A new season brings a new lineup of writing contests. We’d like to bring one to the attention of aspiring, and established, writers, because it’s being judged by none other than my Write Despite co-host Cathy Cruise.
Possibilities Publishing Company’s2018 Anthology Contest is looking for stories–both fiction and nonfiction–that deal with the theme of triumph.In the publisher’s words, they’re seeking “those moments of triumph, of victory, of doing the things that seemed un-doable. It can be the types of triumphs that everyone relates to, or something that only mattered to one person. Victories that are earth shattering or just day brightening. We want them all.”
Possibilities is the press that published Cathy’s book, and we all saw what a super nice job they did. They really crank the publicity machine for their authors. Just last week, Cathy found out her book has been named a finalist in the 2018 Indie Book Awards.
Cathy, and her co-judge Jennifer Crawford, will do a bang-up job, and they’re actively seeking submissions! So, get yours in pronto. Submission deadline is July 15.
Now, if you’re not fortunate enough at the moment to be telling stories of victory, there are plenty of other, diverse contests out there. Here’s just a small sample. Good luck!
Midway Journal’s 1,000-Below Flash Prose and Poetry Contest
Entry fee: $10
Deadline: May 31, 2018
$500 + publication first prize, and other lesser prizes
Submit up to 1,000 words of flash, 40 words or poetry. http://midwayjournal.com/contest/
Golden Walkman Magazine Contest
Entry fee: $10
Deadline: July 31, 2018
Winning manuscript published solely as an audiobook, and awarded a sum of money (to be determined by the success of the contest).
Submit no more than 30 pages of poetry, fiction, non-fiction, or hybrid. https://www.goldwalkmag.com/audiochapbook-contest.html
Sequestrum New Writer Awards
Entry fee: $15
Deadline: October 15, 2018
$200 first prize, and other lesser prizes
Open to fiction, nonfiction, and poetry from new and emerging writers. http://www.sequestrum.org/contests
Panelists gave attendees all the tools they need to create a brand, give great interviews, effectively launch a book, and market themselves on social media. It even featured a media lounge where authors could take head shots with a professional photographer and create a video focusing on themselves and their work.
Oh, and my favorite part? The Instagram Photo Booth that offered up a professional light box and a supply of backgrounds and props so you could take social media pictures of your book. As you can see, I had some fun with this one.
Why has no one come up with these grand ideas before?
Well, maybe they have, but not that I’ve heard of.
There were also a couple of sessions on getting published—tips on self-publishing, and advice from independent publishers on what they look for when considering a manuscript.
Just for fun, the Improv Imps led a group of introverted writers through an interactive workshop to help them loosen up in front of an audience.
And check this out: Penguin Bean Designs. Oh man, I love this company. They will reproduce, even create, pretty much any design you like on a t-shirt, hoodie, tote bag, wine sack, tea towel, pillowcase, you name it. I’m getting my book cover reproduced on a tote bag for a mere $25 (based on author Lindsay Barry’s cool tote here).
All of it took place at the gorgeous Clark House in Falls Church, Virginia, and included a pancake breakfast, lunch, two snacks (we’re talking cookies fresh from the oven, you guys), and a “sip and swap” wine and cheese closeout reception where attendees could mingle and trade books.
Next year’s conference is sure to be bigger, better, and even more innovative. Keep an eye out for it by following Possibilities Publishing online. Until then, here are the best tips and quotes I collected while I was there:
On launching your book:
Create a book launch team. Strive to recruit at least 100 people who will support you in your launch by reading, reviewing, and promoting your book. This can take as little as 5 or 10 minutes a week, and in return they get advance copies of your book, return reviews for their book, etc. And the results? Session presenter Jen Hemphil, author of Her Money Matters, saw 1863 copies of her book downloaded and sold in her first month (compared to about 200 for most self-pubbed books.)
Why do we connect with a brand? Brand strategist Rebecca Gunter says it’s largely trust, quality, an inviting feel. Why do we not connect? It doesn’t align with our values, it feels yucky or false. Branding is all about feelings. How do you want readers to feel when they see your brand?
Author and holistic healer Laura Di Franco suggests you write down five reasons you don’t promote your book. Then ask, if there were no one on earth to disappoint, how would you promote it? Give five endings to the statement “My story matters because ______.”
If you do nothing else, create a signature with your book info for use on Amazon, so that when you review things, others will see your book title pop up. (Well, duh. Why am I not doing this?)
On social media:
Jennifer Crawford is owner of Social Media Rescue and Write On Social, which cater specifically to the needs of indie authors. She coached us on how to use Facebook Live as a marketing tool to reach existing fans faster and interact with readers in real time. Nifty tip: Three times more people are watching Facebook Live videos and those that aren’t live.
Use Instagram Live too. These videos last only 24 hours and are great for time-sensitive promotions, sneak peaks, and book “secrets.” And since few people are using this feature for now, it’s a less crowded area that gives you tons of room to be creative with your author brand and narrative. Instagram users in general tend to be highly engaged!
Check out these other presenters and sponsors from the Possibilities Publishing Conference!
Vijal Nathan – Washington Post’s Date Lab writer, stand-up comedienne, interview coach
Ally Machate – book collaborator, editor, publishing consultant
Meredith Maslich – CEO of Possibilities Publishing Company, Thumbkin Prints, Eaton Press
Happy New Year everyone! Hope 2018 finds you well-rested and looking forward to an exciting and productive year.
And now a belated Christmas gift: My publisher extraordinaire, Meredith Maslich, recently sat down for a Q&A with Write Despite. Here she offers up some great insights into indie publishing, info on navigating submissions and rejections, and news about all her company has to offer.
I am, at my core, an entrepreneur, and right before I started Possibilities Publishing, I was working at a desk job, recovering from burnout from the previous company I’d started and run for seven years. Sitting at a desk, working for someone else is kind of soul crushing for an entrepreneur, so I was trying to figure out what my next move would be. Around this time my dad asked me to help him write and self-publish a book based on his career as a sales trainer. I found I enjoyed the work immensely and also started to see that publishing could be a good home for an entrepreneur—there was a lot of structure, a lot of information on best practices, but there was also infinite opportunity for innovation and creativity. As I was finishing my dad’s book, another family member mentioned that he’d already finished a book but needed help publishing and marketing it, so I volunteered to help him as well. Working on this second book gave me more opportunity to poke around in the publishing world, and I became even more intrigued, but I was still a little hesitant. Running your own company can be hugely exhausting and stressful and I wasn’t completely sure I was ready to dive back into that.
A few weeks later a friend posted on Facebook that she was looking for a publisher to take on the digital rights of a book she’d published in paperback, and a mutual friend commented on her post that I’d just started a publishing company and I could do it. That little (public) nudge from my friend was exactly what I needed. I contacted the original poster and we started making plans, and everything else has just flowed naturally from that moment.
What makes Possibilities Publishing different from other publishing houses?
We’re a small, independent publishing house, and we have no interest or aspirations to be like the big, traditional publishing houses. Often small publishers try to mimic the “big guys” on a smaller scale, but that doesn’t make sense for me. Habits, practices, and policies of the big traditional publishers are often based on inputs that don’t apply to us—much bigger marketing budgets, bigger staff, and universal name recognition and legitimacy, for example. But at the same time, many of their practices are also based on old, inflexible ways of thinking about publishing, writing, and marketing and I don’t want to get caught up in any of those.
We try to always start from a place of “yes”—from a place of seeing endless possibilities, which means always innovating, always asking why or why not? We love it when an author says “I’ve never seen anyone do this, but what if we tried X?”
We also see our relationship with our authors as a partnership where we each play different roles to help us both achieve our goals of selling books. Our primary role in the partnership is to bring experience, knowledge, and resources to the table, so that when the author brings us a creative marketing idea we can look at what we already know, or provide some context and framework for making decisions. So that, while we’re starting from place of yes, it’s a reasoned yes, or a “Yes, as long as xyz things are set up” to increase likelihood of success.
What are you looking for in a manuscript?
We look for really good writing and really good storytelling. Even in our nonfiction, we want books that flow, and see language as a tool, and thus are pleasing to read. We love novels that are engrossing, that take us to other time periods or just totally put us inside someone else’s life.
But we also look at the author when evaluating a manuscript. We look at whether they have an existing audience, if they seem comfortable with social media, and if they seem like they honestly want to work with a small, nontraditional publisher like us, or if they’ve just come to us because they think they have a better shot getting published by a small indie publisher. We’ve found that the spirit and personality of the author can have as much impact on success as the quality or content of the book itself.
What makes you reject a book?
The most common reason we reject manuscripts is that they have come to us too soon. The story isn’t fully fleshed out, so the arc falls flat, or the characters are one-dimensional, things that working with a professional editor or even a strong writer’s group could catch. The next most common reason is that it’s in a genre we don’t feel we can work with, like science fiction or a very niche sub-genre like “experimental fantasy realism” (that’s an actual phrase someone used to describe a submission). I’ve found that we do much better when I publish books I like to read, because I intuitively understand how to connect with the audiences.
What advice do you have for writers just breaking into publishing?
First, think carefully about what path to publishing is best for you. A lot of writers automatically start with trying to get published by one of the big traditional publishers, but that’s not the only, or best, path for many writers anymore. Many writers are a really good fit for self-publishing or working with indie publishers and I hate to see writers dismiss those options or see them as consolation options when all else fails. The best recipe for success as a published author is to find the path to publishing that works best for YOU, whatever that is.
Second, when deciding to approach a publisher or submit your manuscript, carefully read their website, look at other books they’ve published, look at their relationships with their authors, and be honest with yourself about whether or not it feels like you’d be a good fit with that publisher. And third, make sure you are following whatever submission guidelines they provide, especially with smaller publishers like myself. I’ve designed our submission process to be the most efficient process for us, and to gather important initial information about authors and their work. When authors try to sidestep that process, whether on purpose or because they didn’t see the submission instructions, it tells me a lot about them, and not usually positive things. We like creative authors who think outside the box, but we also need authors who, when necessary, can follow systems and directions, and be a bit inside the box.
Can you tell us about your new imprints—Thumbkin Prints, and Eaton Press?
I’m really excited about these new imprints because they let us build on what we’ve learned and have already built, while continuing to learn new things and take on new challenges. Thumbkin Prints is our new children’s imprint, geared toward readers up to age 13. This past November we released our first two titles—one for early readers (Journey to Constellation Station by Lindsay Barry) and one for the 12-13 age range (Emerson Page and Where the Light Enters by Christa Avampato). Both have done really well and it’s been exciting to see the ways in which this market is different from the adult market, but also the ways in which it overlaps. I’m really optimistic about the future of this imprint and looking forward to continuing to build it.
Eaton Press is our new self-publishing imprint, and we started it in large part as a response to feeling bad for all the authors we weren’t able to work with, either because they were a better fit for a self-publishing model, or simply because Possibilities Publishing was at capacity (we only publish three to four titles a year). So Eaton Press allows authors to access the expertise and experience of everyone who works with Possibilities Publishing, but on their own terms. We can hook them up with editors, or cover designers, or we can help them with every element of writing and publishing start to finish. We’ve ended up working with a lot of business professionals who want to publish books as tools to advance their careers or get more speaking engagements. It’s been a wonderful experience, and so different than what we do through Possibilities Publishing that it’s been really invigorating and rewarding.
You’re having your first Possibilities Conference on April 7, 2018. What will it be like?
I’m beyond excited to see The Possibilities Conference: Transforming Writers into Authors come to life. It’s the result of almost five years of working with a huge variety of authors with varying levels of experience, introvertedness, and enthusiasm, and seeing them all stumble at similar points in the process of transitioning from being a writer (being on your own writing your book) to being an author (publishing and marketing that book). After delivering some short workshops on the topic and getting a hugely positive response from attendees, I began putting together a full-day conference made up of workshops, networking, and skill acquisition. We’re having workshops and study groups that will let attendees not just learn, but practice things like strategies for overcoming fear of public speaking, or strategies for pumping yourself back up after rejection or experiences that fell short of your expectations. The ability to keep going, to persevere after setbacks, or to overcome fear is the single most important factor to achieve success in publishing. But authors need more than pep talks and inspirational quotes. They need to develop new skills and create personalized road maps, and that’s what we want to provide through this conference.
We picked a really small venue for our first time, so when we say space is limited, that’s not a marketing strategy, that’s the straight truth. We only have space for about 50 participants max. But we’ll announce on the website and social media as space starts to fill up.
We’re still finalizing workshop descriptions and exhibitors, so the best place to stay up to date on the conference is our website: ThePossibilitiesConference.com.
Anything else coming up we should know about?
If anyone wants a taste of what the conference will be like, I’m going to be doing a two-hour Writer to Author workshop at the Insight Shop in Vienna, Virginia, on February 5. Learn more and register here.
It’s tough to write now, especially when you’ve got little kids. School concerts, church pageants, snowy playdates, and the pure joy of encountering the season with them take over. And you know, I think they should.
But for those wrestling with works-in-progress, here are a few thoughts. Anyone rewriting–peeling away the layers of a narrative to drill down, discover, and embellish the real true thing, the core of what you want to say–may especially appreciate this. Rewriting isn’t easy. But keep pushing, and you’ll get there. Don’t look away. Trust the process. It will take you where you need to go. Maybe not where you want to go, but where you need to go. No one ever glimpsed the truth by glancing away at the critical moment. The great James Baldwin put it much more elegantly that I can:
“When you’re writing, you’re trying to find out something which you don’t know. The whole language of writing for me is finding out what you don’t want to know, what you don’t want to find out.”
Keep trying, keep finding out, be honest in your efforts. Don’t be afraid to stumble and try again. The pay-off will be incalculable. This is how great works are made.
Hello writers! Hope December finds you happy and jolly and hard at work on whatever wonderful pieces you’re crafting these days.
First, a blatant plug for those in (or visiting) the Washington, DC area: I’ll be at the Fairfax City Holiday Market on Saturday, December 9, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. This is a brand new event this year, featuring local craft vendors amidst the holiday lights in Old Town Square in the heart of Historic Downtown Fairfax. Look for me at the Possibilities Publishing spot, where I’ll of course be signing copies of A Hundred Weddings. The festival includes live holiday music, hot drinks, gourmet treats, and more. Admission is free. 3999 University Drive, Fairfax, VA 22030.
And now, since you all probably need to do a wee bit of shopping this month, here are a few of Karen’s and my faves for writerly/readerly gift giving.
I have this mug. I love this mug. If you’re not a Vonnegut fan (no judgement, but seriously?), these nifty mugs also feature quotes from Jane Austen, Poe, Mark Twain, Shakespeare, and others.
Fashioned by a creative writing teacher, The Writer’s Toolbox looks awesome. It gives you exercises and instructions in a “right-brain” approach to writing.
I have this book on my Kindle, and I use it all the time. The Emotion Thesaurus helps you find whole new ways to say “She was sad/ excited/ angry/ nauseated.” And so many more feels.
Need to nudge your brain back to yesterday? Rememory is for memoirists, story crafters, poets, and anyone who wants to hear more about Grandma’s childhood.
For you literary apparel lovers, check out the shirts, scarves, and totes from Litographs.
Scrivener. I don’t have it yet, but it’s on my list this year. People say it’s one of the best writing software tools. Helps you create and organize outlines, make notes that you can shuffle on-screen like index cards, and keep all your research in one place. All for a mere $45? Yes, please!
Need to get away? For you big spenders (or lucky friends of ones), how about a writer’s retreat in Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, or Hawaii? Check out this list list from The Write Life and get packing.
And with that, we’ll wish you a very happy holiday and an awesome new year to be.
Sorry we’ve been…ahem, MIA lately. Too much going on, and too little of it is writing. But thisterrific postfrom Women’s Fiction Writers popped up on my screen this morning, and I just had to share it.
Here’s a novel for any mother who has juggled childcare, work, and life (which means every mother) and especially for those struggling to do it under extra challenging circumstances. We don’t do enough as a nation for parents, especially for mothers who, despite all the advances, still bear the brunt of the job.
I can’t wait to dig into Janet Benton’s debut. Join me?
Cathy has been basking in glory lately, what with her new novel, all her cool readings and interviews, not to mention her latest score—a flash fiction honorable mention in the acclaimed Glimmertrain magazine.
I could be envious, if I had the time.
But slogging my way through the middle of a comprehensive novel manuscript rewrite—yes, line-by-line, adding new scenes, reworking a viewpoint, the whole shebang—has me just a tad too occupied.
I’m making steady, if slow, progress, but I’m not complaining. My mantra these days: one foot in front of the other—make each scene, and each bit of connective narrative glue, as compelling as possible.
Of course, I am taking some breaks. My family recently spent a weekend hiking in New Hampshire’s gorgeous White Mountains, where I stumbled (yes sometimes literally) upon a nifty rewrite metaphor: the steep, boulder-strewn trail we climbed.
Okay, it’s a little corny, but also kind of apt, and you can’t beat the scenery.
Our hiking route was the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, which winds up the infamous and awesome Mount Washington. Here are a few milestone markers that—when you’re eyeball deep in a big rewrite—resonate both on and off the trail.
Chapter One, get moving. The Mountain—like the last page—won’t come to you.
Picking up speed, but pace yourself. One scene at a time.
Moments of early inspiration.
Look out for those rocky patches, and there are a lot of them.
This is called an uphill climb, dig deep and keep pushing.
Save your file, time for a coffee break. God bless the team that pitched these shelters along the mountain trail.
The end is in sight. Your feet are sore and your legs ache, but there’s no way you’re quitting now.
The end: A view worth climbing for. The manuscript’s ending? I’ll let you know when I get there.
So I’m neck-deep in the third rewrite of my new novel. How’s it going? Slowly, occasionally painfully, and all I want is to be done with it. I’m fighting my usual impulse to speed ahead, and instead slow down and stay in the scene. I’m winning the battle—some of the time.
Ever been there? It’s not that I don’t like the story. I do, very much., I’m just not convinced that my skills aren’t doing it justice. And then there’s the old “Just because I like it, doesn’t mean anyone else will.”
At times like this, I like to hop onto the Facebook feed of my old MFA writing professor Richard Bausch. A master himself, Dick is also honest about how hard this is, and he doesn’t mince words. He sets you straight, in the best possible way. All these years later, I want to say, “Thank you, Dick. Your influence is still resonating and more important than ever.”
Check out some of Richard Bausch’s rewrite advice:
“In revision, try not to think of the long outcome much. Just concentrate on this morning’s work. Just be faithful to that. Try to be as good as you can be without straining it: “This morning, I’m just going to mess with this scene. See if I can get it right, or clearer, or sharper. I’m only going to think about that. And when I’ve put in my two hours, I’m going to forget about it and enjoy things without reference to the work. The work’s done for the day. And tomorrow, I’ll come at it fresh. I don’t have to write the whole thing in one morning, so I won’t think about the whole thing. Just this. This here, this morning’s work.”
“About the heavy doubt: it’s normal; it’s the territory, the province, the wallpaper in what Jim Dickey called the cave of making. It is your talent itself that produces it. So write through it. Do the work. If you let it stop you, if you let it make you hesitate, you’re making the first and most elemental mistake, and you’re acting like a dabbler, an amateur. This day’s work. Each day.”
“Be patient, yes, and how hard that is, especially when it’s yourself with whom you have to be patient. It’s very hard, of course. But nobody ever said it would be easy. And one of the traps we fall into is thinking too much about the result–whatever we imagine or hope that might be. The real thing happening is that you are using your time in a way that answers you deep, no matter what fits it gives you, and it always feels better to have worked in a given day, no matter how badly the work seemed to go or how hard it was. To engage in the activity at all is to do something sustaining; and in fact it gives meaning to everything else. That’s why I keep repeating the mantra: this day’s work. Just this day’s work. Did I work today. If the answer’s yes, no other questions. It’s enough. Try to forget about it and go have fun–enjoy that most delicious feeling of wasting time when you have used it well earlier.”
“Someone told you somewhere, or inadvertently communicated to you sometime, that it would get easier? It gets harder, because you know more. Instead of putting down the first or second line that occurs to you IN REVISION, you think of fifty-five others that each have their advantages and disadvantages, and you start really getting down into the deeps of it, including what it is you are seeking in terms that have nothing to do with the STORY: you want others to know how deeply sympathetic you are to human troubles; you want others to have a sense of the sorrows you carry around like everyone else; you want others to know how much you know; you want others–even this–to see what you can do with a sentence, with your extensive vocabulary and your gift for metaphorical speech–and all of that has to be subordinated to the demands of the STORY that you are not even, quite yet, sure of. No, it will not get easier–its complications will change away from the ones you had when you were new; but these complications multiply, and exacerbate themselves as you grow. What you can do, simply, is accept this, and do the work. Even when it seems completely closed to you. Accept it as your destiny as an artist and go on with it. You’re not experiencing anything that everyone else hasn’t also experienced. Remember Joseph Conrad, having his wife lock him in a room and then shouting “Let me out. I’m a fraud. I never could do this.” And he was working on his twelfth novel.”
“I think that no matter how hard it is and no matter how difficult the subject, and no matter how dark your vision, writing a novel is always an act of optimism, even of faith–a generous expansion of one’s being toward something outside the self, and by definition, then, a giving forth for others of your kind. Inherently beautiful and valuable as an occupation, even if it takes years, and, yes, even if no one ever sees it. And, too, even if it is destined to be forgotten, to disappear. Wright Morris: two National Book Awards, one as a photographer, sixteen novels. Gone. Vance Bourjaily, Thomas Williams, William Goyen, George Garrett–one can’t find the books. And they were such wonderful writers. So, do the work for itself. And fuck all else. Make the record, and stop worrying about your place in the scheme of things literary.”
“I used to have terrible anxiety before I’d start a session of work–this was after Iowa, and I was thirty and should have known better. I’d pace and sigh and get a stomach ache, afraid it wouldn’t go well. Such a waste of energy, and what a lot of hell I put myself through, like some atavist cowering at a shape in the clouds. I should’ve been saying prayers of gratitude for the chance to fail my way toward something beyond me. Just for the happy fact that I had this work to do, and a place to pursue it, the need to try. I should’ve been celebrating that.”
Publishing a book is a little like following that famed “Yellow Brick Road.” Look out for witches and flying monkeys. Both seem to abound in this business. But just like Dorothy, determined writers push on. Diane Bonavist is one.
Diane’s new novel Purged By Fire came into print after years of near misses and disappointing rejection–making Diane a true survivor in very good company. Please welcome her to Write Despite.
I wanted to write a novel, but after three years of trying on my own, I felt it was time to find other writers who also wanted to figure out how it is done. At an adult ed course I met my future writing group. We were honest but kind and most important we produced our first novels.
In 1994, the group and I decided my Medieval fiction was ready for submission. I was thrilled when I quickly found an enthusiastic agent who boosted my confidence; unfortunately she couldn’t conjure a publisher for my book.
Six years later my novel found another remarkable New York agent who also loved it. With changes that he suggested, the next version hit the publishing world and sadly was again declined. Some years later, more of the same—rewrite, new agent, title, rejection.
During this time, I wrote many technical manuals, two more novels, short stories, and became editor of Tiferet Journal. I continued to write, yet the unease of unfinished business never left me. And though I was happy to spend time in the new pieces I wrote, they didn’t mean to me what my 13th century novel did; it was the book of my heart.
To evoke the stamina and resilience it takes to write, I’ve got to love my characters to death and delirium. The thought of my Medieval people never telling their story, never going out into the world, made me bereft.
A few years ago I decided to do one more revision and instead of an agent, I queried small presses where they usually deal directly with the author. I looked for publishers who knew my subject and found Bagwyn Books, the fiction division of The Arizona Center for Renaissance and Medieval Studies. And there I finally found a publisher who ‘got’ my story and was pleased to publish it.
Yes, it’s a cliché to say ‘never give up,’ but I’m so glad I didn’t. My path to publication is testament to listening instead to the voice inside that says, ‘Now is not the time to give up. Now is the time to write.’