New Blog from Kristen Lamb!

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This is Gonna Leave a Mark: What Makes a “Real” Writer?

by Kristen Lamb

writer, what makes a real writer, Kristen Lamb, writing, how to be published, how to sell more books, writing fiction, how to write fiction, how to write non-fiction, best blogs for writers, publishing, the business of writing, DIY MFA

Those who’ve followed my blog long enough know I’m no fan of the Schrodinger’s Writer Game. Is the writer real or unreal? What IS a real writer?

For ages, we quibbled that a real writer had an agent. A real writer scored a legacy publishing deal. One had to pass the NYC gatekeepers to be a real writer.

On and on and on.

Now that writers no longer regard self-pub and indie as publishing mutations that escaped an Amazon basement (mostly), the debate has lost heat.

Publishing existentialism is soooo 2013 *flips hair* .

Yet, I wonder if this new publishing paradigm is hurting more than helping. And that is a hard thing for me to say since three of the five books I’ve published never would have made it to print if legacy remained the only model.

Even though I signed with one of the most prestigious literary agencies in NYC (in 2012), the big publishers regarded a book on author branding and social media with as much enthusiasm as Ebola.

writer, what makes a real writer, Kristen Lamb, writing, how to be published, how to sell more books, writing fiction, how to write fiction, how to write non-fiction, best blogs for writers, publishing, the business of writing, DIY MFA

Maybe I was ahead of my time. Perhaps the stars were not in alignment. It doesn’t matter.

The only thing I know is that I would never have become a “real” writer without the other forms of publishing. Indie and self-pub are highly effective for “test marketing” new concepts, voices, and genres.

Alas, despite so many incredible benefits, I’ve been around long enough to see the long-tail. How has the digital age changed the WRITER? Some changes have been for the good. Others? Don’t bode well for our kind.

Before anyone gets their knickers in a twist, full disclosure. I might have a finger pointed at y’all, but I also have THREE pointed back at myself.

Entropy is alive and well. We all slip if we fail to maintain vigilance. Excellence is tough, and can be easily mistaken for the shill…perfectionism.

writer, what makes a real writer, Kristen Lamb, writing, how to be published, how to sell more books, writing fiction, how to write fiction, how to write non-fiction, best blogs for writers, publishing, the business of writing, DIY MFAUm…OUCH. *hangs head*

A REAL Writer WRITES

Seems so simple and yet, it is the hardest part of what we do. I know social media is a powerful tool. TRUST ME, it is why I wrote a book about how to do it well.

I wrote Rise of the Machines: Human Authors in a Digital World to be evergreen so a writer could build a brand that actually sold books…and have time to do the most important part of our job. WRITE MORE BOOKS.

Write BETTER books.

My premise was that, if writers understood people—what makes them tick—then branding and social media is a piece of cake. Why? People don’t change.

Read Shakespeare or look up your ex if you don’t believe me.

If, however, we writers had to keep up with every time Google tooted a new algorithm, or InstaSnapFace added a gizmo? We’d burn out. Writing good books was tough enough without adding fruitless distractions.

I find it comical and depressing that in 2008 I had to BEG writers to even use email. Facebook was the devil and “nobody blogged anymore.” These days? It seems like writers contribute more word count to book spam, current events ranting, and pointless Facebook fights than to their novels.

November is the only month I can count on seeing writers actually WRITING a novel.

writer, what makes a real writer, Kristen Lamb, writing, how to be published, how to sell more books, writing fiction, how to write fiction, how to write non-fiction, best blogs for writers, publishing, the business of writing, DIY MFA

It’s as if we’ve caught digital ADD and have the attention spans of a fruit bat on crystal meth. With self-publishing being an ever-present option, deadlines don’t mean what they used to. Might not mean anything at all, actually.

The modern writer must be extremely self-disciplined. I’d venture to say the modern writer has to be even MORE self-disciplined than 15 years ago, because there is no agent that will drop us or publisher who’ll hand us a pink slip if we tweet more than type.

The point I want to make here is that the self-discipline required to set aside all other fun and chores to actually finish a book or novel is ridiculous. Rank it up there with running a full marathon or competing in triathlons.

But too many “writers” are playing writer.

A REAL Writer Has High Standards

writer, what makes a real writer, Kristen Lamb, writing, how to be published, how to sell more books, writing fiction, how to write fiction, how to write non-fiction, best blogs for writers, publishing, the business of writing, DIY MFA

Years ago, when I started blogging, I was unpopular (and probably still an acquired taste). In the early years, I was hard—really hard—on writers, especially anyone who wanted to take a nontraditional path. Our work had to be as good if not BETTER than anything coming out of NYC.

Indie and self-publishing could offer us a lot of benefits, but we needed to take the new powers we’d been granted seriously. Many writers did, and that is exactly WHY these routes have thrived.

Thing is, I’ve been editing since before the Kindle was invented, and have witnessed a steady decline in the overall quality of writing. What writers deem acceptable to turn in as their best.

Case in Point

I regularly run editing specials so writers can get professional feedback on their stories. This saves time and aggravation for a number of reasons.

For instance, a writer might be fixing something that isn’t even broken (description) while ignoring serious problem areas (no plot). Or, a writer may possess talent, but be WAY too green to even consider querying let alone publishing.

The story might be nebulous when it comes to genre, or breaking genre rules in unforgivable ways.

writer, what makes a real writer, Kristen Lamb, writing, how to be published, how to sell more books, writing fiction, how to write fiction, how to write non-fiction, best blogs for writers, publishing, the business of writing, DIY MFA

YES, unforgivable ways (like making the love interest the main villain in a category romance). I get many folks don’t care for words like “rules” but rules exist for a reason.

RULES help us sell more books.

If we have no idea what genre our book even is, how do we sell it? How can we connect it to readers? FYI, rules also keep readers from hurling our books across the room.

Yet, the same people who grouse about rules and constraints are often the same ones complaining to me about lackluster book sales.

I’ve been running my pages contest (for comments) for ten years now. I’ve discovered no less than six writers with talent who I then connected to agents I knew (who then scored these writers contracts). I do the same sort of scouting with my editing specials.

If I see REAL talent and promise? I pass it to an agent (*makes note to ask for commission*). The problem? These days I am lucky if a writer takes time to properly punctuate. I can’t even make it to the STORY because the grammar issues alone are giving me seizures.

This is a craft.

It’s a profession, not a playpen.

A REAL Writer is ALWAYS Learning

writer, what makes a real writer, Kristen Lamb, writing, how to be published, how to sell more books, writing fiction, how to write fiction, how to write non-fiction, best blogs for writers, publishing, the business of writing, DIY MFA

Come on….LAUGH! Lighten up 😛 .

Writer Unboxed, Jane Friedman, Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi over at Writers Helping Writers , Joanna Penn at The Creative Penn, Icy Sedgwick’s Blog, Anne R. Allen’s blog, and Elizabeth Craig’s blog are GOLDMINES of information and professional help.

I can never thank all of these people enough for how much they helped ME in my developmental years. How they CONTINUE to inspire me and help me grow as a professional.

When I decided to become a “real” writer myself back in the dark ages, publishing hadn’t changed since radio shows were the hottest form of entertainment. Seriously, publishing had NOT changed in almost a century. The formula was exactly the same.

Write, query, get rejected, drink heavily, question one’s existence, and try harder. Repeat this process enough and eventually the “publishing gods” might grant favor.

Might.

writer, what makes a real writer, Kristen Lamb, writing, how to be published, how to sell more books, writing fiction, how to write fiction, how to write non-fiction, best blogs for writers, publishing, the business of writing, DIY MFA

I remember breathlessly waiting for the new Writers’ Digest Magazine to hit shelves and hope the magazine was covering something salient to what I wanted to learn or write. I collected dogeared magazines in binders. Gathered photocopied articles, punched holes in them and added them to my resource list.

A REAL Writer Studies

I bought and read every craft book I could find. My personal favorites include (but are not limited to) Les Edgerton’s Hooked, James Scott Bell’s Plot & Structure, Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering, Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat, Aristotle’s Poetics, David Mamet’s Three Uses of the Knife: On the Nature and Purpose of Drama , Jack Bickham’s Scene and Structure, Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art,  and Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel.

Before Web 2.0, the only way an unpublished “aspiring writer” had a hope of connecting with the pros was to sacrifice and save money to attend a conference. The Internet wasn’t bursting with quality blogs, affordable classes, and on-line conferences or Gabriela Pereira’s amazing DIY MFA.

If we wanted to learn from professionals, the price of entry started at around $500. Unless one went for the Old School M.F.A. and that cost the same as a CAR. Yet now that it’s finally affordable and the quality is INCREDIBLE, how much do we take this treasure for granted?

writer, what makes a real writer, Kristen Lamb, writing, how to be published, how to sell more books, writing fiction, how to write fiction, how to write non-fiction, best blogs for writers, publishing, the business of writing, DIY MFA

Now that becoming a “published author” is so easy anyone can do it, how hungry are we to learn more about the craft? How much time and money are we investing in being better…or even the BEST writers?

Not investing in being the best at marketing or promotion, or in learning how to sell books using InstaSnapFace, but the best at telling an amazing story.

How much has Web 2.0 made us comfortable, complacent, or dare I say…lazy?

A Real Writer is ALWAYS Reading

writer, what makes a real writer, Kristen Lamb, writing, how to be published, how to sell more books, writing fiction, how to write fiction, how to write non-fiction, best blogs for writers, publishing, the business of writing, DIY MFA

So many of the samples I’ve received over the past two years have left me shaking my head wondering if the contributor has ever even read a book. Not only craft books but novels IN the genre they’re writing and—God help us all—the genre where they are publishing.

I get it. I’m mean and cruel.

I can live with that.

Yet, I cannot for the life of me imagine how anyone could be an avid reader and yet have NO idea how to use the most basic punctuation.

And bear with me.

I understand there are writers with learning disabilities, dyslexia, etc. and we all rely on editors for where we’re weak (and even where we’re strong). We become so immersed in a work we cannot see the forest for the trees and need fresh eyes (skilled fresh eyes).

This isn’t what I’m talking about. I’m referring to a blatant disregard for the craft.

writer, what makes a real writer, Kristen Lamb, writing, how to be published, how to sell more books, writing fiction, how to write fiction, how to write non-fiction, best blogs for writers, publishing, the business of writing, DIY MFAYep. This has been me.

Because in samples with poor grammar or spotty punctuation, I should at least detect a STORY if this is ONLY a result of being new. In fact I’ve run across samples where authors were weak in technical areas, but showed real promise with a strong storytelling voice.

I was willing to invest in developing these writers (and still do) because a) voice usually is a sign the person has at least inherent talent and b) and voice demonstrates a person who might be new, but who READS.

They’re willing to honor the profession.

Though loathe to mention this, it is not uncommon for me to encounter writers who want to be mega-authors yet will loudly boast they never read books (and don’t even like reading). Brag about never reading craft books.

***So who wants to hire an attorney who brags he’s never read a law book? Just uses Google, trial and error, and is really great at advertising. No takers?

This is, in large part, why traditionally published authors suffered such horrific apoplexy in the emerging years of self-publishing. One can only take the likes of John Locke comparing books to cheap cheeseburger so many times before we SNAP.

(Granted, Locke made a sound business point—and a small fortune—and good for him and his success.)

Yet, how much has this mega-capitalization diminished novels as art? We’ve lowered the bar so low most of us no longer can see if one exists. A bar (standard) that once required heroic efforts to hurdle, now? Doesn’t even register as a speed bump.

A REAL Writer Owns It

writer, what makes a real writer, Kristen Lamb, writing, how to be published, how to sell more books, writing fiction, how to write fiction, how to write non-fiction, best blogs for writers, publishing, the business of writing, DIY MFAAaand…this had been me, too.

Excuses are for hacks, poseurs and amateurs. Just so y’all know, this is what I say to myself when I hear excuses tumbling from MY lips. So I am no harder on you guys than I am on myself. I don’t serve anything I won’t eat.

Yes, life is hard and things happen. Trust me, I get it. For those who don’t know, I’ll be brief. In 2012 I had a very large (but aging) family. We had to RENT space large enough to fit us all. It’s now 2018 and I can count on one hand who’s left.

And you should have seen some of the pity parties I’ve thrown.

To be clear, I’m not minimizing. Being a caregiver for terminal loved ones is brutal. Death is painful. Losing a job can crack your world in two. Grief and loss should be acknowledged and tended with the greatest care.

But I’m all about transparency and so I’ll be honest.

I’ve often used my losses as an excuse to hide, my pain as permission to be a pessimist. I spent a long time being—feeling—completely discouraged and STUCK with no clue how to get UNSTUCK.

But I’ve learned two crucial lessons in my journey from wanna-be-amateur-know-it-all-hack to being a professional. The lessons?

1) Never underestimate the power of showing up.

2) You can’t DO THIS alone.

No, I didn’t have the answers and was hurting but I kept showing up on-line (W.A.N.A.Tribe sprints mostly). There, I had accountability. There were other writers I could encourage or who could even encourage me. I wouldn’t have made it without this strong support system.

In the meantime—in the middle of the pain—I kept reading craft books, kept reading authors in all genres, writers far more skilled than I was. Even when it felt like pulling frog’s teeth, I kept blogging, studying, kept doing SOMETHING trusting one day…I’d wriggle free.

Pain isn’t permanent and I knew one day I’d heal enough to use it. But I HAD to stay in the game, even if it meant being stationed at the @$$ end of literary left field.

Real writers make mistakes. We fail. A lot.

If you aren’t failing, it means you’re not doing anything interesting. You’re taking up space.

But, while we screw up…we OWN that we screwed up. We admit when we could have done better, then we do.

Part of being a REAL writer goes beyond never giving up. We must evolve and grow and learn and improve and that only comes with humility, hard work, and (if we have any sense) professional training. Oh, and a TON of practice. Writing stories. Finishing them.

What This ALL Means

There is nothing wrong with writing for fun, for a hobby. That’s what I do with drawing, painting, knitting and crochet.

Dr. Who’s “Empty Child” via K. Lamb.

It’s play, a release. But I’m not expecting people to buy my art or my scarves. We need to make a choice. Are we in or out? Stop griping about Amazon and algorithms and how it was so much more awesome before Amazon. Value those who are taking time and investing resources to make us better.

Roll up our sleeves and the DO THE WORK.

I believe in you guys and I know this transition in publishing has been NO cake walk. There have been times even I wanted to throw in the towel. But most of being successful in anything takes place in the mind because the mind forges the will and will is what yields results. Keep your eyes on the art and remember who you are.

You are a REAL WRITER. It’s a CHOICE.

Now go check out some of those incredible blogs I linked you to and treat yourself to some books or classes. Sure, I’d love you to take our classes (listed below and on classes page). But, if I’m not offering what fits your needs, go check out the other people I linked to. They’re the best of the best. Invest in yourself for a change.

The kids can wait 😛 .

What Are Your Thoughts?

Have you grown jaded over the past several years with the changes in publishing? Feel like it doesn’t mean much of anything to be “published writer”? Have you found yourself steadily lowering your own bar without even realizing it? All because it seems TOO MUCH? Hey, I have. No shame here.

Are you excited to get back to writing as a craft and an ART?

I love hearing from you!

What do you WIN? For the month of AUGUST, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

UPCOMING CLASSES! Scroll down or click over to the Classes tab.

NEW CLASS! Beta readers are crucial, but how do we find good ones…when they are pretty much as rare as unicorns? Cait is teaching a class on that TOMORROW NIGHT.

***Remember all W.A.N.A. classes come with a FREE recording included in purchase price.

Go Fish: Finding the Right Beta Readers

beta readerInstructor: Cait Reynolds
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Friday, August 24, 2018. 7:00-9:00 p.m.

REGISTER HERE

Whoever said that writing a book is a solitary job is an idiot.

It takes a village (or at the very least a Facebook group, some friends, and possibly a bottle of wine) to write a book. As writers, we need other writers…and non-writers. But, how do we find the right mix of people to support us? What do we do when they don’t? How do we communicate what we need effectively to beta readers and crit partners? And what the heck is an alpha reader?

What’s more, how do we take the feedback from beta readers and use it correctly?

It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of spinning our wheels on endless edits of the draft of the first draft, to react big and badly to criticism, or to drown in the obligations of reciprocating beta reading for our seventeen new best friends and their manuscripts.

Fear not! This class is going to show you how to hunt down beta readers like big game, befriend them in a way that puts Dale Carnegie to shame, and create long-lasting, mutually-beneficial beta and crit partnerships that are so Hufflepuff/Gryffindor, it makes my Slytherin soul cringe.

This class will cover:

  • Wherefore art thou?: Where to find beta readers;
  • Alpha betas, beta betas, omega betas: The different types of beta readers, and why we need them;
  • Fish or cut beta: What to do when a beta reader relationship isn’t working – fix, fight, or flight?
  • I’m looking at the beta reader in the mirror: Are you the best beta reader you can be, and why improving your own skills will make you a better writer;
  • Gospel vs. grain of salt: How to balance thoughtful consideration of critique with Pavlovian instant tweaking, and why beta readers should never be the one holding the map on the hike.

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.


MORE CLASSES!

(Check out our page of current classes!)

Also, a small house-keeping note: if you’d like to see more of our shenanigans, check out our video page


When Your Name Alone Can Sell

Instructor: Kristen Lamb
Price: General Admission $55.00 USD/ GOLD Level $175
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Thursday, SEPTEMBER 13th, 2018. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE

LEARN TO BE A BRAND BOSS!

All authors need a brand, so this class teaches how to locate and cultivate your audience into passionate fans who BUY YOUR BOOKS!

How can you grow your platform and turn your name alone into a bankable asset? Not as hard as you might have been led to believe.

You DO NOT need to be a tech guru/mega-high-pressure-sales person to excel at this. In fact, best you aren’t.

Yet, the reality is that in the digital age of commerce, consumers rely on brands more than ever in human history. They’re overwhelmed and we can help them out….by finding US.

Consumers (which is code for readers) buy from who they know, like and trust. In a sea of infinite choices a powerful NAME is a tremendous asset.

Can you say “James Patterson”?

The single largest challenge all writers face in the digital age is discoverability and connecting with our audience is a challenge but nothing we can’t handle.

This class will address:

  • What is a brand? How to make one uniquely your own.
  • How to BE YOU! You’re a writer, not an insurance salesman!
  • Harness your imagination & creativity for better results (No one likes SPAM, so don’t serve it!).
  • How to use this information to locate, engage and cultivate an audience.
  • Myths about exposure.
  • Common scams that will wreck your brand and earning ability.
  • Why most promotion is a waste of money.
  • A list of expensive and not-so-bright ideas for reaching readers.
  • Knowing when and HOW to promote.

Overall this class is about working smarter not harder. This class is to teach you to think strategically so all energy is focused. Sure, we have to hustle, but why not hustle and there be an AUTHENTIC PAYDAY for all that hard work?

GOLD LEVEL AVAILABLE: This is you working with me (Kristen Lamb) for 90 minutes building, defining, refining your brand and putting together a PLAN! Time is money and professional consulting saves BOTH.

****A FREE recording is included with purchase of this class.


More Than Gore: How to Write Horror

Instructor: Kristen Lamb
Price: $40.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: THURSDAY, August 30th, 2018. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE

Humans have always been fascinated with what scares them which is why horror fiction is a staple genre. It is also, quite possibly, the most challenging genre to write. Giant bugs and chainsaws just don’t get the screams they used to.

Blood, guts, gore and shock factor are low-hanging fruit (and always have been) and worse than that? They simply don’t have the impact they used to.

Audiences are too desensitized. This means we need to work harder to dig in and poke at what REALLY frightens/disturbs people.

Though this genre is extremely challenging to write well, there is an upside. The horror genre lends itself well to the short form (novellas and short stories).

Believe it or not, some of our staple horror movies–and the BEST horror movies—were actually adaptations of short stories and novellas (1408 by Stephen King and Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker being two examples).

Meaning, if you want to go Hollywood? Hollywood loooooves horror.

In this class we will cover:

  • The science behind fear and why people crave it. Why fear is even healthy!
  • Psychology of fear, thus how to locate the pain points.
  • Why audiences are craving MORE horror (Yes, this actually does go in cycles).
  • The different types of horror fiction.
  • The importance of character in horror.
  • How horror can actually resonate much like literary fiction.
  • How to generate page-turning tension that will leave readers with a story they can’t stop thinking about…and that might even give them nightmares.

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.


Keywordpalooza: Tune in, mellow out, and learn to love keywords for Amazon

Instructor: Cait Reynolds
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Friday, September 7, 2018. 7:00—9:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE

It’s one of the universe’s great mysteries… the same word can both boost and drown your book in a category (mind BLOWN, man!).

Keywords also seem to evolve every five minutes…or are we the one evolving, like a butterfly having a dream of SEO (trippy, dude!)? Like gravity and Jane Fonda’s hair in ‘Barbarella,’ the popular rules for using keywords value over-inflation and the slavish following of fads.

But, like Talbot’s tweed and mother’s pearls, certain marketing strategies and techniques are enduring classics that stand the test of time. They’re not flashy like bellbottoms, nor do they yield dramatic overnight results like ironing your hair. Yet, ignore trends, and we risk getting left behind…kind of like buying electric typewriter ribbon because that whole ‘computer word processing’ thing will never take off.

This class won’t just help you turn on, tune in, and drop out of the keyword rat race. We’ll also cover:

  • Fully body contact SEO: when and where to use keywords, and what publishers know that you don’t;
  • Fantastic keywords and where to find them: which websites, lists, search engines, and Magic 8 Balls yield the best keyword research results;
  • Mix and match like a Parisienne: no, seriously, how to mix consistent ‘classic’ keywords with the latest trends like a Frenchwoman wears a crisp white shirt with this season’s Hermes scarf;
  • Same bat genre, same bat book, different bat keywords?: learn the differences between keywords for ebooks, print, and audio;
  • And so much more!

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.


Building Planet X: Out-of-This-World-Building for Speculative Fiction

Instructor: Cait Reynolds
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Saturday, September 8, 2018. 10:00 a.m.—12:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE

Speculative fiction may be a way of seeing the world ‘through a glass darkly,’ but it can also be one of the clearest, most pointed, and even most disturbing ways of seeing the truth about ourselves and our society.

It’s not just the weird stuff that makes the settings of speculative fiction so unnerving. It’s the way ‘Normal’ casually hangs out at the corner of ‘Weird’ and ‘Familiar.’

But it’s trickier than it seems to get readers to this intersection without letting them get bogged down in the ‘Swamp of Useless Detail’ or running them into the patch of ‘Here be Hippogriffs’ (when the story is clearly about zombies). How do we create a world that is easy to slip into, absorbingly immersive, yet not distracting from the character arcs and plots?

This class will cover:

  • Through the looking glass darkly: How to take a theme/issue/message and create a world that drives it home to the reader.
  • Ray guns and data chips: The art of showing vs. telling in world-building.
  • Fat mirror vs. skinny mirror: What is scarce in the world? Valuable? Forbidden? Illegal? What do people want vs. what they have vs. what they need?
  • Drawing a line in the sand: What are the laws, taboos, limits of this world? What is unacceptable to you/the reader/the character? How are they the same or different, and why it matters.
  • Is Soylent Green gluten-free and other vital questions: All the questions you need to ask about your world, but didn’t know…and how to keep track of all the answers.

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.


Populating Planet X: Creating Realistic, Relatable Characters in Speculative Fiction

Instructors: Cait Reynolds & Kristen Lamb
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Saturday, September 8, 2018. 1:00—3:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE

It’s a time-honored tradition in literature to take an ordinary person out of his or her normal life and throw them into a whirlwind of extraordinary circumstances (zombies/tyrants/elves/mean girls optional). After all, upsetting the Corellian apple cart is what great storytellers do best.

It’s also that very same ordinariness and normalcy that first gets the reader to identify then empathize with the characters and stick with them (and the book) through to the end.

But, what do we do when…

Our ‘ordinary’ protagonist lives with a chip implant and barcode tattoo, and our antagonist happens to be a horde of flesh-eating aliens…or a quasi-fascist regime bent on enforcing social order, scientific progress above ethics, and strict backyard composting regulations (those MONSTERS!)?

How the heck is the reader supposed to identify with that? I mean, seriously. Regulating backyard composting? It would never happen in a free society.

This leaves us with two challenges in creating characters for speculative fiction: 1. How to use the speculative world-building to shape the backgrounds, histories, and personalities of characters, and 2. How to balance the speculative and the relatable to create powerful, complex character arcs.

This class will cover:

  • Resistance is futile: What does normal look like for the characters? What’s different or strange, and how to get readers to accept that retinal scans and Soylent Green are just par for the course.
  • These aren’t the droids you’re looking for: What are the discordant elements around the characters? What are their opinions about it? What are the accepted consequences or outcomes?
  • You gonna eat that?: Whether it’s running from brain-eating zombies or fighting over dehydrated space rations, what is important both physically and emotionally to the character? What is in short supply or forbidden?
  • We’re all human here (even the ones over there with tentacles): The basic principles and techniques of creating psychological touchpoints readers can identify with.
  • Digging out the implant with a grapefruit spoon: In a speculative world, what are the stakes for the character? The breaking point? The turning point?
  • And so much more!!!

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.


Beyond Planet X: Mastering Speculative Fiction

Instructor: Kristen Lamb
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Saturday, September 8, 2018. 4:00—6:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE

Speculative fiction is an umbrella term used to describe narrative fiction with supernatural or futuristic elements. This includes but it not necessarily limited to fantasy, science fiction, horror, utopian, dystopian, alternate history, apocalyptic fiction, post-apocalyptic fiction.

Basically, all the weird stuff.

Gizmos, gadgets, magic, chainsaws, demons, fantastical worlds and creatures are not enough and never have been. Whether our story is set on Planet X, in the sixth dimension of hell, on a parallel world, or on Earth after Amazon Prime gained sentience and enslaved us all, we still must have a core human story that is compelling and relatable.

In this class we will cover:

  • Discovering the core human story problem.
  • How to plot these unique genres.
  • Ways to create dimensional and compelling characters.
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  • How to use world-building to enhance the story, not distract from it.

***A recording of this class is also included with purchase.


The XXX Files: The Planet X Speculative Fiction 3-Class Bundle

Instructors: Cait Reynolds & Kristen Lamb
Price: $110.00 USD (It’s LITERALLY one class FREE!)
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Saturday, September 8, 2018. 10:00 a.m.—6:00 p.m. EST.

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Recordings of all three classes is also included with purchase.

About the Instructors:

Kristen Lamb is the author of the definitive guide to social media and branding for authors, Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World. She’s also the author of #1 best-selling books We Are Not Alone—The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer. She’s just released her debut thriller The Devil’s Dance.

Kristen has written over twelve hundred blogs and her site was recognized by Writer’s Digest Magazine as one of the Top 101 Websites for Writers. Her branding methods are responsible for selling millions of books and used by authors of every level, from emerging writers to mega authors.

Cait Reynolds is a USA Today Bestselling Author and lives in Boston with her husband and neurotic dog. She discovered her passion for writing early and has bugged her family and friends with it ever since. She likes history, science, Jack Daniels, jewelry, pasta, and solitude. Not all at the same time. When she isn’t enjoying the rooftop deck that brings her closer to the stars, she writes.

Dinosaurs, the Alphabet, and Ten Things to Consider Prior to Submitting a Story for Publication

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Little Foot and Mother - © Amblin Entertainment / Universal Pictures for Nate Brown essay

I. To Begin, a Note about Pleasure

A few years ago, the late James Salter was honored at the annual F. Scott Fitzgerald Festival with a prize in Fitzgerald’s name. During his keynote address at the award ceremony, Salter said something that was stupefying in its simplicity: reading, he said, was among the very greatest pleasures in his life. Perhaps that’s not a surprising sentiment for a writer so notably interested in pleasure, especially the pleasures of food, drink, travel, language, and sex. Those interests had earned Salter a reputation as an aesthete, even a highbrow. Still, it’d taken me until that moment—in my thirties and having worked for a decade in publishing and more than a decade of writing my own fiction—to think of reading primarily in terms of pleasure.

Earlier in my life, it’d seemed to me that to consider fiction in terms of how it gave the reader pleasure was somehow beside the point, that reading for pleasure wasn’t an appropriately elevated way of understanding novels and stories. That strikes me now as haughtiness, a self-important way of framing my own readerly pleasures in order to make them defensible to others by casting them as academic pursuits. It’s probably not surprising that this attitude was born of theory-heavy college classes. Of course, there’s plenty of pleasure to be found in theory, too, for a certain kind of reader, and for a long time, I badly envied that kind of reader. I wanted to be that kind of reader, though my theory chops were never very good.

Salter, then already in his eighties, proclaimed a basic truth about his own motivation for reading and writing that was aphoristically simple. It was a huge relief to hear it. It was the first time since being a teenager that I felt that reading merely for the pleasure of it (and writing in an attempt to evoke that pleasure in others) was worthwhile, in and of itself. There was no scholarship to note in order to defend a piece of writing I loved. If pleasure were reason enough for Salter to continue reading, I reasoned, then certainly, it could be enough for me.

As a teacher and an editor, I don’t get to read purely for pleasure as often as I’d like to, though it’d be dishonest to say that pleasure-seeking doesn’t play an enormous role in my teaching and editing. While pleasure may not be sole navigational star guiding my editorial and pedagogical sensibilities, it’s certainly the brightest of them.

So, when I was asked this spring to give a talk at Grubstreet’s Muse and the Marketplace conference in Boston, I couldn’t help but frame my talk around readerly pleasure. That’s not what I was supposed to be writing about; I was supposed to talk about writerly pitfalls that should be avoided when submitting work to literary journals, but coming up with a list of pitfalls was a tall order. Were these supposed to be major sins or minor ones? Structural issues or issues of content? Were these to be my own pet peeves or a more general list of things to be avoided when writing?

A few weeks before the conference, with just a handful of notes written and sweating it a little, I realized that part of the problem of developing a list of literary pitfalls had to do with my own desire to derive pleasure from my reading—all of my reading, including the things I chose to read because they interested me and the things I needed to read because reading’s part of my job. In my teaching, in my work as an editor at American Short Fiction, and in my personal reading, I’m almost always attempting to read for pleasure. This poses an obvious problem when trying to write a list of writerly dos and don’ts: What in this life is more subjective than an individual’s experience of pleasure? Is it fair for an editor at a magazine to use their subjective experience of pleasure as the measure of a story’s worth?

Identifying a top ten list of prose pitfalls is further complicated by time. As I’ve aged, my interests and proclivities have changed. So, too, have trends in publishing and readerly interests. A story that might’ve grabbed me five years ago could strike me today as ground that’s too well-trodden to be of much interest. Conversely, a piece that might’ve once struck me as obtuse, stuffy, or otherwise a-bridge-too-far could, today, bring me to tears. Shameful as it is to admit, in college I read two or three Alice Munro stories and thought her too quiet for my tastes. Today, I find myself very moved reading those same stories I’d once found plain. I’d read Paul Auster feverishly as a teenager and college student, but today, when I look back on the happenstance in Auster’s novels, it strikes me as too unlikely to engage me as it once did.

While my experience of a work of fiction certainly isn’t an objective measure of that story’s merit (is there any objective measure of any art’s merit?), it’s true that most editors and most writing teachers I know are invested in the work they do because of the potential to find pleasure in the endeavor of reading. Accepting or rejecting a story is not a matter of measuring a story against some universal yardstick of taste; that I’m aware of, no such yardstick exists.

Still, it’s true that delight, surprise, a beautiful turn of phrase, a joke that lands, a character that stands out, a vivid narrative passage, or a memorable image are often the elements of a story that make me feel like I’ve understood something as it was intended and that give me the decidedly pleasurable sense that a writer has reached out over a great distance and drawn the words exactly as she’d intended to onto the very surface of my brain.

 

II. A Little on Pain, Rejection, and Hypocrisy

Spreadsheet of literary failure, redacted, for Nate Brown essay

Attempting to boil down the reasons an editor might reject a story seems like asking you to list your worst personal attributes: you know what you believe they are, but giving them voice is awfully uncomfortable.

It’s uncomfortable because attempting to articulate my own subjective reasons for rejecting a story leads me to wonder if any of my own work would pass muster. Admittedly, prior to working at American Short Fiction, first as its web editor and now as its managing editor, I’d had two stories rejected by the magazine. There you have it: one of my most terrible writing-related secrets. Even I, who now work here, couldn’t place a story in ASF.

If I’m going to give advice to other writers about what they should or should not do in their fiction prior to sending work to journals, then I’d be a fool not to hold myself to those same standards. Worse than a fool, I’d be a hypocrite. Yet here I am, looking at my notes from that talk in Boston alongside a couple of my own short stories. There are contradictions between my advice and what I’d managed to accomplish in my own work, and they make me cringe. But then, we should cringe a little at our earlier work. Maybe that’s the one abiding measure of a writer’s growth. This is one thing I tell my students, anyway.

Thinking of writing in terms of pleasure has given me an opportunity to better and more accurately describe what I find good about stories. In attempting to write a list of writerly pitfalls, I found it disorganized and more than a bit petty to simply list what I felt was bad in the short stories I disliked the most. So, instead, I asked myself what was great about pieces that I’d enjoyed and spent a lot of time thinking about how those moments came into being, what a writer had done in order to grab my attention and to hold it.

Even in stories that were rushed or riddled with typos or populated by thin characters, there is often something pure to admire: a line of dialogue that’s perfect and subtle, a description of a childhood bedroom from the eighties that’s so apt and clear that, for a second, you can’t help but remember your own collection of M.U.S.C.L.E Men or your own long forgotten Lite-Brite. More often than you might think, even a clunky story has a sentence or two, or a paragraph, or a scene that’s arresting or lovely. Most editors can see, in those moments, what the writer saw and understand why that writer submitted the story in the first place. A beautiful scene or a memorable character is almost never enough, on its own, to justify publishing a story, but when you consider how damned difficult it is to write a good scene or to create a truly memorable character, you can’t help but feel abiding respect for the work and its creator.

A big part of an editor’s job is to see where a story succeeds and to encourage those kinds of successes, even when (perhaps especially when), you don’t accept that story for publication. In attempting to write a list of pitfalls, then, I found myself mostly wondering about the common ideas, plot elements, stylistic moves, or character traits that detracted from my ability to find the work pleasurable in spite of the good and interesting turns that a particular story took.

Obviously, there are any number of reasons a story might be rejected by a journal, but before I get to the list I compiled for that talk in Boston, I’ll go ahead and cop to my own long history of literary rejection. I’m doing so not so much to earn your pity (though I’ll take it!), but because most editors I know have also been on the receiving end of editorial advice and rejection. Most of us have long Submittable cues, stories of near-misses, and the occasional story of success.

I’ve published seven short stories in my life, most of which took a very long time to write and an even longer time to find a home. This is not so uncommon. Among writer friends, many have hard drives filled with drafts and partial drafts, rejected stories, novels that never gelled, books that never sold.

For years, I kept track of my submissions in a spreadsheet, with the story titles in bold and columns for the magazine’s name, the date of submission, the date of response (mostly rejections), and any related notes (was it submitted online or by mail? Did it get a personal rejection or a form rejection? Was there a particular editor who replied?).

One story called “Reflector Scope” was submitted to sixty-three journals over the course of three years before it got accepted. It was another year and a half before it was published. A story called “Come Back to Me, Baby” took a whopping eighty-nine submissions and nearly five years to find a home. The quickest turnaround happened when an editor heard me read a flash piece one April and asked if it’d been published (it hadn’t). He put it out in his journal that October.

All of which is to say: each of those rejections stung a little, but most of them didn’t sting badly. One advantage a writer who works as an editor has is that rejections tend to smart a little less because we know that the ratio of rejections to acceptances is daunting. For the most part, my work in publishing has taught me that you have to move past rejection quickly. What’s the alternative? To put the story away? To quit? To be paralyzed by rejection slips? To be so wounded by rejection that you apply to law school (I shudder at the thought)?

This brings me to another thing I tell my students about writing: perhaps the only real way to “lose” is to quit. If writing’s important to you, regardless of whether you find success (or the kind of success) you want, don’t quit. Do. Not. Quit.

 

III. I’m Getting to It Now

Which brings me back to that conference room in Boston. While I had my doubts about usefully giving a talk called “Don’t Get Stuck in the Slush: 10 Pitfalls to Avoid When Submitting to Literary Magazines,” I had no doubts at all about the value of regional writers conferences.

The (admittedly useful) morass of AWP aside, the regional conferences and festivals that I’ve attended in Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Brooklyn, DC, Austin, and Boston have given me the opportunity to meet writers from across the country, usually in venues far more personal than the fluorescently lit, terrarium-like conference centers of AWP. It’s also true that many writers who attend regional conferences don’t necessarily come from MFA programs or the world of publishing. They have day jobs. They write at night and on the weekends. They’re librarians, historians, pharmacists, teachers, doctors, retirees—and, yes, lawyers. Many of the people I’ve encountered are engaged in community workshops or writers’ groups of their own. Some are in book clubs. Some are much further away from writing circles. Which is to say: attending conferences like the Muse and the Marketplace or Barrelhouse’s Conversations & Connections has allowed me to encounter work that might not otherwise cross my desk. The list of pitfalls I ended up writing is intended to benefit those writers who are already in writerly circles (those enrolled in MFA programs, or who have gotten fellowships or attended residencies, etc.) and those who are not.

Once I’d written the list of editorial pitfalls, I realized that I also had to prepare some opening remarks about the list and about why, more generally, I felt that fiction writing was an important endeavor. What I ended up writing had a lot to do with the alphabet and with dinosaurs. Here are those thoughts, more or less as I delivered them in Boston.

 

IV. (A Slightly Modified Version of) A Talk about Dinosaurs and the Alphabet

The year I turned seven, I saw The Land Before Time, an animated feature from Don Bluth, the acclaimed artist and director who, a few years earlier, had made The Secret of NIMH (1982) and An American Tail (1986) and who, a year later, would release All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989).

Alien Warrior art for Nate Brown essay

It’s only a small exaggeration to say that the aesthetics of my childhood were defined by Don Bluth, Unsolved Mysteries, MC Hammer, Saved by the Bell, and about two dozen R-rated movies that I was too young to reasonably view but that I got to watch anyway because my grandmother had cable and, as the youngest of six siblings and one of fourteen first cousins, my parents had given up trying to shield me from the entertainments enjoyed by the older kids in my family.

This was 1988, the era of Platoon, Terminator, Robocop, Predator, Hamburger Hill, Full Metal Jacket, Labyrinth, Stand by Me, The Lost Boys, and something called Alien Warrior—all of which would, in time, frighten or titillate me in some frankly confusing ways. Incidentally, Alien Warrior was so awful that I feel compelled to quote the Rotten Tomatoes synopsis of the film here:

A space alien martial arts master visits a tough inner city neighborhood and helps the good people there find hope and better lives while simultaneously ridding the streets of all bad influences in this low-budget outing. Also released as King of the Streets on VHS, whose cover leaves out any mention of the sci-fi elements as well as audaciously stating that it stars Larry Fishburne (which it does not).

The movie was so bad that thirty years later, it’s become the high-water mark of terrible films in my family. When my seventy-seven-year-old father is watching something he thinks truly sucks, he might look over at my mother and ask, “Are you ultimate evil?” a line delivered in Alien Warrior to neighborhood gangsters by the movie’s alien hero.

If, at least in my mind, Alien Warrior represents the nadir of eighties movie awfulness, then The Land Before Time represents the zenith of eighties movie excellence. The year it came out was also the year that my parents had taken my brothers and me to the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles where I had seen dinosaur fossils that, as those R-rated films had done, delighted and frightened me.

The prospect of seeing these long-dead beasts draped in animated flesh and enlivened with voice was irresistible to my seven-year-old, Hammer-pants-wearing, bowl-cut-sporting, friendship-bracelet-donning self. But not even the scariest moments of Unsolved Mysteries—when Robert Stack would step out of the low, violet fog in his long Macintosh coat and describe horrendous home invasions and whole-family massacres—could match the upset I felt during The Land Before Time.

If you recall The Land Before Time as vividly as I do, you’ll remember that, early in the movie, the film’s protagonist, Littlefoot, is protected during a Tyrannosaurus attack by his devoted mother, a peaceful, leaf-eating “Longneck” dinosaur. In protecting her offspring, she is mortally wounded and, following her death, Littlefoot collapses and weeps in the swimming pool-sized footprint she leaves behind.

Littlefoot was inconsolable in that moment. So was I.

It was then, in the winter of 1988, while watching a fictional cartoon dinosaur named Littlefoot mourn his mother that I understood that, someday, short of suffering some fatal tragedy myself, I’d have to mourn my own parents.

I know that my understanding of mortality occurred earlier than the winter of 1988. By then, I’d already seen my paternal grandmother in a casket, and I’d already seen animals on my parents’ little property die. Collecting eggs from our hen house one morning, I wanted to see what would happen if I broke an egg, but I’d pulled it from one of the upper nests where, unbeknownst to me, fertilized eggs were incubating. In breaking the egg, I killed the under-developed chick inside, and I cried at the sight of its tiny, wet body.

Sharptooth, the murderer. © Amblin Entertainment / Universal Pictures - for Nate Brown essay

Oddly—and this is difficult to admit—that chick was somehow less horrible than the death of Littlefoot’s mother. My mother and father had consoled me at the death of the chick, but even at seven, I had too much pride to ask for comfort following the on-screen death of an animated dinosaur. Really? I thought to myself. I’m crying over a dinosaur? Also, the death of the chick was in my hands. I could take responsibility for it. I could feel guilt, which was evidence of my own relative agency. It was also evidence of my goodness, and of my ability to understand that I’d done something wrong, which was reassuring because, within that understanding was a parallel knowledge: that if you could identify where you’d gone wrong, you could avoid doing so in the future. I’d killed that chick, but I could commit to never doing something like that again. But what could I do about the inevitable death of a parent? Not a thing. I could resist it all I wanted, and I could avoid thinking about it, but I knew then that, some day, I’d be lying in my own dead mother’s footprint, paralyzed by grief.

This is, of course, a relatively straightforward description of how pathos operates. Pathos, that rhetorical mode familiar to people who’ve taken a composition course, is surprisingly easy to misunderstand. It’s not the act of implanting feelings in others via the conduit of art; it’s the arousal of pity, sympathy, tenderness, or sorrow that are already extant in the listener, reader, or viewer.

I’d been aware of death prior to killing that chick just as I’d been aware, prior to viewing The Land Before Time, that everyone dies. But I hadn’t felt the full weight of that knowledge until I’d seen it so dramatically and movingly depicted. It’s a common contention—one I share—that the power of art resides in its ability to provoke such feelings and, in doing so, to move us beyond distant and abstract notions of the world around us and toward an understanding of the world that’s felt. It’s the difference between knowing that, one day, my wife will die and lying in bed next to her at night and futilely trying to resist the fact. It’s the difference between soberly reading about black holes on the internet and suddenly imagining what it means to live in a universe in which these epic monsters eat everything, even light.

But how do we, as writers, manage to make readers feel rather than to merely imagine? How do we communicate authentic sentiment in a way that provokes a reader into feeling without leaving that reader feeling entirely manipulated?

The answer, I think, lies in the language we use, which brings me to a quick note about the alphabet:

Humans are far from unique in our ability to communicate through sound. Even the dinosaurs likely had complicated vocalizations similar to those of modern birds, which sing to attract mates and to sound alarm. Howler monkeys, too, may hoot to warn of an approaching jaguar, just as the jaguar hisses to ward intruders away from its turf. Even my own cat, Steve Brown, squeaks like a hinge when she’s hungry and growls if you play with her too vigorously.

Humans aren’t even the only animals that communicate using a symbol-based alphabet. Some nonhuman primates have been trained to use a written, semiotic language called Yerkish, which includes pictographic symbols (lexigrams) and grammatical standards for how to combine them. These lexigram keyboards, used by primate researchers and their great ape subjects, are nuanced and beautiful. There’s some good further reading on this from the Great Ape Trust and in this episode of Radiolab, in which a bonobo named Kanzi (who uses a lexigram keyboard, sign language, and vocalizations to communicate) warns a researcher that he’s going to bite him, proceeds to do so, and then, eight months later, offers the researcher an apology for having bitten him. How different is Kanzi’s remorse, ultimately, from what I felt after having killed that chick?

When it comes to English-speaking humans, though, we’re dealing with a phonetic language and a mere twenty-six symbols with which to compose several thousand commonly used pieces of vocabulary. Of course, there are many, many more words in English than this, but on any given day, we’re painting with a surprisingly limited palate. (This vocabulary test, produced in association with the University of Wellington, is telling and entertaining, if also a little deflating, at least for me.) Yet, even with this relatively small set of tools, we’ve got an incredible range of stories and films and novels, each so different from the next, and each the product of an individual imagination.

Because we’re human and because we have that relatively small linguistic toolset—and because we live, in the most general way, among one another and under similar conditions and experience many of the same sensations and share many of the same concerns—we also tend to make many of the same assumptions about what art can do or be. In making these assumptions, we grow blind to the clichés in our own work, and we often stop seeing how our own sentiments and ideas are common or derivative. Sometimes, we can’t even understand when our language is reductive and hurtful.

This may be a second arena in which the professional editor has a bit of an advantage over other writers. Because we see so much work in draft form, we also tend to develop a barometer for where things are going and where, frankly, writers make the same assumptions and missteps. I say missteps here for lack of a better term; you could call them oversights, mistakes, clichés, whatever. For the purposes of the event in Boston, we went with “pitfalls.” What we’re talking about are patterns of writing that are so ubiquitous as to become invisible in the eyes of the writer. That they’re evident to me may only be because I read submissions to American Short Fiction nearly every day. More rarely, a writer will have an idea that’s just plain awful or misguided. They’ll want the story to have all been a character’s dream. Or they’ll not reveal that the protagonist is actually an animal until the story’s final page. They’ll attempt a joke that’s just not funny—or even one that’s offensive.

© Great Ape Trust - for Nate Brown essay

Less often still, there’s work that is motivated by a desire to cause harm: to scorn or to advance a fundamentally bad agenda. Once, at a conference, a writer asked if I’d look at the first chapter of her memoir. In the first two pages, it was apparent that the child protagonist felt curiosity, fear, and hostility toward the African-American woman who’d helped raise her. As I read the chapter, there was no reflection upon the relationship between this thinly drawn nanny and the child, no acknowledgment that the nanny wasn’t privy to the civic, social, and economic status that the writer’s family enjoyed. By the time I’d gotten to the paragraph in which the writer described having deeply desired to ride the nanny’s backside like I horse, I set the pages down and handed them back.

It was horribly awkward, and the writer wanted to know why I’d stopped reading. I told her that you could write a memoir in which you described once having been fascinated by and fearful of racial difference, but that you had to show the reader that, somehow, you’d grown in the sixty or seventy years that had elapsed between then and now. You had to show the reader that you weren’t hateful. You had to show the reader that you were describing your nanny in animalistic terms out of ignorance, and that if a reader was to find any value in the work, they’d have to be sure that the woman writing this memoir had become far better, kinder, and wiser than the ignorant girl she’d once been.

“But I wasn’t ignorant. I was a little girl, but I wasn’t ignorant,” the writer insisted. Then, leaning in closer to me, she said, “You know, they even smell different than we do.”

It was clear then that the writer was only writing to affirm her racism, or perhaps even to be praised for it. To find a reader who’d nod along in agreement with her despicable notions. I handed her pages back to her and said, “I’m sorry, but this just isn’t for me,” before adding, “this isn’t for anyone.”

It was, hands down, the worst experience of my life as an editor. I walked away, leaving her sitting there with her pages, which offended her. She complained to other writers at the conference about me. In retrospect, I should have torn the pages up, thrown them in the trash. I should’ve told her to do the world a favor and never write another word. Perhaps the worst part of the experience was this: I’d told her that her pages weren’t for anyone, but that’s not quite true. I imagine there are plenty of people who’d read her memoir without a giving much thought to its racism, or readers who’d write the author a pass for it on account of her age. Worse, there are those who’d think she didn’t go far enough in describing how alien and horrible her nanny was. If I had a time machine, I’d go back to my childhood and dissuade my kid-self from watching Hellraiser (that particular R-rated film was a bit too much). Then I’d go back to that writers’ conference and tell that woman to burn her manuscript.

Readers know the difference between writing that aims to depict the worst of humanity (our racism, sexism, classism, our murderous ability and our depravity, our ability to abuse) and endorsement of those ills. Depiction and endorsement are not the same. In my reading life, I have reveled in wonderful depictions of absolutely terrible people, and I have cringed at work that aimed to uphold or promote the very worst that we humans have to offer.

 

V. Finally, the List: Ten things to Consider Prior to Submitting a Story for Publication

Here’s the slightly edited and amended list of ten story elements that I’ve been thinking of a lot recently, primarily because they pop up time and again in work I’m reading for American Short Fiction. This list is by no means definitive, nor is it a representation of what other editors at ASF may be thinking of or looking out for. This list is purely subjective, in other words, and it’s also constantly changing.

But, for what it’s worth, I hope it’s useful in some basic way to see what one editor at one journal is thinking of during the very hot summer of 2018 as he considers which stories he thinks the journal he works for should publish.

Some of the items on the list are probably familiar to you. Some are structural or grammatical in nature. Others attempt to get at the stickier issues of depiction vs. endorsement, the subjective nature of beauty, and the question of how much is too much when your characters are suffering. The items are listed in order of their relative moral weight. This, too, is subjective, though I doubt anyone would think a question of adjectives is quite as weighty as a question of cultural appropriation.

 

Ten Pittfalls to Avoid When Submitting Your Short Stories to a Literary Magazine, Ordered Roughly in Order of Their Moral Importance, from Least Significant to Most:

 

1. Avoid adjective, adjective, noun constructions.

An obvious one, perhaps, but these are everywhere:

The big, bad wolf © Disney

The big, bad wolf;
The cute, fat baby;
The big, blue house;
The deep, dark wood;
The little, blonde boy;
The frustrating, overused construction;
The stupid, lame story; etc.

I’m no anti-adjective snob, but choosing one apt adjective is almost always preferable to combining two that are less memorable or specific. Perhaps even string together five or six or seven adjectives; that can be surprising and fun. But avoid the monotony of the adjective, adjective, noun construction.

 

2. Reconsider beginning your story or chapter in dialogue.

This is an old saw, but bear with me. In my experience, a writer doesn’t typically need to start with a line of dialogue and, often, doing so runs the risk of alienating a reader from the story’s opening. By providing a reader with some context—some bit of narration that examines the setting or characters—you’ll more firmly establish the rhyme and reason behind a particular line of dialogue.

Even if a line of dialogue is expertly crafted and beautiful, I’ve found that, almost always, the line can be delivered to better effect when it comes after a short narrative passage establishing some of the basics of the story’s opening scene (details of place, physical character traits and/or physical position, etc.). Because narrative passages can move through time and space quickly and scenes are fixed in time and space, I find myself more easily and naturally led into stories that begin in a narrative passage that provides some context for the scene rather than beginning in the middle of a scene, fully unaware of who the characters are, where they are, what they’re doing there, and why they’re saying what they’re saying.

It’s also true that attempting to include expository information in dialogue is often really wonky, as in: “Oh, Gillian! I wasn’t expecting you, given that you’ve recently had surgery. Is Kyle, that dashing husband of yours, with you? No? Don’t tell me he’s so drunk again that he can’t attend his own nephew’s birthday party!”

Narrative passages more naturally and subtly allow you to deliver basic, grounding information to readers, thus avoiding really clunky exposition delivered in dialogue.

 

3. Avoid filler phrases and empty words.

More than just reading through your work and excising clichés (are your protagonist’s eyes really gray? Is she really effortlessly beautiful?), our speech and writing is peppered with helpful words and phrases that quickly and effectively communicate meaning. In our day-to-day lives, that’s all well and good. Most of us speak much more frequently than we write, and most of that speech should probably be quick and effective.

But when it comes to fiction, our prose should do more than merely communicate information. At least in theory, we’re making art, and we’re crafting art with an extraordinarily limited palate, so each sentence, word, and phrase counts for a lot. Don’t waste time or energy (or your reader’s time or energy) by crafting sentences with words that, while effective in speech, fall flat on the page.

These include the words just, like, thing, so, obviously, clearly, and the phrases of course, the fact that, for instance, for example, and you know. These might propel a draft forward, but they can often be edited out and or sharpened in revision.

While not every sentence in your work must be little nugget of prose genius, I think we owe it to our stories to make our writing definite rather than general, sure rather than waffling, clear rather than murky, and beautiful rather than plain.

There are exceptions here, especially in dialogue. If you’re writing naturalistically, then characters probably will employ some of these words and phrases in their speech. Ultimately, the writer should be aware of when these phrases are being used intentionally and when they may be employed thoughtlessly. Aim for intentionality and to excise thoughtless usage.

 

4. If you use ellipses, be aware of what they connote to readers.

When drafting, it’s not uncommon to drop an ellipsis into the prose when something is dragging or when we, as writers, are trailing off in thought. In my own drafts, I tend to use them when I know I’ve got to return to a passage and add detail.

Perhaps we’re just trying to get from the really hard scene we’re working on to the fun passage we’re excited to write next. In any case, in the most basic way, an ellipsis is used to indicate an omitted word or thought in a narrative passage, or an ellipsis can be used to indicate, in dialogue, that a speaker is trailing off or going silent.

An ellipsis may be used in a narrative passage when an author or narrator is eliding or omitting information (keeping it from the reader) or in a scene when one character is trailing off.

For interruptions of thought (in narrative passages) or interruptions in speech (in dialogue), it’s become much more common to use em-dashes (“—”) rather than ellipses. Ellipses imply trailing off or omission; em-dashes connote interruptions of thought or speech.

 

5. No “trick” endings. Yes, this still happens, and, yes, it still mostly stinks.

A few years ago, a colleague was reading a student’s story with language so surprising and bright and strange that my friend was elated upon reading it. The metaphors were fresh and enticing. The characters were somewhat illusive but were thoughtfully imagined. The story was philosophical and lyrical. The last line of this bright piece, however, was “But what would I know about life? I’m just a fish.”

Please, don’t do this to your reader.

 

6. Just as a story that’s too easy on a character can be too subtle to be engaging, a story that’s too hard on a character can fall flat. 

I loved Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life. I admired the novel’s generous and expansive view of friendship and sexuality. I loved the long-view it provided readers on complicated homosocial relationships, romantic love, familial love, and aging. But ultimately, the character the novel spends the most time with—Jude—is the least interesting to me because his suffering is so great and so constant that he ultimately has very little agency. (It’s worth noting that this seems entirely intentional, that part of the novel’s project is to look closely at a character who has been deeply harmed.)

Still, characters without agency can be lifeless on the page because they seem fated only to suffer and, therefore, we remain—for the duration of the text—unsurprised at their continual suffering.

 

7. Speaking of suffering, avoid using suffering, abused, or killed animals as objective correlatives.

A great objective correlative in fiction is worth its weight in gold. There’s tremendous pleasure in realizing that some physical presence in a story is working perfectly in parallel with a story’s thematic concerns. But harmed or neglected animals are such easy objective correlatives that, at least to me, they no longer surprise. I realize the irony of this advice given my own reaction to the death of Littlefoot’s mother (but, hey, I was seven). Adult readers and viewers are primed to read suffering, dying, or abused animals in particular ways. It’s why parents sense that Yeller’s gonna get it from the early moments of the book (and subsequent movie) even as their unsuspecting children delight in watching Yeller grow from rambunctious pup to protective pooch until the movie’s awful climax.

That parental intuition comes from having seen or read similar stories. We are primed, in other words, to expect certain actions in stories that present us with animals. For instance, if a character harms a domestic pet, we’re going to read that character as damaged or cruel. If an animal dies of neglect, we might easily see a causal relationship to the narrator’s poverty and to the story’s broader interest in economic decline. If the family dog escapes and is hit by a car and your character hasn’t worriedly gone looking for her, then we tend to see that character’s inaction in parallel to his generally dangerous lack of concern for others.

In other words, find better and less obvious objective correlatives than dead, suffering, or abused animals if you can.

 

8. Make your prose beautiful.

Type-O-Negative frontman Peter Steele - for Nate Brown essay

Yes, this is wholly subjective. It’s also the most wishy-washy piece of advice on this list, but hear me out. Just as my teenage self was never able to convince my brothers that the 1990s gothic metal band Type-O-Negative sucks, we’ll probably not ever agree on the exact nature of beauty. We may not even be able to articulate why we find something beautiful.

But you probably know what you find beautiful, and that’s all you need to start revising a draft. If you believe that your prose is going to be worth someone else’s time, make it worth your time by putting pressure on it and polishing it until, even if only in your eyes, it shines. Write prose to your own standards of beauty. Edit to your own standards of beauty as well.

It will probably not be enough; readers, agents, and editors will have their own ideas about how you should revise your work prior to publication. But you can’t get to that stage until you’ve first met your own standards.

 

9. If you’re working with a character whose attitudes, actions, beliefs, decisions, morals, or politics are suspect, alienating, distancing, or noxious, treating them with some modicum of empathy will make them palatable to readers.

This advice is a version of something Kaitlyn Greenidge says her New York Times piece “Who Gets to Write What?” Writing of a difficult and racist character in her excellent debut novel, We Love You Charlie Freeman, Greenidge writes: “As much as this character had begun as an indictment of all the hypocrisies of my childhood, she was not going to come out on the page that way, not without a lot of work. I was struck by an awful realization. I would have to love this monster into existence.”

Book jacket image of Angela Flournoy's The Turner House - for Nate Brown essay

Some of fiction’s most memorable characters are not entirely lovable. Though they’re entirely different people, Fuckhead from Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son, Lelah from Angela Flournoy’s The Turner House, and Anders from Ted Thompson’s The Land of Steady Habits spring to mind. These people are interesting and engaging to readers because their authors have taken the time and care to provide readers with elements of their lives and personalities that we’ll find sympathetic. In thought and deed, these are nuanced, complicated people. They’re sometimes difficult to understand. Sometimes they’re funny. In some ways, they’re very much unlike the rest of us. But in recognizing how like us they are, in seeing how our concerns overlap with theirs, these characters become more memorable and easier to care for.

This is how we come to enjoy spending time with figures like Johnson’s violent, misogynistic, drug-addled Fuckhead (who seems, against all odds, like he truly and sincerely wants to be better person). Who can’t relate to wanting to be better? We enjoy the company of Flournoy’s Lelah because most of us understand something about what it feels like to be overwhelmed, overlooked, and a little lost. Thompson’s Anders is worth spending time with in spite of his shitty behavior because each of us desires, in some measure, what he does: to be forgiven the harm he’s caused. Johnson’s Fuckhead is an awful person; Thompson’s Anders makes fatal mistakes; and Lelah is merely a bit of a mess (of these three, she’s the most lovable by far), but none of these characters is all love and light. Still, we’ll spend time with them on the page because they are human—flawed humans, to be sure, but humans nonetheless. Mere empathy may not be enough to allow you to ably and reasonably inhabit the voice of someone entirely unlike yourself (more on this below), but it’s the lynchpin, I think, of our readerly ability to spend time with jerks and thieves, idiots and assholes, liars and incompetents, people who are (I hope) quite unlike ourselves.

Thankfully, purely evil people are uncommon in life and should probably be uncommon in our fiction or, at least, reserved for deep genre work like comic books and hard sci-fi and fantasy where they’ll find natural opposition in larger-than-life protagonist-heroes and anti-heroes.

As an addendum to this point: if the controlling motivation of a piece seems bigoted, misogynistic, cruel, or inexplicably violent, I’m going to stop reading the story. As readers, you probably know what it feels like to sense an agenda behind a writer’s prose. In editorial writing, you should be able to recognize the writer’s agenda. When it comes to fiction, I’m looking to be challenged, engaged, entertained, and moved. If I’m too distracted by egregious and inexplicable prejudice, misogyny, racism, or violence, then I’m prevented from participating fully in the world created by the writer. In fact, I may actively resist that participation. I can feel disgusted by a character and still want to read, but I shouldn’t be disgusted by the author or by what I sense behind the writer’s prose.

This is not moral prudishness. Work that is, at times, sexual (James Baldwin, Mary Gaitskill, James Salter) or violent (Cormac McCarthy, Toni Morrison) is often excellent and moving, but in each of these cases, the sex and violence is never wanton. Stories may use violence, hatred, and vulgarity in their service, but violence, hatred, and vulgarity divorced from purpose is capricious. Shock value, lazy humor, or the mere hydraulics of sex divorced from context seem pointless to me.

 

10. Err on the side of kindness rather than caricature when creating characters, and be thoughtful with dialectic speech.

What we’re doing in fiction is not at all what we’d want to accomplish in, say, investigative journalism or documentary filmmaking. In those modes, the goal is, most often, to record and faithfully report information.

By contrast, fiction asks that we exaggerate some elements of reality while downplaying others in order to maintain the artifice of a dream (I’m paraphrasing John Gardner here). If the reader is to inhabit the dream we’ve built, it’s incumbent upon us to direct the reader’s attention away from the artifice of the prose itself. (A major exception here would be experimental prose, work that draws attention to its own construction and syntax for effect.)

The use of dialect in fiction is complicated for a number of reasons, the most minor of which is that it may cause your reader to pause and to work too hard to glean your meaning. In other words, dialect that’s difficult to understand can easily shatter the illusion of the dream.

Much worse—and much more serious—is this: heavy-handed dialectic writing is used to lampoon and demean. Dialectic dialogue is the linguistic currency of minstrel shows and racist writing. All too often, dialectic speech appears in order to make a point to readers about the absurdity, stupidity, ignorance, inferiority, or frightful nature of characters who aren’t white, western, or wealthy. The racist and classist use of dialect in fiction aims to reinforce stereotypes rather than to provide context or character information.

Compare the racist use of dialect to Zora Neal Hurston‘s Their Eyes Were Watching God and to her recently published Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo,” a history based on Hurston’s interviews with Kossola (the name given him/imposed upon him in the Americas: Cudjo Lewis), one of the last African-born, illegally sold slaves in the United States. In the book, Hurston preserves his speech patterns and vocabulary, which was one reason publishers provided for not publishing the book when Hurston first presented it to them; they’d wanted her to flatten the language by removing the dialectic transcription of her interviews. Where racist dialect aims to scold, diminish, and lampoon, Hurston’s approach works to depict—as accurately as she can—the unique speech patterns of a man whose language, culture, independence, and humanity had been stripped from him. Her replication of Kossola’s speech preserves his story and his use of language as he related it to her. Hurston approaches her subject with concern and care; a reader of Barracoon could never come to the conclusion that Hurston had set out to shame her subject or to make a caricature of him for the sake of white readers. If the same cannot be said of your approach, then ask yourself sincerely whether your interest in writing in dialect or from a perspective other than your own is born of mere curiosity or whether it’s born of concern and care.

The differences between being motivated by empathy and being motivated by love are vast enough to demand their own essay. Suffice it to say, my thoughts here on the limitations of empathy are formed, in a significant way, by this conversation in Sublevel magazine between the poets Rickey Laurentiis and Solmaz Sharif. Empathy—the imaginative capacity to be sensitive to another’s experience and even to experience thoughts and feelings vicariously—may not be enough when it comes to creating round characters. Something more is demanded of artists than merely the exercise of our imaginations. Empathy requires some effort, sure, but love—complicated, fraught, enrapturing, difficult, bizarre love—requires tremendous work. Think of how hard and how necessary it is to love through hardship and pain and how critical it is to be loved and to be able to love in return. Without empathy (not receiving it and not being able to engage in it), my life would be unimaginably diminished, but without love, my life would be over.

Incidentally, as I was editing this piece, I saw a tweet from Sharif that may be the best anchor in the choppy seas of this ongoing conversation: if you’ve never grieved in that voice, writes Sharif, don’t write in that voice.

Racist writing has a long history of being excused by arguments about historical and cultural context (e.g. “It was the way things were at the time” and “It’s how people really spoke”); curiosity, spectatorship, uninformed “admiration” (e.g. “I’m interested in this culture, so I will express this interest by writing about it”); and lazy poetic license (e.g. “Well, I’ve never actually met a Native person and I don’t know anything about any Native tribes or their traditions or cultures, but fiction writers should have access to everything right? It’s art!). These attitudes lead to the very grossest cultural appropriators like Tim Barris and to apologists like Lionel Shriver.

If I’ve got three pieces of additional advice on this front, the first is this: don’t be Barris, and don’t be Lionel Shriver. Don’t loudly proclaim your right and ability to write from any perspective you choose and then pat yourself on the back for making said proclamation. This does not make Shriver a brave iconoclast or a righteous defender of artistic freedom. Frankly, it reveals her to be a jackass.

Caravaggio's "Narcissus"

The second bit of advice on this front is to read broadly. Read writers who are not from your same cultural, national, or religious background. Read their fiction, their poems, their essays, and read their own reflections on issues of representation. Engage with writers and artists who are unlike yourself. And if, like me, you’re white: remember that you may not be the intended or best audience for all work; that not all work should cater to your experience; that other writers shouldn’t be expected to educate you (we have libraries and independent bookstores and the internet, so educating yourself is on you); and that writing can transport and transform us. Getting back to where this essay began for a moment: there is abundant pleasure to be found in those transportations and transformations. Why else are we reading? To see ourselves simply and easily reflected back at ourselves all the time? If you want “relatability,” buy a mirror and stare into it, but remember: Narcissus died alone on a riverbank because he found himself more interesting and more lovely than he found the world and the people around him.

Three relatively recent pieces of writing that have come to shape my own thinking about depiction and the way racist attitudes are manifested and maintained in the culture come from the aforementioned Kaitlyn Greenidge, as well as Elif Batuman and Jenny Zhang.

In “Reading Racist Literature,” Batuman looks at nineteenth-century work that explicitly demeans Turkish people (and points to the power of literary transmogrification), while in “Who Gets to Write What?” Greenidge examines the line between depiction and caricature. In “They Pretend to Be Us While Pretending We Don’t Exist,” Zhang cuts right to the chase, noting “White people have always slipped in and out of the experiences of people of color and been praised extravagantly for it,” something Greenidge also points to when she writes that, for many white writers, there’s “[…] the wish not so much to be able to write a character of another race, but to do so without criticism.” To be clear: Lionel Shriver can write from whatever perspective she chooses; what she should not do is expect that she won’t be criticized for it.

In each case, Batuman, Greenidge, and Zhang grapple with the long history of marginalizing and ridiculing people of color in English-language literature, which brings me to my third piece of advice on this front, which is based in part on their observations: given the long history of racist notions and racist depictions in fiction, don’t write work that continues or supports that racist legacy. Write work that subverts it, that upends it, that refuses to rely on lazy and racist shorthand. Put another way: recognize that racism exists, and work against it in your art. If this seems too big of a challenge or too high of a bar, you shouldn’t be writing.

 

Once, when my brother-in-law was studying astrophysics in college, I asked him how fast the Earth was orbiting the sun. His answer was thirty kilometers per second. Perhaps sensing that I had no ability to quickly convert kilometers to miles and seconds to hours, he said,”That’s about seventy thousand miles per hour.” I was stunned. I grabbed the edge of the table as if it might better anchor me to the planet.

We are rocketing through the solar system at incredible speed, just as the solar system is speeding through the galaxy, and the galaxy is whipping through the Local Group—you get the picture. My point here is this: our time is short, so write as best you can as often as you can. Write as beautifully as you can, then make it better. Write until you have to give it up, either because you know it’s done or because you don’t know what else to do with it. Then send it to a friend or send it to a magazine. Then wait and, while you wait, write something else. If you’ve gotten this far (in writing and in reading this essay), you already know it’s worth doing.

 


Nate Brown is the managing editor of American Short Fiction. Currently, he teaches writing at Stevenson University, the George Washington University, and Georgetown University. He lives in Baltimore.

26 Calls for Submissions in August 2018 – Paying Markets

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There are more than two dozen calls for submissions in August. As always, anything you can think of is wanted – flash fiction, speculative fiction and poetry, creative nonfiction, children’s stories, along with several interesting themed issues.

All of these literary magazines pay, and none charge submission fees.

Make sure to follow submission requirements carefully. Editors become cranky when writers don’t follow their submission rules.

If you want to get a jump on next month’s calls for submissions, check the page Calls for Submissions, which is where I post new calls as they come up.

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Body Parts: Issue #11: A is for Aliens, Apocalypse and ArmageddonGenre: Horror. Themed issue. Payment: $5 for flash fiction and $10 to $20 (depending on length) for short stories and nonfiction to authors, and $5 to $20 for artwork and photography. Deadline: August 1, 2018.

MojoGenre: Comics. “We are looking for anything: Political commentary. Comedy. Memoir. Or just a good story. Feel free to submit genre-bending work.” Payment: $15. Deadline: August 1, 2018.

Critical ReadGenre: Nonfiction. They want pitches for stories about the origins of the fine, literary and performing arts. Payment: Not specified. Deadline: August 1, 2018 or possibly mid-August. (?)

The First LineGenre: Short story with the first line: “The window was open just enough to let in the cool night air.” Also, critical essays about your favorite first line from a literary work.  Length: 300-5,000 words for fiction, 500-800 words for nonfiction. Payment: $25-50 for fiction, $25 for nonfiction, $5-10 for poetry. Deadline: August 1, 2018.

Blood Bath Litzine. Genre: Horror. Length: Up to 2,500 words. Poetry up to 15 lines. Payment: £10 per 1,000 words for prose, and £10 per poem. Deadline: August 1, 2018.

Don’t Cry to MamaGenre: Horror short stories. Length: Between 2,500 and 6,000 words. Payment: $25. Deadline: August 1, 2018.

London Reader: Drama & Dragons/Fans & FantasyGenre: Creative writing and artwork where fantasy and fantasy games are central to the story. Payment: Portion of revenues. Deadline: August 5, 2018.

Bright Wall/Dark RoomTheme: Work. Genre: Essays, criticism, poetry, reportage, interviews, and short humor pieces. Payment: $25 per story. Deadline: August 6, 2018.

Ruminate. Ruminate welcomes submissions that both subtly and overtly engages faith from all the world religions. Genre: Fiction. Payment: $15/400 words for prose. Deadline: August 14, 2018.

CricketGenres: Middle Grade (9 – 14) fiction, nonfiction, poetry, recipes, and activities on theme of Make a Splash. Payment: Fiction: up to 10¢ per word, Nonfiction: up to 25¢ per word, Poems: up to $3.00 per line; $25.00 minimum. Deadline: August 15, 2018.

Outlook Springs is a literary journal “from another dimension.” Genres: Fiction, poetry, and non-fiction tinged with the strange. Payment: $25 for fiction, $10 for poetry. Deadline: August 15, 2018.

Punk Rock FutureGenre: Speculative fiction. Length: 350-500 words. Payment: 6 cents/word.  Deadline: August 15, 2018.

PsychopompGenre: Short story, up to 5,000 words. Payment: 2 cents a word up to $100 (and starting at a minimum of $5). Deadline: August 15, 2018.

Three CrowsGenre: Speculative fiction stories set in dark, weird, and gritty fantasy, horror, and sci-fi settings. Payment: $25. Deadline: August 22, 2018.

Spark: Lab Coats and Love LettersGenre: Flash fiction between 300 and 1000 words. “Send us your stories featuring broken bones, mishaps, and long nightshifts. As long as there is a happily ever after, we want to see them.” Payment: 2 cents/word. Deadline: August 24, 2018.

Alien DimensionsGenre: Speculative short stories, “Set it in space, in the far future, and include some friendly non-humanoid aliens helping to solve a pseudo-scientific problem.” Payment: US$10.00 for 3500+ words. Deadline: August 24, 2018.

BriarpatchGenre: Nonfiction “writing and artwork on a wide range of topics, including current events, grassroots activism, electoral politics, economic justice, ecology, labour, food security, gender equity, indigenous struggles, international solidarity, and other issues of political importance.” Payment: $75 – $225. Deadline: August 30, 2018.

Chicken Soup for the Soul: “Grandparents“. Genre: True stories about grandparents. “The moment a grandchild is born, grandparents are born too. Just seeing your baby hold his or her baby is an unbelievable experience. Everyone has a great story about the unconditional love between grandparents and their grandchildren. We are looking for true heartwarming, insightful and humorous stories celebrating grandparents and grandchildren; written by grandmothers and grandfathers about being grandparents and written by grandchildren about their grandmothers and grandfathers. Stories about or by step-grandparents and honorary grandparents are welcomed too.” Payment: $200. Deadline: August 31, 2018.

Geek Out! Genre: All genres: “Where queer meets geek. Whatever you geek out about, we want to read it!” Payment: $5 per printed page. Deadline: August 31, 2018.

Apparition LitGenre: Speculative fiction on theme of Diversion. Payment: $0.01 per word, minimum of $10. Deadline: August 31, 2018.

FreefallRestrictions: Canadians only. Genre: Prose and poetry. Prose: Maximum length 4000 words. Fiction: short story & novel excerpts, non-fiction, writing related or general audience topics, creative non-fiction, plays, postcard stories. Poetry: Submit 2-5 poems, any style. Length of any individual poem cannot exceed 6 pages. Payment: For prose, $10.00 per page in the magazine, to a maximum of $100.00 and one copy of issue that your piece is published in. For poetry, $25.00 per poem and one copy of issue that your piece is published in. Payment is made upon publication.  Deadline: August 31, 2018.

Filling StationGenre: Previously unpublished poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, critical non-fiction (about literature and occasionally about visual art), and visual art. Payment: $25. Deadline: August 31, 2018.

Qu Literary MagazineGenres: Fiction, essays, poetry. Payment: $100 per prose piece, $50 per poem. Deadline: August 31, 2018.

Tech Edge MagazineGenre: Nonfiction articles on Teaching Tech. Payment: $50-$125 per article. Deadline: August 31, 2018.

Strange ConstellationsGenre: Speculative fiction. Payment: $30 per piece. Deadline: August 31, 2018. Accepts reprints.

The New QuarterlyRestrictions: Canadian writers only. Genre: Poetry, nonfiction and short fiction. Payment: $250 for fiction and nonfiction, $40 for prose. Deadline: August 31, 2018.

Review of Three Dreams in the Key of G

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A Vigorous Workout

Marc Nash (Extra-Curricular) is an intellectual. Nowhere is that fact more obvious than in his most recent novel, Three Dreams in the Key of G. Here, three narrative streams coalesce to provide some of the deepest existential philosophies you will find, all the while remaining grounded in the everyday world.

The first of the three narrators, Jean, is an elderly radical woman, known for her group and online movement. She has survived a difficult life into her golden years and now has the FBI on her as well as other government entities due to the ideas she propagates. It is these ideas and memes that give her a sense of being. She is thoroughly adamant about the superiority of women and even speaks to the point of DNA in this observation. Mostly however, she finds her identity as the value of the information she puts out, a collection of ideas and memes that she believes will live past her own life and spread to significant ends.

In the second narrative stream, entities known as A, C, G, and T converse and discourse over one another to determine the essence of life itself. Collectively, they call themselves the Creatrix.

A, C, G, and T, in real life represent the four nucleotide bases of DNA (Adenine, Cystosine, Guanine and Thymine.) Each nucleotide speaks in its own way, sometimes varying by the how the author arranges script on the page. Each of these characters delves deeply into the existence of man as well as DNA itself, often baring philosophical secrets haughtily. A, C, G, and T rail against mankind and also among themselves in comical ways.

The last narrator is the heart of the story. A mother of two very young daughters, one five and the other not even a toddler, keeps a personal journal that she reveals all to. The only one or thing in her life to which she does; her daughters are too young and her husband is distant, seemingly by her own choice. The focus of the novel is on women with men left to play the role of outsider.

It is through this last narrator that we feel the essence of day to day living, even as she dissects it in her journal. Here for example is the haunting, familiar picture of a five-year old at her mother’s make-up table.

“There she was, sat at my dressing table. In front of my hinged mirrored tryptich, that gateway to the source of identity. The family Omphalos. For I too had sat at such a mirror, a child seeking reassurance of my mother’s continued existence when confronting her temporary absence from the house.”

It is through her trials and day-to-day mother’s life that we feel the inheritance of mankind as she documents faithfully in her diary. We read the importance of diapers and all that comes along with them. We despair at the exactitude of children’s party gift bags after a choice goes wrong for her, and we raise the alarm at how an otherwise ordinary day can turn to near tragedy by a simple raisin on the floor. She documents motherhood in all it’s essence.

Besides the existential dilemma that all of the narrators try to combat, each in their unique way, the narratives also have delightful word play in common through-out the novel. The word play makes it seem as if the author had numerous idiomatic expressions going on in his mind as he wrote each character and I thoroughly enjoyed all of them.

Finally, this could be said to be a book about motherhood of all kinds, three specific examples given to us with narrators in all their elegance and frailties.

At the beginning and end of the book we see sequences of A, C, G, and T together as in DNA. Their speaking not ending, but continuing to convey that which is and will continue to be.

New Post by Kristen Lamb

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Targeting Readers: Audiences Have Evolved & So Should Marketing

Kristen Lamb, targeting readers, how to target readers, marketing for authors, marketing for writers, how to sell more books, author branding, social media for writers, sales for writers

How many times have we been told we should be targeting our readers, audience, and customers? Am I the only one disturbed by this advice? Targeting seems like it should involve a Predator Drone…or at least a trebuchet.

For the record, I imagine many authors would view sales (and targeting) with far more enthusiasm if book launches involved a trebuchet.

#MaybeJustMe

In the olden days—before Web 2.0—the world was vastly different. It was a horrible existence rife with uncertainty, anxiety and dread.

Case in point, for most of the 20th century, if the phone rang? WE HAD NO IDEA WHO WAS CALLING.

Planning a Friday night? Want to watch a movie at home? You had to bribe that pimply-faced kid at Blockbuster to squirrel away the NEW RELEASE of Speed 2 before they were all gone. Then, after you watched Speed 2 and wondered why Hollywood didn’t just…STOP?

YOU COULD ONLY COMPLAIN TO PEOPLE YOU ACTUALLY KNEW.

Before Web 2.0 life was ugly, brutish and short.

Kristen Lamb, targeting readers, how to target readers, marketing for authors, marketing for writers, how to sell more books, author branding, social media for writers, sales for writers

As if pay phones, shoulder pads, and the regular onslaught of boy bands weren’t bad enough? When you went on a date and he/she said they had a good time and would call you, and they didn’t? Two options. Move on like a mature, confident person or engage PSYCHO mode.

#GoBigOrGoHome

There was no ‘checking online activity’ to see Brad really WAS working late like he said when you called him for the 37th time. No, you had to dress up, hop in your 1987 Mazda and find his workplace using the YELLOW PAGES and a PAPER MAP.

Oh and on the way over, you had to make up some reasonable explanation of how you just ‘happened to be in the area’ in that new outfit from Express. The one exactly like Paula Abdul’s—giant hoop earrings and all. #ForeverYourGirl.

We had to own the crazy O_o .

Kristen Lamb, targeting readers, how to target readers, marketing for authors, marketing for writers, how to sell more books, author branding, social media for writers, sales for writers
Me in the 90s…okay until yesterday.

This said, language frequently reflects the emotional state of the times. Words mirror the collective ennui of a culture. Back then? Needy and codependent behaviors couldn’t be properly measured with metrics (I.e. ‘Likes’).

We had to TRUST our hair looked great or that skirt didn’t make our @$$ look like we had two @$$es…all on our own. No posting, getting votes, feedback, and digital flattery to boost our confidence.

Before Web 2.0, we were a skittish bunch. Every moment waiting, wondering…

Old School Marketing

Kristen Lamb, targeting readers, how to target readers, marketing for authors, marketing for writers, how to sell more books, author branding, social media for writers, sales for writers

Suffice to say, in a world where we were largely flying blind, it makes sense why so many military words and phrases crept into the marketing vocabulary.

**It’s also the only logical explanation for harem pants.

Terms like strategy, bombshell, media blast, marketing blitz, ad campaigns, and targeting buyers were common, and consumers didn’t take it personally. We didn’t take it personally because business was business and personal was personal.

Back in the day, it was perfectly fine for businesses to think in terms of blitzing, blasting, or targeting because we understood we were consumers, not FRIENDS. 

We didn’t mind kitschy slogans to make us feel a company cared because, deep down, we knew they were only pretending to care.

In the 90s, when Budweiser repetitively asked us ‘WASSUP?’ we were pretty sure that was a rhetorical question. No one at Budweiser was waiting for our answer…except Sheila.

This, of course, is no longer the case. Now, in 2018, if Budweiser asks us ‘WASSUP?’ They’re likely hoping we WILL answer. The reason is because branding and buying behaviors have changed.

Brave New Buying

Kristen Lamb, targeting readers, how to target readers, marketing for authors, marketing for writers, how to sell more books, author branding, social media for writers, sales for writers

A lot of writers (and companies) gripe that social media is ineffective because there’s no way to trace what, which, and how much activity translates into sales. You know, like a formula or recipe that’s simple, scalable and easily replicated.

Something you could train a weasel to do, because studies have shown ferrets will work for cat food (though raccoons are cool with exposure dollars).

***Note: Remember raccoons are NOT weasels (which are often preferred for direct marketing). Raccoons are marsupials and DO have those adorable opposable thumbs. BUT they’re also attention addicts that require management to ensure they’re not gaffing off texting and posting selfies on Instagram.

#TrueFactIJustMadeUp

Thing is?

Social media is not direct marketing, though the two are often confused. 

See, in direct marketing, activity can be measured. Businesses can put out an ad, monitor click rates and see how many clicks led to a purchase. Companies can send out so many coupons and then measure quantitatively how many of those later translated into a purchase.

Kristen Lamb, targeting readers, how to target readers, marketing for authors, marketing for writers, how to sell more books, author branding, social media for writers, sales for writers

Why Web 2.0 has been so vexing for marketers is they keep trying to treat social media the same way as direct marketing…and they can’t. Because this isn’t 1999. And, if we do social media correctly (keeping it social) there’s no way to accurately measure, control or quantify results.

It also becomes way too obvious we’re mixing social and market norms and that creeps people the hell out.

Example:

Market Norms are when a prostitute expects money in return for *wink wink nod nod* ‘favors.’

Social Norms are when a wife does those same ‘favors’ for her beloved husband out of love because getting paid for it would be seriously strange.

That seems obvious, right?

But what if wife has a wonderful and romantic evening with her husband, but then early the next day, she asks him to fill out an on-line survey rating how he enjoyed his night? And tells him that, when he completes his survey, he will be texted a code he can then redeem for free pancakes?

Yes, I just took that to a WHOLE NEW LEVEL of weird!

But y’all see what I mean when I say that you just can’t sneak that stuff in there! We SEE it. We FEEL it.

Don’t Cross the Streams!

While many businesses still use direct marketing tactics, these methods are becoming increasingly less effective when used exclusively. Companies need to be on social media.

Another observation to point out.

Unlike a company, authors are humans. When we don’t act like a human…people grow quickly suspicious.

A lot of authors rightfully feel dirty when told they need to be targeting their readers. Are we selling a book or doing a mob hit?

***Because if this is a mob hit shouldn’t we get paid better? Asking for a friend.

Kristen Lamb, targeting readers, how to target readers, marketing for authors, marketing for writers, how to sell more books, author branding, social media for writers, sales for writers

We’re writers, which means we appreciate words have power. If we are targeting people so we can bait, blitz, or bundle them, it’s tough to hide our less-than-authentic motives.

Words impact thoughts, thoughts directs actions, and actions create results. If, behind the scenes, we view people as resources only to be plundered for personal gain (by targeting them), it makes us feel ookie when we try to pretend like we really care.

…unless you’re Brad.

It’s All in Our Head

Kristen Lamb, targeting readers, how to target readers, marketing for authors, marketing for writers, how to sell more books, author branding, social media for writers, sales for writers

I’ve spent the last several posts working to make ‘sales’—which is pretty critical to success—far less icky. It doesn’t need to be icky at all, actually.

As mentioned, words hold tremendous power, and a simple mental shift can make a massive difference. This is why I dedicated a lot of my branding book (Rise of the Machines: Human Authors in a Digital World) to neuroscience. How is the human brain impacted as technology shifts?

Technology changes, but humans remain the same.

How does the human brain operate in a virtual world? What factors can render content invisible? Why do humans SEE certain types of content and yet remain oblivious to other types?

Words play a massive role in first, being visible and then, making a positive connection. For instance, did you know the human brain only begins listening at the first active verb?

When we tell people, ‘Don’t forget to buy my new book,’ their brains hear, ‘Forget to buy my new book.’

This is one of the reasons negative goals are virtually useless and produce terrible results. Try this simple exercise in your everyday life. I make it a point to phrase as much as possible in the positive. State what I want, as opposed to what I don’t want.

‘Remember to pick up the dry cleaning’ or ‘Remember you put your keys in the side pocket of your gym bag’ yields far better results than lecturing myself on all the stuff ‘I don’t want to forget.’

Why I take time to mention this is because a simple adjustment in vocabulary can ease our own anxiety, allow us to feel authentic, and thus we’ll come across to others in a far more genuine way.

No Targeting? So WHAT Do We DO?

When we are targeting our audience, the core objective is for us to do all we can to ensure we’re respecting our audience’s time (I.e. Don’t repeatedly pitch people who rent an apartment about the benefits of vinyl siding…unless you want to be stabbed).

These days when we’re all about social, community and friending, I recommend we define then identify our audience.

If I write books about dragons and sorcerers, what kind of people are likely going to like these kinds of stories? What do we share in common? Maybe they like WoW, or GoT or ASOF, OMG!

I write suspense thrillers. We share a love for Dateline, podcasts about serial killers, and a morbid and socially unacceptable sense of humor. In my case, targeting my audience could be fatal. But identifying them is pretty simple. If they laugh at my memes and add additional morbid commentary? We’re peeps! If they report me to FB? Likely not my audience.

Kristen Lamb, targeting readers, how to target readers, marketing for authors, marketing for writers, how to sell more books, author branding, social media for writers, sales for writers

I give ways and specific exercises for how to find ‘friends’ in my book. Why? Because I was a nerd with paralyzing social anxiety and no social skills. Meaning I had to break all this down using science.

Don’t judge me.

***There was a good reason I was single until I was almost 35.

Anyway, what I realized (while researching ‘how to make friends without using chloroform’) was that ‘identifying our audience’ is something we’ve been doing since we were kids.

You love Dragonlance books? Me too! Did we just become best friends?

***Kids who liked Dodgeball, conversely, ‘targeted’ their audience. 

When we identify our audience and all the hobbies, topics, interests we’re likely to share, then it’s far simpler and more authentic to strike up a conversation and connect. Instead of targeting victims to pummel with BUY MY BOOK, we can locate others who like what we like.

We can talk about video games, movies, hobbies, crochet, pets, unicorns and untraceable poisons… You know. FUN STUFF!

Ideally, these conversations will lead to conversions.

Using common ground and shared emotional touch points, we can make loose connections that then foster relationships and perhaps grow into actual friendships. This means that one day—when we have a book (or another book) for sale—we’ve already done the ‘hard’ work.

We’ve cultivated an audience of friends, advocates and hopefully fans eager to see and help us succeed. Since we’ve created a micro-community, we come across as vested because we are. We have a reputation for giving more than we take.

Where to Submit Short Stories

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Where to Submit Short Stories: 23 Magazines and Websites That Want Your Work

Where to Submit Short Stories: 23 Magazines and Websites That Want Your Work

Not sure where to send those great short stories you’ve written?

As with writing contests and fellowships, sometimes it can be hard to know where to begin. To help you figure out where to submit short stories, we’ve put together this guide to 23 publications that publish short fiction. The list includes a mix of publications across various genres and styles, ranging from prestigious, highly competitive options to those specifically seeking new and emerging voices.

While we’ll give you a brief idea of the flavor of each magazine and site, you’ll definitely want to spend some time reading your target publications before submitting to become familiar with the sort of pieces they prefer. And before hitting “send,” make sure you’re not making any of these submission mistakes!

Ready to get started? Here are 23 outlets that publish short stories.

1. The New Yorker

Might as well start with a bang, right? Adding publication in The New Yorker to your portfolio puts you in a whole new league, though it won’t be easy. Author David. B. Comfort calculated the odds of an acceptance at 0.0000416 percent!

It accepts both standard short fiction as well as humorous short fiction for the “Shouts & Murmurs” section. No word counts are mentioned, though a quick scan of the column shows most pieces are 600 to 1,000 words.

Submission Guidelines: http://www.newyorker.com/about/contact

Deadline: Open

Payment: Huge bragging rights; pay for unsolicited submissions isn’t specified. Who Pays Writers lists several paid pieces, though as of this post’s publication, no rates specifically for short stories.

2. The Atlantic

Another highly respected magazine, The Atlantic publishes both big names and emerging writers in fiction and nonfiction. Submission guidelines advise, “A general familiarity with what we have published in the past is the best guide to what we’re looking for.”

Submission Guidelines: http://www.theatlantic.com/faq/#Submissions

Deadline: Open

Payment: Unsolicited submissions are generally unpaid, although if the editors choose your piece for online content, you may receive $100-$200 depending on genre and length.

3. The Threepenny Review

This quarterly arts magazine focuses on literature, arts and society, memoir and essay. Short stories should be no more than 4,000 words, while submissions to the “Table Talk” section (pithy, irreverent and humorous musings on culture, art, politics and life) should be 1,000 words or less.

Submission Guidelines: http://www.threepennyreview.com/submissions.html

Deadline: January to June

Payment: $400 for short stories; $200 for Table Talk pieces

4. Zoetrope: All-Story

Founded by Francis Ford Coppola and Adrienne Brodeur in 1997, Zoetrope: All-Story’s mission is “to explore the intersection of story and art, fiction and film” and “form a bridge to storytellers at large, encouraging them to work in the natural format of a short story.” Submissions should be no more than 7,000 words.

Submission Guidelines: http://www.all-story.com/submissions.cgi

Deadline: Open

Payment: None, but this magazine has discovered many emerging writers and published big names like Salman Rushdie and Gabriel García Márquez, so publication here could win you some serious prestige points.

5. One Story

One Story is just what the name says: a literary magazine that publishes one great short story every three to four weeks, and nothing more.

Its main criteria for a great short story? One “that leaves readers feeling satisfied and [is] strong enough to stand alone.” Stories can be any style or subject but should be between 3,000 and 8,000 words.

Submission Guidelines: http://www.one-story.com/index.php?page=submit

Deadline: January 15 to May 31st and September 1 to November 14

Payment: $500 plus 25 contributor copies

6. The Antioch Review

The Antioch Review rarely publishes more than three short stories per issue, but its editors are open to new as well as established writers. Authors published here often wind up in Best American anthologies and as the recipients of Pushcart prizes.

To make the cut, editors say, “It is the story that counts, a story worthy of the serious attention of the intelligent reader, a story that is compelling, written with distinction.” Word count is flexible, but pieces tend to be under 5,000.

Submission Guidelines: http://review.antiochcollege.org/guidelines

Deadline: Open except for the period of June 1 to September 1

Payment: $20 per printed page plus two contributor copies

7. AGNI

Thought-provoking is the name of the game if you want to get published in AGNI. Its editors look for pieces that hold a mirror up to the world around us and engage in a larger, ongoing cultural conversation about nature, mankind, the society we live in and more.

There are no word limits, but shorter is generally better; “The longer a piece is, the better it needs to be to justify taking up so much space in the magazine,” note the submission guidelines.

Submission Guidelines: http://www.bu.edu/agni/submit.html

Deadline: Open September 1 to May 31

Payment: $10 per printed page (up to a max of $150) plus a year’s subscription, two contributor’s copies and four gift copies

23shortstories

8. Barrelhouse

Published by an independent nonprofit literary organization, Barrelhouse’s biannual print journal  and online issue seek to “bridge the gap between serious art and pop culture.” Its editors look for quality writing that’s also edgy and funny — as they say, they “want to be your weird Internet friend.”

There’s no hard word count, but try to keep your submission under 8,000 words.

Submission Guidelines: http://www.barrelhousemag.com/submissions

Deadline: Currently open for books, comics, and a few other categories. Check the webpage to see all open categories and sign up for the email list to learn as soon as new open categories are announced.

Payment: $50 plus two contributor copies (print journal); unpaid (online issue)

9. Cincinnati Review

The Cincinnati Review publishes work by writers of all genres and at all points of their careers. Its editors want “work that has energy,” that is “rich in language and plot structure” and “that’s not just ecstatic, but that makes is reader feel ecstatic, too.”

Fiction and nonfiction submissions should be no more than 40 double-spaced pages.

Submission Guidelines: http://www.cincinnatireview.com/#/submissions/guidelines

Deadline: September 1 to March 1

Payment: $25 per double-spaced page

10. The First Line

This cool quarterly is all about jumpstarting that pesky writer’s block. Each issue contains short fiction stories (300-5,000 words) that each begin with the same pre-assigned first line. You can also write a nonfiction critical essay (500-800 words) about your favorite first line from a piece of literary work.

If you really want to get ambitious, you can also write a four-part story that uses each of that year’s first lines (which is due by the next year’s spring issue deadline). To find each issue’s assigned first line, check out the submission guidelines below.

Submission Guidelines: http://www.thefirstline.com/submission.htm

Deadline: February 1 (spring); May 1 (summer); August 1 (fall); November 1 (winter)

Payment: $25 to $50 (fiction); $25 (nonfiction) plus a contributor’s copy

11. The Georgia Review

Another one high on the prestige list, The Georgia Review features a wide variety of essays, fiction, book reviews and more across a wide range of topics. You can read specific requirements for each in the submission guidelines below, but the common theme among them all is quality, quality, quality.

Bear in mind submitting requires a $3 processing fee if you’re not a subscriber.

Submission Guidelines: https://thegeorgiareview.com/submit/

Deadline: Open except for the period of May 15 to August 15

Payment: $50 per printed page

12. Boulevard Magazine

Boulevard Magazine is always on the lookout for “less experienced or unpublished writers with exceptional promise.” It accepts prose pieces (fiction and nonfiction) up to 8,000 words (note: no science fiction, erotica, westerns, horror, romance or children’s stories).

There is a submission fee of $3.

Submission Guidelines: http://www.boulevardmagazine.org/guidelines/

Deadline: Open October 1 to May 1

Payment: $100 to $300

13. Camera Obscura

Camera Obscura is a biannual independent literary journal that publishes contemporary literary fiction and photography. Fiction should be between 250 and 8,000 words, although its editors have made exceptions for the occasional “exceptional novella” between 12,000 and 30,000 words.

You can also try your hand at a “Bridge the Gap” piece, where you review the current photo gallery and construct a story that “Takes the reader on an unexpected journey from the first image to the next.”

Submission Guidelines: http://www.obscurajournal.com/guidelines.php

Deadline: Stay tuned to the guidelines page to find out when the next deadline is announced.

Payment: $1,000 to one featured writer published in each issue, as determined by the editors; all other contributors receive two copies of the issue in which they are published. The best Bridge the Gap piece receives $50.

14. Crazyhorse

Open to a wide variety of fiction from mainstream to avant-garde, Crazyhorse puts no limitations on style or form. If you’ve got something people haven’t seen before and won’t be able to forget, its editors are looking for it.

Crazyhorse also accepts nonfiction of any sort, including memoirs, journal entries, obituaries, etc. — we told you it’s open to anything! Keep your word count between 2,500 and 8,500 words.

Submission Guidelines: http://crazyhorse.cofc.edu/submit/

Deadline: Open for submissions from September 1 to May 31, except for the month of January (when it only accepts entries for the Crazyhorse Prizes)

Payment: $20 per printed page (up to a max of $200)

15. Story

Story Magazine is, you guessed it, all about the story, whatever shape it takes. Each issue is based around a theme, but its editors encourage writers to think outside the box when it comes to how to address that theme — fiction, nonfiction, hybrid forms, “hermit-crab essays” and more are all up for consideration.

Submission Guidelines: http://www.storymagazine.org/submit/

Deadline: Open January 1 to May 1 (print magazine); open February, April, June, August, and October (online)

Payment: Not specified

16. Vestal Review

Prefer to keep your short stories extremely short? Vestal Review publishes flash fiction of no more than 500 words. Its editors are open to all genres except for syrupy romance, hard science fiction and children’s stories, and they have a special fondness for humor. R-rated content is OK, but stay away from anything too racy, gory or obscene.

Submission Guidelines: http://www.vestalreview.org/guidelines/

Deadline:  Submission periods are February to May and August to November

Payment: Ten cents per word (for stories up to 100 words); five cents per word (101-200 words); three cents per word (201-500 words). “Stories of great merit” in their estimation can receive up to a $25 flat fee.

17. Flash Fiction Online

Flash Fiction Online allows for slightly longer flash stories — between 500 and 1,000 words. Its editors like sci-fi and fantasy but are open to all genres. As with Vestal, stay away from the heavier stuff like erotica and violence. As of March 1, 2015, FFO accepts previously published works.

Submission Guidelines: http://flashfictiononline.com/main/submission-guidelines/

Deadline: Open

Payment: $60 per story, two cents per word for reprints

18. Black Warrior Review

Black Warrior Review publishes a mix of work by up-and-coming writers and nationally known names. Fiction pieces of up to 7,000 words should be innovative, challenging and unique; its editors value “absurdity, hybridity, the magical [and] the stark.”

BWR also accepts flash fiction under 1,000 words and nonfiction pieces (up to 7,000 words) that examine and challenge beliefs and boundaries. There is a $3 submission fee.

Submission Guidelines: http://bwr.ua.edu/submit/guidelines/

Deadline: Submission periods are December 1 to March 1 and June 1 to September 1

Payment: A one-year subscription to BWR and a nominal lump-sum fee (amount not disclosed in its guidelines)

19. The Sun Magazine

The Sun Magazine offers some of the biggest payments we’ve seen, and while its guidelines specifically mention personal writing and provocative political/cultural pieces, they also say editors are “open to just about anything.”

Works should run no more than 7,000 words. Submit something the editors love, and you could get a nice payday.

Submission Guidelines: http://thesunmagazine.org/about/submission_guidelines/writing

Deadline: Open

Payment: A one-year subscription, plus $300 to $2,000

20. Virginia Quarterly (VQR)

A diverse publication that features both award-winning and emerging writers, VQR accepts short fiction (2,000 to 8,000 words) but is not a fan of genre work like romance, sci-fi, etc. It also takes nonfiction (3,500 to 9,000 words) like travel essays that examine the world around us.

Submission Guidelines: http://www.vqronline.org/about-vqr/submissions

Deadline: Submissions read July 1 to July 31

Payment: Generally $1,000 and above for short fiction and prose (approximately 25 cents per word) with higher rates for investigative reporting; $100 to $200 for content published online.

21. Ploughshares

Ploughshares’ award-winning literary journal is published by Boston’s Emerson College. They accept fiction and nonfiction under 6,000 words and require a $3 service fee if you submit online (it’s free to submit by mail, though they prefer digital submissions).

Submission Guidelines: https://www.pshares.org/submit/journal/guidelines

Deadline: June 1 at noon EST through January 15 at noon EST

Payment: $45 per printed page (for a minimum of $90 per title and a maximum of $450 per author).

22. Shimmer

Shimmer “encourages authors of all backgrounds to write stories that include characters and settings as diverse and wondrous as the people and places of the world we live in.”

Traditional sci-fi and fantasy need not apply; Shimmer’s editors are after contemporary fantasy and “speculative fiction” with strong plots, characters and emotional core — the more unique the better. Keep your stories under 7,500 words (4,000 words is around the sweet spot).

Submission Guidelines: http://www.shimmerzine.com/guidelines/fiction-guidelines/

Deadline: Open

Payment: Five cents per word (for a minimum of $50)

23. Daily Science Fiction

Sci-fi and fantasy writers, this one’s for you. Daily Science Fiction is looking for character-driven fiction, and the shorter, the better. While their word count range is 100 to 1,500 words, they’re especially eager to get flash fiction series (several flash stories based around a central theme), science fiction, fantasy, and slipstream.

Submission Guidelines: http://dailysciencefiction.com/submit

Deadline: Open except for the period between December 24 to January 2

Payment: Eight cents per word, with the possibility of additional pay for reprints in themed Daily Science Fiction anthologies

Where to find more places to submit your short stories

These 23 magazines and online publications are just a small subset of what’s out there. For more potential places to share your short fiction, check out the following resources, several of which helped us compile this list:

20 Publishers Accepting Nonfiction – No Agent Required

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Publishing … and Other Forms of Insanity

Erica Verrillo has written seven books and published five. She doesn’t know why anyone with an ounce of self-preservation would ever want to publish. But, if you insist on selling your soul to the devil, learn how to do it right: marketing, literary agents, book promotion, editing, pitching your book, how to get reviews, and … most important of all … everything she did wrong. She’s a member of PEN, and in the interest of protecting the 1st Amendment, she did not vote for Trump.

 Monday, June 18, 2018

20 Publishers Accepting Nonfiction – No Agent Required

Here are twenty publishers seeking nonfiction. They are looking for a wide range of subjects, including art, theater, children’s nonfiction, calendars, memoirs, pop culture, politics, history – in short, if it isn’t fiction, they want it. All are traditional publishers, and none require an agent.

Unlike fiction, in which writers are asked to either submit a sample of their writing or a full manuscript, nonfiction writers are required to submit a proposal. Proposals typically run about 25 pages. They contain an overview, a detailed table of contents, a bio of the author, a business plan, a competitive title analysis showing which similar books are already on the market and why yours is better, and sample chapters. The proposal is essentially a quick guide to your book that will enable a publisher to decide whether it is worth their time and effort, so make sure you spend time and effort writing your proposal.

For detailed information on how to write a proposal read Jane Friedman’s excellent article: Start Here: How to Write a Book Proposal.

For more nonfiction publishers see: 22 Cookbook Publishers Accepting Unagented Manuscripts. Many of these publishing houses accept other nonfiction titles as well.

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Allworth Press publishes business and self-help information for the general public and creative professionals. It is now owned by Skyhorse. Read their submission guidelines  hereSeekingGraphic Design, Business, Performing Arts, Interior Design, Art, Theater, Web Design, Book Arts, Photography, Crafts.

Andrews McMeel Publishing is the country’s premier calendar publisher. Its core publication categories include: inspiration, middle grade children’s books, comics and humor, puzzles and games, inspiration and gift, and comics for middle grade children. Interestingly, they also publish poetry. See submission guidelines HERE.

Barricade Books publishes quality non-fiction manuscripts–preferably that lean toward the controversial. Send an outline, one or two chapters, and a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE) to Carole Stuart, Barricade Books, 2037 Lemoine Avenue, Fort Lee, NJ 07024. No email submissions.
Ben Bella publishes niche market books, works by celebrities and experts in their fields, pop culture books, and anything that is associated with a brand. Prospective authors should send a pitch.

Career Press, Inc. publishes quality, nonfiction books for adult readers seeking practical information to improve themselves in careers, college, finance, parenting, retirement, spirituality, and other related topics. Read submission policySeekingBusiness, Career, Job Search, HR & Work Place Issues, College Preparation, Small Business/Entrepreneurship, Motivation/Self-Help, Management, Marketing/Sales, Negotiation, Study Aids, and more.

Free Spirit Publishing. “Our mission is to provide children and teens with the tools they need to overcome challenges and make a difference in the world. We publish high-quality nonfiction books and learning materials for children and teens, parents, educators, counselors, and others who live and work with young people.”

Greystone Press. “We pursue high-quality non-fiction books about nature and the environment, travel and adventure, health, and current issues. We do not publish poetry or fiction.” Read submission requirements here.

Gryphon House, Inc. publishes books that help teachers and parents enrich the lives of children from birth through age eight. They do not accept children’s booksSeekingEducational resource books for parents and teachers aimed at young children. Read submission policy.

Haymarket Books. “We are interested in manuscripts that are accessible to a wide range of progressive and radical political activists, while also being useful to an academic audience. We are not accepting fiction submissions at this time.” Read submission guidelines here.

Hohm Press is committed to publishing books that provide readers with alternatives to the materialistic values of the current culture and promote self-awareness, the recognition of interdependence and compassion. Their subject areas include religious studies, natural health, parenting, women’s issues, the arts and poetry. Read submission guidelines here.

Menasha Ridge Press and its sister company, Wilderness Press, publish primarily books on adventure, nature, and wilderness sports activities (excluding hunting and fishing). Read submission policy. 

New Internationalist is a multi-award winning, independent, non-profit media co-operative. “For over 40 years, we’ve specialized in investigative reporting, publishing our magazine and books on human rights, politics, social and environmental justice. We investigate global injustice and expose inequality. We cover stories the mainstream media sidestep and provide alternative perspectives on today’s global critical issues.” Read submission policy here.

OneWorld Publications was founded in 1986 by husband and wife team Juliet Mabey and Novin Doostdar as an independent publishing house focusing on stimulating non-fiction. Located in the UK. Read guidelines here.

Osprey is a UK publisher specializing in military history. Read submission guidelines here. (Scroll down to “Proposals.”)

Roaring Forties Press is a small publisher located in Berkeley, CA. They are especially interested in these kinds of nonfiction projects: General nonfiction/investigative reporting, Biographies, Travel books with a twist, Books about music, Books about art, Small-format gift books.

Rowman & Littlefield offers academic and scholarly works aimed at a professional audience. Their submission requirements include a CV and a list of potential peer reviewers.

Shambhala. “Our acquisition interests are on the topics of Buddhism, mindful living, yoga, psychology, parenting, crafting, creativity, and cooking. We do not accept proposals for fiction (children’s books excepted), poetry, exposés, end-time prophecies, channeled works, martial arts manuals, quotation books, card decks, or audio/video. Anything sent within these genres/formats will not receive a response.” Read guidelines here.

Skyhorse publishes a broad range of nonfiction titles. They only accept submissions that fall into their categories, so make sure you consult their list before submitting. See submission requirements here.

The New Press is a non-profit independent publisher focusing on contemporary social issues, with an emphasis on race relations, women’s issues, immigration, human rights, labor and popular economics, and the media; education reform and alternative teaching materials; cultural criticisms; art and art education; international literature; and law and legal studies. The Press has also taken a leading role in publishing a wide range of new work in African American, Asian American, Latino, gay and lesbian, and Native American studies, as well as work by and about other minority groups. They are very selective.

Ulysses Press is a small house focusing on niche markets. Genres they publish include Cleanse, Arts and Crafts, Coloring, Gifty Grabs, Fashion and Beauty, Healthy Eating, Krav Maga, Mmm Bites, Pop Culture, Prepping (for the apocalypse), Fitness, Special Diets, Trivia, Working Out, Rehab and Injury Prevention.

Five Things Your Editor Hates About You

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Editor, editors, writing, publishing
Actually, it’s you. Love, the Editor.

Harsh, I know. Alas, sometimes tough love is necessary for the greater good. Cait Reynolds here today, and what I’m about to reveal is the secret heart’s cry of pretty much every freelance editor (at least the ones that don’t just run manuscripts through Grammarly).

Having worked as a freelance editor for many years, I’ve seen it all from the articulate and amazing, to the works of pure WTH?

I’ve also been given ARCs of books that are ‘professionally edited,’ but are appallingly full of typos, grammatical errors, and trite characters and plots.

Editor, editors, writing, publishing

I’m not necessarily blaming the editors in these cases. I get it. Sometimes, a work is simply so awful that we would have to completely rewrite it just to get it into passable shape. And, for a fraction of a penny per word, it isn’t worth it.

While there are definitely things editors can do to start helping to correct and cure this epidemic of literary mediocrity, there are things that writers need to do as well. That’s what I’m going to focus on today.

An editor hates…

1. When writers think they don’t have to do at least one or two rounds of their own editing before sending us a manuscript.

I’m not just talking about proofreading for commas (though, that’s another thing coming up). Everyone is in such a rush these days to get their work up on Amazon as fast as they can. So many authors finish up a “manuscript,” hit save, and then email it to their editor without a second thought….or a second look.

Let me throw out this hypothetical situation. Say we were sending this manuscript to an editor at Harper Collins or Penguin. Would we hit save and then send it off without combing through every line?

Or, would we let the manuscript sit for a week or two, giving our brain time and distance so we can go back at it with fresh eyes? Would we read through it critically, looking for (and correcting!) everything from typos and inconsistencies to doughy dialogue and plot holes? Would we repeat this process at least once if not twice more?

Editor, editors, writing, publishing

We probably would because we know the editor is probably hard-to-please with extremely high expectations about the degree of polish in any work they receive.

So why is sending a manuscript to a freelance editor any different? It shouldn’t be.

Freelance editors aren’t entirely innocent in this, either. We take on work instead of asking for a sample to see what the manuscript is like and then refusing to work on it until the author has gone back and cleaned it up. But, Amazon KDP has both exacerbated and preyed on authors’ fear of rejection to create a murky industry that cycles off of accepting mediocrity as a norm.

I digress.

2. When authors shop around for the cheapest editing services instead of the best editing services.

Editing is one of those things in life where we really do get what we pay for.

Professional freelance editors with experience and training beyond “I love reading,” and “I’m a writer, too,” are pretty rare commodities these days. If we are lucky enough to be taken on by one of these editorial unicorns, we should expect to pay the going rate for unicorns.

Editor, editors, writing, publishing

Many authors don’t want to go that route because it would mean having to save up money and probably publish fewer books. I don’t think that’s a bad thing because not every idea will make a good book.

Also, like cheese, wine, and wisdom, good ideas and stories need time to mature. We need time to noodle and daydream, to experience those moments of sudden inspiration while doing the dishes or walking the dog.

Instead, far too many authors slap down 60,000 words for whatever idea pops into their heads and then rush on to the next idea. Because if we’re not putting out three books a month, we’re gonna get tossed off the KDP Hamster Wheel of Death.

Producing books in volume means paying for production with an eye to getting volume-discounted services.

The average going rate for editors who provide services to these authors is about $240 for two rounds of editing on a 60,000-word manuscript.

Let’s say that an average editing effort takes 20 hours. That’s $12/hr (before self-employment taxes). It’s only our aversion to fryolators that keeps us from going to work at McDonald’s.

I’m not even going to talk about how authors will pay $500-$800 for a custom cover design but want that $200 editing job to cover concept editing, line editing, and proofreading. It’s enough to turn an editor into a jumper. Or cover designer because screw this $h!t.

Editor, editors, writing, publishing

An editor gets stabby when…

3. All an author does is accept track changes and sends the manuscript back for round two.

Yes, I have received manuscripts back like this. It’s like the author just ignored all conceptual, content, and craft comments I painstakingly made. This is frustrating because it makes editing incredibly tedious. More than that, it’s disheartening.

When a writer ignores editorial guidance, he or she is also turning down the opportunity to become better at the craft of writing. A good editor doesn’t just catch typos and minor inconsistencies. A skilled editor can identify a writer’s strengths and weaknesses and teach the writer to enhance the first and correct the second.

I’m not sure why writers are so often dismissive of editorial suggestions. Is it because they are in such a rush to get the book out (I see you, KDP Hamster Wheel of Death) that they simply don’t have the time to do a proper editing job?

Or, could it be that they don’t want to take on the daunting task of tearing apart a completed manuscript and painstakingly reworking and rewriting it? Maybe it’s because they’re afraid that trying to improve their writing would imply they’re not that good to start with and probably would never be able to get a traditional publishing contract.

Ignoring editorial guidance is also disrespectful. Let’s go back to that Harper Collins example. How inclined would we be to ignore an editor from Harper Collins who returned our manuscript with suggestions for not only reworking a good third of the book to tighten the plot, but also for learning to be more succinct yet vivid with our descriptions (meaning we need to go page-by-page on our own and make changes)?

So, why ignore guidance and suggestions just because an editor is freelance?

4. There are stupid grammar and usage mistakes in a manuscript.

Seriously. While I get that there are some fine points with grammar that we all fumble with from time-to-time, there is absolutely NO excuse for using the wrong word or using a word incorrectly.

Editor, editors, writing, publishing

Words are a writer’s business, like medicine is a doctor’s business. How much would we trust a doctor who glanced at a fractured tibia and said, “Uh, seems like you broke your leg thingy.”

How about a list of cringe-inducing usage mistakes I see every single day in manuscripts and self-published books?

  • Conscious/conscience
  • Weary/wary
  • Disdain/distain
  • Wondering/wandering
  • Past time/pastime
  • Shuttered/shuddered
  • Chocked/choked
  • Peak/pique/peek
  • Lossed (not even a word)/lost
  • Passed/past
  • Lead/led

Are some of these typos or bleary brain slip-ups? Maybe, but frankly, these should be caught and corrected long before an editor ever sees the manuscript. However, when the wrong word is used consistently, that tells me the writer doesn’t actually know the meaning.

Even worse, when I see incorrect usage that has made it into the final book, I’m ninety-nine percent sure the editor doesn’t know what he or she is doing…or committed seppuku halfway through the editing process.

In terms of grammar, I get that we all have different levels of training. However, just like we don’t want a broken-leg-thingy doctor, I don’t want to see writers who don’t know and don’t bother to learn the most basic rules of language.

Editor, editors, writing, publishing

Personally, I like the Oxford English Dictionaries’ online grammar reference.

And finally, an editor really, really hates…

 5. When we can tell all a writer really wants is the look-at-me-I-published-a-book participation trophy.

The National Association of Recovering Freelancers* put out a study that said four out of five freelance editors suffer a nervous breakdown due to the near-lethal combination of shoddy writing, shoddier story conceptualization and development, and repeated exposure to bad grammar.

Editor, editors, writing, publishing

*I totally made up the National Association of Recovering Freelancers, but now that I think of it, I really like the acronym, N.A.R.F. Very ‘Pinky and the Brain.’

What drives freelance editors to give it all up? Why do they consider it more productive to search Pinterest compulsively for DIY seashell crafting than to edit a manuscript?

Part of it is the money. It’s also the soul-dulling tedium of slogging through clunky prose, bad grammar, and tired tropes (at $0.004 to $0.006 per word). Most of all, it’s nihilistic realization that so many writers care more about seeing their name on Amazon than whether their readers are getting the best possible story they could write.

Without the Amazon KDP platform, almost none of these writers would ever stand a chance with literary agents and traditional publishers. While the pre-KDP era was far from perfect, repeated rejection had one MAJOR benefit: either the writing got better, or it was never inflicted on the unsuspecting public.

Editor, editors, writing, publishing

It was the publishing industry’s equivalent of telling the broken-leg-thingy doctor to either go back to school or consider a different career like professional Zamboni driving.

See? Not all gatekeeping is a bad thing. But, freelance editors now have all the work and none of the power, and the reading public is the worse for it.

Harsh but hopeful?

The fact that you are here and reading this blog gives me hope. It means you actually care about becoming a better storyteller and craftsman. It isn’t that freelance editors want to see perfection right off the bat. We merely long to see progress.

Freelance editors do this because we love the written word. We are unflaggingly idealistic, optimistic, and altruistic…until we’re not.

Editor, editors, writing, publishing

If you or someone you love is a freelance editor who is showing signs of stress (common signs and symptoms include wild-eyed staring at the screen, increased consumption of alcohol/caffeine, and muttering, “Alas, poor literature, we hardly knew ye!”), N.A.R.F. recommends the following treatment options:

  • Vitamin D. Take your freelance editor outside and reassure them that the light will not actually burn;
  • Laugh therapy. Expose your freelance editor to a minimum of three minutes of cat videos twice a day;
  • Calm panic attacks. Repeating “All is right with Strunk and White,” in a low, soothing voice will help ease anxiety;
  • Homeopathic literature. Provide your freelance editor with Pulitzer Prize- or Mann Booker Prize-winning books. A selection of classic literature will also work in an emergency;
  • Career development. Gently suggest that your freelance editor consider a different career…

Perhaps something in cover design?

Interview with me!

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,

Here is a great interview in Toofulltowrite’s blog. It also shows my new book Dream Poem! Take a gander!

New Book Release – K.D. Rose -“DreamPoem” – (Contemporary Poetry Collection Sourced From Literary Journal Publications)

Hey there everyone.

For all you poetry lovers out there, I’ve got a really exciting treat for you all tonight.

However, before we get to experience it, let’s get this Public Service Announcement out of the way first.

Just a quick note before the fun and games start – I link to a lot of other articles in my posts, so WordPress users please check your spam folders and approve any links/pingbacks that you find from me to improve the visibility of your own posts, as well as mine, it’s a win win for us both 😉

We are lucky to have a very special guest return to us. Author & Poetess supreme K.D. Rose has released a new amazing poetry collection full of all of her previously published Literary Journal gems! K.D. was interviewed by me at the end of last year and you can read that interview, along with finding out more about her other books here:-

Author Interview – K.D. Rose – Author & Poet – Inside Sorrow and The Brevity of Twit

So let’s hear more about how K.D. has assembled this sterling collection of her poems and what delights we might find in it. Enjoy the show folks.

 

Hi there KD, so happy to have you back here with us again to chat about your latest poetry collection release, which is filled to the brim with many wonderful, memorable poems.

Thank you! It’s great to be back and always exciting to be publishing.

First of all, what are the themes that unite “DreamPoem” together and how did you approach preparing them for this collection?

This is my first collection of all the poetry that has been published in literary journals. I’ve been publishing in literary journals for the last two years and would hear from others that they wished they could read them but there were just too many journals to buy so this fixes that problem.

DP - Front.jpg

Why is your latest book called “DreamPoem”, what is the relevance to the poems and collection itself?

Poetry is often created from the perspective of a witness or an other, even when it is deeply personal. Hence the title. All of life can seem like a dream in some ways, even as we go through its ups and downs. The poems reflect these moments in life.

What would you choose as your own personal mascot or spirit animal when it comes to you and your style of writing?

Black panther has always been my personal preference though I have to say the last time I visualized for one it came out as a bunny! But in general stealthy and powerful is the black panther.

How does a poem begin for you? Does it start with an image, a form or a particular theme?

It can be so many things. Sometimes an experience is so powerful that you must write about it. Sometimes a stream of ideas and words come together to form themselves and I take it from there.

Are there any forms you haven’t tried yet but would like to?

Sonnets are difficult but I would like to write a really good one at some point. The whole art of freedom within restriction rests with sonnets.

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What is your relationship with your speaking voice and your written voice?

Totally different. My written voice is much more powerful. It is more akin to the voice in my head. In fact in this book I have included a bonus essay and readers will really be able to see a different voice there that is still very “me.”

Have you considered getting other people to read your poetry or is it important for you to be the one to perform your poetry to an audience?

Due to health issues I don’t perform my poetry but I would love for others to at any point.

How important is accessibility of the meaning of your poems? Should we have to work hard to “solve” the poems and discover their deeper meanings?

I used to write much more obtuse, not on purpose but because that’s how my mind worked with obscure references. I am not so much like that anymore and am more concerned with the experience of the reader.

What conditions do you find best that help your writing process? Do you have any specific environments that you prefer to write in or any food/drink habits that also encourage you to write?

I have an office/library that I am lucky enough to have had my husband build for me. I love it and it is my writing place. I was nominated for a Pushcart Prize for one of the poems in this book so I guess it must be working!

Has your own opinion or idea of what poetry is changed since you first started writing poetry?

Absolutely. As an avid reader, not just a writer, I am constantly inspired by others. Poetry that touches me deeply impresses me and I look to how they were able to evoke such a response.

DreamPoem Promo

What were the hardest parts of this book to write? And what were the easiest?

The essay was the hardest because I am a poet mainly. The easiest poems are the ones that just come to you but that doesn’t happen often!

Who are some of your favourite authors, poets and poems?

e.e. cummings is my absolute favorite and I don’t feel he gets the respect he deserves. Also Rimbaud, Borges, Neruda. There are so many. My favorite poem is one of e.e. cummings called “My Father Walked Through Dooms of Love.” My favorite authors on the other hand are all science fiction: Philip K. Dick, Harlon Ellison. Old School! Though I feel in love with Leslie Jamison who writes essays.

Finally, regarding your subsequent projects, will you be writing another poetry book or do you have other projects in the pipeline?

My next plan is to write a book of essays. It is like pulling teeth so it may be awhile, especially since I will probably want them published first in literary journals.

And once again, that’s a wrap! Thank you for joining us once more and for giving us another collection of poetry to cherish and adore 🙂

Thank you for having me!

Bio:-

kdroseprofilepic

K. D. Rose is a poet, essayist, and author. K.D. was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in poetry for There are Species of Stars Yet to be Seen. K. D.’s book, Inside Sorrow, won Readers Favorite Silver Medal for Poetry. She has written books in multiple genres. Her poetry, essays, and short stories have been published in Word Riot, Chicago Literati, Poetry Breakfast, BlazeVOX Journal, Ink in Thirds, Northern Virginia Review, The Nuclear Impact Anthology, Stray Branch Magazine, Literary Orphans, Maintenant Contemporary Dada Magazine, Lunch Ticket Arts and Literary Magazine, The 2016 Paragram Press Anthology, Eastern Iowa Review, Bop Dead City, Santa Fe Literary Magazine, Hermes Poetry Magazine, Slipstream, Wild Women’s Medicine Circle Journal and The Offbeat Literary Magazine.

You can connect with K.D. via the following Social Media channels:-

Facebook:- Author K.D. Rose (FB)
Goodreads:- K.D. Rose (Goodreads Author)
Google Plus:- Author KD Rose (Google Plus)
LinkedIn:- Author KD Rose (LinkedIn)
Tumblr:- Author KD Rose (Tumblr)
Twitter:– @KDRose1 (Twitter)
Website:- authorkdrose ~ Published Poet & Author. Reader. Analyst. Futurist. Belle of the Pithy, Acerbic Ball.

You can buy DreamPoem here:-

Buy DreamPoem by K.D. Rose in the UK/Europe

Buy DreamPoem by K.D. Rose in the US/Rest of the World

If you too would like to be interviewed on my blog at TooFullToWrite and you have a book or a series of books that you would like us to chat about then fill out the Contact Me form here with your details and we can arrange a future interview slot.

From Kristen Lamb’s Blog

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Cocky-Blocked: How to Nuke Your Brand From Orbit

Faleena Hopkins, Cocky, Cockygate, trademark abuse, publishing, author branding, trademark trolling, amazon, RWA

Call me cocky for even weighing in on this issue (at your own peril). But, seriously, folks. It’s rare to run across something so epically wrong AND foolish and…ironically, cocky. As an author branding expert, I’d be remiss NOT to say something about Cockygate (though I seriously hate having to).

Cockygate.

Yes, folks, it’s a real thing. A subject—cocky—we’ll touch on today (with gloves).

I’ve dedicated over ten years, three branding books and close to thirteen hundred blogs to help my fellow authors. Why? Because this job is brutal. We take crap from countless vectors.

For instance, even though our culture spends the lion’s share of their disposable income (and free time) consuming entertainment…apparently creating this entertainment is not a ‘real job.’

*face palm*

Writers are often paid last and the least (if at all) even in legacy publishing…which is why we need agents. Regardless of pedigree, most writers write for love not money (though we universally agree money is AWESOME).

Why I’m Cocky Enough to Care

I didn’t set out to become a branding expert or blogger, but I tend to have a crusader personality. Which is why my coauthor mocks me and calls me a Griffendork. And I’m cool with this because I know what it feels like to have the world against you and feel (or even actually BE) all alone.

When we step out to become novelists, it’s normal to get pushback. When I announced I was leaving sales to become a writer, my family made the natural assumption I was joining a cult.

Then didn’t talk to me for two years.

Writers deal with a lot of BS, so I’ve spent YEARS stepping into protect other authors from said BS (especially the newbies). Like a fluffy middle-aged superhero, with yoga pants covered in cat fur.

Anyway…

When one adds up the BS from Goodreads trolls, regular trolls, sockpuppets, algorithm scams, piracy, plagiarism, and ‘reviewers’ who fail to appreciate there might be an ACTUAL HUMAN WITH FEELINGS on the other side of the review, you know what you have?

Enough stress to turn Tommy Chong into a cutter.

Then there’s the rampant (and unrepentant exploitation) from MEGA MEDIA BRANDS all using the ‘Exposure Dollar Ponzi Scam’ to rake in millions using creatives as free labor and yeah….

I’ve had a full dance card.

Writers are incredibly brave. They willingly endure an incredible amount of cruelty and sacrifice time and their own money to do what? To entertain. To ideally make some stranger’s day just a bit better. That’s a hell of a noble goal.

And this is precisely why I’m so rabidly protective.

A Caveat

In fact, I am so protective of my fellow authors, I wish I had a time machine so I could go back and stop this author, explain to her how branding really works so I might have saved her from herself. This gal wrote and published seventeen novellas in two years. That’s a hell of a work ethic and there’s a lot about that to be admired.

It’s just the next part that puts me in a weird position.

While I do possess a modicum of compassion for this singular author, her ill-conceived and poorly thought out actions have done untold damage to countless others. Damage that will take months to even fully realize.

And, FYI, for anyone who thinks I’m mean? Calling out a dirtbag move, mocking what deserves mocking, and using a$$hattery as a cautionary tale is not ‘trolling.’

Kind of like when those Olympic swimmers in Brazil claimed to have been robbed and held at gunpoint? Only for us to find out they were piss drunk (literally) and vandalizing a store? And that the ‘evil men with guns’ were not robbers, rather security guards and police?

When the public openly denounced this behavior?

Not trolling.

Anyone who threatens legal action to confiscate honestly earned royalties from innocent authors doesn’t get the victim card, any more than a drunk Olympian urinating all over a gas station then filing a false police report does.

What’s the Deal with Cocky?

Funny, I asked the same thing. In fairness, a lot of other bloggers have done a WAY better job explaining what’s come to be known as Cockygate (like Jami Gold’s Branding: The Right Way vs. The Wrong Way).

But I’ll give the Spark Notes of the scandal we never thought we’d see, let alone be discussing.

In a nutshell, indie author Faleena Hopkins trademarked the word ‘cocky.’ Yes, a word commonly used since the 16th century. A word very commonly used in the romance genre.

This might not have been a big deal, except the author then used her newfound power to threaten and bully fellow authors who’d used ‘Cocky’ in their titles.

I WISH I Were Joking

To make this worse (if it could be worse) Ms. Hopkins took it upon herself to personally e-mail her competition with her ‘reasonable’ demands and spell out the legal consequences for those who failed to comply.

Let’s take Jamila Jasper, for instance…whose book The Cockiest Cowboy to Have Ever Cocked I just bought on a) principle and b) to show actual-money-spending-support for the wronged Jamila Jasper and c) to express my gratitude for her sharing THIS with my other new hero Jenny Trout ,whose post on this entire cock-up is sheer GENIUS…

Exhibit A:

How benevolent! Makes me all misty-eyed. Wait, no…not seeing mist. Seeing more like…red?

To threaten to sue, forcibly take another author’s hard-earned royalties and also make said target PAY for being screwed…then follow it with how seriously you take your victim’s hard work?

Just…wow.

What’s next? Car-jackers demanding gas-money in polite thank you cards? Hand-delivered by large ex-cons with tire-irons and a thing for breaking kneecaps?’

Legal Z…Doom

Ms. Hopkins isn’t the first person to NOT ‘get’ how the whole trademark thing works. We can pay and apply to own the trademark on pretty much any word. If you want to own the word ‘snollygoster’ because it’s a super fun word that should be used more often and this word makes you (okay, me) laugh every…single…freaking…time?

Knock yourself out. You just kind of can’t do anything with it other than maybe brag you own the word snollygoster.

If memory serves me from when I applied for a trademark, you fill out a bunch of forms, wait ninety days and if no entity, person, organization raises a fuss and files to contest? TM granted!

In fact, one might imagine the aforementioned attorney name-dropped in the threatening letter could be rather miffed with how this Cocky TM has played out (though this is total supposition on my part).

One can hire an attorney to TM a word. Since attorneys like money, they go, ‘Um, okay. Cocky? Sure you don’t want to own snollygoster?’

Then they file the paperwork and make their money. Done.

Or not.

Unwanted Weaponizing

Could be wrong, but I’m fairly sure this firm never anticipated anyone weaponizing the word ‘cocky.’ Or using their name and BRAND to do it. I have no way to know for sure. But logic dictates this firm didn’t consent to being the brute squad used to terrify honest hard-working writers into dismantling their livelihoods out of fear.

*makes weird ‘pondering’ face*

Never seen a law firm rufied.

Well, Cockygate is proving there is a first for everything.

Then since the Federal Trademark Office and Amazon have an act-first-then-sort-this-crap-out-later policy, they’ve also been rufied/weaponized. I can’t imagine the FTO or Amazon being very thrilled with being wielded to kill off competition for one author’s personal gain.

Oh to be a fly on the wall….

Trademark Trolling

But I OWN ‘COCKY’, and here is my TRADEMARK! 

Hmm, yeah owning the trademark for a word doesn’t mean as much as this author apparently hoped (mainly because there are no permanent legal teams in place defending every word in the dictionary against BS trademarking for profit).

See, if writers (or anyone else for that matter) could rampantly trademark common words then sue anyone who used the words they ‘owned’ and take their money by force? Publishing would pretty much implode.

Besides, if this sort of plan worked? Go big or go home! If making money by ‘owning’ words were a legit business plan, I’d totally TM all conjunctions…and y’all just lost ALL FUNCTION 😛 .

But I wouldn’t do that, namely because that would be a jerk move and also, one only has to war-game this out about three steps to see it wouldn’t ever work. To be certain though, I consulted MY attorney.

Hey, Mr. Eight, can I go TM all the conjunctions? Then sue anyone using compound sentences?

Faleena Hopkins, Cocky, Cockygate, trademark abuse, publishing, author branding, trademark trolling, amazon, RWA

Mr. Magic Eight Ball Esq. gives pretty amazing legal advice.

But It’s NO BIG DEAL

This author, instead of backing off and apologizing, keeps insisting this is no big deal. Yes, but it IS. It is a VERY, VERY BIG DEAL for all authors (which is why I’m talking about this).

As an author who’s self-published two out of five books, myself, I was astonished that someone who’s self-published seventeen titles would claim these changes are no big deal.

Just get a new cover *hair flip*. 

Seriously? Covers can run hundreds of dollars. The authors would need a cover for paperback AND e-book. Then you need whole new ISBNs (not cheap). You’d have to trash any inventory, swag, ads, promotions and pull and then pay to reproduce any audio books.

If this is a SERIES with ‘cocky’ the costs of Ms. Hopkin’s ‘minor’ changes just made ME want to cry…and I don’t even write romance.

And demanding these changes literally right before CONFERENCE SEASON?

*breathes in paper bag*

The ripple effect of Ms. Hopkins’ demands are way bigger than what little I just laid out. For the aerial view of the Cockygate devastation, go read Jenny Trout’s post for the full run-down of what Faleena keeps asserting is ‘no big deal.’

As a wise man once said,“You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.”

She keeps insisting no authors are being harmed, because retitling only takes ONE day.

*bangs head on table*

You know what else takes one day? Tanking a brand. Where’s a Hot Tub Time Machine when you need one?

Community 

Part of why I’ve worked my tail off to create author communities is so we can support each other, give advice, and even act as designated drivers…only for dumb@$$ ideas. Instead of taking away car keys, we lovingly mock our friend’s stupid plan until this friend wizens up.

Which is why I don’t own a full-sized trebuchet.

My writer friends all know me. Which means they also know I’m highly unlikely to use that power for good.

Being part of a group of fellow authors who care has benefits. They’ll do anything short of break the law (or break the law without getting caught) to save us from evil bright idea fairies. Educated, loving groups could’ve explained how it’s simple to protect a brand…without nuking it from orbit.

Beyond the Social Media Mess

Anyone who uses the FTO and Amazon to kneecap competition, has more than social media backlash to contend with. Authors guilty of nothing more than using an extremely common word in their romance titles are now embroiled in a legal nightmare, some possibly facing financial ruin.

Yep, that’s gonna come back to bite.

This ‘Cocky’ plan also has awoken RWA to take legal action and protect innocents caught in the cocky cross-fire. I could almost hear the collective voices of romance authors crying, Release the Kraken!

*backs away slowly*

Making a Cocky Contribution

I find it vastly amusing that Switzerland has spent roughly thirty years and $6.5 billon for what? To build the Large Hadron Collider. The goal of the LHC? Possibly create a small black hole.

Just a teensy singularity.

CERN has long been searching for ‘The God Particle.’ They also longed to be the first to create a spot of infinite density here…on Earth. In a bizarre twist, more than a few misguided authors have already done this. One can look HERE, HERE, and DEFINITELY HERE.

Multiple black holes.

***No Hadron Collider required.

Granted, these authors didn’t create ‘The God Particle,’ only the slightly-less-sexy-and-yet-far-more-perplexing ‘I Think I’m God Particle.’ The bugger of all this, was how preventable all these incidents were.

Count the Cost

It really pains me this is even a discussion, but is what it is. I know, some discussions we never thought we’d need, like why teenagers shouldn’t eat Tide Pods.

SMH.

Trust me, I was hesitant to even weigh in on this issue but crucial conversations are called crucial for a reason. Not all writers have been around since AoL was cool, and may be unaware that, in the social media age, branding has evolved. Sometimes it can feel like juggling nitroglycerine.

Or maybe just this post feels like that.

Suffice to say, there are a lot of ‘things’ we writers CAN do, just it’s wise to stop and ask if we should. Better still, ask other friends who are unafraid to lovingly call us an idiot. Writers, overall, are some of the most helpful, selfless, and supportive friends we can make.

Which might explain why we can go a tad psycho when one of our own crosses what should be an obvious LINE. You know, like setting a legal precedent that could collapse our entire industry faster than Kanye West’s fashion line.

My heart goes out to authors impacted by this…this….I don’t even know what to call it. If there’s any way I can help, I’d be happy to do what I can.

For those romance authors who’ve been cocky-blocked? We are on your side and rooting for you. You shall prevail!

What Are Your Thoughts? 

Other than most common thoughts like, ‘What the hell just happened?’ ‘Is this for real?’ ‘Can people DO this?’ Though, you know? Feel free.

I do love hearing from you because it’s how I learn and grow as well.

Meanwhile, I’m going to go do something productive, like work on my comedic screenplay about a struggling male exotic dancer who ‘loses his shirt’ and determines to win back his fortunes by becoming a professional boxer.

And, of course, it’s called…COCKY.