How to Hone Your Writing with a Critique Group

By Gina Akao
Guest Post


Are you looking for a sure-fire way to become a better writer? Join a critique group! Here is a brief list of benefits you will gain:

  • If your critique group meets regularly (such as every two weeks like mine), you will write more often, and more consistently
  • You will learn how to give and receive constructive criticism
  • You will have free access to excellent proofreaders
  • You will receive encouragement when you are down
  • You will avoid writer’s block and be able to express yourself in a safe environment
  • You will gain lifelong friends

Now, every critique group is different, and it is important to find a group that is a good fit for your personality and writing style. For example, if you are paired with a critique group that dishes out harsh words, but you prefer a warm-and-fuzzy, sandwich critique (praise intermixed by criticism and more praise), you may want to shop for a more compatible fit. Also, every so often it is good to mix up your readers. I recommend having one member who is a good editor, one member who is creative and poetic, one member who is business-like, and one member who knows you really well.

But like all good things, there is a flipside, so here are a few things to avoid:TalesofaLawSchoolDropoutBookCover

  • Groups that are overly argumentative (writers who defend their writing a little too much)
  • Groups that white wash your critique (“Oh, your writing is soooo wonderful!”)
  • Groups that are disrespectful (Try not to take it personally, but change groups if you need to)

Finally, when you get home after your critique group meeting, I recommend setting aside your writing for a while. Sometimes if you are too close to it, you can’t see which changes to make. I like to go by the rule that if three of my critique group members all recommend a change, I go ahead and make it. If only one member has a certain feeling about something I wrote, but I don’t agree, I follow my instincts and revise as I please. After all, the writer has the final say.

Good luck and happy writing!

Gina Akao

Gina Akao holds a MA in Educational Leadership from the University of Nevada, Reno, is the author of Tales of a Law School Dropout, owns a freelance writing and editing business, and has been a member of High Sierra Writers for seven years. She offers virtual assistance to authors who need WordPress blogs and helps authors build a platform through social media. If you enjoyed this post, please go to to receive your free “Top Ten Career Tips.”


Using Press Releases to Kick off Your Book Marketing

When you begin marketing your book, it would be easy to overlook a method that has been used as a way of announcing an event since newspapers came into being: the Press Release. In this new technology driven world in which we live, the Press Release is not dead. It is a vital part of the “Kick Off” of a book marketing plan.

As the first thing that you send out, the Press Release should explain what a Virtual Book Tour is, because most people don’t know what it is. The Virtual Book Tour is the primary way to market a book in this new virtual world in which we live. This means the marketing is all online or on the Internet.

Book marketing is now something that every author needs to do, whether you are traditionally published, indie published, or self-published. While this article is not about the manner in which a book is published, it should be noted that even the traditional or big book publishers no longer provide marketing as part of their book package, unless you are as well-known as Lady Gaga or Martha Stewart.

Of course, this means that every author needs to know how to write a Press Release. Naturally, if you personally have deep pockets, you can just hire everything done. Publicists normally view self-promotion as a “kiss of death” for your book. However, there are many people, especially, indie published authors, who would rather stay in control. Self-promotion may be viewed in a negative light by some. Others find it fun. Actually, who better to promote a book than the person who will benefit the most!

When writing your Press Release, do your research. The “who,” “what,” “where,” “why,” “when”, and “how” are standard pieces of a Press Release, but there are many other techniques that you can use to punch up your Release that help grab the attention of the person reading it. Post your Press Release to your Website with a link to it on your Media page.

See my Press Release: http://www.conniedunnbooks/Press Release - Virtual Book Tour.pdf

How Do I Know If Writing a Book Will Help My Business?

If you are in business, writing a book will help put you out in front of your competition. Depending on the industry, many small businesses find it difficult to position their businesses where they would like when faced with the competition of larger corporations, who have more resources.

However, as a small business, you have more flexibility to make decisions that can directly affect both your position in the industry and your bottom line. Let’s face it, folks, we’re all in business to make money! It’s not a bad thing. But to do this, we have to continually be innovative to keep our market share and gain a bit of ground, as well.

By packaging your particular insights, knowledge, and wisdom into a book, you’ve managed to shoot up and over those lumbering corporate competitors. Because corporations tend to be rather large, moving in any direction takes a lot longer. As a smaller, more fit entrepreneur, you have the advantage of being able to do more inventive and pioneering things…and do them tomorrow rather than two years from now.

As an author, you get to share the stage with great people throughout history. It doesn’t matter whether your book is a masterpiece that will rock the book publishing charts. Because you wrote a book, people look up to you as someone who is an authority on a particular topic. You don’t have to write a complete guide to human anatomy when your expertise is in human resources or internet marketing. You write about the topic that you know and are passionate about.


Book Awards for Independent Publishers

Many people think that because you are self-published, you cannot win a book award. Perhaps, in the past that was the case. However, the publishing world has changed drastically. There are only a handful of traditional publishers with a host of independent publishers, and even more self-publishing outlets, including on-demand-printing companies. Self-publishing is independent publishing, which takes the self-published book out of the old Vanity Press mindset.

While the Vanity Press stigma has evaporated to some degree, the Book Publishing world is still geared toward the Traditional Publishers. Book stores buy books from book distributors. Ingram Book Distributors do distribute Independent Published Books. For published books, the expanded distribution means distribution on Ingram. This also helps you get books reviewed, because many reviewers will not review self-published and independent books published through on-demand printing means.

Getting awards helps sell your books! These awards are given to books that have already been published.

Here are a few award sites:


Categories for book awards are vast. For example, IP Awards offer awards in the following categories:

2013 National Categories

  1. Fine Art
  2. Performing Arts (Music/Dance/Cinema/Theater)
  3. Photography
  4. Architecture
  5. Popular Fiction
  6. Literary Fiction
  7. Short Story Fiction
  8. Anthologies
  9. Juvenile Fiction
  10. Young Adult Fiction
  11. Fantasy/Science Fiction
  12. Gay/Lesbian/Bi/Trans Fiction
  13. Historical Fiction
  14. Military/Wartime Fiction
  15. Horror
  16. Multicultural Fiction
  17. Multicultural Fiction Juv-Young Adult
  18. Mystery/Cozy/Noir
  19. Suspense/Thriller
  20. Religious Fiction
  21. Romance
  22. True Crime
  23. Visionary Fiction
  24. Children’s Picture Books (7 & Under)
  25. Children’s Picture Books (All ages)
  26. Children’s Interactive (Activity, Audio, CDRom, etc.)
  27. Juvenile-Young Adult Non-Fiction
  28. Multicultural N-F Juv-Young Adult
  29. Multicultural Non-Fiction Adult
  30. Essay/Creative Non-Fiction
  31. Autobiography/Memoir I (Celebrity/Political/Romance)
  32. Autobiography/Memoir II (Coming of Age/Personal Struggle/Family Leg/Travel)
  33. Biography
  34. Aging/Death & Dying
  35. Animals/Pets
  36. Business/Career/Sales
  37. Classical Studies/Philosophy
  38. Coffee Table Books
  39. Cookbooks
  40. Current Events I (Political/Economic/Legal/Media)
  41. Current Events II (Social Issues/Public Affairs/Ecological/Humanitarian)
  42. Current Events III (Foreign Affairs/Military)
  43. Education/Academic/Teaching
  44. Environment/Ecology/Nature
  45. Erotica
  46. Finance/Investment/Economics
  47. Gay/Lesbian/Bi/Trans Non-Fiction
  48. Gift/Specialty/Journal
  49. Holiday
  50. Health/Medicine/Nutrition
  51. Graphic Novel/Drawn Book Humor/Cartoon
  52. Graphic Novel/Drawn Book Drama/Documentary
  53. History (U.S.)
  54. History (World)
  55. Home & Garden
  56. How-To (Crafts/Hobby/Industrial Arts)
  57. Humor
  58. Inspirational/Spiritual
  59. New Age/Mind-Body-Spirit
  60. Parenting
  61. Poetry
  62. Popular Culture
  63. Psychology/Mental Health
  64. Sports/Fitness/Recreation
  65. Reference
  66. Religion (Eastern/Western)
  67. Science
  68. Self Help
  69. Sexuality/Relationships
  70. Transportation (Auto/Aviation/Railroad, etc.)
  71. Travel Essay
  72. Travel - Guidebook
  73. Women’s Issues
  74. Writing/Publishing
  75. Best Book Marketing (requires support material)

E-Book Categories:

E1. Best Adult Fiction E-Book
E2. Best Romance/Erotica E-Book
E3. Best Mystery/Thriller E-Book
E4. Best Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror E-Book
E5. Best Adult Non-Fiction Personal E-Book
E6. Best Adult Non-Fiction Informational E-Book
E7. Juvenile/Young Adult Fiction E-Book
E8. Best Children’s Illustrated E-Book
E9. Best Regional E-Book - East of the Mississippi
(includes Europe & Asia)
E10. Best Regional E-Book – West of the Mississippi
(includes Aus/NZ)

Regional Categories

(Awards for “Best Fiction” and “Best Non-Fiction” in each region)

Northeast – ME, VT, NH, MA, RI, CT, NY
Mid- Atlantic – PA, WV, VA, DE, MD, DC, NJ
Southeast – KY, NC, SC, GA, FL, AL
South – MS, LA, AR, TX, TN
Great Lakes – OH, MI, IN, IL, WI
Midwest – MN, IA, MO, OK, KS, NE, SD, ND,
West-Mountain – MT, WY, UT, CO, NM, AZ, ID, NV
West-Pacific – CA, OR, WA, HI, AK
Canada–East – ON, QB, NF, NB, NS, PE, Nunavit
Canada-West – BC, AB, SK, MB, NW Territories, Yukon
Australia/New Zealand

 Visit the sites of these award organizations, pay attention to their guidelines and deadlines. Make sure to promote your book as an award winner, even if it is an honorable mention. Look for other places to submit your book. For example, if your book is a children’s book, try parenting organizations who give out book awards. Other organizations that match the topic of your book may give awards, seek them out.

Abundance and Writing

It is a mindset of “abundance” that we normally hear discussed. Abundant thinking helps us become more successful business people or experience successful careers.

When we come to “abundance,” we no longer see diminished capacity or limiting thoughts. Therefore, when we speak of abundance for our writing, we become aware of an infinite wellspring of creativity that allows us to write from a place of abundance.

If you sit down at your computer with the thought of having abundance, your words would flow in all the right ways. Writing becomes effortless. Entire stories simply write themselves.

So, how do we get into that mindset as a writer? These five tips can help you get into the “abundance” mindset:

  1. Develop the belief that there is limitless resources through scanning your thoughts for limiting beliefs, such as scarcity and obstacles, and banishing those thoughts.
  2. Focus on the abundance and not on the lack.
  3. Appreciate what you have instead of worrying about what you don’t have.
  4. Get organized. You have a harder time focusing on what you need to do, if you are not organized. Organizing your notes and thoughts are both important in being organized.
  5. Remember, that sharing is part of honoring the abundance.
  6. Create win-win situations.
  7. Remember, that within your greatest losses are your greatest wins.

Book Trailers: Get Yours Going!


Book Trailers? What’s that? No, it’s not a trailer full of books. No, it’s not a trail of books either! Think video, creative, and cinematic!


The newest mode of marketing your book has taken a very creative direction. Take the illustrations from your book and create a video with voice and music. Granted, if your book doesn’t have a lot of illustrations, you may have to get even more creative. What would represent your body of work captured in your book?


Let’s use a non-fiction example, such as my book, Press Releases Made Easy. The picture on the front cover is antique lead type. We could get pictures of individual letters on a piece of paper. Through moving the letters around on the paper and taking pictures of them, you can create an animation. You don’t have to have a very long trailer, two minutes is great. The end of the animation might move the letters into place to spell out the title. Then, you choose some words to say or a reading from the book, add some music…and there you have it! You’ve made a book trailer.


If the graphics seem like a challenge, think about the music. While there are places to get stock music online, I’ve found that the pieces tend to be longer or shorter than what you really want. In what seems like several lifetimes ago, I attended many classes surrounding the creation of indie films. One of the hardest challenges is getting the sound and music at a stable level and at a professional quality.


With voice overs, you have a lot more control of the audio. But in talking to  a musician friend, Jon Kava, he explains that with a software program called a “music sequencer: or “digital audio workstation,” you can create your own music. “Have you seen computer graphics in movies like Lord of the Rings or Avatar? Computer generated music was on the scene first. Creating music on a computer opens up possibilities from orchestral music to tribal music without the cost of hiring a band.“ Jon Kava can be reached at For $100 and up, he will create music for your project.

Foreshadowing and Breadcrumbs

When writing fiction, in particular, and sometimes real life stories, the art of foreshadowing can pull the reader through your story. You want to pull your reader through your entire book, because then, your reader will have read your whole book.

Foreshadowing Definition—To present an indication or suggestion beforehand or to foretell an event before it happens. For example: On a dark, and stormy night, the girl shivered under her covers. This is somewhat of a cliché opening for many novels. I hope you avoid this particular string of words. However, the foreshadowing comes from the suggestion that something is going to happen. What? We don’t know. But when it does happen, we’re ready for it.

Using foreshadowing can make your writing works interesting and intriguing. You can be clever about dropping these hints of what is to come. It can be a thought one of your characters has, depending on your point of view. It can be the way you describe the environment or the way a character behaves. Only you can decide what works for your story. Just remember, you can use foreshadowing in all genres, not just mysteries, where we see it more obviously. Even if you are writing real-life stories, this can be a good technique to keep your readers intrigued and reading.

One of my writing teachers a long time ago said that you should open your story with a problem and keep hinting of how it might be resolved, until you finally resolve it. Bring questions to the reader’s mind that makes them want to keep reading. This is what foreshadowing offers.

Another technique that works well with foreshadowing is Breadcrumbs. The breadcrumb method allows you to drop tiny pieces all through your manuscript that leads your readers to the final resolution. Like in the use of actual breadcrumbs to leave a trail that you can retrace, such as the one used in the folktale Hansel and Gretel. Foreshadowing can work early in your story, but later you can use breadcrumbs to drop clues that take you to the end.

Breadcrumb Definition—Tiny pieces of bread is the official definition. However, this technique used in writing or telling stories is like dropping actual pieces of bread along a trail that you can follow. Instead of actual “bread,” these breadcrumbs are little clues that help readers follow the thread of the story to the end. Another definition explains it in this way: having an ending that returns to the beginning. Using the breadcrumbs, like the foreshadowing, keeps the reader engaged in the story. For example: (Beg.) Making puppets requires knowledge of characters. What makes them interesting are not the major construction but in the small details, such as a unique smile, shape and size of eyes, and possibly a facial anomaly like a mole or birth mark. (End) The puppet creator catches the nuances of a person’s character, which allows her to make a puppets that are replicas of individuals.


How to Write a Good Hook

A good hook not only intrigues us and peaks our interest but also frustrates and gives you a sense of urgency that causes you to read further. According to Writer’s Digest, this is a simple formula. “Create the stakes (and the suspense) in your story. Show your reader something she wants, and then threaten it.”


A good example would be:

The elderly woman now on oxygen answered the phone to a Jaimacan-speaking man telling her she had won 10 million dollars. Miss Ida Mae and her husband had worked hard all their lives and had lived a good life. Miss Ida Mae’s husband, George, had passed only 13 months ago. She had high hopes of leaving a legacy for her daughters.

The Jaimacan man told her that he would be seeing her in just a few days to bring her the money. “But Mahm, Ah need you to pay the taxes. It’s only $4,000. You cahn send thaht to me aht Western Union.”

Of course, you still have to keep the interest going throughout your story. In some ways, you take your readers on a roller coaster ride. The formula continues, the appeal of your main character(s) and the stakes and suspense of the problem faced, followed by it being threatened. There are reversals and complications and many other twists and turns to make a story that will keep your reader reading throughout your book.

Why would you use a formula? Aren’t formula books terrible? Good questions. The formula discussed above works for just about any fictional writing. However, formula books are something different. That is where the same plot is reused using different characters and settings. This doesn’t work well, unless you find new and surprising things to insert into the plot.

On the other hand, many classic story plots are recycled. Almost all of the Shakespeare stories have been used over and over with success, so you cannot say that recycling plots are an issue. What becomes an issue with some writers is their use of the same plot in book after book after book. As long as people are buying their books, they will probably continue writing formula books.

Should you try to write a formula book? I wouldn’t recommend it! I suggest you tell a good story and follow its plot to its success. Using the formula for keeping readers hooked, I would recommend.

Questions for Building a Fantasy World

  1. Does this world resemble Earth?
  2. Do the laws of nature and physics differ in this world?
  3. Is magic present in this world? How do you know? What part does magic play in this world?
  4. What do the people look like in this world? Do they look like humans, elves or dwarfs?
  5. What is the culture and ethnic diversity in this world?
  6. How old is this world? Did the people of this world evolve or did they come from another world…where?
  7. Are there a lot of people in this world? What sort of villages, towns or cities do they live in?
  8. How does magic power work in this world? Does it come from a Divine Source, Life Source, or Where? What is the Source? Is it finite or infinite?
  9. What are these magical people like?
  10. What are the physical characteristics of this world? Similar to Earth, more Moon like, etc.?

The Writer’s Platform

No, a Writer’s Platform is not the kind of platform that you stand upon, at least, not literally. Let’s take the image of a platform, stage, podium, dais, or display raised area and think about it more metaphorically. The Writer’s Platform is basically all the things you are doing to market yourself. These days, you call it your brand. Everything you do should be to build your brand.

I know, I know, I’m talking about you as the brand. How can you sell yourself as a writer, isn’t it enough that you wrote a book? Unfortunately, no! You’ve got to not only sell the book but the writer, as well! Other ways to think about your Writer’s Platform is your visibility or your ability to sell books. These are the things that are supporting you in your marketing of you, as an author.

Even if you are going the traditional route of publishing through a publishing house, such as Simon and Schuster, Scholastic, or Random House, you need to develop a Writer’s Platform. In some cases, having a developed platform will help sell your manuscript to the Agent and/or Publisher.

Building your Writer’s Platform doesn’t have to be difficult. Set your intentions as a writer. Whether you have begun to write your book or not, this is a good place to start. Naturally, writing your book is part of your intention. However, there are many more similarities to beginning your own business. Build a Website and/or Blog with as large of a readership as you can create. A newsletter with, hopefully, a large readership could also be part of your platform. Article writing for major publications in your area of expertise and guest blog or Website contributions to successful blogs and Websites are definitely a plus. Other parts of your platform could include Public Speaking Engagements -the larger the audiences are best; a large presence on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other Social Media; membership in organizations that celebrate successes; recurring media appearances and interviews; a track record of strong book sales; and individuals of influence – media, celebrities, and anyone who can aid you in marketing without additional costs.

Other avenues to building your Platform can include teaching on the topic of your book(s); self-publishing your book or creating e-books; establish an online community to explore your topic; offer coaching, consulting, or editing; create a subscription publication on your topic; offer tips, and share your content with similar or compatible businesses.