Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Writing Contests: Do We Need Them?

Have you ever entered a writing contest? I've entered several, never won one. I came in second one time, third another, Honorable Mention still another, and nothing but a nice note from the last one! After I blew that one, I had second thoughts about entering any more.

But I've gone ahead and entered one again. This time it's a Writer's Digest contest for Middle Grade fiction...unpublished fiction. Since The Freedom Thief is still out in a publisher's never-never land, I decided to enter my fantasy novel, Lily Leticia Langford and The Book of Practical Magic. My critique group once said I should win a prize just for the name alone. Hmmm...

Here's the link, in case you're interested:

The problem  is that I just found the contest, and the deadline is Monday, August 27th. However, that still give you time to enter, because it has to be with a completely finished novel.

I've been we need writing contests? How many have you entered? Why did you enter them? Was it because you might get published if you won? Got a hefty prize for winning or even coming in second or third? Lots of reasons to enter, lots of different kinds of prizes offered even for those who don't win.

But are they of any real value? I've looked back on those I've entered, and my opinion is yes, they are. One that I entered and really,REALLY wanted to win was a very prestigious magazine, Glimmer Train. Being published in this magazine could lead, possibly, to being contacted by an agent or an editor.

Uh...this is one of those I didn't win. But I did get a nice note complimenting me on my writing. At least I knew the judges actually read my story, and liked it...even if they liked someone else's better. So, that's something, right?

Let's talk about some of the reasons to enter a contest.
1) Contests require stories of varying lengths. I write mostly novels, so short story writing is a real test for me, and for most writers not accustomed to 'writing short.' So this gives us the chance to stretch our wings and do something we're not comfortable doing. You can even take a long chapter out of your WIP and see what you can do about turning it into a short story. You might be pleasantly surprised at what you can cut out, and still have a real story.

2) Contests usually spell out the genre they want, or the age group. This gives you the opportunity to try writing in a new genre or for a different age that you may not have thought about doing before. Who knows, for someone who is an historical fiction writer, you just might become the next great steampunk author!

3) Most of us who write, whether it be novels or short stories, don't make and most often, don't keep to any kind of a deadline. Contests are all about deadlines...keep them or you're out before you've ever started. It gives those of us who normally don't set deadlines for ourselves the opportunity ( yes, it IS an opportunity) to feel the real pressure that comes from having to write a certain number of words...and a coherent story...under a deadline.

Just a few of the reasons why you should consider entering contests, and keep on entering them, even if you don't win. But suppose you DO win? Does that help you when it comes to publishing the novel you're working on? Hmm...probably the best answer to that is yes... and no. Winning a contest, even placing in one, always looks good on a query when you're asked for publishing credits. You can use it as a promotional tool: of course you would talk about it on your blog or website! You could even send a letter to your local paper or TV station and perhaps earn a blurb in the paper or on the TV news about "local author wins prominent contest." Why not create a sticker about winning as an "app" on your blog that others could copy and paste onto their own.

The "no" part of the answer concerns the actual selling of your book: winning a contest probably won't help the sales, because the people who will buy your book don't particularly care if you won a contest, they are only concerned about how much your book is going to interest them.

How do you feel about writing contests, and do you enter them?

Until later,
That's a wrap.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Why Do You Need a Tag/Log Line?

Most of you know why I've been absent from posting for the past month: a family trauma that still has us all reeling. It is something that is not going away, so I've finally managed to convince myself that life goes on, and I need to get back to some semblance of normality.

Today I want to talk about Taglines...or Loglines, if you prefer. I think they are one and the same. The question is, why do we need one? Picture this scenario:

You are at a conference, waiting to make your pitch to an agent. You sit down, the agent smiles and says, "What is your novel about? You have three minutes, beginning now."

You: Uh, well, it's about this boy who lives on a plantation in Kentucky. His parents and brothers like slavery but he doesn't. He's lived there for four years and doesn't understand how slaves can be okay in one part of the country, here, and not okay in New York, where he comes from. He is close to his grandmother...yatata, yatata, yatata.

Agent: I'm sorry, but your three minutes are up, and I still don't know what the main premise is or where the story is going. Thanks for stopping by.

Or how about this one:

You've just received an advance copy of your newly published and soon-to-be released novel. You are sitting in Starbucks, gazing reverently at the book's cover with YOUR NAME as author. A woman stops by.

Woman: Oh, my, what an intriguing name! are you the author of that book?

You ( modestly): Why, yes, I am.

Woman: What is the book about?

You ( Not having prepared to answer that question in a short amount of time): Oh, well, it's about this young boy who comes from New York with his family to live on a plantation in the South, and he hates slavery and he has no friends except for a crippled slave boy and he goes on all these trips with his Abolitionist grandmother to help escaped slaves and then he finds out ...

But you never get to tell the woman what he finds out because she has dropped her Caramel Frappachino on the floor in her haste to get out the door and away from your rambling.

Now do you see why a tagline is necessary?! So what is a tagline? It's a synopsis of your book in THREE sentences or less. Okay, get up off the floor and get a grip. I know what you are thinking: I can barely put a coherent synopsis of my book into three paragraphs for a query, and now you want one in three SENTENCES? Are you out of your mind?

Umm...well, no, I'm not. Although I must say, the same thought ran through my head on the dozen or so times I've been told this is what I need to do.

Truly, we need to be able to capsulize our stories into a very short, concise, and precise statement to present to agents, publishers, and the occasional woman who has stopped by Starbuck's. That statement should include: a) the novel's genre; b)the main character; c) the MC's external conflict/problem and what act precipitated it; d) and even the MC's internal conflict, if possible.

I'll give you two examples of the taglines I've written for my historical novel, although I'm sure neither of them is perfect, and both require more work.

1) The Freedom Thief is about a 14 year old boy whose only friend is a young crippled slave, and when the boy learns his father is selling the slave, he knows the only way to save him is to lead him and his parents to freedom.

2) The Freedom Thief is an historical novel, set in pre-Civil War Kentucky, about a 14 year old boy who lives on a slave-holding plantation but who hates slavery. Ben learns his father is selling Josiah, the crippled slave who is Ben's only friend, and he knows the only way to save Josiah is to steal the boy and his parents away from the plantation and lead them to freedom. He is determined to do this even though he has no plan or map to tell him where to go after the escape,  he is alienating himself from his family,  and he could possibly end up in prison.

Even though #2 answers the 4 criteria, #1 doesn't. Both need to be improved upon. But the point is: we all need a tagline, a short and concise synopsis of our novels, so no matter who asks us "What is your story about?", we can answer without rambling, and in such a way that the person...agent, editor, Starbuck's woman, friend or foe...knows exactly what the story is about.

Do you have a tagline? Want to share?

Until next time,
That's a wrap.