Monday, July 24, 2017

Contests and Awards - Love Them, Hate Them, or No Opinion?

Contests are a great way to gain attention for your books. If you win or place, it’s added exposure and bragging rights for your book. Often you get a badge or sticker that can be placed on the book cover. We have dozens of opportunities listed on our Contests page.

Are they worth the time and money? Beverly Stowe McClure’s books have won dozens of contests and she’s here to share her thoughts on the subject.

Whatever you think about contests and awards, they are quite popular. When I agreed to write an article on this topic, I had no idea what I was getting into. Do you know how many contest and award programs there are? Too many to count. I discovered awards for almost any subject you can think of, whether you’re a writer, artist, or in most any profession. So, I had to decide which ones might be more interesting to readers of this blog, along with contests that I have personal experiences with. Yes, I enjoy contests, but not everyone does. Also, this is my opinion. You may think differently.

To start with, let’s look at contests you might want to enter. First, check to see if it’s free, or do they charge a fee. You can find this information by googling contests and going to the site. Warning, your eyes will bug out there are so many. No kidding. You’ll find the “big” ones, like the Nobel Prize for Literature, The Man Booker Prize, the Caldecott and Newbery Awards for children’s books, among many others. These do not charge fees, as far as I could find.

Some of the contests I’ve entered do have fees; others do not. My thinking on this is that the cost is part of marketing my books. Is it worth the price? Everyone has his/her own opinion about this. Winning and being a finalist boosts my ego and makes me think I’m doing something right. Being able to put a sticker on the book is so much fun. Here are some of the contests I’ve entered and the results. Maybe, if you’ve been thinking about entering a contest, this will give you a little more information.

1. Children’s Literary Classics Book Awards The fee is $95.00. Yes, that’s a lot of money, but I have four books that have won in different years: two gold, two silver. That’s encouragement. They also review your book, and writers know how important reviews are.

2. Eric Hoffer Book Award The fee is $55.00. I have a finalist here. They pay the winners in cash. Unfortunately, finalists only receive a certificate. These are not just for children’s books.

3. Next Generation Indie Book Awards They charge $75.00. I have two finalists here. These are books for all ages, too. They also pay the winners in cash. Again, I got certificates. One day…

Beware, though. I had a bad experience with one contest that no longer exists. The first time I sent a story to them, I won gold. It was a very prestigious contest, I thought. I believe it was a respected contest in the beginning, but the next year I entered, sent my $50.00, and waited and waited and waited. Time passed for announcing the winners, and I couldn’t find anyone to ask what was wrong. Another contestant emailed me with the news that her money had been refunded. The contest no longer existed. She gave me the contact person’s email, and he very nicely refunded my money. It seems another person, one of the judges, just quit. So, be careful. Find out about the awards before sending them your money. If they’re free, there’s no loss, except the cost of mailing your books.

To me, contests are fun, a way of letting others see my work. Has it resulted in more sales? Not that I can tell, but there’s always tomorrow. And who knows?

I could give you a list of contests and awards, but they’re easy to find on the Internet. There are contests for everyone, from non-fiction, to fiction for adults and for children. Even if you’re not in the writing business, you may have hobbies that can win awards. Google them. I found some interesting ones. You might even discover a story there.

So, love them, or hate them, or have no opinion. I like them.

Most of the time, you’ll find Beverly Stowe McClure at her computer, typing stories little voices whisper in her ears. When she’s not writing, she’s snapping pictures of wildlife, flowers and clouds. She’s sometimes known as the “Bug Lady.” She’s not telling why.

Remember - the IWSG Twitter pitch party, #IWSGPit, is Thursday, July 27, 2017. Polish your pitches and we’ll see you then!

Monday, July 17, 2017

Dear Slow Writers

On the IWSG Goodreads Book Club page, we had a poll asking our members what their biggest writing insecurity is. Here are the results:

I was surprised to see that so many writings are insecure about writing slow.

If this is your insecurity, this one is for you! :)

Dear Slow Writer,

There isn’t a rule that says we have to do the same things at the same times in the same amount of time.

Some writers can write a book in a year. Others can write a book in a matter of months. There are also writers who can write a book in 30 days. And then there are writers who could spend five years+ writing a book.

All of these time frames are correct.

Our circumstances, perseverance, and whether we know exactly what we need to write (plotter or pantser) all factor in on how long it takes us to write a book.

If a writer is prone to procrastination, it’ll take them longer to finish a book. If a writer has a career or children to nurture, most of their writing time is eaten up. What we have to do is embrace the time we have to write, and actually write during that time.


If you procrastinate, get your butt into gear!

Threaten yourself. “If I don’t write 3,000 words today, no binge-watching TV tonight.”

If you end up writing a lot (more than usual) but don’t reach your goal, show yourself some sympathy. Give yourself a pat on the back and watch an episode or two.


If you’re the kind of writer who is able to focus on writing more often but struggles to write a page in an hour (or a day!) then evaluate your performance to pinpoint the cause. Is it because you’re striving for perfection?

A first draft is not meant to be perfect.

Editing Every Sentence

Are you self-editing/revising after every sentence?

Save that for when you finish the first draft. Don’t even edit a chapter once you’re done with it. 

When I get stuck with my writing, I read over the previous page or paragraph and fix up some sentences, add a bit more details or emotion here and there, but the key is that I don't get carried away. What I'm really doing is tweaking, and using those tiny revisions to get my juices flowing again. Those edits, although I'm going backward a tiny bit, help me to keep going forward.

To keep yourself from getting carried away with editing as you go, limit yourself. Be strict. When you feel the need, only look at the last sentence or two you wrote. Two max! And you can’t do it after every couple of sentences either. That'll hold you back. Limit yourself to two sentences per page. Or twice a page if there's two long paragraphs.

Remember, two max!


Another reason why you could be spending an hour (or a day) to write a single page is because you aren’t prepared. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with writing by the seat of your pants, but going with the flow let’s in the potential for writer’s block, procrastination, and snail-like writing.

You can’t go with the flow if there is no flow.

You don’t need to draft a complete outline for your book, but figuring out the beginning, middle, and end will aid you in knowing which direction to head.

At the end of each writing session, map out what you’ll need to tackle in your next writing session to give yourself a head start. Every time you pick up or put down your pen, know where the story needs to go and what your character(s) need to do.

What else can you do to speed up your writing?

  •  Participate in NaNo. Write a novel in a month (or up to 50,000 words). Prepare by having an outline and just write. And you don’t have to wait for November, pick any month that works for you.
  • There are books that tell you how to write a book in 30 days. Why not see if one offers good ideas?
  • Practice free writing. Don’t think, just write.
  • Turn off your computer screen and write. You may create typos but don’t worry about that now. Writing with a blank screen in front of you will prevent you from editing as you go, or seeking perfection.
  • Use a typewriter. With a typewriter, you can't delete so easily, so you'll be forced to keep whatever you have typed. This is another good one for those of us who edit as we go.
  • Give yourself rewards. After you write one chapter, 1,000 words, or 10 pages, treat yourself to a piece of chocolate. Or a cold beer. Or movie night. Or a hot bubble bath. Whatever motivates you, use it for a bribe.
  • Sike yourself up. Say, “I love writing! It’s my passion. And right now, I’m going to write. These pages may not be 100%, but they don’t have to be. 1,000 words, here I come. WOO-HOO!”
  • Compete with someone. Set up a friendly challenge with a writing buddy to see who can each 50,000 words faster. Check in every single morning/evening through email/messenger/phone to stay accountable. And, if you want, you can have a reward at the end for both of you, such as promising to beta read or buying each other’s books (just one).

Slow writers are still writers.

Slow writers are just as good as fast writers.

Slow writers write just as well and have the same dreams.

Pace is unique and selective. Ignore the pace of other writers and embrace your pace!

      P.S. If part of your insecurity of writing slow has to do with feeling as though you’ll never finish (well, maybe in 10 years), convince yourself that that’s okay. Because it is. It damn well is! Babies start walking eventually, and eventually you’ll have a finished manuscript.

      A dream doesn’t have an expiration date. By the end of the 10 years, your story will be 10X richer and more precious.

      And if you think you’ll never, ever finish . . . Dude, you have to have more faith in yourself. ;) Believe it! Know you’ll finish your book the moment it’s meant to be done.

      Your book is worth waiting for. Trust me. Have faith, and keep writing!

 QUESTIONS: Do you write slow or fast? Do you have advice to contribute?

Monday, July 10, 2017

Where to Begin Worldbuilding

A question I hear from a lot of writers is how to start Worldbuilding. Worldbuilding is much like character development, in that your world, or universe, is a character in your story. It involves knowing everything about your world, which is far more than what the will readers see.

So, where do you start?

You could create a map of your world, and start imagining what it's like to live in various places (and if you can't draw, check out my tutorial.) Or, you can start developing your characters and asking yourself (or them!) what they do in their world. You could even write a few scenes describing the world and develop it from there.

There are many methods to start building your world, but one of the most important things about Worldbuilding, is Economy.


Yeah, Economy.

Most people, when they hear the word Economy, think money: the buying and selling of resources. But Economy is much more than monetary transactions, and in understanding that, we can then learn how to apply that to Worldbuilding.

Put simply, Economy teaches us that everything has a cost, but that cost is not always money. Let me demonstrate that for you.

I want you to give me cookies. Imagine all the ways you can supply me with cookies (provided we are in the same location, and you have the means to do it). The two main ways you could get me cookies is to either buy a package of them or make them. The question then becomes: how much does it cost for either option?

As an example, let’s say a package of cookies costs $5, and buying all the ingredients to make cookies, let's say $15 (I’m sure it’s more than that). But as we established, there are more costs than just monetary ones. For instance, we have to go to the store. We have to take a car to get there. A car uses gas, which adds to our cost. We can represent that in dollar amounts. But it is not just going to the store, it's also coming back. So we can estimate a gallon of gas (really far store) for whatever your local price is.

Then there is time. If you weren't buying me cookies, you could be doing something else worthwhile (or not). Time to drive to the store, time to find the cookies, time to buy them, time to drive back home. In the case of making cookies, that too is a factor of time. Furthermore, we have to use the oven, which requires energy.

As we can see, to get me cookies is not just a cost of your hard earn money, but one of time and energy.

Now that we have expanded our understanding of cost, let us discuss how this affects Worldbuilding.

Imagine a king in a medieval castle, and he is served chicken. Could be from a farm, or a wild chicken from the nearby forest. Before he eats, he picks up some salt to put on his chicken. Where did that salt come from? How is the king able to use salt with his meal?

Kind of weird to think about: it's salt. You have salt in your cupboard; you bought it from the store. Salt is commonplace now, yet it wasn’t commonplace 1,000 years ago. While many societies had salt, it was primarily used for cooking and/or preserving something, not something to add to a meal after it was cooked. In fact, it really wasn't used as a condiment during this time, as it was very expensive. However, for this example, let's say that it is a condiment.

What ways could the castle servants have obtained salt? Perhaps the salt is mined for. Look at that, suddenly our kingdom has a salt mine. Or, maybe they live near the coast, and use the ocean to get salt, which involves workers and processing. Suddenly you know more of the geography and some of the land’s inhabitants. Perhaps it is neither of those things, and they buy it from a merchant. Where did the merchant get it from? A neighboring country? Look at that, you've expanded the world.

Salt has to come from somewhere. Knowing where it originates helps you better understand your world. Now, this may just be a background detail that doesn't make it into your story. You don't need to write: “The king picks up salt, which was purchased from a merchant who got the salt from a neighboring country that they have an established trade with.”

Just say: “The king picked up salt.”

Let's give another example. Your soldiers go into battle with their swords. Where did the swords come from? Blacksmiths made them. What metals did the blacksmiths use? Maybe this story with soldiers in a battle takes place during the ancient age, and they use bronze swords. Bronze is a combination of copper and tin. Was this society fortunate enough to have both copper and tin mines? Or did they have one metal, and trade for the other? Have neither and traded for both?

Everything comes from somewhere. Things don't exist in a vacuum. A common mistake I see from writers is having various things in their story, with no explanation of how those items got there. Such as a race of beings that live at the bottom of the ocean, and have never visited the surface, but they have apple trees in their garden. There are no apples on the bottom of the ocean, and we’ve established they've never been to the surface... so where did the apple trees come from? Perhaps they traded for the seeds from another race? Or perhaps it’s something that should be removed from the story.

Economy is the place you start when you build your world. You know what your characters will do. They’ll fight in a sword duel, or fly across the universe in a space ship. They will need to eat, and drink, and sleep. So the question becomes, not only how they do this, but how do they come to being able to do these things. When we can understand that, it reveals more about your world and makes your story more complete.

It is imperative to remember that things have a cost. If you want something to appear in your story, you need to understand where it came from and how it came into being. You need to take me to your world, and immerse me in it. I want to feel like I’m there. The more a writer knows about their fictional world, the more a reader can feel connected to the story.

Find Christopher D. Votey at his website and on Twitter.
Character Astrology Profiles releases July 23 and you can pre-order it on Amazon.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

#IWSG Updates & Exciting News

It’s another IWSG posting day when we share our insecurities and encourage each other. For today’s hop, Captain Alex’s trusty helpers are Tamara Narayan, Pat Hatt, Patricia Lynne, Juneta Key, and Doreen McGettigan.

We have a lot going on this month and for those who want to answer the optional question, for July, we’ve asked What is one valuable lesson you've learned since you started writing?

The value of relationships is something that cannot be denied. The IWSG has been the vehicle through which many of us have made connections that have helped us raise the bar in our writing life and achieve things we didn’t think were possible. 

With the IWSG making the strides it has, we too are encouraged to keep moving forward on this journey and encouraging writers, new and old, to strive for the best and claim new territories.

With several anthologies under our belts, the sky is the limit in terms of what’s next. If there is something you want to do with your writing, but don’t see or know how, keep putting in the work, learning the craft and maintain a positive attitude. 

As you might have heard, we've had some exciting news recently, The IWSG has been included as one of Writer’s Digest’s 101 Best Website for Writers. This is quite an achievement and speaks to exactly what this group is about.  

On July 27th, we’ll be hosting a Twitter Pitch Party that will run from 8:00 am – 8:00 pm Eastern time. The hash tag is #IWSGPIT Get those pitches ready! For more information, check hereOur Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag #IWSG

Submissions are open for The IWSG Guide to Writing for Profit Anthology and will close on July 31. The word limit is 1000 words and if you are a member of any of our groups (IWSG Hop, Facebook, Goodreads) feel free to submit your article. Additional submission details are here.

The Secret Garden is this month’s book of choice for the book club. You have until July 31 to read.

What valuable lessons have you learned since you started writing? Do you plan to participate in the Pitch Party or submit an article for the Anthology? Are you reading The Secret Garden? Feel free to share. 

Do try and visit 5-10 persons you haven't visited in a while as you make your way around today. 

Thanks for being a part of this wonderful group of writers!