Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Rejection: The Necessary Evil

By the power of the people (via last week's poll), this week I will discuss rejection.

Rejection sucks.

Goes without saying, right? We all know how horrible it feels to be a pretty girl/handsome boy (depending on what floats your boat). But fiction rejections are a little different.

When someone rejects your story, they are not rejecting you (like the pretty girl/handsome boy did). They are rejecting your story.

Say it with me. Raise your right hand, and in a confident and determined voice say, "I am not my story!"

Feel a little better?

I know it's only a little, but bear with me.

When a market (an agent, editor, magazine, anthology, whatever) rejects your story, they are simply stating that your story is not right for their particular needs at this particular time.

For instance, (I love this example...I tell this story all the time) once I saw on a call for submissions to the anthology, Requiem of the Radioactive Monkeys, and I thought to myself, how cool would it be to write a story for that anthology?

So I wrote a piece of flash (they were calling for a maximum of 500 words) and sent it to them. They didn't buy my story. Sad face.

Things first got worse. I faced the there will be a flood of rejected radioactive monkey stories and no one will buy mine because they will be so sick of reading about the lives of radioactive monkeys.

So I waited.

And waited. But trust me, good things happen when writers wait.

When enough time had passed, I re-worked the story to about 1,000 words and started shopping it around and bam! Sold it to Doorways Magazine. Unfortunately, I don't think Doorways is still in circulation, but it was cool horror magazine while it lasted.

In this case, being rejected by one market opened up the opportunity to be accepted somewhere else, and to refine my story to a more comfortable/appropriate length. Trust me, often the next market might even be better than the one where you were rejected.

That has happened to me several times. And I know it breaks the rule of sending to the best markets first but sometimes, depending on when markets are open or closed and where you have other stories in queues, you can't always submit top-down. (But you should when possible.)

And now for some personal rejection-bragging... As of this morning, I have accumulated 314 rejections for my short fiction & poetry and 15 rejections from agents and/or publishers for my novels. (I honestly thought the numbers were that's making me feel a teeny bit better this morning.)

These rejections are like badges of honour. You should flaunt them, because it shows that you're trying. That you're sending your work out there.

No one will buy your story and publish it if the story sits on your hard drive and never experiences the opportunities out there in the world.

Writers must treat their stories like baby birds. Once they're ready we shove them out of the nest and hope they can fly.

Even if sometimes they hit the ground with a painful thud!

As I mentioned in my post on submission trackers you must keep detailed records of the places where you've sent your work.

For two reasons.

Reason 1: Bragging Rights

If you're going to brag about your acceptance and rejection rates, then you must keep accurate records of where they have been submitted.

Reason 2: Double Submissions Are Embarrassing

In the publishing business, editors really don't appreciate you sending a story back to a place where it has already been rejected (even if you've made substantial changes). Believe me, in three or five years, you might forget that at one time you sent that story to Magazine X.

So, are you still sitting at your computer (or reading your tablet), wringing your hands, feeling overly terrified/uncomfortable/some other yucky emotion at the notion of sending out your story?

You are not alone!

As a matter of fact, for one of the writers' groups that I belong to, some of our members find the task of submitting to be completely overwhelming.

But we have a collective cure (or at least a deterrent) for this affliction.

At our annual group dinner, if any member has gone one calendar year (since the last group dinner) without submitting a single story/query then they must wear a corset or bustier to the dinner.

No exceptions. (Seriously, even if you're a guy!)

So, you probably guessed it, we don't have a lot of guys in our group!

And to be honest, I've been known to wear a corset to the dinner simply because it's fun. But that's besides the point.

So if you're having real trouble fretting about rejection, set yourself a horrible punishment for not submitting.

Rejection is part of the gig.

If you choose to be a writer, you must develop a thick skin for rejections.

Remember, chocolate can be a strong ally in the battle against the rejection blues.

Do It Now:
Go to or Duotrope to find a market for a work that is sitting on your hard drive, ready to be thrown into the world.

Found one?

Great! Now send that puppy out into the world.

Don't forget you must send it out in a professional manner. For details, read my post on Market Listings.

Good luck, to you and your story. Let it fly and be free!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Let's Take a Poll

The right time to poll your followers, friends, family, whoever is anytime.

Maybe I'm exaggerating a little.

The great thing about a poll is that you can receive feedback on a difficult question. Especially if that question (or dilemma) is preventing you from moving forward.

Yes, I am referring to the dreaded Writer's Block, henceforth referred to as WB.

I've been whacked by WB more than once. I can only speak for my own experience, but I'm guessing that other writers feel similarly lost when:
- every idea you have seems hollow/lame/thin
- every writer around you seems to be as prolific as a bunny in heat
- every time you sit in your writing chair you have a sudden need to vomit (or snack, or drink, or make an important phone call, or shave the rabbit)

Sometimes trolling for feedback can help to re-energize your spirit, get you past the WB and back into a writing rhythm.

Okay, you've been convinced to poll. Which leads to: What question should I ask?

Here's where I admit that I have a degree in Mathematics, and that half of what makes for good OR horrible statistics is asking the right question. (Experimental design is hugely important, but I don't have the room for a full-on lesson here.)

Ask The Right Question

Examine and determine what you really want to know.

Because if you ask the wrong question, then your poll might make you feel worse than you did before you asked in the first place.

Poll Prompts:
- Once you establish situation blah, what should Character X do next?
- My ending could go one of two [or more] ways (spoiler alert!!). Which one will make you wish me dead and which one makes me look like a Pulitzer-eligible genius?
- I have five ideas, but only enough time to write one. Which one grabs your interest?
- I'm using a placeholder for my protagonist's name. Which possible name resonates with plot line Y?

Of course, numerous great poll questions exist. Feel free to Google your favourite blogging writers to see what sorts of polls they've set in the past.

Allow for Outside Answers

On both of my blog platforms (LiveJournal and Blogger) the built-in polling features only allow for either write-in answers OR choose-a-bullet answers (not both). That's what the comments section is for!!

If you're so stuck with WB that you're needing some outside inspiration, then allowing for answers outside the box is hugely helpful in the brainstorming department. Others might come up with a unique angle you were too blocked to consider.

Then again, too much choice can lead to feeling overwhelmed, blocking your ability to move forward.

Include a Deadline

Let's face it, sometimes deadlines are the only motivators that work for many of us.

Would you pay your Hydro bill if you didn't have a deadline? (Especially when they have the power to cut off your electricity if you don't pay by a certain date.)

Make sure your poll has a clear cut-off date. Then you'll be sure to get the feedback you need within a reasonable amount of time.

The Fun Factor

Maybe I'm weird (okay, I know I'm weird), but I love to fill out polls. Clicking those buttons can be exciting. Especially when I believe my opinion will matter.

And hey, don't we all assume that our opinion matters all the time.

It does matter.

So if you're feeling the itch to fill out a poll today, feel free to answer our poll to the right.

Yep over there---->

Still itching? Visit my choose-a-title poll on my personal blog.

Do It Now:
Please consider answering our poll, or visiting my choose-a-title poll on my personal blog..

It's NaNoWriMo. Get back to work and write another thousand words. :)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Titles - AKA the Bane of My Existence

Titles are crucial.

Titles set the stage.

Titles grab the reader, enticing them to read more.

Coming up with a title sucks.

Serious, epic, suckage.

To be effective, a title must:
- capture the reader's interest
- say what the story is about
- establish the story's voice

Yes, that's right, I'm repeating myself. You might have noticed that the three items above are exactly the same requirements of the beginning of a story, as discussed in my post on Beginnings.

The reality is that a title must work as hard as the beginning of a story. Because if the title doesn't catch your reader's interest, then they aren't going to read the beginning, are they?

Capturing the Reader's Interest: The Hook

The title should have a "hook" that reels the reader in, like a fish on a line.

Sometimes irony provides the hook. Title example: Calm Chaos.

How exactly can chaos be calm? You want your reader to jump into the story to find out.

Sometimes an intriguing quote provides the hook. Title example: Destiny Lives in the Tattoo's Needle.

What sort of destiny can be inside a tattoo's needle? The title essentially poses a question or theory that the reader will want to explore.

Feel free to read about other types of hooks in my post on Beginnings.

Saying What the Story Is About

Often, the title of a story or novel will give the reader a good idea of the upcoming plot and/or theme of the work.

Including this aspect in a title makes the marketing department sigh with relief.

Librarians will be able to remember in a snap what your book was about and recommend it to potential readers.

Establishing the Story's Voice

I know, I promised to do an extended post on "voice", but still have not delivered.

Quick definition: Voice is characterized by the tone or feel of a story, portrayed via word choice.

Voice is like the "flavour card" in front of the ice cream selections at Baskin Robbins, a few words that describe to you how the ice cream will taste.

Wherever possible, the title should illustrate to the reader a sense of how the story will feel. Will the tone be sarcastic or literary? Is the main character a pill or a logic-crazy savant? Will I flip through the pages like candy in a state of insane tension or will I pause and reflect on the lyrical prose after each rich chapter?

At this point, you're probably wondering why titles are the bane of my existence, my nemeses. And they really are.

As a matter of fact, over the last few months I have been agonizing over the title for my upcoming short story collection. We're talking multiple brainstorming sessions, emails back and forth with the editor (and the copy editor), long car rides with my partner, sessions with the Stop-Watch Gang, dinners with fellow writers, the whole enchilada.

Do I have a title yet?

Not a freaking chance!

***This is where you come in, my dear readers/audience/friends/enemies/others.***

I need a title for my collection. SOON!!

For a list of the titles of the twenty stories in my collection, check on my personal blog (maybe not tonight, because it's getting late) but in the next few days (assuming I hit my NaNoWriMo targets each day).

I would appreciate any and all suggestions from the ether.

If/when/once I manage a short list, I will post a poll, probably on my personal blog.

***Thanks in advance for all of your help.***

Titles are essential. You need to rock them, big time! Even if you want to kill them at every opportunity.

Which I do.

Pretty much.

Do it now
Skim through your current work-in-progress for the coolest sentence that would make a great title.

Think about some titles for my collection and post them in the comments section.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Masked Mosaic Cover

Here is the new cover art for Masked Mosaic, the new anthology of Canadian-themed Superhero fiction of which my story, "A Bunny Hug for Karl" will appear.

Here is the accompanying blurb:

Thrilling Tales of Canadian Superheroes… and Villains!

75 years ago Canadian cartoonist Joe Shuster co-created the world's premier superhero: Superman. Over the decades the genre has gone from camp to counter-culture, from pop art to postmodern, from noir to new wave. Today's superheroes feature in bestselling novels, hit TV shows, Hollywood blockbusters ... and Masked Mosaic: Canadian Super Stories.

Mexican luchadores wrestle primordial evil in Vancouver … The Intrepids battle Nazis in Nova Scotia … A mysterious masked man rescues an adventuring heiress in a steampunk Gold Rush–era Yukon … Zombies and ancient Viking magic are unleashed in downtown Toronto … A godlike oracle wanders Calgary with her cyborg handler … The fearsome Iron Shadow stalks the streets of Kingstonia … The Coachwhip and Cat-Girl fight crime in lurid wartime Montreal …

In these 24 all-new tales Canada's most daring writers reimagine the super genre from its outer limits to its pulp origins, exploring the diverse landscape of Canadian identity and geography.

With stories by:

Marie Bilodeau ~ Chantal Boudreau ~ Kristi Charish ~ E.L. Chen ~ Michael S. Chong ~ Kevin Cockle ~ Emma Faraday ~ Patrick T. Goddard ~ Alyxandra Harvey ~ David Nickle ~ Silvia Moreno-Garcia ~ D.K. Latta ~ Michael Matheson ~ Derryl Murphy ~ Jonathan Olfert ~ Rhonda & Jonathan Parrish ~ David Perlmutter ~ Lisa Poh ~ Jason S. Ridler ~ Rhea Rose ~ Mike Rimar ~ Jason Sharp ~ Emma Vossen ~ A.C. Wise

Featuring an Introduction by Mark Shainblum, creator of Northguard


Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Just Because You Can Write, Doesn't Mean You Can Read

In the title, I'm not referring to the act of reading to yourself. I'm speaking about reading your fiction out loud to an audience.

I spent this past weekend at World Fantasy Convention (WFC) in Toronto. By the way, I had a fantastic time and thought the Toronto organizing committee put on a fabulous show!

At WFC, I attended several readings. Some readers were up-and-coming authors, others long-standing, renowned professionals, and other writers fell somewhere in between with respect to their careers.

After sitting through several good ones, an absolutely brilliant one (Robert Shearman - if you have the opportunity to go to one of his readings, you must attend.), and one during which I fell asleep, I thought I had better share my two cents on the best way to rock a reading.

Five Steps to An Awesome Reading

5. Choose Wisely

Truly sage advice.

Even though you might be working on the most brilliant novel of your career so far, and you would really like your loyal fans to hear a glimpse of the words that will be separating them from their hard-earned money, think before you select what section of this brilliant work you will read to them.

Wise Choice (A) - Impulse Buying

I can't recall who said so, but one important criteria when choosing what to read is to pick something the audience can run out and buy as soon as your reading is over. Because if they loved your reading, then they will be eager to hear the rest of the story and the dealer's room is conveniently located steps away.

Hey, there's a reason they put the candy bars right beside the checkout at the grocery store.

Wise Choice (B) - Snappy Dialogue

Choose a section with some fabulous dialogue. With the caveat that too many accents can be a problem. I stink at accents, so I tend to deliberately NOT choose sections of dialogue that involve my pathetic attempts at foreign accents.

As you read the back and forth between your two amazing characters, the audience will be more involved, as though they're overhearing a conversation full of juicy gossip.

Wise Choice (C) - Less Description, More Action

Don't select the section that involves four pages of description of a tree. Those might be your most lyrical and critical-acclaim-worthy words, but without some forward momentum, your audience might sleep through your brilliance.

Better to choose a scene involving some action. Death, dismemberment, comedy, explosions, whatever makes the audience sit up and say, "Wow." Think about the sorts of moments that are often chosen for movie trailers. These are the moments you should select for your reading.

4. Practice First

Before you ever read that section of your novel/story/poem aloud to an audience of your peers/fans, you should read it aloud to a safe audience. Inflict this first-pass torture on your partner, your kids, your writers' group, your stuffed animals, whatever.

Last weekend, I had one reading of my story, "Death Over Easy," from Danse Macabre: Close Encounters with the Reaper at the EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing party.

I had never read that particular story to an audience before. So I did a quick practice run with the Stop-Watch Gang at our group's dinner. Not only did I figure out where to stop reading, but I also worked out the voice I would use for Death.

3. Less is More

I have used this phrase before, especially when writing dialogue. Well the less-is-more philosophy also applies to readings.

The last thing you want is for your audience to get bored. Who doesn't loathe the glassy-eyed, I-stopped-listening face?

I prefer to read short excerpts from several stories during a half-hour reading slot.

This snippet approach provides several advantages:
- the audience will get a sense of the breadth and depth of your portfolio
- short breaks between stories prevent glassy-eyed-boredom sickness
- you can entice them with snippets of fiction available for purchase as well as pieces that will be coming soon

The disadvantage to excerpts is that you will disappoint those audience members who wanted a complete story. Then again, they might be more inclined to buy the book/magazine/anthology to see how it all turns out, and that will fill you with the warm-and-fuzzies.

2. Wear Your Actor Hat

The audience members know you're a writer. It says so on the invitation/flyer/pocket program. But the writer-persona part of you that sits silently at a keyboard for hours at a time living in your own head is not all that entertaining.

So sorry, hate to break the bad news.

Let's face it. We've been spoiled by the over-abundance of entertaining actors/action all around us via television, movies, live theatre, even YouTube. When our readers absorb our words, all of that action, all of those voices come to life in a myriad of ways inside their heads.

If your reading isn't half as interesting as the inside of their brains makes you out to be, they might be so disappointed in you that every time they read your fiction, from that point forward, a piece of them will remember that you are not all that interesting.

And that's the kiss of death.

Take an acting class. Study news anchors and actors to figure out what makes them so compelling. Attend other authors' readings. Not only to see what the other authors did right but also to commit to memory and then avoid what they did wrong.

Of course, the practice aspect that I mentioned earlier works hand in hand with wearing the actor hat.

1. Be Yourself

Giant, unrelenting gobs of yourself.

Those audience members have come out to see an author. You have one cool job. You earn money to make stuff up.

You have the dream job. You make people happy. They look up to you.

Dig down, deep, to that piece of you that is so enthusiastic about writing that you are willing to sit with your butt in that chair for hours every day, simply to put words out there.

Be Shakespeare and Dickens and King all wrapped into one amazing package.

The more you give them, the more you rock their socks off, the more they will seek out your fiction. The more likely they will become regular readers.

This is your moment to shine. Do not let them down!

Do it now
Read one of your stories out loud to someone you trust. Watch them to see where the glassy-eyed-I'm-bored look begins.

Tonight spend five minutes watching something (anything) on television. Make a note of what the actor/news anchor/dude in the commercial did to either grab your attention or lose it.