Just wanted to share my good news with you – I was shortlisted to the final judging stage in the Writing Magazine Crime Story Competition. The winning story (and the shortlist) is in the January 2011 issue of the magazine (just out) and the runner-up’s story will be published on the Writing Magazine website.
No prize or publication for me but I was chuffed because it means I’ve learned something from reading the winning entries over the past months:
- The stories that do well in both Writing Magazine and Writers’ News competitions are very strong on character.
- The reader is taken right inside the mind of the protagonist.
- Other characters are few and minor.
- There is often little or no ‘action’ in the story.
Writing Magazine competitions manager, Richard Bell, reinforced this emphasis on character in the magazine’s Competition Special, earlier this year, when he said, “We have seen several excellent stories in which the main character simply undergoes an attitudinal shift; they are shown changing their opinion about something. That is not an earth shattering event, but it can be enough to provide a storyline. “
You’ll have to be quick to catch this one – it was announced in our local paper, The Sutton Coldfield News, today but entries must be received (via email) by December 6th.
It’s an annual competition to raise awareness of the plight of homeless people.
Stories should be 500 words or less and be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please specify which age category you are entering, 10 and under, 11-17 or 18 and over.
The winner in each category will receive a £20 book token and be published in the Sutton Coldfield News.
The prize may be small and the deadline tight but it’s a competition worth entering because:
- There is no entry fee
- It’s email entry
- It’s only 500 words
- The field will be small because it’s not widely advertised
- The field will be small because the deadline is tight
- Meeting the deadline will be a good exercise in self-discipline
- If you win it’s another cutting for your file
But don’t think you can get away with sending any old thing. I won this competition the first time it was run and have entered every year since – with no success. Each time I’ve read the winning story and realised it was more original than the tired old stereotype I was using.
So now I’m off to dream up a unique take on the homeless!
In 2007 I was the David St John Thomas Charitable Trust Letter Writer of the Year (unfortunately this particular award is no more). To win I had to provide a portfolio of letters that I’d had published over the previous 12 months and in the course of putting this together I picked up several tips for getting in to print:
- Be concise – usually the shorter the letter the better
- Study the publication – look at the letters already chosen for publication and use these as your template. Mimic their language and sentence structure. Take note of their subject matter – are they funny family anecdotes or intelligent comments on past features in the magazine.
- Say thank you – magazines like positive feedback so tell them if an article they published has helped or inspired you in some way
- Include a photograph – women’s magazines in particular use pictures of their readers, so including one will increase your chance of publication
- Don’t duplicate your letters – as with short stories and features, don’t send the same letter to two different publications. Letters must be ‘exclusive’.
- Target a variety of magazines – if you write too often to the same publication your name may go on a ‘banned’ list because readers complain if the same name continually appears. Once a letter is accepted, leave a gap before writing again.
- Be quick off the mark – if you’re commenting on something that’s appeared in the magazine, email your letter ASAP so that it can be printed in the next or second issue.
- Keep records – if a letter hasn’t appeared in print after several months and it’s content is not magazine specific, try sending it somewhere else.
There is a ‘How To’ article of mine covering this topic here.
Today’s writing prompt follows on from the theme of letters and is:
A sealed envelope
Just a quick post to let you know that Jill Finlay at The Weekly News is no longer accepting short stories in hard copy format (i.e. in the post). She can now only accept submissions via email to the address email@example.com.
For full guidelines about submissions to the Weekly News (and all the women’s magazines) have a look at the fantastic womag writer’s blog.
I’ve just come back from a meeting of the Birmingham Chapter of the Romantic Novelists’ Association. We get together every three months at the Edwardian Tea Rooms in the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery for lunch and a chat about writing in general and romance writing in particular.
I joined the RNA at the beginning of 2010 through its New Writers Scheme, which provides unpublished authors with a comprehensive report on a full-length romance novel. The report covers characters, plot and the suitability of the novel for its intended audience. This scheme has a limit of 250 places and opens for applications at the beginning of January each year (but you do have until the end of August to submit your manuscript). The scheme is usually full within a month – so you have to be quick off the mark!
My novel came out of this very badly but nevertheless it was money well spent. The following points came out of the detailed critque:
- Aim at a readership that you can identify with – it’s hard to write to chick-lit for 20-somethings when you’re old enough to be their mother!
- Get to know your characters before you start writing – my heroine had many inconsistencies in the way she acted, leaving it difficult for the reader to care about her at all
- Work out the plot in detail, again before you start writing, mine had as many holes as a seive
- Only include scenes that move the story on otherwise the book becomes dull
Don’t submit to the New Writers’ Scheme if you’re afraid of criticism – parts of my report were quite brutal. Recognise the report you receive for what it is – an attempt to help you become a better writer and that can’t be done without honestly telling you if your novel is bad.
Of course not everyone’s work is as bad as mine! Anne, who I met at lunchtime, was given some useful advice about giving her 1950s heroine more oomph and she is now working to improve her book. About 5% of manuscripts submitted to the scheme are judged worthy of a second reading and may then get sent on to an agent.
If you decide to submit – Good Luck! and remember, contrary to popular belief romance writing is not easy.
Today’s writing prompt: Easter Egg (not very seasonable now but remember if you’re writing for publication, magazines work several months in advance).
Last week at my writing group (Lichfield and District Writers) we did some instant writing based on a selection of objects brought in by one of our members (thanks Sylvia!). Then we shared our work. Few of us had a complete story but there were lots of promising beginnings plus some middles that could be moulded into publishable stories later. These were all pieces that would never have been written if we hadn’t been forced to pick an object and sit down to write for a specified amount of time.
If you’re struggling to put pen to paper or battling writers’ block then have a go at doing your own instant writing at home. Set yourself a time limit (try 15 minutes) and choose a subject such as:
- A photo in a magazine – use it to create a character study
- A postcard you’ve received – try to think up a story to suit this setting
- Put a selection of small household objects on a tray and choose one a day as the subject of a poem, short story, memoir or article
Once you’ve got the creative juices flowing you may well find yourself immersed in an idea and happy to continue past the end of your time limit to finish the piece. If it hasn’t worked for you this time, don’t worry – whatever you have managed to scribble is better than nothing and tomorrow is always another day and a new piece of instant writing.
To help you along (and maybe inspire me too!) I’m going to include an instant writing prompt at the end of each of my blog posts. You can use it to kick-start a piece of fiction or to inspire the poet within or even build an article around it.
The first instant writing prompt is:
An Alarm Clock
Just a quick post to blow my own trumpet!
I have an article on page 32 of the December issue of Writers’ News. It’s about buying the perfect Christmas present for your writer friends. Pens and book tokens can get a bit boring year after year so I’ve tried to include some useful alternatives such as a shoebox of ideas (imagine the joy of just picking an idea from a box when writers’ block has struck!) or the gift of time (offer to mind a friend’s children for a couple of hours so that she can get stuck into her novel).
Unfortunately Writers News is only available on subscription with it’s sister publication, Writing Magazine, so I can’t tell you to rush out and buy it. But I do think a subscription would be money well spent (or the perfect Christmas present!) if you’re interested in advice on all aspects of writing and/or information on potential markets for your work.
Both publications also accept freelance articles – so contact the editor if you’ve got a writing related feature idea. It could be your mug shot gracing the magazines’ pages next!
Finally got round to reading the Review section of Saturday’s Telegraph and came across this competition for a Ghost Story of 2,000 words or fewer
- Entries to be received by November 20th (not much time then!)
- Shortlist of 6 will be published on telegraph.co.uk on December 4th
- Winning story will be published in The Daily Telegraph on December 11th
- Winner will receive a unique specially bound copy of The Small Hand by Susan Hill, who is also one of the judges.
Full details are available here plus some useful tips on writing ghost stories.