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When I finished the first draft of my memoir Another Cheesy Family Newsletter, in February of 2018, I didn’t have the slightest idea how to move my book from the screen of my laptop onto printed pages that multiple readers could digest and ponder. I didn’t know anything about editing or beta readers or query letters or publicists or any of the multi-faceted aspects of spreading my words, in an orderly fashion, throughout the country and even the world. Nor did I know that 1.68 million self-published books would hit the market in 2018 alone! Maybe it was a good thing I was so naive, because if I had known how daunting the world of book marketing is, I probably never would have dipped my toe in such shark-infested professional writing waters. I gradually learned the importance of Facebook ads and professional organizations and media kits and giveaways and newsletters and book signings and discussion panels and interviews and social media pages and websites and blogs and podcasts and competitions and professional writing courses and of course the almighty REVIEW!

I chased the dream for a year or so, and then I stepped back and asked myself why. I have already had a more-than-satisfying career. There are hundreds of humans out there in the world right now whose lives have been influenced in a positive way by my teaching or counseling, and what could possibly have been a better way to have spent 39 working years? And, as my good friend reminded me just today, the bottom of the hour glass now contains far more sand than the top, so I simply don’t want to waste those precious remaining grains performing obligatory tasks for little or no personal reward. Have my promotional efforts thus far been a waste of time? Oh no! I’ve become acquainted with some fabulous writers and read some wonderful books. I’ve formed a beautiful relationship with a fascinating, supportive soul who does my ads and publicity. I’m active in a magnificent Facebook group of 5,000 people from across the globe that expands my horizons and tickles my funny bone.

And that’s also

not to say I will quit writing – I’m already working on another book – a sequel - and trying to make psychic contact with my five times great grandmother Dicey Langston, a Patriot spy in the Revolutionary War, so I can write her story. And I’ll continue to write my blog because it’s fun. But because I’m not a New York Times bestselling author, I, like many writers, often wonder, “Am I really worth reading?” We all seek validation. That’s why every positive review is a rush. So, I was thrilled yesterday to receive an email with feedback from one of the judges from a competition that I had completely forgotten about entering last year, the 27th Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Award. I didn’t win, obviously, but such praise from a professional was the kind of boost I needed to continue to burn up the keys on my laptop in an effort to create a thoughtful work of art. Her last sentence said it all for me:

Entry Title: Another Cheesy Family Newsletter

Author: Patty Sisco

Judge Number: 35

Entry Category: Life Stories

● Books are evaluated on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 meaning “needs improvement” and 5 meaning “outstanding”.

Structure, Organization, and Pacing: 5

Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar: 5

Production Quality and Cover Design: 3

Plot and Story Appeal: 5

Character Appeal and Development: 5

Voice and Writing Style: 5

Judge’s Commentary*:

What a fabulous concept! The reader connects with those family holiday newsletters – impossibly cheery, cherry-picked events from the year, trumpeting how happy and well-adjusted everyone is. The author opens with the triumph of a descriptive list of her own family’s ‘greatest hits’ from the year, impossibly heavy topics that widen the eyes. Beautifully done, especially in the author’s relatable writing voice.

We get a sense of weariness at times, followed by a ride upward in spirit and hope – a marvelous scope of emotion. I would have loved to see more scenes with dialogue and movement in them to mix up the balance of ‘telling’ what happened vs. showing. Author demonstrates the talent to write experiential scenes well, so it’s just a matter of choosing to structure scenes with more interactions and voice.

Great humor in the newsletters, particularly at the start of Chapter 4: delightful level of snark that returns us to the opening theme. It’s a natural tool of the book to make outward statements on how everyone is doing, and then springboard from these ‘snapshots’ to great depth in such realities as her father’s depression, etc. We get tremendous depth as the author smartly bounces between image and reality, making this terrifically well-structured.

I also appreciated the story’s pace, alternating in speed and layout for the reader’s eye to take in without distraction. The author put a lot of thought into the layers of her story, and never lets the narrative lull in the middle, nor teases at the transitions/ends of chapters. Very well done. The author has a nice instinct for conducting the story’s energy. We wind up with good emotions about each person in her tale. Well done.

Excellent choice to include the year without a holiday family letter, due to family upheaval and exhaustion. The lack of letter calls for as much introspection as any other letter-bearing year: what seems like a failure to send is actually quite a statement in itself, the outward sign of the self-assessment, self-care, processing and release that this book presents so well.

The author should be proud of what she has tackled here, couched in such a creative and resonant manner. I enjoyed this very much. This story stayed with me.

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