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How Do You Critique Nicely?

ImageThis is one of my favorite Facebook posters, because it is me in so many ways. For years I’ve battled a ferocious temper, instant impatience and lack of empathy. I could be Queen of Road Rage or Superman of Sarcasm. Yet, I try hard to control it so that I can be a beneficial member of society. So when an acquaintance asked if I would read their book and review it on Amazon, I eagerly jumped in to help. I regretted this within the first four paragraphs of their book.

All the beginner’s mistakes times twenty. I profess not to be an editor of any sort. I know my grammar mistakes and plot holes drive my ever-patient Editor to drink, so who am I to rate someone else’s book? Easy, I’m also an avid reader. I instantly know if it’s readable material. 

What captures my interest? Smooth, easy to read writing. Unusual writer’s voice. Different descriptions.  Solid characters. Interesting plot. But most of all, proper sentence structure and grammar. If I have to stop and go back to read something, or ponder over what the author means, you’ve lost me. I don’t care how good the story plot is, I have to be able to read uninterrupted to actually be in the story and escape there. I want no bumps to cast me back out into the real world, thinking, “Huh? What was that?”

I actually get mad. It’s like going to the movies and having someone kick the back of your seat while you are trying to get into the show. I also feel, as an indie author myself, I have to be better than best, so I can compete and look competent  If I’m going to go up against the big boys, I had better have my best game forward. This also helps my fellow indie partners to build a platform of trust with our readers. Instead, a book poorly written, reflects on all of us..

So what should I do? Tell this person off? Point out all of their flagrant, erroneous problems like adjectives in every dialog tag, or POV shifts, or mixing past and present tenses, or the many, many typos? Do I berate them for wasting the money to self-publish and making indies look bad for shoddy work? No, that would only hurt and discourage. I’ve been in this writer’s shoes. How do I gently direct them towards hiring an editor before printing?

I turned to my trusty Editor and she gave the most wonderful advice: “You tell them that there are two aspects to being a writer: craft and talent. You think they have great talent, but they need to work on their craft. Highlight the strong points. Give them good resources that don’t take too much of your time to explain. I think James Scott Bell has a good book on POV, if I remember right, and refer them to a simple grammar book like Grammatically Correct or any of the Grammar Girl books. Someone like that probably won’t hire an editor, but they might invest the time to learn.”  (quote by Chryse Wymer)

Now you know why I think she is the best in the world! An excellent and wise approach and that’s exactly what I decided to do. I don’t know if this author will take the gentle suggestion, but I’m hoping they will. For the sake of their book sales, their readers and all of us indies who are struggling to get a foot in world of publishing. .

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End of the Journey

Winner-180x180
November 2012 is not a month I will be forgetting anytime soon.

I attempted my first blog tour, Blog Blizzard, with twelve very brave authors. It was a whirlwind of learning. Three weeks into it, my computer decided to crash. This put my tight schedule in quite a turmoil, but we all bounced back and the blog tour continued. As I would arrange, paste and promote each author, I would read about their work and lives. Some were quite entertaining, and yet through it all, I saw a common thread for all of us. We love to write.

A big thank you to the following intrepid experimenters for allowing me to learn while promoting them.
Ann Swann – http://www.annswann.com
Rebekah Roberts – http://www.RebekaRoberts.net
Sara Barnard – http://www.sarabarnadbooks.com
M.J. Kane – http://thiswriterslife-mjkan.blogspot.com
Mylnda Price – http://www.melyndaprice.com
M.O. Kenyan – http://www.mokauthor.wordpress.com
Hillary Seidl – http://www.hillaryseidl.com/
Erika M Szabo – http://www.doktorszaboerika.com
Christina Ow – christinaow.wordpress.com
Carmen DeSousa – http://www.carmendesousa.com/
Doug Simpson – http://dousimp.masi.net
Bernadette Marie – http://www.bernadettemarie.com

Of course, while doing this I also took on the National Novel Writers Month challenge of writing 50,000 words in thirty days. I must say, I thought it would be a peice of cake. Oh, what a fool I was! Yet, again, it turned out to be a tremendous learning experience. I humbly thank my family who put up with all of my craziness during the month of November. Without them I would have never attained what seemed at times the impossible goal of 50,000 words in an understandable format.

So as I get ready to Deck the Halls, and celebrate Christmas, this month seems tame and peaceful after last months whirlwind of endeavor. Thank you to all of you that have stopped in and visited my blog and guests this last month. You are appreciated as well.

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Blog Blizzard presnet Ann Swann – Author

To Write or Not to Write?

C’mon . . . is there ever a question?  Everyone who wants to write should write.  We know that.  So why is it we sometimes do everything in our power to not write?

Example:  “Good morning!”  I’m speaking to my dogs Bonnie and Rocky, and the Supreme Ruler, Maggie, the cat.   They summarily lick my hand; bump the back of my bare knees in my So-Many-Books-So-Little-Time nightshirt, or totally ignore me and sit by the door waiting to be let out into the morning sun.

I head for my biggest vice, the iMac, wiggle the mouse, click on email, let the cat out, and stumble toward the Mr. Coffee while one hundred sixty-two emails load up.  “My,” I say to the assembled doggie crowd.  “It’s only eight a.m.  Someone’s been busy!”  I belong to several online writer’s groups (and a couple of real-life groups) so I always have a ton of emails . . . makes me feel special even though most of them are simply buy-my-book promos from other authors.

Tossing the dogs a peanut butter flavored doggie biscuit, I pop a tart into the toaster and swallow a vitamin capsule with an old Flintstones jelly glass half-full of with-pulp OJ.  Yum!  Okay, that’s my nod to nutrition.

Nibbling my tart, I scan the headlines of my paper-newspaper (yes, I’m a throwback, I can’t say no when they call me each year to renew, even though it’s gotten so thin the carrier has to roll it with a super-fat rubber band to give it a little heft and keep it from blowing right out of the driveway when he speeds away).  Next, I work the daily Jumble, ink smiley faces beside the easy words, frownies beside the hard ones, and then leave it open for my handsome hubby, Dude, to look at tonight when he gets home from work.

By this time it’s 8:30, maybe 8:45 if there was actually something interesting in the paper or if I stopped midway to play my turn in one of the dozen games of Words with Friends on my iPhone, so I take my second cup of coffee back to my desk and settle in to write.  Except the Supreme Ruler is looking in the window at me with that exasperated you-have-one-second-to-get-that-door-open-before-I-release-all-the-wrath-of-Cat-upon-your-head look.

I let her in and then she has to have a dollop of cream in her special ramekin, which has to be carried to her bathroom and placed upon the counter out of reach of the scrounging horde of dogs—all two of them.  I tried placing it on the kitchen counter one time, which would have been much quicker and easier and still out of reach of the horde, but Her Royalness didn’t go for that, thank goodness, because what was I thinking putting her on the same surface where I lay my Poptart each morning?  Ewww!  She walks around in her own poop for crying out loud.

At last, I sit down in front of the Mac and get to those emails.  About 70% are simply click and delete (I’ve seen them all before), but the rest are personal and actually require a reply or at least a closer look.

It’s now 9:30 closing in on 10:00, and I still have to check the blog, Twitter, Triberr, Goodreads, and my Facebook author groups that post ads for me and vice versa.  I love these groups.  All those lovely book covers, and book trailers . . . it’s easy to get lost in that indie forest.

Around noon I wander back to the kitchen for a diet Coke, a handful of Wheat Thins coated with cream cheese and jalapeno slices, and take the snack out back to the patio just to stretch my legs and the muscles in my lower back—I’ve been sitting at the computer for over two hours and haven’t written a single word except for emails, blogs, and tweets.

The weather is so lovely I think about how nice it would be to have a sleeping porch so I could take a nap without the help of those pesky mosquitoes and horseflies.  But how could I be sleepy?  I haven’t actually done anything!  Which reminds me, I really need to get dressed and brush my teeth.

It’s almost 2:00 by the time I finish my snack, play a few more WWFs on the iPhone, do a bit of lackadaisical grooming, slip on a pair of old capris and a cotton shirt, and head back to the computer.  Now, what to write?  I studiously ignore the 43 new emails that have come in since before lunch, and I don’t even think about looking at Facebook, okay, maybe just a peek to see if my daughter has posted any new pics of the grandkids.  No, no that can wait . . . must write!

I pull up my Work in Progress, a romantic suspense called Stutter Creek, hit Option-Command G to go to the proper page and . . . oh, yes, here we go, I was working on the scene where the serial killer is closing in on our protagonist.  Need to make it scarier . . .

Chewing the end of a Sonic straw to help me concentrate—I gave up smoking twenty years ago—I let my mind wander into the scene . . . but those darn little email numbers keep popping up so I do what I always do to help my mind focus, I get up and do some housework.  Sweeping and mopping are always good, rhythmic chores that seem to release my grip on reality, and I love the fact that I am actually doing something constructive while I construct the scene.

It works!  While the floor dries, I dash back to the computer and slash at the keys in a frenzy to get the creepiness down on “paper” before it melts away.

And now it’s six o’clock and time for the Dude to get home.  Where has the time gone?  I stand up and rub at the small of my back, amazed that five pages of fairly good material have materialized in front of me.

Wow.  Not bad for a couple hours work.  Just imagine if I’d actually started writing at 8:00 this morning.  I could’ve had the book finished like, yesterday!

Website: www.annswann.com

Blog: www.annswann.blogspot.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/annswann.author

Email: Swannann76@yahoo.com

Twitter: @ann_swann

Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/annswann/

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5420711.Ann_Swann

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So You Wrote A Book

Your life long dream has been to write a book. Finally, you have the education, the life experiences, the time and all of your family and friends cheering you on.  For two long years you work, write, sweat, learn new invective’s, and finally it’s done. You decide to  e-publish because the response has been so wonderful with your family and friends.  The day arrives, and you have finally written a book.

Then it sits there while you languish and wonder, where are all the readers?

Not one hit, one buy, one review.  Where are all those wonderful family and friends?  You begin to wonder, were they just saying it to be nice? Can you really write? What if it’s horrible and nobody has the nerve to tell you?

I have developed a theory. First of all, those closest to you have heard the plot and development for two years. They don’t need to read the book! Secondly, they may not be readers, but simply wanted to be supportive. Thirdly, they are afraid to read it, don’t have time to read it and/or aren’t really  interested in reading it.

That’s what family and friends do. They are a great support system, but a support system isn’t the driving force to getting your book out there to the ‘real’ readers. Those who want a good story and to be entertained.  Your family was already entertained by watching the process of your writing and going bald.

The hardest part isn’t writing the book, it’s networking and connecting with your readers.  If you are going to go the e-book route, you will have to learn about ‘platforms’, emailing, Facebook, Twitter, websites, blogs and advertising yourself.  It’s at this point you will either forge ahead or continue to languish.

Meanwhile, don’t be upset with family and friends.  They did their job. They were the cheerleaders of the game.  Now, you have to get out there and play the field.