NaNoWriMo, A Stepping Stone to Writing Contests

This is my fourth year competing in National Novel Writing Month. It is just me against the calendar. I’ve never won. But that doesn’t matter. I make new friends every year. And I discover some amazing authors. (Someday I’m going to brag that I knew them when…) Every year my NaNoWriMo goal is to write more than I did the previous year. (By the way, I already achieved that goal this year!) But what if you’d like to go beyond that? What if you are ready to see how your writing stacks up against someone else’s?

If that’s you, here are a few writing contests that will take you through the end of year.

I caution you not to just drop this year’s NaNo manuscript into an envelope and send it immediately off as your submission. Take these contests seriously and you may just be rewarded with your first publication byline.

Every Other Month – Writer’s Digest Your Story

November 15 – Annual Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition

November 29 – J.F. Powers Prize for Short Fiction

  • No entry fee.
  • “We’re looking for carefully crafted short stories with vivid characters who encounter grace in everyday settings—we want to see who, in the age we live in, might have one foot in this world and one in the next.”

December 1 – The Mona Schreiber Prize for Humorous Fiction and Nonfiction

December 31 – Driftless Review Annual Flash Fiction Contest

  • Entry fee required: send up to three short-short stories per submission, accompanied by a $15 reading fee.
  • Each short-short story limited to 500 words.

Create Your NaNo Characters on Pinterest

pinterest-sample _BennetWe are just days away from National Novel Writing Month if you are having trouble visualizing your characters or finding them a home don’t worry help is available. You don’t need to invest in fancy or expensive tools just go window shopping on Pinterest and build yourself a virtual collage or bulletin board to help you get into character and dress up their environment. To see how this might work, I used Pinterest to create a Character Board for Elizabeth Bennet from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

What is Pinterest?

Pinterest is an online community of pictures (some with links) that you can “pin” to boards. Boards are like your virtual bulletin board just like that old corkboard we all have on the wall next to our desks filled with mementos of our lives. Using Pinterest, you can create those same pin-up mementos for your NaNo characters so that when you are stumped with what to write next glance at your character’s Pinterest board and see some inspiration that made you want to write about them in the first place.

Here are a few hints for using Pinterest to visualize your NaNo novel’s world:

First:  Decide if You Want Share or Hide Your Boards

pinterest-create_a_boardWhether you want to share your board or keep them private, you can do it in Pinterest, but the trick is that it is easiest to do when you are setting up the board.

–       Fill in the Name, Description and Category as normal.

–       To share your board: you don’t need to do anything (that’s the default).

–       To hide your board: Slide the Secret tab to the right so that you see “Yes” instead of “No”. This will make the board private so only you can see it.

–       Click the “Create Board” button.

Second:  Brainstorming with NaNo Buddies

pinterest-edit_a_boardEven if you have decided to make your Pinterest board private, you can still edit the board to invite others to add pins to it. This is a great way to get help from your NaNo buddies and share your NaNo experience with others. Only you can write your novel, but inspiration can come from many sources so don’t be afraid to reach out to your buddies for input.

–       Go to the top right hand corner of Pinterest and click your Pinterest name/icon.

–       Click on the drop down option “Your Boards” to see all the boards you have on Pinterest.

–       Click the “Edit” button at the bottom of the board thumbnail.

–       In the “Who can pin?” field, enter the email address of the person you’d like to invite to pin to your board. Be sure to click the “Invite” button after each email address you enter.

–       Click “Save Changes.”

Third: Finding Items to Pin to Your Board

pinterest-Pin_itThere are several ways to “pin” pictures to your boards.

–       Using the Home Page:

  • When you log into Pinterest your home page will fill up with pictures. Simply scroll down the page until you find a picture that interests you. Hover over the picture and click the “Pin It” button.
  • The “Repin a Pin” pop-up box will appear allowing you to select the appropriate board and even update the description.
  • Click “Pin it” again. And you’re done!
  • Note: You can also publicize your pins/boards to Facebook & Twitter so make sure those settings are on/off as appropriate when pinning items to boards. (If you don’t want to share items don’t link Pinterest to Facebook or Twitter and they will be unchecked by default.)

–       Using the Search box:

  • If you are looking for something specific the fastest way to find it might be using the Search box in the top left hand corner of the Pinterest page. Enter your search term and hit “Enter” to refresh your Pinterest page with new photo based on your search.
  • Follow the same directions as the Home Page to Repin items to your boards.

–       pinterest-categoriesUsing the Categories box:

  • To the left of the Search box click on the Category icon.
  • In the drop down menu, click on the category that interests you and your Pinterest page will refresh with pictures based on that topic.

I hope that you make it to the NaNo finish line this year. Remember the journey is half the fun and using Pinterest you might find some great NaNo writing mementos along the way!


Get the Most Out of Goodreads

Goodreads is one of the more popular communities for avid readers. It is also a community that has embraced Author participation on their site. While you should certainly create an author page and make sure that your books are properly showing in Goodreads, authors should know that there are more ways to attract readers besides publicizing an event.

Here are five simple ways for authors to get more out of Goodreads.

1. Establish Friendships.

You’ll get a lot more out of this community if you are an active participant. But don’t just send out massive friend requests or only rate your own books, the key is to participate. Track what you read on Goodreads.  Participate in discussion about books authored by someone else. Post reviews of books you’ve read; not your own! I’ve found several authors on Goodreads because they’ve posted reviews of books they were interested in.

2. Engage Reviewers.

Getting reviews can be hard. Finding a reviewer knowledgeable in your genre can be extremely difficult. Authors can reduce the search by using Goodreads’ People section. With a little leg work you can find active book reviewers willing to read your work and post reviews on Goodreads and blogs. Again, show these reviewers that you know a good book by posting your own reviews. Here are just a few categories in Goodreads’ People section:

3. Contest giveaways.

If you are willing to give away a copy of your book in order to get a book review you must look at Goodreads First Reads section which promotes book “giveaways” and requests that readers then post a review on Goodreads.  In addition Goodreads also provides an instant blogging code of published reviews so that readers can promote your book not just on Goodreads but on their personal blogs and websites.

4. Hook them with a quote. 

Sometimes all you need to capture reader attention is to show them one really good line from your book. Goodreads has an entire section devoted to book quotes. Make sure that you or some of your readers publish their favorite lines from your book on Goodreads. It’s a little teaser that could go a long way toward book sales. Also don’t forget to Tweet your quote and link to it on Goodreads; which has links to booksellers but it a softer sell then chancing a reader gets offended when sent directly to Amazon.

Currently I have 193 book quotes saved on Goodreads including these from:

5. A picture tells a thousand words.

While Goodreads is about books, it is also a very visual site. Just browse their Genre section to see how your book cover compares to similar books. By uploading a quality book cover image you too can attract new readers.  Here are some of the books that I read because their covers hooked me:

Vixen (Flappers, #1)

Vixen by Jillian LarkinMy rating: 2 of 5 stars
India Black (Madam of Espionage, #1)India Black by Carol K. Carr

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Gargoyle in the Seine
The Gargoyle in the Seine by Dee GarretsonMy rating: 4 of 5 stars

Typo Flu Is Going Pandemic

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In the last twelve months, I’ve noticed a horrible trend as the number of typos per book is increasing. I remember when I was a child and it was a rarity to find an error in a book. Now I’m stunned when I get through a book without finding a typo. And don’t write this off as the fault of low-quality independent authors.  Traditional publishers rushing hundreds of books out with limited staff have pushed editorial staffs to their limit and are just as guilty of letting quality dip.

Poor quality is striking at the underbelly of the book industry right now. If we don’t do something about it soon this Typo Flu is going to turn into a pandemic that exterminates the book publishing industry.

The whole idea of reading is to escape reality for a while. Typos bring readers screeching back to their life like a hard slap in the face. It’s like your favorite TV mystery show getting interrupted by a loud car commercial just as the hero is about to reveal whodunit. Mentally, it will take your readers time to recover from the shock. And some might just put your book aside and move on to something else. Just like you change the channel when you’re watching TV, it is that easy to lose readers.

How Can Authors Avoid Typos?

  • Edit At Every Stage. This doesn’t mean stop in the middle of your daily writing to fix every typo and reread every chapter, but you should spend some time between drafts to read your work and edit for typos.  When you’ve finished each draft, put your book away for a while.  Each author has to figure out what “a while” is to them, but by my definition it is the time it takes your eyes to stop seeing your work whenever you close your eyes. When you pick up that draft to edit, your eyes need to read what is on the paper and not what is in your head.
  • Admit you aren’t a proofreader. No author should attempt to do that final copyedit on their own work alone. By the time you need to do that final edit, you’re already dreaming of your next book. Regardless of whether you are working with a large publishing house or paying a professional proofreader to edit your independent book, the quality of the final product rests on your shoulders. Use these resources but don’t just accept their edits. When you receive that galley to read, read it front to back, word for word. Don’t just rely on their edits. You owe it to yourself and your characters to read every word.
  • Fresh Eyes Are Worth Gold. You need someone who can see the individual trees in the forest you’ve created.  Just as you would carefully select a beta reader for your book, you need to save aside one of your most trusted readers to be your final set of eyes. Find that friend who is a high school English teacher and used to grading papers. Find that coworker who was the newspaper editor in high school or college and understands what editing means. Find a book club buddy who is always pointing out typos in other authors’ books. Beg and plead these fresh eyes to read your final (what you think is clean enough to go to press) copy. You’ll be surprised at what they uncover.

If typos are leaking off your published pages like blood splatter in a horror movie, re-evaluate your editing process and seek additional professional help. But if you get a single email from a reader who found one typo, remember we are all only human. Thank whoever points it out to you and promise to have it fixed in the next release.  Don’t make yourself sick over it. You’ll write thousands of words in your publishing career and some of them aren’t going to be prefect perfect.

Books for Writers: The Amazing Story Generator

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The Amazing Story Generator: Creates Thousands of Writing PromptsThe Amazing Story Generator: Creates Thousands of Writing Prompts by Jason Sacher

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you are looking for something to help get your creative juices flowing?  Look no further than The Amazing Story Generator. It is a simple idea with a wealth of writing inspiration.

Organized into three 60-card sections, all the idea-stumped author has to do is flip a few cards in each section to reveal a unique story prompt in one sentence with a setting, character and action.  Use the prompts to start new projects, clean off your writing muse palette between large projects, or as a group activity with writing friends.

What you do with that prompt is completely up to you but you’ll never have to worry about not having an idea again.

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On Writing

Writing Career Corner

On WritingOn Writing by Stephen King

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you have any desire to be a published author someone has probably recommended that you read Stephen King’s book, On Writing. Having spent the last month digesting it, I now understand why.

Whereas most books about how to write try to give step by step instructions, King’s semi-autobiographical writing manual is about finding out what works for you. The sad part is learning how to write is like trying to lose weight. In losing weight the key is diet and exercise regardless of all the quick weight-loss experts out there trying to sell you the magic pill. King explains that being a writer requires reading a lot and writing a lot. That’s a lot of time you’ll have to spend alone with nothing but a blank page and a lot of self-doubt to get you through.

King gives a nice introduction to how he got started in writing. And there is something that makes the unpublished author in me happy to know that King didn’t just wake up one morning as a millionaire author. He spent a lot of poor, bleak years learning his craft. This might explain how his writing appears to be effortless now.

In the middle of this non-fiction book, King gives some clear cut writing advice. Like how it is best to just plow through your first draft with your writing door closed and not worrying about what other people will think about it. He discusses some very academic keys to good writing like avoiding adverbs and understanding three key parts of a novel: narrative, description and dialogue. All this is good advice and probably won’t be anything you haven’t heard before if you have ever taken a writing class or talked to a college professor about trying to write a novel.

I think what makes this book work for me is that it is written with the same clear, concise voice that King uses for his fiction work. You forget that you are reading a manual on writing and you feel like you are a ghost watching a master at work. Instead of King sitting at his desk pounding out a novel, you can imagine yourself sitting in your laundry room trying to write your first novel with only your spouse cheering you on. King honestly admits that while everyone can write a novel if they sit down and work at it, not everyone is going to turn out to be a great writer. Most won’t ever be able to earn a living off of it. But that shouldn’t be why you want to be a writer. If you want to make money from writing, there is probably quick and more consistent money in it if you write software user manuals.

Having written more than my share of software user manuals, I can tell you that it doesn’t give you a sense of well being but it will pay your mortgage. And yet I, like millions of other people, want to write a novel. Oh, I dream of making it big and owning a house in Maine down the street from Stephen King, but the reality of it is I want to write because I can’t shut off the stories in my head. (I believe that either makes me a writer or crazy. You can decide which one.) When I finish my novel, because there is always one in the works, I’ll consider myself a success if I can make my husband laugh and my best friend cry. If money follows that’s just gravy. Since I share that vision with Stephen King, that writing isn’t about making money, I sort of feel validated. It’s okay if I never get published for my fiction work. I write for me. That is probably the best advice King gives. Write for yourself! Write often. Read as much as you can get your hands on. You might not make a lot of money, but you might just make yourself happy.

View all my reviews Independent Book Blogger Awards! is sponsoring the Independent Book Blogger Awards!

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