It’s Always a Good Day to be Published

Whatever else might happen, it’s an awesome day when a contract shows up in your inbox because someone wants to publish one of your stories.

I’m not a big needer of public recognition (although it’s nice sometimes) and individual rejections don’t bother me all that much (although a big pile of them in a short period of time can be a little frustrating), but when a story comes back as one that someone actually likes enough to pay you for, that’s pretty cool.

“Mission Log, Day 67” will be appearing in the Kazka Press e-anthology At Year’s End: SFF Holiday Stories. My story is a short SF piece that I will not spoil here, but that I think works pretty well (and an editor agrees with me), and will appear in the collection with 20 other speculative fiction holiday pieces, all coming in at 500 words or less. At Year’s End will be released on December 9th, just in time for all of those year-end celebrations.

Now, I just have to convince a balky printer that it’s okay to let me have a hard copy of the contract.


The Green Struggle

“Carlos woke blindfolded, gagged, wrists and ankles wrapped in duct tape, and with the taste of dryer sheets in his mouth.”

It’s an awesome opening line, isn’t it? At least I think so, and I got a compliment on Twitter plus a DM that said it was attention getting. So yeah, it’s an awesome opening line.

The problem is that it leads into a story that’s going to be very linear and predictable if I write it as I’ve rough plotted it out. It’s supposed to be an idea for a story submission to the upcoming “Urban Green Man” anthology, but I’m not feeling a lot of originality in the story I’ve worked out.

My second attempt at a story for this anthology was going to be near future fantasy and include a robot and a swarm of invasive wasps. Has some promise, but the guidelines specifically say no SF, which doesn’t necessarily leave out the robot, but why take the chances. Never mind that I could see several ways to resolve the immediate problem without resorting to any fantastic elements, much less some version of the Green Man.

More reading on the Green Man mythos and some story research. I’ve got the spark of a new idea for the tale, but need to see if I can work it into something both interesting and engaging.

You might ask why I’m so stressed about one story or why I can’t just let it go and move myself mentally to the next project. It’s only 3.5 cents per word (but yes, that’s more than I’ve yet been paid for a story) and there are a lot of other things I want to write. Well, there’s a complicated, multi-layer answer to that, but it boils down to:

  1. I met one of the editors at World Fantasy and told her I was going to.
  2. I set it to myself as a challenge and I’m not willing to walk away until and unless I’ve failed to meet it.

My job here is to write a damned good story and send it in. After that, I’ve done what I can and it will be up to the editors to decide if the story fits. Either way, I refuse to turn in something that isn’t the best story I could have produced.

Yeah, okay. So maybe I’m being silly or hard on myself, but maybe I’m just being a writer. Either way, I’m behind where I wanted to be, but that’s a challenge on its own.

It’s Gotta Rock

So I’ve been watching a lot of lectures and presentations lately about the art of storytelling and story structure and creativity and, and, and… well, I’ve been watching a lot of lectures and presentations lately. Why? Well, I’m still thinking about rejection letters (see this post) and how, apparently, my stories are consistently well written, but I’m still missing something.

Watching all of this video, I’m frequently running into the Henry Miller quote, “You have to write a million words before you find your voice as a writer.” Because I’m a genre fiction writer, I also keep coming you to the David Gerrold version, “Your first million words are for practice. They don’t count. Remember that.”

A million words. Specifically, your first million, more or less, is what it will take to really learn the craft. Well, obsessed with numbers as I am, I have writing logs that go back to when I first started to get serious about writing, on 15 August 2007. Totalling things up and counting new words only, I broke the million barrier sometime in May of 2011. I say sometime as for a while, I didn’t count blogging as writing, so the number is a bit muddy. Regardless, I’m hovering around a million and a quarter right now, so I’ve apparently put in the work to get good at the craft of writing.

And I’d like to think that’s true. Aside from all of the “well written” rejection notices, I think my prose is pretty solid. I’m ruthless in chopping out unneeded words and careful at choosing the needed ones. I can set the scene and I engage more senses than just eyesight and I’ve gotten rid of ‘that’, dialogue tags, and most instances of the verb ‘to be’. Over the past five years, I think I’ve found my own voice in writing, and that’s a good thing.

But I’ve still got a lot to learn.

Sprinkled through those rejections are the occasional comments like “too linear”, “predictable”, “didn’t quite work for me”. Not all the time, but often enough that they’re worth looking at as a whole. And, looking carefully and critically at the stories they were applied to, and a number of others, sometimes I have to agree.

The conclusion: I’m not where I want to be as a storyteller yet.

Sometimes I am. Sometimes I really nail it and sometimes when I do, I can feel it before I’ve finished the first draft. Sometimes I have to beat the story into shape. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how much beating and polishing and editing I do. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how well written it is. Sometimes the story just isn’t there or isn’t right.

That’s what I need to work on.

Consistency is key. So is hard work. I’m not afraid of the latter so I need to apply that fearlessness to the former.

I had a word count goal in mind for 2013. It was solid, and a good stretch, but not one I haven’t managed before, but I’m going to erase it from the 2013 Goals list and focus on stories rather than words. Each and every story I write, whatever the length, needs to absolutely rock.

That’s the goal.

The Three Year Plan, Year One

So I’ve been scheming and plotting for a while, developing an approach to getting published. While I’ve mostly been leaning towards the indie publishing plan lately, I’m going to somewhat divide my efforts

The Year One Plan looks something like this:


Part 1: Short Fiction

Short story submissions will continue. Since the 1st of October this year, when I really started submitting again after a long drought, I’ve put 38 submissions in inboxes of various magazines and anthologies. I’ve so far had 8 rejections, three of which offered some specific reasoning, and the rest are outstanding. When a rejection comes back, the story gets added to the bottom of the list of things to go out (I haven’t caught up yet, and it’s going to be a while). My new motto: keep them out looking for homes.

There will also be new short fiction written, of the speculative variety. I anticipate most of it being either SF or Fantasy, with maybe a little Horror thrown in. These will join the ranks of stories looking for homes.


Part 2: Indie Publishing and Podcasting

There will be independent publishing. I have four things that I intend to publish in 2013 and I’ll say on my own, but I will be seeking help for some tasks and particularly in number 4. These are in order and while I have timelines, I’m not going to quote them here as I need to be able to adjust things based on life, the real world, and sudden changes in situations.

  1. “Thorvald’s Wyrd”. Inspired by some of my readings in Norse mythology, I originally serialized this 13,000 word novelette on my blog and have no intention of taking it down. I have, however, had several people ask me why it isn’t an e-book so they can have the whole thing in one place. Since it needs to be an e-book, it should probably have a print version as well. This needs both cover art and a bit of interior illustration.
  2. “Turn the World Around” is an alien invasion story, sort of, and partly inspired by the Harry Belafonte song of the same title, as performed on The Muppet Show when I was a kid. A 35,000 word novella, or short novel depending on whose guidelines you’re looking at.
  3. Small Realities will be a grand experiment. Tentatively on the 15th of March, June, September, and December, there will be a 30-ish thousand world short story collection. Yes, four of them, each containing probably 5-8 stories depending on length. Think of it as a quarterly magazine showcasing my short fiction. Small Realities may contain only science fiction stories. I’m debating that as SF shorts are only about 55% of what I have available by word count.
  4. “Where the Water Tastes Funny” is a 6,000 word short story I wrote for my daughters and that they’ve pressured me to share with the world. At the moment, I want this to be an illustrated book, which necessitates finding an illustrator, something I’ll have to figure out how to go about.

The intent is for projects 1-3 above to all exist as podcasts as well. “Thorvald’s Wyrd” is already recorded, but needs to be edited. Then there’s theme music and organization, and so on.

Speaking of podcasting, I also hope to launch the “Adventures of Writing Dad” very soon. Across Fan Expo, Montreal Comic Con, and World Fantasy, I recorded a lot of panels and Q&A sessions. These ought to be shared, don’t you think?


Part 3: Traditional Publishing, Maybe

I have three things I’m going to try shopping around this year.

  1. Graceland, a collection of 11 science fiction stories inspired by the songs of Paul Simon’s Graceland album, ranging in length from a little over 4,000 words to a little over 17,000.
  2. Heroes Inc started out as my attempt to write a superhero story with no actual super powers involved for anyone. That’s the one thing that’s stayed consistent through the entire process.
  3. Skip to My Luu is a silly working title that’s somehow still stuck through every draft of the story. Not-too-distant future SF, though I never actually give a year overtly, it follows a group of six just graduated from college students who cobble together the will and ability to go into business asteroid prospecting. At least, that’s how it starts out.

For Graceland, I’m in the process of researching potential publishers and presses now. Heroes Inc and Skip to My Luu both should have access to Beta Readers first as I’m sure there are holes in them I’m just not seeing. In each case, I’m going to try shopping them around for not less than six months, but probably not much more, either.

For those of you with an idea of how publishing works, doesn’t seem like very long. The catch is that I’m only going to look at small presses. While I don’t feel (as some do) that the collapse of traditional publishing is imminent, I do feel that until the big publishers adapt to the new realities of publishing, most of them don’t bring as much to the table as they used to. Some are farther along the road to change than others, but it seems like a lot of them are still playing ostrich with the chain bookstores. The small presses are far more flexible and adaptable

And what happens if I break the six month mark without a nibble? I’ll cross each of those bridges as I come to them, but I can certainly see going the indie route for all three.


Part 4: New Novel-Length Fiction

Because if I hope to publish novels, I need to keep writing them. I’m planning two first drafts for 2013.

  1. Tashiik Dreams is a (probably) YA Science Fiction novel that I’m projecting at being in the neighbourhood of 60,000 words.
  2. Becoming Human, an ‘alien among us’ story with what I hope is a bit of a twist, that, from what I have in my head, feels like a 75-85,000 word tale. Also science fiction.

I’ve also got the first major Fantasy project in mind, though I don’t expect to start it until the very end of the year, or even January 2014. And I say major, because I think it’s a trilogy. Working overall title is “The Godhead” and each of the three books will probably come in at over 125k, edited and polished.


Part 5: Non Writing Tasks

You can read that header a lot of ways, including business and contacts, networking, and platform building. Pick your jargon of choice. I’m thinking about it as creating a consistent presence for myself.

  1. Social Networking. I need to get better at this and by better, I mostly mean more consistent. I’m on Twitter daily, if some days more than others, and I’m starting to get better with my Facebook author page. But I neglect Google+ and probably shouldn’t, and I’m struggling with Good Reads which needs to change.
  2. Web Site. This is already in progress (see my post on BuWeSiMo). I should probably lump my Amazon author page in here.
  3. Conventions and Conferences. On the heels of World Fantasy, I’m planning two for 2013: Ad Astra in Toronto in the spring, and Can-Con in Ottawa in the fall. Both are about the same distance away for me. I’m also seriously considering World Fantasy 2014 in DC, but that’s part of Year Two.
  4. Business cards. I really felt the lack of these at World Fantasy. It seemed like everyone but me had them, published or not, and considering you can do them fairly inexpensively, it was almost neglectful of me not to have them.
  5. Book Marks, targeted by whatever I’ve published recently. I’m debating these as they’re much more expensive than business cards. Maybe a new batch of business cards for each major publishing project? Research required.
  6. T-shirts. Not to sell, but to where to conventions and other writerly gatherings. You can do a lot for not much money these days. Gotta love mass customization.

So that’s all of the basic components for 2013. Yes, it’s a lot. Yes, it’s ambitious. But it’s a plan and I’ll modify to suit as the universe unfolds.

Rejection Letters

So I’ve recently begun to submit my short stories again after a long period where, for a variety of reasons, I wasn’t. Some quick stats:

  • Since October 1st, I’ve put 36 stories in the e-mail to a variety of magazines and anthologies.
  • Eight of them have come back as a rejections already. I’m not alarmed; writers need a thick skin.
  • Three of those rejections were personalized and had the phrase “well written” somewhere in the text.
  • The other five were form letters.

Form letters don’t offend me. A lot of markets have an acceptance rate of far less than 1%. There’s only so much time in everyone’s day.

But I was curious about something, and went back through all of my rejections from the past couple of years. I have received 38 rejections with some variation of the phrase “well written” contained somewhere in them. Hmm.

Wait, half of them also either came right out and said “too long” or hinted at it obliquely.

These two facts together got me thinking.  I slipped into Google-fu mode and tried to figure out some numbers.  Spread across several dozen references, here’s what I found:

  • The recommended range for stories for print markets is 3000-3200 words, with 3500 quoted several times as an absolute maximum. Several sites recommended no more than 2500.
  • The average reader spends 7 minutes reading online, 20 minutes off line.
  • Average reading speed is 200 wpm.

So… 7 minutes = 1400 words and 20 minutes = 4000 words. Freely translated, for a story to be an easy to digest all at once chunk, if published online should probably be 1500 words or less, and if published in print should be no longer than 4000 words.

Now, based on guidelines, online genre fiction readers are a little more focused than average. After reading more than 100 sets of submission guidelines over the last month or so, it seems like most of them cap out at 5000 words. Even the places who will look at stories longer than that usually have a caveat built in somewhere that if it’s over 5k, it needs to be really, really good (i.e. you probably shouldn’t send it).

Again, hmm.

Some more stats:

  • If I include the Graceland stories, I have exactly 59 stories that ought to be out looking for homes. Yup, 59.
  • They range in length from 364 words to 17269, with the average being 4351.
  • 19 of them are over 5000.
  • 33 are over that 3500 “absolute maximum”.

So I have a whole lot of stories that are probably going to be tough to find homes for.

I firmly believe in letting the story be whatever length it needs to be, but it looks like a lot of the time they find their way over the length that publishers seem to want. What’s a short fiction writer to do?

Answer: figure out what the readers want and find a way to give it to them. Short fiction is on the rise. There are more places to send it than ever before and more ways to get it than ever before. People want to read short fiction. But there are also more people writing it than there have been for a long, long time.

Which means it’s time to put the finishing touches on the first draft of the Three Year Plan. Tune in tomorrow and I’ll talk about that in way too much detail.

Things I Brought Home from World Fantasy Convention 2012

A list, if you hadn’t guessed.

1. Virtual friendships made real: I met quite a few people I’d only known on twitter up until this weekend. Uniformly an awesome group, I’m happy and better to have met them all.

2. More new friendships than I’m going to try counting. See point number 1, but also people that I met randomly or was introduced to by other people.

3. Tonnes of awesome experiences. In the bar, restaurants, panels, hallways. And all about the people.

4. Two (or maybe three) semi-crystallized ideas of potential novel scope and I don’t know how many short story possibilities, all rubbing up against each other inside my head.

5. Eight (8!) signatures in my contributor’s copy of Rigor Amortis. I am strangely, still inordinately pleased with “And Yet In Death”, my sonnet opening the book, even more so after one of the other authors, the awesome Renée Bennett, confessed to me that she’d nominated it for an Aurora. Stunned does not begin to describe my reaction to that compliment.

6. Signatures in both of my Sarantine Mosaic hardcovers by Guy Gavriel Kay (plus the memories of cornering him at the Tor party and keeping my inner fanboy under enough control that I didn’t gush too much).

7. This pile of (mostly) books:

Which includes two signed by authors whom I got to spend some time with while there, the awesome Tanya Gough and Amanda Sun.
8. 8.77 GB of uncompressed audio (14 hrs 50 min 22 sec = 16 panels).

9. A hippocampus, sketched in 7 minutes on the table of a Korean barbeque restaurant a few blocks from the con by the talented Rebecca Blain. She felt bad for me that I’d promised not to buy any art and resolved to make sure I had something to take home.

10. A hole in the wall of my shyness in unfamiliar group situations. People who know me will be surprised at that statement, and I’m fine once I get through the initial barrier, but going into an unfamiliar environment with a large group of people I don’t know and expect/hope to interact with makes me anxious and a bit withdrawn. I get through it, but it’s not easy. A little assistance there from Tanya, Stefon Mears, and Andy Taylor.

11. Some awesome conversations with Brian and Anita Hades (of Edge Publishing, Brian wearing the mantle of publisher and Anita being, at the very least, in the running for sweetest lady on the planet).

12. The desire to start it all over again.

Happy World Fantasy weekend, everyone.

World Fantasy Convention 2012, Rough Plans

So World Fantasy Convention, the Toronto 2012 edition, starts on Thursday (ack, the day after tomorrow!), and as I’ve expressed several times, I’m both excited and nervous.

When someone (that’s you, Wendy) talked me off the fence last year, I was nearly at the mental low point of the “my life is far more difficult than I think it needs to be”, and not too far off of when I started shutting off sources of stress and distraction (which ended up being most of the world) to focus my attention on kids and family. I looked at it from a writing career perspective: potential contacts and networking with some awesome panels thrown in.

My writing career, publicly speaking, isn’t really any different than it was a year ago. I haven’t submitted that many stories this year, though I’m working to change that right now, and didn’t send out any last year. But I’m feeling much better about myself and my life these days and I’m making plans for indie publishing and podcasting in a big way. I’m writing every day again, recording some fiction for release into the wild, and plotting out a three year plan for independent publishing of novels and short fiction collections.

But I’m not going to WFC with any networking agenda in mind. People and panels. This is going to be a social/informational convention for me. I’m going for the fun, and I think that’s the way I should have been thinking about it all the way along. I’m going to meet a few people I know only on Twitter and hopefully a bunch of other people, too. I’m going to sit in, and probably record, a whole bunch of panels. I’m going to experience some new food and new places. My hotel is, deliberately, about a 15 minute walk from the convention. It’s a bigger, more comfortable room, and I need to stretch my legs a little since I probably won’t manage anything remotely like the exercise routine I’ve gradually built for myself.

Oh, and panels. There are 21 I want to go to, but surprisingly only 5 conflicts, leaving me with a few tough choices and possibly16 attended. Maybe 16 attended. You see, there are also readings I’d really like to go to, plus the Autograph Reception, the Art show, the Dealer’s room, and a late night open flash fiction reading. It’s going to be a crowded weekend.

But believe it or not, I am a little shy in completely new situations, which this is, being my first literary convention. Someone pull me off the wall, please. I’m pretty friendly after that initial barrier is tossed aside.

Be well, everyone.