January 26, 2010

My first amazon link

The Love Kills Anthology (Pill Hill Press) got its Amazon page today, so this is the resting place for One February Evening.


A special moment in any aspiring writer's career - their work appearing on Amazon for the first time. Maybe the 21st century's equivalent of the framed uncashed cheque. The framed screenshot of the Amazon listing? Not quite the same romantic ring to it...

January 19, 2010

The Other You - Accepted!

This was always one of my favourite stories of the last couple of months and I beefed up the original 1k weekly contest version to a little over double that and Rotten Leaves picked it up this evening. Unfortunately, their print editions aren't quite ready yet, so I think it'll be only online. Boo!

The Other You tells the story of a less-than-sane man who decides to use cutting-edge (pun!) computer dating which promises to find him "his other half". Is that such a good idea?

January 18, 2010

Retro Spec Cover released

This will be the cover of Retro Spec, where my story Storm On Fifth Avenue will be appearing later this year. Pretty cool, "understated" feel to it. Like it!

January 15, 2010

Stats Check

It's been an insane week or so and I'm now up to 8 stories accepted.

Acceptances: 8
Rejections: 26
Acceptance Rate: 23.5%

That is a crazy acceptance rate and I know it'll fall in the next month or so. Duotrope lists the average at 8.6%. If I can keep mine much above 12-14%, I'll be over the moon!

One reason for the high acceptance rate is that I've been cherrypicking old stories to send off. Once I'm in a routine of only subbing to anthologies or higher level magazines, it'll come tumbling. I'm very aware of that!

One February Evening - Accepted for Love Kills Anthology

Today's been a great day. The Love Kills Anthology should be out in time for Valentine's Day and One February Evening will be part of it.

The story centres around the digging of a hole on the beach. What could be more sweet and innocent?


Leave In Silence - Accepted!

The same day I have a whinge about rejections and Cantaraville Literary Quarterly comes through with an acceptance and Leave In Silence will be in their October edition. Woo!

This started life as one of the entries in our 1000-word contests (grabbed a bronze too!) but I always loved the idea and beefed it up to about 2000 words.

It's the tale of the last silent film made by a major studio in Hollywood in the early 1930s. The studio's main star isn't best pleased by the switch to talkies - but what's he gonna do??

The Art of Rejection

The stats are against us, there's no denying that. You enter this business and you're setting yourself up for a bloody nose anywhere between 70% and 95% of the time, depending on the level of markets you choose to sub to. Write sci-fi exclusively for Asimov and Clarkesworld and the like and you're going to be disappointed 97/98% of the time. Ready for that?

Rejections are awful, obviously. They get you doubting not only a story's quality but even yourself as a writer. "What am I doing?" you ask yourself. "Sending out trite, formulaic crap to be shot down - there must be something better I can be doing with my spare time!"

There are several reasons a story (or even a writer!) is rejected. Editors make a big deal out of saying "it just didn't fit our project" and this is undoubtedly true a good deal of the time. But, but, sometimes the writing is just poor. The storyline predictable, the dialogue wooden, the adjective/adverb dial turned up just a little too much - and a thousand other things besides. In short, it's badly written.

If a writer has a history of publication, they can write, so the problem is more likely the story itself. Good writers write awful stories. It happens. They get an idea into their head and won't be shaken from it, however many times it's rejected and however many times friends brush faint praise upon it with words like "yeah, it's got something...maybe work on the end a bit" which translates as "I value our friendship and cannot bring myself to tell you how Hell-scrapingly bad this is - if you send me yet another, 8th, rewrite, the eye-poking device is coming out of the drawer!"

So then what to do when you do get a rejection. First rule is never, ever reply to the editor. Ok, you can do so but only 24 hours later and only to say something along the lines of "Thanks for considering me." Never ever go into rant mode. I almost did once, then thought better of it. An editor had been ultra uber mega petty and I almost did the same: it's a very strong, satisfying temptation. In today's world of twitter, facebook and endless blogs, your reputation will go down fast than the Titanic should you get into a slanging match with an editor. Remember this: you can't force somebody to like either you or something you've produced. Suck it up and move on!

What about the story, though? Some good stories undoubtedly are rejected because either it wasn't a good fit for the anthology or the editor was having a bad day or has odd tastes or whatever. If you truly believe in the story, it has to be worth at least two or three submissions. After that, it's probably time to get the message!

If the editor gave any detailed feedback, read it, take it on board. Maybe that character is flat, maybe the ending really does suck big balls. If an editor comments on a particular feature that lets the whole down, that's great! You can work with that, make changes. Consider that type of feedback to be a rewrite request, if not for that market, then certainly for another.

There are so many markets out there - you can always sub a story "down a level". If that pro-payment site didn't want it, that 2c-a-word might! And if they don't, wouldn't you prefer that non-paying e-zine to have it rather than it sitting in your "Yet To Place" folder on your laptop for the next six months?

In short, don't give up on a story but don't flog it to death either. Take a step back (with colleagues) and think about what could be improved with it. And if absolutely nobody wants it, well you can always wear a funny Santa outfit and read it out on Youtube. Your mom would watch it. Possibly.

January 07, 2010

A Long Way To Hope - Accepted!

This has been quite a few days....3 quick acceptances. I know there'll be whole months without a single one, so happy to make hay for the time being. This is my sixth overall acceptance.

This story was written for the young adult sci-fi mag Beyond Centauri and while not exactly representative of my normal work, was a quick and fun write.

My long-term aim is to get as many stories published on both sides of the Atlantic as possible by the end of this year with the ultimate aim of getting an agent working for me on the strength of my publishing record. So far, that plan is going very well.

A Long Way To Hope is quite a formula-driven 2.5k piece that follows the fortunes of 30 adults and 5/6 kids as they land on a new planet with the goal of establishing a colony. Only, all their supplies burn up in the atmosphere and they need to show some teamwork and determination to survive the difficult early months on their new home planet.

Definitely one for the kids (it's aimed at a 13-16y.o age group)!

January 06, 2010

On Writing - Stephen King

First things first. I'm not a big Stephen King fan. I find what I've read of his to be a little formulaic and he inhabits a niche of the fiction world (vampires, ghouls, blood vomiting, stakes through hearts, among others) that has never really "done it" for me.

But he's undoubtedly a talented and successful writer and those of us starting out on the trail need all the help we can get and it was with this in mind that I read On Writing, Stephen King's treatise on how to be a better writer, how to come up with the finished product and what to do with it once it's complete.

In fairness, only the middle half of this book was of any direct interest to me. The first quarter was basically an autobiography, how the young King piled up the rejection slips before finally cracking the big time with Carrie. It was interesting to read how even the most successful authors have periods of self-doubt when the going is tough, when the next acceptance seems a long way off, but there isn't really much else of interest in this initial section. The final quarter returns to the biographical tone of the start, this time talking about his infamous accident in 1999 and how he came back from it to produce On Writing.

The middle part, however, contained a lot of useful tips and, thankfully, recommendations I found myself generally nodding along with. This part of the book could have been organised better, King seemingly going for a sort of "stream of consciousness" approach with twenty or so numbered sections existing in a very loose framework that is based evidently upon whatever he fancied writing about that day. It's easy enough to follow though, and never too dense or technical. A pleasant read.

His main recommendations, of relevance to me as a writer just starting out in the world of published stories, were as follows:

Write in a blitz, second draft at leisure. When talking about novels, SK suggests writing as fast as possible while the initial idea is still fresh. Do at least 2-3k words a day. Put the finished draft aside for at least six weeks, then go back to it. I write my short stories in a similar way...get the clay on the table, shape and form later, so I was glad to read this advice. Others craft every sentence as they go along and that works for them. I need to get the story down on paper.

Don't plot. Set the situation and believable characters and let them bring you to the end. The endings should often surprise the author too. This is something I'm doing more and more. I've plotted entire stories, certainly I have, including the very last sentences, before beginning the first draft in earnest. But I've also done it the other way and I think it's something I'll do more and more often.

Simplify your prose. Take out 90% of your flowery adjectives, especially within discourse markers ("he said powerfully"). It's all part of the old "show, don't tell" mantra. Instead of "she said drunkenly", how about showing us she's drunk in any of a thousand different ways. On the same subject, almost all of your discourse markers should be "he said/she said" or not present at all if it's clear who's speaking. All writers, myself included, have gone through phases of using flowery discourse markers: "she retorted aggressively".

Don't overdo the description. King has a great quote about Carrie when illustrating that writers shouldn't go overboard in their descriptive passages. "If I tell you that Carrie White is a high school outcast with a bad complexion and fashion-victim wardrobe, I think you can do the rest, can't you?...We all remember one or more high school losers, after all; if I describe mine, it freezes out yours." I underlined that bit twice. Nothing's as perfect or as personalised as the reader's own imagination....don't go stomping all over it with your own ideas: that's what I took from this part of On Writing.

Cut, cut, cut. The formula King mentions is "second draft = first draft - 10%". This is one I don't think I'll ever have a problem with. He divides writers into two camps: those who add on second draft and those who cut. I'm a cutter from dawn to dusk, every day of the week and weekends too. My fiction writing baptism was in the weekly 1000-word contests we had and with so few words, every one counted. It gives you good habits as a writer and you automatically cut out a lot of the extra fluff that every first draft has.

There were many other small recommendations in the book, but these were the biggies. Sometimes, it's nice to get confirmation that you're more or less on the right road and to always remember that it's a learning process and you must constantly strive for improvements. I think this is a good book for those learning the craft of fiction writing and it's an exercise I wish more big-name authors would undertake.


After the recent two acceptances, time for a stats update!

Acceptances: 5
Rejections: 24
Acceptance Rate: 17.3%

The industry average, according to Duotrope, is around 8.6%. So, I'm pretty happy for the time being, though I know there'll be other bad stretches of consecutive rejections.

Five Second Delay - Accepted

I had my 1100-worder, Five Second Delay, accepted by a UK-based magazine, Delivered today. I made a conscious decision over the festive period to send some of my mixed-genre pieces to UK publications. Stories of mine such as this one, It Goes Without Saying (coming of age over the school fence), A Life Unlived (the baby that never was) and The Full Blown Farce (student meets old, bullied teacher) have a strong, incisive British feel to them and wouldn't go over well in a US market, so it's pretty pointless me sending them there!

Anyway, Five Second Delay deals with a normal suburban bloke preparing for an evening debate on the local radio station. Malcolm Popplewell has not had a glorious life down in the suburbs, but tonight, he has his chance of Warholian glory, just for a while.
Malcolm Popplewell's moment had arrived. Fifty-two years of mediocrity, of not daring to raise his head above the suburban rooftops of Beckenham, of timidness in love and life, would end tonight. Just for a while, he would rule all he surveyed and his existence would mean something and it would be acknowledged by others, at least those listening to LBC on 97.3 FM in the South-East.
This story will appear in the summer/autumn of 2010 and have a readership of at least 17!

January 05, 2010

Friends, Acquaintances, Writers

I was born as a writer in March, 2009. Of course, what makes me a writer comes from a thousand variables in the three decades before that, but that was the date I first tried to "write a bit of make-believe".

That birth took place within the confines of quite a small online writers group, the core of which is still together. The majority of this group is now moving from the weekly contests that tempered them into either putting a novel together or seeking paid publication in anthologies, print magazines or webzines.

Harper Hull (aka Grifter) is my writing buddy operating out of South Carolina. We throw ideas off each other and are working on a big project, which will be revealed on this blog in the spring of 2010. He's had multiple short stories accepted for publication in recent months and I suspect big things lie in his future.

Rob Long (aka Adso) was a stalwart in the group until the summer of 2009 when he disappeared to start work on his novel, which should be completed by this coming summer.

Simon Hood (aka Buttered) has recently had his first story accepted for publication over at Spilt Milk magazine. Simon has also been rather busy in recent months criss-crossing the country on his bike, following his favourite football team and raising thousands for charity in the meantime.

Justin Froude (aka Moist) is our Stephen King, our Peter Straub, our budding Tolkein. If there's a drop of blood to fall, either off the tooth of a vampire or the sword of an orc (do orcs carry swords? this is not my comfort zone!!), he'll be there to describe it in tormenting detail. He has recently begun to sub to paying publications and it's only a matter of time before success comes his way.

I'll keep the blog updated with any other major news about this writing group. We did try and publish a collection of our short stories last summer, but soon came to the realisation that the face of short story publication has changed dramatically in the last decade with the arrival of the internet.

Now, if you want to get your name out there and your face recognised, the path of the anthologies and zines seems to be the right one.