For Writers | Articles on Writing | Selling


The actual writing is only one part of the job of being a writer. Selling your work is an aspect of writing that it at least as difficult as the writing itself. I hope you find the following helpful in your quest to sell.

One Size Does Not Fit All : Choosing The Contest That Works For You

Speak Out: Networking through Speaking at Writing Conferences

Ten Tips for Query Letters that Get Results

Top Ten Ways to not Final in a Romance Writing Contests

First Impressions Count: A Simple Guide to Manuscript Format

One Size Does Not Fit All: Choosing The Contest That Works For You

The romance writing realm is filled with contests. Nearly every chapter of RWA has a contest for aspiring authors, with some sponsoring more than one. And there also plenty of multi-genre contests with romance categories. There are contests for first chapters, for page lengths of 10, 20, 30, and 55 pages, for first three chapters, for scenes where the hero and heroine first meet, first kiss, first make love. A person could go broke entering all these contests!

Even aside from the sheer cost of entering the contest (and aside from the actual fee, costs include copying and mailing – both ways – entering every contest a writer happens upon is a bad idea. Not every manuscript is suited for every contest. The savvy contest entrant studies the contest opportunities before making her choices.

Know Your Goals

Before any writer enters a contest, she should examine her goals in entering. All contests offer the potential for the thrill of victory (and alas, the agony of defeat). Contests also offer a few other nice things: prestige, feedback on craft, and the opportunity to by-pass the slush pile. But not every contest offers all of these things. So an entrant should know what she wants, and then check to see if the contest offers.

Entering for Prestige

Generally, the greater the number of entrants, the more likely the contest is prestigious. Winning, or even finally in the larger contests can be an entrée to an agent or editor. In the romance world, the Golden Heart beats out the competition hands down. Other contests with hundreds of entrants include the Molly, the Maggie, the Orange Rose, and the Emily.

If prestige and adulation is your goal, look for the contests you hear people talking about entering. Ask the coordinator the number of entries expected this year, or received last year. Ask about the success of past finalists or winners. Prestigious contests maintain their prestige by keeping track of such information!

Entering for Feedback

Most contests offer some sort of feedback – the question is how much. Some offer written critiques, some offer score sheets with comments, some offer comments written on the manuscripts, and some offer a combination of these. And still others don’t offer anything other than a score. If feedback is your reason for entering, make sure you investigate the nature of the feedback the contest provides.

Check with past entrants to see what sort of feedback they received. Survey a minimum of five entrants to get a balanced view of the quality of the judging. Ask to see the score sheet – does it offer detailed information that would be helpful, or is it very generic?

The contest rules generally describe the judges – some have no specific qualifications, some require experienced critiquers, while others use only published authors, or only published authors in a higher round. Increasingly, judges trained in a specific RWA-related program are available. I have gotten good advice from both published and non-published authors, so this has never been a concern to me. However, many people believe that published authors have a more realistic view of the writing level needed to publish. Others are simply more inclined to accept advice from writers who are more experienced than they. If having published authors as judges is important to you, be sure to check the rules, and enter only contests fitting the bill.

Entering to Bypass the Slush Pile

If the contest offers an editor final judge, finalists get their work in front of the editor in a specific time frame. Countless entrants have received requests for complete manuscripts as a result finaling in a contest. An entrant with this goal in mind should check the identity of the final judge. Listings in the RWR may note that final judges will be editors, without giving names. Often, this is because no final selection has been made by the deadline for the RWR. So before you enter, check the website or contact the coordinator. If the house, or even better, the editor, is one you want to read your work, great. But if you are targeting Harlequin Blaze, and the final editor is from Kensington – or vice versa - the contest won’t satisfy your goals.

Know Your Manuscript

The very nature of some contests eliminates the likelihood of certain types of manuscripts doing well. Sometimes, this is obvious. Contests devoted to romantic suspense, for example, probably receive few entries without some sort of crime or mystery, but if they did, such entries are unlikely to fare well.

But other times, the unsuitability maybe more subtle. For example, the shorter the page limit for entries, the less likely a very long book – 100,000+ words -- is to do well. Why? Because the longer length of these works gives the writer more room to develop theme, conflict, character, and so forth – and makes it less likely that this will ALL be done in the short length of the page limit. This doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with the manuscript or the contest – just that they aren’t a good match. Longer works are more likely to be properly appreciated in contests with longer page limits – or in contests, like the GH, that have categories specifically devoted to works of that length.

So how do you tell if your manuscript is a good match for the contest? Simple – review the score sheet. Ask yourself how YOU would score you entry using based on that score sheet. If you’d have to give yourself low points because you just don’t have some of the elements named in the work sheet, you can either look for another contest, or revise so your manuscript is a better fit.

Bottom Line

A contest can be a great way to further your writing goals. But that only works if you know what those goals are, and take the time to research the fit between your goals, and what the contest offers.


Speak Out: Networking through Speaking at Writing Conferences

Everyone knows that authors can increase name recognition and readership by public speaking engagements. But there is another advantage to speaking at writing conferences -- the opportunity for networking with publishing professionals. As a speaker, you are often given preferred seating status at meals and events, as well as invitations to parties and social hours limited to other speakers. Since those other speakers often include editors and agents, you have an opportunity to meet these folks in a relaxed atmosphere, and even better, as peers.

So how do you become a speaker? It is a lot easier than you think. Here are some steps to get you started:

1) Decide on a topic. If you write, then you know the sort of things that writers want to know. Take a look at your particular strengths – what you do particularly well – and build from there. Are you a whiz at research? What short cuts have you learned? Is characterization your greatest strength – what techniques have you developed? Do you have a failsafe technique to avoid sagging middles? Share it with others. If you’ve finished a single book, you’ve done something most people never will – and you have probably learned something that could make the task a bit less daunting for the next person.

2) Plan your presentation. Once you’ve decided on a topic, decide how you will present it. Is one hour enough time, or do you need more. Think about workshops you’ve attended – what sorts of thing worked for you as a participant? Do you like handouts? Visual aids? Do you prefer hands-on activity, or does a lecture work best for you? All of these techniques are good. Choose the one that you like best.

3) Create a written description of your presentation. Include a catchy title. You’ve seen brief descriptions of workshops in conference programs. You want a short paragraph description – kind of like a teaser. Here’s the title and description of a workshop I presented at RWA’s National Convention in New Orleans :

Anatomy of a Scene: Creating Full Bodied Scenes

Scenes are the building blocks of the novel. Learn how to layer the Bones, Guts, Muscle and Flesh of a scene for strong passages that lead to a powerful novel.

Then, create a more complete description, laying out the details. This description might be several paragraphs long:

This workshop outlines the four components of a powerful scene.

Scenes are the building blocks of a strong novel. Each scene must advance the storyline, but they can do much more: reveal character, increase tension, develop atmosphere, set a mood, and that is just the beginning.

The anatomy of a scene can be reveal in four layers:

First there are the Bones. A good scene must grab the reader's emotions. To do this, the characters must themselves have a strong emotional connection to the events that are happening to them, and show the motivation behind their actions.

Next comes Guts. A good scene must grab the reader's emotions. To do this, the characters must themselves have a strong emotional connection to the events that are happening to them, and show the motivation behind their actions

Next there is the Muscle. The author’s voice propels the scene, while theme keeps it on course.

Finally, the scene is Fleshed out. Using the five scenes, the scene is embellished and mood is created.

Using examples from film and novels, the workshop will demonstrate how these layers combine to create powerful scenes.

4) Build a reputation. Unless your name is Nora Roberts, you probably won’t have conference coordinators hounding you to speak. So start slowly. Offer to speak for local writing groups – and don’t limit yourself to your own genre if your topic is applicable to other forms of writing. Libraries and bookstores often sponsor writers’ workshops – call them up or send a letter outlining your idea. Gather feedback from participants – handing out an evaluation form can help you improve your presentation, as well as gather favorable comments to use in promoting yourself as a speaker. Always thank the coordinators for having you, and let them know if you are interested in coming again in the future.

Do not be offended of there is no payment at first. Many groups offer it; others do not. Some offer expenses, others do not. Don’t make commitments you can’t afford, but remember that you are gaining valuable experience here.

5) Get the word out. Once you feel ready to spread your wings, starting pitching your presentation to conferences. You need to present you idea anywhere from six to eighteen months before the conference. Use back issues of the RWR to see when romance writing conferences are likely to be held in the future – most (but not all) conferences listed there are annual. You can also find conferences listed in an assortment of guides and books; has a database of conferences, searchable by date, region, and topic. Send your proposal to the contact information provided in the guide.

Most conferences offer some sort of remuneration for speakers – ranging from all or a portion of the conference fee waived, through all expenses paid, to a cut of the participant fee. Multi-genre and screenwriting conferences generally pay much better than romance writing conferences, but you don't rule out the non or low paying conferences; these might be the conferences you'd most like to attend. For example, RWA National offers only $120 for member workshop speakers, which would not come close to covering expenses. But as one of the largest conferences around, it offers tremendous exposure and networking opportunities.

6) Fulfill your responsibilities. Once you are in – have a good time, but also remember you are working. Participants paid to hear you speak and receive your advice, so be willing to spend a reasonable amount of time with them and answer questions. Show up for meals, especially if your meals were comped. Sit in your assigned seat, if seating is assigned (although don’t afraid to ask that you be placed near someone you want to be meet!). Behaving professionally towards those who want to meet you is the best way to increase your chances of making a good impression on the people you want to meet!


Ten Tips for Query Letters that Get Results

If there is one thing a writer wants, it is to get a jump on the competition. Writing “Requested Material” on the outside of an envelope containing a partial or complete manuscript is a privilege a writer has to earn. But fortunately, earning that privilege is not an insurmountable task. All it really requires is a well-written query letter. And here are ten tips to help you do just that:

1. First, know the requirements of the house to which you are submitting. No matter how good your story is, a house that publishes only sweet contemporary romance is not going to ask to see your erotic paranormal thriller, or vice versa.

2. Direct the letter to a particular editor by name. Research editors within a house to learn which might be most inclined to accept your particular story. Editors have personal favorite for story elements; find out what they are. If you story has a cat, or a ghost or a firefighter, you want to know if a particular editor loves stories with cats, or ghosts, or firefighters.

3. Learn the query expectations of the house. For example, Avon prefers to receive email queries. Other publishers want only snail mail queries. Meet editor expectations, and demonstrate you’ve made the effort to learn the house's requirements.

4. Remember you are writing professional correspondence. For snail mail queries, use reasonably good quality paper, but don’t feel you need to have embossed letterhead. White paper is best, although ivory or pale gray are also commonly found in business correspondence. Designing a simple letterhead is a breeze with any computer, so make the effort. Be sure your name, address, telephone, and email addresses are included.

5. Be direct. Make the purpose of the correspondence clear upfront. The first paragraph should tell the editor the word count, the type of story, and the line to which you are submitting. Example: "I have completed a 65,000 word romantic comedy I would like you to consider for the Duets line. "

6. Tell about your story in a paragraph or two. Keep this brief – consider how the back cover copy piques interest in a story, and try for a similar approach for starters. Then let the editor know where the story goes, and how the characters get there. Make the major internal and external conflicts clear, and remember – a romance story should focus on the romance.

7. Convey the tone of the story in the letter as a whole, but especially where describing the story. If your book is warm and emotional, let that come through in your letter, as well. If you have written a romp, use wit. Convey a sense of suspense, if that is what you’ve written. Give the editor a taste of your unique voice.

8. Don’t be afraid to compare (honestly) your writing with that of a known author or authors who write for the target house or line. Example: “This historical romp is somewhat in the style of Julia Quinn.” This serves more than one purpose – it gives the editor a concrete sense of your book’s tone, and also demonstrates your own familiarity with the authors published by the house or line.

9. Close with personal information, but only if it is relevant, and even then, keep it short. Mention any special expertise related to the story. Point out publishing credits, but don’t give citations. Mentioning you’ve won writing awards is fine, but don’t list all twenty contests by name and date, or you’ll risk having the editor’s eyes cross. Membership in writers groups is not a credential.

10. Don’t forget to ask for what you want! State your willingness to send the manuscript on request. Thank the editor for her time and consideration. Remember to sign your letter.

There – that’s no so bad, is it? One short, but well-thought-out letter, plus a stamp, is all it takes to get to that coveted request for submission. Get your query in the mail this week!


Top Ten Ways to not Final in a Romance Writing Contest

I’ve entered a number of contests over the past few years. Recently, I also coordinated one. And I’ve judged in more contests than I can count. These experiences have given me a pretty good idea of what things, either individually or combined with others, manage to keep good writers and good stories out of the finals. These experiences have taught me much about the craft of writing, and also, about reasons some entries are successful.

So, without further ado, here are the top ten ways to not final in a romance writing contest:

10. Ignore the rules. Sounds pretty basic, doesn’t it? But an amazing number of entrants appear to have completely ignored them. I’ve seen entries with many pages over the maximum permitted. Entries using a font other than one expressly named in the rules. Single space where none is allowed. Titles pages with author identified, and so on and so on. None of these relates to the writing itself, but if a contest has a score sheet that asks about such things, the entry is doomed to lose those points. When finalist status is often determined by a single point, it is madness to give any up needlessly. Finalists don’t give up unnecessary points.

9. Fail to learn formatting conventions. This one is right up there with the rules. I don’t mean picky items for which there are ten different “right answers,” like how to indicate scene breaks. I mean using double quote marks for dialogue. Double spacing. Printing on only one side of the page. Placement of header inside or outside margin is a picky item – that a margin should be one-inch a would-be professional writer should know. Finalists do know these things.

8. Ignore the nature of the contest. No entry is suited to all contests. If someone needs to read several chapters of your story to get into it, don’t submit it to contests that allow only a scene or first chapter. If your writing is heavy on angst, there is little point in submitting it to a contest for romantic comedy. If unsure of contest suitability, finalists ask the coordinator to see the score sheet and honestly assess how their entry measures up before they spend their money.

7. Fail to take advantage of the amount of material you may submit. I can’t count the number of times I’ve judged contests where synopses of 5, 8 or 10 pages are permitted, but the entrant submits a one or two page synopsis. Or where 55 pages of manuscript are permitted, but only the first chapter is sent in. There is certainly strategic validity to ending at a natural stopping point -- one that leaves the reader wanting more. But if your entry is half the size of all the others, it can’t help but come up short. Finalists come close to the limits, while still choosing a natural stopping point.

6. Don’t proofread at all. One or two typos won’t keep an entry from finaling. I personally won a Golden Heart with a typo on the third page. But there is a big difference between an error here and there, and an error in every paragraph. Incorrect spelling, grammatical errors not explained by dialogue or emphasis needs, and repeated typos will distract from the reader’s enjoyment. Finalists don’t repeatedly tempt unhappy judges to give a lower score.

5. Have no believable romantic conflict. Having everyone and his brother opposed to the hero and heroine getting together makes for great external conflict. But something needs to be keeping your hero and heroine from acknowledging they are meant for each other. If the only thing keeping your characters apart are external forces, you have no romantic conflict. Since a romance is about the resolution of romantic conflict, your story is missing an essential ingredient. Finalists not only have romantic conflict, they make sure it isn’t false conflict – i.e., characters who take offense at their opposite’s every action.

4. Have passive characters. Have your characters do things; don’t just have things done to them. One thing that will help with this is to avoid “passive voice,” a grammatical issue where what appears to be a subject of the sentence is actually the object. Example: “Pamela was taken to the highwaymen’s hideout.” Unless they truly have a good reason to emphasize Pamela, rather than whomever is doing the taking, finalists tend to avoid passivity.

3. Tell, rather than show. One easy way to show, rather than tell -- avoid passive verbs. Often mistaken by judges as passive voice, excessive use of the verb “to be,” in any form, is generally a symptom of telling. Another easy way -- name no emotions in your manuscript. Many entries have sentences like “Pamela was shocked to awaken in the robbers’ hideout.” Chances are, the finalist entries have paragraphs more like “Her eyes opened. Firelight flickered against the walls. But how odd – the firelight seems to flicker against all the walls. How could the fire be in the center of the room? And the walls seemed to strange. Dark and uneven, they resembled the underside of a cliff. Pamela bolted upright. A cave? How in the world had she come to be in a cave?” (But finalists probably have better examples than mine...)

2. Exclude development of the romantic relationship from the synopsis. People really do fall in love at first sight. But when they tell the story of how they fell in love, they don’t speak for very long. Most people fall in love gradually, moving from acquaintance (with maybe some lust), to a bit of mutual (although not necessarily simultaneous) respect, and then to mutual (although not necessarily simultaneous) trust, and finally, to love. Finalists tend to give updates on this progression throughout the synopsis.

And the number way to not final in a contest:

1. Don’t enter any contests. Entering contests is courageous. Total strangers will read it, and possibly not love it as much as your mother does. Finalists take this risk. And sometimes, the gamble pays off.


First Impressions Count: A Simple Guide to Manuscript Format

It’s true. First impressions really do count.

In many ways, a manuscript submission is similar to writing to a prospective employer. Your resume may show that you have exactly the right experience for the job. But if your resume is handwritten in purple ink, it is possible that the employer will never read enough of it to find out what a great person you are.

Similarly, if your manuscript screams that you are unfamiliar with reasonably standard submission practices, an editor may never read enough to find out your story is wonderful. You could be lucky, and get an editor who will wade through single spacing, unusual fonts, and double sided printing on fancy colored paper with light colored ink. Or you could get a rejection letter, and never even realize that it was your format, not your writing, that caused the rejection.

To avoid that uncertainty, and to increase your chances that your work will be read, follow a few simple guidelines:

-- Use white paper. Use standard letter size paper -- 81/2 x 11 in the U.S., A4 acceptable elsewhere. You do not need to buy the expensive, linen resume paper. Any decent quality white paper sold at office supply stores is just fine. Resist the impulse to use a colored paper, even if you think red makes your mystery more exciting, or blue really exemplifies your futuristic world. White paper will show the ink best,. You don’t want the paper color competing with the ink.

-- Use black ink. Black ink on white paper – the best contrast, therefore, easiest to read. Do not skimp on the toner and change the cartridge or typewriter ribbon if it is beginning to fade.

-- Print on only one side of the paper. Double sided printing can bleed through.

-- Double space the body of the text. The only exception to this is when the submissions instructions for a house request a single spaced synopsis.

--Use one inch margins. The header (more on this later) may be placed ½ inch from the top of the page. The text of the manuscript would still have a one inch margin.

-- Use size 12 font. Traditionally, publishing houses liked Courier (or New Courier). With the advent of computers, Times New Roman is also often seen. Personally, since no one objects to the Courier fonts, I suggest using them. Don’t b concerned about whether the font is “pretty.” What matters is whether it can be easily read.

-- Do not staple the pages. Partial submissions can be bound with clips; complete manuscripts can be placed in a manuscript box, or bound with rubber bands. Be sure to use rubber bands large enough to go around the paper without tearing or bending it..

-- Now – for the looks of the pages. I have attached pdf files for each type of submission. I put these in pdf. format to avoid changes that different browsers can make.

-- For article and short story submissions, the upper left corner on the first page should contain your name and contact information. The upper left should contain the word count. Subsequent pages should include a header that lists the article title, author surname, and page number.

-- For novel submissions, you may include contact info as with shorter submissions, but usually that information is contained on a title page. The first page may have no header, or it may include the header used in the rest of the submission: title and author surname, and page number.

--Text on the first page generally begins at some point one third to one half down the page. Practices do vary on this. Some writers insist that only halfway down is acceptable. I personally go three inches from the top margin. At that point, I center the title. For a novel manuscript, I drop one space, and center “Chapter One.” I then drop two spaces before beginning the text. For short story or article submission, begin the text two spaces below the title. Only titles and chapter headings are centered.

-- For fiction submissions, indent your paragraphs ½ inch (s spaces). Left justify only.

-- Many authors use an asterisk ('*') to indicate a scene change. Others use a pound sign (“#”), and still others will use three of one symbol “***” or the other”###.” However, increasingly, it has become common practice simply to leave two blank lines. If you choose to use the asterisk or pound sign, leave a blank line, center the symbol, then follow with another blank line before beginning the next part of the manuscript.

-- In books and magazines, emphasis and express thoughts (i.e., thoughts written in first person, where the rest of the piece is written in third person) are often shown with italics. Since the advent of computer printers, submissions can show the words in italics, as well. Note that for romance, the common practice is still to underline those words or passages.

-- Many authors indicate the end by leaving two blanks lines after the final line of text, and then centering “The End."

Following this advice will not guarantee your manuscript will be accepted for publication. However, it will help to decrease the possibility that it will be without ever being read.
Best of luck – and remember, you can’t sell if you don’t submit.