The Evolution of a Character (or a career)

I’ve lived my entire life with characters and stories in my head. Some were as original as anything can be while others were fan-fictions that never escaped my maze of a mind long enough to be put on paper.

After watching  Xena: Warrior Princess, I’d run around the house with music blasting. The living room would fade as I retreated into my head where I reimagined the episode with myself, or a character based off of myself, involved in some major way. If no one interrupted me, I’d plot out the next episode and the next. Each would steer further from the plot, featuring more of me and my made up characters and less Xena and Gabrielle.

TV shows and movies never failed to rev up my imagination, but they were not my only source of stories. Songs, fears, news, and my contorted perception of reality  were compost to my imagination’s produce.

For all the stories I dreamed while running and dancing, I wrote sporadically, scribbling ideas in journals and penning poems for school assignments. As much as I loved making stories, the creative part of my brain rarely worked unless my body was moving.

So the characters stayed inside me. To an extent, they grew with me.

They evolved.

Terrifying magical adventures involving waterfalls, brain-altering head injuries, supernatural relatives, and a fair amount of time travel shaped them into distinct people that had less and less in common with me as time went on.

Mel Aesthetic
An aesthetic I made for Mel (Amelia)

They reproduced like cells.

 

As the adventures piled up an they grew more and more complex, sometimes, they split into two or three different characters.

Yes, some of them had things in common with me, but none of them were me. I no longer had a version of myself that popped into tv shows and fan fiction. I had a cast of distinct , developed characters trying to claw their way out of my head.

Ari. Amelia. Elle. Erin. Lucy. Michael. Sam.

There are more, but some of their names have faded from memory even if their personalities haven’t.

I started writing. I had to. My brain would’ve exploded. Reality would’ve shattered. Something bad would’ve happened.

At first, writing came in short bursts. Stories would fill a notebook on rainy summer days or cold winter nights. Senior year of high school, I wrote and illustrated the first twenty or so pages of a centaur portal fantasy. Freshmen year of college, I wrote the first act of a screen play. I started a novel. I wrote a short story. Started another novel.

Each time I wrote, the characters that grew up with me appeared in the story along side new faces. My burst of writing grew longer each time they happened.

When I was 26, on a cold October night when I couldn’t sleep, I started the longest writing spurt I’d ever had, meaning it hasn’t ended. In one for or another, I have written every day since then.

Monochromatic #ThursdayAesthetic
Power Surge aesthetic 

Characters and pieces of stories coalesced into novels.

The characters continued to grow through the whole process.

Now, I’m proud to say that the world gets to meet two characters that have lived in my head under one name or another for most of my life.

Erin and Mel (Amelia) debuted in notebook pages. They solidified in a screenplay. Bloomed in a mess of a half of a book I started in college. They slept for decades, through short stories and a paranormal suspense.

They slept but the they never left. Their identities evolved with mine.

Erin’s mental health deteriorated with mine. When I discovered the words and concepts that I could use to finally explain how I felt about my gender, Erin used those words too

I could tell you what Mel or Erin had for breakfast on any given day. I could tell you about their first kisses, their greatest fears, most embarrassing moments, successes and failures. The last mountain they skied. The last trail they hiked

People always ask me how I keep it all in my head, if I had spreadsheets and pages of notes.

PowerSurge-f500
Cover Art by Natasha Snow

When it comes to the Evanstars? I didn’t need those things. I  internalized world and most of it’s inhabitants long before I started writing. I have drafts and short stories and micro stories and poems.

I have dreams.

These characters own a piece of me.

They are pieces of me.

Their stories will always live in my soul, but if I have readers willing to read, then I will write and write in this universe as long as I can.

 

I just hope that when readers meet them on October 1st, they love them as much as I do.

Add Power Surge on Goodreads

Pre-order the e-book from NineStar Press

Cover Matters Part 2: Making A Book’s Cover Art

In my experiences with small, independent publishers, making a cover is a collaboration between the author and/or editor and artist.

With NineStar Press, I experienced the cover making process as an author for one book. With B Cubed Press, I was the cover artist for three books: two multi-author anthologies and one sing-author poetry collection.

Getting a Feel for the Book

In order to start designing, the artist needs to know a few things about the book.

At NineStar Press, the process started me with (the author) filling out an information form. I included my blurb and pitches for the book, which served a double purpose. They gave the artist a feel for the story, and they was also for their publisher to use on their website and on retailer sites.

The second part of the form was specifically for the cover artist. I was asked to describe the book’s physical setting and the time period it was set in (if it wasn’t a secondary world). I was asked to use three adjectives to describe the mood or tone of the book. Another set of questions focused on the main characters – their physical appearance, age, gender and orientation. The form asked if there were any significant symbols or images repeated throughout the book. All of these helped the artist come up with a concept that would accurately reflect the book and it’s characters.

But that wasn’t all. The form also allowed me to include links to three covers I liked and had a section at the end where I could write about additional characters or describe a concept I had in mind. Surprisingly, I didn’t have a specific idea of how I wanted the cover to look, but I did know what I didn’t want: lightening. My novel isn’t the only Power Surge and I wanted it to stand out among other search engine results. Since most of the other books bearing that title featured some kind of lightening, it was important that my book didn’t have lightening on the cover.

With B Cubed Press the process the process was less structured. They needed a new cover artist for their Alternative Theology anthology, so I used the description on the call for submissions to draft a cover to propose. After committing to that cover, I was asked to do one for After the Orange and a poetry collection.

With After the Orange, I did read the blurb that had accompanied the submission call to get started, but Bob Brown, the founder of B Cubed Press, sent me an email describing the tone of the anthology and sent me an image he wanted to use on the cover.

For the poetry collection, the author sent me a selection of photographs to choose from, a detailed description of the collection’s tone, and the title poem.

While one process was very structured and the other more open and free-flowing, at this stage, the cover artist’s job was to familiarize them with the book and the authors desire for the cover.

Drafts and Revisions

After reviewing the information provided about the book, the artist sends a draft cover.  This wasn’t a polished product; it was more of a mock up to see if the artist is on the right track.

When I saw the first draft of my cover for Power Surge, I loved the color theme, the background, and the font, but the model just didn’t look right. She was too feminine, more like one of the minor characters than the main character, and looked more like someone in their mid-twenties than a high school senior. I replied saying so.

Later that day, I got a second version with a different model. This one had the right tom-boy appearance, but they looked even more mature than the first model. I sent some photos that I hoped would give the artist a better idea of what I was looking for, but they weren’t able to use those for legal reasons. While studying the draft, I saw a watermark. The pub don’t buy the photos until they know are going to use them – so I went on the sight they buy their photos from and found images I thought would be a better representation of my character. I sent those links, and the artist chose one of those. I may have overstepped my place a little there, but something had been miscommunicated in my info form, and I needed to make the artist had got the character right.

PowerSurge-f500This time, when I saw the cover, it was almost perfect. Initially I asked for two more changes, but I was told one would make the cover to busy. I trusted the cover artist with that decision, and the other, a minor adjustment to proportions, was an easy change.

In the end, the model on the cover had the look I pictured for my character. The hair color was wrong, but they had a hat on, so it worked out. Erin, the main character in Power Surge, never wears a hat in the book, but neither does my favorite fiction wizard.

Power Surge (Evanstar Chronicles)

This back and forth process happened when I made covers for B Cubed Press, although I lost count of how many times I went back and forth. It wasn’t because the editors were picky but because I was a newer, less experienced artist.

Screen Shot 2018-08-27 at 3.29.17 PM.png

With After the Orange, it took several attempts to get the tone right. Towards the end of the process, when the authors got a sneak peak of the cover, a few suggested the cover was too subdued and needed more cover to make it stand out on the shelves. I made more changes, and when I finally sent that version back, it was just what they were looking for. Afterwards, I had to fine tune the font size and layout to make sure it would all fit properly and not get cut off.

Althernative Theology KindleWith Alternative Theology, I had a better grasp on the theme, but my original idea of having a stained glass background made the cover too busy, especially when trying to fit a snowflake on the cover. It’s part of B Cubed Press’ brand, especially where their “Alternative” titles are concerned. After a few back and forth with a more tame, purple background, we found something we were all happy with.

The poetry collection was the most straight forward. My first cover looked a little too much like a mystery novel, but I got the concept right on my next try, and from there, it was fine tuning the font, placement of the title, and layout of the back cover.

Once the covers were approved by editors and authors, they were ready to share with t

he world.

Final Thoughts

The processes at NineStar Press and B Cubed Press were similar at their core, but different on the surface. Since I’ve only worked with two publishers, I can’t comment on whether or not this is how it works other places. If you’ve worked with different publishers, feel free to comment on how your experiences were similar or different.

Cover Matters: Part 1

I love the saying “don’t judge a book by its cover” because so many things are not what they appear. A restaurant with a run down front may have the best food in town. A person’s physical gender may not reflect whom they are inside. A great book might he hiding behind the worst cover art ever.

Books are judged by their covers.

If I am browsing books, whether it is in a store or online, without knowing what I’m looking for, the cover is what will make me slow down and read the blurb. I’ve always known covers are important, but it wasn’t until I was knee deep in the world of indie publishing that I realized just how vital a good cover is.

 

Screen Shot 2018-08-11 at 6.32.56 PM.png
A screen shot of cover’s on NineStar Press’ home page on Aug, 11, 2018. The day I wrote this post, not the day I first found the website. 

Covers matter: I’ve judge whole publishers by them.

 

After deciding to start querying my novel, Power Surge, to small publishers, there were many other factors that went in to picking which publishers to query, but cover art was a big one. Did the covers catch my attention? Did they all look the same? Were they more than just some font slapped over a photo? Did they relate to the content described in the books blurb?

Almost two years ago, NineStar press requested one of my manuscripts through #DVpit. The first thing I saw when I opened their website were covers for their new releases and for books that were coming soon. I liked what I saw: lots of color and unique font. It only took a quick glance to decipher which books were romance, fantasy or science fiction. Had I landed on a page filled with awful covers, I might not have gone on to do more research, submit my book, get revise and resubmit, shelve that book, send them something completely different, and have it accepted.

Covers matter: They keep me motivated.

Copy of Like Birds.jpg
Like Birds was my first NaNoWriMo win. I’ve revised the cover as many times as the book. Currently, the book is shelved. 

 

The first time I officially participated in NaNoWriMo and created a profile for my project, I was surprised to see a place to upload a cover. Why would a book that hasn’t been written need one? Not wanting to leave it blank, I threw something together, and then I understood. The cover wasn’t fancy or professional, but it was a concrete image – a mock up of what a story could be if I got it out of my head and onto a page.

Now, when I write a first, I stop and make a cover at the first sign of being stuck. When I revise the draft, I make a cover to reflect revisions. Sometime, if I have an idea for a book but am not ready to start, I make a cover for it. At first, my covers were terrible, but they got better, especially when I forked out the money for a Photoshop subscription.

Covers matter: They pay.

Every awesome book cover is made by someone. If the person who they made it for has any scruples, then said artist is getting paid for their work.

For me, cover art started out as pure hobby, but as of right now, I’ve gotten paid to make three of them. It started earlier this summer when Bob Brown posted on the B Cubed Press Projects page that he needed someone to make cover art for Alternative Theologies.

Theology A ModernI was very excited about the anthology. The story I was writing for it wasn’t coming along very well. I drafted a cover for it, emailed it to Bob, and after a discussion about possible revisions, I was “hired.”

It was a long process, at least as time consuming as writing a story, if not more so since more than a couple things had changed in Photoshop since I got out of photography. And while I was pretty good at designing e-book covers, setting the guides and formatting covers for print was a different story. But I did it.

In the end, my story got rejected, but my design is on the cover of a book that is #1 in specific categories on amazon. How much of it is the cover and how much the amazing collection of stories? I can’t say. I like to think it is a little bit of both.

Covers matter: My book has one that I didn’t make.PowerSurge-f500

AS much as I enjoy making covers for my works in-progress, I did not have the opportunity to make my own cover for power surge. That is a good thing.

Of all the books I wrote, I never came up with a concept I liked for power surge, but Natasha Snow, the brilliant person who does the covers for NineStar Press, came up with something much better than I could have.

The only flaw was that she didn’t have access to an image of a model with both the right hair color and body type as the main character in Power Surge. After looking through images NineStar had access to, I suggested model wearing a hat.

When I saw them on the cover, I knew I made the right decision.

Erin never wears a hat in the book.

Harry Dresden never wears hats either, but he wears one on every cover of the Dresden Files.

Covers matter: They make me smile!

Check back in a few days for a post about the process of making covers both from my experiences as an author and cover artist.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Our Dark Stars by  Audrey Grey and Krystal Wade

Click the image to find Our Dark Stars on Amazon.

I received a copy of “Our Dark Stars by  Audrey Grey and Krystal Wade on NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. A combination of the cover, the pitch “Firefly meets Sleeping Beauty” caught my attention, so I requested the book. I enjoyed reading it, though I don’t think it lived up to being compared to Firefly.

The chapters alternate between Will and Talia’s points of view. Will is captain of a scavenger ship trying to regain his place in the military after letting a rebel ship getaway. Talia is an exiled princess who spend 100 years in a cryo-pod after her family was defeated by rebel mocks. The mocks are androids whose artificial intelligence evolved until they were sentient, human-like beings.

As Will decides what to do with Talia and she comes to realize that the roles of humans and mocks have reversed in the past 100 years, the book did raise some interesting questions about AI and ethics, contributing to a conversation science fiction novels have engaged in for decades. While I enjoyed that aspect of the book, I was a little let down by plot and character.

Talia was too much of a cliche modern princess — arrogant and tough. Will was also a stereotype captain who didn’t quite have the same vibrant personality as someone like Mal or Han Solo or Peter Quill. His crew was interesting, though I wished the narrative had focused on them a little more. At first, the two main characters seemed to much like science fiction archetypes, but they did grow on me as the book went on.

The plot, while not bad, was also a let down. After two or three chapters, I knew exactly how it was going to play out. There were a few things that seemed like they were meant to be surprises, but set up made them way too obvious.

The ending was exactly what I expected, though it came a little too easy so I was pulled out of the narrative wishing Talia had to work a little harder in that last chapter.

Despite its flaws, I did enjoy reading it, and like always, as a writer, I learned from reading and reviewing it. Finding the right balance between making twists too obvious or too shocking is tough. This book is a good example of leaning a little too much to the obvious. It is also a warning of the dangers of comparing a story to something it won’t quite live up to.

Had it been advertised as “Sleeping Beauty in Space with Salvagers Instead of Dwarfs” I might not have been so critical of the cast.

Check out a preview of Our Dark Stars here.

https://read.amazon.com/kp/card?asin=B0795VWGDC&preview=inline&linkCode=kpe&ref_=cm_sw_r_kb_dp_Lz4pBbWXRSF96&tag=shatteredsmoo-20

A few words about “Butter is Not a Dress”

I don’t write a lot of poetry, and I only share a fraction of what I do write. Every once and a while, I come up with a piece I am very proud of. One of those pieces is featured in this anthology.

When speaking with people, I struggle to express my gender identity and how I’ve always felt like I inhabited some space between man and woman. This poem explores that in the context of how it affects the way I dress, and the internal struggle I go through every time I change my clothing.

You can buy the paper back and kindle version on Amazon if you are interested in reading it along with other poems and stories.

 

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Five Friendly Places that Pay for Fiction

Finding a place to publish a short story can be intimidating. Submitting a story  I’ve poured my soul into out to a literary magazine is scary enough without worrying about what happens to it once it lands in someone’s slush.

And there are so many places that publish fiction. I have to think about things like what kind of stories the market publishes, how much it pays, what their response time is and whether or not they take simultaneous submissions.

There are many markets I send short stories to over and over again only to be repeatedly rejected, but I’ve had great experiences publishing with the following five markets. I’ve had at least one story accepted by each, and sent a second after publication. They are listed alphabetically.

  1. B Cubed Press not only published the most profitable anthology I’ve ever had a short story in, but it is run by an enthusiastic editor who cares about his authors as much as he cares about the quality of their stories.
    • Responsive: All submissions get a receipt confirmation so the writer knows the story isn’t languishing in email limbo. All submissions get a response once a decision is made. Editors periodically post updates on the BCubed Press Facebook Group. Most questions are answered promptly.
    • Strong Community: There is a Facebook group populated with an engaged community of writers who support each other and share ideas.
    • Short  Story Pay: $.02 a word advance + royalties and an e-book
    • Read B Cubed”s latest anthology “More Alternative Truths”
  2. Broadswords and Blasters
    • Responsiveness: Confirms receipt of stories, responds to all when a decision is made, and is known to give personal responses when time allows.
    • Active on Twitter: Broadswords and Blasters engages with authors and readers on twitter. When open for submissions, they use twitter to be transparent about their selection process. However the two things that impress me most are how supportive they are of their authors, and how quickly they are growing
    • Short Story Pay: $15 per story + an electronic copy of the issue
    • Read an issue here
  3. Fantasia Divinity
    • Responsiveness: Generally, emails get an auto response that confirms the submission was received and provides information about response times. Once a decision is made, all stories get a response.
    • Active on Facebook: Fantasia Divinity has a very active Facebook page where they share status updates about where they are in the process of getting a book or issue ready, cover art, and releases. If they get behind on their responses, they generally will post about it so waiting authors know what is going on.
    • Short Story Pay varies per project. Original stories accepted to the magazine receive ½ of a cent per word. Stand-alone pieces are royalties only. Anthology pay varies between the magazine rate and printed contributor copies.
    • Read an issue here
  4. Nine Star Press
    • Responsiveness: An auto response confirms receipt of stories, and once they receive a response email once a decisions is made. Most of the rejections they sent me have been personalized.
    • Strong Community: The NineStar Press authors Facebook group is a fantastic place to meet other writers, find critique partners, get advice about marketing stories and discuss your craft. They are one of the most supportive and generally awesome writing community’s I’ve had the chance to be part of.
    • Pay: Royalties + e-books.Note: While NineStar does publish short story anthologies, novelettes, and novellas, they are primarily a boutique novel publisher.
    • Read my favorite NineStar Press Novel
  5. Owl Hollow Press
    • Responsiveness: All submissions get a response once a decision is made. Every rejection I received from them was personalized.
    • Very Social: Owl Hollow Press is active on a number of social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. They are the only publisher I’ve worked with who has ever mailed authors free swag to use as promotional material. The bookmarks were very popular at work.
    • Short Story Pay: $50 per story + 1 print copy. OHP does publish novels, but  I think the pay (royalty rate and/or advance) may very from contract to contract.
    • Read their latest anthology here

If you choose to submit anything to any of these markets, please do your own research too. I did my best to provide accurate information, but these markets can update their rates and policies at any time. Plus, I’m human, which means I make mistakes. The publishing world is scary; these are just a few of many places I’ve had positive experiences publishing short stories with.

Read their guidelines carefully, and make sure they publish the type of story you are sending them. If you are unsure if a market is right, reading some of their published material is a good way to learn more about their tastes. Whether you read their previously published works or not, just please please make sure you follow their submission guidelines. I can’t count the number of I’ve times I seen editors stress how important this is.

B Cubed Press, Broadswords and Blasters, Fantasia Divinity, Owl Hollow Press, and NineStar Press are not the only markets I repeatedly submit to, but something about my experience with each was memorable enough for me to send them more work after they published the first accepted piece. Some of those submissions were accepted, but others weren’t. Of course, I won’t let the rejections stop me from sending these editors more stories in the future. They can’t get rid of me that easily. 😉

 

Like Birds is on Wattpad.

Copy of Like BirdsWattpad has fascinated me and scared me since I started getting serious about my writing. Even before I knew what it was, I liked the idea of serially posting a story online. The problem was, traditional publishing just holds too much allure.

Now that I have one book signed with a small press and another being subbed to agents, it’s safe to pull Like Birds Under The City Sky from my “shelf” of misfit manuscripts and share it with the internet.

It’s a story near and dear to my heart, one that explores the intersection of the LGBTQ identities and Christianity, but it is not a linear novel. It jumps time and tenses and points of view as Micah tries to reconcile his faith with his identity, and explores the hypocrisy of his parents while helping his boyfriend, Charlie, run from cyber spies and robots who want to pressgang him into service.

Every time I try to rein that jumping around in per beta reader feedback, it just doesn’t work. I still have two stories trying to be one. I still have a story that unfolds out of order.

And that is just how it has to be.

In my last revision, I tried to blend the feedback with want I want the book to be. I changed the format so it was told through blog posts, letters, journals and transcribed recordings.

Books like this do exist in print, but for now, I think this one is just better online. Readers don’t have to go through it in my recommended order, and don’t necessarily have to read the whole thing. Someone more interested in the realism of it can just read the parts set in Micah and Charlie’s past, and those who are more into the science fiction could just read about their present. Someone could read them in the order I’m posting them — the order I see the story unfold in, or read the chronologically.

Once the whole book is on Wattpad, I’ll post a few guides giving people navigation options, but those who read it while I’m posting it will see it in the order I do.

I considered building a website to post it on, but decided Wattpad would work fine since it is free, has readers, and an established community. I still have a lot to learn about Wattpad, but I’ll work through that as I go, and hopefully, once I get a chance to participate, I’ll get feedback from the community.

The first three sections are up now, and I plan to post one or two a week over the summer until they are all online.

This will be an interesting experiment, and I hope the right readers do find this story.

If nothing else, I’m sure I’ll learn something from it, and like I did with my failed attempt at crowdfunding a book, I’ll blog about those lessons as I learn them.

Since there is no money involved in this summer’s experiment, I suspect it will turn out better than my foray into Publishizer did.

https://embed.wattpad.com/story/148624059

Twitter Pitch Parties Are About More Than Just The Likes

When seeking an agent or publisher for a novel, I participate in every twitter pitch party I get the chance to. So far, no one “like” or “heart” has landed me an agent or a book deal, but I still participate. They help me figure out what agents like the kind of stories I write, and it also helps me network with like-minded writers.

Events like #DVpit, #pitmad, #pitdark, #kidpit, #IWSGPit, #pit2pub, and a few others that I may be forgetting offer writers a chance to connect with the right agents and editors. However, you don’t necessarily need your pitch to get liked for that to happen.

This year, I used #DVpit as a deadline to finish editing my latest novel. I got my manuscript and query in good shape, but didn’t have as much time as I would’ve liked to perfect my pitches. I tweeted them anyway, and tried not to refresh twitter every three seconds.

I didn’t get a single agent like, but that night, I still sent out my first volley of 11 queries, and within two weeks, two of them turned into partial requests.

The agents may not have liked my tweet, but I saw the kinds of tweets they did like. I searched the feed using hashtags that were in my pitches.

For example, I searched #DVpit #YA #F #LGBT. I made a list of agents requesting those projects. Then I did the same search without the #LGBT and added those agents to my list. If reviewed their guidelines, and if I wasn’t familiar with them from my first three attempts to get an agent, I looked them up on Absolute Write.

I ended up with a long list of agents, and picked ten who didn’t require a full synopsis (because I hated and still hate my synopsis). After getting two requests and about 5 rejections from that first batch, I sent out another. Some of them were agents from my #DVpit list, some were agents I’d queried in the past, and others came from a #MSWL search.

In total, I’ve gotten 3 requests (1 full, 2 partials) and 11 rejections. I’m still waiting for a response on 10 more queries.

Those odds are not bad considering I didn’t get any likes.

With my other three manuscripts, I received lots of likes for pitches, some that evolved into requests, but none of them turned into an offer. However, one of these did indirectly lead me to NineStar Press, the publisher who I signed with for Power Surge.

NineStar didn’t like any of my pitches for Power Surge, but they did like a pitch for a different book. I queried them, and ultimately got an R & R. I still haven’t revised that manuscript, but I did send NineStar a dark fantasy novelette called Half-Breads, which they published as part of their Halloween story, an urban Snow White retelling they accepted for Once Upon a Rainbow 2, and Power Surge, the novel that is nearest and dearest to my heart, and rejected by over 100 agents.

Had they not liked my #DVpit tweet for the other book, I might not have known they existed. And that would’ve been said, because some of the best book’s I’ve read this year were ARC’s I reviewed for them. Through NineStar, I’ve also connected with an amazing community of writers who have helped me boosted my confidence, hone my craft, and even feel more comfortable with my gender identity. Words can’t express how grateful I am to have found them.

In general, I’ve also built my twitter network though pitch contests. If someone’s pitch sounds really cool, I follow them. Sometimes, nothing comes of it. Other times, they and I engage with each other’s tweets, encouraging each other, offering advice, and boosting posts. Some even become beta readers or cp’s.

Getting agent likes are a big part of pitch contests, but they are not the whole story. If you have an eligible manuscript, pitch it on twitter, follow the feed, and think of it as a way to engage with a community. Think of these contests as opportunities to learn and network, and look at the potential for agent requests as a bonus. Celebrate when you get them, but don’t be discouraged if you don’t.

P.S. If you write dark fiction check out #pitdark, which is happening tomorrow. #PitMad is June 7th, so put that one on your calendar and polish your pitches.

 

Writer Beware: Your Work Is Valuable; Don’t Get Scammed

Most of us start writing because we enjoy it or because we have something we are desperate to share. While some writers hoard their work, afraid to let the public see it, many want or even need their work to be read. Those of us who want to publish aren’t always content to just throw our work on our website or someone else’s. We want to see our stories officially published in some kind of book, journal, or magazine. However, we need to be smart about it and not fall victim to scammers and predators who are out to take advantage of us.

Publishing isn’t easy. It’s slow and painful. To be successful, writers need to be able to stand up against an onslaught of rejection and push through it until a piece gets accepted, and then start the process all over again. It’s easy to feel defeated, like your writing is bad and doesn’t hold much value.

No matter how many rejections you get, your writing is valuable. Rejections don’t mean you’re a bad writer. Every writer has room for improvement, but no one should judge their writing based on rejections. Feedback from beta readers, critique groups, and workshops can help you identify your strengths and the skills you need to work on. Reading craft books and published stories are also tools for identifying weak areas and improving them.

Still, not getting published and not getting paid is frustrating, especially when the markets with the highest rates and largest reach are the hardest to get into. I can consistently get $5 or $10 for a piece of flash fiction, and have had a few pieces sell for over $100, but I have yet to break into award winning markets, pro-paying markets, let alone gotten to the point in my career where editors are soliciting stories from me.

Solicited submissions are some kind of a dream for me. How cool would it be for an editor to be familiar enough with my writing to ask me to write a story for their publication?

Technically, this has happened twice. The first time was from a woman in my twitter network who starting up her own online magazine, Speculative 66. Like the name implies, it features speculative stories that are only 66 words long. It did pay, but the stories were free, and writing the story was a fun challenge.

The second was from a scammer dressed up publisher. Earlier this week, I got an email from an editor at Z Publishing. This person claimed to have looked at my website, and thought I would be a good fit for the Massachusetts edition of an emerging writers collection. I was excited for about five seconds, but then I realized I had never heard of this publisher, and my scam alarms blared.

I googled them, read a blog about them, and a post on Absolute Write. After that, I went to their website to verify what I read about them.

Here’s the scoop. The put a high volume of anthologies, and according to the blog I read about them, they accept almost everything. This I didn’t verify myself.

Their anthologies come out in both print and electronically, and are sold both on their website and on amazon. Their contract says there is no payment and no royalties. However, if authors join their affiliate program, they can make some money.

Here is how it works: Authors are given a link to the publisher’s website. If an author sells books through the link, they get 25% of the sale and the other authors get nothing. 100% of the money sales made on amazon or through the website that aren’t connected to an author link goes to the publisher.

I n theory, if an author had a big network of family and friends who were going to buy the book, they could make money off of it while the other authors get nothing. The publisher has the chance to make money off of the amazon sales while sharing nothing with the author. If an author has a big of a network to profit from this model, they could make at least double by self-publishing a collection of their own work.

The website makes it sound like some new, revolutionary publishing model, but really, it is a scam that preys off of desperate and naïve authors.

If you are going to give your writing away, send it to a place that doesn’t charge people to read it. And if you want to make money, then submit to more ethical, paying markets whether they are anthologies or magazines. Keep writing and keep sending them stuff until you finally get in.

If you wind up with a dozen stories that have been rejected by the big paying markets? No big deal. You can self publish it and keep a lot more than 25%.

Do be careful where you submit to. Find market’s whose goals align with yours. If I’m going to publish in an anthology with out an advance, I know I’m taking a risk. However, if the publisher has competent editors, a good cover artist, a marketing plan, and a fair contract, I’ll consider it, though it isn’t my first choice.

If you want an example of a small anthology publisher who did things right, check out B Cubed Press’ Alternative Truths.

Remember, your writing is valuable.  Don’t rejections tell you otherwise. Don’t let scammers profit from your work while you get nothing.

How an editor made my day.

This year, I had high hopes for #DVpit. I’d just finished polishing a new manuscript. My query was in good shape. I’d struggled with my pitches, but thought I finally had them down. I scheduled them, went to work, and tried to not to sneak peeks at twitter between each student I tutored.

My try was feeble and I checked the internet every chance I got. What did I find?

No agent <3’s from #DVpit.

Short story rejections, including one I had been a little too optimistic about.

It wasn’t even lunch time, and I was miserable.

At some point in in the midst of it all, I opened up a 100-word-story I’d  been working on for a while. I made a few changes based on some feedback and sent it off to an anthology — one that was going to consist entirely of dark drabbles.

Within an hour, I got a response. I read, “I have enjoyed your work to date,” and froze.

Did an editor just recognize my name? I did a little “happy dance” at my desk, which really is just me smiling and bouncing in my seat. My fellow tutor was with a student, so she didn’t notice.

I relished in that thought for a few seconds before reading on to find that not only had I previously published in the same venue as this editor, but he had read my work in another magazine.

I paused again, afraid that despite actually knowing my name, he was still going to reject my story.

Thankfully, he didn’t. He suggested some edits, which I promptly made. The story was accepted, and will be included in Drabbledark along with some of my favorite short story authors.

#DVpit may have been a bust, but knowing that someone who I’ve never met in person new me by my stories was an amazing feeling. Even if it had turned into a rejection, I wouldn’t have cared. As a newish writer, being recognized is a huge victory.

As a writer, take every little victory you get, no matter how small. When you are being battered down by rejections, let that victory be the tiny candle that light up your darkness. As a reader, engage with writers, especially the ones who are just starting out. Tell them when you like their stories. Let them know that you know they exist.

A single sentence can make or break someone’s day.