of 10 people tell you the same thing, you probably need to change it. I also found that people whose writing I love tend to love my writing in return. And, the closer Beta Readers are to my audience, the better they receive it. Teenagers, in my case. When you get your beta reader feedback, sort it according to your audience. There will always be people who hate your writing, and that's not because it's bad, it's because there are people who need to hate something to feel better. Let them. There are people who hate classics. How is that possible? It is. So what. Keep writing. Again, thank them for spending time on reading your draft and move on. Write. That's your homework.

In summary, ASK. All you have to do is, ask people for help. They will. Be willing to take their help. It's all heartfelt, even if it sounds stern. Because a stale cookie is better than no cookie at all, right?

P.S.: Oh, and if you promised your Beta Readers a signed cookie, err, a signed copy of your book, don't forget about it and really do it when it's published. You'll win readers for life.

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Why I read every day, a lot

by Ksenia Anske

If you're serious about writing, get serious about reading. I'm talking to myself here, by the way, and it's not me who said it, it was Stephen King in his book On Writing. So I did. I took it seriously. Because I'm serious about writing. Because some amazing things happened ever since I allowed myself to start reading again. By reading, I mean, reading fiction, novels, the types of books that give me goose bumps and keep me awake at night. And, you know what? It works. Here is how reading helps me be a better writer.

I AM good enough! (an epiphany some 30 years later). This happened a few days ago while I was reading Ender's Game. An epiphany struck me with a kick in the head, straight from the sky, while I was waiting for the pedestrian light to change, reading. My knees went weak and when the light went green, I couldn't take a step. It was all the books fault. I didn't know whether to cry or to hurl it into traffic for having wrecked my world so easily. Turns out, I was a gifted child, but was told otherwise by parents and teachers. So I grew up thinking I'm never good enough, never was, never will be. I suddenly understood why I never believed I could write, and why I was writing in the first place. Because I was bored. Conversations got boring pretty quickly, and I amused myself in school by inventing code languages, passing around notes, and then watching the boys get in trouble. Because of course they did it, not a sweet little girl at the front table, the one that always got 'A's. This epiphany allowed me to think, YES, I am good enough, and I will get even better. 

Patterns. I pick up patterns when I read. Patterns in dialogue, patterns in character development, patterns in raising the stakes, etc, etc. After reading many books, I noticed that all of them overlap like layers of tracing paper, and suddenly it's there. It's so clear,  I want to scream. Because it feels like I've discovered a new dinosaur species. And I did, I guess, considering the fact that story telling has been around as long as the spoken language. The more I read, the more patterns I see, and then I can apply them to my own writing.

20 different ways to say the same thing. Let's face it, all stories are the same. Once upon a time there was a... blah, and every day... blah, until one day... blah, and then... blah, and then... blah, and finally... BLAH! What blows me away is how different authors manage to say the same darn thing in so many different ways. I picture something like this in my head - videotape a flock of birds taking off, then show it to 20 writers and ask them to write a quick flash piece about it. That would be fascinating to do, wouldn't it? To collect those pieces later and to read them. Maybe this will inspire me to teach one day. For now, it helps my imagination.

Finding my style. Like any beginning writer, I struggle to find my own style. I tend to read something genius, fall in love with it, and then attempt to copy it, to see if I can do the same. My 1st draft was littered with those 'striving to be something else' passages. The more I read, the more I see how my own style could fit into this multitude. Not just that. The more I read, the more I see that I DO have a style, I'm just ashamed to admit it, afraid to use it - because I'm still a beginner, I'm still not sure. 

Because it's fun! In the end, reading great fiction is just fun. Wouldn't you agree? I've posted my absolute favorites to the right of my blog, a bit down, in a Goodreads widget. What are yours? Feel free to comment with recommendations.

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