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The Secret to Prize-Winning Short Stories


A promise begins the newly released book How to Write Winning Short Stories“Let this be a practical little manual of tips, designed to provide accessible, actionable advice to short story writers, particularly beginning or emerging writers, who want to write short stories for adult readers.”

Author Nancy Sakaduski sticks to this promise—at the beginning, through the middle, and to the end. For that reason, this book landed on a shelf of works by my favorite writing teachers (e.g., The Eye of the Story and One Writer’s Beginnings by Eudora Welty; On Writing Well and Writing to Learn by William Zinsser; Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg; and Poetics by Aristotle).

Sakaduski authentically pursues the writing life as an author (23 books), successful regional publisher (Cat & Mouse Press in Lewes, Delaware), and manager of the Rehoboth Beach Reads Short Story Contest, which connects to seashore life in and around the Mid-Atlantic’s Delmarva region. In today’s sharply competitive literary world, she goes quietly about her business, supporting seasoned writers and discovering fresh voices.

I’ll take issue with only one snippet of Sakaduski’s promise. Hardly a “little manual of tips,” How to Write Winning Short Stories packs practical and bold writing lessons in a tight package. The tone is friendly but gets to the point. Put it this way: Sakaduski does not waste words in urging her readers to work. It’s an ideal tool whether one prefers to write solo or participate in a writing group or community workshop.

This author is a realist, so she plunges into market reality before breaking out the component parts of a story. Friendly warning: grasp marketing basics before diving into writing. (Of course, an amplified section on marketing rounds out the book. The structure is circular and smart in that regard.)


The table of contents unfolds logically—no guessing on the part of readers. Sakaduski covers the fundamentals—underpinned with clear examples. What’s more, she draws off the wisdom of authors who deliver nuggets of literary criticism in plain language. (The bibliography and index indicate impeccable research and knowledge of the genre.) The checklist at the end of each chapter is a masterful stroke. I challenge any experienced writer to use it.

At the same time, Sakaduski digs deeply. For example, she addresses several key areas that often trip up writers: point of view, viewpoint character, voice, and dialogue. I’ve seen few books explicate these details so well in 20 pages—quite a feat!

Another hallmark differentiates this how-to book from others: a must-read section that nails the editing process. Sakaduski pulls it off with clarity in fewer than 20 pages—just as she cleanly reviews facts, legal issues, and contests.

How to Write Winning Short Stories is an effortless read that demands the attention and dedication of writers in the creative process. But they will have fun, too. I’ll repeat one of Sakaduski’s wonderful promise words: actionable. Indeed, this book is.

As the publisher of Cat & Mouse Press, Nancy Sakaduski manages the Rehoboth Beach Reads Short Story Contest, sponsored by Browseabout Books in Rehoboth, Delaware. The next contest launches on March 1, 2016, featuring the theme “Beach Nights.”  Note: writers from any location may submit entries.

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Categories: The Writing Well

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Catherine Hamrick

Soul deep storyteller, poet, copywriter, and editor with a passion for wordplay, gardens and literature

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