Build Your Plot – My Index Card Method


Let’s be honest, the “here’s how I build my plot” blog post is the writing blogger’s equivalent to the beauty blogger’s ubiquitous “my daily skincare routine!” post. Like, sis, no one asked, but ok, I’ll watch. Why? Because it’s at least mildly interesting to see what other writers (or beauty bloggers) do differently from our own techniques and it’s great to learn someone else’s best practices. Maybe you’ll find something new you love.

In this article, I will walk you through the difference between a “Plotter” and a “Pantser,” the basic exercise for building scenes, how I’ve made that work for me, and how it can help you break your writer’s block.

Plotter or Pantser?

If you are not a writer or new to writing, you are probably wondering, “WTF is a Plotter or Pantser?” It’s ok. The first time I heard those words was sitting in an author panel at DragonCon. (Pretty sure I was wearing a Wonder Woman costume too, but that’s neither here nor there.) Jim Butcher and another author were debating the merits of plotting your entire story before you write (“Plotter”) or letting it free flow and going by the seat of your pants (“Pantser”). I realized that I wrote my first novel (still unpublished) and the first draft of Pantheon by the seat of my pants and not knowing how either story would end was a major problem for me as I wrote. However, as my writing style evolved, I grew from a “pantser” to a plotter, mainly by using the techniques I describe here. By the time I was writing Pantheon 2: Ares & Athena and Born, Not Bitten, I was a fully fledged plotter with a stack of index cards to prove it.

During the panel, Jim Butcher recommended “The Fantasy Fiction Formula” by Deborah Chester, his writing professor from school. My kind, wonderful, and supportive spouse immediately bought it for me and I’ve been using it ever since. It has a ton of useful information, but one of the things I keyed in on was her information on building scenes. I took the information she provided and built on it. Now, using her basics, I have my own technique for plotting.

If you are a Plotter, I think you can get real utility out of my technique. But hey, if you’re a freewheeling Pantser, stick around as you still might take something away from this, especially when I talk about the dreaded writer’s block.

What Deborah Teaches:

While I highly recommend getting a copy of “The Fantasy Fiction Formula” because the whole book is loaded with good information, I will be focusing on the scene building from Chapters 5 and 8. In Chapter 5, she notes that successful scenes all contain a “goal, conflict and resolution” (pg 88). In Chapter 8, she goes on to describe the four ways in which a scene can end: “Yes,” “No,” “Yes but,” and “No, and furthermore” (pg 129-132). A “Yes” means the conflict is resolved. “No” means the characters are at an impasse, but they could find a resolution as the plot progresses. A “Yes but” scene leaves the conflict mostly resolved but sets it up for further conflict later with the unresolved portions. Finally, a “No, and furthermore” scene is the worst-case scenario and sets up your major plot points, disasters, or turning points.

I like her technique because it helps me frame the scene, know what the outcome should be by the end of the scene, and where it fits in the larger story. It also helps me keep from having too many low conflict scenes in a row. If everyone agreed all the time, it would be a boring plot. I also use a very formulaic set up for pacing to keep from dwelling too long in Act I or skip building something important in Act II. I don’t hold too rigidly to the standard set up. You all know I love a cold open and dropping straight into the action, but you can see from Pantheon’s set up, you hit your “35% first pinch point” spot on in the Syria scene.

Left: The typical Western style plot arc. Right: How Pantheon compares by word count.
Left: The typical Western style plot arc. Right: How Pantheon compares by word count.

How I’ve Expanded the Technique (AKA – The Index Card Method):

I like how the book lays out scene setting and having both a goal and resolution, but I needed a way to capture that information that worked for me. I, being a huge dork, keep index cards around the house. I also don’t like building my plot on a computer, favoring the handwritten word, usually in a notebook. So, I combined a little bit of all of these elements.

I tend to daydream out a lot of my plot before I ever write it down. As I’ve stated before, Pantheon was “written” while I drove the 15 hours round trip from school home every few weeks while getting my masters. Val, Powell, Hank, Damarcus, and Mandy were fully fleshed out people/personalities in my head before I ever put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. The problem, of course, is my fallible memory. Now I keep my pre-made plot index cards that also capture the best elements from “The Fantasy Fiction Formula” and my own tracking system.

The cards
The cards

Each card has the following pre-written: scene, goal, conflict, decision, result, character(s), and POV. Those first four come directly from “The Fantasy Fiction Formula,” and the last two are what help me track who is in the scene and whose head we’re in.

Scene: A basic title for what is going on.

Goal: This is what I should get out of the scene, my goal for the reader.

Conflict: Who is mad? Who is fighting? What is driving the tension in this scene?

Decision: Did we win? Did we lose? Is someone dead?

Result: a very shorthand version of “Yes,” “No,” “Yes but,” and “No, and furthermore,” so I can frame the intensity level of the scene.

Character: Any and all characters present in the scene.

POV: Who’s point of view takes this scene.

Other notes: Once I capture all my scenes for a book, I will order them and number them. This helps me keep track later and usually a scene number will become the chapter number. As I continue to flash out a scene and its details, I’ll put additional notes on the back.

Color coded plot cards
Color coded plot cards

Color coding: I also color code my index cards once I have a better idea of how the plot is structured. It helps me identify high points in the writing and make sure it flows logically.

White: Normal scenes

Yellow: Catalyst, climax, or plot turning point scenes

Orange: These are not scene cards, but cards that indicate what elements must be in place before the next act begins. Almost always placed directly before a yellow card.

Green: Conclusion cards. Like the orange cards, they don’t describe a scene but, based on what I want to happen in the next novel, describe all the elements or points that have to be made before the end of the book. It would suck really bad to have an amazing plot twist or idea but have to rush the foreshadowing or plot flow because I didn’t include it in an earlier book. (I’m looking at you Star Wars sequel trilogy…)

A whole book in a box
A whole book in a box

Converting Index Cards to Written Plot:

You’ve got this massive stack of cards, now what? Now you write! You have all the elements you need to write a scene. If you aren’t like me and don’t pre-write full novels in your head like a psychopath… then you have the basics from which you write your novel. Sit down and expand on the information contained in your card. You will find that when you know what the scene’s goal is and where the conflict lies, writing it out becomes so much easier. With the addition of the orange and green element cards, you can ensure you don’t miss anything, adding key information early, which gives it a more organic feel than adding it back in on a second or third draft.

Framing, to index cards, to written drafts, to published!
Framing, to index cards, to written drafts, to published!

How It Helps Break/Avoid Writer’s Block:

Ok, Pantsers, listen up! I love you free-flowing, character-following folks, but as a former Pantser, that can set you up for failure when it comes to writer’s block. If you have to follow a chronological flow, you can get stuck. You may know what the end is supposed to be, but if you are on A and the conclusion is Z, you still need to write B through Y.

This is where my method of plot framing helps kill writer’s block. Why do you care about B through P, Q, R if you already have a card for S through Z? Don’t feel motivated to write a scene? Skip it! Move on. Go to the scene you know and you’re vibing with today. Grab that card and put the verbal meat on its bones. No law says you absolutely must write the plot in order.

“But Kay, how do I keep track??” Easy friends! You ordered your cards, right? Put a scene number down? Cool, save the file with the scene number. Then, when you are able to write those scenes that are blocked, you know where to fit in the previously written scenes. For example, in Pantheon’s third installment, I have over thirty scene cards, but the only chapters I have written are 1, 3, 10, 11, 14, 15, 18, and 19. I’ll get there with time, but for now, I like that I can pick up a card I’m feeling that day and work it out without feeling pressure to link two scenes.

Conclusion:

The index card technique may feel like it’s adding rigidity and structure to the plotting process. Still, by framing your plot with scene goals in mind, you actually give yourself flexibility later in the writing process. It takes a little more time in the beginning because you need to prep cards, but I feel that it pays dividends later as I can let the creative process happen without stressing about how a scene fits or if I need to tweak a goal. The result is a more organic writing flow and a more impactful writing style. I use it to create a fast moving, addictive plot that readers can’t put down and the method helps me side steps writer’s block.

If you’re curious how I construct plot before the index cards, you can find that in my “What Happens Before the Index Cards” post.


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Race Report: Bear Bait 25k

Welcome back to the wild world of ultramarathon training. By this point, you’re read all about my current training cycle and I chase down that ultramarathon goal. Yeah, I know, the BUTS Bearly was supposed to be my tuned up/dial in race before Mississippi 50; however, that was when I was waitlisted for Bear Bait and I was offered a spot! I’ve spent the last two weeks making minor tweaks to my running plan to accommodate a taper week and working out the kinks in my hydration and nutrition plan based on BUTS Bearly.

Today you’re getting my full race report for Bear Bait Ultra – 25k (15.53 mile) Race

Check in:

They did a good job offering three days/times, one of them was close to where I live even. Unfortunately, an accident blocking one of the bridges between me and the store kept me from getting my things ahead of time. However, like most ultras, the field is small and it was really easy to get my packet on race day.

It was another cold race. Fortunately, the temperature was more consistent than BUTS.

Starting line:

The start line was just outside the check in area and had a larger crowd than I anticipated but there were four distances offered, so it makes sense. The 50k, 50 mile, and 100k runners started at 6:30 and the 25k runners started at 6:45 once the sun was fully up. My weather app says it was a brisk 34F at the start, my body said we were somewhere in Antarctica.

Four laps ~3.75 miles long

The course:

First off, due to COVID, they were not allowed to run last year’s course. The Florida Forest Service would not issue their usual permit to run at Bear Lake, so the race director moved it to a local adventure and zipline park. I’m glad they were able to find a new location but it makes it tough to compare last year’s run times to see what I thought I could accomplish. I’ll give you my goal, stretch goal, and finish time below.

Weather: A brisk 37F at opening and race start but warmed up for about 45F by the time I was done around 10am. Windy but you couldn’t tell in the woods and the sky was that perfect winter blue and clear for miles. I started with every layer I had, including my windbreaker. The windbreaker and gloves came off at the first lap and I was relatively comfortable for the last three laps. It bit me post-race though.

Gotta wear a whole lotta gear on these cold races

Trail conditions: Overall, great with only a few minor “I hate this” points. There were a few creek crossings but every single one had a bridge so my feet stayed dry! The trail was primarily single track but very technical due to the roots. The only breaks in that were one slightly swampy area and a 0.25 mile long stretch with deep sand which I came to loath.

Terrain: Flat. Mercifully, blissfully flat compared to BUTS. In 15 miles I had ~500ft of elevation change. There were a couple steep drops but nothing terrible for a 25k runner. It will be a challenging course for those running into the night.

Aid stations:

Since this was a looped course, I came through the aid station three times during the race and finished basically in the aid station. They had a great selection of food, well laid out in small cups so runners didn’t put their grubby hands into communal bowls. In all honesty, I hope that trend continues long after COVID. The big barn type structure that housed the aid station also allowed runners to make their own drop bag areas. At the last minute, literally between the long runners going and the 25k runners going, I unloaded most of my snacks, dropped them in my big plastic tote, and hauled the tote to the drop bag area. It was really nice to be able to cruise into the barn, grab some of my own snacks, drop a water bottle or jacket, then cruise out with a small cup of chips. Very well done, possible the best aid station set up I’ve seen.

Did I hit the Pain Cave?

Yes, but it was minimal. On lap three I got a little cranky, but after a small cup of Coke at the aid station, I felt like I was flying through lap four. Then, of course, the face plant. If you follow me on Twitter, you saw my short, terse TL;DR version of the race report.

The short version is that I was hauling ass on the home stretch and tripped turning off the paved road headed towards the barn. Full tumble and I skidded several feet on my face. Like all good wounds above the neck, it bled like a SOB and looked worse than it was. It freaked a couple people out, it freaked me out, but no permanent damage. I cleaned up before driving home and again in the shower, now my face is just swollen, but its 100% why I have no pictures at the finish line; I looked like hell.

Even worse, I had been silently battling it out with another woman for over 3 miles that last lap. She had nipped at my heels but never moved to pass until I feel. To her credit, she checked to make sure I was ok before zooming off and I ran like hell to try and catch her again but it didn’t happen. I came in 10 seconds behind her. I’m not mad at her in anyway, I tripped and losing my lead was 100% my own fault, but it’s just so frustrating to be so close and lose the lead at the very end.

Oh the Pain Cave. Especially bad when you’re picking gravel out of your face.

The unknowns:

The biggest unknown was the course. It was the first time in nine years they hosted the race at this location so none of the racers really knew what to expect. I usually like to look at the spread for the times to get an idea where my pace will fall and how I might do. But, with no prior race stats it was a big unknown for timing, trail conditions, and elevation change.

Just like BUTS, the other impact was the cold. I did not want to drink my water. It was cold, I was cold, and I had a hard time making myself drop ambient temperature was directly into my core when I was already cold. And just like BUTS, I saw the impact of that later in the race when my heartrate was jacked up through the roof (165-180bpm) even when I was running an easy pace on a gentle downhill. I had hoped that drinking from a bladder pressed against my back would warm it more but it was just so cold outside. While I was driving home, in a heated car with heated seats, I was shaking from cold. Cold water to the core is just a killer.

My heartrate was cranked… looks almost identical to BUTS

Crew:

No crew for this race at my distance, but there was limited access for pacers on the 50k, 50 mile, and 100k course despite COVID. Mostly, they were there for safety for the folks still running through the night.

The finish line:

Not as minimal as BUTS but low key. I flashed my numbers and they recorded me complete, I snagged my cool medal (really, ceramic), and headed to my car for the drive home. I didn’t even stay for BBQ because I finished fast enough that it wasn’t out yet!

Final time:

3:11 for 14.72 mi (course was just shy of the billed 25k). The unofficial results showed me at the 10th place woman and 15th overall. Not too shabby and I’ll be interested to see how I stack up against the full field.

My goal was sub-4:00 with a stretch goal of sub-3:00… yes, there was a full hour spread there. Unlike road running, the terrain and trail conditions have a HUGE effect on your run times. If you read my race report for BUTS Bearly, you know I missed my goal by nearly 15 minutes. I’m very happy to have been that close to my stretch goal and it was mostly because the course was so flat.

Overall thoughts:

This felt like a little bit of redemption after BUTS kicked my … well, you know. That said, it was humiliating to literally fall on my face so close to the finish line and have to come limping in looking like I was indeed bear bait and had lost a fight with the bear. But, the pace was good, it was a beautiful, if cold, day. I feel more ready for Mississippi than I did after BUTS.


The Gear List:

I’m going to start adding gear lists to all my runs so folks can see what I’m carrying and how it changes between courses and weather. Some affiliate links, most aren’t.

Clothes:

Mask: Under Armour Adult Sports Mask – required to run. Must wear item for check in, race start, and going through aid stations. Since it was so cold, I kept this on for the first 2 miles or more, it was warm and didn’t hinder me in any way.

Top: Nike Women’s Dri-Fit Element Long Sleeve Running Top – This one is a good top (45-55F) or middle layer (<45F). Plus, thumb holes and it covers half my hand.

Tank top: Running top from Skirt Sports, who is in the middle of owner turn over. The shirt is about 5 years old and no longer offered which is a bummer because it fits well on top with a loose middle. Great as an only layer (>60F) but does well as a base layer too (<60F).

Bra: SheFit ULTIMATE SPORTS BRA – a qualified “good.” I like that you buy based on cup size and both the chest band and shoulder straps are adjustable; it’s probably the most comfortable sports bra I have. That said, the metal loop that holds the chest band tab tears my back up after 5 miles. I wore two very large band aids under it and had no problems, but it’s something to note.

Tights: Curve ‘n’ Combat Boots Empowered Black (V1) – As with my bra, its not desired as running gear but it fits me well and does the job. These are designed as weightlifting tights and the dimensions are for a woman with thick legs. Like, babe you are squatting 225lbs as a warm up and the squat boots/thighs are strong and the waist is small! They fit me perfectly but if you have a more traditional runner’s body then they may be too baggy or slip while you run.

Socks: Balega Blister Resist Quarter Socks – These are thick and comfy but the “blister resist” is only as good as how well you lace your shoes. I did not lace my right shoe tight enough and have a small blister to show for my slipping around inside the shoe.

Shoes: Altra Olympus Trail Shoe – These have the thickest soles of my trail shoes which was good for all the roots on the trail. If it hadn’t been as technical, I might have considered dropping down to my Lone Peaks which have a thinner sole and are lighter weight.

Gaiter: Altra Trailer Gaiter – Designed specifically for Altra trail shoes and fits well (will not work on other shoes!). Kept out the sand pit I slogged through around mile 3 of each loop.

Gloves: Cheap ($1) knit cotton gloves bought from either Michaels or Hobby Lobby a few years back. I highly recommend finding a very cheap cotton glove to carry. Expensive bougie gloves are great but get lost so often… buy the cheap ones and they’ll never disappear on you.

Hat: Brooks and probably some type of dry fit? It was a gift from my wonderful spouse so I have no idea where he purchased it. Wears well and kept my head warm.

Nutrition:

Vest: Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta 4.0 – This is my “new to me” but “older model” vest I got on sale for half price. There’s a new version but I’m glad I gambled on buying this one as it’s been a real champ. Lots of easily accessible pockets, good bottle holders, and the bladder holding set up keeps it from rattling around or slipping its loops like my other vest. Not as easy to access the bladder for refills once it’s on but I didn’t need a refill this race so it hasn’t impacted me yet.

Liquid Salt/Carbs: Gatorade Endurance Formula Powder – purchased with coupons on the Gatorade website which is good because I don’t love it. It’s not as strong a flavor as regular Gatorade and it does well for replacing salt/carbs quickly but… I dunno, maybe I’m too picky, I don’t love it. But, I’m kind of a cheapskate and won’t buy anything new until I finish this container.

Snacks: Both the Honey Stinger Organic Energy Chews (caffeinated version) and the Honey Stinger Organic Waffle. For the cold, this wasn’t a great pairing. The waffle was stiff and hard to chew from cold and since the chews are caffeinated, they aren’t a good “only” option. I supplemented with snacks from the aid station during this race. But for a race in more normal temps, they work really well for me.

Other:

GPS: Garmin Forerunner 945 – Y’all know I love this watch and I’ve talked about it before, the good and bad. I didn’t have any tracks walk offs today and I’m confident in the recorded distance/time. Also, can confirm the Incident Detection worked as advertised… except that it doesn’t send if you have no cell service. Probably a good thing or I would have scared the hubs! I was rattled enough that I didn’t have my wits about me in time to halt it sending the distress call. Fortunately (for today) it couldn’t complete the send.


Happy trails!


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Pantheon Sequel Release – The Strategy

The good news: Pantheon’s sequel is working through the editorial and publishing wickets!

The bad news: Crap, I have to market another book!

You saw how I realized my misconceptions at one and three months post release. Marketing and what’s actually valuable was a huge misconception for me. So, I spent today working through marketing strategies. What platform? How do I stay centered on The Brand? What tools do I have at my disposal? How much money can I spend? What’s the real goal here? It’s a lot of work. It’s more of that out of the box marketing and hustle I’ve discussed with both Angry Staff Officer and James Young.

I had a few ideas but the one I think I’m most proud of is also the dumbest. Truly, it’s brilliant in how dumb it is…

It’s a PowerPoint.

Because, let’s all be really honest: what’s more military than death by PowerPoint?

Therefore, 1,000% on brand, I give you your favorite Pantheon member, Captain Valerie Hall, for the OPERATION MARKET BOOK strategy briefing.


Val: Good afternoon and please be seated. I’m Captain Valerie Hall, Logistics Expediter for Limitless Logistics, and this will be your OPERATION: MARKET BOOK briefing.


Val: I will be covering the mission, elaborating risk, and seeking the Commander’s approval.


Val: We will release the sequel to Pantheon on or around Summer 2021. To ensure a smooth and exciting release –

*muffled snickers*

Val: stop snickering Damarcus! – here is the mission statement. Please note that Author Actual will ensure the largest fanbase growth from now until release.


Val: Please coordinate forces across all available social media platforms for widest audience engagement. Ensure each engagement on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook has the standard one (1) each call to action: Like, retweet/report, and follow!


Val: A strong fanbase with consistent engagement will help ensure OPERATION MARKET BOOK has a wide audience for sales.


Val: Standard PMESII+PT layout. Stay out of politics, folks! That’s not a wise choice at any time, even more so now.


Val: Engagements will be Twitter: standard. Expect we will employ new tactics, techniques, and procedures the adversary forces are not anticipating to get a leg up in the competitive field. Like, for example, silly PowerPoints by exhausted strategists.


Val: Risks are monetary and viral in nature. We have no money so we have to be creative. Going viral would be beneficial. Getting infected by a virus would not. Act wisely. Yes, James, that means no Comic Cons until after you’ve been vaccinated.


Val: Gen Martinez and Task Force Poseidon Publishing, sir, at this time I am seeking execution approval for OPERATION MARKET BOOK.

Marco: You’re approved, Val.

Val: Copy, sir. Proceeding.


Val: Questions? Contact Valerie Hall through https://authorkrpaul.com or KRPaul@authorkrpaul.com Dismissed.


Yes. I’m a huge nerd. Yes, I’m extremely comfortable with it.

I also know you all are going to LOVE this next book! If you’re a beta reader, you’ll see it soon. If you’re an Advanced Reader, you’ll see it not long after the beta team tears it up and I make my fixes. And everyone else will see it this summer!

Title and cover art release should be soon. And if you want to be the first to know, join the mailing list.

And of course, if you like it I bet your friends would to, so why not tell them about it: share this page. You know, gotta get OPERATION MARKET BOOK off to a strong start!


Enjoy what you just read? Please share on social media or email utilizing the buttons below, fans like you sharing what they love are what keeps this trail rolling!

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Pantheon Release – Three Months as a Published Novelist

All joking from the one month update aside, I can tell you that I am still not writing from my private island while surrounded by my enormous piles of money. Bummer.

In my one month update, I talked about misconceptions I had and the realities I faced: not everyone is an overnight success, it does not mean instant popularity across social media, the hustle is both real and necessary, and I am not instantly or fabulously wealthy. But after three months, I’m starting to see the intangible wins and working on setting my goals for 2021.

First note, I don’t set New Years Resolutions; I set New Year’s goals. A resolution can be broken and, once broken, it’s done. A goal is solid. A good goal is specific, measurable, and achievable but still pushes you. So rather than bore you with some sad wheeze about why I didn’t achieve my goals in 2020 due to [fill in the blank], let me instead give you an update on those misconceptions and how I’m setting goals for 2021.


Misconception 1: My book will be a runaway hit! I’ll sell millions!

Reality: The average debut novel sells 250 copies—some as few as 5.

3 months later reality: The number of debut novels sold is almost irrelevant

2021 Goal: Keep cranking out the books!

In the last post, I noted that I wanted to beat the average and sell enough books to earn back my advance. After some forthright and honest conversation with my publisher, I’ve learned two additional things. First, making back my advance in the first year is unlikely as a new author. Second, getting my name and story out is of primary importance. I also don’t feel like my second or third books are on shaky ground either, even if I don’t make back my advance. I’ve been able to show that I am willing to hustle my rear off promoting this book. (More on the hustle later.)


Misconception 2: I will suddenly become very popular across social media

Reality: I’m a little bit more popular, but I hustled my rear end to gain followers

3 months later reality: Still working to build my fan base, but finding more avenues than social media

Goals: Build a loyal and active fanbase (Same for 2021)

In the two months since the last post, I’ve continued growing my Twitter, Facebook, and blog following. I’ve also started a mailing list. Partially because I want as many ways as possible to reach folks and because social media streams are so saturated that if a follower isn’t online as I post, they lose the potential to see a post within three hours; an email is ready for them at their convenience. I also came up with other creative ways to reach folks like Val’s Twitter takeover and a follow-up article on Medium about the lessons I learned from it.

The second aspect of this is people exactly like my spouse and me. That person who sees a book is part of a series and won’t bother picking it up until several books in the series are available to binge. Heck, I didn’t even pick up Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files until he’d produced three or four books. Knowing this helps me focus my goals on getting those first few books out a quickly as I can without sacrificing the writing or editing quality.


Misconception 3: I can take a breather now that the hard work is done

Reality: I have worked an average of 1-2 hours a day after work and an additional 4-6 hours on the weekend since the start of September

3 months later reality: Work smarter, not harder! I work fewer hours and more intelligently to build recognition and interest

Goals: Position myself to take advantage of opportunities as they come (Same for 2021)

I’m still working to position myself to take advantage of opportunities as they come up. An introduction back in the spring enabled me to get an excerpt of Pantheon published in Military Times. My connections and friends who advocate on my behalf have gotten my book in front of people who have enjoyed it and talked it up on my behalf. Or, maybe, lost a running bet and wrote a blog post about what Pantheon meant to them. The most delightful surprise was being added to the Modern War Institute’s 2021 Reading List under the category of “Military Fiction and Sci-Fi.”


Misconception 4: I will be fabulously wealthy from sales

Reality: I will be very happy to earn back my advance!

3 months later reality: See Misconception 1

Goals: As with the sale numbers, I want to sell enough to keep selling. If my book tanks, then I may not get another shot.

2021 Goal: keep producing quality military thriller and urban fantasy novels as well as short stories and blog posts about fitness on my blog

As many of you know, I have submitted the manuscript for Pantheon’s sequel, and my goal for 2021 is to get it out to you all. I hope to announce the title soon! What some of you don’t know is that I have finished the overarching five book plot for the whole series. And what only a few people know is that I have finished the primary plot arc of book three with several chapters written. I intend to finish all primary writing and edit this year and will strive to get the manuscript to my publisher before the end of 2021.


There was a new misconception I recognized that ties in with Misconception 2; social media isn’t the only thing that sells a book. In fact, reviews as probably the most important part. It’s how potential readers decide to buy my book if all they see is its page on Amazon. GoodReads and Amazon reviews were my primary source of reviews until the Modern War Institute and Military Times reviews came out. I have been very pleased with my rankings, but I’ve also discovered that the more positive reviews, the more the algorithms pick up my books. One quick plug, if you’ve read the book, please review it on GoodReads and Amazon so more people can be introduced to Pantheon.

GoodReads rating: 4.68! Amazon rating: 4.9!

The last two months have been as enlightening as the first month after publishing. Every month I learn something new: a new marketing technique, an area in which I can improve as an author, who my audience is and what they want, and what reaches people. This has all helped me shape my goals for 2021: grow my audience, keep producing captivating and exciting fiction, and keep hustling to achieve my dreams.

Thank you to all the people who have supported me. Thank you to every person who took a chance on a new author, to those who posted photos of Pantheon out in the wild, and who told a friend or wrote a review. You all have helped me build a dream for which I will always be grateful. For those who have read and come asking for more, I promise the next book is on its way!

2020 was a right bastard, but not everything was a dumpster fire and I hope to carry those good parts forward into 2021!


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Race Report: BUTS Heavy Half

By this point, you’re read all about my current training cycle and I chase down that ultramarathon goal. This past weekend was an important final step: my first tune up race. It’s the chance to get my feet in the dirt and grind it out with the best of them. This important first race gives me an idea how I’m performing on race days, gives me a chance to dial in my nutrition, and time to tweak my training plan before the big race.

Today you’re getting my full race report for the Birmingham Ultra and Trail Society (BUTS) Bearly Ultra, the 13.5 mile Heavy Half course.

Check in:

Easy peasy. It was a single tent at the race start and I had my swag and bib number in under two minutes. Remember, ultras are low population events and this one was limited to 50 participants per event (ultra or half).

It was a cold race. The buff was both for the cold and as a mask going through the aid station.

Starting line:

It was a small crowd milling around at the entrance to the park. Not much fanfare, as expected. We got a few notes from the course director on what the trail markers would look like but that was about it.

The course:

Weather: It was about 40F at the start which is really the borderline for a lot of my gear. If you followed the thread on Twitter then you know I elected to drop my windbreak with 10 minutes until race start. In the sun I was warm with a tank top and long sleeved shirt. However, later in the race, after some hills climbs that got me sweating, I was chilled to the bone on the ridge crossing because of the wind. My rule of thumb is to mentally add 20 degrees to the thermometer for what it will feel like running. (e.g. – 40F would feel like 60F once running, 70F feels like 90F) That said, it doesn’t factor in things like wind and shade. I was very lucky it stayed sunny the whole time or I think I would have had real hypothermia issues.

Trail conditions: Because it was sunny and dry the days before the race the trail condition was perfect. Little to no mud, not creek crossings, and Red Mountain Park is meticulously groomed and maintained.

Terrain: *deep inhale* Screw this course! Ok, that said, any problems with the terrain are 100% my fault. The race director had created a good, challenging course and its on me for not doing enough hill work in my training spin up. About 1600’ of the course’s total 1800’ of climb come in the first 6 miles. The first mile ends in a climb nearly to the highest elevation and it goes on from there. Miles two through seven are very technical climbs and descents. Its slow going up and if you’re clumsy like me, you’re taking your time to pick your way back down the hills too. I averaged 16 and 17 minute miles in some areas.

There is no steady pace in the hills

Aid stations:

Again, if you read the Twitter thread, you saw my frustration here. In normal year there is a water only station around mile 3 then a full aid station you cross at mile 6 and (supposedly) mile 9. This year they skipped the water only stop and asked everyone to carry sufficient water. The milage for the second stop at the only aid station was way off, listed at mile 9 but I crossed it at mile 11. I was so frustrated that I ended up blowing past it the second time without stopping for more than a quick “thank you” to the volunteers. It was a slim selection too as everything had to be pre-packaged for safety. I relied on my own supplies.

Food, clothes, and my hotel breakfast of champions

Did I hit the Pain Cave?

Yes. Absolutely. Miles two through six where miserable with those hills but I came out of it around the time I hit the aid station at mile 9. There were a few points where I wasn’t super “up” but nothing like the hilly sections.

Oh the Pain Cave

The unknowns:

I didn’t think about how much I dislike eating when I’m cold. I should have been putting down a snack about every 2-2.5 miles. Over the course of 13.12 miles, I only got 2.5 snacks in when I should have consumed at least twice that. I burned 1700+ calories and only put in 500 and I felt the deficit by the end. I am glad I had what I carried since nothing at the air station looked good (boiled potatoes, bananas, and water) but I should have eaten more and carried something with a little protein in it.
The other impact of the cold was that I did not want to drink my water. It was cold, I was cold, and I had a hard time making myself drop ambient temperature was directly into my core when I was already cold. I saw the impact of that later in the race when my heartrate was jacked up through the roof (165-180bpm) even when I was running an easy pace on a gentle downhill. Be smart kids, drink your water!

My heartrate was cranked

Crew:

No crew for this race, it was too short and limited access due to COVID.

The finish line:

Minimal. I flashed my numbers and they recorded me complete, I snagged my cool mug, and headed to my car for the long drive home.

Drinking from a finishers mug is analogous to drinking from the skulls of your conquered enemies. Or so I’ve heard.

Final time:

3:09:12 which means I came up short on my goal of being sub-3:00.

Overall thoughts:

I was not ready for the hills but this was a good kick in the rump and will keep my humble and realistic about Mississippi 50 in March. While I feel like the hills kicked my rear end, a day later, I don’t feel terrible. I don’t feel that I need to tweak either my training plan or nutrition before MS50. MS50 is a much flatter course, with minimal hills that match what I have down here in the Panhandle so adding hills would be unnecessary.


The Gear List:

I’m going to start adding gear lists to all my runs so folks can see what I’m carrying and how it changes between courses and weather. Some affiliate links, most aren’t.

Clothes:

Mask: Under Armour Adult Sports Mask – required to run. Must wear item for check in, race start, and going through aid stations. I wore this around my hotel but wore my 2020 MS50 neck gaiter for the run. Should have worn the UA mask.

Top: Nike Women’s Dri-Fit Element Long Sleeve Running Top – This one is a good top (45-55F) or middle layer (<45F). Plus, thumb holes and it covers half my hand.

Tank top: Nike tank top. Designed to indoor workouts like weight lifting but does well running too. Great as an only layer (>60F) but does well as a base layer too (<60F).

Bra: SheFit ULTIMATE SPORTS BRA – a qualified “good.” I like that you buy based on cup size and both the chest band and shoulder straps are adjustable; it’s probably the most comfortable sports bra I have. That said, the metal loop that holds the chest band tab tore my back up after 5 miles. I had some gnarly chaffing there and will need to look at other options in the future.

Tights: Curve ‘n’ Combat Boots Empowered Black (V1) – As with my bra, its not desired as running gear but it fits me well and does the job. These are designed as weightlifting tights and the dimensions are for a woman with thick legs. Like, babe you are squatting 225lbs as a warm up and the squat boots/thighs are strong and the waist is small! They fit me perfectly but if you have a more traditional runner’s body then they may be too baggy or slip while you run.

Socks: Balega Blister Resist Quarter Socks – These are thick and comfy but the “blister resist” is only as good as how well you lace your shoes. I did not lace my right shoe tight enough and have a small blister to show for my slipping around inside the shoe.

Shoes: Altra Olympus Trail Shoe – These have the thickest soles of my trail shoes and for the technical climbs, I should have sacrifices some comfort for trail feel and gone with my slightly thinner Lone Peaks.

Gaiter: Altra Trailer Gaiter – Designed specifically for Altra trail shoes and fits well (will not work on other shoes!). Kept out the sand pit I slogged through around mile 3 of each loop.

Gloves: Cheap ($1) knit cotton gloves bought from either Michaels or Hobby Lobby a few years back. I highly recommend finding a very cheap cotton glove to carry. Expensive bougie gloves are great but get lost so often… buy the cheap ones and they’ll never disappear on you.

Hat: Brooks and probably some type of dry fit? It was a gift from my wonderful spouse so I have no idea where he purchased it. Wears well and kept my head warm.

Nutrition:

Vest: Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta 4.0 – This is my “new to me” but “older model” vest I got on sale for half price. There’s a new version but I’m glad I gambled on buying this one as it’s been a real champ. Lots of easily accessible pockets, good bottle holders, and the bladder holding set up keeps it from rattling around or slipping its loops like my other vest. Not as easy to access the bladder for refills once it’s on but I didn’t need a refill this race so it hasn’t impacted me yet.

Liquid Salt/Carbs: Gatorade Endurance Formula Powder – purchased with coupons on the Gatorade website which is good because I don’t love it. It’s not as strong a flavor as regular Gatorade and it does well for replacing salt/carbs quickly but… I dunno, maybe I’m too picky, I don’t love it. But, I’m kind of a cheapskate and won’t buy anything new until I finish this container.

Snacks: Both the Honey Stinger Organic Energy Chews (caffeinated version) and the Honey Stinger Organic Waffle. For the cold, this wasn’t a great pairing. The waffle was stiff and hard to chew from cold and since the chews are caffeinated, they aren’t a good “only” option. I supplemented with snacks from the aid station during this race. But for a race in more normal temps, they work really well for me.

Other:

GPS: Garmin Forerunner 945 – Held up like a champ, no issues and seemed to give a good, if horrifying, read out for my climb data.


Happy trails!


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Confessions from the Trail: Taper Tantrums

My first taper week of the season starts today and like all taper weeks, I’m going to apologize to my spouse upfront. Because, dear friends, taper week is a bastard and I will be a right bastard too.

Taper week is well known to any endurance athlete. Whether you’re a runner, cyclist, triathlete, or crazy ultramarathoner, it’s wise to use the week before a race to let your body catch up, rest up, and fuel up so you’re at your peak strength and endurance on race day.

Most of us will gradually cut our workouts down, usually making the day or two before the rest days or very, very limited workouts. We also add more water and carbs into our diets to ensure our depleted muscles are full of glycogen once more (aka – carb loading). And lastly, if you’re like me, you cut out alcohol and excessive sugar while increasing the number of veggies I eat to ensure my diet is dialed in.
All of this is designed to get my body at its peak, so why is taper week so hard?
First of all, I love to exercise. I love working out. I love pushing my body. So, going from consistent workouts to almost none leaves me with energy and little to no outlet. It’s also like an itch in my brain. A low grade feeling of unease because I should be out running and I’m not. I should feel the drag of tiredness in my limbs, but instead, I have energy I NEED TO GET OUT!

Second, the extra carbs. I eat a moderate amount of carbs, maybe less than an average endurance runner because of my bodybuilding background, so when I add more in, I feel bloated and heavy. My weight will spike too as added glycogen means more water is held in my system, which will, of course, push my weight higher. I don’t really feel the weight as I move, but I get a little belly bloat, which is uncomfortable and mentally, I don’t like seeing the scale go up.

And finally, my vices. Oh, my sweet vices. I like a drink and I have a sweet tooth. I know both are moderately bad for me but taken in small doses, I don’t feel like I’m hacking years off my life. But cut them both out entirely and I get cranky.
So, as a recap, I have energy but no outlet, I’m bloated and heavy, and I’m cranky from a lack of sugar and alcohol. It’s sort of like being pregnant.

There is a final factor: race stress. It hits us all differently. Some people roll up to the starting line without a care in the world. Me? I stress all week long and for no damn good reason. I am unlikely to climb on a podium. The possibility is so remote that I don’t know why I stress. Maybe I risk injury, but with a wise race pace and not getting caught in my own head or mentally writing my next novel, I should be able to avoid most accidents.

I don’t know why I stress like this. But it happens every time. I spend the night before restless and afraid I’ll miss my alarm. I roll up to the starting line, tired and stressed, eyeing every other racer to see how badly I’ll get crushed. Then the gun goes off … and the stress evaporates. The hay is in the barn, as my academic advisor would tell me. There is nothing I can do to alter my performance now. The training is done. The stress can relax. Now I just have to finish.

But today is the start of taper week. A week of healthy eating, reduced workouts, and all the associated crankiness, stress, and irritability. Be kind to your tapering friends. You might get your head bitten off otherwise.

Sorry in advance!


Happy trails!


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Confessions from the Trail: Race Day

I’ve talked about chasing the ultra goal, why I run, training, nutrition, pre-race, and the lingo of ultramarathons, but what about race day itself?

In this house, we know that ultramarathoners are a rare and wild breed. We run longer, rougher terrain then our road racing counterparts while fueling on things that would make our Mother’s roll their eyes and our doctor’s gasp in horror. We are unafraid of peeing in the woods. (Ok, maybe a little afraid.) And running through a day and night is just your typical 100 miler.

But aside from the bizarrely different mental attitudes, there are a few other things that make an ultramarathon different from a typical road race.

Picking a race: If you are wild and crazy enough to try an ultramarathon one of your first steps is picking that race. You know from the lingo post that UltraSignUp is the place to go and which distance/time is your style.

Once you get over your nerves, race day is actually only a little different than a road race. The biggest difference is that the highest are higher, the lows are lower, and the distances are longer. This that, these are the few notable changes.

The unknowns: Weather, your fellow runners, and a new course always qualify as “unknowns” but in ultramarathon, they’re amplified. A 5k in bad weather is, at worse, a miserable 30 minutes. In an ultra, you could be slogging it out in life threatening cold and rain for hours. With your fellow runners, sometimes whether you place or come in last largely depends on who shows up that day. It’s a lot like body building in a way. For the course, even a seasoned runner can be thrown off on a familiar course if weather has altered the trail significantly.

Aid stations: As I note in the nutrition post, ultramarathons aid stations are the wild west. You never know what you will encounter. Elvis impersonator giving out hamburgers? Seen it. Hell, that aid station even had plastic pink flamingos to complete the Trailer Park Chic look. Some are a buffet of the greatest junk food known to runners. Some are not much more than water and Gatorade. Always pack your own snacks! Some will also have mandatory health checks. Don’t be an ass, let them take your vitals and keep going; they’re here to keep your race drunk brain from killing your body.

Pure Mississippi

Digging deep: If you’re read The Pain Cave you know what I’m talking about. I start every race knowing I’m willing walking into the pain cave and that I will have to dig deep into my own will power to come out again.

Crews: Unless you’re a super-elite racer, you don’t get a crew during road races. Many ultramarathons will not only allow crews, but encourage runners to bring a crew. They will help keep your kit, double check your health and sanity at each aid station, and tell you beautiful lies about how well you’re doing. “You look great!” and “You look strong!” are the best lies any crew will ever tell you.

The finish line: Sweet bliss to see but it has far fewer frills than your average road race. There are fewer racers, for one, so you aren’t queuing up for that bottle of water and a single banana, which is nice. On the flip side, there’s no after party with blaring music and a DJ announcing each finisher.


Happy trails!


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Confessions from the Trail: Ultra Lingo

Ultra has its own language. So, in a completely arbitrary order, the words you need to know about ultramarathon speak.

Timed race: Ranging from six hour to three days, a timed race is exactly what it sounds like. The race director sets a single looped course and participants run until time expires or they do. Courses tend to be about 5k or 10k long so participants can return to their cars, crews, or drop bags with relative ease.

50k: 31.1 miles of fun and excitement. Also typically acknowledged as the first ultramarathon distance. Technically, anything longer than a marathon is an ultramarathon, but most runners, like myself, aim for the 50k as a first ultramarathon.

50 miler: 50 miles of grinding it out. Seen as a “real” ultramarathon by those who’ve run their first 50k.

100 miler: You are insane.

200 miler: You are a running god. We tremble in your toe nail-less presence.


Drop bag: A bag full of gear left at an aide station or race start/finish for looped courses. Usually has socks, shoes, extra snacks, and first aid supplies.

Crew: Our crazy, loving friends and significant others who are willing to follow from aid station to aid station with your supplies and a word of motivation.

Pacer: Our crazy, loving friends/significant others who is willing to run with us for a section of trail. Their duties include reminding you to eat or drink, keeping your spirits up, and lying about how well you’re doing.

DNF: Did not finish. Hey. It happens. But at least you started.

DNS: Did not start. It also happens. But at least you tried.

DQ: disqualified. You done fuck up, Chuck.

Power hiking: Walking. It’s walking. Recommended on hills. And sometimes flats. Any time you need it really. Its about surviving.

Elites: The running gods. These are the fast folks who will place in the Top 3. Probably before you hit the halfway mark.

Age Grouper: The demi-gods of running. You are good enough train and finish the race but will be place among peers of your own age and gender.

Strava: That cheerful orange app that let’s you brag about your finish. Or become the Local Legend as you train. Or what drives people to be Stravassholes and stand around at the start/end of a course waiting for GPS/data to synch while others are running through.

Chicked: At longer distances, men’s and women’s time start evening out. One of the fastest ultra racers in the world is the fabulous and humble Courtney Dauwalter. If you are a fella and have been beaten over the same course by a woman, you have been chicked.

Note: My husband now refuses to race with me. AT 5k, 10k, and half marathon he kicks my ass. At marathon distance we’re damn close. In an Ironman 70.3, I beat him by an hour and a half (I finished in 6:39, he was a hair under 8 hours).

Belt buckle: Ultimate bragging rights. Throwing back to it’s roots as a horse race, many races offer a belt buckle for finishers of certain distances. For example, Mississippi 50 gives buckles to the 50 mile finishers but 50k and 20k finishers get a small medal and at BUTS, the half racers get a mug.


Lollipop: An out and back trail with a loop in the middle. This one seems rare, but I use it to describe several of my trails via Twitter.

Chaffing: Friction and not the good kind. When skin is rubbed by fabric, gear, or other skin of long enough it will chafe. It sucks. Use lube, just like the other kind of friction.

UltraSignUp: The repository of all ultras. You want to race and ultra? You’re going to find your race here.

That’s gonna be a long day

Happy trails!


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Confessions from the Trail: ‘Tis the Season (For Illness)

Season’s greetings from my couch. Yup, like many this time of year, I’m sick. Unfortunately for me, I’m also supposed to race in two weeks and seriously, body? THIS IS NOT THE TIME! But it was also somewhat inevitable…

Since it’s apropos and I definitely have time since I’m not running today, this post is all about getting sick during a training cycle. I’ll be giving you some insight into why it seems to happen so often so close to race day, help you decide if you should keep training or not, and help settle your fears (and mine) about whether you can race.

What happens when you go from this to this?

Why am I sick? I lead a healthy life!

Let’s knock the first question out of the way: at this point, my doctors don’t think I have COVID-19, my breathing is fine, and I likely have a bacterial infection (yay, strep throat…). But like many of you who experience this so close to race day, I’m thinking, “why, oh why does it happen now??”

There’s a fairly simple answer: I’m depleted. I’ve been running hard and long for months now. Last week Sapper and I did our “Runningest Writer Showdown” for the Fisher House Foundation. I ran the hell out of myself through bad weather, hot on Thanksgiving and then cold and rainy on Sunday. No, the old wives’ tales that cold, wet weather makes you sick is just that, an old wives’ tale. But, when you’re already run down from hard training, as you would be toward the end of a training cycle, it’s harder to fight off those opportunistic bugs. I am utterly unsurprised even though I’m annoyed.

To train or not to train?

This is where you have to use sound judgment. The typical run of thumb is if your symptoms are from the neck up (runny nose, sore throat), you can keep training and if it’s below the neck/full body (cough, full-body aches, fever, fatigue, nausea) don’t train.

**COVID-19 caveat!** If you suspect COVID-19 at all, I had better not see you on a trail. Stay home, call your doctor, wear your damn mask. Most COVID-19 symptoms fall under the “below the neck” category, so you probably won’t choose to train through it, but don’t be an ass.

I had a sore throat with nausea and fatigue, so I’ve chosen not to run this week. It sucks, I hate being inactive, but the fatigue pretty much flattened me. I spent most of the last three days lying in bed listening to Force No One on Audible, working on a commercial writing piece associated with my day job, doing homework, playing videogames (hello World of Warcraft expansion!), and feeling sorry for myself.

Part of my fatigue comes from not eating. Low-grade nausea meant everything I could choke down felt like it might come back up, so I didn’t eat much the last few days. Even laying around all day, the body burns calories and, as you saw in “Race Weight,” when when calories in are less than calories out, you lose weight, even if you aren’t exercising. I wish I could say this was the healthy weight loss I wanted, but it’s not. That’s right, friends, starvation is a bad weight loss tactic! The best I can do now is gently add more food into my daily intake, get some strength back, and keep rolling.

Plaid flannel and a good book cures all woes

What happens next? Oh no, can I still race??

Short answer, yes, you probably can with some important notes. It will depend on how long it takes your symptoms to resolve and how close to your race you are. I have roughly two weeks until the BUTS Bearly Ultra (13.5) and I’m at the tail end of being sick. I have a week to get my feet back under me, return to a healthy and full diet, and get one last long-ish run in before my taper. If I were a week closer, I would have accepted this is my taper week, carried an easy to moderate training load, and only taken a couple of days to taper. (I will cover tapering next week for those unfamiliar with the term.)

When deciding if you should race, here are the criteria I use:

– Am I still feeling symptoms?

Can you train with some symptoms? Yes. Should you race with symptoms? Bruh. No. A normal training load is probably ok to continue training, but the extra stress of racing will overload you. You will extend how long you are ill and risk a Did Not Finish (DNF). Ask me how I know… That’s right, I took a decongestant the days before and the day of Mississippi 50k 2017 and tried to power through. Guess who not only didn’t finish the 50k course (made it 20k and stopped) but ended up on the side of I-20 calling their spouse and asking if they should go to the ER or wait? Yeah, this chick. Don’t be dumb like me.

– Have I returned to a full diet for at least two days?

Training depletes your glycogen stores. It’s why people “carb load” in the days before the race; they’re trying to get fuel back into the muscles. If you haven’t been eating well and don’t get the critical chance to refuel your body, you can’t make it up by eating while you run.

– What is my resting heart rate?

I can tell if I’m overtraining, dehydrated, or ill based on an elevated heart rate. If you have a fitness device that monitors heart rate, you can track it over time and gauge when your heart rate is higher or lower than usual. If I see mine rise by more than 20% (average resting HR: 42, 20% = ~8) to 50bpm or more, I assume I’m sick, dehydrated, or overtrained. In any of these cases, it would be unwise to run.

– Do I feel mentally prepared?

Let’s face it, being sick is mentally taxing as well as physically taxing. I get loopy when my fever spikes. I get stressed by being sick. I get even more stressed when I’m hoping to get better close to a race. You need focus before a race and if your head isn’t in it, today may not be the day to race. I know that BUTS 13.5 has a ridge crossing like you read about: thirty feet of slippery, muddy trail with sheer sloping sides on both sides of the trail. There are firefighters on both sides, but they will only help you *after* you fall. That is not the trail conditions you want to find yourself up against when your head is floating off your shoulders from cold medicines, fever, or worry.

What’s the bottom line?

The course will always be there. There will be other races. Yes, it’s heartbreaking to train so hard for something only to have to bow out at the last minute. But your health is worth more than a finisher’s medal. Be safe, be smart, be healthy!


Happy trails!


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The Hunt for Beta Readers


As many of you saw from my posts across social media, I am on the hunt for one or two more beta readers for my novels. I’ve gotten a lot of positive responses so far, but a host so questions too. This, of course, means I want to blog about it! Today’s post will cover what a beta reader is, things authors look for in a beta reader, and what I want from my betas.

What is a beta reader?

The basic answer is that a beta reader is someone who will read drafts of a piece before it’s released to a broader audience. This person or people are generally unpaid and it’s their job to help the author find grammatical mistakes, plot holes, or suggest improvements. A beta helps the author add a layer of polish before showing a work off. They are usually the step between finishing a first draft and a manuscript being sent to the editor or publisher.

What do authors look for in their betas?

A beta holds a special position of trust to authors, which drives the characteristics an author looks for in their beta readers. First, of course, a beta reader should have a strong command of the English language (or the work’s primary language). They should be able to catch spelling and grammatical errors as well as things that spellcheck can’t catch, like their/there/they’re. Second, the beta should know something about the author’s style and mindset. This helps them discern what an author might have in the head but have been unable to quite get onto paper. Finally, a beta has to be trustworthy. They are being entrusted with works before release. Authors pour their hearts and souls into writing and many are nervous about showing that work to another person. Additionally, a beta is trusted to read the work and not share details without permission from the author. In a world of modern social media, keeping spoilers from fans becomes a huge part of that trust.

What do I personally look for in a beta?

I like my betas to be a blend of grammar police, advisor, and sounding board. So far, all my betas have been close friends I can count on to catch my dopey mistakes and offer insight into the plot; I lean on each in different ways. My spouse is my first beta and a wonderful sounding board. But he also knows how I think too well, which means he knows what I mean and misses where I haven’t fully fleshed out a detail. My second is Beta Charlie, who I trust to find plot holes and give what I can only call “man advice.” He gives me the male reader perspective and points out where a male character’s reaction isn’t realistic/appropriate. My last beta, who has since gone inactive, was great at finding plot holes, throwing out great ideas, and finding connections in the plot that I didn’t even realize I created. That said, he tended towards Canadian English and grammar, which gave me a lot of comma drama when we were prepping Pantheon for publication!

Maybe it a new book? Maybe it’s not! Gotta join to know!

With my new betas, I need all the things I listed under “What do author’s look for in their betas?”: a strong command of English syntax and grammar, trustworthy, and an idea of where I’m going with my works. Before now, I’ve known all my betas personally, so I could rely on them knowing me well enough to know the shape of my thoughts, even when I didn’t articulate it clearly in my work. Now, I need readers familiar with my current body of work and style: Pantheon, Born Not Bitten, and Confessions From The Trail. I need someone who can kindly point out mistakes and plot holes; offer their thoughts and opinions on the plot without being offended if I don’t ultimately use them; and finally, offer perspectives outside my own. I highly value diversity of thought when it comes to my writing. I need to know when something doesn’t resound with someone and why. Or when I hit an emotional nerve. Which characters do you love/hate and why? Which characters are just background static?

Being a beta is work, for sure, but you get that early access to works, a chance to guide the plot, and of course, an advanced reader copy once it’s been published! So, if that sounds like it interests you, join the mailing list here. I intend to send details about becoming a beta within the next week.


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