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I am currently accepting submissions for my fourth annual “Reader Issue” writing contest! Today through October 31, 2015, I want you to send me something you’ve written, and I—along with two other judges—will pick three winners. Each of the three winners will have his or her winning submission published in my January 2016 e-newsletter (the “Reader Issue”) and will receive a $25 gift card and a paperback copy of a book (the list of books to choose from will be at the end of this post). I look forward to reading your entry and will notify the winners by email on or before January 1, 2016. Check out the rules below:

1. I will accept submissions August 1 through October 31, 2015. If you submit something after that date, it is not a valid submission and will not be considered for the contest. I will accept poems, short stories, creative nonfiction pieces, and articles. Whichever category you choose, your submission must be no longer than 4,000 words.

2. Whether you are five years old or 105, you are welcome to submit a piece for this contest. There are no age limits. Each person may submit up to two pieces (each individual piece can be up to 4,000 words).

3. If you were one of the winners who appeared in the January 2015 newsletter, you must take a year off. However, if you were one of the winners the first two years of the contest (meaning that your winning piece appeared in the January 2013 or 2014 newsletter), you are eligible to enter the contest again this year.

4. When you submit your piece, please send it to In the subject of your email, put “Reader Issue.” In the body of the email, list your name; home (or mailing) address; email address; phone number; and the title and category of your work (article, poem, short story, or creative nonfiction) and then provide the work as an attachment. Before you email me your piece, consider the following:

A. Check the overall grammar and sentence structure of your submission.

B. Did you follow directions regarding how to submit your piece—including your name, address, etc. in the body of the email?

C. Is your submission 4,000 words or fewer?

D. Is your submission appropriate? If you would rate it worse than PG, there is a strong possibility that much of my e-newsletter audience (which covers a wide range of ages and belief systems) will be offended, and I most likely will not print it.

E. Is it well-written? Did you spend a significant amount of time on it, or did you just throw it together in a few minutes?

F. Entertainment value—I am looking for something that holds my interest and will make me want to keep reading after the first page; or in the case of a shorter piece, it will make me want to keep reading after the first few lines.

Here is the list of books you can choose from:

1. Illegally Innocent (my book)

2. The Fine Print of Self-Publishing by Mark Levine

3. Guerrilla Marketing for Writers by Jay Conrad Levinson, Rick Frishman, Michael Larsen, and David L. Hancock

4. Get Known Before the Book Deal by Christina Katz

5. The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

6. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Have any questions? Ask them in the comments below or email me at, and I will gladly answer them. If you’d like to subscribe to my monthly e-newsletter, please visit the homepage of to submit your email address and sign up.

The second annual “Reader Issue” writing contest ended on October 31st, but I wanted to tell you about another writing contest that you should enter. This fall I participated in the 24-Hour Short Story Contest and although I was not one of the winners, I had a great time preparing a finished story in such a short amount of time. For many writing contests, you have to pay to enter, and the 24-Hour Short Story Contest is no different. However, the fee is only $5, which is a great deal compared to the fees for many other writing contests. With this contest, you do not receive the topic until noon Central Time on the designated day of the contest, and then you have until noon Central Time the following day to write, revise, and email in your story.

The 24-Hour contest that I signed up for took place on September 21 and 22, 2013. Here is the topic provided for that particular contest:

She wiped her hands on her apron, peering out the window.
Red and orange leaves hurried by as the cold autumn wind
battered the small cabin. The girl should have been back
from the errand by now. At that moment, she saw the flying,
fiery red braids. The devil’s mark on her right cheek, a
constant reminder, was clearly visible, even at dusk. The
girl, breathless, burst through the wooden door.

“Ma! Come quickly!!”

An awesome detail regarding the topic is that you DO NOT have to quote these topic sentences word-for-word in your story (although you can if you want to do so). The story is merely supposed to incorporate the theme of the sentences somehow–basically, through your writing, you’re trying to show that you really did create your story in the 24 hours provided, rather than using a story you’d prepared ahead of time and then just loosely tying in the topic in some form. Besides assigning a specific topic, also gives you a word count, which varies from contest to contest. For the fall 2013 contest, the word count was 900. I wrote one story, which I seemed unable to edit below approximately 1200 words, and then wrote a second story, which my husband thought was better than the first and was within the word limit. So the story I actually submitted was the second one.

They limit the contest to 500 participants, and they give out three cash prizes ($300, $250, and $200) and 25 honorable mentions, as well as some random winners who receive small prizes. puts on this contest once per quarter, and the next one is coming up in January! Take a look at their website and consider entering this fun contest.

To those of you who entered my “Reader Issue” writing contest: I will notify the winners on or before January 1, 2014. Did you intend to submit something and miss the deadline? Start working now on your entry for my third annual “Reader Issue” writing contest! I will start accepting entries next summer–stay tuned to my website,, for details on the guidelines and the official date when I will begin accepting submissions. Thank you to all of you who participated this year!

This book packs in a ton of valuable information about nutrition and delivers it in a beautiful package! Colbert makes it easy for you to decipher food labels and to determine which are the most beneficial foods for you and your family to consume. Far from being a dry read, Colbert has broken up his food tips into short chapters and each page contains gorgeous pictures of food that reinforce the importance of healthy eating. He also provides a great variety of formats in his book, such as charts (for example, his charts on the “Hidden Sources of MSG” and the glycemic index value of common fruits and vegetables); mini quizzes; special “Did You Know?” facts at the bottom of several of the pages; and then, of course, standard paragraphs. He does his best to make healthy eating practical in every situation, whether you are making your weekly grocery list or eating out on a road trip. I enjoyed the entire book, but here are some of the things I found most interesting: Colbert’s list of frozen TV dinners that are acceptable options (although he recommends only consuming them once or twice a week); the practical lists of important vitamins and the fact that he included not only what those vitamins contribute to your body but also some suggestions of serving sizes of various foods that you can eat to get a proper daily intake of these vitamins; and his personal ranking system for the quality of water filters. You can visit Dr. Colbert’s website here.

I enjoyed Eat This and Live! so much that I have purchased a copy of it to offer as my first book giveaway! You can sign up for it here. I will hold the drawing for it on Monday, July 2, 2012, and will notify the winner through email.