Nancy's Books

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Voice, Contest and Call for Submission

Voice is that illusive ingredient all editors are looking for in a manuscript. I usually approach voice in a story by considering how the writing “sounds” on the page. I experiment with different voices before I decide how I want the character to speak. After I write a few lines, I read it aloud, but not in the presence of company for fear of being committed.

Narrative voice is the way the narrator is telling the story. Many writers struggle to develop a this voice, which is like a fingerprint: it’s unique to each writer. No two people tell a story exactly alike. Narrative voice is not so much what is told but how.

Character voice is the way the character speaks. I played around with different voices when I began writing The Munched-Up Flower Garden. I wanted the main character, Liz, to be a feisty young girl with spunk and determination who was also loud and funny.

An effective method of creating a character voice is to think about the way a child would explain an event or situation. Listen to a child the age of your character explain a rainbow or a roller coaster ride. How would that child describe playing in the rain? Talk with kids and listen carefully to the way they tell a story or explain a situation. What words and comparisons do they make? "Magnificent colors" is the way an adult might explain a rainbow. A child might compare the colors to a box of crayons or spilled paint or the colors of grandma’s apron.

Let the character take over the telling of the story and develop the plot through the character’s senses. Listen to the way kids talk and reflect their language in the voices of the characters. You’ll “hear” the character’s voice bring the story to life.

Contest and Call for Submission:

Iowa Short Fiction Award & John Simmons Short Fiction Award
"Any writer who has not previously published a volume of prose fiction is eligible to enter the competition. Previously entered manuscripts that have been revised may be resubmitted. Writers are still eligible if they have published a volume of poetry or any work in a language other than English or if they have self-published a work in a small print run. Writers are still eligible if they are living abroad or are non-US citizens writing in English. Current University of Iowa students are not eligible." Winning manuscripts are published by the University of Iowa Press under the Press's standard contract.
Submissions: August 1-September 30, 2010 (postmarked)
Details at

Past Loves Day Story Contest "To foster awareness of Past Loves Day, September 17, Spruce Mountain Press sponsors an annual Story Contest. The Contest, and the Day, offer an opportunity to acknowledge a truth that lingers in your heart." True stories sought. Cash prizes of $100, $75, and $50 will be awarded. "Winning stories will be posted (anonymously, if requested by author)" on the website.
Deadline: August 17, 2010 (midnight)
Details at

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Critiquing a Manuscript, Part II, Calls for Submissions

Attend to these details of a manuscript to give it a professional look, feel, and sound.

Punctuation, spelling, grammar. You have only one opportunity to make a great first impression. Don’t destroy that opportunity with a rushed manuscript filled with simple mistakes. Keep these in mind when writing the cover or query letter, also.

Create fresh and appealing similes and metaphors and avoid cliches, worn-out phrases.

Use age appropriate comparsions that match the subject of the text.

Rhyming text. If you write in rhyme, be true to meter and beat. Chances of publication are greater if you write in prose, rather than rhyme, unless you have mastered the art of meter, which is totally foreign to me.

Is the main character active in carrying the plot forward? The main character should be responsible for solving the problem or reaching the goal. Uncle Hamm or an older brother should not step in and save the character that is experiencing the trouble.

Stay consistent with the point of view. If one character has been telling the story, that character should continue to do so. Only change point of view characters with new chapters.

Voice: Is the voice Distinct? Consistent? Appropriate?

Authenticity. Are the facts correct? I strongly suggest including facts when writing fiction to make the story realistic and believable.

Competing books. Are numerous books on this subject available in the marketplace? With manuscripts, the greater the competition, the harder the sell. You will not come up with a unique idea but you need to put a fresh spin on the story to make it different from other books.

As far as rules for critique groups, I recommend the sandwich method of pointing out something positive, followed by something that needs to be fixed, followed by something positive. Writers need to know what works with readers as well as what needs revision.

In my next post, I will discuss voice in greater detail.

Calls for Submissions

2011 Muse Romance Summer Stories
Once Upon A Ghostly Beach
Think summer. Think relaxation, heading on a summer vacation with no thought of a love affair. Now think of the perfect vacation spot/resort/inn/ right up until mixed up reservations saddle you with a roommate. Characters don't have to be the perfect couple. We want the odd couple and how they resolve their relationship. Place it in any era. Give us a twist ending. Give us memorable characters. Hook us into their situation. But, put in an element of paranormal.
Word count: 3,000 - 5,000
Release date: Summer 2011
Deadline: October 30, 2010
Details at http://museituppubl musepub/index. php?option= com_content& view=article&id=5&Itemid= 2

Hopscotch, a children’s magazine seeks nonfiction, fiction, columns/departments, fillers, photos/artwork. Subjects: Of interest to girls from 6 to 13 years. Pays on publication.
Details at

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Critiquing a Manuscript Part I, Contests, Call for Submissions

Writers benefit from new eyes reading their words. Feedback from others provide valuable information, especially if the feedback is from writers who understand what to look for in a manuscript. Those who are critiquing should look at 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 characters believable? Does each character have unique traits, such as speaking differently? Feedback I recently received stated that two of my characters were too much alike. This problem can be fixed with revision.

Does the plot have a narrative arc? This means does it have a logical beginning, middle and ending? Does the ending tie up all the loose ends? Did the story come to a logical conclusion? A few days ago, a friend read one of my manuscripts. When she finished, she said, “Ooooh, definitely,” and explained the “Ooooh” was for the surprise element and the “definitely” for the logical conclusion. Revise your manuscript to make your story original by adding an element the reader does not expect, yet is logical.

Story structure. Are the length of the chapters and word choice appropriate for the age level of the intended reader?

Theme. Does the story have a theme? If not, the editor will probably say the piece is too slight. Is the theme didactic, too preachy? If so, lighten up with revision.

How does the story read? Is it engaging and fun or somber and tension-filled. Either works, as long as the story remains interesting.

I’ll discuss the specific parts or small picture critiques in my next blog.

Contests and Call for Submission

The Linda Bruckheimer Series in Kentucky Literature
Sarabande Books, a literary press, presents an opportunity to focus on the fine literature the state of Kentucky has produced, bringing it to the nation’s attention. Poetry, fiction, or essays (all genres compete together) about Kentucky or by Kentucky authors. Winner must agree to travel to readings within the state. You are eligible if you were born in Kentucky or have lived there for at least two years, or your book is set in or about Kentucky. Poetry manuscripts should be 48-100 single-spaced pages, prose manuscripts 150-250 double-spaced pages. No scholarly works, children's literature, or genre fiction.
Manuscripts must be postmarked during the month of July.
Details at

Marie Alexander Poetry Series Contest
A prize of $500 and publication by Marie Alexander Poetry Series, an imprint of White Pine Press, will be given for a collection of prose poems by a U.S. poet. Submit a manuscript of at least 48 pages during the month of July. There is no entry fee. Send an SASE, e-mail, or visit the Web site for complete guidelines.
Marie Alexander Poetry Series, Book Contest, P.O. Box 5686, Louisville, KY 40255. Nickole Brown, Editor.
Deadline: July 31, 2010
Details at

Stone Soup, a magazine for children, pays on acceptance. Seeks nonfiction, fiction, fillers, photos/artwork. Subjects: Stories, poems, book review, art, for children up to age 13.
Details at

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Perseverance, Part II, Zen story, Contest and Call for Submissions

An Old Zen Story:

The Zen master dipped a brush into paint. With swift flicks of the wrist, he trailed dazzling colors across the canvas. A young Zen student stood beside the master and watched.

As the painting grew more beautiful, the Zen student whispered, “Master, how do I learn to paint beautiful pictures?”

The master continued to paint.

Ten years later, the Zen student returned and said, “Thank you, Master.”

The Zen story resonated with me because to be a writer a person must write. Learning to write takes time. As with the Zen story, ten long years passed from the time I began writing professionally to the time I held my first book in my hands.

To adapt the lesson of the Zen master to writers, try the following: Write as often as possible.You may not have the time to devote to a manuscript every day, but write as often as time allows. Get the first draft of the story on paper; then begin revision. Novice writers often have great ideas and develop those ideas in interesting and innovative ways; however, they tend to submit a manuscript before it’s ready for professional publication. Editors state this as the major reason manuscripts are rejected.

When a manuscript is complete, revise, revise, revise. After it is the best you think you can make it, set the story aside for a minimum of one month and begin writing another manuscript. Give yourself time away from your story so you can return to it with less emotional attachment. Writing a new story also takes you mind off the first manuscript so when you reread it after a few weeks, you’re more likely to find elements that don’t work as well as you originally thought. Revise again.

Pass your manuscript to other writers for critiques. Again, revise, revise, revise. At this point select three to five publishers that accept unsolicited manuscripts of the type you have written. Submit the manuscript. I recommend selecting 3-5 because you may get feedback from an editor that will be useful in yet another revision.

Nothing about the process of preparing a manuscript for publication is fast. Remember, perseverance is the key to a successful writing career. As Aesop wrote long ago, “Slow and steady wins the race.”

I’ll discuss the process of critiquing a manuscript in my next post.

Contest and Call for Submissions

Real Simple’s Life Lessons Essay Contest
Finish this sentence: “I never thought I’d. . .”

Have you ever taken a huge, surprising risk? Did you climb a mountain? Go back to school? Get married (again)? Tell us about it: Enter Real Simple’s Third-Annual Life Lessons Essay Contest and you could have your essay published in Real Simple; win round-trip tickets for two to New York City, hotel accommodations for two nights, tickets to a Broadway play, and a lunch with Real Simple editors; and receive a prize of $3,000.
Deadline: September 24, 2010
Details at Life Lessons Essay Contest

Glamour "My Real-Life Story Essay Contest"

"If you have an inspiring story about a life changing event, an obstacle overcome, a relationship of passion that's defined you - then we want to read it! You may see your essay appear in an upcoming issue of Glamour...and you could win $5000 and a meeting with a top literary agent." For legal residents of the 50 United States and the District of Columbia.
Details at
Deadline: September 15, 2010

CICADA (ages 14-23) has opened up submissions again through July 31.
They're wide open to all genres, with a special interest in humor.
Details at Click on Contact Us, then scroll down to Submission Guidelines and go to Cicada.