Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Top Ten Ways to Break a Deal by David M. Pitchford

10. Deadline? There was a deadline? Follow up to be certain you've gotten ALL materials, drafts, etc. in to the publisher by the time stated in the contract.

9. You needed the contract back when? Camping out on a contract until your brother-in-law can fit it in for a gratis legal opinion can kill the deal. Contracts tend to be time-sensitive. If you have questions, ask them. But don't allow it to become an excuse for procrastination. There's far too much of that stuff (procrastination) in this whole process already.

8. But I don't like that advice. Once you have the contract, picking at nits with the publisher is not always in your best interest. Again, the edits and such are time-sensitive just as are contracts. With start-up publishers, this is even more important, as many small publishers have to push things through to achieve profitability before they go broke. Be sensible about the editing process, but refrain from being sensitive about it.

7. Oh, sorry, I forgot to tell you that story was picked up by Acme. The number one reason publishers don't want you to engage in simultaneous submissions is that too many authors ahead of you have forgotten to inform prospective publishers when a work is accepted elsewhere. Inform the publisher of previous acceptance of your work; this keeps them from sending a contract for first rights only to find out you've sold those rights already. Track your submissions assiduously.

6. No, really, it's a different story! Changing character and place names is rarely enough to make a new story out of a recycled one. If your current story won't go through a plagiarization filter against a story you've already published, you're treading dangerous ground. Recycling stories is not a bad strategy, in my opinion, but it is vital that the new story be *substantially* different. And it darn well should be better!

5. Oh, you wanted what you asked for in your guidelines? This is rather obvious, but I've actually seen rewrites go from following the guidelines to creation of a story that barely resembles the submitted works. What were they thinking? Most of the time I've seen this is in regard to writers who want to retro-fit their story to a series or pet world. Rarely is that acceptable to a publisher, and even more rarely when that retro-fit violates the guidelines to which you formerly adhered.

4. Can you pay me now? This is a serious contractual matter. If you've agreed to pay-on-publication, then you really don't have stable ground from which to request payment. To avoid the necessity of this, negotiate the contract up front. If the publisher doesn't have a 'kill clause' in the contract, then ask for one that guarantees something if the project is cancelled. Sometimes the small publishers can only promise a return of full rights. Ask up front. Negotiate before signing. Be very judicious about trying to renegotiate a contract after the fact, if at all.

3. What do you mean you couldn't reach me?! Yes. This is common sense. But common sense is where ninety percent of misunderstandings occur. If you relocate, or change *any* of your contact information, then contact the publisher - every publisher with whom you have any relationship - and ensure that they have your current information. I have actually made this mistake myself from both sides of the desk; it cost me a number of great stories as well as two publication credits. Notify. Notify. Notify.

2. But these edits violate my personal style; why are you cramping my artistic integrity? Whiners are just inconvenient. Very few of us like to deal with them in any capacity. Editors and publishers are people, too. Don't be a whiner. If you seriously cannot stomach criticism or editorial changes, then you're likely too early in your development as a writer to be publishing anyway. [I'm talking here about whining to the publisher/editor. Whine all you like to your friends, but do so *privately* and NEVER on an online forum.] Whining might not break the current deal, but it will likely break the next deal you might have made with this publisher.

1. What are you miscreants doing to MY story?! Worse than the whiner is the bitching Narcissist. Again, any given publisher might put up with the prima donna once, but they'll likely take a great deal more convincing for further projects once you've insulted them and thrown a tantrum over things that are likely far more trivial than they seem. This behavior tends to show not only an immaturity in the industry, but also a personal immaturity. This is, in my opinion, the number one way to break a deal: act like a brat. [Once you've signed the contract and cashed the check, your story is no longer *your* story. If you *have* to have creative input, consider strongly whether you're really ready to publish. If you decide you are, then be very certain of how the contract is written.]

Read more of David's writing in The Return of the Sword anthology. You can order your copy here.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Be Unique

Stan took another manuscript from the top of the slush-pile and propped himself against the wall for a quick read. His eyes grew wider as they scanned down the page until finally he burst into uncontrollable laughter. “Hey Jill…take a look at this!”

His co-editor took the papers out of his hands, skimmed the text, and began to chuckle. She glanced at the author’s cover letter and gave a derisive snort. “I can’t believe she had the nerve to submit this garbage to us. Who does she think she is?”

Stan wiped streaming eyes and drew in a deep breath. “I know…and she works in a food store, for God’s sake…and imagines she’s a WRITER!” His fingers traced quote marks in the air. “She needs to stop daydreaming and do something she’s actually got talent for.”

Jill tossed the manuscript to her assistant. “Form rejection.”

If this little fantasy gives you goose-bumps and a cold shiver, then my words are aimed squarely at you! There’s a great deal of advice out there for short story writers who have already started submitting their work, but I want to address the rest of you. The writers who have dreamed of, but never achieved, that first step – and it is a huge step to some. Submission.

I understand the size of that step, believe me. It’s measured in fear – of rejection. Nobody likes to be rejected, but in some writers the fear can reach a level that seems insurmountable. I was a guest at a writers’ group one time and found, to my dismay, that most of the members had never submitted a piece of work for publication. The reason? Terror of receiving a rejection letter. It was clear that being turned down would be felt deeply and personally. When we write a story we are sharing – exposing – something deep within ourselves. When we offer it up for judgement, we are inviting judgement of ourselves. This may sound frightening, especially to us sensitive writer types, but I’m going to tell you that this is a Good Thing. Sharing something individual – a part of our creativity – is a vital step in becoming unique. There may not be an I in Team, but there is an I in Writer.

This is what makes your stories different from all those others – your own perspective, your own take on life. If you don’t make each story uniquely your own, then what is the point in writing? Hire a ghost writer instead.

Is it just a matter of finding the courage to submit a story? Essentially, yes. But that courage may be hard to come by. It will help if you understand that the fear comes partly from a misunderstanding of the nature of publishing and, in particular, rejections from editors.

Rejection is a fact of publishing – and of life itself. When you go to a restaurant, and read the menu, you engage in the act of rejecting most of what the chef has to offer. Yet neither you, nor the chef, take it personally, or expect anything else. The same is true of the publishing industry. When a publisher is handed a story, he or she must decide if the story is one that they can use. If not, they must refuse it. That means it’s still available to offer to others. Keep trying. If you want to be published, you must harden yourself to rejection. It’s how things work. There aren’t enough slots in all the magazines for all the stories that get sent out.

I want you to imagine you have at last gathered the courage to submit your best story to a fiction magazine. You’ve read the submission guidelines and formatted the manuscript correctly. You’ve done your utmost. You wait weeks, months, and then finally…exactly what you feared. A rejection. What next?

It’s easy to get so depressed that you don’t send the story out again. Surely if one editor didn’t want it then no-one is going to want it. Not true! There’s a whole catalogue of reasons why editors reject stories. There’s only so much space in each issue. This means that while an editor might like your story, he or she might not be able to use it. Sometimes it’s not quite right for their magazine. The wrong tone, or style, or subject perhaps, and sometimes they’ve just bought one almost exactly like yours. Had yours been in their hands first, they would have bought it and rejected the other one. Always remember, the editor is rejecting the story, not the author. It’s not personal (unless you get mad and fire off a nasty email – something that’s definitely not recommended).
You can improve your chances by targeting magazines carefully – be certain that they want what you are offering. Read several issues so you are familiar with what they have recently published. You should also expand your horizons. While it’s admirable to start at the top and submit to the leading magazines, don’t ignore the plethora of other print and online fiction magazines. For example: Bewildering stories, Flashing Swords, Residential Aliens,Fear and Trembling. Visit the markets site and check out all the places you can try. Although many of these ‘small’ magazines don’t pay for your story, they are often writer-friendly and will help you learn your craft and gain exposure.

Frequently, rejections are just a matter of the editor’s personal taste. It’s out of your control, so why beat yourself up about it? Just keep on trying and, in between those submissions, work on other stories, and polish them till they shine, and submit them and, before you know it, you’ll be acting like a professional.

Don’t imagine it all ends when you achieve publication. If you wind up with a review, you’ll find that reactions can vary from “love it” to “hate it”. As an example, my story “The Defenders”, which appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction and in The Year’s Best Science Fiction #22 gathered the following reviews:

“This is a great short story.”
“I didn't really care for "The Defenders."
“…complex and mystical vignette.”
“Stupid story.”
“…expertly dissects colonialism in quintessential science-fictional terms.”

Writers don’t all think alike. Neither do reviewers. So why should editors?

Think you can find the courage? Maybe it’s time to don your hard hat and bullet-proof vest. Time to get tough.

Time to be unique.

Colin P. Davies

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Niche Writing - The Opposing View by Emilio Corsetti

The general consensus in publishing today is that writers should create a niche for themselves and stick to writing what they know. This has certainly worked well for authors such as Steven King, Tom Clancy, Patricia Cornwell, John Grisham, and a long list of other bestselling authors. They are some of my favorite authors. But I am also a fan of Mark Bowden and Michael Crichton. Mark Bowden is the author of Black Hawk Down. He is also the author Killing Pablo, Guests of the Ayatollah and the upcoming book The Best Game Ever. The only thing these books have in common is that they are all nonfiction narratives. Some of Michael Crichton’s books include Jurassic Park, Congo, The Andromeda Strain, and Airframe. He has also written a number of screenplays. I don’t consider either of these two writers as niche writers.

Writers who stick to a niche often fall victim to repeating themselves and producing uninteresting books. To me, writing something to fit a perceived niche is like writing a story because some marketing guy says that’s what’s selling now. The end result is an uninspired, boring manuscript.

I don’t want to be pigeonholed into a niche. I want the freedom to pick and choose my projects based on how strongly I feel about the story. My latest project is a screenplay about patent medicine from the 1900s. It’s a comedy. It’s as far removed from a disaster story as you can get.

I used to describe myself in my bio as a professional pilot and aviation writer. My bio now says professional pilot and author. That’s how I want to be perceived.

Find out more about Emilio at his website.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Guest Post by Heidi Saxton

When I became a foster parent to a sibling group of three, it was soon obvious that many of the activities I had formerly enjoyed were going to have to go on the back burner, at least for now. I didn't mind -- I had always wanted to be a mom, and I looked forward to investing my time and energies into the lives of these children. But as time went on, the challenges I was facing became overwhelming ... and I longed for the simpler days of rejoining infinitives and weeding out extraneous modifiers. There was no way I could do this, of course. Sleep depravation and intensive ... togetherness ... had worked their magic; my highest aspiration each day was to get out of my pajamas and into the shower before it was time for bed again.

And yet, somehow I found time to journal. The time my husband coaxed Christopher out from under a table with a bowl of Cheetos. The time our foster son dealt a round-house blow into the midsection of our elderly priest ... right in the middle of Mass. One time, just for the fun of it, I took down a whole morning in ten-minute increments here:

Those moments at the keyboard, as it turned out, provided rich writing material for my subsequent books -- books written several years after these early motherhood experiences, such as my current book entitled Behold Your Mother: Mary Stories and Reflections from a Catholic Convert (

So now, when one of my writers at Canticle cries on my shoulder (either in person or online) about how she hasn't been able to string together two coherent sentences since the baby arrived, I offer the following pointers:

* Force yourself to pencil a few lines (or type them into a computer) every night. Create a habit you look forward to ... keep a pretty journal beside your bed, and write as you drink a soothing cup of herbal tea.
* Don't worry about creating something that future generations will consider profound or even coherent. Just jot down a few impressions, using all your senses. What did you see, hear, feel...?
* Skip the weather and the argument with your girlfriend over cloth vs. disposable. Concentrate on stories, discoveries, and miracles. What did your child teach you about yourself today?
* Parenthood is often a time when our spiritual side can blossom in new or unexpected ways. Try journaling in the form of a letter to God, or to your favorite saint. Use your journal time to record both your prayers ... and any answers you receive as well.
* As the children grow older and your writing projects become more ambitious, go back and read your journals. Mine them for memories and insights that have slipped your consciousness. As you read, other memories might surface ... be sure to record those as well. "Mommy Brain" can kick in at unexpected times; don't assume that something is so funny, startling, or momentous to forget. Put it down!
* When you are done recording your children's memories for them, begin working on family at the other end of the age spectrum. Record the stories of your parents and grandparents ... go through old photo albums and get them to talk about their own childhoods so those precious family memories are not lost.