Post #8 – Writing Contests

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2/15/18

In Post #6, I mentioned how I submitted a short story to the Virginia Writers Club’s 2017 Golden Nib Writing Contest.  I didn’t mention the results.  Each chapter sends one entry in the three categories (fiction, nonfiction, and poetry) on to the state level.  The judges reviewing the Northern Virginia chapter entries could not decide between my story “May Science Be With You” and an entry by Michelle McBeth, so the chapter sent both our stories on to the state level in the fiction category.  Co-representative!  Unfortunately, neither of our stories placed.

The president of the Northern Virginia chapter announced the selection of my story to co-represent the chapter at the very first meeting I attended last year.  That was a huge ego boost.  To have even that little amount of validation so early in my writing career also was a great motivator.  I attribute at least part of my productivity last year to that achievement.

Then I got to thinking about what it would have meant to win the Golden Nib, and I didn’t like it.  Placing in the top three, first, means a small cash prize, but I’m not in this for the money.  And we’re essentially talking about a couple of dollars.

Winning also means possibly having your story “published” by the Virginia Writers Club.  That sounds great!  But… it isn’t.  At most that means having your story put in a “Virtual Anthology” (i.e. a PDF with the other winners) that the club posts on its website.  Maybe not even that.  The last Virtual Anthology on the club’s website is from 2015.  The website doesn’t even list the 2017 winners.

What winning actually means is you no longer can submit your winning entry to markets for publication, unless those markets accept reprints.  Most markets want the rights to your story’s first publication.  By winning this contest, you’ve ruined what might be a good chance of getting a story published in a professional market.

This may not be true for all writing contests.  Some may pay more, making it more worthwhile.  Some may produce an actual anthology available for sale or download.  Maybe you only want (or need!) the validation that goes with having your work selected as a winner.  If that is the case, go for it.  But my goal is to make three sales to SFWA-qualifying markets.  If the Virginia Writers Club had selected my story as a winner, that would be one less work I have available to achieve my goal.

Will I submit to future Golden Nib Writing Contests?  Probably.  But they will not be stories hot off the presses.  The works I submit likely will have been rejected by most or all of the SFWA-qualifying markets.  (That’s not a depressing thought at all.)  In other words, it’s a strong candidate to be a trunk story.

To give the Virginia Writers Club some credit, it is producing a 100th Anniversary Anthology that actually will be in print.  Unfortunately, the selection process was in 2016, about a year before I joined.

Post #7 – Submission Dilemma

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2/9/18

I have a submission dilemma.  Electric Ethenaeum has a call for submissions with a deadline of February 15.  The anthology’s theme is For Future Generations and is about generation starships establishing new colonies.  I have a story that’s perfect.  It falls squarely within the theme and within the required length.  And it’s a story dear to me because it’s the first one I ever began.  (It ended up being the second I ever finished.)

My dilemma is Electric Ethenaeum does not pay a professional rate, which the SFWA defines as $.06/word.  If selected, I’d get 50GBP.  Factoring in currency exchange rates and my story’s word count, this would be the equivalent of $.01/word.  This makes Electric Ethenaeum a semi-professional market.

My original plan was to submit my story to Analog Science Fiction and Fact.  (I am in the final throws of editing the story.)  It falls more in the hard science fiction sub-genre, which Analog specializes in.  If rejected there, I have plenty of other professional market options.  But what if I don’t submit my story to Electric Ethenaeum, and it’s rejected by all the professional markets?  Did I squander a legitimate chance to be published, even by a semi-professional market?  Should I submit my story to Electric Ethenaeum and assume they will reject it, so I then could submit it elsewhere?  If I assume Electric Ethenaeum will reject my story, what does that say about its prospects with the professional markets?  If my goal is to have three stories published by SFWA-qualifying markets, should I even contemplate submitting to a semi-professional market?

Update: I submitted my story to Analog. Fingers crossed!

Post #6 – Resources Part 2 – Writers Groups

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2/1/18

Last summer I joined the Northern Virginia Chapter of the Virginia Writers Club.  Every year the statewide club sponsors the Golden Nib Writing Contest.  To enter, an author must be a member of both the statewide club and a local chapter.  Then authors submit entries to their local chapter.  Each local chapter judges those entries as they see fit and forwards the best work in the fiction, nonfiction, and poetry categories to the state level for judging.  The Club announces the first, second, and third winners in each category at its annual conference in November.

I initially joined to enter this contest.  The submission deadline was the end of July.  Over the summer, the Northern Virginia Chapter foregoes its usual monthly meetings; so I had no way of knowing what benefits joining this club could bring.  I’m pleased to say that since then, I’ve really enjoyed being a member.  The motivation I feel coming out of every meeting, just from being around other writers and discussing writing, is well worth the two hours one Saturday afternoon a month.

There are lots of reasons to join a writers group.  Some of those are discussed a little more here.  There also are lots of types of writers groups. Some groups you don’t even have to leave your house to participate in.  There are many writing communities online.   In addition to submitting to the writing contest, I joined the Northern Virginia Writers Club because I thought the topics discussed at their meetings over the last year sounded interesting and possibly beneficial to my writing.

After just six months in the club, I was elected Vice President for 2018.  Essentially this means I’m in charge of finding our monthly meeting spaces.  However, I also will present the workshop at our next meeting on Saturday, February 24 from 1-3p. It’s titled “Where, When, and How Much? A Round Table Discussion.”  I plan to use anecdotes from professional writers to spur a discussion on the process of writing and what has, and has not, worked for the authors in attendance.  The meeting location is below. Feel free to join us if you are in the area.

Tysons-Pimmit Regional Library

7584 Leesburg Pike

Falls Church, VA 22043

Post #5 – Resources Part 1 – Books

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1/24/18

Besides being a big reader of speculative fiction, especially science fiction, I have no writing credentials.  I didn’t study creative writing in college.  I haven’t attended any writing workshops, though I may.

I repeatedly hear two pieces of advice on how to improve my writing.  The first way to become a better writer is to be an avid reader.  Check.  Of course, the second thing they say is to write.  However, I feel simply writing alone cannot make me a better writer.  How do I avoid repeating the same mistakes?  If I do not know how to develop characters, or plot, or theme, can I grasp those concepts intuitively just from reading other fiction?  I doubt it.  So instead of simply reading genre fiction, I also have read books recently on the art or how-to of writing speculative fiction.  Below are some of my favorites so far.

Worlds of Wonder: How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy by David Gerrold

Writing Fantasy & Science Fiction: How to Create Out-of-This-World Novels and Short Stories by Orson Scott Card

On Writing by Stephen King

King’s is more high level and much more personal.  For example, he discusses where he writes and when he writes and how much he writes each day.  The first part of the book is a true memoir and discusses his childhood and his early writing while addicted to drugs and alcohol.  I found that all fascinating but not very helpful in developing my writing skills.  Unfortunately, I do not plan to become addicted to drugs or alcohol any  time soon.

The other two books listed above are more about the nuts and bolts of writing speculative fiction.  I found Worlds of Wonder especially practical.  For example, Gerrold devotes one chapter to the questions an author should ask when developing an alien race.  He devotes another chapter to the questions an author should ask when developing a new world.  While an author is not expected to include the answers to all these questions in a work, it seems logical that an author can only fulfill the old adage of writing what you know if you’ve developed the alien race or world to the point where you truly know it.

I don’t plan to stop with the books above.  I have a list.  I always have a list… for everything.  Below are a couple on my To Read list.

Steering the Craft: A Twenty-First-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story by Ursula Le Guin (RIP, 1929-2018)

Characters & Viewpoint (Elements of Fiction Writing) by Orson Scott Card

In addition to the craft of writing, I’ve read a couple books on the business of writing.  Writing will not be my career any time soon, but I found the following two books to be immensely helpful in understanding the ins and outs of writing as a business.

The Magic Bakery: Copyright in the Modern World of Fiction Publishing (A WMG Writer’s Guide) by Dean Wesley Smith

Q&A for Science Fiction Writers by Mike Resnick

I bought both of these as part of Story Bundle’s 2017 NaNoWriMo bundle.  I’m still working my way through the remaining titles in that bundle.  Resnick’s take is a little dated since it mostly was written in the early 2000s with the occasional update in 2008 and again in 2012.  Much has changed since the early 2000s and even in last five years, especially with electronic publishing.  Regardless, many of Resnick’s points remain applicable.  Smith’s take is more current, and he does not come off nearly as arrogant as Resnick.  (I’m not saying that arrogance wasn’t earned, but it’s there.)  That said, I felt I benefited from the two contrasting viewpoints.  Now I just need to learn about writing viewpoints.

Post #4 – Critique Groups

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1/18/18

I decided to start writing short stories for two reasons.  One, I did not think I had an idea I could flesh out to novel length.  Two, I was not confident that I could, or was good enough to, write a novel.  (I decided to write picture books because of my daughters.)  That may signify a lack of confidence or motivation on my part.  Probably both are true, but I am gaining confidence and motivation.  I’ve read several books on the art of writing science fiction, and I joined a writers group.  Both have helped, and I’ll write more on both in other posts.

I also created an informal critic group for my work.  I would consider it formal if everyone in the group were writers, and knew about each other, and all could submit work for critique.  As it stands now, none of that is true.

One member is my very understanding wife, who also is serving as my copy editor.  Another is my sister, whose interests are remarkably like my own.  Yet another is a good friend, who last year I discovered was in the process of writing her own sci-fi novel (which I hope to critique).  I met the last member in the writers group mentioned above.  Her writing interests appear to overlap my own.  Plus she is the author of several self-published books.  Given my reluctance to start my own novel, that experience alone is valuable.

At first, I simply wanted to share my work with someone rather than letting it collect dust, unread on my hard drive.   That’s when I recruited family.  Then, when my wife and sister provided insightful feedback on a couple of stories, I knew I needed those critiques to become a better writer.  (My sister actually lead me to an idea that solved a major issue in the story I had worked on the longest.)

That’s when I started recruiting fellow writers, either beginner or established.  As I make connections in this field, I hope to expand my critique group.  Everyone brings a different perspective, and I never want to overburden any one person, which I feel could happen when producing short stories fairly frequently.  At the same time, I am finding it extremely useful to bounce ideas off people who have not stared at the same paragraph for a week trying to figure out what happens next.

Post #3 – Rejection

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1/13/18

Let’s talk about rejection.  As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve already been rejected as an author numerous times.  In fact, with the rejection I received today, everything I’ve submitted has been rejected at least once.  One short story has been rejected eight times!

How should I take that?  It depends on who you ask.  One author I’ve read (and I will talk about who I’ve been reading in a later post) stated if a story is rejected five or six times, it means the story is not good enough for publication; and the writer should move on to other stories and possibly other careers.  Another author advocated a writer keep submitting the story to different markets no matter the number of rejections.  This author’s take was that there is a lot of luck involved in finding the right editor at the right time who will accept a new writer’s work. Though I read this advice elsewhere, it actually is #5 of Heinlein’s Five Rules.

I adopted the latter approach.  Currently, there are around 35 SFWA-qualifying markets for short stories (generally not including anthologies). However, not all of these accept the same type of story or the same length of story, and not all are continuously open to unsolicited submissions.  In other words, the actual number of markets available for submission of a particular short story are much fewer at any one time.  And those markets likely are receiving hundreds, if not thousands, of submissions.  To paraphrase the reverse of the popular Hunger Games quote, the odds are forever not in my favor.

That is especially true when you understand that new writers don’t sell copies of an issue or subscriptions to that publication overall.  Established writers, those whose names appear on the cover, do.  New writers are lucky if there are a handful of slots in a year’s worth of publications reserved for their work.

The rejections haven’t been all bad.  One of my stories was selected in the initial round of a writing contest, though it did not place in the final round.  Another story received what I call a positive rejection.  That is still a form rejection, but instead of just saying we won’t publish your story, it says we liked your story but we won’t publish it.  And we encourage you to submit more stories for consideration.  The rejection received today was from the same market and was my first personalized rejection.  This rejection was the same as the position rejection, but it included an individual critique of the story from the editor.  With the volume of submissions these days, my understanding is individualized feedback from an editor is almost unheard of.  Needless to say, I plan to revise my story in response to that feedback before submitting it to another market.  (The editor did not ask for revisions and re-submission.  Maybe that will happen when I submit my next story to this market.)  If you’re interested in the topic of tiered form rejections, there is an interesting post here.

Where does this leave me?  To paraphrase another movie (and its predecessor play), always be writing and always be submitting.

Post #2 – 2017 Achievements; 2018 Goals

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1/12/18

So did I achieve either of my goals set in 2017?  No.  Am I okay with that?  Yes!

For starters, I did not anticipate achieving my goal of selling three short stories to SFWA-qualifying markets in 2017.  That’s why it’s a long term goal.

When I set my short term goal of writing 50,000 words by the end of the year, I wasn’t sure how realistic that was.  Then the words started flowing.  I ended up with about 42,600 words for the year.  Considering that several of my short stories are in the 6,000-7,000 word range, I look at it as being about one short story away from my goal.  I’ll take it.

Those 42,600 words break down as follows:

  • 5 completed short stories
  • 3 completed children’s picture book manuscripts
  • 4 incomplete short stories (drafted but not edited)
  • 1 poem
  • 1 silly series of stories featuring my daughters and their cousins

I submitted all five completed short stories and all three picture book manuscripts for publication.  Six of those have been rejected at least once and a couple several times, but I keep submitting.  I’ve read that one thing a new writer needs to learn is how to deal with rejection.  I’ve already taken care of that.  I plan to keep submitting until I run out of markets.  It could be a while.

My new short term goal is writing 50,000 words again in 2018.  I realize I should double it to have a real challenge, but hear me out.  Last year I had a backlog of story ideas because I had never written any down.  I worked through much of that backlog in 2017.  I still need to finish revising the four short stories listed above for which I have completed drafts.  I plan to do so but not count their words towards this year’s goal.

To help me along with this year’s word count goal, I keep of list of story ideas, which currently includes three short stories and eleven picture books.  If I estimate 6,000 words for each short story and 600 words for each picture book (both estimates are high), that only gets me to 24,600 words.  My experience in 2017 was that new story ideas would come to me as I wrote the stories for existing ideas, and I hope the same occurs again this year.  Even so, I would need to double the number of ideas in my current backlog.  That’s why I’m sticking with 50,000.  Hopefully, I prove myself wrong.

So what’s next?  Not included on the above list is my one idea for a novel.  Yes, I have an idea for a novel.  I am setting the writing of that novel as another long term goal.  I think the idea is a good one, but I also think it will take me a long time to put it on the page.  I want to do it right.  I want to outline the multiple plots and develop the major characters before I sit down and start writing chapters.  It’s good to have goals.

 

Post #1 – Introduction

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1/10/18

Why am I starting a second career as a writer now as I approach (am already in?) middle age?  Good question Cherished Reader of this Website.  Unfortunately, I do not have a good answer.  I’ve always loved reading, mostly science fiction, but my writing was limited mostly to school and work.  (I dabbled with writing poetry in high school.  I feel extraordinarily lucky that none of those works survive.)

For years I’ve used writing stories in my head as a technique to fall asleep.  In the Fall of 2016, I made my first attempt at putting these stories on the page.  I wrote parts of two short stories and got stuck.  Or I failed to devote the time to finished them.  Or I used the former to justify the latter.

In May 2017, my family took a road trip to Niagara Falls, Toronto, and Ottawa.  This involved a lot of driving by yours truly.  In an effort to entertain and/or encourage our two young children to sleep in the car, this also involved my wife sitting in the back between the girls with me alone with my thoughts in the front seat.  Oddly, those thoughts turned to a completely new story.  I found I would work through scenes in my head while driving during the day and then put the words down on my lap top each night after the family went to bed.  To not disturb them, I spent a lot of quality time on hotel bathroom floors.  Oddly, those are not the most comfortable.

For whatever reason, that trip proved to be the motivation I needed to get the stories out of my head and onto the screen.  Since the words kept flowing, I set two goals.  My short term goal was to write 50,000 words in 2017.  Essentially, I expanded the time period to achieve the NaNoWriMo word count goal from just November to half a year.

My long term goal is to sell three short stories to publications that the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America designate as professional markets.  Three short story sales qualify a writer to apply as an Active Member of that association.

My next post will discuss where I stand with those goals.