In February 2020 I submitted my book to the Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards.
Here’s the review for “Breaking the Cycle of Abuse: My Journey from Victim to Survivor” by Hannah Reinbeck.
Below is a brief commentary for your entry in the 28th Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards, thank you for your participation!
Entry Title: Breaking the Cycle of Abuse: My Journey from Victim to Survivor
Author: Hannah Reinbeck
Judge Number: 35
Entry Category: Life Stories
A few quick notes~
- Our online review system only recognizes numerals during this portion of logging evaluations. As a result, we’ve substituted a “0” in place of “N/A” when the portion of the evaluation simply does not apply to the entry, based on the entry genre. For example, a book of poetry, a cookbook, or a travel guide would not necessarily have a “Plot and Story Appeal and may therefore receive a “0” – indicating that the rating was not applicable.
- , we ask that you cite it as such: “Judge, 28th Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards.” You may cite portions of your review, if you wish, but please make sure that the passage you select is appropriate, and reflective of the review.
Structure, Organization, and Pacing: 2
Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar: 2
Production Quality and Cover Design: 3
Plot and Story Appeal: 3
Character Appeal and Development: 0
Voice and Writing Style: 2
The author is evidently passionate and enthusiastic about her message, and she is brave to share her story so openly. She admits in her “about the author” section that the writing process only took her three weeks. Spending more time with the manuscript would improve its appeal and readability. From a visual standpoint, the interior formatting needs tweaked. Margins should be uniform and the text should be justified (aligned both to the left and right). This increases the professional quality of the book. Throughout the book, there are changes in verb tense, minor grammatical errors, run-on sentences and missing words. An editor would be a valuable investment. The author often addresses the reader directly or explains what she’s about to do. On p. 28, she says, “Allow me to paint a picture for you …” It’s stronger if the author just paints the picture rather than telling the reader that’s what she’s doing. On p. 79 she introduces a thought with “Some of you may feel …” It’s important to let the reader decide how they feel about your story. A book needs to have a narrative arc that pulls the reader from beginning to middle to end, and chapters should connect from one to the next. Chapter 2, for example, could start with the next warning the author’s mother received without the three paragraphs of commentary before. Including trigger warnings was a compassionate act by the author, and I’ve never seen it done the way she did it. It’s easy for the reader to navigate. I would recommend the author study other memoirs to learn about narrative structure and organizing scenes into a cohesive work that keeps the reader fully engaged.
The above ratings, review and comments are a direct quote, nothing has been edited. The scores are from a scale of 1 to 5 and using 0 if the category doesn’t apply.
I feel that I need to elaborate and in some cases defend my work because some comments were taken out of context or the judge completely missed the point.
Structure and (Narrative) Organization:
My book follows all of those guidelines, so I’m not clear as to why the judge would comment, “A book needs to have a narrative arc that pulls the reader from beginning to middle to end, and chapters should connect from one to the next“.
Pacing: The rate at which your story progresses. Moving the story along without losing your audience… Length of chapters and scenes.
Perhaps it was here where I lost points with the judge. The pacing of my story is subjective in the sense that I’ve had several readers and reviews mention that they were engaged and read the book in one sitting. Perhaps this particular judge drew the short stick and wound up reading a book that really isn’t her preferred genre. Still, I feel that the score of 2 for all three areas is not justified.
Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar: There is no need to breakdown these categories and what they are referring to. The judge focused most of her review and comments on these areas. During my writing process, I was using Grammarly and Microsoft Word Spellcheck to edit each page as I finished them. Mistakes in spelling, punctuation and grammar do get missed. English is not a second language for me; in fact, I won the Excellence in English Award twice in high school. Before I submitted my final document to KDP for publishing, I had two beta readers and two retired technical writers to proofread my work. Any errors that were found by them were corrected. No matter how many people proofread, an error or two tends to sneak by. I have five versions of my book on file because I went back and made changes.
Many self-published authors will tell you that they’ve have issues with formatting their final document. The final version will look they way they want, the sizing and margins are perfect, but it can easily change once you upload it to the KDP template. I have gone back in and fixed the spacing, margins and even a few missed drop caps that start each chapter. Sometimes our corrections get tweaked and it causes more problems. In the end I was willing to accept a few spacing and margin issues and tackle the spelling, grammar, and punctuation because I could control them before going to print.
As a reader, I can and have overlooked minor spacing issues and a few typos because the book wasn’t riddled with them. I have also read a few self-published works where there were errors on just about every page. My book doesn’t have errors on every page, or every other page. Are there still run on sentences in my book? Most likely. To get a score of 2 in these areas is a bit harsh. What would have been helpful, is to note these errors as they were found so that I could fix them. 😉
Production Quality and Cover Design: 3
There’s not much that I can say here. I did have a choice in what size the paperback version would be. I chose to go with the white pages and glossy cover. I chose the photo that acts as the cover. I suppose all of which are subjective. A score of 3, being Neutral, I can deal with that.
Plot and Story Appeal: 3
Every story has a beginning, a middle and an end (Set-up, the Confrontation, and the Resolution).
The Set-Up: Setting the scene, introduce the main character (protagonist) and their world.
The Confrontation: Other main characters are introduced, perhaps the antagonist (not always a person), There are obstacles, difficulties, hardships or other challenges that are happening.
The Resolution: The final act, good vs evil face off. Loose ends are tied up. Lessons are learned
Appeal: Characters are relatable, Sensory Details, Show, don’t tell, your writing should make the readers see, hear, taste, feel and smell. Senses and emotions. The Appeal, not plot, captures the feel of the book, the “why” someone enjoys a story, or not.
I’ve included all of those points throughout my book. My story has a beginning, middle and an end. I’ve set the scene, you are introduce to the main character (me) in my world. You meet other characters, I encounter various obstacles, difficulties, hardships. Lessons are learned, loose ends are tied up. Characters are relatable.
The Appeal: Maybe it’s the sensory details where I lost points. There are good visuals and emotions, less tasting and smelling. Tasting and smelling doesn’t really apply. Capturing the feel and the “why” the reader enjoys my book, again that is subjective. Trust me, I know that the topic of childhood sexual abuse isn’t a popular one. Many people aren’t comfortable reading such truths, and that’s okay.
Character Appeal and Development: 0 As it does not apply to non-fiction.
Voice and Writing Style: 2
Voice first person (the writer is a part of the story) or Third person (the writer is telling the story from a distance). The ability to use a conversational voice and using everyday language.
Style: The writer’s personality on page, may also include: views, prejudices, expertise, biases, wisdom, knowledge. Tone, refers to the attitude of the writer, is it friendly, intimate, written with a sense of authority or expertise, Sense of humor.
The best tip: Write like you speak, use the language that you use in daily conversation. Write as yourself.
I wrote in the first person voice. I wrote the dialogue as if I’m having a conversation with the reader one on one. I wrote it as authentically as possible. To which I have received several compliments on my style of writing. My style of writing offers an insight to my personality, views, biases, wisdom, knowledge and my sense of humor. To receive a score of 2 here is insulting.
Now that I’ve covered the scores, it’s time to tackle the comments.
She admits in her “about the author” section that the writing process only took her three weeks.
Let me be very clear. The abuse I endured happened over 30 years ago, not last year, not last month, not last week. When your life IS the story and you have it outlined, you know the characters, you know the story, you know the ending; Yes it took me 3 weeks to write it. I spent 8-16 hours each day writing and editing as I completed each page. Writing was my process to heal and work through the trauma. I realize that this time frame is not normal and it was not mentioned as a means of patting myself on the back for cranking out a book so quickly. It was good timing. I was ready to heal, I was inspired to share my experience. The writing took 3 weeks, just the writing. The editing and formatting took a few months. The writing finished in March 2018 and I submitted my final document to KDP in June 2018.
Spending more time with the manuscript would improve its appeal and readability.
How much more time is the correct amount of time? I know several authors that spend years writing and rewriting and rewriting only to have traditional publishers pass them over. I am not a “traditional author” nor did I use traditional means or follow the rules that many authors feel pressured into following. Did I hire an editor? No, I am fortunate to have family that work(ed) in the writing field and they offered their assistance. Did my work suffer for not paying someone to edit my book? That’s up to you to decide. I’m happy with the end result and that’s what matters most.
From a visual standpoint, the interior formatting needs tweaked. Margins should be uniform and the text should be justified (aligned both to the left and right). This increases the professional quality of the book.
I’m well aware that the margins should be uniform and text should be justified. The final document was, how it appears once it’s uploaded to the KDP template in not in my control. I can’t fix something if I don’t know it’s going to be tweaked after. I have fixed things only to have other issues that come up. In the end, I compromised. Honestly, the end result isn’t as terrible as the comments seem. This is one downside to self-publishing for FREE.
Throughout the book, there are changes in verb tense, minor grammatical errors, run-on sentences and missing words.
I used two programs, two beta readers, and two technical writers to proofread my work. Five people went through my book. The glaringly obvious errors were spotted and corrected. One of the technical writers is very much a member of the grammar police and always points out any little typo on anything she comes across. She read my book in one sitting because she was captivated. Whatever minor mistakes that exist, weren’t big enough for her to point out. The other technical writer read the Author Copy once it was in paperback form. He went through and circled a handful of mistakes, less than 10 overall. I have gone back in since then and fixed those. It is possible that I sent out an early copy to be reviewed. Please keep in mind that I am not a technical writer, I’m not writing an instruction manual, or writing for Encyclopedia Britannica.
I would recommend the author study other memoirs to learn about narrative structure and organizing scenes into a cohesive work that keeps the reader fully engaged.
I find this comment to be very pretentious. The judge is completely missing the point of WHY I wrote this book. I have no interest in mimicking other authors or trying to copy their style of writing. Life and Healing doesn’t follow the same rules as writing. My life wasn’t perfect, and I’m not going to compromise the truth just so it fits within the perimeters that other people dictate. This book was MY way of healing through several traumatic events. It’s raw, it’s emotional, it’s uncomfortable, and it is engaging to those readers that seek it out. It’s those readers that will benefit, they will understand and look past the minor flaws.
Chapter 2, for example, could start with the next warning the author’s mother received without the three paragraphs of commentary before. This is what is known as “Stream of Consciousness” which is a writing technique used to provide a running inner monologue of what is going on in the writer’s head. In case I haven’t said it enough, I am an author who is processing traumatic events. The three paragraphs of commentary ARE needed to help make my point.
The author often addresses the reader directly or explains what she’s about to do. On p. 28, she says, “Allow me to paint a picture for you …” It’s stronger if the author just paints the picture rather than telling the reader that’s what she’s doing. On p. 79 she introduces a thought with “Some of you may feel …” It’s important to let the reader decide how they feel about your story.
See the above comment about Stream of Consciousness.
To Judge #35,
If reading a book that falls into the Non-fiction/Memoir genre isn’t your cup of tea, please pass it along to another judge. You’ve essentially rated my book at 2.4 out of 5 and I suspect that the 2-star rating on Amazon is from you. As it appeared just days after I received your official review.
I was excited and a bit nervous about submitting my book. Excited that it I had the courage to put something of this nature out into the public. Nervous that it might not be so well received. I went from opting to use a pen name and not sharing a photo of myself on the back cover (when this was submitted) to pushing myself out of my comfort zone and attending Local Author Events and putting a face with the book/author. That’s the chance many of us take. Clearly the hope that my book falling into the right hands was an epic fail.
I can handle constructive criticism and I have no problem owning up to my mistakes. Will I go through my book again to complete more edits? Not unless the page and sentence is cited. It’s been three years since it was published and made available to the public. One reader out of 200+ has a problem, it’s not worth my effort to sift through and fix minor errors just to make her happy or stroke her ego. Anything I deem as a stream of consciousness is not going to be edited either.
The only positive comments you made were:
The author is evidently passionate and enthusiastic about her message, and she is brave to share her story so openly. This is evident if you read the back cover and never open the book.
Including trigger warnings was a compassionate act by the author, and I’ve never seen it done the way she did it. It’s easy for the reader to navigate.
Thank You. Other readers, most of which are also survivors have commented on how they appreciate that I included a Trigger Warning.
As an author, self-published or otherwise, we have to put ourselves out there. We ask for honest and constructive reviews. Not all reviews will be 5-Stars, hopefully there is something to learn from those less than stellar reviews.
This one Judge may not have liked any aspect of my book. That’s fine. It did sting initially when I first read it back in December 2020. It’s important to not dwell on this one review or allow something like this to define your abilities.