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December 17, 2008

Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards: Disappointments and Encouragement

Posted in: Self-Publishing

Yesterday’s mail brought disappointment in one envelope and a postcard of encouragement.

The disappointment was a nice letter from Writer’s Digest telling me that they appreciated me entering Poster Girl in their 16th Annual International Self-Published Book Awards, but that not everyone could be a winner and I wasn’t and gosh here was a nice certificate of participation and the judge’s comments.

The certificate went straight in the garbage, but the judge’s comments were worth considering.  They said:

Writer’s Digest
16th Annual International Self-Published Book Awards
Commentary Sheet

Author: Anne Emerick
Title: Poster Girl
Category: Middle-Grade/Young Adult Books
Judge: 3

On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 meaning “poor” and 5 meaning “excellent,” please evaluate the following:
Plot: 3
Grammar: 5
Character development: 5
Cover design: 3

Judge’s commentary:
What did you like best about this book?

This book has a refined, understated quality that is appealing. The story is simple but well developed. When Paula thinks about designing her poster or feels competitive with Cynthia, you are sucked right back into how it feels to be a little girl. In particular, her exasperation with Cynthia’s perfectionism feels spot-on. Also accurate, and not overdone, are how Paula and Cynthia become friends by the end of the story, and Paula realizes that she has misjudged Cynthia somewhat. This is a nice little exploration of a girl’s emotions and how something like a poster assignment in class can be a big deal at that age. The illustrations are a nice touch.

How can the author improve this book?
I am not sure this is a middle-grade/young adult novel. It feels like it would be more appropriate for younger children. The part about the leaves in the back of the book feels like filler. Some of the technology the characters use is out-dated–no one uses Ask Jeeves anymore, for example. And while it’s nice that this story is simple and focused, that same quaiity makes it easy to overlook and ignore compared to other books. If the writer wanted to make it more memorable, she could raise the emotional stakes somewhat, maybe by making the poster contest have a bigger prize.

At first when I saw the Plot “3″ I was stung, but then I saw Cover “3″ and thought, okay, everyone has their own opinion.  I mean, I love the cover and the overall reaction of people to it has been, let’s just say well above a ‘3′.

So then I looked at the what could be improved.  Here, the term ‘filler’ in reference to the material in the back stung (though there was a grain of truth as well).  And the comment about not using Ask Jeeves is probably valid.  I would have been better off making the internet search more generic. 
As for the book not really being a middle grade or YA novel, gosh, I was hoping the judge might realize this was the best category for my book that they offered.  So maybe…. they might think that Writer’s Digest could use another category, if they don’t like me submitting my book in this one.
The final bit about needing higher emotional stakes…  again, probably some truth here.  I feel that my next book, Smelly Ellie, Second-Place Sister, and the one I’m currently working on, are both a step up from Poster Girl (though I certainly think Poster Girl is a good book). 
So, I sighed and continued through the mail, past the bills and Ah…. a school librarian feedback card from my free book offer for elementary school librarians.
The card offered 4 ratings that they could give Poster Girl:
My overall impression of Poster Girl was:
__ Poor.  I didn’t like it.
__ Okay, but not quite good enough to recommend.
__ Good. I’d recommend buying it.
__ Excellent!  So wonderful that I may add it to my recommended summer reading list.
This one had the excellent rating checked, along with a comment:
Our students are enjoying Poster Girl a great deal. Great job! Looking forward to many more.
Well that was a nice note to offset the less-than-stellar feedback from Writer’s Digest.  Wonder what today’s mail will bring.

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