Is your manuscript award-worthy?

Starting March 5, the Valley Forge Romance Writers is accepting submissions to their The Sheila Contest.vfrw Finalist Badge

Participation is open to all romance writers (unpublished, self-published and published) interesting in submitting an unpublished manuscript in the following categories: historical, erotic, romantic suspense, single title or paranormal/fantasy/futuristic.

Entrants enjoy two benefits. During the scoring process, judges provide beneficial feedback regarding 20 writing elements (dialogue, descriptions, grammar, etc.). Many past applicants have used these insights to improve–and subsequently find a publisher for–their story.

Top scoring manuscripts are judged by a professional agent or editor, and the winners receive a certificate and have their names published in RWR magazine

It’s a great deal, so get moving! The deadline is April 8, 2017.


Contest Name: The Sheila Contest
Sponsor: Valley Forge Romance Writers (Chapter of RWA)
Website: www.vfrw.com
Fee: $25 for VFRW members, $30 for non-members

Opens for Entries: March 5, 2017
Deadline: April 8, 2017

Eligibility: Participation is open to all romance writers who are unpublished, self-published, and published. Entry must be the author’s original unpublished work and not under contract.

Entry: First 20 pages of manuscript and up to 5 page unjudged synopsis.
First Round Judges: Three (3) qualified, trained judges, including General, PRO and PAN members. Judges are strongly encouraged to comment directly on the entry as well as overall comments on the scoresheets.

Categories and Final Judges:

  • Single Title: Patricia Nelson, Marsal Lyon Literary Agency
  • Historical: Keren Reed, Loose ID
  • Erotic: Tera Cuskaden, Cuskaden Editorial and Publishing Services
  • Romantic Suspense: Deb Werksman, Sourcebooks
  • Fantasy/Futuristic/Paranormal: Nicole Resciniti, The Seymour Agency.

Best of the Best – 1st place winners from the final round will move on to the Best of the Best round, judged by Best Selling Authors and Booksellers:

  • Kate Welsh – New York Times & USA Today Best Selling Author
  • Mariah Stewart – New York Times & USA Today Best Selling Author
  • Terri Brisbin – USA Today Best Selling Author
  • Joan Silvestro – Indie Bookseller – Book Trader

Grand Prize for Best of the Best: $100

Top Prizes: Certificates, and the 1st through 4th place winners will be printed in RWR Magazine.

For more information please visit our website: www.vfrw.com

Email questions to The Sheila Chairperson, Miranda Montrose at thesheila.2017chairperson@gmail.com

4 Analogies for Skiers and Writers

snowy-trail-at-okemo

I love skiing, but I hate being cold. That may seem like an untenable conflict, but it’s actually not. You see, I have spent considerable time and energy (not to mention money) creating the perfect layering philosophy.

For you novelists out there, you’ll appreciate how this philosophy aligns with writing strategies:

  1. Double layers. To stay warm in single, and low double digits temperatures, make sure every body part is covered with three or even four layers. Camisole, shirt, sweater and jacket on top and socks, leggings, long underwear and ski pants on the bottom.
    For writing, I equate double layers to the symbolism you should weave through your writing. By adding repeating themes or elements, you can give your reader a jolt of pleasure when they recognize a pattern–it’s like finding a prize on a treasure hunt. In Dare to Love, Nivea’s favorite flower was the forget-me-not. I used it to represent her hope that Dare would not cast her aside, and it provided a nice tangible element that ties them together throughout. Nivea’s wedding dress is blue and Dare gives her a handkerchief embroidered with the delicate flower.  
  2. Make sure all your layers are smooth. When wearing so many layers of clothing, it’s hard to bring everything together smoothly. But there is nothing worse than stepping out on the slope and realizing you have a big wrinkle in your sock, right under your left heel. And it’s driving you crazy. But you’d have to take off six layers of clothes in the freezing cold, to smooth it out. So, while you’re dressing, make sure everything is comfortable before adding another layer.
    Writers – figure out your pacing. Your readers want a satisfying conclusion. But they don’t want the ending to feel rushed. Build the attraction, draw out the conflict and then develop a satisfying resolution. Readers want the hero and heroine to overcome challenges, but deserve each other in the end.
  3. Tuck everything in. Shirt tucked inside leggings, gator tucked into jacket, glove liners tucked into sleeves. The cold will creep into the smallest openings and drive you nuts.
    Writers – don’t leave the reader hanging. If you mention a person/place/situation, make sure there’s a reason. If your heroine references a crazy Aunt Doris in chapter two, be sure she pops up in chapter 17 to offer unexpectedly sage advice or to diffuse a tense situation. Readers don’t appreciate dead ends…unless they serve as a teaser for your next novel.
  4. Fill your pockets – On the mountain, you are at the mercy of mother nature. The cold will make your lips freeze, your nose run, your eyes tear. You’ll get hungry, thirsty and tired. But you will also see amazing sights you’ll want to share with your friends. This is where the ski pockets come in. My jacket currently contains:  chapstick, tissues, ski pass, money, my license (hot chocolate with Kahlua is da’bomb!), hand/foot warmers, trail map, cell phone, a PB&J sandwich (because ski food is expensive!) and a small flask (ditto).
    Writers – get the tools you need. There are a number of great books to help you–Stephen King’s book On Writing  is my favorite. Find a writing chapter, support group, or writers conference where you can learn the finer points of writing dialogue, researching, copy editing, creating a plot board, etc. For romance writers, joining Romance Writers of America (RWA) is vital. You can register for online workshops, conferences, contests and chapters around the country. There are message boards where you where you can ask questions and share advice.  Plus you can find the best resource–a critique partner. No matter how smoothly the story sounds in your head, it is most likely not translating as seamlessly on paper. Creating a support network of writers will help boost you up when times get tough, cheer you on when you have doubts and celebrate when you finally achieve your dreams.

Happy writing. Happy 2017!

Should You Self-Publish or Traditionally Publish?

I am struggling to decide whether or not to keep torturing myself finding a publisher.

My current manuscript is 40,000 words, which doesn’t fit in with most submission guidelines. Plus, it’s a romance novella that doesn’t bash you over the head with conflict in the first five pages. I have been repeatedly reminded this violates the ironclad GMC model of romance writing.

But maybe there is a market out there for readers who don’t want to be force-fed drama. They’d rather see a relationship build at a realistic pace, before plummeting into heartbreak and despair. Just because it doesn’t match the standard publisher’s formula, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t see the light of day.

A.G. Young’s blog raises some other valid points as to why I might want to go the self-pub route.

A Writer's Path

Doors

by A.G. Young

So today we’re talking about if you should Self Publish or Traditionally Publish that baby you have been working on for months or years. This of course is no easy question to answer, and also very highly personal to each writer. So I am going to discuss my opinion on the matter. And a little forewarning, because of the topic of this post, this is going to be a long one.

Before you can answer this main question, you must answer a few others first. Let’s see what those are.

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Respect The Reviewer 2: How to Find, Contact and Stay on the Good Side of Reviewers

I’m new to publishing and didn’t realize there was a whole strategy and network to obtaining book reviews. This blogpost, written by a reviewer, outlines the how to’s and how-not to’s for authors, helping them find, submit and communicate with this key audience.

Happymeerkatreviews

Here’s the second Respect the Reviewer article I’ve written (the first can be read here).  This is for all authors out there.  While some tips might be obvious others you may not have thought of, either way I hope some of these tips will help you find a reviewer and go about contacting them the right way.  🙂

respect cat

All authors know the importance of getting book reviews. Not only can a good book review encourage others to buy your book but if you get enough of them your book will be listed higher on amazon (or so the rumour goes). But how can authors go about contacting reviewers? And what’s the right or wrong thing to say and do when asking and waiting for a review?

I’ve been reviewing books for some time now and take this ‘job’ very seriously. I recognise the need to give an informative and honest…

View original post 3,216 more words

editing a document

3 Writing Tips for Novice Authors

editing a documentThe complexities of novel writing

I recently participated as a judge for a romance writers contest. Entrants provided the first 20 pages of their unpublished novel. To evaluate the submissions, judges were provided a scoring sheet with twenty characteristics to evaluate.

That really drives home the challenge of writing a good novel. For novices out there…or even experienced writers who may need a refresher, I thought I’d summarize a few of the characteristics that seem to trip us up.

1. Showing, not telling

You’ll hear this a lot, and it takes some time to master this concept. Good writers work details about their characters’ backstories into their scenes seamlessly, without a “data dump” of narrative text.

Learn to weave the description of the location, characters, and time period into the  story like you’re seasoning food. Sprinkle a little here, a little there, and let the reader discover what they need at a natural pace.

Example from my WIP Counting on Him:

First draft using narrative text

Gabby couldn’t believe David wanted to talk to her. She’d broken up with him because he’d been so controlling. Sure he seemed like the perfect guy, handsome, smart, confident, and Jewish, which was something her mother insisted upon. But he always thought he was right, disregarding her opinions. It drove her crazy.

He’d been surprised when she ended it. And now he was telling her he wanted to get back together. That he was sorry. She didn’t know how she felt about that.

Revised using dialogue:

“I’ve been thinking about you.” David reached for her hand and rubbed his thumb over her knuckles. “I hate the way we ended.”

He locked eyes with hers. They were the color of the Mediterranean Sea, warm and blue. It was what first drew her to him. Her chest tightened. She wasn’t ready for this conversation.

But he was. Flashing her an apologetic smile, he said, “I know it was my fault. I always think I’m right.” He shrugged. “But I’m the only son of a Jewish mother. I can do no wrong.”

Gabby couldn’t hold back a smile. She’d met his mom. It was totally true.

“Why didn’t you tell me you found me controlling?”

She pulled her hand away and wrapped her arms around her stomach. “I didn’t realize it myself. Then, once I noticed, it drove me crazy. I couldn’t let you control my life.”

2. Settings set the mood

Use the setting as another character in your book. Include descriptions of the sounds, scents, lighting, etc. to convey a mood–the ominous hum of computers in a deserted office, a salty ocean breeze reinvigorating a tired soul, or the soft inky blue of twilight bringing the end to a perfect day.

Weather can be a very effective tool, adding emotion to a scene – rain pounding against the window when depressed or the searing heat of the summer sun making an anxious situation even hotter.

The only sound Gabby heard was her sneakers pounding along the trail, echoing the refrain in her head, “Now what? Now what?” As sweat dripped into her eyes, she swiped at her forehead, dragging her a hand through her unruly hair. Stupid humidity. Stupid sweat. Stupid Sean.  

Be strategic when developing your characters as well. Convey their personality through your descriptions of their clothes, car, home, job and accessories. Instead of writing  “David was determined to be successful and  always dressed to impress.” convey that through his description.

David pulled up in his Audi. Naturally, he angled it to take up two parking spots. Climbing out of his car, he pulled off his Montblanc sunglasses and tucked them into the pocket of his crisp lime-green Hugo polo. Everything David owned had a logo.

 

3. Writing natural-sounding dialogue

There are three things to remember when writing dialogue. People talk in short bursts, they frequently interrupt the speaker, and they usually stick to one subject in each statement. I’ll explain.

Uninterrupted speaking 

“Joe, I know you said you’d pick up my car for me, but the repair shop called and said you didn’t show up. So now I have to catch a ride with Sally tomorrow. What happened? And why didn’t you clean up your breakfast dishes? You know I hate when you leave them in the sink.”

Add action tags and Joe’s reaction to make conversation more natural

“Joe, I know you said you’d pick up my car for me, but the repair shop called and said you didn’t show up.” Gabby threw her purse on the counter and glared at him. “Now I have to catch a ride with Sally tomorrow. What happened?”

Joe didn’t look up from his laptop. “I forgot,” he mumbled.

That made Gabby even more angry. Didn’t he care at all? Obviously not, she fumed, noticing the sink was still filled with dirty dishes. Storming over to him, she flicked the laptop closed. “And why didn’t you clean up your breakfast dishes? You know I hate when you leave them in the sink.”

Editing quote by Don RoffI hope these tips help.

It’s amazing how easy it is to spot these unwieldy examples in someone else’s writing, while being totally oblivious of them in your own work.

Don’t be afraid to let others read your work. Tell them what to look for, so they know the type of critique you are asking from them.

Good luck!

 

 

 

woman writing with turkey

4 ways writing a book is like preparing Thanksgiving dinner

woman writing with turkeyWriting a book is a fairly complex undertaking. You don’t just get an idea, then sit down and tap it out.

In honor of NaNo and November’s holiday, I decided to compare writing to cooking Thanksgiving dinner.

Just like people have different cooking styles, writers approach their craft with varying degrees of preparation.

At one end of the spectrum are the Plotters. Plotters prepare everything up front. They follow the recipes, measure the ingredients and clean up as they go.

At the other end are the Pantsers (i.e. Seat of your Pants). That’s my strategy, or perhaps lack of strategy. Pantsers cook as they go–throw in a pinch of this, a glop of that, taste, adjust, and serve once you have enough inspired (or edible) offerings.

Regardless of your style, I think every author goes through four basic steps as they cook up their masterpieces.

1. Decide what to serve.

First things first – plan your menu. You make up a list of everything you want to include–keeping in mind what your family likes to eat, how much food to prepare, what dishes are required, and what new things you want to try.

When writing, an author starts with a story idea.

That’s the easy part…the fun part, at least for me. This is when you get to be creative, living in your imaginary world. You start to sketch out a plot based on what your audience likes, what elements are required and include any new twists you hope will keep things interesting.

At this stage, there are no right or wrong answers. If you tell your favorite Aunt Lynn you’re serving beets and she suggests yams instead, maybe you throw in some yams.

2. Research your topic.

Are you going to stick to family favorites or add a new flavor to the stuffing? How many pies do you need for 12 people, what is the difference between shortening and butter, how do you use a Dutch over? This is when you hit Google, call your mom, ask for suggestions on Facebook or talk to friends.

Writers usually spend an awful lot of time on the internet, researching the most bizarre subjects–how long does it take to bleed to death, how many periods in a lacrosse game (it’s 4 quarters, in case you care), and what is the proper way to address a duke in 19th century England?

Even if you’re “writing what you know,” chances are you will need to research something. In my latest book, my characters are a nutritionist and a state trooper. I needed to know how their schedules would conflict over holidays. Luckily, through friends of a friend, I found people who could answer my questions. The trick in this stage is to not spend too much time researching and forget to write.

3. Gather your ingredients and get to work.

A few weeks before Thanksgiving, you begin preparations. Will you special order a free-range turkey or a frozen Butterball? Get boxed stuffing or use fresh bread? Do you have enough time and space to cook it all? Once you’ve figured all that out, it’s time to get cooking! Your mission is to create a well-balanced, delicious meal.

Write, write, write. Once you’ve drafted an outline and blurped out the important scenes, the hard part begins. You have to look at everything you’ve written and decide if it all fits together. What’s missing? Are the relationships believable, does the pacing seem right, is the dialogue natural?

After all your work, you may find you’ve got some great scenes, but they don’t advance the plot. Too many desserts and not enough vegetables. It’s painful, but this is when you have to be ruthless and hit that delete button. Your primary goal is to create a satisfying treat for your readers.

4. Time to clean up (Ugh)

After weeks of preparation, you’ve cooked an amazing meal. You set it on the table, family digs in, and hopefully the response is positive. You are savoring that last bite of pumpkin pie, when you turn around and realize the kitchen looks like it was hit by a level four tornado.

It’s time to clean up your manuscript. If  you thought writing a book was hard–editing it is killer. The Find and Replace function is an author’s best friend and most dreaded enemy. You’ll discover your manuscript is littered with filler words, echoes and poor punctuation.

Words like just, look, and that will leap out at you by the hundreds. The same phrase appears over and over in a paragraph, mocking your ridiculously limited vocabulary. He smiled at her, she smiled back and they smiled again. Couldn’t you have thrown in a smirk, a grin or an eye twinkle?

Don’t worry. You’ll get through it. At some point, you’ll look up and discover everything is in its proper place. Giving the counters a final swipe, you’ll heave a contented sigh, and shut off the lights…until next year.

Happy Thanksgiving!


 

Alleigh Burrow’s first book, Dare to Love, includes a duke, marquis and a few earls. Her second manuscript, Catching a Pixie, needed the state trooper’s holiday schedule. And for some reason, her current WIP includes extensive lacrosse references. To date, none of her characters have bled to death, but there’s always a next time.

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Tips from a romance writer’s conference

We’re here to help

Dog says You're AwesomeI attended Put Your Heart in a Book, the New Jersey Romance Writer’s conference last weekend. It’s probably my fifth time, and it felt like I was coming home. If anyone out there is looking for quality writing advice in a manageable sized setting, be sure to check it out.

Let me share some of the important lessons I learned.

  1. Romance writers are one of the most supportive group of people you’ll ever meet

It’s truly remarkable how willing all the attendees–from novice writers to multi-published authors–are to offer tips to each other, compare publisher stories, discuss social media opinions and share self publishing success and failures.

This doesn’t even cover the emotional support you’ll receive. Most every romance author has survived some sort of trauma–physical abuse, loss of a loved one, loss of jobs, serious injury, you name it. Yet they’ve kept writing, kept swinging for the fences and eventually, they have found success.

If you are struggling, and it’s affecting your work or your self worth, just say so. Someone will come over, put their arm around you, share words of inspiration or a comforting piece of chocolate (there is always plenty of chocolate) and you’ll leave with the most important tool for writing. Hope.

 

2. Ways to spark imaginative writing

Kathleen Long (USA Today best selling author) held a session, “Fire up your process with creative storytelling techniques.” She advocates getting outside of your writing to help your story bubble up from within. Focusing too hard, can cause blockages. Channel ideas through these techniques:

Collages – Take a stack of magazines and cut out pictures, words, colors and any other elements that speak to you. Create a collage. Use it to help define your characters or settings. Your subconscious will frequently pinpoint details, conflicts or quirks that you may not have identified. One author shared that she had used taro cards with similar results.

Speech bubbles – draw your character and ask it a question. Then write their answer as a speech bubble. What are they feeling? How do they view the world? What do they want us to know?

Writing prompts– Sometimes your creativity gets stuck. Words won’t flow. Everything you write sounds stupid. You may need to think about something totally unrelated to your current project. Pick a writing prompt and just let loose (like write 500 words about your pet, but include the words clock, pencil and burgundy)

Then there’s non-writing strategies to clear your head:

Color in a coloring book– embrace your inner child and lower your stress through the simple, act of coloring. Use a fancy adult book or a dollar store kid version. Whatever floats your boat.

Take a walk– Get up from your desk and move. Walk, run, yoga, whatever helps clear your mind and silence the demons.

Listen – I mentioned my zen-listening  idea, and the attendees agreed that sitting quietly and experiencing sounds around us could be inspirational.

 

3. Look at the world through a different lens

Young adult author Nisha Sharma had us participate in an interesting exercise. We watched clips from Bollywood movies with strong romantic elements. Because the couples are not allowed to overtly display intimacy (no kissing, and certainly no sex!), and they are speaking another language, the clips emphasized the physical characteristics that built tension.

This helped illustrate how to tap into the essence of your characters to bring their romance, and your writing, to life. I now have a wonderfully rich library of action tags to choose from:

Eyes: sidelong glance to mask interest, lower lashes when caught staring, flicker of a glance to coyly remind them of your interest, and outright staring when you know they aren’t looking.

Hands: gentle touches on the arm, shoulder or hip, reach towards someone and quickly pull away, tuck hair behind ear, put hands behind your back to prevent touching or to enticingly stick out your chest, help them put on their coat or smooth down a lapel and let fingers linger.

Mouth: lick, purse or bite your lips, a sharp inhale when they get too close, a slow exhale after a very satisfying exchange, grit teeth when jealous, mouth drops when first spotting your love.

Behaviors: Talk to a friend/relative and get distracted when the object of your affection walks by. Tilt head or hip when talking, lean in, smother a giggle, offer to pass something then hold onto it or mess with someone else and share a secret laugh/smile about it with lover.

 

There were dozens of other sessions sharing equally valuable tips…but these were the most poignant for me. I hope they help you find some inspiration.

Happy writing!

 

 

 

 

meditation image

A zen tip to better writing

meditation imageListen to the sounds outside of your head.

I was overly stressed this summer, but the book gods took care of me and sent me a boon. There, on the giveaway book table at work, was “Everyday Zen.”

I’m open for anything, so I scooped it up and stole away for a few minutes at lunchtime to see what I could learn. It didn’t take me long to figure out zen required too much time and effort to change my life. But it did suggest one particular exercise that I found very beneficial, not only for my nerves, but for my writing.

Stress, anger, and even pleasure are all just manifestations of your brain. They are not real. They don’t exist. If you clear your head and let the thoughts dissipate, you can become…enlightened, free, a lamp unto yourself (that’s where they lost me.)

BUT to do that, they suggest turning off the noise in your head and become one with the universe. You do that by listening outside of yourself. Sit still and listen…to traffic, the birds, the rest of life that is happening around you.

It’s a fascinating exercise. I had no idea the cicadas were so loud this summer. They buzz like an alien lifeforce day and night.

No matter where I sat, air conditioning units hummed in and around every building. Clocks tick, the cat snores and on a good day, I could hear the marching band practicing two miles away.

I never gave much thought to sounds before, but all of this can be remarkable fodder for books. Sitting in a grocery store, I now know the cash registers ping with every sale. The loudspeaker crackes like a potato chip bag and the lottery machine plays a tune. How much richer and more vivid my scenes will be with that sort of detail?

I’d like offer a hearty shout out to the Buddha dude, for providing some great inspiration.  😉

Stephen King Rules!

I have become a recent devotee of Stephen King. Not for his horror novels, although if you like that genre they’re certainly riveting.

Nope, I am reading his legendary “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.” In a word, it is awesome. Part autobiography, part “sitting down to bullshit with an incredibly insightful author who is happy to share his secrets to writing.”  I wish I had read it like 10 years ago before I started my novel, but I’m self-aware enough to know that I never would have paid attention. Why should I? I knew how to write!

But now that I’ve started and tossed aside two manuscripts and been mercilessly tortured by my editor on the third (thank you, Corinne), I’ve learned a few things. And Mr. King has been kind enough to package those rules in an elucidating and entertaining format. I’m paraphrasing here, but he advocates:

1. Learn your grammar. I had no idea how little training I had. Sentence structure, tenses, adverb… I thought I could skate by with guessing, but no, that stuff is actually important. And Mr. King explains why.

2. Read–anywhere and everywhere. I love this advice, because he specifically recommended reading on the treadmill. I’ve been doing that for years and my family makes fun of me for not really working out. Now I can say I’m working. The purpose is to study what works and what doesn’t–dialogue, tension, pacing–and figure out why.

3. Write. He’s a pantser (writes by the seat of his pants). He deliberately avoids plotting his book because he never knows where his characters may take him. He recommends writing your ideas, writing every day and getting out a first draft. If you get stuck, take a walk, mull, ponder, put yourself in your characters’ minds and they will tell you where to go.

4. Polish.  Once it’s written, then you fine-tune. Add embellishments. Look for, and strengthen symbolism, Read your dialogue out loud to make sure it sounds natural. And don’t be afraid to “murder your darlings,” cutting out the precious gems you’ve written that just don’t work.

There’s much more, all written in a much more interesting voice than I could ever match.

Read it. And let me know what you think.