Tag Archives: RPLA

Florida’s top local young-adult authors

Tortuga Bay takes home three awards in 2016 Royal Palm Literary Award competition.

National authors are easy to spot–they are the ones on the best-seller lists of the New York Times, USA Today, and other national publications. But what about local authors? These writers are often unknown and lack the national distribution networks of big publishers, but they also produce exceptional work from small and independent presses. The problem for readers (and bookstores) is assessing the quality of their work in a crowded field. One way to set them apart is to look at their performance in literary competitions that are referred by independent judges.

Florida Literary Competitions

Tortuga Bay earned two gold medals in the FAPA President’s Awards

Fortunately, several organizations exist in Florida that hold statewide competitions. These competitions generate hundreds of submissions from Florida authors and publishers, but they award top prizes to just a few.  The better literary competitions employ rubrics that independent judges use for numeric scoring to rank submissions. These rubrics generate overall scores that must meet certain minimum thresholds before a book can advance in the competition.

I examined data on the first, second, and third place awards for three established statewide literary competitions: The Florida Book Awards (FBA) hosted by Florida State University, the President’s Awards run by the Florida Authors and Publishers Association (FAPA), and the Royal Palm Literary Awards (RPLA) hosted by the Florida Writers Association. I then analyzed the places earned by Florida authors and ranked them by the number of wins.

Since a first place is generally considered superior in quality to second place (and third place), a first place award was given 10 points, a second place award 5 points, and a third place award 3 points. Thus, an author who earned two first place awards would score 20 points, and an author who earned a first place and a second place award would score 15.

These competitions, of course, are not inclusive of all authors. Authors may not submit their books because they are unaware of the competitions, find the entry fees too costly, don’t need or want the visibility, or already have an established marketing and distribution platform. Nevertheless, as a general indicator, placing well multiple times in a competitive literary contest is probably a reasonable indicator of quality.

Full disclosure: I have done well in recent literary competitions, albeit in multiple categories, and have won awards in the FAPA (Tortuga Bay), RPLA (Tortuga Bay, St. Nic, Inc.), and Seven Hills Literary Competition (Renegade) run by the Tallahassee Writers Association (and not included in the rankings for this article). The results below are based on the methodology above which focuses exclusively on weighted, numeric scoring.

Florida Young Adult Author Rankings

The FBA, FAPA, and RPLA competitions provide lists of all award winners going back several years. I wanted to capture active writers and those committed to the Florida literary scene. Thus, the rankings include only those for the last five years.

Since 2011, 53 authors have received first, second, or third place awards from one of these three organizations. Just six have received multiple awards. The top five young adult authors were multi-award winners and placed first in at least one competition, and are

  1. Leslee Horner (Tallahassee), coming of age, http://lesleehorner.com
  2. SR Staley (Tallahassee), action adventure, http://www.srstaley.com
  3. Jade Kerrion (Orlando), science fiction, fantasy, http://jadekerrion.com
  4. Kyle Prue (Naples), fantasy, http://kyleprue.com.
  5. M.R. Street (Tallahassee), coming of age, horror,  http://turtlecovepress.com  

Leslee Horner’s work is notable since her books have taken home four awards–the most of all authors entering the competitions–in the young adult categories in FAPA and FBA competitions. Honorable mention also goes to Alex Finn (http://alexfinn.com), also a multiple award winner (although not first place).

Other Florida authors who earned first place awards in one of these competitions included:

  • Gino Bardi
  • Mary Dawson
  • Dennis Cooper
  • Debbie Reed Fisher
  • Carl Hiassen
  • Christina Diaz Gonzalez
  • Shaun David Hutchinson
  • Joe Iriarte
  • Linda Kelley
  • Madeline Kuderick
  • Alison McMahan
  • Mark McWaters
  • K.B. Schaller
  • Ryan Van Cleave
  • Rick Yancey

Future blog posts will include rankings for the categories of historical fiction, mainstream/literary and thriller/suspense.

For additional information on the rankings, contact Sam Staley at sam@srstaley.com.

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Isabella and Tortuga Bay closes out 2016 with a boom!

Literary Competition Results: 2016

Tortuga Bay Literary Competition Results: 2016

The year 2016 will be logged as one of the most successful in my writing fiction writing career, as Tortuga Bay takes how three first place wins, two second place finishes, and two additional finalist spots in literary in national and statewide literary competitions.

These were not small wins, either. We started out the year with a bang, when Tortuga Bay earned a category finalist spot in the Eric Hoffer book awards, a competition that generates more than 1,200 submissions. I estimate that this put Tortuga Bay in the top 10% of submissions.

Then, in August, we found out the results of the Florida Authors and Publishers Association President’s Awards. FAPA’s competition generated nearly 400 entries from across the nation. Tortuga Bay placed first in Young Adult Fiction and Young Adult Romance/Coming of Age/New Adult.

And now, in October, we were in Orlando to accept several awards in the Royal Palm Literary Awards sponsored by the 1,500 strong Florida Writers Association. the first place award for Published Historical Fiction, second place award for Published Mainstream/Literary Fiction, and second place award for Published Young Adult/New Adult Fiction.  This year’s competition attracted 480 submissions, mainly from Florida authors and members of the FWA. About 140 authors made it into the final rounds based on a rubric used for scoring each submission and tallying up their points.

Isabella’s story has proven to be a robust one that attracts readers from across genres—young adult, adult, new adult, women’s fiction, mainstream, action/adventure, among others.

Buy Tortuga Bay (or The Pirate of Panther Bay) from SYP Publishing, amazon.com (Kindle or print), bn.com (Nook or print), walmart.com, or other on-line retailers.

 

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Isabella and Tortuga Bay take home three awards at RPLA 2016!

Tortuga Bay takes home three awards in 2016 Royal Palm Literary Award competition.

Tortuga Bay takes home three awards in 2016 Royal Palm Literary Award competition.

Isabella, Jean-Michel, and Juan Carlos did well in Orlando at the Royal Palm Literary Awards dinner. Tortuga Bay took home three awards, including first place for Published Historical Fiction, second place for Published Mainstream/Literary fiction, and second place in Published Young Adult/New Adult categories. The novel made the finals in Published Women’s Fiction, but didn’t place among the top three books. The Tallahassee Democrat covered the wins in the newspaper (see here), and a complete list of winners can be found on the Florida Writers Association website here.

This competition confirmed something that I thought was true after listening to readers: the Pirate of Panther Bay series has cross genre appeal. Adults and teens enjoy the series and the characters. I am really looking forward to seeing the third book out (in late 2017 if the stars align).

Combined with the two first place/gold medals earned in the Florida Authors and Publishers Association competition, and reaching the finals in the Eric Hoffer Book Awards, this has been a stellar year for me and the series.

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Tortuga Bay advances in Royal Palm Literary Awards

Tortuga Bay makes semifinals in four cross over categories at RPLA

Tortuga Bay makes semifinals in four cross over categories at RPLA

I am really excited to announce that Tortuga Bay, the second book in the Pirate of Panther Bay Series published by Southern Yellow Pine Publishing, has advanced to the semifinals in four categories in the Royal Palm Literary Awards: Mainstream/Literary published fiction, Women’s Fiction, Historical Fiction (published), and Young Adult/New Adult fiction. These accomplishments simply reinforce the cross over appeal of the Pirate of Panther Bay series, something I had sensed but really didn’t have good evidence to support my thoughts.

TortugaBaywEHAThis adds to Tortuga Bay’s wins in the Florida Authors and Publishers Association President’s Awards in Young Adult Historical Fiction and Young Adult/New Adult/Coming of Age. (We won’t know until August 6th whether the book wins a gold, silver, or bronze medal.)

Perhaps the highest profile success so far has been becoming a Finalist in the Eric Hoffer Books Awards.

The next step for RPLA is to wait to see if Tortuga Bay makes it into the finals. If that happens, I’m off to Orlando again in October.

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Totuga Bay makes final round of FAPA President’s Awards!

TortugaBaywEHAFresh off her success in the Eric Hoffer Book Awards, where Tortuga Bay was a category Finalist, Isabella is sailing her ship into the final round of another award: The President’s Awards offered up by the Florida Authors and Publishers Association, or FAPA. This rollicking action adventure through the Caribbean into the Straights of Jaimaica and Port-au-Prince, Haiti qualified in Young Adult Fiction. This means Tortuga Bay will earn either a Gold, Silver or Bronze medal. We won’t know which one until the FAPA annual conference and awards ceremony on August 6, 2016 in Orlando.

Tortuga Bay and the Pirate of Panther Bay series is showing amazing crossover appear. Isabella and her crew are making their way through the Royal Palm Literary Awards, jumping into the semi-final round in two categories: Mainstream/Literary and Women’s fiction. We won’t know if she made it into the final rounds for a few more weeks. Last year, St. Nic, Inc. won 2nd place in the the category of published Mainstream/Literary fiction. The final awards for the RPLA are announced at the Florida Writers Association annual conference in Orlando, Florida from October 20-23, 2016.RPLA_16_SemiFinalist_Badge

Tortuga Bay is available in print and digital editions on amazon, bn.com and other on-line retailers as well as through Southern Yellow Pine Publishing.

 

 

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Five take aways from the Royal Palm Literary Awards

StNicInc,COVERSt. Nic, Inc., my re-imagination of the Santa Claus myth through the lens of an action-adventure novel. won 2nd place in the Published Mainstream/Literary Fiction category of the Royal Palm Literary Awards. This was a great win for a small book (for now) from a small, but rapidly growing press (Southern Yellow Pine Publishing). But what does this mean for my writing?

A Few Notes on the Royal Palm Literary Awards

The RPLA awards have several benefits for writers, including the fact they provide feedback from the judges and they allow submissions into multiple categories. I submitted St. Nic, Inc. in two categories: thriller/suspense and mainstream/literary. St. Nic, Inc. didn’t make it to the semi-final round in the thriller/suspense category, but it nearly took home gold in mainstream/literary. So, this provides an interesting case study of how competition judges evaluate the same material.

RPLA_2ndPl_BadgeThe judging in the RPLA competition is based on two rounds. The first involves two judges reading the first 50 pages of a manuscript or book. Judges evaluate the submissions using a rubric that generates a numerical score between 1 and 50. Books need to score at least 80 points (or about a 40 from each judge) to make it into the semi-final round. If the book (or manuscript) makes it to the semi-final round, another judge will read the entire manuscript and score it using the same rubric to determine whether it gets into the final round and in the running for an award. The final judge’s score (also from 1 to 50) is doubled, so the final round submissions are ranked based on a total potential score of 200 points.

Here are the categories, each worth 5 points and scored from 1 to 5 except for overall impression which is scored on a 10 point scale:

  1. Setting
  2. Character
  3. Plot
  4. Story flow/plausibility
  5. Dialogue
  6. Creativity
  7. Mechanics/conventions
  8. Appropriate genre
  9. Overall impression

The Ugly: St. Nic, Inc.’s Uncertain Journey

Here’s the breakdown of the total scores for each judge for St. Nic, Inc. for both categories:

Judge Thriller/Suspense Mainstream/Literary
Judge #1 36
Judge #2 35
Judge #3 42
Judge #4 40
Judge #5 (FINAL ROUND) 49
Total Score

I think it’s pretty clear that the judges in the thriller/suspense genre—the one I thought St. Nic, Inc. “fit”–weren’t super impressed. I really wasn’t close to getting into the semi-final round, which means my book probably didn’t make the cut in the top 20% of submissions. (This is my estimate; RPLA does not release numbers of submissions by category.)

Reviewing the comments, neither judge felt the story moved fast enough, thought I devoted too much space to setting and not enough to plot and character development. One of the judges had trouble with the number of characters introduced in the first chapters (too many), and they wanted more “quirks” to make them interesting. On the final category, overall impression, they scored the story identically with a 6.

I appreciated the candidness of the comments as well as their specificity, but I could hardly be encouraged by their evaluation of something I had spent years developing. You need a thick skin if you are going to submit your work to the judgments of others. Fortunately for my ego, one judge wrote that he or she would like to see more work from me. Both these judges in this genre thought the book was in the right category. So, my decision to enter my book in this category was at least validated by the judges with experience in the genre.

Ironically, I’ve always felt that setting was the weakest part of my writing. I consider myself a character-driven author. These judges would clearly beg to differ with my self-assessment.

But this is where the story gets more interesting.

000_RPLA_Finalist_BadgeI also entered St. Nic, Inc. in the category of published mainstream and literary fiction. Honestly, I didn’t think it would perform well because I thought it was primarily an action/adventure story (and not really thriller/suspense either). I also thought this would be a more competitive category because many novels can fit under this umbrella. But my fortunes in RPLA this year turned because I accepted the risk of entering the novel into a second category.

As the table shows, however, the third and fourth judges didn’t warmly embrace my novel either. They also didn’t respond well to my emphasis on setting in the opening pages. Fortunately, these judges gave me scores that allowed me to get into the semi-final round where the full manuscript would be read by a fifth judge.

A review of the comments in the mainstream/literary category found that the first round judges also had issues with the plot and the lack of quirky characters. One judge noted it was difficult to determine which characters were the protagonists and which ones were the antagonists. They were also confused about the central setting of the story (which pivots between a hospital and DEA headquarters in Arlington, Virginia as two parallel story lines develop simultaneously). These judges also thought the book could be entered into the action/thriller genres, reinforcing at least my sense of where it would fit in terms of genre. The literary/mainstream judges wanted me to tighten up the action by streamlining the story, and one even suggested I consolidate a few chapters. Hardly a slam dunk into the final round, let alone scores to position me well for a top three placing.

Still, I made it into the semi-final round.

The fifth judge obviously made the difference. After reading the entire book—the only judge to read it in its entirety—St. Nic, Inc. received a 49 out 50. I have very little feedback because the judge liked almost everything in it. This judge also noted that the story could have moved faster, but she or he considered the story imaginative, creative, engaging, and pretty cool. Since this judge’s score was doubled in the final round, St. Nic, Inc., made it into the final round and received 2nd place.

The Good: Five Take Aways from RPLA

So, St. Nic, Inc. had a rocky ride in the RPLA judging. This was clearly not a cakewalk or an easy win. I also think it speaks well of the process, but that’s another story.

I want to close with a few observations about what this means for me as an author, with several more books in the pipeline. What are my take aways?

  1. You can’t always judge a book by its first chapters. Stories are organic, but judging (no matter how well it maps over buyer behavior) that focuses on the first chapters (or pages) really doesn’t tell you much about the story if it has much complexity. The first chapters are just the hook. While important, they are not the story. Many of the elements of Nic, Inc. that the judges criticized were, in fact, artistic decisions about plot and character development. As long as writers recognize the trade-offs involved, and the potential downside of readers not buying the book or judges appreciating its complexity in the early chapters, writers should note the objections and consider them, but not necessarily use them as a writing guide. Even in light of the judges’ comments, I don’t think I would change the story much.
  2. Stay true to your vision as a writer. Nic, Inc. scores ranged from 35 to 49 on a 50 point scale. At the end of the day, literary competitions, even when they use a rigorous methodology for ranking books, depend on the subjectivity of the judge. Notably, all the judges recognized that the manuscript was technically well written—no mistakes in grammar, syntax, plot development or character development. Their criticisms centered on the creative and artistic aspects of the book, many of which included choices I made as a writer about plot and character. Not all my characters had quirks because in many cases—such as the way I treat little people—I wanted to demonstrate they were normal people in an extraordinary circumstance and setting. Giving little people quirks would have transformed them into munchkins, the exact opposite of how I wanted them perceived.
  3. Judges in literary competition pay a lot of attention to craft. They like a balance of character, plot, and setting, and they are interested in manuscripts that push, or at least give a strong nudge, to pushing against the edges of convention. Good books that are excellent reads may not do well in a literary competition because judges are looking for artistic qualities, and these qualities may not be what readers care about. Paradoxically, genre judges tend to look for stories that fit certain formulas—the one page hook, unambiguous plots, etc. This all makes sense because they are looking for the stand out contributions, so they want to see something different within the confines of their genre.
  4. The book’s hook—the events that start the story off—is critical. As a writer I should not expect a reader (or judge) to be patient. Most people don’t want to waste an hour reading a book or manuscript to see if they are going like it. As a matter of efficiency (and practicality), the hook is essential. And, in the RPLA competition (as well as other competitions) the hook determines whether you can even quality for the subsequent rounds. An excellent hook is a necessary but not sufficient condition for success. This is useful insight in general.
  5. The judges like tight, polished manuscripts. They don’t want to be distracted by formatting, grammatical, or spelling errors. This reflects a lack of professionalism, and they don’t want to bother reading a book when the author hasn’t done their due diligence in producing a book that respects their time and value as a judge. All judges noted that fact Nic, Inc. was free of technical errors and was well written.

This was the third time I have entered RPLA with a manuscript. Notably, last year I submitted St. Nic, Inc. as an unpublished manuscript and it failed to advance to the semi-final round. While the 2nd place finish was gratifying, the ability to see the book do well in published form and receive excellent comments from the judges will help me frame my future submissions and keep me centered as an author.

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Five expected and unexpected benefits from winning a literary award

By SR Staley

St. Nic, Inc. was awarded second place in the 2015 Royal Palm Literary Awards, and the win was a real confidence booster for me personally. This isn’t the first time I’ve won a book award–Renegade (Wheatmark) took home second place in the Seven Hills Literary Contest and Drug Policy and the Decline of American Cities (Transaction Books) earned 1st place in the Sir Antony Fisher Memorial Prize–but the RPLA award has elevated my fiction writing to a new level of respect among my fellow authors.

RPLA_2ndPl_BadgeWith a few more years of experience under my belt, however, I can reflect on the impact of the award and its meaning, personally and professionally. So I put together these thoughts on the expected and unexpected benefits of winning the award.

  1. Professional validation. Perhaps now more than at any other time, authors wonder if their writing is “good enough.” In part, this is due to the tremendous change in the publishing industry. As traditional legacy publishers with integrated national distribution networks consolidate, and smaller presses focus on niches, authors are finding the only practical pathway to publication is often through self-publishing or some form of subsidy publishing. While many excellent books are published through these sources–in fact, Renegade was published through Wheatmark, a very professional hybrid publisher–authors are often left wondering whether their writing is good enough to compete. Winning an award tells us that yes, we can write and we can achieve excellence, at least as measured by our peers.StNicInc,COVER
  2. Reader validation. I didn’t really think about this until I pondered the self-centered nature of a one-star review I received on amazon for, ironically, St. Nic, Inc. The reviewer trashed St. Nic, Inc.–and I mean trashed it–despite a slew of four- and five-star reviews that proceeded it. When our books win a literary contest, we validate our readers and all those who enjoyed our stories and characters. No one who left a good review on amazon.com will ever have to justify their positive review, and, just perhaps, we hold the book snobs and narcissists accountable for their bad behavior.
  3. Raising awareness. Winning an award, or even making it to the semifinals or finals, raises awareness about our work, giving us a needed boost to our marketing efforts. Sometimes, publishers and authors get caught in a cycle of simply generating content and posts on social media just to keep our name visible. But winning a literary award provides real content and is a win-win: Authors benefit because the quality of our work is validated through an external, third-party source and the book awards benefit by marketing their contest, raising the competitiveness and improving the validity of the contest in future years.
  4. Rekindling the joy of writing. Writing is a long, arduous process. As creative as the it can be, we face many periods of slogging through stages we would prefer off load to someone else. I remember when my first book was published–Drug Policy and the Decline of American Cities–its actual publication seemed anti-climatic. So much time had been spent finalizing the manuscript, monitoring the book through the production process, developing the marketing plan, and navigating dozens of other smaller administrative decision points that that joy and wonder of writing seemed completely displaced. Winning the Fisher Award goosed my creative energies (as have the Seven Hills and RPLA wins).Renegade,cover
  5. Validating my publisher(s). With nine published books under my belt, I think authors tend to forget the importance these wins have for our publishers. I have become more keenly aware of this since my venture with Wheatmark, a subsidy publisher (but not a true self-publishing company because they don’t take every project), I am more keenly aware of the time, effort, money and resources needed to bring a quality book to press. My publishers–subsidy, self, or traditional–deserve my best efforts to market and sell books for them. Otherwise, they go out of business and our careers stall. In years past, self-publishing was a dead-end for a career. Now, the game is completely different, and publisher like Wheatmark and my current (traditional) publisher, Southern Yellow Pine Publishing, are partners. Winning book awards validates their investment in me as an author.

Many authors are rightly proud of our work when we win an award. But I think the benefits are far broader than we often appreciate. So, this award is not just for me; it’s important for everyone who supports and invests in my career as an author.

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St. Nic, Inc. Takes Silver at Royal Palm Literary Awards

SR Staley

RPLA_2ndPl_BadgeSt. Nic, Inc., my reality-based re-imagination of the Santa Claus myth, won 2nd place in the 2015 Royal Palm Literary Awards held in Orlando during the annual conference of the Florida Writers Association on October 17, 2015!

St. Nic, Inc. earned its award in the competitive Published Mainstream/Literary Fiction category. First place went to The Clock Strikes Midnight by Joan C. Curtis, and third place went to Passing Through Perfect by Bette Lee Crosby.

SamplusAwardThe FWA uses a rigorous, anonymous review process to select their winners. Each entry is given a numerical score based on a rubric designed by the committee supervising the RPLA. This provides analytical consistency in what is inevitably a subjective evaluation of the quality of writing. (I have personally used similar rubrics for more than 20 years to discipline my own grading of papers assigned in my classes at the college level.) In order to progress to each successive stage–semi-finalist, finalist, and winner–written works have to achieve minimum scores using the rubric. Thus, in theory, no award can be given in a category because none of the submitted works earn sufficiently high scores. In fact, this has happened. This year was the first time an award was given in every category, although several categories awarded just first or second places (e.g., published romance, unpublished romance, published science fiction).

This year, 378 manuscripts were entered into the RPLAs in 30 different categories and evaluated by 125 anonymous judges. Categories include a wide range of subjects and genres, including published and unpublished books; adult, young adult, and middle-grade fiction; poetry and flash fiction; thriller/suspense and women’s fiction, and several nonfiction categories and others. About 25% of the authors submitting manuscripts made it into the final round this year, and 18% (68% of finalists) won an award–either first, second, or third place in their category. (Six entrants by my count won awards in multiple categories). A full list can be found here.

I also want to give a shout to my fellow Tallahassee Writers Association author Darryl Bollinger, author of the medical thriller The Care Card, for winning second place in the Published Thriller/Suspense category!

Read the reviews of St. Nic, Inc. here.

Watch the trailer here.

Buy the book at amazon here!

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St. Nic, Inc. Makes Royal Palm Literary Award Semi-Finals!

I am pleased to announced that St. Nic, Inc., my reality-based action adventure about the North Pole, as been named a semi-finalist in the Royal Palm Literary Awards! The next step is for a judge to review and score the manuscript to determine if it makes it into the finals. RPLA_SemiFinalist_Badge

This is the furthest one of my novels has gone in this competition, so I am keeping my fingers crossed. RPLA’s award competition uses a rubric for scoring the manuscripts. Manuscripts that reach a certain threshold in overall scoring make it into the semi-finals and finals. The award winners are determined by a panel of judges.

Reason magazine has called St. Nic, Inc. a “comic thriller,” and award winning author Donna Meredith writes:

When the talented SR Staley tosses DEA agents, moles, computer whizzes, and a multi-national CEO into one action-filled plot, you get St. Nic, Inc.,  a story that sparkles like the North Pole on a sunny day.  St. Nic, Inc. offers a fresh vision of what modern tools like the Internet and high-speed delivery services could accomplish in the hands of the right Little People. This heart-warming re-imagining gives us reason to believe—and fall in love all over again with our most cherished time of year.

 

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