Sherri Cook Woosley, editor of's The Fifteenth Dame Lisbet Throckmorton Anthology, 2010, launches her blog tour!

Monday, October 18, 2010
& Book Giveaway Comments Contest!

We're thrilled to bring you a different kind of blog tour today for CoffeeHouseFiction.Com's The Fifteenth Dame Lisbet Throckmorton Anthology, 2010. The tour features five authors and two editors of the anthology who share wonderful writing advice, anthology tips, contest tips and more throughout the length of the tour. Today we're interviewing Sherri Cook Woosley, editor of the fabulous anthology and creator of Coffee House Fiction's writing contest. If you've ever been curious about the inner-workings of a writing contest, read on.

Sherri Cook Woosley earned her M.A. in English Language and Literature from University of Maryland, College Park. She taught high school English before accepting grants to teach classes in academic writing and world mythology at University of Maryland. Academically, Sherri has published "Mythological and Archetypal Images in The Peach Thief" and presented an excerpt from her Master's research, "Women in the Shadow" at a Rutgers Conference entitled Disciplinary Boundaries. Her fiction has been published by Mount Zion Fiction Review and her story "The Man with the Patchwork Soul" is included in the Maryland Writers' Association anthology New Lines from the Old State.

Find out more about Sherri and her editing services by visiting www.CoffeeHouseFiction.Com and Mud House Publishing's Facebook Page.

The Fifteenth Dame Lisbet Throckmorton Anthology, 2010

Rachael Scandarion (Author), Candace Leigh Coulombe (Author), Dennis Finocchiaro (Author), Sally Whitney (Author), Carla Brownlee (Author), Sheila Romano (Author), Sherri Cook Woosley (Editor), May Kuroiwa (Editor)

For six years CoffeeHouseFiction.Com has sponsored The Fifteenth Dame Lisbet Throckmorton Fiction Writing Contest, a contest open to all genres, with the only requirement that the writing be disarming and original. Now, for the second time, the best authors have been hand-picked from the 2010 contest to realize the Coffee House Fiction 2010 Anthology. This year's winning stories take us on a literary journey from a mind-bending revenge fantasy at a Nazi concentration camp to a miasmic journey through the minds of coffee shop denizens.

Paperback: 69 pages
Publisher: Mud House Publishing (August 2010)
ISBN: 098283800X

You can purchase a copy of the anthology through Amazon or by e-mailing fiction[at]coffeehousefiction[dot]com.

Book Giveaway Comments Contest!
If you received our Events Newsletter, remember, we are holding a contest to win a copy of The Fifteenth Dame Lisbet Throckmorton Anthology, 2010 to those that comment. So, grab a cup of coffee, pull up a chair, and enjoy the chat, and share your thoughts, and comments, at the end. We will randomly choose a winner from those who comment.

Interview by Jodi Webb

WOW: Welcome, Sherri! Tell us why you created the Fifteenth Dame Lisbet Throckmorton Fiction Writing Contest and how it got such an unusual (and long) name.

Sherri: I was ready to start something new--I'd just finished my Master's degree from University of Maryland, eloped to Florence, Italy, had a little girl and moved to a renovated rowhouse in Federal Hill, Baltimore.

I've run the contest for six years. The original brainstorming session included this image of a cranky, feisty old lady sitting in a coffee shop reading this huge pile of contest entries. Then we gave her an umbrella, a British accent, and a ridiculous name. We're an independent, small contest and we have the luxury of not taking ourselves too seriously.

After we got the contest running, I added a critique service, then I began accepting editing year-round, and finally, two years ago, I started Mud House Publishing.

WOW: As the organizer of a writing contest, you've become our instant contest expert! Is there a way to distinguish legitimate contests from those a bit more shady and unreliable?

Sherri: Great question. Ways I've promoted transparency at

  • Is there a record of previous winners? I've posted the winners of each year along with either the complete story or an excerpt of the winning story. This shows that we're a functioning contest as well as gives concrete examples of what kind of writing we value.
  • Who are the judges? Agents, editors, teachers, authors...someone with credentials. My judges are either authors or teachers or both. I've also had exceptional guest judges--UVA professor Andrew Stauffer, Ambitious Enterprises Owner Ally Peltier, and this year we had award-winning author Patricia Valdata.
  • Do you get a response to the contact info? Send an e-mail with a question just to get a reply.
  • If there is a resulting anthology, do they publish everything or just the vetted pieces? Last year we had five stories that we judged to be published in The Coffee House Fiction 2009 Anthology. This year we published The Fifteenth Dame Lisbet Throckmorton Anthology, 2010 which as six excellent stories and is available on Amazon. The rest of the entries were in various draft stages.
  • Finally, if a contest seems questionable, use your favorite search engine for five minutes and see what other writers have posted about it, either favorably or claiming the contest is a scam.

Entry fees are generally used to compensate the winners and promote the contest. Sometimes the judges will get a small stipend. I'd say most contest fees should be between $10 and $25. If it costs more than that, you need to find out what exactly you are getting. Some contests charge a higher entry fee and then give you an annual subscription to the literary journal.

I submitted a chapter to a women's fiction contest that included a critique by an agent. She ripped the chapter apart and told me bluntly what was good (the writing) and what was bad (characterization) and whether she would have requested more pages. It was the best experience. I loved this option so much that I added it to Coffee House Fiction's list of services.

Authors need objective feedback. Unless you are very lucky, your spouse, parents, friends, colleagues are not writer or trained to give helpful critiques. They say they like it because they like you. Critique groups can be good, but there's the question of whether you should trust another unpublished or small-time author. Editing services can be very expensive. Critiques are the middle ground. I charged $25 for a critique of an entry. The critique form--filled out by one of the judges--was posted on the site so authors knew exactly what information would be given. After we added this service, I had a lot of thank you e-mails. Honest feedback makes for better writers.

Critiques were such a success that I began accepting editing jobs. My background as a teacher helps me explain to writers what works and doesn't work in fiction. And, I love it. I'm at a stage where my writing progresses very slowly, but I can take professional pride in seeing others succeeding at their aspirations.

WOW: How can contests help us become better writers? Why shouldn't we just submit directly to short fiction markets?

Sherri: Give a contest a chance. It can mean a little bit of cash in your pocket if you win, and more importantly you get a publishing credit for your query letter. It's also a way to show your friends and family that you've been recognized by the writing community. If you don't win, you still own the rights to your story because it's unpublished. But frankly, SOMEBODY has to win! In direct markets the editors don't HAVE to publish anyone. They can go to an already established writer and say, "Will you please write a little something for our Fall issue? Then we'll see what space is left to fill up with unknowns."

My contest was never intended to be a huge money-maker. Some years I did okay, and some years I lost money, but overall I wanted to help other writers. I wanted to know what happens behind the scenes and then share it with other curious authors. One thing I do that I wish other contests would: I post the numerical scores for each entry online. In my contest each story is read by at least two judges who assign a numerical score - 1 to 5 - and then the judges hash out a short list to take to the guest judge. Authors can use their anonymous log number to check what scores they earned. The author is able to see how an objective reader graded his or her work.

WOW: Are there any mistakes or unfortunate choices that you see over and over again in entries that make you want to put a warning in the FAQ section in bright red?

Sherri: Here are some suggestions:

When you are getting close to the word limit, don't panic and kill your character. Seriously. Please incorporate an ending that fits.

Another idea: read the winning stories of a contest or a literary journal. I heard some editors at a writing conference griping about aspiring authors who wouldn't invest money in subscribing to a literary publication or contest anthology. I realized it was true. You can support writing markets while concomitantly learning the standards. There are free sites online if you don't want to make a purchase, but put in the work like writing is a job.

WOW: What type of writing do you do?

Sherri: I tend to write literary fiction. Not a very practical choice considering the genre is fiercely competitive with a limited market, but that's what I do.

I also have a dark, loony sense of humor that comes across in my writing. I have a story trying to find a home right now based on an experience a couple of years ago in which my Chinese au pair wanted to illegally immigrate. We had a glorious low-speed chase with her running away--pulling her giant suitcase on wheels, shackled with various other worldly possessions, wearing a sweater in 90 degree heat, and casting herself out into the middle of Harford County--with me chasing her down the street with a pair of twins in a double stroller.

WOW: (Laughs) I'd love to read that! So, what do you do when you aren't judging writing contests? Doctor, lawyer, Indian chief?

Sherri: Primarily I'm a mom. I have an 8-year-old, a 7-year-old, and twin 2.5-year-olds. However, I understand the world through stories. It's how I'm programmed and how I was trained. So, I accept fiction editing through and I read anything in my path especially cereal boxes, newspaper headlines, and short story collections.

WOW: You should check out Talismans, a short story collection by a returning author Sybil Baker, that'll be on a WOW Blog Tour in December. I know you're taking a hiatus from the contest this year for personal reasons. Do you think it'll be back next year?

Sherri: I've enjoyed running The Fifteenth Dame Lisbet Throckmorton Fiction Writing Contest. I've been at it for six years. I am at least ready for a break, and I'm not sure whether this contest will be back next year or not. For me, it depends which way the winds of my hectic existence blow. Either way, I post updates on the Mud House Publishing page on Facebook. There will always be fiction contests to pursue and win. Just read my hints and make sure it's legit!

WOW: Thank you so much, Sherri, for sharing your fantastic advice with us today! I know our short fiction writers appreciate the contest tips, and we'll keep an eye on your Facebook page and CoffeeHouseFiction.Com to see which way the winds blow. ;)

Want to join Coffee House Fiction's blog tour? Check out these dates and mark your calendar! You can also snag a copy of WOW's Events Calendar HERE.

Blog Tour Dates: Come and join the fun!

October 18, 2010 Monday
Sherri Cook Woosley will be chatting with WOW! Women On Writing at The Muffin. One lucky commenter will win a signed copy of Coffee House Fiction's 2010 Anthology!

October 19, 2010 Tuesday
Can you begin a writer's life after age 50? That's what Sheila Romano, an author from The Fifteenth Dame Lisbet Throckmorton Anthology 2010, will be discussing today. Not to miss!

October 25, 2010 Monday
As part of the Coffee House Fiction tour, Candace Coulumbe, an author from The Fifteenth Dame Lisbet Throckmorton Anthology 2010, will be posting "The Truth That Allows You To Lie: Using Historical Facts To Enrich Your Fiction" at Meryl's Notes. Meryl will also be giving away a copy of Candace's book Second Grace!

October 27, 2010 Wednesday
Sally Whitney stops by Writers Inspired to share what to do after you finish your first draft--perfect for those contemplating NaNoWriMo this November. She's also giving away a copy of The Fifteenth Dame Lisbet Throckmorton Anthology 2010!

October 28, 2010 Thursday
Need some inspiration? Dennis Finocchiaro, an author from The Fifteenth Dame Lisbet Throckmorton Anthology 2010, will be posting about "Finding Inspiration."

November 1, 2010 Monday
Cathy C. Hall interviews May Kuroiwa, an editor of CoffeeHouseFiction's The Fifteenth Dame Lisbet Throckmorton Anthology 2010 and founder of the Maryland Writers Association's critique groups. Stop by today and ask May a question!

November 2, 2010 Tuesday
As part of the Coffee House Fiction tour, Rachael Scandarion, an author from The Fifteenth Dame Lisbet Throckmorton Anthology 2010, stops by Write for a Reader to tell us how books have affected her life. She will also be giving away a copy of her latest book!

November 5, 2010 Friday
Sherri Cook Woosley, editor and judge for The Fifteenth Dame Lisbet Throckmorton Fiction Writing Contest stops by Day by Day Writer to share her advice on winning writing contests. She'll also be giving away a copy of the Coffee House Fiction Anthology 2009, a compilation of the 2009 short story winners.

To view all of our touring authors, check out our Events Calendar HERE.

Get involved!

If you have a blog or website and would like to host a Coffee House Fiction author or schedule a tour of your own, please email Angela and Jodi at:

And be sure to comment on this post to enter in a drawing for a copy of The Fifteenth Dame Lisbet Throckmorton Anthology, 2010! And check back in a couple of days in the comments section to see if you won!


Carol J. Sharp said...

Thank you for the tour on writing tips for contests. We leave on a tour of Israel tomorrow morning but hope to follow whenever possible. This is an area I haven't seen much information on and appreciate it.
Blessings for the journey!

Julie Anne Lindsey said...

I LOVE that you host a writing contest. Contests are a fantastic way to hone our craft and get feedback on things we may nit even know we're doing wrong. Thanks for the tips on knowing how to tell the good from the bad too, with so many contests out there, it can be a little scary when its time to hit that send payment button!

Bonnie said...

I laughed when you said don't kill your protagonist when you start to run out of words. I get that momentary panic when I write flash fiction. Thanks for the tips.

Unknown said...

I love entering contests, but sometimes it is hard to tell if a contest is legitimate. Thank-you for the tips!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the comments! I'll be checking back throughout the day and will try to answer any posted questions about contests or the anthology.

Seize the Dame!
Sherri Cook Woosley

MsALWalker said...

I always wondered how you can tell if a writing contest is legitimate. Now I know. Thanks for that!

M.E. Summer said...

Hi, Sherri! Thanks for your fiction-contest tips. I have a couple of questions.

If a fiction contest has no entry fee, can it still be a legitimate contest? Can it have as much prestige as entering a contest with an entry fee?

Also, what is the single most important element that you look for in a winning entry?


Julie said...

Thank you for a great tour topic. I anticipate more inspirational posts. I'm on tour too - a month on the road in my van. Writing, walking on the beach, picking up bits and pieces.

Sherri Cook Woosley said...

No fee contests.

Yes, they can still be legitimate, but usually are sponsored by big names like the Ladies Home Journal or Folgers who have plenty of money to pay prizes and are more concerned with advertising their main product.
Also, some contests that don't have a fee pay winners in gift certificates or keep the rights to your story once you've submitted. You just have to read the small print.

The single most important thing for a contest-winning story to be is: different. It has to stand out from the stack of other entries.

Does this help?

Sherri Cook Woosley

Cindy Kerschner said...

Thanks for the great tips! I also enjoy entering contests(I entered summer WOW contest).
Sounds like an interesting anthology!

Lena said...

I'm excited... In my desk are some manuscripts that I know are good (I'm not boasting, I have lots that aren't good too, and know the difference!) but have never found a "home" for. I think I'll enter some contests instead, especially if there is a critique involved. Thank you for your interesting interview!

Sheila Romano said...

Thanks, Sherri, for all your hard work on coffeehousefiction. As an author from the Anthology, set to appear tomorrow, I can confirm to anyone reading that entering contests is a valid path to publication. It can work -- it certainly did for me!

Hariharan said...

best best


Dot Hearn said...

Thank you for the helpful information. And I'm happy to find this publication - I love the whimsy of the name and it looks great. Ordering a copy now!

I do have a question about submitting to contests and credentials; maybe my question is even more applicable to non-contest submissions. If a writer has a short list of publications, does it help to have an advanced (masters or beyond) degree? Some contests are obviously "blind" and have very clear separation of personal information from the writing - some, not so much.

Any advice related to credentials or how to recognize if that may be an issue?

Sherri Cook Woosley said...

Hi Dot,

I ran a blind contest. Each entry was immediatly given a log number and the cover sheet was kept in a separate folder because we wanted everyone to have a fair chance -- may the best stories win.

For literary journals and magazines the work is also the most important thing. The list of publications shows that you are a serious writer and that others have already acknowledged your skill and talent. An MFA may help if you were in a prestigous program, but otherwise degress don't really matter.
For non-fiction, however, credentials (degrees or work experience) are important because you are representing yourself as an expert on your topic.


Jill said...

Hi Sherri,

Congratulations on a fabulous interview!

Tina Haapala said...

Great tips about the contests. Thanks!

cindyja said...

You are a busy lady! I enjoyed your interview very much. I love the idea of numerical scores for contest entries.

WOW! said...

Thank you for your comments! We held a random drawing for a copy of The Fifteenth Dame Lisbet Throckmorton Anthology, 2010, and the winner is... Julie Anne Lindsey!

Congratulations! Please email us at with your snail mail address to we will send it to Sherri. :)

Readers, make sure you visit the rest of the stops on this tour for more giveaways and fantastic writing advice. Write on!

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