On the praise sandwich

On William Gallagher’s excellent Self Distract blog this week, he posted a piece criticising the “praise sandwich”, and by implication and extension the practice of critique groups. On this occasion, I disagree with him profoundly. Before I explain why, you should read William’s post:

http://williamgallagher.com/selfdistract/2014/11/07/praise-on-toast/

I’d like to begin by drawing a distinction between critiquing and editing. (I know this distinction isn’t universally observed, but I think it’s useful, so bear with me.) To me, editing is what you do with a developed piece of writing, and its purpose is to make that piece as good as it can possibly be. Editing is best carried out by a single person, not a group, and that person should have some experience and knowledge which gives their views authority and objectivity. The purpose of editing is to identify and resolve problems with the piece, not to fluff the writer’s ego.

Critiquing, despite its name, is a different thing altogether: done properly it’s part of an ongoing process aimed at making the writer the best writer they can possibly be. It’s best carried out in groups, because readers are all different, and what one hates another might love; and because it should be predominantly a peer-to-peer process, not a hierarchical one. People in a critique group also put their own writing up for feedback, and so are inclined to be kinder. Good critique takes into account where that individual writer is, and what the next step is for them. If you’re at the beginning of your writing journey, then you generally need encouragement, not having your work ripped apart – because you learn most about writing by writing. So anything that encourages people to write helps them to be better writers, anything that puts them off does not. When you’re in the middle of the first draft of a novel, the most important message is “keep going.”

This isn’t to say that developing writers should be love-bombed with disproportionate or dishonest praise. It’s about finding the positives, and identifying one or two manageable areas for development. It’s about recognising how much people can take, and getting the balance right. It’s about helping people get used to the idea of critique, and preparing them for “professional” editing.

I do teach the “praise sandwich” in my courses. It’s rarely applied so crudely in practice, but it does remind people of the need for balance. Because inexperienced critiquers often get carried away, unleashing their inner literary critic. And if you’ve never shown or read your work to anyone before, it can be a terrifying experience, and one that, handled badly, could put you off writing ever again.

I don’t believe that Pow-Wow, as a mature critique group, needs such simplistic techniques. I rely on the intelligence, experience and empathy of group members to find the right level for each individual. Sometimes newer writers are looking for robust feedback, and sometimes more experienced, published “professionals” bristle and become defensive at the first hint of criticism. And of course we often disagree. It’s not perfect, and might not suit everybody, but overall I think we get the balance more or less right.

If what you want is editing, then critique groups are always going to disappoint you. To me they’re about developing a supportive community, and helping people learn their craft through practice and discussion. And when your work has been written and revised and rewritten and polished, that’s the time to look for an editor. Because editing is about the writing, and critique is about the writer. Each has their place and time. And sometimes, a praise sandwich is just what you need to keep you going.

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Writers, editors, designers and self-publishers wanted!

We are looking for writers and people with publishing skills to take part in beta testing of a new model of book publishing, which we believe will revolutionise the way writers reach readers in the 21st century.

Writers must have a completed, unpublished manuscript, ideally one which has been passed over by the traditional publishing industry but which you believe deserves to be read. It can be a novel, a short story collection, poetry or a non-fiction book.

“Creative Partners” might have successfully self-published, or have worked in the publishing industry. They will have skills in one or more of the following areas:

  • Editing
  • Formatting
  • Proofreading
  • Cover design
  • Illustration
  • Marketing

 
For more information, and to register an interest, click on the links below.
 
Writers: http://pow-wow.org.uk/new-publishing-opportunity-for-writers/
 
Creative Partners: http://pow-wow.org.uk/exciting-new-opportunities-for-editors-designers-and-self-publishers/

You can register for both roles. Numbers are limited and acceptance for the beta testing is not guaranteed. If you have any queries, please post them as comments on the relevant page.

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Reflections on the London Author Fair – part 3

In this third part of my write-up on events at the London Author Fair in February 2014 I review what I heard from other authors. You can read part 1?(the business) and part 2?(the agents) of my write up earlier on the blog.

Seminar ? Making Your Mark & Marketing Your Book

Chair: Hayley Radford (Authoright), Speakers: Adele Parks (experienced author), Matt Cain (new author), Julia Coblentz (Nook)

While many authors dream of a traditional publishing contract in hope that a big company will be able to exploit marketing opportunities and know how to reach readers, what I heard in this seminar confirmed my suspicion that actually the authors still do all the hard work.

Julia Coblenz stated that authors should think about their brand before self-publishing to think about positioning and audience. Self-publishing authors should find it easier to be closer to their audience and have stronger communications with them.

Adele Parks is very active on Twitter & as 70% of her sales are e-book, her publisher believes her online presence supports this. She keeps her Twitter feed to book conversations though, it’s a professional, public persona unless it’s a cause where she believes her involvement can make a difference. Matt Cain is also a journalist so he knows press releases have to include a newsworthy story. These news stories could be spun out of the themes or sub-plots of a novel. Authors should look to find the angle but Adele Parks advised not to be ruthless about what you use. She didn’t find a link between news stories and book sales and exposed things in the past which she wouldn’t now do.

Workshop – Author Exchange: Polly Courtney and Ben Galley

Both Polly Courtney and Ben Galley feel that tours/ speaking events are great for making connections and forming relationships with readers. Both make plans to send advance review copies out several months in advance of their book launch.

They recommend spreading marketing activity & content. Ben Galley uses badges as physical advertising which can work, as well as flyers, although it’s best to have a relationship with the person you leave them with so they can put them in the hands of the right people.

To increase her visibility in the literary fiction genre, Polly Courtney emphasises her themes and talks about these, not just the book itself. She wants to publish material that will change people’s minds about issues and get exposure for her ideas not just sell books, so also writes articles & commentary on similar themes.

Hearing from and the opportunity to chat with other authors was what I found most useful about the day. I met in person several people I know online through the Alliance of Independent Authors as well as making some new contacts. I was able to ask specific questions to representatives from Kobo and CreateSpace which might otherwise have taken time to resolve via emails to customer services. Not much discussed in the seminars or workshops came as news to me or convinced me that I need to buy in additional services beyond those I already use, but then I keep myself well informed and am happy to do things for myself. Others sitting near me certainly seemed to learn more. As I said in part 1 of this post, the pace of change in the industry is notable and some panel members did sound out of touch. As authors we can’t afford that luxury.

Katharine D’Souza

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Reflections on the London Author Fair – part 2

In this second part of my write up of events at the London Author Fair in February (see part 1 here) I cover what happened when a panel of agents were quizzed by Porter Anderson.

Seminar – Agents of Change: the Evolution of the Literary Agent

Chair: Porter Anderson, Speakers: Oli Munson (AM Heath), Andrew Lownie, Hellie Ogden (Janklow & Nesbit), Gordon Wise (Curtis Brown)

The panel each spoke for a few moments about how they currently perceive the role of the literary agent before the discussion broadened out. I”ve summarised the position of each here:

Hellie Ogden said she sees an agent as the buffer between art and industry but their developing role means they need to complement what self-publishing authors do and work in a savvy way. She sees her role as to build a team around the author”s career.

Andrew Lownie has seen no change in the number of daily submissions he gets in recent years (non-fiction) and will look at an author”s authority and presence to gauge what interest there may be in a book. His company have set up Thistle Publishing, their own publishing company, to mop up rights that aren”t yet sold. This can get a book established before other rights are sold ? similar to self-publishing, but with the addition of their experience. He agrees that authors want flexibility and speed and to not give away too many rights when there”s uncertainty how these may be exploited in future. However, he thinks big publishers will stick Compatibility horoscopes Capricorn assumes that the relationship is possible, but doubts about a happy marriage. to the dead-cert books and, in the future, 75% of books will be self-published. However, the easiest book for an author to sell is their first as after that they have a track record, so he advised authors who ultimately want a traditional deal that it will be hard to move across without huge success.

Oli Munson sees an agent as someone who manages careers and expectations. He says that self-publishing of backlist titles is a valid route to ensure authors are exploiting all opportunities. He advises authors to consider why they”re self-publishing, what is their motivation?

Gordon Wise sees self-publishing as similar to a post-graduate course for writers, but getting readers to engage is the hard bit. However, an author may be more appealing to a publisher (for a shot at reaching that audience) if their “rough edges” have already been knocked off by having published and had feedback themselves. He may advise a client to self-publish if the situation suits. As an agent he brings experience into the mix. Unfortunately, when reading submissions, he can”t give individual consultancy responses ? his job is to look after existing clients and sell their books. He advises authors to look at other feedback channels eg Wattpad before submitting. AL countered this by saying literary consultancies/manuscript appraisals may be better than the online “Trip Advisor” approach.

When asked, HO said agents do take MA qualifications seriously as an indication the author is committed to a career and developing their work. However, GW said that while courses do develop an author”s work, not all of it will be saleable and, while an author should polish their work before submission, they should also expect there will be editorial revisions at every stage.

When asked what an author should include in their submission, GW asked for evidence of what you love doing, AL said the author should know their position in the market eg “the new Le Carre”, OM said “have a platform” such as social media, networking, and know your position ? what the book is comparable to. Porter Anderson asked if this was about authors having a sales handle. AL said yes, which could be regional eg Ian Rankin with a world built around the books, HO agreed that she would look to maximise revenue across platforms, OM said authors need to be flexible, nimble and crafty to recognise new opportunities and GW has helped a debut author to self-publish using his experience of which readers to reach and managing his exposure.

With regard to how the process of submission works, the panel seemed agreed that it was out-dated. GW said that the submission package of 3 chapters synopsis was set up in the days of post. Now it would make sense to receive the whole digital file electronically. AL agreed, saying no one works on print any more, everything is electronic. (KDS note ? however, submission guidelines are still based on the old model and authors are advised to follow them.)

Part 3 of my reflections will be posted soon and features what authors had to say.

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Reflections on the London Author Fair – part 1

The London Author Fair on the 28th Feb 2014 attracted about 300 writers and other publishing industry folk. Many were like me ? experienced self-publishers looking for tips and advice as well as the chance to network ? others ranged from those new to writing to traditionally published authors. LAF had claimed to offer something for us all. The schedule was packed, with attendees choosing from four concurrent seminars or workshops every hour. My reflections on the sessions I attended follow but this is not a full write up; I didn’t make notes about the things I already knew or disagreed with! One thing all the speakers and attendees agreed on though is that publishing is changing and it’s changing fast. Everyone, including writers, needs to stay informed to be able to react to opportunities. LAF certainly helped me with that.

In this first post I review what I heard about publishing as a business.

Seminar ? Author Entrepreneur: Why Your Book is Your Startup

Chair: Porter Anderson Speakers: Eileen Gittens (Blurb CEO), Gareth Howard (Authoright CEO)

I was interested in this session because I take self-publishing seriously and do see it as going into business, same as any other publisher. The panel here agreed, saying that as an author entrepreneur you should identify your skills gaps then build an experienced and competent team around you who plug those gaps to ensure you produce a high quality book.

The notion of crowdfunding for books was discussed as it can build an audience as well as generating funds for the project. It’s not something I feel comfortable with though as it requires all the marketing up front before you can show anyone what they’d be getting. Perhaps it would be more suitable for authors with a longer track record than mine?

One thing I agreed with was that in any business, not just putting a book out, you need to be clear what success looks like for you so you can determine your priorities and identify what support you need. I want to produce a quality book which will be enjoyed by readers. So I have to invest (time and money) in everything from editing to marketing. A key point made was that the author entrepreneur needs to understand who their audience is.

Seminar ? The Business of Books

Chair: Philip Jones (The Bookseller), Speakers: John Thompson (academic), Suzanne Baboneau (Simon & Schuster), Simon Skinner (Neilsen), Holly Bennion (Wiley)

The panel each spoke for a few moments about how they currently perceive trends in publishing:

Simon Skinner said Neilsen figures show increased sales in Children’s, YA & Educational books with a small decrease in Adult Fiction. Non-fiction remains the largest part of the market. Women buy more books overall. Men are more likely to be e-book only purchasers. Print only adults tend to be in the A/B or E social classification.

Holly Bennion spoke about the importance of being able to drive revenue from content in other forms such as licensing different channels. Book sales alone are rarely viable for publishers of non-fiction. Wiley see around 60% of their sales through Amazon. The ways people discover books tends to be emotive eg a recommendation from a friend or reading a review. They then go online to shop. HB’s decision to commission a non-fiction book is based on: the author being an expert with a brilliant book/unique content; that she knows who’s going to buy the book; that the author has an established presence/platform. She says that publishers then amplify that platform and polish the book.

Suzanne Baboneau mentioned that publishers do look at the Amazon bestseller charts to find successful indie authors, but more so from their US office. In the UK they have less resource for that type of discovery.

Look out for more of my reflections on the day – in which I hear from literary agents and the heroes of any story – the authors.

Katharine D’Souza

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New novel from Katharine D’Souza

Katharine D’Souza’s new novel, Deeds Not Words, is now available via Amazon.

Museum curator Caroline thinks history is safely in the past, until a century-old family secret collides with problems at work and upsets her plans for a quiet life in Birmingham. Why has nobody mentioned Great Aunt Susannah before? What does Caroline?s old flame want from her? And are any of the paintings really what they appear to be? As she battles professional rivalries, attempts to contain family dramas, and searches for historical treasure amongst the clutter, Caroline is forced to decide what she holds most valuable and exactly what she?s going to do to protect it. Deeds Not Words. Because actions speak louder.

Deeds Not Words? is a witty, sharply observed tale of contemporary life, which will delight everyone who enjoyed?Park Life and no doubt win many new readers. Katharine’s novels are available here:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Katharine-DSouza/e/B008S6Y7HK/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1

 

 

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The Jewel of the Orient

Congratulations to Pow-Wower Louise Palfreyman, whose story The Jewel of the Orient is published in prestigious online literary journal Just be careful not to burn your snack out of impatience!You will find on Astrotheme thousands of natal charts of celebrities who have the Sun in Aries, horoscope for aries rising, or Mars dominant. The View From Here:

http://www.thefrontview.com/2013/10/the-jewel-of-orient-by-louise-palfreyman.html

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Book to the Future

Book To The Future is a festival of the written and spoken word at the University of Birmingham from the 24th to the 29th October. There?ll be workshops, readings, lectures and Q&A sessions featuring authors, poets, playwrights and storytellers, including a few who?ll be familiar to PowWow regulars.

On Sunday the 27th October both Andy Killeen and Katharine D?Souza are running events aimed at writers. From 12 until 1pm Andy?s session ?So, you want to write a novel?? will guide you through online casino canada the process and potential pitfalls. Then, from 1pm until 2, Katharine will look at ?Self-Publishing: the right choice for you and your book?? to answer your questions about self-publishing. Both events are free; you just need to register online for a ticket at the festival website http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/bttf.

The programme has a huge variety of other events including both Andy and Katharine talking about their books, as are Charlie Hill, Richard House and William Gallagher all of whom you may have seen speak at PowWow LitFest in recent years. Best of all, most of the events are free. Check out the programme and we?ll see you there!

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