Archive for the ‘Writing Contests’ Category

If you’re doing NaNoWriMo, you might want to check out my Quick & Dirty 3-Act Plotting Guide.


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Oh, yeah, baby!  Finally!  My 2014 3DN novella, The Longest Con, is finally in Pre-Order at a special discount price of $1.49.


Covers By Christian

Let me have a moment here to stare at this wonderful Cover by Christian.  Mmmmm.  Damn, it looks good!

Let me say first that I appreciate everyone that has preordered this already, and thank everyone who is thinking of dropping a buck and a half on my work.  Please comment and review–I want to know what my audience thinks about my work.

Here’s the link to Amazon for the book.

NOTE: I will be sitting down Feb 18-20 to write another tale (NOT a sequel) set in the same universe, so yes, there will be more.


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Just a short note, because I really have to get my head into this:  3 Day Novel begins at midnight.  Follow (if you dare) the maniacal crew from all over the US and Canada (and the world) as we try to write a 30k novella in 72 hours.  http://SmartURL.it/3DN_ChatZone

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So, I have been looking at a couple of story contests while the Alpha readers are spilling red ink on THT.  Cool one: SF with a strong element of medicine, health, illness.  You can submit TWO stories!  Woot–very nice!

I read the contest rules, and they are giving examples of stories that they would like.  All the classics.  Cyborgs, new drugs, bad vaccines.  The gamut.  Then it hit me.  What if I took one of those examples, inverted the story question, and wrote that?  (sorry to be coy, but they’re pretty strict on the judges not knowing the author, so I won’t say what I wrote).

Example:  Star Trek’s premise is to visit strange new worlds, boldly go, and such.  The inverse of that is ‘what is life like for the technologically hyper-advanced world of Earth?  Pretty sure there aren’t oil workers, mechanics, or paper-pushers.  So….what do people do all day?’

Wrote the work in about four days, three beta readers gave me feedback, I buffed it to about 300 grit, and sent it in.  Now it’s the 24th, and the contest ends on the 29th, and I have found a treasure.  From 2007–an unfinished short story left on my hard drive.  It’s so old that it isn’t even written in Standard Manuscript Format.  So I get to work on it, re-reading what I had written, way back in the dawn of my career.  And wouldn’t you know, it can be a great story when I finish it!

Spent last night and this morning thinking about it.  I had been dumping text, and re-reading cringe-inducing lines from the old days.  The MC is a columnist, and the BSF is a nurse.  I hover over these introductions, wondering if I should change them.  I decide not to, and move on.  I come to a line from the nurse, something like “I could use this my research paper topic.”  Wow, that’s got to go.  Except, I never really get around to deleting it.

Fast forward to this morning’s commute.  I realize that these two characters have exactly the right jobs to solve the medical issue in the story.  Even the research paper is the most plausible reason for the nurse to involve herself in the issue.  Good thing I hadn’t erased the lines!

Lesson: Don’t be too quick to slash and burn aspects to a partial story.  Your brain has been working on that story ever since you abandoned it.  Maybe it has a great reveal in the wings for you.

Keep writing!


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Well, Labor Day Weekend has come and gone, and with it, another 3 Day Novel effort. This year, well, it wasn’t nearly as much satisfying as previous years. I’m not entirely sure why, though.

Maybe it was the length. At 21k, it was my ‘lightest’ effort yet. I don’t quite see how they could ever sell this as a ‘book’–it’s barely 100 pages long. My previous low mark for a 3DN was 25.5k. The story is only going to be as long as the story takes, though. I wasn’t about to fluff it up just so there’s more to read.

Maybe it was my writing speed. My first 3DN, I was running about 1250 WPH, whereas back then, my ‘normal’ pace was 1500. This one was just as slow, but my ‘normal’ speed is really up around 1800 wph. So, instead of going at 80% speed, I was going at 67%. It felt slower, and thus, more painful. I remember thinking I had lost my mojo…I was faster than this!

Finally, there was the subject matter. It was interesting to me, but it lacked something. Maybe because it was the written recasting of a long con that a TV series had explored, based on a movie, itself based on a book. Sure, the setting was novel, but the essential elements were not.

Well, it’s done and submitted, and all I have to do is wait. But I have no illusions–if it was this painful to write, I know it’s going to be painful to read. Well, we’ll know by 1 March.

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Twitter is an exercise in threshing.  So little wheat, so much chaff.  Links with little description.  Then one of the people that you follow sends out an invitation:  Pitchapalooza, that wonderful idea of The Book Doctors, but in the offices of a real live New York Publishing House, Workman Press!

I sent out the Cosmic Red Alert to all and sundry, and one agreed to go with me.  (I would have gone with zero, of course, but it’s fun to go with another).  So, there we were, among 63 other people, all hoping for the 20 pitch slots.  My protege got to pitch, I didn’t. 

All throughout the pitch process, there was this guy charging around, taking pics.  He had a big honking camera that made clicking sounds (really?  A digital camera should be completely silent)  I remembered that I should get his contact info to get a copy of his pics of my protege pitching.  Suddenly, the event was over.

As important as the event is, it’s the after-event that is even more important.  When I approached the agent, she remembered that I “lit up” (her words) when they mentioned one of her genres was SF.  That was a clear invitation to pitch.  I also talked to the other publishers that were there and pitched them on various projects I had.  I had studied Workman, and knew they only did non-fiction–so I kept my pitches there.  All told, I eventually pitched two works to four people in the industry (one agent, the others Workman publishers)  The agent wants me to send along The Honorable Thing when I finish it, based solely on a one paragraph pitch.

So, what about the Fame part?  Today, The Book Doctors tweet out the news that the Wall Street Journal had written an article on the event.  And there, in the article, is a picture.  See the guy in the bright blue shirt?   Yeah, that’s me. 

I finally made the Wall Street Journal.  Very Minor Fame.

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I was asked in another forum an interesting question:

…I’m so naive about the publishing world. I don’t want to fall asshat back into a major mistake because I didn’t listen to the more experienced ones first…

When it comes to writing, as well as publishing, it all comes down to what you want out of it.  As an example, I am bound and determined to become a published novelist.  Therefore my path is bent towards maximizing my chances at being published.  This represents one end of a spectrum; at the other end is the writer who does not ever want their words to see the light of day.

I will presume that the end that the questioner wants to achieve it to hold the physical book in their hands.  The question really is, then, “How do I get there?”  There are two paths: traditional publishing and self-publishing.  I will not go into the pros and cons of these two paths.  I will discuss my path, the steps I took along the way, and choices I made to advance to that point where I, too, will hold a book of mine in my hands.

I am, as of this writing, in my early 50s.  The way I look at it, I really don’t have a whole lot of time left to write everything this noggin comes up with, so I would much rather concentrate on writing and outsource as much of the other aspects of authordom as possible.  That means traditional publication is the road for me, and that’s what I’ll discuss here.  The other assumption is that I have a completed manuscript.

If one is to be traditionally published, then one needs a publisher.  If you look closely, the majority of TradPub houses don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts anymore.  Which means representation is required.  In other words, an agent.  Again, I am not going to argue the pros and cons of using an agent.  So, how does one maximize the chances of inducing an agent to represent you?

Long before I went about this with any sort of rigor, I went with my gut (“You have to, it masses more than you do”–The Snark): I needed some kind of street cred, and the fastest way to go about it would be to get published.  Sounds like Catch-22, doesn’t it?  In order to get published you need an agent; to attract an agent, you need to be published.  But in this case, I am talking about two different kinds of publication.  The first kind is ‘long form’, or novels, and the second is ‘short form’, or short stories.

To me, short stories are medium-tough.  It seems that every idea I had started foaming up into a novel.  It required a certain amount of ruthlessness to chop off the kudzu subplots and concentrate on developing the core of the story.  The key feature of short stories, though, is that they are short.  That means there is rapid turnaround on all aspects of the form, from writing them, to proofing them, to submitting them and receiving feedback.

In my early days of writing, all I knew was NaNoWriMo.  The NaNo sites led me to 3 Day Novel.  Ah! A market!  A contest that, if I won, would publish my work.  I resolved to gain at least Honorable Mention, figuring that it would be a good writing credential to hang on one of the various embryotic novels I had filling my hard drive.  Well, I finished my third 3DN in September, and I have still not made it to HM.  But along the way I discovered Duotrope.com*.

Duotrope is a collection of information on darn near every writing market out there.  Everything from the Big Six to the fanzine that Junior cranks out in his mom’s basement, Duotrope has an enviable database of some 4500 markets.  Best of all, they have a calendar that lists deadlined calls for submissions.  At around the same time, 2010’s 3DN came back as zero.  Fortunately, there was a submission call that was perfect for the work, with a little editing.  And so forth and so on.  With some perseverance, I was published, in two different contexts, in 2012.  Finally!  I had some credentials!

The next thing one can do to snag an agent is a personal referral from either an agent or the client of an agent.  This one requires more finesse.  It boils down to networking.  For writers, that can be daunting–a lot of us are solitary by nature, and the thought of the glad-handing and schmoozing that epitomizes networking requires skills that we just may not have nor don’t care to develop.  It’s another chicken-and-egg scenario: to snag an agent, you’d like to have a referral from another agent, but to get that, you need to grab the attention of that other agent, and so forth.

Fortunately, I lucked out again.  NaNoWriMo had a link to The Book Doctors, who specialize in helping authors get published.  They were holding a pitching contest they call ‘Pitchapalooza’, and it was right near me!  I studied like mad to see how they wanted a pitch to look, crafted one for my latest project, and got to pitch.  I made the top five, but most importantly, I stayed and  chatted with them afterwards.  I was amazed at the sheer number of people that a) didn’t take notes, and b) beat feet out of there.  It was insane!  How else can you get real live face time with an AGENT if you flee once the event is over?

I went to two other Pitchapaloozas when they were held near me.  I only pitched once more, and that placed second.  Afterwards, of course, I chatted with them.  One of them looked me dead in the eye and said “I want to read that when you are done.”  Talk about motivation!  It took me another year to complete the work.  I crafted the pitch, incorporating their suggestions, and sent it in to them.  It turns out that they don’t work in the genre I was writing, but I gained that coveted agent referral.  Best of all, it was a personal referral–one where I could use the first agent’s name in my query letter.

Folks, that’s like getting Wonka’s Golden Ticket.  It won’t make the agent take a piece of drek, but it will induce them to read the query a little more closely.  For the all-important query letter, I had some golden bookends–a personal referral from an agent, and some real, live, publishing credentials.  In between these is the query.  Working with The Book Doctors gave me the skill to get that polished to a high shine.

So, how do you find an agent?  Wow–that’s a post all in itself.  Here’s the short and sweet:  Check out AgentQuery.com, QueryTracker.net, or PublishersMarketplace.com.  Use the first to select the agent, the second one to track your queries (think of it as Duotrope for your query letters), and the third to check on agents and deals.

That’s where I am at this point.  I am querying agents for my work.  I’m still writing and submitting short stories, since writing creds will age.  Plus, I have to have something ready at the end of this process, when the agent will inevitably ask, ‘What else is in the works?”

My path isn’t necessarily the best one or the only one.  As I said at the beginning, there are many ways to get published.  I am working this path hard, and I urge those of you who have ever wanted to write a novel to contact me if you have more questions.  I may not know the answer, but I can sure point you in the right direction.

Good luck, be well, and if you ever see a book out there with my name on it, buy it up pronto!


*Duotrope.com, sadly, is heading into subscription status.  You are going to have to pay, on at least a monthly basis, for the right to search their listings and maintain your submissions tracking.  But if you are pursuing publication, it’s worth it.



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