Post #9 – Resources 3 – Formatting and Editing

2/22/18

Here I am back to writing resources again. As a new writer, I started from scratch in a lot of ways.  One of those was learning how to format a work as expected by publishers. For short stories, almost every publisher’s submissions guidelines say to use Shunn’s manuscript format. Between that and Word’s manuscript template, my short stories at least looked professional from the beginning.

Some publishers look for stories in non-traditional formats. In the submission guidelines for several publishers, they state they actively seek stories in non-traditional formats.  Examples provided include a story written in the style of a web chat or series of text messages. The concept of using non-traditional formats goes back at least as far as Bram Stoker’s Dracula and probably further, where the narrative appears in a series of journal entries and correspondence. More recently, the same concept was used in The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.: A Novel by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland. An author in my critique group experimented with using a Dracula-style format for her novel but abandoned the idea, citing difficulty in making it work. I have not tried the concept myself, though I did include an email exchange in one short story.

With formatting out of the way, I needed to learn stylistically how to write. Again, if your story calls for a non-traditional style, go for it. But for a traditional story, if I want to be published, the style should conform to that expected by most publishers. Stephen King advocates using The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White. It’s short at about 80 pages. There’s also The Chicago Manual of Style.  I happened to have an abbreviated version of this lying around.

The reason I knew to use “lying” instead of “laying” just then was because of Blood from Your Own Pen: A Practical Guide on Self-Editing and Common Mistakes: For Beginning Authors Who Intend to Survive to Publications by Sam Knight. I love this book. I recommend it for any novice writer. For starters, it’s funny, which I always appreciate. Second, the advice is solid. I often found I’d read a chapter, and then the next time I was editing a story, I’d catch the mistakes Knight just told me about. Also, as I receive rejections of stories I have out now, I’m finding myself re-editing them to eliminate the errors he discusses. That makes the turnaround time for resubmitting those stories slower, but maybe the revised stories will appeal more to subsequent publishers.

Post #8 – Writing Contests

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. And maybe I would sound less jaded if the Virginia Writers Club actually published the winning stories even if only on their website. If I won, then I could say I was both a published and award winning author. It just wouldn’t be a notch towards my writing goal.

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

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

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