Publication: “The Field Trip” in Nowa Fantastyka

January 29, 2013

NowaFantastyka0113

 

My short story “The Field Trip,” was was originally published in the In Situ anthology from Dagan Books, appears in the February issue of Nowa Fantastyka, Poland’s premier SF magazine.  This is the first time one of my stories has been translated and published in another language, and the magazine looks spectacular. Plus, I get to share the TOC with Tad Williams. How cool is that?


Publication: Life at the Lake’s Shore in FISH

January 27, 2013

fish cover_FINAL sm (1)

At long last, the FISH anthology from Dagan Books is out!

Edited by Carrie Cuinn and KV Taylor, FISH is a collection of strange and wonderful stories of piscine nature.  My own story in this collection is “Life at the Lake’s Shore,” a magical realism retelling of the “Fisherman and the Fish” fairy tale set in Soviet Russia. The story was inspired by the Pushkin’s retelling of the fairy tale, and although it was written back in 2011, it remains one of the strongest short stories I’ve written to date. And if that doesn’t entice you, the TOC is full of stories by awesome people such as Ken Liu, Cat Rambo, Amanda Davis, and many, many more. I just got my contributor copy and can’t wait to start reading!

The e-book is available now, with a paperback copy soon to follow.

As a fledgling small publisher, I know all too well how much of a difference it makes to the publisher’s bottom line when readers choose to buy the e-book directly from the m. So don’t wait to pick it up on Amazon or elsewhere; support Dagan Books by purchasing a copy of MOBI or EPUB e-books from them!

 

 


Night and Day

April 6, 2012

I’ve always been a night owl. From an early age I found myself to be at my most productive and creative in the evening hours. When I started writing, I fell into a routine where I got most of my new words output done at night, after my wife and son went to sleep and the house became quiet and distraction-free. Some nights I would be too tired to write–exhausted by the day job or various chores that needed doing. Writing being a hobby rather than a career for me, I accepted this loss of productivity and tried my best to make up for it on other evenings, when I had a bit more energy to spare.

Then my wife switched jobs.

She started at the new place two weeks ago. Her new office is very far away, and it takes her nearly two hours to commute there.  This means that she has to leave the house very early, before our son’s day care opens. So now I have to get up early every morning, get Josh ready and drive him to day care. No more sleeping in till 9-10am. And those late-night writing sessions? Forget about it. By midnight my brain feels like a squeezed out sponge.

So, driven by necessity, I fell into new routine. After dropping my son off at day care I get a bit of breakfast and have several uninterrupted, quiet hours in which to write. (I don’t have to be at work till noon). The difference has been night and day–pun very much intended. I am able to attack whatever story idea I’m working on while rested, fresh, and properly caffeinated.  Words are flowing more easily and quality of the output appears to have improved (says the guy who’s notoriously bad at evaluating his own writing).

In the last two weeks I wrote three complete stories from scratch. And although they’re relatively short, none of them are mere flash length, either. There’s a magical realism story I’m especially proud of called “Things We Left Behind” (2500 words) that draws heavily on my personal experiences of uprooting and moving from the Soviet Union to the United States. A 1350 word space opera-ish “The Miracle on Tau Prime” is about the Vatican miracle investigators. In space. And yesterday I wrote a 1500 word SF story “Seven Conversations in Locked Rooms,” completing the first draft in one sitting. One sitting! Normally I struggle to write 500 new words of fiction per day.

I’m liking this new productivity. Well, scratch that. I’m still a night owl at heart. I hate getting up early and going to bed on old people’s time. What I do like are the results.

Could something as simple as a routine change ultimately take me to the next level in terms of both quality and quantity on my writing? Only time will tell. But it’s certainly an intriguing possibility.


The PEST Method

February 3, 2012

Ask an experienced writer where you should submit your stories, and they’ll invariably tell you to “start at the top, and work your way down.”

The logic behind this is perfectly solid. Even if you suspect that your story isn’t amazing, you may well be suffering from a common writer affliction: underestimating the quality of your work. So why do an editor’s job and self-reject? Let them see the story and decide for themselves.

But where, exactly, is this “top” you should start at? Is it based purely on the amount of payment offered? If this were the case, TOR.com would get to see every story first. Yet I have never submitted there, and possibly never will, because I can’t imagine waiting a year or more, at any venue. Instead, I consider a combination of factors when trying to decide which publication should have the privilege of rejecting my next story:

Prestige – How reputable/popular is the venue
Exposure – How many people will read the story if published
Speed – What’s the likely turnaround time
Terms – Which rights are sought

Let’s examine the PEST method, keeping in mind that I’m discussing speculative fiction only, which is why The New Yorker and its ilk aren’t mentioned below.

PRESTIGE

What publishing credit would you be the most proud of? In terms of respect, nothing comes close to the big three: Fantasy & Science Fiction, Asimov’s and Analog. They’re the gold standard, and it’s hard to make the case for sending a story which might be appropriate for one or more of those magazines elsewhere first.

The big three all pay professional rates, but prestige isn’t necessarily tied in to payment. There are a number of magazines that pay only a penny per word that are highly respected. Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Shimmer and Andromeda Spaceways are a few notable examples. I often submit to ASIM and Shimmer before sending the same story to higher paying venues.

New publications don’t get completely ignored under this method. Instead of considering the magazine/anthology’s history, I consider instead who the editors are and what their track record is in the industry. I was interested in aggressively submitting to Stupefying Stories right from the start, because it’s edited by Bruce Bethke. If there’s ever an open call for one of Mike Resnick’s anthologies, I’ll be eagerly writing a new story from scratch just to have something I can send in.

EXPOSURE

I care about how many people will ultimately read my story. Every author does. So when the time comes to submit, I am more likely to send my work to a publication with a large readership than a higher-paying but obscure journal or anthology. Every Day Fiction pays token rates, but they provide more exposure than most online markets. I gladly submit to them, and will continue to do so.

On the other hand, be wary of non-paying markets that boast about how appearing on their web site will help promote your brand and advance your writing career. It won’t. Most of those markets are read by a few hundred people, at best. And you won’t be doing yourself any favors mentioning the fact that you’ve been published by such in your cover letter. Things are a bit different on the literary fiction front, but when it comes to science fiction and fantasy, there aren’t any non-paying markets I can think of where I’d be interested in submitting original work.

SPEED

How long does a market take to respond to your submission? Some of the very best markets are also the fastest—Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, Daily Science Fiction, F&SF are among publications where most submissions are handled within days rather than months. There are dozens of other great markets that manage a turnaround of 4-6 weeks. It’s logical to submit to all of those before sending your story to Dark Discoveries, GUD or TOR.com where your submission is likely to languish for a year.

TERMS

In their desire to get published, writers often ignore the finer details of their contracts. There are a number of important details you should consider, before signing on the dotted line.

First, never give up the ownership of your work. Very few publications ask for it, but stay as far away as you can from the ones that do. Maintaining ownership will allow you to eventually sell your story to reprint markets, Best Of anthologies, Podcast ‘zines, etc. You might even hit a jackpot and have your story optioned for a movie or a screenplay. Or, perhaps, you simply want to make the story available for free on your blog. If you aren’t careful, you could forfeit all of those opportunities with a stroke of a pen.

Most reputable publishers won’t attempt to grab full rights. But you should read the contract carefully to see exactly which rights they do want. They’ll typically ask for a certain period of exclusivity. Obviously, you can’t do anything with your story until they publish it. In some cases, the rights will revert to you immediately upon publication and you can begin to submit elsewhere. In most cases however, they’ll want a period of exclusivity that can range from anywhere between a few months and a few years. I think anything up to a year is pretty reasonable. My personal upper limit is 18 months.

It’s very important to note that this period of exclusivity (be it 0 days or 2 years) typically begins on the date of publication, not when the contract is signed. In these cases you must make sure there’s a reversion clause in your contract.  A reversion clause states that the publisher has a limited amount of time to print your story. Without such clause, a publisher could hang on to your story indefinitely and you won’t get it back – even if you didn’t sell full rights.

This sort of thing doesn’t happen often. Most publishers mean well and operate in good faith. However, it doesn’t hurt to make sure reasonable terms are spelled out in the contract. If there’s something there that doesn’t sound right to you, it’s perfectly OK to ask the publisher if they’d be willing to alter it. After all, agents negotiate novel contracts with publishers all the time.

 

So there you have it – my method for ranking short story markets. Nothing earth-shattering, but hopefully there will be some glimmers there to help you figure out which editors to PESTer with your own submissions next.


Rejecting Faulkner

January 17, 2012

William Faulkner

 

Rejection sucks.

Every time an author gets that bit of bad news in their mailbox it stings a little. An author is sad and dejected. Unwelcome thoughts run through the back of his mind. Maybe the story is terrible. Or maybe it’s good, but it didn’t match the editor’s taste. Maybe it’s great, but they bought something similar recently. Then, there’s a tiny red guy with a pitchfork lounging on the author’s shoulder. It whispers: The editor is a fool who doesn’t recognize your genius.

Don’t listen to that voice. The latter is almost never the reason your story got rejected. Sure, there are notable exceptions. J.K. Rowling struggled to sell the first Harry Potter novel. James Patterson was rejected many times. But for every Rowling and Patterson there are hundreds of aspiring authors who get rejected because they aren’t good enough yet, because they haven’t thoroughly polished their manuscript, and for dozens of other, perfectly legitimate reasons.

Authors who eventually succeed learn to develop a thick skin when it comes to rejection. Shake it off, send the manuscript to the next market, and work harder on your next one. Those people who don’t handle rejection well end up quitting, including some who have the makings of a great writer. Then there are the angry, bitter writers who blame everyone and everything for their lack of success – except themselves.

Today I read an essay by G.D. McFetridge, who appears to be firmly in the “blame someone else” camp. The essay is titled “Show Us, Mr. Faulkner” and can be found in the winter 2011 issue of Mobius magazine.

To summarize, Mr. McFetridge submitted a slightly modified 4,000-word excerpt from William Faulkner’s “The Hamlet” to a slew of literary magazines, as an original short story. In the essay he proudly shares the rejection slips he got from slush readers and editors, and questions their competence for having rejected Faulkner.

This in itself isn’t really news. Every so often an exasperated writer tries this sort of a nasty trick on the magazines that have been rejecting him. No one except other exasperated, rejection-collecting authors is amused. You can guess how the editors and slush readers feel about this. (Spoiler: They dislike it. A lot.)

In the end, it proves nothing. Stories really are rejected for dozens of reasons. Each publication is seeking a certain kind of voice, style, something fresh. Any magazine worth its salt receives hundreds of submissions for every open slot in their table of contents and must, therefore, reject plenty of great stories. And these are real short stories we’re talking about–I question Mr. McFetridge’s wisdom in yanking a chunk of a 50-year old novel and hoping that Faulkner’s voice alone would magically make it work as a standalone piece.

G.D. McFetridge didn’t stop at plagiarizing Faulkner (yes, I know he wasn’t actually trying to steal somebody else’s work, but …). He went on to submit several stories published in prestigious anthologies under his own name and collected more rejection slips. He then impersonated famous authors and called editors on the phone, asking them to pull the work of his protégé out of the slush pile for a closer look.

He was then scandalized that they obliged.

In a nutshell, Mr. McFetridge’s point is that editors and slush readers at literary markets are incompetent, corrupt, and that a regular Joe has almost no chance of succeeding under this rigged system. To which I say: nonsense.

Let us examine what it is McFetridge decries as being wrong with the publishing word:

  • Big-name authors bypass the slush pile, their stories landing directly on the senior editor’s desk.

What’s wrong with that? They’re big-name authors because they have already proven their ability, by winning awards or by selling copy–either is a fine metric.  A-list Hollywood talent are asked to star in films–they don’t have to pass an audition the way newer actors must.

In speculative fiction magazines, there are many criteria that will get you past the slush reader. You may be an author whose work the editor already enjoys. Some magazines bump up SFWA members, or folks previously published by top markets. Some advance anyone who has attended a prestigious workshop like Viable Paradise or Clarion.

All of these are legitimate decisions that signify meritocracy rather than corruption.

  • Several editors were all-too-happy to pull a story from slush on a recommendation of a (fake) famous author.

Again, what’s wrong with this? If an accomplished author I like and respect suggests that another author’s work is amazing, I am likely to pay attention. This happens all the time – just look at the back of any book cover.

Mr. McFetridge brandishes this as evidence of a broken system, but in reality a recommendation from a mentor can only get a protégé so far. Once the manuscript lands on the editor’s desk it must stand on its own merit. Stephen King himself couldn’t endorse a fledgling author’s bad story strongly enough to get it published.

  • The game is rigged, and you must have some special connections to get published

This is really the crux of Mr. McFetridge’s essay, and the part I disagree with the most. He writes: “The Pretty People Review is open to all submissions, but be forewarned. We hand out special treatment to insiders and the chosen few—and if you ain’t one of them … tough nuggets!”

Yes, you can get special treatment from a magazine. In most cases, there’s good reason for it (as described above). But, in every case, getting past the slush pile will not guarantee a sale. The only way to do that is to submit a great story.

Every single one of those big-name writers the essayist is raging against started out in the slush pile. In his book “On Writing” Stephen King talks about years of rejections he endured early in his career. King, and others like him, made it in the publishing world based on their talent and hard work, and so can anybody, regardless of whatever special connections they may or may not possess.

Ironically, G.D. McFetridge’s own writing is pretty good (based solely on reading his essay). Sure, he could stand to learn the difference between “ascetic” and “aesthetic” (see paragraph 3), but nobody’s perfect. He will probably get published, if he keeps at it. Though, I bet, not by any of the venues he pranked.


2011 Writing Statistics and The Secret Formula for Getting Published

January 2, 2012

What a difference a year makes.

At the onset of 2011 I had two stories published in token-paying ‘zines. I set myself a nearly-unattainable goal of making ten more story sales by the end of the year. Not even in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I’d make pro-paying sales, join SFWA, and have a story of mine selected for use in a state-wide aptitude test by the NJ Board of Education. Meanwhile, I have friends whose imagination and writing ability blow me away — yet they still haven’t made their first sale.

So what’s my secret, you ask? I figured out and implemented an amazing strategy that resulted in the total of 19 story sales in 2011 (including stories submitted in late 2010). My secret formula is this:

1. Write lots of stories.

2. Submit them like crazy.

That’s it. That’s the big secret. Let’s go over that in detail:

1. Write lots of stories.

You must keep writing whether you feel like it or not, at the time. You must tinker with drafts you aren’t satisfied with and outline new ideas. You must add words to a story you’ve been slowly working on for months — even if you’re half-convinced at that point that your underlying idea is terrible and the writing is worse. By the time you’re finished, that might end up being one of the best stories you’ve ever written.

Writing on a regular basis makes you better at it. I look back at the stories I wrote a year ago, and I can see tangible improvement. I’m sure that will continue to be the case for a long time to come. Like any other craft, you hone your skills by practicing for hundreds of hours. You also tend to get rusty when you stop.

One good method for maintaining your creative output is to set yourself a daily writing goal. 500 words works for many people. That’s 500 new words — doing revisions and tinkering with your older manuscripts doesn’t count. If you’re an organized person with a stable schedule, you’ll be able to maintain a daily writing routine. You’ll also quickly discover a number that works for you. Some lucky souls can plug away at their keyboards and produce 1000 or even 2000 quality words a day. Others find 500 to be too challenging. If you are in the latter category, don’t despair. Even at 250 words written every day you can have an entire novel draft finished by the end of the year.

This works great if you’re in control of your schedule. Others have day jobs, family commitments, and other important stuff in their lives that may preclude them from writing daily. I belong firmly in this category. In this case, an initiative like Write1Sub1 may be an excellent substitute.

I joined W1S1 as it was being launched in late 2010, committing to write and submit a new story *every week* in 2011. While I have not always stuck to this schedule, it did constantly push me to increase my output. I made up for some skipped weeks with bursts of productivity and managed to finished an impressive number of stories in the past year — far more than I would have written without this self-imposed metric. Needless to say, I will continue to participate in Write1Sub1 in 2012, and you should consider it too.

2. Submit them like crazy.

As I wrote above, coming up with new material is the hard part. Submitting is easy. At least that’s the case for me. Other writers I know of have no problem writing new tales, but getting them to consistently submit their work for publication is more difficult than herding cats.

Some people have a hard time dealing with rejection (and there’s LOTS of rejection to be had, even if you’re a pro). Others struggle under the mountain of their creative inventory, uncertain of the status of their submissions, which stories have been to which markets, and which are idling in the dark corners of their hard drive.

Over the course of the previous year I’ve learned (or am still learning) the following facts about submissions:

* Never self-reject. If you think that your story might not be good enough for a specific magazine and you choose not to send it in, your end result is an equivalent of a rejection. If you *do* submit your story there, rejection becomes only a worst-case scenario.

* Submit your story to the best markets and continue to submit it until you run out places you can possibly stick it. Given the breadth of speculative fiction markets cataloged on sites like duotrope.com and ralan.com this shouldn’t happen for years. In the 18 months or so since I began writing, I have yet to retire a story (though I’ve tinkered with them plenty, to make sure that the level of writing in each story is the best I can currently manage)

* Don’t let a harsh personal rejection faze you. In 2011 I’ve had two separate instances where an editor rejected a story and ripped it to shreds in their comments — and then the story sold to the very next market I sent it to, with *zero* changes made. Just like with anything else in life, one editor’s trash is another editor’s treasure.

* Don’t be mad at the editors for “not getting” your story. You may disagree with them on the specific feedback they provide, but recognize that they took the time to make the comments in the first place. Every decent editor is inundated with hundreds of submissions. The fact that they offered you feedback instead of a form rejection is a gift, and should be treated as such.

* Don’t let the story languish on your hard drive. Send it out there. If you get a rejection, try to resubmit it somewhere else within 24 hours.

* New markets open all the time. If there isn’t a suitable market open for a particular story you have, chances are one will pop up in the next month or two. However, it’s even more likely that you haven’t looked hard enough. After a year and a half, I’m still discovering “new” places to submit to, all of which have been around far longer than I’ve been writing.

* Maintain a database tracking your submissions, so you always have a clear idea of where they’ve already been, and what isn’t out on submission at the moment.

So yeah — I’ve been submitting like crazy. In the past year I’ve made a total of 150 submissions (including reprints). Here are my annual statistics:

Submitted: 150

Currently out on submission: 18

Lost / Never responded: 2

Rejected: 114

Accepted: 16

The breakdown of accepted stories by market type:

Pro Pay ($0.05+/word): 5

Semi-pro ($0.01 – $0.05/word): 7

Token (under $0.01/word or royalty pay): 4

I sold a total of 19 stories in 2011. Of those, 17 were original stories and 2 were reprints. Two were micro stories (one Twitter length and one 100-word), 8 were flash (under 1000 words) and the rest ranged between 1200 and 5000 words.

In 2012 I’ll continue to write lots of stories and bombard editors with my submissions. I’m confident I can break my record of 150 subs. In fact, I think I’ll break 200.

If you want to see your fiction published in 2012, then so should you.


Spidersong

October 16, 2011

"Spidersong" will be published at Daily Science Fiction tomorrow. Or a week from now, depending on how you look at it.

DSF offers an e-mail subscription service. They'll send a shiny new story to your mailbox 5 times a week. Four of these are flash stories, short enough to read on your cell phone or during a lunch break. On Friday you get a longer story to enjoy over the weekend. If you don't subscribe to their mailing list (and there's really no reason not to, it's free and the fiction is of excellent quality), you can read the same stories on their web site. The only catch is that they are posted online a week later. So if you want to read "Spidersong" it'll be in your inbox on October 17 and then posted on their front page on October 24.

"Spidersong" was originally written for a flash fiction contest sponsored by the Shock Totem magazine. The prompt for their contest was a number of photos of trees shrouded in spiderwebs, like this one:

This surreal image is a result of heavy flooding in Pakistan. Thousands of spiders escaped the rising water into the trees, and made a home there. You can see more photos over at National Geographic or read about it at Gizmodo.

So, of course, after looking at the photos what immediately came to my twisted mind was giant alien spiders. Giant alien *telepathic* spiders. Who sing.

I had a lot of fun with this story along the way. I chose to write it in plural first person AND in present tense, which is a very unusual format in which to frame fiction. Hope you like the end result!