Tag Archives: Wednesday Writers

Wednesday Writers: Tom Dullemond

Writer, editor, app developer and drinker of fine alcohol, Tom Dullemond is one of those guys who you meet online and assume that they can’t be as awesome in person as they are behind a computer – but when you meet them they prove that hypothesis wrong. Not only is Tom producing some fine work of his own, he also puts in a whole lot of time helping equip other writers, both through his website and through personal support and encouragement. In fact, Tom is so willing to help he gave me a choice of two great pieces – the only problem being I couldn’t pick which one was better, so I plan on running them both!

To start with, something I am sure any writer will find of great interest – a piece about money. Stay tuned in the next couple of weeks for another great article, but in the meantime – enjoy!

Submitting for fun and profit

In a recent post to his blog, Alan Baxter mentioned reading outside of your comfort zone, and recommended grabbing something outside the genres you’re normally working in, both to expose yourself to different writing styles and to learn a little bit about what makes other genres tick.

It’s great advice, and you’re not going to go wrong reading more broadly.

I’m going to propose something similar relating to making some money for your writing.

What? Money?

I’m going to suggest that you write outside your comfort zone and submit to literary competitions, for fun and profit.

For genre writers, this can provide either an opportunity to write something completely out of character (I write predominantly speculative fiction, but have had some success with literary fiction), or the chance to write a more literary spec fic piece, or even to stick with what you know best and attempt to win an award or competition wholly with a genre piece.

Turning our creative energies into something so different may seem counterintuitive, but let’s attempt to convince you with what I shall refer to as Cold Hard Mathematics (also money).

Serious Spec Fic Magazines

Clarke’s World Magazine helpfully provides submission statistics, and I’ve grabbed a post from January 2012 to give you some numbers.

They received, in one month, 684 submissions, which is apparently close to their average of 600-800 month. According to the article, 6% receive ‘near miss’ rejections, and 1% receive acceptances. So we’re looking at 7 accepted stories out of almost 700 submissions, with a ‘short list’ of 48 stories. As of writing, Clarke’s World prefers stories of 4,000 words, paying exceptional rates of $0.10 USD per word. So we’re looking at $400 a sale. Now, normally I wouldn’t expect more than say $80-$100 for a story sale, but since I’m trying to make a point, and Clarke’s World gives such helpful statistics, let’s run with $400 as a serious magazine sale. (In reality that’s crazy money for a magazine sale, if you ever get something like this, cherish it with all your writery heart)

Literary Competitions

Now let’s compare two literary competitions that I have personal experience with.

The Voiceless Writing Prize was awarded in 2012, with a prize pool of over $20,000 AUD. I was shortlisted (see the ‘near miss’ rejection) with another 33 writers. The total number of submissions was ‘over 350’. Already we’re looking at a 10% ‘almost won’ hit rate. Note that out of those 34 short lists a further 10 ‘basic’ prizes were awarded. We’re looking at a 3% success rate for $500, and the honour of putting ‘award winning writer’ on your resumé.

One of those accepted stories was slated to earn $15,000 and another (popularly voted on) earned $5,000. (For your interest, the $15,000 prize was actually jointly awarded to two stories in the end.)

Not bad for only competing with 350 other submissions.

My second example is from a late-2011 competition to promote Adult Learning for the National Year of Reading. This competition offered 12 prizes of $3,000 each. I actually won one of these, out of a field of 280 entrants. That’s a 5% acceptance rate at $3,000 per sale.

Convinced yet?

Note also that both these competitions were free to enter. There are many other literary competitions that have an entry fee, but I suspect the added barrier of entry might reduce the total number of submissions sufficiently to push the percentage acceptance rate even higher.

And you might be pleased to hear, o speculative fiction writers, that none other than the fabulous Tansy Rayner Roberts won one of those $3,000 prizes too, for a Science Fiction story. So you don’t even have to step outside your comfort zone if you don’t want to.

Summary

My recommendation, then, is to dedicate a little bit of your market research time to sourcing literary competitions and submitting to them. Not only are your odds of success much higher than the top genre magazines, you might actually make some decent money, flex your writing muscles, and possibly add the phrase ‘award winning’ to your future cover letters.

Tom Dullemond stumbled out of university with a double degree in Medieval/Renaissance studies and Software Engineering. One of these degrees got him a job and he has been writing and working in IT ever since. Tom was a co-editor of The Complete Guide to Writing Fantasy and has sold short fiction to a handful of anthologies, including Danse Macabre: Close Encounters with the Reaper. He writes a regular flash fiction column for The Helix science magazine, and is working on Literarium (www.literarium.net), an online service to help with the project management side of writing. His first middle-grade book, ‘The Machine Who Was Also a Boy’, has just been published through e-Mergent Publications (http://emergent-publishing.com/bookstore/the-machine-who-was-also-a-boy/ ).

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Wednesday Writers: Alex Kane

Alex Kane taught me an important lesson at Chicon, one that is not just true a huge cons, but applicable to smaller ones as well. If you come across someone you’ve wanted to meet for a while, don’t say “Hey, we should grab coffee at some point”, and then move on. Seize the opportunity or it may not happen. And don’t do it more than once, that is just dumb!

I’d been reading Alex’s blog for quite a while before I got to Chicago, so I recognised his name when I ran into him in the audience at a panel I was on. His blog had become one of my favourites on my soon to be gone Google Reader list (damn you, Google), so it’s no surprise to me that he has been added to the roster of guest bloggers on the Amazing Stories relaunch blog. He is also a very talented writer, and someone to keep an eye on as he continues to build on his achievements.

He has written a great post today, one I am sure you will get a lot out of. If you do, I’d ask you to consider clicking the paypal button below. I don’t normally solicit for donations on this blog, we are all volunteers. But Alex has the opportunity of a lifetime, one I would love to have myself, the chance to go to the Clarion West writers workshop. Clarion has always been a breeding ground for the big names of the future, and I have no doubt that Alex will make the most of it. But, it does come with a number of costs, so every little bit helps.




Interrogating and Nurturing Story Ideas

The reason you always hear aspiring or would-be writers asking full-time professionals—or even part-timers, like myself—where their ideas come from, I think, has less to do with their perceived scarcity and more to do with the difficulty of choosing a useful idea from the bunch and then crafting a story out of it. It’s a strange process, and probably the most difficult part of writing fiction; at least for me, anyway.

I’ve always had a big appreciation for both discovery-writers, or “pantsers,” and anyone who writes a meticulous, detailed outline. My own process tends to fall somewhere right in the middle: Some of my best writing has come from months and months of contemplation and story-idea interrogation, but I’ve also written some good stuff completely off-the-cuff, almost unconscious of what I was doing.

Regardless of the method, I think consistency and quality are nice targets to aim for in this trade. They’re what we’d most like to attain as an end result.

We can’t always rely on stories to come to us in dreams, original and fully-formed. This is pretty rare. Also rare is the story that you plan and plan ahead of time, and then finally put down in words, to find that it’s especially good.

There’s a certain sweet spot you’d do well to discover; a place somewhere between overthinking a piece to death before you’ve even begun to put it in words, and the story that appears entirely out of nowhere while you’re sitting at the keyboard. The pros love to say it: “Ideas are easy.” And it’s pretty much true. They’re not scarce. Except that the real art is knowing which ideas might bear literary fruit—and which ones aren’t that useful after all.

I think there are a few nice tricks for weeding out the bad ideas, and at least as many for generating new, much betters ones. And because David McDonald is a really nice guy, and presumably so are the folks who read his blog in the land down under and everywhere else besides, I’d be happy to share a few with you today. Here goes:

1. Go try something new, something you’ve never done before. It doesn’t have to be dangerous or even uncomfortable. Just take the lid off your skull and toss in experiences, you know? Attend a concert . . . especially if it’s a style of music you don’t typically listen to. Go to an art gallery or mixed-martial-arts tournament, whatever. The culture you glimpse in this one single night could change your way of understanding a particular group of people forever. It could reshape your assumptions about art, and that’s almost always a good, interesting exercise.

2. Interrogate the hell out of your story ideas. Leave ’em begging for mercy—trembling in fear of the almighty author, whose keystrokes might very well burn them out of existence, should they not prove useful. Have the red pen ready, a journal open, and expect to be surprised. Not every fleeting what-if will turn out to be a goldmine. Not every dumb, obvious idea will be as lousy as you think it is; give them all a chance, see what they have to offer.

3. Indulge in playtime—but know when to call it quits and actually write. Toys aren’t just for kids. Nor are video games. If you like a game of Halo with your buddies every now and then? Go ahead and play, see where it takes you. Love building fortresses and starships out of a LEGOs as a child? Go pick up a brand-new set and put it together, remind yourself how step-by-step creation happens and how satisfying it can be; then tear it apart and come up with something uniquely yours. Role-play, if that’s your thing. Ignore the stuffy rules of adulthood and let yourself have some fun: Your writing will thank you for it later.

4. Going back to the interrogation concept: ask all the questions. Remember that fiction is a series of question-and-answer discussions taking place solely in the reader’s mind. The logic of plot depends entirely on the law of cause and effect, and the author’s willingness to give a healthy balance of expectations, surprises, and reasonable outcomes; too many twists and you risk alienating skeptical readers.

So don’t forget to ask the right questions. Whose story is this, really? Why this setting—this interplanetary society, or tribe of wizard outlaws? Just what’s up with that talking bird, anyway? Everything has to matter to some degree. A story is a quilt of scenes and images; it’s all right if you take chances and experiment with form, but every piece of the puzzle out to serve some artistic purpose. Know what that purpose is whenever possible.

5. Try taking your “brilliant idea” and applying it to worldbuilding. Sadly, some of the best ideas crumble at the slightest touch—or the moment sunlight hits them. They’re too fragile to do anything with; maybe because they’re too thin, maybe because they’re simply bad. A lot of great writers advise taking two seemingly unrelated ideas, concepts, or snippets of inspiration and striking them together to see what kind of spark they might ignite. I think there’s plenty of merit to this idea, and most of my published stories, or even my Writers of the Future finalist story, happened when I consciously tried to do this.

For example, an article on memory erasure in Wired was pretty interesting to me, but the concept didn’t necessarily lend itself to good storytelling without some secondary motivator to drive the protagonist toward such a procedure. By giving my main character a reason to forget something from his past, and then adding a “nootropic software” called Empyreal into the mix, to urge him on, Hutch’s choice to erase the memory of his deceased girlfriend began to feel inevitable.

And inevitability is a powerful illusion in fiction, by the way, if you can figure out how to maintain it. There’s nothing quite as tragic as the person who sees the train coming toward them and still somehow fails to get clear of the tracks in time.

6. Break out of your cozy genre-shell and let loose a bit. We’re all so hung up on genre. On storytelling conventions and longstanding narrative traditions. Don’t change point-of-view in the middle of a scene, they caution. Don’t use flowery language. Or a premise that’s been done to death. And definitely do not try to be like _____. Imitation ain’t a bad way to learn something new, you know. Rules are made to be broken, et cetera.

Try writing in a genre (or, hell, a messy tangle of several genres) you’re not all that comfortable with. Get familiar with something new; start reading urban fantasy, if you’re big on hard science fiction. Get acquainted with steampunk, if you think you’re such a horror guru. There’s always something to learn from the other side of the tracks. Try “slumming it” a bit. Hang out with the dark fantasy crowd, in their Gaiman Cathedral. (See you when you get here.) Fly into orbit and give nuts-’n’-bolts sf an earnest shot. If you fail . . . then, so what? Who cares? You probably learned something new anyway—even if by accident.

Remember: this whole thing’s supposed to be fun. Don’t lose sight of that fundamental truth. Keep chasing the horizon, and follow every hunch, every whim, so long as it keeps you productive. Try to make writing an exploration of the self, too, just as it is an exploration of the literature that came before you. Meditate. Reminisce about the past—old friends, bittersweet memories, and treasured totems. Try on that faded old t-shirt and go for a walk down a dead-end street. Preferably alone. See what you find there, and maybe do your best to write about it.

Alex Kane is an author, blogger, and critic whose work has appeared in Futuredaze: An Anthology of YA Science Fiction, Digital Science Fiction, and Foundation, among other places. He lives in Galesburg, Illinois, where he works in the retail banking industry, and was recently named a finalist in the international Writers of the Future contest.

He also writes a weekly column on film for Amazing Stories, and will be attending the 2013 Clarion West Writers Workshop this summer in Seattle.

Visit him online at alexkanefiction.com, or follow him on Twitter (@alexjkane).

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Wednesday Writers: J.R. Johansson

 As you may know, I went to Worldcon last year and had an incredible time. One of the people who made that possible was Jenn, who helped me organise my membership when I had left it rather late indeed. Jenn is another wonderful person who I have been fortunate enough to meet through the Brotherhood Without Banners. As well as being extremely generous of spirit, she is also very modest, she gave me no hint of what a talented writer she is. So, I was surprised and delighted to discover that she had a book coming out, Insomnia, which has received some awesome feedback already!

Here, Jenn talks about the ultimate truth of being a writer – write!

The Universal Rule

One question I get quite a lot is, “What is the most important piece of advice you’d give to aspiring authors?” This always struck me as odd. First, I’m only just beginning my own career. Second, every journey in publishing is vastly different. One writer will write twelve books, get an agent, and sell to a big publisher. Another will write three and achieve the same results. Yet another will go with a small publisher, and still more will go the self-publishing route. We all have different paths. How could I possibly know the most important thing to tell another writer to help them with their own unique journey? But there is one piece of advice that applies to every path.

Insomnia final

Every writer, no matter which path they take, no matter where they are on that path—every one of us will encounter obstacles. We suffer heartbreak, disappointment and rejection on a daily basis. Being a writer isn’t easy, nor should it be. We channel that pain into our work and it comes out better for it. But no matter the struggles we face, there is one rule that should apply to all of us:

Keep writing.

I prefer to add something else to that statement.

Keep writing—no matter what.

This means exactly what it sounds like.

Get rejected by 10 agents, 50 agents, 100 agents? Keep writing—no matter what.

Go out on submission and get scathing, or—sometimes even worse—bored, rejection letters from every editor on your dream list?

Keep writing—no matter what.

Pay good money for a professional editor and gorgeous cover for the book you’ve spent years making, and then only five people buy it on Amazon, and three copies went to your Nana?

Keep writing—no matter what.

There is one truth I hold onto that gets me through the hard times:

Being a writer isn’t what I do. Being a writer is who I am. Writing is the way I hold my life in place. It reminds me who I am, what I love, what I’ve lost.

I don’t believe I’m the only writer that feels this way.

Following this one universal rule keeps me steady when the rough waves roll in. It helps me improve and hone my craft. It keeps my focus on the things I control instead of the things that are far beyond my reach. This rule makes everything possible. And when it can do all that, there’s only one thing left to say…

Keep writing—no matter what.

J.R. JOHANSSON is a young adult thriller author published with Flux & FSG/Macmillan. Her debut, INSOMNIA is coming June 2013. She has a B.S. degree in public relations and a background in marketing. She credits her abnormal psychology minor with inspiring many of her characters. When she’s not writing, she loves reading, playing board games, and sitting in her hot tub. Her dream is that someday she can do all three at the same time. She has two young sons and a wonderful husband. In fact, other than her cat, Cleo, she’s nearly drowning in testosterone.

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Jenn’s Links –

Twitter: https://twitter.com/JennJohansson
Blog: http://www.jennjohansson.blogspot.com/
Site: http://www.jrjohansson.com
Tumblr: http://jrjohansson.tumblr.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jenn.johansson
J.R. Johansson on Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5100095.J_R_Johansson
INSOMNIA on Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/12260608-insomnia

Wednesday Writers: Peter M. Ball

Peter is one of those guys I find it really hard to write an intro for. After all, everyone knows who he is already! He has produced some of the stand out stories of the last few years (including Australia’s most notorious unicorn story) in the local scene, but is also making a name for himself in international markets. He was also one of the main movers behind the mouth wateringly tempting GenreCon, a convention that I almost put myself into seriously debt to try and get to!

His achievements in writing aside, Peter is also someone you need to follow on Twitter – his movie tweeting in particular is worth the price of admission. And, like most of the people on the Aussie scene, Peter is a genuinely nice guy who is always happy to help other writers, and make new faces welcome.

As one of our best writers, and someone who understands the nuts and bolts of writing as career, I can’t think of anyone more qualified than Peter to write on the business of writing.

Going into Business

This is my third attempt to write this guest-post. It’s one of the curses of working in a writers centre – you get so used to answering specific questions, or delivering writing 101 advice, that the freedom to write about a topic of your own choosing frequently induces crippling uncertainty and a tendency to long-windedness.

And really, my advice boils down to the same advice I give every writer: treat your business like a business.

Forget the mystery of writing, or waiting for the muse. Forget all the people who start telling you how great it must be to make your living off something creative. These are cultural myths, right up there with the folks who tell you writers don’t earn money.

Forget the notion that art is made because you love it, and it’s therefore tainted by anything so crass as payment.

Embrace the fact that you want to earn money from your work and start treating writing like any other smart person does when they launch a new business enterprise. Do research into the ways people have traditionally made money in the industry. Learn how to handle your finances and run your business the right way. Learn about copyright and make sure you read every damn contract that comes your way.

Be willing to negotiate your contracts if your not happy with the terms. I’ve done it a few times over the years, mainly in regards to electronic rights for short-fiction, and I’ve never had a publisher tell me the contract was non-negotiable.

If you want to get really hardcore, do up a business plan for the next couple of years. An actual business plan, backed up by research and reasonable expectations of what you’re capable of, with a long-term view of where you’re going as a writer. I promise you, it’s easier than you think to get the information you need, especially once you start talking to other writers (or spending some quality time on the internet looking for the right resources).

At the very least, grab a few books on running a small business and familiarize yourself with the sort of thing that might be coming.

Pay attention to smart writers who are willing to talk about the business of writing as often as they talk about craft. I’m not talking about myself here – I bought into the idea that writers didn’t make money early and wasted a whole bunch of time as a result. If you want a good starting point, go check out Jeff VanderMeer’s Booklife, which distils a lot of the things I wish I’d known at the start of my writing career into three-hundred odd pages.

Don’t have the cash to drop on a book? There’s other options out there. Go spend some quality time hanging out on the blogs of guys like Chuck Wendig, who pumps more great writing advice out into the ether every week than I deliver in a year. Be really sure you go check out John Scalzi’s blog post about writing and money, which similarly goes on the list of recommended reading I hand to every new writer I can.

And if you don’t want to do all that, you don’t have too. It’s perfectly okay to write because you love writing, to chase down publication from time to time because you like to see people reading your work. Doing all this can’t hurt, of course, but I’m speaking specifically to the writers who have day-dreamed about quitting their day-job in order to write full-time. If you’re dreaming big and ignoring the business side of the writing gig, you’re in for an awful lot of surprises.

You can make a living out of writing. If you can’t do it solely on the income generated by your work, you can certainly make a living out of being a writer – I did it, and I wasn’t even a terribly successful writer when I started (there are some who would argue – quite rightly – that I’m not even a terribly successful writer now). Not all of it came from writing – there was plenty of years I taught writing, took contracts to produce documents or web-contact, but I was thirty before I took a full-time job (it lasted less than a year) and thirty-four before I took a gig that meant I had to go to an office.

And given that my office is the Queensland Writers Centre, where I get to run an annual events like GenreCon, I’m not entirely sure that counts. I mean, my non-writing days are largely spent talking about writing, or bringing together writers to discuss the business and craft of making a living out of words.

Some days it scares me to think of what I could have done if I’d taken it all just a bit more seriously.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for writing well. I’m all for treating writing like an art and experimenting with each project. I even understand turning down jobs that make more money ’cause I’d rather focus on the projects I love. Go create with the same freedom you’ve always created with. Do exactly what you’ve always done.

But when you’re done with the creative side of the job, it’s time to put on your business hat and manage your career. It won’t always be easy, and it’ll be hardest at the start ’cause writing is generally a long-term investment, but it can be done.

PS: So, like, thirty seconds before I sent this post, I came across (yet another) writer who says this way better than I do. Kristen Rusch’s thoughts about the Book as Event is probably going to feed its way into the list of recommended reading I suggest.

Peter M. Ball is an SF writer and the manager of the Australian Writer’s Marketplace, where he convenes the annual genre-writing conference, GenreCon. His publications include the novellas Horn and Bleed from Twelfth Planet Press, and his short stories have appeared in publications such as Apex MagazineEclipse Four, and Daily Science Fiction. He can be found online at petermball.com and on twitter @petermball.

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Wednesday Writers: Zoë Sumra

Long before I started taking my writing seriously I was a member of the Brotherhood Without Banners, the George RR Martin fan group. Our online home was a place called Westeros.org, and it was my first real taste of the joys of online community. The people I met there were some of the most generous and genuine folk you could imagine and, while I have scaled back my posting, I still keep in touch with many of them and consider them a big part of my life.

This generosity of spirit was demonstrated a few weeks ago when I was moaning on Twitter about how much I hate proofreading. It’s something I suck at, I am a big picture sort of guy, rather than being gifted with a great attention to detail (or, to put it another way – I am lazy). Zoë was kind enough to offer me some tips and I was so impressed that I rewarded her kindness by asking her if she would like to write a post on the subject, knowing it would be of great interest to the many other writers who struggle in this area.

Instead of stabbing me in the eye for presuming on our somewhat limited acquaintance in such a way, Zoë immediately agreed and produced a truly exceptional article which I am sure will be a great help to this blog’s readers. Any proofing errors below are, of course, mine!

When David first asked me to contribute to Wednesday Writers, I was pretty daunted, given the extensive writing credits of so many of the other contributors.  I have never had a novel picked up and have never submitted a short story.  I do have professional publishing experience, though, but from the other direction.

I started proofreading at an early age.  I was the annoying little oik who wrote a letter to Corgi about the typos in my edition of Dragonflight when I was nine, although, owing to the practicalities of obtaining stamps, I never posted it.  When I started writing novels a few years later, I absorbed as much as I could from as many different sources as possible about editing, and carried that on as a saleable talent as well as for the pleasure of improving my writing.

Proofreading and Editing: In The Beginning

So.  Your completed first draft is staring at you.  Well done: it takes a lot of work to get this far.  You’ve heard of editing, but don’t know where to start…

Novels require three types of editing: structural editing, which addresses issues of story structure, character development, plot progression, flow etc., line editing, which is nitpicking each individual word independent of the plot, and proofreading.  “Copy editing” may refer to either line editing or proofreading depending on which country you are in.

Holly Lisle has perfected and promoted her One-Pass Revision technique where she tackles structure, line editing and proofreading in one large revision phase.  I typically proofread while I am editing my novels, though I do structural edits and line edits separately.  Once you are confident with structural editing, line editing and proofreading, you will find yourself doing all of them at once, but they are different skills.

Structural editing is beyond the scope of this article, so from now on I will assume that the draft you proofread is structurally sound.  You should have already cut out extraneous scenes, rearranged dialogue and action to improve the book’s flow, deleted unnecessary conversations where characters discuss their plans for the next chapter, riffled two characters into one, changed three characters’ gender, and knocked the book down to its approximate final shape.

Line by Line

No matter how tight you thought your first draft prose was, it will invariably be less concise than it could be.  Now, consider your working genre carefully.  In literary fiction, prose is critical, whereas in SF, fantasy, horror, romance, crime, thriller or any of their subgenres, the author’s usual aim is to stop the prose from getting in the way of the plot.

We genre authors therefore have a great opportunity to remove 10% of a book, or anywhere up to twenty thousand words, at the line edit stage.  (This is habit-forming.  I line-edited down this article by 10%.)  Did you say something in nineteen words where you could have used twelve?  In twelve words where you could have used seven?  Knocking out extra words will knock down a wall between the story and the reader.  Adverbs are a big pitfall: most of them are unnecessary.  It’s more effective to delete the adverb and use a more precise verb.  English has rather a lot of them.

During a line edit, ask yourself whether each word is in its correct place.  Sometimes you will want to use a coruscation of purplish, perfect prose: keep these patches to a minimum.  Over-wordiness is off-putting to readers.  If you are writing a pure romance novel the mileage will be slightly different, particularly on sensual topics such as sex and food, but on the whole, you will still need to pare down the book.

Other things to spot while line editing include unintentional rhyming and rhythm repetition (intentional is great: unintentional isn’t), overuse of the definite article, overuse of the construction “the pen of my aunt” (what’s wrong with “my aunt’s pen” unless you are writing dialogue for a character whose first language has no possessive?), inappropriate variations in each character’s dialect/register, repeated use of the same word in any given four or five lines of text, starting successive paragraphs with the same word even if this word is a character’s name or “the” (in general, twice in succession is OK but three times in succession is not), repeated use of the same punctuation marks and sentence structure, unintentional double entendres, and unintentional use of phrasing that could cause confusion.

Line editing will alter your prose, but this is a necessary component of polishing your style, which will change every year you write.  As you grow as an author, focus on creating a pleasant environment for your reader.  In genre fiction, the story is important.  Pare out those words that are getting in the way of the story.

(For pointers on line editing literary fiction, please contact a specialist.)

Whither Proofing?

Proofreading is line editing’s analytic companion, complete with librarian-glasses and a disapproving expression.  Line editing is a craft with more than a little art in it.  To proofread is to correct your mistakes.

This includes mistakes in typography and in content.  If a character is called Maria 95% of the time and Mariah 5% of the time, proofreading is the process that picks up that discrepancy.

Before you start proofreading you should create relevant lists of character names and titles (especially if complicated), fictional place names, relative distances between plot locations, time taken to travel between those locations etc., so that you can check during the proofing step that they are correct.  Even if you are certain of your facts, keep appropriate reference material close at hand, just in case a fantasy country moves position on the map while you aren’t looking.

Pay particular attention to technical terminology – make sure you aren’t constructing cutlery from silicon and circuits from silicone.  In my day job I once printed a finance industry textbook that lauded the delights of pubic accounting in a chapter that should have been about public accounting.  (I didn’t proofread that one.)  More relevant to most here will be my mistake while writing an SF novel of putting a decimal point in the wrong place, overstating the speed of light by a factor of ten, and factoring that error into my spaceplanes’ speed and the distances between my space stations.  That one took a while to fix.

The Art of Proofreading

Your right brain may be rebelling at this point.  On the face of it, originating and proofreading are two diametrically opposite skills.  The one requires creativity and spontaneity: the other is an exercise in concentration.

You need to learn to take off one hat and put on the other.  Just as with synopsis creation, something else that differs from writing fiction, proofreading is a necessary part of the strong writer’s skill set.

In order to proofread you need a high standard of English spelling, punctuation and grammar, and the discretion to know when to use misspellings, variant grammar and creative punctuation.  If you know your English is faulty for any reason, including dyslexia, someone else needs to proofread your work.  This may have the side effect of correcting things you did not want to be corrected, such as appropriate misuse of language according to context and character.

How Not To Edit

Editing requires concentration.  If you corrected obvious proof mistakes while you were working through your structural edits, and if you are not combining a proofread and a line edit, you may find yourself proofreading a pretty clean copy.  It is quite difficult under these circumstances to maintain concentration.  Make sure you do so.  The moment you lose concentration, your eyes will slide past a mistake.  That said…

Editing is a marathon, not a sprint.  Studies of schoolchildren and university students show that neurotypical humans have a concentration span of around twenty to thirty minutes.  Every half an hour, stop and look at pictures of kittens (or supercars, or My Little Ponies, or mediaeval Welsh castles, etc.).  If you persist for too much longer than this your concentration level will drop and your work’s quality will suffer.

It will take you a long time to edit a book properly.  Don’t become discouraged when you realise you have been working for hours and are still only on chapter 6.  This is the step where a book becomes finalised: you can’t skimp on it.

Electronic v. Paper Editing

Modern editing professionals work on screen ninety percent of the time.  There is a specific drawback to doing this for one’s own writing – even if you handwrite your first drafts, the version you line edit and proofread will be a Word, OpenOffice, Indesign or other DTP document that you have seen several dozen times before.

The notorious difficulty of proofreading one’s own work stems from this familiarity: as authors we become too used to each sentence’s visual appearance.  I therefore suggest that before attempting to proofread, you change either the font, or the font size, or both.  One of my sentences spent nine months missing a “was” before I read it in Palatino instead of my usual draft font, Times New Roman.

As an alternative, you can print out your book and proofread it on paper.  This has three down sides: it is expensive in terms of paper and ink unless you work for a very understanding (or oblivious) manager, the results will take up space on your shelves, and you have to make each change twice – once on paper and once when typing it up.

Despite this, I normally line edit and proofread on paper after my major structural work is done.  I find it helps me to focus on just the errors in the text rather than on the story structure.

Nitpicking on Screen – Markup Functions and Not Using Them

Microsoft Word has a markup version whereby you can enter changes for later approval.  If editing someone else’s work, use this.  If working on your own, just put through everything you can at once, and create a separate document for noting serious inconsistencies.  You know when you’ve missed out a punctuation mark rather than leaving it out for dramatic effect, you don’t need to ask which of two spellings of a character’s name is correct, and if you notice a discrepancy in the current-year income of Fantasy Country W, maximum acceleration in a gravity well of SF Spaceship X, scholastic history of Fictional Character Y or lethal dose of Genuine Poison Z, make an entry on your problems list and work out later which is correct.  (You do not have permission to ignore the problems list.)

Nitpicking on Paper – Proofreading Marks

In order to line edit or proofread your work on paper, you need to use proofreading marks.  Learning the BSI Standard marks, or equivalent, will be useful for the future if you ascend the ladder far enough to sign with a publishing house.

Even if you normally single-space your drafts to read on screen, double-space or 1.5x space your final draft before printing it out to edit.  You need room to mark it up more than you need to save paper.  If you are concerned about the number of trees you are killing, reduce the font size and narrow one margin, preferably the left (you need one wide margin).

The usual method of marking a page is:

Left margin                                          In the text                                       Right margin

X (denotes there is an error)               Textual mark                                  Marginal mark

The most basic BSI proofreading mark, the insert mark, looks like the foot of a Hangman tree: image002

If you have missed out a word or punctuation mark, put this symbol in the missing item’s space.  Note the missing item in the right margin.  If you can’t fit it in, for instance if you have left out a fantasy nobleman’s full title, an SF IT technician’s whole shopping list, or most of a paragraph because you leant on the DELETE key while doing the structural edit, put a capital letter (for reference) in the right margin and write out the missing text on the reverse of your current sheet.

If the missing item is any punctuation mark other than an apostrophe, circle it for added visibility.  Don’t circle missing apostrophes, in order to distinguish them from commas.

Score through text to be deleted.  Underline text that should go in italics.  If text is in italics incorrectly, underline the affected text and score through said underline.  Double underline denotes a change to small capitals, and triple underline denotes a change to large capitals.

The BSI mark for inserting a paragraph break looks like this:  image004

Underline the last word you want to put in the shortened paragraph, put a vertical line in the break place, and add a line over the first word in the new paragraph.

If you have been overenthusiastic and marked up something that does not need correcting, “stet” means “leave this the way it was”.

These marks and others are online at http://www.lancingpress.co.uk/factsheets/images/proofmarks1.png.  There is much more to learn about proofreading marks, including the minutiae of when to use a blue pen and when to use a red pen (really), but this will get you started in on-paper editing.

Twice to Tango?

Should an author line edit just once?  Extra passes are likely to give diminishing returns, partly because you will have picked up most errors on the first pass, partly because of enervation.  I prefer to read through the book as a book once I have edited it, and to try to experience it from the reader’s perspective.  If I’ve missed any proofreading errors, or if my prose isn’t tight, I’ll notice.  Proofreading twice is an option you should certainly take if your “final” read reveals a lot of errors.

When Enough is Too Much

A famous author once observed that when a book is finished, the author should stop writing it and step away.  The same goes for editing.  You can’t keep reworking that one scene again and again, and neither can you keep on editing its every sentence into perfection and checking it for punctuation errors.

Your novel will never be perfect.  Your goal is to make it as good as you possibly can, and release it into the wild.  The search for perfection will carry on, into your next novel.

Zoë Sumra started writing fantasy novels at the age of twelve, because she lived in the countryside and there was nothing else to do.  Twenty years on, her working credits include typesetter, proofreader, print controller and stock controller, sometimes all at once, in two branches of non-fiction publishing.  None of her fantasy or SF novels have been published, though not for want of trying.  She cherishes the moment when Alastair Reynolds opined that her most recent novel’s opening was “pretty good”.  She is an associate member of the Society for Editors & Proofreaders.  Away from the written word, she is an enthusiastic amateur fencer, currently ranked inside the British top forty at women’s sabre.  Her knees hate fencing and are plotting a rebellion.  She lives in London with her husband. You can find her online at http://zoeiona.livejournal.com

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Wednesday Writers – Robert Hood

It’s hard to sum up the achievements of someone like Robert Hood in a paragraph or two, Not only has he won, or been nominated for, every Aussie Award imaginable, he is also critically acclaimed on the international scene. He has edited successful anthologies, and continues to be one of our best short story writers. With credentials like that, it is no wonder he is sometimes called the “wicked godfather of Aussie Horror”. Plus, he knows more about superheroes, giant monsters and comics than just about anyone!

On top of that, Rob is one of the nicest guys on the scene, who goes out of his way to encourage other writers and to share his wealth of knowledge. I’ve had the pleasure of being on panels with him and I know how much I picked up from the experience, let alone the audience! So, I was very keen to see what he would write for Wednesday Writers and, as you will see, I wasn’t disappointed!

When is a Giant Monster Not a Giant Monster?

First, some contentious generalisations about famous works of fantastic fiction:

1. The original 1954 film “Gojira” [Godzilla, King of the Monsters] isn’t about a giant monster that trashes Tokyo.

2. William Blatty’s The Exorcist isn’t about the demonic possession of a teenage girl.

3. J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings isn’t about elves, hobbits, and rings of power.

4. George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and its sequels aren’t about zombies.

5. Superman comics aren’t about the ultimate alien superhero.

6. Mary Shelley’s famous novel Frankenstein isn’t about a man-made monster that runs amok.

What are these stories about then?

Often that’s hard to pin down to a few words. The fictional entities in the stories named above tend to carry a weight of meaning beyond their fictional existence, and that weight of meaning can be variable, subjective, indefinite, complex. I would argue that the complexity is their strength – but that’s a discussion for later.

Meanwhile, here are some contentious (and over-simplified) suggestions as to what the above works are about:

1. The monster Gojira is, as director Ishiro Honda himself said, “radiation” (in the wake of the nuclear attack on Hiroshima and Nagaski).

2. The Exorcist’s demon depicts the fear that parents’ feel as their children grow away from traditional values, becoming alien and incomprehensible in the process.

3. Tolkien’s elves, hobbits and orcs, and their struggle over the One Ring, depict various notions regarding fate, free-will and responsibility.

4. Romero’s zombies are the purveyors of ravenous social chaos, feeding off the vulnerabilities of humanity.

5. Superman is a manifestation of our somewhat conflicted abandonment of the idea that there exists an all-powerful deific “hero” working to save us from the bad guys.

6. Frankenstein’s creature represents humanity’s desire to attain ultimate power over its own destiny, and illustrates the flaws in human nature (and society) that make such an ambition problematic.

Okay, all these interpretations are open to debate and other meanings will inevitably be offered to “explain” the various works. Moreover, I’d argue that all of these explanations, while true on some level, are too limited to represent a “final” understanding of the various stories’ meanings. But my point is, all these stories can be seen, and are seen, as carrying meanings like these – and in part that representational depth is precisely why they have had ongoing cultural impact. It’s why they’ve proven so fascinating to generations of readers and viewers.

In writing-manual-speak, what they demonstrably have is a theme. A “theme” is what a story means, beyond its basic plot. It’s the lack of a theme that audiences are referring to when they say a book or film isn’t “about” anything. It feels empty, trite. There’s nothing going on below the surface. There’s nothing that gives the story relevance to them. We’re not talking about a “moral” here, but a connective idea.

Sure, but first and foremost shouldn’t a good story just be a good story?

Putting the rhetoric aside and contrary to my original statement, I’ll admit that all these stories are, and should be, in fact, about their central plot elements, be those elements giant monster, demon, hobbit, zombie, superhuman, or artificial creature. The stories work because their fantasy elements are treated as real within the context of the book/film/comic. They are not simply abstractions. They are not hollow vessels designed purely to carry philosophical viewpoints or moralistic homilies. Such creations are, in each of the instances mentioned above, well-conceptualized characters, existing as “realities” within effectively developed plots (though, of course, Superman isn’t a single work – but a gradually developed set of images and tropes that have an ongoing creative existence). I’m not denying the value of pure plot. All stories have a plot and that plot is important, for lots of reasons. These stories are entertaining because of their plots. The plots draw their audiences in and tie the narrative elements together. They carry their own meaning within an imaginative context and it is the plot, and the characters that drive it, that the reader/viewer engages with, at least on a surface level.

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But that’s just paddling in the shallow end of the pool.

Generally, stories that are only about their surface plot elements are easily forgotten and fail to linger in our individual and cultural imaginations. They don’t have the sort of iconic impact that all the works mentioned above have had. They don’t resonate.

And without some sort of resonance a story doesn’t become what it needs to be: more than the sum of its parts.

Anyone who reads a lot of slush for an anthology or magazine will know what I’m talking about. Apart from the terminally bad, there is in any slush pile a middle ground of okay, fairly competent, decently written stories that just don’t offer any compelling reason for the editor or reader to consider them above other stories. They sometimes get over the line because of effective characterisation or an interesting central idea or something like that – but only when more memorable stories are lacking.

Indifference toward them usually comes about because they don’t have depth, a driving force. They don’t mean anything. They don’t have a developed theme.

For me, the meaning within a work of fiction is about the creation of metaphorical patterns. I may be writing a zombie story, but for it to rise above its competitors (given that it is well-structured, well-written, and has effective, emotionally engaging characters) it must have its own relationship to the real world outside the book. In stories of the fantastic, that relationship is probably going to be metaphorical.

Technically speaking, a metaphor is (according to the Oxford Dictionary) “a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable”. More loosely a metaphor uses one thing to stand for or represent something else. The metaphorical qualities of fiction are about using the tropes and images available within the genre to open channels for its themes to engage with the audience.

Used in this sense, the connection between the two sides of the metaphorical binary system are likely be vague and multi-layered – but when created well will carry a truth that readers instinctively recognize, even if only on a sub-conscious level. For example, the nuclear monster Gojira/Godzilla as created by Honda in the 1954 film, allowed the director to touch on a subject that had been proscribed by the governing occupation forces. He visualized the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima on film for his audience – and questioned the socio-ethical issues of such power at some length – but in the context of a monster movie, thus getting away with it despite the fact that such “discussion” was forbidden.

What I’m talking about, however, is not about forging a tight comparison between the two extremes of the metaphor. To do that it is to write allegory, as in, for example, John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, where everything in the story is given a concrete meaning in terms of the story’s fixed moral message. That’s all very well, but down that road lies propaganda. Some fantasy veers very close to this – or has in the past. The allegorical Christian components of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books, for example, often cross the line, though are saved by the imaginative conviction that the author brings to his characters and the situations they find themselves in. He (mostly) manages to universalize the propaganda.

The sort of metaphorical correspondence I’m talking about necessarily casts a wide net. But it’s a net that is very porous in nature. In hindsight, I’d argue that my recently published novel, Fragments of a Broken Land: Valarl Undead, explores issues relating to the relationship between the objective world and our subjective interaction with it – and what that means in terms of what we do. I say, “in hindsight”, because I didn’t “map” out the correspondences as rationally as I did the novel’s plot or its background. It was there, though, tied into everything I wrote. The events of the novel, and the physical/metaphysical structures in which they take place, are intuitive in the way they convey this theme. It gives the novel its form – but loosely, ambiguously.

Much of it was inspired by the work I did for my postgraduate thesis on the writings of 18th Century British poet and artist William Blake. Blake’s artistic approach to reality, which was mystical in nature, very much underlies the philosophical and metaphorical elements of the novel. I don’t think these ideas dominate the novel. On a base level Fragments is a fantasy epic about a looming apocalypse, and that is what carries the reader along. However, I believe it is the underlying theme that helps give the novel its uniqueness and depth – and, I hope, will make it memorable beyond the reasonably generic nature of its basic plot elements.

What’s my point?

Just this: as you arm-wrestle with your characters to bring them alive and struggle with the squirming intricacies of your plot, as you beat your language into shape and work on the multitude of details that make the setting of your story compelling and believable, don’t neglect your theme. Trust me, it’s the really hard bit, finding the balance between telling and showing, and conveying the theme without ever talking about it too much. But it’s also the bit that comes straight from your gut as a writer. It’s the thing that really matters, the element what will make your story matter to readers.

In short, it’s what the story is all about.

ROBERT HOOD has had a long career in the fantasy/horror/SF/crime genres. With over 150 stories published, many re-printed in his three collections to date (most recently Creeping in Reptile Flesh), he has been called “Australia’s master of dark fantasy” as well as “Aussie horror’s wicked godfather. His novels include Backstreets and the Shades series. A dark fantasy novel, Fragments of a Broken Land: Valarl Undead, has just been released from Wildside Press (US). He was also co-editor of the popular Daikaiju! Series of anthologies (Agog Press/Wildside Press). Hood’s website can be found at www.roberthood.net and www.roberthoodwriter.com. For more information on Fragments of a Broken Land, go to http://fragmentsnovel.undeadbackbrain.com/

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Wednesday Writers: S.G. Larner

I am often amazed by my good fortune. Not only did I gain a great mentor through the AHWA mentor program, I also ended up with an excellent fellow mentee (is that the right word?)! Stacey Larner is an exciting new voice in speculative fiction who is starting to garner some well deserved attention, as her recent Ditmar nomination for Best New Talent attests. I’m really excited to have her on board this week, as I found this post about Suburban Gothic and some of the darker aspects of motherhood fascinating and it’s made me want to go and find out more.

When David asked me to fill in at short notice I thought “Yes of course!” And then I realised I had to write something original, about writing… and I immediately cast about, floundering for something that might be interesting.

Then I was introduced on twitter to a writer who calls her stuff “Suburban Gothic”. And my mind went ding. My good friend Jodi Cleghorn said to me once that what I was writing wasn’t so much urban fantasy as it was suburban fantasy (that was actually horror). I said yes, then lamented that it’s a hard sell.

I went for a bit of a Google and found that Wikipedia has an entry: Suburban Gothic is a sub-genre of Gothic fiction, film and television, focused on anxieties associated with the creation of suburban communities, particularly in the United States, from the 1950s and 60s onwards. It often, but not exclusively, relies on the supernatural or elements of science fiction that have been in wider Gothic literature, but manifested in a suburban setting.

The appeal of traditional Suburban Gothic horror seems to have waned somewhat. Horror reflects the anxieties of society, and for the many writers who grew up in suburbia (like myself), it’s not something we feel particularly anxious about. However a new kind of character-driven, intensely personal Suburban Gothic is surfacing, often centred around parenthood and the uneasy reconciliation of modern lives with traditional parenting roles.

The way I see it, I’m writing a particular kind of horror that finds its roots in domesticity. Parenting (an in particular, mothering, the perspective I know most intimately) is filled with mundane, repetitive tasks that are often thankless, invisible, and devalued. Birth is an abject state: your boundaries dissolve—physical and mental—as a being that was part of your body for 9 months is ejected out into the world, and becomes a being separate from you, yet still intimately and desperately attached. There are all kinds of bodily fluids, there is the threat of death. And for a period of time afterwards you lose yourself, part of you dies, and you are slave to a tiny dependent being, whose very survival is your responsibility.

It’s pretty fucking full on. You don’t go through that and come out unscathed. But no one wants to know. Everyone sells you this picture of motherhood that is blissful, amazing, hard work, yes, but worth it. Mothers are self-sacrificing, saintly, kinda boring—or they are bad. The Suburban Gothic vibe in my work explores the intersection of the expectation of motherhood, and the reality. Or perhaps it delves deep into what it means to be a mother: including the hard decisions you have to make for the sake of your children, or your sanity. Instead of taking you out of the home, it traps you inside it, inside the claustrophobic confines of suburban life.

I think also more men are writing about parent-centred themes as they become more involved in parenting. Modern fathers are finding themselves impacted by having children in a way that 1950s fathers never were. Obviously the way men and women enter parenthood is different, but Suburban Gothic is particularly suited for both women and men to express their fears about parenthood. For women, it lends itself well to explore the feminist tension between autonomy, independence, and work-as-worth on the one hand, and isolation, dependency, and domestic drudgery on the other. The desire to do what is right for the child, sometimes at odds with what the mother as a person desires for herself.

In my repertoire there’s the story about the new mother with post natal depression who is trying to figure out if what is happening to her is real, or a function of her mental illness. There is the story about a young single mother who sells herself into demonic slavery in order to save her child. There is the story about the couple who lose their baby in utero after struggling with infertility, and how the parasitic nature of pregnancy affects them.

There are some fantastic writers out there, like Margo Lanagan, Kaaron Warren, and Angela Slatter who are not afraid to write diverse mothers, who don’t shy away from parent-centred dark themes. For other examples of this modern Suburban Gothic, check out Michelle Jager’s “Jar Baby” in issue #8 of Midnight Echo, or Simon Dewar’s “The Kettle” in the upcoming Bloody Parchment anthology.

I know many parents who relate to feeling ambivalent about their roles, but there is a definite taboo against talking about it. Horror writers break taboos, though—that’s our job! I gleefully break this one, and hope that, in telling these stories, we can help normalise and destigmatise the very real anxieties felt by modern parents.

S. G. Larner lives in Brisbane, where it’s way too sunny and humid for her liking. Her three children keep her occupied most of the time, but she sneaks off to write whenever she can. She tends to write stuff that is dark and weird to balance her mundane existence. She blogs at foregoreality.wordpress.com and erratically tweets as @StaceySarasvati.

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Wednesday Writers: Russell B. Farr

One of the exciting things about being a spec fic author and fan here in Australia is the vibrant local publishing scene. We are blessed with a number of high quality independent publishers who continue to put out book after book every year, the quality of which compares more than favourably to anything internationally – dare I say often exceeding it.

When you talk about the Australian scene you cannot go past Ticonderoga Publications. At some point, almost every Australian author of note has had a story or book come out under their label, and they have not only played a part in helping raise awareness of some of this country’s best new talent, they have also made sure that many classic stories continue to be in print. Their books have been recognised internationally for their quality, garnering nominations for some of the big awards.

Given their impact on writing in Australia, it seemed obvious to me that I simply had to ask the founder of Ticonderoga, Russell B. Farr, to come and feature in Wednesday Writers. Knowing he was a busy guy, I expected that it might be hard to pin him down, but instead I was pleasantly surprised by how willing he was to write something for this blog. It’s obvious that, even after all these years, he remains as excited and passionate about publishing as he was in the beginning and was delighted to have a chance to share that passion. So, I am really happy to hand it over to Russell and I know that everyone will get a lot of this great post.

In very kindly asking me to contribute to his excellent Wednesday Writers series, David asked me the following

Given that a large chunk of my audience are writers, and that you operate one of the main presses in Australia, they might be interested to read about what it is that you look for as opposed to what overseas markets look for – because you answer to yourself are you going out on a limb more, taking different kinds of risks? What excites you about anthologies versus collections? What’s your master plan?

It got me thinking.

When I first started this gig, way, way back in the 1990s (kids born the year our first book was published will be finishing high school this year), there was no plan. I had a whole bunch of ideas, a list of fantastic writers I wanted to work with, and it was a case that as one book went off to the printer, I’d hit up my list to see who said yes first. There was a wonderful sense of innocence, naivety, about it all (in between lamenting how much cash it was eating).

Now it’s not like that at all. We have a Master Plan(tm) *cough cough*. To me, a Master Plan(tm) has a goal, an end point, a finite achievement (even if it is World Domination(tm)). While we have a bunch of minor plans and projects, and some goals, we have no end point. There’s no achievement on the radar, or in my imagination, that would mark the ultimate pinnacle.

I guess our Plan That Is Not Quite A Master Plan(tm)(patent pending) runs along the following lines

  1. Produce the best books we possibly can.
  2. Make each book at least as good, if not better than the one before.
  3. Pay all the writers and artists as fairly and as much as we can.
  4. Foster new talent.
  5. Make a positive contribution to the genre in Australia.
  6. Make enough of a surplus to pay ourselves something.
  7. Keep doing this as long as it’s still enjoyable, worthwhile, and able to fulfil at least items 1-5 without being overly concerned by the shortfall in meeting #6.

If we were going to dream up some sort of business slogan it would be along the lines of “Quality Over Profit”, in that we’re more driven by the desire to produce quality books, the type of books we love and love to read. Beautiful looking books, filled with fabulous stories, amazing novels, incredible new lands, wonderful characters. If we publish a book, it’s because we love it, inside and out, not because we expect it to make piles of filthy lucre.

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Though we do hope that, for every title, the world also shares our love for the book and buys lots of copies. I know that this way lies madness, but we’re a little too far down the road to turn back now.

“Anthologies vs Collections” would make a great smackdown panel. In the red corner we have anthologies: cumbersome beasts made up of many writers, involving lots of work, the occasional herding of cats and large amounts of contributor copies. In the blue corner we have collections, a single writer on the cover (unless you’re Lisa L. Hannett and Angela Slatter), a single person to work with, and only one lot of contributor copies and associated postage.

Collections have a lot going for them in the short term: the incidental costs are less, they provide the opportunity to work closely with a single writer so a single clear vision is shared, and the final product has the writer’s name on the cover, giving them a sense of ownership of the book. This in turn gives the writer more motivation to actively promote the work, and also discerning buyers familiar with the writer are drawn to the title.

Anthologies are quite the opposite: it’s a case of dealing with 12 or 18 or 30 writers, not as closely, and requiring more organisation and time. The final book has the editor’s name in big letters, and few editors have the kind of name that will sell by the box. At the same time, each writer only feels 1/12, 1/15 or 1/30 of the ownership, individual promotion is harder, and unless the anthology has a “name” contributor like Gaiman or Harris, it’s a harder sell all round.

That said, without original anthologies it’s pretty hard to have collections.

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There’s a bit of a current trend for to fill collections with as much original material as possible, and most of the time I disagree with this. It can work for the occasional tightly-themed book, where each story benefits closely from its shared context. I don’t think it should become the norm, as mostly reprint collections allow the writer to be paid twice for the one story, and anything that pays the writer is a good thing.

Anthologies (and magazines) provide the first home for the story. They are a place where the writer gets to flex their finger muscles, are challenged by themes, and is where they often do their real work. Many writers rise to prominence through these markets, they provide opportunities to hone skills, experiment, work with different editors. Few, if any, short story writers are born with a collection ready to go.

As an editor (with open submissions), anthologies present the great unknown, the opportunity to find fresh new voices, to work with tomorrow’s stars. They have a sense of great potential, the lure of undiscovered treasure. There is the opportunity to read incredible tales from writers you’re not familiar with. Sometimes there’s also the opportunity to work with writers you really admire, as established Australian SF writers are generally a generous bunch.

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If I’m building a themed anthology, it’s always great to see how writers have interpreted the theme. See where the spark of inspiration has taken them. To be confronted by multiple points of view, all creatively expressed.

Every book is a risk. Any time we put out a new title, a title that we are heavily emotionally invested in (if not also financially), there is the potential for bad things to happen. Emotions and money become tied together, dozens of review copies go out, some never to be heard of again. The frustration of knowing that a book is truly awesome, so why isn’t it selling by the thousands? Why aren’t more people buying and loving and sharing and talking about this incredible work?

Each book is putting passion on the line. Not only ours, but our writers. When you’ve worked closely with a writer to produce something everyone agrees is pretty special, when the process has involved sharing hopes and dreams, we really want the work to do well. We want to be able to give lots of good news and positive reviews back to the creator. We feel honoured that these writers want to share their work with us, to allow us to be part of the journey in sharing their art, and we really do want the best for all.

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It’s a wonderful thing when it all goes to plan. Great reviews coming in, solid regular sales, hearing the stories from people who’ve bought and read and loved the book. This is what makes it worthwhile.

What do we look for? Character-driven first and foremost. We want to love and hate and feel and fear and smile and experience what’s going on. We want to experience the world through the protagonist’s eyes (though if doesn’t have to be first person narrative). Good story-telling is also important, we want to be put in the situation where we can’t not turn the page. Genre isn’t overly important, anything speculative is good. We’re not too keen on gratuitous violence, or gratuitous anything (though the occasional gratuitous explosion, car chase, or kitten is okay). Tell the story, show us a new world.

Russell B. Farr is the founding editor of Ticonderoga Publications and has published more than a thirty titles. His recent anthology, Belong, explores the concepts of home and migration, and he edited the award-winning Australian vampire anthology Dead Red Heart. In 1999 he established ticon4, now Australia’s longest running semi-professional science fiction webzine. Previous works as editor include the award-winning anthology Fantastic Wonder Stories, award-winning collection Magic Dirt: the Best of Sean Williams, and Australia’s first work-themed anthology The Workers’ Paradise.

As editor of Ticonderoga Publications, Russell has overseen the publication of landmark story collections by Simon Brown, Stephen Dedman, Terry Dowling, Lisa L. Hannett, Angela Slatter, Lucy Sussex, Steven Utley and Kaaron Warren.

Russell was born in Perth, Western Australia in 1973, where he lives in the northern suburbs with his wonderful partner and a sociopathic cat.

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Wednesday Writers: Dirk Flinthart

Aussie Spec Fic is full of larger than life characters, but one man bestrides the scene like a wine swilling, feast cooking colossus. Bon vivant, polymath, raconteur – all these words and more apply to Dirk Flinthart. Anyone who has been fortunate enough to spend time in his company knows that there is never a dull moment in the Dirk zone. But, while those who are as smart as Dirk can often be uncharitable, you would not find a more encouraging and welcoming guy. He’s also one of Australia’s most talented writers with a stellar record in producing quality work. This combination of skill and the ability to get the most out of life make Dirk the perfect man to talk about having fun with your writing.

I had dinner with Dave the other night, around at Tehani Wessely’s place here in Tas. It was pretty cool. Tehani makes a mean lasagne, and both she and David are good company. Conversation with the writing crowd is usually fun, I’ve found, and almost never boring.

Anyway, we were about halfway through the evening when David mentioned a ‘brag shelf’ — a reasonably visible bookshelf with published works by the author who owns the shelf. And… um… I don’t have one.

I’ve got lots of stories in print. I’ve got a nifty-looking Ditmar up on one of my shelves, somewhere in the Vault of Chaos I call my study. I’ve got minor awards for this and that, and lots of shortlistings and nominations, but somehow, I’ve just never really got around to a display shelf. In fact, I’m not even very good at keeping track of what I’ve printed.

Part of this is just me. I’m notoriously bad at taking compliments, and I’m not much on self-promotion. Not great for a writer in this day and age. I can do it, of course. I just don’t enjoy it.

And that’s the key, really. It’s also the key to this little piece: enjoyment.  I love writing stories, but once I’ve written a piece and seen it in print, I want to move on and write the next one. Keeping trophies isn’t part of the game for me: I’m all about the next contract, the next gig, the next story.

I’ve been writing stories since I was a kid. I figure most writers would say the same thing. I started getting paid in University, writing articles for this and that. Being paid was cool, but the point was much more about having fun. I convinced magazines to let me go to Maleny-Woodford to interview feral babes. I got myself paid to attend the National Festival of Beer. I got paid to ride around in a 4WD-converted Rolls Royce.

I made money, but more: I had a lot of fun.

Fiction is fun for me too. Even the serious stuff. When I get a really good idea, I literally get chills. I’ve been known to pull over by the roadside and stare vacantly into the middle distance, then burst into a triumphant cheer just because I’ve had that ‘click’, and seen how to create something that I like.

The stories that have worked best for me have been the ones that were the most fun. Honestly? I work at all of them, and I enjoy all of them, but its the ones with a bit of fun to the narrative line that I like best. Those Red Priest stories — yeah, I had a great time with them. There will be more.

So, what’s the point here? It’s simple. Like many Australian authors, I’ve spent the last few years working out how to crack the novel market. And like most of us, I’ve cleaned up my act, polished my prose, detailed my structures, concentrated on my Strong Female Characters, and sought ever more elegant style to my writing. I’ve had some excellent feedback, both from my peers in the game (thanks, ROR!) and from publishers. But do you see a big, fat, novel with “Flinthart” on the spine at your local bookstore?

You do not.

And frankly, that’s fairly stupid of me.

Times have changed. The world isn’t reading the way it was. Once upon a time, you needed an agent and a killer pitch and a wicked-sharp MS to catch the eye of the publishers, and even then, you had to be lucky as hell. That’s not true any more. Check the Amazon bestsellers. See how many of them have been self-published, or began life as e-books. Go ahead.

Consider Fifty Shades of Whatever. There’s a great example. Have you read any of it? I make it part of my business to read at least a little of what’s selling. (And believe me, trying to read from Twilight put a serious strain on my gorge.) Do you think Fifty Shades is a painstakingly constructed work of poetic prose, vivid characterisation and clever plotting?

No. Of course not. Let’s be honest: even most of its fans admit that it’s crap.

But lest you assume I’m cherrypicking, shall we consider conventionally published bestsellers? I had to review Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol a couple years back. Reading the bloody thing was purest agony. It’s been twenty-five years five since I skim-read Battlefield Earth by L Ron Hubbard, and loathed almost every page of it. In all those years, I’d never found a book I thought could be called worse until I hit Brown’s effort.  What an unbearable pile of badly fermented hyena squeezings! And yet, the punters loved it.

Think it through. Writing a book the painstaking, artistic, peer-reviewed way takes about two years. And if I’m very, very lucky, I get more than a second glance from a publisher. Maybe I even get a contract. Maybe. But probably not. Meanwhile the people who count — the readers — are happily dumpster-diving, grooving on Dan Brown and Stephanie Meyers and a plethora of equally… errr… talented creators.

Who’s the fool here?

Well, the publishers look pretty dim, I admit. They spend most of their time racing around like beheaded chickens, trying to publish carbon copies of current bestsellers. Their hit rate for finding new stuff has always been poor, and lately, it looks even worse. But that’s okay, because they’ve worked out they can harvest from the ‘Net, and still make a pretty good profit.

And the readers? Heck, I don’t blame readers. That would be stupid. People read what they like. It’s up to people like me to figure out how to get readers to like my work.

Nope. The fool is me. Because I forgot why I started writing. I forgot that it’s supposed to be fun. I learned my craft. I polished. I criticised. I shaped and I shaded and I cut to the bone, and I produced manuscripts that took years  for publishers to finish rejecting them. (Not kidding.)

Folks, I’ve seen the light. Last year, I set myself a little goal. I promised I would write a full-length  novel within a four to six month timeframe, and despite the best efforts of my family, my Masters Degree supervisor, my martial arts commitments and everything else, I succeeded. I have finished that novel, and I have handed it to a small, wicked-fast publisher, and I am told that it is A Good Thing.

What did I do differently?

I had fun. I made the story fun. I made the characters fun. I took the piss here and there. I created action scenes that interested me. I threw some sex into the mix just to see if I could do it. And lo, folks: turns out the book should be coming out in the not too distant future.

No, it’s not a big publishing contract. We’re going electronic, and print-on-demand. But it will be a real book, with a real cover, and real editing, and all the good stuff. I can’t guarantee you’ll have fun reading it, of course — but I had a hell of a lot of fun writing it, and I suspect if you go in expecting to come out with a big grin at the end, you won’t be disappointed.

In fact, I enjoyed it so much I’m already at work on the sequel. With three more plotted out after that, yep. Why not?

I’m not quitting the painstaking, craftsmanly stuff. I like the challenge. Making a short story really work, folding it back in on itself to create layers of meaning and metaphor — that’s another kind of fun, and I’m not backing away from it. I’m enjoying my Masters Degree studies too, including the twelve thousand-odd words of epic poem I have to write in the formal Ottava Rima style of Lord Byron’s Don Juan.

But the simple truth is that dragging my sorry arse over every individual word in an attempt to create a masterly poetic synthesis — that’s not putting me in print. It’s not giving you new stories to read. It’s taking up my time, and my concentration, and ultimately, it isn’t fun.

We can’t all be bestsellers. We can’t all write capital-ell Litratcha. Most of us found our way into the game as writers because writing was our preferred mode of self-expression. It was fun. Tragically, the Big Press model of publishing doesn’t care about fun, and it’s all to easy to forget about the enjoyment of writing in pursuit of plaudits and contracts. And yet, many of the most successful  Big Press books are complete crap that really should never have been allowed to deforest all those third-world countries for paper.

You’re a writer? Excellent. But don’t lock yourself away and slave over your MS forever. Write something fun. Get it out there. Self-publish, if you must. If it’s any good, it’s got a chance of being noticed by the readers, and they’re the ones that count. And if it’s no good? Well, it was fun, right? So shrug, take another look at what people are reading, then go back and have fun all over again. Eventually you’ll get it right — and if you don’t, at least you didn’t waste your time.

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Having said all that, there’s something I’d like to say in response to Jane Routley’s final question on marketing, here in this very forum. Jane pointed out that the ebook world is increasingly crowded, full of voices, and it’s very hard to be heard in all that.

That’s an excellent point. But more, it’s an opportunity waiting to be seized.

The plethora of voices in ebookery is an outcome of a lack of gatekeepers. Hardbook publishing involved effort, and lots of money, and therefore big companies got involved. They took a dim view of expenditure, so they went to great efforts to ensure the works in which they did invest had a decent chance of providing a return. In other words, they acted as gatekeepers, cutting away the worst of the dross.

There’s not much like that in self-publishing and ebookery. What is evolving is a two-tier system wherein authors launch themselves online, and big, monied companies try to make deals with the ones the readers like. But that doesn’t help the readers find new stuff, does it?

Are you a reader? Are you a decent critic? Build yourself a site on the web. Read and review, but make it clear that you will only give space to the works you find rewarding. Be consistent, thorough, and fair. Link to other reasonable sites. Make noise on places like Facebook, etc. If you’re any good at this, and you stick with it, pretty soon you’ll have new authors knocking at your door.

And that’s your opportunity. Right now, the idea of ‘review for pay’ is still thought of as unsavory. And to be fair, as practised by shady marketing companies hired to create ‘buzz’ on the Internet, or by desperate wannabe ‘authors’ spruiking their own stuff on Amazon, it’s a very poor idea. But think about the movies. Consider the influence of critics there. Ever heard of Roger Ebert?

Yeah. I figured as much. So: next question is where is the Ebert of books?

That’s your goal. Build a site. Review the stuff that you actually enjoy. Keep doing it until you start getting free reads. Keep up your standards, though. Make it clear you’ll only put up a review for a book you found enjoyable, and there’s no negotiation on that point.

Finally, when you’re getting more work than you can readily handle and people are coming to your site to check your opinions — set up a deal with the writers. Take a flat fee, or a cut of any sales spike, or any other arrangement you can think of. Make some money.

Does it sound mercenary? Who cares? You’d be doing everybody a service. I would definitely pay at least a little for access to a site that sorted interesting reads out of the vast, unwashed dross of self-published Net-nasties. Likewise, as a writer I would be prepared to pay a reasonable premium to place my works on such a site, if I was convinced that the operators of the site were really and truly keeping up a solid standard. I’d save money as a reader because I could more easily find good things to read, and I’d make money as a writer because it would be easier for readers to identify my books as being of a tasty nature.

That’s for free, folks. I’m a writer. I’ve done critic work. I could do this, too… but then I wouldn’t have time to write my own stories, and where’s the fun in that?

Dirk Flinthart is old enough to know better, but somehow that doesn’t seem to stop him. He’s been writing for most of his life, but has been published over the last twenty years in SF, fantasy, horror, and feature journalism. He holds a black belt in ju-jitsu, and he’s working towards a 2nd dan grading. He also holds a provisional black belt in Iai-do, and is currently studying for a Masters degree in English at Uni of Tas. He’s got three irritatingly bright kids underfoot, lives in Uttermost Taswegia on a mountainside with a view of the distant ocean, and is in the final stages of putting together a novel with Fablecroft Publishing. There’s more, but honestly, aren’t you bored with this stuff yet?

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Wednesday Writers: Jane Routley

We often ask ourselves, “Why do bad things happen to nice people?”, and if anyone deserves the nice person tag it is Jane. Ever since I’ve met her she has continually shown herself to be wonderfully supportive of other writers, and extremely welcoming to newcomers like myself. So, it was pretty disappointing to hear of the bad experiences she’d had with publishing, and delightful to hear the news that she had the opportunity to re release her books and give them the second chance they deserved. To me, this is where the new world of publishing shines, and I thought it would be great to get Jane to tell her story because I am sure it will be of great interest to other writers. Plus, it’s worth celebrating!

How I scared off the “You’re Crap Writer” fairy and learned to write again, or Re-taking Control of your career through the joy of ebook publishing.

Back in 2008 my publisher finally announced (after 18 months) that they were going to pass on The Melded Child, sequel to The Three Sisters.

When a publisher decides to “pass” on your book, it’s hard not to blame yourself. The “you’re a crap writer” fairy takes up residence on your shoulder and starts whispering in your ear every time you approach the keyboard. Only large amounts of chocolate/ alcohol/ drug of choice/ can shut it up.

So I followed the rejection with an undignified time moping, wailing, and threatening to give up writing, which was mostly borne by my unfortunate loved ones (Thank you for your support and patience, Terry Cooper). But the fact is writing is my real drug of choice. I work part-time in a low paying non-career job so that I can write, I mentor people because I love writing, and when I can, I go to writers’ workshops because I enjoy reading other peoples work and seeing how they make writing work for them and how they can make it work better. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was 5. If I gave up writing and fell in a heap, what the hell else was I going to do?

Time to re-assess and see what I could do to recover.

I can pin-point a number of things I did wrong in dealing with my large American Publisher, the major one being that I had expected them to be enthusiastic about my books and to be interested in helping me make them better. Aside from the person who bought the first one, and who left the company six months later, I worked with a series of beginning editors, most of whom were seriously luke warm about what I produced. So much so that I was really startled when the publisher asked me for more. I may have been being oversensitive here. I get the impression that big American publishers handle their beginning writers in such a way as to prevent them from achieving an unmanageable sense of entitlement. Since achieving even a manageable sense of entitlement is pretty hard for an Australian/ Australian woman, this experience had a fairly corrosive effect on my self-confidence.

To have an editor at the publishing house who likes your writing does more than keeping the “You’re a crap writer” fairy at bay. They’ll encourage the marketing people to do some marketing, a rare commodity in a publishing house where most of the marketing dollar is spent on the already successful writer.

Like all first time writers, I thought the publishers would handle all the marketing, send me on a publicity tour and treat my work as if it was a precious jewel. This was how all the writers memoirs I’d ever read put it. I can only suggest that these memoirs are from another age (or they are wearing rose coloured glasses/ are lying hounds). Publishers nowadays want to be able to do as little work as possible on a manuscript, they usually type set it from a file you send, and editors are more about marketing than editing. They send out a few copies for reviewing to the usual suspects who have big piles of other review books on their desk and put you in catalogues and sometimes in ads with the rest of their crop of writers for the month. I suspect they don’t really know what works anymore than you do. Lack of satisfactory marketing seems to be the chief complaint all writers have of their publishers.

There was no writer’s tour, no book launch and as for the precious jewel stuff, a hollow laugh sums up my experiences here. The first time I paid for myself to go an American SF convention, I discovered only after I arrived that it was up to me to organise any appearances or readings (by then of course it was too late.)

Most of all, I felt that I had no control. I had no say over the not very good covers, I had no way of finding out if they were entering me in competitions, sometimes they didn’t even seem to send out review copies and they almost never said they liked the work. Actually they rarely even replied. They changed my name even though I’d won prizes for the previous books under my own name (Apparently its easier to sell a first time author to bookshops than a fourth time author). Worst of all they let the first book of my trilogy go out of print years before the others (????). Clearly they just weren’t paying attention.

I was a very small fish in a very big pond. After 14 odd years of being/ feeling like a small fish and feeling helpless, I started to man up (that’s not an accidental verb by the way). I was expecting to be looked after like a fairytale princess. Time to start making things happen for myself, like the big strong feminist I was supposed to be.

The fact is you can’t blame yourself for all your success/or failure in publishing. Only a few writers capture the zeitgeist and become million sellers and even publishers can’t pick out who they will be. We all know that good writing seems to have little to do with that success (Who hasn’t read a really badly written best seller.). And on top of that there are all kinds of different readers out there. Not everyone regards the same book as good.

So away with you “You’re a crap writer” fairy.” Who died and made you the boss of me?
I’d already started to deal with the editing/self confidence thing by workshopping my work and I started looking for ways to increase my internet presence and do my own marketing well before the final rejection. I’d always thought internet was a dangerous time sink, but now I started to look at how Amazon and social networking and blogging worked. It doesn’t hurt to find out. I made my own very simple website.

Once the worse happened and I got over it, (see earlier reference to chocolate abuse and moping) I decided to have a try at this earth thing called ebook publishing. I had one unpublished book which was a sequel and so unmarketable anywhere else. I just wanted readers. The first thing I did was pay someone trustworthy for a manuscript assessment. I’d never been told why it was rejected and I didn’t want to publish something crap. Working with the assessor was vital in helping me get my confidence back.

The second thing I did was to apply for get the rights of all my other books back. To be honest I was pissed off with my big American publisher and wanted to take my toys and go home. Gallingly this was the time they were most helpful. They even rang me!!!

Finally I went looking for an ebook publisher – someone who knew how to package a book with covers etc. and more importantly how to make kindle friendly downloadable files. Doing it alone is a lot of work and needs a steep learning curve. The lovely Lindy Cameron, powerhouse and publisher of Clandestine Press was more than willing to include my books on her list. My first three books came out as The Dion Chronicles in 2010 with a set of wonderful covers that I helped choose (and Lindy sometimes mentions that she likes the books. Pure gold I tell you.) They are selling o.k. Lindy isn’t worried about warehouse space and she doesn’t need me to sell 10,000 of thousands of books the way the big American Publishers do. I talk to her on the phone and do marketing appearances with her.

In 2011 Russell B. Farr from Ticonderoga Publications offered to bring The Dion Chronicles out in print and they came out later with really stunning covers which I had some say in. I did a book launch and some publicity. I felt in control and it felt good.

This year I hope to publish my other books The Three Sisters in ebook and also the long rejected sequel, The Melded Child with Clandestine Press. People still email and ask me where it is. I love the internet even if it is a time sink.

This is strange time to be publishing. The conventional market is in a messy transitional state where advances are dropping and midlist authors are being ditched all over the place. The print media seems to be dominated on all sides by the lowest common denominator. People out there who want to read niche or thoughtfully written books/articles are almost being forced to resort to ebooks.

The ebook market gives you so much more control over your product and it’s a big global market. You don’t have to be a bestseller to be read. You can have readers all over the world and get feed back from them. And my ebook publisher pays me a much larger percentage on my books so I’ve seen more royalties than I’ve ever seen in my life (Which wouldn’t be hard. Up until now it was all lump sum advances).

The only real problem is marketing. So many voices in a room shouting at each other, and no one really listening. How to do enough while leaving yourself enough time to do the actual writing? How to do it successfully? How to increase your readership? When I’ve cracked that problem I’ll let you know.

Jane Routley has published four books and a number of short stories. Two of The Dion Chronicles won Aurealis awards for the Year’s Best Fantasy Novel.

When not writing and guzzling chocolate, she works for the railways gathering up lost souls and collecting station stories.

You can find out more by visiting http://janeroutley.com/

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