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Anne R. Allen's Blog

...WITH RUTH HARRIS

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Anne writes funny mysteries and how-to-books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. Oh, yes, and she blogs. She's a contributor to Writer's Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market for 2016. 

Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Anne lives on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, the town Oprah called "The Happiest City in America."


Anne blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris 
and at Anne R. Allen's Books

Sunday, February 23, 2014

From Pathetic to Professional: 8 Ways to Beat the First Draft Blues

by Ruth Harris

You’re happy, even delirious. You’ve finished your first draft!

Then you read it.

OMG, you think, did I write that?

Yes, you did. :-)

It stinks. It sucks. It’s so rancid it threatens to warp the time-space continuum.

Think you’re alone? Here’s Hugh Howey in a blog post: “I suck at writing. Watching a rough draft emerge from my fingertips in realtime would induce nausea.”

So remember, it’s not just you.

The first draft is just that—a first step.

As a long-time editor and author, I’ve found 8 strategies that can help you shape, refine and improve your draft. (Actually it’s called editing and, yes, you can do quite a bit of it yourself.)


1. Embrace the power of the delete button.


Elmore Leonard advised taking out all the unnecessary words. Cutting almost always makes a book better, more readable, more exciting.

Specifically, that means delete all the spongy, weasely, namby-pamby words—the ones that aren’t crisp and precise, the ones that drag out a scene or a description without adding anything except length.

Get rid of the windy digressions, the pointless descriptions, the info dumps, the meandering philosophical musings.

Duplicate your document before you begin in case you get too enthusiastic but, with a safe back-up on hand, go ahead and hack away. Take out everything that doesn’t advance your story or define your characters. See if the resulting clarity doesn’t vastly improve the pace of your book.

Don’t just kill your darlings. Kill everything that doesn’t move the story forward. Save your gems in a “future” file and use them in another book where they pull their weight.

2. Sharpen dialogue.


Just as you leave out the um’s and ah’s of real life, leave out chitchat about the weather, the local gossip, the “warming up” before you get to the point.

 Condense long speeches that have nothing to do with your story or characters. Ernest Hemingway wrote narrative in long hand but used the typewriter for dialogue—the rat-tat-tat, he thought, was similar to speed of talk.

Dialogue should be short, sharp and speedy. A scene with dialogue should have lots of white space. Allow your characters to speechify at your own peril!

FREE dialogue tips from Nanowrimo here. More dialogue tips here.


3. Spot and solve plot problems.


Plot problems in a first draft?

I’m shocked, I tell you. Shocked.

A powerful technique called reverse outlining will help ferret them out. A reverse outline will also help you track character arcs and/or rein in wandering POV dilemmas.

Reverse outlining—basically a list plus some first-grade arithmetic—can also bail you out of glitches and blocks, aka those dreaded now-what-happens? moments.

The difference between an outline and a reverse outline is that you compose your reverse outline after you finish your first draft (or as you’re in the process of writing it). Even pantsers like me find the reverse outline invaluable.

You will find FREE directions and demonstrations of the power of reverse outlining here, here, here, and here.

4. Naming names.


Names are powerful—Hannibal Lector, Miss Marple, Mr. Darcy, Scarlett O’Hara, Rosa Kleb—and can even define character. Choose names carefully in order to make things easy for the reader.

Example: The hero is Kevin Barnett. The heroine is Kathy Blanchard. The villain is Keith Barron. The names are similar and the initials are identical.

Do you really want to drive your reader crazy, as s/he tries to remember which of the K’s are OK and which aren’t?

Make a list of all the character names in your book and see to it they are individual, even memorable, and, if possible, convey something about the character. Change names and initials that are too bland, too similar or easily confusable. Use a name generator if you run out of ideas or need ethnically or genre-correct names.

Scrivener, the go-to app for many writers offers a generous FREE trial and comes with a name generator. Find it in the edit > writing tools menu.

There’s a FREE standalone name generator offering everything from Finnish and Maori names to Biblical, witch, and rapper names here.

5. Cliffhanging.


The cliffhanger is the professional writer’s secret. Pros use the cliffhanger to compel the reader to turn the page so they end every chapter on a note of anxiety, suspense or irresolution.

The reader, dying to know what happens next, will turn the page, stay up till three AM to finish your book and the next day tell her/his friends “you have to read it!”

The cliffhanger worked for Shakespeare and probably back in the days when writers lived in caves and used chisels and clay tablets to tell their stories. It worked in soap operas, on sitcoms, and in commercial bestsellers. The cliffhanger is eternal: right now, today, tonight, you will find the little buggers on every show right before the commercial break.

Embrace the cliffhanger.

Respect its power.

Learn to use it.

6. Crutch words.


Many writers have them. Anne fesses up to “just.” Mine is “begin.”

Example: “She began to run for the bus” becomes “She ran for the bus.”

Simpler, more direct and more powerful and yet another example of the power of the delete button.

Do you abuse adverbs? A search for ly will ferret them out.

Scrivener provides an easy way to nail those crutch words. Go to Project > text statistics > word frequency and Scriv turns up a list (with numbers + bar chart!) of how many times you used a word in that particular project. Now that you have the evidence, go into hunt-and-kill mode and mow them down!

ID your own crutch words and be on the lookout for better, more expressive ways to convey what you want to describe.


7. Know your genre.


No football team is going to draft you as a receiver if you didn’t know how to run a route. Ditto, genre. Romance, thrillers, horror, romcom—all have conventions and readers expect those conventions to be honored.

Study the genre(s) you work in. Read widely. Keep up with shifts and changes in the genre. Be aware of what your readers are looking for and, when you revise that first draft, be sure you are giving your readers exactly what they are looking for.

Focus on thrills in a thriller, sexual tension in a romance, scares in horror. Make sure those scenes deliver the goods or you will lose your reader.

Find FREE expert advice on genre at the following sites:

  • Romance writers lecture three times a week at Romance University.
  • Mystery writers share tricks of their trade at Crime Fiction Collective.
  • David Morrell discusses writing thrillers here and Lee Child talks about how he breaks rules here. A few more tips about thrillers here.
  • Chuck Wendig discusses 25 things you need to know about writing horror here. Stephen King on the craft of writing horror here.


8. Once is enough.


A common first-draft problem and not always a quick or easy one to fix because it involves actual thinking. Sorry about that, guys—but be on the lookout for places where you convey the same thought two (or more) times in different words.

Usually, this kind of repetition means the writer—that would be you—hasn’t quite thought through what he/she is trying to say. If you find yourself falling into this trap, you need to do the hard work of clarifying your thoughts and then conveying them clearly.

Decide exactly what you want to say and then say it. Do it right once and you don’t have to do it again.

Now you are ready to expose your book to your editor, crit group, beta readers.

If you show your work before you address the glitches and flaws you perceive, you risk getting stepped on and deflated. It’s not worth it.

Don’t ask me how I know.

What about you, scriveners? Do you edit before you show your work to other people? Have you learned to do that the hard way? What other self-editing tricks can you add?


We LOVE comments. If you have trouble commenting because Blogger elves won't accept your ID (They prefer Google+ IDs, because they're owned by Google, alas) just email Anne through the "contact us" page and she'll personally post your comment.

BOOKS OF THE WEEK 

ZURI--the word means "beautiful" in Swahili--is an inspirational, romantic story of grief, healing, and second chances (contains no sex or cursing and is appropriate for adult and young adult readers.)

Available at Amazon US. Amazon UK, NOOK




Lanky, dark-haired Renny Kudrow, Director of the Kihali Animal Orphanage in Kenya, is a brilliant scientist, a noted television personality, and an expert in animal communication. But human communication? Not so much, thinks Starlite Higgins, the talented young vet he has hired over the objection of others. He is prickly, remote, critical, and Starlite, anxious to please and accustomed to success, is unable to win his approval.

When Renny and Starlite set out on a dangerous mission, they rescue a severely injured baby rhino whose mother has been killed by poachers. Upon their return to Kihali, they must work together to save the little orphan, now named Zuri. Zuri's courage and determination and the idyllic beauty of Kihali, gradually break down Renny's and Starlite's emotional walls. Little by little, they each confront their own painful, invisible wounds.

But how can Starlite know the secret Renny guards is as shocking as the past she conceals?

***

This just in: HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE: A Self Help Guide is back in e-print!! 
Now published by Fast Forward, this is a new, updated version, full of tips from Anne and #1 Bestseller Catherine Ryan Hyde. A must-read for new writers who are planning to go the traditional OR indie route. Lots of info on how to query, self-edit, use social media, deal with rejection and bad reviews, and stay safe online.


You can pick it up for only $2.99 at Amazon US, and the equivalent at Amazon UK, Amazon CA, and all the other Amazons around the world! 


OPPORTUNITY ALERTS


Writers' Village International Short Fiction AwardEntry fee £15. This is a biggie. Stories in English up to 3000 words in any genre from anywhere in the world. £3000 First Prize. Judges include iconic mystery author Lawrence Block and Whitbread & Orange short-lister Jill Dawson. £4500 ($7200) in total prizes. The top 50 contestants also get a free critique of their stories. Deadline June 30th.

The 11th Yeovil International Literary Prize now open for entries  Prize categories for novels, short fiction, poetry. Entry fee £11 for novels. 1st prize £1000. Deadline May 31st.

GLIMMER TRAIN FAMILY MATTERS CONTEST $1500 prize, plus publication in Glimmer Train Stories, plus 20 copies. $15 ENTRY FEE. They're looking for stories about families of all configurations. It's fine to draw on real experiences, but the work must read like fiction. Maximum word count: 12,000. Any shorter lengths are welcome. Deadline March 31.

Women Writers:  MSLEXIA SHORT STORY COMPETITION  £10 ENTRY FEE. A competition for unpublished short stories of up to 2,200 words. First prize £2,000 plus two optional extras: a week’s writing retreat at Chawton House Library outside of London, and a day with a Virago editor. Second prize: £500. Third prize: £250. Three other finalists each receive £100.  All winning stories will be published in the Jun/Jul/Aug 2014 edition of Mslexia. Deadline March 17

The Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize: now open to UK self-publishers as well as traditional publishers. Fiction Uncovered seeks to promote emerging and deserving British fiction writers of outstanding work, looking beyond the debuts and the bestsellers. Debut works of fiction are not eligible. Be sure to follow the guidelines on the Fiction Uncovered site. Deadline has been extended to March 3rd.

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Sunday, February 16, 2014

Guest Blogging for Authors: 10 Tips to Help You Land Those Valuable Guest Blog Gigs


Guest blogging is a great way for writers to improve visibility. Most host bloggers will allow you to link to your website and to your book "buy" pages, so the post can both improve your name recognition and sell books. It's free advertising and boosts your search engine rank.

Some authors don't have their own blogs and manage to do very well by simply guesting on other blogs several times a month. Ruth Harris did that before I roped her into invited her to join me here.

You don't have to be a published author to benefit. Guest blogging before you have a book out is a good way to pave the way for a launch, and it's an excellent way to raise your profile if you're a freelancer.

But don't assume all bloggers will welcome you. The higher ranked the blog, the more guest blog queries they're getting—and they may be burned out on the whole process.

Here we often get ten or more queries a day, which makes me sad, because we have to turn away most of them. We host a maximum of 12 guests a year, and book many months in advance. We don't often find the experts we need in "cold" email queries.

There are exceptions: the hilarious Melodie Campbell asked to guest blog with a friendly email query. Since she's a well-known author, creative writing teacher, and the President of Crime Writers of Canada, we were honored she wanted to visit.

She'd also been following the blog and mentioned several of her favorite posts, which made her a shoo-in. We've since become cyberfriends and I'm devouring her books.

Unfortunately, not many queriers are like Melodie. In fact, the one thing 99% of requests have in common is they show the writer hasn't visited the blog (although they give it high, generic praise.) But they don't have the slightest idea what the blog is about or who our readers are. Very few have read our "contact us" page.

They usually offer to blog about "the subject of your choice" and the only thing they seem to know about us is that our Alexa rating is low (a good thing) and our readership numbers are high (thanks, you guys!). They don't realize this is a slow blog focused on the publishing industry, and with only 4 posts a month, each post has to offer something pretty special to keep those numbers where they are.

I usually answer each query individually (which makes me feel some empathy with agents and editors.) I thank the writers and wish them all the best in their careers and then suggest that they, um, read a blog before querying.

After a morning in the guest-blog-request trenches, I decided to do some research. I discovered guest blogging is a hot topic in social marketing circles these days. That's because it is now one of the most popular ways to raise SEO and get backlinks to websites.

Unfortunately, it has also become a preferred venue for dodgy marketers and spammers. Many will provide mediocre content full of links to websites unrelated to the post—sometimes ads for male enhancement pills and "adult" sites.

Yeah, I felt kinda dumb when I realized I'd been working so hard to spare the feelings of porn spammers.

The spam problem has become so bad that Matt Cutts, a major Google blogger, says guest blogging has burned itself out. Last month he announced that guest blogging is dead.

Do note that other experts, like blog guru Jon Morrow, say it's only the low-quality content that's been consigned to the trash heap.

Certainly not every potential guest is offering spammy content. Many queries come from editing professionals, designers and fellow authors who might have something worthwhile to share.

Trouble is, they usually approach in an impersonal way and—although they may reference one post—don't have a feel for our tone or content. Often they make demands but don't offer much in return. Yes, we know it will help your book launch to get your covers and links in front of our 40,000 monthly readers. But if your post is simply a thinly disguised ad for your book or services, visitors will click away and may not come back.

Also, guest posts seldom get the hits our own posts do (readers seem to view guests like substitute teachers—not really part of the curriculum.) So a guest spot is something of a gift. You need to make bloggers want to turn their own bookselling platform over to you, either because you have a big following of your own, offer something fresh and unique, or they like you. Preferably all of the above.

Getting your (high quality) work onto a well-known blog is still one of the best ways to raise your search engine profile. The marketers are right about getting those "backlinks" from the blog to your site. It's a great way to get the Google spider-bots to notice you and raise your own website or blog higher on a Google search page.

But selling books isn't the same as selling shampoo or refrigerators.

With books, you're often better off targeting lesser-known blogs. Forget the SEO and Alexa ratings. Look for blogs that address your audience's niche. A visit to a chick lit blog with 50 followers may sell more copies of your chick lit novel than a visit to a general interest blog with 2500.

Here are some tips for authors who want to try guest blogging:


1) Read the blog before you query. Not just one post. Read several—and make sure you check the comments. That's how you can tell if the audience is right for the topic you're pitching. You don't want to pitch a "how to send your first query letter" post to an audience of published authors or a technical post on SEO to a poetry circle.

In fact, you can get great ideas for topics to write about by reading what people are asking questions about in the comments.

2) Comment on the blog. If bloggers have seen your name before, they're going to pay more attention to your query. The best way to break in is to get to know other bloggers and the blog community.

If you show your expertise in a certain subject in a blog comment, the blogger may even seek you out and ask you to be a guest. That's how we find most of our guests: in the comment thread. Not a query in a comment thread (don't do this), but with a useful comment that shows expertise and good writing skills.

It's how I connected with Ruth Harris. She commented several times on this blog and remembered reading her books when they were on the NYT bestseller list, saw she had no blog of her own at that point, and...the rest is history.

3) Learn how to write blog content. That means using sub-headers, lists, bullet points, bolding, and lots of white space. Older writers like me have a lot of re-learning to do when we start to blog.

I'll be writing a post soon about writing 21st century prose. Whether you're writing fiction, essays or blogposts, you attract more readers these days if you can write concise, skimmable copy.

4) Use a friendly, personal tone. A blogpost is not a news article, college thesis, or tech manual. Offer information in an entertaining, non-condescending way. Keep things light and encouraging. If you have a tale of woe, make sure the ending is hopeful and upbeat. (And be careful of language. Make sure it's appropriate for the blog. If you want to guest for somebody like Chuck Wendig, it's fine to go all four-letter in the text. On this blog, not so much.)

5) Don't just target book blogs. Think about where your readers might hang out.

  • Write crafting cozies? Try a blog that talks about selling crafts on Etsy. Crafters are probably going to be more excited about a new mystery about a crocheting sleuth than a bunch of writers whose Kindles are already overloaded. 
  • Have a war memoir? Find some blogs about veterans' issues. Most visitors might only buy two or three books a year, but if they "know" you, one might be yours. 
  • Set your thriller in an exotic local? Look to travel blogs. Travelers love to read books set in a country they're planning to visit—or would like to revisit via armchair.

6) Read the guidelines. If a blog doesn't have a separate "guest blog guidelines" page, it may be because they don't take many guests. But there will usually be a "contact us" page, so check it out. Bloggers sometimes don't give guidelines a separate page because spammers have been taught to search for guest blog gigs by Googling the blog name with "guest post guidelines".

But if they're posted anywhere, read them. Some bloggers may prefer to give you a topic, or may offer questions so the post can be in interview format. They may have specific requirements for number and size of photos and/or word count. They may suggest you offer a book give-away. Don't assume you "know the ropes". Guidelines are there for a reason.

Note: "guidelines" is something of a misnomer. Whether you're querying agents, publishers, journals, or blogs, "guidelines" usually means "ironclad rules".

7) Check out other guest posts. If you're a beginning freelance writer, you probably won't land a spot on a blog where bestselling authors and movie stars go to promote their books. You also won't benefit from guesting if the blogger has been lazy and accepts a lot of mediocre content.

Here our guests have mostly been seasoned authors, award winners, or experts in their fields (and yes, we've hosted a movie star). They also need to be good general-interest writers who don't use too much jargon, because tech-speak reads like Klingon to a lot of our readers (it sure does to me). A humorous approach is a big plus.

But you don't have to be a movie star or a bestseller to guest for us. You do need to be experienced in writing solid Web content and have something unique to say.

Here are some examples of guests who hit it out of the park for us:


Individualize your pitch to each specific blog. We don't post personal stories, but lots of blogs do. Bloggers are usually happy to get success (or failure) stories, interesting anecdotes about researching your book, posts based on your book research or funny stories about the writing life. A lot of blogs like interviews, too.

8) Don't spam. Offer new, useful, informative content and make sure you're not writing a thinly disguised advertisement for your own book or services. This is important. I see way too many guest posts that are just ad copy.

9)  Write a professional query via email. Write it like any other query. Open with a mention of why you're querying this particular blogger. Then pitch your project. Follow up with your credentials and links to your "clips" on your own blog or guest posts.

Note: as I said above, DON'T request a guest spot via comment thread, tweet or direct message. When I wrote about guest blogging two years ago, somebody actually pasted a query into the comments, showing they hadn't read a word of the post.

...so for those people, here's a bonus tip:

10) Read the blog. Seriously.
~

Guest blogging is one of the best ways to build your platform—and it's free advertising for your books. But remember you're asking for a favor. For more tips for guest bloggers see part 6 of my "How to Blog" series.

If you're a new writer without a presence in the blogosphere, it may be worth your while to launch your book with a professional blog tour, which will involve guest blogging as well as interviews and reviews. It will cost you some money, but doesn't have to be hugely expensive.

This week indie advocate Kristine Kathryn Rusch has an in-depth piece on her own experiences with guest blogging. (But you might want to turn off your speakers first. She has a strange audio ad for air freshener that kind of freaked me out.)

For a list of some vetted blog tour companies with price comparisons, see Greg Strandberg's post on Joel Friedlander's blog of February 5th. Greg's own blog is BigSkyWords.

What about you scriveners? Do you host guests on your blog? Have you been a guest? Have you had good experiences? What tips would you give new guest bloggers?

We LOVE comments. If you have trouble commenting because Blogger elves won't accept your ID (They prefer GooglePlus IDs, because they're owned by Google, alas) just email me through the "contact us" page and I'll personally post your comment.

This week I'm taking my own advice and doing some guest blogging myself. On 2/17, I'll be at Romance University talking about how authors can stay safe online, and on 2/19, I'll be visiting the Insecure Writers Support Group, with an author's guide on how not to spam.

Also: There's still time to vote. Our blog has been nominated by Indies Unlimited for "Best Resource for Indies"—one of just 7 blogs—along with Kristen Lamb, Joel Friedlander "The Book Designer", The Passive Voice, The Creative Penn, David Gaughran's "Let's Get Digital", and The Indie View. Anybody can vote over at Indies Unlimited. Voting closes on February 21st at 5 PM Pacific time.

BOOK DEAL OF THE WEEK


The Camilla Randall Mysteries

9 Months on Amazon's Humor Bestseller list!

Although the normal price is $4.99, this boxed set is only .99 on Amazon right now—for reasons known only to the Mighty Zon. 

Well, that didn't last long. It's back up to $4.99 at Amazon. But hey it's still an amazing deal: three funny mysteries for the price of a Venti Caramel Latte.

So if you've been thinking of taking a look at my loopy, but oh-so-polite sleuth's misadventures, grab this set while it's cheap. I have no idea if the price is down on international sites, because they don't let us see the pricing, but here are the links so you can check it out.


also available on NOOK and may or may not be on Kobo, which my publisher describes as "an enigma wrapped up in a mystery and sealed with superglue."





"The Best Revenge, Ghost Writers in the Sky and Sherwood Limited are hysterical. Anne Allen will keep you laughing throughout, but in the meantime she dabbles her fingers in some topics worth some serious thought: sexism, weightism, lechery, murder, duplicity, homelessness & poverty to name a few. If you love to laugh, you'll like these three books. If you love to think, ponder AND laugh, be ready to fall in love"... C.S. Perryess aka the Wordmonger



OPPORTUNITY ALERTS

Writers' Village International Short Fiction AwardEntry fee £15. This is a biggie. Stories in English up to 3000 words in any genre from anywhere in the world. £3000 First Prize. Judges include iconic mystery author Lawrence Block and Whitbread & Orange short-lister Jill Dawson. £4500 ($7200) in total prizes. The top 50 contestants also get a free critique of their stories. Deadline June 30th.

The 11th Yeovil International Literary Prize now open for entries  Prize categories for novels, short fiction, poetry. Entry fee £11 for novels. 1st prize £1000. Deadline May 31st.

GLIMMER TRAIN FAMILY MATTERS CONTEST $1500 prize, plus publication in Glimmer Train Stories, plus 20 copies. $15 ENTRY FEE. They're looking for stories about families of all configurations. It's fine to draw on real experiences, but the work must read like fiction. Maximum word count: 12,000. Any shorter lengths are welcome. Deadline March 31.

Women Writers:  MSLEXIA SHORT STORY COMPETITION  £10 ENTRY FEE. A competition for unpublished short stories of up to 2,200 words. First prize £2,000 plus two optional extras: a week’s writing retreat at Chawton House Library outside of London, and a day with a Virago editor. Second prize: £500. Third prize: £250. Three other finalists each receive £100.  All winning stories will be published in the Jun/Jul/Aug 2014 edition of Mslexia. Deadline March 17

The Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize: now open to UK self-publishers as well as traditional publishers. Fiction Uncovered seeks to promote emerging and deserving British fiction writers of outstanding work, looking beyond the debuts and the bestsellers. Debut works of fiction are not eligible. Be sure to follow the guidelines on the Fiction Uncovered siteDeadline has been extended to March 3rd.

Women on Writing Winter 2014 Flash Fiction Contest.  $10 ENTRY FEE. Judged by literary agent Stephany Evans. WORD COUNT: Maximum: 750, Minimum: 250 The title is not counted in your word count. Any style or genre. Deadline February 28.

Dark Continents Publishing's Guns and Romances anthology. They're looking for previously unpublished short fiction from 3500-9000 words. Any genre as long as there's a tough protagonist, weapons, and... at least one reference to music. Sounds interesting. Payment rate is a one-off of $20 per story plus a percentage of the ebook royalties. Publication estimated in late-2014. More info on the website. Deadline February 28.

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Sunday, February 9, 2014

Why Novellas are Hot and How to Write One: a Step by Step Guide


We're so jazzed! Our blog has been nominated by Indies Unlimited for "Best Resource for Indies"—one of just 7 blogs—along with the fantastic Kristen Lamb, Joel Friedlander "The Book Designer", The Passive Voice, The Creative Penn, David Gaughran's "Let's Get Digital", and The Indie View. It's so amazing for a slow, once-a-week blog to be nominated with all those major bloggers.

Anybody can vote over at Indies Unlimited. Voting closes on February 21st at 5 PM Pacific time.

Of course, we don't just write for self-publishers. Our guest today is with a small niche press, as I am, and Ruth was with several of the big houses (and edited for them) before she started self-publishing. That means we have experience with all types of publishing. We don't want our readers to feel we're trying to push you onto one path or another.


It seems I'm not the only blogger who thinks "Short is the New Long," which I wrote in a post last May.

Penny Sansevieri, CEO of Marketing Experts Inc., said in her predictions for 2014 in the HuffPo:

"Short is the new long. You don’t have to be writing 500-page tomes. Create one or two full length books a year plus micro-content such as novellas or shorter books. It’s a great way to gain visibility and stay in front of your readers."

No doubt about it: novellas are hot.

  • Traditionally published authors self-publish them to fill in the time between the snail-speed production schedule of their own publishers and increase their revenue stream.
  • Indies use them to explore characters in their series that readers want to know more about. 
  • Readers who have less time to read than they used to enjoy getting into a meaty story that has a satisfying beginning, middle and end, but doesn't take weeks to get through.

Perhaps the popularity of the novella also comes with our love of movies. As Paul tells us, the novella has a lot in common with a screenplay. It is also the fiction form most easily adapted to film. 

My own publisher keeps encouraging me to write novellas to fill in the gaps in Camilla and Plantagenet's history.

Have I followed the advice? 

Nope. 

That's because I find writing novellas really hard. I think in terms of the "long game". For me an 80,000 word novel is short. How can I explore a big topic in 20,000 words? 

I decided to ask award-winning novella author Paul Alan Fahey for some advice. Paul's book The Other Man was honored by the American Library Association last month, and received a Rainbow Award in 2013. The View from 16 Podewale Street, the first of his beautifully-crafted novellas set in WWII Britain, won a Rainbow Award in 2012. 

I hope his advice will help us all to keep up with the new trend....Anne


NOVELLAS AND SCREENPLAYS: MORE IN COMMON THAN YOU THINK
by
Paul Alan Fahey



Years ago, when I started writing fiction—as opposed to journal articles for career advancement in academe—I fell in love with flash fiction. That love affair lasted throughout the 1990’s, well into the millennium, and beyond. I loved the form and was quite content to stay within those teeny-tiny word limits. At the time, I also took classes in flash, presented writing workshops on the form, and participated in several online critique groups for flash writers.

When I taught at Allan Hancock College, I edited Mindprints, A Literary Journal, devoted to flash fiction and memoir pieces of 250-750 words. Here's a piece I wrote giving tips for writing good flash fiction. 

During that time, I managed to write and publish a few short stories other than flash, but nothing beyond the 5,000 to 6,000-word range.

With the advent of the E-Age, I began to think seriously about writing longer work. The novel absolutely terrified me, so I gravitated to the novella: something in between a very long story and a novel.

When I began writing my first WWII novella, The View from 16 Podwale Street, and later with Bomber’s Moon, I told myself I was only writing flash, and that each scene or chapter was a kind of mini-flash piece with its own story arc. Little did I know that this strategy would work, and I’d soon be off and running with a romance series and a much larger story to tell.

Novellas in the E-Age: A Definition


Searching for a precise definition of a novella can be a maddening experience. Some consider novellas very long short stories, while others call them short novels, or say they’re synonymous with novelettes.

Nothing specific there, right? I was just about to give up when I stumbled upon a terrific article in the New Yorker by British novelist and screenwriter, Ian McEwan. Not only did he define the form, but he specified word limits most publishers, including my own, would agree with—give or take a few thousand at the top or bottom of the range.

“Novellas are between twenty and forty
thousand words, long enough for a reader to inhabit a world or a consciousness and be kept there, short enough to be read in a sitting or two and for the whole structure to be held in mind at first encounter.”

McEwan went on to discuss the strong similarity between novellas and screenplays in their overall unity and economy.

"To sit with a novella is analogous to watching a play or a longish movie."

I have to admit I was totally stoked when I read that. I’d been using screenplay techniques as a pre-writing strategy for flash fiction and short stories for years. In fact I wrote an article for Byline magazine about the flash-screenplay connection in 2005. It's since been reprinted at Fiction Fix.  Is it any wonder I was drawn to the novella form?

THE PREWRITING STRATEGY


Let’s see how this prewriting thing works. We’ll take a look at my novella, Bomber’s Moon, and apply the strategy.

Step 1: Find a Story Idea


The idea for Bomber’s Moon came from an incident in my childhood. Mom and I were sitting at the breakfast table discussing a lovely Englishwoman she worked with in an upscale dress shop, someone who had lived through the London Blitz and still suffered in the late 1950’s from what we’d probably now call PTSD.

I took this idea and went into a “what if” frenzy, asking myself all sorts of questions: How did Londoners manage to survive day to day under such unimaginable conditions? What was it like being gay back then, and in a relationship, having to keep it all a secret except perhaps from your closest friends? These questions and many more would later guide character development as well as plot development in Bomber’s Moon.


Step 2: Turn the Idea into a Logline


Anne has previously written an excellent post on loglines. So there’s really no need to reinvent the wheel here other than to say a screenplay logline is a short, one-sentence statement of the film’s premise. Think TV Guide descriptions of cable movies.

Here’s an example:

Nebraska: An aging, booze-addled father makes the trip from Montana to Nebraska with his estranged son in order to claim a million dollar Mega Sweepstakes Marketing prize.

And another one:

August: Osage County: A look at the lives of the strong-willed women of the Weston family, whose paths have diverged until a family crisis brings them back to the Oklahoma house they grew up in, and to the dysfunctional woman who raised them.

Here’s the logline for Bomber’s Moon:

During the London Blitz, and after losing his life partner in a tragic accident, Leslie Atwater, a young gay man, discovers his lover’s death may not have been an accident and sets out to uncover the truth.

**I know, I know. It ain’t Shakespeare. You’re using it as a guide or throughline for developing your story. No one but you will see it.

Step 3. Write the Story Theme from the Logline


Often I know the book’s theme before I start to write. Sometimes I don't and it surfaces later in the writing. Still, it’s a terrific bonus if you do can articulate theme because it provides a wonderful subtext for scenes and dialogue.

"Journeys end in lovers meeting" is the main theme of Bomber’s Moon.


Step 4: Determine the Three Acts and As Many Plot Points as Possible


First, here’s a quick overview of three-act structure.
  • Act I, Set Up: Introduces setting, characters and the main story conflict or the inciting incident.
  • Plot Point 1: The first major turning point or event that closes the first act and moves the characters into… 
  • Act II, Confrontation: The main character struggles to achieve his/her goal amid ever increasing obstacles. 
  • Midpoint: A subtle turning point in the plot midway through the story.
  • Plot Point 2: A devastating setback or reversal in the main character’s fortune that leads to…
  • Act III, Resolution: The final confrontation and highest point of action (climax) before the character reaches goal.
Here’s what I knew about Bomber’s Moon before I began writing:
  • Act I: Set Up: During the day, Leslie works as a clerk in a modest bookshop in Central London. By night, he’s an air raid warden in his district responsible for the safety of his “flock.” In an effort to feel closer to Edward, he spends his evenings in their flat reviewing his partner’s sketches and soon discovers irregularities he can’t explain.
  • Plot Point 1: Leslie, convinced his lover’s death wasn’t an accident. Despite warnings from friends to let well enough alone, he sets out on a journey. How did Edward die?
  • Act II Confrontation Leslie learns more about Edward’s work assignment the day he died. He begins to question family members and colleagues at The Globe. This leads him on a journey through London and into the countryside as he follows the clues. (Vague? You bet, but it works for now.)
  • Act III Resolution: I envisioned a climax in a lighthouse overlooking the English Channel with enemy aircraft overhead. The ending would be a happy one—journeys end in lovers meeting—since Bomber’s Moon is a romance, and I was following conventions of the form.

This pre-writing three-act paradigm for Bomber’s Moon, adapted from a screenwriting text by Syd Field is far from complete. But having the structure planned out as much as possible beforehand, kept me focused on the storyline, while I filled in the blanks of the paradigm as I went along in the first draft.

For a more thorough discussion and examples of the three-act structure, please see: The Elements of Cinema.

This process may or may not work for you. I can only say it does for me. And in a big way.

***


Paul Alan Fahey created and edited Mindprints, an international literary journal for writers and artists with disabilities, at Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria, California. During Paul’s seven-year tenure, Mindprints made Writers Digest’s “Top 30 Short Story Markets” list for two consecutive years. He is the author of the Lovers and Liars Gay Wartime Romance series, published by JMS Books. Paul is the editor of the 2013 Rainbow Award winning anthology, The Other Man: 21 Writers Speak Candidly About Sex, Love, Infidelity, & Moving On. His first WWII novella, The View From 16 Podwale Street, also won a Rainbow Award in 2012.

What about you, scriveners? Have you written a novella? Any advice to add to Paul's? Any questions you'd like to ask him?



Book of the Week

Paul Alan Fahey's latest novella, LOVERS AND LIARS is available in paper (and on sale!) at JMS Books, Amazon US, Amazon UK, and  Nook


"Brimming with atmosphere, this historical setting envelopes the reader and transports them to a place and time that is both real and vividly imagined. These are glamorous people set against the backdrop of a time spare in luxuries, and in the reading of these books, they have become friends with whom I’m always glad to spend time, participating in their adventures, commiserating with their trials, sympathizing with their cause, and I look forward to their continuing journey."...Lisa Horan at Novel Approach Reviews

The other novellas in the series are also available as ebooks from JMS Books and most retailers.

Deal of the Week

In honor of the Beatles 50th anniversary, Michael Harris's bestseller, ALWAYS ON SUNDAY is only 99c this week. It's on Kindle, Nook, Kobo, iBooks and AmazonUK (All the other Amazons, too.)




Michael worked for the Ed Sullivan Show in the 1960s, and was assigned to meet the Beatles at Kennedy Airport that day in 1964. He says Ed was warned not to sign the Beatles: "You're crazy! No British group has ever made it big in this country." A month before they arrived, they were still unknown in America.

Two weeks later, "I Want To Hold Your Hand" rocketed to the top of the charts and Beatlemania had begun. On February 14, Michael greeted the Beatles again, this time in Miami for a second Sullivan show. Thanks to papparazzi determined to cash in on every shot of the Fab Four, Michael appeared in photos published around the world. In the captions he was identified as "a Beatle".



OPPORTUNITY ALERTS

The 11th Yeovil International Literary Prize now open for entries. Aspiring writers throughout the world are invited to enter this prestigious writing competition. Prize categories for novels, short fiction, poetry. Entry fee £11 for novels. 1st prize £1000. Deadline May 31st.

GLIMMER TRAIN FAMILY MATTERS CONTEST $1500 prize, plus publication in Glimmer Train Stories, plus 20 copies. $15 ENTRY FEE. They're looking for stories about families of all configurations. It's fine to draw on real experiences, but the work must read like fiction. Maximum word count: 12,000. Any shorter lengths are welcome. Deadline March 31.

Write Flash? INNOVATIVE SHORT FICTION CONTEST $15 ENTRY FEE. $500 prize plus the winning story will be published in The Conium Review's next issue. Innovative short fiction should take risks that pay off. Don’t tell us a story we’ve already heard before. Show us something new with your subject, style, or characters.Your submission may include any combination of flash fictions or short stories up to 7,500 total words.  Deadline March 15, 2014. 

Dark Continents Publishing's Guns and Romances anthology. They're looking for previously unpublished short fiction from 3500-9000 words. Any genre as long as there's a tough protagonist, weapons, and... at least one reference to music. Sounds interesting. Payment rate is a one-off of $20 per story plus a percentage of the ebook royalties. Publication estimated in late-2014. More info on the website. Deadline February 28.

ERMA BOMBECK WRITING COMPETITION $15 ENTRY FEE. Capture the essence of Erma's writings and you could win $500 and a free registration to the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop!  Personal essay must be 450 words or less (entries of more than 450 words will be disqualified). Two categories: humor and human interest.  Deadline February 17.

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Sunday, February 2, 2014

Six More Pieces of Bad Advice for Writers to Ignore


Two weeks ago I wrote a post listing some of the bad writing advice that can stand in the way of launching a successful publishing career.

But I had too much to run in one post, plus I got some great suggestions from readers in the comments. So this week we have a "Son of Bad Advice" post.

Hey, it's Groundhog Day, so I figure we can have deja vu all over again.

Some myths about the writing life have become so much part of our culture that "everybody knows" them. It's hard to accept they're not true. I've had a hard time unlearning some of them myself.

As I said in my previous post, we've been programmed with misinformation all our lives. We've watched romanticized fictional authors like Jessica Fletcher and Richard Castle and that guy who owned Magnum PI's tropical mansion write their way to fame and fortune. It looked so easy.

New myths have been added with the ebook revolution. We now hear that all we have to do is write a book, put it on Amazon, and the movie deals and fat paychecks will start rolling in. After all, it happened to Hugh Howey and Amanda Hocking. And recently we've heard about Sylvia Day with her 7-figure deal with Harlequin, and million-seller indie romance author Theresa Ragan...

But those authors are the exceptions, not the rule. They're newsworthy because they're rare. If you don’t want your heart broken in this ever-more-complex, fast-changing industry, it's best to learn the facts and put the following myths firmly in the "fiction" section of your consciousness.

1) Land a publishing contract and you can quit your day job


I think the biggest, baddest lie about this business is that authors make a lot of money once they land that publishing contract. How many times have your friends joked, "will you still talk to me when you're rich and famous"?

You can tell them to relax, because it's unlikely to be a problem.

How much do traditionally published authors make?

Last month an author posted on her blog the breakdown of her actual income from a multiple book contract. It came down to about $3000 a year. More on this at Lexi Revellian's blog.

The author in question had to remove the post after a few hours because it violated a non-disclosure clause in her contract, but she was very brave to post it. Publishers seem to want to keep up this myth that their authors are raking it in.

But the fact is: publishing advances have been evaporating in the past decade. Agents are saying, "$10,000 is the new $50,000". Also, it's important to know that $10,000 comes in several installments, over a couple of years, and of course the agent gets 15% (not that they don't earn every penny.)

And according to a study reported in the Guardian on January 17th, 54% of trad-pubbed authors make even less than that. The study put the average at $1000 (£600). Yeah. Picking up cans for recycling on the side of the road would probably pay better.

Of course, some big name authors are making millions. And a lot of self-publishers do much better than the trad-pubbed mid-lister who wrote that post.

But the average self-publisher makes even less: 77% are reported to be making less than $1000 a year.

That trad/self-pubbed ratio may be a little skewed, because the trad-pubbed category counts only the authors who've reached the point of getting contracts. But as Hugh Howey pointed out, while aspiring trad-pubbers are querying agents, self-pubbers are putting their fledgling work into the marketplace, so they get counted in the stats and the queriers don't. Also, the self-publishing category includes the hobbyists who may only have one book and aren't necessarily trying to earn money from it.

But it's important to point out that the authors with the highest income are hybrid authors. A hybrid author self-publishes as well as working with a traditional publisher.

You can find a fascinating breakdown of income streams for a hybrid author from Elizabeth S. Craig on her blog this week.

You can can become "hybrid" either of  two ways:

1) Start out in traditional publishing (agent+Big 5 or smaller presses) and supplement with self-publishing.

2) Start by self-publishing, become a mega-seller, and wait to get offered a traditional contract like Howey and Hocking. Unfortunately you don't get to choose this path to hybrid-dom. You have to hit it big first and wait to be invited. Agents don't welcome queries from self-publishers unless they're mega-sellers.

This means querying agents and going the traditional route to break into printwhile it may not be as lucrative as you imaginedcan still be a good way to launch a career. Just make sure you don't sign any "non compete" clauses that prohibit you from self-publishing other work. Contracts can be full of booby-traps these days, so run it by a lawyer.

Yes, your initial trad-pub books will probably bring in less money than your later self-pubbed books, but that's not necessarily a bad trade-off.

Many self-pubbers make one or two of their early books perma-free in order to entice new readers. Your trad-pubbed book may only make $1000-$3000, but it can be a "loss leader" like those indies' perma-frees.

The marketing and cachet you get from starting with a traditional publisher (and having an agent in your corner when you start out) can still make this path attractive.

But don't make the mistake of thinking it's a get-rich-quick proposition. Write because you love it, have patience, and don't count on living the life of Richard Castle with your first few books.

2) Copyright that manuscript as soon as you type "the end" or somebody will steal your plot!


It's true that plagiarism is a big problem these days, but not of unedited, unpublished manuscripts. Pirates can lift books right off fan fiction sites or Amazon, so why would they want somebody's first draft?

No matter how original you think your concept is, plot theft is unlikely. The truth is that everybody’s got a story. It’s how you write it that matters.

As Anna Quindlen said, "Every story has already been told. Once you’ve read Anna Karenina, Bleak House, The Sound and the Fury, To Kill a Mockingbird and A Wrinkle in Time, you understand that there is really no reason to ever write another novel. Except that each writer brings to the table, if she will let herself, something that no one else in the history of time has ever had."

Since the copyright law reforms of the 1970s, copyrighting your work before it’s published has been the mark of a paranoid amateur.

Especially if you're sending it off to agents. If you mention in your query that you've copyrighted the material, "so don't think you can steal this fabulous idea and publish it yourself" you can expect instant rejection.

Also, the agent will inevitably ask for changes, and and so will your editorif you're lucky enough to get a contractthen it will be a different book, needing a new copyright.

A copyright only costs $35 in the US, but if you register a rough draft, and every subsequent draft, that can add up.

And it's unnecessary: your work is copyrighted as soon as you type it onto your hard drive. (And BTW, you can’t copyright a title.)

If you want to read more on why you can put that paranoia aside, here's my post on "Hey, James Patterson Stole my Plot"

There are lots of things to fear in the Big Bad Publishing World: non-compete clauses, "in-perpetuity" contracts, shrinking advances, and overpriced vanity publishers, but plot theft should not be high on your list.  

3) If you have talent, spelling and grammar don’t matter.


"You'll have editors to take care of all that stuff," people will tell you. "The only thing that’s important is creativity."

That may be true when you're seven, but not when you're trying to launch a professional career. 

Would you hire a plumber who didn't know how to use a wrench?

Words and grammar are a writer's tools. If you can't use them properly, nobody's going to hire you for the job. Not an agent; not an editor; not a reader. 

The old saw about 10% inspiration/90% perspiration is 100% true. Talent without skill is useless.

Today's author needs more polished writing skills than ever before. Readers have access to more books, and on tablets they can switch from your book to a magazine, movie, or TV show. You have to work harder than ever to keep their interest with fast pacing and lean, powerful prose.

In the e-age, authors also need top-notch skills with marketing and social media. Nobody's born with those. You have to learn them and keep up with rapid changes.

Work on perfecting the nuts and bolts of writing and keeping up with the latest industry news, or nobody will ever find out about that talent of yours.

Yes, you need editors, and they give necessary polish to a solid manuscript. But they can't take a total mess and make it into a masterpiece, no matter how much raw talent you may have.

4) Put a lot of skin on your cover: sex sells.


A woman I met at a party recently told me I should have my publisher put a semi-naked guy on the covers of my books and they'd sell better.

She was wrong on two counts: first, putting a cover on your book that isn't right for your genre will backfire. If people buy your literary novel thinking it's going to be a sizzling love story, they will not be pleased. Sell a cozy mystery as a dark thriller, and the reviews will be nasty. And if you sell realistic women's fiction as romance, readers who don't get their HEA ending will be unhappy forever after.

Genres have rules, and cover art is very genre-specific. To learn more about covers, designer Melinda Van Lone is running a great series on specific requirements by genre. Or follow Joel Friedlander's blog, The Book Designer 

Second, as I said in a post last November, sex may not sell mainstream fiction as well as it used to, now that rules are enforced by algorithm. One of Amazon's criteria for putting a book in the porn section is how many pixels of flesh tones are on the cover. 

Too much shirtless man-flesh (or even a baby's face) on the cover of your book may relegate it to the erotica section, where it won't be discovered by your target readers and the erotica fans will find your book a major let-down.


5) You're doing writing wrong. There's only one way to write a good book. 


Thanks to soldier-novelist Linda Adams for suggesting this one in last month's post.

There is no "right" way to write.

Yes, the Internet is packed with writing blogs and forums, all imparting advice, rules, and caveats. We do it here. But reading a lot of Internet advice can be overwhelming (and plenty of it is downright wrong.)

I see new writers so terrified of using adverbs they can't get beyond chapter one. Others spend years eliminating all forms of the verb "to be" from their manuscripts, only to end up with an incomprehensible, stilted mess.

Unfortunately, many writers are passing on this rigid advice as if it had been chiseled on tablets by the Almighty.

We need to be aware that most writing "rules" are simply guidelines that can help with your editing. But they should be banished from your mind when you're writing a first draft.

For a lighthearted look at some of these "writing rules" see my post on writing rules from December.

6) You wrote a whole book, so it deserves to be published!


Thank Mom for her enthusiasm and support, but this isn't true. Yes, writing a book is a huge achievement, and they say only about 3% of people who start writing one will finish. You deserve major congratulations.

But your book may not deserve publication. Almost all successful writers have a few practice books hidden away somewhere. I sure do. I recently unearthed one and realized it has too many characters, too much plot, and no dominant story arc. I might take one chapter and use that for a jumping off place for another novel, the way Jonathan Franzen did with the Corrections.

Successfully publishing book-length fiction is like getting to Carnegie Hall. It takes practice, practice, practice.

If you query too soon, or self-publish a book that has huge structural flaws, you won't just waste your own money and time: you waste your readers' time.

I know some self-publishing gurus tell you to publish everything you've ever written and "let the market decide." But remember an ebook is forever. When you get to be a better writer, that fledgling book is still going to be lurking on a Kindle somewhere with your name on it.

Patience. Give yourself time to learn to write at your own best level before you send your work out into the unforgiving marketplace.

~

Don't let these facts discourage you. Yes, writing is a tough way to earn a living. If you quit your day job "to write a novel" and expect to start paying the bills with it by the end of the year, you're heading for disaster. Especially if you have student debt.

But still, writing is one of the most fulfilling jobs around. You get to create worlds. You live a life of the mind. And it's fun.

And, in spite of the discouraging reports about how little authors are making, the self-publishing revolution has actually improved an author's chances of earning a living wage.

As As Hugh Howey says, "The simple fact is this: getting paid for your writing is not easy. But self-publishing is making it easier. How much easier? We don't have sufficient data to know. But a conservative estimate would be that five to 10 times as many people are paying bills with their craft today as there was just a few years ago. And that should be celebrated."

What about you, scriveners? Have you been led astray by any of these myths and misconceptions? Do you have any to add to the list? 


****

BOOK OF THE WEEK

The Gatsby Game is available in ebook from Amazon US , Amazon UK , Amazon CA, and Barnes and Noble for NOOK, and Kobo and in paper in the US and in the UK.



The Gatsby Game is based on a real unsolved Hollywood mystery. It was inspired by the mysterious death of David Whiting, a man I knew in college. Nobody knows what happened the night he died in Sarah Miles' motel room during the filming of a Burt Reynolds movie, but I have a theory, and this is a fictionalized account of it. Like David, my anti-hero Alistair Milbourne is obsessed with F. Scott Fitzgerald, and imagines himself to be "the ghost of Jay Gatsby, in a straw boater and spats, whistling a tune by Cole Porter."

"Like a finely woven tapestry... a vivid portrayal of a woman's life and how it intertwined with a man who authors from an earlier time would have called a cad. It seems to be a love-hate relationship, an inexperienced and trusting young woman skillfully taken in by a man who was a scoundrel, a true user of women, a man who always seemed to show up like a bad penny throughout Nicky's life... and a man who saw himself as Jay Gatsby from F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel."...
John Williamson

"I was thoroughly entertained by The Gatsby Game. It has all the elements for a good mystery, and would also appeal to readers who enjoy romance in a women’s fiction style. I give the characters, cultural references, story building, and especially the slightly sarcastic narrator voice a 5 star rating" --Donna Hole

And you can now get The Gatsby Game together with Ruth Harris's The Chanel Caper together in one volume: Two comedies for the price of one


Hollywood and Manhattan: it's Bi-Coastal Comedy!

Available at




OPPORTUNITY ALERTS


Win a critique of your novel from a literary star and Cambridge professor. Winners will get full critique valued at $800. Contest sponsored by the Writers’ Village Foundation, a not-for-profit UK organization established to help new authors. The top eight submissions will win a session of personal feedback from the award judge, novelist Michelle Spring, a Royal Literary Fellow at Magdalene College, Cambridge. Entry is $19 and the deadline is 31st March.

GLIMMER TRAIN FAMILY MATTERS CONTEST $1500 prize, plus publication in Glimmer Train Stories, plus 20 copies. $15 ENTRY FEE. They're looking for stories about families of all configurations. It's fine to draw on real experiences, but the work must read like fiction. Maximum word count: 12,000. Any shorter lengths are welcome. Deadline March 31.

Women Writers:  MSLEXIA SHORT STORY COMPETITION  £10 ENTRY FEE. A competition for unpublished short stories of up to 2,200 words. First prize £2,000 plus two optional extras: a week’s writing retreat at Chawton House Library outside of London, and a day with a Virago editor. Second prize: £500. Third prize: £250. Three other finalists each receive £100.  All winning stories will be published in the Jun/Jul/Aug 2014 edition of Mslexia. Deadline March 17

Dark Continents Publishing's Guns and Romances anthology. They're looking for previously unpublished short fiction from 3500-9000 words. Any genre as long as there's a tough protagonist, weapons, and... at least one reference to music. Sounds interesting. Payment rate is a one-off of $20 per story plus a percentage of the ebook royalties. Publication estimated in late-2014. More info on the website. Deadline February 28.

ERMA BOMBECK WRITING COMPETITION $15 ENTRY FEE. Capture the essence of Erma's writings and you could win $500 and a free registration to the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop!  Personal essay must be 450 words or less (entries of more than 450 words will be disqualified). Two categories: humor and human interest.  Deadline February 17.

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