Monday, December 22, 2014

10 Writing Contests in January 2015 - No Entry Fee

I know I am repeating myself, but you, dear writer, should enter writing contests at every given opportunity. Agents and editors take note of who wins writing awards, and it's a tremendous lift to your platform (not to mention sales) if you can put "award-winning author" on your bio.

Here are ten contests with deadlines in mid- to late January. None of these contests charge an entry fee. So, if you have a short story, an essay, a book or collection in the making - go ahead and submit. You have nothing to lose.


The Writers’ Trust of Canada/McClelland & Stewart Journey Prize is awarded annually to a new and developing writer of distinction for a short story published in a Canadian literary publication. This award is made possible by James A. Michener’s generous donation of his Canadian royalty earnings from his novel Journey, published by McClelland & Stewart in 1988. Prize: A $10,000 prize will given to the winner and the journal that published the winning entry receives $2,000. Two finalists each receive $1,000. Deadline: January 14, 2015. Read full submission guidelines HERE.

The Roswell Award. The Los Angeles Science Fiction One-Act Play Festival is initiating a new short story writing contest for adult writers over the age of 18 called THE ROSWELL AWARD. All submissions must be short stories (not plays) and must be an original work of science fiction (not fan fiction) and be no longer than 1500 words. The contest is open to U.S. writers and writers outside the U.S. Five finalists will be chosen and their stories will be read aloud by professional actors associated with iconic Sci-Fi TV shows in a special awards ceremony to be held at the festival on May 23, 2015 at 7:00 PM (Memorial Day Weekend). Prize: The winner will receive a cash prize of $1,000.00. Submissions can be made at Terms and conditions can be read on the website. Deadline: January 15th, 2015. Finalists will be notified by March 15th. How to submit: Submissions can be made at Terms and conditions can be read on the website. Read submission guidelines HERE.

The Ellen Meloy Fund for Desert Writers was established in 2005 to honor the memory of Ellen Meloy. The Fund provides support to writers whose work reflects the spirit and passions embodied in Ellen’s writing and her commitment to a “deep map of place.” Ellen’s own map-in-progress was of the desert country she called home. Genre: Only literary or creative nonfiction proposals will be considered. No fiction or poetry proposals will be reviewed. Prize: $3,000. Deadline: January 15, 2015. For more details click HERE.

Transitions Abroad Narrative Travel Writing Contest. Professionals, freelancers, and aspiring travel writers are invited to write an article which describes how traveling in a slower manner and attempting to adapt to the space and time of locals, their culture, and their land has deepened your experience of both the people and the destination. One of the results of a slower form of immersion travel is the experience of epiphanies that change one's perceptions of the world, of others, and of oneself. We urge you to translate one or more of those moments into a narrative which will convey this view to many who still tend to see travel as a way to "do" as many countries, cities, and continents in the world as possible—as if travel was some form of competition or consumption. Prize: $500 first-place. Deadline: January 15, 2015. For more details click HERE.

Bethesda Literary Festival Essay and Short Story Contest. The Bethesda Urban Partnership & Bethesda Magazine have partnered to honor local writers at the Bethesda Literary Festival held April 17-19, 2015. Genres: Essays and short stories. Restrictions: Open to residents of Montgomery County, MD and Upper NW Washington, D.C. Prizes: First Place: $500 and published in Bethesda Magazine. Second Place: $250. Third Place: $150. Honorable Mention: $75. Deadline: January 23, 2015. For more details click HERE.

The Danuta Gleed Literary Award for best first collection of short fiction in the English language was initiated by John Gleed in honor of his late wife to promote and celebrate the genre of short fiction, which she loved. Restrictions: Canadian residents only. Prize: A $10,000 prize will be awarded for the best first collection of published short fiction in the English language. Two finalist will also be awarded $500 each. Deadline: January 30, 2015. Read full guidelines HERE.

Historical Novel Society Indie Award HNS Indie Award, first offered in 2014, recognizes excellence in indie-published historical novels. Restrictions: English language only. Prize: The winner shall receive £100 or $100 ($100Aus). Deadline: Closing date January 31, 2015. How to enterClick HERE for complete rules.

Nelson Algren Literary Awards is a short story contest sponsored by the Chicago Tribune. This contest is open to residents of the United States. All entries must be: fiction, less than 8,000 words, double spaced, written in English. Prize: One grand prize winner will receive $3,500. Four finalists will each receive $1,000. Five runners-up will each receive $500. Total value of all prizes: $10,000. Deadline: Closing date January 31, 2015. How to enterClick HERE for complete rules.

Imagine Little Tokyo. Little Tokyo Historical Society (LTHS) seeks fictional short stories in Japanese or English for its second annual “Imagine Little Tokyo” writing contest. The setting of the story should be in Little Tokyo – either past, present or future. Prize: $600. The winner of the youth division (18 or younger) will receive $400. Deadline: January 31, 2015. How to enterClick HERE for complete rules.

Highlights for Fiction sponsors an annual contest for short fiction open to writers 16 and up. Genre: Mystery stories. Prizes: Three prizes of $1,000 or tuition for any Highlights Foundation Founders Workshop. (For a complete list of workshops, visit Deadline: All entries must be postmarked between January 1 and January 31, 2015. How to enterClick HERE for complete rules.

Friday, December 19, 2014

2 New Agents Seeking Writers

Here are two new agents who are actively seeking clients. Pippin Properties is primarily devoted to picture books, middle-grade, and young adult novels. Steve Laube Literary Agency is focused on the Christian market.


Heather Alexander of Pippin Properties


About Heather: Heather came into publishing through editorial at Dial, working with such authors as Jenny Martin, Vin Vogel, Scott McCormick, and Jeanne Ryan. After six years at Penguin, she was asked a very interesting question: had she ever considered becoming an agent? Many discussions later, she accepted a position at Pippin Properties, where she is building her roster of authors and illustrators, including A. N. Kang, Darren Farrell, and Jennifer Goldfinger. Follow her on Twitter: @HeatherAlexand

What she is seeking: Picture books, middle grade, YA, and literary graphic novels. Specifically quirky picture books with a strong emotional core, middle grade about a moment that changes a kid forever, and beautifully written YA. She enjoys contemporary, historical, funny, high stakes, gothic style horror, and magical realism, but not high fantasy, medieval, or time travel. She favors literary over commercial and as an agent, she is excited to develop new talent and help shape careers, which is what she loves to do best.

How to submit: Send a query addressed to Heather via email along with your first chapter of your manuscript or the entire picture book in the body of the email to info [at] Please include a short synopsis of the work(s), your background and/or publishing history, and anything else you think is relevant. No attachments, please.


About Dan: Dan is a 30-year veteran of the Christian publishing industry. He was former director of marketing for Tyndale House Publishers. Beginning in 1995, he led the publisher’s marketing team for the successful Jerry Jenkins-Tim LaHaye Left Behind series, becoming director of business development for the series (which has sold more than 60 million copies to date). In 2002, he added the role of director of international publishing until leaving Tyndale in 2006. After stints as publisher for two audio book companies and some publisher consulting, Dan joined the Steve Laube agency in 2013. His publishing background is the business side rather than editorial, best for authors who need help navigating the shifting sands of publishing. A graduate of Wheaton College, he lives with his wife Carol, in Wheaton, Illinois. Together they have four grown children and one grandchild. Follow him on Twitter at @danbalow or through the agency blog at where he posts every Tuesday.

What he is seeking: Mostly nonfiction for the Christian market, but represents a select number of novelists working in Christian historical, contemporary, Biblical, and futuristic genres.

How to submit: Email a query to Dan through his assistant at vseem [at] The submission process and form is available at the Steve Laube Agency website at

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

51 Facebook Groups for Authors

Before Facebook, writers could only meet on Wednesdays
Updated 2/3/23

Facebook groups are a great way to connect with readers and writers. In addition, they provide a venue for announcing your new release, promoting your free days on Amazon, discussing topics related to publishing, and marketing and writing tips, and anything else related to books.

Do read each group's rules before you join, and make sure to follow them. (You will be banned if you spam the group with multiple posts, or if you stray off topic, e.g. you decide to post an ad for your hand-knitted dog sweaters.) 

Note that when you are on a group's Facebook page, similar groups will pop up in the right hand column. You may find some niche groups there for your particular genre or interest.


I've just launched a Facebook group. I would be remiss if I didn't put it right at the top of this list.

How to Get Published 

General Reading and Book Promo Groups

  1. Amazon Book Clubs:
  2. Great Deals on Amazon Kindle:
  3. All About Books:
  4. KindleMojo:
  5. We Love Books:
  6. Books: (book links only– no contests, etc.)
  7. Books #2:
  8. Books #3:
  9. Passion for Books:
  10. Books, Books and More Books:
  11. Ready to Read: (new releases)
  13. I Luv Books:
  14. Book Junkies:
  15. BOOK REVIEW & PROMOTION - (26,000+ Members) - Authors can post books for sale.
  16. Authors (46,000+ Members) - Different types of posts allowed on specific days. Read guidelines.
  17. Book Lovers (20,000+ Members) - Closed group (only members can see posts).
  18. Writers and Readers Unite (39,000+ Members) - Authors may post about their new books and readers may post review or comments.
  19. Authors & Book lovers (24,000+ Members) - This is a discussion group for authors and book lovers to chat about their favorite books. All Authors are welcome to promote here.
  20. Nook & Kindle Readers (24,000+Members) - Share your Kindle and Nook favorite books with us all. Readers and writers alike. Let us know what you are reading or what you have written. We love free download books too. (Closed group).
  21. Book Promotion (34,000+Members) - The purpose of this group is to enable authors to promote their books, to readers of all tastes.
  22. Indie Writer Book and Self Promotion (30,000+ members) - Closed group (only members can see posts).
  23. Readers and Authors Promotions (10,000+ members) -  This group is for Authors to promote their books and for Readers who are looking for great books to read. Authors promote as much as you like.
  24. Writers and Authors' Promotions (95,000members) - Sister group to Writers Helping Writers, this group is for members to promote their own books as well as those of others.
  25. Kindle Book Promos Laura Dobbins says any kindle deal of any kind can be posted free on her Facebook page.

Free Book Promos
  1. Free eBooks for Kindle, Nook and More:
  2. Free Today on Kindle and Beyond:
  3. Free Kindle and Nook Books for Readers:
  4. - Free/Discount Kindle Book of the Day.

99-Cent Book Promotions

  1. Author 99cent Book Promotions:

Author Groups

  1. Author & Book Lover Discussion Group:
  2. Indie Authors International:
  3. Author Meeting Place:
  4. Authors:
  5. Author Exchange:
  6. Writers' Group:
  7. Kindle Authors Helping Authors:
  8. Writers Like Writers:
  9. Support an Author:
  10. Aspiring Novelists
  11. Creative Writing
  12. Calls for Submissions (Poetry, Fiction, Art)
  13. Writers Helping Writers 
  14. Nanowrimo Participants
  15. Women Writers, Women's Books
  16. Support An Author
  17. Fiction Writing (I love this group!)
  18. Author Bosses Writing
  19. Words Within Words
  20. Inner Circle Writers Group
  21. Writers' Ink 

Monday, December 15, 2014

How to Get Reviews for Your Self-Published Book

Updated 10/12/22

Getting reviews is the bane of the self-published author's existence. Without access to major media channels, self-published authors have to rely on contacting individual reviewers, which is roughly the equivalent to handing out flyers in malls.

In spite of the fact that contacting individual reviewers is time-consuming, arduous, and less efficient than, say, a review in the New York Times, it is probably the best way to get reviews. Book bloggers will more likely respond to an email requesting a review than a giveaway. (Paid services, of course, will always generate reviews, but these are, for the most part, editorial reviews, which won't increase your ratings.)

Below is an extremely useful article that summarizes all the different strategies you can employ for getting reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, on blogs, and elsewhere.

Related posts:

Top 20 Sites for Finding Reviewers

Fantasy and Sci-fi Reviewers for Self-Published Authors

High-Impact Paid Promotion for Indie Authors

Also see:

The Indie View - List of over 300 reviewers


The Indie Author's Guide to Customer Reviews

By Daniel Lefferts

Source: Publishers Weekly, Feb 1, 2017

The self-publishing revolution has taken place, in large part, online, with readers discovering books and connecting directly with indie authors through sites like Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes & Noble, Wattpad, Smashwords, and more. In addition to book blogs, online book clubs, and online advertising, one of the central means by which readers learn about self-published books is the customer review. Reviews offer (ostensibly) unbiased commentary about a book, and while positive reviews are undoubtedly more desirable than one-star pans, having a mixed bag of reviews is better than having none at all.

[Note: this article was originally published in Nov. 2014 and was updated on Feb. 1 2017.]

“Along with the cover image, a book’s aggregate review score creates the first impression on Amazon” says Aaron Cooley, who self-published his novel Shaken, Not Stirred. “But the total number [of reviews] is important, too.”

But if customer reviews are, by their very nature, customer-generated, what can authors do to get more of them? Without resorting to “sock-puppet” reviews—that is, reviews written by the book’s author using an alias—how can authors turn that discouraging “no customer reviews yet” message into a smattering of star ratings and commentary?

Click HERE to read the rest of this article for tips on Blogger Outreach, Paid Review Services, Editorial Reviews vs. Customer Reviews, Approaching Reviewers on Amazon, and Getting Reviews on Goodreads.

More helpful articles:

7 Strategies and 110 Tools to Help Indie Authors Find Readers and Reviewers

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Writing Advice from Frank Herbert: Concentrate on story

I agree completely with Frank Herbert (whose ground-breaking book Dune was rejected by publishers 20 times, by the way.)

Story is everything.

Though Herbert is giving this advice to beginners, it is something published writers need to keep in mind as well, especially as they launch into experimental forms. Stories need to have a beginning, a middle and an end - although not necessarily in chronological order.

And, like Ray Bradbury, Herbert believed that metaphor lay at the heart of a novel.


Writing advice from Frank Herbert, originally published in WotF Vol 2:

The single most important piece of advice I ever got was to concentrate on story. What is “story”? It’s the quality that keeps the reader following the narrative. A good story makes interesting things happen to a character with whom the reader can identify. And it keeps them happening, so that the character progresses and grows in stature.

A writer’s job is to do whatever is necessary to make the reader want to read the next line. That’s what you’re supposed to be thinking about when you're writing a story. Don’t think about money, don’t think about success; concentrate on the story—don’t waste your energy on anything else. That all takes care of itself, if you’ve done your job as a writer. If you haven’t done that, nothing helps.

I first heard this from literary agent Lurton Blassingame, a highly respected expert on successful storytellers and storytelling. He’s a man who’s been watching writers’ careers and building writers’ for decades. And I have heard essentially the same thing from many other successful figures in writing; some of the top writers in the world have said it. It is the best advice I can give beginners.”

—Frank Herbert

Friday, December 5, 2014

2 Literary Agents Actively Seeking Writers

Updated 2/2/23

Here are two new agents looking to build their client lists. Both are from established agencies with good track records. Abby Saul is looking for great and engrossing writing, no matter what the genre. Melissa Edwards represents authors of children’s fiction, adult commercial fiction, and select pop-culture nonfiction. 

IMPORTANT: You should NEVER query an agent without checking the agency website first. Submission requirements change, and agents may close their lists, or switch agencies.

Note: You can find a comprehensive list of new and established agents seeking clients HERE.


Abby Saul of The Lark Group

About Abby: Abby founded The Lark Group after a decade in publishing at John Wiley & Sons, Sourcebooks, and Browne & Miller Literary Associates. She's worked with and edited bestselling and award-winning authors as well as major brands. At each publishing group she's been a part of, Abby also has helped to establish ebook standards, led company-wide forums to explore new digital possibilities for books, and created and managed numerous digital initiatives.

What she is seeking: Abby’s looking for great and engrossing writing, no matter what the genre. Her top picks from the current Browne & Miller agency wishlist: (1) Complex, literary-leaning psychological thriller/crime novel. We love a dark story really well told—think Tana French or Gillian Flynn (or, for the TV junkies, True Detective, Top of the Lake, or The Fall). (2) Gothic novel, contemporary or historical—anything that takes a cue from Rebecca, Victoria Holt, or The Thirteenth Tale but offers a fresh twist. (3) Substantive women’s historical fiction with romantic overtones—love American, English, and French history, but we are definitely open to other settings and time periods. Check out Abby’s manuscript wishlist online.

How to submit: Query Abby at


Melissa Edwards of Stonesong

About Melissa: Melissa is a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis and Vanderbilt Law School. She is a member in good standing of the New York State bar. While Melissa began her career as a commercial litigation attorney, she always maintained aspirations to work in publishing. She is a tireless advocate for her clients and a constant partner during the publication process and beyond.

What she is seeking: Melissa represents authors of children’s fiction, adult commercial fiction, and select pop-culture nonfiction. She is looking for warm and timeless middle grade fiction and accessible young adult fiction. For adults, she is looking for fast-paced thrillers and smart women’s fiction. She can be found on Twitter @MelissaLaurenE, where she often tweets her active Manuscript Wishlist requests under #MSWL.

How to submit: Submit a one-page query letter via e-mail that describes your work and your background to Include the word “query” in the subject line of your email and paste the first chapter or first 10 pages of your work into the body of your email. Please do not send attachments.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

PitchMAS is coming up fast! Writers, pitch your books directly to agents

PitchMAS is a biannual pitch fest for writers held in December and July. It is co-hosted by Jessa Russo, a native Californian who describes herself as "the most extroverted introvert you know."

Most pitch fests are for screenplays, so this is a rare opportunity for those who write books to present their pitches directly to agents. (For a list of agents participating in December's pitch fest click HERE.)

Does PitchMAS actually work? 

The answer is yes. Vicki Leigh found an agent, and subsequent publisher, through participating in PitchMAS. (Read her story HERE.)

From the PitchMAS website:

FRIDAY 12/5/14

(A blog post will go LIVE on 12/5, right here on the PitchMAS blog, where you will post your pitches in the COMMENT SECTION. Your peers will then hop around and critique/advise you on what works/doesn't work. Tamara and Jessa WILL NOT be participating in the workshop; this is for peer critique/help only.)

SUNDAY 12/7/14 - MONDAY 12/8/14

For this event, we will be accepting your 35-word pitch submissions VIA EMAIL ONLY--email address will be posted when submission window OPENS. Submission window will be open from Sunday 12/7/14 at 9:00amPST until Monday 12/8/14 at 6:00pmPST
We will delete any submissions received before or after that submission window, and it isup to you to figure out your own time zone differences.

THURSDAY 12/11/14
{35 Words or Less}
The TOP 50 pitches will go live on the PitchMAS blog at MIDNIGHT on Thursday, 12/11/14. Agents and editors will have the entire day (as well as all day Friday!) to comment and make requests. 
Please do NOT comment if you are not an agent or editor. THE ONLY EXCEPTION TO THIS RULE is if an agent/editor has asked a SPECIFIC question. Any other non-agent/editor responses or comments will be deleted. 

FRIDAY 12/12/14

{140 Characters or Less}
All day long on Friday, 12/12/14, we will have our PitchMAS Twitter Party! Agents and editors will follow the hashtag #PitchMAS, reading your awesome pitches. ANYONE can participate, even if you didn't make it into the 50 selected blog pitches. However, your manuscript MUST BE COMPLETED and POLISHED. 
Twitter pitches MUST BE 140 Characters or Less and HAVE TO include the hashtag. Don't make the agents and editors work by breaking your pitch into more than one tweet. That will just annoy them and your fellow pitchers. We also advise against making them click a link to get to your pitch. Guess what? They won't.  
Please keep your Twitter pitching to no more than TWO PITCHES PER HOUR. Do not fill up the feed with your pitch over and over again. This will annoy the agents and editors involved, as well as ruining it for everyone else and people WILL remember you for it. 

Follow along with the hashtag: #PitchMAS

Click HERE for more information.

Monday, December 1, 2014

8 Reading and Writing Communities That Can Boost Your Platform

Updated 2/2/23

The bottom line for any writer is not how much money a book makes, but how many people have read it.

If you are writing a novel and would like some unofficial "beta" readers - or if you have published a short story, and the readership of the literary magazine has run its course - it's not a bad idea to post your work on a site that has a devoted readership.

Reading and writing communities can be a great way to get feedback on your writing. They also host competitions for the most popular stories, which are then publicized. On some of the larger sites, notably Wattpad, there are tie-ins with media, publishing houses.

Because each community offers something a little different, be sure to read the "about" and "FAQs" sections of the sites before you start posting. Given that your work will be made available to thousands - if not millions - of readers, it is important that your goals mesh with what the community has to offer.

Please note that not all of these sites block the copy/paste function.


With over 18 million users, Wattpad is the world's largest reading and writing online community. It began in 2006, as the result of a collaboration between Allen Lau and Ivan Yuen. In February 2007, Wattpad added over 17,000 eBooks from Project Gutenberg making them available to mobile users. Over 64,000 stories are uploaded to Wattpad or expanded every day. Wattpad is mainly geared to a young audience, with a large number of readers in the Philippines, where several Wattpad stories have been adapted into teleseries. Wattpad blocks the copy/paste function, so you can post unpublished works on the site.


"Booksie is a free social publishing site that provides a place where writers and readers can connect from across the globe. Over the past seven years, tens of thousands of writers have posted hundreds of thousands of short stories, novel, poems, articles and more. Booksie is for writers 13+ (no adult content). Booksie organizes your portfolio and gives you tools (including a micro-Blogger) to connect with your audience. You can Feature certain work in your portfolio, embed images and video, tell your writers about the latest news (micro-Blogging), and keep tabs of your fans." Note: A Booksie spin-off, Booksiesilk, is for erotica and adult content. Booksie blocks the copy/paste function.


"Critters is a member of the family of on-line workshops/critique groups, and is for serious writers of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror. You get your work critiqued in exchange for critiquing the work of others, both of which are invaluable ways to improve your writing. It's run by Andrew Burt, former vice-president of SFWA and his army of software minions." Critters is listed as one of the 101 best websites for writers by Writer's Digest, officially opened on October 21, 2003. At present time there are 5,497 active members. They have processed 160,099 stories and 823,678 critiques and received 51,667,760 visits "During your first visit to CC you will be a Trial user which means there are restrictions on what you can do. Once a CC Moderator has reviewed your application you will be upgraded to a full registered member and these restrictions will be lifted. This usually only takes a couple of hours. Critique Circle runs on a credit system. You "pay" three credits to submit a story, and receive credits for writing a critique of someone else's story. The credits you receive range from 1/2 to 2 per crit, depending on the length of the crit and the length of the story." Critique Circle is based in Iceland, where 1 in 10 people will publish a book.


Mibba is a reading and writing community aimed at teens. Users can post stories, poems, blogs, articles, book reviews, and get feedback, Mibba hosts a forum, and provides writing tips and a grammar handbook. Good for budding writers.


Scribophile is an online community where writers can post their work and get critiques from other writers. The site works on a "karma" system. Before you can post your work, you must earn karma points either by critiquing someone else's work, or when other members like your critiques. The longer your critique, the more karma you earn. You "spend" these karma points when you post your work, Posting on Scribophile does not affect first publication rights, as your work can only be read by members, For more information, read their FAQs.

With 1,137,125 members, is one of the largest online writing communities. Started by a husband and wife team, promotes a friendly environment for writers.   The site offers writing portfolios, email, a newsfeed, groups, contests, survey forms, madlibs, and submission tracking, as well as tutorials. is geared to amateur writers.

Young Writers Society

"Formed in 2004, the Young Writers Society serves as a keynote global community for young writers. We aim to promote creative writing as a pastime, prepare aspiring authors for future publication, and create lasting bonds across continents and cultures alike." Membership is geared to writers between the ages of 13 and 25.

Friday, November 28, 2014

eBook Market Set to More Than Double to Top $16Bn By 2020

BOSTON, Nov. 10, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- Strategy Analytics' "Global eBooks Market Forecast 2001-2020" predicts that the global consumer ebook market will more than double from $7Bn in 2013 to $16.7Bn in 2020, driven by more consumers accepting e-reading, more content made available through different business models, and the accelerating growth of emerging markets, especially China.

Click here for the link:

Globally, more consumers of all ages are now including ebooks as a part of their reading behavior.

"A clear trend in recent years has been the shift of e-reading from desktop computers to mobile, in particular to reading on smartphones and tablets. At the same time, more readers are choosing multi-purpose tablets over dedicated e-readers as their primary ebook reading device," said David MacQueen Executive Director, Apps and Media. "All in all, we expect ebook reading penetration to increase from less than 10 percent of the total population in 2013 to close to 25 percent in 2020. China, the biggest smartphone market in the world, has just begun to see accelerated growth in the ebook market. We are seeing China join the traditionally big book markets in the US, Japan, Germany and the UK to form the 'billion dollar club' in 2020."

"From the content perspective, more publishers are releasing books simultaneously in digital format and print format. Meanwhile, an increasing number of new and established authors are opting for digital self-publishing only, made possible by ebook service platforms, which brings them closer to the readers," said Wei Shi, Analyst of Wireless Media Strategies (WMS). "Another nascent but significant development in the ebook market is the subscription based services launched by more platforms, including Amazon. In essence this is similar to how Spotify and Pandora have evolved the digital music market beyond downloads. We expect to see subscription service gaining more momentum in the second half of this decade, and contributing to close to a fifth of the total market by 2020."

Monday, November 24, 2014

Calls for Submissions: Speculative Fiction and Fantasy

Reading periods will soon be closing for several speculative fiction and fantasy publications.

All of these magazines are open to submissions right now.

(Don't worry, if you miss the deadline, there will other opportunties to submit. See their submission guidelines for future reading periods.)

Note: These are all paying markets.


Midnight Breakfast 

DeadlineNovember 30. 

 "We’re open to loose genre, though we tend to skew more towards literary and speculative fiction. We also love a good, well-written humor piece. What we’re not looking for: fan-fiction, erotica, or anything that requires excessive world-building (as much as we love Game of Thrones in these parts, that kind of work isn’t for us)."

Payment: $50 per accepted work. Read submission guidelines here.


Lakeside Circus 

Deadline: November 30 (?) 

"We want speculative fiction, particularly science fiction (hard, soft, near-future, etc), urban fantasy, magic realism, mad science, and apocalypse tales. Whether prose or poetry, we’re looking for the same kind of almost-weird fiction we publish in our anthologies. We like fiction with layers of meaning; stories that are odd or different without being too strange to understand. We enjoy interstitial, genre-bending, and “literary SF/F” writing. Your work has to encapsulate a complete moment; more than a vignette, each submission must have a beginning, middle, and end. Something has to change along the way, but parts of the story can happen off stage. As always, we want beautiful, dark, unusual, and meaningful." 

Payment: 2 cents per word (fiction or non-fiction), with a minimum of $10 US, payable on publication. In addition, Authors will receive a one-year digital subscription to the magazine. Read submission guidelines here.


Deadline: November 30.  

"It’s the mission of Crossed Genres Publications to give a voice to people often ignored or marginalized in SFF, which has led us to publish titles focused on older women, overweight women, immigration, skilled laborers, QUILTBAG families, and people marginalized throughout history." Crossed Genres Magazine is an official SFWA Qualifying Market. 

Payment: 6¢ per word for fiction. Authors will also receive a gratis print and ebook copy of the anthology in which their story appears. Read submission guidelines here.



Deadline: November 30

"Betwixt publishes speculative fiction of all sorts—fantasy, science fiction, speculative horror, slipstream, weird fiction, steam/diesel/cyber/etc.punk, you name it. We particularly like stories that smash genre boundaries to smithereens, but we also love fresh takes on established genres and in-depth explorations of ultraspecific niches. Experiments in form and style are welcomed enthusiastically—but a straightforward narrative with tight, crisp language is just as beautiful." 

Payment: $0.03 per word up to $225, payable upon receipt of completed contract and author questionnaire. Read submission guidelines here.


Urban Fantasy

Deadline: November 30

"Urban Fantasy Magazine is a professional fantasy magazine publishing fiction, articles, and reviews.We are looking for urban fantasy fiction of up to 4000 words (we may accept longer stories, but only the first 4000 words are paid). We like to read stories set in the world where we all live, albeit with fantastical elements. We’d like for our readers to imagine that our stories are taking place in the city next door. We do accept stories about vampires, werewolves, and zombies, but keep in mind that you’ll be facing strong competition from other writers, including established writers whom we solicit directly." 

Payment: 6 cents a word. Read submission guidelines here.


Deadline: November 30

Shock Totem Publications (commonly referred to simply as Shock Totem) is an American small-press publisher specializing in dark fantasy and horror. Shock Totem’s main goal is to promote and support new and established authors by focusing primarily on fiction, but also through editorials, essays and interviews. "We’re not interested in hard science fiction, epic fantasy (swords and sorcery), splatterporn (blood and guts and little more), or clichéd plots." 

Payment: 5 cents per word for original, unpublished fiction; 2 cents per word for reprints. There is a $250 cap on all accepted stories. Read submission guidelines here.


Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly

Deadline December 1.  

The Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly is an online magazine devoted to science fiction romance. Each issue includes news, reviews, opinion columns, and an original, exclusive short story. 

Payment: 2 cents/word (US) paid upon publication, promotional biography with two links, and a complimentary quarter-page advertisement. Read submission guidelines here.

Black Saturday for Indies

The Author's Guild is promoting an event to support independent bookstores on Saturday, November 29. If you are an author, do consider participating. Independent bookstores have been hard hit, first by the national chains, and then by online retailers. Every time bookstore closes, there is one less outlet for our work, one lost venue for a book signing, and a hole in the community of book lovers.

From the Author's Guild

We all know that books make the best gifts. So do our friends at the American Booksellers Association, who have brought back a winning initiative this holiday season to help spread the word in support of independent bookstores.

That’s right, Indies First returns to your local independent on November 29, otherwise known as Small Business Saturday (think of it as the grassroots Black Friday). The brainchild of Guild Council member and self-confessed “book nerd” Sherman Alexie, Indies First recruits authors to spend Thanksgiving Saturday hand-selling books at their favorite independent bookshops. Last year—its first—over 1,100 authors participated in the program.

This year Indies First will be helmed by Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer. Take a look at their letter about the project here. Per Gaiman and Palmer, directions are as follows:

Choose your independent bookshop, talk to the owner or manager, and agree on what you are going to do that day. If you have a website, put that store’s buy button in a prominent place on your website, above the Amazon button and the IndieBound button. If you prefer, you can sign up on the author registry so that a store can contact you.

We wish everyone involved the absolute best. There’s still time to sign up on the author registry. While you’re at it, take a look at IndieBound’s map to see participating stores. Hundreds of authors have signed up so far, including David Baldacci, Roz Chast, and Jeanne Birdsall.

Even if you can’t participate, remember that books make great gifts. Support your local independent this holiday season.

The Authors Guild | 31 E 32nd St | Fl 7 | New York, NY 10016 | United States

Friday, November 21, 2014

2 Literary Agents Actively Seeking Clients

Updated 2/1/23

Here are two agents actively seeking new clients.  Rebecca Scherer is looking for women’s fiction, mystery, suspense/thriller, romance, upmarket fiction at the cross between commercial and literary. Kimberly is interested in both commercial and literary fiction, with an emphasis in women’s fiction, contemporary romance, mysteries/thrillers, new adult, as well as certain areas of non-fiction, including business, diet and fitness. Kimberly is interested in representing English-language writers from all countries.

About Rebecca: Unable to narrow her focus to just one subject, Rebecca Scherer earned her BA from the Macaulay Honors College at Hunter College in Political Science, English Lit, and German language. After several years at the agency, Rebecca now has daily opportunities to put her wide range of interests to use as she actively builds her client list. Find her on Twitter: @RebeccaLScherer.

What she is seeking: women’s fiction, mystery, suspense/thriller, romance, upmarket fiction at the cross between commercial and literary

How to submit: Contact Rebecca via e-mail: rscherer [at] Put “Query: [Title]” in the subject line. Send a query letter, brief synopsis (1-2) pages, and the first three chapters. Please paste the letter and synopsis in the body of the email, though the chapters can either be pasted or attached.


Kimberly Brower of Brower Literary Agency

About Kimberly: Kimberly fell in love with reading when she picked up her first Babysitter’s Club book at the age of seven and hasn’t been able to get her nose out of a book since. Reading has always been her passion, even while pursuing her business degree at California State University, Northridge and law degree at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles. By joining the Rebecca Friedman Literary Agency in 2014, she has been able to merge her legal background with her love of books. Although she loves all things romance, she is also searching for books that are different and will surprise her, with empathetic characters and compelling stories. Follow her on Twitter at @kimberlybrower

What she is seeking
  • Commercial speculative fiction that is grounded, but has elements of magical realism or near-futuristic;
  • Family sagas about complex relationships between dysfunctional family members (can be historical as well), similar to the tv show SUCCESSION or SHAMELESS;
  • Coming-of-age stories that deal with friendships, relationships, loss of innocence, dark academia (even better if they’re set in boarding schools), but no YA;
  • A unique spin on contemporary romances written for an upmarket audience with high concept plot (a tall order, but there is a project out there that meets this!);
  • Domestic suspense/thrillers that explore the problems that come with following societal norms;
  • Unicorn Requests (she will be very picky about any queries that fit these, but she wants to put it out in the universe): a historical fiction set in Colonial America, a mystery a la CLUE or KNIVES OUT, a grounded fiction story that has fantasy/paranormal elements
  • What She’s NOT Looking For: non-fiction, political/military/legal thrillers, children’s/YA, picture books/graphic novels, westerns, spiritual/religious, high fantasy.
How to submit: All queries should be sent to

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

12 December Writing Contests - No Entry Fee

Writing contests can serve as a powerful boost to your career. Agents and editors take note of who wins writing awards, and it's a tremendous lift to be able to put "award-winning author" on your resume.

That being said, entry costs can mount up. For that reason, it's good to start with contests that don't charge an entry fee. Below is a pot-pourri of writing contests, covering all genres and topics. If you don't find one that suits you this month, you may find one the next.

Be sure to check Free Contests for a month-by-month list of contests.

Related post: How to Win Writing Contests and Big Publishing Contracts


The Schneider Family Book Award is sponsored by the American Library Association. The award honors an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences. Prize: Three annual awards each consisting of $5000 and a framed plaque, will be given annually in each of the following categories: birth through grade school (age 0-10), middle school (age 11-13) and teens (age 13-18). (Age groupings are approximations). Genre: May be fiction, biography, or other form of nonfiction. Deadline: December 1, 2014. Read details here.

The David J. Langum, Sr. Prize in American Historical Fiction is offered annually to the best book in American historical fiction that is both excellent fiction and excellent history. Prize: $1.000. Deadline: December 1, 2014. Read guidelines here.

The Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award introduces emerging writers to the New York City literary community. The prestigious award aims to provide promising writers a network for professional advancement. Since Poets & Writers began the Writers Exchange in 1984, 85 writers from 33 states and the District of Columbia have been selected to participate. Restrictions: Open to Nevada residents. Genre: Poetry and Fiction. Prize: A $500 honorarium; A trip to New York City in October 2015 to meet with editors, agents, publishers, and other writers. All related travel/lodgings expenses and a per diem stipend are covered by Poets & Writers. Winners will also give a public reading of their work; and One-month residency at the Jentel Artist Residency Program in Wyoming. Deadline: December 1, 2014. For guidelines click HERE.

The W.Y. Boyd Literary Award for Excellence in Military Fiction honors the best fiction set in a period when the United States was at war. It recognizes the service of American veterans and military personnel and encourages the writing and publishing of outstanding war-related fiction. Genre: Military fiction. Prize: $5000. Deadline: December 1, 2014. For details click HERE.

White River Environmental Law Writing Competition is sponsored by the Vermont Journal of Environmental Law and Vermont Law School. Restrictions: Open to all students currently pursuing a degree (J.D. or LL.M) at an accredited law school in the United States. Submissions written as a class component, as a journal requirement, or otherwise for academic credit are acceptable. Genre: Original essays addressing any relevant topic in the fields of environmental law, natural resource law, energy law, environmental justice, land use law, animal law, and agricultural law. Prize: $1000 cash prize and an offer of publication with the Vermont Journal of Environmental Law. Deadline: December 10, 2014. Read more details HERE.

Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America Best First Novel Competition. Restrictions: The Competition is open to any writer, regardless of nationality, aged 18 or older, who has never been the author of any published novel (except that authors of self-published works only may enter, as long as the manuscript submitted is not the self-published work) and is not under contract with a publisher for publication of a novel. Genre: Murder or another serious crime or crimes is at the heart of the story. Prize: $10,000. Deadline: December 15, 2014. Entry form and details here.

Spark Award: Held by SCBWI , open to members of SCBWI who are self-published. Genres: Fiction and nonfiction for children and young adults. Prize: Envy. The SCBWI is our most prestigious national organization (US) for children's book and YA writers. Deadline: December 15, Read submission guidelines HERE.

Hidden Prize for Prose is sponsored by Hidden Clearing Books. Restrictions: Open to US and Canadian residents 18 years or older. Genre: Previously unpublished English-language manuscript between 15,000 – 30,000 words, literary as well as speculative (contemporary fantasy, light sci-fi and horror) genres. Hidden Prize for Prose also accepts memoirs and creative non-fiction. Prize: $250.00 + 25 contributor copies. Deadline: December 31, 2014. Entry form and details here.

The Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards recognizes outstanding works that contribute to our understanding of racism and our appreciation of the rich diversity of human cultures. Awards are given for both fiction and nonfiction. Prize: $10,000. Deadline: December 31. The winners are announced in the spring. Read full submission guidelines HERE.

GENEii Award. The Southern California Genealogical Society sponsors its annual family-history writing contest to support and encourage the writing of family history, local history, and memoirs, both by genealogists and by the public at large. Genre: Nonfiction. Prize: $200. Deadline: December 31. Read full submission guidelines HERE.

Walter Muir Whitehill Prize in Early American History will be awarded for a distinguished essay on early American history (up to 1825), not previously published, with preference being given to New England subjects. Prize: $2,500. Deadline: December 31. Read full submission guidelines HERE.

Nightlight Readings Short Story Writers Contest is geared to at-risk boys in the 10-12 year age group who often stop reading for pleasure. Nightlight Reading’s goal is to fund and promote literature that appeals to boys and keeps them engaged and reading. Genre: Short stories. Prize: $1,000. Deadline: December 31. Read full guidelines HERE.

Monday, November 17, 2014

How to Win Writing Contests and Big Publishing Contracts

Note: David Farland, who was best known for his New York Times bestselling Runelords fantasy series and his YA series Of Mice and Magic, recently passed away. You can read a tribute HERE.

This morning, I received an email from Joni Labaqui of the Writers of the Future Contest. While I normally pay no attention to writing advice (I have a knee-jerk reaction to break all the rules), this letter turned out to be pretty good. As I scrolled down through the sections, I was distinctly aware that not only do judges look for these qualities in stories, but editors and agents do as well.

From: Joni Labaqui

We recently asked our WotF entrants what they would like to hear from us. Many requested some information that would help them understand why their last story submission didn’t win.

Our Contest Coordinating Judge and First Reader, Dave Wolverton (aka David Farland) just recently wrote the following article. It’s filled with information that I feel will help you with your next contest entry.

While I fear this is really too long for an email, I know that more of you are reading this than our blog (but we will be posting it there too). So here goes...

How to Win Writing Contests and Big Publishing Contracts

By David Farland

When I was in college, I wrote a story and—on the advice of my professor—entered it into a contest. It won third place, and as I considered my fifty dollar prize, I realized that I had made over twice the hourly minimum wage writing that story.

So I wondered, “If I worked harder, could I win more money?”

I was going to school full time and didn’t have a job, so I set a goal to win first place in a writing competition.  In order to boost my chances of winning, I decided to enter several contests.  I worked for six months and entered them all within a couple of weeks of one another.

To my surprise, I won all six of the writing contests, including Gold Award for the International Writers of The Future Contest.

When I went to receive my award atop the World Trade Center, several editors approached me and asked to see my first novel.  The outline interested the editors enough to start a small bidding war, and within a couple of days, I got a three novel contract.  I went on to get rave reviews for that first novel and won a Philip K. Dick Memorial Special Award for it.  It stayed on Locus’s Science Fiction Bestseller list for five months, and that helped set the tone for my career.

So, how did I win those contests?

Well, I started by making a list of lists of ways that that a judge might look at my work.  For example, some judges might look for an ending that brought them to tears, while another might be more interested in an intellectual feast, and a third might want to be transported to an intriguing location.

Recently, several people have asked me to share my list.  Over the years, it has grown.  I’m a contest judge now, not an entrant—though I did recently win six awards for my latest novel, including the International Book Award and the Hollywood Book Festival’s “Book of the Year.”

I no longer have that original document, but here is a list of things that I might consider in creating a story that I want to use as an entry to a contest—or for a novel that I want to submit to a publisher.

First, a word of warning: when I was very young, perhaps four, I remember seeing a little robot in a store, with flashing lights and wheels that made it move.  To me it seemed magical, nearly alive.  My parents bought it for me at Christmas, and a few weeks later it malfunctioned, so I took a hammer to it and pulled out the pieces to see what made it work—a battery, a tiny motor, some small colored lights, cheap paint and stickers.

Don’t want to ruin your illusions about stories, and as you read this list, it might feel a bit like those bits and pieces.  Maybe that’s because it’s only part of the equation.  Your story is more than the sum of parts.  So as I list these parts, be aware that a great story is more than any of these.  It should feel magical and alive.  It’s your job to add the magic:


My goal with my settings is to transport the reader into my world—not just through the senses, but also emotionally and intellectually.  I want to make them feel powerful emotions and keep them thinking.  This can often be done by using settings that fascinate the reader, that call to them.  So here are a few questions to ask yourself as you consider your settings.

•    Do I have unique settings that the reader will find intriguing?  In short, is there something that makes my setting different from anything that the reader has seen before?

•    If my setting is in our world, is it “sexy” or mundane.  People are usually more intrigued by sexy settings.  Even if we place a story in a McDonald’s, we need to bring it to life, make it enjoyable.

•    Do I have any scenes that would be more interesting if the setting were moved elsewhere?  For example, let’s say that I want to show that a king is warlike.  Do I open with him speaking to his counselors at a feast, or would it be better to open on the battlefield?

 •    Do I suffer by having repetitive settings?  For example, if I set two scenes in the same living room, would one of them be more interesting if I moved it elsewhere?

 •    Do my descriptions of settings have enough detail to transport the reader?

•    Did I bring my setting to life using all of the senses—sight, sound, taste, feel, smell, hot/cold?

 •    Do my character’s feelings about the setting get across?  What do they think about it?  What memories does it arouse?

 •    Do I want to show a setting in the past, present, and suggest a future? For example, if I set a scene on a college campus, I might talk about a college’s historical growth, or the character’s view of its future importance, etc.

 •    Can a setting be strengthened by describing what it is not?

 •    Does my setting resonate with others within its genre, so that it creates a positive emotional feel?

 •    Do my settings have duality—a sometimes ambiguous nature?  For example, my character might love the church where she was married, have fond memories of it, and yet feel a sense of betrayal because her marriage eventually turned ugly.  So the setting becomes bittersweet.

 •    Do my settings create potential conflicts in and of themselves that aren’t explored in the text?  For example, if I have a prairie with tall grass and wildfires are a threat, should I have a wildfire in the tale?

 •    Do my characters and my societies grow out of my setting?  If I’ve got a historical setting, do my characters have occupations and attitudes consistent with the milieu?  Beyond that, with every society there is almost always a counter-movement.  Do I deal with those?

 •    Is my setting, my world, in danger?  Do I want it to be?

 •    Does my world have a life of its own?  For example, if I create a fantasy village, does it have a history, a character of its own?  Do I need to create a cast for the village—a mayor, a teacher, guards, etc.?

 •    Is my setting logically consistent?  For example, let’s say that I have a merchant town.  Where would a merchant town most likely be?  On a trade route or port—quite possibly at the junction of the two.  So I need to consider how fully I’ve developed the world.

 •    Is my setting fully realized?  Let’s say I have a forest.  What kinds of trees and plants would be in that forest?  What kind of animals?  What’s the history of that forest?  When did it last have rain or snow?  What’s unique about that forest?

 •    Do I describe the backgrounds (mountains, clouds, sun, moon), along with the middle ground (say a nearby building) and the elements nearest to my protagonist.

 •    Does my setting intrude into every scene, so that my reader is always grounded?  (If I were to set my story in a field, for example, and I have men preparing for battle, I might want to have a lord look up and notice that buzzards are flapping up out of the oaks in the distance, already gathering for the feast.  I might want to mention the sun warming my protagonist’s armor, the flies buzzing about his horse’s ears, and so on—all while he is holding an important conversation.

 •    Are there any settings that have symbolic import, whose meanings need to be brought to the forefront?


I want my characters to feel like real people, fully developed.  Many stories suffer because the characters are bland or cliché or are just underdeveloped.

We want to move beyond stereotypes, create characters that our readers will feel for.  At the same time, we don’t want to get stuck in the weeds.  We don’t want so much detail that the character feels overburdened and the writing gets sluggish.

So here are some of the checkpoints I might use for characters.

 •    Do I have all of the characters that I need to tell the story, or is someone missing?  For example, would the story be stronger if I had a guide, a sidekick, a love interest, a contagonist, hecklers, etc.? (Note: if you don’t recognize those character types, Google

•    Do I have any characters that can be deleted to good effect?

•    Do I have characters who can perhaps be combined with others?  For example, let’s say I have two cops on the beat.  Would it work just as well with only one cop?

•    Do my characters have real personalities, depth?

•    Do my characters come off as stock characters, or as real people?

•    Do I know my characters’ history, attitudes, and dress?

•    Does each character have his or her interesting way of seeing the world?

•    Does each character have his or her own voice, his own way of expressing himself?

•    Are my characters different enough from each other so that they’re easily distinguished?  Do their differences generate conflict?  Remember that even good friends can have different personalities.

•    Have I properly created my characters’ bodies—described such things as hands, feet, faces, hair, ears, and so on?

•    Do each of my characters have their own idiosyncrasies?

•    Do I need to “tag” any characters so that readers will remember them easily—for example, by giving a character a limp, or red hair, or having one who hums a great deal?

•    How do my characters relate to the societies from which they sprang?  In short, are they consistent with their own culture in some ways?  And in what ways do they oppose their culture?

•    What does each of my characters want?

•    What does each one fear?

•    What things might my character be trying to hide?

•    What is each character’s history?  (Where were they born?  Schooled, etc.?)

•    What is my characters’ stance on religion, politics, etc.?

•    How do my characters relate to one another?  How do they perceive one another?  Are their perceptions accurate, or jaded?

•    Does each character have a growth arc?  If they don’t, should they?

•    How honest are my characters—with themselves and with others?  Should my readers trust them?

•    What would my characters like to change about themselves?  Do they try to change?

•    Do my characters have their own family histories, their own social problems, their own medical histories, their own attitudes?  Do we need a flashback anywhere to establish such things?


One of the surest ways to engage our audience is through our conflicts.  When a conflict is unresolved, and when the audience is waiting breathlessly for its outcome, the reader’s interest will become keen.  They’ll look forward to the resolution unconsciously, and may even be thinking, “Oh, this is going to be good!”  That state of arousal is called “suspense,” and it’s perhaps the most potent element of a tale.

•    What is the major conflict in my story?

•    Do I have proper try/fail cycles for it?

•    Is the major conflict resolved in a way that satisfies the readers?

•    Is it universal enough so that the readers will find it interesting?  (Note that a conflict becomes far more interesting to a reader if it is something that he must deal with in his own life.)

•    Have I brought the conflicts to life through the incidents that I relate?  In other words, are their ways to deepen or broaden the main conflict?

•    Do I have secondary conflicts?  Most stories require more than one conflict.  For example, a protagonist will often have an internal conflict as well as an external conflict.  He may also have a love interest.  He might have conflicts with nature, with god, and with his companions.  So as an author, I must create a host of conflicts and decide how each one grows and is resolved.

•    How do my characters grow and change in order to overcome the conflicts?

•    Do my characters perhaps decide to adapt to a conflict, struggle to live with it rather than beat it?

•    How ingenious are my character attempts to solve their problems?  Ingenuity often adds interest.

•    How driven are my characters to resolve their conflicts?  Character who will go to extremes are needed.

•    Do I have any namby-pamby attempts that I should delete?  For example, if I have a protagonist whose main problem is that she doesn’t have the nerve to talk to her boss about a problem at work, should I strike that entire try/fail cycle?  (The answer is “almost always you should strike out the scenes and replace it with something better.)

•    Is my hero equal to or greater than his task at the start of a tale?  If so, then my hero needs to be weakened so that we have a better balance.

•    Does my protagonist ever get betrayed?

•    Does my protagonist have an identity conflict?  At the heart of every great story is a character who sees himself as being one thing—charming, heroic, wise—while others around him perceive him as being something else—socially wanting, cowardly, foolish.

•    Do I have enough conflicts to keep the story interesting?

•    Should some of the minor conflicts be deleted, or resolved?  (Remember that not all conflicts need to have try/fail cycles.)


Themes in the story might be called the underlying philosophical arguments in your tale.  A story doesn’t need to have a theme in order for it to be engaging.  Likeable protagonists undergoing engaging conflicts is all that you need in order to hold a reader.  But a tale that tackles a powerful theme will tend to linger with you much longer.  Indeed, such tales can even change the way that a reader thinks, persuade him in important arguments.  Shakespeare made every story an argument, and the “theme” was the central question to his tale.

Some people will suggest that dealing with themes is “didactic.”  Don’t be fooled.  Those same writers will put themes in their own works, and usually they’re taking stands that oppose yours.  For example, if you argue that morality is innate and central to what a human is, they’ll argue that it’s situational and we’re all just animals.  They don’t oppose the idea of stories having themes; they may just be opposed to your views.  So make sure that your arguments are rigorous and persuasive.

 •    Can I identify themes that I consciously handled?

 •    Are there themes that came out inadvertently?

 •    How universal are my themes?  How important are they to the average reader?

 •    Are there themes that need to be dealt with but aren’t?  For example, if I have a policeman who is going to take a life, does he need to consider how he will feel about that?

 •    Are there questions posed or problems manifested that bog the story down and need to be pulled?

 •    Do my characters ever consciously consider or talk about the main themes?  Should they?

 •    Do my characters need to grapple with important questions?  If not, perhaps they should.

 •    Do my characters change at all due to the influence of new ideas or beliefs?

•    If my theme is going to “grow,” become more important as the story progresses, do I need to add or modify scenes in order to accommodate that growth?  In other words, do I need to let the theme help shape the tale?

 •    As your character grapples with a theme, does he find himself led down false roads?  For example, let’s go back to our cop.  Let’s say that he shoots a boy at night, and feels guilty when he discovers that the boy wasn’t really armed.  What the cop thought was a gun turns out to have been a cell phone.  Would other characters try to influence him?  Perhaps a senior officer might take him out to get a drink—because alcohol has been his salvation for 20 years.  Another officer might suggest that the kid was trying to commit suicide by cop, and our protagonist that he ‘did the kid a favor,’ and so on.

 •    Does my character ever have to synthesize a thematic concept—come to grips with it intellectually and emotionally, so that it alters the character’s behavior?


Your “treatment” is the way that you handle your story.  The number of items that come into play in your treatment is so long, I can’t get into all of them.  We would need get down to the real nitty-gritty of putting a sentence together.

You’ll want to create your own list of items to look for in your treatment.  If you notice for example that you’re creating a lot of long, compound sentences in a row, you might make it a goal to vary your sentence length.  If you find that you’re using weak verbs, you may want to go through your tale and search for instances of “was” and “were.”  If you find yourself using the word “then,” you might want to go through in your edits and make sure that incidents in your tale are related in sequential order, so that you don’t need the word “then.”  If you find yourself stacking modifiers in front of nouns and verbs, you might want to watch for that in your editing.  If you tend to over-describe things, you might want to watch your descriptions.

In short, whatever your own personal weaknesses are in writing, you’ll want to create a list so that you can think about them when you write.

But here are a few elements to consider in your treatment.

 •    Is your tone appropriate to the tale?  For example, let’s say that you want to invest a bit of humor into your story.  You start it with a joke.  Do you maintain the tone throughout the rest of the tale, perhaps layering the humor in, scene after scene?

 •    Do each of your characters speak with their own unique voices?  You’ll need to do a dialog check for each character before you’re done.

 •    Do you as a narrator establish a voice for the piece, one that you maintain throughout?

 •    Is every description succinct and evocative?

 •    Do your descriptions echo the emotional tone of the point-of-view (POV) character?

 •    Do you get deep enough penetration into your protagonist’s POV so that the reader can track their thoughts and emotions?  If not, is there a good reason why you neglected to do so?

 •    Is there music in your language?  Do you want there to be?  Ernest Hemingway once said that “All great novels are really just poetry?”  With that in mind, listen to the sounds of your words.  Consider changing them as needed to fit the meter and emphasis that you need.

 •    Do you use enough hooks to keep your reader interested?

 •    Could you strengthen the piece by using foreshadowing?

 •    Do you use powerful metaphors or similes to add beauty and resonance to your work?  (If not, you’re in trouble.  Your competition will.)

 •    Is your pacing fast when it needs to be, and slow when it needs to be?

 •    Do you waste space with unnecessary words?

 •    Is your diction appropriate for your audience?  By that I mean, if you’re writing to a middle-grade reader, is the diction understandable to a ten-year-old.

Story Parts 

Sometimes when you’re looking at a story, you need to think about it in “chunks.”  Here are a few things that I think about when creating a tale.

Is the basic idea of my story original and powerful?  (In a contest, entering a story with a mundane concept probably won’t get you far.  For example, if you enter a story about a young man fighting space pirates, it probably won’t do well—unless you come up with some new technology or angle that sets it above all other space-pirate tales.)

Do you establish your characters swiftly?  We should probably know whom the story is about within a scene or two, and we should probably be introduced in a way that tells us something important about the characters.

We also need to establish the setting in every single scene.

  • Do you get to the inciting incident quickly and cleanly?  (The inciting incident is the place where the protagonist discovers what his main conflict is going to be.)  
  • Are there any storytelling tools that I could use to make this tale better.  (For a discussion of storytelling tools, see my book “Million Dollar Outlines,” which is available at 
  • Does my story escalate through the following scenes, with conflicts that broaden and deepen?  
  • Does my story resolve well?  Do I have a climax that really is exciting?  Is the outcome different from what the audience expects? 
  • Do I tackle all of the resolutions in a way that leaves the reader satisfied? 

Writing a story can be an exhausting exercise—intellectually challenging and emotionally draining. When you’re in the throes of it, it may seem daunting.  But you’re never really done until the outcome feels magical, and if you take care of all the little things that you should, the outcome will indeed seem wondrous.

Happy writing!

And good luck to you!

Joni Labaqui

7051 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, California 90028, United States (323) 466-3310

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