Writer In Motion: Space Cows 3: The First Draft

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You sproing through the short bushes that cling to the grassy hill, muzzle raised to the cool air. Odd scents wash over you—this planet sure is stinky! The trees are full with leaves, and the sky is blue, lighter than the grey-blue of the distant mountains. Are all planets going to be like this one? 

Frankly, part of you is disappointed. Aren’t alien plantes supposed to be more, well, alien? For another thing, there’s a odd artificial structure right at the top of the hill, clearly not even trying to hide. Training exercises are supposed to be hard, aren’t they, or what’s the point? It’s all so dreadfully boring, you rise up on your back hooves to reach a long-hanging branch and nibble at the twigs there. It’s against the Code, but who’s donna tell on you? Cow? It’s not like Cow’s every here. They’d be in the building that’s clearly where you’re meant to go, waiting for you to show up for your briefing. 

But you’re on an alien planet! It should be even more exciting, but still thrums of energy race through your bones, simmering beneath the vague disappointment. The grass isn’t made of crystal and the sky’s not green, but it’s still a completely new ball of rock hurtling through space and you’ve actually done it. You’re a Space Goat and nothing can take that away form you. 

All you need to complete the day is a nice glass of wine, the fruitier the better. 

Oh, also and to complete your mission, you suppose. 

You can hear the Whale as clearly as you did when he was standing in front of you, his long face scowling in your memory. “This mission is simple. You’ll be Dropped on an alien planet and will have to find your assigned rendezvous partner, who will have the Matt. Once you find your partner, you’ll be briefed on a short mission, and upon your return, Matt back up to the ship.”

Look for clues, for anything out of place, obviously. Like the glaringly obvious building

You sproing along, your hooves squishing in springy turf. The mountains rise and fall behind the hill with each bouncing leap. Going directly toward the building would be boring. You’ll go around it first—scouting. That’s right. Totally being responsible. 

The wind brings you further brand new scents, and you pause, your eyes half closing as you filter the new smells out and try to guess what they are. Plants. Air. Smoke. Smoke’s a little concerning, but it’s only a little bit, so it’s probably pretty far aw—

Something slams into you, lifting you off your hooves. You skid across the rocky ground on your side, dust making your eyes tear up. Your heart beats faster than it did during your first space walk, and you scramble to your hooves. Before you stands a Cougar, fangs a flash of white as he smiles at you. 

“Not following orders, again, Goat?” he asks. 

What was a Cougar doing out here? You glance at the building, so obviously where Cow would be waiting. It was too far. The Cougar would outrun you. 

Another flash of white as the Cougar smiles again. “It’s supposed to be a training exercise. You and I weren’t supposed to meet like this. If you’d followed orders, we wouldn’t have.”

“You wouldn’t hurt me. Not really.” Too bad fear makes your voice high-pitched and bleaty.

“Accidents sometimes happen in training exercises,” he responds, inspecting his claws. 

You’re not about to cave to the threats he’s tossing about like the trees shedding pollen in the air. You’re the first Goat to make it on the Whale’s Space Teams. And even if this planet seemed boring at first, it was the very first alien planet you’ve been on and you’re not about to lt the chance to explore more end here in the cruel claws of a Cougar bully. 

You dig your small hooves into the arid ground and lower your head. A flicker of surprise lights the Cougar’s eyes, but then you spring forward. Your horns crash into his side just as he’d knocked you over just a few moments ago. And then, you spin and charge for the building, for safety. The Cougar won’t be happy you hit him, but all you have to do is make it to the tiny, square-sided building before he does. 

The soft dirt slows you, giving no easy platform as you scramble up the hillside. Hot breath on your flanks motivates you to move faster, so you abandon decorum and go to all fours. Twice as many hooves to propel you to the top of the hill does wonders, and you skid around the side of the building, panting for breath. Where’s the door? Where’s the door? The Cougar’s gonna get you before you can find the door to this dirty, unassuming, tiny building, and on your very first mission. That’d be embarrassing. 

The door gleams, white metal in the sunlight, and you lunge for it, scrabbling with the knob. It was clearly not made for hooved-species. Ironically, Cougar would likely have an easier time with it, but you don’t have time to wrestle with a space junked door! You kick it, and then lower your head and head-butt it. 

It springs open, and you stumble inside. Your hooves slow of their own accord, leaving you gaping. A cool grey banister stands one meter in front of you, separating you from the rest of the colossal space. An enormous cavern of bustling workers spirals below you, along with Cow, waiting just one floor down. Everything is lit with warm yellow bulbs, and flashes of colorful doors accent the space. 

“How’d the Goat do?” the Cow asks. 

Your mouth works, but nothing comes out. 

Behind you, someone else has no trouble finding words. “Off-script, and with a literal meaning for “using your head”.” 

He grins at you. “What, cat got your tongue?”

“What?” you squeak. 

Cow smiles. “I needed to teach you an important lesson before we get to our primary objective.” The bovine face turns serious, brown eyes boring into you. “Never judge a planet by its drop site.”


Coming in at 1031 words, it’s rough, but I love it. I’m really excited to dig deeper into Goat and let their snark and attitude out further, even though I need to trim some words!

I definitely wanted to do something fresh, to turn it on its head a bit, so using a new point of view and vaguely recognizable situations, then flipping it on its head felt like the right move to me. Plus, Goat’s voice was just so spunky and kept me laughing internally. 

I forgot my terminology so had to look it up. And that delete button kept calling for little typos, but I tried to avoid it, as I do normally fast draft. This draft was a lot slower than many of my drafts have been, but I have slowed down a little this year (last year my fingers were on fire I was drafting so fast!). Autocorrect still caught some of my typos while others I’m hoping I can figure out later!

The last words just popped into my head, and I rushed to write them down right away, because I felt they were a perfect end to my story, giving me the anchor to tie together the vague shape of the story that had come to mind. Don’t judge a planet by its drop site. 

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Writer In Motion, round 3

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You guys know by now I’m a huge fan of Writer In Motion. Of course, it doesn’t work for everyone, but I adore the community and the solidarity that writers can find themselves immersed in.

This round, I was iffy on whether or not I would participate. I have such a blast with writing these shorts and I’m trying to get into a groove of practicing my short stories more. And my friends from WIM Round 1 were clamoring for more Space Cows! On the other hand, I also have edits to do, after all, and a couple of beta reads. But I definitely wanted to get more involved, so I volunteered to serve as a forum mod.

Then the prompt dropped. I love it.

Photo by Rahul Pandit on Unsplash

Look at this! The dark hillside, the lighted building. The openness of nature, the tiny man-made thing. The rounded shapes all around, and then the straight-sided boxiness of this building.

I immediately had questions. Who would live way out here? Why (beyond the obvious–hello mountainside!)? What else is there that we can’t see? What about that homey, chilling in the evening with nature mood–can I do something with that? What’s behind the house? What’s under the house? Does this fit with Space Cows, or something new?

But I knew I wanted to write something with it.

Spaceships under the mountain entered my head. Also a goat and wineglass picture I’d seen in Slack. And I mean, can I really pass up the chance to poke some fun at Jeni?

I had a hilarious time brainstorming in my writer’s group. So the questions continued. Is there a mountain sized spaceship under the house, and the little tiny house is actually the cupola?

Are the goat and wineglass on this mountain? Yeah, a mashup was inevitable.

And that’s when I knew what I was writing. Did I have a whole plot? No, but I knew the Goat would be the star, and it would be set in the Space Cows universe. I knew the Cow would be part of the story, in some way, but what exactly that way was still was yet to be decided.

Come play along with us! It’s not too late- just write your short story and post it by Friday! It’s only about 1,000 words in your genre of choice! Check out Writer In Motion for more details!

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On Inspiration and support

Writing can be a lonely endeavor when we let it become one. It’s easy to feel isolated, to feel like your words don’t matter and no one’s reading them. And when that happens, all too often the inspiration to write dries up. That’s a terrible thing. I believe there are amazing stories inside of each of us waiting to be told–stories that speak truths of who we are and how we see the world. Stories that matter. 

It’s a shame to silence them.

I’ve been serious about my writing for nearly a decade now. I enjoyed writing and telling stories all through growing up but I let my practicing of my craft go by the wayside. And then, once I decided to really apply myself to growing as a writer, I shunned writing groups by and large, too scared to share my work. I got by with a few beta readers, one of whom became one of my story-shining CPs.

And I did get by. I learned a lot, and I worked hard, but not nearly to the point I have lately.

In the last year and a half or so, I’ve become incredibly productive in part because I’ve been phenomenally inspired by the amazing writers who make up my support system

For me, inspiration is tied to the books I’ve been reading and to my emotional state. When I’m stressed, inspiration often dries up, while if I’m comfortable and confident, I can sling ideas around free for the taking. That means self-care is really important for me. Yes, I still have to do the work, but part of that work is giving myself the best chance to be inspired. 

And that’s where my community comes in. My cheerleaders, my pillow-fort, my squad. They pick me up when I’m down and lost, and they cheer with me when I win or when I’m confident. 

So how do you get one of these amazing circles of friends yourself? 

That’s the meat of what I want to talk about today, because there’s absolutely no need to be jealous, and too many times I hear people bad mouth these teams, or feel jealous or sad. But here’s the thing: my bunch may not fit your needs, and your bunch may not fit another person’s needs. That doesn’t mean there’s anything cliquey going on (although that can happen, of course). It just means you have time to find your writing home. 

I have a few circles. Some are for me to encourage others and receive encouragement by seeing others getting words down. Some I use to motivate me by expecting me to have something to submit for critique, and I grow as I give critique, too. (When in critique groups, always plan to give more to the group than you get.) Some are where I shout out about awesome opportunities in the writing world, or brainstorm or world build or character build. And then a very select few I go to when I’m vulnerable. When I need a lift, when I need a hug. These are the groups I know will never stab me in the back.

How many do you need? It’s totally dependent on you! But at least you need the last kind- that circle of people who will support you and never turn on you. And that’s hard to find. And it’s scary. But it’s gold once you have your writing family.

To form your own writing fam, it’s terrifyingly simple, but difficult. You have to put yourself out there. You have to try groups out and see where you fit. And sadly, that means you’ll find groups that don’t fit you. They aren’t active enough, or they’re too positive, or not positive enough, or not experienced enough yet, or too advanced and you feel left out, or maybe your personalities just don’t mesh. All of these situations can happen absolutely benignly, and I’ve seen them happen several times. Feeling bitter about it won’t help–chalk it up to a simple “not quite right” and move on. (Or, stay for other reasons, but keep looking for that close inner heart-circle.) Your people are out there!

I love events and competitions like Nanowrimo, RevPit, and Writer In Motion. They are amazing opportunities to find community. You get out what you put in, though, too. So if you come in ready to fight, or pick nits, or only want adoration, they won’t do a ton for you. (Side note: Good critiques can be tough, but a tough critique does not equal a good critique). If you come in looking to give more than you get, lift others up too, and learn all that you can soak up, you have a much better chance of finding your troupe. You’re also far more likely to get a ton out of it, even if you don’t win the competition, and for far longer than the event goes for. 

I have four CPs right now (I know, right? I’m so lucky! They’re each amazing wonderful people and phenomenal writers). One I found through Nanowrimo, one though RevPit, one through Twitter in general but I interacted with her mainly from RevPit and Writer In Motion, and another through my writing groups on Discord.

My CPs and I poke at each other to do writing competitions, to stretch our skills with writing exercises, and trade insights and reading lists. This is in addition to the brilliant stories and synopses I get to read from them and the amazing insight they give me on my work, and in addition to the brainstorming and plot-hole-filling and character-motivation-shining sessions we have. It’s amazing to have people to bounce ideas off of and to encourage each other on. Again, you have to come with the mindset of learning and giving though.

Not all of my heart-circle is CPs though, either. Some people I know will never love my work because it’s just not right for them but they still are always there for support and encouragement when I need them, as I try to be for them. They’re still part of my heart-circle. You can find CPs and your writing team in general anywhere. And they’re an amazing resource to be able to lean on.

These days, I’m part of several writing groups that I’m active on nearly every day, including one that I run critique groups on nearly weekly (which is amazing), and nearly daily I hang out with my Writer In Motion friends, even though our Writer In Motion was a year ago. I also have gotten involved with Write Hive in my quest to give back to other writers, just like older more experienced writers helped me when I was beginning my journey. 

So in short, to inspire you, of course, reading is amazing, but I’m sure you’ve already seen that advice. Don’t forget to build your community, whether you’re a writer or a reader, to inspire you to keep reaching greater heights!

Looking for opportunities to build your own writing community? Remember to go into these with the intent to give, not just get.

Writer In Motion — starting back up in a week (August 2020)

WriteHive

Quillhaven Discord Writing Group

Beta-reading Matchmaker

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Between Starfalls Blog Tour Wrap Up

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I’m so humbled and glad that so many bloggers took a chance on Between Starfalls, which I submitted for WriteHive’s first blog tour!

With every single reviewer, I waited for their thoughts with nervous anticipation. It’s never an easy thing to offer up something you’ve poured so much time, heart, and soul into for judgement. I’m adamant that reviews should be honest, whether they’re good or bad, which meant Kriti and my expectations for this blog tour lined up really well.

The questions the bloggers came up with for interviews were interesting and sometimes had me digging deep for how much I wanted to reveal! In appreciation of these amazing people, I really want to highlight the bloggers who gave my book a chance, along with a little of what you might find from them.

Annemieke from A Dance with Books – loved the family, religious, and cultural aspects, with hints of wider worldbuilding.

Olliespot Book Reviews – really enjoyed the epigraphs that led each chapter in Between Starfalls, and the distinctively non-western setting, getting to know the Rinaryn and Kamalti cultures through the course of the plot. He also had me on for an interview on conlang as well! Talking about how I constructed my fantasy language was really fun to talk about with him.

Krista from The Bookish HedgeMom – enjoyed the original setting as well, and chose to post an excerpt from Chapter 4, featuring the Angels.

El from inkandplasma – also posted the same excerpt (my Angels are popular!) and said “Between Starfalls is a beautiful book, with incredible world-building and fascinating fantasy elements.”

Alex from Spells and Spaceships – has mentioned me on his blog before, and still gave Between Starfalls an in-depth, thorough review, as well as had me over for an interview, which was really enjoyable.

Kriti from Armed with A Book – not only gave an incredibly thoughtful review, she also enjoyed the setting and cultures and characters immensely, and had me over for an interview! I adore talking to Kriti, and I’ll be honest, her review was probably the one I sweated over most simply because I know her well enough to value her opinion so highly.

Arina from The Paperback Voyager – loved the intricate worldbuilding and unusual setting, as well as the intimacy with which I addressed difficult, harsh topics. Fortunately for me, she didn’t hold my tugging at her emotions against me! She also gave me some amazing, interesting questions that really made me think about how best to answer them for our interview!

Fariha from Fariha’s Studio – didn’t quite have time to finish the book by the time her blog was scheduled, but she posted an amazing mood board and her initial thoughts. She loved the immersion into the culture and traditions. A full review will be coming, and she had me over for a guest blog on worldbuilding!

Beth from Beforewegoblog – wasn’t able to finish the book either, but loved the descriptions in the first few pages and described the storytelling as “lush and verdant”. She also had me over for a guest blog post, asking me to write a little about the balance between writing and personal life.


How it all started:

Kriti and I got to know each other through WriteHive and honestly, I’m super grateful. She’s one of those people who are constantly learning, and we’re always having interesting conversations. As she broadens her horizons and learns a little about everything, I get to come along for the ride!

She and I have had several conversations about authors and book bloggers, coming at the writing world from our various perspectives. At one point, we were talking about reviews, and I mentioned that I personally am against the idea of paying for reviews. I know other authors who do pay for reviews and this isn’t against them in any way, because I think it’s a personal decision, but for me, it’s something I’ve decided against.

I just feel really weird about the honesty of my reviews if I pay for them, even if they’re told to be honest (or tell me they’ll be honest). I worry about the potential for bias, and I feel personally that reviews from regular people who pick up the book are even more valuable to me, since they are free of outside pressure. Regular readers are who I want to reach anyway. Yes, I understand the mechanics of book reviewers having only so much time on their hands and paid reviews can help with prioritizing reading, but I just prefer the random chaotic naturalness, I suppose. It’s a complex topic, and so my opinions remain focused only on me- other authors should make this determination for themselves. But I don’t use any of those types of services. Could this be shooting myself in the foot marketing wise? Absolutely. But I’m ok with that, too.

Kriti asked me how I felt about blog tours, and because they’re generally paid, that means blog tours are a no-go for me too. (Though I have since also learned that the money does not go to the bloggers and stays with the organizer of the book tour instead).

Again, this is a personal thing. I don’t pass any judgement on blog tour organizers or people who buy their services, or pay for reviews, or any of that. I applaud their success! It’s just not for me.

Why in the world are you writing a blog tour wrap up post if you’re so against them, SK?

Keep your pants on, I’m coming to that!

So anyway, Kriti had been talking with WriteHive about doing blog tours for the authors there as a potential additional source of income for the nonprofit. She wanted to learn more, and she wanted to try it out and see if this was a thing WriteHive really wanted to offer. So she asked me a while later if my thoughts would be different if the blog tour was free. I said they would, because it’s really the money thing that I find (personally) troubling.

So it was that Between Starfalls became the trial run for WriteHive blog tours. Kriti knew how hard I’d been working on it, and she knew it’d been released at the end of March. I’d sent her a review copy already, but she hadn’t had a chance to read it yet. “I trust you, SK,” she said.

No pressure, lol!

Working with Kriti was amazing. I’d been on her Creator’s Roulette and done some interviews and guests posts with her, which have consistently been a ton of fun and super informative, so I was really looking forward to working with her again, especially in regards to the experimental aspect. Let’s work out all the trouble spots and issues on my book before asking anyone to pay for a tour.

Kriti is far more organized than I am, and from my perspective, the tour went extremely smoothly. She came to me with a list of expectations that she had for me as an author. These were things like retweeting the bloggers, commenting on their blogs, and thanking them, which I whole-heartedly agreed to. I have always been somewhat uneasy with the spotlight, and it’s far easier for me to highlight someone else, so lifting up the bloggers themselves was something I looked forward to! I also hoped to get across to them my gratitude for taking part in this very first WriteHive blog tour, especially with an unknown author like myself.

We decided this would be an honest blog tour, with bloggers having the option to post an excerpt in the event they didn’t like or finish the book, although they could also leave a negative review. Obviously, this was the bulk of my fears- that people wouldn’t like it. However, I wouldn’t have it any other way but honest. While I was taking a risk giving my book to the bloggers for review, they were taking a risk reading it, too, even more so for a tour!

Expectations: My expectations going into this were very low. I hoped one or two bloggers might like my book and feared being inundated with 1 or 2 star reviews, considering I only had a couple reviews at the time! However, I thought this learning experience was valuable, and people who aren’t going to like my book aren’t going to like it, regardless. I had also decided that I was going to enter SPFBO (The Self-published Fantasy Blog Off) this year too, so it was going to get reviews anyway. (SPFBO is a free contest for self-published authors, and their books are judged by teams of book bloggers.) Once the book is published, it’s out of your hands. People will read it and either like it or not. 

I did not expect all the amazing, thoughtful, in-depth positive reviews! My words struck people deeply, sometimes making them uncomfortable, but overall the response was positive. This is despite the fact that my book isn’t a traditional fantasy story with a traditional fantasy hero and touches on hard topics. This was amazing. 

So has my perspective changed, and what have I learned?

As of the writing of this post, I am sitting at a 4.17 rating on Goodreads, with 10 reviews and 12 ratings. On Amazon, I have 4 reviews, sitting at a 4.5 rating. The number of reviews obviously helps to legitimize a book for potential readers, and I did have a small but significant uptick in sales and pages read during the blog tour. Being on this tour meant that each blogger’s audience both on their blog and on Twitter was possibly introduced to my book, maybe for the very first time, along with the thoughts of a blogger they presumably trust. This reach was compounded with WriteHive’s reach and my own little circle.

Kriti, as blog tour organizer, put so much work into this project, and I got a chance to also chat briefly with Justine and Timy from Storytellers on Tour about blog tours, as well, on the WriteHive Discord server. From all the learning I’ve done in the past weeks, in a world of paid reviews especially, I can absolutely understand why blog tours are paid and how valuable a resource they are. Not just the increase in reviews for my book and the exposure to a wider range of people than my own reach, but also the sustained chatter about it over the course of the 10 days. Working closely with Kriti, watching for the upcoming posts and sharing widely, I got to see behind the scenes, which was very interesting. With all the running around Kriti did to make sure things were prepared well in advance, making graphics, and ensuring things were going smoothly, compensation makes sense. Some authors, too, don’t do well with poor reviews. My heart hurts for the organizers just thinking about an author ranting about not getting good reviews. But honesty in reviewing is essential for readers, for reviewers, and for the author. 

I also understand concerns of tying such a labor of love to any sort of money (even though the book bloggers themselves do not see any money from a book tour). Once you introduce money, though, things can get complicated. Even though the money isn’t going to the reviewers in the case of a blog tour, the fact that money is involved does give me pause for some reason.

Would I pay for another blog tour? I don’t know. I’m on the fence. This experience was extremely valuable, and I really can’t understate that. And yet, I still feel weird about paying money and getting reviews, even though the reviewers don’t get the money. I’m not sure what it is about it, precisely. I do think I’d feel better about it if it was donated to someone in the writing world who needs a boost, though, like WriteHive does. This includes book bloggers–and seriously, they did a ton of work during this tour, as did Kriti as blog tour organizer!

I would definitely encourage authors who are thinking about using any paid reviewing service to consider a blog tour or two (or three!) as an additional or alternate marketing strategy. Especially if they’re run by Kriti!

As I interact more with book bloggers, I make it a point to show my gratitude for their generosity. It might be a good time to go into etiquette now. Book bloggers do not work for authors. They take time out of their day to immerse themselves in the work of art authors have created and donated to them to hear their thoughts. I’m a firm believer that every author should approach a relationship with book bloggers professionally. Read their guidelines and follow them. Show them the respect they’re due- don’t drop into their DMs randomly or demand things from them or yell at them if you don’t get the response you like. We authors are not entitled to everyone loving our works. While we spend a ton of time and effort crafting amazing stories, and while yes, this is a business/career pursuit for many of us, there’s still an aspect of art here, and even the bestselling books in the world aren’t universally loved. If someone lets me know they’ve read and reviewed my book – regardless of how much or how little they enjoyed it – I make sure to thank them for their time and review. Why they liked it or didn’t like it is important to future readers trying to decide whether or not to read.

So in short, regardless of in what capacity you work with book bloggers, authors should always give them respect (and vice versa!).

I just want to end this wrap up by once more thanking the book bloggers who took part. Please check out their blogs, and follow them for further reviews! And thanks to WriteHive for organizing. If you haven’t gotten involved with this amazing writing organization, you should really check them out, on their website and on Discord!

And a huge thank you to Kriti for all her organizational prowess and her thoughtful design of this tour. If you don’t know her, get to know her! She’s a fantastic book blogger who designed the revolutionary visual review system that IndieStoryGeek uses, and she hosts various writers and thinkers and creators on her blog with her Creator’s Roulette! Don’t miss out!

Also! Don’t forget to check out Kriti’s wrap up thoughts!

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Beta Reader Matchmaker!

Through this process of taking my writing seriously, I’ve learned a thing or two about beta readers. I wanted to make it easy for people to find each other, to find beta readers who might fit for their story, so I made the Beta Reader Matchmaker–but I’ve learned it requires some explanation.

The Matchmaker spreadsheet has two sheets–one for readers and one for writers.

Your best bet is to look through both sheets. On the “Willing to read” sheet, you’ll find people who are… yeah, willing to read other people’s work. It’s a good idea to check with them and see if they have work to potentially swap with, too. On the “Looking for readers” sheet, you’ll find writers, as well as the information about their story. Again, swapping stories is a great idea. To add your name, simply fill out the form(s) and your information will be added automagically!

Please, please, be safe. Vet your readers first–don’t just dump your story on them and run! Talk to them, discuss your work, provide them with a blurb, and then–And this is IMPORTANT–send them just the first page, OR first five pages OR first chapter before sending them your entire manuscript!

Readers, please remember that the books you read are the product of a lot of work from the author. Respect their copyright and be prepared for them to ask you questions before sending you a snippet. Remember that personal preference does not make a book bad and always refrain from personal attacks. However, DO tell them what you thought and how the book made you feel.

Readers and Authors can end the relationship at any point. Treat each other with respect.


Are you an author looking for a beta reader? Fill out this form with your manuscript’s details! It’s also a good idea to fill out the reader form too, for extra visibility.

Are you just looking to beta read? This form is for you. Thank you for volunteering your time to a writer- this is absolutely invaluable.


I’ve heard from some writers “Well, I don’t have time to read anyone else’s work.” In that case, this form is not for you. Your best bet is to find a paid beta reader, because if you’re not going to give your time in return, you’ll have to part with money. Be careful though, because paid betas can be shady. Also, it’s important to note, beta reading other writer’s works helps to improve your own writing. It’s a huge learning experience. Don’t miss out!

“But SK, I need a CP, not a beta reader.” Great point! Still, your best bet is to look at this sheet, and as your conversation moves along, ask if that person might be interested in a CP relationship down the road. Skipping beta reading and going straight to a CP relationship can work out for you, but it’s super risky skipping that step! It’s like going into business with someone without ever seeing how they work or what their strengths and weaknesses are. Like getting married without dating first.

My advice is to 1) talk to the person, see what their goals are. 2) Swap a page or first five pages. See if the writing style is compatible with what you like. You don’t want to CP (or beta read) with someone if you hate their writing style- that’s just simply not a good match. Then 3) Give them their feedback, and read through the feedback they gave you. Does it make sense? Do your critique styles mesh? Sometimes you’ll love a person’s writing but hate their critiquing style. That’s fine, it just isn’t a good match. Nothing wrong with either of you, but not a great relationship. Finally, 4) see if you’re about the same skill level. CP’s tend to be about the same skill level writing-wise, as well as being compatible with critique style and writing style. They get what each other are trying to say, and see the heart of the story, and they help each other bring that out. That’s the magic of critique partners.

Beta readers, while invaluable, may not hit all those marks, and there is nothing wrong with that. A person may be a cherished beta reader but just not be a great CP match for whatever reason. But you’ll know if your beta reader is CP material, and that relationship can grow and it can also change, just like any other relationship.

Beta readers, CPs, and critique groups are all important resources to use, and none are inherently better or worse than any others. They each serve a different function, and that’s the beauty of it!

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It’s Release Day!

Today, Between Starfalls is born, and I’m just so excited and nervous. This has been the work of many years, and the first installment in a story I love.

Kaemada, Takiyah, Ra’ael, and Taunos have lived in my head for over 15 years, and now their story can really be told. This is everything I love: epic scope, powerful heroes, deep worldbuilding with rich cultures, complete with my organic magic system.

The ebook is out today, though the paperback will be a couple weeks before it’s released. And Between Starfalls is on KU, as well, so subscribers can read it for free!

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Cover Reveal: Elemental

I’m so honored to be able to share with you this upcoming book from the superbly talented Whitney Hill! She’s a wonderful member of the Writing Community, generously sharing her knowledge and lifting up others!

Take a look at her upcoming book!


Enter an urban fantasy world where elves, vampires, weres, djinn, and others maintain a precarious balance of power in North Carolina. Welcome to Otherside.

Private investigator and sylph Arden Finch is determined to come out of the shadows and practice her forbidden magic. There’s just one problem: the elves have a bounty on elementals like her.

When an elf hires Arden without realizing what she is, she seizes the chance to gain leverage in the dangerous world of Otherside⁠—even if it means risking exposure. But as the case grows more perilous, Arden draws the attention of the region’s deadliest power players.


Doesn’t that sound interesting? But check out this cover!

If you need this book, grab an ARC today from Whitney!

About Whitney:

Whitney Hill writes adult sci-fi and fantasy from her adopted home of Durham, North Carolina. Her worlds feature the diversity she has lived as a biracial woman of color and former migrant to Europe’s political and financial capitals. She draws on these life experiences to write characters finding or creating a place for themselves.

Outside of writing, she enjoys hiking in North Carolina’s many beautiful state parks and learning about world mythology.

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Between Starfalls Cover Reveal!

Between Starfalls will be coming out at the end of the month after five years of working on it! I’ve grown so much in that time, as a writer and as a person, and I have edited this story so much. But I love Between Starfalls, and the heart of the story has remained the same throughout all the years and edits (though my writing has improved!).

This is the beginning of an epic fantasy saga with sci-fi bits and pieces tossed in. Because I love stories that breadcrumb clues from the beginning with payoff in later books, there’s plenty of this here, while I worked hard to balance it and avoid it becoming top heavy and too slow at the start. Threads are woven together into a story that I hope is exquisitely re-readable, with powerful, flawed characters I adore spending time with writing.

Kaemada is a dreamer reluctant to adventure yet still hoping to be aid in her people’s safety. Her brother Taunos is the classic hero/adventurer, with a flair all his own. Ra’ael’s passionate judgements and self-assured attitude would be awesome even if she wasn’t a priestess berserker. And then there’s my lovely Takiyah, full of wit and wonder and the drive to pick everything apart and understand its workings. Oh yes, and she shoots fire from her hands, so that’s neat.

Never leave the path. 

It’s sacred law, punishable by exile.  

When her son goes missing in the perilous mountains, Kaemada defies the law to search for him. She enlists the help of her hero brother, a priestess berserker, and a fire-wielding friend.

But the law exists for a reason. 

When the search party is captured by the mythical Kamalti, they learn that Kaemada’s son was sent to an ancient prison city. As they battle for freedom, they discover a horrible truth that will change the future of both races forever.

With their world in upheaval, Kaemada must find a way to peace if she’s to save her son—but tensions between the two races are leading to war.

Once again, Dave Brasgalla has delivered a classic, gorgeous fantasy cover, and given Kaemada a face! The design centering on the mountains, with Kaemada on the hunt, and the vaguely forbidding shadows, and of course, dear, dear Tannevar the wolf. If you look carefully, there’s even Kamalti script showing on the rocks! I can’t say enough wonderful things about Dave or his art, so I’m going to stop now and just let you see it.

Look at that! Isn’t it gorgeous?

Between Starfalls is the first book of the Children of the Nexus series, and will be released on March 27th!

Check it out on Goodreads!

Need it now? Sign up for an ARC!

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Writer In Motion: Reflection

Writing, as one of the members of my writing group so eloquently states, is hard.

On the one hand, how hard can it be? Even little kids will spout stories, dropping words like the pieces of cereal from their adorable sticky hands.

I think we writers are our own worst critics, and that can devastate the creative process. Who wants to create a piece of art, or take risks, when negative voices are hovering over your shoulders, screaming at you that you’re not good enough, you’ll never be good enough, your words are all trashy, no one wants to read them anyway, and you’re just wasting everyone’s time.

Here’s the thing. Those voices lie.

Writer In Motion is far more than a fun experiment to me. I’ve fallen in love with its mission, its purpose. To take the leap and produce and display something that I know is not ready, and to document every waffling step I take–sometimes in the wrong directions!–in my quest to make it better… This is not something that comes easily to me. I was raised with the view that you hide your weaknesses and doubts and what you don’t know.

This? This is way better. It’s truer, and I love to see the ripples from the brave souls who participate, putting their art and their process on display. I’ve seen numerous comments from people on the sidelines who have been affected by Writer In Motion, who have gained some confidence, who have realized that they are not alone. To them I say: I see you, and I hope you join us next time.

The Writer In Motion community is filled to the brim with some of the most amazing, supportive writers that I’ve ever had the fortune to meet. In the WIM chat, there were tears, there were agonizing worries, there were considerations of giving up. All the hallmarks of art, you know? And the response! Every single time, an outpouring of love and support and encouragement swept out to lift up these writers, to buoy them until they found their feet again. It was amazing to witness, to be a part of. To see the support, to see the courage as these writers picked themselves back up again, dusted off their inner doubts, and went on to craft absolute brilliance… I’m the lucky one, to get to see this.

This second round was so much harder for me personally. I came at it with confidence I lacked in the first round, comfortable in my process, assured that I’m not a hack. And then… the words wouldn’t flow. I stressed so hard! And I knew the problem, and I knew the solution, but I couldn’t do it.

Silly ol’ me decided I would pack my November full of stuff, because of course I can do it all, right! I wanted to do it all, and by golly I was going to. How hard could it be, right? After all, WIM is just 1k, and Nano is just 50k and last July I wrote 100k, so I had plenty of time to also edit a third story (150k) and listen to and make notes on my audiobook chapters for my narrator…. right?

Yeah sometimes I don’t make great decisions.

I ended up dropping the last two tasks by the wayside when it became clear that juggling all these things weren’t going to happen. My stubbornness kicked in though and I refused to drop Nano (I have my streak to consider, after all) or WIM (I mean, how can I say no to Space Cows)?

So I limped through on sprained creativity, without giving my muse time to rest and recover as I knew would be smart. This led to some backtracking, some decisions that didn’t work, and to me spending most of WIM sighing over why I didn’t love Space Cows 2 as much as I loved Space Cows 1 and whether or not it was all in my head and maybe I’m just crazy. But that’s ok, because these things happen. Deadlines happen. Real life stress happens. Sometimes your muse takes a vacation without giving you notice (honestly, how rude!).

And I did it! With the help of my amazing WIM tribe, I did it. I managed by the end to pay attention to my themes, to the feel of the story, and to the characters I’d created, and I let them flow. That’s the thing. Sometimes we feel like we’re writing in a vacuum, or we isolate ourselves to write. And that doesn’t need to happen. With the help of a community, we can find the gold that our own eyes are too close or too tired or too full of doubts to see, and we can dig that gold out for all to see.

Will I do four things again in November? Smack me if I try.

Do I regret participating in Writer In Motion again? NEVER. I got to know some amazing people, and I learned more about my limits. The only thing I regret is not having more time to pour over the various drafts from all the other people, though I was fortunate enough to swap drafts with several amazing people and read so many phenomenal stories.

So remember: the mistakes you make do not define you, whether they are in life or in writing and especially your first drafts. Keep revising, keep getting better. Keep learning.

After all, it’s Writer IN MOTION, not Static Writer.

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Writer In Motion: Space Cows 2: Final Draft!

Wow, NaNoWriMo is done, and WIM is almost coming to a close as well. What a whirlwind this month has been!

For the second CP round, I was interested not in larger comments and suggestions on my story, but in specific feedback on how to polish what I already had. I tend to do this as I get closer to finished, because a wrench thrown in at this stage will send me cartwheeling out of control. Because of that, I carefully hand-picked my CPs and kept the number to 3 to avoid overwhelming myself. My three CPs all know Space Cows, know my writing style, have critiqued for me before, and I’ve critiqued for them before. 

I gave all of them the annoying disclaimer that I felt something was off about this Space Cows, but didn’t know what it was, or if it was all in my head. 

Oh yes, also Yes, Thuy, Space Cows will be a thing! 😂 

(I was a bit swamped this week and sometimes I forget things like replying, or I reply in my head and think I replied in real life and I honestly don’t know if I actually did or not…)

On to editing!

Do you see those 100 comments from Thuy?! Love it. It’s actually because she had track changes on.

After reading and letting the feedback set as normal, I put all the comments into my side of things, and wouldn’t you know it, many of the comments aligned? Even better, some of the fixes that Rebecca mused on as potentially being reasons why I felt something was off here were picked up on by my other two amazingness, and incorporated into their suggestions!

Now, you’ll see that several of the comments are re-written suggestions for improvement, where they’ve literally re-written my words for the fix. This would not work if they were not hand-selected for the very reasons explained above, because that would throw in the wrench I was talking about before. You’ll see that while I didn’t take all of their suggestions and incorporate them, I did many because they work with the story and they DO polish it out! 

(Basically, I don’t allow beta readers to rewrite parts of my story, but I DO allow it for my trusted CPs because by the time they are trusted CPs they will fight to protect the soul of my story just as I will fight for theirs.)

So you’ll see the Rebecca felt Cow and Wolf were talking past each other, and then Thuy came in and rewrote to condense and it felt like that fixed it for me.  Ariana suggested tension right where Rebecca felt Wolf was being less antagonistic than he could be.  Ariana asked me what Cow did with the rock, and hahahaha, wouldn’t you know it, I gave this to an electrical engineer? So Thuy beautifully rewrote with awesome details I was reaching for but couldn’t deliver. 

One of the things I talked about with Rebecca regarding both of our pieces was how hard we were finding the 1k cutoff. Now, the final draft is allowed to be any size, but I wanted to stay true to the spirit of the flash fiction and keep it right around 1k. Much of the tension and characterization and internals issues could have easily been fixed with more words, after all. It’s the word count limitation that made those things so much harder to polish. Some parts were commented on for possible trimming, knowing that would likely be necessary. 

So after incorporating the feedback that I agreed with after careful thought, I looked at my word count. 1118. Not too bad, not so bad as I was kind of expecting, but still, time to trim. Extraneous information has to go. Sentences that sound good but are too wordy are chopped. Thuy’s beautiful specifics? Distilled to less-specific. Internals that are repeated? No longer. Details that are unimportant? Erased. This is the hard part because I love drowning in rich worlds, but I’m trying to walk this tightrope of just-enough-information.

I really wanted to keep my tie-in to my previous Space Cows story and I am stubborn. After going through and trimming, I hit 1,016. So close! My tie in costs me 19 words. I went back through, looking for any stray words that aren’t strictly necessary. After a lot of wrestling, I think I managed it, while still keeping my tie-in- Woo!!

Time to run it through AutoCrit and listen to it out loud and check for grammar and punctuation. I managed to hit 1k exactly and I am pretty pleased with this story now!


Splash! 

You drop into a marsh. A bellow escapes as you flounder to find footing. Green plants, blue sky—except where thunderclouds are rolling in—and brown dirt surround you. A hill rises from the edge of the marsh, and the clouds above are lit in flashes. You were given a mission: investigate the Beacon and come home. And that’s exactly what you intend to do. 

Beside you, your Wolf “partner” struggles, the Matter Transportation Device clamped in his jaws. He goes under, then fights to the surface, ears laid back. Your stomach twists. The Wolves nearly stranded you to be torn apart by monsters, but if he drowns with the Matt, you’ll never get home.

“Climb on my back,” you grumble.

The Wolf’s claws dig into your hide. You try not to flinch. Acting like prey only encourages a Wolf’s cruelty.

The marsh mud sucks at all four hooves as you slog toward the hill and the flashing Beacon. When you finally meet dry land, the Wolf drops to his own paws and shakes himself, and you do likewise. He clutches the Matt in his front paws, his eyes ringed with white. Is he… frightened? No, it must be a trick. After all, he has the Matt. You’re not falling for it. 

“Come on, we need to find the Beacon.” You move to pass him.

“We’re stuck here, you stupid Cow.”

You freeze, waiting for the next words to fall from his muzzle, dreading and hating them before they’re even born. 

“I hung on to it. But the water… Just look!” He thrusts the Matt in your face. “Do you see any lights?”

No cheerful glow—just a dead metallic box. It’s broken. You stamp the dirt beneath your hooves. 

“We can’t get back.” The Wolf’s bitter tones slice at you. “They’re not going to send anyone after us. We had the only working Matt.” He lobs it at you, and you flinch when it hits your sensitive muzzle. 

The words dry in your throat. Every Cow knows to stay calm around a Wolf, no matter how much they want to run, to keep their predatory instincts from kicking in. But it’s hard. Once your racing heart and trembling limbs are under control, you pick up the Matt and open the casing. The water has flooded it, shorting the power supply.

“The settlement surely has supplies. Or we can call for help. The Beacon is still out there.” You leave the board exposed and head toward the settlement.

“We’re stuck here!” he shouts, as if you haven’t understood.

You keep a tight lid on the terror. “I’m still going to do my duty. I may be just a stupid Cow, but I’m not afraid of hard work. I’ll find a way home on my own if I have to.” 

Or die trying. A Cow on her own is prey waiting to happen. What then of a Cow traveling with a Wolf? The thought makes your cud dry on your tongue. Your instincts scream danger.

The Beacon lights the storm clouds above a settlement on a cliffside, crisp against the tossing ocean. Though rusted by the salt air, the tall metal fence surrounding it glows in the afternoon sun. The gate creaks as a settler opens it, ushering you inside. More fill the space behind him, similar to the monsters from the previous planet. Humanoid. You shiver. 

“Thank the Whales, the Wolves are here!” The gatekeeper flaps hairless arms. “And they brought…” He furrows his brow. “…food?”

“Might as well,” the Wolf says with a lolling tongue. “Since I can’t return to my ship.”

The gate clangs shut before you can back away. A snarling wolf is carved on the inside. Dismay slams through you. You are not prey! But the settlers’ eyes face forward, like the Wolf’s. You’re surrounded by predators and predators show no mercy. 

“But the Beacon!” you shout, desperate to stall. “You called for help.”

“Yes, we lit it as instructed when the water purifier broke. See?” The person leads you to a large machine—a water desalinator.

The Wolf crowds behind you, flashing teeth. “No need to worry about that now.”

You stamp, whirling to face him. “We came here to fix this.” 

“We’ll give you until evening,” the settlers agree. 

“I’ll help.” The Wolf gives you a toothy grin. “Since it’s why we’re here.”

Your blood rushes in your ears. You crouch by the machine, pulling off the side panel. 

“Oh, too bad,” the Wolf points. The collection basin of the desalinator is rusted through. You have no metal to replace it.

“But the marsh must be fed by a freshwater source, given the smell.” Regardless, there are other ways of getting salt out of water. 

This is a trap. 

“Good, they can find something to drink to wash you down.” He sniffs at you. 

You turn away, trying to still the shivers. Tears well up. You’ll be slaughtered and eaten. 

A wire catches your eye. You grab the Matt, shielding it from the Wolf’s view as he pokes around inside the desalinator. Dusk is settling but the sun has dried out the inside. If you can splice in a new power source, you don’t have to be dinner. 

“Time’s up. The people are hungry.” The Wolf pats your back. 

Using a sharpened rock as a knife, you strip the wires on the Matt and the desalinator. You twist them together to splice them. The Matt lights up. 

The Wolf peers over your shoulder. “What are you…

“Not such a stupid Cow.” You jerk the Matt out of his reach. “I’m going home.”

“Let’s go then!” His eyes gleam. 

“You were going to let them eat me!”

“Come on, Cow, it was just a joke.” He shrugs with a friendly smile and wagging tail. 

You narrow your eyes. “Fine. I have a joke of my own.” 

Prey runs.

As he opens his mouth, you press the button, Matt’ing safely back up to the ship. 


And that’s it! Make sure you check out the other amazing stories from this round!

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