Finding Writing Contests

Whether you’re a poet, short story writer, a novelist, etc, I’m sure most of you have submitted your work to a writing contest at some point in your life. Contests can come in many shapes and forms. They might be for large anthologies to help you get your name out there. Some may pay royalties to their authors. Others have big cash prizes. And some pay nothing, but at least you get the bragging rights. The things I hear most writers say is that they don’t know where to submit their work or where to start looking, or how to prepare their piece.

First off, here are few of the common places I visit to find writing contests/opportunities:

  • Submittable: This is a submission engine as well as a place where sites compile contests that are available. More and more sites are using submittable as a way for authors to send in their work. Once you enter your information once, it’s usually there for you to use again. What’s great is you can track what pieces you’ve sent in, where they are in the process, and which pieces have been accepted or rejected. There’s a messaging system too so you can contact the contest site if you have questions. Once you sign up and indicate your genre interests, it you can also look up available contests through the system.
  • Poets & WritersThis site is great because not only does it provide helpful writing tips, it also frequently updates contests or submission opportunities. You can filter it depending on entry fee, genre, deadline, etc. So if you’re only interested in poetry, you can just select the poetry category. Or if you don’t want to pay for an entry, you can filter out all of the contests that cost money.
  • Writer’s DigestWriter’s Digest hosts a lot of writing contests each year. They also list other contests/events that are going around, so keep checking in for the newest and greatest stuff. Like Poets & Writers, Writer’s Digest provides helpful literary tips as you’re prepping to submit your material.
  • Jerry JenkinsJerry Jenkins lists contests that are going on throughout the year and it gets updated every year. What I like the most about it is that it’ll provide a link directly to the contest so you don’t have to go looking for it.
  • The Write LifeI like this website a lot. They provide 31 free writing contests that have cash prizes. So if you’re looking to make some money for your writing, this may be the route to go.

These are just a few sites to get you started. If you’re looking for a particular genre, you might have to dig a little deeper into the internet to find the right contest for you.

As you prep your piece for submission, there are a few things to keep in mind.

  • Read the Guidelines: Whatever contest you enter, it is vital you read their guidelines. They might have very particular ways that they want you to submit your piece (font, size, single vs double-spaced, etc). If you don’t do as they request, they may disqualify you without even reading your piece. Get it in on time, and if any of the directions are confusing, be sure to e-mail them and ask for clarification.
  • Stay on Topic: If you enter a contest that has a particular theme, make sure you’re submitting a piece that works. If the theme is “Aliens in Space,” don’t give them a contemporary romance or paranormal entry. Stay as close to the topic as possible.
  • Word Count: When contests give max and min word counts, you need to stick to them. Even if your entry is 5001 words and the max is 5000, that one word can still get you disqualified. Again, stick to the guidelines.
  • Review Other Published Pieces: Some sites will have previous anthologies available for your to peruse. If you have the opportunity, read through some of their pieces to see if your work seems to fit in. If the magazine/anthology is completely different from your realm of work, you might consider submitting somewhere else.
  • Make Sure the Contest is Legitimate: There are many contests out there that will gladly take an author’s money and not do anything with the contest or will scam the writer. Make sure they’ve published other pieces before, they have a history, and the information on their site is spelled correctly. I know that last one might sound odd, but a lot of scam sites will have misspellings, which would seem odd if they’re running a writing contest.
  • Don’t Harass the Judges: When you submit a piece, don’t e-mail the judges or the site owners repeatedly to find out the status of your piece (unless it’s to notify them that your work was published somewhere else). The more you pester, the more likely it is your piece will be dropped. It takes time to review the work, choose the right pieces, and prep them for publication on paper or on site. Be patient. Generally “no news” is good news because it means you haven’t been rejected yet.

I hope this helps you as you look for places to submit your work. If you have other tips or sites people should check out, feel free to post them below!

Happy Writing!

Zipacna Dragons Launch Party

On Saturday, July 20th, I entered a world of dragons and magic. Between hunting for dragon eggs, dining on Indian cuisine, and watching a young warrior find a dragon, I felt transported to another realm.

On Saturday, July 20th, I entered a world of dragons and magic. Between hunting for dragon eggs, dining on Indian cuisine, and watching a young warrior find a dragon, I felt transported to another realm.

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Photography by Wayne Anderson

Author S.P. Jayaraj hosted a phenomenal launch party for his book The Secret of the Zipacna Dragons. He held the launch at Groundswell in Cedar Rapids, IA, a cafe that follows the mission of providing a place where everyone has access to fresh, healthy food, regardless of their ability to pay. From the first moment you walked through the door, you were greeted with origami dragons, riddles, prizes, and the smell of butter chicken.

Origami dragons
Photography by Wayne Anderson

The Hunt:

Three wooden walls positioned in a triangle in the center of the room bore riddles created by S.P. Each was a clue to finding one of the hand-made dragon eggs hidden throughout the room. Egg finders not only got to keep the eggs, they also received additional prizes.

Riddles
Photography by Wayne Anderson

The room exploded with people rushing around (both inside and out) trying to decipher the clues and be the first to find the eggs. It didn’t matter if you were an adult or a child, everyone got in on the action, myself included. And while I didn’t find one of the eggs, it was so much fun teaming up with people to try to figure out the riddles. You’d think all my time reading Redwall riddles would have prepared me!

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Photography by Wayne Anderson

Some eggs were hidden in tables or high above us in the crevice of a wall. And one special egg teased us in the branches of a tree just outside of the building. When it was down to the last egg which challenged the hunters to find the “Winter Elf,” we were given one last clue. “She’s in this room.” I think every woman was approached and asked, “Are you the winter Elf?”

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Photography by Wayne Anderson

In the end, all of the eggs were recovered by these smiling faces.

Egg Winners
Photography by Wayne Anderson

The Reading: 

Now, you would expect there to be a reading at a book launch. What I didn’t expect was there to be two readers, a play, and scenery as well! Author Mindy Mejia,  keeping to the theme, read from her book The Dragon KeeperBehind her, a canvas wall painted to look like a story helped us get lost in her world.

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Photography by Wayne Anderson

And then it was S.P.’s turn to read an excerpt from his book, only, he did it in script style. Local actors picked up wooden weapons and battled in front of a castle scene then escaped into the woods where the main character, Gradni, was confronted by a roaring dragon. I think about half of the people in the room jumped when the actress unleashed her mighty cry.

The reading
Video by Wayne Anderson

It was delightful to watch the story come to life through the play. It definitely made me want to watch/read more.

You can check out the entire readings and play here.

The Cuisine: 

As if writing a book, making dragon eggs, and putting on a play and party weren’t enough, S.P. also cooked authentic Indian cuisine for everyone. We feasted on a mix of Dhal (yellow lentils), rice (basmati), potato curry, butter chicken, and Indian ice cream, and they were absolutely delicious! People went up multiple times to get additional servings and chatted with others, both familiar and new. There was such a great sense of camaraderie, and how can there not be when you’re sharing the love of books?

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Photography by Wayne Anderson

Overall, it was a fantastic night, and not even the storm outside attempting to break through the blistering heat put a dampener on the evening. It certainly gave me ideas for future launches, and made me excited for whatever S.P. Jayaraj has in store for his next book.

The hunt
Photography by Wayne Anderson

So if you’re looking for an epic fantasy to read all about elves, dragons, and more, check out The Secret of the Zipacna Dragons

About The Secret of the Zipacna Dragons

The young Gradni has always known that dragons were evil, a belief widely held by the four people of Adijari – his own elves who can summon the energy in the atmosphere, the devs who are empowered by light, the amesha who have a kinship with the earth, and the qui-lahk who share a bond with animals. When his father dies fighting the dragons of Zipacna, Gradni’s only goal is to follow in his footsteps and help destroy the dragons once and for all. But after being recruited by the manipulative Mogurn, Gradni must compete against Erdun, an amesha who has been imbued with the power of the Fire Spirit Ta’ar, and trained by the dev cult that has already eradicated one of the eight dragon species. In addition to being a pawn in a political game of conquest, Gradni starts to doubt if the dragons really are the villains he always thought they were. Alone and without guidance he wonders which side deserves his loyalty, his own people who are offering him everything he thought he wanted, or the misunderstood dragons whom he has hated his entire life.

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Photography: All photography and video was done by Wayne Anderson at wayne@wgamedia.com.

Publishing 101: Who Should Read Your Book Before Publishing?

When writers finish their book, a common question I see is, “What’s next? Who should review it before it gets published?” It’s a great thing to consider. Some writers edit their book a few times then publish it on amazon. If you’re a trained editor, that should be fine, but it’s always a good idea to bring in fresh eyes to review your work. When you’ve read and edited your book so many times, it’s easy to miss small things because you’re too familiar with it. For example, no matter how many times I read The Purple Door District, I still missed the fact that one of my character’s names was spelled incorrectly.

Actually, five of us missed it, ha!

Now, I want to make this very clear from the beginning. These readers are using their personal time to help you. It’s important for the author to show them respect (and for the readers to also show respect to the author). As an author, don’t pressure readers to get the work done. As a reader, understand that the author has put their heart onto paper, so when you provide critique, make sure it’s constructive.

So who should you talk to?

Beta Readers: Beta readers read your book through the earlier stages. They give their initial impressions of the book, point out plot holes, inconsistencies, or anything major that they feel needs to be changed. This is a great opportunity to make a list of things for the beta readers to look for if you’re concerned about particular scenes, characters, or plot points. This feedback can help you turn your writing into a much stronger book and fix things that might otherwise seem broken. Take what they say into consideration, and perhaps ask if they would be willing to read a second draft.

Also keep in mind that you, as the author, don’t have to make all of the edits. These are opinions, after all, and you ultimately have control over your book. This applies to all the feedback you’re given.

Sensitivity Readers: Sensitivity readers are a subset of beta readers who review works to check for cultural inaccuracies, bias, representation issues, stereotypes, problematic language, etc. I personally use sensitivity readers because I write about characters outside of my scope. Example, I’m a white bi-sexual woman, but I also write about black heterosexual men, as well as Native American, Hispanic, Latino/a, and Indian characters. I want to make sure I’m representing everyone correctly without showing any bias or including accidental racist undertones. Now, there’s an argument going around that books shouldn’t need sensitivity readers, and if it’s fiction, why should it matter? In my opinion, correctly portraying people and cultures is very important, and I want to make sure my readers can see themselves in the characters and aren’t offended by my work. We already have enough racism going on in our country today, our books don’t need to add to it. I know I can’t please everyone, but I can at least make an attempt to appeal to the masses and not be ignorant to the needs of those outside of my scope. For more information about sensitivity readers, check out the link above.

Editors: This goes without saying, but you should have an editor look over your book. Again, no matter how many times we read our work (even if we’re editors ourselves), we’re going to miss things. We’ve built the entire world in our head. We might know what we mean in a sentence or paragraph, but an editor can clean it up to make it clearer for readers to understand. You can hire different types of editors too, whether they’re copy editors, line editors, or they kind of do it all. Expect to pay for an editor. They put a lot of work into their craft and should be compensated for it.

Proofreaders: A proofreader is one of the last people to look at the book and will skim it for any final spelling or grammatical errors. While editors can do this as well, it helps to have another pair of fresh eyes on your book even after the editing stage. I had two proofreaders who caught things my editor and I missed. And the proofreaders even found errors that one of the other proofreaders missed. My proofreaders review my book just before I click print, that way any egregious errors should be caught.

Except Carlos…your misspelled name will live on in infamy.

ARC Readers: Arc, or advanced reader copy, readers are the ones who first get your printed book in their hands. They may be tasked with leaving reviews on Amazon or providing quotes you can use when marketing your book. They may also catch any final errors that you missed, or problematic plot devices. At this point, everything should be pretty clean, but it does sometimes happen that an arc reader will point out a name the author forgot to remove, or perhaps a red herring that shouldn’t be in the book at all.

In extreme cases, ARC readers, or early critics, might point out a major objection to a book like what happened in Amelie Wen Zhao’s Blood Heir. The author pulled her novel from printing because of objections readers made about the depiction of slavery. Some critics denounced the novel, calling it “blatantly racist.” It’s possible having a sensitivity reader on the manuscript may have helped with this issue. In response, she said she intended to write the novel from her “immediate cultural perspective” and address indentured and human trafficking in industries across Asia instead. This situation started a twitter explosion on whether sensitivity readers are needed or not, and it still continues today. Be that as it may, it was the ARC readers who made the objections and caused Zhao to halt her book, which may have helped her save face in the end.

As a note, I think Zhao reacted with professional grace and respect. She took her reader’s objections in stride and sought to fix the issue rather than condemn the readers for their critiques.

These are just a few people who can review your book before it’s ready for publication. Make sure, too, that you’re giving your book to people who will provide honest feedback and won’t just say, “Omg, I love this. It’s amazing!” or “This is garbage. Throw it out.” Neither of these is helpful (though it is nice to receive the praise). And when you receive feedback, be gracious and understand that these people are just trying to help you. They aren’t your enemy. They aren’t trying to make you fail. They truly, and honestly, want to make your book the best it can possibly be. If you’re not able to handle critique, you may want to reconsider publishing so soon because, believe me, this world is filled with critics (both good and bad).

Another thing to keep in mind is hiring editors, sensitivity readers, etc., does not come cheap. Make sure you budget for it, or find other arrangements with the readers. Whether it’s swapping book edits for book edits, or giving free copies of your book to readers, make their time worth it. If you respect and appreciate them, they’ll respect and appreciate you.

What about you? Do you have particular readers you go to when you finish a book? What’s helped you the most? Let us know! Also, if you’re an editor, sensitivity reader, proofreader, beta reader, or ARC reader, feel free to post your services below!

 

Sleep and Creativity

I’m going to get a little personal this week, though I think it’ll focus on something a lot of writers can relate to; sleep and creativity. For the past year, I’ve had trouble sleeping at night. No matter when I go to bed, I always seem to wake up two or more times a night and stay awake anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour and a half. Having that happen once or twice is one thing, but dealing with it every single night tends to wear a person down. When my doctor checked the stats on my CPAP machine, it registered I was getting maybe about 4-6 hours of sleep a night with all the waking up.

You can probably imagine what the lack of sleep has done to me:

  • Exhaustion
  • Irritability
  • Trouble staying awake
  • Depression
  • Worse Anxiety
  • Memory issues

And so on and so forth. Not exactly fun things to deal with when you’re trying to write/publish a book.

I’ve worked with some people to get my sleep under control, but it wasn’t until I met a cognitive behavior specialist that I started to actually notice some changes. For the first two weeks I met with her, she asked me to track my sleep. I was shocked when I realized it looked like a checkerboard. I might get a couple hours of sleep before waking up, but for the most part, my night was “asleep, awake, asleep, awake, asleep.” Worse, when I would wake up in the middle of the night, I usually went to food for the comfort, which just doesn’t help with weight loss and staying healthy.

My sleep doctor describes it as maintenance insomnia. I can usually fall asleep within about 5 minutes. Heck, I’ve fallen asleep standing up before! But staying asleep, yeah, that doesn’t happen much for me. All the sleep I had started to get by using a CPAP machine just went out the window and left me a miserable mess. Frankly, I think the lack of sleep is what led to my emotional episodes in February of this year.

After tracking my sleep, my doctor told me that my circadian rhythm is off kilter. Her solution? Condensed sleep. Okay, so what does that mean? Basically, her idea was to focus on forcing me to get quality sleep over quantity. She wanted to retrain my brain to understand what it was to be “sleepy” and to be so tired that I would just sleep through the night. She had a few other stipulations as well:

  • No caffeine after 2pm
  • Sleep for 6 hours from 1:30am-7:30am
  • No naps
  • No resting in your bed
  • No phone in your bedroom before sleep

Our plan was to do it for two weeks before I saw her again, mostly because she said I would hate her by the second week. I thought she was kidding.

She wasn’t.

It’s officially been two weeks, and except for two nights when I accidentally fell asleep a little early on the couch, I’ve followed the rules closely. Each night I’ve gone to sleep and stayed in bed. Anxiety remained quiet. My hunger ebbed. All I wanted, all I craved was sleep! And by the second week, oh yeah, I hated her. I still might throw a shoe at her when I see her on Wednesday. I never thought fighting to stay awake until 1:30 am would be so hard. It has some benefits. I get more downtime for myself. I caught up on shows and finally watched Good Omens. 

But the costs more than outweigh the benefits. I’m exhausted all the time. I’m grumpy, depressed, stressed, and a complete bundle of emotions. And for those of you who know me well, I don’t like not having control of my emotions. I’ve actually started to cry because I was so tired and so angry that I couldn’t just nap. Even now as I type this, I can feel my eyes getting heavy and my body just begging me to go to sleep.

I will say this, the practice has really made me appreciate sleep a lot more. Our plan on Wednesday, I believe, is to add time onto my sleep schedule so I’m getting closer to 7 hours. I personally think I function best on about 7 1/2 – 8 hours, but even that hasn’t been enough when I’m trying to recover from many sleepless nights.

By now you’re probably asking, but Erin, what does this have to do with creativity?

Everything.

For some people, staying up late or lack of sleep can create a drive to write. For me, my muses have basically shut themselves off and my characters are giving me the cold shoulder. I have this extra time at night, but the idea of putting a single word on paper is almost unbearable. Thinking hurts. Trying to be creative is too exhausting. It takes all my energy just to stay awake. How I managed to edit and publish a book last year is beyond me.

Though it would probably explain the emotional roller coaster ride I felt during the process.

I want my creativity back. I want to be able to curl up at night when I’m sleepy and know that I can rest through the night and rise with enough energy to create my worlds. Sleep is so important. Like, I didn’t realize how important until I went through the past two weeks. And I know, 6 hours may not sound bad, but for me, I need more sleep. Technically, you can function on 5 hours of sleep a night for an extended period, but that doesn’t mean that your creativity will work. Take care of your mind and bodies. Give them the rest they both so desperately need and crave. I’m hoping once I add on the hours, my passion for writing will resume. and I’ll get out of the very tired writer’s block clouding my mind.

Valley West Mall Book Signing!

Wow, what an incredible weekend! I spent June 29th and 30th over at Valley West Mall in Des Moines, IA for a two-day book signing event presented by Indie Author Book Expo. Organized by Jenn Thompson, this event brought around 40 authors/creators together to sell books, make connections, and meet the good people of Des Moines. Despite an art festival, and the abysmal heat rolling through Iowa, the expo still brought 1,100 shoppers. Between author tables, live music, interviews, and a poetry reading, people definitely had a lot to see.

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This was my first time selling at a two-day event, and I was beyond nervous before I went. Author Alexandra Penn and I made the trip together, which sadly will be our last big show for sometime as she’s getting ready to move to school in Scotland. We made the most of it though, including hilarious road-trip conversations, dancing to the YMCA and other fun songs at the mall, and just sharing time being authors and friends rather than Directors. It was a nice reprieve.

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One of the best parts of the event was getting to catch up with both familiar and new faces. Brian K Morris and I haven’t seen one another since I.O.W.A. last year, and I can’t tell you how great it was to get a big hug from him. He’s been a mentor to me practically since we met, and I’ve embodied his ideology of “rising tide” when it comes to working with other authors. If we all work together, we rise together. Frankly, I’m shocked and disappointed in myself that we didn’t get a picture together!

He brought with him Teresa Dunn who is building her writing career even as we speak! I have to say, the expo is a great place to learn the ins and outs of selling books and to meet amazing authors who can offer tips about anything from how to get published to how to set up your signing table. Ashley Lovell and I spent plenty of time discussing ideas for table displays and brainstorming what would catch someone’s eye. I can’t wait to see what her table looks like when her next book comes out! Cassandra DenHartog (come see her at I.O.W.A 2019!) decided to add a little friend to my table who is now fondly named #Skelebird. He and #Yorick the skull will be making appearances and shenanigans at future signings, I’m sure.

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Other familiar faces included the incredible Kristine Plum, a fellow urban/paranormal fantasy writer (Alex and I weren’t the only ones bopping along to music).  Satish Jayaraj went around teaching authors how to create origami dragons, which are featured in his book. He’s actually hosting a book launch event on July 20th in Cedar Rapids, IA, so you should check him out and show your support! Tabetha Waite stopped by for a picture. She’s a great historical romance author I’ve featured in my website interviews.

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As always, I made a lot of great connections with the authors, but I also met some incredible readers. Most of the people who stopped by my table were very generous and interested in The Purple Door District. My favorite experience, though, was meeting two lovely young women who just couldn’t hold back their love for reading. They not only got the book, they proudly displayed PDD art and Bianca’s necklace. Seeing their excitement is what encourages me to keep writing, because I see myself in them when I was younger, eagerly searching for my next favorite book. I truly hope they enjoy it and they use it to fuel their own creativity.

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All-in-all, it was a great event, and I can’t thank Jenn Thompson enough for all the hard work she put into IABE. As someone who is currently trying to plan an author signing, I know just how much goes into preparing something like this. It’s no easy job, and it takes a very caring and hard-working soul to do what she does. Check out her blog to see more fun pictures from the event!

With that, this very tired writer will bid you ado. Keep your eye out for more pictures from future events, as well as what trouble Skelebird gets himself into.

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As a reminder, The Purple Door District is in the running for a reader’s choice award. I still need 50 nominations by 7/13 to move on to the next round, so if you have a moment, please submit your vote here.

Happy reading!