Monthly Archives: November 2017

Reviews

20130324AliceFrontCoverWebSizeI don’t enter my work in many contests because those fees add up quickly. However, I realized my very short novel Alice had never been entered anywhere, so I put it into two categories in Writer’s Digest 25th Annual Self-Published Novel Awards. I think of it as a fun story, so I put it into mainstream fiction, but one of the customer reviews on Amazon calls it a “modern day ethics story,” so I also entered it in the inspirational category.

It did not win in either category, but I requested feedback from the judges involved and it arrived today. They each give a numerical score of 0-5 in five areas: Structure, Organization, and Pacing; Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar; Production Quality and Cover Design; Plot and Story Appeal; Character Appeal and Development; and Voice and Writing Style. They also provided a brief written commentary.

I opened the email with the mainstream category judge’s commentary first. My best numerical score was for Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar, and that was a four. Plot and Story Appeal got a two. The rest were twos and threes. The commentary was negative all the way – I definitely will not be sharing any part of it.

Then I opened the email with the inspirational category judge’s commentary. Everything got five’s – a perfect score – and the commentary ended with “one of the most interesting and useful novels I’ve seen.” I immediately posted the full commentary in the author comments on the book at Amazon.

Now both of these judges were presumably working with the same instructions for scoring – probably a rubric of some kind. I think the key is in the Plot and Story Appeal. The first judge gave that a two, the second a five. The first probably did not enjoy any of the process and got it done as quickly as possible; the second obviously enjoyed the book thoroughly and may not have looked at the technical aspects as critically as a neutral party. While I like the perfect score, I need to keep that in mind when my head starts swelling.

The bottom line is, no book appeals to every reader, including judges and reviewers, and most contests will have a single person doing the first screening read.

So what should you do when you get a negative review or commentary? Munch on a piece of chocolate and look at the details and decide if any criticism is justified. If you can’t make changes to this book, use the criticism to improve the next. When I entered Michael Dolan McCarthy in the Amazon Breakout Novel Awards, I got a full reading of the manuscript by Publisher’s Weekly and that reviewer pointed out my strengths as a writer and places the novel was weak. I hadn’t published yet, so after the initial cringe, I went back and fixed the problem areas. I quote the positives. Alice is already published, but if I write something similar, I’ll revisit both of these commentaries.

There’s sometimes a delay updating info at Amazon, so here’s the full positive review:

Judge’s Commentary 25th Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards

“ALICE by Sheri McGuinn is a wonderful short novel that’s an easy read. Yet it contains deep threads along with an important mission. Using the power of fiction, the novelist encourages readers to do something for the community — that is, using abandoned buildings to house the homeless. This is a worthy idea that I hope many will be inspired to adopt. Although it’s been awhile since I had major contact with teenagers, I believe the author captures the voice of a thirteen-year-old very well. The narrator has a sense of wisdom, awe, and inexperience that marks many in that age bracket. Baby Girl is a storyteller I enjoyed spending time with, and I think others will, too. The bright yellow book cover captures the attention right away. The flowers are whimsical, and remind me of the hippie era, which is of course ideal for this book. The back cover design is also whimsical, and lets the reader know what to expect. I would have liked to see an author bio here. The resources listed inside, along with promos for the next book and the self-publishing guide are all practical and helpful. Overall, one of the most interesting and useful novels I’ve seen.”

2012SheriWaimuPicchuForProfessionalwww.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

 

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Giving Thanks

Happy Thanksgiving!

We’re doing Thankmas at my home this year, ten of us having turkey together Thursday, then Christmas the next morning. It’s the first time since my kids grew up and started their own families that we’ve been able to do this at my home, so it’s a big deal and I’m thankful we’re able to do it while everyone’s still living in one state.

I’m thankful that I’ve been able to write full time this year. I finished a novel I believe may stand as my most important work. It addresses the long process of healing after a woman is raped and trafficked. It’s being reviewed by agents right now.

I’m thankful I have my own space with room for writing projects.

I’m thankful I’ve relocated to a place where I have multiple excellent critique groups, so I can get broader feedback on a work or take different works to each group.

I’m thankful to be living in a time when it’s so easy to stay connected with people far away through text, email, and cell phones with no long distance charges.

I’m thankful to be living in a time with so many options available to writers.

I’m thankful for my early teachers, including my mother, and all the books I read when I was a child that developed my sense of language and story.

I’m thankful for everyone who’s encouraged me to keep writing, including the readers who’ve asked for more.

www.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

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Transition

A few weeks ago I completed my new novel and started pitching it to agents.

Logically, I should have gone straight to my non-fiction project that will tie into workshops. Or I could have focused on getting the marketing of my short stories and screenplays set up to run smoothly. Both of these projects are in process and could lead to more immediate income than a novel. But neither of them provides the same satisfaction as working on long fiction: creating characters and watching them evolve in unexpected ways, braiding together plot lines, and those “Yes!” moments when a phrase or scene is just right or critique illuminates a way to tell the story better.

Instead of being logical, I became depressed.

My files are full of ideas, but none of them was calling my name. I took different short stories and novel starts to different critique groups, to see which made people want to read more. Several did, so I still had to make a decision. I dithered, knowing it would be more practical to focus on the other projects before starting another novel, but missing the process unique to writing long fiction. Then I took ten pages to a drop-in critique. They only work on five pages there, but I intended to take the second five to another group later in the day. The faster readers read all ten pages and there was consensus that they wanted to keep reading.

I took it home, where I had the first twenty pages on the computer, and made revisions based on their critique, changing the starting point and several other minor corrections. I sent off pages to a critique group that pre-reads. I’m stoked! It’s YA speculative fiction, a contemporary setting with some parapsychological elements and that group not only gave me excellent feedback to improve the beginning, we discussed writing goals as well.

The next week and a half is going to be devoted to family. We’re doing Thankmas because one group’s moving across the country in December. (Thanksgiving Thursday, Christmas Friday.) But ideas will be simmering and once everyone’s gone home, I’ll be ready to crank out that first draft quickly.

I’ll still need to set aside time to focus on getting those practical projects set up and working, as well as pitching or publishing the just-finished novel and planning promotion and marketing for it. However, having a new work simmering energizes me and improves my focus, so that time spent on the practical will be more effective.

www.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

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Balance

Balance is essential to our well-being.

At this point in my life, I’m spending forty to sixty hours a week on writing and related activities. It’s my primary focus. Last year, health had to be my primary focus, as I went through injuries, surgery, and recovery. Writing was still part of the balance, but I couldn’t devote this much time to it!

I know, however much time I’m devoting to writing, all the areas of my life must be nurtured as well. Not only does it keep me healthy and happy, it makes me more productive as a writer and as a human being.

Six years ago, a group of my friends gathered on a regular basis to do exercises designed to help us take a close look at our priorities in life. Only after we had decided what was important to us did we go on to establish goals in all areas of our lives.

I revisit all of those priorities and goals every year, not just those about writing. This helps me maintain a healthy balance in my life and make progress to the things I want in the long run. The areas of life we examined are: people, things, spiritual, feelings, and activities. What is important to you in each of these areas?

  • People: Who are the people important to you? How do you want those relationships to look? What do you need to do to establish or nurture those relationships?
  • Things: What things are important to you? What do you need to do to maintain those things you have and get the ones you want?
  • Spiritual: How do you nurture your spiritual self? How can you make sure this is not neglected?
  • Feelings: What feelings do you want to have more often? What feelings to you want to avoid? For each: what can you do about it?
  • Activities: What activities are important to you? Keep the previous priorities in mind as you make this list—there should be considerable overlap.

Sometimes life throws crises or opportunities at you and you give one area or another more time than usual. However, if you remember to allow some time for the other areas, you’ll feel better and keep making progress toward your long-range goals—and you’ll be ready to get right back into a more balanced lifestyle when the crisis has passed or the opportunity is complete.

00A2011SheriCMYKwww.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

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Process

As I understand it, writer’s block is that empty feeling when you sit staring at the screen or paper with no clue what to write. I’ve had that feeling trying to figure out topics for this weekly blog!

But I’m not sure it counts as writer’s block because it doesn’t “block” me. I’m pretty sure my process is the reason I’ve never suffered from writer’s block for more than a few moments, why it’s never really stopped me.

Here are the pieces I think are key:

1. I have given myself permission to not write at any given point in time. It’s okay for me to say “Well, that’s not happening right now,” and move on to another task. There’s no feeling of guilt magnifying the temporary loss of words until it’s paralytic. There’s no time lost because I’m free to move to another project quickly.

2. I have multiple writing projects at all times. Currently, I’m researching what the future may look like so I can write a futuristic novel; I’m pitching a completed women’s novel; I’m pitching screenplays; I’ve started turning a short story into a stage play; I’m working on a self-publishing manual to go with my workshops; I’m writing this weekly blog; and I’m revising short stories with critique groups and pitching them. So if I hit a blank on one project, I can probably make progress on another—I can even spend a day reading for that research or critiquing others’ work, reading instead of writing.

3. I set yearly and weekly goals that include writing, networking, marketing, and other writing-related activities. As long as I’m making progress on any of those goals, I can feel good about the day. If not, I can adjust my weekly plans to make up for the lost time.

4. Sometimes I’ll even take a day off from writing altogether and take care of other areas of my life. That’s okay, too. I’m a writer, and that’s a huge part of me, but it’s not the only part that needs attention and nurturing. The rest supports the writer.

The issue that stopped my writing will still be simmering on a back burner in my brain. I let the pieces fall into place, so I return to the project not only ready to write, but eager.

00A2011SheriCMYKwww.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

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