Nancy's Books

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

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Trimming Excess Words

Sometimes, we have to establish the right mindset to cut words from our manuscripts that we’ve worked so hard to write. The action is not as painful as slicing off a finger, but it pains just the same. Yet the pain is worth the cut when our work becomes tighter and more focused.

Determine your target word count. Children’s books are quite specific in this area. Some books extend the limit (Harry Potter, for example)  but for those of us who don’t have an enormous fan base and are not selling a gazillion books, stay within the specified word count. The numbers vary according to publishers. Check websites before submitting.

Check adverbs, those sneaky ly-words. Are they needed? Would a stronger verb work better?

Adjectives can be used in multiples (The big, giant, enormous ball…) but would one work? Sometimes, in children’s books we intentionally use multiple adjective and they work beautifully, but other times one  works just as well.

Overly descriptive passages slow the action. If you do not want to slow the action, cut some of the details that detract the reader.

Passages that tell the reader what s/he already knows can be cut to make a tighter, more focused story.

Next week, children's author Stephanie Burkhard will visit this blog to discuss writing picture books.

Call for Submissions for Young Writers:
Stone Soup is a magazine of writing and art by kids ages 13 and younger. We publish stories, poems, book reviews, and illustrations, all by young writers and artists. Stone Soup welcomes submissions from young people up to and including age 13. If you live in the U.S. or Canada, you must submit your work by postal mail.
Submission guidelines at for Submissions for Young Writers:

Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:
Share your special stories about the holiday season—including Chanukah and Kwanzaa — from inspirational and joyous, to heartwarming and humorous. Remember, all the stories in our Christmas books are “Santa Safe” — we don’t want to spoil the magic for children. This title was previously posted as “Stories about the Christmas Season.” If you submitted a story for that title it will be considered for “Merry Christmas!” Maximum 1,200 words. Pays $200 and ten copies.
Deadline: March 31, 2015.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Many New Year’s resolutions involve the dreaded four-letter word, DIET. What a scary word for people who love to eat (That’s me) and for writers (Me, again). When it comes to food, I fail miserably at dieting, but with writing, I seem to have more success.  

Stephen King, in his book On Writing, encourages wordsmiths to “cut everything by 10%.” So if you’re writing a 10,000-word manuscript, trim it by 1,000 words. Why? and How? seem to be the obvious questions here.
Have you read books in which the author goes on and on with description to the point the reader is wondering What is the point? Excess words often wander, fail to promote the plot, and the reader loses interest. Some sentences and paragraphs are so long, they too create reader disinterest. Tight writing eliminates boring and confusing text and increases clarity and interest.
How do you know what to cut and what to describe in depth? Next week, I’ll look at ways to put your manuscript on a diet and achieve success. (I’m still looking for the diet that works for me.)
Call for Submissions for Young Writers:

KidsBookshelf. All kids 17 years of age and younger are welcome to send in their original poems to be published on our site. All entries should be written in English with correct spelling and grammar. The poem (maximum 200 words) must be original. The form must be filled out completely for poems to be accepted.

Submission guidelines at

Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:
Timeless Tales Magazine publishes retellings of fairytales and myths. We will open again for submissions. Issue #4's theme is "Perseus and Medusa".

We encourage a wide variety of genres and while our audience isn't specifically targeted at kids, we do accept YA stories and we only accept content with a PG-13 level or lower.


Deadline: March 23.

Sunday, March 1, 2015


2015 is still young and this is THE YEAR to find a critique partner or group if you have not already.

Writers at all stages of their careers benefit from new eyes reading their words. Feedback provides valuable information, especially if the feedback is from writers who understand what to look for in a manuscript. A critique should focus on a piece in two ways: the overall story and specific parts, also known as the big picture and the small picture.

Overall story evaluation includes character assessment: Are the character believable? Does each character have unique traits, such as speaking differently. Feedback I once received from an editor stated that two of my characters were too much alike. As I reviewed the manuscript, I had to agree. Until she pointed out the flaw in my writing, I had not noticed it.

The specific parts critique is a line-by-line evaluation that focuses on word choice, transitions, action verbs, grammar, etc.

Critique groups are basically large online groups, forums, and small personal groups. The large online groups offer critiques from writes at different stages of their careers. Some writers love this type of feedback. Go online and type “children’s writers critique group” and you’ll find lots of information and a variety of groups. With critique forums, you post your story on a forum and receive feedback. Of course, you will be expected to provide critiques for other writers, also. My critique group began with four members a few years ago. We are now down to two, but we provide more detailed feedback and more often, if needed, than if we were members of a large group.

If you prefer face-to-face contact with a critique group, you can find members locally. Go to the local bookstore, library, or college and post signs requesting a sign-up of the group. You’ll probably find several people in your community that want to participate.

Call for Submissions for Young Writers:
Teen Lit. Our goal is to promote teen literacy locally and globally by building small libraries in schools and in a free medical clinic, and by sending newly-released teen literature worldwide to be reviewed by teens.
Submission guidelines at
Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:
BUZZY MAG is looking for original science fiction, fantasy and horror short stories up to 10,000 words. Thriller, suspense and paranormal tales that cross into traditional speculative fiction are welcome. Buzzy accepts submissions from both authors and literary agents. Make sure you short story is acceptable for a 15-year-old to read. We DO NOT ACCEPT pornography, child subject matter, racial propaganda or fan fiction. Payment is ten cents/word.
Submission guidelines at

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Likeable Characters

I’m continuing the blog on Likeable Characters.

Realistic, relatable characters make likeable characters. Characters don’t have to be good to be likeable, but they should have likeable traits. A demanding cat can display anything but good behavior but it should have some redeeming qualities.
The character needs a sharp intellect, keen wit, or some quality that will make him/her able to stand up to the challenge and triumph over the obstacles.
Would you enjoy spending time in the real world with your main character? If so, that’s one sign that the reader will enjoy spending time reading about him/her.
Give your character a ton of personality. Is s/he funny, sarcastic, sweet, brave, talkative, quiet, helpful? Is the character a rule follower or rule breaker? Either works as long as s/he stays consistent. Build a three-dimensional character that has feelings, show emotions, and experiences failure before finally succeeding.
Make your character memorable. Memorable characters need realistic problems to face, realistic decisions to make, and follow through with realistic solutions.
Check the character traits in your protagonist. Make “likable” one of the top.
Call for Submissions for Young Writers:
Cyber Kids. We especially like stories, articles and poems that are funny.
Art and written submissions can be on any topic that is appropriate for our audience (ages 7 to 12). Stories which include an original illustration or photo are more likely to be published than stories without pictures. Originality is very important--make sure the work you submit is your own and not copied from someone else.
In addition to art and writing, we also like to publish games, puzzles, brain teasers, jokes, and multimedia creations by kids.
Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:
FIRESIDE publishes original, previously unpublished flash fiction of up to 1,000 words and short stories of 1,500 to 4,000 words. (Firm limit.) We pay 12.5 cents per word, with payment on completion of edits. We buy first world publication rights and six-month exclusivity, as well as the right to reprint the story once, non-exclusively, in a Fireside anthology.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Likeable Characters

So you want to write a marketable manuscript in 2015? Begin with a likeable character, one that readers will want to triumph against unfavorable odds.

Give the character a straightforward name that is easy to pronounce and makes a good impression. Sure, unique names will works but simple names will too. The name should fit the era of the story. When I was writing AMAZING GRACE, a WWII story, I decided to name a character in honor of my critique partner who helped me so much with the manuscript. When I wrote Sandi, my critique came to my rescue and suggested I use Sandra instead, because it was more common in that period of history.
The character should make a good first impression with the reader. The good impression can be based on the character’s flaws. Figure out your character’s weakness and proceed with an incredible problem that preys on that weakness. The main character should shoulder the main load. The problems should not be so overwhelming, the character cannot triumph; instead use the story to play out the character’s struggle and ultimate victory.  Let the other characters in the story underestimate the protagonist. This will give him/her a chance to grow and prove them wrong by the end of the story. The protagonist should never realize that s/he will succeed until the very end.
Readers root for characters that grow and change. A flawed character reflects real life. No one is perfect, right? Flawed characters are easier to like than those that are perfect or think they are.
Next week, I’ll discuss more ways to write a likeable character.
Call for Submissions for Young Writers:
TEEN GIRLS THAT WRITE. This blog is for teen girls.  It gives teens information about scholarships, fellowships along with writing tips. It’s for teens who want to write books, screenplays or just about anything. Teens have the power to do anything and this blog is to help them get to where they want to go.
Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:
C The Binnacle Twelfth Annual Ultra-Short Competition. "The Binnacle will sponsor its Twelfth International Ultra-Short Competition in the 2014-2015 academic year. We are looking for prose works of 150 words or fewer and poetry of sixteen lines or fewer and fewer than 150 words.  All works should have a narrative element to them.....A minimum of $300 in cash prizes will be awarded, with a minimum prize of $50. At least one of the prizes will go to a [University of Maine-Machias] student. Please submit no more than two works total, prose and/or poetry."
Submissions deadline: March 15, 2015