Escaping the Pile: Part II

Hello world. I’m not going to lie, I’m dragging something fierce to pull myself out of the post-Christmas malaise. I’m full of too much lasagna, Andes mints, and seasonal beer to be a valuable member of society, and next week, we’re going to do it all over again. However, I promised you the next segment of this blog series, so here goes.

Today, new writers, we’re talking about the importance of obeying the rules and customs of Formats and Guidelines. This should go without saying, but please, read the submission guidelines of the market you’re submitting to, and make sure your story or article meets it. Pay particular attention to the formatting instructions. Twelve-point, Times New Roman or Courier font, and double-spaced is a good place to start. This may seem like common sense to many of you, but I am consistently amazed at the number of manuscripts submitted that do not follow this standard formatting. And when you’re up against dozens of other stories per week, ignoring simple instructions from the publisher doesn’t reflect well on your level of professionalism.

The reason for double-spacing may not be immediately apparent to many of us who grew up writing and editing on computers, but it’s pretty simple. Back in the days of yore, when dead-tree copy ruled the land, editors preferred double-spacing because it gave them a place to make in-line corrections and revisions that would be easy for the author to understand and change later. While most publications have moved to all digital submission systems, some still hold onto paper. And even among those who do take electronic submissions, there are many editors who simply prefer to hit ‘print’ and make their corrections with a trusty pen and paper, just as there are readers who will always take a real book over an e-reader. Myself included.

The next item to tick off your pre-flight checklist is word count. Most publishers of short fiction work within tight constraints, especially those printing hard copy. As a result, most prefer stories of a certain length. For example, the market I worked with has a hard cap of 7,500 words. This should be self-explanatory, however I returned between one and three stories unread each week because they exceed our limit. This doesn’t have to happen.

I have, on occasion, sent in work that was over the word count limit by a few hundred words in such situations where I’d rather start cutting off toes than cut any more of the story. However, if this is necessary, make sure to query the publication for permission to submit a larger work. It is only polite.

That’s it for now, kids. We’ll pick up again next week with Part III, where we’ll be discussing Market Research and Compatibility. Now, quick, look busy for the next couple days, then we can all go assault our livers during the long weekend. See y’all next year!

Escaping the Pile: Confessions of a Slushie Machine, Part I

Good afternoon, aspiring writers! Today, I’m starting a six-part series on what you can do to kick your work to the top of the pile and start getting noticed. But first, what makes me think I can tell you anything? Well, I’ve managed through hard work and a generous helping of luck to get over a dozen short stories, articles, and novellas accepted by all sorts of different publications. But, perhaps more importantly, I’ve spent time working for the other side as well.

For just over a year, I was a slush editor for the excellent publication, Apex Magazine. During that time, I was on the front lines, reading through upwards of 40-50 short stories per week, trying to find the gems that were good enough to send up the chain to Cat Valente, who was the Senior Editor at the time. She has since gone on to win a Hugo award for her fanzine work, so she probably had some idea what she was doing. I strongly recommend to all writers that they volunteer to read slush for one of the many wonderful publishers to make industry connections, and gain insight into the process. Since working with Apex, I’ve given panels on this subject at a number of conventions and writer’s workshops, which have always proven to be very popular. But, not everyone can attend, so it’s my hope that this blog series will be able to help a wider audience. Let’s get started!

Though writing often feels like a solitary pursuit, the slush pile reveals otherwise. Without careful management, it can quickly grow to overwhelming heights. These stories aren’t writing themselves, at least not yet. There are thousands of writers pecking away on their laptops in the hope of nabbing one of a finite number of publishing slots. Your job as a writer (and never forget that it is a job) is to cut down on the errors that annoy slush editors. For your story to get through to the actual decision makers, and therefore have any chance of seeing print, you have to escape the pile.

But how? There are as many ways to self-destruct a story as there are writers, but the bulk of unforced errors fall into a handful of categories. In rough order of obviousness, these include: Cover Letter Crimes, Formatting/Guidelines, Market Incompatibility, Slow Starts, Where’s the Story, and Haven’t I Read This Before? Today’s installment will focus on the first.

Cover Letter Crimes: In short fiction, less is more. Cover letters should consist of your name, a pseudonym if you use one, the title of your story, word count, and a handful of your most impressive publishing credits; if you don’t have any yet, no problem. Got all that? Good, now stop.

Wait, why are you writing a three-hundred word summary of your three-thousand word story? Stop that. Your last thirty publishing credits? Cut it out, I mean it this time. All the authors you’ve talked to at cons and books signings? Now you’re just making me angry.

And for the love of ink, if you don’t have any publishing credits, don’t come out and say so. Do you want to know that the guy about to cut into your chest is doing his first lung transplant surgery? It would make you a little apprehensive about what came next, wouldn’t it? Well the same is true here. There is no reason to put a Las Vegas sized neon light over your story, blinking ‘Unpublished Author’ before the eyes of the person who is about to read it. Clear enough?

We’ll continue next week, (provided the world didn’t end) with the next segment focusing on formatting and the importance of reviewing guidelines. If you have any questions about this week’s topic, please don’t be shy. Stick them in the comments.

Rat on the Run

Hello, everyone! Some exciting things to report today. A couple weeks ago, in a fit of creativity, I wrote a short story in a day. “Coffee and Collaborators” was the result, written with an anthology invite in mind. It tells the tale of the sidekicks of the world’s most beloved superhero, and it’s most dangerous super-villain, as they meet covertly to keep their power-mad bosses from destroying the Earth. Sparks and bullets fly in this action comedy. I really love it, and I have a feeling it will find a home somewhere soon. Stay tuned.

Even more exciting is the status of my first novella. The third book in Shane Moore’s popular Wererat’s Tale series, “The Collar of Perdition” is on schedule for a February release. The provocative cover art is finished, with Terry Naughton of Disney fame providing the brush. I’ve been given the green-light to wet your appetite for Kellacun’s latest adventure with a sneak peek.

So please, feast your eyes on the first exciting scene from The Wererat’s Tale: The Collar of Perdition:

Wererat III Sample