So You Want to Be a Professional Short Story Author?

Not that *I* am, or whatever (OK, I kinda am), so take all this with appropriate grains of salt. But friend o’ the blog David Winchester recently challenged me to write a short story, submit it, have it rejected, repeat. To which I replied:

DONESO.

I’ve done that once or twice, and have received more words in rejection letters than I have written in my life. I’ve written about rejection before, and why it shouldn’t be that big of a deal. If you want to write, commercially, you’ll be rejected. It’s a fact. If you have written and tried to peddle your wares, you crack up every time you read one of those breathless headlines about how someone was rejected X times before being published.

futurama_benderBut, for what it’s worth, here is my approach to writing and submitting short stories. Feel free to use and/or ridicule it as you see fit.

Write: I mean, obviously. But it’s not as easy as that; not always. Life prevails upon us all. And, at least in my case, at a certain point, writing becomes a job- which is fine- but we are not as excited to get to our jobs as we are our hobbies. In any case, this is the obvious first step. So do it, and do it well.

Submit: Here is where is gets interesting. Where does one submit their stories too? Ralan is great resource. Here is my method, such as it is:

  • Market specificity: Sometimes I will write a piece with a specific market in mind- either because something in the market (such as an anthology or collection) inspires me, or because I have something that seems to suit them. In either case, it goes there first.
  • Best opportunity: Some markets are only open for a period of time, and these are the ones I usually submit to first- generally the reason they are open for a limited period is because the pay is better, or they are a large market, so these opportunities are usually at the top of my list.
  • Pro-Paying Markets: SFWA defines pro rate as $0.06 a word. If I am rejected by the above, I look to the markets which are continually  open. This is generally the longest part, and at this juncture, I want to say this: READ SUBMISSION GUIDELINES.  Look, you can write the all-time crappy story, and the next time you submit, they will read it with fresh eyes. If you submit in 8-point comic sans, in the body of your email? Welcome to the auto-reject list. If you think that’s not a thing, you need to meet more editors. Be professional, be respectful. Read each guideline, and follow it.
  • Semi-Pro Markets. One should not confuse this with ‘lesser quality markets’. There are many places that publish fantastic fiction, and have fantastic editors, but pay less than $0.06/word. Nor should you confuse with selling to these markets with any manner of failure- it is a SWFA guideline, used for their membership criteria. So selling to a semi-pro market isn’t a knock on you, or them. That said, I submit here next because, hey, I like money.

win.gifIn light of the above, though, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Know your markets. Read them, and while you can’t read them all, at least read one issue of places you plan to submit. Have an idea of what they are likely (or not) to accept. In line with the first point up there, start with the place that publishes fiction most similar to your own. That’s not to say a market won’t accept your work if it is of quality, but, you know, keep the odds in your favor.
  • READ SUBMISSION GUIDELINES. Literally, if there is nothing else you take away from this, it is READ SUBMISSION GUIDELINES. Because here’s the thing about submission guidelines: If you write a catastrophically bad story- like, really bad- they will reject it. And the next story you write, they will read and judge on its own merits. If you send in a story in single-spaced, 8pt, comic sans format, they will never ever read anything you send them again ever. Here is a guide to standard manuscript format– which will guarantee you are at least not offensive- read it, know it, love it. Start a SMF template. Read submission guidelines.
  • Learn to deal with rejection. Because you will be rejected. Sometimes it will be a total form letter, sometimes person. Sometimes it will say get better and sometimes it will say it was very good and just missed the cut. Each one stings in its own special way, so get over it. Have a routine. Eat an Oreo every time you get rejected. But then log it (submission grinder is a great way to track your submissions), make a joke, and submit somewhere else. Also helpful: write, and submit, enough that it doesn’t matter. If you only submit a few things, each rejection stands out. If you submit a lot, it just kind of happens, and it’s easier to take in stride.

Over the coming year, I am going to be doing a few things. I am going to

bender

All of us in a year

write at least one (1) new short story every single month, and submit it (and submit it, and submit it, and..). I am also going to track the results here (I already track them on submission grinder, obviously). Why? A couple reasons: Accountability. This way y’all can yell at me hey jackass you haven’t submitted anything this month. It’s a big motivation. Also, to encourage you to do the same- set some goals, be it word counts, submissions, sales, whatever. Post your results as well. That way, at the end of the year, we can look back and you can laugh at me for not selling anything while you have a book deal. Wait, no, we can celebrate our success. Yeah, that.

 

*drinks*

DESR

 

FREE STORIES Y’ALL

I have talked about QuarterReads before, where you can read short fiction for the low, low price of twenty-five cents per story. I have a couple stories over there. BUT NOW, you can read one of them for the low, low, LOWER price of NOTHING AT ALL. That’s right, you cheap bastards, ‘Far’ is free this week.

Go read it.

Bring tissues.

Tip your writer.

DESR

The First Annual Deano Awards

Tired of the Hugo Awards? Ready for something new? Welcome to the First Annual Deano Awards! The rules are simple- in each category, any work by Dean (me) qualifies, and the winner is chosen by Dean (me). This way there is no room for bias, no sad puppies and I think we all agree that the result is pretty darn good. Let’s to the presentation.

Dean: Welcome to the 2015 Deano Award Show! Let’s get right to it, with the award for Best Short Story. The nominees are:

Far

Dark Night

Both by Dean E.S. Richard. Let’s see who won!

[Dramatic lights and music]

And the winner is… Far, by Dean E.S. Richard. Dean, get up here!

Dean: Wow, this is really unexpected. I’m so honored. Given the strong competition in the field, I wasn’t really sure if I would win. Hoped, of course, but thank you so much to Dean, for selecting me for this honor, and of course Dean, for putting on such a great show. This is truly an honor.

Dean: Gracious as always! Let’s move on to best Novel.

[awkward silence]

Uh… You didn’t come out with a novel this year, Dean.

Dean: I was busy!

Dean: Well, we need a novel for the award.

Dean: …maybe it should be the Dean Lifetime Achievement Award?

Dean: …says the guy without a novel out.

Dean: Hey, it’s my show, asshole.

Dean: Fine, presenting the Dean Lifetime Achievement Award…

Short Fiction is Alive and Well

In case you haven’t heard, there isn’t much short fiction available online. WHAT, you say, ABOUT SUCH MARKETS AS TOR AND LIGHTSPEED AND STRANGE HORIZONS AND FIRESIDE AND BASTION AND PROBABLY A GAJILLION OTHERS I CAN’T NAME OFF THE TOP OF MY HEAD.

Short Fiction, rising from the grave

Short Fiction, rising from the grave

A valid query, my friend, yet new market Terraform has informed us that there is a dearth of short fiction available online. And then they updated it when a large part of the internet informed that, oh yeah, there is a ton of short fiction out there. Now, I write short fiction, so anyone willing to pay me $0.20 a word is a welcome addition to the market, and another short fiction market in general is something I am happy about. And if you want to present your market as new-and-exciting, by all means, do so. But saying there aren’t other markets is tone-deaf, at best.

Because short fiction is kind of the lifeblood of the industry. Not in the sense that it rakes in the publishing dollars the way blockbuster novels that get turned into blockbuster movies do, but in that it is what injects new writing blood into the industry. As a writer, writing short fiction (that anyone buys or not) allows me to hone my craft, improve myself and flex muscles I otherwise wouldn’t. Each sale is a publishing credit to my name, which agents and editors look at, and/or directs new readers to my longer (and more profitable) works.

And perhaps, as their hasty retreat-statement implies, short fiction is for the geeks, not the common folk. To which I say, yeah, probably. But that’s the way of the world, really. There are levels of geek-dom, fandom in anything, and it only makes sense that the ‘harder’ fans of SciFi in general will be the ones who read short fiction, rather than the ones who lump all SciFi into a Star Wars and Star Trek shaped bucket. So, hey, if you can get more people to read it, more power to you. But if you expect a ton of new short-fiction-reading-Uber-geeks to turn out because they loved the don’t-think-to-hard-about-it style of the Avengers and Star Trek: Into Plotlessness Darkness, you’re only setting yourself up for disappointment. That’s not to say that those people aren’t out there, waiting to discover how awesome short fiction is- they are- but the more constructive way to go about  it is to embrace those who came before, and try to spread the Short Fiction Gospel* together.

 

DESR

*I am using this term somewhat facetiously.

Adaptation

I love movies. Old movies, in particular. I, along with the civilized world* think adaptations of books are, generally speaking, a terrible idea. There are, of course, notable exceptions, but, by and large, they suck. Even when they weren’t terrible, they fail to capture the essence of the book or piss off the author (see: Poppins, Mary).

Lately, I (along with every person on the planet**) have fallen in love with comic book movies. Oh, sure a few came along previously now and then, but the less said about Dick Tracy and Daredevil, the better. I attribute their recent success largely to the subject matter- A comic book does not contain nearly as much information as a book, and certainly even the most complex has far less ‘beats’ to it than the average novel. The pacing lends itself much better to a two-hour adaption than, say, The Hobbit (rot in the fires of hell for all eternity, Peter Jackson). So you end up with a much more entertaining product that adapts the subject matter more effectively.

Which, in a somewhat convoluted fashion, lead me to wonder why more movies aren’t based on short stories? It’s not like there is a lack of short fiction out there (and lord knows the film rights would probably be cheaper). But check out this list of feature films adapted from short stories. It’s… underwhelming. 3:10 to Yuma, Coraline, Enemy Mine, Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde, The Shawshank Redemption… Very little jumps out. Oh, god, Paycheck. How is Ben Affleck so terrible? But I digress. There is not a lot out there.

Short fiction should meet the criteria- generally, a story 5,000-10,000 words in length would translate very well to two or so hours. In fact, better, because it would often allow filmmakers to take liberties that they can’t visually with comic books, or will face backlash for in the detailed world of novels. So why isn’t there more?

I, unfortunately, don’t have a good answer. But if any Hollywood people think it’s a good idea, I know a guy***.

 

*I do not mean America. I mean people who hate movies adaptions of books.

**I do mean every person on the planet.

***Not why I wrote this post, but hey, why not.

Weighted Words

There was some little to-do recently about short stories being little more than a learning exercise for longer form works. I’ll talk about the merits of short fiction as stand-alone entertainment another time, but I wanted to talk about my own experience with writing in the medium.

You may be aware that I have a short fiction collection out (you may be aware I have a Kickstarter for it. You may not have backed it. Please rectify this). This wasn’t my original intention; I didn’t really pay much attention to many short stories (though there are some I have always loved). I considered myself a long-form guy, and never thought I’d write much short stuff. But as I worked on the 3024AD universe, I liked the idea of a lot of short stories set in that universe, around ostensibly minor characters. I started writing some (‘The Bounty‘ was the first, if you’re curious, although ‘The Gathering Storm’ I started first, but later re-wrote), and they began to form a major part of the universe, and my writing projects in general.

But I learned something from writing them, something that applies to long and short form, and that has to do with the words. In long form, it’s a sandbox. You can go anywhere, do anything, and I always viewed that as a positive. You can explain Every. Little. Detail. But is that really so good?

Allow me to back up- growing up I loved The Wheel of Time series, by Robert Jordan. Needless to say, I was ridiculously excited for A Song of Ice and Fire and devoured the first couple books. But the same problem started to creep in that had killed my loved for The Wheel of Time. I remember thinking this is never going to end, is it? I don’t know if it’s because you never kill the golden goose, or it’s just that fun to write, or what, but Robert Jordan died writing WoT, and I’m pretty sure GRRM is going to do the same.

The words because wasted to me. It wasn’t even information overload- it was why am I even reading about this? I love details as much (more) than the next person, but there comes a point where it doesn’t contribute to the story.

And that’s what I have learned from writing short fiction- not to leave out details, but to make sure the right words are used, that they have weight and bearing on the story. To be sure, it’s improved my longer-form work, but I think it’s a good lesson that applies across the field. If each word carries weight and adds to the story, it will be richer and vibrant, without the lulls and clutter so common to scifi and fantasy.

DESR

Instructions Included

Earlier, the ClarkesWorld account posted a somewhat controversial tweet. Not controversial in the sense we’ve come to use so often, where it’s offensive or something, but involved actual controversy:

To be honest, this surprised me. Not that they had to reject a story on these ground, but because of people’s reaction to it. For one thing, published is published. I sold a story a while ago to a small SciFi group in Seattle for their newsletter.

That’s still published.

Or when I started this whole thing, I had a blog where I posted drafts of 3024AD stories.

Yup, also published.

Because what Clarkesworld and most others are paying for is first rights. They- and, more to the point, their customers- are paying for a story that no one else has read anywhere else, no matter how large or small that number is.

But, you may say, some places do it (or, don’t consider self-publishing to be published, or what have you). And that’s as it may be, though less common. Some places do buy reprints- in fact, there is a decent market for them. However, (and this follows the theme of this post) read your original publication rights- you have likely sold them for a period of time, be it six months or a year. So by selling the reprint rights, you may be violating those.

#dontletthishappentoyou

With rare exception (at least, rare exception among credible publications), there is a pretty simple way to tell: Read the submissions page. It’s all right there. In fact, it’s the fifth point on Clarkesworld’s guidelines:

Rights: We claim first world electronic rights (text and audio), first print rights (author must be willing to sign 100+ chapbooks), and non-exclusive anthology rights for Realms, the yearly Clarkesworld anthology.
Also Shimmer:
We purchase First Serial rights and electronic rights. 120 days after publication, most rights revert to the author, but we retain the right to continue selling back issues of the magazine, the right to archive your story, and non-exclusive anthology rights.
The short version is: If you’re going to submit, follow the submission guidelines. It’s like driving, and being in your lane to get on the freeway, and then there’s that ONE GUY who merges at the last minute and almost hits you, and you yell, unheard, at him “DUDE THERE HAVE BEEN SIGNS FOR FIVE MILES AND YOU JUST REALIZED THIS IS THE TURN LANE?!”
If you read the signs, it makes the journey a whole lot easier.
DESR