Escaping the Pile: Part III

Well, the two week long fugue of parties, presents, food, ball games, and drink is over, and it seems we’ve stumbled into another new year without too many casualties. So it’s time to return to real life. While we were all busy, Sarah Hans accepted my short story “Coffee and Collaborators” for her debut anthology effort, “Sidekicks”. Sarah is funny and whip-smart; I’m confident she’ll assemble a first-class collection for you all to read. Check back here for updates.

But back on track. Last week, we talked about the importance of respecting a publisher’s submission guidelines. This week, we’re moving on to talk about Market Compatibility:

There are many hundreds of paying literary markets, each trying to carve out their own audience. Think of it as a market ecosystem, with every magazine, website, and anthology series acting as a unique species.

Just like in nature, markets evolve to fill specific niches in their environment. Some are generalists that publish work from diverse genres. However, most markets are specialists who have built a reputation around a specific genre, be it high fantasy, hard sci-fi, urban supernaturalism, steam punk, space opera, etc.

The market I read for established a reputation for horror and suspense stories with a fantastic or supernatural bent. It’s what their subscribers have come to expect. Yet still I was sent stories every week that contained no horror elements. Many of them are quite good, but were incompatible with our goals; so back they went.

Before you hit the ‘Send’ button, or lick a stamp, take some time to read a handful of selections from the market you are considering submitting to. Figure out the genre and tone of the stories the editors liked enough to print. If your story feels like it’s in good company, send it along.

However, if it doesn’t mesh, then don’t send it to that market. This wastes not only your time, but the time of the reader on the other end, which won’t endear you to that editor should you send another story in the future. Some of us have surprisingly long memories for that sort of thing. As I said earlier, there are hundreds of paying markets. You can always find one that will be a good fit for whatever you choose to write.

One of the best tools I’ve found for sifting through markets is the excellent website, Duotrope. With over three thousand markets to search, and a super-handy submissions tracking system, Duotrope will slash anyone’s market research time, and help you keep your queries organized. As of yesterday, they have moved over to a pay model, whereas before they had worked on donations only. Still, I believe it’s well worth the cost.

Now if you’ll indulge me, I’m going to take a moment for a shameless plug. Last year, a couple dozen of us writerly types got together and wrote a World-Building textbook of sorts for authors and game masters of any stripe. Each chapter deals with a specific aspect of crafting a realistic world setting, from ecology, to economy, religion, geography, even the physics of building whole solar systems. It’s called Eighth Day Genesis, and you can pick it up in eBook or trade paperback. Give it a try.

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

The First Hit is Free

Morning all! As promised last week, here’s a sample of what I’m working on for NaNoWriMo. It’s the first 3k words or so of my next novel. It’s a raw, unedited draft at this point, so any grammatical errors are completely intentional, and part of a hidden code. I hope you enjoy it. Leave a comment below if it strikes your fancy.

Any Port in a Storm Chapter 1

 

Giant Fightin’ Robots and Muscle Cars

Another sale to announce today. I’ve signed a contract with Catalyst for a short story set in the BattleTech universe. It’s called “Sore Loser”, and should appear on the BattleCorps website at a date yet to be determined. As a big fan of the Mechwarrior videogame series for many years, I’m really satisfied and honored to be able to contribute to the universe, even if in a small way. Check back for updates.

In other news, I’ll be making an appearance this coming January at Immortal CONfusion in Dearborn, MI, provided the Mayan apocalypse hasn’t left the Earth a desolate cinder by then. Panel assignments will be sorted out soonish. This will put me perilously close to the Ford plant where my beloved Mustangs are built. As I’ve said before in my stand-up routine, I love muscle cars, mainly because they are a physical embodiment of this country. They’re loud, obnoxious, wasteful, slow to change direction, almost impossible to stop, and have more power than anyone can use responsibly. Murica!

Progress Bar…

Day 9 of NaNoWriMo, and day 2 without any political ads or phone calls. My word count isn’t where it needs to be, but it’s moving in the right direction. Contracts for Wererat’s Tale: The Collar of Perdition have been signed.

I’ve taken a break from the oddly coincidental were-creature kick I had been on to return to a high-fantasy, high-seas novel based on a short story I’d written a couple years back. I’m feeling really good about how this new novel is shaking out. The main character is a smuggler who specializes in small, but potent magical packages. Think of Han Solo, except as a dark-skinned, blue-eyed, nineteen-year-old orphan girl, and instead of a seven foot tall Wookie, her traveling companion is a seven foot wide Seabat named Zephyr. Her name is Katagida, and she’s plied the open seas for six years, ever since losing her father to a Storm.

But things go sour for her early one morning, when a routine run from the authorities turns into something far more terrifying as another Storm comes calling. In moments, it plucks Katagida, her boat, her bat, and the only life she’s ever known out of the water and high into the sky.

However, what appears to be the end is only the beginning of something vastly larger, as Kata learns that the world is a far stranger, bigger, and more dangerous place than anyone had imagined.

I’ve read the first chapter of this piece several times at conventions, and it’s always been met with positive feedback. I think it’s time to start posting some teasers for everybody to peek at while I move towards completion. Check back soon for the first excerpt of Kata’s adventures.

Sale!

Good morning world. The week is starting out well, with contracts being signed for The Wererat’s Tale: The Collar of Perdition, progress being made on my second novel manuscript, and excitingly, a sale to The Beast Within 4: Gears and Growls anthology. This is my first apperance in this antho series. Edited by award-winning anthology editor Jennifer Brozek, it’s sure to be a good one. Jennifer actually gave me one of my first big breaks in the business, suggesting I fill the slush reading void she left at Apex Magazine a couple years back. This anthology is a collision of were-creatures and steampunk. My story, “The Business of Ferrets,” centers around a were-ferret saboture named Colin, who is sent to infiltrate and destroy a new, infernal machine built by the invading Steamers.

Publishing date TBD. Keep checking back here for updates.

Sesame Street Under Fire

M’kay. Going to steer a little political here. Generally, I try to keep such things off this page, but in this case, I feel too strongly. In regards to Mitt Romney’s claim that he wouldn’t cut education funding, yet would defund PBS, those are contradictory statements. I’ll ignore for the moment the absurdity of balancing the budget by pledging to cut “unnecessary” programs like PBS (0.012% of the annual budget), while simultaneously promising to ramp up our 700 billion dollar annual defense budget by 20%. Instead, I’m going to focus on the education aspect of this issue.

The plain truth is, Big Bird is an educator. Possibly one of the most important, yet under appreciated ones working. For many decades, Sesame Street has helped jump-start the education of hundreds of millions of children before they ever set foot inside a classroom. The foundation it gives children in language, math, science, and important social skills is simply unmatched in the history of television. For many children with parents of more modest means, who cannot afford private preschools, it is the first school they attend, and at a time that is absolutely crucial for brain development. Sesame Street has helped generations get a leg up before starting class, and continues to supplement and reinforce their education through the early years of school once they return home.

Now, ol’ Mittens almost certainly did what was best for his children by sending them to preschool where they were taught in person. I would never deny that luxury to those who can afford to do so. However, his success leaves him without a clear understanding of how important PBS and Sesame Street is to parents who can’t afford to. He doesn’t understand that Big Bird, the Count, Oscar, and all the rest may be the difference between a child excelling early on, or falling behind their classmates.

Help me explain it to him. If you grew up watching Sesame Street, if you learned the ABC’s from Muppets, if the skits and jingles are still in your head, please, repost this. Show Governor Romney that cutting funding to PBS IS a cut to education in this country.

Reincarnation

Good news, everyone! The site has been reincarnated with WordPress, making updates and general maintenance much easier than it had been before. The result will be more brain trimmings from me than ever before. Maybe this is a positive development in your life, maybe not. Either way, I’m excited.

A few things to announce with the new system. First, I had another sale a few months ago, to a wonderful project called Eighth Day Genesis. In short, it is a textbook for writers, game masters, and creatives of all stripes who want to learn how to craft believable worlds. Twenty authors came together, each contributing a chapter tailored to their own strengths in world-building. My own chapter, Building Worlds in a hostile Universe, focuses on the hard science of life around different types of planets, moons, stars, and galactic neighborhoods. This one was very popular at GenCon among both writers and GM’s this year, selling out of all of our paperback copies. Try it, tell a friend.

Next up is a short story I’m really happy with called The Business of Ferrets. I was asked to write a story with were-creatures, preferably not wolves, coming into conflict with steampunk. I picked a were-ferret, with a twist. A little bird told me it has a good chance at getting sold. Watch for an announcement soon.

I bit the bullet and joined Twitter, and I’m actually sort of enjoying it. Catch the random emissions of @stealthygeek by clicking on the Follow button over yonder on the left side.

Also, because the world of publishing doesn’t offer rejection in real-time, I took up stand-up comedy over the summer. Expect a smattering of videos of my attempts on stage soon.

Finally, as there has been some small controversy surrounding this subject inside my peer group of late, I’m going to re-post a diatribe from my Facebook author page from last week:

There seems to be some confusion among my nerdy friends about football and how it relates to being a geek. Yes, I am a massive geek, and yes, I am a massive football fan.

These are not contradictory stances. One does not exclude you from being the other. Let me tell you something about being a geek, maybe the best part, actually. Being a geek means not having to be embarrassed about the things that you love. It means you can shout your enthusiasm from the rooftops without caring what the mundanes think about it. It means being part of a community that doesn’t judge you for your over-the-top devotion to the strange, the off-beat, the obscure.

So why do some of us think it’s okay to be so dismissive of the love of things slightly more mainstream? I have a secret; sports fans are some of the biggest geeks out there. You want endless lists of stats to memorize? They have you covered. Merchandise to collect? Done. Throngs of rabid fans who will sit out hours or days in freezing temperatures for tickets? Honey, you have no idea. Costuming? Have you seen a BW3 on game day?

They’re no different, and no better or worse, than the rest of us. Sure, the guys huddled around their laptops in the sportsbar drafting their fantasy team may not recognize the parallels to a basement full of guys rolling character sheets, but they’re still there.So stop pretending there are different strata of geekdom, or that some types of nerdiness are less legitimate than others. That reeks of the same type of elitism that so many of us chaffed under back in school.

I am a geek about many things. I wear my Packer Superbowl XLV hat as proudly as I display my One Ring armband tattoo. And that’s okay.