Scapple BoardDitch the tacks, stickies, and printer. Scapple is the most renter and environment friendly pin board you’ll ever use.

A lot of people use Scapple (from the fabulous folks who brought you Scrivener) primarily as a digital note board. Though the interface can be clunky, there are myriad options for writing, linking, and organizing your thoughts.

Lately, I’ve been using Scapple for another purpose. Inspiration.

The above is the inspiration board I’ve been using for a chapter set inside the Étoile du Nord. A luxury train that ran from Paris to Amsterdam starting in the 20’s. In the center, you can see that I’ve placed one of Scapple’s famous notes filled with some important info for the scene.  That’s not what I want to focus on. It’s the pictures I use most. A picture is worth a thousand words, right? Well, I’d say they’re good for at least a dozen notes as well.

Photos in Scapple can be resized and layered with ease. They to can be linked and organized using the same tools that apply to notes. One feature, however, stands above the rest in making Scapple so useful for this task, drag and drop.

I know, I know, it’s not a ground breaking technological breakthrough but the ability to drag and dump photos off the web and into a holding tank rather than saving them to the desktop or, more likely, leaving a million tabs open in Chrome, is a life changer.

By utilizing a Scapple board, I no longer have to save link after link. I no longer have to create folders full of photos. I no longer have to click between photo files to view each one individually. The Scapple board let’s me keep them all in one place which means I have all that inspiration available in just one quick glance. Less time searching, more time writing, who wouldn’t like that.

We’ve talked about the importance of letting others read what you’ve written. We’ve talked about the way in which an author can make use of alpha and beta readers. Now it’s time to discuss the trickiest part of the process. Now we get to deal with the chaotic landslide of feedback.

And you should be hoping for a landslide. That was the point of using your alpha and beta readers. This feedback can come in a variety of forms. From notes they’ve taken for you (more common and necessary from beta readers) to notes you’ve taken yourself as you discuss the work with them (most commonly performed with alpha readers). Today, I want to focus on beta readers and their feedback because this is where you’ll receive the most volume. It’s also where the most detailed critiques will occur. But first, a note on alpha readers particularly those found in critique groups.

Writing critique groups are a great way to get your writing in front of others however, the efficacy and quality of this form of critique can vary, a lot. I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of multiple critique groups over the past few years and each was useful in its own way. One was a group where five fixed members attended once a week. We were thus familiar with each other’s work and with each other’s style of critique, making the task of analysing that feedback much more easy and consistent.

Another group I attended had a core cast of regulars plus a rotating cast of writers each week. This meant that, while always great company, not every piece of feedback was useful. This also boiled down to familiarity or a lack of it, both my familiarity with their personalities, preferences, and critique skills and their familiarity with my work. The feedback from a group like this can be and has been very valuable to me but I had to work harder to evaluate their critiques. It’s much more difficult to establish the necessary trust, though with some of the regular members, it was there in spades.

Okay, back to beta readers. Here’s is where the “fun” really begins and by “fun” I mean work. I’ve received anywhere from one to ten pages of notes from beta readers in the past and tend to provide between five and ten or more pages when beta reading for others. That’s a lot to sift through and sifting we must do. (Note: This volume reflects beta reading for a novel sized piece.)  (more…)

No matter how good your first, second, or even third draft is, it’s not ready for primetime until someone else can evaluate it. Like a doctor operating on their dying child, it’s a bad idea to only trust your own work. You’re just too close.

In the traditional publishing world, at least a few sets of eyes (agents, editors, etc.) will scour your book to help you make it something worth printing. Self published authors who are doing it right also hire editors. These people are paid. Their time is precious and limited. Your book isn’t the only one on their plate.

What if you could fine tune your work so that a.) you could present agents with writing that is attractive and b.) you could present editors with work that is already mostly fixed, therefore leaving them more time to scrutinize the small stuff? Well folks I’m here to tell you it’s very possible. Enter your best friends, alpha and beta readers.

I say “best friends” because chances are, that’s who they are. Your friends, your family, your coworkers, the cool lady from your ultimate frisbee league, these could be the saviors of your story.

Before we dive into how to utilize alpha and beta readers, let’s get clear about what they actually are. (more…)