The difference between a Critique Partner and a Beta Reader.



What’s a Critique Partner?
Simply, a Critique Partner (CP) is someone, usually an author, who will go over your manuscript in fine detail, searching for plot holes, weak character development, possibly grammar and punctuation errors and so on. A CP will go in depth to your manuscript and bring out the very best of your story the way you’ve written it – something that’s very important. A critique partner worth their weight in gold, will strengthen your words, not twist them into what they would’ve done. They will mix the constructive criticism with the good. This is exceptionally important. It’s equally as important to work with a CP who writes in the same genre and therefore understands the mechanics within.
Of course, everyone wants to have a perfect manuscript coming out of the gate, but even the best of the best, have someone else who will review their manuscripts before turning them over to their editors. And swapping chapters with another author gives you a chance to work on your development skills, which can only strengthen your own writing. Win-win for everyone. Plus, it’s usually free – you swap chapter(s) with another author, although there are many paid services out there.

What is a Beta Reader?
A beta reader is a reader first. He or she will read your manuscript at any time during the creative process, maybe after each chapter is written, or when the entire thing is finished, or any point in between. Your mother or best friend usually falls into this category as they are not looking for plot holes or grammatical errors, they are reading for the story itself. Beta readers give you the big picture feedback – yes it was good, I liked the main character, I glossed over this section, etc. A beta does not delve into too many specifics.
Most authors will have a few different betas review their manuscripts. This is a great time to ask friends and family if they’d like to help out or ask on whatever social media platform works best for you. Again, this is usually a free service but there are many paid beta services on the web, and these betas will give you a 2-3 page feedback on your manuscript.   

Just be sure to make clear what your expectations are, and then you’ll know who you need to seek out.

Personally, I have a half-dozen beta readers, who will each get the manuscript at a different point. One gets it right after it’s written, another after the first draft is completed, and so on, and all are romance readers. They know what to expect and believe me, if I don’t deliver, I’ll hear about it.
Also in my pocket of must haves, I have two trusted critique partners I’ve worked with over the past four years – they are fellow romance authors whose opinions mean the world to me and who I trust to help me bring out the very best. Without them, I would have to pay way, way more to my development editor.

I also reward my Critique Partners – they put in countless hours for nothing, often sacrificing their free time, so I make sure to thank them with Starbucks gift cards, signed copies of the book they helped with and always a mention in the back of the book in the acknowledgements. Let me tell you, a little author love goes a long way in terms of karma and them wanting to help you out again and again.

Currently my village of betas and CPs are hard at work on a new project I'm crafting, which with any luck, the two-book set will be out in late 2019. Would you like to be the first to know the titles, blurbs, release dates and you love sneak peeks, be sure to join my group - Shander’s Stargazing Romantics - otherwise you can follow me on my social media pages.

In conclusion… how many beta readers and critique partners would you like? What do you think would be a great gift to receive if you are the beta or the critique partner?




My review of AT ANY COST by Rebecca Lovell

At Any Cost (Chicago Gray Line Book 1) by [Lovell, Rebecca]
Martin Caiber has a problem. As the son of a high-ranking member of Chicago's underworld, he knows his family has enemies, but he never expected to have someone trying to kill him. Unwilling to inherit his father's legacy, he wants to keep his nightclubs on the legal side of things but after nearly being run down in front of his club, Martin decides that it's time to enlist outside help.


Michelle "The Hawk" Andress is a woman with a past. A private investigator who specializes in finding lost children, she has talents she is glad she rarely has to use. It is these talents that put her on Martin's radar, and after an attempt on his life she agrees to become his bodyguard.

The attraction between the two is undeniable, but when Michelle becomes the target of hitmen too, her past comes back to haunt her and puts their future in jeopardy. If they're going to make it out alive, they'll have to use Martin's contacts and Michelle's deadly aim to put an end to the threat for good, and find out if love makes the ends justify the means.



PRE-ORDER for $0.99 

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My review. In a nutshell, page-turning! ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Already a huge fan of Rebecca's, having loved and read her other novels, I was given a copy of Rebecca's newest novel. I told myself I was only allowed to read two or three chapters a night, as I had to get up early in the morning for work. Lies. All lies. 

Once I started, it was really hard to put down after the first couple of chapters, so I ended up losing a bit of sleep (so worth it). When I reached the half-way point, I knew I was in trouble. I was not going to sleep until I finished. I just HAD to know what was going on between Michelle and Martin, and how on earth were they going to be safe. Needless to say, in the wee of the night, I got the answers I was looking for and I turned off my e-reader with a satisfied smile.

This is definitely a romance book and the steamy scenes between them are great. All women would like to be as kickass as Michelle is, and deep down inside, I'm sure there are many who would like a sexy businessman like Martin. The electricity between them is palpable. But not only are there sweet and sexy scenes, there are car chases, mystery killers and thrills galore. You won't need caffeine to keep you awake - the story will do that effortlessly. It's well written and has great character development.

I'd recommend this to anyone who likes a little love with suspense and intrigue. Well done, Rebecca! You continue to make me a lifelong fan. 

Follow Rebecca 

Serving Up Innocence Cover from Not Quite to Nailed It!

For a self-published author, deciding on a cover, or what I want on it is an arduous task. 

In my newest series -- The Ladies of Westside -- I knew exactly what my main characters (MC) looked like, but finding them? Impossible. When I contacted the lovely Cassy Roop of Pink Ink Designs, she sent me a very detailed form to fill out, asking about fonts I liked, colours I thought worked and in-depth character descriptions. Then she provided me the name of the site she uses for photos and sent me shopping. 

I spent HOURS pouring through the photos. For Serving Up Innocence the male MC has dreads and is Caucasian. The female MC has darker hair. Finding a photo with these two was nearly impossible, especially characters that are in their early 20s. Unable to find a couples photo, I did find two individual, and sent the stock numbers off to Cassy. 

She sent back this prototype. 

Concept 1
Now, there's nothing inherently wrong with this, but it's not right. The guy is pretty much a ringer, and the lady... well, it's not too bad. But together? It didn't work. The font was perfect but the colour needed to change - I found it too beach like and the setting was wrong for that. Back to the drawing board. Since we couldn't find the above guy with the right lady, and I wanted them in more of a couple pose, we did manage to find a cute couple. BUT he didn't have dreads. 


Ahh.. the magical art of photoshop. 

concept 2

concept 3

We darkened the green to a more jade colour as the FMC's nickname is Jade. Perfect, that works. She darkened the guy's dreads and it was tolerable. It worked but it wasn't perfect. It didn't have that **WOW** I was looking for, but she had three other covers of mine to work on, so I accepted this (concept 3) and blasted it out with all the pre-order links. I'm not a big pre-seller, but my pre-orders do well enough for me. A month out from the release of Innocence and there was nothing. I asked a few trusted people and they all said it was the cover and the man on the cover looked off, which I agreed with. It just didn't have the zip and the male wasn't a natural dreadlock wearing individual. 

I contacted Cassy and explained, and we went couple hunting again. I tell you - the next series/book I write, I'm picture shopping FIRST, I think that will make things much easier when it comes to cover design. Hahah. So after some more back and forths and a variety of single models, she came up with this (concept 4). Well... we're certainly getting closer. Much closer but it's not quite right. Better than the others though.

Concept 4

I swear, I spent thirty hours over a weekend (three weekends before Innocence was set to release) combing through photos and photos. BTW - I've saved every cute couple I thought I'd possibly need for the next few books too. 
On the final hour, in the middle of the night, I found them. They were perfect. Gorgeous and what I'd been looking for since the start. Only problem - the lady's hair colour was off and she was sporting tattoos. Damn! 
However, I sent the couple photos to Cassy and figured I'd work with it. I could go through my written book and change out Jade's hair colour to match the cover and add in the tattoo. Wouldn't be too hard, and probably much easier than trying to find another couple. 

Cassy emailed me back and when I saw the cover, I screamed. THIS was what I'd wanted since the beginning, it just took many tries and concepts and hours to get it. Through the magic of photoshop, she removed the tattoo and darkened the hair. Cassy Roop knew exactly what I was looking for and made this file perfect. 
I quickly uploaded the new cover to all the sites and blasted out on my social media channels the updated version, and the pre-orders started rolling in. YEAH! A good cover truly does make the difference, and I'm super happy with this. 

Perfection! 
So, if you are looking for a cover designer that works with you, I highly recommend Cassy Roop of Pink Ink Designs. You can also reach her on her Facebook Page - she'll post her deals (I got my covers done as a custom cover when she had a special birthday pricing) and has a list of available premades ready to go. She's uber nice, easy to work with and keeps going until it's perfect! 

This are the other three covers in the series. Didn't she do a beautiful job? 
I've also blogged about the evolution of Duly Noted's cover, and why I won't use Fiverr again. 


            

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Evolution of Duly Noted's cover

From WTH to Yes! Nailed It. 

I was going through my older pictures when I stumbled across the original mock ups for Duly Noted. It still makes me gasp in horror. 
Based on a recommendation from another author, I contacted her Fiverr book cover designer (who I just checked is no longer listed - at least not under that name.). I told him/her what I was looking for and waited for the mock up to come back. This was the first! 




I can hear you gasping! I know I was mortified. Where were these amazing covers that they posted for other authors and why was I getting something that looked like my kid whipped it together (and FTR my kid can do much better work than this!). I told them no way, and gave more information, what the story was about, the theme, the genre, links to book covers covering similar topics, everything I thought they'd needed. 
This was the second (and final) mock up. And there are errors throughout. Sigh. 





It's a huge improvement but still way beyond the other stunning covers posted on his/her Fiverr page (which I wonder if he/she didn't lift them from somewhere else). After going back and forth and tweaking little things here and there, I just knew I wasn't going to get a proper looking cover. Would you even stop to read the blurb on this? Nope! 

Good thing I had a couple of months until the book released. I had time to find something better.

Not sure what else to do, I chatted with another author about who did her covers and she steered me towards a "pre-made" cover - where the designer will make a few tweaks to name/blurb and basic font and colours but otherwise the cover is done with the models/photos/etc . I could peruse their albums and search through the folders, gazing upon gorgeous cover after cover. It cost me nothing to see the premades.   

Finding a group that I felt my book belonged in (she mainly does romance covers and it shows), I contacted ZH Designs with my request & deposit -selecting one of her premades, requesting that the colour on the hair be changed. Because it couldn't be, she offered to give me a 'custom' cover for the cost of the premade. Woohoo! I gave her all the information she requested and waited with bated breath. Within a very short time, I was presented with two concepts and a difficult choice. Which to choose? 


concept 1


concept 2

Bam! Finally, something that looks like a romance cover, something that could actually be a real book cover. I was super excited about these mock ups. After some back and forth with the designer, we tweaked one of the concepts. Based on the book information I gave her, she researched PTSD and found out their ribbon colour is the blue shown. Wow. Talk about going above and beyond. 




This was the final cover, and I am completely in love with it. It captures Aurora and Nate perfectly as her PTSD stemmed from a car crash (thus them sitting on the road) and she had little bits of shattered glass over top and it fit within the romance genre perfectly. Well done.


Amazing eh? Yes, she was more expensive than the Fiverr designer, but really, really worth it! The Fiverr was in the ballpark of $30+ and ZH Designs was $100+. 

What designer do you use? Did you fall in love with your cover right off the bat, or did it go through some major work? Share with me.

Interested in reading Duly Noted?