Tag Archives: critique

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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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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Profession or Hobby?

You’re writing a book. Are you approaching this as a profession or is it a hobby?

Given how difficult it is to be successful, it might be healthier to approach writing and self-publishing as a hobby, something you do for fun.  However, are you approaching it seriously enough you don’t harm others?

Self-publishing is gaining respect because of writers who are approaching writing and publishing professionally. They make sure their books are edited. They pay attention to genre and industry standards for formatting. The hobbyist who publishes a rough draft rife with errors and formatted poorly hurts every serious self-publisher, not only by putting a dent in the self-publishing image, but by making it that much harder for a reader to find the good books.

You can approach writing and self-publishing as a hobby and still produce a well-written, professionally-produced book. It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money.

A good critique group can help you polish the writing. Your library, book clubs, and English teachers at a local college may be able to suggest good editors and proof-readers. When it comes to formatting, you can buy templates or do it yourself using your word processor—if you know how to use styles, show all formatting marks, paragraphing, and other tools. If you don’t, head back to the library and local college and ask for a word processing guru. In any case, make sure you have copies of traditionally published books in the same genre to use as examples of how it should look. Pay attention to details.

This takes more time and effort than throwing up a rough draft, but friends who buy it may actually read it, and you won’t be hurting other writers.

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

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What Makes a Good Writing Class

I’ve taken courses and workshops in English, journalism, fiction writing, poetry writing, technical writing, grant writing, and probably more that I’m not thinking of this moment. Quality has varied, but many were excellent. Based on that experience, here are some elements I consider essential for a good writing class:

  • The instructor is a good teacher, someone who builds on your strengths rather than focusing on your errors.
  • Once you have basic skills, the instructor helps you refine your writing style rather than forcing your writing into a template or their personal style.
  • The instructor is a writer, preferably someone who’s published or is in the process of trying to be published, so they know what it’s like to risk rejection repeatedly.
  • The instructor regularly writes the form they are teaching, be it short or long fiction or non-fiction, plays or screenplays, or academic work.
  • Students are there because they want to improve their writing. If it is a required class, the majority of students become enthused as they see their writing improve.
  • Everyone is expected to write for every class meeting, whether that’s bringing in new or revised work and/or doing spontaneous writing in class.
  • The class as a whole or in small groups critiques each other’s work with the instructor modeling and supervising constructive critique methods. The emphasis is on the work, what works, and what can be improved. This way you will learn from everyone’s writing.

If you have other criteria, please post them.

Sheri McGuinn Photo Signature

 

 

 

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

 

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Levels of Edit

The world goes on while we write: The term “buckets of rain” became real to me in 1972, when Tropical Storm Agnes stalled over Pennsylvania for days. So I checked – total rainfall that caused massive flooding back then was less than Houston got in the first twenty-four hours. Cousins – glad you’re safe.

On to levels of edit. I’m going to repeat one piece up here:

Don’t submit rough drafts for critique or editing!

If you’re working with a critique group, it’s rude. If you’re paying for an editor, it’s a waste of money. Always read, revise, and correct to the best of your ability first.

At least use your word processor’s spelling and grammar checks. These are flawed – you need to look at each suggestion before accepting corrections – but there’s no excuse for asking people to read something that looks like you threw letters and words into a blender, then poured them onto the page. Grammarly has a free app that gives feedback on grammar and Natural Readers has a free download that will read your documents aloud. It’s mechanical and makes pronunciation errors, but if you have a problem with commas, you’ll hear if you’re missing pauses or have too many.

Sheri McGuinn
I write.
http://www.sherimcguinn.com
http://www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

20170831LevelsofEdit

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Writers Revise

Last week I wrote about not getting ripped off when you self-publish.
My favorite resource for this is the free annotated list of companies you get when you sign up for Carla King’s mailing list for Tools & Services at authorfriendly.com.
This is a marketing strategy for her 4th edition of Self-Publishing Boot Camp and for her services, but she has NOT buried me in promotional emails and she DOES send updates. This is an excellent tool for any self-publisher, but if you’re new the knowledge is essential.

20170824WritersRevise

Sheri McGuinn
I write.
www.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

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Critique Groups – Key Elements

I was extremely lucky in my first critique group. Running Away was losing agent interest in the first pages. I read it to the group and they unanimously proclaimed I’d started in the wrong place. They were absolutely right!

The best critique group is going to include people with diverse perspectives, backgrounds, and skills. They’re going to be supportive of each other, even when they’re giving negative feedback. Every person will leave the meeting energized.

Aside from that, there are a lot of different ways critique groups may work. Here are a few variations.

Sheri McGuinn
I write.
www.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

Critique Group What to Look For

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