Here’s a writing competition with a prize worth winning!
The Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award 2018, with a £30,000 first prize, is now open for entries.
The contest is open world-wide, though you do have to have had work published professionally in the UK or Ireland. More information from the contest website is copied below…
The prize, worth £30,000 to the winner, is an international award, founded in 2010, that is open to any story of up to 6,000 words written in English. Stories need to have been either previously unpublished or only published after 31 December 2016. Five other authors shortlisted for the award will each receive £1,000. The prize is administered by the Society of Authors. To be eligible, the author must simply have a record of prior publication in creative writing in the United Kingdom or Ireland.
The winning story from last year’s contest by American Bret Anthony Johnston, along with the other five works shortlisted for the 2017 prize, can be read in this low-priced Kindle e-book. The closing date for entering this year’s contest is Thursday 28 September 2017.
Good luck if you enter this contest. Even being long-listed would be a considerable feather in any writer’s cap. And if you win the top prize, remember who told you about it!
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Just a quickie today to let you know that I am back in harness with my former clients Agora (also known as Fleet Street Publishing). As some of you will know, I worked for several years on their More Money Review membership site.
I am now working again with my old editor, Michelle Roberts, on the Creating Wealth newsletter. This is a free, UK-based email newsletter featuring a huge range of strategies for making money and building your personal wealth.
I shall be writing about ways of making, saving and investing money for CW, together with business and self-development topics, e.g. how to boost your productivity.
You can sign up to Creating Wealth here. As well as the newsletter, you will receive a free report titled Secrets of a Self-Made Millionaire (and no, that’s not me!).
I highly recommend subscribing to CW, not only because it is putting bread on my table, but because I genuinely believe you will enjoy reading the tips, advice and information it contains from me and my fellow contributors.
And of course, you can unsubscribe at any time if you decide it’s not for you.
I shall continue to publish on Entrepreneur Writer (and my new Pounds & Sense blog too), but perhaps not quite as frequently. I am meant to be semi-retired, after all!
If you have any comments or questions about Creating Wealth, as always, please do post them below.
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Today I have a syndicated guest post for you from writer, editor and writing teacher Joyce Shafer. In her post below, Joyce offers some great tips for new fiction writers, and novelists in particular.
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Let’s start with what is for some writers akin to a four-letter word: Outline. Yes, there are successful authors–and I do mean best-selling authors–whose practice is to let their fingers fly and write by the seat of their pants (known as pantsers), but they are few in number. These authors may seem like they’re winging it. They aren’t. They have years (or decades) of practice built upon a foundation of knowledge about technical and creative principles of the writing craft. The majority of best-selling authors spend time on their outlines, even a few months, including doing needed research, before the first word of the draft is typed. This includes sometimes significantly changing or tossing the outline and starting over.
I recently worked with a client who wrote and self-published his first novel. It was written without an official outline, but he had an organized mental outline going on, even though he didn’t realize it. However, during our time working together, he did James Patterson’s online writing course, and saw first-hand how creating an outline would save time. As I write this, we’re working on the sequel, which started with an outline we both reviewed and revised. And as anyone who uses outlines will tell you, just because you wrote the outline down, this doesn’t mean it’s etched in stone. For example, as I went through the client’s outline, several ideas came forward, especially about how to create the desired big twist that alters the protagonist in a monumental way, which is a shift the author was looking for. When such inspiration happens to you, just change the outline and keep writing.
Now, let’s talk about skills. This client has experience writing non-fiction papers and articles, but this was his first foray into fiction writing. He was genuinely shocked to learn he didn’t know how much he didn’t know about the technical and creative aspects of writing fiction. A truth to keep in mind is that a successful author works very hard, using the technical and creative principles, to make writing seem easy. This means you, if you are committed to being a good writer, need to study these principles and put them into practice so they can become natural for you as well.
Initially, the client expressed that his confidence was shaken because of the needed corrections brought to his attention and because of the suggested revisions provided. I pointed out that his innate abilities were obvious to me (they are!) and reminded him that he was just starting on this path, so it was unfair for him to compare his efforts with my twenty-plus years of study and experience. He soon got on board with the learning process. Happily for both of us, he’s a willing, enthusiastic learner. (By the way, he’s ecstatic that his debut novel is getting five-star reviews!)
The more willing and enthusiastic you are about improving your skills, the better your experience and results will be, and the more eager your readers will be for additional books from you. As you improve, you’ll reduce the time it takes to get your novels ready for your audience. If you’re a new writer of fiction, please understand that rushing the process of writing a novel, especially your first one, is never a good idea. Never. Be willing to take your novels through a number of revisions, if needed.
Some other things to focus on when writing a novel are as follows:
Track the chapters: Keep track of chapter numbers and include a brief one-liner about what main thing happens in each chapter. This makes it easier to find your place in the story if/when an inspired idea or needed change flashes in your mind. If this flash happens during the night or when you’re doing something else, make a note so you don’t lose the idea, and then add it in the next day. Also, watch that you don’t make your chapters too long. Look at several books by successful authors and note how long their chapters usually run. The number of chapter pages will differ throughout their books, but you’ll see that sometimes chapters are longer and sometimes they are one, two, or three pages in length. Shorter chapters keep readers reading. Long chapters will keep them reading as long as the content is page-turning good. In longer chapters by these authors, note how often they have scene breaks or scene changes.
Track timing: Keep track of the dates, days of the week, months, and times of day. It’s too easy to slip up. You might start a scene at eight in the morning then three paragraphs or two pages later it’s nighttime but you’re in the same scene that may have lasted only fifteen minutes. Oops. So, it’s also beneficial to keep track of the duration of the scene. Did it play out in fifteen minutes, a half hour, an hour or more?
Track characters: Create a character list. The best way to do this is to write the characters’ first and last names down (and make certain you are consistent with how you spell their names throughout the manuscript), as well as their relationship to the protagonist and or their role in the story. This also makes it easier for you to look up a character’s name if s/he hasn’t been “on stage” for a while. You benefit by doing character profiles prior to starting your draft. The more significant a character is to the story, the more detailed the profile should be.
Track conflict type: You want to pay attention to how many scenes include conflict that is external, internal, interpersonal, and or antagonistic so that you keep the correct balance for your plot and character development. Conflict is required for a good story, and how much and which types of conflict occur have all to do with your genre. Commercial fiction typically has far less internal conflict for one or more characters than literary or light literary fiction requires. The most engaging, page-turner novels have conflict of some sort escalating gradually until the climax point in the story. This doesn’t mean each chapter has so much action or conflict in it that you exhaust your readers. Some conflicts are simple, like your protagonist needing to contact someone in a hurry and s/he can’t reach them, or perhaps your protagonist needs to speak up in a situation but has self-esteem issues.
Track point of view (POV): This is something you can organize when you create your outline. Tracking POV for scenes is important because it’s too easy for inexperienced (and even experienced) writers to include more than one POV in a scene. Each scene that includes POV needs to be in the POV of only one character at a time.
Read aloud: This includes reading passages from books by your favorite authors, but especially your own manuscripts. Once you complete your first draft, print it out (don’t read from the computer) and read it aloud with pen and extra paper on hand. It’s vital that when you do this, you do so from the perspective of a reader/editor, rather than the proud creator. Look for extra spaces, misspelled words, missing words, incorrect punctuation, consistency of indents for paragraphs (be sure you do not include spaces between paragraphs, and be sure you do use only one space between sentences), wrong word choices, boring dialogue, not enough information, more information than what’s needed, run-on sentences, flow, pace, and anything and everything that impedes the writing from being a good story that keeps readers in their mental movie and eager to turn the page. You read aloud what you write because you need to hear how your story sounds, because this is how it will sound in readers’ minds. Do this for each revision. You’ll be happy you did.
There are many, many additional things to pay attention to when writing fiction, and this is why there are so many books available on this subject. One book I highly recommend is Spellbinding Sentences: A Writer’s Guide to Achieving Excellence & Captivating Readers by Barbara Baig. This is not a book you read like most books: Baig puts you to work, but it’s not hard or tedious work. If you’re committed to being a writer and improving your craft, you’ll find her practices engaging and revealing. Your ability to write better, and with more confidence, will unfold as you move through the material.
Know this: There’s always more to learn. This is why even best-selling authors go to workshops and conferences. Commit some of your time to studying to improve your skills, some time to reading so you study what other authors do, and some time to writing, which is the only way to practice what you learn.
I wish you the best with your writing and progress.
Joyce L. Shafer provides services for writers, with a focus on assisting new and indie authors. Services include Manuscript Evaluation, Substantive Editing, and Silent (Ghost) Rewriting/Editing, which includes converting plays and screenplays into novels. Her clients say she’s part editor, part teacher, part coach. Details are available at http://editmybookandmore.weebly.com/.
Many thanks to Joyce for a valuable and thought-provoking article. I agree with everything she says, especially the advice to read your work out loud. This can be great for spotting awkward phrases and sentences that mar the flow of your writing.
If you have any comments or questions about the article, as always, please do post them below.
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Writing Your Non-Fiction Book is a guide to writing a non-fiction book and getting it published by a traditional (print) publisher. With all the attention devoted to self-publishing on Kindle, CreateSpace, and so on, this approach can almost seem old-fashioned nowadays. Nonetheless, there is still a strong argument for seeking a conventional print publisher, not least for the support with the publishing process and the potentially better financial returns. Most of my own books have been traditionally published non-fiction.
Alex starts by discussing why you might want to write a non-fiction book and what to write about. There is good, sensible advice about building your reputation as an ‘expert’ in your chosen field first, e.g. by writing articles and getting them published in magazines.
Alex doesn’t recommend writing a book and then casting around for a publisher. Rather, he advocates sending out a proposal first, and only going ahead with the writing once you have a contract from a publisher. This approach is discussed in detail, and I agree it is definitely the way to go with non-fiction books.
He goes on to discuss researching and writing your book, and the subsequent proofreading and editing process. The final part then covers promoting your book (working with your publisher’s publicist) and ways you can boost sales and generate additional income (e.g. by registering with the PLR Office and ALCS in the case of UK authors).
Writing Your Non-Fiction Book is quite concise, but it provides a great introduction to writing a non-fiction book and getting it published. At the low asking price (just $1.26 in the US Amazon store and 99p at Amazon UK) it would be a valuable addition to any aspiring author’s library.
If you are interested in writing a non-fiction book, you might also like to consider Write Any Book in Under 28 Days, my own top-selling course on non-fiction book writing. My course is obviously more expensive than Alex’s e-book, but it does go into a bit more detail about the writing and editing process.
It’s a question that arises regularly among new fiction writers – what is the best way to represent a character’s thoughts in print?
In reply, the first point I would make is that this is a stylistic matter, not one of grammar. There is no single “correct” way to punctuate or otherwise represent a character’s thoughts. Some authors put them in quotation marks, others use italics. I’ve even seen thoughts put in parentheses or ALL CAPS, although I certainly don’t recommend that!
In fact, though, the most common approach nowadays is to avoid using any special punctuation or formatting to represent thoughts, and that is the style I would strongly recommend.
A crucial point here is that most stories today are written in scenes portrayed through the eyes of a single viewpoint character, whether first person (I) or third person (he/she). In such cases there is no need for any extra punctuation to signify a character’s thoughts. The whole scene is, in effect, the thoughts and perceptions of the ‘viewpoint’ character. The example below – written in a third-person limited viewpoint – may illustrate why extra punctuation for thoughts is usually unnecessary.
“What time is it?” Sarah asked.
That’s the third time you’ve asked me in the last twenty minutes, James thought. Still, he checked his watch. “Five to eight,” he said.
“Why aren’t they here?” Sarah asked. She stared at him. “Do you think they’ve been in an accident?”
“I doubt it,” James replied. “Probably they just got held up in the traffic.” Unless Phil’s car has broken down again, he thought to himself.
If you tried putting quotation marks around the thoughts in this passage, you would end up with almost everything in quotes, and total confusion over whether the character was speaking or thinking.
In general, the problem with using quotation marks around a character’s thoughts is (a) it makes the text look cluttered, and (b) it invites confusion with speech.
So what about the alternative of using italics for thoughts? Yes, you can do this, but as mentioned above, when a scene is written from a limited viewpoint anyway (as is usually the case in modern fiction), there is no need to represent thoughts any differently from the rest of the text. And if it’s unnecessary, why do it?
Using italics to represent thoughts also has a number of drawbacks:
You are likely to waste a lot of time agonizing over whether a particular line is a thought or a description.
You will end up with much of your text in italics, which looks ugly and distracting.
And finally, you will lose the option of using italics when, for some dramatic reason, extra emphasis is required.
If you want further evidence for my case, browse through any popular novel published today. You will be hard pressed to find ANY examples of quotation marks or italics used specifically to represent thoughts. In the vast majority of cases, thoughts are presented in plain text without any other punctuation or adornment.
So my advice is clear. NEVER use quotation marks for thoughts. If it’s absolutely necessary to indicate thoughts in a special way, use italics (but mostly this shouldn’t be required). And keep italics for their proper purpose, which is providing extra emphasis.
Companion Publishing Profits is a new self-publishing guide from my colleague Amy Harrop.
Amy is a successful author herself and the publisher of many guides and software products for authors. She was kind enough to allow me a review copy, so here’s what I found…
Companion Publishing Profits is a guide to making money by publishing books that are intended to accompany or supplement existing content. An example would be a study guide.
The main guide is a 75-page PDF. As you would expect with any of Amy’s publications, this is well written and attractively presented. It is illustrated with screen captures, mainly of related Amazon books and listings.
Amy starts by saying that services such as Amazon’s CreateSpace and Kindle have made it easy for anyone to self-publish. She adds that companion publishing can be a great way to capitalize on this, as you are effectively piggy-backing on the popularity of other products.
The types of product discussed in the manual include workbooks, journals, study guides, planners, and so on. One big attraction of producing this type of book is that the reader typically provides much of the content him/herself. In effect, you are simply providing an attractively formatted product for them to write in.
Of course, this type of product only really works in print format. So Companion Publishing Profits focuses mainly on using Amazon’s CreateSpace (print on demand) service. Kindle is mentioned as well, though, and there is also a bonus guide to self-publishing on Lulu.com.
There are 11 main chapters, as follows:
Companion Publishing as an Income Stream
Finding Hot-Selling Topics for Companion Publishing
Popular and Effective Companion Content
How to Create Workbooks
Creating Workbook Templates
Creating Journals and Planners
How to Position Your Content
Making More Sales
Companion Publishing Profits takes you through a wide range of companion products that are quick and easy to produce, with plenty of examples to set you thinking. It also suggests ways of researching ideas for your own companion products.
The manual goes on to discuss various methods for creating templates for your companion publishing projects. These include buying ready-made templates (including PLR) and making your own using Microsoft Word or Canva. Once you have a template or templates you like, you can of course use them again and again to create your own range of companion publishing products with relatively little extra work.
Publishing on CreateSpace is covered in some detail. As well as the ‘nuts and bolts’ of publishing on the platform, Amy also discusses choosing categories for your book, optimizing your title and description, targeting search keywords, and so forth.
The manual also covers the tricky subject of avoiding copyright and trademark infringement. Amy advises using public domain or out-of-copyright content as much as possible. For example, the Bible offers lots of opportunities for companion publishing, including devotionals and prayer journals. But you can also choose topics that are covered in popular books without mentioning them specifically (e.g. tidying your desk). You can also quote short extracts from popular books under the ‘Fair Use’ exemption in copyright law.
One big advantage of writing and publishing companion books is that there is a large group of people interested in the subjects concerned, who in many cases are actively seeking content related to the topic concerned. If you can publish a book that comes up high in the results when they are searching (either online or on Amazon), you could potentially generate a lot of sales.
Although the guide is fairly concise, it includes links to a range of other resources – some by Amy, some by other people – covering specific issues and questions. The links to templates you can use for your companion-publishing projects are worth the price of the product alone in my view.
As well as the main guide, there are various bonuses. These include a 22-page PDF guide to self-publishing on Lulu (as mentioned earlier) and a 29-page PDF guide to marketing your book. The latter would be relevant to any self-published book, not just companion-publishing products.
There are also five training videos covering various aspects of the process. These are as follows:
Companion books research
Canva for journals and worksheets
Tips for Creating journal prompts
Cresting Worksheets from PLR
Creating worksheets from table of contents research
The videos are attractively produced in the usual screen-capture style. They range from around 3 to 8 minutes in length. The commentary is provided by Amy herself. She speaks quite slowly and clearly, and I had no problems following what she was saying.
In summary, Companion Publishing Profits is a comprehensive guide to writing and publishing books of this nature. It is currently on a launch special offer, after which (as is Amy’s normal practice) the price will be rising by at least $10. If you are looking to build a growing additional income stream for relatively little effort, it is well worth a look.
Here is a sample tip from one of my fellow experts, Kayla Hollatz, a professional copywriter and brand strategist.
My best writing tip for engaging your audience is writing in your unique brand voice. You don’t have to sound like everyone else in your industry. In fact, you shouldn’t. The more you deep dive into who you are and what you offer, the more you’ll be able to communicate that in a clear, concise way. That builds trust which then builds engagement. Also, it never hurts to sprinkle in some personality, too!
Although the article is aimed primarily at copywriters and content writers, many of the tips would apply equally in other types of writing. So it’s well worth scrolling through the advice and making notes on any parts that seem particularly relevant to you.
Camilla has also created a free writing workbook that incorporates many of the tips offered. You can download this via the blog post.
Cookbooks Empire is a guide to making money by writing and publishing your own cookbooks as Kindle e-books (and in hard copy form using Amazon CreateSpace).
Cookbooks are an attractive option for self-publishers. They are steady sellers, and there is a huge range of niches you can target, from gluten-free to low-carb, vegan/vegetarian to Indian, Italian or Greek. A further attraction of cookbooks is that they are ‘evergreen’. A good cookbook has the potential to go on selling well for many years to come.
Chapter 1 – Why do we love cookbooks?
Chapter 2 – The ingredients of great cookbooks
Chapter 3 – 10 golden ideas for your books
Chapter 4 – Cookbook creation process
Chapter 5 – Cookbooks advertising
The book is generally well written. There aren’t many illustrations, but you do get lots of links to useful resources, recipe sites and published cookbooks on Amazon.
Alessandro and Lucrezia talk at some length about how to create recipes for your books if you aren’t a dedicated cook yourself. As a general guideline they say you should avoid copying photos or instructions word for word, but lists of ingredients are okay. If you do copy the latter, however, they recommend acknowledging the original source of the recipe idea and perhaps including a link to it as well.
Cookbooks Empire takes you step by step through researching, writing and publishing your book using KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing). It includes details of ten cookbook niches that are selling well currently. There is also valuable information about how best to promote and publicize your book, using social media, forums, classified ads, and so forth.
As well as the main manual – which as stated above focuses on Kindle – you get a 31-page bonus report about publishing a print book (not necessarily a cookbook) on CreateSpace. CreateSpace is, of course, Amazon’s dedicated POD (print on demand) self-publishing service.
Overall, Cookbooks Empire is a practical, readable guide to creating a type of book that doesn’t require huge amounts of content but can potentially generate steady profits for years to come. If you are brand new to publishing on Kindle (or CreateSpace) it may not contain every single detail you need to know (I recommend Geoff Shaw’s Kindling to anyone who wants a comprehensive guide to Kindle publishing). It will, however, definitely open your eyes to a wide range of money-making opportunities in the cookbook field. At the modest asking price of around $13 (10 UKP) I recommend it to any entrepreneurial writer who would like to add another income stream to his/her publishing portfolio.
If you have any comments or questions about Cookbooks Empire, as always, please do post them below.
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If you’re an aspiring crime/thriller novelist – and you live in the UK or Republic of Ireland – here’s a contest you should definitely consider entering.
The Daily Mail Random House New Crime Novel Competition is free to enter. The winner will receive a £20,000 advance fee, the services of a top literary agent, and guaranteed publication by Penguin Random House UK.
Your story can be detective novel, crime or spy thriller, or psychological chiller. Entrants must never have had a novel published before (in any format, including ebook or self-published) and must be 16 or over.
You don’t need to submit the finished novel, just the first 5,000 words plus a 600-word synopsis of the complete work. The deadline is 5 May 2017, so at the time of writing you have just over a fortnight to get your entry written, polished and submitted.
All entries have to be typed and printed on A4 paper with double spacing in font size 12 point, Times New Roman. They must be posted or couriered to Daily Mail First Crime Novel Competition, c/o Penguin Random House Group, 20 Vauxhall Bridge Road, London SW1V 2SA. All entries must include the entrant’s full name and contact details (including their home and email address) and confirmation they have agreed to the full terms and conditions.
As well as being fortunate enough to win several short story contests, I have been asked to judge a few. So I thought today I would share some tips that come at least partly from my judging experience..
1. Most important of all, obey the contest rules. It they say the maximum is 1500 words, don’t submit 2000. An entry that clearly breaks the rules has no chance of winning.
2. Don’t enter the same story in more than one contest at a time. It will be embarrassing to both you and the organizers if the same story wins or places in both contests, and you may end up forfeiting your prize (or prizes).
3. Try to come up with an original idea or angle. Remember that your story will be competing with many others, so avoid the predictable plots that have been done to death, or at least give them a fresh twist. A clever double-twist ending that surprises the judges and subverts their expectations can be a winning formula.
4. Twist endings aren’t essential, though (unless that is specified in the rules). A story that engages with the reader on an emotional level and leaves him/her something to ponder can also be a strong contender in a short story contest.
5. Other things being equal, avoid submitting stories that are laden with doom and gloom. As a judge I’ve been amazed (and depressed) by the high proportion of miserable, downbeat tales that are entered in competitions. That’s not to say such stories can’t be good, but judges are only human. Faced by story after story brimming with misery, when we come across a tale with a bit of humour it really stands out. So go easy on the negativity. Witty, humorous stories (even dark humour) are far more likely to catch the judge’s eye, partly because they are so unusual. And even if you don’t end up winning, my fellow judges and I will be grateful to you for brightening our day!
6. Avoid cliches such as ‘she was a mine of information’ or ‘he was as cool as a cucumber’. These are signs of lazy writing and won’t impress the judges.
7. Likewise, try to avoid stereotyping. Just as judges are familiar with all the usual plot twists, so they can recognize flat, two-dimensional characters. Admittedly short stories don’t allow much space for characterization and character development. But if you can go beyond the standard stereotypes and present readers with interesting and surprising characters who spring to life off the page, it will greatly boost your chances of success.
8. Check and double-check your spelling, grammar and punctuation. No story that demonstrates a lack of attention to the basics of good English is likely to win a contest. Ideally, have someone else who is good at this check your entry for you before submitting it.
9. Don’t be too despondent if your story doesn’t win or even place. In most competitions there are hundreds of entries, and luck and the judges’ personal tastes inevitably play a part. I have had a story come nowhere in one contest and win another. If you are confident of the quality of your story, give it another polish and send it out again when a suitable opportunity arises.
10. If possible, though, take the trouble to read the stories that do win and see what this tells you about what the judges were looking for. Compare your own story honestly with those of the winners and see what they did that you didn’t (although bear in mind my comments above).
Good luck, and I wish you every success entering short story contests!
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