Nancy's Books

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Choosing a Subject or Topic for a Book/Contests

Today I’m showcasing my latest books in the Little Math Series: My Math Toolbox, What's a Fraction? and Hopping on the Number Line.

At a recent book signing, a person asked me how I decide on a topic for my next book. Sometimes, as with these latest books, an editor I’ve worked with previously asks me to write the books. But most of the time, the choice is mine. When an idea bores into my brain and refuses to leave, I let it simmer and think about the possibilities of the story over a period of time. As the story materializes in my mind, I consider different avenues it can take. If the idea seems viable, I check out other books that might be similar. If I find something similar, I change paths with the story since I don’t want to write what’s already out there. Editors want stories that are new and fresh.

When I’m writing nonfiction, I spend considerable time checking for books on the same topic. If the market is flooded with books on a particular topic I either develop a totally new perspective for approaching the subject or abandon it entirely.

All manuscripts are a tough sell in today’s market so each book has to stand out as different in some way in order to get a contract. Try adding humor or tell the story from the perspective of an unexpected character to make your story different. Ben and Me by Robert Lawson is a biography about Ben Franklin told from the viewpoint of a mouse named Amos. That’s a different take on a story and a wonderful approach. Take a close look at your manuscript to see what changes you can make to create a story that is different from those already lining the shelves.

Contest for adult writers:
The Tapestry of Bronze is sponsoring a series of poetry contests to celebrate Greek and Roman mythology and the Olympian gods. The subject of the eighth contest is Artemis (also known as Diana), the Goddess of the Hunt.

All poems remain the property of the authors. The Tapestry of Bronze reserves the right to post winning poems and those receiving Honorable Mention on the Tapestry of Bronze website. E-mail your poem (no more than 30 lines) to the following address:
Deadline: November 30, 2011

Contest for young writers:
Amphibian populations worldwide are in the midst of a mass extinction crisis, yet most people are completely unaware! We need your help in getting the word out. This contest will raise awareness of the amphibian extinction problem by getting people involved and interested. The best frog poems will be used in a book of frog poetry that will be sold to raise money for amphibian conservation efforts. This book will feature artwork from our concurrent SAVE THE FROGS! Art Contest.

The Grand Prize Winner will:
Receive $100. Receive $50 worth of "Frog Cash" to be used for
any of the cool, environmentally-friendly merchandise in the
SAVE THE FROGS! Gift Center. Become an official judge of next
year's SAVE THE FROGS! Poetry Contest. Receive frog fame.

Category Winners will:
Win $50. Receive $30 worth of "Frog Cash" to be used for any
of the cool, environmentally-friendly merchandise in the SAVE
THE FROGS! Gift Center.

Category winners will be chosen from the following categories.
Note however that the Grand Prize Winner may be chosen from
any category.

(1) 18+ years of age
(2) 13-17 years old
(3) Under 13 age group

Details at

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Developing Characters/Call for Submissions

In writing fiction, characters are central to the story. The character must seem real to the readers or their interest in the story will quickly fade. Before beginning the manuscript, think about the fundamental elements of character. Look through magazines and cut out pictures of interesting looking people or animals. Observe people in which you come in contact. Notice their physical characteristics, such as how they are dressed. (This works for animals, too). Pay close attention to the way the person walks, talks, and reacts to others. If you’re using pictures, imagine how the characters would act. What would the person say and how would he/she say it. How does the voice sound—scratchy, hoarse, loud, whisper?

What kind of past has this character experienced? Is the person a leader or follower? Imagine the person is in a dangerous situation—house fire, car accident, robbery, tornado, heated argument that turned violent. How does the character react?

In a notebook, write a short character sketch about a character you would like to write about. Give the character a plausible history and enough complexity to seem real. The complexity comes from a character that is not perfect. The character should have flaws and have to deal with those flaws to grow, learn, and change by the end of the story.

Call for Submissions for Adult Writers
Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry Contest will award $3,600, including a top prize of $1,500. Submit one humor poem online. No length limit. Both published and unpublished poems are welcome. No fee to enter. Final judge: Jendi Reiter.
Online Submission Deadline: April 1, 2012
Guidelines at

Call for Submissions for Young Writers
Kids'Magination is a new ezine for kids who love to read and write. We're also looking for submissions. Please submit your best, polished work. Our guidelines can be found here:

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Cutting Unnecessary Parts of Manuscripts/Contest/Call for Submissions

This week, I’m continuing my discussion of how to cut unnecessary parts of manuscripts.

Look for prepositional phrases that aren’t needed. Example: Tears streaked down her face for what she’d done. “for what she’d done” isn’t needed. The reader will figure that out.

Avoid the tendency to double state an action, such as “He nodded his head.” “He nodded” is all that needs to be stated. The reader will know the action was with the head.

Does the writing move the plot forward, develop character, provide insight through dialog or narrative, or evoke emotional responses? If not, consider cutting it. Cutting a scene can be a painful experience, especially if we love the phrasing. Cutting doesn’t mean discarding. Simply file away the phrase or paragraph and save for later use. You may go back to it with another book. I once heard Mary Higgins Clark say she never throws away a piece of writing when she edits. She simply files it away for possible use in a future book.

The purpose of cutting is to sharpen the prose. Are the words necessary to tell the story? Cutting words isn’t about making a story shorter; it’s about tighter writing. Many writers cut a significant amount; then add more scenes to promote the action or develop the character. I recently heard one writer state, “cut words, add story.”

So whether you’re cutting or adding words, revise until your manuscript is polished and succinct.

Contest for Adult Writers
The Tenth Glass Woman Prize will be awarded for a work of short fiction or creative non-fiction (prose) written by a woman. Length: between 50 and 5,000 words. The top prize for the tenth Glass Woman Prize award is US $500 and possible (but not obligatory) online publication; there will also be one runner up prize of $100 and one runner up prize of $50, together with possible (but not obligatory) online publication. Subject is open, but must be of significance to women. The criterion is passion, excellence, and authenticity in the woman’s writing voice. Previously published work and simultaneous submissions are OK. Authors retain all copyright is retained by the author.”
Deadline: September 21, 2011

Call for Submissions for Young Writers
Boodle: By Kids For Kids. Formerly called Caboodle , this quarterly magazine is full of funny, pensive, imaginative stories, poetry and drawings from children. With more than 50 contributions per issue, there is room for the work of many ambitious young writers and artists.
Send manuscripts to P.O. Box 1049, Portland, IN 47371.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Trimming a Manuscript/Contest/Calls for Submissions

Writing in all genres involves slicing and dicing words to get to the heart of the story. Gardeners prune apple trees by cutting some of the branches. The tree becomes stronger, takes on a better shape, and produces more fruit simply by cutting the parts that interfere with growth. Writers also need to slice and dice words, phrases, and even paragraphs that diminish the story.

Some writers use this equation to trim their work: First Draft-10%=Second Draft. Cutting ten percent during revision seems like a waste of good words and hard work, but you’ll find that the first draft is never your best work. Allow your first draft to be as long as you need it to be. Then set a word limit and cut the unnecessary words. Some need to cut much more than others. Every writer is different and every book is different.

So what do I cut?

Begin with action or where the character’s life is about to change instead of a long build-up in the first chapter.

Use dialog to develop the character and to move the story forward. If the dialog doesn’t do either, remove it.

Many dialog tags can be deleted. If the reader can figure out who is talking, omit “he said.”

Point a critical eye to detailed descriptions. Give the reader enough information to form a mental picture but every detail of a setting can slow down the story and become boring reading.

Telling rather than showing uses excessive words. Show the reader the action rather than telling.

Concise, tight writing makes editors smile. Review your manuscript with scissors in hand.

Next week I’ll discuss more ways to cut out unnecessary words.

Contest for Adult Writers

Inspired by Tagore: International Writing Competition
“This year sampad is delighted to be celebrating the 150th anniversary of the birth of Rabindranath Tagore with Inspired by Tagore, an international writing competition.Tagore was a hugely influential South Asian poet and many sampad projects have celebrated his legacy or been sparked by a line of his poetry….There are 2 categories: one for writers aged between 8 and 15, one for writers aged 16 and over. Entries can be poetry, short stories or reportage, and writers can submit up to 6 pieces of work, maximum length 400 words, using Tagore’s poetry and writing as a starting point….There will be a special prize for the overall winners: Best writer in 8 to 15 category will receive GBP 200 and best writer in 16 and over category will receive GBP 300. All winning writers will be published.”
Deadline: January 31, 2012
Details at

Call for Submissions for Young Writers

Stone Soup
is made up of stories, poems, book reviews, and art by young people through age 13. Although all the writing we publish is in English, we accept work from all over the world.