Friday, June 22, 2012

Book Reviews and Thin Skin Don't Mix

 Raychelle Muhammad, Smart Girls Like You, 2012

One of the most difficult experiences that creative people face is feedback about their work. I know first hand what it is like to have someone break the news to me that they don't like my writing or illustrations (or both). There have been some well-meaning individuals who offered constructive critiques that helped me improve and polish my skills. But, I have also encountered people who were downright nasty because of some other agenda. It is both uncomfortable and personal, but having your work reviewed is a necessary evil that can lead to growth and improvement-- if you handle it properly.

Here are my top 5 tips for making the review process more productive and less painful:

1)  Outside of a critique/writing group, show no one your work until you have a polished, finished product. Have your manuscript edited for grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes to ensure a good first impression. These errors distract the reader from your story. It's like selling a house: declutter it and give it a good cleaning before you show it to anyone. You want the reader's attention focused on the positives. Don't give them anything to complain about.

2)  Seek feedback from respected sources. If you want honest feedback, use experienced book reviewers, people who represent your intended audience, people you don't know personally, and writers who are at the level to which you aspire. Avoid paid reviewers, "yes" people, and "no" people. Don't request a review if you don't really want to hear what the reviewer has to say. You're wasting their time and yours.

3)  Be not discouraged. Accept from this moment forward that some people are not going to be fans. They may not like your writing style, the pace of your story, your voice, your preferred genre, etc. and that's O.K. Their opinions about what you believe to be the next big thing are just that--opinions. However, there is something to be learned from even the worst of reviews. Try to re-read your story and see it through the reviewer's eyes. Remember, their perception is their reality, but always stay true to yourself.

4)  Commit to getting better. If you decide to make your book the best that it can possibly be, then embrace the review process. Those of us who want to be great at anything will humble ourselves and become students of our respective crafts. Really think about the comments and suggestions you receive and turn them into something constructive. When we submit to the process of growth, we become less likely to let our egos get in the way.

5)  Don't ever give up. Ever. Hindsight is 20/20. Maybe your book does fall flat at the end. Maybe you haven't fully developed your plot. Your book could also just be "out of season" and maybe the world just isn't ready for the greatness that is you. Keep writing. Keep finding ways to improve. Should anybody tell you to stop writing/creating, know for certain that they have given you a piece of advice that you should not take.

Keep your pen to the paper! Remember, inspiration is everywhere...

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Raychelle Reviews: I Love You Better than Chocolate Chip Cookies by Donalisa Helsley

I Love You Better than Chocolate Chip Cookies is the second release from children's author (and Writer's Block alum) Donalisa Helsley. The story explores what love is by comparing it to a variety of desirable foods, everyday activities, and special occasions. For this review, I read the print component only.

Donalisa uses examples of things that children really enjoy (roller coasters, ice cream, pizza, etc.) to convey that  loving one another is more important than loving material items and fun experiences. I Love You Better than Chocolate Chip Cookies paints a picture of what unconditional love looks like. It is unwavering support, care, and concern whether or not one is perfect 100% of the time.

The illustrations are lively, bright, and colorful. The artist does a wonderful job of bringing life to Donalisa's words.

I Love You Better than Chocolate Chip Cookies is a really good story and teaching tool for parents to share with their children.

About the Author

Donalisa is an award winning children's author. Donalisa lives in Oklahoma with her husband, David, her daughters, Jadyn and Genesis. She is Wild About Reading. Donalisa has written many stories since she was a child. She is a social worker and has worked with children for over 12 years. Donalisa has recently completed her Masters in Social Work in an effort to become a licensed therapist for children and adolescents.

Read Donalisa's interview on The Writer's Block.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Publishing Is Tough, but Are You Going to Quit NOW?

No matter how difficult your circumstances become, life goes on.  The fact that the housing market has reached all-time lows doesn't mean that people no longer need a place to live. And while it is getting more difficult to find jobs and earn a living, we all still have to find ways to meet our basic needs. And for those of us who seek to reach some level of success in the publishing industry, it is too easy to focus on all of the current challenges. People do still read, (believe it or not) and they are looking for new voices, great stories, and helpful information. The world still needs writers. In order to meet the needs of the readers, we must find ways to adapt--that is what the most successful people do.

Realtors, brokers, and home builders all agree that it is tougher to sell homes due to the economy, unemployment rates, and the subsequent flood of lower-priced inventory available. One thing they know is that when everything is all said and done, people still need a roof over their heads. So to survive, they adapt. They find new ways to market properties and make them stand out from the rest (polish your manuscript). They become more knowledgeable about financing to help qualify their clients (study the industry and step up your game). They use modern technology and social networking (build your platform). Many cater to a niche market (identify and connect with potential readers). They are creative, aggressive, innovative, and they stay in the game (emulate all of these things). Success in publishing is no different.

I believe that now is an exciting time to be a writer. There are so many avenues to publish your work from blogging, to freelance writing, to self-publishing, and, of course, traditional publishing. Writers can have the best of both worlds. Rejected manuscripts no longer have to sit in a desk drawer or be archived on a computer hard drive. Writers can generate interest in their work, publish it, and promote it with the possibility of still landing that elusive book deal. If you have a great product, a vision for it, a clear plan, and you are willing to roll up your sleeves, it is possible to be successful in the face of adversity. But, you have to believe it and you have to keep your shoulder to the plow.

Check out literary agent Rachelle Gardner's post, "Is the Sky Falling?", where she advises us all to "pull on our grown-up pants and deal with it". There will always be challenges. Life is full of them. 
Are you going to quit now?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Mellanie Crouell Interviews Author Cooper McKenzie for The Writer's Block

Mellanie: Please answer the question: Who is Cooper McKenzie?

Cooper: Since, I don't like to talk about myself, I'll share my biography which has the highlights: Cooper McKenzie always thought she had been born a hundred years too late, but appreciates air conditioning, computers and other conveniences of modern day living. She enjoys the slower pace of New Bern, North Carolina, as well as the history and small town community found there. In addition to dreaming up her next story, Cooper enjoys reading everything except scary books, singing in her church choir and needle-weaving.

Mellanie: How did you discover your talent of writing?

Cooper: I learned to read in kindergarten, fell in love with Dr. Seuss shortly thereafter and by age 6 knew I wanted to write and change people’s lives when I grew up. It took a lot of years and working at it even though everyone around me kept telling me I could not do it, but I proved them all wrong.

Mellanie: Who is your favorite author?

Cooper: I have several to include Tymber Dalton, Janet Evanovich, Sarah Addison Allen, Lynn Hagen, Stormy Glenn and Leah Brooke.

Mellanie: What obstacles did you face pursuing this dream? How did you conquer them?

Cooper: I think the biggest obstacle was allowing other people to influence my beliefs for so many years. I knew I was born to write fiction, but so many people around me were against me even trying. And I let their negativity affect how zealously I pursued my dream.

Mellanie: How many books have you published? How many years have you been in this business?

Cooper: I’ve been daydreaming since I was born; writing since I could hold a pencil and my first e-book was published in 2010. Before than I had several young adult and children’s books published in paper under another name. Since then, I’ve published…uh…um…To be truthful I’ve lost count, but I do know it is over 50…so far.

Mellanie: What have you enjoyed most about working your publishers?

Cooper: They allow me the freedom to take my stories off in some very strange directions and they don’t fence me into writing in one genre or another. They are all very nurturing people who are quite wonderful to work with.

Mellanie: You have a new novel releasing June 12th, what is the name of this novel?

Cooper: Cougar Wants, which is the first of my Cougarlicious series, actually released a week early on June 5th.

Mellanie: How did this novel come about?

Cooper: I wanted to do a series about women who decide to become cougars…you know, those women who date much younger men. Kimber is based on a Facebook friend who has become very dear to me. She even helped with ideas for the book (it was her idea to have the hero be the pizza delivery man).

Mellanie: What do you love about the character in this novel?

Cooper: I love everything about Kimber. She’s strong and independent, but also vulnerable and in needed of a man to lean on. In his own way, Tate is the same way. They make a perfect pair.

Mellanie: What else can we expect from Cooper McKenzie in 2012 and 2013?

Cooper: I expect I will be home writing and trying to build both the perfect hero, but also the perfect romance. For books I have four more in the Pyrate's Treasure Series and two more in the Cougarlicious series to finish. I'm also working on a young adult advice book under the name Susan Walker which is called Chick Sense: 101 Secrets to Real Life They Don't Teach in School.

*Mellanie Crouell is a poet and author. To learn more about her, visit

*Learn more about Cooper McKenzie at

Monday, June 18, 2012

Guest Post: "The Making of Nimpentoad: A Father's Journey with His Sons" by Henry L. Herz

When my sons were five and seven years old, and I wanted to share my love of fantasy with them. They were too young for watching most of the fantasy and sci-fi movie classics, and there are only so many good fantasy books available for that age range. Struck by inspiration one day, I came up with a way to share the joy of entering the magical realms of fantasy. I would write a fantasy book for them.

What I did not anticipate was that my boys would give me feedback on the story. They devised some of the character (“Nimpentoad”) and creature (“Neebel”) names, and made plot line suggestions. And who better to help make the story appealing to kids than other kids? So, my goal of interesting my sons in fantasy transformed into also encouraging them to write. Very cool.

I decided that we would self-publish Nimpentoad, so the next step was to find an artist who had the skill and style suitable for our book. This turned out to be the most time-consuming part of our journey. Nimpentoad‘s artwork is (I think you’ll agree) eye-catching, with incredible detail. The kind of detail that makes the reader want to climb into the picture and go exploring.

Once again, my sons were involved, this time helping with art direction. We would describe what each illustration should contain. Collaborating remotely via email and DropBox, our artist would give us a rough sketch, and we would provide feedback on details and color palette. Nimpentoad came to life, while my boys added another dimension to their experience.

Eventually, we had a good book, but we lacked readers. So, we then embarked upon the most arduous part of our journey – promoting Nimpentoad. Luckily, my boys (dare I say it) are charismatic and precocious, and are comfortable conducting public readings and doing book signings.

At the risk of infringing on child labor laws, I booked my sons as much as their school schedules would allow. We’ve done readings and signings at San Diego libraries, elementary schools, farmer's markets, book fairs, the La Jolla YMCA, the New Children’s Museum, Mysterious Galaxy Books, Readers Books, Warwick’s Books, and Barnes & Noble.

At the San Diego Public Library 46th Annual Local Author’s Exhibit, my sons asked for autographs from Chris Ryall (head of IDW Publishing) and famed graphic novelist Eric Shanower. Both of these gentlemen then graciously asked for my boys’ autographs. First class!

At the La Mesa Centennial Readers & Writers Festival, we shared a booth with Ron Noble, animator of Rugrats, Rocket Power, and Wild Thornberry’s. He was very kind, and my boys left that day with personalized Wild Thornberry sketches. First class!

All these experiences have further enriched the journey for my sons. They understand some of the aspects of running a business and publishing. They are now comfortable meeting new people, doing public speaking, and rubbing elbows with famous authors. It has been a great ride.



Amazon Customer Ratings:



Interview with Fictional Frontiers:

Book Trailer:

Review by The One Ring.Net: