Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Bad Review? You Are Not Alone!

Everyone--and I mean everyone--I know who writes books has received a bad review at one time or another. It's part of the business. This week, an author exploded onto the web with her rant against a negative review. While I can appreciate her frustration, I think we can all agree that short-term publicity is not worth the long-term headache.

In honor of lukewarm reviews, vicious critiques, and poorly-worded insults, here's a gift for the writer in your life:

Sunday, March 27, 2011

HWG, RITA Finalists: Mary Connealy and Cheryl St.John

Mary Connealy is a finalist in the Inspirational Category for Doctor in Petticoats

Buy Doctor in Petticoats now!

Doctor Alex Buchanan is a wanted man--a deseter from the army stalked by a bounty hunter--but he'd rather be dead than inflict any more pain on his patients. Beth McClellan is idealistic, believing the nursing training she received will be enough to help her serve as doctor to her home town in West Texas. When Alex and Beth meet in a stagecoach accident, they find that they work well together. But are his demons and her dreams too deeply rooted for either of them to pay the price required for a future together?

Cheryl St.John is a finalist in the Novella Category with Mountain Rose.

Purchase the anthology, To Be a Mother, Now!

Mountain Rose by Cheryl St.John
Teacher Olivia Rose knows what it's like to grow up alone and unwanted. But convincing reserved rancher Jules Parrish he can give his orphaned niece a real home won't be easy--unless Olivia seizes the chance of love and motherhood she never expected....

Congratulations, Ladies!!!!!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Where would we be without them?

International Women's Day was yesterday, but the sentiment of this post from Google Books Blog is still the same:

Five Female Trailblazers in Literature You May Have Never Heard Of:

"Though it's impossible to compile an exhaustive list, we're highlighting a few individuals who went places no woman, and sometimes no man, had ever gone before in the world of words. These woman made history with their pens, quills and ancient stone tablets...Without the pioneering work of Enheduanna, Hrotsvitha, Lady Muraski, Aphra Behn and Selma Lagerlöf (not to mention: Virginia Woolf, Jane Austen, Margaret Atwood, Toni Morrison, Doris Lessing, Emily Brönte, Charlote Brönte, Willa Cather, Edith Wharton, Pearl S. Buck, Frances Burney, George Eliot, Amy Tan, Eudora Welty, Gloria Steinem, Louisa May Alcott, Agatha Christie, Flannery O'Connor, Emily Dickinson, Anne Frank, Mary Shelley, Sylvia Plath, Alice Walker, Harper Lee, Danielle Steel, J.K. Rowling and many others), who knows where we might be?"

On Contests and Critiques by Allison Brennan

Reprinted with permission from Allison:

Ann, I LOVE LOVE LOVE both of your mantras***. I've said both many, many times. I say it about bad reviews too--they are not my reader. Especially those who pick up one book then give ALL my books 1-star reviews because they claim I don't have any romance in them (I write romantic suspense.) I write what I love to write. I could be better, and I work hard on making every book better, but if someone picks up my book and expects a hot and heavy sexually charged romance, they will be disappointed. The romance is important, but it's secondary to the suspense plot. Or the reviewers who identify one "major problem" when I've never been told that by my editor or fans. Some people just aren't going to like my books. That's okay. My other favorite mantra is "You can't please all the people all the time."

As far as judges critiques--I've received some critiques that were fabulous, and others that were mean and not useful. I know how to discern what helps and what doesn't (hence having Fredericka's mantra of "use what works for you and disregard the rest.")

I posted earlier that I had been a contest slut in 2003. True. In 2004 I entered 7 contests (I sold in March of 04 and stopped entering!) and didn't final in ANY of them, either though one of them was the manuscript I ended up selling and one was the manuscript that ended up being my second book. It's that book, THE HUNT, that made me understand that I had an audience, and not all readers would be in that audience. I still have one scoresheet somewhere . . . but can't find it. I remember much of what she wrote, however:

** She gave me a 1 for formatting because she claimed I "cheated" and used 11 point font in order to have an unfair advantage (I didn't. What I did do, which perhaps I shouldn't have, was changed the leading and had 26 lines per page rather than 25 lines.)

** She told me that no one read prologues and I needed to incorporate the prologue into dialogue later in the book because "it was all backstory." (My editor loved that prologue, which takes place ten years before the book starts, and is the major turning point that sets my
heroine on the path where she is in chapter one. It was pivotal, powerful, and I loved it. And my heroine would never in a million years talk about what happened exactly as it happened. showing it was the best way to show my heroine.)

** She took issue with introducing the sheriff (strong male character not the hero) before the hero. I chose specifically to do that because I wanted the reader to see the hero and heroine through the eyes of a character who cared about both of them. Otherwise, Quinn could have come
off as an asshole and Miranda would have come off as cold, hard and obsessed. Seeing them through Nick's eyes (particularly Miranda) put the sympathy on her. It would have been almost impossible (without changing her character) to make her sympathetic to the reader with both the
prologue and Nick's viewpoint. When I sold the book, my editor loved the first 50 pages--but basically said the rest had to be rewritten. The prologue and first two chapters were practically the only scenes that were barely touched in editorial.

** She didn't like the violence of the scene, she questioned my research, and she circled every time I used "was."

The woman should not have been judging. I don't say that lightly. Everyone is entitled to a different opinion. But it wasn't a helpful critique though she wrote extensively on the manuscript and scoresheet. I was being lectured to.

I'm not a tough critiquer. I judge very few contests now--the Golden Heart and the Daphne. In the Daphne, I know whether someone has "it" and will sell but not final, and twice I've signed my scoresheet. Once was for Jordan Dane, and the entry ended up being her second published
novel. I wrote that the opening was fantastic, I loved it, and not to change anything before she sent out to agents. I also wrote that she wasn't going to final because she had broken too many rules. She didn't final, she did sell, and she now has six or seven books out. I did give
her a couple points that I thought could be improved, but they were minor things and I didn't mark her down for them.

When I judge (and I'll admit, I judge much, much differently than most judges)--I don't give 1s. I know I can, but why? A 2 says pretty much the same thing, so I figure I'm giving them an extra point for having the courage to submit their work.

The easiest entries to judge are great stories that make me want to read more, where I grab the synopsis because I want to know how she was going to resolve the great set-up. I don't care if there are a couple typos or if there are minor problems--and neither will an editor. And what I
think might be a problem might not be for an editor or agent. If the voice grabs me and I wish I had the rest of the book, they get high scores. Maybe not perfect, but very high. I also tend to mark up those manuscripts a lot focusing on small details that I believe will make the
manuscript better. I also usually write that I think it's ready or near ready for submission, and that I marked it up because I think it's so good.

The next easiest entries to judge are those that will never sell. You know it in your gut, the author doesn't have the storytelling talent at this point. What I usually do in those situations is find at least one thing they do well and praise it, then find one or two things that I think are their biggest obstacles, and give a critique on those. It might be too much backstory, or I remember one entry that there was no conflict between the hero and heroine because the writer was so scared that her characters would be mad at each other that she resolved every conflict from the beginning of the chapter to the end. I wrote her a
long critique about the need to torture your characters, to make the conflict real, to let them be angry with each other (if they had a good reason) etc. I don't want to kill their love of writing, because I know how much happier I am as a person when I started seriously writing. So I want to give them something to focus on. I do remember one story where the writing was very good and the characters terrific, but the plot so .. . bizarre, for lack of a better word . . . that I read it twice (I never do that) to figure out what the problem was. It was structural. I was so lost I couldn't give her a high score, but I did think she had a lot of potential and told her so and identified what I felt the problems were.

The hardest entries to judge are those that are perfect . . . but have no life. Either the voice is dull, or the story is over-edited and has no magic, or there's no real conflict or the pacing is off or you don't like the characters (usually because they are Ken and Barbie perfect or so stereotypical that my head aches -- usually because their "flaw" is not a real flaw or a stereotypical flaw) . . . but you can't really pinpoint WHY I don't like it. It's usually flat and lifeless. What do I say? I can't give 5s because it's ho-hum, but I can't give 3s because I don't know what to tell them.

Judging is subjective. Reviews are subjective. Just because I don't like something doesn't mean it won't sell. Contests have value when approached with a clear-head and confidence; but by the same token, then can kill the dream of writers who don't have a thick skin. One of my friends (who is now multi-published) had a judge who told her it was "obvious that English is your second language" -- that was not only inaccurate, but flat-out insulting.

Allison Brennan
KISS ME, KILL ME out now!

***Ann Macela's Mantras:

Everyone who judges/critiques your work will be telling you, one way or another, how THEY would write YOUR story.

This person is not my audience. They will never like what I write, and there's nothing I can do about it.

Monday, March 7, 2011

New Member Release! Her Scottish Groom, Ann Stephens

Proud Scottish Lord Kieran Rossburn doesn't relish the idea of a marriage of convenience, but he'll do what he must to preserve the family estate. Worse, the bride he's been saddled with - the daughter of a crass, unrefined, American merchant - is far too weak-willed for his tastes. Or so it seems at first. After a lifetime under the thumb of her domineering parents, Diantha Quinn can't believe she's being shipped across the ocean to be locked away yet again. Now, to gain any sort of power in her life, she must resist Kieran's seductions and keep the marriage in name only. Yet how can she keep from falling in love, when she is to wed the most tempting man in all of Scotland?