I’m happy to host a guest post today written by talented author George Bernstein, the writer of “Trapped”, a romantic suspense novel. Enjoy the post!
ON THE VALUE OF CRITIQUES & WRITING CONTESTS
I saw a recent blog post by a writer unhappy about the critique she received from someone she was using, who “didn’t get” what she was trying to do.
One of the problems we writers can have IS getting our readers to “get it.” And if they don’t, whose fault is that?
It seems pretty obvious it’s the author’s responsibility to see that his readers understand what he or she is trying to do or say. If your critic doesn’t get it, surely your audience won’t either. Many authors have a problem with criticism. “How dare you challenge my work, that I slaved over and love.” That’s a prescription to failure.
Dave King, an independent editor, and later, a top literary agent at William Morse separately recommended I remove my side plot in TRAPPED, that involved Phil with the Chicago Mafia. I had slaved over that, building tension and danger, and weaving the climax into the ending of the novel, but both experts felt it detracted from Jackee’s story and it wasn’t necessary. So I pulled it out…but it’s not a total loss. Writers NEVER discard any work, so I’m using that story in my in-progress 3rd Al Warner detective novel, changing the venue from Chicago to South Florida
Then Dee Burks at TAG Publishers called me, saying they all loved TRAPPED, and it could be a winner in their “Next Great American Novel” contest, but felt it needed some content editing. Wow, was I excited. I LOVE positive input, but ultimately, it’s up to the author to decide what works and what doesn’t. I embraced her suggestion of a single viewpoint (Jackee’s) throughout the novel, and felt some of her other suggestions were excellent. I balked, however, at changing the ending, and after some discussion, she agreed with my take. Overall, our collaboration made TRAPPED a great novel…and the most prevalent comment I get from readers is, “I LOVED the ending!” One wrote me she read it 3 TIMES, she loved it so much!
Ultimately, critiquing is still a matter of taste. A smart author listens, and isn’t too proud to make changes that work, but is willing to resist things they think will compromise their story. It can be a delicate balancing act, but when well performed, can have wonderful results. But, like in all things, opinions can widely vary.
Shortly after I made those challenging revisions to TRAPPED, I decided to enter it in the large Florida Writers RPLA contest, where it became a finalist. Successes in large contests are another way to validate your work and heighten prestige.
A while after TRAPPED was published, I got the results…and the rating sheets from the 3 judges from the RPLA contest. Although a finalist, I was not the winner in my genre.
Typical of many contests, 2 judges read the synopsis and the first 30 pages. In the RPLA, they rate 10 areas, from 1 – 5 points…so a max total of 50. An entry needs at least 80 combined points to become a finalist. TRAPPED received 92, and both judges loved character development, the plot, dialog, and the way I described the action, solely through my protagonists eyes. As I said earlier, Dee Burks, my editor at TAG, suggested a single, 1st person point of view throughout, and I agreed. It wasn’t easy, but in the end, we both felt it was terrific.
As a finalist, the 3rd judge read the entire manuscript. Unfortunately, he (or she) didn’t agree with Dee…or the earlier judges. He down rated TRAPPED because he wanted scenes from other characters’ viewpoints…all the ones I’d carefully removed at Dee’s suggestion, and that was enough to keep me from winning that contest.
And the First Person viewpoint is a major factor in what seems to make TRAPPED so engrossing to those who have read it.
As I always say, “That’s why they make chocolate, vanilla and 39 other flavors.”
This isn’t the 1st time I’ve had one judge rave about something, like characters or scenes or settings, while another denigrated them. My other novels have been past finalists in the RPLA, with similar results: raves by the preliminary judges that weren’t echoed by the final judge.
It’s the same reasons authors like Louis L’Amore (America’s top Western writer…for EVER) was reputedly rejected 350 time before finally getting published. And J.K. Rowling, probably the wealthy woman in the World right now, struggled for years before finding a small publisher to take a chance on Harry Potter. The stories of rejections that become Best Sellers are legion, because you can’t accommodate for taste.
Luckily, TRAPPED has already received loads of 5-Star reviews at Amazon, and I’ve fielded a plethora of calls and e-mail raves from readers. So I think I’ll cherish the good reviews and evaluate the others for merit.
I suggest this attitude should work for all of you, no matter what your endeavors.
Author: George A. Bernstein
Genre: Romantic Suspense
The darkness is still, silent. Jackee Maren’s heart pounds reverberating through her body as fear sears her veins. Someone’s coming. No way out. This time they will kill me. Her breath is short, her chest burns. Must run. Faster. Faster! Her eyes fly open, her heart still racing with blinding fear. Jackee breathes deeply with relief and stares at the ceiling desperately trying to calm herself. The same dream. Something, someone is watching… and waiting.
A tragic car accident leaves beautiful, vibrant Jackee Maren completely paralyzed, mentally alert but trapped in “Locked-in Syndrome,” able to move only her eyes. Jackee’s husband, Phil, is devastated and her two young boys left with nothing but a shell for a mother, but still, Jackee senses the foreboding of an evil presence and knows time is short.
Slowly, Jackee learns to communicate with her physical therapist, Kevin, by blinking her eyes. As evidence comes to light that her car accident was no accident, Jackee knows she must expose the person who wants her dead before they get a second chance.
While Jackee works her mind to put all the clues together, she discovers she has the ability to sense the thoughts of others, but she hides this talent from everyone but her sons, not knowing whom she can trust. By actively exercising her new psychic ability, Jackee finally learns who masterminded the accident but seems helpless to stop them from trying to kill her again.
Slowly a psychic plan forms to not only ensure her boys are safe forever, but to exact revenge on her would-be murderer. Jackee vows not to rest until this would-be-killer understands what it is to be TRAPPED! But she must hurry, with only a year to live.
George Bernstein is a youthful seventy-seven-year-old, with a B.A. from Northwestern University, now living in south Florida with Dolores, his wife of 54 years. He is the retired president of a publicly held Chicago company.
George’s main interest now is as a serious novelist. He has attended numerous writers’ conferences and seminars, including that of famous fiction agent, Donald Maass, and he has worked with independent editor, Dave King, all with the goal of improving his craft.
George’s first novel, Trapped, is published by TAG Publishers, after being a finalist in their Next Great American Novel contest. Dee Burks and her staff really love the story, and have put a lot of effort into comprehensive editing and revision suggestions, making Trapped the best it can be. Trapped was also a finalist at the 2012 Florida Writers Association RPLA fiction contest, and has since acquired over seventy 4 & 5-Star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.
George has also recently released his 2nd novel, A 3rd Time to Die, which has been received with several 4 & 5-Star reviews. The most common comment for both novels is: “I couldn’t put it down.”