Are You Ready for a Friendly Writing Contest?

More information on the specifics of the Writers’ Week writing prompt contest, as promised!

Take note, people! To kick off Writers’ Week, I’ll be launching a writing contest on September 12. You’ll have until the following Friday, September 16 at 11:59 p.m. to submit your work.

The goal of the writing contest is to motivate you to practice your craft and get you to connect with other writers. Using a link-up widget on the official contest page, you’ll be able to submit your writing as well browse other entries.

Share your thoughts with other writers or ask for feedback on your own work—what you get out of the networking experience will be equal to what you put in.

To get additional contest info, Writers’ Week announcements and new blog post notifications, subscribe to Suess’s Pieces, follow me on Twitter, circle me on Google+, and like my Facebook page.

Writing Contest Basics

  • You’ll have about five days to choose one of 50 provided writing prompts and compose an entry on your blog using that prompt—any style, any genre, any length. (If you don’t have a blog and need help setting one up, contact me.)
  • A panel of judges will select ten finalists from all of the entries.
  • Online voting will open following the announcement of the finalists, and readers will cast their vote to determine first, second and third place winners.

Writing Contest Prizes

1st Place Prizes

Total Value: $380

  • Winning entry will be published on
  • Gift Card ($100 value)
  • Literary critique of your work by Natalia Sylvester of Inky Clean. Includes critique of query letter + first 30 pages of a book-length manuscript. This service is more of an evaluation than an edit. It’s an honest, critical analysis of the writing you’ve done and what can still be done to improve it. It includes: a read-through of your work, with comments and suggestions for changes along the margins of the page; a letter that takes a “bigger picture” approach to giving feedback on your characters, plot structure, voice, pacing, and all the other elements of storytelling; and a 30-minute phone call to further discuss your manuscript and the feedback provided. Learn more about Natalia’s editing services here. The winning writer must submit their manuscript for evaluation within 90 days of being notified that they won.  ($225 value)
  • Launching a Successful Freelance Web Writing Career, e-book by Jennifer Mattern of All Freelance Writing ($37 value)
  • T-shirt from Small Business Bonfire ($18 value)

2nd Place Prizes

Total Value: $278

  • Gift Card ($50 value)
  • Professional business card design by KeriLynn Engel of Dreaming Iris Design. Standard US size (2 in x 3.5 in/51 mm x 89 mm). Includes initial design concept and two rounds of revisions. Completed design delivered as a hi-res, ready-to-print image file, along with backup Photoshop files for editing if desired. Does not include printing. ($200 value)
  • 30 Day Marketing Boot Camp for Freelance Writers, e-book by Jennifer Mattern of All Freelance Writing ($10 value)
  • T-shirt from Small Business Bonfire ($18 value)

3rd Place Prizes

Total Value: $68

  • Gift Card ($25 value)
  • One month membership at The Writers Den ($25 value)
  • T-shirt from Small Business Bonfire ($18 value)

Apparently You Can’t Even Give iUniverse Books Away

…Of course, my evidence that you can’t give iUniverse books away is only anecdotal.

This post was imported from Suess's Pieces and may contain broken links and missing images

Kevin’s back. This time with a response to My Thoughts on iUniverse and a very generous offer. I am glad he stuck around to continue the conversation with me, but I am somewhat disheartened that he didn’t also address this comment left by a very unhappy iUniverse customer in the same thread. Ah well, time is limited for everyone. We’ll take what we can get, won’t we?

Kevin’s response:


I haven’t read the iUniverse title in question, so I can’t judge the quality of this book; but I find it troubling that you would judge a publisher’s entire library based on one or even a small selection of titles. Using this logic would mean that Simon & Schuster puts out books of questionable quality because one of its imprints, Gallery, published Snooki Polizzi’s book.

Your remark: “Regardless, throwing the blame back on the author—because they have the final say, after all—is to deny (or at the very least minimize) iUniverse’s role in polluting the market with utter crap,” is also puzzling to me. Are all iUniverse titles “utter crap” because they don’t receive the blessings of a gatekeeper?

If so, by this logic, all blogs would be “utter crap,” and WordPress would be polluting the Internet because unlike content produced by news organizations, blogs aren’t scrutinized by a gatekeeper. Readers judge if a blog is worth reading, and that determines its level of success.

I would be happy to send a sample of quality iUniverse titles for you to read. Please let me know your preferred genre and how I can get them to you. Thanks for providing this forum for dialog.

Kevin A. Gray

Oh, Kevin, I dare you to read Maximum Speed: Pushing the Limit. Triple dog dare you.  But that’s kind of beside the point. Let’s get to the heart of your comment, shall we?

At no time have I ever judged iUniverse’s entire library. I was clear about my inability to do such a thing because I haven’t read all of your titles. See the original quote:

Now, I’m not saying everything that comes from iUniverse is crap, because I haven’t read everything from iUniverse. But I know for a fact that some of what comes from iUniverse is crap, because I’ve had the misfortune of reading it.

Likewise, I never labeled “all iUniverse titles ‘utter crap.'” You seem to have jumped to that conclusion all by yourself (and then subsequently gone off on some wild, fallacy-ridden tangent about WordPress and news organizations to boot).

I simply stated that because iUniverse does print some crap, it should be held accountable for its part in printing said crap. In the case of all given works of crap, the authors are responsible for writing them, for sure. But iUniverse is also culpable, as a result of its business model.

When questions of money vs. quality arise at iUniverse, I get the distinct impression that money always wins. You made that pretty clear to me when you pointed out that authors can push forward despite the professional advice of iUniverse reps.

There’s no need to be ashamed about any of that, I guess. We all understand that making money is what businesses do. But I feel iUniverse needs to do a better job of owning it and accepting that it does indeed contribute to market pollution. Now, having personally read a total of three different iUniverse titles recently and a total of zero good ones,  my personal opinion is that iUniverse probably puts out proportionately more crap than, say, Simon & Schuster (since you mention them).

QAs a book-loving consumer, I’m already done taking chances on iUniverse. So concerning your offer to send me more titles? Thanks, but no thanks.

Author Solutions and iUniverse Complaints Index

My Thoughts on iUniverse

On Saturday I reviewed a book titled Maximum Speed: Pushing the Limit, published by iUniverse. I have a few thoughts on iUniverse.

This post was imported from Suess's Pieces and may contain broken links and missing images

There’s no need to read the original review unless you just want to. I can sum it up for you by saying this: my overall opinion of the work, though completely honest, wasn’t exactly flattering.

A smattering of people commented on the post, but I wouldn’t say it attracted much feedback. That’s generally the case with these types of self-pub reviews, I’ve noticed. However, when commenter Grizzbabe rightly pointed out that the book’s cover couldn’t be any cheesier, I lamented in my reply to her that “you don’t get professional editing services, and you sure as heck don’t get real graphic designers” from a place like iUniverse.

An iUniverse representative was good enough to stop by and leave the following comment in the company’s defense. I wanted to draw some attention to it for two reasons: first, because I think it’s important to hear from other people on the subject of self-publishing, and second, because I just couldn’t let it stand there without providing additional commentary.

Here is Kevin Gray’s comment, unedited:

Actually, Emily professional editing services are available through iUniverse; and we storngly recommend every author utlize the services of a professional editor — either through iUniverse — or from another source. Because iUniverse is an indie publishing company, authors are free to disregard this advice and push forward without an editor.

Authors are also encouraged to take great care in working with iUniverse in designing their covers. Many authors provide their own artwork or commission the services of a professional illustrator — either through iUniverse or again from an external source. Authors have final signoff on the entire book, including the cover, before the book is put into distribution.

The fact is fewer and fewer “non-superstar” authors are receiving advances from publishers, making indie publishing providers like iUniverse more and more popular. Whether an author chooses to publish through iUniverse, or to utilize another publishing option, we encourage all authors to seek out the assistance of professionals to ensure their books are the best they can be.

Kevin A. Gray

First, I don’t dispute that iUniverse sells editing and design services to its customers. But, were Mr. Gray and I to compare notes on what qualifies as a “professional” designer or editor, I fear we might find some real discrepancies. At any rate, I can’t adequately judge the editing capabilities of iUniverse’s editing professionals, because I don’t know which authors chose iUniverse editors and which chose to do their own thing.

Regardless, throwing the blame back on the author—because they have the final say, after all—is to deny (or at the very least minimize) iUniverse’s role in polluting the market with utter crap. (Now, I’m not saying everything that comes from iUniverse is crap, because I haven’t read everything from iUniverse. But I know for a fact that some of what comes from iUniverse is crap, because I’ve had the misfortune of reading it.)

Actually, did I refer to iUniverse as a publisher earlier? Because I didn’t mean to. iUniverse and companies like it are more like printers than publishers. And, dear authors, if you don’t get that, you need only consider which direction the money is flowing.

Maybe operations like these do have a place in the free market, particularly if Mr. Gray’s argument—that traditional publishers are mostly just signing the superstars these days—holds water. However, people shouldn’t be deluded about what’s really going on here.

Writers, I’d just like to close by saying this: if seeing your novel in print is on your bucket list and traditional publishers have rejected your work, why not pay iUniverse to print it and slap it on I’m all about people dying fulfilled and junk.

If you’ve used iUniverse or a similar service, please share your experience with me in the comments.

Got Freelance Writing Questions?

Last week Missy at Literal Mom interviewed me about freelance writing for her post “Interested in a Freelance Writing Career? Advice from an Expert.”

While I might be just a touch skittish about being called an expert, I am always glad to share what I’ve learned so far with other writers.

If you are thinking about getting started as a freelance writer, I hope you find the answers there helpful. And, if you’d like to ask me something that wasn’t covered in the interview, you can always contact me directly.

Thanks to Missy for the interview and for being kind enough to support Writers’ Week at the same time!


Photo credit: jason816

Writers' Week Schedule Announced

Writers Digest Shop
I’m excited to announce that the Writers’ Week schedule is finally set. Check out what’s going on here at Suess’s Pieces the Week of September 12 – 16. When you’re finished here, learn how to get involved in Writers’ Week.

Monday, September 12

We’re kicking off Writers’ Week with a writing contest! You will have the entire week to pick one of 50 different writing prompts, create a blog entry, link it up, and enter the contest. All combined, first, second, and third place prize packages are valued at $726! All writers and bloggers should participate. You’ll get very specific contest info on August 31, so if you’re not already getting my blog updates, subscribe now or follow me on Facebook or Twitter.

Tuesday, September 13

Tuesday is all about the craft of writing and blogging. I’m compiling a massive—we’re talking ginormous!—list of online resources for writers as well as hosting an open thread where you can ask questions about all things writing and blogging and get answers from the entire writing community. One random open thread participant will win a copy of Stephen King’s 10th anniversary edition of On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft courtesy of moi.

Wednesday, September 14

Wednesday, we’ll pay tribute to reading. Often lauded as the one single thing writers can do to improve their works, we’ll discuss some of our favorite books and favorite lines. I’ll share a harrowing tale about how I read back-to-back crap books and still came out on top as a writer.   One random reader will win a choice of either The Associated Press Stylebook or Master Class in Fiction Writing: Techniques from Austen, Hemingway, and Other Greats, also courtesy of me.

Thursday, September 15

Thursday includes a special feature called “From Writer to Writer.” Eleven professional writers with very different backgrounds have graciously agreed to share what they’ve learned with you. One guest post will go live every hour between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. Eastern. Topics covered include: getting started as a freelance writer, handling rejection, and self-publishing. It’s sure to be inspiring and informative. Each post will include links to the author’s blog or website and social networking accounts so you can keep up with them even after Writers’ Week has ended. One lucky participant will receive a stainless-steel cocktail shaker, Dr. Freelance’s sure-fire prescription to celebrate the end of a successful project or take the edge off a hectic work week.

Friday, September 16

The Writers’ Week writing prompt contest closes on Friday, and all entries must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. Eastern. We’ll also wrap up the week with a word or two on getting paid to write. Friday’s post will be dedicated to full-time, part-time, and wannabe freelancers. We’ll talk about what you need to do to get started and how to up your game. I’ll also be providing no bullshit answers to questions readers submit. Although Friday is the last day of official Writers’ Week content, the fun will continue throughout September as contest winners are selected and announced.


Writers’ Week would not be possible without the contributions of your sponsors.
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All Freelance Writing

When Book Reviews Attack!

This post was imported from Suess's Pieces and may contain broken links and missing images

After completing a handful of free book reviews here at Suess’s Pieces and receiving several requests for future reviews, I have discovered a problem with my book review model. So things are about to change around here. And I’m about to make myself look like the meanest person you ever did meet.

Yo, Authors, I’m Not Your Private Fangirl

I started reviewing books for free as a way to help self-published and little-known authors get a modicum of online publicity for their works, and I was glad to do it. What can I say? I’m a writer who likes to give back where she can. However, I started receiving requests from authors* that made me wonder if I had the word groupie or fangirl tattooed on my forehead.

Initially the requests from authors seemed innocuous enough. I was asked to make comments on a blog post. Then I was asked to write a post on Suess’s Pieces in response to one author’s recent blog post with a link back to the original (in addition to the initial review.) I was later asked to retweet this or that.

Blah, blah, blah.

I ignored these different requests for the most part. Manners and etiquette aren’t universal traits, after all. But then yesterday I received an @mention on Twitter after letting an author know that her book had arrived and was in the queue for review. The author wrote, “Super! Some readers have taken pictures of them and the book at a race track and FB(ed) it. Will you?”

Um, ‘scuse me?

Fuck no, I won’t drive myself to the IMS with your 133-page “novel”, ask someone to take a picture of me with it, and then upload it to Facebook for you. First of all, I haven’t even read the book yet. But odds are it sucks. Second, what the hell? We are not friends. I am not a pushover.

Yoohoo! I’m Already Doing You a Favor

Is there anybody in there?

Writing a review (for free!) of a book that will likely never get a mention in Booklist or the Times might not be enough to qualify me for sainthood, but it is something you should kind of pretend to be grateful for. Say thank you, and move along. Or, if you prefer, return my kindness with a kindness of your own. But don’t keep asking me to give up more of my time to promote your pet project. It’s rude.

Reviews take time! (Cue The More You Know Star and some B-list TV personality.) First there’s the actual book reading, which, in the case of most self-published works, is excruciating. And then there’s writing, formatting, and publishing the review. Even my brief book reviews rob me of several precious hours. That’s time I could be copywriting for a real client or cleaning out my dog’s ears.

New Book Review Policy

There will be a fee for all future book reviews**. Prices are as follows:

Standard Review, completed in 6-8 weeks: $149
Expedited Review, completed in 4-6 weeks: $199

Both standard and expedited reviews will be a minimum of 400 words and will include publication of cover art, two links to the book’s Amazon page using my affiliate account, and a link to the author’s website or blog.

WARNING: Paid book reviews do not necessarily equal favorable reviews. In fact, future reviews will be brutally honest critiques of your work that could garner a lot of attention. But hey, there’s no such thing as bad publicity, right?

Seriously, Em? No One Will Ever Pay That

Well, you’d be surprised.  But if I never write another review on Suess’s Pieces again, I’m okay with that.

Book reviews on Suess’s Pieces are changing effective immediately.
Authors and publicists go here to request a book review.

*Not all of them, mind you. Some of them were quite nice to deal with. But certainly there were enough to piss me off and prompt me to write this post.
**Previously agreed to free reviews will still be honored.

ABCs of Freelance Writing: M is for Myth

This post is part of the ongoing ABCs of Freelance Writing series. M is for myth.

Author Solutions and iUniverse posts notice: This post was imported from Suess's Pieces and may contain broken links and missing images

Freelance writers that pretend the business is impossible to break into are full of it. My guess is they’re probably just worried their clients will like you better. That, or they’re afraid they won’t be able to sell you a spot in their next tell-all webinar if they let on how, you know, possible it is to write for money.

Thankfully, most freelancers are supportive people who don’t mind sharing what they’ve learned along the way. Despite this openness, though, I still find that many wannabe freelancers believe things about the biz that just aren’t true. If you’re hesitant about breaking into the wonderful world of freelance, I hope this post is just the kick in the tail you need.

Common Freelance Writing Myths

You might as well believe in gnomes as believe these myths. Seriously.

Freelancers need a second degree in accounting. I’m not a numbers girl, but I do my own taxes with nothing more than an English degree and some user-friendly software. Keep track of your income and expenses as you go, and life will still be manageable at tax time. Plus, you can always hire a tax expert if you’re too terrified to go it alone.

Freelance writers must have a niche. I’ve been at this part-time freelancing thing for years, and I still don’t have a niche. Now, I’m not saying that a niche wouldn’t help me some, particularly if I wanted to take this full-time. But you can keep your options wide open and still be a successful writer. Don’t sit on the sidelines because you don’t know what your specialty is yet.

Freelancers have to be topic experts to land jobs. I want to tell you a little story. It’s a really short one: I don’t have kids, but I have written numerous articles on potty training. If you can research a topic, you’re in good shape. In fact, you’re more likely to write a better piece when you’re not mistaking what you know for common knowledge.

    So that’s it, common freelance writing myths debunked. Have you heard any other freelancing stories that you suspect aren’t really true? M is for myth.

    The Velvet Thorn

    The Velvet Thorn. Olivia Villa-Real. 2011. iUniverse.

    In the novel The Velvet Thorn by Olivia Villa-Real, readers meet Bella Mariposa, a talented singer and composer who happens to be married to a real scumbag. Daniel Miranda, Bella’s jerk husband, is the kind of guy you’ll love to hate—the kind of guy that thinks sex is an obligation and that dinner should always be ready at the precise moment he walks through the door.

    In an attempt to restore her marriage and provide a better home life for herself and her children, Bella enrolls in a spiritual retreat in Hollywood. It is there that she meets Father Derek Lindenberg, a man wholly devoted to his Catholic priesthood. At the retreat, the two establish a strong connection and, of course, eventually fall in love.

    It’s not a particularly original story line, truth be told. Having a priest fall in love with a beautiful young woman has been done before. (The Thorn Birds? Anyone?) However,  it doesn’t make such a plot line any less intriguing.

    Influenced by her own life experiences, Villa-Real has done an acceptable job of exploring how love and relationships can test a person’s devotion to the unyielding rules of religion and religious society in The Velvet Thorn.

    Buy Books, Spread Literacy

    ABCs of Freelance Writing: L is for Letter

    In my not-so-humble opinion, freelance writers need to master writing a few things right out of the gate: the query letter, the letter of introduction and the cover letter. No, you won’t necessarily use all three of these things all the time. But when it’s time to whip one out, you don’t want to be fumbling and bumbling all over yourself.

    Every freelancer needs to reach out to new clients from time to time. It might be to replace income lost from a project that’s ending. It might be to find higher paying gigs to make ends meet. Or it might be to to build a more impressive resume and break into new industries.

    Each of these letters gives you a different way to approach a potential client. Just pick the one that’s right for the client you have in your sights, and send it along posthaste. The thing you don’t want to do is get hung up on writing one of these letters when you still have projects in the queue for current clients.

    Time is money, let’s not get in the habit of wasting it, m’kay?

    The Query Letter

    Querying in a nutshell: The query letter is a brief proposal or pitch you use to try and sell your writing ideas.

    When to use the query letter: Most of the time you’ll use query letters to solicit magazine editors and literary agents before you write an article or book. This query process can be extremely beneficial for writers. Why? Because if you don’t get any takers, you don’t waste otherwise billable hours writing a piece you can’t sell.

    To get started: View a sample letter on How to Write a Query Letter and read Janet Reid’s list of query no-nos.

    The Letter of Introduction

    Intro letters in a nutshell: The letter of introduction (LOI) introduces you to an editor or client, highlighting the awesome reasons why they should come to you every time they need a freelance writer.

    When to use it: Write LOIs when you’re looking to get your foot in the door with a new client. The major difference between the introduction letter and the query letter is that in the former you are touting your general awesomeness while in the latter you are touting the brilliance of a specific idea.

    To get started: Learn why the letter of introduction matters to freelancers and learn how to use  templates while still ensuring your LOI doesn’t read like a form letter.

    The Cover Letter

    Cover letters in a nutshell: A cover letter is used to clarify or explain other supporting documents. For freelancers, the cover letter highlights important details included on your resume and introduces your supporting clips.

    When to use it: Send a cover letter with your resume and writing samples (if requested) in response to an advertisement for a specific freelance writing job or project.

    To get started: Scour the Cover Letter Clinic posts and comments for useful information on improving your freelance cover letters. (Because it’s hard to navigate the entire clinic from the actual site, you might want to use these follow-up links: Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6, Day 7.)

    If you use templates wisely and fine tune all three of these letters ahead of time, you can send them out without disrupting your workflow. They key to attracting new business without losing valuable time is streamlining the process.

    Photo credit: dancerinthedark

    This post is part of the ABCs of Freelance Writing series. See the full index of posts here.

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