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Archive for the ‘Writing Critiques’ Category

UNEARTH YOUR PROTAGONIST’S TRUE GOAL.

By Alayne Kay Christian

dig

CAN YOU DIG A LITTLE DEEPER?

In my picture book writing course, Art of Arc: How to Analyze Your Picture Book Manuscript, I talk a lot about consequences. What does the protagonist stand to lose if he does not solve his problem or reach his goal? Why is it important to him on a personal level? This is one way to get your readers to connect with the protagonist on an emotional level. That connection makes the reader want to keep reading.

Sometimes, writers have difficulty giving their protagonist a strong goal that will carry the story and engage the reader. I often fall back to my life coaching days when I think about story characters, and I’d like to share how I relate character goals to coaching clients’ goals.

Very often, clients come to a life coach with surface goals. One of the first things I do with new clients is work to get to their deeper goals. The goals that really matter. The goals that will motivate the client and drive her to take action. If after exploring and digging, the client can’t unearth her true desires, I try a different approach. I ask the client what she doesn’t want. It seems that it is much easier for most people to identify and express what we don’t want. And this brings us back to our story writing. When searching for a strong goal, try asking yourself, “What is my main character trying to avoid? What does he NOT want?”

One more little tip along the same lines. A main character’s goal can be something he doesn’t want. And that is what I will leave you to think about today. Now for some exciting news.

 

AWARD WINNER, A MORNING WITH GRANDPA HAS BEEN RELEASED!

gong gong cover

 

Books that we authors write often feel like our babies. Books that our critique partners write can sometimes feel like nieces and nephews. Today, I would like to welcome my new little niece into the world. The winner of the Lee & Low New Voices Award, A MORNING WITH GRANDPA was written by my friend and critique partner Sylvia Liu. The fabulous illustrations were created by Christina Forshay.

Gong gong signing

Sylvia signing preorders at Prince Books in Norfolk, Virginia.

gong gong book shelf

On the shelf!

REVIEW

By Alayne Kay Christian

Inquisitive, bubbly Mei Mei watches Grandpa “dance slowly among the flowers in the garden.” He moves “like a giant bird stalking through the marsh.” His arms sway “like reeds.”

“What are you doing, Gong Gong?” Mei Mei asks. And this starts a dance between inquisitive, bubbly Mei Mei and patient, loving Gong Gong. Every page walks the reader through this beautiful, playful relationship. Mei Mei’s creative attempts to follow her grandfather’s tai chi moves bring smiles when I read and explore all there is to see in the illustration. While I keep smiling, the end tugs at my heartstrings as the dance continues with a fun but touching role reversal.

Sylvia Liu and Christina Forshay are perfect dance partners as well. Liu’s wonderful storytelling with lovely lyrical language paired with Forshay’s lively, flowing illustrations create a dance of their own. It’s a winning combination! As a mother, grandmother, author, and picture book writing teacher, I highly recommend this beautiful book.

Gong Gong spread 2

Art by Christina Forshay, used with permission from Lee & Low Books

 

MORE REVIEWS AND SOME GREAT INTERVIEWS

I considered interviewing Sylvia, but there are already some excellent interviews and other reviews out there, so I thought I would share the links to them.

Lin Gong offers a review and a great interview.

The Reading Nook Reviews gives an extensive review.

Kirkus Reviews offers their praises of A MORNING WITH GRANDPA.

Publisher’s Weekly offers their views here.

Yvonne Mes interviews Sylvia with questions about winning the Lee & Low New Voices Award and much, much more.

 

Sylvia NewSylvia Liu was inspired to write this story by the playful and loving relationship between her children and their Gong Gong. Before devoting herself to writing and illustrating children’s books, she worked as an environmental lawyer at the U.S. Department of Justice and the nonprofit group, Oceana. She lives in Virginia Beach, Virginia, with her husband and two daughters. This is Sylvia’s debut picture book. Visit her online at www.enjoyingplanetearth.com.

 

Christina ForshayChristina Forshay is a full-time illustrator known for her colorful images and joyous style. Born and raised in sunny California, she was inspired to become an illustrator by her many visits to Disneyland and by watching hours of cartoons as a child. Today, she still watches cartoons for inspiration for her illustrations! Christina lives with her husband, son, daughter, and two dogs in California. Visit her online at www.christinaforshay.com.

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Summer SparksThis week my guest post CAUSE AND EFFECT is being featured in the Summer Sparks challenge hosted by Tracey Cox. There is some great information, so I hope you will give it a look.

Also, here is the link to the top viewed post on my blog this year. USING CHARACTER-DRIVEN PICTURE BOOKS AS MENTOR TEXTS TO IMPROVE YOUR OWN WRITING, by Marcie Flinchum Atkins

I want to share that I have been taking an excellent course on chapter book writing. Emma Walton Hamilton’s Just Write for  Middle Grade and Chapter Book Course is a 14 week experience that will help anyone turn their writing dream into a reality. Offering several worksheets per lesson and providing thorough information on each chapter book element, Emma methodically walks her students from the beginning of their book to the end. I highly recommend this course.

Finally, in case you missed it, I have started a picture book manuscript critique service.

Next week my ALL ABOUT SUBMISSIONS series will feature guest blogger Vivian Kirkfield. She will offer her thoughts on “getting in the backdoor” with your manuscript.

Happy writing!

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AAS Q&A 4This month, I asked the All about Submissions team the following questions: How do you cope with rejections? What do you do with the rejection letters – even if they are just form letters? I shared some of our answers yesterday in Part One. Here are the remaining answers plus links to some excellent posts. Please feel free to comment and share your tips for coping with rejections. And remember, if you have questions you would like answered, either ask it in the comment section or contact me by clicking the “contact” button at the top of this page.

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Teresa Robeson, author and artist

teresarobeson.com

Rejections used to get me into a deep funk. I think that’s partly why I gave up writing for a while in the 2000s (that, combined with the stress of homeschooling two young kids during that period). I had some wonderfully encouraging, personalized rejections among the form ones, but it was still so depressing.

I think that, with age, I have grown a thicker skin and now rejections don’t bother me as much. They still do, but they don’t define my self-worth. Also, I’ve gotten fan letters and compliments (from readers and editors) on my published works, and that really helps to sustain me when I receive a rejection.

Because I’m semi-organized (more hypothetically than in practice), I save all my rejection letters in files, either real or virtual. I occasionally, like once every seven years, pull out the encouraging ones to look at, but I don’t do anything with them otherwise. No need to re-live the angst of the form rejections, and I hold the good ones in my heart anyway.

As much as rejections pain me, in today’s world of “we’ll reply only if interested,” I would rather receive a form rejection than no rejection at all!

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Sophia Mallonée, Children’s Writer

www.sophiamallonee.com

Rejections suck. Yeah, your skin might grow a little thicker over time, but there really is no getting used to the rejection process.

For me, my coping mechanisms vary from rejection to rejection. The best rejections are the personalized ones. With those, I like to pick apart the letter and try to view my manuscript the way the agent or editor did. Can I utilize their advice? I’ll pour over my manuscript and try to find any weak links that I might be able to strengthen. I take these rejections as learning experiences. Yes, it still sucks to be rejected. But at least in these cases (most often) I’ve received a little bit of knowledge as a consolation prize.

It’s the form rejections that are the worst. It’s more difficult to take away a great lesson when you receive an “It’s wonderful…but just not for me” type of letter. That always stings. It’s like a breakup where you’re never able to say how you felt in the end, and the closure is never had. Why? Just give me something. If it’s so wonderful, then why is it not for you? It took me a while to let go of those rejections. But I get it. I know that a manuscript can be good and still not connect with you – I read stories like that all of the time – for no particular reason. I understand that to respond to every single query/submission would be a ridiculous waste of time. But still, just because I understand the rejection process, doesn’t mean I have to like it. I definitely allow myself to have a mini pity-party, followed by a phone call or lunch with my critique buddies, where we all commiserate. After that, I’ll write something new. Nothing makes me feel more accomplished and happy than diving into a new story.

I like to keep my rejection letters. I keep all of my electronic rejection letters filed away (even if they’re form) in my email. That way, if I query or submit to the same agent/editor again in the future, I can reference back to any correspondence we might have had in the past.

I don’t, however, keep any paper rejections unless they’re personalized and mailed to me. I don’t have the time or space for extra paperwork.

I’ll mention that I also have a running “Submission Tracking” spreadsheet that I maintain. I track all letters received, dates and any specific notes next to the agent/editor info on this sheet. That way, even if I don’t have the letters themselves, I’m still able to reference specifics quickly.

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Cindy Williams Schrauben, Children’s Writer

Raising Book Monsters – kids who devour books and hunger for knowledge

http://www.RaisingBookMonsters.com

What do I do with form rejections? I log them (on my submission spreadsheet) and forget them. Done.

How do I cope with rejections? This question sounds very straight forward, but there are many variables. I can say, though, that my coping mechanisms have become much stronger over time and I can even say that I am grateful for them – okay, not grateful that they said NO, but grateful for the fact that they responded at all.

My first few rejections were very difficult – I, simply, didn’t know how it worked. I had written a story – a good story, so I thought – and put it out there for the world to see. Time for agents to start knocking at my door, right? Finding that others didn’t share my passion for this manuscript was, initially, really tough. I know now that it isn’t quite that easy. But I can say that I ALWAYS read a rejection like a critique, quickly the first time… let it sit… and then read it again later with less emotion and more objectivity.

Call it rationalization if you like, but I cope with rejections by asking myself a couple questions:

Was this a dream agent? If the answer is no, I tell myself that this rejection is just getting me closer to the right one. If the answer is yes, well, I blubber away for a while and then I eat some ice cream.

Another determining factor is the type of rejection – they are not all created equal. Form rejections, for example just suck; that’s all there is to it. There is nothing to learn from them other than perseverance and a tough skin. One way to help is to go to Literary Rejections and read about all the hugely successful authors who have been rejected hundreds of times.  Their tagline is: “helping writers persevere through rejection.” Their web and Facebook sites both offer commiseration and inspiration.

Personalized rejections are a different story entirely. I recently received one from an agent that included real reasons for rejecting my work. It wasn’t a copy/paste response like: “I wasn’t in love” blah, blah, blah, or “not a good fit” blah, blah, blah, but offered some constructive criticism.  I treat these rejections like gold. They are, in fact, critiques from someone who truly knows the business. Sure, it is just another opinion, but an informed one to say the least.

My final piece of advice/rationalization is to tell myself that I want an agent who LOVES my work. Period. If they don’t… well, they aren’t right for me.

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Sylvia Liu, Writer-illustrator

portfolio: www.enjoyingplanetearth.com

blog: www.sylvialiuland.com

Sylvia Liu is a winner of the Lee & Low New Voices Award. http://blog.leeandlow.com/2014/01/15/announcing-our-2013-new-voices-award-winner/

I am very practical and dispassionate about rejections. I figure it’s a numbers game and I will need to rack up many rejections before I find the right fit. I also look on the bright side. If I get deafening silence, I can imagine that the agent or publisher is still pondering the story. If I get a form letter, I get closure. If I get a quick rejection, I’m happy to move on. If I get personalized feedback, I am thrilled to improve my story and am buoyed by the prospect that it is one step further out of the slush pile.

The hardest rejections are after an agent has requested more work and they end up passing on my work. It’s hard not take that personally, but it does spur me to keep strengthening all my pieces.

I keep all my rejections. In the olden days, I’d get photocopies of form letters that I still have in an accordion file. Nowadays, I keep an “Agent Correspondence” file in my emails. My favorite rejection was one where my husband and I submitted a piece he wrote and I illustrated about six years ago. The rejection was addressed to him, but the line, “Tell Ms. Liu her illustrations are brilliant,” still sustains me today.

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Alayne Kay Christian, Award Winning Children’s Author

Butterfly Kisses for Grandma and Grandpa

Represented by Erzsi Deak, Hen&ink Literary Studio

Before I share this month’s links, I want to make one point. Many of the All about Submissions team members mentioned developing tough or thick skin. First I want to say that a form letter rejection, a kind/helpful rejection, or the emptiness of no response from a manuscript submission can all be perceived as criticism. I believe one excellent way to develop thick skin and practice coping with criticism is to join a critique group. But here’s the thing about critique groups, a critique partner who is afraid of hurting someone’s feelings and therefore is not as honest as they can be about their crit partners’ manuscripts is doing a disservice to their fellow writers. Be honest. Tell what you see, think, feel. Critiques are like dress rehearsals for rejections. The author of the manuscript can decide if they agree with you or not. Of course, you want to give positive feedback as well. Ask your critique partners to help you out by honestly telling it as they see it.

Links:

From Jessica P. Morrell

Three posts (all appear on the same page – if you click on any one of the three links below, you will access the page):

What Editor’s Notice

Top Eleven Reasons Why a Manuscript is Rejected

Tips for staying out of the rejection pile

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From OneWildWorld.com:  SIX GUIDELINES FOR TURNING REJECTION INTO SUCCESS by Carol Despeaux

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From Distractify: 10 PAINFUL REJECTION LETTERS TO FAMOUS PEOPLE PROVING YOU SHOULD NEVER GIVE UP YOUR DREAMS by Averi Clements

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From Kristin Lamb’s blog: HOW TO TAKE CRITICISM LIKE A PRO by J.E. Fishman

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From MORE online magazine: KATHRYN STOCKETT’S “THE HELP” TURNED DOWN 60 TIMES BEFORE BECOMING A BEST SELLER

by Kathryn Stockett

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TOP 10 FAMOUS BOOKS THAT WERE ORIGINALLY REJECTED

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From Schuler Books Weblog: 30 FAMOUS AUTHORS WHOSE WORKS WERE REJECTED, by Michelle Kerns

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Romelle Broas shares a humorous post, REJECTION LETTERS FROM A POSITIVE PERSPECTIVE

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Tidbits from Alayne

Two responses to rejections that I see in the writing community that I enjoy are as follows:

Onword and upword! (spelling intentional)

Now I’m one step closer to publication (variations: signing with an agent, a book contract)

A list of all the ALL ABOUT SUBMISSIONS posts.

 

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AAS Q&A 4HOW DO YOU KNOW WHEN YOUR MANUSCRIPT IS READY TO SUBMIT? 

Elaine Kiely Kearns, Children’s Writer

www.kidlit411.com

That is a really good question and I think that it may be a little different for everyone you ask. For me, though, I feel that my manuscript is complete when it has gone through the following stages:

1.) I have written and rewritten my draft at least three times by myself.

2.) I have had the manuscript critiqued by the members of my group.

3.) Based on that feedback, I have revised the manuscript again.

4.) Then, I send the manuscript off to my freelance editor for critiquing and general feedback based on its strength and marketability.

5.) I revise again based on her feedback.

6.) After another pass to the freelance editor, I send it back again to my critique group.

7.) Usually by then the suggestions from the group are minor. Only then do I feel it is ready to be subbed around to agents and editors.

This procedure is lengthy, and it requires lots of revision hours and patience! It has worked for me so far though, I have received great feedback from agents, and a few have even requested additional manuscripts. I also recommend reading Ann Whitford Paul’s book, Writing Picture Books: A Hands-On Guide from Story Creation to Publication. I use that book to get me through the drafting process and initial revisions. If you’re a picture book author, that book is a MUST!

Thanks for having me visit your blog today, Alayne!

Cindy Williams Schrauben, Children’s Writer

This is one of the hardest question of all – for me, anyway. It is one that has taken me quite some time to reconcile. In fact, I still struggle with it at times. Feeling comfortable with the answer has required some self-imposed rules and “tough love.” I marvel when I look back at some of my early stories – stories that I loved. YUCK! Not only has my writing improved, but I can see that they simply weren’t ready. It is extremely difficult to be objective with your own work unless you are diligent. If you have a story that you have worked on over a long period of time, take a look back at an early draft – you’ll see what I mean.

So, here are a few simple, common sense guidelines that I have set for myself.

#1 – Write – follow all the rules for first drafts, revising, editing, etc.

#2 – Let it sit for at least a week, preferably longer – you’re too close to your story to see it clearly. You need distance to develop a fresh, objective eye.

#3 – Revise

#4 – Share – recruit new eyes

Share your work with other writers – ALWAYS. Relatives, friends, your kids? Sorry, they don’t count. Remember you should be true to your own work, but critiques almost always have some merit. If you get a critique that is tough to digest, read it over quickly – swear, cry, whatever you need to do – and then let it sit for a couple days. If you are anything like me, you will realize when you revisit it that there is wisdom there after all.

#5 – Revise, using the critique and your own best judgment. Be true to yourself while weighing the opinions of others.

#6 – When you can’t stand to look at it another minute – STOP – don’t submit –  let it sit, again.

#7 – Start all Over

Revise, print, read aloud 100 times, evaluate title, share, let it sit.

This step might be repeated many times over a period of weeks, months or even years – give it as long as it takes. If you just can’t stand to look at it anymore, let it rest for a while – a long while. Never send off a story just because you are sick of looking at it. Chances are, it’s not ready.

#8 – When you LOVE it again and feel confident – DO IT! Congratulate yourself and don’t look back.

Alayne Kay Christian, Award Winning Children’s Author

Butterfly Kisses for Grandma and Grandpa

Represented by Erzsi Deak, Hen&ink Literary Studio

Most of what I would have shared has been shared by the other team members. One thing I would like to mention doesn’t exactly have to do with how to know when your manuscript is ready to submit. But it is about when you know “you” are ready to submit. If you only have one polished manuscript, it would be smart to wait to submit. It is common for agents and editors to request more work if they like the manuscript you have submitted. Therefore, it is wise to have at least three (preferably more) polished manuscripts before you begin submitting.

Since the team did such a great job of answering this question, I spent my time researching what other people have to say on the subject. Following are some links for more excellent tips regarding being ready to submit.

Is Your Manuscript Ready for Submission?

8 Essential Steps Before Submitting Your Manuscript, by Karen Cioffi

http://www.karencioffiwritingandmarketing.com/2009/11/is-your-manuscript-ready-for-submission.html#.Uu0Ry_ldUjo

10 Tests to Prove Your Manuscript is Ready for Submission, by Ingrid Sundberg

http://ingridsnotes.wordpress.com/2010/12/29/10-tests-to-prove-your-manuscript-is-ready-for-submission/

Ready or Not, Here I Sub, by Tara Lazar

http://taralazar.com/2008/09/08/ready-or-not-here-i-sub/

Is Your Manuscript Ready to be Submitted to a Children’s Book Publisher? from Write4Kids

http://www.write4kids.com/blog/business-of-publishing/is-your-manuscript-ready-to-be-submitted-to-a-childrens-book-publisher/

Is Your Manuscript Ready to Submit, by Mary Keeley

http://www.booksandsuch.com/blog/is-your-manuscript-ready-to-submit/

CLICK HERE TO READ PART ONE OF HOW DO YOU KNOW WHEN YOUR MANUSCRIPT IS READY TO SUBMIT?

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Before I get started with this post, I want to announce my new professional picture book manuscript critique service. For more information on what I offer click here.  January 12-18, 2014, Meg Miller will be presenting ReviMo – Revise More Picture Books Week. She has interviewed me for one of her ReviMo posts. One of her interview questions was, “What is your revision process.” I decided to post a list of some things I take into consideration when writing and revising picture books. The list is similar to what I look for when I critique other people’s work. I hope it is helpful.

Read about the new Sub Six Series: ALL ABOUT SUBMISSIONS

THINGS I NATURALLY NOTICE WHEN POLISHING MY WORK

 Does it read smoothly or do I trip up a lot as I read?
 Does it make me feel emotion?
 Do I find myself smiling or chuckling?
 Do I feel anxious, excited or sad for the main character?
 Do I find myself cheering for the main character?
 Does it have a satisfying ending?

STORY COMPONENTS

BEGINNING PAGES

 Is the opening line or paragraph strong?
 Will it grab the reader’s attention immediately?
 Will it make readers want to learn more or continue reading?
 Does the setup and description go on forever? Or do the first couple of spreads reveal what the story is “really” about?
 Will the reader have a good sense of the main character and his desire or problem by the third spread?

CONFLICT

 Does the text move the main character and story forward through his attempts to get what he wants?
 As the main character moves forward, does he attempt and fail to achieve his goal?
 Do his attempts and failures increase the story tension and make me want to turn pages?
 Will readers feel like they are in the story, experiencing what the main character is experiencing?

STORY FOCUS

 Is there cause and effect throughout the story, connecting the dots from sentence to sentence, paragraph to paragraph, scene to scene?
 Are there too many obstacles?
 Too few obstacles?
 Do the steps that the main character take make sense?

CLIMAX AND RESOLUTION

 Is there a strong story arc that builds to a turning point or climax?
 Does the main character experience a darkest moment that leads him to resolution?
 Does the resolution come just a page or two before the ending?
 Is the ending connected to the rest of the story and satisfying?
 Does it offer a twist?
 A nice tie in to the beginning?
 A moment of realization or satisfaction that the main character has grown, learned something, or reached his goal?

LINE BY LINE QUESTIONS

 Do all the story dots seem connected?
 Is time and place clear throughout?
 Is tense consistent?
 Is point of view consistent?
 Are there awkward, clumsy, or wordy sentences?
 Are there any missing or confusing transitions between scenes?
 Is there too much telling and not enough showing?
 Is there too much dialogue and not enough action?
 Are there places where the text is doing the illustrators job?
 Do all passages create visions or move the story forward in some way?

You might also like Perfecting Your Critique

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ANNOUNCING MY NEW PICTURE BOOK MANUSCRIPT CRITIQUE SERVICE. Click her to learn what I offer.

Thank you for your interest in my webinar “Perfecting Your Critique” and this additional information. If you haven’t seen the webinar yet, it may be viewed by clicking the link below. The password is nonficpic. When you are done watching, I hope you will read the blog all the way to the end. There are some excellent resources and great information.

PERFECTING YOUR CRITIQUE webinar video  Remember the password is nonficpic.

Clicking on the following will open my sample critique and Hannah Holt’s sample critique.

Bunky Bear Alayne’s crit pdf

Bunky Bear Doesn’t Like to Share Hannah Critique

Learn more about Hannah Holt

My critique partner, Anthony Pearson, is doing a series on his blog where he is sharing critiques he has received on one of his stories. Currently, he has two critiques up. I did a critique on the story a few weeks ago, and he should have mine added to the blog next week. So, if you want to see more example critiques from me and a few other writers click on the link below.

ANTHONY PEARSON SHARES CRITIQUES

Clicking on the following will open a list of questions that can be used as a guideline when writing critiques.

LIST OF QUESTIONS FOR CRITIQUES

Clicking on the following will open a questions and answers page. These are questions about critiques that people had asked but were not answered during the webinar.

ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS THAT DID NOT GET ANSWERED DURING THE WEBINAR

In the answers I mention Nancy Cofflelt’s books, here is a link Nancy Coffelt’s Amazon Page

Thanks to Russ Cox, Julie Falatko, Sabrina Marchal, and Jennifer Young for helping me answer the question about in-person versus online critique groups.

A BIG THANK YOU TO KRISTEN FULTON and WOW nonficpic for making this webinar available. Every year, starting June 21, Kristen challenges the members of WOW nonficpic to write a nonfiction picture book a day for the week, and there are prizes! All year long, the group has fun writing, networking, revising, learning, and winning. Now, Kristen has added extremely informative free webinars as one of the group benefits. Also, in February 2014, there will be a mini challenge that will be centered around doing research for nonficiton works. To join, click on the link below, and ask to join. It is a great group of writers.

Join WOW nonficpic

Learn more about WOW nonficpic

For additional information regarding critique groups click on the links below.

HOW TO CRITIQUE FICTION, by Victory Crayne

From the Positive Writer blog: WHY WRITERS ARE THE MOST BRUTAL CRITICS OF OTHER WRITERS, by Bryan Hutchinson

One last link JINGLE BELLS: TALES OF HOLIDAY SPIRIT FROM AROUND THE WORLD is now available at Amazon

Jingle Bells cover

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