Post #8 – Writing Contests



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



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 #2 – 2017 Achievements; 2018 Goals



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



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.