Monday, November 28, 2022

Critique Group Know How

One of the first pieces of advice I received when I started to write for publication was to find a critique group. Back then, I was pretty much doing whatever anyone told me since I had no idea what this writing business was about, so I reached out and soon connected with a small band of people who said they were writers.

It turned out that two of them were and two wanted to be. 

One actually published the book she’d brought to the group and that we'd all read and critiqued. Another finished writing an excellent saga, but never published it. Both of these people impressed me with their talent and know-how, and I learned a lot from them. Our format was to submit writing samples via email about a week before we met, and then give our comments in person. We’d spend about three hours every other week, so slowly our time together became social as well as professional. The group lasted about five years before it disbanded. By that time, I was convinced that I needed other eyes and minds attending to what I was writing, so I found a second group. 

This time the members met online, submitting their work via email, critiquing it, and emailing it back. Unfortunately, once I was involved, I discovered there was quite an unevenness in the level of writing, and much of the feedback wasn’t helpful. Soon, three of us peeled away and formed a more cohesive group. These writers turned out to be keen-eyed editors as well as excellent and dedicated writers. I’m still exchanging work with two who have gone on to publish several successful books. 

Sometime during these critique group experiences, I realized that while I was improving my writing craft, I was also acquiring two more important skills—critiquing and networking in this new field where I knew nobody. Also, I’d become much more discerning about the kind of group I wanted to affiliate with, so I formed a plan.

When I played tennis, I always tried to find better players to compete against, reasoning that I could improve my game that way. So I applied that principle to this new endeavor. Before I joined another critique group, here's what I did.

I asked to read samples of their work and submitted samples of my own.

I asked to see an actual critique they’d done and reciprocated with one of my critiques. 

I told them I needed to know about their format--online or in-person as well as their schedule for submitting. 

The reason I asked about the last item is that I’m a slow thinker and like to consider a piece before I make suggestions or offer comments. I prefer reading large chunks of a manuscript rather than chapters or excerpts. I told any group I wanted to join that I recognized carving out a large amount of time might be difficult for people. However, I made it clear from the start that I was open to exchanging full manuscripts and longer segments of a WIP.  This turned out to be good because sometimes we actually exchanged full manuscripts. 

So far I’ve been a part of four different writing groups, and after this amount of time sharing work, I’ve come to recognize a pattern that seems to be common to all of them. 

There is a tendency to want to maintain a cohesive and friendly atmosphere, especially after a group has a long history. This is great, but it can also lead to less helpful comments. Saying that something’s "just wonderful" makes a writer’s heart flutter with joy, but what if it isn’t just wonderful? What if they could make it better than it is? And what does just wonderful mean anyway? While it’s obviously kinder comment, it’s not any more helpful than, This isn't good." 

When I go through one of the sample critiques to make my decision to join a group or not, I look for three things: 

their overview comments

the kinds of edits  (punctuation, typos, global impressions), and 

specific suggestions for improvement. 

I like to find an opening positive statement—there’s always something good in any writing, and that should be acknowledged. I like to find clear corrections about everything from those mechanical details to emotional responses, but most importantly, I like to find specific suggestions that I can consider to improve my work.

Some groups like to hear the story read to them by the writer. I love being told a story, but I believe hearing one changes the perception. I’ve experienced that while listening to audiobooks. I’ve continued with an audible story that I know I would have stopped had I been reading it. It seems there’s kind of a “grade elevation” effect when you hear writers read their stories. 

I found some studies contrasting the two modalities for processing writing (silent reading and hearing the story). These studies focus on retention of material, and the few abstracts I’ve read, indicate that there is either no difference in retention or retention is enhanced. I’d like to find some studies that contrast the perception of quality and enjoyment. Know of any studies like these?

In general, I believe critique groups have great value. They give writers different points of view on their solitary endeavors and open possibilities for growth and improvement. However, it has to be the “right” fit for me, and I think that’s important for any writer to determine before joining and sharing their work. 

I hope you’ll weigh in if you’ve had critique group experience. And by all means, let me know if you agree or disagree with my take on the topic.

Monday, November 21, 2022

Creating a Reading Log in Your Journal

By Olivia Gaines, USA Today Bestselling Author  

To be a great writer, one must first be a great reader. Each year, I meander over to my Goodreads page and enter the reading challenge. I spend a great deal of time in my head, creating these amazing imaginary worlds, which often hinder my time to read. Yet, it never fails, I enter the annual reading challenge and set my goals low. I have entered 36 books. This equates to 3 books per month which is totally doable.  

I discovered, much to my chagrin, that which was not doable was a writer, stuck in one mode. A mode centered on one or two genres, neither of them in romance. Then it hit me, hard, to my solar plexus, this idea so ingenious, I wanted to make out with myself. I’m going to buy a journal to layout out my entire year as an author. In this journal of wonderful beauty, I shall create a reading log for the entire year.  

The reading log, to end all reading logs will ensure, that as I look back over my year, my quarter, or my month, I have crossed the spectrums in Genreville in my reading journey.  

So first, let’s make sure I have a handle on the genres. Here is my list of fiction book genres:  

Fantasy                           Adventure                Romance  

Contemporary               Dystopian                 Mystery  

Horror                              Thriller                      Paranormal  

Historical fiction           Science Fiction        Children’s  


This is good; now how about non-fiction genres? List of nonfiction book genres:  

Memoir                            Cookbook                  Art  

Self-help                          Development            Motivational  

Health                             History                      Travel  

Guide / How-to               Families & Relationships  



Okay, this is great, a lot of variety. Next, I needed to section off an area in the back of my journal. For our purposes, you can use a simple A5 Dot grid journal. I selected six pages in total.  

My cover page for my reading journal needed to be special. I already possessed this rubber book stamp from Deep Red. A rubber stamp with lines, along with a set of alphabet stamps I found at my local Tuesday Morning for five dollars. Armed with these tools, I sat down, prepared to create magic.  


Washi tape.  

I have more washi tape than any woman should and I figured now would be a very good time to get rid of this stuff, so I pulled out any literary washi I possessed, and now, I was ready to work.  

Since I am well known for being a bit extra, I added a bit extra to my pages, and this is still a work in progress. The entirety of 2023 is in front of me so I don’t want to be saddled with simply one quote, I must have room for several. I even left myself a bit of white space for a coffee quotation or a label of some very fancy and delicious roasted blend. I can cut it out, and paste it into my journal. 

Speaking of cutting out, I used a tool, similar to an Exacto to cut around the stamped books, creating the opening on the page underneath to stamp in, read, and review.  

The read and reviews are actually on the page under the cover page, which will lead us to my review section. This section is critical. Here is where I shall set my criteria for my review scores of books read in 2023.  

I have no idea what my criteria will be for a five-star book. Does the book need to have a plot that makes me cry, or have such sensual scenes where I feel as if the author has caressed my cheek with the wings of a southbound fairy belonging to a northland clan? I’m not sure, but I have about six weeks to work it all out. This is how it looks. Please noe the cutout on the left part of the page from the book stamp on the cover page. No way to make that not be awkward. I call it a plot twist!  

As I clearly stated earlier in this post, I am known for being extra. I didn’t simply want a list because, in my later life, I developed some form of Adult Attention Deficit Disorder and will quickly walk away from anything requiring too much work. Therefore, I made my reading challenge into a game.  

I didn’t want a list.  

Lists are boring.  

I need a bit more.  

I need an actual bookshelf!  

(This is me rumbling through my bag of journaling stencils. Insert my surprised face here, excited to find said bookshelf stencil in A5 size. Screenshot my happy face being ever so pleased with myself and having the wherewithal to buy something two years ago that I have not used until now. Scrap all of that and include a pic of the stencil set).  

In my journaling pack of stencils, I located the bookshelf stencil. This is the layout of the six pages, when complete are actually 8 front to back.  

  1. Cover page with book stamp.  
  2. Page inside with the ranking system  
  3. Page right side with the book listing.  
  4. Page left side, bookshelf.  
  5. Cut down  three quarters  
  6. Cut down three quarters  
  7. Cut down three quarters  
  8. Page right side, bookshelf reversed.  

    I know you read all of that and said, what? She is so extra!  

    In all fairness, didn’t I warn you? In writing, it looks complicated. In reality, it’s so simple that once I show you these images, you will say, oh, wow! That’s so simple.  

    Ready? See the stenciled bookshelf? I stamped in the flower pot, but you can doodle it in as well. The center pages are to ensure in my snapshot of the month, I have read in more than one genre. The right side is actually the same stencil, minus the banner, and flipped over, putting the shelves in reverse order. 


The beauty of this, and to keep myself engaged, is each book spine, I get to decorate along with the title of the book. I know right! Happy reading.  


Author Bio  

Olivia is a USA Today Best Selling, Emma Award, and multiple award-winning author who loves a good laugh coupled with some steam, mixed in with a man and woman finding their way past the words of "I love you." An author of contemporary romances, she writes heartwarming stories of blossoming relationships filled with heart and humor. The Technicians, The Blakemore Files, and the Modern Mail Order Brides, are one clicks for thousands of readers.

When Olivia is not writing, she enjoys quilting, playing Scrabble online against other word lovers and spending time with her family. She is an avid world traveler who writes many of the locations into her stories. Most of the time she can be found sitting quietly with pen and paper plotting more adventures in love.

Olivia lives in Hephzibah, Georgia with her husband, son, grandson and snotty evil cat, Katness Evermean.

Monday, November 7, 2022

Finding Venues to Sell Your Books by Jean Davis

There’s nothing more exciting than releasing a book into the world but nothing more disheartening than watching sales slump after the first month or two. There’s a fix for that!

We tend to focus our marketing efforts on those first weeks or months, but you can extend those sales into years. You can either focus on spending money for ads to generate online sales or go out and sell your books yourself. Because I find meeting readers and making a personal connection with them energizing to my creative energy, I’m a fan of in-person sales. That’s not to say you need to be super outgoing and an avid sales person, but you do need to turn on the social energy light for a few hours.

The usual go-to events for authors are bookstores, school visits, and libraries. Those are great if they fit your audience. School visits work nicely for middle grade and YA books if you can make the connection with a teacher, administrator, or school librarian. Indie bookstores tend to be more willing to host book signings than the big chains but you can sometimes work magic there too. Local libraries might be willing to let you come in and do a talk about your genre or writing/publishing experience and then sell your book(s). While all of those options are usually at no cost to you (schools and libraries may even compensate you), I’d found sales are mediocre. However, it’s a good place to start honing your sales skills at little to no financial risk.

If you’re looking for more sales, you need to go where people already are rather than trying to pull them in for you as the attraction. When I started selling my books, I didn’t have a lot of money to invest beyond buying inventory. I started with craft shows at schools and churches. Booth fees were low and people were already going to those with the intent to shop local creative businesses and the venues had established audiences. Readers are everywhere. You just have to be where they are and be willing to engage with them. Meaning: smile, make a little small talk, and have a one to two line pitch for your book down. Being friendly will get you a lot farther than being pushy in terms of sales.

Once you’ve built up your funds, start looking for more focused events. Where does your audience congregate? Art festivals, vintage car shows, comic cons, renaissance faires, mermaid festivals, historical reenactments, pirate day at the zoo, air shows, horror fests, your local berry/cherry/flower festival…there are so many options. This is where Facebook becomes your best friend. There are groups for everything! Search for festivals, craft and vendor shows, comic cons, etc. in your state, or even surrounding states if you don’t mind a little travel. Find state-wide author groups, many times they will feature events looking for authors. All of this information is at your fingertips.

Equally useful resources are your fellow vendors at those small shows where you start out and every single show you do from there on out. Talk to your booth neighbors ask where they’ll be next, where they’ve been, what their best shows are. You’ll need to evaluate whether those might be a good fit for you and your books, but there’s a lot of crossover. Make friends with these people, follow their businesses on Facebook and Instagram, especially if you happen across other authors. You’ll probably be seeing more of each other in the future and its always a good idea to network.

Not sure about absorbing the cost of a full booth? Only have a few books? Share. Join forces with your local writing group, nearby author friends, or far author friends if you want to meet in the middle. Splitting a booth not only means share expenses, but this is also be a great way to swap sales experience and see how other people display their books.

Try a few events before heavily committing yourself. See how you sell, change tactics if needed, see what works for other sellers and emulate them. Having been doing this for seven years now, I found the events I sell well at, that I can afford, and am willing to travel to. I’m willing to add or drop those as I learn about new/better opportunities or if they don’t perform. Currently, I do 2-4 events a month eleven months of year. Yes, that’s a lot, but I enjoy it.

Wherever you go, you’re likely to meet indie bookstore owners willing to carry your book, teachers and librarians, grandparents buying gifts for grandkids, parents looking for a book to escape into once the kids go to bed, teens who have to do summer reading, and genuine booklovers eager to add to their collection. Get out there and sell some books!

Jean Davis writes science fiction and fantasy from the comfort of her magical writing chair in West Michigan. When taking a break from fictional people, she spends time with her musical husband, a small flock of ducks and chickens, and two attention-craving terriers. Occasionally, she ventures outside to play in her flower garden, visit the local breweries, and eat gluttonous amounts of sushi.
She is the author of a space opera series, two short story collections, and five stand-alone novels.

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

IWSG Wednesday


Insecure Writer’s Support Group—A database resource site and support group for writers and authors. Featuring weekly guests and tips, a monthly blogfest gathering, a Facebook group, a book club, and thousands of links–all to benefit writers! #IWSG

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer help and guidance. It’s a safe-haven for insecure writers of all kinds!
Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer—aim for a dozen new people each time—and return comments. This group is all about connecting!
Be sure to link to this page and display the badge in your post. And please be sure your avatar links back to your blog!  
Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG. 

The awesome co-hosts for the November 2 posting of the IWSG are Diedre Knight, Douglas Thomas Greening, Nick Wilford, and Diane Burton!   Thanks folks!

November 2's optional question - November is National Novel Writing Month. Have you ever participated? If not, why not?

Speaking of here to join!
National Novel Writing Month started in 1999 as a challenge to writers to get busy. During November, writers are challenged to write 50,000 words of a novel in thirty days. Last year, 427,653 writers officially joined the challenge! And that's not counting the number of people who attempt the challenge unofficially. 

Write on.