Tag Archives: Expecting Happiness

Why Beta Readers Rock

I met with one of my beta readers yesterday to discuss my book. He helped me see a couple holes I could fill. I knew he was right because he addressed spaces I had seen myself but not known how to fix. By having someone else see them, I could then push myself to do the hard work of figuring it out.

Last night I sat down and tied together these loose ends. Maybe it is not 100% fixed, but it’s better, and that’s the point. I am so grateful to my readers for their honesty. So far, they have spotted typos, cheered me on, and even explained why they could not keep reading.

While the majority finished with a smile, it helps to know exactly why it’s not a story for everyone, something that sounds difficult to bear but was actually quite reassuring. We all know every book has an audience. Getting to ask a reader why they did not finish is a real gift.

And, last but not least, sharing my writing with more people, including acquaintances instead of just close friends/family, is building my confidence. It is no longer such a scary feeling to imagine unfamiliar eyes on my work. Some will like it and some won’t, and that’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s really liberating!

So, thank you, thank you, thank you to my beta readers. If you’re still reading, take your time, I’m still working. And, if you’ve written a book without a beta audience, I suggest giving it a shot. By no means do you have to listen to everyone, but you may be surprised by what you learn and how it changes your confidence in your work. I definitely feel a lot stronger and braver for it.

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A call for beta readers… Want to read my book?

I have to decide what to do with my novel… I’m leaning toward one last round of queries and then self-publishing, but there is always the option to shelve it as well. I haven’t lost faith, I’ve just hit the point where I’m done working on it and need some fresh perspectives.

That’s where you come in…

If you’re interested in reading, I would ask the following:

1. Be available to begin reading mid-July when I get back from my trip.

2. Read like you downloaded off Amazon for a maximum of $5, (if I self-publish, it will likely be priced lower). When you finish, I want to know if you would feel satisfied if you had paid to read.

3. Note any typos.

4. If you get stuck and lose the momentum to finish, tell me where. If it feels like a chore, I need to know. No obligation to read the whole thing.

5. Be honest, but kind. Everyone has different tastes, (many of the books I read fall in the three star category on Goodreads even though others love them). I won’t be offended if it’s not your favorite book ever, I just need to know if it’s readable.

What you can expect:

1. Think Revolutionary Road meets One Day meets Shopgirl. If you have read any of those titles, might help gauge your interest. Think simple story about a young couple who feels frustrated and leaves everything behind to travel and find themselves, separately. I am looking for readers who read regularly and have an interest in mainstream fiction that crosses over to chick lit.

2. Gratitude. While I can’t pay you, I can thank you a thousand times.

If you’re interested, please either comment below with the title of the last book(s) you read or email me privately. Only volunteer if the premise interests you. I need a few more readers and will resort to names in a hat if necessary. I will contact you privately to let you know and appreciate the support given, even if it’s just a high-five for reaching this point!

Manuscript

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I Always Love a Contest to Pitch my Book…

As I wrap up my final re-read and contemplate how to move forward with self-publishing and a last round of queries, I can’t help but enter a pitch contest. You know, if it could really all be so easy as to submit a 35 word pitch and the first 150 words of my book and then kaboom– agent/published/hurray. I guess the little kid part of me knows it happens for someone, so it might as well be me.

Information on this latest pitch contest can be found here. Per usual, I’m not over-thinking my entry because I question whether it is worth much of an effort, however, I will share in hopes you will consider entering as well!

My 35-word pitch: 

After a jarring miscarriage, Jake and Kristen embark on separate journeys. Kristen departs for Europe in search of independence, while Jake sets off on a cross-country adventure. Torn between old and new, they must choose.

The first 150 words of my manuscript:

It began as a drop. One smooth drop of blood running down her pale thigh. She touched the moisture with her fingers and looked to see the crimson stain on the back edge of her beige, linen skirt. Aware of her coworkers in the neighboring cubes, she fought the urge to fall to her knees and cry in the small break room. She clutched her glass water bottle tighter, careful not to let it crash to the ground. Her heart ached. Dizzyness followed. She needed to sit.

The cessation of pregnancy symptoms left her in denial, the nausea gone, the sore breasts once again pliable. She read on the internet it could be a sign of miscarriage but did not know what to believe. She refused to call the doctor, unwilling to shatter the illusion. It made her happy to imagine a child growing inside her. A dull ache echoed…

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Saturday Song: Only Miss the Sun When it Starts to Snow…

Yes, two songs in a row, but you can kind of get the feel for the inside of my head right now. I’m deep in my book, deep in my thoughts, deep in the solitude of summer. Pleasurable melancholy, if there is such a thing.

Time to prepare for a small dinner party with friends, time to emerge from my inner world for just a little while.

What about you?

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Writers: Finally a good use for Pinterest!

I know plenty of women who are obsessed with Pinterest. From teachers to moms to fashionistas, Pinterest appeals to pretty much every woman I know, (as well as some of the men, too, I’m sure). Until today, this excluded me. I signed up because I use it from time to time for visual inspiration or to find a picture for my blog, but I have never got into pinning things, (I already waste my valuable writing time in too many ways).

However, one of my big goals in revisiting my book is to anchor it with more specific visual cues. I don’t want to turn into Steinbeck with full page descriptions of meadows, but three words here, five words there can really shape what readers see. I want my book to feel more textured, more quirky, more unique. This comes from no one other than myself. I feel like many of my visual descriptions are too generic, even if my goal is to keep much of my description minimalistic.

So– I’ve decided to create a board on Pinterest for images that fit with my vision of the book. Before I revisit each chapter, I’m spending a maximum of five minutes pinning images that mesh with what comes next. I tried it with my prologue this morning and the story felt much more alive. I could see Kristen’s outfit more clearly, I could see Jake’s gift sitting on the kitchen table. Best of all, by the end of the book, I will have a board full of images from their travels, their choices, their lives. I love it.

Feel free to stop by and watch my story grow. And, if you create a similar writing board for your work, I would love to check it out.

Any other good writing uses for Pinterest?

Pinterest is full of so many images

I have always googled images while I write, but Pinterest gives me a way to keep all of the images together, creating a visual storyboard of my novel.

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My Triumphant(ish) Return to Writing

The last couple months I hid from writing. Sure, I blogged and wrote a few paragraphs here and there for various projects. I even wrote an outline for a new book and submitted some articles to blogs and online newspapers. I read about the craft. In short, I did enough to feel like I was still a writer even if I was not making much progress.

In reality, indecision and self-doubt paralyzed me. I could not decide where to focus my attention, on something new or old or in between. Forty-three queries left me uncertain of Expecting Happiness, the occasional agent nibble more confusing than inspiring. I considered shelving it and starting something new, but nothing flowed.

I felt stuck. Family members encouraged me not to leave Expecting Happiness behind, a fellow blogger did the same. So, this week, I opened up the document and did what I should have done before. I am polishing and reshaping again for the good of the book. People always warn me I could write the same book forever, but these changes need to happen. We know deep down where we’re cutting corners.

I will finish Expecting Happiness and be proud of it, even if the idea of being proud is counterintuitive to my intrinsic humility. I want to be confident in my writing. There is a lot more buried in these last couple sentences, but I’ll save it for another post. I just know it is time to stop hiding.

I blogged before about how I find myself wanting children but fear having children will keep me from writingAs I revisit the beginning of Expecting Happiness, I see so many opportunities to explore these feelings more deeply, even if they are distorted into fictional characters who do not write but still have other passions lurking beneath the surface. I know starting a family is such an incredible gift, but for me it also seems like a space to hide when I lose faith in my writing. A child would give me the perfect excuse to stop pushing myself.

This morning I woke up and read a post on Offbeat Families by a writer who has decided to have one child. I applaud her for her honesty about what is important in her life. While I will make no similar decrees, I appreciate her reminder of how crucial it is to stay true to ourselves. I see many women wear motherhood as their identities. I understand this biologically-driven desire but I also see that it would be hiding to use motherhood as a reason not to pursue my other dreams as well.

The past few months have felt frustratingly stagnant in various ways, but I am beginning to see there is a reason behind it all. Now is my time to write, untethered, to carve out the space I will someday covet as time stolen from other parts of my life. I’m laying the groundwork for a life spent writing, regardless of the outcome. I write because it helps me make sense of life. When I distance myself, I feel lost. I must keep going and Expecting Happiness must be finished.

My new goal: Try even if I might fail.

Yes, this probably means self-publishing.

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Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award: The Golden Writing Ticket!

Okay, I must admit, I felt a little like a child waiting for 9:01 to roll around this evening. I was determined to make sure my Amazon Breakthrough Novel submission was counted as one of the first 10,000. No idea how long it takes for that number to be hit, but I have to say it took an awful long time for my browser to load Create Space… As I waited, I felt like one of those kids hoping for a tour of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.

The good news, my submission is now complete! After a weekend of pretty much non-stop editing, I think I have earned a complete week off Expecting Happiness. Zero novel work will be done, which actually feels like a treat, (odd, I know, since I like writing, but the editing part isn’t my favorite).

What do I plan to do with all this time off, you ask? Sleep, yoga, weekend getaway with my mom. Read someone else’s book, perhaps? I feel like I’m on vacation even though I have to wake up for work tomorrow morning…

And, to top it all off, I have this lovely song stuck in my head. Fun for five minutes, annoying every second after. Wishing you good luck if you’re searching for that same golden ticket!

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Hugs & The Incredible Shrinking Book

I’m down 4,000 words and not even half way through my revision. My inclination is to say yikes. Instead, I’m trying to embrace it. Words cut for the greater good of the book. Maybe I’ll put better ones back in…

I think that’s this month’s theme, embrace.

So many things in life we want to avoid or change, when really we need to embrace the lesson in each uncomfortable experience before we can move on. Isn’t that what they say in yoga all the time? Embrace instead of struggle?

With that logic, I need to embrace cutting words. I need to embrace teaching as a wonderful challenge. I need to embrace the limited time in a day and what this means for balance…

Seems simple enough, right?

At least it’s a one word reminder, embrace. And, it makes me think of hugs, which are nice too. Hug everything in life that’s challenging. I like that.

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Help me write a better pitch (Please and thank you)

Here is my revised pitch as it currently stands, (the old one can be viewed under the Expecting Happiness tab):

As Jake sits on the bathroom floor and holds his crying wife, he knows something needs to change. Stable jobs and a house are not enough. A child seemed like the answer, but Kristen lost the baby and now she locks herself in the bathroom to be alone.

Emboldened by their loss, they say, “Fuck it all.” They quit their jobs, sell their house, and embark on separate journeys. Separate because they want different things–

Kristen wants to face the world without Jake around to hold her up. She departs for Europe looking for independence but inches her way closer to an old friend living in Paris. His name is Gustavo and he makes her blush.

Jake, on the other hand, wants to find a place to start over, somewhere he can convince Kristen to begin a family. Of course, he also craves a little adventure. He sets off on a cross-country road trip but instead finds himself on another continent, a part of someone else’s family.

Even with new faces and changing scenery, life is not complete. Torn between the allure of the unknown and their unrelenting longing for one another, Kristen and Jake must ultimately choose which life holds the secret to greater happiness.

***

So, there you have it, months and months of painstaking tweaks… And still not quite right!

Here are a few questions I have grappled with:

Do I need to include physical descriptions of the characters and/or their ages? (Leaning toward no after my last post…)

Does my ending work?

How can I make this stronger?

If you have any thoughts, I would love to hear them. As long as feedback is offered constructively, I am very open. My goal, after all, is to make my pitch better and I know it’s not quite there yet. If you feel more comfortable offering input privately, feel free to email me at olivia@oliviaobryon.com. And, if you write, post your pitch and I’ll be happy to return the favor! (Cough, cough:: Kozo it’s your turn!)

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Who would you cast in the movie of your novel?

Okay, so I got a bit distracted this morning as I rewrote my pitch. See, I could not decide whether or not to leave in my physical descriptions of my characters. The Book Doctors suggest brief physical descriptions, but for some reason it still feels a little clumsy to me, (new pitch to follow soon).

This got me thinking about what my characters actually look like to me in my mind’s eye. Visualization is not my strength. I see fuzzy versions of my characters, not concrete people, which is not to say I don’t know my characters, but rather nailing down an exact picture in my mind is just not the way I think. I need to see the faces of real people.

So, I decided I need to cast my characters– a useful exercise that happens to also be fun:

Kristen: I imagined her with dark hair, blue eyes, someone who would fit the inspiration of the song “Galway Girl.”

Today I realized she would probably look like Olivia Wilde, which I assure you has nothing to do with her great first name. She’s classically beautiful but can also pull off a punk rock, peace activist college kid, which is important to Kristen.

Kristen.

Kristen. Photo credit: Pinterest.

Jake: He was a bit harder for me to cast. Does Paul Rudd have a younger brother with brown eyes? I imagined a guy that is attractive in a charming smile kind of way, maybe a bit goofy. In my book I describe him as lanky because I see him as athletic and charismatic, but in a real way. Today’s winner: Okay, Paul Rudd wins even if he might be a little older than Jake and maybe not into playing a role that is not purely comical… Guess I’m on the look-out for a younger Paul Rudd willing to mix drama with humor.

Jake.

Jake. Photo credit: Pinterest.

Or, on second thought, maybe Josh Radnor… He did a good job writing/directing/acting in HappyThankYouMorePleaseso he might also be a good Jake.

Other Jake?

Alternate Jake? Photo Credit: Pinterest.

Decisions, decisions… Of course there are half a dozen other characters to be cast, but I’m pretty sure it would take me two hours to pick them all, which seems like a case of diminishing returns. Focusing on my two main characters, however, worthwhile.

Have you cast your protagonists?

And, on a side note, do you provide physical descriptions of your main characters in your pitch? I’m conflicted, as usual.

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Shrinking Words & Other Writing Quandaries

Amazing how a couple months away can give new perspective. Allowing myself to move back through Expecting Happiness, stopping at each spot that bugs me, feels really good. The only thing that doesn’t feel so good is watching my word count drop a bit.

I blame NaNoWriMo for two things: 1. My obsession with word count, 2. A lot of extra words that don’t belong. I get that you go back and get rid of them later, or now, but I do think it results in writing that may be more repetitive than if you just go slowly and don’t worry about how many words you hit a day. Either way, it’s a year later and here I am working on the same book.

This leaves me wondering whether I need to add more words for the sake of having a full-length book… Right now I’m at 68,500, but I know it will drop a bit further as I continue. For any of you who have e-published, how many words were your projects?

My current plan is this:

1. Revisit each chapter with the same care I’ve given the prologue/Chapter 1 this week

2. Reread the whole thing to make sure it still makes sense/check for errors

3. Finish my queries/recontact appropriate contacts

4. If nothing comes of the second round of querying/contacts, I will e-publish and/or share on my blog. I’m not sure which approach to take yet. I just know I need to put it out there in order to move on…

More than anything, I am finding it much more sustainable to slow down and get the work done a little at a time instead of feeling like I need to use every moment of my spare time to write. That was burning me out in every aspect of my life, especially my day job. Slowing down these past two months has made a huge difference. Now it’s time to get serious and get this book done, even if it is just an hour or so at a time.

Happy balanced Sunday.

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It’s Almost November… Which Means Nanowrimo!

The fall quilt is out, the leaves are… okay, still green. It’s 90 degrees here in Sacramento, but at least I have the autumn spirit. Something about the shrinking amount of daylight makes me increasingly focused on finishing old projects. I am seriously ready for something new. In fact, I’m darn-near ecstatic for something new to write. So. Close.

My first queries go out this Thursday. Just wrote a bunch of personalized letters and tightened up my synopsis to one page, (Hallelujah!). As much as I really hope something comes of this effort, I am even more excited for what’s next. I just ordered Self-Editing for Fiction Writerswhich I admittedly should have read earlier, but at least it will be a good, nerdy read before beginning my next novel.

Speaking of which– November 1, 2012, mark you calendars. Okay, really, only mark them if you’re also planning to participate in Nanowrimo, (National Novel Writing Month for the uninitiated). As much as I dislike some of the rubbish I had to wade through last time I spit out thousands of exhausted words after bossing around children all day, I still feel like this is the perfect place to get motivated and give yourself something warm and cozy to do through the cold winter months. So, seasoned writer or not, I invite you to join me as we cheer each other on with the hefty goal of writing a novel, (or the beginning of a novel), in one month.

Last year I only did 22,222 words… Which is nearly 30,000 shy of the goal, but it still encouraged me enough to feel like I could write an entire book, which shortly thereafter, I actually did. This year my goal is just to write well, in quantity, for the entire month, using November 1 as the launch for my new idea. We’ll see where I end up. I’m excited. Nanowrimo is like Burning Man to me, an annual celebration of intense artistic expression.

Will you join me?

Looks like I already have one writing buddy in my mess of papers today– could use some human ones as well… Add me as a writing buddy on the nanowrimo site!

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