Some Thoughts on Negative Critique Peers

Are brutal reviewers always good for you? Are they more often right than wrong just because they're brutal, or are other factors at work? 

So what spurred these questions? A friend recently said she had a "brutal critique partner" that could be relied on. It got me to thinking about brutal reviewers in my own experience who were worse than useless and actually destructive. 

We need to keep in mind that the better an ms becomes, the harder such “brutal” critics are forced to dig for critique at all costs, inevitably focusing on matters of taste, e.g, “I don’t like that character's personality...” as opposed to “I think this point could be made clearer by doing XYZ.” You could put 10 of these brutal negative types in a room and they would shred an unpublished novel to pieces in their own special way. But if the exact same novel were actually written by a commercial author favorite of theirs, they would not only praise it but compete with each other to deliver the most positive, in-depth insight into the work. Their blurbs would shower Amazon with five stars. Perhaps a "however" now and then, but nothing that would ever approach the brutality of decimating the ms they believed unpublished. 

Frankly, I’ve had experience with various coverage types in LA and fought huge battles with them over specific screenplays and manuscripts by writers known to me (two were clients) who they were attempting to annihilate, and I noticed, the more perfect the manuscript, the more vehement and extreme the critique. It was as if the good story and great prose infuriated them and made them all the more determined to find ways to chop at it. Of course, they made their living by using negativity as a substitute for authentic and insightful review, much like certain commercial book reviewers who go viciously negative in order to stand out in a crowd. 

When looking for feedback on a fantasy manuscript I wrote two years ago, I purposely sought out three writers who I knew would rip me a big one (for various reasons), and all three did, but there were no commonalities. I figured that reasonably intelligent writers straining hard to be negative would find an issue if it really existed. It was weird to watch them strive to be as negative as possible over essentially petty things. 

I once sent a very polished ms to some editors in Iowa who I trusted to put the final coat of paint on the top floor. Instead, they shredded the opening chapter of the ms in every inconceivable way. They strained to dissect sentences and nitpick “the real meaning” vs. the words actually used, and in a manner nothing short of bizarre. They even hated italics! Determined to be negative at all costs, the Iowa people didn't say one positive thing about any facet of the ms. When not provided their normal diet of necessary edits they simply picked and picked until they created a series of false negatives. The coverage people in LA, as I noted above, imitated this Iowa group. However, I couldn't help but notice the exact same editors, when courting a client for monetary reasons, fell over themselves being complimentary. Hmmmmmm... 

Conclusion. If you must use reviewers, searched for balanced personalities and look for commonalities.


Should Mentors or Workshop Leaders Give Poor Writers False Hope For The Sake of Building Confidence?

by Michael Neff

Though the blurb below was published in The Onion, it is nonetheless a good jumping off point for discussing how creative writing instructors or mentors should approach students whose stories or prose need extra help:

"CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA—In an effort to help his students develop inaccurate perceptions of their talents, University of Virginia creative writing professor Alan Erickson told reporters Monday that he takes the time to provide each and every one of them with personalized false hope. “Every student is different, and even though there may be 30 of them per class, I feel it’s important that I make enough time to sit down with them individually to let them know they have a unique voice worth pursuing,” said Erickson, explaining that he frequently extends his office hours and often stays after class to meet with students one-on-one to ensure they hear individualized, unfounded optimism about their writing and their prospects within the publishing industry. “It certainly adds a bit to my workload, but providing specific feedback and encouragement really has a huge impact on their confidence. Going that extra mile for your students is what inspires them to follow their dreams.” The professor added that his efforts have yielded some notable results, asserting that a number of his most deluded former students have gone on to humiliating, short-lived attempts at writing careers."

I have been in the presence of professional fiction-writing workshop leaders who have either falsely praised a writer or else avoided addressing flaws in their work--often leaving said flaws to be hopefully discovered by a member of the workshop instead. In this way, the instructor avoids having to face the writer and discuss the problem directly. He or she lets the group do most of the discovery and problem-solving analysis, thus disallowing the writer in question from focusing potential ire on the workshop leader.

Having been a workshop leader, I can tell you, the above approach would be a lot easier on me. However, even groups that are decently moderated (assuming the workshop leader actually understands not only practical creative writing but the commercial and literary publishing business--which is rare) must endure a good amount of poorly considered, amateurish advice issued from the well-meaning heads of the writers present. 

Godspeed them all! 

But what is a workshop leader to do in the presence of hit-and-miss advice and analysis flowing freely around the table? Various strategies exist, but by and large, he or she (if honest and knowledgeable) must be put in the position of tactfully contradicting much of what the writer group has said to each other (much of which already contradicts itself). And how is that possible in group dynamic situations that might not be conducive to such frank reality checking? 

Answer: it isn't possible.

One can only hope for a group that is receptive. And falsely praising the work of poor writers only enables them to continue to fail. The workshop leader should note what works, and what does not, then delve into strategies for improvement.

Good writers are not born. They are made.



Lessons and Readings Necessary To The Creation of a Competitive Commercial Manuscript

By Michael Neff

Let's get right to the point on this issue. Yes, we know that CATCHER IN THE RYE and HUCKLEBERRY FINN could never have been the famous novels they were without the engaging first person voice of their protagonists. And yes, first person seems to be in vogue with paranormal YA and some fantasy here and there, however, third person point of view is the best way to relate a dynamic work of fiction, hands down. Unless the first person voice is so remarkable, unique and/or compelling that the novel could not exist without it, third person is strongly advised.

For purposes of this study, we define four levels of third person point of view (3POV) as follows:
  • Author-POV
  • 3POV Distant
  • 3POV Close
  • 3POV First-Close
The Author-POV or APOV, refers to the author, the detached or "omniscient narrator" who steps in now and then to set the scene or make artful commentary at the right time (just *please* don't address the reader directly because that is so irritating and breaks the reader's immersion into the fictional dream).  3POV Distant or 3POV-D occurs at such time the narrative focuses on a specific character and we watch her or his actions as if we are the camera actively filming this character. 3POV Close or 3POV-C takes us into the character's head and camera viewpoint shifts to the character, i.e., we see or experience, for the most part, only what the character is viewing or experiencing. 3POV First-Close or 3POV-FC dives deeper into the character's head and effectively mimics first person POV, but naturally without the usual limits of first person POV because the author can cut from the 3POV-FC and pull all the way back to APOV.

Let's look at three samples of what we're talking about from my novel-in-progress, co-authored with Kevin Reilly, entitled THE YARROW STICKS OF CATHAY.


The following never quite makes it into 3POV-C, but verges on it. Note how the APOV returns at the conclusion:

(APOV) WHEN ONLY A CHILD OF NINE, ONE OF EARTH'S most powerful kings, Zolo Bold, did something that haunted him the rest of his life. He sniffed a bee up his nose.
     But no ordinary bee.
    (3POV-D) After a night of howling steppe winds and falling stars spilled from The Big Dipper, he saw a white flower, like one of those stars, stemming out the next morning from a vendor’s cart in Samarkand. While his mother strained to subdue him, Zolo nonetheless hopped and hummed with delight. Much to his surprise, he could smell the mind-softening scent of the blossom even from many feet away, competing bravely with the loud odors of the city market. In his mind, it seemed so radiant and mysterious that it overshadowed all the other flowers, even the enormous Silk Road orchids rumored by Christian monks to be death robbers, and the many and exotic blooms whose seeds came from Ulaanbaatar in faraway Mongolia.
     When the flower merchant, a man with an ox-sized stomach, no nose, and the thinnest head Zolo had ever seen, turned to heckle a customer, Zolo Bold--whose name means Crazy Fox--saw his chance. He gently slipped from his mother’s hand and took a few steps, leaning forward to smell the rose. He could not help himself, for never before in his life been in the presence of such a sky born flower. But just as his nose brushed the soft white petals and the scent filled his head, something else did too: a sharp and crawly thing.
     It followed the air up his right nostril, and once lodged, began to squirm.
     Zolo shrieked and jumped into the air!
     His entire nose buzzed and the sound of it curled into his throat and out of his mouth. A nearby child, smaller than him and holding his mother’s hand, heard the bee voice and pointed, yelling “It’s bee boy! Bee boy!”
(APOV)  In the years to come, Zolo Bold, the great enemy of the dark feared from Istanbul to Cathay, would remember that boy’s terrified face and always attach to it all mention of the word "bee" ...


Note how sometimes the lines between levels can be somewhat blurred, but once the reader accepts the reality of the 3POV narrative style, it all seamlessly blends:

(APOV) After what seemed like hours, the two of them drew near their tent. (3POV-D) Zolo broke away from his mother and ran towards it as fast as he could. Once inside, he dove onto his sleeping place, made of quilted blankets, and thrust his arm beneath them.  Groping around, he soon found the object he searched for: a tiny stone statue of an ancient warrior known to him only as Alexander.
  He gripped the figure tightly and whispered his own quick prayer for protection. Many years before, a wandering Kazakh traveler, late of Istanbul, had given it to him as a gift and told him that Alexander once possessed the good fortune and power to rule many nations at once, that he was beloved of all gods-- (3POV-C) and little Zolo imagined that a being of such power would make a formidable ally. He mumbled prayers to Alexander only on special occasions, not wishing to upset Allah, or his parents.
(3POV-D)  But at the moment, his mother paid no attention. She stared out the tent into the desert, her body unmoving, as if something she saw paralyzed her.
(3POV-C) to (3POV-FC) While his mother stood in the corner of his eye, facing away from him, Zolo held Alexander close and whispered a prayer in his head:
  God Alexander,
  Help my mother find my father.
  I implore you.
  Make my family whole again
  And I will make sacrifice
  To you for all my days.
(3POV-C)  He held Alexander for a few more moments, staring at his soft profile and face and wondering how such a soft-looking god could rule so many nations. But he believed it to be true nonetheless. The wanderer from Istanbul had appeared like a man of wisdom and iron, and in his eyes, Zolo saw the truth.

NOTE: if the narrative had described the prayer rather than having us see the thoughts in Zolo's head, we would have stayed in (3POV-C) ]


Note the transition from 3POV-C to 3POV-FC. The narrative narrows down to the actual thoughts of the 3POV character, also using italicized lines which directly mimic first person interior monologue:

  (3POV-D)The old woman stared at Senna, her eyes fixing on her, never straying until she walked to within a few feet of the table. Her two escorts, still masked, let go of her and returned to the performance. The old woman's eyes dropped to the floor and Senna looked her over. (3POV-C) There was nothing special about her. Her face resembled a water-starved desert of lines and cracks, as one would expect. But suddenly, Senna heard someone speak to her: Sing the body young.
  (3POV-FC)A voice? From the old woman? ... No.
  The voice belonged to a man, though it sounded a bit strangled ... Sing the body young. Again! Was it in her head? She looked around. Nothing. Only Hermine and Théodo acting witless as usual, and not even seeing this old woman. Why are they not paying attention? Do they not realize how odd this all is?
  O poder é a vida ea morte, Princess Senna. 
  She knew that language. Galician, yes. A rare language of Spain, heavily influenced by Roman empire. It translated to "The power is life and death."
  Her fingers pricked for a moment and she realized the source of the voice: Mirza Yesun Temur. It must be him!
  Meu segredo está oculto.
  My secret is hidden. She strained her eyes for him. Zolo, Willie, or whoever was right. Tricks, illusions. And what did the words mean? And why? ... Sing the body young. The words intruding into her mind forced her to look at the old woman again. Now her eyes lifted and bored into Senna, and Senna's face began to burn and felt as if dozens of small fingers walked lightly over it. What in Beelzebub's name? The woman's eyes implored Senna to act, as if a terrible thing were about to happen. But what?

A Summary of Plus Points and Arguments for 3POVs

  • 3POV can be just as immediate and intimate as first person (see 3POV-FC example above), but without the usual constraints of being always boxed into what the first person narrator sees/experiences, sans their personality as a continuous filter. 3POV allows for multiple filters and tones, as well as first person intimacy with more than one character (multiple first person can achieve the same thing, but with more difficulty).
  • If you as the author need to deliver exposition or other critical information you will have more hoops to jump through if you are confined to the viewpoint of a first person narrator who may or may not logically be capable of delivering said information. While Jodi the first person narrator is talking to Mary, Bobby has just lit the fuse a mile away. How can Jodi tell us this?
  • Related to above, you can effectively describe events via the APOV and other 3POV characters even though your protagonist isn't present.
  • Allows a universal or authorial voice to more easily and quickly, under a wide variety of circumstances, to define reality for the reader. The reader suspends disbelief and accepts what the author narrator is telling them, whereas first person statements and observation run the risk, in certain situations, of sounding more like opinion.
  • Advantages of dramatic irony. The reader learns about upcoming circumstances that will adversely affect the protagonist before the protagonist realizes this fact. This creates suspense and heightens reader concern.
  • Allows for establishment of "epic perspective" (see the opening above with little Zolo).
  • Cinematic advantages. For example, in THE ALCHEMYST by Jonathan Stroud, we witness a scene of violence taking place in a book store. We see it through one characters viewpoint, in the store, as it plays out, then we switch to a second character outside the store, witnessing the effects of the violence from outside. Like a film, the author is able to cut back and forth and give far more dynamism to the depiction of the scene.
  • Another cinematic advantage is that the APOV can start the action sometimes more readily than the first person who may get mired in TELL TELL rather than SHOW SHOW.
  • Ability to jump into the heads of other characters enables author to quickly and efficiently switch settings and circumstances and thus add more variety and energy, as well bring a different tone and interpretation to the work as needed, e.g., consider the difference between the POV of a child and an elder experiencing the same circumstance.
  • It's easier to physically describe the 3POV view-point character(s) - the author can simply just say straight out how they appear, or even use the camera angle of another 3POV character to render the image.

Notes on Character Viewpoint

The nature of any given 3POV narrative is dependent to a large extent on the personality of the 3POV character engaged in filtering and interpreting the fictional environ. The 3POV narrator chooses to focus on things which interest her or him, comments on behavior she or he finds odd or objectionable, reveals fantasies, etc. Therefore, by placing a specific character with well defined traits at an event, or in the presence of something which must be described or experienced, you render that event or object in such a way as to reflect the character’s mindset, biases, emotion, beliefs and perceptions.

Thus, different characters employed as 3POV cameras or interpreters will yield different results when placed in the same circumstance. A superstitious individual might imagine a dark hand of God blotting the sun in anger, falling rain as tears; whereas the less superstitious, educated observer might focus on the sadness of a small child, her bright clothing soaked by rain, or the frantic motions of the staff attempting to clear food off the table before it is all spoiled by rainwater. The superstitious character might suffer more cognitive dysfunction, interpret smiles as wolfish or manipulative or death-like, the more educated character marveling at light and youthful appearance of the person smiling, the crinkles around the eyes, the cause of the light mood.

Characters by virtue of their personalities will therefore interpret the same phenomenon differently.

A must to keep in mind when juggling your 3POVS.

Michael Neff of Algonkian Writer Conferences


Red Hen's Kate Gale: "AWP Is Us" Fiasco


Kate Gale, the managing editor of Red Hen Press (the press that published my novel YEAR OF THE RHINOCEROS), has made the careless mistake of showing her foolishly racist and generally insensitive nature in public. Gone is the facade of the beneficent white liberal out to help writers and make the world a better place. The war she has stirred up on Internet is just this side of stupendous, or horrific, depending on your pov. A sample of the posts and commentary:

Los Angeles Times

Publisher's Weekly

Huffington Post (her "committed to diversity" attempt at apology)

The Adroit Journal

Inside Higher ED

She has attempted damage control, but it has failed. In Kate Gale's own words from her blog:

It has been recommended by many that I not write this personal message, that I let my initial retraction stand in its place. But I did not become a writer to stay silent. I was raised in—and escaped from—a cult that enforced child abuse, silence, and ignorance upon its members, and I have since dedicated my life to diversity in publishing, to making voices heard that were not heard before. I am grateful for the calls for action, for diversity, for underrepresented voices, for empowerment.

What I can do is tell you how truly dedicated I am to diversity. This is not an empty promise, but a record of twenty years of publishing that reflects this dedication and lifelong mission; a record that stands not for itself, but pushes me forward into projects already in the making to improve and expand on this diversity

I'm not out to pile on Kate Gale for the sake of pilling on. For years I have openly wanted to talk about my especially bad experience with Kate Gale in her role as managing editor of Red Hen Press. As a matter of fact, it was undeniably one of the top worst experiences of my entire life, right up there with a chronic illness, and that's because of the humiliation she inflicted and the calculated hateful impact she leveled on me at a time that should have been my finest hour. Kate Gale demonstrated a near pathological insensitivity towards me as an author,and in a way I can only explain below by relating what took place just before Red Hen actually published my work, and then later, at the AWP conference in Chicago where my novel was to debut in 2009.  

After Red Hen agreed to publish my ms back in 2008, Kate Gale obtained my manuscript, YEAR OF THE RHINOCEROS, sent by me after a clean-up draft. A few weeks later, she returned the manuscript by snail mail, with a note that she'd made some edits. The "edits" consisted of 136 GIANT RED X's slashed onto the pages of my manuscript--coincidentally smearing all my best
passages of prose narrative, and without any explanation. Nothing. No notes in the margin or elsewhere. Just one giant red X after another, some half a page in size. I am not exaggerating.

If you are a writer, you must have known how I felt. I oscillated between a state of anger and confusion. Who would do something so obviously insulting and cruel? Kate Gale was a writer, the managing editor of a well known literary press. She should have known better? And for the first time, I wondered at her sanity. I showed the ms to writer friends and they stared in disbelief at the well over a hundred giant red X's. Proof of an unsettling and disturbing episode of manic hate on her part? I don't know how else to describe it. A day later I called Kate Gale, prepared to tell her the deal was off. Over the phone she behaved as if nothing was out of place. She was guiltless, of course. Her ridiculous answer to me would have me believe those huge red X's were "just there to make me think about editing those particular paragraphs." 

I once again emailed my ms to Red Hen, but without removing or arbitrarily editing the 136 paragraphs of narrative slashed with X. To make a long and horrible story short, my ms underwent six galley changes due to incompetent errors created in the pages by Red Hen staff working directly under Kate Gale. Finally at wit's end, I called the press. Kate ignored my calls to her regarding her personal staff creating errors in my 426 page ms. Yes, they actually *created* errors! One of them, for example, was to remove any space separating an overhanging letter at the end of a sentence from the opening letter of the next line, so sentences appeared joined. After four galleys worth of frustrating edits and re-edits forced on me by Red Hen, her husband Mark joined in the fracas and sent me a sudden diatribe accusing me of not cooperating in the editing of the galleys. I was in disbelief. The circumstances were just the opposite, but I presumed that he'd been lied to because his diatribe directed at me was so genuinely full of indignation. 

Months later, at AWP in Chicago, the date my novel was to debut, she set me up for a humiliating incident involving her staff production manager. She asked me to meet her at breakfast time in the hotel lounge to discuss the book. I met her and we small-talked a bit, then she said, "I have someone who needs to tell you something." I had no idea who she was talking about. She lifted her hand in air and gestured. From off stage came the production manager of Red Hen Press. She walked up to me, sat down in front of me with a look of pure rage that was very theatrical, and proceeded to erupt at me in front of everyone present (yelled, not talked loudly) in the hotel lounge for daring to email Red Hen staff regarding multiple typeset errors and other errors not in the draft I sent them. I sat there listening, not daring to become angry. I politely denied her accusations whereupon she stood up and stomped off. This is precisely what happened. It was altogether a surreal, distressing and mystifying experience. Kate set the whole thing up. She didn't apologize or show any sign of surprise. She knew it was coming. She even grinned when I expressed my opinion of the whole charade.

After having observed me being unfairly trashed (the production manager told so many lies I lost count) and without any intervention on her behalf, she then set up a fake book signing at AWP without providing even a chair, and no announcement of the signing. As crazy as this sounds, it's all true. One thing after another after another. Myself and one other guy simply wandered in front of the table looking like idiots. I supposed that he was on her shit list too. I could not help but suspect that she hated men. She was known for her warmth towards her female poets. Whether that rumor was true, I can't say for certain.

In the months following publication of my novel, Red Hen never promoted my book, never listed it on the front page, and never included it at events. Btw, I'd met Kate Gale at a hotel in DC months before AWP to pick up my book contract and have a social drink. To my shock, she arrogantly blew me off without explanation and went back to her room after less than ten minutes--and this after I'd driven over 50 miles in horrendous D.C. traffic to meet her--a meeting called and arranged by her! 

Another jaw dropping experience, one of those you just have to experience to believe. 

For reasons I never truly understood, Kate Gale behaved like the worst human being I've ever had the displeasure of meeting. To this day I still don't get it. I found her frightening and vengeful. What I did to deserve her wrath, I never understood. I'm just glad I finally got this terrible episode off my chest.

Criticism of diversity issues at AWP inflamed by Kate Gale ...

Los Angeles Times
Aug 26, 2015 - AWP will bring its conference to Los Angeles next year. This week, one planner's dismissal of questions about diversity inflamed passions on ...

Article defending writing program association infuriates ...

Inside Higher Ed
Aug 26, 2015 - Further, the petition states that AWP has rebuffed requests to provide a ... Against that backdrop, Kate Gale, managing editor of Red Hen Press ...

AWP Exec Director Defends Kate Gale - Publishers Weekly

www.publishersweekly.com › ... › Shows & Events
Publishers Weekly
Aug 27, 2015 - After PW ran a story Wednesday morning about a Huffington Post article called “AWP Is Us,” that stirred existing concerns about discriminatory ...

AWP Is Us | Kate Gale - Huffington Post

The Huffington Post
Aug 26, 2015 - Update (8/26/15): I apologize for this post and the hurt it caused. Red Hen Press values inclusiveness and diversity in publishing. Our Mission: ...

Letter to Kate Gale of "AWP is Us" — The Adroit Journal

Aug 25, 2015 - Dear Kate Gale,. Thank you for bringing the important matter of the privileged homogeneity of the AWP Conference to light via your recent ...

Red Hen's Kate Gale: "AWP Is Us" Fiasco - The Writer's Edge

Aug 27, 2015 - Kate Gale, the managing editor of Red Hen Press (the press that ... http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kate-gale/awp-is-us_b_8029224.html

About Kate Gale's post - American Indians in Children's ...

Aug 26, 2015 - If you are looking for it, here is a link to download a pdf: AWP Is Us. Yesterday (8/24/2015), I read Kate Gale's post, "AWP Is Us." Here's a screen ...
My rush to defend AWP lacked careful thought, hurting those on all sides. I am truly sorry for my words and the hurt I have caused. It was never my intention to ...

“A Series of Unfortunate Events”—AWP, David Fenza, and ...

Aug 26, 2015 - LATEST NEWS: AWP director Fenza defends Kate Gale's piece. ... -red-hen-press-kate-gale-apologizes-for-commentary-awp-defends-her.html.


The Writer's Edge Interview With Author Jenny Milchman : A Lesson in Tenacity and Smarts

Jenny Milchman
I wish I’d known just how polished and perfected a work has to be to get published traditionally. I was lucky enough to get kernels from industry pros that allowed me to go back and hone my craft...

How long did it take you to get published? 

Here are my stats: 11 years, 8 novels, 3 agents, 15 almost-offers from editors. An almost-offer happens when an editor wishes to acquire a book, but gets turned down by her editorial board, or by people in the marketing or publicity departments, or even (as happened to me with my seventh novel) the publisher herself. My first published novel was the eighth one I wrote. And of course, there’s “long” in the non-numeric sense, too. It took an age, an epoch, forever. I thought I would never break through. 

Why did you hang in so long versus, for instance, self-publishing?

When I started out, self-publishing as we now know it wasn’t an option. There was so-called vanity publishing, and it cost a chunk of change, and carried with it a stigma of failure. This was in the day of snail mailed query letters, which had to include an SASE. An SASE, for those not familiar with the term, is a self-addressed stamped envelope in which your rejection comes back. I gave a publishing talk at a college recently, and asked the audience if they knew what an SASE was. When I got blank stares, I asked if they knew what an envelope was.

But I digress. When I began things were different. The very first agent who offered to represent me asked if I had email. If! Then Amazon came along and changed the face of self-publishing. However, it wasn’t the greatest option for me. When emerging writers ask how to identify their publishing path, I tell them to close their eyes and picture a few dream moments. The ones that make them want to try and put their stories out there for the world to see versus just scribbling away in a garrett somewhere. For me those moments meant seeing my book on shelves. Bookstores and libraries have always been extremely important in my life. I wanted the support of booksellers and librarians as I became a published author, and one day I hope that my books will lend them support in return. For all that Amazon does, it can’t reproduce the experience of a face-to-face encounter or a bricks and mortar.

So for me traditional publishing was going to turn out to be the best path. The right path. But that won’t be true for everybody. I have always believed that how you publish is a highly individual decision.

Jenny Milchman's First Novel
What one thing did you do as an "emerging author" that really made a difference and helped in getting published? 

I can’t whittle it down to just one thing, but I think I can manage 3 bullet points. Hope these are helpful!

  • Attend as many author events as you can. Support both the author and the bookstore—I used to buy a book to read, and a second to give as a gift. The bookseller will come to know you long before you have a galley you hope she or he will read, and the author might give you a friendly smile, some advice, an agent referral, or even a blurb.
  • Do things that connect writers and readers. Start a blog or a book club, depending on whether you prefer virtual or face-to-face. 
  • Follow agents on Twitter and Tweet their advice. 
  • Hold a literary series at your local library. 
  • Frequent Facebook groups and post interesting resources and helpful tidbits for members. You will be making a place for yourself in a world that is big enough to include your own work one day.

I basically believe that monies should flow toward the author, not away, but attending a conference became a pivotal piece of my own publishing journey. Determine whether you want to focus on craft or business in making your decision. If it’s the latter, look for conferences that include agent panels, pitch sessions, or talks by editors. Among others, I heartily recommend Algonkian events in New York and elsewhere.

What one thing did you do that worked against your getting published? 

I thought my work was ready long before it really was. Rather than seek out sources of feedback and additional reads—writers groups, workshops, classes, retreats, even a freelance editor—I kept squandering chances with agents. I wish I’d known just how polished and perfected a work has to be to get published traditionally. I was lucky enough to get kernels from industry pros that allowed me to go back and hone my craft, but I think I could’ve sped up the whole process—it didn’t have to take eleven years—if I hadn’t been handcuffed by the slow waiting time when you’re querying and submitting.

Now on your third novel, if you had it to do all over again, would you still keep trying for so long? In other words, is it all you hoped it would be?

I would try for twenty-two years. It’s all I hoped it’d be and more.

Jenny Milchman’s third novel, As Night Falls, is an Indie Next Pick and a summer release. Her first two books won awards, inclusions on Best Of lists, and critical acclaim. Find Jenny on the road, thanking all those people who helped her along the way, by checking out what Shelf Awareness calls the world’s longest book tour


The Pros and Cons of Hiring One-Stop Shops vs. Multiple Specialists for Book Publicity

There are many different services that publicity firms and individual publicity consultants offer to authors looking to promote their books. These services can include any combination of the following: ...
  • Creating media kits (press releases, fact sheets, Q&As, etc.), distributing press releases on the newswire services, and creating sales pitches targeted to specific markets
  • Working with you to fine-tune your website and create the best possible web promotion for your book
  • Scheduling book signing and reading events
  • Contacting local and national television and radio station producers to set up interviews
  • Working with local and national print and online editors to obtain feature coverage
  • Helping you identify your personal brand, your target audience, and your potential reach as an author
  • Setting up speaking engagements at targeted venues
  • Placing articles you’ve written in targeted print and online publications
  • Helping you identify your strengths as a blogger, so you can capitalize on the blogging community
  • Working with you to develop an integrated social media brand image on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and other social media sites
  • Setting up blog tours and online author interview opportunities
  • Providing guidance on the creation of promotional items (bookstore posters, bookmarks, postcards, tear sheets, business cards, etc.)
  • Acting as a sounding board for ideas, helping to answer general questions, and providing guidance on promotional issues

Most publicists feel comfortable doing the majority of the items listed here. Some, however, may specialize in one or more these tasks – there are those, for example, who work only with authors and books in specific content areas; others specialize in scheduling feature interviews with national media; some mainly offer blog tours or set up social media pages, while others specialize in magazine article placement. 

What any publicist does specifically for a client will vary depending on the book’s subject matter, whether the book is fiction or nonfiction, the amount and types of publicity the author is looking for, the author’s platform, and the author’s budget.

So, what should authors consider before hiring a publicist? I suggest thinking about 1) the scope of promotional work you’re looking for, 2) the budget and timeframe for the work, and 3) whether or not you want to hire one publicist to handle everything, or use a number of specialists to handle different aspects of your publicity.

Which brings me to the main question: Which is better, the one-stop shop (hiring one publicist to handle all of the work), or farming out different parts of the publicity work to multiple consultants?

Here are the pros and cons (from a publicist’s point of view) for each option:

The Pros of the One-Stop Shop 
-       You get one unified, focused perspective and source of guidance to work with (rather than possibly having to deal with conflicting information and points of view from numerous consultants)
-       You have one contact point for your publicity, which makes it easier for media, speaking venues, readers, etc., to reach you or your publicity contact
-       The person handling your publicity will be able to easily integrate all the aspects of the book’s promotion because s/he is the only one doing so
-       Your branding and all of the publicity information put out about you is consistent, because it comes from one place
-       You may be able to save time on your projects because just one person is handling all of them (rather than having to wait for different people to coordinate/adjust their schedules)
-       You may be able to save on costs by hiring one person whose rates, style, and availability fit your budget and needs

The Cons of the One-Stop Shop   
-       The publicist you choose may not handle all of the types of publicity you want to use in your promotional campaign
-       The publicist may not be able to accommodate the timing you want for some of your promotional projects
-       You might want more perspective than just one person’s on your promotional campaign

The Pros of Hiring Multiple/Specialized Publicity Consultants or Firms 
-       You can spread out the expertise you need depending on what each publicist/promotional expert offers
-       You can bounce ideas off of multiple experts to see what fits/suites you best
-       If all of your consultants are on the same page, you can use them as a kind of marketing team that works together to help you promote your book
The Cons of Hiring Multiple/Specialized Publicity Consultants or Firms 
-       You can get conflicting information and/or opinions from different PR consultants, which can result in confusion, misunderstandings, and/or discord in your working relationships
-       You can have problems establishing boundaries, especially if some or all of the consultants are used to doing the same thing
-       People looking to contact you or your publicist may have a hard time deciding how to best reach you if there are multiple individuals promoting your work at the same time
-       Your brand may be difficult to manage as a unified image if multiple people are presenting you to the public, or if your consultants aren’t all on the same page
-       You may find it time-consuming to juggle the intricacies of having all the consultants work together efficiently
-       You may be tempted to play one expert off another in the hopes of finding a champion when you don’t agree with one of your consultants, which can result in a breach of trust
-       Your projects may take more time if there are any scheduling conflicts or miscommunication/confusion/misunderstandings among the consultants.
-       It may cost more to hire multiple consultants or firms

There is no right or wrong answer as to whether you should hire just one person for all your publicity needs, or consider using a number of different people with expertise in certain areas. Personally, I prefer to handle all of my client’s publicity – doing so makes it easier to be responsive, provide guidance, and maintain a consistent promotional and brand image. But, I have, on many occasions, worked with other consultants on client projects, and I’ve enjoyed those interactions.

Whichever way you decide to go, it’s crucial to be up-front from the beginning about what you want the individuals you’re hiring to do (rather than spring it on the publicist or team after the work gets going). If more than one consultant or firm will be involved, it’s especially important to be clear on individual assignments, so that each consultant knows what his boundaries are and how his work fits in with that of the other consultants you’re using.  

Paula Margulies is a book publicity and promotions expert in San Diego, California. You can reach her at paula@paulamargulies.com, or visit her at www.paulamargulies.com, on Twitter at @PaulaMargulies, or on Facebook at Paula Margulies Communications.