From Writer’s Digest to Harlequin Romance: Finding my online writing community

Damask rose

“If you want to make money as a writer, write romance novels,” my Creative Writing teacher said, even suggesting we could write under a pen name.  As for me, if I’m going through all the trouble of writing a novel, my name is going to be on the thing.

So, why doesn’t romance get any respect?  Is it because some of it can be labeled as purple prose, the genre is predominantly written by women, or both?  I’ll just pull a Nicholas Sparks and call mine love stories.

As much as I enjoy the poetic form, it is more something I publish on my blog for fun to build name recognition.  Though there is a huge market for poetry, I’ve found that the kind of poetry I like to write (and read) often isn’t the kind being published, which is far too abstract for my taste.  This is what I like:  Saturday Evening Post Limerick Contest.

In all the poetry I’ve submitted, I’ve sold one poem: (Seven Wonders in Every Wonder), and it was published in a magazine (Bella Grace) that I enjoy reading from cover to cover.  Too often, I’ve read poetry journals, wondering what the hell some of it even meant.  I have much better luck with short stories and creative nonfiction (which take me a lot more time to write). 

That’s not to say I’m eschewing writing poetry to submit for publication altogether—I’m just reassessing what I spend my time writing for publications other than my own.

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Now, I’ve gone and joined the Harlequin Writing Community Facebook page.  What’s great about this group is how supportive they are (men are welcome, too!).  They have  flash-type (400-word) writing challenges every couple of weeks or so, with some pretty stiff stipulations (which only makes it more challenging); moreover, they only give you a couple of days to write them.  The only two I’ve written so far have been historical (maybe they’re looking for a historical fiction writer?), for which I set my scenes in Ancient Greece and in South Carolina during the Civil War.  The best thing is that you get feedback on what you wrote—and not just comments from other writers but actual feedback from editors—like the type I get from my Creative Writing teacher.  I never got this with Writer’s Digest, so if you’re interested in writing romance, check it out:  So You Think You Can Write.

As for the Facebook page, I feel that I’m a better fit for that community.  I’m not just writing for a hobby—I want to make it my career.  Many of us are in the process of writing a book to submit to Harlequin.  I’m not there yet because I don’t have time for a large project (70K words), though I am in the stages of outlining it. 

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Though I miss writing book reviews, I don’t have time to write a full-length one anymore, especially with as much as I read; I also quit the university newspaper, as half the articles I wrote never got published.  Though I respect the editor’s decision not to print (or rather, post them), I spent too much time conducting interviews and transcribing audio for them not to get published.  I was graciously invited by the adviser to submit an opinion piece, so that is something I may consider after I finish this American Lit class that’s kicking my keister. 

Rather, I’m making the push to write more short stories (I’ve been reading everything Shirley Jackson has written and rewatching most of The Twilight Zone series—the legit one with Rod Serling; however, if the episode is about Nazis, boxing, or set in the Wild West, I skip it).  I got too hung up on writing novels (with short stories, you get paid once; with novels, you get royalties), but some stories just aren’t novel length.  This realization has opened up a whole world of possibilities for many of my ideas, which have remained dormant for years.  I’d been writing poetry and working on my novel (Because of Mindy Wiley) for so long that I’d forgotten how great short fiction (and creative nonfiction) can be. 

For now, I do expository writing for the Medium publishing platform: Medium/Sarah Richards, in addition to reposting my best blog posts.  I still have a couple of other accounts where I post short works that will eventually end up on my blog (I am planning an ebook on the writing craft, but I need to become more published to have credibility; I am also planning a book of short poetry for people who don’t like poetry), so it’s a two for the price of one deal.  I feel like I’ve finally found my writing niche, as well as future homes for my writing. 

Taking a college-level Creative Writing class, joining the Harlequin community, and letting go of some other things that were no longer paying off (but were, nevertheless, part of the process), has helped me reach this point. 

Summer Writing Mini-Workshop: Publications I Submit To

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There are many markets for the personal essay (http://thesunmagazine.org/about/submission_guidelines/readers_write), for no one can tell the story you have lived & from your unique perspective. They are the easiest to write because they require little research. https://sarahleastories.com/2016/10/01/waves-in-a-timeline-personal-essay/

Greeting cards are a fun way for poets to make real money. The Blue Mountain Arts greeting card company is one of them. http://www.sps.com/poetry/index.html. Note: Having a worksheet of all the different greetings helps me generate more content. http://www.studiomiragegreetings.com/greeting-card-occasions-list/

If you need help getting started, try submitting to a publication with a prompt. http://www.thefirstline.com

You don’t have to agree with a publication’s vision to submit to them. You just need to be interested in the topic or theme. http://www.writersofthefuture.com/enter-writer-contest/

If you find yourself channeling your inner Dave Barry or Erma Bombeck, submit to “The Lighter Side” section of The Saturday Evening Post. http://www.saturdayeveningpost.com/about/submission-guidelines#humor

Writer’s Digest offers several free ways to get published in their magazine. The 5-Minute Memoirs is one of them. https://sarahleastories.com/2014/07/10/5-minute-memoir-to-writers-digest-former-submission/

“Chicken Soup for the Soul” is all about writing what one knows, with calls for submissions that relate to most people. That said, don’t get discouraged: You will receive no notification upon reception, only upon acceptance. http://www.chickensoup.com/story-submissions/possible-book-topics

 

 

For Writers: Time Wasted vs. Time Invested

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Finding the time to write requires figuring out, over time, what is a good investment of your time and what is not.  Here is what I have found:

  1. Trying to write for a publication or contest because it either pays well or the entry is free when you have no interest in the topic, theme, or publication itself, will take more time than writing two pieces you are passionate about for a publication you read.  For example, there was a national women’s magazine on which the short story topic was, “What is the bravest thing you have ever done?”  When I saw the previous years’ winning entries–serving in Afghanistan and other equally courageous things–I thought, well, I got my wisdom teeth pulled without being put under.  Pass.
  2. Don’t write for LinkedIn on a regular basis unless you write boring, “businessy” articles/listicles as passionless as cooking without love, implementing lingo like analytics, logistics, and statistics (okay, sometimes stats can be sexy),  I don’t write articles for LinkedIn, but if something I’ve written is appropriate for the platform, I’ll post it on LinkedIn Pulse.  Whatever you do, don’t post part of the article, and then require people to click on your blog link to read the rest.
  3. Keep virtual clutter to a minimum.  Delete bookmarks you will never use, e-mails you will never read again, etc.
  4. Don’t have more than one account on any social networking site.  I tried to have both an author Twitter account and a fictional character Twitter account.  A lot of time was spent signing in and out, and sometimes, I’d get the two crossed.  I had the character account for a year-and-a-half, and have been repurposing the tweets for my Fiction Fridays series, just as the micropoetry I used to write for Twitter daily ended up becoming my Micropoetry Monday series, so you could say my stint on Twitter helped me become a regular blogger (versus a sporadic one).
  5. Keep track of what you write.  I have a master list of pieces I’ve written (with keywords for easy look-up), and where I have submitted each.  I’ve written so much poetry, I’ve had to divide it up into “anthologies.”  (Submittable is good for keeping track, but not every publication uses it.)
  6. Plan for writing contests a year in advance.  That way you never miss a deadline and you’re always submitting quality work.
  7. Have a submission schedule for the publications you write for on a regular basis. You don’t want to overload a publication with submissions, because they might think you’re just using the “kitchen-sink theory” (throwing everything at them and seeing what they’ll take).  For example, the fifteenth of every month, I submit a poem to a certain publication I adore–one I’ve been published in before.
  8. Twitter is a colossal waste of time, though I still have all my blog posts auto-post, adding the hashtags separately.  There are too many expectations of reciprocity–you need true fans, not just those who follow to get a follow back.  You need readers who aren’t also writers.
  9. Be selective with what television programs you watch.  I only watch a couple a week, and maybe a couple of movies.  Every once in awhile, I’ll binge-watch a television show, but time watching TV is time not writing.  Don’t watch something because you’re bored; write something, for writing is doing.
  10. Read.  You need to read everyday (not just blog posts, even like this one), but the kind of slow reading that draws you in).  I’ve gotten into reading pieces on The Saturday Evening Post’s website.  I’m enjoying what I’m reading, and at the same time, getting a better idea of what they go for.

Saturday Evening Post: Honorable Mention

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So I just entered The Saturday Evening Post’s “Great American Short Story” contest, and read on their site that as long as a story was only published on a personal blog, it would qualify for submission.  That led me to inquire if it would be permissible for me to post my story that placed as an Honorable Mention in their contest two years ago (and published in their digital anthology); they said that was fine (and also appreciated the mention).

My short story was based on a cold case (literally and figuratively) of a grave-robber who haunted Pensacola, Florida, in the Fifties.  It’s a mystery that spans generations and ends up answering the question, “Whodunit?”

I just posted the first several lines, and included the story in its entirety as a PDF for those interested in reading the whole thing.

The Ghoul of Whitmire Cemetery

“Grandma,” Ellie Dolan said, holding the birdlike, bluish-white hand of the woman who had raised her after her mother’s passing.  “I have wonderful news.  Mr. Trune loved the stories I sent him, and he’s going to give me my own space.  He really dug the idea of a cold case column.”

She had expected her grandmother to look pleased, but she only looked troubled.

The Ghoul of Whitmire Cemetery