Post #27 – Collaboration

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6/28/18

Last Sunday, I organized a workshop for the Northern Virginia chapter of the Virginia Writers Club. The topic was collaboration. My friend, and established author, Bria Burton graciously agreed to be the speaker. She has collaborated on four themed anthologies with The Alvarium Experiment. The fourth, titled The Prometheus Saga 2, will be released July 27.

I took the idea for a workshop on collaboration from Collaborators by Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta. As a sci-fi author, I first encountered Anderson’s work writing in the Star Wars universe. In addition to his own novels, he’s since dived into the Dune universe and written at least 13 books (and probably more) with Frank Herbert’s son, Brian Herbert, finishing Frank’s original series and providing the backstory to that universe. He additional has collaborated with his wife, Rebecca Moesta, as well as Doug Beason and Dean Koontz.

Anderson postulates there are five main types of author collaboration. These are:

1) The Full Monty where both authors contribute the same amount of effort and develop every step of the project together.

2) Round-Robin Method where Author A writes the first section or chapter. Then Author B writes the next section or chapter, and so on back-and-forth.

3) First Draft, Last Draft where the authors discuss the project initially and agree on the basic story line, characters, setting, etc. Author A writes the first draft, and Author B edits, fleshes out, and does a final polish of the manuscript. In The Science Fiction Professional, sci-fi author Mike Resnick confirms he uses this technique frequently when collaborating. Of course, at this point in his career, Resnick is Author B.

4) Master and Apprentice which is similar to First Draft, Last Draft. Here the two authors consist of an established writer and a new writer. The two authors develop the story’s outline together, which the Master approves. Then the Apprentice writes the first draft. However, instead of conducting a full edit, the Master offers comments on the draft and gives suggestions and brainstorms solutions to address weak spots. This method is designed as more of a mentoring experience and a way to give the Apprentice a leg up in the industry by contributing the Master’s name to the work.

5) Ghostwriting where one author usually is silent and yet does all the work. The ghostwriter’s name may or may not appear on the work. This is seen often when celebrities decide to write. It’s also seen when an established writer no longer desires to continue a series he/she created or is no longer able to continue the series due to death. V.C. Andrews is a prime example.

Anderson also points out the numerous reasons for collaborating. These include gaining additional expertise, splitting the workload, having a new learning experience, for fun, and to build your carrier. He also cautions there are pitfalls to collaborating. If collaborators do not choose each other wisely, they may never speak, let alone work, together again.

Having never collaborated on a fictional piece (I collaborate almost every day on nonfiction pieces for work), I enjoyed hearing about Bria’s experiences. I’ve mentioned before I’d like to collaborate with one of my beta readers. I believe our strengths and weaknesses are complementary. I write dialogue well, while she’ll be the first to tell you that’s not her strong suit. She is better at establishing the settling, which I struggle with. I’m hoping together we can pull our strengths and develop a great story.

I have just such a story in mind. It’s my next project after hammering out the novella I mentioned last week, the submission window for which will close August 13. I’m hoping once I commit to this project here, it’ll be a done deal. I’ve already worked out the plot points. I just need to get them on the screen.

Let me know in the comments if you’ve ever collaborated with another author and what the result was. Are you still speaking to each other?

Photo credit: diannehope14 via Pixabay

Post #26 – Submission Guidelines 2 – Waiting Periods and Hard Sells

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6/21/18

In Post #24, I discussed my strong recommendation to read and reread a market’s submission guidelines each time before submitting.  I mainly focused on the issue of a market’s preferred formatting.  However, there are two other pieces of useful information often included in submission guidelines — waiting periods and hard sells.

Most markets do not except multiple submissions, meaning a writer may not have more than one work under review at that market at a time. Some, however, also have a post-decision waiting period. Even after these markets accept or more likely reject a story, the guidelines ask a writer not to submit a new story for consideration for a period of time, which varies.

Strange Horizons asks writers to wait 7 days after receiving a rejection before submitting again. That can feel like an eternity when a writer has a story ready to go. Strange Horizons has an added quirk. It only accepts submissions from noon Eastern on Mondays to noon Eastern on Tuesday. If it rejects a story any time after Monday, a writer must wait two weeks to submit again. I’ve had this happen. I consider it a minor inconvenience though since Strange Horizons at least is open to submissions every week, unlike some other markets with much less frequent submission windows.

The longest waiting period I encountered is for Grievous Angel.  The editors there ask writers not to make new submissions within 12 weeks/three months of a previous acceptance or rejection note. The rational is this helps the editors fight their backlog. That’s a serious backlog! Granted this is a flash fiction market, so there likely are a larger number of submissions. On the other hand, other flash fiction markets do not have similar waiting periods. It may be a matter of limited staff resources. Who knows? Rest assured, I have marked on my calendar when I can submit to this market next.

Then there are those submission guidelines containing a list of hard sells. As the name suggests, these are types of stories that are not likely to be accepted by that market. Clarkesworld Magazine has a lengthy list of hard sells. Strange Horizons also includes a hard sell list, though it cautions a prior editorial team generated this list, so it does not necessarily reflect the current editorial team’s tastes.

Because a story falls into one of the hard sell categories does not mean it shouldn’t be submitted or that if submitted, it will be rejected automatically. At least I hope not. I assume the hard sell list is meant to serve as a warning that such stories need to be exceptionally good and/or take an unusual approach to the subject matter to stand a chance at acceptance.

Again, I hope that’s correct. The first two stories I wrote both involved not only time travel but easy time travel. I realize that’s a well worn sci-fi trope, and it appears on at least one hard sell list I’ve encountered. However, the time travel component was not of any significance in either story. Time travel served as a means to set up a difficult decision for the characters in the stories. I hope editors pick up on that. I also hope editors read past the time travel incident, which both times appears early in the story, and don’t simply reject the story at that point.

I have a couple other stories involving common tropes — kids find something in the woods or kids discover a ghost — but my hope with all these is I wrote them well and unique enough to find the right market.

Let me know in the comments if you’ve wrestled with the waiting periods or hard sell lists in submission guidelines.

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Post #24 – Submission Guidelines

6/7/18

Aeryn Rudel addressed some of this on his Rejectomancy blog post titled New Author Starter Kit – Submission Prep. Here are my thoughts.

For starters, I will echo the first thing most editors include in their submission guidelines: before submitting READ THESE GUIDELINES CAREFULLY. Do it. Don’t skim; read all the way through. Then go back and read them again.

Like the pebbles on the beach in this post’s featured image, every set of guidelines is different. Even if I’ve read them five times, I read them each time before I submit in case they’ve been updated. Then I read them again. On the second time through, I make each required formatting change to my story as it appears in the guidelines, just so I don’t miss any. For example:

Editor prefers Times New Roman. Check. Editor wants all identifying info removed (author name and address, byline, last name in page number header, author listed in the metadata). Check. Editor requires document saved as an .rtf or .doc file instead of .docx. Annoying but check. Editor accepts submissions only via email with “[New Submission]” in the title. Check.

There are too many permutations to remember when, like me, you’re submitting 15+ stories to a dozen or so markets.

I also recommend periodically double checking that the editor for a market hasn’t changed. It can’t look good if you address your cover letter to the editor who left the magazine two months ago. Editorial teams change, and submission guidelines often change with them.

Submission guidelines are a great resource. An editor is telling you exactly what he or she wants, which means your submission will have the best chance at acceptance. If you’re a salesperson, which we writers are, in what other industry are you able to know your customer’s personal preferences so as to market your product to them most efficiently? Okay, I’m choosing to ignore the new world of Facebook, Google, and Amazon where the sales companies know everything about us.

My only complaint is how much of a time suck reading and complying with the various guidelines is. I realize each editor has different preferences, so each editor’s guidelines will be different. But the time it takes to conform a story and submit it according to the guidelines is time I’m not writing or editing. Can’t they all agree to use the same guidelines, personal preferences be damned?

Many submission guidelines say to use a standard manuscript format.  Most cite Shunn’s manuscript format for short stories.  However, a few cite an alternate version posted on the SFWA website here.  They essentially are the same.  Luckily, the manuscript template in Microsoft Word follows these formats for the most part.  It’s when an editor deviates from the norm you must be careful.  That’s why you read the submission guidelines and then read them again.

Let me know in the comments your experiences with submission guidelines.

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Post #23 – Cover Letters

5/31/18

This should have posted Thursday. Apparently, I’m still learning WordPress.

Submission cover letters for short fiction are an often covered topic, so I won’t go into too much detail. Instead, two excellent posts by Aeryn Rudel on his Rejectomancy blog are Back to Basics: The Cover Letter and Back to Basics: More Cover Letter Components. As the titles suggest, he addresses the minimum content (and often the maximum content) that should be in a short fiction cover letter and then addresses the few occasions when additional types of information should be included. I won’t rehash those.

I will talk about my on experience.  Looking back at my first cover letters, I very much violated these tenets.  As one example, I often included a paragraph explaining the inspiration for the story.  Like I said, cringe worthy.  Luckily, I made such faux pas only the first couple of times.  Then I found valuable resources online that pointed me in the right direction, which is the less, the better. Half the submission guidelines I’ve read even say a cover letter is optional. I still include one to make me feel better.

In fact, I’ve written so many I keep a folder of previous cover letters for each market. When I submit a new story, I simply change the story’s name, genre, and word count. This saves me the time otherwise needed to look up that market’s editor (for addressing purposes) and what, if anything, that market specifically asks be included in a cover letter.

In contrast, the sources I’ve read state cover letters to children’s’ book publishers are completely different. Since I’ve written and submitted a couple children’s book manuscripts, I’ve had to pay attention to these entirely different expectations. Maybe the differences have something to do with these publishers still requiring paper submissions. Their slush piles are actual piles of paper, not an electronic inbox of files or a dashboard like Submittable or Moksha.

For children’s book manuscripts, the cover letter not only includes the story’s title but a sentence or two describing the story. The cover letter also should explain why the manuscript is a good fit with that publisher. The guides I’ve read recommend reviewing recently published books by that publisher and relating your manuscript to those.  Also, if you have any relevant experience in the field in which the manuscript takes place, or other publication history, that should be stated. It’s almost like a query letter for a novel manuscript. That’s a lot of extra work compared to short fiction.

My first submissions were of children’s book manuscripts, so maybe I can chalk up my short fiction cover letter mistakes to applying different expectations.

Let me know in the comments if you’ve made any cover letter faux pas.

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Post #22 – Finding Inspiration 2

5/24/18

In Post #19, I lamented how I’d run out of ideas for short stories. In Post #20, I explained where I planned to find inspiration for new ideas but failed to address two important sources – my current writing projects and calls for submissions.

I think one of the reasons I have not had any new story ideas is because I haven’t written as much lately. I find when I’m writing one story, other stories often pop into my head. Sometimes these new story ideas are sequels to what I’m currency working on. Other times, it’s a completely new idea. Creativity spawns creativity. That’s certainly a motivating factor to get back to writing more.

Another frequent source of inspiration are calls for submissions. I’ve written three short stories specifically crafted to satisfy a call for submissions. One was a very general call for humorous speculative fiction. Up to that point, I had not written a funny story; so I wanted to take on the challenge. I came up with a 2000 word sci-fi story that incorporated dad jokes.  Feel free to cringe.

Another call for an anthology asked for fantasy stories with female leads and stated the anthology always ended with a short humorous story. Having tackled humor once before as noted above, I again tried my hand at it. I like the added challenge of crafting a fantasy story, a genre I hadn’t tried yet. This time I came up with a 2300 word story loosely based on a pun involving a well-known evil mythical creature.

The third time involved a ridiculously specific call from Uncanny Magazine. The full call is here. In sum, it involves a mysterious corporation, since vanished, that created a portal to other worlds and times on three interlinked tropical islands. Oh, and the islands are inhabited by dinosaurs. This time I ended up with a 3100 word story, which again was written to be humorous.  (I’m beginning to see a trend here.)

The results were mixed.  I enjoyed writing all three, and my beta readers all thought the stories were funny. That was heartening. Unfortunately, all three were rejected by their intended markets. That was disheartening. Regardless, I’ve continued to submit these three stories to other markets.

I realized, though, each time I read one of these calls for submissions I immediately started crafting a story in my head.  Why not do that more often?  Authors Publish releases a list of markets with themed calls about once a month. I’ve had to stop myself from going down the rabbit hole of thinking I can craft something by the deadline, which all too often is too soon for me to realistically draft something. I’m now contemplating the opposite. Why not let my imagine be spurred by these calls? Even if I don’t make the deadline, I’ll eventually have a story for submission elsewhere. It’s the inspiration that I need.

One call I recently came across that got the imagination going was from FurPlanet with a theme of The Rabbit Dies First. The call asks for anthropomorphic tales “centered around two concepts: the rabbit is going to die, and someone else is next.” How about that for stirring the imagination pot?

Let me know in the comments where you find inspiration for your writing.

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