Writers: treat writing contests the same way you’d treat new agents, publishers, or marketing/publicity firms. With caution. C’mon, you know the drill: trust, but verify. Often, verify before you even trust.

Some writing contests are reputable, honest, and offer great prizes and viable publicity for winners and finalists. Even entry-fee contests for various writing genres can be worthwhile, if they offer an industry-respected status, and the entry fees are reasonable and used toward covering the administration of the contest.

Some ‘contests’ are merely fishing expeditions set up by uninformed or possibly predatory publishers, to build a source of fast capital from entry fees and/or get the names of authors who might become clients.

It’s up to you to research your venues *before* you apply to them. Publishing is a party, and you don’t have to dance with everyone who asks! Ditch the beer goggles and the ‘They like me!’ squee, and focus on who’s asking, and what they can offer.

seriously, research everything

Paths to Publishing – Rachel Leigh Smith


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The last of our Paths to Publishing post is up at the Snarkology blog, where you can join Rachel Leigh Smith for another inspirational story about persistence and broadened horizons.

Rachel read voraciously as a homeschooled child and teenager, putting her love of words to work in an intricate shared-world saga with a best friend and writing partner.

Much later, her writing life was shaped by her rich historical knowledge of antebellum Creole Louisiana, a difficult apprenticeship in the exacting Christian fiction genre, one failed marriage, and a healing sojourn in her grandmother’s oasis of books, quiet times, and emotional support. A haunting dream triggered Rachel’s first Science Fiction Romance novel, which she ultimately self-published.

Here’s why, in her own words:

“From decision to first book coming out was three and a half months. It’s been a heck of a wild ride, and I’m having the time of my life! Doing it myself was the last thing I thought I’d do, yet it’s also a natural fit for me. I’m not afraid to learn new things, I like tinkering, I love researching, and most of all I love retaining absolute control of my story world. I don’t have to change things to meet a publisher’s expectations, or downplay the fact it’s the hero’s story and he’s the star.”


Accidental art

A very long time ago when I was in the Society for Creative Anachronism, I knew embroiderers who were so skilled the backs of their pieces were as flawless as the fronts. Same with the work from the masters of the Royal School of Needlework, to which I could never aspire to at my best.

To say I am not in that league is an understatement.

Night Flight front back poemEven so, I can appreciate the accidental mystery of some of my embroidered art, when seen from reverse. These are the back and front views of the text that will be part of ‘Night Flight/Night View’ when that book arts piece is finished.

I love the idea of reversed and obscured texts. That’s why I’m so excited that one of daVinci’s journals is on exhibit at a nearby museum – time for a field trip in the name of art and inspiration.

Paths to Publishing – Jax Daniels

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Jax Daniels started publishing because of winning a writing contest with a small-press publisher. Ah, but there’s a lot more to that story. Head off to the Snarkology blog for the rest!

Jax says of her journey: “What to take from this? Firstly, don’t give up. If you love writing, if you just have something to say, or worlds to share, or character to introduce, do it. Do it, do it, do it. Secondly – and I cannot stress this enough – join a writer’s group. At very least you’ll get readers, and if you’re lucky, you’ll get support and great feedback. Lastly, don’t give up! I’m under no illusion that a great amount of luck is involved, some to liken it to winning the lottery. But, you’ll never get published if you stop writing.”

Paths to Publishing – Maureen L. Bonatch

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Interested in paranormal romance and persistence-pays stories? Visit the Snarkology blog for an interview with Maureen L. Bonatch.

Her path to publishing began in childhood, with a private, ongoing tale about a girl who could talk to animals. After submitting the story as part of a junior-high assignment, Maureen was crushed to get it back covered ‘the dreaded red markings’. She set the daydream aside.

Maureen came back to her storytelling dream with gusto eight years ago: taking classes, honing her writing skills, and learning as much about the business of writing as possible.

She says:

“I’ve since grown a much thicker skin, and now anticipate the red markings to make the story better, but I can’t help but wonder if that teacher hadn’t been a little bit more encouraging if I would’ve found the courage to seriously pursue my writing sooner.

So when my twin daughters starting writing their stories in elementary school…I praised them, encouraged it, and told them their stories were wonderful. Sure they might have plagiarized a bit in the stories they wrote at age seven or eight, but they were good and they’ve gotten better. They’re thirteen now and actively write short stories as well as Percy Jackson fan fiction on Wattpad. When they tell me they want to be writers, I tell them they already are.”

Paths to Publishing – Barbara Meyers

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Today on the Snarkology blog, Barbara Meyers says: “I don’t suppose many authors begin their writing careers by throwing another author’s book across the room and declaring, ‘I can write better than that,’ but that’s how I started.* It was a long time ago but I was that disgusted with a poorly written romance novel when I arrived at ‘the end’.”

Barbara created characters and stories for her own enjoyment, focused less on plot, piled up ‘a lot of unpublished manuscripts’, and kept writing even when her intermittent queries went nowhere. Finally, she asked herself: “If no one was reading my work, what was the point of writing all these stories?”

She dusted off one manuscript that seemed to have potential, and gave herself the goal of querying a hundred editors and agents before she quit writing. About thirty queries along, an editor from Samhain offered a contract. A Month From Miami was published nearly ten years after Barbara had written the first rough draft.

She’s another author who means it when she says: “If you are just starting out as a writer, I suggest you put a date on everything you write and never get rid of anything!”

* Author note: That’s how I began, too, though in another genre.




Paths to Publishing – Melissa Snark

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The Snarkology’s own Melissa Snark talks candidly about her decision to finance her self-published audiobook A Cat’s Tale, once she had the rights back from the previous e-publisher. Audiobooks are a fast-growing but still far less saturated market for romance subgenres…worth any author’s serious consideration.

Melissa paid upfront for some serious narrative and sound-editing talent, but other options are available to authors willing to split their royalties. Follow the link above to learn more!

I need a word, please

<Takes a deep breath.>

I need a word to describe the feeling I got when someone I only vaguely know (from a large genre marketing site, where we exchange no more than pleasantries) announced proudly they’ve just had their first book published, and I was really happy for them, until I looked up the book on Amazon and realized it’s been published by some crappy little small press that can’t edit and can’t market, and has pages of cautions warning as such on Preditors & Editors, Hi Piers, and AbsoluteWrite, and most of their already-published authors use whiny excuses for low sales…but it’s not a vanity press, so I can at least not knock my not-friend’s judgement on that.


The word isn’t schadenfreude, because I’m deriving no pleasure at all from what I suspect is this person’s impending misfortune. I can’t warn this person, because then I sound like an elitist buzzkill with an axe to grind against poor, scrappy little start-up indie publishers.

And I’m not that person. I adore scrappy indie start-up publishers – if they’re competent about it. Most don’t seem to be. This particular publisher has been around long enough it should have shaken all the loose bits into place, yet it still has distressingly low sales, loose acceptance guidelines, the unrealistic expectation of paying its editors and artists through royalties alone, and a bunch of other warning signs.

Signs the other author has been around long enough in the marketing group to at least have HEARD ABOUT.

So what I’m going to do is stay silent, and offer comforting platitudes a year from now when this person is ranting about how they only sold ten copies or less of their magnum opus, can’t get their rights back, and is an online flamewar with the owner/editor/still-loyal authors.

I’d like to think the applicable word is ‘practical’ rather than ‘cowardly’, because I recognize I can do nothing at this stage.

Paths to Publishing – Martha O’Sullivan

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Martha O’Sullivan’s love affair with romance began when she was a child, finishing library books’ unsatisfactory endings in her head. A teenage trip to Lake Tahoe, a solid grounding in technical writing and journalism, and seven years of solitary effort led her to write her first book and the sequels continuing it. All before publication – she says her first novel must have been rejected ‘what felt like 100 times.’

But she kept going.

Read the rest of Martha’s journey today, over on the Snarkology blog. She has some tips for new authors I wish I’d known, way back when.

The Rosie Project: fail

I tend not to read much commercial mainstream fiction, for many reasons. I certainly avoid it if the Hype Machine insists I read it. So I was unfamiliar with ‘The Rosie Project’ until this morning.

I can’t give a full review of a story unless I read all of it, and I managed only a few sample chapters online. So this is not a review. 

This is an observation. 

I’ve seen better portrayals of likely autism-spectrum characters on ‘Royal Pains’ (Dr. Jeremiah Sacani) and ‘The Big Bang Theory’ (Sheldon Cooper –  upon whom Rosie’s male protagonist appears to be based.) 

I’m not surprised by the rumor this was a screenplay before it was a book, or that it’s going to be a movie soon. As a chick-flick in manuscript form, I’m sure it’s reasonably enjoyable beach or airport reading. As a movie it will be the same. 

It is not a manual for real-life friendship or romantic relationships with people anywhere on the autism spectrum, any more than ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ is a safe, sane & consensual manual for BDSM lifestyle practices.

So, for the readers who acquired life lessons from ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary’ and ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ – don’t. Just don’t. Don’t chase after that geeky, charming, painfully reserved, didactic, and fussy engineer/doctor/scientist/whatever and expect him or her to change according to your whims. If they really have Asperger’s, all you are saying to them is: “I hate one of the bedrock parts of your personality, the thing that you probably cannot change at all. And I won’t love you unless you do, or at least try.”

Yeah, try that.


Paths to Publishing – Dixie Hart

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Happy Friday! Join Dixie Hart on the Snarkology blog, for a candid and inspirational tale of wanderlust, travel, exotic locales, and fearless risk-taking – all of which Dixie distills into a second career in self-published non-fiction and romance.

I won’t give the whole story away, but you should listen to Dixie: “…Sometimes the willingness to risk can end up looking like luck.”

Paths to Publishing – Racheline Maltese

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C’mon over on the Snarkology blog, and visit with Racheline Maltese.

When she and her co-author Erin McRae jumped into the LGBTQ+ Romance niche market, they already had publishing experience in poetry and short SFF fiction, as well as long- and short-form nonfiction.

Their path to publication had some hitches: unlearning some ‘stuffy’ professional habits from their previous genres, re-tooling editorial expectations learned in non-fiction publishing, and being aware of the unique preferences of the M/M romance readership.

Their first M/M romance novel arrived from Torquere Books in 2014, to great reviews, and their second novel in the series is coming out soon.

One of Erin’s comments really stands out as sound advice/thought exercise for authors joining the M/M romance market from other genres:

“As people who have read more gay literature than gay romance, we weren’t necessarily aware of the likes and dislikes of much of the M/M romance community when it came to narrative items like bisexuality and polyamory. While knowing these things earlier wouldn’t have changed the story we wanted to write*, they would have changed how we marketed our book to publishers and readers earlier on in the process.” **

* My emphasis. As the M/M romance genre ‘grows up’ and becomes more and more professionally published and marketed, I hope that more authors opt for fearless original choices instead of those based only in fan-service customs. I hope that more readers give them a chance. One huge ongoing debate/ argument/screaming trollfest in M/M romance pits authors and readers only backing M/M stories (for whatever creative or personal reason), vs those who write broader romances including bisexuality and polyamory.

** The key to bridging those divides is probably the same response that Racheline and Erin noted: more-targeted and clarified marketing to publishers and readers. Love is love, and good writing is good writing – as I’ve found in many fan fiction pairings/groupings. When readers trust that authors know what they’re doing with the established tropes, those authors get more respect and leeway when they try something different.

Paths to Publishing – Sydney St. Claire

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The Snarkology blog catches up to author Sydney St. Claire today, as she shares her by-the-bootstraps journey to publication, and the changes she’s noticed in the publishing industry since the pre-Internet days.

Her writing career started when she wrote a single compelling scene in a genre she loved to read – Native American romance – and made the mistake of asking the characters ‘Why?’ and ‘What happened next?’

(First rule of plot-bunnies: if you feed them, they never go away. And they invite all their friends…)


Night Flight: neighborhood

Say hello to part of a new fiber art book, which I may actually finish this year:

Night flight neighborhood for blog

As I mentioned in this post last year, back in 2009 I was insane enough to decide that, yes, I could make a pop-up book out of fabric.

Most artists make pop-up or fold-out books out of paper, because paper’s qualities are so perfect for thin, intricate, stiff-yet-flexible design elements. Here’s one master at her craft, Ingrid Siliakus, showing what paper does best.

I rarely work with paper (2 books out of over 200, I think). Carved, burned, and painted wood and leather, sure. For thirty years, fiber art sculptures have been one of my enduring art obsessions. For seventeen years, I’ve been turning them into one-of-a-kind book art pieces.

Three-dimensional fiber-fold sculptures are a lot trickier than I’d guessed. There were way too many unsuccessful test runs in cardboard and tape. I had to go back to some old couture seaming techniques to get the right structure. By its nature, cloth has a thicker, softer look than paper, but that can give a richly organic feel, too.

One of the major stalls was creating just the right short poem to summarize the whole work. I managed that last night, in sixteen words. (Short, because I will hand-embroider only so many words before my hands and brain rebel. My lottery daydream isn’t a sportscar, but a programmable embroidery machine.)

‘Neighborhood’ is one fold-out portion of ‘Night Flight’, shown before backing, edging, more beadwork, and the creases steamed and sewed in place. It’s an affectionate, slightly-voyeuristic abstraction of an average American city suburb seen at dusk, from above.

The panel is approx 16.5″ x 9.5″. Materials: dark blue suit-weight cotton twill, with appliques of linen, cotton batik, orange-purple silk, decorative and structural machine seams, and hundreds of glass beads in an orange/blue/iridescent gray colorway.

The final closed dimensions of ‘Night Flight’ will probably be 10″ x 4.5″ x 1.75″ – fairly big, for my work. I’m looking forward to seeing how it turns out.

When tl;dr annoys me

Short primer here on the meme of Too Long; Didn’t Read.

Got that? <Takes deep breath.> Okay, then.

There’s a funny, helpful, snarky meme out in the world right now, dating back over a decade. Sometimes it’s used to signify a short summary of a longer article, for reader convenience. That’s fine. Sometimes it’s used to call out an excessively long online post, in a more-or-less friendly way. That’s fine too. I’ve written my share of those.

Where tl;dr gets my hackles up is when I see it in a book or article review, often paired with ‘Dropped’ or ‘Did Not Finish’. Often written in an airy context, as if the reviewer wasn’t that invested in the project to begin with, and had just found something more interesting, like their toenails.

Well, excuuuuuuuuse me for finding that unbelievably annoying. Both as a writer and a reader.

It’s disrespectful not only to the author, but to the other readers who did manage to navigate the book/story/article/Wiki entry/bus map.

It’s another thinly-disguised morsel of indulgent anti-intellectualism, possibly worse than functional illiteracy. The person who writes tl;dr in a review knows how to read. They just choose not to. Then celebrate their laziness as some kind of efficiency.

I have stopped reading books and whole series before. But I don’t boast about it, because that’s a sad development for me. A story that cannot entertain me and make me care about it? Wow, that’s bad. I’m easy – I’ll browse Wikipedia and The Silmarillion for fun. I love books, and I want to finish each one I open. It’s taken me decades to be comfortable stopping partway through, and never returning.

That’s why I’m delighted with sample texts online. A chapter or two in, and I can usually tell if the rest is worthwhile. Samples save me time, and the effort of reviewing something that may not be worth giving it a one-star rating.

Ironically enough, tl;dr reviewers also save me time, when I go look at the books they *did* finish. My experience has been that I probably won’t like them, either.

Romance conference at the Library of Congress*

Aww, I’m really sad that this two-day conference is all the way across the country from me.

But if any romance readers or writers are going to be near the Washington, D.C. area in mid-February, it might be worth the time to register:

“What Is Love? Romance Fiction in the Digital Age” will be held at the US Library of Congress, on February 10th and 11th, 2015.

From the announcement:

Registration now is open for those wishing to attend the conference “What Is Love? Romance Fiction in the Digital Age” to be held Tuesday, Feb. 10, and Wednesday, Feb. 11, at the Library of Congress.

The event is hosted by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress. Harlequin, a division of HarperCollins Publishers, is the lead sponsor. Additional support is provided by the Popular Romance Project; the Nora Roberts Foundation; the Romance Writers of America; and Berkley/NAL, imprints of Penguin Random House.

Romance fiction is the second-best-selling genre in the publishing industry, generating more than $1 billion in publisher revenues in 2013, according to Bookstats. Romance accounts for 21 percent of the adult fiction market.

The conference will speak to the business and social aspects of romance writing, romance literature scholarship and public engagement with people who love the genre. The Popular Romance Project, led by Laurie Kahn of Blueberry Hill Productions, also includes the feature-length documentary film “Love Between the Covers,” directed by Kahn. There will be a preview screening of the film at the Library of Congress on the evening of Feb. 10.

The conference and film screening are free and open to the public; attendees are asked to register at www.popularromanceproject.org/prp-conference.

* For those of you not familiar with semi-archaic English, this is a huge and topical howler of a pun. I cannot believe the organizers are not aware of it. Bravo, folks, bravo.

Paths to Publishing – Barbara Edwards

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Wander over to the Snarkology blog today for an inspiring post from Barbara Edwards.

She started writing in adulthood, and wrote because of her love for words and despite some scathing comments from a creative writing teacher. She found her way into publishing when she didn’t accept a major romance publisher’s mandate to change the core plot point of her book. The publisher said ‘no change, no deal; our readers can’t handle that’. The result: no deal.

Later, when Barbara shared that rejection story with an online writing group, the novel came to the attention of a more flexible publisher. Barbara’s first published novel went on to good sales and strong reviews, and broke new ground in the romance genre.

Her persistence helped. She shares this great advice for writers seeking publication:

“The lesson I learned was to treat writing as a regular day job. Write daily, consistently. It’s hard work but worth every minute.”

Paths to Publishing – Romy Gemmell

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Romy Gemmell talks today on the Snarkology blog, about never giving up, wise time management, and learning as much as possible about the craft and business of writing.

She has a solid, basic list I want to quote here:

“If I might offer a few of suggestions to aspiring writers it would be:

Join a writing group of some kind if possible.

Experiment with different forms of writing as we often don’t know what most suits our voice until we try it.

Read everything, especially genres you might not have read before.

Never, ever give up. Circumstances and commitments can change but you are in charge of your creativity and it expands with use.”