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What To Do at a Writer’s Night Out

Monday, March 21st, 2011

Here in Rochester, MN, I organize a monthly Writers Night Out.

The meetings are described as an “informal gathering where writers can meet and talk about current projects, story ideas, or any other writing-related topics.”

If you’re looking to organize Writer’s Night Out events in your area, there are a few things I’ve found to help them be more successful:

1.  Stay “relaxed” and “informal”

We meet at a local coffee shop to take advantage of their casual atmosphere.  Even though there’s no formal agenda, I often have several topic ideas in mind.  A few that are always sure to provoke debate are:

  • self-publishing vs. traditional publishing
  • whether writers should start out writing a novel or write smaller articles for newspapers first
  • when is the best time to write?

When the conversation lags, I toss out questions that center around debatable points, and let the opinions of others unfold.

Keeping the conversation informal is important.  When people are relaxed, ideas flow more freely.  They’re also more likely to come because they believe they may get something out of it.

2.  Talk about opportunities

In our area, there are several monthly meetings hosted by different writing groups, and other opportunities (like writing conferences and festivals) that people can attend.  I make sure to mention these at each informal meeting, especially if there’s a new member who shows up.

Other opportunities might include:

  • Topics that need coverage in a local newspaper
  • Freelance opportunities (I’ve gotten a few jobs this way)
  • How to find story ideas
  • Contests
  • Agents/publishers seeking particular types of work

3.  Be willing to listen

There are many times where I let others take control of the conversation.  Since this is informal, there’s no meeting moderator, though I often serve that role to keep the conversation flowing.

If you get a good mix of writers, there are going to be other talented folks who deserve your attention.  Pay attention to their experiences.  No matter how much you know, there’s always more to learn.

4.  Thank everyone for coming

Regardless of how the night flows, always be sure to thank everyone for coming.  They took time out of their hectic schedule to come and feed off the energy of other writers.  Let them know you appreciate their time.

Have you gone to a writer’s night out?  Are you interested in finding one in your area?  Do you host one?  What have you found successful?  What do you like to get out of a writer’s night out?  Let us know in the comments!

Using Beta Readers

Monday, January 17th, 2011

Earlier this week, I received a two-part question:  Who are beta readers, and why should I be using them?

Beta readers are people who read early versions of your manuscript.  In general, they should be in your target market (e.g., if, like me, you’re writing a book in the fantasy genre, your beta readers will tend to read lots of fantasy).

Their job is to:

  • read your entire work
  • let you know what parts they found boring, unnecessary, confusing, or conflicting
  • look for specific problems that you’re curious about (consistent characters, believable sequence of events, etc.)
  • give you an overall rating of your book…ideally, “I would recommend this to a friend”

Note that beta readers are not critique partners.  It’s unlikely that they’re writers, or have knowledge of how to construct a story.  However, they are likely to “know good work when they see it”.

You should use beta readers when you think your book is nearing its final form.  For example, I am nearly finished with my novel, so I plan to use some beta readers starting in mid-February.  If you still have major revisions planned for your work, you probably should not be using beta readers.

With any beta reader, you should always set expectations up front.  I plan to send the following guidelines to my beta readers.

Thank you for agreeing to be a beta reader for my current novel.  Since this is a work in progress, I am looking for your feedback on the following items:

  • Did you stay engaged in the book?
  • Were the characters interesting enough to hold your attention?
  • Were there any parts that seemed long and/or boring?  If so, where?
  • Who was your favorite character?  Was there a reason you liked him or her?
  • Was there anything that made you think: “There’s no way that would happen!”?  If so, please describe.
  • Would you recommend this book to a friend?  If so, could you describe the person you would recommend this to (no names please)?

In this case, I value honesty more than my feelings.  We can still be friends even if you hate this book.

What other questions would you ask?  Do you disagree with this approach?  Have you used beta readers successfully?  Share your experiences below!

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