Wednesday, May 5, 2021

IWSG Anthology Contest and Dark Matter: Artificial

It’s time for another group posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Time to release our fears to the world – or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic. If you’d like to join us, click on the tab above and sign up. We post the first Wednesday of every month. I encourage everyone to visit at least a dozen new blogs and leave a comment. Your words might be the encouragement someone needs.

The awesome co-hosts for the May 5 posting of the IWSG are Erika Beebe, PJ Colando, Tonja Drecker, Sadira Stone, and Cathrina Constantine!

May 5 question - Has any of your readers ever responded to your writing in a way that you didn't expect? If so, did it surprise you?

Our next anthology is now available!

Dark Matter: Artificial
An Insecure Writer’s Support Group Anthology

Discover dark matter’s secrets…

What is an AI’s true role? Will bumbling siblings find their way home from deep space? Dark matter is judging us—are we worthy of existence? Would you step through a portal into another reality? Can the discoverer of dark matter uncover its secrets?

Ten authors explore dark matter, unraveling its secrets and revealing its mysterious nature. Featuring the talents of Stephanie Espinoza Villamor, C.D. Gallant-King, Tara Tyler, Mark Alpert, Olga Godim, Steph Wolmarans, Charles Kowalski, Kim Mannix, Elizabeth Mueller, and Deniz Bevan.

Hand-picked by a panel of agents, authors, and editors, these ten tales will take readers on a journey across time and space. Prepare for ignition!

Founded by author Alex J. Cavanaugh, the Insecure Writer’s Support Group offers support for writers and authors alike. It provides an online database; articles; monthly blog posting; Facebook, Twitter, & Instagram groups; #IWSGPit, and a newsletter.

Release date: May 4, 2021
Print ISBN 9781939844828 $14.95
EBook ISBN 9781939844835 $4.99v Science Fiction: Collections & Anthologies / Space Exploration / Genetic Engineering

Artificial - Stephanie Espinoza Villamor
Space Folds and Broomsticks - C.D. Gallant-King
Rift – Kim Mannix
The Utten Mission – Steph Wolmarans
Sentient – Tara Tyler
One to Another – Deniz Bevan
Resident Alien - Charles Kowalski
Nano Pursuit – Olga Godim
Resurgence – Elizabeth Mueller
Vera’s Last Voyage – Mark Alpert

LINKS: Amazon, iTunes, Kobo, Barnes and Nobel, and Goodreads

Our official judges:

Dan Koboldt, author and #SFFpit founder
Dan Koboldt is the author of the Gateways to Alissia trilogy (Harper Voyager), the editor of Putting the Science in Fiction (Writers Digest, 2018), and the creator of the sci-fi adventure serial The Triangle (Serial Box, 2019). As a genetics researcher, he has co-authored more than 80 publications in Nature, Science, The New England Journal of Medicine, and other scientific journals. He is represented by Paul Stevens of Donald Maass Literary Agency.

Lynda R. Young, author
Lynda R. Young is an Aussie writing fantasy novels as Elle Cardy. Wielder’s Prize is her debut YA epic fantasy. She is also an editor, game developer, 3D artist, graphic designer, photographer, gamer and more.

Colleen Oefelein, agent, The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency
Colleen Oefelein is an author of YA, picture books, and author promotion guides, a devourer of books, and the owner of the book review site North of Normal. Formerly an associate agent and PR manager with Inklings Literary Agency, Colleen has hosted numerous “Pitch Perfect” and “Rejection Correction” workshops on Facebook and at conferences nationwide, and she’s mentored several authors one-on-one through online pitch contests such as Pitch Wars.

Damien Larkin
Damien Larkin is an Irish science fiction author and co-founder of the British and Irish Writing Community. His debut novel Big Red was published by Dancing Lemur Press and went on to be longlisted for the BSFA award for Best Novel. He currently lives in Dublin, Ireland and is working on his next novel Blood Red Sand.

Ion Newcombe
is the editor and publisher of AntipodeanSF, Australia's longest running online speculative fiction magazine, regularly issued since January 1998. His qualifications and employment range from horticulture through electronics into literature and communications.

Julie Gwinn, agent, The Seymour Agency
Julie Gwinn most recently served as Marketing Manager for the Christian Living line at Abingdon Press and before that served as Trade Book Marketing Manager and then Fiction Publisher for the Pure Enjoyment line at B&H Publishing Group, a Division of LifeWay Christian Resources. Recently, she was awarded Editor of the Year from the American Christian Fiction Writers and won B&H’s first Christy award for Ginny Yttrup’s debut novel Words.

David Powers King, author
David's works include Woven, The Undead Road,, and Full Dark: An Anthology. He currently resides in the Mountain West with his wife and 4 children.

The Seventh Annual IWSG Anthology Contest!

Guidelines and rules:

Word count: 5000-6000

Genre: Sweet Romance

Theme: First Love

Submissions accepted:
May 7 - September 1, 2021

How to enter: Send your polished, formatted (double-spaced, no footers or headers), previously unpublished story to admin @ before the deadline passes. Please include your full contact details, your social links, and if you are part of the Blogging, Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter IWSG group. You must belong to at least one aspect of the IWSG to enter.

Judging: The IWSG admins will create a shortlist of the best stories. The shortlist will then be sent to our official judges.

Our official judges:

Author Nancy Gideon
Nancy Gideon is the award-winning bestseller of over 70 romances ranging from historical, Regency, and series contemporary suspense to dark paranormal and horror, with a couple of produced screenplays and non-fiction writing books tossed into the mix. She’s also written under the pseudonyms Dana Ransom, Rosalyn West, and Lauren Giddings.

Agent Caitlin Blasdell, Liza Dawson Associates
Caitlin Blasdell has been a literary agent with Liza Dawson Associates since 2002 with a focus on commercial fiction. Before becoming an agent, she was a senior editor at HarperCollins Publishers.

Author Susan Gourley

Susan Gourley is traditionally published in fantasy and science fiction romance using the name Susan Kelley. She is currently serving as the President of the Pennwriters writing group renowned for the annual conference.

Agent Melissa Gaines, Victress Literary

Author Jennifer Lane
Jennifer Lane writes sports romance and romantic suspense with a psychological twist. She has published nine novels and two short stories, including Behind the Catcher’s Mask as part of the IWSG Masquerade Anthology.

Agent Rachel Beck, Liza Dawson Associates
Rachel Beck joined Liza Dawson Associates in January 2020 after working at a boutique literary agency for four years. She has been in the publishing industry since 2009 and worked at Harlequin editing romance novels for nearly six years before transitioning her skills to the agent world in order to be an advocate and champion for authors.

Author Chrys Fey
Chrys Fey is the author of the Disaster Crimes series, a unique concept blending romance, crimes, and disasters. Hurricane Crimes, Book One, is an award-winning romantic-suspense novella.

Prizes: The winning stories will be edited and published by Dancing Lemur Press' imprint, Freedom Fox Press, next year in the IWSG anthology. (Please see their site for general submission guidelines.) Authors will receive royalties on books sold, both print and eBook. The top story will have the honor of giving the anthology its title.

This is our seventh anthology contest! In addition to Dark Matter: Artificial, previous titles include Voyagers: The Third Ghost, Masquerade: Oddly Suited, Tick Tock: A Stitch in Crime, Hero Lost, The Mysteries of Death and Life, and Parallels: Felix Was Here.

Picking up Dark Matter? Entering the next IWSG Anthology contest?

Monday, April 26, 2021

Staying Connected with Other Writers

A recent webinar spoke about how publishers could stay connected with their authors. It’s more than just publishers and authors who need to stay connected – writers need to connect with each other, too.

The Insecure Writer’s Support Group is certainly a great way to do that. In addition to this website, there is a Facebook group, a Twitter group, and an Instagram group.

What are some other ways writers can connect?

Writing groups
Many writers belong to a group of fellow writers where they share their work with one another. Whether meeting in person or online, it provides tips, feedback, and support. Choose a group that makes one stretch rather than just offers pats on the back. The purpose is to grow not wallow blindly in unicorn land. The group also keeps one accountable and moving forward.

Mastermind groups
These serve a purpose beyond just critiques. Writers and authors can gather and share idea, opportunities, and experience. They can keep one another motivated on their author journey and accountable, too. Just bouncing ideas off one another is a huge boost and could lead to breakthroughs for members of the group who might be stuck in their writing, publishing options, or marketing.

Supporting a cause
Authors can band together to support a cause. Perhaps a book sale where proceeds go to a specific charity. If a suitable charity isn’t available, the authors could form their own cause. This unites them while placing them in front of their community and giving back.

Tour support
Authors can band together to support one another’s tours. Debut authors can form a group and tour together. Those in a similar genre can do the same, touring both online and in the real world together. A group of authors will always attract more than just one author going it alone.

Exchange services
Another option is to swap services. You speak to one author’s group and that person speaks to yours. This expands your connections while providing your group valuable new information. And no matter what the topic, the teacher often learns just as much as the students.

A great way to connect is to co-author a book with another writer (or 2 or 3). This doubles the experience and marketing reach, plus you can ping ideas off each other. An anthology would be another place to connect with multiple authors and share resources.

As you can see, there are many ways to connect. How are you connecting with other writers and authors?

Monday, April 19, 2021

Writing on Message: How to Separate Moral and Theme

By Mary Kole

When writers are casting around for story ideas, they often turn to the best teacher they’ve had: life itself. After all, the adage of “write what you know” exists for a reason. We all have had experiences—some emotionally impactful, some “stranger than fiction”—that we’d like to pass on to a wider audience. 

Starting with your lived experience is a great way of committing to a short story, essay, or even novel. (Obviously, life experience factors heavily into memoir.) But there’s something else at play when inspiration comes from real life: the moral of the story. We often write about our experience in order to learn from it ourselves, but also to pass insights onto others. Just a few days ago, I spoke to a writer who wanted to leave a cautionary tale of sorts for her daughter, but in fictionalized form. 

In picture books and books for young readers, it’s very easy to point a finger to a theme or moral that’s stated on the page. Writers who come to the page looking to teach young readers manners or facts about the world or lessons about mindfulness are often not subtle about it. For the record, I strongly discourage over teaching in children’s books because readers hear lectures all day long at home and school. There’s also a perceived unequal power dynamic, where we are the older/wiser writer, and they are the vessels needing to be filled with knowledge. Unfortunately, moralizing tends to disenfranchise young readers. (You can read more about this in these two posts: and

The Difference Between Moral and Theme

Things get a little bit less clear-cut when we write for an audience of our peers, who aren’t necessarily in need of schooling. Yet most books still have “something to say” that goes deeper than a good story. 

Also less clear-cut is the difference between moral and theme. Both deal with a larger central idea. Both come from a writer’s desire to communicate and be heard. But one is desirable, and the other, less so. 

Moral is the outright statement of your story’s point. Whether a character says something along the lines of your intended message, or it’s explained in imagery or direct statement (usually at the end of the story), this is meant to direct your reader, in no uncertain terms, to your intention behind writing the story. Having a moral is not bad. As I said, everyone has a point they’d like to make when they sit down to write. But in most cases, I would not state it outright in the story itself. Why?

Readers thrive on the joy of discovery when they read. They want to play detective. This is why “show, don’t tell” is such a mainstay of the fiction craft. You’ll want to show a character who learns to love against all odds in your plot if your moral is “love conquers all,” rather than trotting out this truism with them in conversation or at the end of the last chapter. Or the character can be faced with a choice of whether to pursue a relationship or career, and choose their relationship, in their commitment to love above all. The character may realize that they value love above all in an emotional turning point. Then this decision informs the rest of the story.

This is where we get close to theme. Whereas the moral is stated outright, the theme is the “mission statement” of your story as expressed in imagery, character, and plot choice. It’s your decision about the main ideological thrust of the story, and how it might play out in everything from your choice of location, your word choice, setting, character backstory, and past and present action.

It’s not a bad thing at all to have an idea driving your story. The liability only comes if you don’t trust your reader to follow along. How much of the theme do you need to explain via a stated moral? I’d recommend not explaining it at all, and running it past a beta reader or two. Then ask them what they think your story is about. If they nail it, good—your ideas are coming through well. If they can’t pinpoint it, see if you can plant the theme more in your character’s thoughts or actions. You have a lot of options that don’t include explaining your moral outright.

For more advanced story and business insights about writing and publishing, please check out the Good Story Learning membership: Join Mary Kole and the Good Story Company ( team for nuanced exploration of all the writing and publishing topics that matter to today’s writer. You can also find Mary’s personal editorial services directly at Mary Kole Editorial (


Former literary agent Mary Kole founded Mary Kole Editorial in 2013 and provides consulting and developmental editing services to writers of all categories and genres, working on children’s book projects from picture book to young adult, and all kinds of trade market literature, including fantasy, sci-fi, romance and memoir. She founded Good Story Company in 2019 with the aim of providing valuable content—like the Good Story Podcast and Crit Collective writing forum—to writers of all categories and ability levels.

She holds an MFA in Creative Writing and has worked at Chronicle Books, the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, and Movable Type Management. She has been blogging at since 2009. Her book, Writing Irresistible Kidlit, a writing reference guide for middle grade and young adult writers, is available from Writer's Digest Books.