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Posts Tagged ‘magazines’

Generally speaking, the best way to immunize yourself to a disease is to have the disease.  The exceptions to this rule are legion, of course, so we won’t go into that, we’ll just stick to the principle. And apply it to writing, of course.

The disease involved with writing (other than writing itself, which is a mental disease), is called Rejectionitis. It is characterized by a widespread lowering of self-esteem brought on by an editor sending back a story. The more you loved this story, the more you thought it was perfect for the market, and the level of desire you have to break into this market all affect the severity of the symptoms. In a slap in the face of our guiding principle (see above), there is no immunizing yourself to Rejectionitis by actually getting the disease.

You can, however, immunize yourself somewhat by exposing yourself to carriers (i.e., submissions). In the best case scenario, you start out by being laid waste to by the disease, but then you find a magic bullet called Acceptance. (Acceptance has a long latin name which describes its ingredients, but fortunately you never have to suffer through a TV commercial listing its side effects. If Rejectionitis ever becomes a disease suffered by a large number of baby boomers, though, you might.) Acceptance works by propping up your writing immune system to the point where you believe that maybe, just maybe, you have something to offer that people will want to read. If the dose of Acceptance is big enough, and the timing is right, it may carry through your next bout of Rejectionitis. Or it may not. Your results may vary.

There is another, less efficacious treatment, called Submissions. Yes, the same submissions which are carriers of the disease are also a form of defense against it. Since Rejectionitis is a disease of the mind (like writing), you can guard against its worst effects by having a lot going on in your writing career. (“That story came back, but there are eight others out there who have a chance!”) And of course, re-submitting the same story that was just rejected is the best therapy. (“Take that, you illiterate editor of a Nebula-winning magazine!”)

I am currently exercising this latter defense. Lately I have been on a tear, submitting stories like crazy, to where I have only a half-dozen viable candidates sitting on the sidelines, and one of those is just awaiting a submission window to open. I re-submitted a story yesterday that has been rejected three times–in the past week. (There are some fast editors out there.) But I believe in this little piece; it just needs to find the right spot to land. You’ll be hearing about it soon enough.

Of course, none of this will completely or permanently cure Rejectionitis. Even the biggest authors sometimes suffer from it (so they say, but I’ve not seen their medical records). It’s a lifelong struggle. But writing itself is a lifelong struggle. That struggle usually manifests in a syndrome called “Writer’s Block.”

I’d like to go on about Writer’s Block, but I honestly can’t think of a thing to say…

#SFWApro

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Every once in a while, if you’re going to write a blog about writing, you have to write about writing. Right? This is one of those times. If you’re not a writer or planning to be one, you can skip this one. (But you don’t have to…)  If you are a writer–why aren’t you writing? Oh, you’re just taking a break from the next Harry Potter? Then settle in. You need to know this stuff.

Writers are always concerned with how they’re going to get their message across to readers. Unless you’re planning to self-publish, that’s the wrong way to go about it. (And if you are planning to self-publish, there are some other blogs you should be reading.) What you want to do is get your message across to an editor. The editor buys your story from you. He gives it to the publisher. Readers buy their story from the publisher. If you don’t sell the editor, you don’t sell.

How do I sell an editor, you ask? Very good question. And a very big task. To begin with, there are as many ways to sell to an editor as there are editors. (Even so, selling to readers is a lot harder, because  there are a lot more of them than editors.) On the other hand, editors will tell you exactly what they are looking for. These are called “guidelines,” and if you follow them, while you still might not get the sale, you will develop a reputation for dependability, which can be almost as good. (For purposes of our discussion, we will limit ourselves to magazine editors.)

See, even though editors read hundreds of stories a month, they tend to see the same authors over and over, and they remember you. The first time an editor said such-and-such story was not as good as my other stories, I was over the moon. I never sold to him, but he knew my name. He found it worth remembering, and that’s huge.

If an editor is going to remember you, you want it to be for the right reasons. That means read the guidelines and follow them. You’d be surprised how many writers don’t.  On the other hand, sometimes guidelines aren’t as strict as they appear. An anthology’s theme might stretch to cover your story even if it doesn’t fit like a glove. And word limits may be flexible. If the guidelines say, “3000 – 5000 words, firm,” then respect them. But if they don’t, maybe they can be exceeded–but if you’re going to try that, ask first. You can query an editor to determine if exceptions are allowed, and the mere fact that you asked may get you the answer you want.

Well, you may get the answer you want concerning whether you can skirt the guidelines. Getting the answer you want about a sale, that’s going to take some more work. But when you sub that next story, having an editor who remembers you isn’t going to hurt…

#SFWApro

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One of the coolest things about being a writer is that you can get paid for doing nothing. Well, virtually nothing, anyway.

Note that I did not say, “You will get paid for doing nothing,” or “You are paid for doing nothing.” Either of those would be wildly inaccurate–first and foremost because there is no guarantee you will ever be paid at all. But while you cannot be in two places at once, you can be paid for doing the same work twice. It’s called selling a reprint.

When you sell a story (or a novel, but let’s stick to stories), you sell what are called (in this country) First North American serial rights. (Again, we’ll stick to the basic scenario and skip ancillary rights.) And although it’s called a “sale,” really it’s more akin to a rental. You are giving the publisher the right to display your story first, but that’s all. Once he’s done that (and after an exclusivity period), you are free to license secondary serial rights (or more) to anyone who takes previously-printed fiction (“reprints”). And there are others, of course, like audio rights.

There are markets that will accept reprints, and pay for them, albeit at a lower rate than for first serial rights. But once  your story is yours again, you need do nothing but submit it. If it sells, you’re paid a second time for the same work. You can be paid again and again, as many times as someone is willing to buy that story. A popular story (like an award-winner) can be sold half-a-dozen times. I’ve been paid up to three times for the same story myself.

And I only had to write it once…

#SFWApro

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It will come as no surprise to pretty much anyone that writers think of their stories as their children. I have discussed this metaphor myself; I would find it hard to believe that any writer doesn’t feel that way. (If you’re a writer and you don’t feel that way, please let me know in the comments, because I’d love to have that conversation.)

And as we all know, parents want their children to do as well in life as they can. In people terms, it means a good job, or placing your child in the best college. In writer terms, this means placing your story in the best venue. “Best” may mean most highly regarded, most visible for awards, or highest-paying. In SFF circles, these priorities overlap until they are almost the same. Whether this is a good thing is open to debate, but it is undeniably true.

Personally,  I aim for the high-paying markets that accept stories somewhere in the neighborhood of what I’ve written, which is pretty easy because most magazines have open guidelines. In other words, besides maybe only accepting SF or fantasy, they’re pretty receptive to however you interpret the genre (short of some rather horrific line-crossing exceptions that I won’t go into). I also like markets that respond relatively quickly (but then again, who doesn’t?).

Now, there are two kinds of markets I submit to (except in special circumstances), and they are defined by pay rates: “pro” and “semi-pro.” “Pro” markets are those paying $0.06/word and above (this being the minimum rate set for qualification by SFWA). “Semi-pro” markets pay $0.01 – $0.03/word.* I typically do not submit to markets paying less.

I start, of course, with the pro venues. But what happens when you can’t sell a story, and you run out of pro venues? Do you move on to the semi-pro markets? Therein lies the problem…

Writers can get very attached to their stories, and unlike with children (we hope), writers have favorites. And every writer can tell you about “my favorite story that I just can’t sell.”  I have one, but it’s in submission right now (I believe for the 46th time), so I can’t tell you which it is. I used to have a second favorite, but it sold (to a pro market) after 35 rejections. I could sell my favorite story any time I wanted, but I refuse to sell it for less than pro rates. I will not send my baby to anything but an Ivy League college.

Nowadays, new markets pop up all the time, some paying pro rates, so I can keep sending this story out with hope in my heart. But I can’t do it with all of my stories, and some I’m not that attached to. But when you’re selling to semi-pro markets, and you’re talking about one that pays 2 1/2 cents per word versus another that pays 3, you have to weigh other considerations. Is one better known in the field? Paper versus electronic? How quickly does the editor get back with rejections? (Once you’ve had a story sitting at a market for a year without a word, you get wary.)

Since I am unfortunately not in a position to sell everything to pro magazines, this is a frequent argument in my head. Depending on the story, the state of various markets (some are only open part-time), and how long it’s been since I’ve made a sale, the argument ends differently every time. Sometimes I even change my mind after a few submissions, adjusting my expectations up or down.

There are those children who will never leave the house, and you just have to put them away. (And by that I mean stories, not real children!) But even they can surprise you. I have sold stories that I thought were out of options.

And you know what? I’m proud of them too.

*When Asimov got his start in the 1940s, he was making up to $0.01/word.

#SFWApro

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I just stumbled on the cover art for the first issue of Cirsova, in which my story, “Rose by Any Other Name” is featured, and with my name on the cover. I have been on the cover of a magazine before, but not of an initial issue; as it is sure to become a collector’s item, I suggest you plan to buy yours at the earliest opportunity!

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Writers are philosophical creatures. We contemplate the meaning of Existence, and try to explicate the mysteries of Life through our Art. We know that although we do not possess the One Truth, we do possess the ability to articulate bits of Truth in a way others cannot. This explains our exalted position throughout history and why we are so well regarded (and compensated) today.

Okay, what writers really are is good liars. But the part of about philosophy is true, too, to some extent in every project. And sometimes it’s not in the project, but in the presentation.

It’s no secret that publishers and editors are people, and people have principles and ideas. Not everyone’s ideas and principles agree, and this applies to writers and the editors and publishers they sell to.

There have been some famous examples of this, the most recent being the Sad Puppies boycotting Tor. (Yes, they started the boycott for a specific reason, but they hated Tor’s editors already.) That’s not my point. I have sold stories to editors and publishers on both sides of the Great American Political Divide, mostly in cases where I didn’t know the “relevant” politics until later. In most cases, though, I still have no clue what politics or causes my editors and publishers espouse. The same applies to writers, although I do read some authors whose politics I know I disagree with.

What to do when I know ahead of time that a publisher holds beliefs I don’t hold? Ah, there’s the rub. I guess it’s just a matter of “what” and “how much.” What position does the publisher take? And how militant is the position? For me, it’s about the fiction. Obviously publishers and editors have their tastes. Aesthetic tastes dictate the magazine’s content. Do political tastes influence the market as well, and am I lending an implicit endorsement by publishing there?

If yes (and I disagree with their position), I’ll stay away. So far that doesn’t appear to have happened. And so far (to my knowledge) every time there has been a disagreement it’s been a matter of conflicting principles. I can write from differing viewpoints, and I like to think I can handle other people’s. If it’s a principled stand, I can handle it. If you’re using it to spew hate, that’s different.

I don’t believe in avoiding an author because I don’t like his politics. I don’t believe in blacklisting a market because I don’t agree with the publisher’s politics. And if I’ve sold a story, it’s a contract I will honor even if I find out something later I don’t agree with. With the way the internet works, however, it’s getting harder not to know ahead of time.

There are only so many markets in the world. It’s a balancing act. You have to be philosophical.

#SFWApro

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Fair warning: This is about that Hugo mess. I won’t be offended if you decide to read Scalzi instead.

I am a Depressed Doggie. I would call myself a sad puppy, but there are connotations I don’t want to invoke. Besides, the Sad Puppies are the root of the problem. Them and their Hugo ballot. Because you know what? For all that they want to “save” SFF, and for all that they champion real science fiction, the good old stuff of rocketships and blasters and alien invasions and fun stuff…

…their taste stinks.

Okay, maybe that’s too harsh. In most categories (disclosure, I read only the novella, novelette, and short story categories), I was able to read all the way through nearly all of the selections. And most of what I read (all the way through) was competent. Not surprising, since it had all been published, sometimes by top-flight markets into which I would love to break. But it wasn’t Hugo-worthy.

I’ve had some discussions with friends about what exactly makes a story “Hugo-worthy,” and the results have been mixed. In the end, I know it when I see it. To draw on a personal example, my first story in Daily Science Fiction, “Grinpa,” received a very nice review from Diabolical Plots. In fact, it was their only Recommended story that month. In explaining his choice, the editor said, “I should point out a recommended qualification is a story that makes me go ‘Wow!’ after I read it.” That’s how I feel about the Hugos. If a story didn’t make me go “wow,” it’s just not special enough to merit an award as “the best.”

And only one story out of everything I read even approached a “wow.” Frankly, in another year, I wouldn’t have voted for that one, but I felt like I had to vote for something. Because in every other fiction category I voted No Award. And after this one story, I voted No Award in that category, too.

How sad is that?

I know that the Puppies claim they had no agenda but to promote under-appreciated authors, but really? Maybe they’re under-appreciated for a reason. Most of the stories (though not all) were readable, even good, but that doesn’t make them great. Good doesn’t win awards; great does. I published a story that was eligible last year. It was readable; it was good…I think it was equal to most of what the Puppies put on the ballot. But that’s the problem: it was equal to most of what the Puppies put on the ballot. It was good, and readable, but not great. Not great enough for a Hugo.

That’s not easy to admit. But it does make me a better writer.

A Hugo-worthy writer? We’ll have to wait and see.

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