Nancy's Books

Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Dreaded Synopsis

Writers need a one-paragraph synopsis of the manuscript for the cover/query letter and a one-page (or more, check guidelines for each publisher) synopsis for chapter books and novels. I find a synopsis anything but easy to write. Condensing the entire book into one paragraph or one page and retain the tone and voice of the manuscript is simply difficult. That’s not all. The summary should be intriguing, tantalizing, and irresistible in such a way the editor/agent wants to read the manuscript. A tall order, I must say.

One way to get an idea of what to write is to read blurbs on the jackets of books in a bookstore or library. Read lots of them. On-line, search publishers' websites and read book blurbs.
Let’s analyse a synopsis.
The goal is to introduce the characters and explain the basic overall plot in a few sentences. Begin with the main character. Who is s/he before the story begins? (If you don’t know this, interview your character to get to know him/her better).
What happened to create a problem for the character (inciting incident)?
What is preventing the character from attaining the goal? What made the plans fall apart?
What is the darkest moment, the time when it seems the character cannot possible achieve the goal?
What is the resolution? How does the character overcome the odds and prevail?
Next week, I’ll continue with information about writing a synopsis.
Call for Submissions for Young Writers:
I will resume providing this information in September.
Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:
Diverse Books Contest If you write MG and have a diverse background, including (but not limited to) LGBTQIA, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities, you may be interested in submitting a short story to We Need Diverse Books. They are putting together an anthology of children’s literature to be published in January 2107.

Phoebe Yeh, VP/Publisher of Crown Books for Young Readers/Random House, has acquired publication rights to this Middle Grade WNDB Anthology, working title “Stories For All Of Us.”

The anthology will be in memory of Walter Dean Myers and it will be inspired by his quote: “Once I began to read, I began to exist.” Every new story contribution to this anthology will be by a diverse author.

WNDB is proud to announce that the anthology will have one story reserved for a previously unpublished diverse author. WNDB will fill that slot via a short story contest. The winner will be included in the anthology and will receive a payment of $1000 US.

MARK YOUR CALENDAR: The submission window is narrow, so if you want to submit you should start writing and polishing, but you can not send it in until April 27th 2015 when they start accepting submissions. The window for submissions is only open for 12 days (until 5:00PM EST on May 8th, 2015).
Short Story Rules

§ All submissions (short story or illustrated story) must be in English and never before published in any medium, print or digital.
§ Submissions must be no longer than 5000 words.
§ All submissions must be electronic and sent to the following email address:
§ All submissions must also be appropriate for a middle grade audience, ages 8 to 12.
§ If your submission is illustrated, it must be in a graphic novel format, but no longer than 10 pages.
§ Illustrations must be submitted electronically. Do NOT mail hard copy submissions to WNDB. They will not be reviewed, nor will they be returned.
§ First prize winner will receive an award of $1000 plus their entry will be published as part of the WNDB Anthology to be released by Crown Books for Young Readers/Random House Children’s Books in January 2017.
§ Two runner-up winners will receive honorable mentions and awards of $250 each.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Value of a Critique Partner

Recently my critique buddy and I have been writing one-paragraph and one-page synopses of our manuscripts. We ship each synopsis back and forth for comments and suggestions. Trusted feedback from a reliable source is invaluable. A new set of eyes sees what I have missed and questions sentences that were not clearly stated or whether my choice of words/phrases/ideas actually works.

We writers are often bonded like glue to our words. Our feelings and sweat pour into the work, along with hours of research, dreams, desires, and sometimes tears. Emotionally, we are close to the words we write, sometimes too close. Days, weeks, months later, the words are printed and we hold the “baby” in our hands. It feels so right, so perfect, so ready to send out into the publishing world. Unfortunately, it probably is far from ready if your work is anything like mine. At that phase, the manuscript is ready for another set of eyes to read and evaluate. Constructive criticism is your secret weapon to write a more compelling and powerful story.
Before you write the first word, you may want to run your story idea by other writers to get feedback. Will it work better for a picture book, chapter book, middle grade, or young adult novel? Early feedback can help guide you in developing the plot and characters. So, if you don’t have a critique partner, do yourself a gigantic favor and find one.
Next week, I’ll discuss writing a synopsis.
Call for Submissions for Young Writers:
(I’m discontinuing Call for Submissions for Young Writers until September.)
Hanging Loose magazine welcomes high school submissions. As with other writers, we reply within three months, and high school authors whose work we publish receive the same small fee and two copies of the issue in which their work appears. We feel a special responsibility to those young writers who look to us not only for possible publication but sometimes also for editorial advice, which we are always happy to give when asked.
Our work as editors is of course time-consuming, but we feel a strong commitment to give as
much time and attention as possible to the work we receive from high school age writers. We urge writers of high school age to follow these guidelines, in order to help us respond to their work.
Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:
BALLOONS Lit. Journal (BLJ), an independent biannual online journal for children and young adults readers, invites well-crafted and mind-blowing submissions for our audience (12+). We would love to have new poems, fictions, artworks, etc. for our Issue 2. Typical pieces for kids will be unlikely to get through. Deadline info Deadline: June 15, 2015
Submission guidelines at

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Word FrequencyTrivia

Writers enjoy words, individually or strung together in phrases and sentences. Words paint images, draw on memories, and transport us to different places and times. Recently, a fellow writer sent me a word frequency list based on commonly used words in American English texts and pointed out interesting characteristics.

Number 1 on the list is the. Not surprising, but the following might be:
He (#15) is used more often than she (#31) or me (#61).
I (#11) ranks higher than you (#14) or we (#24).
Can (#37) leads will (#48).
Know (#47); think (#56)
In (#6); out (#64)
            Just for fun here is more trivia.
The two longest one-syllable words in English are screeched and strengths.
Longest word with no repeated letters is uncopyrightable.
Synonyms which are antonyms: flammable and inflammable.
Often considered the longest word in English (45 letters), pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanokoniosis refers to a lung disease.
Therein contains only seven letters, but it contains 10 words that can be formed using consecutive letters: the, there, I, he, in, rein, her, here, ere, herein.
            Play with words. Have fun writing.
Call for Submissions for Young Writers:
Rattle seeks submissions from poets age 15 or younger for our annual RYPA anthology. Our goal is to produce a book every year that both children and adults can learn from and enjoy. Young people are natural poets, and have important stories to share—they deserve a voice! Submitting is free, and all poets chosen receive two copies of the print anthology. Parents or teachers must submit on the child’s behalf.
Submission guidelines at
Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:
Fairy Tale Review seeks contemporary tales, realist to fabulist. Submissions are now being accepted for our twelfth annual issue, The Ochre Issue, of Fairy Tale Review, which will be published in 2016. The Ochre Issue has no particular theme—simply send your best fairy-tale work along the spectrum of mainstream to experimental, fabulist to realist. For fiction or nonfiction, send up to 8,000 words or three flash pieces less than 1,000 words each, and for poetry, send up to 5 poems totaling no more than 10 pages. Visit for more information—we will close for submissions in early summer.
Deadline info Deadline: May 15, 2015
Submission guidelines at

Sunday, April 12, 2015

I’m continuing with tips to trim excess words from manuscripts.

Beware adverbs and adjectives because they don’t paint vivid pictures. Talked loudly is not as specific as yelled or boomed or screeched. A better choice is to use a more precise noun or verb. Rather than modify every noun with an adjective and each verb with an adverb, choose a more precise noun or verb that is strong enough to stand alone and needs no modification. Remember the three-R rule: reduce, refine, or remove.
Limit detail. Is the shape of the character’s nose or the color of his hair relevant to the story? If not, cut it (the description, not the nose or hair). Readers enjoy creating their own mental pictures of the characters. In picture books, illustrations provide character details.

Is your dialog saying more than is needed? Dialog should promote the plot, reveal backstory or add character traits. If it’s doing more than that, the words are mere fluff and should be trimmed. Is the dialog providing information the reader already knows? Cut redundancy. Repeating information dulls the reading experience.

Deleting excess words as I am writing a scene is difficult for me. The trimming comes with revision, where removing the litter cleans the manuscript.

Call for Submissions for Young Writers:

Parallel Ink is your friendly international e-magazine for students, by students between the ages of 12- to 18-years-old. Besides sci-fi serials and fantasy fables, we welcome poignant poetry, quirky rants, discarded love letters, and offbeat text exchanges with open arms (among many other countless gems of literature teens write). We also accept art. Honestly, anything goes if it's creative, captivating, and ready for sending out into the world wide web!
Submission guidelines at
Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:
Third Flatiron Anthologies. "Ain't Superstitious" - Theme involving superstition, e.g., luck, prophecy, magic, rational and irrational thinking, Spinoza, dark times, black cats, Orpheus, the Flying Dutchman, Sleepy Hollow, Tam O'Shanter, astrology, witchcraft, etc.

Reading Period: May 1 - June 30, 2015
Writer Deadline: June 30, 2015
Publication Date: September 1, 2015
Submission guidelines at

Sunday, April 5, 2015

A Contest for You, So Hurry!

I had planned to write about ways to trim excess words from manuscripts in today’s blog; instead, I’m trimming every word from that blog post and writing about a time-sensitive subject—free contests. I stumbled upon one this week that I want to bring to your attention. It’s a contest to win a free critique for a manuscript of any genre. Nice!

Contests are valuable ways to determine if your work has merit. If you win first, second, third, or honorable mention, your work has been validated by a professional. Woohoo! Even if you don’t win, you might get objective feedback. Not winning a contest does not mean your work has no merit. What does not work for one critiquer may work for another.
Judges are often agents and editors. Entering a contest gets your work in front of editors and agents in closed houses, publishers that are not open to unsolicited manuscripts.
Winning a writing contest gives you immediate credibility that can spruce up a resume. Some offer prizes—cash, classes, or critiques. Not bad.
Many contests are free. All that I post on this blog are no-fee. Most can be submitted online so the writer doesn’t even have to pay postage. Even better.
Before you enter a manuscript into competition, gather feedback from different people. Revise your work several times to make it sparkle before you submit it. Give your work the best opportunity to win.
Check out today’s Call for Submissions for Adult Writers for your chance to win a free critique. Good luck!

Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:
Canvas. We are seeking writers ages 13-18 to submit: 
Fiction – Please limit submissions to 5,000 words.
Novel Excerpts - Novel and memoir excerpts are acceptable if self-contained (work as a complete narrative).
Poetry – You may submit more than one poem, but please do not exceed 5 pages worth of poetry.
Plays - Please follow standard play format. Limit to 10 pages.
Nonfiction – Essays, memoir, creative nonfiction. Please limit submissions to 5,000 words.  
New Media – Video, images, etc fine for website. But must be accompanied by written version to be considered for print and eBook.
Cross-genre - Experimental work (prose poems, art and writing, fiction and nonfiction hybrids) are highly encouraged, but please keep to the word limit for fiction.
Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:
Barbara Kyle Critique. Want expert feedback about your manuscript? Then this contest is for you. It’s open to anyone with a work of fiction or narrative non-fiction. All genres are welcome. There is no fee to enter.
And here’s the great thing. If you win, you have up to a year to send your manuscript. If it’s ready now, that’s fine; send it as soon as you hear you’ve won. But if you need more time to complete it, that’s fine too. Winners will have up to a year to send their manuscript. Through Kyle’s mentoring she has launched many writers to published success, including bestselling mystery author Robert Rotenberg, historical novelists Ann Birch, Tom Taylor, and Barbara Wade Rose, award-winner Steven T. Wax, and debut novelist Marissa Campbell.
Now it’s your turn! Enter now for a chance to win an in-depth analysis of your work.
♦ Grand Prize: Kyle's evaluation of a full manuscript – a $1,200 value
♦ Second Prize: Kyle's evaluation of a manuscript’s first 50 pages
♦ Third Prize: Kyle's evaluation of a manuscript’s first 25 pages
The manuscript evaluation will be conducted in a discussion with Barbara Kyle by Skype or by phone. The Grand Prize winner will get a full 2-hour discussion with me. The Second Prize winner and Third Prize winner will each get a half-hour discussion with me.
The evaluation will consist of an in-depth analysis of the manuscript in which Barbara Kyle will pinpoint the story’s strengths and weaknesses with regard to premise, structure, character development, voice, dialogue, setting, prose style, pacing, POV (point of view) and marketability. She’ll also offer suggestions on how any weaknesses might be improved.
1. Send a sample of your writing to Kyle at
2. Maximum length of the sample: 1,500 words. Format: double-spaced, 12-point font.
3. The sample can be from your work-in-progress or a previous work.
4. Send the sample either in the body of your email or as an attachment in Word or PDF.
5. Include in your email your contact info:
  • your full name
  • your address
  • your preferred email address
  • your phone number (optional)
  • where did you hear about the contest?
  • Enter now! Email your sample at
Deadline: April 30, 2015

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Trimming Excess Words

Today, I’m continuing my series on trimming excess words? Try these tips:

Read books in the same genre in which you’re writing to determine how and where longer descriptions work. Read a book first for the entertainment value. If you enjoyed it, read it again to analyze how long and short descriptions were woven into the story.
Read your work aloud and concentrate on the description. By reading aloud, your mind will be more attuned to awkward phrasing and will hone in on other mistakes, such as excessive use of words.
Avoid information dumping at the beginning of a story. Information dumping is offering too much information about a character or situation in the opening chapter. If you spend three pages telling why the character is upset, the reader will be even more upset. Long exposition slows and sometimes stops the action. Too much detail and backstory are not necessary and will fail to hook the reader.
Find useless words and zap them. Some useless words I am guilty of using are just, even, felt, like, really, seems, thought, very, that and more.
When my tummy turns queezy at the idea of cutting words, I remind myself that it’s not about the words, it’s about the story.
Next week, I’ll look at more ways to put your manuscript on a diet and achieve success.
Call for Submissions for Young Writers:
INSIGHT WRITING CONTEST—Deadline July 31, 2014. Categories are student short story,
general short story, and student poetry. Prizes range from $50 to $250. Winning entries will be published in Insight. You must be age 22 or under to enter the student categories. Short stories are limited to seven pages. Poetry is limited to one page.
Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:
Gotham Writers. It may be apocryphal, but the story goes that Ernest Hemingway won a bet by writing a short story that ran fewer than ten words. One version of the story places the bet at the famed Algonquin “round table.” Whether true or not, there is an actual bet-winning short story attributed to Hemingway:

For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.

You have to admit it’s pretty good. It builds, and there’s a whole world of background and emotion lurking beneath those words.

We would like to make a similar bet with you. Write a great short story in ten words or fewer. (You may use a title, but that goes into the word count.) Submit it to our contest. Entry is free. Winner of the bet gets a free Gotham class.

We did this contest last year, and here’s the winner:

Remnants of beard peppered her sink. He left nothing else.
A. Crossley Spencer
Summerfield, North Carolina

The Details:
·        Submit an original, unpublished 10-word short story.
·        Entries must be submitted online by midnight Eastern Time, May 18, 2015. Only online entries will be accepted.
·        Entry is free. Limit one entry per person.
·        Entry must consist of no more than 10 words. You may use a title but that goes into the word count. Longer entries will be disregarded.
·        Entry must be original and unpublished.
·        Entries will be judged on originality, quality, spelling, and grammar.
·        Gotham will post the winning entry at
·        The winner will be notified by June 3, 2015.
Deadline: May 18, 2015.
Submission guidelines at

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Today, I’m thrilled to have picture book author, Stephanie Burkhart, as a guest. Stephanie grew up in Manchester, New Hampshire. She currently works for LAPD as a dispatcher and has two additional books, The Giving Meadow and First Flag of New Hampshire.
Nancy:  Welcome, Stephanie. I’m so glad to have you here today to discuss your latest book, Brady’s Lost Blanket
Steph: Thank you for having me. I’m happy to share my book and writing experience with others. In Brady’s Lost Blanket, Brady is a sensitive young boy who takes a blankie wherever he goes. After traveling with his parents to visit his new cousin, Brady accidently leaves his blanket behind.
 Nancy: This book can be quite useful to parents whose child has had a similar experience. What was the hardest part of writing it?
 Steph: I find that children's stories are truly inspired and when the story comes, it comes quickly. There was nothing "hard" about it.  Even the editing of the story went smoothly. I suppose there's a lot of anxieties of letting an illustrator you don't know illustrate the story, but 4RV uses a great set of illustrators and Bridget McKenna did a wonderful job with the illustrations.
 Nancy: For me, writing picture books is extremely difficult. I love how the writing process evolved quickly and smoothly for you. What advice would you give to those who want to get a publishing contract for a manuscript?
Steph: Study writing. Understand the craft of writing: point of view narration, description, and using an economy of words. Draft bios so you get to know each character before you start writing. I take at least two weeks to prep a novel by researching characters, setting, historical background, and drafting a flexible plot.  Before I submitted my novel to a publisher, I entered it in the Writer's Digest Annual Contest. They're looking for short stories with a word count of 4k and under. Writing short stories teaches you to use an economy of words. When you submit to publishers, be patient. The publishing world is a "slow" business and nothing happens overnight. Be patient.
Nancy: Being patient is a must. A picture book, once accepted by a publisher, usually takes at least two years for publication. How did you develop the idea for this picture book?
 Steph: One of my husband's relatives told me a story about her grandson, how he was attached to his blankie and how it was hard for him without it.  I recalled my own childhood and how I was attached to my blankie.  It was a security crutch, but there's a time to let the blankie go.  It's like your first step to growing up.
I wanted to write Brady's Lost Blanket for those kids who have blankies and might be reluctant to give them up.  I hope the story is inspiring and helps children understand there are other things you can fall back on when you don't have your blankie.
 Nancy: I’m sure readers will enjoy this story. I certainly did. What did you enjoy most about writing the book?
 Steph: I enjoyed crafting a story that wouldn't be too "preachy." I think a lot of children will identify with Brady because the story is one that kids with blankies can understand.
 Nancy: You’ve written a wonderful story. Where can readers find your book?
 Steph:  Amazon:
Nancy: Stephanie, I wish you much success with Brady’s Lost Blanket. Thank you for sharing your literary experiences.
Call for Submissions for young Writers:
Magic Dragon Magazine. Work should be neatly printed or typed. If you type it, please double-space. Stories and essays can be up to three pages, poetry up to 30 lines. It is ok to send writing that you have also illustrated. You can write about anything that is important to you; it can be serious or funny, true or fiction. If you send originals and want them returned, enclose a stamped, self-addressed envelope.
You may send writing by e-mail to Be sure your writing or art has your name and age with it and an e-mail address where you can be reached.
Permission to Publish – Each piece of writing or art must have a “Permission to Publish” form attached. (Teachers – If you are submitting work from a class, please be sure each piece has a Permission to Publish form.)
Published Work – Each writer and artist whose work is published in Magic Dragon will receive one copy of the issue in which the work appears.
Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:
Blaze magazine is full of fun facts, cool games and crafts, and fascinating articles on horses, horse kids and the natural world they share. Promoting literacy of course, it’s great for learning about not only horses, but also about nature, history, creative arts, character traits and much more. Geared for kids aged 8 to 14, the magazine is published quarterly. And what’s more, Blaze is also a real-life horse. She’s a flash Rocky Mountain and the official mascot of the magazine. Subscribers call her their own! Pays 25 cents/word.
Submission guidelines at