Every book needs a team: UW-Madison Critique Services for writers

Heather Shumaker has wanted to be an author since age four, though it took her almost 40 years to get there. With a career in conservation to inspire her—and the support of UW-Madison Critique Services to assist her—Shumaker’s nonfiction book Saving Arcadia was recently published to much acclaim.

Shumaker attended graduate school at UW-Madison Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. Her work as the coastal program director for Arcadia Dunes along the shore of Lake Michigan provided an intimate viewpoint into a community rallying to save their local landscape from flooding and development.

Heather Shumaker, author of "Saving Arcadia"
Heather Shumaker, author of “Saving Arcadia” found help through UW-Madison’s Critique Services for writers

She knew this was a tale that had to be shared.

New advice for a new kind of writing

Though Shumaker had written several parenting books and been actively involved in the UW-Madison writing community, she realized that telling the story of Arcadia would be different. Shumaker describes Saving Arcadia as a David and Goliath conservation adventure tale.

“It was my first time writing narrative nonfiction, which means writing about real people but with the flair of fiction,” says Shumaker. “With real life, there are so many possible story lines to consider.”

So Shumaker contacted Laurie Scheer, a guiding light in UW-Madison’s writing programs. UW-Madison Continuing Studies provides critiques along with conferences, classes, and a host of other resources for aspiring and published writers of every genre.

Working primarily over email, Scheer and her colleagues offer serious, honest, and supportive feedback. The writing consultants note what is working well and provide suggestions and strategies for revisions.

With nonfiction, everything that happened to the people, the community, and the landscape was in the mix. Shumaker turned to Critique Services to winnow down the possibilities and refine her ideas.

Saving Aracdia by Heather Shumaker
Shumaker’s book is a land conservation adventure tale about a community who rallies to save a landscape.

“Laurie helped me discern possible story arcs and concentrate on the best story for readers,” she says. “This gave the manuscript the boost it needed to make it a salable story that led to a book contract.”

Reflections on writing

Shumaker now makes her living as an author and national speaker. Appreciative reviewers for Saving Arcadia include renowned author and environmentalist Bill McKibben; it also earned a starred review on Booklist.

She credits the insight she received from UW-Madison’s Critique Services, along with the team approach to writing.

“They know writing and they know publishing. If you’re willing to work hard, and be humble enough to accept outside advice, you can make your manuscript shine.”

UW-Madison’s Critique Services are open to anyone seeking to continue to development as a writer, prepare a manuscript for publication, or complete a writing project in progress. For information, visit Critique Services at UW-Madison Continuing Studies, call 608-262-3447, or email Christine DeSmet at christine.desmet@wisc.edu.