Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Golden Heart Pointers For A Successful Entry

Judi Fennell has been hearing several of us whine and whimper about entering the RWA's Golden Heart this year. We've probably pulled her ear all out of shape, poor thing. Why do we ask Judi? Because she's been a category and contest coordinator, and a judge for the GH and RITAs. Not to mention a veteran in entering contests and now a successful author.

As I listened to her advice, I had this bright idea—well, I thought it was a bright idea :-). Why not have Judi write an article on her observations? So I asked. There was only a small groan, followed with mysterious mumblings in another language I didn’t recognize, from the other end of the phone. Judi is working on Mer galleys for her third book, Catch Of A Lifetime, due out February 2010, and finishing up the first book in her new trilogy on Genies. So, deadlines are definitely in play here. But being the trooper she is, she agreed to write the article.

I hardly had to beg.

Well, a little bit.

Judi, thank you for doing this for me.

You're welcome, Sia

Was that a groan I heard?

No, no, just something in my throat. Ahem. (*hands Judi a glass of wine)

With the Golden Heart deadline approaching, I thought I'd take the opportunity to talk about entering contests and ways to maximize your investments. Yes, I said investment$. Not only are you investing the money to enter, but also the money for postage, paper and ink to print it out, time to drive to the post office, time to collate/organize the entry, and Hope. Don't ever discount that last one. Hope can keep you going when this business gets tough.

If you've read my bio, you'll see that I've entered a few contests ;}. I've finalled, I've won, I've come in (almost) last, I've been a category coordinator and I've been a contest coordinator. I entered my first contest the day I went to my first chapter meeting; to say I was new is an understatement. I was so new, the plastic was still on the packaging. I had No. Clue. (Funny enough, that wasn't the contest I finished [almost] last.)

First and foremost if you're going to enter contests: READ THE INSTRUCTIONS. Especially where it says to end on a hook. I've read good contest entries (and, sadly, bad ones) where the entrant ends the submission in the middle of a sentence. At the end of a paragraph or with the H/h going to sleep. There was no impetus for me, the reader, to want to see what was going to happen next.

Ask yourself this: aside from the fund-raising aspects, why do chapters hold contests? Why do they go out in search of editors and agents for final judges? Having done this for my chapter, I can tell you it's because we want to offer our entrants the chance to get published. Granted, those stories are few and far between, but they do happen. (And we ALL have the Hope that it will happen for us. [See? Hope.]) More common is that finalists get requests that could lead to sales. And we're just as happy as the entrant to see that happen.

So, how do you maximize your chance of making those Top 3 finalists? First, end on a hook. You want the final judge to be so caught up in your story that when they turn that last page, they're looking for what comes next-and to find out that nothing's there and want it so badly that they request the manuscript. If you've hooked them, they will. But if you let the entry kind of slide off the page, you're not doing yourself any favors and your investment is, essentially, wasted. (Provided you're not entering solely for craft/story feedback from the first round judges, which is definitely a worthwhile reason to enter contests, but not the Golden Heart. You get no feedback other than a number between 1 and 9.)

Another EASY way to trip yourself up is punctuation and spelling. Yes, published authors' work goes through copy edits, but authors make every reasonable effort to make sure there aren't any. Do the same with your contest entry. Have someone else read over it before you send it in. It's so easy for us to skip over missing words since we've read our work for how many times, or skim over a misspelling because we thought it was spelled that way, etc. This is your shot to put your best foot forward with your manuscript.

Just as you need to end on a hook, you need to begin with one. Draw us into the story. And make sure it's the right story. Don't give us the entire history of the characters or what came before. That's backstory. If it's that important to what you're telling, then you need to start your story at that point in time. But to begin with an info dumps/backstory/unnecessary elements means that your story isn't:

  • A) starting in the right place or

  • B) isn't strong enough to stand on its own.

Jump in with the story and feed the necessary (not all) backstory to us. It's okay to have the reader wonder what's happening. But that, too, is a balancing act because you don't want someone wondering what's going on enough that it pulls them out of the story. You don't ever want to pull your reader out of the story, and you also don't want them to be bored. Pages of information can bore a reader. There's a reason that the Inciting Incident is a buzz word in writing. It's what makes your story happen. Why the story is worth writing about. It's what hooks your reader into the story.

Learn your craft. Know what Telling versus Showing is. Key words for Telling: felt, saw, realized, knew, watched. If the narration contains a lot of "She felt"s, "He wondered"s, "Mary realized"s, you might want to see if there's a better way to "show" what it is Mary is realizing. Also, watch what you project to the reader that you want the reader to know. For example: "Mary realized that, clearly, Mrs. Smith wanted her to leave." We have Mary telling us two things: that she realized something, and Mrs. Smith wanted her to leave. Show us Mrs. Smith wanting Mary to leave. Maybe Mrs. Smith opens the door for Mary and Mary stops mid-speech at the woman's audacity. We then see Mrs. Smith's action, and infer with Mary that she's being kicked out. It resonates more with a reader to have an emotional connection with the character than to read the narrative.

Understand the difference between Point of View and Deep Point of View and how to show thoughts in each. How to transition between points of view, and things not to do. One of my pet peeves is when a character narrates something they can't know: "John opened the door, unaware of the villain aiming a gun at his heart." Well, if we're in John's point of view, how is he going to tell us this since he's unaware of it?

A lot of people say "But So-and-So breaks the rules." Just like anything, once you know the rules, you can break them if you know why and how you're doing it. Having a huge audience doesn't hurt either. :-)

Once you've got your story ready to go, package it up according to the rules, and send it off.

And then invest Hope.

Oh, and Wait, too.

There's always Waiting.

Best of luck! I'll be doing my annual Golden Heart/Rita Nominees Party on my blog ( again in March (I think the calls go out on the 26th), so stop by to Wait and Hope with us-and to celebrate as people get The Call.

Here's hoping you're one of them!

Best of luck!


I have been writing for as long as I can remember, winning my first writing award in a second grade Caldecott Medal contest. Readers' Digest gave me my very first publishing credit in April, 1994, and I was hooked. I seemed to have followed writing contests around, being a finalist in such online contests as American Title III, sponsored by Romantic Times BOOKreview Magazine and Dorchester Publishing, and two First Chapters contests, sponsored by and Simon & Schuster/Pocket Books.

I grew up watching Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie and The Addams Family--my mom looked like Elizabeth Montgomery and I had a special Barbie outfit that looked like Morticia Addams' dress. My favorite books are Bewitching by Jill Barnett and A Knight In Shining Armor, by Jude Devereaux, so it should come as no surprise that I like to write tongue-in-cheek lighthearted paranormals.

I love pop culture and manipulating language, so you'll find lots of puns, double entrendre, plays-on-words, alliteration, clichés, and twisting of phrases, as well as several one-liners in my stories that give me a few chuckles. I studied Spanish at Penn State (Go Lions!), lived in Spain and traveled throughout that beautiful country.

I've always written and still have my journal from fourth grade where, even then, my stories were full of fantastical creatures, whimsy and magic. I wrote my first romance in 9th grade and still have that story in my memory chest. Even back then I dreamed of being a writer.

Now with kids, a husband, a house, a social life (Go Survivor Girls!), and two cocker spaniels named Vixen and Raven, I get to live my dream of being a writer!

Visit with Judi Fennell at her website.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Doomsday Brethren, Interview With Shayla Black

I started reading about an intriguing world created by Shayla Black (aka Shelley Bradley) and knew that I not only had to read the series, but have her as a guest Over Coffee.

I’m pleased to have had a chance to talk with Shayla a bit about
The Doomsday Brethren Series and Seduce Me In Shadow, released September 29th. Shayla Black is a national bestseller and writes various genres, and now paranormal/urban fantasy romance.

When Shayla says, “Magic has never been so devastatingly sexy,” she means it. I have to tell you that her heroine, Sydney, is not the only one that thinks Caden MacTavish is yummy (as you know, I do have a weakness for sexy Scots). Get out your fans, girls, you’re gonna need them, because we’re talking a very hot hero.

  • You've also written Contemporary Romance and Erotica, what made you decide to branch into paranormal romance?

I’ve had this idea in the back of my head for about a dozen years. I finally think all the pieces of the puzzle fell together mentally for me, which enabled me to write the books. But they’ve always been in my head and near and dear to my heart.

  • I love to read paranormals, and especially with a new slant. Your series is called the Doomsday Brethren staring magical knights, wizards, and witches who must fight evil. What drew you choose magical warriors?
I’ve always been fascinated by magical worlds, and this was perfect for me to explore. The immortal human who walks in magical circles (TEMPT ME WITH DARKNESS), the wizard who doesn’t want to be a wizard (SEDUCE ME IN SHADOW), the wizard who yearns for more than his born station in life provides (POSSESS ME AT MIDNIGHT), the double-dealing wizard, the leader of the magical wizards, the broken wizard… These guys just came to me. But despite all their magical abilities, they have very HUMAN problems, and I wanted readers to be able to identify what these characters were experiencing emotionally.

  • What's special about your heroines, Olivia and Sydney? Any magic? Are they aware of these magical knights or just average women who walk into this blind?

Olivia from book 1, TEMPT ME WITH DARKNESS, was unaware of the magical world she was born into, then shielded from who whole life. The heroine of my current release, SEDUCE ME IN SHADOW, is Sydney, a human who is sure this magical world exists…but can’t prove it. She’s a journalist determined to dig until she finds answers. She gets a whole lot more than she bargained for…

  • What was the most fun about writing this series?

Dreaming up the new world, the characters and their interaction. Crossing between their world and ours is a ton of fun, and I enjoy making it accessible for us mere human, but still fantastical enough to take the reader on a journey.

  • What was the hardest to write?

Keeping all the strands of the plots together. These books are intricate, and as I write book 4, most characters have an established history and backstory that I’m working within, so keeping it all straight keeps me on my toes.

  • Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Don't give up. Tenacity is 90% of this business. Keep writing. Keep submitting. The minute you stop knocking on doors is the minute you lose all chance of selling. And it may be cliché, but read, read, read. Don't assume that what you like to read most is immediately what suits your voice. Try a few different things and see what feels good to you. Remember, your voice is what an editor is looking for. Tell the story that only you can tell.

  • When will your next book be published? Can you tell me a bit about it?

SEDUCE ME IN SHADOW just released 9/29, so it should be in stores now. Book 3 in the series; POSSESS ME AT MIDNIGHT, releases 10/27. Here are the “official” blurbs for both:


  • Ex-Marine Caden MacTavish has shunned his magical heritage all his life, but he will do anything to heal his desperately ill brother, a Doomsday Brethren warrior in mourning for his missing mate. Posing as a photographer, Caden must convince firecracker tabloid reporter Sydney Blair to reveal the source of her recent exposé on a supernatural power clash. Unfortunately, keeping his hands off the sizzling redhead proves as hard as getting them onto the potent and mystical Doomsday Diary he discovers at her bedside. A bloody rebellion led by an evil, power-hungry wizard is imminent. If Sydney divulges the book’s existence, she will jeopardize magickind’s most deeply guarded secrets and become the ruthless wizard’s number one target. Caden has never trusted magic’s cruel and dangerous powers, but he will protect Sydney with his life and magic—even if it means risking his heart.


  • As a mysterious dark cloud drains the life of her beloved brother, Doomsday Brethren leader Bram, Sabelle Rion can think of little else. Still, every time she meets Ice Rykard’s intense green gaze, her body aches with need for the sexy warrior. Their attraction is explosive, incredible—and forbidden. As dangerous as he is unpredictable, Ice is her brother’s sworn enemy. But as Bram weakens, a more sinister force is gaining power. Evil Mathias and his ruthless Anarki army are on a bloodthirsty hunt for the Doomsday Diary. Sabelle must guard the potent book with her life—and Ice vows to protect the beautiful witch with his. Duty demands that Sabelle deny her lover’s fiery call of possession and mate with a man who can sway the magical Council against the impending rebellion. With the fate of magickind hanging in the balance, will she forsake the burning desires she can’t ignore or turn her back on her people for the courageous man she can’t resist?

Thank you, Shayla, for taking time out of your busy writing schedule to answer my questions.

Be on the look out in November 2009 for a review of The Doomsday Brethren Series, here at Over Coffee.


SHAYLA BLACK is the nationally bestselling author of more than twenty sizzling contemporary, erotic, paranormal, and historical romances, including the Doomsday Brethren novels Tempt Me with Darkness and Possess Me at Midnight. Her novel Decadent was nominated for Best Erotic Romance of 2007 by Romantic Times. She lives in Texas with her family.

Visit her website at

Check out additional information about The Doomsday Brethren

Be sure to get the first in the Brethren series, and it's trailer: Tempt Me with Darkness.