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Patt O’Neil: The Submission Process For a Short Story or What I Wish Someone Had Taught Me (Part One)

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Part One:

Since the written word has been offered to others for profit, there have been those seeking their work included in these publications. We, my brothers and sisters, come under the heading of the Seekers—writers of novels, songs, poems, essays, plays, and short stories. All are similar in how to go about getting published, like the way dogs, cats, babies, and drunken girlfriends all like to curl up on laps, but that is where the similarity ends. Each has their own criteria, demands, and audience. I’m going to discuss the what I have learned with regards to having a short story published. Business buzzwords will be bolded.

I started my career as a writer by penning a novel—silly me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good story, just not anywhere near ready for publication. I needed to know more about not only what makes for a good story, but the process involved with the publication of that story. After switching over to short stories, I was encouraged by friends to seek publication of what I had written. Little did I know what that entailed, and I wished someone would have explained the process to me in depth. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure they would have if I had asked the right questions. The purpose of this essay is to help explain the process.

Some generalizations about how written work gets published.

Anybody can set themselves up to become a publisher, all they need is a business plan, adequate capital, time, and connections. Anyone can also be a writer, you take an idea, put it to paper, and offer it to the publisher for their review and recompense. If the work is good–you will both win. If it’s great—they make money and you go on talk shows. To get your work before the publisher, many fields require an agent to act as a go-between the two parties. Agents are a valuable resource for a writer because they know which publisher is looking for work like yours, and for the publisher, because they act as a filter for all the manuscripts out there for consideration. There are some large market publishers that will accept non-agented submissions, but that is only during an advertised period (Harlequin usually open in the fall, like a goodwill gesture before the holidays).

Today’s electronic world has made self-publication an easy option. Skip the outside publisher and keep any profits earned for yourself. Unfortunately, this also means the writer also takes on all expenses the publisher, i.e. editing, formatting, printing, advertising, distribution … well, you get what I mean. Self-publishing is not at all a new concept, and the writer should not be discouraged by my description of the process. It is just not part of the process of having a short story published unless all the stories in the book belong to one writer, then it becomes a collection as opposed to an anthology. Notice I keep using the word writer instead of author. That is because the general concept is we are all writers, but we are not considered authors until we have had something published.

Practical steps prior to submission of a short story.

You’ve written a story and you think it special enough to want to share it with the world by having it published. You believe it is something of quality, something people are willing to spend their time, or even money, to read. Whether it is something that will make them laugh or cry, it needs to be well written.

First, you must know what the market genre or subject is. You don’t want to offer Erma Entices Eatonville to a publisher of children’s books, and vice versa. Know your audience. Have select members of that audience test read your work to see if the plot/message is being presented as you imagined. If this is done during while writing the story, they are known as Alpha readers. If they are reading it after you have finished writing the story, AND, reviewed it for errors (punctuation, spelling, etc.), they are called Beta readers. Take whatever comments these readers have to heart. You may not always agree with their remarks, but remember, the way they have processed your story will be how the publisher will as well. Make whatever changes, then submit it to an editor for another review.

You should never have to pay for an Alpha or a Beta reader. There are enough people around willing to read your work, just make sure they will comment without reservation. Your editor, on the other hand, is someone you should spend money on. Always send your editor the best version of your story, this person is a professional hired to bring your work up to industry and professional standards. There are line editors and content editors. Line editors will read your work, line by line, and correct any punctuation, grammatical, or continuity errors in your work. Think back to your English Composition class in high school and how your papers were returned with red ink notations by the teacher. This is what a line editor does. A content editor will do the same but also, with your permission, rewrite portions to give it more of an impact. They charge accordingly, the content charging more because they are being asked to do more work. You can find an editor just by asking, most authors have an editor they can recommend. It is appropriate to ask a potential editor what their rates are and their timeline for returning your work, do they give discounts if you have them take a second look, etc. Editors are your employees, your contract with them the same as you would a roofer or house painter, you wouldn’t take the first person who came along just because of convenience. Editor prices will vary, many of them charge less than a penny a word for work being asked. If they charge more, they had better provide more than just spilling red ink on your work.

Where can you submit a story for publication?

This varies from story to story, I know that sounds simplistic, but basically, that’s about it. If you write children’s stories, research who publishes children’s stories, magazines, journals, anthologies. Find out if they are accepting submissions. If it is a magazine, get an issue and look for the submission guidelines, if it not specific, send them an e-mail (I would say write but in this electronic age …) and ask, are you accepting and what are your guidelines. Better yet, go to their website and look for their submission guidelines there. Take note, those guidelines will be very specific and if not followed exactly can be the reason for rejection regardless of how good a story you have written.

If a publisher is accepting submissions, another consideration is whether your piece fits the size criteria, market type or length definition. Still working with the children’s magazine as an example, what if they are only accepting Flash Fiction pieces? Flash Fiction is any work 750-1,000 words or less. Count the total words of your story, minus the title and byline, for your word count. Is it less than that amount of words? If it is more, then it is a Short Story. Short stories measure up to 10,000 words, more than that it becomes a Novelette or Novella. A Novel is considered over 40,000 words. For the sake of example, yours measures 2,100 words which means you need to find somewhere else to submit it too.

If you don’t know where to look for open markets, try asking for recommendations or do some research to find out who has made a call for submissions. By reading this I know you belong to a Facebook writing group. Many of your fellow members will share information about who is accepting submissions. Another source is by subscribing to online resources like Duotrope of The (Submission) Grinder for referrals. These sites collect all the information I will mention here and periodically report what they know about these publishers. Another source is internet websites such as Writing Career, where like the two listed above, also list open markets and writing contests, both paid and unpaid. When you get one of these recommendations, go to that publisher’s website first to verify it is open, and second, to make sure your work fits within the parameters of their publication.

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Tomorrow:

Part Two: What are you looking for when looking at the publisher’s page?

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 (November 2017 All rights reserved)

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Sallie Moppert: To Outline, or Not To Outline, That is the Question

Just like each individual is unique, so is that individual’s writing style. Some people plot and outline every detail of their work while others prefer to wing it. It can sometimes feel like a tug-of-war between the two: am I plotting/outlining enough or too much? Which one of these methods is correct?

The answer is both. Whatever works for you is the correct one.

I have tried my hand at both styles and found a happy medium between the two extremes that works for me. I originally started making it up as I went along; I remember an occasion or two when I started a story and even I didn’t know who the killer was going to be in the story (a murder mystery with heavy emphasis on the mystery!). I also tried to completely outline my story from start to finish, dot-jotting all of the major events or details that were supposed to happen in a particular chapter for each and every chapter. Here’s what I’ve learned from my venture into the world of outlining and the world of flying by the seat of my pants and also the method that works best for me.

TO OUTLINE: Outlining can be very helpful for obvious reasons; with a blank page in front of you, figuring out what is supposed to happen when or what character is supposed to do something at a certain point in the story may seem like a daunting task. That’s where the outline comes in. Okay, chapter 1, I want to introduce this character and have him/her do this. I also want to introduce the conflict with this other character by some event happening. All right, now chapter 2…and so on and so forth. For some, having a definitive path to follow to get from page 1 to the final page is a must. With a clear cut start, middle and ending, the outline can help to reduce writer’s block. You already know what’s going to happen next. Granted, even though the next chapter’s details are already laid out for you, writer’s block still may occur when trying to get from point A to point B; don’t get discouraged! Then again, the writer’s block may be a good thing because it might be an indicator that there is a plot hole that needs to be fixed. Instead of trudging your way through hundreds of pages only to find a bottomless pit of a plot hole that could put the entire story in jeopardy, having an outline can highlight issues that might occur later in the story that will need to be remedied. Wait, this character can’t do that; it’s not in his nature! I have to go back and fix this. Or perhaps something like: why didn’t the antagonist just do this? It would have made this happen instead of that happening. I need an explanation for that reasoning/action.

NOT TO OUTLINE: Part of the fun of writing is the creativity that comes as a result of imagining characters, places and scenarios. A rigid outline could interfere with the natural flow of creativity. Oh, hey, that character would make a great addition to this scene! I’ll pencil him into this chapter and see what happens instead of shoot, this character can’t be in this scene, even though I know he/she’d have some great dialogue to add and/or would really help him/her in some way. Sometimes a character or a plot may need to change over the course of a story in a way that wasn’t even initially conceived of. My story Into the Fire was an instance of a character being brought into the story that wasn’t anything I had thought of doing when I started writing it. The piece itself was a side project I was doing, just having fun with different POVs and writing suspense, sort of like the movie Vantage Point (2008, with Dennis Quaid and Forest Whitaker); the different points of view all came together to tell a single story and the truth behind what happened. I got about five chapters in when an idea hit me: what if I made the cops called in to deal with the threat be Sam and Dahlia? I like the idea of putting Sam in more stories since he was a fun character to write and explore. Once that idea occurred to me, the pieces began to fall into place. The security guard became Sam’s mentor, Edwin. Sadly, though, Edwin’s fate in that story remained unchanged, even before Edwin Hill the security guard became Edwin Hill, retired cop/mentor/foster father of Samuel Marlowe. Because I wasn’t sticking to a rigid outline, I had the freedom to adjust the story accordingly.

THE HAPPY MEDIUM: I found that what works best for me is a flexible outline. I have an idea, whether it be a prompt or a scenario, that I plan to start writing. From there, I dot jot a couple of ideas that I want to happen in the story. Here are the notes I have for one of the stories in the next installment of Good Cop Bad Cop. This story is called (tentatively) ‘Paying a Debt.’

 

Gloria is going to the bank

Sam recognizes something is wrong and goes with her

He is off duty, so he has no weapon on him

Robbers show up

Turns into a hostage situation

Sam contacts [character name removed to avoid spoilers] for help

 

With these few lines, I have an idea of where the story is headed. The next step would be to create the characters, or, at least, get some names. With a flexible outline, I can add or remove characters as I need, so I usually just start off with a bunch of first and last names that I can refer to to create characters. Once I have some characters in place, I start writing. It’s fun to let the story develop on its own, with me, as the writer, merely along for the ride. I learned the value of this when writing a separate story a few years ago and the way the chapter was chugging along, I came to a confrontation between two characters that I didn’t plan on having in the rigid outline I’d created, but I loved the scene because it really fit the characters’ personalities to nearly duke it out until interrupted by a third character both were connected to.

The story is like a child and the writer, a parent. We spend days, months, years, working on a story, developing it and making it the best it can be. That story, though, can take on its own personality and traits or quirks that may not have otherwise developed if the writer hampered its natural procession.

Outline or don’t outline-whatever you feel works best for you but remember to let your muse and the story guide you at times. You never know where a story can go unless you let it take you there!

What do you prefer, outlining or winging it?

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Sallie Moppert Bio

A New York native, Sallie has a Master’s degree in Criminal Justice, with a Specialization in Forensic Science. A lifelong mystery fan, she has combined her love and passion for writing with her interests in criminal justice, law, and forensic science.

Sallie currently resides in New York with her family and two dogs, and works as a freelance writer/editor.

Good Cop Bad Cop is her debut novel, and is available everywhere books are sold in both paperback and ebook editions.

Advice for New and Aspiring Authors — Lynn Miclea

I can easily remember what it was like before I published my first book. It was not that long ago, and I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t think I was capable of writing or publishing a book. If someone had told me back then that I would have twelve books published by this time, I would have told them they were crazy.

And now, looking back over the past few years, after writing and publishing twelve books, I realize that I have learned quite a lot along the way. Of course, I am still learning, and I hope that I will always learn more and improve. But now feels like the right time to reach out and help other new and aspiring authors.

When we are beginning our journey as writers, we tend to have so many of the same questions, confusion, fears, and doubts. I would like to help make things a little easier and share with you some of what I have learned.

So here are seven of the best ideas I have found to help new and aspiring authors.

  1. Read a lot

Reading is important. Reading helps develop your writing skills as you learn what you like and don’t like about how things are written. Reading helps you learn how to phrase things, present situations, and describe action or settings. It helps you learn how to introduce characters and how to write realistic dialogue. It helps you improve your writing in so many ways – I learn every time I read. The more you read, the better you learn to write.

  1. Write a lot

Write as much as you can. As you write, you improve your skills. Each book, blog, article, or journal entry you write helps and improves your writing. I look back at my earlier writing, and I can see how far I’ve come – my writing is now more clear, concise, and powerful. So keep writing – the more you write, the better you get.

  1. Be you, find your own voice

Don’t compare yourself to others or try to imitate someone else’s style. Find your own voice, your own passion, and your own style. Discover the things you want to write about. Don’t try to be anyone else – it doesn’t work anyway, and it comes across as forced. Be you. There will never be another person just like you, so be proud of who you are and develop your own unique style.

  1. Get rid of self-doubts and self-criticism

Know that everyone has self-doubts and is self-critical. It is human nature. It is especially prevalent in creative types – writers, authors, artists, and musicians. We put our heart and soul into what we do. We feel vulnerable and exposed. We worry about whether or not we’re good enough or if people will like what we do. But those thoughts can undermine you and your creativity. Don’t allow any of that to get in your way or stop you. Write despite your insecurities – if we let insecurities stop us, nothing would ever get written. Write for you, not for anyone else, and trust that you will keep getting better as you go. If you love to write and feel passionate about writing, then do it. Set aside all judgment, worry, and criticism. Write as much as you can – and allow yourself to grow and blossom.

  1. The first draft is always crap

As Ernest Hemingway said, “The first draft of anything is shit.” Everyone’s first draft is always crap, and that’s okay. Expect it, it’s part of the territory, and don’t worry about it. Write your story down as it is, as though no one will ever see it. Write your heart out, and get it all down on paper. You can always edit it later and improve what you’ve written. So don’t worry about the first draft – it’s simply the first step and puts you on your way to creating an amazing finished manuscript.

  1. Always backup your work

Too many people have learned this the hard way – always back up your work. Use a backup drive, an internet storage site such as drop-box, another file, a second computer, the cloud, etc. It doesn’t matter what you use, just make sure you backup your work somewhere. It is too easy to accidentally delete something, lose a file, have your computer crash, have a file become corrupted, etc. Don’t risk losing what you’ve spent so many hours creating. And don’t wait until it’s too late – be smart and always back up your work.

  1. Get professional editing

After you have finished your manuscript, read it through multiple times to make it as clean and error-free as possible. Then always use the services of a professional editor so that your work will be professional quality and the best it can possibly be. A professional editor helps with more than simply finding typos. They help with grammar, spelling, punctuation, sentence structure, word usage, consistency, repetitions, proper and consistent tense, plot development, subplots that don’t belong or that slow down the story, characters, appropriate POV (point of view), tension build-up, anything that doesn’t move the story forward, story structure, plot holes, pacing, plus many other things.

I was a professional proofreader for many years, and I studied editing. When I look over my own work, I carefully and slowly read word-for-word, and I still miss things. It is difficult to catch your own errors, as you tend to skim your own story since you know it so well. Your mind automatically fills in and corrects any errors or missing words. So it really helps to have another pair of eyes on your work. You don’t want to turn off readers with errors throughout your story, or have prospective readers not buy your book because of errors in the sample they see. A professional editor helps your work be the best it can be, and that is important. If you want a well-written, professional story that will have readers wanting to read more of your work, always have your work professionally edited.

Congratulations – I applaud you for being a writer!

Writing is a creative process where our hearts and imagination merge and pour out onto paper, and it is a thrilling and rewarding journey.

It gives me great pleasure to share these seven tips with you, and I hope these help you on your way to becoming an outstanding and successful author.

The path is not always easy, but always do your best, and never stop learning and improving. One day I hope to see your books on the best-seller list.

And no matter how far you go as a writer, enjoy the entire journey and be proud of who you are and what you accomplish.

 

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About The Author

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LYNN MICLEA grew up in New York and moved to California while in her twenties. A certified hypnotherapist and Reiki master practitioner with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, she spent many years working in the medical field and in various offices in an administrative capacity.

After retiring, Lynn discovered and developed a passion for writing, and she is now a successful author with many books published and more on the way. Her two memoirs, one of her family’s experience with ALS, and one of her own journey through open-heart surgery have received numerous five-star reviews. 

She also has published ten sweet, exciting, and fun children’s books, which are uplifting, loving, feel-good animal stories, filled with warm humor, and which are about kindness, compassion, helping others, seeing the best in others, and believing in yourself. 

She hopes that through her writing, she can help empower others and add more joy and love to the world. She asks everyone to be kind to each other as we all share this journey through life together.

Lynn currently lives in the Los Angeles area with her husband and two dogs.

Learn more about Lynn at her Amazon author page here.

And please visit her website at www.lynnmiclea.com for more information on her books.
Copyright © 2018 Lynn Miclea. All Rights Reserved.

 

Guest Blog: Dusty Grein – Why A Bad Review Can Be A Blessing

They All Love Me!

When I first published my book, The Sleeping Giant, I anticipated the glowing reviews that I was sure would happen. After all, I loved my story, how could anyone not feel the same?

Ah, the naiveté of the beginning novelist.

The Reality

Let me preface this by saying that in all fairness, my book has been very well received. It has been purchased and/or read by thousands of customers, and most of them have been extremely satisfied with the story, the characters and the style with which I wrote it. After more than forty reviews, it has a solid and respectable 4.4 star average, and over two thirds have been of the five star variety.

Those aren’t the ones I want to talk about here though. I learned far more about myself, and my writing, from the bad reviews, and I’d like to express my gratitude for the negative ones — even the lone 1-star thrashing of my endeavor.

When I got my first 3-star review, I felt like I had actually made it.

I had arrived!

The reviewer said “This is a good read, However the focus of the story, a soon to erupt volcano, ends up with only a few pages at the end. Needs a part 2.” It made me smile – my first critical review was that I needed to write another book!

My next 3-star said simply “needed more character development,” and was countered soon after by a pair of 5-stars that said “It’s interesting, the characters are well created” and “The characters were developed and the plot moved at a rapid pace.”

Different strokes and all that. The truth is you just can’t please everyone, so you have to just grin and shake your head.

Then it happened.

The Bad News

Someone gave me a 1-star BAD review! They not only gave it a single star, but in the review subject line, they said “SAVE YOUR MONEY…PASS ON THIS BOOK!” I was shocked!

I felt like I had been sucker-punched and immediately became defensive. I had to walk away from the computer. It hurt that someone felt compelled to not only attack my little story, but to tell others not to bother reading it! After I calmed down, I sat down and read the review in earnest – and I’m glad I did. Here is what this reviewer wrote:

“Poorly written attempt at a first novel. First couple of chapters are an absolute non-stop info dump, which totally stalls the story. The author hasn’t yet learned how to work this info into the story in a way that it doesn’t bring everything to an absolute standstill. It turned me off as a reader. Author started his novel too far before from the beginning of the actual action and takes way too long to get there to hold the reader’s interest when encountering the huge info dump they must stumble through. Author hasn’t yet learned how to eliminate the words “that” and “just” from his writer’s vocabulary, as they should be. A non-educated casual reader might read over the many occurrences of those two empty words—which add nothing to the meaning of the sentences—without noticing them, but they pulled me back to reality every time I encountered them and made the book unreadable for me. My guess is this book has never seen a paid professional edit, as it would have caught all these errors before publication and probably made the story much more readable.”

Wow. The first thing I noticed was that I had obviously made this reader feel something–and feel it strongly enough to write a very lengthy and scathing review. Then I started working on figuring out why it had happened, by removing the opinions and just dealing with the substantive issues. In doing so, I made a few discoveries.

Lessons 

I found that part of this was just about my writing style. The infamous “info-dump” accusation was to be expected. In truth, I had written this book quickly, and I did spend a bit too much time in chapter one, setting the stage for my characters. The fact that the story started “too far before from the beginning of the actual action and takes way too long to get there” was one that I had expected to find from some people. I wrote a story that was mainly about the people, not just about the actions they went through.

I also discovered that I DID have a tendency to overuse the words THAT and JUST. I used this insight to go back into my manuscript, and I did a complete revision, removing over forty instances of these “filler” words. I then released edition 2.0, and in my opinion the story is better for the rewrite.

Finally, I learned a very valuable lesson about the editing process.  See, I am a professional editor, and have edited the works of well over 200 authors, including everything from flash-fiction and poetry to short stories and full novels; in my professional capacity, I have never received a critical evaluation of my editorial talents – but I learned you should NEVER edit your own work, no matter how skilled you may be at polishing the work of others. Being able to edit someone else’s work, is not the same as being able to edit your own.

My book is now at edition 4.0 (this last edition change was made necessary due to a print size change) and thanks in large part to its single one-star review, it is a much finer book than it was when I first released it.

The reviews continue to be good – and bad.

Since that bad review I have received many more four and five star reviews, and a lone two star panning. This bad review stated “virtually the entire work is character development.”

In this case, I gladly accept and endorse the statement. Even in my blurb, I invite folks to accompany my characters during the week leading up to the eruption. Based on the ratio of wonderful reviews to bad ones, this approach is one which thousands of my readers have enjoyed.

Keep This In Mind

In the end, no matter how popular you are with your readers, there will be those who dislike your story, your characters, or the way you write; you can’t let these obstacles stand in your way.

Instead, learn what you can from them, and then move on, and become better at this crazy craft.

My one hope, is that if you have read a book that you enjoyed, be sure to leave a review for the author. If it has issues, you shouldn’t hesitate to let them know it as well — although you don’t have to scream for others not to waste their money, just tell them what you didn’t enjoy. Maybe your opinion will help them become better writers as well.

 

— Dusty Grein

 

About the author:

An author, graphics designer and full-time grandpa, Dusty is originally from Federal Way, Washington. He currently resides in Oregon, where his youngest daughter Jazzmyn Grein (an author in her own right) and a white bulldog-mix named Naked, keep him busy.

His first novel, THE SLEEPING GIANT, hit #1 on the free lists during a recent giveaway promotion. It is a thrilling story of love, fear and survival centered around the impending eruption of Mount Rainier in Washington state.

Dusty is also a publisher with RhetAskew Publishing, a new and fast-growing traditional publishing company with a unique way of looking at publishing.

RhetAskew Publishing: https://rhetoricaskew.wordpress.com/

Dusty Grein’s Amazon Author Page:  https://www.amazon.com/Dusty-Grein/e/B00W36LH6U

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