Can you judge a book by its title?

Several years ago, I heard that Harlequin romance read every manuscript they received, and so I began writing short romance novels, tailoring them specifically for that market.  I won’t lie–I’ve always believed they would publish anything.  One book I read had a character named Darren, also spelled Darrin.  I couldn’t help but think of the two Darrins on “Bewitched”.

I’ve read about a hundred Harlequin romances (for research more than pleasure), and I’ve probably liked about five of them.  Most of the titles (and characters) are forgettable.  (Though much meatier, I can barely name any of the Lisa Jackson and Sandra Brown books I’ve read.)  However, there is a market for these little books, and so I’ve been working on a handful of titles–I just need to write the stories that go with them!

I ended up writing two novels, “Regina Fair”, a light, fluffy romance for the Harlequin American romance line, and “A Splash of Blue”, a darker novel for one of the other lines.  I came up with “Regina Fair” for the title (it was originally “Regina’s Rainbow”) when I read that Audrey Hepburn’s “Sabrina” was originally “Sabrina Fair”; someone thought that sounded too highbrow (fearing they would think “Vanity Fair”), and so it was shortened.

My protagonist, Regina Morrow, is a refined girl who works a blue-collar job (she is a grocery clerk).  I wanted to show (and not tell) that a girl could have class without money and/or a white-collar job.  Plus, a character like that is more relatable than most of the contestants that compete on “The Bachelor”.

“A Splash of Blue” is about a young woman who runs away from her mother’s smothering love to become a mermaid for Soda Springs water park (based on Weeki Wachee Springs in Florida; I’ve been there, and it is truly a relic from the 1950’s).  This title is reminiscent of the 1965 movie, “A Patch of Blue”.

I do think the greatest books have the most memorable titles (“Gone with the Wind”, “To Kill a Mockingbird”, “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”), and a catchy title (like a book cover that pops) is important, as are character names.  Did you know Pansy was Scarlett O’Hara’s original name?  Or that Mickey was born Mortimer Mouse?  I can’t imagine it either.

My take on entry/reading fees

Writers Market

This is one issue I see from both sides.  I think with the ease of electronic submissions, magazines are getting bombarded with rubbish, because if submitting a piece required no monetary investment, there is less of a stake in making sure it’s polished.  There is sort of a “throw it against the wall and see what sticks” sort of attitude.  I admit, I’ve been guilty of this, only because I’ve seen so much bad, poorly written material get published, I thought, what the heck?  Of course, I take pride in my work, but when something was free to enter, I didn’t worry as much about trying to make sure it was what they were looking for (I didn’t read their publication, because I didn’t want to pay for a sample copy.  Yes, I’m cheap, but that gets expensive, if you start buying sample copies from numerous publications.).

So, I ordered last year’s Writer’s Market (it was a third cheaper than this year’s) from amazon.com (I rarely buy new books), and was pretty ticked off when I spent the better part of the hour I should have been sleeping, compiling a list of all the poetry contests that didn’t have an entry fee listed.  And guess what?  When I went to the websites, I found that all but one (some blue collar poetry contest–how narrow of a category is that?) was the only one out of 20+ contests that didn’t charge the author for submission.  I think that’s a bit sneaky, because that is pretty much the deciding factor for me, at least for now, and I’m talking about fifteen dollar entry fees for the chance to win a hundred dollar prize, not to mention a few were chapbook contests, so for a collection of poetry, that was all you could win.

I get it.  Most of these publications don’t make any money off subscriptions (I’m beginning to think the arts should pay for themselves, but I’ve heard it said if that was the case, only “art” like the latest pop music, etc., would exist, but that’s a topic of discussion for another time), but to charge (most of them) such exorbitant fees, just to read your work, is unconscionable.

Seems like everyone writes poetry, but few read it.  Since I’ve gotten onto a poetry writing kick, I’ve been reading it more.  It’s not like a mystery suspense novel, that makes you keep turning the pages–poetry isn’t something you consume like fast food, it’s something you savor, and, as Americans, we tend to like everything fast.  Poetry doesn’t just make you think about what’s written, but what’s not written, what’s between the lines.

I have to say, I’ve had much better luck finding free venues in which to submit my work through http://writingcareer.com/, that a girl from our local writer’s group turned us on to.  It’s fantastic!  I’ve submitted to several publications through this, and haven’t had to pay a penny to do so.

It’s too bad, because I love to support the little guy (or girl, or people), but I can’t afford to pay them for the subscriptions they don’t get.  I have to send my work to places like “Highlights for Children”, to give an example (though I think the only people who subscribe to them are doctors’ and dentists’ offices), even though the competition is much more fierce; yet, I think I might have a better chance with them, because they’re producing for the masses, and I get the feeling that having some kind of Ivy League or degree in English literature (“Glimmer Train” comes to mind) is almost a prerequisite.

I like what I like, and I don’t try to pretend I’m into all the classics, though there are a few I enjoy, but I don’t eat them up like I do with a novel of Lisa Jackson’s, for example, whose stories keep me reading late into the night.  I like a little more substance than Harlequin romance, but I’m not into slogging through tomes like “Don Quixote”.

So, backtracking a bit, I don’t have a problem with a three or even a five dollar entry fee here and there, but for the most part, I’m going to avoid them and pursue all the free entries I can (ones that pay more than publication and contributor’s copies, anyway).  Heck, as much as some of these fees are, I’d rather just have to pay to mail them in!  That alone, would cut down on the rubbish they receive, because having to prepare a submission for snail mail, then having to drive to the post office and having to wait in line…that takes commitment.  I guess an entry fee is the price we pay for convenience, because having to pay a fee on top of the cost of mailing it in, well, I think they would get few takers on that.

A publisher’s market, not a writer’s market

Writers Market

So I ordered the 2013 edition of “The Writer’s Market” on amazon.com, at a third of the price of this year’s.  I’d wanted to get the e-edition (since I’m always on my computer when I’m editing), but I’d heard it was hard to navigate, so I settled for the print edition.

I go through phases with my writing–for awhile, I was tailoring all my work for submission to Harlequin romance (working on my Great American novel all the while, whatever that means), then I got into personal essays/creative nonfiction, and now I’m on a poetry kick, mainly because it works my brain in a different way, and I can dash it off and submit it pretty fast.

I just finished editing my collection of children’s nursery rhymes, which include fractured fairy tales (blended with Biblical allegories), fractured nursery rhymes, and my original “Just-So” stories (in the spirit of Rudyard Kipling), to name a few.  I’ve even included a “Shaggy God” story (“Allison’s Mirror:  A Twisted Retelling”) that combines the story of “Alice in Wonderland” with a Sci-Fi (or Scientology) point-of-view explaining how Adam and Eve hooked up.

I have taken a hiatus from entering fee-based contests for awhile.  Though I never lived them, I miss the days when publishers paid to print your work, rather than writers having to pay publishers just to read it.  Some of them are a racket, but others, I believe, just don’t make anything off subscriptions (I know plenty of people who write poetry, but read it?).  That’s why magazines like “Ladies Home Journal” and “Real Simple” can offer free contests with a big prize attached.  “The Writer’s Digest” offers several contests, but you have to pay (and pay big) to win.  However, there is hope in getting published with them and not having to pay (but neither do you get paid):   http://www.writersdigest.com/submission-guidelines.  You can also submit to “The Huffington Post” here:  https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScrz0kcSTcl6MrGJF-13l2MMSZJ3BBZtt6_znfxb4FwMLQiSQ/viewform, where you will get exposure, but again, no cash.  If you don’t mind writing for free for awhile (what is most blogging, after all?), then these will simply serve as publication credits to add to your “clip file”.

Though I realize it’s important to invest in ourselves (sometimes that means moneywise), and that when we buy a lottery ticket, it’s a gamble, I am still leery of shelling out too much money at one time for an entry/reading fee.  I’m going to exhaust all other options first, which is why I bought “The Writer’s Market”.

One exception I made was paying ten dollars to enter the Saturday Evening Post’s “Great American Short Story Contest”.  See:  https://sarahleastories.com/2015/12/06/more-good-news/.  Receiving an honorable mention (to me) in a magazine like that was like winning first place in a magazine no one has ever heard of.  The only disappointment was that my story was not in print, but rather in an online anthology.  (Print is just far more prestigious.)

That said, the absolute best, up-to-date source I’ve found for finding submission opportunities that don’t charge is http://writingcareer.com/.

Moreover, it can pay to be a college student, as there is a plethora of scholarships which require a written essay.  Scholarships are great because the pool of possible winners is much smaller (at least half of them require you to be a full-time student), so you have a better chance of winning.  Beware, however, as some are based on how many “votes” you get, but if you’re a social media butterfly, those might be the ones for you:

http://www.varsitytutors.com/college-scholarship
https://www.coursehero.com/scholarships/1000012/tier-3k-aug/
http://www.fastweb.com/
https://www.scholarships.com/
https://www.chegg.com/
https://www.cappex.com/
https://www.unigo.com/
http://myscholly.com/#scholly
(this costs $2.99, but it’s worth it)
https://scholarshipowl.com/my-account
(just get the list, but don’t pay; rather google the name of the scholarship)

So there are still a multitude of ways to make money at writing without breaking the bank.  Hope this helps!

Sarah Lea, a fellow undernourished blogger

Golden Stars and Silver Linings

Golden Stars and Silver Linings is the title of my children’s nursery rhyme anthology.  The idea of such a project came when I wrote “Hannah Banana of Florabama” for my infant daughter, who sparked the poetess in me.

Funny facey

Hannah’s first night home from the hospital.

I am trying to get my novel, Because of Mindy Wiley (a Southern Gothic horror where V.C. Andrews meets Mormonism meets Peyton Place), published, along with A Splash of Blue (a romance I wrote specifically for Harlequin). Splash is about a young woman who runs away from her domineering mother to become a mermaid at Soda Springs (based on the real-life Weeki Wachee Springs.