A Study of Ash & Smoke – 7th Annual WD Self-Pub e-Book Awards

Sometime around September last year, I got an email about the Writer’s Digest Self-Published e-Book Awards (I’m subscribed to WD’s newsletters). I made the mistake of opening this email in front of my husband, who was immediately of the opinion that I should enter.

I didn’t want to. My feelings of inadequacy make these kinds of decisions for me, you know? Like my own brain is working against any chance of success I might possibly have. Luckily I have a husband who’s unwilling to let me self-sabotage.

So, on the last day I could possibly enter, I entered A Study of Ash & Smoke into the competition. I didn’t talk about it, I didn’t think about it, I just did what Elsa would and let it go.

Then, on Valentines Day, I got another email from WD. No, I didn’t place in the finals, but honestly, that doesn’t matter at all.

What the judge said about my book means more to me at this stage in my writing journey than I can express.

The books were scored out of five in six categories. This is how ASOAAS fared:

  • Structure, Organization, and Pacing:  4
  • Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar:  5
  • Production Quality and Cover Design:  5
  • Plot and Story Appeal:  5
  • Character Appeal and Development:  5
  • Voice and Writing Style:  5

Judge’s Commentary:

The cover of this book is excellent, and the title is excellent. I appreciated that the format of the title and the follow up of the series title is clear and concise. I loved the map as well but wish it had been in the front of the book near the table of contents or before chapter 1 somewhere. I love perusing them before starting a fantasy.

I loved the way the book begins, it grabbed me immediately by starting with a quiet action that gave us a great look at some of the characters by using those moments where they reveal their natures without actually doing a lot of big movements or actions. I love when an author can convey those details so effectively right off the bat and I felt hooked from the first page because of it. I appreciated too that like in the beginning of the book, many moments in this story show the reader the world without doing paragraphs of explanations, which I often find dry and boring. This, on the other hand, lets us follow along as the world of the story unfolds around us and we can keep up. I appreciate that trust in the author reader relationship so much and thought it really worked well here in showing the worldbuilding, the character development, and in keeping my attention through plot points.

It’s a compelling narrative, the characters are fun, and I would read more of this series right away.

I swear I stared at the screen rereading these words for a solid ten minutes, not at all understanding what they meant.

I still don’t totally get it, but I know my heart flutters a little when I think about it.

When I talked about this over on Facebook, I said that it’s okay to believe in yourself and to take risks. I know how hard these things can be.

You see, in the time leading up to receiving the email, my impostor syndrome had reached new levels. I’d spoken about it with my writer buddy SM Mitchell, and even wrote a post about those feelings.

Did this judge’s feedback magically remove all negative feelings about my writing? Goodness, no. But it helped me see for a moment that while I’m constantly telling others to believe in themselves, to put their work out there for the world to see, and to own what they’ve created, I’m allowed to do the same.

Yesterday, in a fit of self-loathing, I cleared all five chapters I’ve written for Book 3. I’m still rewriting it all today, and I still feel kind of shitty about it. But you know what? I’m also still sharing this post. Because I really am so grateful for how far I’ve come. I’m seriously proud of ASOAAS, and I can’t wait for you to read A Trial of Sparks & Kindling (coming next month, eeek!).

I struggle to market my books, but I want to ask you to give A Study of Ash & Smoke a try. If you like new adult or young adult books, epic fantasy and steampunk, you might really like this one. A judge over at Writer’s Digest thought it wasn’t too bad.

I’ll say again that I’m really proud of it. I try to put these small victories on the internet for myself, so I can look back and retake the journey that brought me here.

But I also share this stuff for you. I know what it’s like to be a noob writer, operating from the darkness of the basement, not knowing at all what to do to make the story stand out. I know how much that writer doubts herself, and how much she’ll continue to doubt herself along the way. I also know that people cheering her on will make all the difference between quitting, and keeping at it, no matter how difficult things may get.

So this is me cheering you on. Keep writing. Don’t give up. When that moment of validation finally comes, your hard work will have paid off.



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A Study of Ash & Smoke
A Trial of Sparks & Kindling


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