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Sprint 16: Beta Reader Feedback, Mexico, and Pinball

March was a whirlwind. It started with a well-timed trip to Mexico, followed by implementing feedback from nine beta readers, gardening, jury duty, releasing our short story in the Steampunk Fairy Tales collection, and lots of pinball.

Last Sprint

Nine beta readers provided feedback on the changes Leslie made in January. Our major focus was to implement their input and finish Echo Chamber Heist. We ended up writing two new scenes and removing large sections that no longer felt like they belonged.



New Release: Steampunk Fairy Tales

Our short story, The Mech Oni and the Three-Inch Tinkerer, was published in the Steampunk Fairy Tales collection.

The story is a steampunk retelling of a Japanese fairy tale and is free on Amazon, Kobo, and Smashwords.



Leslie’s Approach

Leslie led the charge in implementing beta reader feedback. She organized everything, writing down main points on one sheet of paper per chapter, then edited multiple chapters a day.

She also re-read the entire thing one last time to check for typos.

Leslie put each chapter on the corkboard so she could visualize how much work was left.

Dave’s Approach

I reviewed Leslie’s edits every morning and made changes of my own. At the end of each week, I read the latest ten chapters in a row to get a feeling for pacing. I also did the taxes, dropped the price on Dream Eater’s Carnival, wrote the first chapter for an urban fantasy book I’ve been brainstorming, started drafting a short story about pinball, made connections to help find freelance work, and re-read the entire manuscript in one sitting.

Honestly, I didn’t use the board much, except to post stuff after I finished. Our goals this month were clear in terms of scope and deadlines. Basically, whenever Leslie finished something, I dropped what I was doing and reviewed it.

The Numbers

We met our goal of implementing all beta reader feedback.

The numbers:

  • 101 finished planned tasks (Leslie: 43, Dave: 58)

  • 2 finished scope creep tasks (Leslie)


  • Bring typewriters on vacations. Travel is a great time to explore new ideas.

    I suppose pencil and paper would work, too, but my handwriting is atrocious so I prefer typing. I also have shoeboxes and half-finished notebooks filled with ideas strewn about the house, so keeping actual writing digital makes it harder to lose.

  • Seek new beta readers for each phase. Earlier readers may be happy that you made revisions and won’t see new issues. Still, hearing whether you fixed problems they had earlier is useful. It’s also nice to get a first impression on your latest revisions. Seek input from a mixture of new and old readers, other authors, and avid readers.

  • Read books that have been wildly successful in your genre, especially during the final stages of editing. It helps to have something to compare to. I was concerned about a few things in our manuscript, but they abated when I found content in a successful book that targeted a similar demographic.

    One morning, I had a hard time with our story. I had read everything so many times that it all felt cliché and dull. My mind gets stuck in cycles where the negativity feeds on itself, and it felt terrible that I wasn’t enjoying our story.

    To compare, I read samples from successful books on Amazon and found I didn’t like those, either. That made it clear I was just in a bad mood, and it stopped the cycles of negativity. I took a short break then was able to enjoy our story again.

  • Work through the slog. Final edits become tedious. You’ll never get through it if you put it off. Even though it was hard for us to re-read the entire manuscript in a single day, it felt like a huge weight was lifted off our shoulders afterwards.

  • It seems like Friday is the most active day when hunting for contract work. The beginning of the weeks have been quiet, but I get a number of calls on Friday. There’s been plenty of nibbles, I’m just waiting for something to bite.

Next Sprint

We’re taking a short break from Bitlather Chronicles to work on video game development. Leslie will be learning Blender from an online course on Udemy, and I will continue to learn Unity. Originally, I wanted to see how much of a prototype we could finish in one month, but I think it’s better for us to treat this time as a learning period.

I’ll also be adding more stuff to the board related to finding freelance work. Moving those slips of paper will make me feel better about spending the time. I really want freelance work to pan out, so that I can have more freedom to pursue personal goals.

Reflecting on March

The last time Leslie and I did a relaxing vacation was about eight years ago, when my parents invited us to go with them. So, back in December, we had planned a relaxing vacation to Mexico.

We woke up early and headed to the Pittsburgh airport, where we encountered a Robot Repair Shop, which is an art exhibit between gates A10 and A12.



My friend Mike Springer had told me about it, and it was pure coincidence it was near our flight.

Mexico was wonderful. We returned to the Grand Bahia Principe Tulum resort. Like Kyoto, it was familiar but strange to go somewhere you haven’t been to in years.



The dogs seemed happy when we came back.



One day, Leslie picked up Niko and mentioned that he feels heavier. Embarrassed, I mentioned that, just maybe once or twice, I might’ve fed him a little extra. Leslie said, “It sounds like a common theme: husband stays home, dog gets fat.” After a light reprimand, I vowed to not overfeed Niko.

Our dear friend Lauren Brush watched the dogs while we were away. She’s Linus’s favorite babysitter. Shortly after we got back, we all went to pinball together.



We attended a Futuristic Queer Dance Party Benefit where another dear friend, Lana Hayes, donated artwork for auction. It was a piece that she had started years ago, and involved Leslie’s face. Leslie won it!



I took a break from working to help finish the manuscript, so this is the first month since I graduated where I didn’t make any money. Well, that’s not completely true; I sat in for a day of jury duty but I wasn’t selected.



I read about Henry Hobson Richardson, who designed Allegheny County Courthouse and Jail in 1884. I enjoyed his quote:

“If they honor me for the pigmy things I have already done, what will they say when they see Pittsburgh finished.”

We visited my sister for Easter.



We finally tried Pinball PA, a new pinball arcade near Pittsburgh. It included some of our favorites and machines we’ve never played before.

An electronic palm reader printed our fortunes for us. Leslie’s alluded to upcoming success; we hope it’s with regards to manuscript submissions (^o^).



We also had our highest scores to date on Black Knight 2000. I think the machine we normally play is on a slanted floor, because the ball moved a lot better here.

I love Black Knight 2000 because of its lights, music, voice, and difficulty level. Give it a listen:

Isn’t that the most epic 1980s futuristic medieval fantasy pinball music you've ever heard? It has more caffeine than coffee.

Leslie’s vegetable garden is coming along.



Finally, Leslie immortalized herself as a Power Puff Girl, in celebration of the upcoming reboot.



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