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And lo, there is another writer on a fairly well-trafficked site who has chosen to pull down their trousers and show the internet their ass in an effort to give new writers a complex about if they’re doing it “right.” Because if you don’t write every day, you’re not a real writer, apparently.

Well, as someone who is a real writer by this arbitrary standard of egoist nonsense, I say bullshit.

There’s a lot of discussion about why this advice isn’t feasible for a lot of people, which includes points about working, mental health, energy, disability, etc. There’s also the very valid reason that it just doesn’t work for me. And that’s also okay.

I think in the past, I might have handed this shitgem out myself. And for that, I am deeply sorry. I’ve grown up a lot since then and made friends with a lot of other writers, which has taught me the much more useful fact that there is no one correct way to do this. There’s only the way that you figure out how to best squeeze your brain for word juice, and then dribble the word juice on the page in the right squiggles to make it a story that you feel sufficiently okay for having written.

I know I used to hand that out as gospel because that’s how it was handed down to me, and it’s something that’s actually worked for me. And when you’re a newbie trying desperately to pretend you’re a Real Writer(TM) (because you haven’t realized that you are already a Real Writer and there is no Pope of Writing who canonizes you) you want to pretend like you know what you’re doing–or worse, you assume that you do know what you’re doing, and you’ve found the mystical Right Way, and that will show you’ve got it all figured out. And you may have figured it out for yourself, but lack the self awareness to realize that this is only for yourself.

There isn’t a One True Way of writing. It would be a lot easier to be a writer if there was, and you could just learn it from listening to other writers pontificate. But the fact of the matter is, the only One True Way is whatever works for you to get words from your brain meat onto the page, and you’re going to spend a lot of time figuring that out. It takes a lot of try/fail cycles to build a unique process. And the process will probably evolve over time as you evolve as a person and as a writer, and as your life and circumstances change. I know from many a pantser versus plotter discussion that the line between the two is actually a very thin, permeable membrane. Because people will do what works for them at the time.

Writing advice is best when offered as “this works for me” so it can be taken with a sufficient grain of salt. And it’s not at all bad to ask other people about how they write. It’s a way to get ideas on how to work that you can try for yourself, and you might end up with a new gear to slot into your writing machine that will make things run more smoothly. Or you find your writing machine now makes a horrible grinding noise and just shits out rotten world salad, and you better take that gear back out and toss it.

So I mentioned that I’m someone who writes every day. It is a thing that has worked for me. And I want to explain the what and why, in case there’s anything useful to be taken from it.

The reason I write every day is out of fear. I went a really long time in my early twenties when I stopped writing entirely. And when I got started again, it was in fits and starts and had long gaps. And it wasn’t because I didn’t have the ideas, but because it was easy to have other things to do. I had a lot of mental inertia working against me. I started writing again in earnest because of NaNoWriMo (which isn’t the greatest how-to model, but if you can gain useful ideas from it, then it’s worth it) and I learned that I could write long things again if I just fucking wrote them and didn’t stop. If I got inertia working in the other direction, got myself in motion, and stayed in motion.

So that’s why I write every day. It’s not work ethic, it’s fear. I’m absolutely terrified that if I stop, I won’t get started again. If you do not have this problem, I am very glad for you.

The other thing about writing every day is that it’s all in how you define the writing. And it’s not cheating, thank you, because this isn’t a contest and you make your own rules for this mental game you play against yourself. I don’t write new words on a rough draft every day. Sometimes I write non-fiction stuff I owe. Sometimes I just write blog posts about shit I want to write about, like movies. Sometimes I edit. Sometimes, drunk on alcohol or lack of sleep, I put down 300 words of utter, random shit that I will delete in the morning, and then crawl off to bed.

At least for me, writing every day isn’t some kind of holy charge, it’s a bunch of smoke and mirrors I employ to trick myself into writing.

If you can pull anything useful out of that, great. If not, also great. Do what works for you, and don’t let anyone tell you that you’re not a Real Writer. All they’re proving is that they’re a Real Asshole.

Originally published at Alex Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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The excellent John D asked on a previous writing nuts and bolts post:

On a related note, how soon is too soon to submit another story to a magazine after a rejection. One of them just rejected a story of mine (but included a nice note, which I do appreciate) and I have another story that I think might fit their guidelines. I don’t want to seem overly pushy or idiotic, so how long should I wait before submitting the new story to them?

And I figure that’s an important enough question that it deserves its own post. For more of the nitty-gritty stuff, see the writing advice category/tag.

The first thing here is everyone’s old favorite, read the submission guidelines. Quite a few markets specify in the guidelines if there’s a cooling-off period before you can submit again. For example, F&SF has a 15-day waiting period, which is only in effect if they answer your submission in less than 15 days. Lightspeed wants you to wait 7 days. So does Clarkesworld. And I’m sure there are more, those are just the ones I remember off the top of my head. But you don’t have to remember which ones off the top of your head, because the submission guidelines will tell you.

If there isn’t a specified waiting period between submissions, then that’s it. You can submit something again the second after you receive your rejection for the previous story. And I’d encourage you to do so, if you have something you think fits the market.

I know it does feel a bit pushy to be like, “Hey I know you just rejected my last story, but how do you like me now?” But this isn’t personal. You’re trying to sell a story to an editor, not date them. Especially if an editor takes the time to tell you that they liked what you sent and want to see more, send them more. Don’t wait.

Personal anecdote time: when I was querying my agent, the inimitable DongWon Song, he sent me an extremely nice “no thanks” on the first novel I sent him. I took about thirty seconds to run in circles and think oh god I’m going to sound like a pushy, desperate jerk and then I screwed my courage to the sticking point and asked him: “okay, but would you maybe be interested in this other novel I have stashed in my back pocket?” And I’m glad every day that past me had the guts to do that, because now that’s the thrilling conclusion to my “how I got an agent” story.

Editors, while I think they try as a matter of course to not destroy anyone’s soul, are not there to blow sunshine up your ass. If they say they want to see more, they’re not just saying that to make you feel better. Every personal note I sent with a rejection to tell someone that I wanted to see more from them if I did another anthology was from the heart.

And honestly? Even if you didn’t get a personal note or a “please send more” rejection, send more if what you have is polished and appropriate. The story that got rejected didn’t work out, but the next one might. You don’t know until you send it, and each story is a new chance. There’s no need to wait, and it’s definitely not being pushy.

 

Originally published at Alex Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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Recently, my buddy Paul mentioned the science fiction short story I love to hate, The Cold Equations.


To be honest, if you want a description of why I find the story morally reprehensible, just go read what Cory Doctorow wrote about it over two years ago and imagine me pointing to every word and screaming, “YES, THIS.” But one thing I do want to talk about is that I think it’s also, frankly, shitty writing craft.

Let me take a moment to raise the drawbridge, I can sense the mob lighting its torches. There we go.

I don’t know if I’ve ever made my disdain of Chosen One/Prophecy/Do X Or The World Blows Up stories clear on this blog, but there it is. I really don’t like stories that are predicated upon removing one of the major choices of its protagonist. Particularly the last – no one short of a sociopath would realistically, upon being told that the world will literally end if they don’t carry the Magic Arglebargle to the Forbidden Closet of Trumblebutt, would say nah, I think I’m good. The understandable period of denial on that one is really just playing coy with the inevitable.

Stories like The Cold Equations are that kind of agency removal on steroids, except at the end you feel like no matter how many showers you take, you will never be clean again. The entire point of the story is the removing all character agency so they are left with one shitty, reprehensible choice. They make the choice, story ends, everyone feels so bad for the poor character and the way they were railroaded by fate in the form of very particular authorial (or in the case of TCE, editorial) choices. Stories that spend a significant amount of words building baroque and frankly unbelievable systems just to force a perfectly good character into a corner aren’t so much stories as torture devices.

They’re also damn boring in my opinion, but that’s because I’m a big fan of character-driven stories. I don’t really want to see someone get moved to and fro by the winds of fate while they feel bad about the situation and do absolutely nothing.

That these stories are often hailed as being somehow realistic is even more problematic. In real life, the number of times someone is backed into a corner where they literally have only one possible choice are vanishingly small. Often times, all of the choices are varying shades of bad, but they are still there. You may feel like you have no choice, but that is not the same as objectively having no choices like occurs in The Cold Equations.

This is not to be confused with a character making a reprehensible choice and then justifying it to themselves with the mantra of “I had no other choice.” That is an intensely realistic reaction. People build their own internal narratives so that they are the hero, or they go mad.

Rather, stories like The Cold Equations are an intrusion of the author into the moral universe of the audience, an attempt to force the character’s internal narrative of “I had no other choice” onto us. They quite literally had no choice, don’t you see? You must remain on their side, dear reader. It’s a cheap way to allow a character to do something utterly terrible and still keep the audience on board. To sympathize with them. Because really, if we were put in the same ridiculous, artificial situation, we’d have to do the same, right?

Recently at a writing workshop, a friend of mine was taking critique on a chapter of his novel. (This story is being told with his permission, by the way.) He had a situation where his main character needed to pretend to have done something terrible to an innocent woman. All right. But then he asked if we, as readers, would still like the character if he roughed the woman up a little to give his charade verisimilitude. Okay, but what if he really, really felt bad about it? What if he had no other choice?

That was the point where I interjected with this question: “Why are you trying to make it okay for your character to beat up a woman?”

Later when we talked a bit more about it, he mentioned that he wanted to be unflinching in his writing. Which strikes me as something a lot of people strive toward. I have opinions about “gritty” fiction that don’t need to be expounded upon here. But my question is why, if you want to be unflinching about the badness of the situation your character is in, do you then flinch away from the negative reaction your audience may have to their choice?

When I was a baby writer, I found writing plots that forced the characters into corners so they had to make the choices I wanted, often in the pursuit of being “gritty” and “edgy.” I have since course corrected, and all of those stories have been mercifully exiled into the Trunk of Awfulness, never to see the light of day. But as I look over those early efforts, I can’t help but feel more than a little creeped out. Because in real life, I can tell you who most often uses the “I had no choice,” narrative to justify the unjustifiable.

I didn’t want to, but you made me hit you. Why would I want to build worlds in which there is no choice but the most immoral? Why would I want to convince readers that it’s a something to sympathize with? It’s something that just couldn’t be helped, because that’s the way the world is?

These are not absolutes, of course. Nothing in art is. Nothing in life is. But the next time you find yourself engineering a situation where your character has no choice, ask yourself why. Ask yourself what you are trying to accomplish. And be unflinching in your answer.

Originally published at Alex Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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I would like to make Elise’s job, and that of all editors less painful. I’ve mentioned this before, but the cover letter was the number one source of angst for me when I was first starting out submitting short stories, probably because the only other time I’d encountered cover letters was for job applications. Trust me, they are not the same thing in the publishing world. This is not a query letter. The cover letter is basically just the tag you put on your submission so you’re not flinging a random file into someone’s inbox. A lot of markets don’t even require them.

So let me write your cover letter for you. This is quite literally the cover letter that has accompanied almost every story I’ve sold.

Thank you for considering my story, “[TITLE OF THE MOST MIND-BLOWING SHORT STORY EVER].” It’s about [WORDCOUNT] words long. I’m a [MEMBERSHIP LEVEL OF RELEVANT PROFESSIONAL ORGANIZATION], and have published:

[MOST RECENTLY PUBLISHED STORY]

[SECOND MOST RECENTLY PUBLISHED STORY]

[THIRD MOST RECENTLY PUBLISHED STORY]

Thank you again and I hope that you enjoy reading my story!

[YOUR NAME]

Feel free to cut and paste. You’re welcome.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Read the submissions guidelines, o writerlings. You should be tattooing them on your eyeballs anyway. But if the great and terrible editors want something that isn’t in my form letter, they will specify it there and you’d best give it to them.

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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Say I have a couple of short stories ready. Is it best not to share it on a personal writing blog until it’s published, if ever, or does it not matter?

It actually matters a lot.

There are basically two categories of submissions for magazines: originals and reprints.

An original is a story that has never been published anywhere ever. Even the tiniest of audiences count for this. If you published it in your school newspaper/literary magazine, it is considered to be published and thus selling it as an original is no longer an option. If you put your story up on a blog or forum where it can potentially be viewed by the general public (as opposed to a forum where it’s viewable only to members, and membership is controlled and regulated) then for all intents and purposes you have self-published the story and you can likewise not sell it as an original. Rule of thumb is, if the story is available in a way that could be conceivably considered public, it’s been published. (Some markets may make exceptions to this, but if so it will be in their guidelines. Remember how I said to always read the guidelines? Read the guidelines.)

reprint is a story that has been previously published elsewhere. Some markets may take reprints. Many do not. Reprints always pay significantly less than originals. (eg: if you get $0.07/word on an original, you will probably just get $0.01 or $0.02 for a reprint if you’re lucky.)

So basically, if you share your story on your personal writing blog, unless that blog is only accessible to a very restricted set of your friends, you have self-published it. Which means you can only submit your story as a reprint to whatever markets will consider reprints. (Don’t even think about trying to lie to editors and pretend you never published the story. Editors are very good at the Google, and most have earned the Way Back Machine merit badge as well.)

Generally, even if your blog is friends-only, I tend to recommend to not publish it there because mistakes can happen, security settings can be randomly changed (hi, Facebook) and you could end up shooting yourself in the foot by accident. I’d say if you want to share a piece with your beta readers, use a private forum, or e-mail, or maybe an invite only file sharing service like Google Docs.

What about after your story has been bought and published?

Most contracts will contain some sort of exclusivity clause. For example, this is from the guidelines for Strange Horizons

We buy first-printing world exclusive English-language rights (including audio rights) for two months. After that period, you are free to republish the story elsewhere. We hope that you’ll allow us to leave the story in our archives indefinitely after it’s rotated off the main table of contents, but you have the right to remove your story from the archives at any time after those first two months.

First printing world English-language rights basically means the story needs to have not been published anywhere in print in English, because otherwise you no longer have those rights to offer. Strange Horizons also asks for audio rights because they do story podcasts, so your story needs to have not been published in an audio format before either. “World” means anywhere in the world; they want the story to have not been published in English anywhere in the world, and your story published by them will be available world-wide. This is standard for internet-based magazines, since… you know, world-wide web. For print publications, you’re more likely to see a more specific ask, such as “North American English-language rights.”

The exclusive… for two months means that the story is theirs and theirs alone for that time period. After two months elapse you can try to sell reprint rights to other markets or publish it in some other fashion (eg: putting it up as a self-published ebook). So you also cannot put your story on your personal blog until after their period of exclusivity has elapsed or you will be in breach of the contract. While I doubt anyone is going to sue you over a story that earned at most $720, the damage that could do to your reputation would be far, far worse. Also, please note that the period of requested exclusivity will vary from market to market. Always read your contracts and keep a copy on hand.

Now, Strange Horizons also does a cool thing you’ll note in their guidelines where at the author’s request, they will take the story out of their archive after two months. This is actually very unusual; most online publications reserve the right to keep an archived copy for as long as they please. What this means is that, say, if there’s a market that will take reprints but not if they’re freely available online, you can ask Strange Horizons to get rid of the archived copy. But the thing to consider here is that your story on your personal blog, post-publication, is also a readily available online copy. The more widely available a story is to anyone with a search engine, the less attractive it might seem to certain reprint markets. It’s just another thing to consider.

Other questions? Anything I missed?

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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The two are not related.

Just I’ve been talking to a few writers who are even newer to this than me and I wanted to give some perspective on the short story submission thing. I’ve now had 20 sales, not counting reprints. Out of 20 short story sales:

  • Average number of rejections per sale: 6.85
  • Fewest rejections before publication: 0
  • Most rejections before publication: 20

Keep in mind that my sales range from pro to semi-pro to one that was token payment. I don’t submit stories to non-paying markets, period. I also have 9 stories that I’ve trunked without selling, because I stopped believing in them.

The three stories I consider to be the best I’ve written thus far—Comes the HuntsmanThe Heart-Beat Escapement, and They Tell Me There Will Be No Pain—received 3, 7, and 4 rejections respectively before being published.

So basically, just keep bouncing your stories back out into the slush pile until you’ve either run out of markets (in which case you wait for a new one such as an antho to open) or run out of belief in your vision and/or your execution of that vision in writing.

And yes, I am in London right now. I’m enjoying my vacation already in my most splendidly failtastic style, which is to say I do a lot of sleeping and taking my sweet time at the gym and working at the non-geology jobs and typing on the computer while I listen to the ambient sound of a foreign city. That’s how I roll. The flight was good (I got a whole row to myself), the getting to the rental flat was a comedy of errors, and I can’t figure out how to make one of the showers work because I think its controls were put together as a joke. (The Canadian couldn’t figure it out either so you don’t get to blame this on me being a stupid American. Blame the stupid inscrutable British plumbing.)

You know, normal life in the UK when I’m here. Planning to live on a diet of toast, nutella, and bananas for the next week. Generally pleased with everything, looking forward to hanging out with friends. The pay as you go gym is unfortunately further away than I wanted thanks to us being moved to a different flat, but the space is nice. All of the guys in the strength training room very carefully Did Not Notice My Existence, which is how I prefer it. Except for one guy who made an abortive lunge for the bar when I was doing my final rep in a set of 105lb bench presses, so I had to assure him that I totally had it. At which point he started carefully ignoring me as well, but with occasional sidelong glances just to let me know I was worrying him. I try to take these things as adorable, well-meaning helper fails as opposed to anything more frustrating. (But really, people, don’t lunge at the bar unless someone actually asks for help, it’s kind of distracting.)

Looking forward to a relaxing week before Worldcon!

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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The question is more literally “How much is your writing worth?” but since art is in effect a piece of you that you have offered for the consumption of others, I think it’s a fair question.

In the last day, there’s been a minor blow-up about Random House’s new Hydra imprint. Simply put, the contract is horrifically awful. Cory Doctorow pointed out you’d be better off self-publishing through a site like Lulu.com. Scalzi said the contract would make any good agent’s head explode, and later dissected a contract from the sister imprint Alibi. Random House has now written the SFWA a letter about this matter, and the SFWA has responded quite negatively. If you are someone who hopes to some day publish a novel, you should read these posts. You need to educate yourself about this, because there are people out there (apparently including in big publishing houses who should know better) who want to exploit your work.

And if you’re a reader of fiction, you should pay attention to. Practices that hurt writers will ultimately hurt readers, in a myriad of ways. We depend on each other.

What really pisses me off about this entire thing is that it blatantly targets new, struggling writers. Because we’re desperate, and we may not understand how precious our rights are, and which rights we should expect to retain as a matter of course. As a new, struggling writer, I know how tempting it can be to grab at any offer that will get your book in print somehow, because then you get to feel like a real writer. Trying to get published sucks. It involves constant rejection. It involves waiting for immense periods of time just so someone can tell you no over and over again. It’s fucking depressing. And I know that the opportunity to escape that cycle of rejection can feel like someone’s thrown you a rope when you’re drowning.

Only sometimes, the rope is the tail of a poisonous snake. Or a hydra. (See what I did there?)

You ultimately have to ask yourself what is my work worth? Ask yourself what am I worth?

I can tell you right now, your work is worth more than giving up all of your rights and paying for the privilege of seeing your name on the cover of an ebook. You and your work are worth enough that you should not be paying production costs. You and your work are worth enough that you should not have every single right stripped from you for the full term of copyright. You’re worth way more than that. And your friends who are writers are worth more than that too. So tell them to avoid these imprints. Tell them it’s a bad deal. Tell them that in publishing, money should never come from the author, and we have to fight to keep it that way.

You are worth putting up with the rejection until you get a good yes. I know how it is, man. I’d do just about anything to get one of my novels in print. But I wouldn’t do this, because my work is mine, it’s me, and I’m a financial gravity well toward which money flows.

 

See also:

Originally published at katsudon.net. You can comment here or there.

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A friend of mine asked me for advice when it comes to submitting short stories for publication. Which actually surprised me a little at first, but hey. I’ve finally gotten to the point where I’m dropping things off my cover letter publication list to keep it down to six items, so I guess I must be doing something right on occasion.

This is not meant to be exhaustive (please ask questions if there’s something I haven’t covered) and neither is this meant to be a guide about writing. Here, we’re starting with the assumption that you have a short story that you’ve polished to a golden shine, which you believe in enough to fight for it and put up with rejections.

Nuts and bolts all the way, baby.

So let’s imagine: you have your golden, shiny story. You want to knock the socks off of an editor with the emotional power of your art, and as a result be showered with dirty handfuls (hah!) of cash. Where do you start?

Pick a market.
I use Ralan.com and Duotrope for the most part to locate markets, though I have other ways now. These sites are good places to start, however. Duotrope is lovely because it’s searchable, and has parameters like payscale, genre, sub-genre (though this is of limited use at times), and story length. Ralan is for scifi/fantasy/horror in particular. I like it for its list of open anthologies.

So what is your story? Scifi? Fantasy? Horror? Dark fantasy? You need to have this figured out before you can even really start picking and choosing; sending a magazine a story in a genre they aren’t interested in will get you a guaranteed rejection. Once you’ve decided that you’re, say, scifi, you can do a search in Duotrope for markets that publish that genre, and additionally tell it what length and payscale you’re looking for. (I don’t normally bother with subgenre, myself.) Hopefully you already read some of the publications on the list that comes up, so you have an idea of what kind of stories they publish. Otherwise, when you think you might want to try a market, read at least a few of their stories first. This helps you get an idea of the general type of stories the editor likes, though that certainly doesn’t mean they want carbon copies of their current offerings.

The other thing you should think about is payscale. I advocate the principle of go big or go home. Start with the pro-paying markets and then work your way down to semi-pro, and token. (I don’t believe in giving work away for free.) If you aren’t confident that your story is worth $.05 per word, you’d better keep working on it until it is. It’s hard to get into even free markets. You need to have your best work, work you are willing to set in front of any editor without shame.

Read the submission guidelines.
Read the submission guidelines.

The submission guidelines? Read them.

No, really. Read the submission guidelines.

The guidelines will tell you everything you need to know about submitting to the market. If they want your manuscript formatted a particular way, do it. No matter how magically delicious your story is, if you don’t bother to format it properly, it’ll get tossed because you couldn’t be bothered to read the guidelines. (Hint: most places use a variation of William Shunn’s excellent format, so I recommend starting out having your manuscript formatted like this. The only major difference I’ve seen is that italics are normally okay to be left as italics instead of underlined.)

The guidelines also tell you what the editors want, story wise. They tell you what the word count limits are. They tell you how to send the MS (file attachment? plaint text in email? electronic submission form?).  The guidelines are the source of all manner of useful information. Read them. Love them. Read them again. Live by them.

Do not submit your story to more than one place at a time.
This technically fits under “read the submission guidelines” but I feel it’s important enough to need its own section. Unless a market specifically says “simultaneous submissions okay,” do not do it. Period. And if one market is okay with simultaneous submissions, the other markets you send your story to had better be as well.

I know it’s frustrating. A lot of markets can take 3-6 months to get back to you, or more. The waiting sucks. But too bad. You have to wait for one market to pass one your story before you send it to another. It’s the height of rudeness to withdraw stories once submitted because you’ve gotten them picked up elsewhere, and don’t think editors don’t talk to each other, or don’t have memories when someone annoys them. I’m not guaranteeing this would be a permanent black mark in your record, so to speak, but it’s just really not worth risking it. Be polite.

Okay, this is running kind of long, so I will continue on tomorrow.

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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