Jan 192009

Almost a year ago, I submitted Lifeliner to the 16th Annual Writer’s Digest International Self-Published Book Awards. I recently heard from them, much to my surprise. Unfortunately, my book “was not among the winners.” That’s a nice way to put it; they gave me a participation certificate. The winners will not be announced publicly until April 2009.

I finished reading the letter, my stomach leaden, my eyes glazing over “competition was particularly fierce this year” and flipped the pages to the enclosed commentary. I figured the judge hadn’t liked it much, but, again, WD (Writer’s Digest) surprised me, for Judge #51 rated it highly in the Life Stories category. I guess competition was fierce!

The commentary begins with a summary:

On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 meaning “poor” and 5 meaning “excellent,” please evaluate the following:

Structure and organization: 5 [Greg and Ian, take a bow for helping me on that]

Grammar: 4 [Amazing since my injury had shot much of it out of my head, but the iUniverse editors did good work.]

Cover design: 4 [That was courtesy of the cover designer at iUniverse; I was having 2nd thoughts about the cover.]

WD asks the judge to write essay answers to two questions. First one: What did you like best about this book?

S/he began: The author is clearly intelligent and well spoken. [All that exhausting, endless brain rehab work was worth it!] She has a strong command of the written word. She tells a compelling and all but unheard of story — the story of Judy Taylor, the first person to be treated with a long-term inrtavenous feeding tube — or what is now known as TPN, total parenteral nutrition. [It is unheard of in lay circles and pretty dramatic too, so why is the Canadian media yawning over it? They probably think it’s fiction and nothing like that could happen here.]

S/he says further down the page: I especially enjoy how she wove in her own emotions and experiences and her relationship with Judy. [Kudos to Greg for suggesting first-person!] I was also impressed by the extensive research and old-school investigation techniques she employed. [All done pre-injury, and why is it old-school anyway? Shouldn’t this kind of work be standard for authors and journalists of non-fiction? Still, I’m doing a little happy waggle at this compliment.] She didn’t only rely on her memory [good thing!] of her father and Judy, but rather she interviewed countless people (and taped the interviews) over a stretch of 9 years, and thoroughly investigated newspaper reports and medical reports. She also annotated every subject of whom she interviewed and explained his or her qualifications to report on Judy. [That’s all together at the back of the book so as to not interrupt the flow of the story. And boy did it take me forever to get it done.] … The cover itself is remarkably professional for a self-pub. [Kudos to the iUniverse cover designer. That was the bonus I got from having Lifeliner declared Editor’s Choice.]

Now comes the good part. How did my book suck?! Or as WD puts it, How can the author improve this book?

In two words — title and foreword.

The title is too vague: Lifeliner does not specifically address the issue of intravenous feeding tubes. [I thought it did, or rather the people who live on TPN, starting with Judy, but what do I know, eh?]

But s/he asks me a good question: what sets this book from the lot of other survival tales (of which there seem to be no limit). [Get the feeling this judge was getting a tad bored with survival tales?]

S/he goes on to say that the subtitle “needs to be more specific.” I agree with that part. Perhaps “the woman who could not eat”?

As for the Foreword, s/he would remove it and writes: It was far too wordy and filled with medical jargon to hook anyone in.

Well, as a reader I rarely read Forewords first. And, except for the odd, magnificently written one, I don’t find any influencing me on whether or not to pick up a book. I usually rely on the back cover copy, the plot, and the writing to make that decision. I’ve given up on covers because so many seem to be on a totally different subject from what the book is about. Prof. Wretlind was very kind and supportive of me and this project, and so for that reason alone, I won’t remove it.

I still don’t know how to respond to this. On the one hand, I feel like I missed an honourable mention, if not a prize, by a hair. On the other hand, I feel flattered that a professional in the writing business regards my book and my work this highly. In time, I’m sure, the former feeling will fade, and the latter will stay.