J.M. Williams

A home for all things fantasy and sci-fi.

Going AWOL

Oct
17

I just wanted to let everyone know that I will be AWOL for a little bit. I am attending a legal symposium for the military–so I guess it’s the opposite of AWOL. But regardless, I am away from my computer.

Moreover, when I return in a week or so I will need to get hard to work on the next episode of Call of the Guardian and other projects that I have let slide recently. I am just starting episode four of that series, and our group has decided we need at least five episodes complete apiece before we even think about going live. I also need to finalize The Adventures of Iric for Kindle publication before December. The blog, and social media, have been a bit of a distraction lately, so I will be setting them aside for a while until I get caught back up.

So don’t take my silence to be anything ominous. It’s just a temporary shift of priorities.

~J.M.

My Publication Tracker is a Mess!

Aug
05

tracker

Look at that! It’s a mess! How is someone supposed to make sense of all that?

Well, of course, it’s not supposed to be all on one page…

My tracker has a total of 56 works on it. 3 have been “retired,” meaning that I am no longer submitting them in the original form. Some I have combined with other works and resubmitted, some were so dramatically revised that I decided to track the new versions separately. 23 works have been accepted and I am not really trying to resubmit them as reprints yet. The other 20+ works at the top are currently being tossed around to publishers.

In addition to having a lot of rows on my tracker, due to more and more stories being added, I have also added many more columns. I am now on the 11th submission for one of my stories and 10th for another. These are stories I really like but have not found a good home for. I plan to keep sending them out until I find the right place.

One of the things this one-page capture of my submission tracker does show is just how hard I have been working at this writing thing. This tracker doesn’t even show my novel (which is revised and complete), my novella (which is waiting for editor comments for a third draft), or my fantasy series with Fiction Vortex, which is now at about 30,000 words in.

But the flip side to all of that is why haven’t I been more successful, since I clearly have been working my butt off? Why have I not yet gotten a positive reply from an agent or publisher for my novel? Why haven’t I gotten a pro-level, or even semi-pro level story acceptance yet?

Moving forward, I am sure I cannot keep up the pace I had in previous months, especially now that I am working full-time in a mentally-strenuous job (but a good job). I am going to have to change how I go about my writing. Maybe I should slow down and spend more time on one or two stories. I think I need to find a way to get feedback about my stories, to help revise them.

Any ideas about writing groups or pages where you can get peer reviewed for free?

I do have a few pieces out that I have good feelings about. Maybe that professional publication is coming but I just don’t feel it. Regardless, I’m going to keep on pushing. I still have dozens of publications on my list I have not sent to yet.

Good luck to everyone with your writing endeavors!

~J.M.

Publishing Updates

Jul
23

I recently received another acceptance from The Centropic Oracle! They did such a great job with my story A Brief Glimpse of Everything, that I am excited to see what they do with the next one. This one is a revision of a story called Old Bones that was originally posted on this blog. Of course, I will post an update when the audio story is released.

On to other things…

Capture

Look at that! 114 rejections! You would think that should hurt, but it doesn’t. I’ve quickly grown a thick skin over the past year.

It’s also not as bad as it first seems, when you consider I have some 50 stories out in circulation. So this rejection number is only slightly more than an average of 2 per story. Not to shabby, I would think. In Magic: the Gathering lingo we would call this strategy “going wide.”

Just got to keep truckin’!

Engineering in SF and Fantasy

Jul
06

Tor.com recently had an article featuring a round-table of leading speculative fiction authors discussing engineering in Science Fiction and Fantasy. It is a very interesting discussion.

Engineering, and science in general, can be a great component to a science fiction story. But I find there are some key flaws or weaknesses that make it hard to incorporate. First, and most obvious (and seemed to be missed in this discussion) is that the author needs to know her science and engineering if she is going to write about it. The risk of getting it wrong and putting off critics and readers is a genuine threat.

Second, readers need to be interested in the science as well. Part of this is up to the author to write it well, but the other part is the whims of the public, which the author has no control over. Hollywood seems to think that people these days do not want to know how things work, they prefer action over intelligence. I haven’t become that cynical yet, but there does seem to be a desire for thrill over substance.

I also probably don’t have to mention that I disagree with Susan Lake’s suggestion that Star Wars is a great representation of engineering in SF. What engineering? Star Wars is Fantasy and Fantasy usually doesn’t have engineering. Once you start explaining how things work, you’ve moved into proper Science Fiction.

Anyways, here’s the link to the article. Check it out: Making All Those Gears Spin

Writing Lessons Learned – Don’t Kick the Habit

Jul
04

I’ve learned a lot about writing in the past several months. I’m the kind of person that learns things best by doing rather than being taught or told how something is. I’ve been doing this thing seriously for less than a year, but I’ve already picked up a lot of useful skills and ideas about the profession.

One thing that is becoming very clear to me these days is the importance of habits. More importantly is maintaining those habits once you’ve established them.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, life and work have taken me away from my writing routine. Though, I had not expected it to affect me as much as it has. I am struggling to just complete basic writing goals and quotas.

Before I left home, I was writing 2000+ words a day, most days of the week. I was also spitting out at least one new story a week. During my first two weeks at the new job, I didn’t write anything new. I did a few submissions and sent couple queries to book agents, but that was about it.

I’ve also been struggling to get back into my fantasy series for Fiction Vortex. I just haven’t been able to recover the spark that I had when I started the work. This isn’t because the story is uninteresting, but due to the stress and drain of my other job.

I’ve had to force myself to write something. During the past three days, I managed to write more than 1000 words each day. But it was a struggle. I feel like my writing is not as good when I don’t have a muse driving me on. My forced work feels like just that, forced.

But the thing I noticed today was that the more I fell back into a writing routine, the more interested and passionate I became about my writing. Today was the third day of afternoon writing and I felt much better about the work today than even yesterday. I had ideas in my head and I was able to write out the scene I was working on quickly. I felt a tinge of inspiration, not as deep as I used to feel, but it’s there and growing.

So the point is, don’t break your writing habits. No matter what life throws at you, try to keep to your writing goals, or at least finish some writing regularly. It is much easier to fall out of your habits than it is to get back into them.

~J.M.

My Story is now out in the Bards and Sages Quarterly!

Jul
02

I’m happy to report the July issue of the Bards and Sages Quarterly is out now at multiple retailers. This issue features my Iric flash story “The Tree Sign.”

I’ve been looking over my digital copy and am very satisfied with how the whole thing came out. It’s a decent-sized book–Smashwords says it’s almost 57,000 words! I’m going to have to pick up a print copy.

Speaking of which, you can get a print copy HERE!

Happy reading!

~J.M.

Writing Updates

Jul
01

I’ve been pretty bad at updating this blog during the past few weeks. I’ve been on military orders and my work with the Army had been a lot more intense and rigorous than I expected. Add to that the deep academic nature of much of what I do, which tends to leave my brain melted at the end of the day. It’s an excuse, I know, but I haven’t yet figured out how to break through.

That’s not to suggest that things haven’t been happening with my writing. I have quite a few stories coming out this month in external publication. I’ve just seen the proofs for the two Bards and Sages issues I have stories in, and I must say, they look really nice. One is the July issue of the quarterly, which will feature one of my Iric flash stories. The other will be released in their Great Tome of Magicians, Necromancers and Mystics, and is related to my stone-age fantasy story that was published on Bewildering Stories. Both of the B&S works will be out in print.

I’ve received a couple more acceptances with publishers I’ve worked with before. Two stories will be published by Fantasia Divinity, one in their monthly magazine and one in an upcoming anthology. I also had another story accepted by Antipodean SF.

Speaking of Anti-SF, my story Webs was published in their previous ezine issue and will come out on the radio show a the end of July. I will post a link once the episode is out.

I’ve got another story awaiting a final read with The Centropic Oracle and some other stories pending with a few different anthologies. Nothing is set, but I have pretty good feelings about making most of them.

While a lot of things have been happening on the short fiction side of the fence, the book side is still a struggle. I haven’t received a positive reply from a single agent yet. I’ve queried about 50 agents in total, 19 are pending. It’s looking more and more like my innovative novel structure is too much for agents to want to take on. I might have to consider an alternate publishing route with this one. Maybe submitting directly to smaller publishers might be the better course.

My work with Fiction Vortex has also stagnated a bit. The Of Metal and Magic StoryVerse–which I am a founding member of–just lost an author. We’ve had to push back our deadlines and release plans, and this has taken a lot of the wind from our sails. Things are still progressing, albeit slowly. I have the first two episodes of my series Call of the Guardian drafted and plan to write the next soon, once I can get past this slump and get back into writing. The cover for my project is almost done as well, and I will be sharing that once I have it.

One of the cool things about writing for FV is that the company takes care of most of the marketing and publishing work. They get the covers made, provide editing services, and provide an app and website to distribute your work. They also have a marketting team that operates on various social media platforms. It really is a great place to work. If you are a sword&sorcery writer, why not submit a sample and try to join Of Metal and Magic? If our StoryVerse head lets you in, you’ll be working with me directly! If you’re interested, contact me on Facebook and I can help facilitate the submission process.

Well, that’s about all for now. I hope everyone is seeing progress with your writing projects. Keep up the fight!

~J.M.

Are Most Writing Competitions Just Money Grabs?

Jun
14

Sorry I haven’t posted in a while. I am away from home on temporary duty and didn’t have a workable internet connection. I finally just changed my cellular plan to unlimited data and am now using my phone as a wifi hotspot. Here’s a post on a topic that has been bothering me as of late.

I’ve been at this writing thing for going on a year, and I have learned a few things about publishing. One of these insights is that most writing competitions don’t give writers a fair deal. They seem to just be fundraisers for the publisher or simply cheats.

I see posts on blogs and Facebook quite often promoting writing competitions. Most of these require an entry fee, and most do not offer prizes and returns that reflect these fees.

I’d like to offer a bit of advice. Avoid these sorts of shady contests. Especially new, and yet unpublished writers. Why should you pay for the chance at publication when there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of traditional magazines, ezines, anthologies and other publications that you can submit your work to for free? Same goes for magazines that charge reading fees to get work they’re going to sell and profit from anyways.

New writers need a chance to get kicked by an editor or two without risk of loss–well beside loss of ego, which is a good thing. New writers should start with non-paying publishers just to build their skills and confidence. Once you have that skill, there are more reading-fee-free publishers out there than you can imagine.

That’s not to say that all writing competitions are bogus or predatory. But you have to look closely at the details to know which ones are worthwhile. Let’s look at a couple examples.

The one that has irked me recently is Fiction War. They have been spamming their summer contest all over Facebook. Let’s check the details. Fiction War is running a contest for 15 pieces to be featured in a published issue of their magazine. It is essentially a call for stories that proper magazines run for free. But instead, Fiction War places a $30(US) entry price on submissions. AND they also charge a $2.64 fee that you don’t even see until you click to register! What the heck is the original $30, if not an entry fee?

Let’s do the math on this contest. They are pulling in roughly $33 on each entry. But what are they giving out? A total of $2400 in prizes. That means they only need 73 entries before they break even. After which, they sell the magazine for additional profit that the authors never see. Seems pretty shady to me, but let’s check out another contest to be sure.

I submitted a story to the Cincinnati Review and it seems I am now on their mailing list. I got an email from them about a summer writing competition called Robert and Adele Schiff Awards in Poetry and Prose. The entry fee for the contest is $20(US) and the prize money is two winners of $1000 each. If we do the math, that means they need 100 submissions to break even. There is definitely a better mathematical return for the authors with this one.

But the Cincinnati Review does something even better. They give every entrant a free year’s subscription, valued at $15. So in essence, you’re only losing $5 in real value when you enter this contest. There’s simply no comparison with the scam that is Fiction War.

The fundamental problem with these sorts of writing contests is that the more people that enter the contest, the worse the relative returns. It seems counterintuitive and illogical that the more popular a contest is, the worse it is for writers. But more entries mean more money for the publisher,  while the prizes remain the same. So more entries means winners get a lesser percentage of the total pot.

I think a proper writing contest should have relative prizes, like a gambling pool. Winners get a set percentage of the total, as do the publishers. That’s really the only fair way to run this sort of thing. It also takes away much of the publisher’s risk, too. Though I doubt any publishers will ever do it. The least they could do is offer the authors a share of the royalties on their published work.

But I say this knowing full well that there are better contests and publications out there. Perhaps the best contest for writers, at least for speculative fiction writers, is Writers of the Future which hands out $2250 in prizes during each quarterly contest. An yet the entries are completely free! You cannot beat that.

On a sad side note, my last entry for WotF was rejected…

The whole point here is that you should not, and do not, need to pay to submit and publish your work, or to make money off it.

That goes for magazines that charge reading fees. Most are probably cheating you. But not all are bad. I submitted to The Vestal Review which charges a $3 reading fee. But they give you a free copy of the issue you submitted for, even if your story is rejected! That’s the same value as the fee you paid, so you’re not losing value. It just means you need to look over the details careful before you hand over the cash.

So think twice before you pay to enter a writing contest. And please review the contest and check the math before recommending it to other authors. Don’t be the vampire’s patsy.

If you’ve got a story you are looking to publish, but don’t know where to send it, I can help. In the comments below, let me know the genre, theme and word count and I will try to recommend a publisher. Or if you like your privacy, message me on Facebook.

SHARE: 5 Things Being a Journalist Taught Me About Writing Fiction

Jun
10

People come into writing from different places, and every author’s unique experience reveals something about the writing process. Martinez offers several good tips here, but numbers three and four really stand out for me.

Good dialogue can help keep a story interesting. You can maintain momentum by delivering background and exposition in dialogue, rather than in data-dumps. But I don’t think readers will necessarily notice good dialogue. On the contrary, bad dialogue stands out. It draws the reader out of the illusion.

One thing you can do to improve your dialogue is just listen to how people speak around you. Some writing gurus will tell you to avoid “ahs” and “ums” in your dialogue, but I disagree. Filler words are a real component of natural speech, so why avoid them? Unless you intend your dialogue to sound artificial.

Martinez also mentions word choice and efficiency. This is a very important skill for fiction writers to develop. Efficient prose will make your story read much better. It will improve your flow. Part of the problem fantasy authors face now is that agents and publishers expect, even demand, overly high words counts for novels which results in long, dry exposition and filler.

Well, that’s my spiel. Head over to the original article and check out all the tips this journalist-turned-author has to offer.


Former journalist and current thriller writer Michael Martinez shares five things that journalism taught him about writing fiction—including paying attention to details, researching, and economy of words.

Source: 5 Things Being a Journalist Taught Me About Writing Fiction | WritersDigest.com

REBLOG: The #1 Rule Of Writing

Jun
10

Victor has some great thoughts here, presented in parable, which is always a useful technique. I fully agree with his point, though I don’t know if I have enough authority yet to demand others listen to my opinion. All I can say is that I agree that writers need to work up from the bottom, and it’s a rough struggle.

I don’t see myself as a Whitney or Flynn. I was top of my class in college, I know I am a decent writer. But I also know that I am entitled to nothing, that I need to prove myself the same as any other new writer. I’ve encountered people like Victor’s John, people just out of college that think having a degree means then are suddenly a professional entitled to professional work and pay.

My encounter was with a graphic designer. She had just graduated from art school. She never made a book cover in her life. Her online resume was only a dozen pictures, all or most being her school assignments. And yet expected me to pay her professional rates for a product whose quality I couldn’t begin to judge.

In my case, I started out targeting the bottom. I sent my work out to publishers offering little or no compensation, just to prove myself, get feedback, and make a name for myself. I’ve recently hit my twentieth acceptance. I feel like that is a pretty significant milestone. I have been at it for about 8 months, and have yet to get accepted with a professional-level publication. But I know my writing is getting better, and my reputation and fan-base is growing, slow but steady.

I already have a book deal, though is only a novella and with a indie publisher. I also have a job with a serial fiction company. I am making inroads into the fiction business. Sooner or later I will get that first professional credit, which I like to think will come sooner rather than later. I have a few good pieces in the submission cycle that I think can make it. I’ve had a lot of help revising and editing those pieces, which is critical. I also have my finished book, which will find a home eventually. I am not rushing it. I know traditional publication takes time and I am investing that time to ensure maximum success.

I believe that is what makes a successful author. Though, I’m not yet a proper authority on the subject. I’ll get back to you on this once I’m a genuine pro.