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<== Click to receive a free copy of my short story Crystal Servants and learn about some of the major players in Crystal Kings, my upcoming novel due out October 17th.

Adrian, a spy for the King, sees a nobleman murder a servant. His desire for truth is pitted against the dangers of a high-stakes political game. When his friend Draken insists on pursuing justice, Adrian must protect those he cares about as the political games of powerful men alter the lives of everyone around him.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Submission Guidelines: John's Pet Peeves Number 5

File this one under "Bite the Hand that Feeds You" since it's probably bad form to complain about the people who send contracts and money to authors. My hope here is not to get myself blacklisted, but to point out some odd things you might see as an author, and how I ended up dealing with them. In the spirit of limiting my inner curmudgeon, I won't call out names on any examples of what bugs me.

I'm primarily concerned with short story submissions here. Your mileage may vary with novels, but most publishers and agents will give you guidelines similar to the short fiction guidelines.

Let's cover the simple stuff first. Some sites, including some qualifying markets for SFWA don't actually specify a manuscript format at all. In those cases, they're assuming you're professional enough to already know. Some sites just refer to a standard such as William Shunn's Proper Manuscript Format web page, or they refer to Standard Manuscript Format without any example or citation. Those are the easy ones once you know what to do, but they can be a pain for a beginner who doesn't know where to look. For those markets, I just keep a template document with all the right headers, paragraph format, and writer info block already in place.

But in case you were wondering, standard format isn't really all that standard. You can pick out differences, for instance, between William Schunn's example and this other one. The good news is that if you adhere to one, you're not too far off from the other.

Other things are not so easy to figure out. I've seen several problems, some of which can be chalked up to typos and leftover editing errors. Others are shortcuts people have taken, some of which can leave submitters confused.

  • Bad links. Yeah, things happen sometimes, but it's really annoying to chase through and find yourself staring at a 404 error instead of submission guidelines.
  • Stale information is really annoying. There was a regular annual contest once, and the page was left active. I sent an email about it, and they updated the page with a new contact email, but it turns out that the contest wasn't even held that year.
  • Some places won't specify their policy on simultaneous submissions (sending a story to more than one place at a time) or multiple submissions (sending more than one story to the same place). The unstated standard policy is to not do either, but some places don't make that clear.
  • Misspelled or transposed words in the guidelines. I saw a font name with the words out of order once. This wasn't a big deal to figure out, but my internal spell checker was triggered as I read their guidelines.
  • While closed for submissions due to a regular submission schedule or a temporary closure, some places take down their guidelines entirely rather than leave them up for those who may wish to submit later.
  • Partial specifications, such as one-inch margins, mono-spaced font, double-spaced lines. You have to assume they mean standard format on everything not mentioned, but if they're calling out things that are already standard format, it makes me wonder if they just left stuff off.
  • I've seen guidelines spread across multiple web pages. Not just scroll-up scroll-down, but actual different URLs to get all the info. It makes me wonder if this is yet another publisher running an IQ test to filter out the writers who can't figure it out.
  • Some publishers will purposely change the desired font, line spacing, or margins just to see if you'll notice. If you can't  read and follow instructions, they're not likely to be interested in you, even if you've already formatted your story to the usual standards. Either that, or they're just really picky about readability.
Longer fiction submissions generally require a synopsis. Details matter when requesting a synopsis, and I've seen vague requests to tell what the story is about, when it helps a lot more to have details such as requested page or paragraph counts, and whether or not choice excerpts may be helpful for flavor, or if you should give a strict outline rather than prose summary.

When it comes to file format, it's the writer who must be flexible. I also understand the limits publishers may put on submissions. If they only accept RTF, it could be because someone sent them a virus-infected mess once. Specifying weird file formats is not a pet peeve for me. Some even go as far as to have a web form where you must paste your text to submit the story. That bypasses the entire problem of standard format and submissions, since they also ask for all the other info they want, such as name, address, email, and so on. Good on them for being both clear and safe from corrupted files.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

UAACON15 Report

Here's proof that an event doesn't need to be big to be very useful. UAACON was held in two rooms of the Springville, Utah public library, and had six speakers per room. Unfortunately I was double booked for the day, and only made it to four of the presentations, and talked to one of the other presenters briefly about her topic.

The link above will take you to a description of the event, but I wanted to cover some of the things I learned.

Laura Watkins

First up was Laura Watkins talking about marketing. The short answer is that if it's boring, you're doing it wrong. It's about relationships, emotions, and filling a need with the customer (your reader). It's not something you can do for a week once you've got a book hitting Amazon because it takes a lot of time to develop those relationships as someone who is genuinely interested in both people and subjects that they're interested in.

On social media, she emphasized posting regularly. This isn't the same as posting often. If your schedule is one blog post a month, keep it. If it's a tweet every waking hour, keep it. The idea is to make your schedule predictable.

She recommended Ryan Mendenhall's book Selling Well: The 5 Relationships That Experts, Authors & Coaches Use To Sell 1,000 Books In 21 Days. Ryan was there as well, but wasn't on the presenter schedule.

Her presentation ended with this. If marketing is boring, then are you:

  • Just selling?
  • Not enjoying what you do?
  • Not genuine?
  • Not connecting?
  • Not feeling it?
  • Not filling a need?
  • Burned out?

Unfortunately, I missed John Brown's message on Scene / Sequel during that first hour since I haven't delivered a time machine to myself from the future yet. I can still only be in one place at a time.

Michael Darling

My second session was Michael Darling, on Using Misdirection. He's both a magician and an author, and described how indirection is a valuable tool in fiction. Of course he started us off with an example by selecting a volunteer from the audience. The little magic trick he showed us was first, an example to us of getting his assistant to not focus on what he was doing. Second, he showed us that he had used a second level of indirection against us as his audience. The trick itself isn't as important as the message that indirection is entertaining, and can be pushed layer upon layer to be revealed when it will have the most impact.

Michael and his assistant. Beware of sitting in the front row or you might be called upon.

He emphasized the difference between indirection and a trick ending. Trick endings are where the writer pulls one over on the reader, more like "ha ha, got you" than "while you thought you knew what happened, this was under your nose the whole time." As an example, he described a lot of the misdirection in the movie "The Sixth Sense" as the right way to do it.

The highlights:


  • Manipulate the reader through deliberate choices to enhance a story and achieve a desired effect.
  • Not a trick ending.
  • People can focus on one or two things at a time, so you can sneak stuff past them by making it look innocent.
  • Keep characters away from climactic situations both in time and distance through misdirection.
  • Details should be scattered through a story, then should become important later.
  • It's a process of learning for both the character and the reader.
  • Review important things when they become important.


You can misdirect people in many ways:


  • Title (A story title seems to be about one thing, but is about another, The Sixth Sense)
  • Character (Is the story really about the character you think it's about? Psycho.)
  • Setting (Are you sure that you're not doing something besides the obvious? Ender's Game.)
  • Object (Is the McGuffin really what you think it is? Maltese Falcon, Sword of Shannara)
  • Plot (Derp. Forgot what his examples were)

One of the most critical points was that as a writer, you must always play fair. Leave real clues and hints. It's fine if they don't look like hints until the story ends, but don't yank the reader's chain by trying to fool them because readers don't like having a joke pulled on them.

Jordan McCollum

Jordan McCollum spoke about Approaching POV Through Voice. A lot of writing has issues with Point of View, and with character voice. If you can't tell who the POV character is by picking a random page, or if all your characters speak the same way and have the same feel, then you're stuck in the area she was helping us to fix.

The solutions are to generate a distinctive voice for each character, and to use good POV mechanics.

Voice

Create a cohesive whole where you and the reader will both see the needs, abilities, attitudes, beliefs, hobbies, and interests of your characters to make them stand out from each other. You need to dig deep to ask why and how they do things, and why anyone should care.

The voice should be distinct enough that you should be able to get rid of most of your dialog tags (he said, she said scaffolding). You need to have the POV character notice what they would really be interested in. That allows them to become likable when a reader shares an interest, and it allows you to believably make characters interested in each other.

POV Mechanics

Start a scene with anchors. Always mention the POV character first, and always tie them to the scene physically by having them do something. Don't leave the reader hanging trying to figure out whose head they are in, or where they might be. Once you've got the character named and doing something, move on to their thought or concern to cement things firmly.

Callie Stoker

Again, I missed a session I wanted to go to. Callie Stoker spoke on Plotting to Pantsing: where your prewriting falls on the pectrum. I've gotten to know her over the past couple of years as she has spoken at several conferences, and she's always been eager to talk shop and help new writers. While I was at the library I bought a copy of Secrets & Doors, an anthology she edited.

Julie Coulter Bellon

Julie Coulter Bellon spoke about Self Editing / Revision.

Julie gave us a list of things to watch for.


  • Too many dialog tags.
  • Cliches.
  • To many adjectives and adverbs.
  • Tense inconsistency.
  • Subject / verb agreement.
  • Repetitious descriptions.
  • Overuse of favorite words.
  • Weak POV and chapter breaks.


When self-editing, it's good to walk away from a story for a bit, to print it out and review it as hard copy, and to let someone else read it. There are lots of tricks to get you to see your own mistakes instead of just automatically glossing over them, but those are the ones she mentioned.

She also gave us an editor's checklist of things to watch out for.


  • Characterization
  • Setting (which can sometimes behave as a character for purposes of plot)
  • Continuity
  • Conflict
  • Plot
  • Balance between narrative, action and dialog
  • Natural flow

To finish up a book, you can go over edit lists to rewrite. This can rejuvenate the story and the characters, and is a chance to make the story shine.

Julie ended with a quote:
You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what's burning inside you. And we edit to let the fire show through the smoke. - Arthur Polotnik
After Julie's session I ended up running into that whole time machine problem again, and needed to be in two places at once. Unfortunately, UAACON15 lost out, so I missed the last two sessions. The part I was able to attend was great, and it was good to both review and learn new things.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Non-Uniform Distribution of Writer Events

It's been quite a week. A friend has just released Desert Rains, a new novel on Amazon, another friend is doing really well with pre-orders on her 2nd in a series Rider of the Crown, Two other close friends are in the newly released anthology Beyond the Wail. The funny part is I hang out with all four of them and a few other friends almost weekly. That's a pretty high author density for a group that didn't form because of writing. As for myself, one of my short stories got an acceptance that I can't quite announce yet (and another got a rejection), and I submitted a story to a new contest. Yeah, I know I'm small potatoes, but I take success where I can. :)

One important thing to remember with writing is that it's NOT zero sum. More good books from good authors means more happy readers who buy more books from more authors. Mutual support and promotion is a big deal, and I'm happy to report that there are a lot of authors (some getting fairly well known) that have been happy to give me advice and pointers, and to just socialize. I've also been happy to promote them. Not "promote them in return" but promote them because they're good people who have created good things.

Jana (Desert Rains' author) described the care and feeding of authors on Facebook:

And as a gentle reminder. If you love an author, any author, the best way you can show that love is:
1: Buy their books
2: Share their books
3: Review their books
4: Send chocolate
:)

The writer community may have its quirks and arguments at times, but I've felt welcomed across the board as I've taken the time to get to know people and make several new friends over the past couple of years.

I'm not sure how many accepted short stories I will do before I tackle the novel I have outlined, but I'm getting there.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Beyond the Wail - Twelve Grave Stories of Love and Loss


I am still only part way through an advanced reader copy of this book, but what I have read is a lot of fun, particularly if you like reading about paranormal and relationships. That's what paranormal is all about, isn't it? I have a couple of long-time personal friends who have stories in the book, but I'm going to highlight the anthology as a whole and one of the other authors today.

About the Anthology

What is it about fear and the unknown that pulls so passionately at the human heart? Perhaps we are drawn not to the darkness itself, but to the resolution, the overcoming of what we most deeply dread. After all, the more terrible the struggle, the greater the victory when it comes at last. Presented in this anthology are twelve remarkable stories of the darkness that overshadows us, and the resolution that may be found beyond them. They are stories of fear and oppression, but ultimately stories of hope, stories that will take you BEYOND THE WAIL.

At twelve stories, this is a large anthology. There is plenty to sink your teeth into here. We'll check with one of the authors about her story now.

About "Date Due" by Danielle E. Shipley

Danielle describes her story thus:
Let's talk for a bit with A magic library’s guardian determined to protect her treasured books, whether their authors elect to do things the easy way … or the fatal one.

How did you come up with the concept for your story?

I came across an image accompanied by the phrase, “I wish I had a secret library with all the books in the world in it.” My brain’s third reaction – after playing a few bars of the intro from “Into the Woods” and just generally drooling over the thought of ALL THE BOOKS – was to question: Suppose someone had a library full of all the books never written? How far would this bibliophile go to keep the books’ authors from writing them out of his/her possession? I wondered “aloud” on my Facebook page, and multiple responders commented, “You totally have to write this.” My muse seconded the motion, and the “Losers Weepers” theme of Xchyler Publishing’s then-upcoming anthology contest matched my premise perfectly, so I basically had no choice but to get the tale down on paper.

How did you come up with the title?

I wanted something equal parts library-related and ominous. “Date Due” – the little phrase seen on library book check-out cards/receipts everywhere – fit both criteria to a tee. Like a librarian’s dark day of reckoning.

Please provide some insight into or a secret or two about your story.

One of my inspirations was Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart”. Both Poe’s narrator and mine are anonymous – the text never once gives their names – and both insist throughout the story that they’re not insane, despite the fact that they are blatantly out of their minds. And, y’know, they’re both murderers.

What was the most surprising part of writing this story?

It was slightly slow going, for a short story of mine. I can normally knock out a story of this length in a day or two, but this one took me ten. My narrator would not be rushed. She wanted to give me her tale just so, and in her own sweet time.

What was the hardest part of writing your story, and how did you overcome it?

The hardest part was titling all of the books the narrator called out by name. Coming up with a title is hard enough for me when I’m familiar with the story in question. To name a book I’ve never read? Horror! Fortunately, once I’d gotten a first draft out of the way, with “[TITLE]” acting as a placeholder wherever necessary, a couple of my best pals were willing to toss out some random options, and I picked and tweaked my favorites from the list to insert into the blank spaces. 

Sherlock: Robert Downey, Jr. or Benedict Cumberbatch? 

Very much enjoyed what RDJ brought to the table, but I’ve got to give this one to Cumberbatch. All my love to BBC’s Sherlock!


About Danielle E. Shipley

Danielle E. Shipley’s first novelettes told the everyday misadventures of wacky kids like herself. . . . Or so she thought. Unbeknownst to them all, half of her characters were actually closeted elves, dwarves, fairies, or some combination thereof. When it all came to light, Danielle did the sensible thing: packed up and moved to Fantasy Land, where daily rent is the low, low price of her heart, soul, blood, sweat, tears, firstborn child, sanity, and words; lots of them. She’s also been known to spend short bursts of time in the real-life Chicago area with the parents who home schooled her and the two little sisters who keep her humble.

There are a zillion ways to get to Danielle's web presence. Here are a few places to learn more about her:

https://everonword.wordpress.com/
https://twitter.com/DEShipley
https://www.facebook.com/Danielle.E.Shipley.Author
https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7021985.Danielle_E_Shipley
https://www.pinterest.com/DEShipleyYo/
http://www.amazon.com/Danielle-E.-Shipley/e/B00HG4A0N0/

About Xchyler Publishing

The publisher is running a give-away raffle, so loot is involved! Enter and see what you can win. These have had some cool prizes in the past. Here's the link to it:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

They've also put together a cool trailer for the book.


You can buy Beyond the Wail at Amazon, and find it on GoodReads.