Monday, October 29, 2018

Guest EC Murray: How to Get the Reviews You Want - Ethically

Several months before publishing my memoir, A Long Way from Paris, information flooded my in-box about reviews: businesses selling reviews, authors begging for them, aspiring writers searching for hints on how to get them.  This is what I’ve learned in the years since then.

Tip one: write the best book you can. Write a book which resonates with readers. Write a book that will make readers go out of their way to say, “I loved your book.” Then, you can move forward with a few strategies.
Recognize “review” has many meanings: reviews in newspapers, blogs, and journals vary tremendously from reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. Initially, I sent my manuscript to KIRKUS and Book life (a wing of Publishers Weekly) for paid reviews which authors can publish or forget, depending on how positive they are. In my case, both provided stunning reviews.
About nine months later, which was three months before publication with a hybrid press, I reached out to acclaimed authors with whom I was acquainted. I showed them the KIRKUS review and asked if I could send them a copy of my manuscript and, “if you like it, would you mind writing a blurb?” A blurb is another slant on “reviews,” which can appear on your back cover, on the first page, and on your Website. If these authors responded affirmatively, I asked if they would like a hard copy or digital edition.  Most wanted a hard copy. I then put paper clips around sections which I thought would be most applicable.

For example, Langdon Cook, winner of the Washington state book award, writes about outdoors and mushrooms, so I cordoned off the section on mushroom hunting. It may be that he liked the whole book, but if he was too busy, at least he’d read what was most relevant to him. For Carlene Cross, author of Fleeing Fundamentalism, I sectioned off the chapters relating to my spiritual connection with nature. For Theo Nestor, my memoir teacher, I selected areas where I struggled with my personal growth. I sent the whole manuscript to each author, since often times, they became hooked and wanted to read the full manuscript.
Additionally, I wrote to newspaper reviewers, quoted positive reviews I’d received, and asked if they’d like to receive my book and write a review. Most reviewers wanted a print version of my book. I never, ever sent my book to anyone before asking if they’d like to read it. By the time of my book launch, I had several positive reviews printed in newspapers which I could also use on my Amazon page as “editorial reviews.”
In contemporary writer’s parlance, however, “review” often refers to Amazon and Goodreads reviews. As an early writer, I scoffed that writers paid so much attention to Amazon reviews. Then, I asked people how they decided what to read. Some people chose library recommendations. Many readers heard about a book from a friend or radio interview, then went straight to Amazon and Goodreads to read reviews. Having positive reviews, and a lot of them, can make or break your sales.
There’s a general, overarching way to get reviews. That is, make your book available on Bookbub, Net Galley, Goodreads give-a-way, Kindle free giveaway, and Kindle countdown. Those may be good starting points, but I offer a word of caution. You may get some doozy reviews. One friend received a two star review because “It’s in present tense. I hate reading books in present tense.”
There are, however, better ways to get Amazon reviews. I wrote on the last page of my book, “I’d love to hear from readers. My e-mail address is” If they e-mailed me, I then asked if they’d be willing to write –NOT a review on Amazon, but a COMMENT. What’s the difference? Your average reader is intimidated by the word “review.” “I can’t write a review! I’m not qualified! I wouldn’t know what to say.”
Here’s where I help. If someone emailed me to say they like my book, I write them back, addressing the story they’ve told me. There’s usually a personal story (my son was a heroin addict; I was in southern France during the war; I love goats) which surfaces as a result of reading A Long Way from Paris. Then, I ask if they would do me a favor. Would you mind writing a sentence in the review section of my Amazon listing? I paste a link to the review section of my Amazon listing. I say, “Your comment could be just what you’ve written to me” –I quote their e-mail—“or it could be as as simple as ‘I enjoyed this book because ______’” Or, I might give them an example of a “review” that’s already on Amazon.

By reaching out to the readers who I like my book, I’m accruing positive reviews. If someone says, “I read your book,” but doesn’t say they liked it, I don’t ask for a review, or a comment. My goal is to reach as many readers as possible, but my preference is to get comments, or reviews, from people who liked my story. By using the word “comment on” rather than “review,” and by providing a link, readers are far more eager and willing to write a positive review on Amazon and Goodreads.

E.C. Murray, teaches writing at Seattle Central College and is the founder of The Writers Connection.
Her memoir, A Long Way from Paris, was named a Kirkus Best Book of the Year.
View of Mt. Rainier (home area of EC Murray and The Writers Connection)

You can find her on social media: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and her Website.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Critique Groups: The Good, the Bad, and Run-for-Your-Lives! 10 Kinds of Critique Groups that Can Drive you Batty

By Anne R. Allen

Critique groups are a great way to get feedback on your writing. But groups can fall into bad habits. I've been in dozens over the years and I've seen how one or two dominant members can change a group’s tone and direction.

Here are a few common deviations from the helpful critique group we're looking for. Some can be helpful in spite of flaws, but often you have to move on.

1) Enforcers

They’ve never met a writing rule they didn't love and enforce each one with zero tolerance. For them it's all about shaming rule-breakers, not improving a fellow writers' work.

They have a search-and-destroy policy for adverbs, and insist the word "was" is taboo. (For a rebuttal, see my post on the "was" police.) They allow no prologues, EVER.

Put up your deflector shields and let most of their “advice” bounce off.

2) Fact-Checkers

Some groups are dominated by detail-oriented people who want a novel to be as close to real life as possible.

Everything must be "realistic" down to knowing when and where your heroine relieves herself when she's running from mutant raccoons on Mars.

One will say your Regency duke would have terrible B.O. after fighting those ruffians, so the kiss the heroine has been anticipating would not be the glorious experience you describe.

Remember your genre’s norms and ignore the noise.

3) Group Therapy

The tendency to slip into psychotherapy is a common pitfall, especially in groups with memoirists writing about divorce, wartime, or health issues.

The line between creating and confessing can blur. Critiquers often give supportive, "attaboy" feedback out of compassion, no matter the quality of the writing.

When you come in with your breezy rom-com, you feel like you're crashing the pity party.

Plus these tender-hearted folks may try to stop your protagonist from making bad choices. She mustn’t dance with that judgmental aristocrat Darcy or accept that owl's invitation to wizard school.

Conflict-free stories are not what you’re aiming for.

4) Golden Girls

A group dominated by an older demographic can have memory issues. (Hey, age happens to us all, with any luck!)

Unfortunately, members often forget what they heard in the last installment, so they’ll ask you to repeat yourself. Often. Which can make for some unreadable prose.

Give them a separate recap before you read your chapter, and DON’T put it in your WIP.

5) Punctuation Police

This happens in online groups or in-person meetings where readers bring printed copies. Critiques can devolve into drawn-out arguments over use of the Oxford comma.

Groups that focus on grammar and spelling will do little to help with big-picture storytelling, but if you want to brush up on basic grammar or need a proofreader, they're fine.

6) Literary Salon

Usually dominated by readers and writers of literary fiction. They may write brilliantly and have a vast knowledge of literature, but their critiques can be…less than helpful.

They tend to be old school, so won't consider self-publishing. They may send out a few half-hearted queries comparing their work to Kerouac or Karl Ove Knausgaard, but probably don't attempt to get published outside of small literary journals.

They can have useful things to say about character and setting, and are fantastic at weeding out clichés. But on plot, structure, and pace, not so much.

7) Coffee Klatches

These groups never get around to more than a couple of critiques because so much time is spent chatting over the elaborate refreshments. Providing snacks can become a competitive sport. If the group meets in the evening there may be some lovely wine.

These groups can be a godsend to a writer who's been holed up in a writing cave and needs some human contact. And wine.

But feedback can be skimpy and useless to a writer on a path to publication.

8) The Literary Death Match

Whether or not the members are poets, meetings can be like a competitive poetry slam. The dominant member (s) want to perform, and tune out when others are reading.

Critiques careen from lavish praise to savage criticism. Somebody will probably order you to write an entirely new plot, which they’ll outline for you in detail. Their goal is to establish dominance, not improve your WIP.

These people can build you up one week and crush you the next—saying anything that comes into their heads.

Find another group. Narcissists are dangerous.

9) The Mutual Admiration Society

Like the Coffee Klatch, this group is all about schmoozing. Also bolstering flagging egos. To give them credit, they’re not focused on the ginger-pear Linzer torte and imported Gewürztraminer. They are actually interested in the work.

Unfortunately, everything brought for critique is always WONDERFUL and worthy of publication. They don't want you to change a thing.

You’re not going to grow much in this environment.

10) The Vicious Circle

This group is dominated by a handful of Dorothy Parker-wannabes just waiting to slip a verbal dagger into your heart.

They may have published a bit—which makes them "experts"—but it was some time ago. Maybe in college. When they got harsh feedback from the writer-in-residence, who used words like "puerile" and "derivative."

Since then, they've been honing their bitterness till it cuts like a samurai sword.

It only takes one or two of these—plus their devoted (and fearful) minions—to turn a critique group into one of the darker circles of hell.

A workshop like this at a well-known writers' conference was the inspiration for my comic mystery, Ghostwriters in the Sky. I got to kill off the workshop leader who created this Vicious Circle.

Run before you resort to real-life homicide.


Anne R. Allen is a multi-award winning blogger and the author of 13 published and forthcoming books, including the bestselling Camilla Randall Mysteries. She’s the author, with Amazon superstar Catherine Ryan Hyde, of HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE. Her latest book is THE AUTHOR BLOG: EASY BLOGGING FOR BUSY AUTHORS. Her next Camilla mystery, GOOGLING OLD BOYFRIENDS will launch in December 2018 with Kotu Beach Press. You can find her, along with NYT million-seller Ruth Harris at Anne R. Allen’s Blog…with Ruth Harris.

Anne’s latest book for writers


An easy-does-it guide to simple, low-tech blogging for authors who want to build a platform, but not let it take over their lives.

An author blog doesn't have to follow the rules that monetized business blogs do. This book teaches the secrets that made Anne R. Allen a multi-award-winning blogger and one of the top author-bloggers in the industry.

And you'll learn why having a successful author blog is easier than you think.

"I’m already a massive fan of Anne’s blog, and this book is written in the same humourous, yet highly informative style as her blog posts. Sharing her own blogging successes and mistakes…Anne makes the whole blogging process seem accessible to everyone, no matter what you’re working on or your level of technical expertise." …. Mark Tilbury

Only $2.99 at Nook, Kobo, Apple, and Amazon.

Monday, October 15, 2018

#IWSG -- Save Your Work! Twitter Pitch / WEP Challenge / Anthology Contest

We've all seen it. An author posting on social media saying their computer died and they didn't save their current masterpiece or that they lost power and lost all their major edits.

It takes seconds for hours worth of work to just disappear and that can be the difference between being a happy author or being a homicidal maniac author ready to pull out their hair.

There are lots of options for saving your work, a quick save to the device you're on, saving to a jump drive, or getting an external drive that can be taken off site.

My favorite way to save? Email. If I make major changes to my manuscript I send the whole file to three different email addresses with a version number and date. This way, I know it's not just on my computer and I can access it anywhere I can access my email.

Now we just need to REMEMBER to actually save!

Do you have any great tips for saving your work?

We have a date for the next #IWSGPit Twitter pitch – January 15, 2019!

Visit the IWSG site for details.

You don’t want to miss it.

Don’t forget that the IWSG has partnered with Write…Edit…Publish!
This month’s challenge - Déjà vu or Voodoo.
Add your name to the list, write your story, post on your blog or Facebook, and visit others.
And there are prizes!
Full details at the WEP site regarding genre, length, etc.
Déjà vu or Voodoo – do you?

Finally, this is the last month to submit to the IWSG Anthology Contest.
Young adult romance is the genre and masquerade the theme.
Entry is free, just need to be a member of the IWSG on some level.
See the SITE for details.
Don’t miss this opportunity to be in a royalty-paying anthology!

Monday, October 8, 2018

More About Cross-Pollination

Lately, I’ve been obsessed with cross-pollination. I’m not talking plants; I’m talking about linking up with endeavors of different kinds. I have a lot of writer friends, and I value their insights and knowledge, but it occurred to me that all of us should be looking at other fields for inspiration and information, too. Why not? I believe there are universal principals that can guide us to success, and maybe we can tap into some of that by extending beyond the writing community. How about looking at successful people in say, the arts, history, or science? What are their guiding principals, their strategies that have placed them at the top of their occupations?

In my article about Annie Leibovitz that was posted in ALLI last month, I took a foray into the art of photography and connected it with the art of writing.  I enjoyed that so much that I started looking for other possible connections. I didn’t expect to find exactly what I wanted about secrets to success in the financial world, but I did. I stumbled on Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates, the world’s largest hedge-fund firm, and here’s what caught my attention: “Without pursuing dreams, life is mundane.”

What writer can’t agree with that? Well, this one, for sure. But then he talks about what he calls hyper-realism. So, because I’m curious if nothing else, I wanted to know what that means and what that does. He explains it as being a deep understanding, an acceptance and being able to work with reality as it is and not as he wishes it were.

Okay. I got it. And I’m paying attention.

Later he gives what he says are his secrets to investing and managing money and—most importantly—getting through the next 24 hours. I can use all the help I can get when it comes to “getting through” another day and actually accomplishing something, too.

Here are Galio’s Secrets: 

  • Know your goals and run after them. 
Identify and face the problems, however painful, that stand in the way of your goals. 

  • Diagnose the root causes of these problems. 

  • Design a plan to get around these obstacles. 
Execute on your plan, pushing yourself to do whatever is needed. 

Are these secrets to success universal enough?
I see why this man is so successful. He has a philosophy that is overarching, much larger than one that’s about making money. He spoke directly to me here: “You will lose something or someone you think you can’t live without. You might think your life is ruined and there’s no way to go forward. But it will pass. There’s always a best path forward; you just don’t see it yet.”

Okay, now I stop and push back in my chair because the day before I read this article, my Zen teacher said, and I paraphrase, when you’re in doubt about making a decision, give it time. Don’t rush it. Let the right choice come to you. It will.

I’m now feeling as if I’m in a cosmic vortex, and my head’s filled with how I can use this, how others can use this. As writers haven’t you had times the plot won’t work, the agent fails, the book languishes without sales, or you’re undecided about which path to publication you want to take? Have you agonized over what to do? I certainly have, so I’m making notes about this waiting and giving it time and not catapulting into a ill-advised decision. And I’m thinking about what Dalio says about there being a “pathway” to  the right decision when I find, “Unfortunately, you probably won’t like it…”

Well, try me. So I read on.

He calls it radical open-mindedness. Wait. That means I can’t be right all the time. Really? But please continue Mr. Dalio.

“Your deepest-seated needs and fears reside in areas of your brain that control your emotions (I’m inserting the amygdala, you know, the old fight or flight part of us) and are not accessible to your higher-level conscious awareness,” Dalio says. “And because our need to be right can be more important than our need to find out what’s true, we like to believe our own opinions without properly stress-testing them.

“We especially don’t like to look at our mistakes and weaknesses.” He adds, “We are instinctively prone to react to explorations of them as though they’re attacks. We get angry, even though it would be more logical for us to be open to feedback from others.”

I’m all for learning more, not less and I’d love to make some good decisions in just about every aspect of my life, including the writing part. As I read more, I started asking myself if I’m living up to my potential or falling short because I’m not paying attention?

And you, do you shut down when someone criticizes your work, or do you take a look at that criticism and consider it? Do you practice radical open-mindedness instead of shutting down in anger? As a writer, what do you think about cross-pollination, learning from people who are in   different fields?

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

IWSG October: We Need Your Stories

It’s time for another group posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Time to release our fears to the world – or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic. If you’d like to join us, click on the tab above and sign up. We post the first Wednesday of every month. I encourage everyone to visit at least a dozen new blogs and leave a comment. Your words might be the encouragement someone needs.

The awesome co-hosts for the October 3 posting are: 
Dolorah, Tanya Miranda, Chemist Ken, and Christopher D. Votey.

Optional Question this Month: How do major life events affect your writing? Has writing ever helped you through something?

The 2018 Annual IWSG Anthology Contest needs your stories!

Guidelines and rules:

Word count: 3500-6000

Genre: Young Adult Romance

A Masquerade can be a false show or pretense, someone pretending to be someone they aren't. It can be a ball, a fancy dress party, it can be a mask. Open to interpretation.

Submissions accepted: September 5 - November 4, 2018

How to enter: Send your polished, formatted (Double spaced, no page numbers), previously unpublished story to admin @ before the deadline passes. Please include your contact details, your social links, and if you are part of the Blogging, Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter IWSG group. 

Prizes: The winning stories will be edited and published by Freedom Fox Press next year in the IWSG anthology. Authors will receive royalties on books sold, both print and eBook. The top story will have the honor of giving the anthology its title.

Our previous IWSG anthologies:
Tick Tock: A Stitch in Crime
Hero Lost: The Mysteries of Death and Life
Parallels: Felix Was Here

Gwen Gardner, Jen Chandler, and LG Keltner know what it’s like to have the winning story.

Yours could be next!

Are you on Instagram?
This month, we are prepping for NaNoWriMo (if participating) and staying motivated in our writing lives.

Do you Write, Edit, Publish with WEP?
October's WEP Challenge is:

Do you have a story for the anthology? Are you writing one? 
Write it and send it!