Monthly Archives: March 2014

Member Spotlight: Meet Space Opera Writers Matthew Snee and Gregg Chirlin

Posted by March 31st, 2014

Matthew Snee and Gregg ChirlinToday we’re chatting with Matthew Snee and Gregg Chirlin, longtime friends and collaborating writers who are working on a Space Opera series called TO BRAVE THE CRUMBLING SKY, Volumes 1 and 2.

LUCY: You’ve been collecting feedback on TO BRAVE THE CRUMBLING SKY: Volume 2, The Oldest War, for a little while now. What’s happening with Volume 1?

MATT: We realized after writing Volume 2 that Volume 1 needed desperately to be not only revised but rewritten. It’s not easy to begin an epic story (7 volumes are planned) such as this, and as you move along you realize a lot of changes that need to be made retroactively. Also, Volume 1 was the beginning of our collaboration, and so the writing is not up to par with Volume 2, written after we’d had more practice. However, we’ve just posted the first few chapters of Volume 1 to Book Country, recently revised.

GREGG: We’ve just about finished rewriting Volume 1, though, and are beginning the editing stages. It took us a while to get where we are with it because rewriting is just not as fun as writing, even if it is essential! But at the same time, we’re brainstorming and fleshing out the plot and characters of volume 3, which is a lot more exciting for us. Continue reading

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Writing the Dark Stuff by Jenn Crowell

Posted by March 28th, 2014

ETCHED ON MEMy latest novel, ETCHED ON ME, is an at-times-gruelingly intense story of a young woman’s recovery from self-harm and fight for her right to be a mother. The book didn’t start out that way, though.

It began as a touching but mild-mannered tale of a couple navigating their relationship along with an international adoption. Then I read about a real-life custody battle in the UK, and thought it might make a small, poignant subplot. When my fictional young mother upstaged the couple, I decided to rewrite the book using multiple POVs, giving each situation equal weight.

All the while, I knew deep down that the book had the potential to go frightening places that I didn’t want to visit. What I wanted was a tidy ending in which the heavily pregnant young mom escaped in the nick of time. I wanted to feel safe in my literary choices. The thought of writing a scene in which a mother has her newborn taken away by a social worker gutted me as a mother. “I can’t do that,” I kept protesting to my writer friends. “No way could I handle it.”

But then my mentor in my MFA program, Leonard Chang, leveled with me. “This is extremely professional work,” he told me, “but you’re ducking the heart of the real story.” He suggested I try writing Lesley, my young mom, in first person. Let her talk simply but honestly about the prospect of losing her daughter. Continue reading

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Writers, Fare Thee Well

Posted by March 27th, 2014


Dear Book Country members (Hi guys!!),

Being the Book Country Assistant, and later Coordinator, was my first full-time job. It was my first time working in a big office, having my own desk and a group of people to call my team. But of course it was a lot more than that. Few people are as lucky as I have been to be able to call their job a vocation, a passion, something to get excited about doing every day.

Not only have I always been a book lover and devourer – one of those nerdy kids who lies about having homework to her friends just to be able to finish an engrossing book – but I have also felt incredibly passionate about helping writers believe in themselves and muster the courage to shout out from the rooftops, “I am a writer!”

While I am not a long-form writer myself (although I hope to become one and trust that you will welcome me with open arms and review my work-in-progress), I’m no stranger to feeling self-conscious about language. English is not my mother tongue, so the past eight years in the U.S. have been an uphill battle of proving to other people and, most importantly, to myself that I deserve to call myself an English major, a writing tutor, a graduate literary student, a publishing professional, a copywriter, a blog writer – a Writer!

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The Top 3 Entries from Our About the Book Contest

Posted by March 26th, 2014

winner-about-the-book-contestThanks to all who entered the About the Book contest on Book Country! We’ve deliberated and are ready to announce the winner. But first, we have our judge, Berkley copywriter Carly Hoogendyk, workshop the top three book descriptions. Her dissections are a great way to polish your copywriting skills! Carly wrote a fantastic back-cover copy writing guide a while back — be sure to check it out if you missed it before!


Runner-up #1

fishing-for-hopeFISHING FOR HOPE by William Byers

This novel is a love story set in the south that derives from the perspective of three brothers. A tragic car accident occurred on Christmas Eve and claimed the lives of their wives. Each brother, living their separate life, must find a way to cope individually as well as find the strength to continue raising their daughters. This is a story that touches on brotherly love and will fully define the true meaning of what a father-daughter relationship can be under extraordinary circumstances.

First of all, based on the content of this copy, this sounds like a touching story and a worthwhile read. Unfortunately, the style of the copy suggests that it might not be told in the most compelling way. My biggest pointer is to give specific examples and details instead of just presenting the content. When it comes to book copy, the storytelling begins NOW.

That said, always include specific details like your character’s names. The story essentials will vary from case to case, but you will want to consider including character particulars like a hometown, job, foibles, and personality traits.

One unspoken rule of professional book copy is to not overtly refer to “this novel” or use the phrase “this is a story about.” In the same way that creative writing suffers imaginative losses when an author “tells” rather than “shows,” your copy ought to illustrate the characters/events/setting of your story, rather than coldly present the facts about the book you wrote.


This novel is a love story set in the south that derives from the perspective of three brothers.


On Christmas Eve in a small southern town, three brothers lost their wives in the same tragic car crash.

Instead of using the phrase “told from the perspective of…”, a fun trick to use in copy when a novel is told from the POV of multiple characters is to devote separate copy to each of those characters’ stories, suggesting that the story will focus on specifically one person’s desires, challenges, etc. If all three brothers have their own storyline, it’s important to give detailed insight into what makes their stories (and potenitally their voices) different.

(For a great example of how to suggest alternating POV’s in copy, take a look at copy for nearly any romance novel.)

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The Truth About Connecting Online: Tips for Book Country Writers from Amy Webb

Posted by March 25th, 2014

DATA A Love Story coverThe awful truth about connecting with strangers online is that it’s hard. Plume Books author Amy Webb wrote a hilariously honest book about just what a huge task it was to try to find a husband online: The memoir is called DATA: A Love Story, and it combines two things Book Country is highly engaged in: understanding what drives people to connect online, and of course, great writing!

Brandi and I both loved the book and wanted to hear more from Amy, who’s not just a top-notch nonfiction writer but also a brilliant digital media strategist (and a now-happily married wife and mom).


Lucy Silag: Did you start writing DATA: A Love Story by drafting, or did you come up with a nonfiction book proposal? How did you organize yourself in terms of writing chapters, meeting publisher deadlines, and revising?

Amy Webb: I was very fortunate to have worked with Sam Freedman when I was a student in the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Sam teaches a class that he hand-picks. It involves an audition, an interview and a lot of writing — that’s before the semester begins. The purpose of the class is to work on longform narrative nonfiction, and part of that process involves learning how to write a compelling book proposal. So in terms of my process, I followed what I learned in his class. I started out as a journalist, and while reporting and writing is something that I still enjoy doing, developing a book wasn’t necessarily in my 2012 client calendar. I had to essentially treat the book as a project and schedule out the time for it.

I’ve always worked from extremely detailed outlines. I started with a map of the basic elements of the book, then filled that in and had a final outline that was more than 200 pages long. I’ve found that for me, if I do the right kind of thinking in advance, putting together the story in writing is a lot easier. I kept an elaborate spreadsheet in Google docs, and I shared my work schedule with my editor, the marketing team at Penguin and my husband. So once I knew what my deadline was, I plugged the work into the spreadsheet. I wanted my editor to read and comment on the detailed outline before I sat down to write the book — it would be better to make any structural changes earlier in the process, rather than after handing in a finished 400-page draft. Many of the revisions therefore happened during the detailed outline.

I’m not one of those people who can sit down and wait for the words to come. I’m also not satisfied with getting one great page done a day. I work best with deadlines and structure, even if both are totally self-imposed.

LS: In your memoir you were candid about taboos like cigarette smoking, which a lot of readers might not relate to.  Were you ever tempted to avoid details that might turn people off? Continue reading

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Member Spotlight: Meet Writer Isabell T. McAren

Posted by March 24th, 2014

IsabellToday we’re chatting with community member Isabell T. McAren. Isabell joined the community during NaNoWriMo and has been a fixture on the discussion forums ever since. Below we ask her questions about her writing projects on the site — the memoir BECOMING IN BOQUETE and the YA time traveling adventure RIFTERS

Read on to get Isabell’s inspiring advice about learning to accept harsh feedback!

NG: Welcome to our spotlight, Isabell. Go ahead and describe yourself as a writer in one sentence!

ITM: I am an eclectic writer who doesn’t want to be pigeonholed into one genre!

NG: You’ve self-published a memoir called BECOMING IN BOQUETE. What’s the biggest lesson you learned about yourself as a writer from that publishing experience?

ITM: I learned that it’s important for me to just finish a project and let it go, in order to allow space for the next story to flow through. Previously I’d wasted a decade obsessing over my first novel, because I stubbornly believed that the end goal of writing was to be traditionally published. Self-publishing is empowering because you don’t have to wait for someone else’s approval to put yourself out there. Also, once I gave myself permission to just write for the pure joy of it instead of trying to become rich and famous, my writing improved immensely.

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Publishing a Memoir: “I Wanted It So Much It Hurt” by Ingrid Ricks, author of HIPPIE BOY

Posted by March 21st, 2014

HIPPIE BOYI’d dreamed of writing and publishing a memoir for years. I wanted it so much it hurt. But though I dabbled on the manuscript, titled HIPPIE BOY, from time to time, I was full of excuses for why I couldn’t devote the necessary time to it. I told myself it wasn’t the responsible thing to do—not when my marketing business was so much more certain and lucrative, and when I had two young daughters to care for.

Then, in early 2004, I walked into an eye doctor’s office for the first time in my life expecting to walk out with a cute pair of red cat-eye frames—only to learn I suffered from Retinitis Pigmentosa, a rare degenerative eye disease that had already stole my night vision, was eating away at my peripheral vision, and would likely leave me completely blind.

In the terrifying, soul-searching weeks that followed, I suddenly began to understand the importance of embracing the present. As I pondered a future without eyesight, it occurred me to that no one is immune to death or disease, that all any of us has for certain is now, and that I’d better make NOW count.

It was the jolt I needed to start enrolling in creative writing classes and get involved with critique groups. But I still struggled to step back from the marketing business that was consuming my time. It took my daughters, the ones I was trying to be responsible for, to give me the final push I needed.

One evening in late November 2009, the two of them were goofing around and decided to do a parody of me as an old woman. They hunched over and pretended to be walking with a cane. Then, in the most decrepit, ancient voices they could muster, they both yelled in unison, “My book, my book, I have to finish my book.” Continue reading

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From Email to a Published Memoir: The Story of Graduates in Wonderland

Posted by March 20th, 2014

Graduates in Wonderland

Photo Credit: Ian Cook

It’s not unheard of for writers to turn their personal journals into a memoir — but what about emails? Two friends vowed to write honest accounts of their lives once a week as a way to keep in touch after graduation. Over the next few years, Jess and Rachel exchanged detailed emails about their trials and tribulations — jobs, men, the whole gamut of life in your twenties — while moving from country to country. Now their joint account will be published in May by Gotham as GRADUATES IN WONDERLAND

We asked Jess and Rachel to share their unique publication story — of how a casual email chain between friends turned into an inspiring memoir about being twenty and finding your way in the world. 


Rachel: Do you remember the night of our graduation from Brown?

Jess: Uh, yes. Obviously. I wasn’t that drunk and we’ve only just turned 29.

Rachel: Okay, prove it. What do you remember about the pact we made that night?

Jess: We were sitting on the back steps of the house we lived in with our friends in Providence on Governor St. I think it was raining and it was really late – everyone else had already gone to bed or they were still out. And you and I were sitting outside under the awning and discussing how since we’d been through the past four years together, we felt so close to each other and to our other college friends. But we also knew how easy it is to let friendships fade away after graduation, no matter how close people are.

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How to Be Featured on Book Country

Posted by March 19th, 2014

Writers join the Book Country writing and publishing community because it’s a place where they can grow their audience of readers as well as get writing feedback. One of the ways we help writers connect with one another is by featuring books in different places on our site, highlighting books for members who are browsing for titles to read, review, and buy.

There are several ways to get your writing featured on Book Country.

If you have a book that is up for workshop in the community on Book Country, it can be featured on the Books page on Book Country in one of four carousels. We know that lots of members use the Books page to find new manuscripts to read and review.

Books page on Book Country

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How to Get Writing Feedback that Actually Helps by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen

Posted by March 18th, 2014

Thanks_for_the_FeedbackLet’s be honest: when we give a friend, instructor, or editor our writing and ask for “feedback,” what we really want to hear back is this: “Wow!  You actually are a bloody genius.” Or maybe this: “blah blah blah… next great American novel…blah blah blah.” Or simply, “It’s perfect. Don’t change a word.”

Usually — inexplicably — we get something else. Maybe some margin notes (“nicely observed,” “infelicitous” or “confusing?”). Maybe we get a friendly pat on the head (“I’m so proud of you for trying this”) or an entire rewrite (“…too interior.  I’ve reimagined it as a space western.”). Perhaps this is because we are not a bloody genius, or writing the next great American novel. But partly, it might be due to how we ask for feedback in the first place.

The key to getting useful feedback is knowing what kind of feedback you want, and being transparent about what you want and why. The challenge is that the word “feedback” can mean lots of different things. If you don’t tell the person you’re showing your writing to what would be helpful to you, they have no chance of giving you something useful.

In general, it’s useful to make a distinction among three kinds of feedback: Appreciation, coaching, and evaluation. Each has a different purpose, and each has a role to play in improving our writing and craft.

  • Appreciation says, “I see you,” and “I value what you’re doing” and serves to encourage us and keep us motivated. We need to hear that someone believes in us, is on our side, cares about what we’re struggling so hard to create.
  • Coaching includes anything intended to help your writing or manuscript improve – comments on writing style or grammar, questions about word choice, voice, character, plot, theme, suggestions about length, subject matter, etc. You may or may not agree with the coaching, but it’s important to understand it before you decide to accept or reject it.  When they say, “Needs tightening,” do they mean fewer words, more action, or closer juxtaposition of two key ideas?  You need to ask  “How would you ‘tighten it up’? And why do you think I should?”  Too often, coaching is vague and even if we wanted to take their coaching, we wouldn’t be sure how to do so.
  • Finally, evaluation.  This is what you get from an agent or an editor or publisher when they choose to accept or reject a piece of work, and it’s what you get from a teacher who is required to grade you. Sometimes we get evaluation from friends and colleagues, but if that’s the beginning and end of the conversation (“This is great,” or “This isn’t ready”) then it’s probably not going to be very helpful to you.

Traditional publishers have to evaluate you; what you want from friends and fellow Book Country members is encouragement (or appreciation), especially at the beginning, and then a lot of coaching. The following examples will show some different strategies to get the writing feedback you need at different stages of the writing and revision process. You can use these as you use Book Country to develop a book for submission to traditional or self-publishers. Continue reading

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