Why I Beta Read

Hello writers, readers, and bloggers!

While most of you know what the term “beta read” means, or at least have heard the phrase, let me break it down in simple terms and then share why I am proud to be one.

A beta reader is someone who reads a piece of writing before its debut. The work could be by a newbie or an established author, and may be everything from a work of fiction or non-fiction, to a comic book, to a poem. I am a novel beta reader, partly because that is what I write, and partly because I love to read fiction.

So, what does a beta reader do besides read? Firstly, beta readers read for free. We are (commonly) asked to read for fun, but if any typos jump out, we are to let the publisher or author know right away. While this may sound like an author is simply looking for free editing, this is absolutely not the case. Before a reader is asked to look at a piece of work, the work will already have been proof-read and hopefully close to perfection. Often times the publisher is trying to establish one or more of the following: a target audience prior to publication; early reviewers; reader blurbs to place on the book cover or to use in publicity; last-minute typos; timeline or other continuity discrepancies; or opinions on the best book cover.

So, you may ask, if a reader reads a book for free in order to help out a writer, what’s in it for the reader?

Lots. An author should offer you the following: your name in the acknowledgements; the opportunity to see your blurb on a book cover; a signed copy of the work when available; book marks; other swag when applicable. Additionally, if you are an author trying to build an audience, blurbing other authors’ works can work in your favor if the book ends up with good reviews. Not a bad thing to have your name and blurb at the top of Rainbow Rowell’s latest book! And what’s cool is the name of your own novel will follow your blurb. Example: “Rowell’s latest book is a true masterpiece!” ~Leslie Tall Manning, author of the award-winning Upside Down in a Laura Ingalls Town.

How should an author request a beta read? This can happen in different ways, depending on if the author has a publisher or publicity person working on her behalf, or if the author is independently publishing, it still usually it works like this: A writer or publisher has heard about a particular reader (perhaps they have a blog or a review site), or they have found another author who writes in the same genre (like sci-fi or steampunk). They trust that this reader will A) actually read the book; B) be able to do it within the allotted time frame; C) enjoy the genre; D) be honest about their review; and E) write a review that is positive enough to pull a blurb to use on the cover.

Out the gate, the reader needs to be up front about whether or not the book is up their alley (ie: if you detest rom-com, do not offer to read rom-com). Writers, just like readers, do not like to waste their time.

What happens if a reader does not like the book? This is a common question that first-time beta readers ask. I have my own rule of thumb, and that is if the book does not grab me by the first 40 pages, I am done. I will politely tell the author or publisher that the book is not up my alley, then I will thank them for trusting my consideration.

Case in point: I was recently asked to read a Young Adult romantic novel, with a family saga as a secondary plot. The publisher is a big one, and the book sounded like something I would enjoy, even though I’d never read this author’s work before. The novel is third or fourth in a series, but I was told this did not detract from the book being read as a stand-alone. I am not sure how the publisher found me, perhaps through my agent, or by scouting award-winning YA authors. In any case, they approached me via my website. All they were looking for were blurbs from established authors, not any kind of editing whatsoever. Being an incredibly busy person (I write twenty hours a week, work as a private tutor fifteen hours a week, and market most of the remaining hours) at first I hesitated. But I am a relatively fast reader when it comes to YA, and all I had to do was read it for entertainment, so I thought why not? The payoff would be that my blurb could make it onto the front or back cover of a well-known YA author’s book.

So I began reading. Within the first ten pages, I had already circled (this is the cursed editor in me) about 20 times that the main character either rolled her eyes or shrugged her shoulders. And then it got worse. I started noticing that there was a lot of chuckling going on. Like over and over again, the characters were chuckling. Look, I am NOT a literary snob. I love to be entertained by all kinds of writing. But I honestly could not get past the rolling eyes and the shrugging shoulders and the constant chuckling. It was driving me so batty, I wasn’t even sure what the story was about! And while there is a chance that those issues would later be rectified, it was shocking to me that it was sent out for blurbs. I actually found myself feeling sorry for the author that they didn’t recognize their own overuse of words and gesticulation, and that their editor didn’t either. And this pity stopped me from reading past page 40.

What did I do? I went the honesty route. Could I have lied in favor of the author? Sure. But that is not how I roll. I find it to be a disservice to a writer to pretend I like something when I do not. It would be no different than a bad or average singer going on American Idol and having the judges tell her she is wonderful. That does nothing for anyone. I am old school. I do not give out trophies just for showing up to a game. You win or you lose. And if you lose, you can either work on getting better, or you can walk away. Life is all about choices. That said, if a writer is in the early stages of a book that they ask me to take a look at, that is a different story. I expect typos and global weaknesses in first drafts. But not in a final copy. What did I tell the publisher? I was tactful, of course. I wrote her an email that said the book didn’t hook me, and that I didn’t want to pretend to love it and leave a fake review. The publisher wrote back, and thanked me for my honesty, and that was that. I’m sure she had sent the book out to dozens of people, so my rejection probably didn’t change much for the writer. And I will say it was an interesting feeling as an author to give an editor a rejection for a change!

So then, do some reviewers fake it? You betcha. I see blurbs all the time that wax poetic about one book or another, and the book is total trash and subsequently receives scathing reviews. It could even be that some of these readers don’t really read the whole book. I am asked all the time to read only the “first few chapters” of a book before reviewing. WHAT? Are you SERIOUS? I don’t care if you are Stephen King or John Green. I am not going to read three chapters and then send them my review. If I do not get past page 40, I do not review. Ever. Period. How can you review a book if you didn’t read the ending? This makes no sense to me. What a waste of time for everyone. And what is really hurtful is this: Some of these books, with proper editing, could be better. Maybe editors are sending the books out too quickly. Maybe there needs to be more care given, both by the writer, and also by the editor. I’m not saying that every book needs to take years to write like White Oleander or To Kill a Mockingbird, but books should be cared for and loved like children. They are pieces of art. They are going to be out there forever, for the public to read, over and over again.

I used to know a guy in the 90’s who wrote a book about golf. He got a famous golfer that he used to meet on the greens to blurb the book in order to help it sell. You could tell the guy never read it because the book was awful. I mean, typos everywhere after publication, and no continuity whatsoever. It shocked me, even back then, that this was something that was happening in publishing.

So why am I a beta reader if I have little time and some of the books that come my way aren’t ready for reviewers’ eyes? Three reasons: I get a kick out of reading something before the masses, I become a better writer with every book I read, and Karma. There is something sort of sneaky about reading a book before anyone else, and being trusted to do so. Also, the more I read others’ works with a discerning eye, the less mistakes I make within my own work. I run control-finds on things like eye rolling and shoulder shrugging. I go over every single sentence before I ever send to an editor at a publishing house. I do my work, because in the end, I want a symbiotic and long-lasting relationship with the editor. Finally, Karma is important to writers. Every time you help another author, you have a better shot having them return the favor. 

It is solely up to you whether or not you want to be a beta reader, or ask others to be one, but in the end, it is a great way to help a book reach potential readers, as well as marketing the most beautiful piece of work possible.

That’s it for now. I am beta reading this weekend for a friend in the UK, and I have to get on it.

And by the way, the book is wonderful! I am past page 40, and so far, no one has gone off in a fit of chuckling. Thank goodness!

: )


Using Your Fears in Your Writing

What are you afraid of? Have you ever had an experience that made you feel like this was the end of life as you know it? That there was no way out?

Ten years ago, I believed I was going to die when my husband and I took a trip to Greece. We traveled there by plane and had a sailboat awaiting our arrival for a ten-day rental,  exploring the lower Ionian Sea. Although it was just my husband and myself on the 29-foot sailboat, we traversed the ocean and island hopped with five other sailboats, most of them manned by couples like us, either from Western Europe, Canada, or the United States. Each morning before heading out to sea, all five couples met with the lead boat captain and crew to go over maps, charts, and equipment. A daily sail between islands could take anywhere from two to seven hours.

Did I mention that I am not a sailor? My husband is the experienced salty dog, and although I understand wind direction, how to read gauges, and how to maneuver sails to a degree, I am not a true sailor by any stretch of the imagination. I am the girl who doesn’t get sea sick, banished to the world below-deck for sandwich making, water bottle runs, or jacket retrieval. I am the girl who loves sitting in the boat on a dock at sunset, drinking Cabernet while listening to old-school jazz.

One particular day during our trip to Greece, we met with our sailing cohorts after breakfast. It was a sunny day, and a perfect Grecian breeze was blowing. After checking off the list of to-dos before we set sail, the lead boat headed away from the docks, each of us following behind like little ducklings. The next island was nearly an entire day’s sail away. At the other end, we would be free to roam around the tiny port town, sampling food and enjoying local entertainment.

The day started out uneventful. Around noon, the wind picked up, making my husband happy. We listened on the radio for any weather changes. There were none. A few times we heard from our lead boat as they checked in with each of us. Jay, my husband, manned the wheel, and I did what he asked, either bringing in or letting out the sails, gathering things from below, or hanging out by his side, awaiting the next order.

Side note: As my captain, oh captain says, “What happens on the boat stays on the boat.” In other words, any expletives spoken and orders barked with abandon at the first mate (in this case, moi) are to be listened to, obeyed, and immediately discarded.

Around 2, the wind got stronger, and the waves grew. Our boat was tossed a bit. I would often ask my husband, “Are we okay?” Each time, he’d smile and respond with a simple, “We are fine.” His calmness during any sailing excursion is always passed along to me, which makes me a more focused first mate.

At around 3, the four-foot waves which had been rolling gracefully into the shallow troughs between, started coming faster, growing higher, and crashing more violently.

“Are we okay?”

“We are fine.”

Soon, the mini troughs were deep and angry. The nose of our boat rose up one wave, and fell hard into the dip on the other side. The waves were now between five and six feet high. I was ordered to grab the radio. Nothing new in the way of weather. Calm, the report kept saying. We saw no other boats. Sailing in a “flotilla” is a relative term. One boat hardly ever gets close to another, as some sailors like being closer to land, and others farther out at sea. We were alone.

The sea grew angrier.

My husband remained calm. I did not. Inside, I started wondering what the f*** I was doing, standing here on the deck of this boat, not even a novice when it came to sailing. Barely a weekend sailor.

Then something happened. A large black mass of clouds came up from behind. I stared at it in disbelief.

“Jay!” I shouted, pointing. My husband took a glance, then ordered, “Pull in the sails!” He started barking orders, and I did everything he asked because doing nothing could mean death, and there was no way I was going to die without trying to evade it. Better to keep moving instead of having time to think about the “what ifs.” After the sails were furled and tied, he told me to go downstairs and grab our storm gear. Soon, we were dressed like a pair of Gordon fishermen, in rain jackets and hats. The rain came down in wide stripes. We could barely see one another.

“Are we okay?” I shouted.

This time he answered, “I don’t know.”

He ordered me to tie off the Bimini (a collapsible open-front canvas top to keep the captain from frying in the sun), but I could not do it. The boat was rocking forward and back like a giant rocking horse. I would have toppled overboard.

Overboard. There’s a word you don’t want to think about while at sea. It occurred to me in that moment that if my husband went over, he would drown. And then, shortly after, I would drown.

I could do nothing but stand by my husband’s side as the wind exploded. Poseidon was pissed about something and was taking it out on Jay and me.

For forty minutes I hid my tears as we sailed through the squall. Awful scenes played through my head of crashing into the rocks along the shore, our body parts spread out for the seagulls. I thought of my sisters, crying at my funeral, no body to bury, just some pieces of a torn yellow jacket. My husband’s daughter came to me, and I cried harder. What if he drowned, and I survived? How would I tell her that her father had been an amazing captain, he had only died because his first mate was incompetent?

Forty minutes feels like hours when the rain blocks your view of the land only a few miles away and the wind tosses your boat around like a beach ball. Forty minutes feels like eternity when you truly believe you are going to die.

Then, just as quickly as the squall slammed into us, it leaped away, disappearing into the western sky like it had been playing a practical joke, taking the gray stripes of rain with it. The sun was fierce. The sky was blue.

“Look!” I pointed to the island on our right. We could see it now, clearly, the rocks we thought were miles away but in reality were only a half mile. One half mile from crashing the sailboat and our bones to smithereens.

I heard an engine. Another sailboat, with its pristine sails neatly furled, moved past. The couple on board, clad in expensive sailing shirts and pants, stared as they went by, eyebrows raised as if to say, “What the hell happened to you?” But they said nothing, only continued forward, leaving us to wobble in their wake.

“We lost our Bimini,” my husband said.

“Yeah,” I said, crying openly now, this time with relief that the Bimini was all that had been lost in the squall.

We didn’t say much more until we arrived at the island dock. Our lead boat crew had never seen the squall. Nor had most of the boats. But we had proof: Some of the sailboat’s cleats had been pried loose, and the Bimini was torn to shreds. One other couple had weathered the same storm as well and in response planned to fly home first thing in the morning. We decided to stay. What were the odds we’d hit another squall in the Ionian Sea? Plus, there was ouzo in abundance, and we were dying to take a cab ride to the top of the mountain where the view of the sea was supposed to be breathtaking. A view from faraway for the next two days sounded perfect.

Even as I write this story I can feel my blood pressure rise, my heart rate increase. I can see the rocks, feel the rain, hear the wind. I can remember what it felt like to be there. To be on that boat during a squall, feeling helpless, terrified, tiny.

As a writer, I can use (and have used) that story to help me write scenes of angst, of fear, of feeling out of control. I close my eyes and taste the thick salt on my lips and feel the sting of the storm pelting my body. I picture the rocks, the troughs, the look of my husband’s steady and determined face. But most importantly, I remember what it felt like to believe, if only for a fleeting second, that I was going to die.

To this day, I have never been that afraid or felt that abandoned.

How about you? Have you ever had a moment (or moments) of fear? Anger? Futility? If so, would you be willing you tap into this part of yourself when writing?

Perhaps you already have…










Writers: What to do when you’re feeling blue

Without trying to make us sound like martyrs, writers, like many artists, live with angst. There is angst in working daily to artistically express one’s inner thoughts, feelings and conflicts, share them with others, and then be judged after the work is complete. It is this same angst that can often drag us down the rabbit hole into a sadness that only artists can understand.

Maybe reviewers are particularly cruel today. Maybe your agent has exhausted all of his connections for your latest work. Or your editor has decided that the requested changes you’ve made over the course of months aren’t working. It could even be that you are just tired of the grind; tired of trying to please others with the work you create; tired of spending time and energy writing, marketing, falling down, getting back up.

Hey. You are not alone. We have all been there. Some of us are there right now.

It can be especially difficult for a writer, since writing is mostly a solitary act. We are alone a LOT. Abnormally so. We sit in front of our laptop or notebook and we create by ourselves, hoping that our words will somehow string together in a way that pleases us, and ultimately, others.

But the most prolific writers have a drive deep within to keep going, even if the hill is always up, the self-doubt is always looming, and the crash is often paralyzing.

So what can a writer do to avoid that crash and burn? Here are a few things that may help you on the days when you are so close to quitting, you can smell it, feel it, taste it, and smother your skin with it:

1. Give yourself a mantra, write it out, and hang it up in your writing space. I have two:
This book ain’t gonna write itself and Butt in chair. The first mantra I use after my husband and I have our coffee clutch Monday through Thursday. We chat about what we are going to do with our day (he is a designer) and then I say, “Okay, babe. This book ain’t gonna write itself.” We kiss one another and head off to our creative spaces (his is a shop, mine is an office). Once in my writing space, I put my “butt in chair” and get writing. Period. No excuses. Even if the writing sucks. Even if my characters are acting particularly stubborn.

2. Speaking of excuses…procrastination is not just a time waster and a companion to our fears, but it can also lead to crippling sadness. The second you get to your writing space, you have made a commitment to yourself, your characters, and your story, so TURN OFF EVERYTHING EXCEPT YOUR WORK. This includes, but is not limited to Facebook, Twitter, cell phone, Amazon, Goodreads, Instagram, newsfeeds, and anything else that distracts you from YOUR WORK. Sometimes writers tell me they feel angst at not having written enough words or pages in a sitting. Upon further probing, I find out that they have been spending most of their time on the Internet. And if you tell me that you have to do marketing, well, that is not writing. And while we all need to do marketing, do it at a different time than your actual writing. Don’t complain you didn’t have time to write when you stared at fifteen Youtube videos of cute kittens and Crock pot recipes. You are only hurting your writing, and therefore yourself. Make a solid schedule and stick to it religiously. What could make a person sadder than knowing they had a golden opportunity to create, and they threw it away in favor of mindless drivel?

3. This may sound counter-productive, but hear me out: Go ahead. Be sad. Wallow in self-pity. I’m serious about this. Allow yourself a certain amount of time to dwell on the negative. Say, five minutes, or twenty. Set your alarm if you have to. Pretend it is part of your creative process. Then get off your ass and move forward. Cry into your pillow but then get out of bed. You do not have the right to do nothing all day. That is where the downward spiral begins. Nip it quickly. Negativity wants you to be sad. Let it visit for a moment, and then tell it to eff-off.

4. Need others to feel your pain? Since misery really does enjoy company, find writers’ groups, either online or locally, that you can share these feelings with. Find a creative friend/entrepreneur and meet for coffee once a week. Listen to him vent, and then vent as well. Sometimes knowing you are not alone can make all the difference. And sharing angst can lead to sharing ideas, which can sometimes lead to real breakthroughs.

5. Remind yourself, even if you have to write it down, the blessings you have compared to other folks in the world. If you are reading this blog, then you are probably in the top .05 percent of the world in healthcare, education, safety, housing, financial means, food, transportation and so on. You probably have freedoms unheard of in many countries today. Chances are you are living in a world that has possibilities; a world where you get to choose what your life will be like tomorrow. So as cliché as it is, count your blessings. Thank the universe for all that you have. And mean it.

6. I did not make up this saying, and although it sounds corny, here it is: “When it gets too quiet, make some noise.” In other words, when you haven’t heard from your agent in months, or it seems as though your editor has taken your book on an extended holiday, or reviews have seemed to hit a brick wall, make something happen. Locate new reviewers and send them emails. Send a friendly email to your agent. Respond to your editor’s posts on Twitter. In my opinion, proactivity is the antitheses of reactivity. Because energy begets energy (just ask any physicist) you need to stir the pot to get things going. It may take some time, but believe in the magic of it. DO SOMETHING and THINGS WILL HAPPEN. I promise. I cannot tell you the timeframe, and I cannot tell you how. Just trust that it will.

7. “The best way to get even with others is to succeed.” Some may disagree on this point, but I don’t care as it works for me. I have had friends, acquaintances, family members, and even strangers try to knock what I do. Luckily for me, this is a rare occurrence. But some writers care so deeply about what their social connections have to say about their writing that they allow the words to dictate what happens next. Look, some people are jealous that you have a talent they may not have. Others say things without thinking. Still others are just jerks. So, aside from getting rid of the jerks in your life, take every negative comment and turn it around. If someone says, “It must be nice to write all day,” tell them, “Yes. It is. Thank you for acknowledging that I’m a serious writer.” If someone says, “I don’t like the kinds of books you write,” just tell them, “Oh, that’s okay. I write for a specific audience and the reviews are stellar.” And if someone says, “You probably don’t sell too many books because there is so much competition, huh?” To which you can reply, “Actually, it’s just the opposite! I’m thrilled that my books are selling really well. I guess I’ve found my niche!” Remember to smile, make your eyes sparkle, and say it like you mean it. If you start telling others how well you are doing, they will pass it along, and you will feel empowered. It’s a win-win!

8. Read your positive reviews, complimentary rejection letters, or any correspondence that lifts you up. Cut out the best parts. Hang them up. Make a collage. I have had over 100 rejections over the course of 20 years and 13 novels. But there are only certain words I take to heart: “Elegant writing.” “Incredible characterization.” “Unique plot line.” “Beautiful metaphors.” “Send me more of her work.” And you know how those blurbs on the backs of books all sound so amazing? Well, go online and read the entire review. Most pro reviewers offer both positive and negative remarks. But does the writer put the whole review on the book or in their social media? Of course not. “The book, although a bit sappy in places, will appeal to women across the globe.” Here’s what you will find on the book: “Will appeal to women across the globe.” You see? So re-read all your positive remarks or display them in your writing space. It is one of the nicest things a writer can do for him/herself.

9. And finally, do something from time to time that makes you happy aside from writing. I am burned out right now. I have been working on requested changes on a YA for my agent. It has taken me a year. Yes, a whole year. On top of that, I am marketing my new Adult book that just came out, including intense book touring, getting ready to re-work another YA, and getting ready to prep another Adult for self-publication in late 2018. If I make it. And did I mention I have a job? I tutor four nights a week. So. I try to do things from time to time that completely take me away from anything that has to do with reading or writing. I go antiquing. Work on my 1910 house. Take walks around the river. See a play. Take a short road trip with the hubby. Enjoy a Yoga class. Getting away from your writing is just as important as writing, because we all need to recharge. And you will find that after a bit of relaxation, when you get back to your story (don’t worry, your characters will still be there!) you may even see your writing with a fresh eye and a happier attitude.

So, that is my take on things.

What do you do to stop the crash and burn? What are some tricks that help you continue, even when you aren’t sure what tomorrow will bring? If you have advice for other writers, I’d appreciate the share. After all, we are all in this together.


Maggie’s Dream: Historical Fiction with a Dreamy Twist

“The dream is the small hidden door in the deepest and most intimate sanctum of the soul…”  ~ Carl Jung

When I first set out to write the novel Maggie’s Dream, my plan was to create a story that solely regarded Post WWII feminism, and the independence women craved but could not acquire.

You see, when America’s soldiers (the ones who survived and were capable of working) came storming home after the war, women, who had worked hard in the factories and other necessary jobs for months, even years, were suddenly thrust back into their pre-WWII roles. Women who had made their marks as riveters, mechanics, managers, engineers, ambulance drivers, etc, many of whom were thrilled to be an integral part of the workforce, were ordered to go back to their ovens, vacuums, and furniture polish. They were jolted out of their happily discovered livelihoods with expediency to get henna rinses and hairdos, polished nails, real stockings, high heels, all while suppressing the angst that the independence they suddenly found a penchant for was no longer to be theirs; was no longer a right. The boys were coming home. They would need to get back to their old jobs. They would expect women to prepare home and hearth for the grand homecoming. It was time to dust off the cook books and revamp sex drives. Time for wives to greet hubbies at the door with curly hair, rosy cheeks, and a martini in hand. Time for singles to doll up and inspect the surge of incoming men for a husband.

While it is true that many women were relieved to give up their posts at the daily grind, their metal lunch boxes filled with SPAM sandwiches and their underappreciated paychecks, others were not. As a matter of fact, most women enjoyed working in jobs different from the usual female professions as secretaries, nurses, or teachers. Not that those jobs didn’t offer a place for women, but for those who were single, childless, unhappily married, or for those who wanted more than what had been offered to them for so long, working for a cause greater than themselves offered a glimpse of what could be. Many were thrilled to don overalls and hardhats, work victory gardens, head up can drives. Women were relied on, looked up to, and utilized in a way that their sex had never seen before.

I pored over countless letters and diaries from the Rosies who had collectively kept the United States from collapsing under its own weight during WWII. The pride in their words, in their hearts, transcended the pages upon which they wrote. I could feel what they were feeling, to finally be a part of a “man’s world.”

But when the war ended, and the confetti from the victory parades was swept away, so too was the feeling of female independence.

Women not only suffered a strange and incurable feeling of displacement, but many married gals fell into the throes of depression. And most of these women suffered in silence.  After all, what woman would complain about being taken care of by her husband? How could a woman who had a new dishwasher, the latest pumps, and a shiny Dodge in the driveway possibly complain?

Short answer: She could not.

Thus started the influx of psychoanalysis. Women needed a place to vent their suppressed feelings, and psychiatrists/psychoanalysts were quick to prescribe a cure, often in the form of tranquilizers.

Maggie’s Dream took on a life of its own shortly after I began writing it, which is somewhat common when working on a novel. The research took me to places I had no idea existed in the human condition of the era. I worked hard to make Maggie’s desire to be independent remain the crux of the story, while allowing the fantastical elements to seep through organically.

The outcome is an adult fairy tale combining post-WWII feminism, psychotherapy, the world of dreams, and Carl Jung’s theory of collective consciousness. Don’t worry! Though sitting on the line between commercial and literary, the novel is not high-brow.

I hope you enjoy the book. Let me know what you think, and tell me your own Rosie stories if you have any. Ask an older female relative what she went through during WWII and the years following. Perhaps she will offer a story that will make you see the struggle for independence from a new perspective!

Thieves Among Artists

I did not plan on writing this blog today, but, sadly, I have no choice but to stop in the middle of my busy day and share this with all of my writer/artist friends.

I often do a Google search on my name: Leslie Tall Manning. I do it for kicks, to see how many pages on which my name lands, and sometimes I do it on days when I feel down about my writing career and need an egotistical boost. So there I was, happy to see I’d made the first seven pages of Google’s search, when something caught my eye.  “Free GAGA PDF Download.” I did a double take just before my stomach fell to the floor. Someone was giving away one of my novels for free? Then I found one for my second book: “Free Upside Down in a Laura Ingalls Town PDF.” I don’t have to tell you, my dear writer friend, why I was torn between punching a wall and sobbing like a baby.

No one works harder or more diligently than some writers. I am one of them. For seventeen years I have attacked the computer keys four days a week, four hours a day. For years my agent has been pounding the pavement to get my books (13 count) into the hands of top publishers. For three years of self-publishing I have worn the hundred or so hats that self-pubbers wear, from the editing bonnet to the marketing cap. To suddenly see my books, in PDF no less, being offered illegally for free is something I hope you never have to go through.

So. I went to the site in question. Not really a site exactly, it is owned by Google, and is called a Fusion Table. This is sort of like Google Docs, where people can share information. “Share.” The word of the decade.

I found a copyright infringement form through Google and filled it out (my name, URL in question, etc) only to receive a one-sentence explanation that the URL had either been taken down or was no longer in use. I found this strange, since there it still sat in Google’s search queue.

Still not feeling convinced that the site was defunct, I dug deeper. This digging took place on my tablet instead of my laptop, since tablets cannot support viruses, and I wasn’t sure where the link-clicking would lead me. These days, you never know.

One click led me to a page that offered three buttons: “Sign up Now,” “Download” and “Free Trial.” Or something like that. I clicked on the download button, since I wanted to see if my book came up. That click led me to another page that told me if I filled in the blanks, I could receive a free shopping trip at JC Penney. The ads along the right side of the site were Russian. Hmmmmm….  At the bottom, there was a JC Penney disclaimer that said Penney was not affiliated with the site. I filled in the first blank, asking for my name. This led me to another page, where the blank asked my age. I lied and clicked. The next page asked me how many times I shopped per week. I laughed out loud while clicking on “10 plus times per week.” This led me to another page asking for my email address. I put in an old one that I hardly ever use, and the site told me that was incorrect and would not let me move forward. Well, that’s where I planned to stop anyway. I am pretty sure the following pages would ask about my credit card number, my bank account, my social security number…

Look. I am pretty sure this is not a place that actually gives away free PDF’s of my books. I am pretty sure it is a phishing scam where the final page suddenly informs you your computer has been compromised, or simply takes your personal information for their email lists, or credit cards, or whatever.

Do they actually have PDF files of my books? I cannot answer that question.  On the first page they show that GAGA was given over 4,000 5-star reviews. Wow. Really? Well, if that were true, I guess I’d be thrilled that so many people love the book, even if they had received it for free.

If the site is real, and if I’d gone further and discovered that the book was being given away for free, what would I do?

Honestly, I have no idea. The Internet is an entity in and of itself. It is like a machine. It does not have a moral compass.

What did I learn? I have become much more diligent as the gatekeeper of my work. And you should, too. I now get Google alerts every time my name, or my books, or the word Free attached to my books enters the Google stream. These alerts come into my Gmail box, so I will receive them as soon as they occur. IF they occur. And hopefully they won’t.

Before I sign off, I must add this tidbit, not to upset you or make you paranoid, but to remind you that knowledge is power: Recently, I have stumbled across a few articles about authors whose works were not only taken, but were re-titled, re-authored, and uploaded to Amazon. Very very scary. To work so freaking hard, and then have someone steal and reap the benefits of our hard work. It is shameful and disgusting. Don’t even get me started on what I would do to the person who has the gall to absorb another’s work as their own.

Let’s keep an eye on one another. We writers need to stick together. If you see something fishy (or, phishy) tell the author. If you feel your work has been plagiarized or stolen outright, do something about it. Tell Google. Tell Youtube. Tell Amazon. Tell all of your Facebook and Twitter friends. Tell the whole freaking world. Book aggregates can only do so much to protect your work. It is up to you to be the overlord because no one will ever love your work the way you do.

I’d love comments on this one if you have the time…




How I Help Authors…and You Should, Too.

It has been a long time since I’ve written a blog post. Maybe it’s because I’ve been so busy writing, marketing, publishing, book-signing, tutoring, office decorating, and trying hard to ignore the political firestorms, that I’ve hardly had a chance to breathe. The lapse certainly is not because I have nothing to say!

So. Here I am. Finally putting on electronic paper what has been rolling around in my head for a while now: I want to brag a little. Not about my own writing. I’m sick of doing that. But I want to tell you why I go out of my way to shake my pompoms for other writers. Writers I know. Writers who are my friends.

Yes, it is true, I am one of those rare authors who does not feel competitive with my writer friends. Our stories are different. Our styles are nothing alike. Our goals are as varied as our characters. There is always a competitive undercurrent that will forever flow beneath my writing, as there are thousands of writers hoping to achieve the same things I am. But those are people I do not know. They are only known to me by their titles splayed out in banners across Goodreads, or flashing at the bottom of Amazon. When it comes to writers I know, the ones who are close to me, who have read my work, commented on my writing, dropped pieces of grammar advice, followed me on Facebook, came to a book signing, or left a review, I give them the world. Even if they haven’t done any of these things, I feel honored to help them out.

What I mean is, every single author friend who has written a book and asked me to read it, I have obliged. I have also left a review, though not in my real name, for various reasons. But the authors know my reviewer nom de plume. Sometimes the book is stellar. Sometimes mediocre. Sometimes it actually sucks. In the case of the latter, do I tell them my honest opinion if the book is already out there? No way. If they ask my advice before they hit the “publish” button? Then I am all in. But if a writer friend has worked tirelessly to tell a story, has perhaps done years of research, paid to get it edited, made the rounds with a critique group, then who the hell am I to tell them what I think? Who am I to discourage them from continuing on with their journey? My writing has become stronger over the last 20 years of writing. How could it not? So my friends’ works will get stronger, too. I am confident of that.

Writers need to stick together, not ignore one another.

We have a lot of BnB’s in our Civil War town, and a few years ago, my husband and I befriended a woman who owned one. All of the BnB owners work together, either through advertising or by offering a competitor’s address when their own rooms are full. You see, they don’t see this as competition. They see it as helping one another out. Everyone does this. Because what goes around comes around. If a town is known for one BnB, it could draw some tourists. But if it is known for having a dozen? Well, it has established a great reputation. All the BnB’s have always been on board with this idea. Except for this one proprietor. She saw all the other BnB’s as evil back stabbers who were only looking out for themselves. She did not recommend them, nor did she ever get to know the owners. Guess what happened? She rarely kept her rooms full. She ended up flying solo instead of with the flock. And she got shot out of the sky while the other birds flew to safety. Eventually, she sold the house and moved away, perhaps thinking she was leaving behind a band of enemies. Somehow she saw this potential support as a threat.

I’m no psychologist, so I could be wrong about her. But I am using this analogy to show that lying in bed together and sharing a big blanket is way more advantageous than one person getting the bed and blankie, and everyone else sleeping on the floor, shivering, cast out.

Look, it doesn’t require much to do what I do. To pick up a friend’s book and read it. Even if it is boring, or you didn’t like the ending, or it is simply not your “genre” (which is a bullshit excuse as far as I’m concerned…after all how many of us only watch one type of movie, or one type of television show, or listen to only one type of music?), read it anyway. You’re a grownup. You’re not a twelve-year-old boy forced to read Dickens, or a seventeen-year-old girl doing a book report on the pig’s head in Lord of the Flies. So get over it. Read your friends’ works. Maybe offer a little encouragement, a little nicey nice. You aren’t their editor or their agent. You aren’t scouting Amazon for your production company in Hollyweird. You are reading what someone took the time to write. So do it. He or she is your friend. Be theirs, too. You will not be forgotten. And that could come in handy at some point during your own writing career.

You also may find a sweet little gem from time to time.

: )