Tag Archives: short stories

Time Travel for Writers

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Readers know all about time travel – you sit down with a good book, and before you know it, a whole afternoon has passed in the blink of an eye! And through the medium of fiction, you are magically transported to another time, another place, perhaps another world. (Who needs a TARDIS?)

It’s the same for writers, of course. “I’ll just spend a few minutes editing this paragraph,” you say to yourself, and when you next look up, you realise you’ve missed a meal/an important appointment/a whole day. We all know there’s nothing quite like the feeling, when the writing is going really well, of leaving the everyday behind and being totally immersed in your fictional world. [NB: Social media is also an extremely effective way for writers to hurtle through a few hours at great speed!]

There is a flip side for writers: whilst time flies when there’s an approaching deadline, it positively crawls when you’re awaiting a response to a submission, or the outcome of a story competition, or – joy of joys! – publication day. [NB: Or indeed payment…but I hesitate to add that, for fear of sounding mercenary, and not having the right attitude to the true rewards of the creative process!]  Writers also experience a distortion in time as often the fruits of their labours are not evident until long after the labour itself. (Sometimes long, long, long after the labour itself.) Recently I’ve had two short stories appear in print, and had another placed in a competition – so to the outside world, all seems busy, busy, busy in my writing world. But in each case, the writing process itself took place many moons ago. Writing is created from not just inspiration but anticipation – thinking ahead to future competitions, and planning in advance for seasonal submissions.

Yesterday was National Writing Day – I’m ashamed to say I didn’t honour the day with any writing-related activities of my own.  I…erm….didn’t have the time. Presumably in some parallel universe, it’s National Writing Day right now.  Hmmm, if I could just find my TARDIS…

2017-06-22 19.10.09

 

 

 

 

#Hysteria2017 Now Open for Entries

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The Hysteria Writing Competition 2017 is now open for entries.

If you’re a female writer in any of the following genres:

  • short stories (up to 2,000 words)
  • flash fiction (up to 250 words)
  • poetry (up to 20 lines)

then this could be the competition for you.

The competition is run annually by the Hysterectomy Association, which provides information and support to women all over the world. They are looking for entries which appeal to their website visitors who are mostly women between 25-65. Stories should not be about hysterectomy itself, but can be in any genre except erotica or horror.

Entry fees are £3 per flash fiction or poem, and £5 per short story.

An anthology of winners and runners-up is published each year, so if you’re interested in entering, you can see what has been successful in the past.

For more information, visit the website: https://www.hysteriauk.co.uk/

Should there always be a happy ending?

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Voting has now closed for this year’s Costa Short Story awards, and the winner will be announced at the end of the month. The three finalists are:

  • Dirty Little Fishes
  • The Boatman
  • The Persistence of Memory.

Though voting is over, you can download them, either to listen to or to read here:

http://www.costa.co.uk/costa-book-awards/costa-short-story-award/

I’d be interested to hear what you think. They are all good, well-written stories, with good characters. But the subject matter in all three, it has to be said, is pretty gloomy. I find this quite striking as writers for the UK magazine market are actively discouraged from taking on gloomy themes. The women’s magazines look for something upbeat (or at least an upbeat ending, even if the themes tackled are sad), and entrants for the Writers’ Forum magazine monthly competition are advised in capital letters that stories “MUST BE ENTERTAINING/RIVETING NOT UNREMITTINGLY BLEAK” and should not rely on themes of death, abuse, etc.

A couple of years ago there was a reader’s letter in Writers Forum about the fact that stories printed in the magazine seemed to focus on the gloomier side of life, and Carl, the Editor, responded by “cracking down on stories that dwell on harsh realities” and so this accounts for the policy and the above instruction. His view was that “We point out time and time again that you have to think of the target market before you start writing, and so it is wrong of us to encourage writing for which there is no other outlet.” This is fair enough, as Writers Forum tends to be aimed at those writing for the domestic magazine market. But often when you read stories which are considered “literary fiction”, the themes are pretty bleak and if there is a move towards a more uplifting ending, it’s very subtle!

So, if we consider our target market, do we conclude that it is considered perfectly acceptable to focus on dark themes when writing “literary” fiction, but if you’re writing for the domestic market, you need to think positive?

 

Ode on an Impending Deadline

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I have to write a story
The deadline’s put me on the spot
But I haven’t got a title
And I haven’t got a plot

My characters are shadows
Their motivations weak
The dialogue is stilted –
That’s not how people speak!

The word-count’s looking healthy
But all I’ve done is set the scene
It’s backstory and padding –
I’m the exposition queen!

The tale needs some drama
We need to feel the MC’s yearning
So the empathetic reader
Will keep those pages turning

It also needs some pace
Scene changes! Witty repartee!
‘Cos frankly at the moment
It’s boring even me

My writing tutor’s voice
In my head shouts “Show don’t tell”
Perhaps I’ll draw a picture
It would probably work as well

I’d wait for inspiration
But it never comes on time
So perhaps I’ll ditch the story
And just write a little rhyme!

 

Short Story Competitions: 5 Tips for Success

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Whether you’re a seasoned short story writer, or trying your hand at short fiction for the first time, sooner or later you may consider entering a few competitions. You might be hoping for a foot on the ladder to fame and fortune, or you might just want to test your skill and possibly earn some feedback on your work. Winning or simply being short-listed in a competition can do wonders for your writing confidence, and may even lead to new writing opportunities. Whatever your motivation, you’ll want to maximise your chances. Over the past few years, having entered numerous competitions (sometimes successfully, sometimes less so!), I have the following five tips:

1) Find the right competition for you. Don’t just go for the most well-known or prestigious ones – they will have big prizes but a correspondingly high level of competition. Conversely, don’t just enter the freebies where there are likely to be more contestants simply because there’s no fee involved. Keep up to date with competition news – there are monthly magazines (e.g. Writers’ Forum, and Writing) which contain competition listings. Writers’ groups in your area may run competitions – check for promotions in your local library. Search for competitions online or get yourself onto Twitter, start following lots of writing-related accounts and you’ll be inundated with information about competitions and prizes. Once you’ve found a competition you’re interested in, find out as much as you can about it. If it’s an annual event, if possible read the winning entries from previous years. The idea is not to copy a specific style, but to build up a feel for the kind of work which has been successful in the past. Are these past winners character driven, do they have a particularly strong narrative voice, or are they action packed with an engaging plot? How does this fit with your own story-telling strengths? Find out about the judges too. Often there will be a single overall judge, though the initial short-listing may have been carried out by a panel of other readers. Read up on the judge’s own writing background and try to think if there’s an aspect of your writing style which most closely dovetails with the work the judge appears to enjoy.

2) Read the rules very carefully. Sounds obvious, but it’s so easy to miss something important. These days, writing competitions are extremely popular, and judges faced with the task of whittling down submissions will be quick to throw out any story not adhering to the rules. Don’t allow a story that would otherwise be a contender to be tossed aside simply because it doesn’t follow the brief. Start by checking the deadline, and the word count. There is usually a maximum number of words allowed, but some competitions will specify a minimum too. Check if the word count includes the title, and with flash fiction especially, check if you need to bring the story in on an exact total (e.g. 100 words). Adhering to a specific word count is an art form in itself, but you may find the restriction is beneficial, forcing you to re-write and remove weak verbs or muddy adjectives. If applicable, check if it is permissible for the work to have been previously published (and if so, if there are any restrictions connected with this – e.g. it may be that a story is eligible for submission if it has been published online on a personal blog, but not if it has appeared in print). Some competitions require you to include a specific opening or closing sentence, or to start from the basis of a specific scenario. If you choose to deviate from this instruction, the judges won’t admire your creativity – they will simply place your entry on the ‘reject’ pile. Finally, check the submission method: can you email your entry, is it hard-copy only, or do you have to enter online through “Submittable” or a similar site?

3) If you’re given a theme or scenario, spend some time considering possible interpretations. Chances are, if you’ve had an idea within the first few minutes of reading the competition requirements, everyone else will have thought of something similar. Judges will quickly get bored of the most obvious plots, styles or genres. Try to think laterally. One of my own first competition successes came about because the competition I’d entered had given quite a constricting scenario which suggested a fantasy style of interpretation. I’m not a strong fantasy writer, but I could see a way to interpret the scenario in a domestic setting, which is more my forte. I can only assume that by the time the judges came to my story, they had seen countless fantasy pieces – so by standing out in a crowd, my story was a success. If you’re stuck for ideas, discuss it with someone else – get another perspective. Spend some time on the internet (again, don’t be content with the first – or even second or third – idea you come across online – everyone else who is stuck will be doing exactly the same as you!). Look out for ideas from newspapers, magazines, the TV, or things you see or hear while you’re out and about. The subconscious is an amazing thing – it will be busy looking for links even without you necessarily being aware. You do need to give it a helping hand though. If inspiration doesn’t strike, just start writing something – anything. Eventually, another idea will spark and you’ll be able to make a link. From a tenuous link, you may then be able to pull out an amazing new plot.

4) Be professional in every aspect of your submission. Give yourself plenty of time to draft and re-draft. Once you believe you’ve finished your story, put it away for a while. Read it again with fresh eyes – you’ll probably spot a few errors you’d missed before. Read it to yourself out loud. The rhythm of the sentence structure is likely to sound different from the way it did in your head, and if you stumble over a sentence, this might indicate a re-write is necessary. Check the rules for presentation. Double lined spacing is usual, but some competitions stipulate a font size (and sometimes even font style). If you’re not sure on the correct way to typeset your story, take down a novel from your bookshelves and look at the way the professional publishers do it (especially things like speech, and paragraph indents). Don’t be afraid of white space – wide margins and plenty of space above the title looks better than having the text crammed in. Make sure you adhere to any regulations about page numbering and headers/footers carrying the title. Most competitions will not want you to put your name on any page other than the front sheet, as the work should be judged anonymously. Lastly, don’t leave it until the last minute to send it in – this will be the time there is a postal delay, or the internet crashes.

5) Don’t be put off if you enter a competition and hear nothing. You may enter many competitions without winning or even being short-listed. Don’t despair. Judging is subjective – for whatever reason, the judge simply felt more strongly about another story. It might have been a close call. You’ll probably never know. In the end, the judge’s decision is final, and the best thing you can do is read the winning entry (and any runners-up which are also published) and learn from them. Some competitions will provide a critique service for an additional fee. These can be quite useful in highlighting an area for future improvement. Whatever you do, don’t take it personally – it’s one writing professional commenting on the work of another. Even if you personally don’t agree with the criticism, you should keep in mind any advice or suggestions when submitting future entries. Keep a log of all submissions, and the date the results will be announced. This ensures that you don’t send the same story to two competitions at the same time (or to the same competition two years in a row as I once did!), and means you’ll be able to see as soon as a story is available to send to another competition. Over time, a log will allow you to analyse your success rate, and whether you have any particular strengths or weaknesses – thus allowing you to target appropriately in the future.

If you follow the guidance above, there’s no guarantee you’ll succeed, but you’ll be giving yourself a good chance. As with everything in writing though, the main thing is not to give up. You won’t win anything if you keep your manuscripts in a drawer. Keep writing, and keep submitting!

If you’d like to read some of the stories I’ve had success with in competitions, they are published in my collection Beyond Words available for Kindle on Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Beyond-Words-short-stories-deception-ebook/dp/B01JWLPKW0

Dear Reader of eBooks

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Thank you, o’ dear reader

For clicking on my book

For scrolling through the others

And giving mine a second look

 

I hope you like the cover

(It was professionally designed!)

And the blurb sparks interest –

Makes you want to “Look inside”

 

When you read the first few pages

I hope you find you’re hooked

And that you click to download

To read the whole eBook

 

I hope the writing grabs you

And the stories entertain

The dialogue rings true

The plotline doesn’t wane

 

And if you find you loved it?

Tell all your friends – please do!

And then tell all the reading world –

Please, please, leave a review!

 ~ Jenny Roman

 

To download “Beyond Words”, or to leave a review, please visit:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Beyond-Words-short-stories-deception-ebook/dp/B01JWLPKW0/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Issue #70 of Scribble – Out Now

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The latest issue of Scribble was waiting for me when I got in this evening – and it feels like quite a bumper issue, with seventeen short stories, and two articles.  (And a very attractive cover design.)

One of the best aspects of this magazine is the feedback from readers – and in this issue, editor David Howarth, mentions that he’s had to allocate an extra page to accommodate all the reader comments submitted.

I’m a big fan of Scribble – not only because it’s a great platform for short story writers (both those new to writing, and the more experienced), but because David takes the time to give feedback on unsuccessful submissions.  It’s also very good value at £15 for an annual subscription (which includes free story submissions and competition entries).

You can find out more about Scribble and subscribe here. The annual short story competition is this year on the theme of “fear”.  Max 3,000 words.  Closing date 1st November 2016 – so plenty of time to plan your entry! ;0)

 

 

 

 

 

Popshot Magazine -Submissions Open

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I was lucky enough to receive a subscription to Popshot magazine for Christmas, and I’ve been really impressed so far.  Popshot is devoted to literary fiction and poetry, but if you’ve seen an issue, you’ll know it’s beautifully designed and illustrated so there are also submission opportunities if you are a budding artist.

There have been 15 issues released so far (subscribers get three issues a year – I’ve had “The Curious Issue” and “The Adventure Issue”) and submissions are now open for their 16th issue, on the theme of “hope”. For more info, click here. You have until 24th July to submit.

    

If you’re interested in submitting, you can also get an online edition (including a free preview) but I have to say, the print magazine is so gorgeous (and reasonably priced – £6 for an individual issue, £10 for a year’s subscription) that I still think a real, tangible copy is the best!

 

5 Things I Learned from Running an eBook Promotion

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With the weather wet and miserable for the last Bank Holiday weekend, I decided it was a perfect time to run a free download promotion for my new eBook.  Here’s some things I learned from the experience:

  1. The free promotion itself is easy to set up through KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing). Simply go to your Bookshelf, and in “Your Books” next to the book you wish to promote, you’ll see “Book Actions” and, underneath, a button to “Promote and advertise”.  This takes you to “Promote your book on Amazon” where you can find the section “Run a price promotion”.  I chose “Free Book Promotion”, and you then click on the dates you want the promotion to run (you have a maximum of five days for your current enrolment term on the Select programme).
  2. Although I set my promotion to run from Saturday to Monday, my eBook didn’t show as free until about 9am on Saturday and was therefore also free for the first few hours of Tuesday morning. Bear in mind when setting your promotion dates that time zones or volume of deals to process may affect timings (embarrassing if you’ve been telling everyone it will be free!)
  3. Remember that your free promo is only as good as your…er…ability to promote!  You need to get active on social media, and tell all your friends and family.  The best promotion is the kind which gives your potential readership something in addition to just the specifics of the book you’re plugging, something which engages their interest.  For example you might want to tell people a bit about the inspiration for your stories, or (if it’s non-fiction) some interesting facts from your background which demonstrates why you’re the best person to be writing this particular book.
  4. You need to know why you’re running the promotion in the first place.  What are you hoping to achieve?  Giving away your work for free certainly isn’t sensible in every situation.  I chose to do it because: a) this is my first Kindle upload, so in that respect it’s a learning experience for me, and I want to try out all the features; b) my current eBook is (I hope) the first of many, so my main aim with this one is to get my name out there, and have something to show an audience on the Kindle platform; c) promo downloads can push your book up the bestseller rankings quickly because the rankings are skewed towards the most recent downloads, so it’s good for exposure, and d) feedback is really important – the free promo allowed me to pick up some star ratings and reviews that I probably wouldn’t have got otherwise.  (A huge thank you, by the way, to everyone who has left a review – it really does make so much difference – and I really appreciate it.)
  5. Beware! Running a promotion turns you into a stats obsessive!  You will find yourself constantly refreshing your Amazon Sales Dashboard, checking your Twitter-feed, gazing at your star-rating and sales ranking. There is a grave danger that you will get a bit tedious to your nearest and dearest too – they’ll probably be too polite to mention it, but you just have to acknowledge they probably aren’t quite so excited about your book as you are!  ;0)

NB: The free promo is now over, but ‘The Camel in the Garden’ is still available for 99p (UK), and remains free for subscribers to Kindle Unlimited.

 

Doing Two Things Badly

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Like many people, I’ve spent a fair bit of time over the last two weeks watching some of the best tennis players in the world fighting it out for the Wimbledon Championship. Yesterday’s match between Djokovic and Federer was a superb example of two incredible athletes displaying their skill and experience at the highest level. I cannot begin to imagine how it must feel to be No 1 or 2 in the world (the world!) at your chosen occupation. I can only guess how much dedication is required to achieve such a position, how many sacrifices have to be made, how demoralising it must be after countless hours of preparation to face injury or defeat. I am in awe of such talented, focused and hard-working people.

I also know I am not like them. And I am only partially envious. I often wish I was passionate about just one thing. I wish I could focus all my energies wholly on one specific area – spend all my waking hours learning, improving, honing my skills… But, (like the vast majority of the population, I suspect) I have divided loyalties. I have two huge passions in my life – one is writing, the other is all things equine. I’ve achieved moderate success in both areas, but I’m sure that if I committed myself to one or the other, I’d achieve much more. To some extent they complement one other, so for example in the long dark hours of winter when there’s little opportunity to ride, I get much more writing done, whilst in the summer it’s the horses which tend to get top priority. And the physical nature of horse riding and care makes for a complete contrast to the task of writing, so each provides a break from the other.  But recently, I’ve had stories short-listed in three different writing competitions and I can’t help wondering, if I was wholly focused, could I land the top spot?

Someone once said, “it is better to do one thing well than two things badly” and I’m sure there is much wisdom in this. On the other hand, you have to know yourself, and your nature. I am definitely more of a two-things-badly person, and I fully accept I’m never going to be World Number 1 (or even 100,000!) in either of my chosen fields. But that’s ok. I love my writing, and I love my horses, and I can’t imagine life without either. So I’ll keep doing a bit of both, and if I get some more stories published, or win a few more rosettes on the way, well, hey, that’s a bonus.