How Winning a Writing Contest Can Improve a Writer’s Self-Esteem

Wonderful news, folks! You are officially reading the blog of the winner of Honorable Mention in the 2011 Writer’s Digest Young Adult Fiction Competition!* According to their congratulatory email, “competition was fierce,” so I’m super proud! While first and second place comes with fame (publication of their entry in Writer’s Digest) and fortune (they won some prize money), honorable mention certainly isn’t a shabby win!

Benefits from Winning Honorable Mention:

  1. One free copy of the 2012 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market
  2. Mentions/Promotion in the May/June 2012 issue of Writer’s Digest and on
  3. Bragging rights in future cover letters
  4. Bragging rights in future query letters
  5. Total rejuvenation and inspiration to jump back into my NaNoWriMo novel

You see, the short YA story I submitted to the contest was an excerpt of my NaNoWriMo novel, Waterlogged.  I had already written the first three chapters of the novel for my senior undergraduate creative writing seminar last spring and decided to finish the rest of the book during November. It was the best writing I had on hand when the deadline for this contest rolled around so I also decided to submit an excerpt of that already revised/edited/reviewed beginning. And it won! This recognition makes me feel like the entire month of November wasn’t wasted, like my novel has some real potential and merit, and now I am pumped to start the year-long process of rewriting the entire hot mess that is my 56,000-word novel! And I’m even more pumped to have the polished manuscript ready for literary agent submissions so that I can insert this mention-worthy award in the query letter. I already feel like this book has a statistically-better chance of getting an agent!

New Year’s Resolution: Finish the entire manuscript and query it at least once before New Year’s 2012. Everybody hold me to this goal!

*Please excuse me while I jump about in unadulterated joy and excitement.

What To Do When Your Book Idea is Stolen and Made into a Bestseller

  1. Monday (9:00am):  Denial.  Denial, denial, denial.  When they clog up your email, each electronic bad news arriving one after another, providing a summary paragraph that’s startlingly similar to the plot of your own manuscript, refuse to read the:
  1. Monday (9:15am):  As bitter revenge, consider unsubscribing from all of these newsletters.  Try reading the unsubscribing small print; then, confused, give up.
  2. Monday (9:16am) through Tuesday (midnight): Glower and hate the publishing world for not seeing the genius potential of your book.  Specifically, resent yourself for failing to query the correct agent first, before this other author got to him/her.
  3. Wednesday (all day event):  Lament loudly to anyone who will listen—your boss, your physical therapist, your mom, strangers who upon questioning admit that they subscribe to one of the above newsletters—about how tragic the situation is.
  4. Thursday (all day event):  Stalk the new book.  Go back to the newsletters and read everything.  Go to and read every review you can find.  Read a few pages on the online page preview.
  5. Thursday (10:10pm):  Feel comforted by the handful of 1-star reviews, assuring yourself that every flaw in the bestseller is non-existent in your own manuscript.  Comfort yourself that the bestseller is intended for an adult audience and yours is for a middle-grade audience.
  6. Friday (7:00pm):  Over dinner, try to assure your mother that the past two years dedicated to this manuscript have not been a waste and that the books are in fact very different and that you still have a good chance of becoming a successful published author.
  7. Friday (7:22pm):  Half-believe her comment that your book is even more attractive to the publishing world, now, because of how popular the topic is.  Ignore the nagging thought that nobody will want to purchase and read the same book twice.
  8. Friday (7:45pm):  After dinner, ignore your significant other’s suggestion that you “give up” on this book and write a different one.  Convey your distaste for this suggestion with long, meaningful glares.
  9. Friday (8:00pm):  Burrow under the covers for a minimum of twelve hours, protesting the injustice.
  10. Saturday (11:00am):  Sign up for NaNoWriMo to write your next book.


*Insert wailing wherever it seems appropriate and necessary.

The 4 Rules of Polite Simultaneous Submissions

I’ve read blog posts before where people claim that it’s “rude” or, at the very least, makes them extremely uncomfortable to simultaneously submit their writing to multiple journals or to multiple literary agents.  This is ridiculous!  Think about it.  If you have submitted your manuscript to a single literary agent, the wait time is, perhaps, eight weeks.  If you’re a betting sort of person–particularly a slots machine player–you know these odds are totally not in your favor.  And getting your writing published is already an upstream battle; simultaneous submissions is one of the tricks (a completely fair and legal one!) to increase your odds of becoming a published writer sooner.  The same goes for short stories at literary journals.  You have to expect rejection at least a few times–even the greats were rejected before they were discovered; wouldn’t it be better to submit to five places all at once, get four rejections and one acceptance in the same span of wait time, rather than doing it single file and having to wait years, perhaps, to get a “yes”?

Not only does it harm yourself as a writer, but journals and agents expect simultaneous submissions because it’s what smart writers do; it’s part of the industry and as long as you politely warn them in your cover and/or query letters and promptly withdraw your work from consideration elsewhere it is perfectly acceptable.

How to Simultaneous Submit your Work without Stepping on Toes:

1.  Read the fine print.  Make sure that the literary journals and agents you’re submitting to accept simultaneous submissions.  (Most do and they’ll mention it on their submission guidelines page; for example, see fugue, CutBank, and So to Speak.  Those who are morally against the practice also mention it there.)  There is nothing worse that simultaneously submitting something and then withdrawing it from consideration elsewhere when they don’t approve of the practice.  You might have burned a bridge with an editor and a journal so they won’t even consider your work again.  (This is not meant to scare you off!  As long as they say they don’t mind simultaneous submissions, you’re golden!)

2.  Only submit your story to a handful of places.  You don’t want to spread yourself too thin or do more work than you have to.  If your submissions are well-targeted–meaning you’ve read the journal before, or, in the case of a literary agent, have read their bio and are positive you’re writing fits their criteria–then you shouldn’t have to submit it one thousand times, so writing one thousand letters all at once would be wasted effort.  Personally, I submit a story a maximum of four different journals at a time.  And for queries, I usually send letters out in batches of five at a time.

3.  Submit in tiers.  In these batches of submissions, don’t submit to the New Yorker and you’re local no-name literary journal at the same time.  What if that local no-name journal accepts your work?  Great, right?  But then when you go to withdraw from the New Yorker, what if the editor says “that’s such a shame, we were really interested in publishing it.”  The New Yorker is a much better publishing credit–and a paying market–than the local no-name.  But, the polite rules of the industry are that you must accept the first offer and turn down any successive ones.  So to avoid shooting yourself in the foot, group together journals and literary agents in order.  In the case of journals, submit to the most competitive, bit-of-a-stretch-chance ones first.  Then, once you’ve heard back from all of them, go down a tier and submit to a batch from that level.  Same goes for literary agents.  Submit to your top five favorite, all-star, dream agents first because they might be interested.  You never want to be disappointing that one editor or agent responded first.  You should be equally happy to have gotten accepted by any single person in the same tier.

4.  Be honest.  In your cover letter, don’t conceal the fact that you’re simultaneously submitting your work.  Just throw a sentence in there: “This is a simultaneous submission, but I shall notify you immediately should it be accepted elsewhere.”  And then, if you do get accepted elsewhere, let the other journals/agents know.  Don’t try to get a single story published multiple times.  It’s dishonest, will hurt your career because word will get around, and might also lead to copyright legal issues.

So while you’re waiting to hear back about that one story, go submit it again somewhere else!  Or if you’re waiting to hear back from that literary agent, send it to another one in the mean time!

Enter NANO’s Flash Fiction Writing Contest

Just a quick link to the 2011 NANO writing prize.

What They Want: flash fiction, micro essay, or prose of 300-words or less.  Cannot be previously published.

How They Want It: via snail mail or submishmash.

When They Want It:  August 31st

Entry Fee?  Yes, $15 for 3 shorts.

Prize?  Yes, $500


Sorry, for the briskness, but I’m scrambling to pack everything so my sister and I can head out to Wildwood for the next couple of days.  I’m trying to cram in as much summer as possible before it ends.  And, just a side note: August is probably the worst month to query your book because most agents and editors are on vacation too.  So don’t stress about submitting too much.  Instead, relax and work on your writing so you have something to submit when everyone’s back at work in the fall.

Enjoy the sunshine!

Learning the Nuts and Bolts to Getting Your Book Published

This is my understanding of the process and, thus, how I’m going about it personally.  Any disagreements?  Got any suggestions to add?

1.  Write the Book

The whole thing.  Agents and publishers are only interested in completed fiction.  They want to know the final word count and they want to start working on the project right away.  So don’t waste your time and there’s querying about an incomplete book.  Of course, there are exceptions.  Like with non-fiction projects.  Only write the first couple chapters and then write an outline for the rest when you query.  Find out more about that process here.

2.  Research Literary Agents

I recommend Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents 2011.  There’s a new issue every year, so make sure you get the most recent copy.  Only submit to agents who are actively searching for your type of book.  If you have a YA book, don’t submit it to an agent who only does adult books.  First off, you’ll guaranteed get a rejection letter.  Second, you want the best agent possible for your manuscript.  You want a YA literary agent who has lots of contacts in the YA publishing world and lots of experience working with the genre, not some adult literary agent who is entering the field for the first time.

On that point, check out literary agent Mandy Hubbard who is a very active agent.  She recently posted some statistics on what she likes reading and her average query response time.  All nice things to know.

3.  Query Agents

See my previous post about how to write a query letter.

Honestly, I don’t know what happens after that, because I haven’t gotten that far.  I assume the literary agent takes the wheel for awhile and the writer gets to keep on waiting.  And revision, there’s probably going to be a lot of revision involved.  There’s another whole process for how to deal with revision letters from editors (better than a rejection letter, yes??).  The Writer’s Waiting Room never ceases to exist in some form.

Poll: What Do My Rejection Letters from Literary Agents Mean?

Ever since I read Nathan Bransford’s post “Why You Are Receiving Rejection Letters,” I’ve been thinking about my own rejection letters from literary agents.  I’ve been trying to decide whether I should set aside my middle-grade historical fiction manuscript and start writing a new one, or if I should persevere and stubbornly continue submitting it.  So I want to reanalyze my situation–and the criticism within my rejection letters–based upon Mr. Bransford’s criteria and decide if there is one unanimous thing I should really fix with my book before continuing to submit it, or if I should just ignore the scattered criticism and send out more queries.  (I have only gotten 10 rejection letters so far.  I might need to collect a hundred before anyone accepts it).  I could really use some help from all of you helping me decide!  Read the real live excerpts from my rejection letters (only the ones that have requested and read the full manuscript) below and help me decide what to do!

Agency #1:  “Although THE TALLEST TREE is beautifully written, we did not connect to the story as deeply as we had hoped.”

Agency #2:  “While I admired much about it, I’m afraid I wasn’t as completely engaged by the manuscript as I’d hoped to be.”

Agency #3: “While I believe you have a compelling premise, I’m sorry to say that I just wasn’t taken in enough by the plot to feel I could represent it effectively.”

Wow.  I just read those all together.  I’ve never seen them all in one place before.  They kind of seem unanimous, don’t you think?  Is everyone saying my book plot is…boring?

Please vote!  Either a) ignore the agents, they don’t agree, keep submitting! OR b) mmm, they seem to agree there’s something wrong with ______.  Consider revising before submitting again.

If You’re Feeling a Little Rejected…

Read this.

Why You Are Receiving Rejections

“The Gust,” Willem van de Velde

In the tangled morass of uncertainty that is the query process, it becomes easy to lose sight of the basics. People e-mail me every day me for feedback and suggestions on their query (which I’m unfortunately unable to provide), and want to know why their project isn’t working and why they’re not finding success with the query process.

Every project is different, every situation is different, and it’s really difficult to pinpoint the exact reason why something isn’t working. But when you boil it down, there are really only two possibilities.

a) Your query isn’t strong enough, or
b) Your query is fine but your project isn’t resonating with agents

Which is it?

And don’t let the green-eyed jealousy monster gobble you up.  Good luck surviving this Tuesday that feels like the worst Monday in the history of Mondays.