Indie Authors, Contests & Consternations: Win or Lose – You Can’t Do Either Without Entering

Winning a writing contest, no matter how small, seems to be a necessity for the modern author. Even if you aren’t qualified for the Pulitzer, there are more and more contests for indie authors. I’ve never won a contest, whether as an author or as a songwriter. It pains me – not that I’ve entered many.

My book was a BookWorks Book of the Week selection

Medallion from Bookworks Book of the Week Prize for Donna’s high school adventure/mystery with excursions into fantasy The Heart of Applebutter Hill.

In July, however, my first and only novel, The Heart of Applebutter Hill, was named the Bookworks novel of the week. I think that put a bug in my shorts. Then, I received a mailing that Patty Fletcher of Tell-it-to-the-World Marketing sent out to her author clients. It mentioned the North Street Prize for indie authors, sponsored by Writer’s Market. It cost $75. Yikes, but I was off and running. Two things stopped me.

First, I went to the site and discovered what looked like a deal-breaker. It appeared that all authors of genre fiction, including young adult novels, had to enter the same category. That seemed ridiculous and a tad mean. There was a Children’s Literature category, but my novel isn’t for children. I must be missing something, right? So, I wrote to them. While waiting for their response, I enlisted Google’s help to find other indie author contests.

“It’s  nice to snuggle up with a good book,” says Goofus, a strawberry blonde tabby, getting cozy with The Heart of Applebutter Hill by his Mom, Donna W. Hill. Cover shows cave scene with a hand holding the blue Heartstone of Arden-Goth: photo by Rich Hill.

Goofus, Hills’ kitty, snuggles up with The Heart of Applebutter Hill:photo by Rich Hill.

That’s when the second thing happened. I found the Booklife Prize, sponsored by Publishers Weekly. It was more expensive ($90-something), but … “All entrants receive a Critic’s Report, which includes a score as well as a brief written critical assessment of their novel by a Publishers Weekly reviewer.” In other words, they offered a written critique of every submission that authors could use to promote their work.

Hmm, if contests are important, reviews are even more so. I couldn’t justify the expense of entering both contests. Then, the answer came in from the North Street people. I was right; I should enter my young adult novel in the genre fiction category. Ugh!

Well, the North Street prize’s July 31st deadline was fast approaching, and their answer paralyzed me. The Booklife Prize deadline was the end of August and I decided to take a deep breath, work on the Haven project (the anthology from Plaisted Publishing in New Zealand to help victims of the Christchurch mosque terrorist attacks) and the “Sizzling Summer Super Release Book Launch Party!” (the Facebook event that Patty had set up for us). I could think about contests afterwards.

Mo, a male yellow Lab guide dog, in the grass with a copy of The Heart of Applebutter Hill by his Mom, Donna W. Hill. Cover shows cave scene - stalactites reflected in an underground lake, with a hand holding the blue, Heartstone of Arden-Goth: photo by Rich Hill.

“They don’t really expect me to read this, do they?” says Donna’s guide dog Mo: photo by Rich Hill.

Eventually, I went to the Booklife entry form. Lo and behold, they had a category for middle school and young adult fiction. That meant only one winner for what I would consider two categories – still better than the North Street contest with all genre fiction whether for general, middle school or young audiences lumped into one category. I still can’t believe that. I have the email, if anyone wants to see it.

So, on to the Booklife prize. Just one teensy little issue – the blurb mentions the Middle School/Young Adult category, but the form didn’t. I looked around and around, assuming I was missing something, because I’m always missing something, right? But, no, my happy little category simply wasn’t there. OK, where’s the Contact page? I found it and set about to ask my question.

When Booklife wrote back, they had fixed the problem with the form, and – hang on to your socks – they gave me a promo code that saved me $20 on my submission for pointing it out to them. Now, I could enter the contest in good conscience. Even if I don’t win (which is statistically likely), I had done a service to the authorly world by pointing out the missing category and earned myself a discount.

Author Donna W. Hill takes time to play with her yellow Lab guide dog, Mo, and his red Jolly Ball: photo by Rich Hill.

Donna playing with her guide dog, Mo and his Jolly Ball: photo by Rich Hill.

My financial prudence as well as my social responsibility sides having thus been appeased, I entered. Now, I wait. One way or another, in eight weeks, I’ll have that review in hand. We’ll see if I have the nerve to use it. Meanwhile, my Booklife profile enabled me to create a project which allowed me to apply for a Publishers’ Weekly book review.

Posted in adventure-mystery, authors, Book Reviews, fantasy, Indie Authors, marketing, novel, Self-Publishing, The Heart of Applebutter Hill, Uncategorized, Wrighting, Writing Contests, young adult | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Bridging the Great Divide: Counting on a Fictional Blind Girl

At the center of my novel, The Heart of Applebutter Hill, is a plot to steal the powerful and dangerous Heartstone of Arden-Goth. the legend of the Heartstone (a blue, heart-shaped sapphire) was inspired by a passage from C.S. Lewis’s The Silver Chair. Refugees attend a progressive private school, fly the Cloud Scooper, accidentally end up in the central domed courtyard of Bar Gundoom Castle and escape to the mystical land of Satori Green.

It’s nice to snuggle up with a good book, says Goofus, a strawberry blonde tabby, getting cozy with The Heart of Applebutter Hill by his Mom, Donna W. Hill. Cover shows cave scene with a hand holding the blue Heartstone of Arden-Goth: photo by Rich Hill.

“It’s nice to snuggle up with a good book,” says Goofus, Hills’ kitty, a strawberry-blond male tabby: photo by Rich Hill.

Baggy, Abigail and Curly Connor (Abbie’s dog ) must find the person who is trying to steal the Heartstone, while dealing with summer school and their troubled friend Christopher. The heroine is a legally blind 14-year-old girl.

What? Wait! Why write a blind girl into a perfectly good fantasy adventure

My Theory About Blind Girls in Fiction

My belief is that by bringing blind and disabled teens into the lives of middle school students and older readers through fiction, we can break down the walls of ignorance and fear which separate us. It can generate more awareness and acceptance of our common humanity among the general public and will be invaluable to those who, though they are unaware of it, are destined to lose their sight. Ultimately, it will cut the cost of programs supporting otherwise able-bodied unemployed blind people.

For those with vision loss and other disabilities, it provides a rare and welcomed opportunity to see themselves portrayed as strong, well-rounded and capable characters in fiction. It is currently available in accessible formats for readers with sensory, learning and physical disabilities through Bookshare and Learning Ally, as well as in print and ebook versions at your favorite outlets.

A Few Things About Blindness

Blindness and visual impairments are low-incidence disabilities. Compared with autism, dyslexia or deafness, there aren’t many blind or visually impaired Americans. Nevertheless, visual impairments are on the rise. In 2008, the CDC projected a tripling of diabetes-related blindness in working-age Americans by 2050. Considering reports of skyrocketing Type 2 Diabetes in adolescents (a frequent cause of vision loss) and the unexpected difficulties in treating it, this prediction may prove to be conservative.

The situation facing blind Americans is fraught with irony. Though Tim Cordes and David Hartman graduated from medical school without sight, and others are lawyers, engineers, mechanics and excelling in many other fields, unemployment among otherwise able-bodied, working age blind Americans is over twice the national average. Braille literacy, despite strong ties to gainful employment and advanced degrees, is low; most of America’s blind kids are never taught to read it.

Many believe that the major contributor to this dichotomy is the profound social stigma surrounding vision loss. This stigma, fostered by unfamiliarity, presents special challenges for people dealing with low vision, their families and those who seek to educate and rehabilitate them. Similarly, it is a major issue for those who encounter people with visual impairments as customers, clients and co-workers. The stigma also impacts relationships among neighbors and family members.

The “unfamiliarity” is due not only to the fact that blindness is a low-incidence disability, but because blind children represent the smallest group of blind people by age. Consequently, kids, while in their formative years before prejudices have taken root, rarely come into contact with blind peers.

Most blind people grew up sighted and are fettered by their own negative opinions about vision loss. Rehabilitation counselors say that undoing these prejudices is the greatest obstacle to a successful transition to living nonvisually. Furthermore, most professionals in the fields of special education and rehabilitation go through their entire training without ever interacting with a real blind person.

The problem has a profound impact on blind girls and women, who have few role models in either the public sector or fiction. Though general audiences have no trouble naming several blind men, such as Stevey Wonder, Jose Feliciano and former NY governor David Paterson, the blind woman most frequently mentioned is Helen Keller, who died in 1968. What other minority has endured the lack of a female role model for over fifty years?

Bridging the Gap

I understand the problems blind people face in the sighted world. I was born with Retinitis Pigmentosa and was the first legally blind child mainstreamed in the Easton, Pennsylvania School District. I have a B.A. in English literature from East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania. I wasn’t taught Braille in school and learned it only after college. Similarly, I wasn’t given a white cane. After I received my first guide dog, I got one, just in case.

It has been my life’s passion to bridge the gap between the blind and sighted worlds. I worked as a speaker and singer-songwriter for twenty years and have three recordings. My school assembly programs combined music with an interactive presentation about blindness and nonvisual ways of living independently. It hurts me that children, who someday will lose their sight, grow up so frightened of blindness and blind people.

For almost a decade, I have been writing about these realities for online magazines. I have appeared on many internet radio programs and have written guest blogs on these issues. I have also volunteered as a media relations specialist for various advocacy groups, including the Writers’ Division of the nonprofit National Federation of the Blind (NFB). In that capacity, I have placed stories about exceptional blind individuals and the issues accompanying vision loss with newspapers, radio shows and other media throughout the country.

Fiction & Social Change

Abigail & Curly Connor, from The Heart of Applebutter  Hill by Donna W. Hill, are  standing in an Oval Opening at  The Castle of Bar Gundoom: photo by Rich Hill.

Abigail & Curly Connor, from The Heart of Applebutter Hill, are standing in an Oval Opening at The Castle of Bar Gundoom: photo by Rich Hill.

Nonfiction and journalism, however, are not the only tools which can promote social change. From Oliver Twist and Uncle Tom’s Cabin to more modern works such as The Grapes of Wrath, Roots and Children of a Lesser God, fiction has played a significant role in raising awareness of social justice issues.

The Heart of Applebutter Hill is designed as a captivating adventure story, in which the reader gets to know a 14-year-old girl who is legally but not totally blind. Another character was blind from birth. It allows readers with visual impairments to see themselves in literature, and I hope that it helps readers – in and out of the classroom – to view people with vision loss as equals with talents, foibles and short-comings, like themselves.

Those using fiction to facilitate social change, however, are likely to encounter a major roadblock; the publishing industry is subject to the same prejudices as the general public. The watchdog group DiversityInYA, monitored the Publishers Weekly bestsellers list for books written by or about minorities including people with disabilities. Their research has shown that diversity in young adult literature is virtually nonexistent.

Blind writers, including me, learn that publishers and agents consider our portrayals of independent blind girls and women “unrealistic.” We’re supposed to be passive, long-suffering, spiritually gifted and most of all, in need of help. After a year, I gave up looking and self-published.

The Heart of Applebutter Hill, which features an intelligent and lovable guide dog, also has characters with other disabilities and addresses the issue of bullying. Despite popular beliefs that no one would do such a thing, more and more blind writers are beginning to speak out about the problem. A UK study shows that children with vision loss are experiencing high levels of bullying by their peers. Many of us think the problem in the U.S. is worse.

A Thought and a Request

A 6 Petal Lily: photo by Rich Hill.
A 6 petal lily: photo by Rich Hill.

Educators, rehabilitation professionals, and other writers recommend The Heart of Applebutter Hill for inclusion, diversity and anti-bullying initiatives in middle and high school, as well as for education, special education, healthcare, theology and technology majors in college. Can you help by reading it and sharing it with your friends and family?

Visit my Amazon Author Page at:

“Like” The Heart of Applebutter Hill on Facebook:

References: Blindness & Diversity in Young Adult Literature

“Diabetes Epidemic Signals an Increase in Blindness, Too” – The New York Times

Employment & Visual Impairments: Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Blindness Statistics – American Foundation for the Blind

Diversity in YA:

“Bullying a ‘common occurrence’ for children with sight loss” – Optometry Today

Accessible Versions of The Heart of Applebutter Hill

Learning Ally: World’s Largest Provider of Human-Narrated Textbooks & Literature

Learning Ally carries The Heart of Applebutter Hill in the VOICEtext format; highlighted synchronized text accompanies the human narration. Listen and follow the printed word at the same time!

Bookshare: an Accessible Online Library for Readers with Print Disabilities

Digital DAISY text, audio and refreshable Braille versions of The Heart of Applebutter Hill are available at:

Recommendations, Intro for Educators and Reference Letters

Professionals in the fields of education, rehabilitation, low-vision care, accessibility and the arts praise The Heart of Applebutter Hill. Read their comments at:

Dr. Karen Squier, O.D., Clinical Assistant Professor, Southern College of Optometry (Memphis, Tennessee ), and one of only 45 optometrists worldwide to have earned the highest level of certification in low-vision care from the AAO, has written “An Introduction to The Heart of Applebutter Hill for Educators”:

What People Think about Donna’s Programs:
Download a PDF of reference letters from schools, colleges and other organizations who have experienced Donna’s presentations. Look under the heading “Download Reference Letters About Donna’s Presentations” at:

Posted in adventure-mystery, authors, Blindness, bullying, Education, fantasy, Guide dogs, Self-Publishing, The Heart of Applebutter Hill, TheHeart of Applebutter Hil, Uncategorized, Visually Impaired, young adult | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Love of My Life: a song for all of us

I wrote this song in March of 1991, between episodes of breast cancer. Rich and I were long since together, and we had married that previous December. To me, this is about determination, and it’s a song I wished I could have written much earlier. It is a song for all who are still looking for true love in this maddening world.

This is me and the real Curly Connor in a stone archway at Grey Towers, Milford PA. Curly Connor, my second dog from GDF, was with me the longest of my guide dogs and through both episodes of breast cancer: photo by Rich Hill.

Audio Player

Lyrics to Love of My Life

words and music by Donna W. Hill

3/12/91, Col. #10, 1991


No matter how long it takes me,
I’m gonna keep right on looking for you,
Yeah, you, Love of my life,

No matter how far away it makes me go,
I’m gonna keep right on going for you,
Yeah, you, Love of my life.

Verse #1

House full of strangers, street full of fools,
Ignoring all the dangers and breaking all the rules,
Here in the free world, more and more it seems,
You can go with the flow, if you want to, And drown in the mainstream.

Verse #2

Pounding the pavement day after day,
So many people with nothing much to say,
Caught in a maze without any clue,
If I weren’t looking for you, what would I be doing?

Verse #3

I know you’re out there just like me,
Searching for someone who’s willing to be,
Shoulder to shoulder, partners and friends,
We might find each other just around the next bend.

Posted in Donna Weiss, Song Lyrics, songwriting, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

Smorgasbord Blog Magazine – Sunday Interview – Human in every Sense of the Word -Ignoring VS. Acknowledging and Obeying My 6th Sense by Patty Fletcher

Today is the 2nd anniversary of Patty Fletcher’s marketing company, Tell it to the World, and I’m happy to have been a part of it since this spring. This is a great article about the 6th sense.

Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

Welcome to the Sunday Interview- Human in every sense of the word.

As humans there are five main senses that we rely on to navigate through this world.  And there is one that we all possess but do not necessarily use all the time…

Sight, Hearing, Touch, Taste, Smell….Sixth Sense.

You can choose to write about one sense or all of them, including that elusive sixth sense we have clung on to from the early days of man. 

If you would like to participate then here are the details along with my take on senses:

This week my guest is Patty Fletcher, who combines blogging with assisting sight impaired bloggers and authors to navigate the online world and book marketing. She and her Seeing Eye dog King Campbell are popular supportive members our community… Campbell is the subject of Patty’s post today, as she shares the bond they…

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The Value Of Commenting On A Blog.

If you’re a blogger , a friend of a blogger or someone who values the wealth of information, joy and encouragement made possible by this relatively new option that people have to engage and connect with one another, please consider the points in this blog and start commenting more often. I know tons of folks who would appreciate it, including yours truly. We’re not anonymous or unavailable, we’re right here, hoping to interact with you.



It’s easy to read a post and move on, andeven easier to like a blog post without reading it.

But stop and think for a moment. How much more valuable to the writer, and other readers, if you actually bothered to respond. Isn’t that what you’d hope for when writing your next blog post? Nobody wants to invest time in writing something that people are just going to skim over.

Not only that, but you will gain more from the post and from the interaction with others than you realise.

You might gain new ideas or perspectives, or you might just end up feeling a little better about life.

It doesn’t have to be a long or complicated post. Even just saying “thank you” or “I liked this!” does the trick.

However, commenting on a blog post is more useful than just propping up the ego of some blogger who…

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Save the date: Sat. Aug. 3. noon Eastern, and join the authors of Tell-it-to-the-Marketing for an exciting and fun afternoon. Bring your favorite summer beverage and settle in and meet some of the finest indie authors around.

Campbells World

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Posted in authors, Self-Publishing, The Heart of Applebutter Hill, Uncategorized, Wrighting | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Author of the Week

There’s a new “Author of the Week” series over at Campbell’s World, and the first featured author is Sally Cronin. Sally runs the Smorgasbord blog, which truly has something for everyone. Enjoy this candid and engaging look into the life and times of an excellent writer and a remarkable and wonderful woman.

Campbells World

Hello everyone.

A week or so ago, I reached out to a few fellow blogger authors I follow and asked if they’d participate in my new guest author posts column, and I’m happy to say that I’ve gotten some great responses. It gives me great pleasure to share with you the following guest post from author Sally Cronin.

Sally CroninThank you so much, Patty, for inviting me over to talk about myself and my life. And thank you for such interesting prompts to get me thinking…..

Perhaps I can set the scene by briefly telling you how I got to this point in my life. My father was in the Royal Navy and we travelled around the world until I was fourteen years old before we settled back in the south of England. There have been a few hiccups in my personal life but in 1980 I met and married…

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