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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.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Achieving goals and flipping negativity on its head

I'll put this message in terms of writing, but it's universally applicable. Bear with me if you're not here for the writing, and I hope you'll gain something useful in living a more positive life.

I set a goal the beginning of the year to receive thirty short story rejections. This is in addition to some other writing goals I talked about here.

Earlier this week, I got rejection twenty-nine. Lo and behold, I opened up my email tonight and saw not one, but two emails from publishers waiting for me. My goal was within my grasp. Mwaaahahaha! I reached out and opened the first email.

It was an acceptance. I'd noticed I was about a month past the "query us" date on one of my submissions and had dropped them an email earlier in the day asking for a status update. They responded by accepting the story. I still sat at twenty-nine rejections, but I'm cool with putting off my goal for the sake of an acceptance. Side note: If the publisher specifically says to query them after a given time has passed, go ahead and query. Mine was at about 80 days, and they said to query at 60.

The second email told me my story had been forwarded to the appropriate editor to be evaluated for inclusion in an anthology. Not an acceptance or a rejection. That puts me still at twenty-nine. Augh! So close!

I have six stories still out there at the moment, so I know I'll hit my goal on rejections for the year with ease. I just don't know when it will be. I've had as many as ten out at a time, so I need to get some resubmitted to new markets.

You might think that measuring rejections sounds stupid, but let me tell you why I do it. Rejection is not fun. It's easy to see it as being rejected as a person rather than having a story rejected. A section of one of my presentations on short stories deals with rejection and what to do about it. It can be a big deal emotionally.

My trick is to turn what is otherwise a negative into a scoring mechanism. In order to receive thirty rejections in a year, I have to write stories and submit them. I don't need to write thirty stories since some of them have been submitted to several places over the course of the year. Even so, I need to keep track of submissions, send stories back out when rejected, and all that stuff. It keeps me going.

Another reason to measure rejections instead of only acceptances is the nature of those two scores. Rejections are like basketball scores where you see players score regularly through the whole game. Acceptances are more like soccer scores where you can go a whole game without seeing a score, or if you're lucky you may see two or three.

Larger numbers (like basketball scores) are easier to analyze statistically. It gives you finer measurements for comparison, and it's something I have control over. Last year my acceptance rate was about 8%. This year it's about 15%. I can use those numbers and give you a pretty good estimate of how much I need to submit to publishers to get thirty rejection letters.

A pleasant side-effect is that I've already achieved and exceeded my goal for acceptances for the year, just by working toward my rejection count. It's not that I write stuff I expect to have rejected. I really like the stories I write, and I think they're worth sharing. I'm realistic enough to realize not every story matches a given publisher's tastes, so I use these publishers as my short story playground.

Yeah, it's a little weird to measure rejections, but it works for me and helps me to get those stories sent back out when they come home with "no thank you" stamped across them.

What "failures" do you worry about that can be used to create a positive goal instead?

Monday, July 17, 2017

What's In a Name?

I've been thinking about how important titles are for books. Sure, everyone judges books by their cover, but a close second to the artwork is the title. If you can't make it past the picture and the title, it doesn't much matter what's in side, right?

As is typical, I made a list of resources to monkey around with.

  • Amazon best seller lists related to fantasy.
  • An empty spreadsheet.
  • Enough knowledge of spreadsheet formulas to be dangerous.

I typed in all the normal words from a couple hundred titles. No proper names, no connective words like "and, of, the." The first thing I noticed was that certain words were used quite a bit. Here's the top 13 words, those I had more than about three occurances of:

  • blood
  • dark
  • dragon
  • fate
  • city
  • fire
  • king
  • queen
  • long
  • mage
  • secret
  • shade

Then I sorted them and removed duplicates. You may want to save the original copy before you remove duplicates if you're following along with a spreadsheet of your own. I forgot to save a copy before removing my duplicates so I may need to go back and rebuild my word list at some point.

Now comes the fun part. Mix and match, and see how many titles you can make from just that super-common list and the connector words you skipped over when building the list.

Imaginary titles I'm making up on the spot:

  • The Dragon Queen's Mage
  • Secret of the Dark Dragon
  • Fate and Fire
  • Secret City of the Dragon King
  • City of Fire and Blood
  • Fire Shade of the Dark Mage's Secret Dragon-City of Blood

It's like buzzword bingo book titles! With some pretty art, would you crack the cover to see what these stories were about? Except that last one, I mean.

Now to expand things out a little. There are only so many titles if you can only use the hottest words on the list. I took my sorted list and build a little table to pick ten items at random from it. This lets you do the same exercise all over with a new set of buzzwords. I've just hit F9 on my spreadsheet to refresh it, and here's the random set it gave me. No pre-planning on this one.

  • critical
  • failure
  • bone
  • accord
  • bed
  • man
  • moonlight
  • hunt
  • hundredth
  • moon

Now to play mashup and make some titles. If you're a gamer, or have looked through the Amazon best seller lists, you might recognize some of these. Critical Failure is already a book title I saw, so I won't use that one in my mashup list. Romance writers have some good fodder here, but I'll bypass that as well and stick with fantasy.

  • Bone Hunt by Moonlight
  • Critical Accord
  • The Hundredth Moon
  • Moonlight's Failure
  • Moonlight Accord
  • Hunt Man by the Moon

And that was with a pretty bland word set. I've seen some that show a lot more promise. It's easy to combine the hot words list with the random list. Just don't remove the duplicates from the list, and those hot words will show up more often. If you copied my mistake and didn't save the original list with all the duplicate terms, you can just add in two or three copies of the hot words.

Spreadsheet geekery:

  • Put your words in column A. Make note of how many there are. My list ended up 233 words long.
  • Create a colum of random numbers. I did ten items in column F, and the equation is:
    • =RANDBETWEEN(1,233)
    • The 233 here is the length of the word list, so it picks a random word's row.
  • Next to the equation in column G, I do a random lookup in the word list based on that index.
    • =INDIRECT("A"&F2)
    • This means fill this cell with whatever is in column A and row whatever's in cell F2.
  • Copy those two cells (F2 and G2) and paste it to make ten or so lines with the magic equations.
  • Hit F9 to refresh until you like the random set it gives you.

Here's a screen shot of my random lookup:

Let me know if you try this, and what cool book titles you come up with. I may run through some of the best seller science fiction lists and see what sort of words are most common over there, too.