The Process of Publishing Short Fiction

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^What the process of publishing something can be like ^

 

I can only speak with a tiny amount of authority on the issue – I’ve just had something accepted (professional publishing-wheeee!). But I love “How I did A, B or C” posts, so I thought I’d write one myself.

How I managed to get a short accepted:

  • I wrote a short story that actually worked

I’ve been writing long fiction since I was 12. I wrote a 6 book series (now trunked – and it’s a good thing, believe me), that I finished before I was 17. I used to get up an write for two hours before school.

But writing something less than 60k? And making that something a complete story? F*ck me, it was hard.

Eventually though, I came up with something I liked, and thought was publishable. Thus, step one was completed.

  • I researched submission etiquette

Novels need queries. Short fiction – cover letters. I found this post, by Zanzjan (who hads been professional published in short ficition and hangs around on AW sharing all sorts of wisdom) to be invaluable.

No, not the dating site for gay men, but the submission grinder. Basically, it sorts fiction markets into genre and pay-rate, and lets you track your submissions and see how long it’s taken for others to get a reply. It also lets you run a search to see who might buy your story. Most useful tool ever.

  • Submitted something

Just one little something. Didn’t hear back for over a month – that made me excited, as most “no”s came within the first two weeks (I knew this because I had the data on submissions from the submissions grinder. As I said -useful site)

  • Rejection

Form letter 😦 At day 36 too. I promptly didn’t submit anything else for the next two months

  • Joined Write1Sub1 on Absolute Write Water Cooler

Absolute Write is a writing forum. Write1Sub1 (W1S1) is an area on that forum mostly population by short fiction writers who do just that – they write something, then they sub it out. Repeat indefinitely. It has useful threads such as “Middling It” (hanging out while you wait around in the middle of nowhere purgatory waiting to find out if anything has read your damn story), and Rejectormancy (hugging and giving each other encouragement when it doesn’t work out) and Braggage (yays! when it does work out).

  • Submitted more stuff. Now, more than one story at a time

With newfound encouragement from W1S1, and the ability to track where each of my stories were (thanks again to the SubmissionGrinder), I had another crack at it

  • Rejection

Pretty self explanatory. Got the occasional personalised rejection

  • Rinse and repeat until September
  • Get a reply that’s different.

Approx 90 days after I’d send out the piece, I got a note back asking if I could both make it shorter, and add to the world building. I was at home at the time, so didn’t get much done for the next month.

  • Rewrite and resubmit.

I managed to make the damned thing both shorter, and give it more backstory. Sent it back to the magazine

  • Wait 60 days

There is a reason why “Middling it” exists as a forum

  • Get back a yes!

All the skipping around.

The thing to note though – this process took over a year. I first submitted something in December of 2014. I was accepted in Jan of 2016. The piece that was accepted spent 5 months going back and forth. I had to wait five months for an answer.

This is not unusual.

I don’t know if this is a process that is going to repeat itself. As I’ve said elsewhere, in 2017, I won’t be able to publish for profit (visa conditions, yay!). Maybe when I try again, the process will be different. Maybe it’ll take longer. Maybe, even though there’ll be a gap in production, this one professional publication will help make things a bit quicker. Who knows.

 

Image courtersy of Emilia Eriksson, via Flickr, under Creative Commons

Writing for Free vs Writing for Money

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This has been something on my mind lately. For two reasons – firstly, I’ve had something accepted by a professional SFF mag this week, at professional rates. That’s been super exciting. But something else that happens at the end of this year is that I change my visa type (I am not currently working in the country of my nationality). The visa I change onto in 2017 has conditions attached, the biggest one being the I can’t earn money outside of my sponsored profession.

So I basically won’t be able to earn money from writing without breaking the terms of my visa. Which is a bit disheartening. But it’s not forever, but I don’t really want to stop writing during that period (I think I’d find it hard to be honest – I’ve been doing this since I was 13. That’s more than 10 years)

Thus, I’m thinking about the difference between writing for pay, and writing for free. There’s a couple of things that writing for money gives you:

 

  • Validation (Yay! Someone’s liked my thing enough that they’re paying for it)
  • Working with other professionals (Getting paid normally means being edited – something I’m really looking forward to)
  • Exposure (people see your stuff because it’s coming from a trusted source)
  • All the other stuff that a publisher does (artwork! podcasting! marketing!)

Writing for free:

  • Readers (I could just write, but then I’m just talking to an empty room. Words are made to be read)
  • Feedback (I’ll see reader reactions in real-time (via views, likes, kudos, etc)
  • Encouragement (I won’t just be talking to an empty room)
  • Motivaton (If I’m writing it for someone, I’m more likely to write in.)

There are losses though in writing for free

  • No dosh (this isn’t a massive issue for me, as it’ll be the compromise I make to keep my full time, much better paying, enjoyable job)
  • I lose out on the exposure, the editing, and the marketing/artwork/ect
  • It’s still published. Which leads to the biggest problem I’m struggling with atm:

 

Anything that I think is work publishing, I sort of want to publish professionally.

If this was a perfect life, what I’d do is I’d do the rounds with a short story, and when everyone had said no, I’d chuck it on my own website. That way I’d get a nice mix of the pros of the above, without the cons.

But I won’t be able to submit anything past Jan of 2017. So the writing for free with will be my main focus with my writing.

I can’t sort out what I want to do. Do I take my current WIP and make that my focus? Do I take the short that’s made the rounds with most places, and start a series of connected shorts? Do I do both? Do I try something totally different (e.g.learn to draw and start a comic)?

And then what platform? Wattpad? Amazon? My own blog?

*sighs*

 

 

Picture courtesy of Andre Ribeirinho via Flickr Creative Commons

Writing What you ‘Want’ vs Writing What is Publishable

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The two aren’t generally mutually exclusive, of course, but sometimes they feel like it. And sometimes you just write things because you want to.

Maybe they’re not all the publishable, maybe they’re the wrong length. Maybe they’re the wrong type of story. Maybe you’re writing a vampire novel in an already over-saturated market. Maybe you really have a thing for westerns.

But why do it ? Anyone who’s been writing/doing stories for a while will tell you they have multitudes of ideas, some more “publishable” than others. I currently have a list of possible ideas – and I know which ones would have a better chance of doing well.

But I don’t make my decisions based upon “what would do well.” If I want to write a quasi-epic contemporary political thriller fantasy novel with a bi main character who gets married to another guy as a major plot point, then I will, god damn it !

😛

More seriously though – I think decisions on what you write, what you start, should be exactly that: decisions. Thought out, proper decisions. I wanted to write a novella to see if I could. Getting it published wasn’t in there. I’d like to, because I think it hasn’t turned out half bad, but if I send it to the 7 publishers who accept that length and they all say no, then *shrugs*. Publishing wasn’t my main aim.

Why write that mess of a genre bender described above? Because it started as a work for a friend, and I quite enjoyed the world and the characters I built, so I just… kept going.

Will some of my work be more… mainstream in the future? Yes. Because sometimes I’ll want to write something a bit more specific. Sometimes I’ll want to see if I can get a, b or c published.

But at the end of the day, I think as long as your aware of the consequences that come attached to certain pieces – for example, novellas, which sell pretty much not at all – then I’d go ahead and write whatever you want. Just be aware of exactly what you’re letting yourself in for, and if you’re not going to be happy with that outcome, pick something else.

Again, most people have more than enough ideas to be choosey. So pick something you’ll enjoy, in full knowledge of where it will most likely lead, and get on with it 🙂

Image taken from flickr, under creative commons, attributed to Dee Ashley

Revision: Making a Mess Less Complicated

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What the First Draft Often Looks Like

There’s a lot you can fix in a first draft. It’s why they’re first drafts. You can focus on character, world building, plot, inner cohesion, the writing, the flow, the pacing – the list goes on and on.

If you were to try and do it all at once, you’d go mad. Well I would anyway. So what to do?

The first thing I think you have to recognise is that there are things that you change which effect other things. If you change the plot, then you change the pacing. if you change the characters, you change the plot. On the other hand, changing the order of a sentence does no effect much except how the reader experiences your world (this is important, but it’s not going to cause massive changes to everything else). You can fiddle with pacing without effecting character. You can correct for inner cohesion and extrapolate on your world building without having too much effect on everything else (this is not always true – sometimes when you change something to make sense, you realise you’ve created a massive plot hole), but it’s generally true.

I find the easiest way to approach revision is by concentrating on one thing at once. As there is no point in line editing if you’re going to delete that section of text because of a plot change, there is a certain order to these things. My plot comes from my characters (it’s just how I work), which is why my order is the way it is.

Revision order:

  1. First Draft : get everything down. figure out what I’m writing
  2. Second Draft: revise for characters: Arches, the interactions and consequences of the interactions between characters. Growth/change. Motivation.
  3. Third Draft: Plot – where are my acts, turning points, does my pacing work out, where are my scenes and sequels, do the make sense.
  4. Forth Draft: Internal integrity and world building: Does everything make sense, do I obey my own laws/world rules ect
  5. Fifth Draft: Writing. Line by line stuff.

I find this approach takes what could be a very overwhelming process, and makes it far easier to handle. Some people may give pacing far more attention, some may put plot ahead of character, but again, I think the idea behind breaking it down like that still works quite well regardless of how your approach things.

Picture taken from Flickr creative commons, attributed to Mike Linksvayer

On Finishing – The Virtue of Revision

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I finished the novella today. Took far longer than I anticipated, despite the fairly productive first ten days. I managed to get sick in the middle of it all, and went onto relief (which means I get punted around all the different ambulance stations in the area), so that took up quite a lot of effort and time. Plus I was on proper night shift for the first time in ages, and it pretty much slayed me (do people still say slayed? You would think at 23 that I wouldn’t be feeling that old, but sometimes I have people still in school as patients, and god do I feel old then).

Anyway. Real Life conspired against me, and by the time I actually got around to writing again, I didn’t want to finish the thing.

Why? Because I knew how it would end. This is an issue of mine, and a reason I don’t plot things out before hand. Also, I have a feeling that the motivations behind my main antagonist are not that neatly sketched out. I could do a lot more with more space, but I would need new characters and setting for that, and I’d be writing a novel, not a novella.

Also, I was making up the detail of the climax as I went along, so that didn’t help. There were bits that I wasn’t sure would work. But I did need to finish the thing (momentum generally helps push me through the whole “but I know how it ends now” block). So I finished it.

But how to deal with all these issues? How to make everything gel together on the page?

Well, that’s what revision is for basically. One of the main reasons behind there being detail issues in endings, or having endings that don’t make sense is that you can’t always see the relationship between your climax and what came before. So I have a feeling I’ll have to revise the detail of story to make the ending fit, but that’s doable. I can foreshadow in reverse.

To put it simply – If I use a gun to shoot someone and the gun hasn’t been in the cupboard the whole time? Well I can damn well go back and plant it there if I want to. Problem solved. And I’ve actually finished the thing, which wouldn’t have happened if I’d continually stopped to fret over possible inconsistencies.

This is also the point at which I point out that I am not a plotter. I enjoy revision because I can go and make things make sense. I have a whole schedule of revisions – an order in which I correct things. I have a friend that would go insane if she wrote on knowing something was wrong.

But revision man, revision is awesome. Especially for endings that you’re making up on the fly.

Picture taken from Flickr, under creative commons, attributed to Mikko Luntiala

Momentum, and “Bum in Chair” difficulties (Making Yourself Write)

Sometimes, you’ve just got to take a break. When you’re so sick of your words that you can’t look at them anymore, when you start to roll your eyes at every possible idea you have, when all of your characters seem to do not much more than walk in circles…

Well, take a break. Go on, it’s fine. What’s not fine is not starting again.

Some people find it really difficult to make themselves write. If this is you constantly – well. Maybe try a different form, maybe try a script -shake it up a little. If you’re still at that point but have a burning need to tell a story? Then you’re just going to have to push through the whole writing thing to tell that story.

This inability to make oneself write happens for other reasons too. Sometimes its just good old fashioned procrastination. Sometimes there doesn’t seem to be much point. And sometimes, you’ve just written 2000 words, and you’d like to have a break, thank-you-very-much.

The difficulty with all these is getting back to the story though. Once you’ve given yourself permission to stop, then it becomes very hard to revoke that permission.

Something I’ve found useful is the idea of momentum. If you start, sometimes you’ll just get pulled forwards again. If you don’t – well, maybe you’re done for the night. But starting is honestly sometimes the hardest thing.

So set a timer. Set it for five minutes. If you’re really struggling, schedule a five minute break. But make sure there’s another five minutes of writing time after that.

Cause five minutes isn’t long. Five minutes is nothing. Five minutes is “well if I really hate it, it’s only five minutes” territory.

6 sets of five minutes is also half an hour. Five minutes is a start- and sometimes, once you’ve started, you’ll forget that you’re supposed to stop in five minutes. You’ll keep going.

It’s win-win really. Either you forget about the breaks, or even if you do take them, you’re still writing for half of an hour.

Image taken from Flickr Creative commons, attributed to William Warby

Plot Transitions: from the Beginning to the Middle

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Starting a story is difficult. Continuing it seems far easier, far more logical. At the same time, this section of your story will pretty much determine what the rest of your story looks like. It’s important, almost more so than your beginning.

Stories, at the end of the day, follow a very basic structure.

Something happens. Someone reacts.  There are consequences. Those consequences then prompt reactions from others. these reactions then have consequences. And now we’re in the middle of your story.

Reactions reveal something about the main character. They are important. But consequences – they promise multiple things: story length, atmosphere, character arch, thematic arch.

If the consequences of the first major decision of the characters are large, then the story will be long. If they are small (small in the number of people they involve/how difficult it is to resolve them, not small in the impact they have on the characters) then the story will be short.

A short story can essentially be “something happens, character reacts, consequence occurs”. If those consequences don’t prompt significant action in others, then the story is essentially over unless you make something else that is unconnected happen.

A series of “happenings” that are not connected makes an episodic story – there is no clear cause and effect.

Look at the television series. The start of each new episode in a new “happening.” Within the episode there are far smaller happenings which are tied to previous actions and decisions made by characters.

So your choice of consequences determines both the structure, and the length of your stories.

If the consequence of your main character killing the king is that no-one except the main character knows about it, then you have a short story until someone else discovers it. There are no large consequences, barring the internal ones. If those internal consequences drive the main character to do something which effects more people (so a larger consequence) then you again have a longer story.

If, however, the consequence of your main character killing the king is that everyone knows it was murder, and thus there’s a fight over the legitimacy of the heir – well. That’s a far larger story.

Consequences hint at the genre of the story (one of the above examples is a political drama, the other is about someone’s internal struggle with guilt). They also hint at thematic and character arch. The above stories are going to have a different pattern of character growth, different obstacles for a character to overcome. They’ll look at different issues over the course of their stories.

Much is said about character decisions. And character decisions are important – but they don’t determine how the story goes after those decisions. They just show what the character is prepared to do. They give clues to how the character will act in the future. They show us the characters morals.

It is the consequences of those decisions that are important when talking about structure and plot though. A character can make as many decisions as they want – but if they don’t effect the world around them, if there are no consequences to those decisions, than your story is going to be very short.

Image taken from Flickr, under creative commons, attributed to MattyFlicks