Online Writing Contests: To Join or Not to Join?

There are no limits to the number and types of writing competitions you can join online. You can submit a 35-word pitch or submit a longer manuscript for a more in-depth contest. The goal of the contests is the same: to get your manuscript before an agent/publisher who will (fingers crossed!) love it.

In the past several years I’ve taken part in my fair share of writing contests. My contest experiences have been varied as my results. While I’ve heard of a number of authors finding their agent/publisher through contests I haven’t been so lucky (…yet!). I have entered pitch contests and more involved ones with varying results. I’ve had my manuscripts selected to go on to the agent round, I’ve been selected as a team member, an alternate and I’ve also been completely left out of the running. I’ve had several partial requests, some full requests and (*gulp*) zero responses during the agent/editor/publisher rounds.

While the constant highs and lows of entering contests can sometimes make you doubt yourself and your work it’s important to realize what you are winning with every entry.

First–and most important in my humble opinion–is the support structure that you’re establishing each time you enter an online writing contest. You aren’t alone in your endeavors and dreams. A simple Twitter search for any contest will show you the number of people who are in the same position as you. The conversations that take place, messages of hope, support, guidance and empathy go on all day long. The writers who enter will often follow each other and end up with enduring online support systems. There are a  number of people who I’m still in contact with that I met because we’d all entered the same contest (or contests!) and struck up conversations. We continue to beta-read for each other, offer query critiques, pitch critiques, and even opening critiques. Most important we are there for each other when one is feeling frustrated or when someone has exciting news to share. I’ve also made some lasting connections with people who have mentored me and my novel during contests.

Second, the feedback and help that you get is amazing. There are a number of “pop-up” pitch workshops in which contestants–and writers who just want to help–review each others pitches to make them stronger. There’s no shortage in the number of people who will put out an offer to help by reviewing your pitch, opening lines, query letter, etc. The online writing community is such a supportive one and those who have been helped often give back by helping others.As an alternate for one contest I was given a ridiculous amount of editing feedback/guidance. There is no way my manuscript would be as strong as it is now without that help.

Finally, you get an idea of your own determination and how much you can endure in order to meet your goal. Can you accept rejection, and use it to better your craft or fuel you further, so that you can continue this journey?

I’m not saying you should enter every contest. There are times when you’re not in a good emotional or creative place because of the number of disappointments we face as writers. Those are the times when you should sit out and tend to your creative/emotional self. But do keep in mind all the ways that you can “win” even if you don’t win a contest.

Book Review: ALL THAT GLITTERS by Sherry Ficklin


“A dame with brains, moxie, and killer curves, June West isn’t your average flapper.”

ALL THAT GLITTERS is the second novelette in the Canary Club series. This time we are introduced to June, JDs gal and Maisie’s friend. 

I’ve been dying to know more about June since I first read about her in Maisie’s story (GILDED CAGE). She’s confident, sassy, and everything I’ve imagined the best flappers to be. But June has secret’s too. And one of those secrets may just cause her to lose the love–and the life–she was on the verge of finally realizing. 

ALL THAT GLITTERS is just as fun and flashy as the previous book. I just loved June’s story, I had never even imagined the depth of this character. She is well-developed and her back story is beautiful. I love her even more than I thought I did. The details are rich, vibrant and Sherry Ficklin has once again brought the 20’s to life. I am biting my nails & anxiously waiting for the next book in this series.

Dealing With Rejection

Writer’s are dreamers. Not only do we dream the stories that are bursting from our souls, demanding to be told, but we have more personal dreams. We want to share those stories with the world. In order to achieve that goal there are two things that we search for: an agent and a publisher (admittedly you can also self-publish, but for today I am imagining the traditional route to publishing).

Every writer knows that rejection is part of the dream. You can’t reach your goal if you don’t first write the books. You infuse every word and sentence structure with the very essence of your being. Then you meticulously research agents and publishers, sending your craft out to only those who have passed the most detailed research and with whom you feel you can trust to assume care of your blessed manuscript. And then you get the response: “…not right for my list.” The first rejection is fine. You expected it, right? You knew this was part of the journey, which is why you sent out several queries at once. But the next day you get another rejection. Followed–maybe only hours later–by another. And then another.

So, yes, we know that rejection is part of the journey. But some days those rejections start to sting. Some days “I just didn’t connect with it the way I’d hoped” begins to sound like, “I read it and…meh!” You’ll get frustrated. You might doubt yourself. You might doubt your novel. You may even cry (or just get something in your eyes/have allergies). It is important to remember that rejections really aren’t personal. Take some time out. Step away from the email for a few days. Refocus your energies until the sting dissipates and you are ready to get back to it. When your thoughts are clear consider a few things:

  • How many rejections have you really had? Enough to consider that there might be something that needs more work in your manuscript? Or are you still quite early in your submission process?
  • Is your manuscript really in good enough shape to be submitted?
  • Are you properly targeting your submissions? Have you researched the agents/publishers that you’ve submitted to and assured they are the best recipient of your query?

Sometimes you just have to swallow the bitter taste of rejection and keep at it. So far this year (28 days into January!) I have seven rejections (three came in one really horrible afternoon!) and have closed out three queries for no response. So, I do feel your pain. But I stepped away for a week, ate some ice cream, and now I’m moving on. Three more queries sent out. Push on, my writing friends…always push on.

 

Dear 2016, I Hate You. 

Dear 2016,   I was saddened, but not terribly surprised when you took Muhammad Ali, John Glenn, David Bowie, Antonin Scalia and Harper Lee. 

   If you’ll recall we had words when you took Abe Vigoda (not Tessio!!!!), Prince, Glen Frey and Anton Yelchin (who was just far, far too young). 

   I had stronger words when you took Alan Rickman. 

   But what you’ve done with Carrie Fisher is unforgivable. You dangled her right on the edge, taunted us and gave us hope before you ripped her away. And for that you will always be remembered as a cold, heartless bastard and I want you to know: your days are numbered, buddy!!!! And I will not recall you fondly. 

Aspiring Writers: Throwing in the Towel…Or Not

You’re having a great day, and then ding, your email alerts you to a new message. Another rejection!

You’re enthusiastic about a new contest. You’ve gotten a partial request followed by a full and have had some delightful email exchanges with one or more mentors. You can feel in your soul that you’ll be chosen; this was meant to be. You scan the list and…your name isn’t there.

The life of an aspiring writer is one that runs deep with disappointment and rejection. We go into it knowing this to be true. At some point we’ve decided that the risk of rejection is worth the joy of being able to pursue our passion. But some days the disappointment starts to sting. Some days the rejection hurts so deep that you might actually consider giving up writing all together.

It isn’t easy to get through the disappointing days–the truly painful days. But don’t be so quick to throw in the towel. Take a few days to deal with the emotions that you’re experiencing. You’re sad, or mad, and those feelings are completely valid. Let yourself feel them. Refocus your energies for a few days: read, binge on Netflix, eat unbearable amounts of ice cream.

Once the initial feelings have dulled take some time to really think about what your next step will be. After an honest evaluation of your manuscript, does it need more work? It’s important that you are sending out the best manuscript possible. If you haven’t already, send your manuscript out to some beta readers–not just friends and family, but other writers who will give you an honest assessment.

In some cases–especially with your first or second novel–a manuscript just isn’t ready, or right, for publication. Consider putting that novel away and starting a new project. With each novel you become more skilled and can incorporate new things that you’ve learned about the art of writing, story structure, plot and dialogue. Each successive novel will be stronger than your previous. Starting a new project can also kickstart your creative juices and reignite your passion for the craft.

Once the disappointment and doubt have faded you may find that you’re eager to get back into the trenches and start submitting again–maybe after another round of revisions. You may decide that submitting isn’t for you. Some people write simply for the joy that it brings them and never submit their work for publication. Whatever you decide remember that there is a passion inside you that drives you to write. Don’t let that passion be extinguished.

NaNoWriMo Day 30: Survival Tip of the Day

Like many of my friends and acquaintances, you might be in the midst of the sheer madness that is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).  The goal: to write a book (yes, sir, that’s right a whole book) in (gasp) 30 days!

This is it! Day 30. You may have noticed that I disappeared for several days. Between work, Thanksgiving, a business trip and having some fun with my husband for his birthday I missed several NaNoWriMo days. So now I find myself in the same position as a lot of my fellow NaNo’ers: trying desperately to hit 5oK before the end of the day.

So, my tip of the day is: WE CAN DO THIS!!!!! Keep at it. We have the rest of the day, don’t give up. Push yourself and get as far as you can. You’ve already written more than did last month, right? This is not the time to give up. Write away, my friends, we can do this.

NaNoWriMo Day 21: Survival Tip of the Day

Like many of my friends and acquaintances, you might be in the midst of the sheer madness that is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).  The goal: to write a book (yes, sir, that’s right a whole book) in (gasp) 30 days!

We’ve reached day 21. Congratulation. Whether you’re right on track, way ahead, or struggling to catch up the fact is that you’ve been doing an amazing thing. You’ve been writing your ass off for 21 days!

If it hasn’t happened already you might find that your story is veering off course from where you thought it was heading. Maybe your characters are proving to have different personalities than you thought. Todays tip is: follow your character’s lead.

You may have reached that point where your unconscious–and very creative–mind has kicked in and recognizes things that you had never anticipated about your project. As you’ve been writing you’ve also become more familiar with your characters and setting. As a result of your increased awareness and familiarity more options have opened up and there might be something better for your novel. Feel free to let go of your outline–or veer slightly off course for a short period–and see where you end up. You might just be surprised at the result.

NaNoWriMo Day 20: Survival Tip of the Day

Like many of my friends and acquaintances, you might be in the midst of the sheer madness that is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).  The goal: to write a book (yes, sir, that’s right a whole book) in (gasp) 30 days!

You’ve done it! Day 20! There are only ten days to go. I have to admit it, my brain is tired! I’ve just passed 40k words and I’m exhausted. My tip for the day is simple. No matter how many words you have right now: keep going! It’s hard, it’s exhausting, but it’s such an awesome accomplishment. Don’t give up now.

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NaNoWriMo Day 19: Survival Tip of the Day

Like many of my friends and acquaintances, you might be in the midst of the sheer madness that is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).  The goal: to write a book (yes, sir, that’s right a whole book) in (gasp) 30 days!

We are getting to the end of that rough third week. Here’s what is happening to a lot of people: work demands are increasing; you’re getting tired & making excuses to not write; Thanksgiving planning/preparations are becoming more urgent; and you’re just not writing like you’d planned.

You’re so close to the end. This is the time you need to push through. Determine how you can best schedule time to write.

  • Some people do better when they block off a dedicated writing time. Allow yourself 1-2 hours daily (for minimum 1667 words, plus this allows you some room for a buffer or bonus word count in case you fall short one day)
  • Some people do better if they can write, in sprint format, for several shorter periods every day. Depending on your typing speed you can get 400-600 words in a 15 minute period. In four fifteen minute sprints per day (morning, afternoon, dinner time and before bed, perhaps?) you should be able to meet, and even exceed your 1667 word per day goal.

However you do it, rededicate yourself to meeting the goal. There are only 11 days left. You can do it!

NaNoWriMo Day 18: Survival Tip of the Day

(It’s painfully apparent that I forgot to push this out on schedule yesterday, but I am doing so now because I am a strong supporter of the topic)

Like many of my friends and acquaintances, you might be in the midst of the sheer madness that is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).  The goal: to write a book (yes, sir, that’s right a whole book) in (gasp) 30 days!

The Day 18 tip of the day is: reward yourself! Whether you reward yourself for a job already well done (for instance, you’re probably hovering around the 30K word mark this week) or if you rely on rewards to keep pushing on, rewards can be important.

I personally set small goals: 1500 words, pushing past 20k, for every 5,ooo words. There’s some sort of reward that keeps me going and keeps me honest. Maybe I can go to dinner & a movie with my family when I pass the 35,ooo word mark. I’d like another cup of tea, but I can’t get up to get that until I’ve gotten another 1,000 words. I’ll write for three hours then take a break to watch a show I’ve recorded, then come back to writing. Pick some form of reward, no matter how small, and treat yourself throughout this experience. Don’t wait until the very end to reward yourself. NaNoWriMo is a major undertaking and you deserve to pat yourself on the back for sticking to it, so give yourself a kiss (Hershey’s, of course, and only after you’ve written 750 words!)

 

 

NaNoWriMo Day 17: Survival Tip of the Day

Like many of my friends and acquaintances, you might be in the midst of the sheer madness that is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).  The goal: to write a book (yes, sir, that’s right a whole book) in (gasp) 30 days!

Todays tip is dedicated toward getting the most words possible in the shortest amount of time: join in some word sprints/challenges. It’s easy to find challenges & sprints online. Check the NaNoWriMo forums, follow @NaNoWordSprints on Twitter, check your local NaNoWriMo group or organize your own among groups of friends who are participating. The idea and rules are simple: Someone declares a word sprint of a certain length to begin at a certain time (ie “15 minute challenge beginning at :15). You simply join in, begin typing like crazy at the designated start time, then count & post the number of words you wrote during that time. A 15-minute challenge is a great way to knock out 400-600 words (depending on how fast you type). If you’re very competitive by nature, you can join in three of the 15-minute challenges & have met your minimum daily word count in 45 minutes!

NaNoWriMo Day 16: Survival Tip of the Day

Like many of my friends and acquaintances, you might be in the midst of the sheer madness that is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).  The goal: to write a book (yes, sir, that’s right a whole book) in (gasp) 30 days!

For those of you who have hung in, congratulations. We have just crossed the midpoint! We are halfway to our 50k/30 day goal. This is a good time to bring up todays tip: think about the middle of your book. This is the paint at which, even during a regular writing schedule, you might find your story lagging.

Some things to keep in mind at this point:

  • This is the point at which something should be happening to change your characters from being reactive to being proactive
  • There should be some sort of big event that drives the story forward and changes your characters outlook. Has there been a death? Has deceit been exposed? Your characters still have so much to overcome.
  • Whatever happens here should be a logical progression of the events that happened in the beginning of the book
  • The tension and/or action should still be increasing. You don’t want the story to slow down.
  • If you’re having trouble with the middle and just can’t seem to get past it, jump to the end. Don’t give up. You can come back and fill in the middle when you have a better idea of what it’s leading to.

Waiting on Wednesday: Gilded Cage by Sherry D. Ficklin

 

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Gilded Cage by Sherry D. Ficklin

Series: Canary Club

Publication Date: December 1, 2016

Pages:  53

Genre: Teen, Young Adult, YA, Historical, Romance

 

Summary (from GoodReads):

Masie, the flaxen-haired daughter of notorious boot-legger Dutch Schultz, returns home from boarding school to find her family in crisis. Her mother is dangerously unstable, her father’s empire is on the brink of ruin, and the boy she once loved has become a ruthless killer for hire. To keep her family’s dangerous secrets Masie is forced into a lie that will change the course of her future—and leave her trapped in a gilded cage of her own making. As she watches her world fall apart, Masie must decide whether to take her place in the hierarchy, or spread her wings, leaving the people she loves, and the life she despises, far behind her.

Two worlds collide in Gatsby era New York, in a time of dazzling speakeasies and vicious shoot-outs, of gritty gangsters and iridescent ingénues, where not everything that sparkles is gold.

*This is the first of the Canary Club series and is a short story introduction into the forthcoming novels.

LINKS: Buy on Amazon | Goodreads

 

Why I’m waiting:  I am absolutely obsessed with anything having to do with gangsters and I adore prohibition era based books.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NaNoWriMo Day 15: Survival Tip of the Day

Like many of my friends and acquaintances, you might be in the midst of the sheer madness that is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).  The goal: to write a book (yes, sir, that’s right a whole book) in (gasp) 30 days!

Today’s tip–and I realize now that I should have mentioned this earlier, like way earlier–is to lock up your internal editor. No matter how hard it is you have to push forward. You cannot make progress and move forward if you keep moving back. All of those misspellings, wrong words, bad punctuation, and really, really inadequate words that you put down will still be there when you go back later. You can fix them during your first round of revisions.

The goal of NaNoWriMo is to get through the first draft, no matter how bad it is. My current project title includes “SFD”, for Shitty First Draft (a la BIRD BY BIRD by Anne Lamott). I label all of my projects with the title and then “SFD”. This is just a starting point, nobody expects it to be perfect, but I’m certain that you want it done. So plug along. Leave the errors. Get to the end. December is the month of spelling corrections and removing errant punctuation.

NaNoWriMo Day 13: Survival Tip of the Day

Like many of my friends and acquaintances, you might be in the midst of the sheer madness that is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).  The goal: to write a book (yes, sir, that’s right a whole book) in (gasp) 30 days!

Today’s tip is try a write-in. Write-ins are great for productivity and support. There are a number of write-ins during NaNoWriMo. You can usually find several options during the week. Check your regional message board for listings. There are established write-ins that occur every week at a particular time and place (frequently in book stores or coffee shops). There are also pop-up write-ins that are planned during the week as people are available.

If you can’t make it in person, try a virtual write-in. You can log onto a chat room with others. There is usually minimal chat during the actual writing time, and usually involving word sprints or challenges which you can participate in if you’re interested and inspired by competition. Familiarize yourself with the NaNoWriMo website so that you can find local/regional events and give it a try. Sometimes it’s just nice to sit in a room of like-minded people whose sole purpose during your time together is to write!

NaNoWriMo Day 12: Survival Tip of the Day

Many of my friends and acquaintances are currently in the midst of the sheer madness that is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).  The goal: to write a book (yes, sir, that’s right a whole book) in (gasp) 30 days!

You may have noticed (or not, which is also fine, you have been busy trying to get your word count in!), but I didn’t post a survival tip yesterday. Why? Well, I had a lot going on, it had been a busy week and I was just exhausted. For my own mental health, at the end of the work day I shut down my computer, picked up dinner, and vegetated in front of the tv with my family. In the words of Stuart Smalley…

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Today’s tip is that it’s ok to take a day off. Sometimes you just need to take a night off, rest your brain and recharge. The important thing is to get back at it the next day!

 

 

NaNoWriMo Day 10: Survival Tip of the Day

Many of my friends and acquaintances are currently in the midst of the sheer madness that is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).  The goal: to write a book (yes, sir, that’s right a whole book) in (gasp) 30 days!

You’ve made it to day 10. How are you doing? Kickin’ ass? Barely getting by? Maybe you need some support. As writers, we are a solitary creature by nature. Maybe you haven’t quite announced to the world (or even your family & friends) that you are, in fact, a writer? Well, everyone needs some kind of support, especially when embarking on such a momentous goal as NaNoWriMo. My tip for today is to get some support & encouragement.

You can get support from any number of places. Family is great. Nobody will cheer for you more than your family. They are the ones who will brag about you, encourage you to stay the course, and make you sour cream enchiladas to fuel your creative energy (OK, not really, that’s a subtle hint in case my mom is reading). But, unless they’re also writers, they may not really know what you’re experiencing right now (the stress, the self-doubt, the absolute absence of words at some times).

Do you have a critique group that you can turn to? Try checking into a local NaNoWriMo group, you might be surprised how many people in your area are involved in NaNoWriMo. And, if you are the sole inhabitant of a mountain top in an inhospitable environment that supports no other life than your own, the internet  is always a great place to find support. Try the NaNoWriMo website and forums.

The important thing is to reach out, talk to others, commiserate about your journey. And then get back to writing! You only have 20 days left!!

NaNoWriMo Day 9: Survival Tip of the Day

Many of my friends and acquaintances are currently in the midst of the sheer madness that is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).  The goal: to write a book (yes, sir, that’s right a whole book) in (gasp) 30 days!

Todays tip is brought to you by a rockin’ selection of music.

At some point you may find it difficult to keep your mind in the right place to write. It can be hard to get into your characters minds, or to imagine the world or events in your story. This is where an inspirational play list comes in handy. Having a selection of songs that represent the time or region of your story–or songs that simply inspire you and put you in a creative mood–can be a useful tool.

When I was working on my prohibition era, Louisiana-based novel I set up a playlist of zydeco and jazz that kept my mind in the time and place. Right now, I’m relying on some ass kicking songs (Nine Inch Nails, Disturbed, Three Days Grace, Sick Puppies, Linkin Park) for my NaNoWriMo project.

Don’t just listen to the music while your writing, try listening to your playlist while walking or driving. During those times your brain is relaxed and as you listen you may find more inspiration for a plot point or be better able to work out a problem.

GILDED CAGE by Sherry Ficklin: Cover Reveal

The Gilded Cage: A Canary Club Novelette

Release Date: December 1st 2016

YA/Historical

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Pre-Order Now

About the book:

Masie, the flaxen-haired daughter of notorious boot-legger Dutch Schultz, returns home from boarding school to find her family in crisis. Her mother is dangerously unstable, her father’s empire is on the brink of ruin, and the boy she once loved has become a ruthless killer for hire. To keep her family’s dangerous secrets Masie is forced into a lie that will change the course of her future—and leave her trapped in a gilded cage of her own making. As she watches her world fall apart, Masie must decide whether to take her place in the hierarchy, or spread her wings, leaving the people she loves, and the life she despises, far behind her.

About the series:

Two worlds collide in Gatsby era New York, in a time of dazzling speakeasies and vicious shoot-outs, of gritty gangsters and iridescent ingénues, where not everything that sparkles is gold.

The Gilded Cage is the first of three novelettes which together create a stunning prequel to The Canary Club novel. They are being released as a mini-series leading up to the release of the novel.

Visit The Official Website

About the author:

Sherry is a full-time writer from Colorado and the author of over a dozen novels for teens and young adults including the best-selling Stolen Empire series. She can often be found browsing her local bookstore with a large white hot chocolate in one hand and a towering stack of books in the other. That is, unless she’s on deadline at which time she, like the Loch Ness monster, is only seen in blurry photographs.
You can find Sherry at her official website, http://www.sherryficklin.com, or stalk her on her Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/sherry.ficklin. She is represented by Nadia Cornier of Firebrand Literary.

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NaNoWriMo Day 8: Survival Tip of the Day

Many of my friends and acquaintances are currently in the midst of the sheer madness that is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).  The goal: to write a book (yes, sir, that’s right a whole book) in (gasp) 30 days!

You’ve spent the past eight days bent over the keyboard or notebook writing away. When you aren’t writing you’re obsessing over where your manuscript is going and what you still want to happen. You can’t be at your full creative potential if you’re trapped in a room, so my tip of the day is : Go for a walk!

It has been proven that one of the times you are most creative and best able to problem solve is when you step away from your project. Take a half-hour and go out into the world and walk. If you have a music playlist for your project, listen to that. Otherwise just walk and ponder whatever problem you are trying to work out. If you’ve reached the end of the half-hour and still feel stifled, go another 15…or 20!

Getting out and moving isn’t just good for you creatively, your body needs to get and move about as well. If you have a dog, well he/she is dying to go as well.

When you get back, you can get back to your novel with renewed purpose and a re-energized mind.