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Just Do It!

28 Feb

If there is one piece of advice I give to wannabe writers again and again, it’s “Write it and submit it.” If you don’t do it, you might never know failure, but you’ll certainly never know success.

I’ve known many excellent writers who have come nowhere near the success they deserve and the one thing they all have in common is that they either don’t write much or they do, but refuse to submit it. Of course, some of them have good reasons for not doing so – they may be busy with their family commitments or pursuing a career they love, or have other artistic talents that take precedence – but most fail to reach their potential because they just don’t believe in themselves. Perhaps, they worry about the quality of their writing and, so, just don’t put pen to paper. Or, they continually revise it, seeking elusive perfection rather than actually submitting it. Or, they produce reams of work, but, fearing rejection, put it to one side and write something else that nobody will ever read. Then, there are those who are too caught up in every day minutiae, the need to earn a crust, who put off writing till for a tomorrow that never comes.

This is the reason so much rubbish gets published commercially. Professional publishers need reliable writers who can produce to deadlines more than they need good writers. If only those excellent writers would actually write and submit, they would be successes. Instead, the mediocre writers succeed unopposed.

Hence my exhortation. Write your story, poem or article – and, then, submit it. It may be rejected. In fact, it probably will be rejected – even the best novels were usual rejected several times before being accepted for publication, and even well-established writers will sometimes have work rejected. That is a hazard of being a writer – but, if you can understand it has little to do with the quality of your writing (whilst paying attention to any feedback you receive), you will be well on your way to success. Those who submit lots of work and resubmit rejected work stand a much higher chance of acceptance than those who write little and allow rejection to stifle their work’s chances.

If you have written something, you have achieved more than many potentially-great writers. If you submit it, you’ve made the first step towards publication. Keep at it, don’t be scared, and success is likely to come your way. Give up, and you’re guaranteed to fail…

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Redundant Advice

29 Jan

There are many, many sites out there offering suggestions on improving your writing style. Most advice, if not applied slavishly, is well worth considering. Not every piece will apply to everything you write, but you will become more aware of what you are writing and why, helping you to improve.

As an example of why you shouldn’t just apply an idea without fully understanding it and when not to use it, I will take as my example eliminating redundancies in language. You are most likely aware of such things as ATM Machine (that is, Automatic Teller Machine Machine), but not all apparently-redundant words are actually redundant.

To consider just a couple of examples I found one site listing hundreds of redundant words they recommended writers should edit out, take ‘circle around’ and ‘climb up’. The site that suggests reducing ‘circle around’ to just ‘circle’, but this raises an immediate issue for me – the former implies 180 degrees (in the sense of getting behind someone), while the latter means 360 degrees. Of course, a sentence such as “circle around behind them”, could be changed to “circle behind them” and still make sense as it retains sufficient context. But,other sentences could be rendered gibberish or end up changing what you meant to say into something quite different.

It’s a similar problem with cutting ‘climb up’ to ‘climb’ – you can also climb down (as well as in, out and along), so it really depends upon whether the option is solely one way or not. Again, just assuming a word is a redundancy can lead to confusion.

In addition, a policy of redundancies also ignores the flow of the sentence. Sometimes a redundant word is present because it makes the sentence flow better. These can be removed without damaging context, but, sometimes, you may be left with a sentence that is less pleasing to the ear. (Of course, this can also work the other way – too many redundant words can make your writing clunky. Ultimately, you need to read aloud each variation and hear how they sound, not rely upon rules.)

So, consider the advice, but make sure you are applying it properly and you’ll produce better writing.

Word Limits

3 Oct

The word count can be confusing for those just beginning on the path of the writer. Thanks for the miracle of wordprocessing, you no longer need to count words per line and lines per page (unless you write longhand and need an estimate before you type it). Word or Libre Office or whichever program you use will tell you just how many words your document contains. Easy!

A word of warning, though. Remember that this count will include every word in the document, including the title and ‘The End’ (neither of which counts towards the total). If you have included your contact details at the beginning of the document, they will be counted towards the total (however, any words in the header or footer won’t be counted), but you can highlight your actual submission or delete unwanted words and then click restore to put them back once you have the word count.

Beware, too, of section breaks (such as *** or #), which will show up as words, but don’t actually count towards the total, and hyphenated words, which will show up as one word but may be counted individually. You may wish to remove hyphens and other such things before getting an accurate count.

So, you now know how many words your story contains. But, how many words are you allowed? The numbed will be listed for the magazine or competition – there may be a minimum and/or a maximum. You should always read the guidelines to see if these are hard limits (that is, you cannot break them by even one word) or soft limits (that is, you are allowed to break them by a reasonable amount – what counts as reasonable may be stated, otherwise a few words over is definitely okay and as much as 10% might be considered acceptable). If not otherwise stated, you can usually assume that you can go a few words over for a magazine or anthology, as the editor is likely to have the leeway to balance longer stories with shorter ones (although you probably wouldn’t be paid for excess words, if being paid by the word) and they may be willing to work with you to edit the story so that it fits. Competition entries should stick to the stated wordcount as deviating by even one word is likely to see your submission disqualified.

Personally, for competitions, I try to keep comfortably within the stated word-limits, just in case the word count I make it doesn’t match that of the judges. Leaving a cushion means you are unlikely to fall foul of a disagreement. (Remember, the judges are unlikely to contact you, so you won’t have the chance to dispute a disagreement.)

But, don’t worry about it too much – a little commonsense should see you through most situations.

It’s Christmaaasss!

16 Dec

Yes, it’s the festive season and writers’ thoughts are turning to snow, decorations and Dickensian ghostliness. The problem is, if you’re writing a story or poem now, it’s too late to submit to an editor. Indeed, even if you submitted work in the last two or three months, it was probably too late.

Draw inspiration now, but you need to know when it’s best to submit your work (indeed, the same goes for other festivals, seasons and anniversaries – often you will need to submit three months to a year early). Most editors will want to receive submissions by September at the latest, some will want it by June. A few will want festive submissions as early as January or February. Keep an eye on their deadlines, but if a magazine doesn’t have a specific festive issue, look for ones planned for release in November or December and consider submitting something festive that fits with their theme.

As far as Atlantean Publishing goes, our primary festive publications are Christmas Chillers and Xmas Bards and I want submissions by October at the latest. Festive issues of Garbaj and Bard sometimes appear – based upon whether I’ve had sufficient submissions to warrant it – and the second Monomyth of the year is usually late enough that festive submissions will be considered. Likewise, there is an annual horror poetry booklet release for Hallowe’en and there are often issues of Bard (and sometimes Garbaj) that reference the seasons, Valentine’s Day, Hallowe’en, etc; I need to receive submissions at least a couple of months in advance.

So, put pen to paper (or fingertips to keyboard) and produce something seasonal and send it to Atlantean or another publisher when the time is right!

Sourcing Inspiration

22 Apr

People often wonder where they can find inspiration. Other than the suggestion that they try certain discreet shops down dark side alleys, the obvious answers are from life, history and dreams. (Although as Neil Gaiman pointed out in an article on inspiration, dreams as a whole aren’t the best source of inspiration, given most follow ‘dream logic’ that makes little real sense and often only resonates with the dreamer, certain dreams hold within them the kernels, perhaps even the entire plots, of stories within them, while the stranger ones can still be a source for surreal and bizarre fiction.)

But, there is another source from which you can draw inspiration: fiction, poetry and song, even art.

Now, I’m not talking about fan fiction, but inspiration for your own stories. Fan fiction is when you play with someone else’s toys without their permission and, obviously, restricts what you can do with the finished story. Of course, there are intermediate levels involving shared worlds such as the Cthulhu Mythos and out-of-copyright works and humorous takes on in-copyright works.

Shared worlds are open to anyone to play with, although there may be restrictions on certain elements. Out-of-copyright works can (usually, unless trademarks are involved) be reproduced without restriction, meaning you can do things like rewrite endings, create sequels, change the format (such as from a play to a novel), add new characters, or recast the events in another era, genre or location, or add zombies to an existing work. Humorous takes, such as spoofs or using characters or a setting for satire, are generally acceptable.

But, what I’m most interested in here is the inspiration you can draw from in-copyright works. Of course, there’s nothing stopping you from adapting a plot as you would an out-of-copyright one by moving it to another era, genre or location, given that you cannot copyright ideas, but it is a far riskier proposition as you may inadvertently infringe a trademark, plagiarise a scene or be accused of ‘passing off’. What is more practical is, as you read a novel or poem, listen to a song or watch a movie, to consider the ideas that it sparks.

For example, you may think characters make the wrong decision or ignored a better solution to the plot. Or, you might see a different approach to a setting. Or, you may wonder what the characters would be like in a different setting. Try to go for the less obvious. Elements from Harry Potter and the Fables comic inspired me to write an entirely mundane novel. George Lucas drew from samurai and cowboy films, amongst others, for aspects of Star Wars. Take elements from more than source and mix them up to make something original.

Even though they seldom suggest a whole story, poetry, songs and art can suggest characters and scenes. Anything can spark an idea and any idea can be sourced for a story. Keep notes and see what develops.

Christmas Future

24 Dec

Set aside Christmas present for a moment and turn your mind towards next year. As you doubtless are aware, Christmas comes once a year, which means now is the perfect time to be drawing inspiration for stories, poems and articles to submit to festive magazines and anthologies in 2016.

Remember, most magazines and many anthologies set their festive deadlines in the early or middle part of the year, so it’s worth writing your submissions now in order to meet those deadlines. If nothing else, remember that Atlantean Publishing will be looking for submissions for Xmas Bards, Christmas Chillers and festive-themed issues of Bard and Garbaj (details will be on the wiki in the New Year).

Merry Christmas to you all and all the best for 2016 – may it be an inspiring year!

So, you want to be published? Part Two

26 Oct

So, you want to published? Well, if you’ve read part one, you ought to have a suitable manuscript to submit. Time to send it off! But, where to? And, what does publication entail?

The following sections seek to cover the main points, but can only constitute a broad overview. Laws vary between countries, guidelines vary between publishers, and things can and do change over time. If you are uncertain, query or research further before submitting or signing a contract.

Markets

The first thing you need to do, is research where to send your manuscript. There are many publishers out there and it is a waste of both your time and theirs if you send it to the wrong one or submit it in the wrong way, and that’s before you consider which publisher would actually be the best one to approach.

Of course, while the structure of this two-part article has assumed you have a submission ready to shop around, it is equally possible to write one aimed at a specific market, for example, to meet the theme of an anthology. Neither approach is the ‘right way’ and even if you aim your writing at a specific publication, the odds are that it will be rejected and you’ll be shopping it around anyway (and, if you have something that suits the theme and length already written, it makes sense to submit it and direct your energies elsewhere).
But, whether you’re writing for a specific publication or trying to find a home for something you’ve already written, you do need to make sure you properly research the market to ensure your piece fits and that you understand issues such as rights and payment.

You may be surprised to learn how often people do something silly, such as sending a short story to a novel publisher or a horror story to a romance anthology. Of course, sometimes publishers are to blame, if their guidelines are vague or so dense that it’s difficult to locate specific details, but that generally results in errors like sending a 4000 word story when the cut-off length is 3000 words, rather than the sort of egregious errors I’ve mentioned, and a sensible writer will query if they cannot find the specifics they require.

Rights

Rights refers to what you are allowing the publisher to do with your work. Many publishers, unfortunately, insist on First Publication Rights – that is, they only want work that hasn’t previously been published. Sometimes, this may be more restricted – they may want work that hasn’t been published in print, but accept work that has appeared online (or vice versa), or work that hasn’t appeared within a specific geographical area (so First British Publication Rights would mean work that hasn’t previously been published in the UK); this latter is less common now, thanks to various print-on-demand (POD) platforms that allow a publisher to release a book in multiple regions at no extra cost.

Self-published work is considered published and most publishers consider work that has appeared on a blog or website or in publications with a limited circulation to be published, too. They usually state this in their guidelines, but, if in doubt, as always, query.

Because few publishers are interested in reprints (or, at least, unsolicited reprints – that is, reprints they didn’t ask for) and usually pay less, you do need to be sure that the publication is the right place for your work. Or, to put it another way, it makes sense to start with the better paying and more prestigious publications before trying lower or non-paying publications or posting it on your blog; you can always seek to have it republished or decide to put it on your blog later.

Of course, that decision has to be balanced by the marketability of your work. Some genres have spawned large numbers of magazines and anthologies, others are quite niche, and if your work falls into the latter, you may find there are few options open to you (just as there are fewer paying outlets for poetry than fiction).
Publication rights cover both print publication and electronic/digital publication and many publishers will seek to acquire both as they release their publications in both formats. Although many publishers, as mentioned, are seeking works that haven’t been published in any format, if they only acquire the rights to publish it in one format, then you may be able to find a publisher of the other who will regard it as unpublished. Print publication can be subdivided into various formats, such as periodical (magazine), paperback, hardback and large-print. These are seldom referred to when it comes to anthologies as most publishers are acquiring the rights to your work for an anthology that will only appear in a specific format, but will come into play where novels are concerned as it is fairly common for different publishers to handle different formats (meaning you either sell them individually or sell them all to one publisher who then resells or leases the rights to other publishers).

As well as straightforward publication rights, the publisher may also be seeking such rights as audio (that is audiobooks) and translation rights (in order to translate it into other languages). Other rights, such as film and stage rights, also exist, but publishers will not normally seek to acquire these. If you retain the audio rights to your work, you can freely record it yourself or sell it to an audio publisher (it is debatable whether this would be regarded as published, but you may find it easiest to have it published first before selling the audio rights, as most audio publishers are happy to accept previously published work). Translation rights exist for each language and do not impinge on the English language rights (so if you have had your story translated into German – or wrote it in German and then translated it into English – you can offer it as unpublished in English unless the publisher specifically mentions translations; but, note that competitions may ban or restrict the entry of translations). Naturally, film rights allow the story to be made into a film and stage rights allow the story to be adapted for the stage and performed, and will usually be sold to those in those fields (you are unlikely to have a say over how the work is adapted).

When granting rights to a publisher, you need to be aware of how long you are granting the rights for and whether or not they are exclusive. One-time publication rights is most common with periodicals and means that a single print run will be produced – although back issues could potentially be available for a long time, once the last copy is sold, no more will be produced without a new agreement being negotiated. Exclusivity refers to the work being restricted to appearing in only that publication (or, for novels, only with that publisher). One year from publication is the most common period for exclusivity, although it may range from three months to three years. Some publications only ever seek non-exclusive publication rights (although they may request the courtesy of exclusivity for a short period). Longer periods of exclusivity should be considered carefully as they will prevent you from reselling or republishing the work elsewhere. Non-exclusive rights refer to how long the publisher may keep the work in print.

In the past, you might sell a work for a single printing or allowing reprinting within a certain period, but with print-on-demand publishing, a publisher can keep an anthology or novel in print indefinitely and this presents something of a problem for the writer as many publishers are now asking for open-ended non-exclusive rights, which may affect the ability to resell work in the future if a publisher is seeking exclusivity. Of course, if you are receiving royalties, this isn’t a bad deal, as you’ll receive royalties for as long as the book sells, but if you sold your story for a one-off payment, the publisher is far more likely to benefit from the deal than you.

Payment

Payment can be a contentious issue! The sensible writer will, of course, avoid vanity presses (those publishers who charge you for the pleasure of seeing your work in print) and will generally avoid those publishers who offer no payment or contributor copy of any sort, as you’ll be paying them if you want a copy (although I do not class with these those webzines and ezines that are freely available to access or download, as you can get a copy for free). But, should a writer submit work to a publisher that only provides a contributor copy or to publishers that offer only royalties (or those webzines and ezines I mentioned)? That is a decision the writer alone can make.

When deciding where to submit work, the writer needs to consider multiple factors such as rights, length, effort, exposure, prestige, personal satisfaction and saleability. Firstly, the more rights you’re offering up, the better the payment you should expect. If a publisher wants audio and translation rights in addition to print publication rights, they should be prepared to pay more. The longer the period of exclusivity they request, the more they ought to offer, and an open-ended period of non-exclusive publication should offer more than one-off publication rights. If the publisher wants to wants to acquire the copyright to a piece outright, the payment ought to be good as you will lose all rights to exploit it yourself in the future.

When a publisher pays by the word or line of poetry, length will, obviously, have a direct effect upon how much you are paid (and allows you to easily compare payment – 2c per word is more than 1c per word). But, you also have to consider length and effort (frequently, but not always, closely related) when deciding what a piece is worth. You may be happy to put a limerick you dashed off in five minutes on your blog, but the epic poem that took you months to get right should be given more respect. Generally, the more time and effort that has gone into your work, the more you want to earn from it.

While the size of the readership will affect pay rates, as small presses with small readerships generally lack the income to pay well, if at all, you might equally be willing to accept lower pay for the opportunity to get your name out there. I’m not talking about those publishers who offer ‘exposure’ under payment (every publisher should be offering that!), but situations such as having a poem on a non-paying webzine that is read by lots of people or in a local newspaper for free. It may be that not being paid or paid less might help you to generate a readership that will increase your income in the long term. Equally the prestige of a publication may affect your decision – is it better to earn $50 from a midline publication or $10 from a prestige publication that will look good on your writing CV? Again, you’re making a call based on long term gain – can a publication credit leverage you better pay rates or more readers in the long term?

Personal satisfaction is that nebulous element of just how happy you are to see your name in print. Some writers are only really interested in writing as a hobby and will be more than happy to see their poem or story in print (although, no matter how pleased, I would recommend they should avoid paying for a copy). Some writers are full-time professionals and would place a paycheque far ahead of any sense of satisfaction. Most are somewhere in between. Only you can decide how satisfying any given publication credit is. This may even change over time. A beginning writer may feel that building up a portfolio of publication credits is their main aim, but once they are established will look mainly at the income they make. Equally, a beginning writer may be hardnosed in pursuit of money. It’s entirely up to you.

Saleability is the last thing to consider. That is, the question of how much would you expect the work to make you. Generally, a reprint will earn you less than an unpublished piece, but a piece that has proven popular may sell better as a reprint. Often, the more niche a piece is, the less it is likely to earn you due to the smaller audience, although if there is sufficient demand and few writers, the reverse may be true. The actual quality of the writing will affect the saleability – the better you are at writing, the greater your chances of being accepted by the higher-paying markets as you will usually have far more competition. And, of course, the more popular and famous you are, the more people will be willing to pay for your work.

By considering all these aspects, you can decide what a reasonable pay rate for any given piece of work is (and you may decide that different pieces are worth different amounts).

The same issues apply to self-publishing when deciding how much to charge for your book. Obviously, you’re keeping your rights, so they don’t factor in, and exposure will either be guesswork or based on experience, but you will need to balance your sense of satisfaction, the book’s saleability and the amount of time and effort (and any costs, such as paying for a cover image) that went into it.

Contracts

The problem with publishing contracts is that 90% of them cover amounts far too small to make enforcing them worthwhile (especially when publisher and writer are in different countries). Only if the writer goes on to become famous or the book sells really well is it worth pursuing any breach. Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop publishers from issuing contracts for piddling amounts, often with pointlessly complex language and more clauses than necessary, meaning that you will almost certainly have to deal with them.

Of course, where larger amounts of money are involved or specific duties covered (for example, the publisher has promised to provide a certain level of publicity or the writer has agreed to write a novel to a set deadline) then a contract is a must, but many are nothing more than an inconvenience.

Unfortunately, whether a contract is offered and how complex it is has little to do with the amounts involved. Most small press publishers that offer only a complimentary copy work solely on an informal basis of acceptance letters or emails, but you could still receive a lengthy contract for exactly the same offer.

Generally, you do not need to have a lawyer look over publishing contracts, as the issues are straight forward – what rights are you granting the publisher and for how long, what format will it be published in, when it is due to be published, what happens if publication is delayed or cancelled, and how much will you be paid and when.

But, you do need to read them carefully to be certain nothing slips by you, especially if the language is convoluted and flowery. The last thing you want is to discover you’ve given away more rights than you intended. Most publishers are decent, honest folk, but this might happen unintentionally if the contract is poorly worded (I had to ask for one contract to be reworded because if implied I would have to pay the publisher if I wanted to reprint the story in my own anthology).

Given that most contracts cover such small amounts, the cost of having it looked at by a lawyer will be prohibitive. But, if you aren’t sure a contract is legit or you just don’t understand it, you do have options that don’t cost a penny. If you know a professional writer or publisher, they may be willing to look at it for you and offer their opinion (but bear in mind they aren’t an expert and can only offer a layman’s advice, and remember they are busy people and may not be able to spare the time). If you are a member of a body such as the Society of Authors, you are likely to have access to professional legal advice provided by the body. There are also sites online where you can post legal questions to get lawyers’ opinions (some are free and rely on whoever, if anyone, looks at your question, others charge but guarantee your question will receive an answer; of course, there is no guarantee that the person who answers your question will be an expert in contract law, but they should at least be able to offer some guidance).
If you are lucky enough to be offered a substantial amount of money, then do seek professional legal advice to make sure everything is legitimate.

Today, it is common for contracts to be signed electronically, using Adobe, or for scanned signed copies or even a typed, emailed declaration to be accepted. These methods are held to be held legally binding.

Go, submit!

You now have a basic understanding of all the key points, so what are you waiting for? Go, submit your work.