I complained to my mother the other day because I had just received another raft of rejections and was being ignored by a whole load of other agents and publishers. I’m “only” selling short stories, despite having sent out queries for my dark urban fantasy anthology 81 times this year and my Young Adult space opera novel 100 times.
Not to mention the 135 submissions for 70 different short stories, for which I have recently received my ninth acceptance this year.
Now, my mother is my greatest fan at the moment, despite telling me that my stories are “weird” and asking whether people are interested in reading such strange tales.
Anyway, while I was getting ready for bed that evening, I realised that I’ve been looking at things the wrong way around.
Many of my writing idols (Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C Clarke, Harlan Ellison, HP Lovecraft, to name but a few) started as short story writers. They only later became recognised for the quality of their stories. Some went on to become novelists, while others preferred to stay with shorter stories.
The thing is, they had to establish themselves with a body of work in the pulps before they achieved recognition. Nowadays, there are far more science fiction, fantasy, and horror magazines than when they started. The possibilities of online magazines, eBooks, POD paperbacks, and hardbacks are fantastic, even if you aren’t self-publishing. Small, indie publishers are on the lookout for writing to fill their books. And the readership is hungry for it.
Moreover, some of their earliest novels weren’t novels at all.
I’m thinking of I, Robot by Isaac Asimov, in particular. It tells a series of separate, interconnected tales about the rise of the robots and Dr. Susan Calvin, the robopsychologist who aided in that rise. This would be classified as an episodic novel nowadays, much as George R R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire tells the stories of Westeros and the struggles for the Iron Throne.
I mention this because my YA space opera novel Shuttlers is very much in the same vein. Not to mention that the first dark urban fantasy anthology functions as well as an episodic novel as it does as an anthology. Even the three later volumes show a progression of the recurring characters and themes.
As for weird, here are a couple of examples of the themes of some of my recently accepted stories:
• A descendant of Viktor Frankenstein uses his ancestor’s secrets to exact his revenge.
• The victims of a serial killer get their revenge on the night before his execution.
• A young female ghoul goes out to a Christmas fair and meets that special someone.
• A hero’s job is to defend his city against unnatural and supernatural foes, but he can’t remember that.
As you can see, bizarre stories indeed. It seems, however, that readers want weird stories. The weirder, the better.
So, I’m going to keep on plugging away until someone recognises my merits and I get those contracts for my longer works.
I’m a ‘Pantser’ (aka ‘Discovery Writer’), meaning that I write ‘by the seat of my pants’.
In other words, I have no idea what I’m writing until I’ve written it. Give me a picture or a writing prompt (a sentence, a phrase… heck, even a word will do) and let me loose. I can come up with something in twenty minutes, 400-500 words to create a new story. I don’t stop there, of course. Those few words can turn into four or five thousand, or more. The next day or week, the Muse will strike again, and I’ll finish it off, creating something weird, wonderful or just plain odd.
Once I’m done, then comes the hard part: turning it into something good. I’ve had to learn that what I wrote initially is only the beginning. Read, revise, edit, wash, rinse, repeat. And repeat. And repeat… There are some stories I’ve gone over dozens of times, and I’ll still find something to improve, on occasion.
So it is that I’ve self-published a self-help book, written dozens of short stories, completed a novel, and am still working on two more. My genres cover science fiction, fantasy, urban fantasy, horror, humour (very dark), noir, detective fiction, fairytales and fairy stories. Often more than one in a single tale… Oh, and there’s a second self-help book in the works, too.
I came to writing fairly late in life, but that ain’t going to stop me now. As Harlan Ellison once said, “A writer is some poor schmuck who can’t help putting words on paper.” That’s me, because I’ve already written over a million words since I began. I’ll be done when they peel my cold, dead fingers off my keyboard.
Mind you, given the kinds of stories I write, that will probably be because one of the monsters I created finally finished me off!
Admin Note: Writing may be a lonely task, but writers are not alone, as this wonderful article that Elaine Marie Carnegie has written shows. The words of these authors and those from Elaine prove that mentoring, support, and friendship are what binds us together.
Enjoy this article and please visit the links and learn more about the people and organizations that support us all.
OUR THANKS TO WRITERS SUPPORTING WRITERS
Elaine Marie Carnegie
WOW! I have been so grateful for my friends in the Writing Communities during the moments of being housebound, separated from my family and kiddos… amid the loneliness and uncertainty there has always been someone to turn to. (For me…you know who you are, and I love you. Shout out to Jesu @Barrio Blues for publishing my first ever short story this year!) I was trying to think of a way to say thank you to the #WritingCommunity as a whole and I queried fellow authors for some ideas and the response was just overwhelming!
I am going to feature Grant Hudson, Clarendon House Publications, Spillwords Pressand Writers Unite!Facebook Community. There are so many more, and though I couldn’t feature all of you, that does not make your contribution less significant. Every Author, publisher, editor and friend who takes the time to encourage and support those who bring light into the world… Thank you, we are grateful. Below the feature are tributes from Authors to those who support and encourage them, teach and publish them. Kudos to you all for that friendship. For taking the time to help and support. For caring about us and what we do and for helping us feel and experience that care. We love you! We say thank you! And… we write!
Your effort becomes the pebble in the pond that sends out ripples into time. For those you touch, touch others and that touch even more and so it goes without end and we are aware of it, cherish it and thank you for it. So…
“Author, Poet, Artist, Mentor, Editor, Educator, Humorist, Entrepreneur. Hello, my name is Grant Hudson and what you will see on these pages is a reflection of who I am, my interests, and what I can do for you. I am a published author and poet, have over 5,000 items of merchandise available featuring my artwork, have edited and published many books, taught many people, made many more laugh (education and laughter go well together) and have delved into business on many levels. Some of you will see yourselves or part of yourselves here.” I love the last sentence because it is so true!
Next up Spillwords Press the online source for good literature! In their own words: “At Spillwords Press, we espouse the philosophy that words matter, and imagination is the seed of accomplishment. When you join Spillwords, you will gain a door to the world not only through our website but also via social media. Once you submit your original content, our team of editors will ensure your work is presented responsibly in addition to crafting a visually compelling presentation of each work. Our mission is to give both, published and independent writers, a place where their works can have the proper exposure to readers, writers, other literary communities as well as publication firms around the world. Our passion and commitment to writers and readers began in 2015 with the promise to be the true free press of the people. With each passing day we reaffirm our vision of being the voice from New York City to the world.
Writers Unite! is the very first writing group I ever joined. This group gave me the courage to apply for a job at a Newspaper that changed my life! With a whopping 77,931 total members, they are a haven to support and encourage writers at all levels of knowledge and experience. WU! encourages writers to share their writing, receive and provide constructive feedback, and answer questions posted by members related to their writing. They have a website and are intensively active in promoting and educating their members.Writers Unite! On the Web: Writers Unite! Worldwide: Twitter: They have a variety of submission avenues and daily, weekly and monthly exercises for their community. They sponsor a Book Club and Workshops as well as Contests and Anthologies. Their Guest Blog publishesMember submitted articles about writing and WU! promotes the articles across all of their platforms. They are a cornucopia of information for perfecting our craft!
Before we start on the tributes there were two others frequently mentioned as friend and mentor. I would like to recognize them now. Steven Carr, Author of so many books and stories I just linked his Amazon Page. He developed Sweetycat Press which is closing this month and has just successfully launched Short Story Town, an online Magazine.
The second is Dennis Doty, mentioned as mentor, editor and friend. I don’t know Mr. Doty as I do Steve Carr but I feel certain I will like him. His website, About Dennis Doty,has a distinctly western sort of feel and I’m, of course, from Texas. He is publisher of Saddle Bag Dispatches.
AND HERE ARE THE AUTHORS IN THEIR OWN WORDS:
I asked them to name the 3 persons/entities most helpful in their career/publication and why?
First, I should mention Umair Mirxa from Dastaan World who was the first to publish a story of mine, about three years ago. Then there is Steve Carr, of course, who has helped me promote my writing. Also, there’s Douglas Brown, who has been my critique partner since I got into self-publishing and who helped me with my book descriptions and short stories.
D. K. Lukman is an author of Cozy Mysteries for Children. She challenged me to “publish or perish”. She explained, if I was going through the effort to improve my writing skills, and learn about the business, I should be of the mindset to seek publication of my stories. Dennis Doty He befriended me when I first started sending submissions. When they did not get accepted, he reviewed my work and explained that even though the story was good, it needed polishing (editing) because the publisher wasn’t going to do it. This was one of the lessons no one tells you about when you start out trying to become a professional, even though looking back it seems so obvious. He later set up shop as a professional editor, I became one of his clients and have never looked back. I would also like to recognize, Grant Hudson, because even though he wasn’t the first to ever publish my work, he was the first to believe in me enough to publish many of my stories, and also tell me, “No,” meaning the submitted stories weren’t always going to be a slam dunk.
Spillwords ran my very first published poem, and they’ve been very supportive of my writing, running an author’s interview and my ongoing musical poetry series, “Backbeat Poetry.” They do excellent work curating their submissions, pairing images to their published works, and using social media, including Facebook and Twitter, to promote their authors and works. Red Planet Magazine: A speculative fiction magazine that’s run one of my poems in all but one of their issues thus far over the past 18 months. Excellent short stories, poems, and graphic art; with a skilled editor offering just the right level of advice to hone pieces. Steven Lester Carr:A prolific short story writer in his own right, Steve has really gone the distance to help promote and advance upcoming writers while his latest venture, Short Story Town, is rapidly shaping up as a premier habitat for quality short stories and narrative poems. Academy of the Heart and Mind: Emphasis on works dealing with beauty and intellect – an opportunity for poets to spread their wings and soar the currents with uplifting work. Write Away Magazine based in England and focusing on song lyrics, Write Away places emphasis on the words, meaning, and message of its contributors’ lyrics – pieces need not be set to music, although the magazine provides links to any on-line demos or performances of the lyrics it publishes. Monthly, now entering its third year of publication, over 10,000 readers world-wide. Clarendon House Books/Grant Hudson: Publishes short story and poetry anthologies. Grant is a well-experienced and respected publisher who looks for the craft in the pieces he chooses to publish. Always ready with insightful feedback on submissions, even those he chooses not to publish. Books are available through major online retailers. The Writers Club at GreyThoughts: Another highly supportive, curated site giving writers a platform to display their works; does considerable social media promotion of its authors and works.
Deborah Ratliff Creator of Writers Unite!: My fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Jewel Maxwell, was the initial spark that led me to write. She told tales of her childhood in Alabama with such rich detail that her life played out in my imagination and spurred me to create words for the imaginations of others. When I was sixteen, my father handed me the first book in John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee series and told me that I would learn all I needed to know about life from this author. Not only was he right about life’s lessons, but MacDonald’s realistic character development greatly impacted my writing. However, the strongest influence in my journey to become a writer was my father, who gifted me with the joy of reading. We spent hours discussing books, and each moment was a treasure.
Wow there are so many!!! Hard to narrow them down! Black Hare Press is so prolific with opportunities to publish. Black Ink Press and Ravenand Drake are fast coming up the ranks of Indie Publishers with wonderful Ideas for Anthologies.Spillwords, CafeLit,and Potato Soup Journal are wonderful literary online magazines. Terror House Magazine has been so supportive of stories, as well as Impspired. Jolly Horror Press. Though I have never had a story accepted by the Publisher, Jonathan Lambert took the time to edit the first three pages of my manuscript. He loved the story, but I was still very new at writing. That he took the time and explained why he didn’t accept the manuscript and did that work, stuck with me as well as what he taught me.
First was Author Greg Krojacreally helped me learn how to design covers for free and format a book on Amazon. He’s brilliant and a wealth of knowledge! SciFi Roundtable is probably the best group out there for encouraging SciFi/Fantasy authors. Writers’ Co-Op is a great place to bat around ideas and get feedback on the message board.
Okay, well let’s start with the Writing Bad FB group. It’s a supportive community of writers and where I first found out about the indie publishing community and came across my first Call for Submissions. That brings me to Stormy Island Publishing, the first company I ever published with. They are one of the only publishers to pay for a story and send you a free physical copy. Even though they are on hiatus now, the people I met there still support and encourage me as a writer. I should give a shout-out toBlack Hare Press,I think they have published more of my stories than anyone else and my only solo publication. They’re going through a bit of a transition period right now but hopefully, everything will settle down eventually.
Although I belong to many writing groups Writing Bad was my stepping stone. It’s also the first group I recommend. It has many helpful people and can also thicken your skin when it comes to critiquing. Pixie Forest Publishing is a wonderful publisher and realizes the struggles of all indie authors. They are always encouraging and a pleasure to work with. United Faedom Publishing works with its authors and offers discounted editing services to struggling indie authors on a budget. Writing Bad Promotions is a great group to advertise your work, just be sure to follow the posting guidelines. Clean and Speculative Friction is a wonderful FB group. I’ve heard good things about Dragon Soul Press and know many authors who have published with them. Jensen Reed is an amazing author with the ability to give an honest critique. She is one of my trusted beta readers. She and Olivia London (Stormy Island Publishing) are as close to me as sisters, and I seriously couldn’t live without them. They helped me tremendously through my career and even in personal dark times. Help is out there, and if you are lost, find me I’ll point you in the right direction. 😉
I was fortunate to become friends with Chuck Bartok, who noticed my work on my Memoir that I shared on Facebook. He got in touch with me through private messenger about setting up a website and publishing my Memoir. Chuck had connections with a publisher named Anthony R. Michalski of Kallisti Publishing Co. Anthony did my book covers and set up my files for paperback and ebooks, then taught me how to upload files and book covers and I self-published my books, which became a four-book Memoir. I was invited by Carmen Baca, an author and amazing friend, to join two groups on Facebook, Inner Circles Writer’s Group created by Grant Hudson and SweetyCat Press (Closing) created by Steven Lester Carr. These two groups offered opportunities to submit to Anthologies and I was fortunate to have my short stories be accepted and published into several books.
My first response is Grant Hudson of The Inner Circle Writers Group. He published my last 3 books & is ready to publish more if I ask. He also publishes several anthologies and two magazines annually. We members get the first chance at publishing in those. Second is a tie between Writers Unite!, run by Deborah Ratliff, andThe Dark Void, run by Aditya Deshmukh, one of the best editors I’ve worked with. They also publish annual anthologies and have accepted my works for several publishing this year. My last is the publisher of Somo En Escrito Magazine and Press, Armando Rendón. He and his assistant editor, Scott Duncan, promote and publish my works. All I mentioned are professional, qualified, and talented at what they do. They make publishing and marketing rewarding.
The late acclaimed author Edna Bell-Pearson. We met through the Kansas Authors Club and were close friends for years, beta-read our manuscripts, and critiqued and edited each other’s work. She was 100 years of age when she passed. I miss her and her input terribly.
The poet Ronda Miller, state president of The Kansas Authors Club. A close friend and supporter of my writing. She’s reviewed my books for me and taken photos of me to post on the internet during readings, etc., and promoted my work on Facebook and other social media outlets. A super connection to the literary scene regionally. Finally, the writer and the publisher of Anamcara Press, Maureen Carroll. We’re friends through the Kansas Authors Club. Last year she published my poetry collection Star Chaserand did a superb job with the whole project and the promotion. I owe her big time for getting my work out there after years of manuscript rejections.
I am very grateful to everyone who has helped me along the way in my literary journey.
I would be amiss if I did not start with Michael Lee Johnson an experienced poet from Illinois. He was the one who first encouraged me to start to submit my work to publications, and has been a great friend ever since. He has multiple Facebook Group Pages dedicated to helping promote writers of all genres. The next great influence that came along for me was Raja Williams. She was the creator of CTU [Creative Talents Unleased] Publishing,(Closed) and published my book “Words Spill Out, and my next two books by my hiring her privately to do the hard stuff for me.Grant Hudson(from the UK) the editor of Clarendon House Publishing, the Inner Circle Writers’ Magazineand Facebook Page published my works in several anthologies, and published my book “And Still I Had These Dreams.” He also made me the featured writer on the cover of the Inner Circle Writers’ Magazine complete with an interview. And lastly (but far from least), is Steve Cawte (from the UK), the editor of Impspired Magazine, who not only published many of my poems in his e-mag, but also contacted me to publish my most recent poetry book. I was honored to be among some of his first writers for that press. He also has a radio interview show “Word Perfect” on Siren Radio in the UK. I was honored to have my first ever recorded interview with him (where everyone could hear my raspy old lady’s voice for the first time)!
I must give credit to a few people who have helped me in my quest to become a published writer. First and foremost, Steve Carr, I consider him to be my mentor and friend. If he had not encouraged me to send my first story in and given me the location to do so, I’m not sure I would have managed yet. I also used his book, Getting Your Short Stories Published: A Guidebook. Next would be Umair Mirxa. He was the managing editor at the magazine I sent that story to for publication. Umair accepted it and that gave me the confidence to continue to pursue writing. I will never forget that first acceptance email. Many tears of joy were shed by me. And last but not least, I would have to credit two people: Grant Hudson with his immense knowledge of the industry, writing, English, editing, and more. And Dennis W. Doty, my editor. He worked hard to teach me where my issues were in my writing, what I was missing, what to never do, and how to make things right. It was because of his experience and knowledge that I am an editor myself now. But my passion remains writing and always will.
Although writing and publishing is mostly a solitary endeavor, others do help to make the journey easier, and those connections are very valuable. I have self-published twenty-five books through KDP/Amazon, and they have been very easy to use. They walk you through each step as you publish, and you retain complete control over every step. I have been very happy with them and recommend them. The two groups other than Writers Unite! that have helped me the most are Cops and Writers, and Trauma Fiction. Cops and Writers has many police and law-enforcement personnel to help answer questions related to cops, law enforcement, crime, and police procedures. Trauma Fiction has many medical personnel to help answer questions related to health, illness, hospitals, trauma, and injuries. Both groups are incredibly helpful in answering questions which helps to keep my writing realistic. The connections we make in helping each other are highly valuable, in both helping with writing and in making strong, supportive, author and friend connections. I truly believe the more we help each other, the more we all succeed.
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About Elaine Marie Carnegie
Elaine Marie Carnegie, a Paralegal, and PI worked as a Newspaper Journalist for many years, then a part-time history and foodie columnist for a decade before accepting a publishing partnership; then opening her own SPPublishing and Author Services. She worked with both the FBI and Texas Rangers, has written for Discovery ID, and works for the PI in a consultant capacity today. Her articles have been used in the Texas Legislature, utilized in regional Texas school systems, published in both print and online venues, magazines and anthologies as well as in charity and collaborative projects. She is a published short story author and poet. Her first novel is in the works, “The Path of Totality.” Elaine makes her home in the idyllic East Texas Piney Woods… on a private lake, doing what she loves and living her best life!
Please visit Elaine on her blog and check out her great blog series A Writer’s Journey-Write Everyday where authors reveal their path to this creative journey called writing!
What is ‘a pantser’? Well, we are the writers that ‘go with the flow’ of our ideas without a set process.
Quite a few authors have a set of rules in writing out their plot and characters from start to finish in bullet points or another form before writing the actual book.
What we do is, in general, get an idea, but don’t work it out into detail before the writing process. I call it, as I have said before, go with the flow.
Some might say the characters tell the story and guide them throughout the story.
Others would say they have a muse telling them what to write without giving you a clue about the ending.
Don’t get me wrong, there needs to be a general idea obviously. There are no set ‘rules’ for how each and every author writes. All writers have their own process; no two are alike.
My personal process:
I write the first chapter without any idea of plot. My MC (main character) is only a vague character at this point. In my mind the characters get clearer as I write the next chapter. Then I start procrastinating for a few days about where this first chapter could go.
More than one scenario, with some research each, get written down on paper. If another one comes to mind one or half of another one gets scratched. When I think I have a plot, very vague still mind you, I start writing the next few chapters and then the muse comes into play. He or she, mostly she as my main character is a she as well, comes up with an idea, which I don’t have much time to work out. Bullet points are quickly noted. Problem here is that the new plot, yes, a totally new plot, doesn’t always work with what I have written yet.
I have to go back, not to edit, but to change some settings or another character. I will get the need to slap my muse around, but most of the time the new idea is better.
While writing I suddenly get stuck. Not necessarily writer’s block, but more like my vague plot needs some more detail. That is when the proverbial light bulb lights up.
Now, obviously, I get too many ideas and need to eliminate. Again, this process needs to happen fast, as my memory doesn’t work very well.
If I am still stuck, because my muse has a problem with my final idea, I chat with other writers or family or friends. They come up with ideas that my muse changes into something else, because suddenly she is happy with a certain idea that got triggered by chatting with everyone.
A perfect example was when my main character got stuck in the head of a unicorn and I didn’t know how to get her back out. What I did was talk to my teenage stepdaughter and her friend. They came up with one idea after the other, which led to another idea from my muse. This was my published book.
My recent book got some ideas from them as well, as I needed help with writing the diary of a twelve-year-old, which they are. Throughout all the ideas I got the light bulb thing again. Another idea about the plot suddenly became clear.
Basics of a pantser: no set plot, working with the characters, being open for changes throughout your story, and allowing the story to guide you.
There is always the editing process to work out the details which you missed while changing from one plot to the other.
As I wrestle with my inner critic and half a dozen other voices in my head (sure is crowded here—where did all of you come from?), approaching the close of my latest round of edits on my novel, I’ve decided to let my writer readers (reading writers?) in on my secrets. I know you’re all wondering, “How’d he finish it so fast?” and “Gosh, I wish I could write something that easily,” and “Why are there cat toys on his desk?”
Well, here it is, for the first time ever, Tom’s Guide to Writing a Novel in a Mere Ten Plus Years.”
Step One: Get idea. Mull it over a while. Forget to write it down.
Step Two: Get idea back. Write it down. Plink down a few ideas. Go play World of Warcraft.
Step Three: Write in journal, full of excitement about starting a novel. Don’t actually work on the novel, just talk about how excited you are in your journal. Play World of Warcraft.
Step Four: Tell friends and family and all the people at your coffee shops how excited you are to be working on a novel.
Step Five: Play World of Warcraft.
Step Six: Tell wife, husband, life partner, significant other, benign alien, or therapist about your novel.
Step Seven: Play World of Warcraft.
Step Eight: Weekend getaway to work on book. Write a few short, short scenes at the beginning, then perhaps something near the end, then a battle sequence because battle sequences are cool. Write non-sequentially because you have the attention span of a…oh, look, there goes the kitty…
Step Nine: Begin keeping backup files of your work. Make backups of your backups. Count this as writing time because it had to do with your novel.
Step Ten: Fired up, you’re ready to dive in. Unable to remember which copy is the correct copy, spend your writing-session time comparing, copying, and pasting from one file to another. Save on a floppy.
Step Eleven: Find correct copy, reword battle sequence because battle sequences are cool.
Step Twelve: Join critique group. Get positive feedback, but battle sequence needs work. Charged up, you go home, make another copy, save it on another floppy. Play World of Warcraft.
Step Thirteen: Work, work, work on the battle sequence. Reorganize files. Play World of Warcraft.
Step Fourteen: Return to critique group. Have them critique battle sequence again because battle sequences are cool.
Step Fifteen: Wife/husband/life partner, etc., says it’s time to write other parts. Try to write other parts. They all suck. Play World of Warcraft.
Step Sixteen: Try to write other parts again. Writing sucks. Swear you’ll never write another word again, ever.
Step Seventeen: Tell friends, family, etc., you’re never writing again.
Step Eighteen: Take a day, week, month, year, or several years off from writing, but the idea won’t leave you. Keep playing World of Warcraft.
Step Nineteen: Return to writing.
Step Nineteen, part A: Write blog posts instead of novel…oops…
Step Twenty: Repeat steps eight through eighteen numerous times until wife/husband/life partner says, “Just start writing.” “Oh. Okay,” you respond.
Step Twenty-One: Write, write, write as though your hands are on fire.
Step Twenty-Two: Look at the mess of files you have on multiple floppies, CDs, flash drives, emails, scattered papers. Swear you’ll give up writing.
Step Twenty-Three: Wife/husband/life partner dons the muse/editor/hero costume and wades in to all the mess you’ve created, as said wife/husband/life partner is capable of following a sequence of thoughts sequentially in—and here’s the amazing part, because you are not a sequential thinker—chronological fashion, and actually organizes your seemingly random randomness. “What?” you exclaim. “You mean this stuff actually connects together?”
Step Twenty-Four: Renewed, you charge in, astounded that, somehow, there just might be a story here.
Step Twenty-Five: Exhausted after your first dash in, swear you’re going to give up writing forever and ever. Play Angry Birds.
Step Twenty-Six: Wife/husband/life partner says, “Stop playing Angry Birds. Set a timer for half an hour and write. When the timer goes Ding! you can play Angry Birds.” “Oh. Okay,” you say.
Step Twenty-Seven: Using the timer/Angry Birds technique you, somehow, exhausted, neuron-fried, and limping, cross the finish line, walk upstairs and announce that the first draft is complete.
Step Twenty-Eight: Celebrate with a Guinness. A very large Guinness. Draft. Nothing canned or bottled. This is a proper celebration. Guinness is writer fuel.
And that, my friends, is how to complete a rough draft in a mere ten-plus years. Easy, right?
Y’know what, though? Once this first one’s out the door I’m gonna do it again. And maybe this next time I can shave it down to just five years….
Tom Zumwalt Bio:
Tom Zumwalt is a writer from Lexington, Kentucky. He lives a writerly life with his wife and two cats, and has completed his first novel, DragonFox. Tom writes a blog (http://writefromthegitgo.blogspot.com/), and has written articles for Kentucky Monthly magazine, Collecting Toys magazine, and movie reviews for the Georgetown News-Graphic. Also, he was a finalist in the Licking River Writers Writing Competition. He loves reading the Arthurian legends, anything by Poe, and comic books. He likes dragons as long as they don’t pursue him.
What are you looking for when you look at the publisher’s page?
Let’s stick with the children’s story theme, the publisher has a menu heading that says About which will tell you what type of magazine/journal they are and what type of story they are looking for. Unless you are already familiar with this publisher, you should read this over, as story submission takes time, so you want it to be a worthwhile investment of yours. The one you are looking at says their audience genre is YA or Young Adult, which usually means a high-school-aged audience. Don’t be discouraged, I’m sure your story, Conversations with Bingo, would be considered cute if the teen were babysitting a younger child, but I wouldn’t expect them to go out and purchase a copy for themselves.
Keep searching until you collect a list of publishers of stories for the appropriate audience. For example, you are given a list of twenty publishers, but only three meet your market type or criteria (let’s call them A1, B2, and C3). Let’s investigate those three: age appropriate, check; accepting submissions, check; genre appropriate, check; length, check. Okay, you have three possibilities, now what? This is where you dig deeper into their submission requirements/guidelines. Do they pay for stories they accept? What, you hadn’t thought about being paid for writing your story!? Don’t feel bad if that hadn’t crossed your mind OR if your intention is to make writing your sole career. Let’s work on the premise that you want to get paid for your work. Publisher A1 has a pay scale of $.06 per word (six cents) and B2’s pay scale is royalties only. Publisher C3 is a non-payingmarket type. Publisher A1 will pay you six cents a word for your 2,100-word story. Nice, that is a one-time upfront payment for the right to publish your story in their magazine/journal. Publisher B2 will pay you after their product has sold a few copies. This is usually an annual payment of an unspecified amount, paid equally to all the authors featured, typical of anthologies. Publishing with C3 will give you exposure but no monetary reward. This is not a bad thing–everybody has to start somewhere, and the chance to advertise that your work can be read in C3’s magazine/journal is a good thing, just not an immediately profitable one. For this example, you decide you want to be paid for your work, so good-bye C3.
Side note: Another thing to consider is the rights or ownership of the story. Some publishers will state their intention for the rights, others might wait until you are presented with a contract. I must admit I was uncomfortable at first, but this is a personal and important decision each writer must make. My advice is keep the rights, or make sure they return to you in the end.
Now what else does the publisher want? Electronic submissions, both A1 and B2 specify this mode only, but what does that mean? It means they do not want to receive a hard copy of your story. You send them anything through the postal service and they will just pitch it without even giving it a glance. There are several ways to submit a story electronically: cutting/pasting it into a box on their publisher’s website, attaching it to an electronic entry form through a submission service, or sending it as an attachment to a specified email address used just for that purpose. Some things to note about these methods: the first is the submission service. It is a good thing to register with this service, but use a passcode you can easily remember because it banks your information and saves time down the road with future submissions. Second, the cut/paste method. Be prepared to lose any formatting you might have had; spend the time to fix the paragraph spacing. Lastly, when it says an attachment to the email, be sure you present it as they specify: no PDF, .doc, .docx, or PDF. These can be deal breakers.
Already you are probably thinking this is just nit-picky stuff and you are right it is, but remember there are thousands, if not millions of writers out there competing for a spot in a publication that is only going to be accepting applications for a small amount of time, for a small amount of print space. So yes, they can afford to be picky–it weeds out many prospects, and the point of this exercise is to make you one of the select few who has a chance for consideration.
Other things the publishers will mention are Reprints, Multiple Submissions, and Simultaneous Submissions. Your eyes might be glossing over now, but don’t worry, here’s an explanation. Reprints means your work has been published elsewhere. A publisher can choose whether to accept a piece that has been featured elsewhere. You look at your work and think, “nope never been published.” But wait a minute, did you share it on a public Facebook writing page, or on a blog, or on a site like Wattpad? In the industry, these are considered previously published and therefore rejected. If you shared your story on your Facebook page under a private setting or in a closed group for review, it’s considered fresh and yet unpublished work. Multiple Submissions means you might/might not submit more than one story to this publisher during this submission period. Example would be if they are taking stories for the month of November but not again until January, then you may submit one in November but not another until January. Some say multiple submissions are accepted, but usually they will put a limit on how many. Simultaneous Submissions means you might not be able to submit your work elsewhere for consideration until it has been formally refused by this publisher. Most publishers will list how long to expect them to consider your story, and in fact, advise that you contact them if you think it has taken too long. The cons with not accepting simultaneous submissions is your story can be held captive by one publisher so long that you are missing other opportunities with others, and some have been known to take up to six months. That is your choice if you want to go that route. If a publisher does accept simultaneous submissions, it is not only polite, but standard practice to let a publisher know if it gets accepted elsewhere while under their consideration.
Side note: I set up a poll in a Facebook writing group asking if the members always adhered to this guideline; never adhered to this guideline; or did, but felt bad about it. They had only one choice to make. It was about 2:1 for adhering to the guideline and being true to one publisher at a time. Of those who responded, one-eighth admitted to having done it at least once.
So how does all this affect your decision to submit to A1 and B2 publishers? Well, this is your first, and only, work and other than your editor and friends, no one has read it. That takes care of reprints and multiple submissions, but what about simultaneous? Let’s go with A1 says yes, but B2 says no. What do you do? That will be up to you, but for this exercise, we will go with A1 from here on.
Part Three: How do you get story to the publisher and impress them to read it?
I DON’T MEAN TO BRAG, BUT MY POSTS ARE ENJOYED BY WELL OVER TWENTY PEOPLE WORLDWIDE
A friend asked me the other day if I minded that my writing posts on social media don’t get very many likes. I kid you not. Even I didn’t have a response to this question. I sat there dumbfounded. Not sure how to respond. If I should make a joke out of it or respond honestly.
I have been actively writing for less than two years. Blogging for only 9 months. When I started writing, I discovered the long forgotten joy that writing brought me. When I was a kid, my dad and I enjoyed writing short stories together. I took my first stab at writing a book when I was in junior high. Made it about 80 handwritten pages in and abandoned the project altogether. When I was in high school, I discovered my love of poetry and storytelling through short statement sentences.
I had a few great teachers who influenced me and encouraged me to keep writing. I completed a poetry assignment of 20 poems and handed it in two days after it was assigned. I had two more weeks before it was due, the teacher took it from me and said, “Are you sure you don’t want to spend a little more time on it?” I told her no, I worked hard and was ready to hand it in. She started to page through the packet and asked, “How did you come up with 20 poems in 2 days?” I told her I had a free period the last two days and wrote them out on the computer in the library. She stared at me. “You wrote 20 poems in 2 days? You didn’t write any of these poems beforehand?” I confirmed, 20 poems in 2 days. She was silent for such an uncomfortable amount of time, I had to say something. “Great. I will see you Friday in class.”
Poetry flowed out of me. I could hardly contain it. Even if I wanted to. I wasn’t sleeping well at the time, I was working through a lot of emotions and feelings and all those teenage woes made great food for fodder. I wrote about relationships with my parents, with friends, with boys. I wrote about a relationship that needed to cease.
I was asked by the same teacher to stay after class on Friday. I completely panicked. She must have hated my poetry packet. I was going to fail this class as it was 50% of my grade. I approached her desk as all of my classmates exited the classroom and felt tears poking at the corners of my eyes. “Kelli. Your poetry packet is amazing. You have a clear voice. A distinct way of communicating what you want using a very limited amount of words. I could tell the two required rhyming poems were challenging for you. But I found them whimsical, humorous and delightful. I doubted your ability to complete this project in such a short amount of time. I should have never doubted you. I am giving you a perfect score. You exceeded my expectations on both content and effort. Well done. I will be using two of your poems in class as encouragement to the other students.”
Encouragement to the other students? Wait. What? I asked her not to use my name. She said no problem. She wanted to use one of the fun rhyming poems as an example that sometimes the best things come out of not trying too hard. I wasn’t sure if that was actually a compliment or not. But I wasn’t going to ask any further questions.
I quickly exited the classroom and headed to my locker so I could race to my next class. I smiled the rest of the day.
I was inspired. My teachers’ compliments were all that it took to inspire me. Words of affirmation from an adult other than my parents. I continued to write poetry for the remaining portion of the two weeks and knew that I was improving each time I hit the save button on the library computer. When my poems were shared in class the next week, silence followed after the first one. I wrote about that relationship that needed to cease. I tried to be as inconspicuous as possible, but I knew I was fidgeting in my seat and probably was the most unnatural shade of red all down through my neck.
“Okay. Was this poem written by a girl? Because that was beautiful. A boy wouldn’t be able to talk that way about something he wants but knows he shouldn’t have. It makes me want to know what happens next.” Nodding and agreement. Our teacher proclaimed a mighty, “YES! That is what good poetry should do. It should make you want more. You should be intrigued by the first line and it should make you desire more. It should make you feel something deep inside. It should change you. It should make you think differently.”
Our teachers’ words spurred me on to write even more. All those hours I was awake at night made me burn through notebook after notebook. I wanted people that read my work, to want more. I wanted them to be hooked from the first line. I wanted them to desire more. And I wanted them to think differently and to be changed.
I continued writing and felt so fulfilled. I was proud of myself. I felt better about who I was and felt that I had a purpose. To write. Even if only for a short time. Writing gave me a purpose. Life happened and I wasn’t then writing as much. I worked hard the summer before college and then felt utterly consumed by moving away and overwhelmed by college and the workload that was expected. I sat down to write one night at school, and nothing. Nothing. I had nothing to write about. I didn’t feel inspired to write. I felt I should do it because I hadn’t. It felt like a task. It no longer brought me joy. It started to stress me out.
Filled notebooks and blank notebooks sat on my shelf above my desk in my dorm room. And they continued to sit there. By the end of my freshman year, I had completely abandoned my love for writing.
I have filled all of these past 25 years with some pretty amazing things. I got married, worked in a profession I loved and succeeded in. I was blessed by having two children. I started two companies and enjoyed the work. I began to write articles for the local newspaper when artists or writers came to town. I would write about their life, their career, and my impressions of their speaking engagement. Sometimes, I would have a prearranged interview set up with them and others times would just make a point of asking questions and recording the answers.
I believe myself to be pretty savvy on social media. (That is a lie. I am a stalker at best. I would track those coming to town down on social media and assault them with numerous private messages until they answered me and agreed to an in-person interview or to respond to my questions. My shenanigans worked more often than not. ) Each of my articles was accepted at the paper. I was so excited. Was I a writer? I sure was. I was writing more, and writing well. I thought I would take another stab at writing.
Once I began, I found that only about a dozen or so poems were ready to be written. But I sat down and found I had a story to tell about my mom. My mom died about 5 years ago now. She was so young, only 67. She was a ridiculously quirky woman who never met a person she didn’t love. I wanted to write about her. I wanted to write about my childhood with her as my mom. I wanted to honor her. I started writing short, one or even two-page stories, every week or so. Then the stories about being a special needs parent came to mind. And about organizing your home and life, which is my line of work. Mostly, I wrote about my daily life. About conversations that I had with my kids and my friends. And sometimes I even wrote about the conversations I had with complete strangers.
When I wrote a story, it was about something important. A lesson I had learned. Something that brought me joy. Something that maybe still made me ache today. They were stories about memories I held dear. But when I told my stories, they were stories I thought others would also like to hear. I felt they were stories that others needed to hear. Subject matters that would touch hearts and maybe even heal them. Stories that others could have written themselves. I wanted other people to know they were not alone.
I began submitting stories to dozens upon dozens of companies that specialized in storytelling. I was quickly discouraged as I received 29 declines in my first 6 weeks. 29. But then yes. Another yes, we would be happy to publish this piece. And even, what else can you send us? Editors started emailing me and actually asking for more samples of my work.
Absolutely, it feels great when a contract for printing is received. I have published with 20+ different companies and organizations and continue to submit weekly. 9 months ago when I started blogging, I didn’t just blog about my daily life, I added in all of the poems that I wrote, some of the newspaper articles and the books reviews. I also started including all of my life stories in my blog.
And to the original question. Does it bother me that so few people like my writing posts on social media? No. The honest answer is no. How many people read my blog on a consistent basis? I don’t know. But you know what matters to me? The messages that people send me or write on posts. The times when people ask me for help in solving a similar situation. The times when people tell me they are ready to call their mom and ask for forgiveness. But most of all, I enjoy the thank you’s. Thank for being honest. Thank you for writing about something that hurts. Thank you for helping me figure out this whole special needs parenting thing. Thank you for making me cry, I needed that.
“Kelli, I don’t know you. We have never met. But we have friends in common. I wanted to tell you I found your blog. I can’t stop reading. Were we twins and separated at birth? You and I are the awkward honest girls. The ones that cry watching the news and retelling stories. Thank you for not making me feel so weird.” Those are the messages that make me want to write more.
“Oh, sweet Zach. I read your article in the paper. I had the joy of helping him at school a couple times last year. I miss him so much. He was always smiling and so funny. I liked reading about your daily lives. Thank you for the insight into special needs parenting.” Special needs teachers. I want to hug you. Thank you for all that you do for my son every day. Thank you for your patience, your ability to teach and your love for my son.
I have started writing a book. For real this time. A real book. With chapters and page numbers and everything. This book will be more of the same. More of what makes me laugh. What makes me cry. More stories I think others will want to hear. Stories others need to hear. No, I won’t ever sell a million copies, and make a bunch of cash. But I will have told my story, filled my life with even more joy, and connected with people I have never even met. Hopefully inspired someone along the way. And that sounds like a mighty fine endeavor to me.
“You don’t write because you want to say something. You write because you have something to say.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald
About the Author
Kelli Gavin lives in Carver, Minnesota with Josh, her husband of an obscene amount of years and they have two crazy kids. She is a Writer, Professional Organizer and owns Home & Life Organization and a small Jewelry Company. She enjoys writing, reading, swimming, and spending time with family and friends. She abhors walks on the beach (sand in places no one wishes sand to be), candlelit dinners, (can’t see) and the idea of cooking two nights in a row (no thank you).
Find Kelli on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @KelliJGavin Blog found at firstname.lastname@example.org
To start this off, in 2009, I had no intention of writing books. I was more interested in trying to forge a career in screenwriting.
I made a short, silent film—a task in itself. I had to search down actors/actresses for it and started off with other students—most of whom said not a chance. This led to using the school’s, I think, casting manager—I don’t really remember her exact title anymore—to get local professional actresses/actor (two women, one male) for it.
By far the easiest aspect of this, the rehearsals, which always took place in the front lobby of the school. Hardest, filming—silent film cameras were used.
The reason behind this, the school had this thing in which they wanted the students to start off creating films the old-fashioned way before moving on to more high-tech digital cameras and sound.
After its completion, time was spent in a darkened classroom slicing the video apart, editing out the unusable parts, and using a specialized tape to put it all together in order to make it comprehensible (it was filmed the old-fashioned way on film strips). Often times, more than not, I had to ask the other students in there for assistance, which they had no difficulty providing.
One last problem with this—aside from getting it put onto DVD’s to provide copies to the actresses/actor—was Walgreens and the use of their camera department. Frustrating it was, they had this policy in which they refused to do it over copyright issues, and it took a while to get this resolved.
I don’t want to spend a lot of time rambling on about this specific experience, only to say I finished the film to personal satisfaction.
In 2010, after writing a screenplay based on a vampire character I came up with a couple of years earlier for a class, Genres in Screenwriting (Vampires), I came up with the idea of changing it into a novel, which is now Maureen: A Vampire Tale (Special Edition). Back then (in 2010), vampires didn’t seem as tired as they are now, but I could be wrong about this.
During this time, I became aware of the whole concept of self-publishing and decided on exploring this route, since querying screenplay agents/companies didn’t seem to be going anywhere. Neither were the few screenplay contests I entered—even though I won a couple.
This was rough going in the beginning, as the paperbacks of Maureen continuously kept being rejected by Createspace due to incorrect format.
Another difficulty I saw with this, the print kept being way too small to read.
Yet a second problem, which popped up during and still does, covers. Often times, I’d get a message which stated, “the cover is unacceptable and needs to be corrected,” and caused nothing but a frustrated headache for me and probably the independent cover artist who had to waste their time in making the corrections to work.
After a long while of suffering horrible frustration over this, there was a light at the end of the tunnel, as Createspace finally pointed out the solution to this problem. The way they said to handle it, use one of their pre-made templates. Problem solved, and I published Maureen twice now, since both the old, first version, and the newer, final version are both available on Amazon, and I think maybe other places.
Up until a few years ago, I used to think writing really long books was such a smart idea. Not so anymore. The specific reason I discovered this, reading it word by word isn’t such an easy task. The truth of the matter is, it’s downright frustrating and time-consuming.
Let’s talk about another problem I see with writing, the whole concept of NANO month/camp NANO. When I first tried this out, I came out on top, but then the wins kept piling up. Eventually, this sort of got out of control and I kept asking myself: should I do the next one? Yet I continued to do it—each time since ending up with the same results. I keep telling myself this will be the last one yet I continue on to do other monthly word writing challenges as well. I don’t know, maybe I’ll sit the next NANO out.
As a final thought to this, I suppose one of the reasons I’ve been so hesitant to publish any of the NANO projects has to do with something which has come to my attention over the past couple years. Book piracy. I discovered I’m not immune to this while searching out my name for some information.