Drumroll Please…

Today, everything changes.  Well, not everything

But I cross a threshold today.  Today I am not merely a writer.  I am not merely an aspiring author.  Today I am an author – an honest-to-goodness published author.

Fantasy Magazine May 2011 - Issue 50

Fantasy Magazine May 2011 - Issue 50

My piece, titled “Now Hiring in the Airship Lounge: Fantasy Archetypes Get Steampunked” appears today in Fantasy Magazine

I can’t even tell you how excited I am to share this news.  Obviously, I’ve been sitting on it for a while (for a lot longer than a week), but I didn’t want to say anything until I had something to show for it.  But now it’s here, and I’m letting the cat out of the bag at last.

My article, as you can guess by the title, isn’t a story: it’s nonfiction.  But as is also probably clear, it’s nonfiction of a sort that’s right up my alley, as a writer of fantasy and speculative fiction.  It’s a great little piece on the relationship between character archetypes in Fantasy and Steampunk fiction.  If either genre is of interest to you, you should check it out!

Fantasy Magazine is an online magazine dedicated to fantasy fiction, in the broadest sense.  They publish stories of a variety of different fantastic types, making them available online  for free periodically throughout the month and in an ebook format available for purchase at the beginning of the month.  And, obviously, they publish fantasy-related nonfiction as well.  Of which my article is one.

And thus beginneth my reign of terror.  Today, a short article on the subject of Steampunk archetypes on Fantasy-Magazine.com… tomorrow, the world!  Mwa-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! [Insert evil steepling of fingers and evil petting of my evil dog Shasta here.] You poor fools. There’s nothing to stop me now!

Ahem.

So, I hope you go and check out Fantasy Magazine – and particularly my article and the story it is paired with (Genevieve Valentine’s “Study, for Solo Piano”).

A Public Service Announcement: The Internet is Not Open Source

Picked this up via John Scalzi‘s blog, and I do think it’s worth taking a couple minutes to spread this message (in the viral way things spread on the Internet) so that the offending party is never given the opportunity to make this mistake again.

The story is that a writer who had published an article on medieval-style apple pies to her own web page woke up one day to discover that her article had been… “appropriated”, let’s say… by a cooking magazine by the name of “Cook’s Source“.  The author was given attribution, but the article was printed both without her permission or knowledge and without payment to the author.

But, as though the first offense were not egregious enough, the editor of said magazine proceeded to add insult to injury.  When the author, Monica, contacted Cook’s Source about the error, she got a response.  Oh, did she get a response.  Here, quoted in part, is a snippet from the response sent by editor Judith Griggs:

But honestly Monica, the web is considered “public domain” and you should be happy we just didn’t “lift” your whole article and put someone else’s name on it! It happens a lot, clearly more than you are aware of, especially on college campuses, and the workplace. If you took offence and are unhappy, I am sorry, but you as a professional should know that the article we used written by you was in very bad need of editing, and is much better now than was originally. Now it will work well for your portfolio. For that reason, I have a bit of a difficult time with your requests for monetary gain, albeit for such a fine (and very wealthy!) institution. We put some time into rewrites, you should compensate me! I never charge young writers for advice or rewriting poorly written pieces, and have many who write for me… ALWAYS for free!

And, later in the letter, this:

There, now. I have gone on enough. Thank you for allowing us to use your (improved) article. the only piece of advice I have to offer is that I would watch your email content, it was very offensive, what you sent.

Hmm.  Wow.

What else can be said.  You, Ms. Judith Griggs, FAIL: the internet, and copyright law, and editing FOREVER.  And that, I think, is the end of your career as an editor.  I hope you enjoyed your three decades.

The original author’s own take, as well as that of author Nick Mamatas, are here and here.

Therefore, go forth and spread this message: The Internet is NOT Open Source.  And it goes without saying… What a writer writes on the internet is copyrighted without said writer needing to do anything else to secure that copyright.  Let us pray.  Amen.

Writing Quote: Eat Its Head Off

It’s that time of week, again: time for another dose of Writing Quotes.  I’ve quoted Isaac Asimov here, before, so I won’t belabor you with his biography or lists of accomplishments.  I’ll let the link to his previous quote do that.  So, what does Uncle Isaac have to tell us today?

You must keep sending work out; you must never let a manuscript do nothing but eat its head off in a drawer. You send that work out again and again, while you’re working on another one. If you have talent, you will receive some measure of success – but only if you persist.

~Isaac Asimov

It’s an important lesson for we writers.  We hear it time and time again, and yet it bears repeating, if getting published is our goal.  I, myself, am planning soon (as soon as I get a little time to address a large manila envelope) to send out that story I wrote.  And, when I have time again, I’ll be spending a little time working on a first (and very rough) draft of my next story (or two… I’m contemplating taking some of my old Friday Flash/Author Aerobics stories here and fleshing them out a bit).  It’s sloooooooooooooowwww going for me.  But that’s to be expected, under the circumstances.

Mostly, though, I picked this quote not because it’s such good advice (it is, but that’s not why I picked it).  Mostly, I picked it because I loved the metaphor embedded in this one: “never let a manuscript do nothing but eat its head off in a drawer”.  Fantastic.

Happy Writing.

Editorial Response

I promised that I’d let everyone know what the response was on the story I submitted once I got it back.

Well, journey thou hither to learn the results.

Writing Quote: Getting the Edit

Today’s writing quote comes from one-time managing editor of Harper’s: Russell Lynes.  The story of writing goes, of course, that writers love their own work.  We’re simply enamored of it.  We have to be; how else do we summon the courage to expose it to the world, and even – horror of horrors – submit it to the whims of an editor to consider for publication.  It takes more than a thick skin; it takes a belief that what we’ve written is good and worthy of publication.

So, perhaps, it may come as no surprise that, unless we’re well acclimated to the idea, some writers may have a little difficulty hearing that what they’ve written… needs work.  Some writers might even grow a little hostile to the notion that their work is anything less than perfect already.  But here’s a quote to set you straight about that inclination, should you ever feel it welling up inside you:

No author dislikes to be edited as much as he dislikes not to be published. 

~Russell Lynes

Yes indeed.  If you’ve already gone through the trouble of submitting your work, and you now get feedback that the editor requires changes, consider the alternative. Continue reading

News and Muse on Deadlines

I’ve posted a little retrospective on having missed my deadline today over on the sister-blog. Check out my thoughts on the matter, if such things be of interest to you.

Beat to the Punch

Regular readers may recall a few weeks ago this post, in which I go on about a possible “successor model” to the way publishing is done today.  Well, a friend from class clued me in late last week to this:

http://springwise.com/media_publishing/tenpages/

I’ll give you a minute to go check that link out.  Okay.  Done, now?

So, for those of you who didn’t click the link, here’s the gist: Dutch website “Tenpages.com” has created a partnership with several publishers (presumably Dutch ones) in a venture that allows the users of the site (who act as investors on a virtual market) to decide which books sourced through the site will get published by buying “stock” in that book.

Sound familiar?  If you were here a few weeks ago when I posted about my “Novel Venture” concept, you might be thinking “yeah, that does sound familiar”.  The ingenuity of this site, it turns out, is that, well, it’s a website, and takes that whole “building up a community of investors” problem out of the “Novel Venture” concept I proposed by establishing a virtual place for that community to gather.   Frankly, though, I’m surprised that someone else (albeit in Holland) had almost the same idea, and is actually finding a way to make it work.  I was ambivalent enough about the chances of my idea proving successful that I wasn’t sure anyone would ever try it, so imagine my surprise to learn that someone already has.

The biggest drawback that I see to this site, however, is that it offers writers and investors only a 10% royalty/share of profits each.  In normal publishing contracts, the writer gets roughly a 20% royalty rate (actual rates vary, but 20% seems about average), so a 10% rate is pretty low.  In other words, this is only going to attract brand new, unproven authors.  And those authors, if they grow successful, are going to want to renegotiate their contracts.

From the investor’s perspective, the 10% rate is also too low.  These are the people putting up the seed money to get the venture started.  Although, to really analyze whether that share is really too low or high, I suppose, the amount of the seed money will need to be compared to the amount the publisher is kicking in.  The investors need to be justly compensated for the degree of risk they’re taking on, and it matters which party is bearing the majority of that risk.

Overall, I think the idea is a very intriguing concept.  I wonder if it can work here in the States.  And I wonder how long it will take someone here to try.  I think the idea has to work a few kinks out if it’s going to prove successful: the amount of seed capital needed to get a book off the ground and get a publisher on board, the royalty and returns offered to writers and investors, etc. will all need to be fine-tuned.

Thoughts, dear readers?

Breaking In (Part 5): My Plan

I hope you’ve enjoyed my little analysis of what I think it takes to get published.  I can’t stress enough, though, that everything I’ve written on the subject comes from the point of view of someone who has yet to be published.  But I’ve read a lot on the subject, including much from writers who already are published, though I realize you’ve got to take it all with a grain of salt.

I wanted to wrap this miniseries up by sharing my own personal plans for Breaking In.  There’s no guarantee my plan will work, or that I know what I’m talking about.  But this is roughly how I plan to pursue my goal of getting published.

The first part of my plan is what I’m not going to do.  Realistically, I don’t have the free time or the money to take part in many writer’s conferences, seminars or workshops.  There is a big, annual Fantasy and Science Fiction convention held in my city which I may attend next year, in 2011, but which I more than likely will not be attending this year – not with a new baby and with MBA career-planning in coming into full swing.  It’s not that I discount the value of being able to mingle with other writers or having the opportunity to attend panel discussions with published writers and editors or to chat with editors and start spreading your name or building your network.  I think those things are potentially very valuable, and I encourage other aspiring writers to attend those where possible.  But for me, it’s just not feasible.  I’m still knee deep in my MBA, I’ll soon have a new baby, and my day-job isn’t getting any easier.  With all of those factors, I can afford neither the time nor the money.  So, I’ll have to do this a different way.

So, I’m hopeful both that I was right about short story markets being one place acquiring editors for novel publishers look for new talent and that I’m good enough to break into the short story market.  You’ll note that I only wrote one article on breaking into short stories; I realize there’s a lot I probably don’t know.  But, my intent is to try to get a few short stories published over the next few years (and accelerate my rate of publication over time).  During this time, I’ll be working on the side on a novel project as well.  That novel project may not be the long-gestating project I occasionally blather about (a quick usage note: whenever you see me use the word “blather”, I”m almost always talking about the same novel project… it’s a quirk, I guess).  Realistically, though, even if I choose to start developing, writing, and shopping a different project first, I’ll always still be working on my original novel project on the side as well.  (I’ve read that successful writers have to be ruthless and able to kill their babies – no, not their human babies; their writing babies – but my particular baby has evolved so much over the course of its “life” that it can hardly be said to be the same juvenile thing I started with.  I suspect, though this is as yet unproven of course, that writers can also be successful if they’re willing to evolve and improve their babies rather than giving up on them.)

So, stage one of breaking in to the novel market involves breaking in to the short story market.  Keep in mind, again, that in both instances I mean the Fantasy & Science Fiction genre equivalent of those markets.  Personally I have very little interest in most mainstream fiction that doesn’t have some element of fantasy or sci-fi, with a few exceptions.  Still, I suspect the process is largely the same in mainstream markets.

To break into the Short Story market, therefore, I will be following a few guidelines as well.  First: I will write my best.  That’s a given, perhaps, but it’s imperative.  That means letting my stories rest and get away from them for a little while so I can review them with fresher eyes later.  That means hopefully getting critical feedback from a number of different readers.  The quantity and quality of that feedback are somewhat out of my control, and I’m reluctant to foist my work upon close friends not with the expectation that they enjoy it but that they will do a little work for me for free by giving me that feedback.  Here’s where writer’s groups come in handy – if participants are all engaged in this tit-for-tat process it feels less like getting free work out of someone and instead becomes like for like.  Therefore, at some point, most like after I’ve finished my MBA, I’ll put in a real effort to either locate and join an existing writer’s group or to start up one that works as an ongoing basis.

In the mean time, as soon as I’ve polished a story as much as I possibly can, I’ll begin submitting it to appropriate markets.  How I’ll choose markets will begin first by filtering for genre and tone.  More science-fictional stories will go to markets that publish more science fiction.  More fantastic stories will go to markets that publish more fantasy.  I’ll be starting near the top (based, admittedly, on my own criteria for what constitutes the top) and working my way down.  I’ll be taking into consideration the pay that a market offers as well as my own beliefs about the prestige of a given market.  (There are echoes of my Decision Modeling class here; I’ll have to develop a rigorous approach to how I evaluate “prestige”; I like the approach suggested in this post (and linked word doc) by Tobias Buckell in which he mentions he built a spreadsheet model to rank order which markets he’d submit to, first.)  Tomorrow, I’ll go into more detail about why you should start at the top (or more to the point, and more accurately, why I believe I should start at the top, and why I will be).

So, that’s my plan.  I’m going to try to get some short stories published.  I’m starting with the one I’ve been working on recently.  I have a few more I want to write and a few more that are waiting a new, revised treatment.  Once I start submitting – choosing higher-tiered markets first – I wait for the acceptance or rejection (and start working on the next story, of course).  If I get accepted, Congratulations-to-me, I’ve achieved stage one of my plan.  If not, then I move on to the next market.  At some point during this process, I join and actively participate in a writer’s group.  I repeat this process as often as necessary until I have a dozen or more short stories in pro markets to my name.  At that point, just maybe, I’ll be far enough in my career to start shopping a novel around.  So the goal then will be to finish a novel.

Hope you’ve enjoyed following me on this little journey.  Happy writing!

Back to Part 4: What’s in a Name?

Continue to Part 6 (the final installment): From the Top

Breaking In (Part 4): What’s in a Name?

Over the past few days I’ve been sharing my observations on what it takes to break into the world of writing and get your work published.  I’ve been especially focused on writing novels, and I’m also more squarely focused on the fantasy and science fiction genre markets.  All of these observations are those of an outsider: someone who has yet to really be published.  Some would call me a wannabe, an appellation which is technically true as I do, indeed, want to be a writer.  More specifically, I want to be a professionally published writer, and I want to be able to make a living off of doing that.

But there’s a wide gap between where I am and where I want to be.  So, I’m trying to learn everything I can about the industry and gain some insight on how editors makes the decisions they make on who and what to publish.  So, let’s think about things from the editor’s point of view for a minute.  An editor’s job is a hard one.  There is no shortage of people like me: wannabes.  We love writing, have what we think are great ideas, and want desperately to do this professionally.  Most of us, quite frankly, are awful at it.  Some of us have latent talent, but not the skill and experience to make things work.  From the editor’s perspective, there is a potentially infinite source of manuscripts.  The editor has to tackle that infinity of manuscripts, wade through a sea of crap (remember, if we need to write a “million words of crap” before we’ll start producing anything of quality, if there were only a few thousand wannabe writers that would be billions of words worth of crap; the estimation of only a few thousand wannabe writers is probably, in my experience, unrealistically low), and find the work of true quality that can be polished until presentable and published.  It seems a daunting, even impossible task.  How does an editor do it?

Lesson 3: Editors don’t want to read crap.

The only answer I can see to the question above: an editor needs heuristics, rules-of-thumb, to help him or her quickly eliminate the vast majority of the crap.  If you’ve seen one crap manuscript, you’ve pretty much seen them all.  Many crappy stories and half-baked novels, at least from the editor’s perspective, share certain traits and qualities in common.  So, I believe editors start from the lowest-common-denominator and work their way up, applying new filtering heuristics to each set of manuscripts that passed the last test.  They may start with simple things: manuscripts that don’t follow their manuscript format guidelines are summarily discarded without further ado.  Then they’ll get into the details: does the opening paragraph grab the editor’s attention?  No?  Discard it without reading further.  Does the story provide some new or interesting perspective on the genre?  No?  Discard it.  Each editor will have his or her own tastes and specifics on what she is looking for. 

Mostly, at least, that’s what I surmise about how things work in the short story market.  It is not a real leap of logic to suggest that things are similar in the novel market.  An acquiring editor at a novel publisher may give you more than a single paragraph to catch his interest, but only just so.  The idea, I imagine, is the same.

One of those filtering heuristics, based on some things I’ve read, may be one which the wannabe writer would least expect: the prominence of the wannabe’s name in the industry.  In other words, has the editor heard of you?  One answer to that question can be addressed in part in my previous “Breaking In” post on developing a “Writing Community”.  If there are a lot of editors in your “network” of people you know and interact with, chances are better that an editor you want to do business with will have heard of you.

In the novel-publishing market, there is one other potential source of “name recognition”: the short story market.  At least, this seems to be true in the speculative fiction world.  If you get a half-dozen short stories published in the magazines or short-story compilations that the acquisition editors are reading regularly, they’ll start to notice your name cropping up.  When your novel manuscript ends up on one of their desks, the editor is more apt to think to herself: “now where have I seen this name before?”  If your story was one he or she liked, more the better for your chances of holding that editor’s eyes long enough to give your manuscript a fair read.

Ideally, of course, you would be able to use both of these tools in tandem: growing your network to include editors and gaining some name recognition in the short story markets.  However, one or the other of these may be just entirely infeasible to one writer or another.  The drawbacks of the networking were mentioned last time.  For short story writing,  however, the drawbacks are different.  A writer who is great at long-form writing (such as novels) might be terrible at short stories.  And the reverse can also be true: a great short story writer may be a sub-par novelist.

Ultimately, the lesson for wannabe writers comes back to this simple rule: to be successful at writing as a career, you need to be exceptional at the craft of writing.  That one factor, more than any other, will do the most to improve your chances of launching  a career.  However, it’s really not enough.  Success also takes marketing savvy, developing a rapport and name-recognition in the industry.  You’ll need to find some way to get past an editor’s crap-meter and get your beautifully polished prose in front of his or her eyes.

The sad part about the crap-filtering heuristics is that, inevitably, they are imperfect.  The vast majority of what will be rejected by these filters will, certainly, be crap.  But they will also filter out gems that, on first pass, look like crap.  By the same token, there will be some crap that manages to pass through all these filters without setting off alarm bells.  The bad news for writers-to-be: there really isn’t any better or more reliable system imminently available to editors that will allow your gems to rise to the top (unpolished or otherwise).  For us, it stands only to learn the ropes of the business and do our best to improve our craft.

On Friday I’ll tie these “lessons” together and summarize my plan for developing my writing career.

Happy writing.

Back to  Part 3: Writing Community

Continue to Part 5: My Plan

Breaking In (Part 1): Periodicals & Short Stories

I call my blog “The Undiscovered Author” because I haven’t been published, so take these thoughts for what they’re worth.  It’s been a lifelong goal to get published, and though I’m usually told that my writing is good (how good depends on who’s talking, and there’s a lot of latitude there) I’ve yet to break in.  Part of that has to do with how infrequently I’ve actually made specific efforts to get published.  As my dad likes to say: you can’t win if you don’t play (but then, my dad is talking about the Lottery and, statistically speaking, you can’t win that even if you do play).  That said, I’m going to offer a few thoughts on what it takes to get published.  This is basically where I stand now, and what I perceive to be my challenges.  It is the first in a miniseries about how to “Break In” to publishing.

First, let’s be straight about what I mean by “getting published”.  There are basically two parts to the publishing world: periodicals and books.  Periodicals include everything from newspapers to magazines.  For someone like me, who writes speculative fiction (sci fi and fantasy, especially fantasy in my case) “periodicals” means short story mags.  These magazines, likewise, fall into two categories: print mags like Asimov’s , The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction or Analog and online zines such as Strange Horizons, Clarkesworld or Jim Baen’s.  There are challenges inherent in both of these formats.  The online magazines have much faster response times (measured in weeks) and are rumored to be much more receptive to new authors (a rumor I can neither confirm nor deny, at this point).  But they mostly have very tight length restrictions (SH has an outside limit of 9,000 words with a preference for stories under 5,000 while Clarkesworld has a hard limit of 8,000 words), and their pay tends to be slightly less than that of the print magazines.  The print magazines, meanwhile, have response times measured in months which can tie up a story that is ultimately likely to be rejected for a long time before it can be shopped at another venue (if you obey the rule prohibiting simultaneous submissions, as I intend to).

The challenge for me, personally, is that my short stories tend to hit a length of between 6,000 words and 12,000 words.  I’ve written some longer and few shorter.  At that rate, only the shortest of my stories are viable for publication at the online zines.  My current story runs up to just under 10,000 words, which puts the story in the range the SFWA defines as a Novelette.  Basically, that puts this particular work just outside the range of most online zines (though potentially not Baen’s).  However, there are some pending edits that I will need to make to this story.  I’ve got a few thoughts on what I need to do to to improve it, but I’m not quite ready to start that work.  I’m not sure how that will affect the length.

I don’t intend to disclose, at this point, who I will decide to submit to first (I’ll report when I’ve been rejected by a venue, but not which venue did the rejecting).  If this particularly story does get accepted somewhere, however, I’ll announce that here as well as the magazine that will be publishing my work and any other details I can provide.  That’s if and when, mind you.

I’ll be honest in saying I don’t have much of a plan, at this point, for getting this story published beyond (a) polishing the story as bright as I can make it before sending it off and (b) submitting it, waiting for acceptance or rejection and then submitting at another market if rejected.  Though, I am approaching this a little more seriously than that.  I’m trying to make sure I’m well-read in the venues in which I intend to submit, to make sure that I feel my story actually fits within the corpus of their publication.  And I’ll be thoroughly familiarizing myself with the individual submission guidelines of each market before I submit anything there.  These are common suggestions from the professional markets.  As a new writer, however, there are few other options I am aware of on what to do, either before or after submitting, to increase my chances of publication.

Ultimately, writing a really good story is all I really can do to improve my chances of getting my story accepted.  But even so, those chances are still slim.  The submission guidelines of one market I was looking at pointed out that they receive 400 – 500 submissions per month and yet only purchase 4 or 5.  In other words, you have about a 1 in 100 chance of being on the lucky side of that coin-toss.  You’ve got to have more than just a good story if you want to beat those odds.  As a new writer, the deck is already stacked against you.  To shuffle it in your favor… you’ll have to write a great story.  I mean, transcendent; a story so good its existence brings the very angels out of the heavens to sing its praises.  Since that’s not going to happen, you can try to play the odds, but if you write science fiction and fantasy, like me, there aren’t a hundred different markets to send to.  Instead, you send the story off, one-by-one, to those you can then start over by writing another really good story and sending it off, too.  Write enough of these and send them off and eventually the odds may fall in your favor.  When they do, you’ll have a new tool in your arsenal: you’ll have published author cred.  Once you have that cred, as I understand it, the odds shift in your favor just the tiniest bit.  Hey, it may not be much of an advantage, but it’s still an advantage.

All that aside, my real goal, it must be said, is not to break into writing short fiction for periodicals, but to write novels.  On Monday, I’ll start sharing some of my thoughts on what I’ve learned about what it takes to break into the novel-writing world, from the point-of-view of someone who has yet even to complete writing his first novel.

Happy writing.

Continue to Part 2: Writing Novels