Wednesday, February 27, 2013

To Contest or Not to Contest?


Kathryn Page Camp

Should you participate in writing contests? That's a question without an answer. Or rather, the answer differs among writers.
Winning a reputable contest can provide significant advantages. You can include the win, or even a nomination or honorable mention, in your writing credits. Winning entries may also be published and/or bring you cash prizes.
Writing contests also have disadvantages. They can distract you from other writing efforts. Many require entrance fees so you can compete with hundreds or thousands of other good writers for a few winning slots. And if you don't know anything about the sponsor, you could be sending your money to an entity that is more concerned with lining its pockets than with developing writers.
That's why each writer has to answer the question for him or herself.
Over the past five years, I submitted work to six different contests. The first three were short story contests run by reputable magazines. Each had a modest entrance fee, and I'm confident that the sponsors used the money to further the literary arts. Still, I received no feedback on my unsuccessful entries, and I ultimately concluded that I could have found a better use for those funds.
In 2010, I paid a higher, but still modest, entrance fee to submit the beginning of an unpublished novel to the Genesis contest run by American Christian Fiction Writers. I didn't make it past the first round, but this time the three anonymous judges provided comments, so my entrance fee paid for a useful critique.
Last summer I entered a short story in one contest and the first five pages of a nonfiction manuscript in another. Both contests were open to and free for anyone attending that year's Midwest Writers Workshop. Since I was already planning on going, what did I have to lose? In fact, I won the Manny Award for Nonfiction.
My current policy is not to enter writing contests unless they are either free or the entrance fee pays for a critique. I also won't enter if I would have to interrupt my current project to prepare something or if I am unfamiliar with the sponsor.
You may have had a different experience and reached a different conclusion about the value of participating in writing contests. If so, I'd love to hear your comments.
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Kathryn Page Camp is a licensed attorney and full-time writer. She is the author of In God We Trust: How the Supreme Court's First Amendment Decisions Affect Organized Religion (FaithWalk Publishing 2006) and numerous articles. Her next book, Writers in Wonderland: Keeping Your Words Legal, will be published this spring. You can learn more about Kathryn at

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Eat & Exchange Ideas with Fellow Writers

Come join your fellow writers for a series of lunch and dinner discussions sponsored by the Indiana Writers' Consortium. The Eat & Exchange series will meet twice a month from March through May. Each discussion will be facilitated by a member of IWC, but bring your own questions and ideas.

Eat & Exchange discussions are open to the public. Each covers a separate topic, so you can choose the ones that interest you. There is no charge for attending, but you will be responsible for your food and drinks at the restaurant.

The schedule follows.


Wednesday, March 13th, at 6 PM
Season's Restaurant, 7219 Taft St., Merrillville, IN The Ever-Evolving Book Publishing Industry: What Does it Mean for Us?

Saturday, March 23rd, at 11 AM
Grindhouse Cafe, 146 N. Broad St., Griffith, IN
Regional Fiction: An Exploration of the Importance of Place in an Electronic World

Thursday, April 11th, at 6 PM
Season's Restaurant, 7219 Taft St., Merrillville, IN
Promoting Ourselves Using New Media--What Works?
Saturday, April 20th, at 11 AM
Grindhouse Cafe, 146 N. Broad St., Griffith, IN
What is Contemporary Poetry? What Role Does it Play in the Global Community?

Wednesday, May 15th, at 6 PM
Season's Restaurant, 7219 Taft St., Merrillville, IN
Creative Nonfiction: On What Can We Agree to Disagree? A Discussion of Ethical Issues
Saturday, May 25th, at 11 AM
Grindhouse Cafe, 146 N. Broad St., Griffith, IN
Up Close and Personal with Game Changers: Self-Publishing, E-Publishing, and Print on Demand

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Write On and Write Off


Kathryn Page Camp

Do you write as a hobby or to make a profit? The answer to that question determines whether you can write off excess writing expenses.
To deduct writing expenses that exceed your writing income, you must convince the IRS that you write to make a profit rather than as a hobby. There are two ways to show this.
If you make a profit three out of five consecutive years, the IRS will presume you are writing to make a profit. That means you can deduct the excess expenses in the two losing years.
But most writers can't predict whether they will have three out of five profitable years. No problem. The second way to show the IRS that you write to make a profit is by treating writing like a business. Here are some tips on how to do that.
  • Follow established accounting and recordkeeping practices and comply with legal requirements. You should maintain detailed records of your writing income and expenses and keep them separate from your personal finances. It also helps to keep non-financial records of you writing activities (e.g., a submissions log). If you sell your books at speeches or fairs or from the trunk of your car, make sure you have the necessary business licenses and pay sales taxes to the state.
  • Gain the expertise to succeed as a writer. This has two prongs: training and expertise in writing itself (e.g., attending writers' conferences) and expertise in the subject you are writing about (research, research, research).
  • Write regularly.
  • Submit your work to paying markets. It's okay to submit to non-paying ones occasionally, especially if you do it to gain exposure, but you should concentrate your efforts on paying markets.
  • Don't avoid the parts of the business that aren't fun. For me, this means forcing myself to spend time on promotion.
There are also three sure-fire ways to convince the IRS that you write as a hobby. 
  1. Write only when the spirit moves you. (The converse of "write regularly.")
  2. Write, but don't submit.
  3. Self-publish, but don't promote.
So if you want to deduct your excess expenses, make sure you treat writing as a business.
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Kathryn Page Camp is an attorney who writes as a business. To discover more about her, check out her website at

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Using Creative Writing to Explore Ethical Issues: An Educational Partnership

Yesterday, February 5, Indiana Writers' Consortium members presented a workshop at Purdue University Calumet on "Connectivity: How to Write Creatively from Literature--A Fresh Look at The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks." IWC co-sponsored the workshop with The Writing Center at PUC as part of a year-long One Book/One University project in which PUC freshmen read and discuss The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.

Written as creative non-fiction, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks takes the complicated and often boring subjects of cell cultures and scientific research and turns them into a fascinating story about one cell donor and her family. The book explores the ethical issues involved when taking living cells from a donor without her consent and using those cells to produce medical advances that benefit millions.

The IWC workshop looked at using creative writing to explore ethical issues and promote social justice. PUC students attended one of three breakout sessions: Fiction, led by Meggie Tolkland; Creative Non-Fiction, led by Janine Harrison; and Poetry, led by Kathryn Page Camp. The workshop ended with volunteers reading what they wrote during the breakout sessions.

IWC looks forward to partnering with other Indiana organizations to inspire and build a community of creative writers.