J.M. Williams

A home for all things fantasy and sci-fi.

Where to Submit? — Magical Crime Scene Investigation

Dec
08

I have written many times here how I don’t usually write specifically for prompts. But if I did, and if I had more time to write these sorts of stories, this weird anthology would be just the sort of thing I would write for.

It’s called “MCSI: Magical Crime Scene Investigation” and here’s the description:

Sometimes the tools that mundane detectives use to solve the crimes of the world just aren’t enough – sometimes you have to call on a little magic. We’re looking for urban fantasy stories that involve a crime scene and require the investigator to use magic or engage the aid of a magical being to solve the crime. Did the house’s hob see what really happened in the domestic violence incident? Does a detective come into possession of a genie’s lamp that will grant him one wish, and he uses it to solve the case that got away? Does your gumshoe use a tracking spell to find the perpetrator using a few strands of hair she found at the scene? The people in your world can use magic openly or on the sly, it’s all up to you. But your story must be urban fantasy, and involve a crime scene and magic in some way.

Now detective stories are right up my alley, but unfortunately there’s no magic in my Storm Hamilton universe. If I had the time, I could see myself writing something new for this. Maybe a hard-boiled private dick who is aided by a shady demon? Dibs! I totally called dibs on that concept you guys, too bad. You snooze, you lose.

The pay isn’t pro rate but not horrible either, at $25 per story and a contributor’s copy. They accept reprints, but only pay $10 for those. If you’re looking for a strange story prompt to write for, you could do much worse than this.

Submissions close at the end of January. And like all pubs I promote here, there are no submission fees. So, just go for it!

~J.M.

My Story Submission Process

Dec
04

It feels like I haven’t written about my current writing process in quite some time, but a recent comment from the wonderful Joy Pixley has me thinking about it again. She is not the first to comment to me that I seem to have had a lot of success in publishing.

I posted long ago about my story submission tracker. This is my method of keeping notes on all my submissions, which is necessary since my basic strategy is to write and submit a lot. The tracker is based on spreadsheets I use all the time in the Army.

Here’s part of the tracker as it looks now:

1

The tracker is now much too large to try to share in full. It has more than 60 rows and 28 columns. I have extended the submission attempts for a single piece out to 13, though in practice, the most times I have submitted a single story is still only 11. I have two stories currently on their 11th attempt, stories I like to think are particularly good.

If I were to sum up my submission strategy in once picture, it would be this:

2

My current acceptance ratio is around 1 in 5. Is that good or bad? I cannot say. I’ve also submitted almost 60 stories in total. At least 30 of these were first sent out by the middle of February. I am slowing down now as larger projects (and real work) take more of my time.

I think success is highly subjective. I’ve have 33 stories accepted for publication (also a novella and a fantasy series). Is that success?

I have not yet been published in a pro-rated magazine (SFWA defines pro rate as 6c/word). For a 5000-word story, a pro-rated sale would be over $300US. Currently my best sale is only around $50, though I did win $300 in a contest. Of course, I want a pro-rated sale. That would make all this work feel like it accomplished what was intended. Does that mean I am not yet a success?

To be brutally honest, I am not sure. I feel good about my writing and publishing so far, but I know I have a long way to go.

If I could offer any advice, it would be to not give up. Don’t send your story to a single publisher and give up if it is rejected. After a rejection, you have to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and try again. At first, I was always feeling on tenterhooks, waiting for a response, only to be devastated when the form letter came. I’ve come now to expect rejection. This makes it easy when rejection does come, and a delightful surprise with each acceptance.

Also, don’t read too much into a publisher before submitting. A lot of places will suggest to read a copy of the mag before sending, but this is often A) a ploy to get sales and B) an arbitrary restriction on the content of submissions. Editors often don’t know what they like until they see it. If the publication is in the same genre as your work, and doesn’t have a blanked rejection on some aspect of it (for example, some speculative fiction publishers won’t take certain subgenres and others have specific content such as sex or gore that they won’t accept), send it in.

Think about it. What’s the worst, and best, thing that could happen? Worst, you get a form rejection. Let me tell you, you’re going to get a whole lot of those no matter what you do. But the best thing would be getting a sale! It seems entirely worth the risk, doesn’t it?

The review process is completely subjective. A certain editor might just not like your style or voice, no matter the content. And many places have only one or two people doing initial reads, that first step that gets your work from the slush pile into the hands of someone who will actually give it the time and attention it deserves.

I learned over the past year that the editors of Daily Science Fiction don’t like my style. Each one of the stories I have sent to them–which varied significantly in style and content and even structure–got form rejections, despite being clearly better written, at least technically, than much of what they do end up publishing. On the flip side, the editor of Bards and Sages seems to enjoy my style, as she has accepted three of my pieces so far, currently my best sales.

While I am now more inclined to send my stuff to Bards and Sages, since I know the editor likes my work and have enjoyed working with her, I still continue to try new places. Most of my submissions in the past month were to new publishers.

That’s really it. Submit often and submit a lot. Not much of a strategy.

Of course, you must read each publisher’s submission guidelines carefully, often necessitating substantial formatting changes to your manuscripts. And you want to be sure you are submitting to places that publish your genre. But other than that, just write a whole lot and don’t let rejections discourage you.

What comes along with submitting often is a deeper understanding of the publishing process. My experience with other publishers, and in reading many publishing contracts, allowed me to quickly identify a sketchy publisher who offered me a contract for my book In the Valley of Magic. I was quickly able to not only identify behaviors the editors and other members were demonstrating that were not right, but also quickly see a dozen significant problems with the contract. That deal was dead before it even started.

All of the writing has also helped me develop my skills and personal style. The stories I write now are clearly better than the ones I wrote even 6 months ago. After 4 or 5 submissions to the Writer’s of the Future Contest, I finally earned an Honorable Mention. My writing is getting better with each story, so maybe that pro-rate sale will come eventually.

That’s about it. No magic. No special rituals. I don’t have the chance to do any networking, as I live in Asia and do not have access to conferences and conventions. I just spam my work to anywhere I think it might fit. Maybe it was inevitable to find some being accepted.

Thanks for reading. If you have any specific questions, drop them in the comments.

Good luck with your writing!

~J.M.

 

Are You a Good Writer? — A Litmus Test

Nov
23

Joel Gordonson, author of The Atwelle Confession, offers an interesting discussion on how to tell if you have the potential to be a good fiction writer. He distills his litmus test down to three items. I only fully agree with one of the steps. Of the other two, one I half-agree with and one I don’t. Let me explain.

His first test is being able to tell a joke to at least four people successfully, meaning getting a laugh. I agree that this is a good test. Storytelling in fiction and prose is not so different from a story-based joke. They both require a good use of language, creativity and timing. If you can keep people following along with your joke, with interest, and hit them with a punchline, then you probably have a good chance of hitting them with a fictional twist or a horrific surprise (if that’s your sort of thing). I also think that humor is important for all writers, whether you actually write humor or not. Prose that is dreadful and serious all the time can wear your reader down fast.

His second test is writing a good piece of flash fiction, though he doesn’t define what “good” means. Does it mean a published piece? Getting a dozen likes? But I disagree with this test for a different reason. Flash fiction is hard. Writing good flash fiction is harder than writing regular short stories. You have to do more with less. You have to be efficient. Each word choice carries much more weight. This is not a good acid test for writing because if you can write a good piece of flash fiction, you are already well past amateur level.

The last test, writing the first and last chapters of a novel, just doesn’t make sense to me as a writing test because there is no way to measure success. Anyone can write the first and last chapter of a novel. There are plenty of people out there that have written whole novels, but are not good writers. Without a feedback mechanism, just writing something is meaningless (for the sake of gauging skill, I mean). And I don’t think there is a way to fix this test, since no one is going to get a publishing deal on a first and last chapter alone.

I would combine tests two and three into a single task: publish a short story. There are so many places you can publish stories now, that it really isn’t too hard. You might not get paid for your work, but you can be published. The important thing for this test is that someone read your work and thought it was good enough to put their stamp of approval on it.

Now, that leaves us with only two steps to our revised test, so what could be our third? I think there are many skills that a writer needs–being able to accept criticism, having a strong work ethic, being creative and inspired–that do not necessarily equate to being able to write well. I think a third thing that is indicative of being a good writer is being able to identify flaws in other people’s writing. Genuine flaws, not just prose you dislike. Grammar mistakes, problems with tense or voice, or even better, knowing when the whole piece should be in a different tense or voice. The measure of success for this test would be having that other writer accept your advice. If you are successful at peer review, it means you understand how language works in fiction. And, I think, peer review is critical for writer’s of any kind.

Well, those are just my thoughts. You can find the original article HERE.

To all my friends out there in the States, Happy Thanksgiving! To the rest, winter is coming, better stock up on hot beverages!

~J.M.

The Were-Traveler Open Call: Tribute to Douglas Adams

Nov
19

cropped-were-traveler5.png

Do you write humor stories on your blog? Do they sometimes have a speculative twist, even outright sci-fi roots?

I’m looking at you Shawn Cowling, E.A. Wicklund, and Biff!

The Were-Traveler has, among their Calls for Submissions, an issue they are calling “Mostly Harmful, Sort Of, Something Something 42 : A Science Fiction/Fantasy Humor Tribute to Douglas Adams.” Who doesn’t love Douglas Adams?

While this publisher doesn’t pay, they do accept reprints. You can send them a story from your blog, which is what I did. What you get is the added exposure of their site and social media. And, of course, you get to sit in the issue alongside moi!

Yeah, it’s not the fanciest or most well-known publishing site. But you probably weren’t sending that story anywhere anyway, right? The deadline for the Douglas Adams tribute is January 15th.

You can find Were-Traveler’s submission guidelines HERE.

SHARE: The Key to an Engaging Story is Conflict

Oct
07

Even a novice writer knows the truth of this: fiction is driven by conflict. It simply wouldn’t be interesting to read about someone going about their day and having everything go their way. The uneventful is boring. We crave big events, flashy and even crazy events. We don’t go to concerts to watch some dude stand around doing nothing. There’s gotta be sound, and lights, and maybe a little rough-housing!

Conflict is critical to any work of fiction and it becomes more critical the shorter the piece is. This is largely due to the connection of conflict and action. Conflict forces a character to make a choice, and ultimately to take action. And the shorter your work of fiction, the more action-centered it needs to be, in order to provide a pleasing experience for the reader. Flash fiction is not a good place for complex world-building or convoluted plots.

I stumbled on the following article in my Facebook feed and found it to be a very well-articulated summary of one half of the conflict topic, namely external (or physical) conflict. These days, Lit is usually concerned with internal (or emotional) conflict, but speculative fiction–especially Fantasy, and soft sci-fi–tends to favor external conflict. We fantasy fans love our villains. It’s no surprise then, that most of the examples given in the article are SF/F works.

I have to say, I really like the look of this site. It feels more like a fiction ezine than a writing blog. Near the end of the article, the author provides a good seven-point checklist for working out your story’s conflict. But I will let you read that at the source.

Head on over and read the full article, linked below.

~J.M.


What is external conflict?

by Kristen Kieffer

As humans, our curiosity piques when two forces oppose one another. “What is happening?” we ask. Why are these two forces at odds? How will the conflict play out? Who will win? What would I do if I were in that situation?

These are the questions readers ask, more or less subconsciously, as they read. Which means they’re also exactly the kinds of questions writers should ask themselves when crafting plots for their stories.

In stories, as in life, there are two types of conflict: internal and external. Internal conflicts are the mental, emotional, or spiritual struggles a person faces—Character vs. Self—which we’ll talk about in a new blog post soon! Today, however, we’re going to focus on the second type of struggle: external conflict. Shall we dive right into the breakdown? … READ MORE

Write Like Hell!

Sep
11

Ray Bradbury seems to come up a lot in writing advice columns. That’s probably because he’s had a lot to say about writing and it has often proved useful to people like me.

One of the things that he seemed to say a lot was that sucess at writing takes a lot time, and practice. I find this incredibly reassuring, seeing as I am still struggling to “break-in” to professional writing. I wonder if I am rushing my expectations, or even if I know what breaking-in really means.

One of the many things Bradbury supposedly said was:

“If you can write one short story a week, it doesn’t matter what the quality is to start – at least you’re practicing. At the end of the year you have 52 short stories. And I defy you to write 52 bad ones. It can’t be done. After 30 or 40 weeks, all of a sudden a story will come that is wonderful – just wonderful. That’s what happened to me…”

It’s great to know that I have been working much in the manner he suggested, even without having heard this bit of advice in advance. My story publication tracker has about 55 stories on it from the last year, just about on target with Bradbury’s suggested goal. 28 of these have already been accepted for publication, so I’m not doing too bad.

If you’d like to read the full article the above quote appears in, here’s the link:

Ray Bradbury’s Words of Wisdom – Write Like Hell!

I wholeheartedly suggest you do as Bradbury says and write like hell! There’s worse things you could do with your time.

~J.M.

 

To Self-Publish or Not?

Aug
12

I have spoken (or rather written) much on my views of self-publishing. I have always felt it was very difficult to break-in to the industry through self-publishing, despite the merits of your manuscript. Thus, I have continuously pushed to get my work published traditionally, despite the difficulties and lengthy time-frame I’ve had to endure.

An article in the Guardian cites statistics that only support my thoughts on the subject. Bear in mind that this article came out several years ago, but I imagine that things have only gotten worse as more amateur authors add their books to the already overstuffed lists of self-published books.

According to the ARTICLE, half of all self-published writers earn less than $500 a year. This includes traditionally published authors that dabble in self-publishing and other writers who have a district advantage over your typical self-published author. Science Fiction and Fantasy authors (like me!) earn markedly less than romance, and only a fraction of the average earnings of $10,000. That, too, is an income that is not livable. Worse, that average is skewed significantly by the extremely rare blockbuster million dollar earners.

My major take away from the article was the following passage:

Even traditionally published authors are now dabbling in self-publishing, and the survey found this was to good effect: they earned 2.5 times more when self-publishing than did rejected authors or authors who went straight to self-publishing. This suggests, said Cornford and Lewis, that “traditional publishers are decent arbiters of quality” and that “the reading public finds, in these authors’ work, the same high standard (or marketable writing, at least) that led publishers to choose them in the first place”.

This is the major reason I will keep pushing for traditional publishing, because readers will be more willing to risk a read of an author with a traditional reputation over one without. But traditional publishing can take many forms. It is more than just getting your novel in print. Another angle I pursue is short stories. I still haven’t had a story placed in a pro-rate mag, but once I do, that will be a boon to any self-publishing plans I might make. I would urge anyone who writes short stories or flash fiction on their blog to try to get something published in a literary journal, magazine, or ezine.

Another important point about self-publishing is that success requires significant investment on the part of the author. This comes typically in three forms: editing, covers, and marketing. Speaking for myself, I won’t even bother with a book if the cover looks amateurish. There are simply too many options to risk my time (or money, depending on the case). Good covers are critical to getting views and sales, and good covers will cost you several hundred dollars.

Here’s what the ARTICLE has to say about it:

Authors…would be well advised to spend time and money on making a title look professional, the survey found: self-publishers who received help (paid or unpaid) with story editing, copy editing and proofreading made 13% more than the average; help with cover design upped earnings by a further 34%.

That’s almost a 50% increase in earnings by having your book tooled by professionals.

My plan still is to do my best to get a traditional publishing deal for my book. Should that ultimately fail, I will shift to self-publishing. But my work has already been worked over by an editor several times, and I fully intend to invest in a good cover and marketing.

Hopefully that will result in success.

Anyways, you can find the article at the following link: <a href=”https://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/may/24/self-published-author-earnings” target=”blank”>Stop the press: half of self-published authors earn less than $500</a>

As always, good luck with your writing. I hope this doesn’t discourage anyone, but rather motivates you to value your writing more and invest in it. Your work deserves it!

~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’!

Not Every Character Needs an Origin Story

Jul
07

I just finished watching “Bangarang: The Hook Prequel”, which is supposed to be the origin story for the beloved character Rufio from the film Hook. In the original film, Rufio had become the leader of the Lost Boys in Peter Pan’s absence, and it was to Rufio that Peter was forced to prove himself in order to regain his status as leader and gain the support of the Lost Boys in his fight against Captain Hook.

Rufio was a popular character, so it was perhaps inevitable that someone would want to make his origin story. The short film by Jonah Feingold was not a bad little movie. Sure the acting and writing could have been improved, but the short film captures the same sense of childish adventure of its source material. Even so, the whole time I was watching, the only thought in my mind was “Why does this exist?”

Origin stories are quite popular in Hollywood these days. Filmmakers often justify unneeded prequels and reboots by suggesting they are important origin stories. The popular TV series Sherlock started as an origin story. Star Wars: Rogue One is an origin story of sorts for the Death Star and the Rebellion.

In fact, we might be able to trace back this obsession with origin stories to Star Wars, and the critically panned “prequels.” One of the arguments then was that Darth Vader did not need an origin story, that his arc was completed in the first three films and that the mystery of his past only added to the character’s appeal. This is, indeed, the same argument being made today. Star Wars also recently gave us a Tarkin origin book, and will soon be giving us a Han Solo origin film. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Princess Leia film shortly after.

The problem with origin stories is that they are usually unnecessary, and as such end up being more filler than premium content. X-Men Origins: Wolverine certainly felt less complete and compelling than the first two X-men films. It was nowhere near as compelling as Logan, which might as well be called a “conclusion story.”

The Rufio origin film suffers from this and many other issues. Despite his popularity, we do not need to know the origin of Rufio. His character’s arc is complete in the original film. Moreover, the short film actually hurts his character by softening him too much and making him too childish.

 The film also contradicts its source material in serious ways. The plot of Bangarang is Rufus (Rufio’s original name for some needless reason) trying to fly in order to get rid of a bully. And he does fly. But why then, does Rufio not fly in Hook? In fact, the main plot of Hook is Peter learning how to fly again, since he is the only one in Neverland who can. Nevermind that the Lost Boys are supposed to be just that, lost. Their appeal is that we don’t know where they come from, they don’t even know. They are an integral part of Neverland. Rufio’s life in the real world ruins that.

Generally speaking, the characters who need origin stories or back stories, should have it included in their original material. It doesn’t need to be played out–like in the Spiderman films–it can simply be mentioned or even just alluded to. Side characters who fulfill their plot purposes in the main work, regardless of their popularity, do not need origin stories. Such films and books are just money grabs that risk permanently damaging the character’s reputation and prestige. Who can now feel intimidated by Darth Vader after witnessing the horrible “Noooooo” scene?

That’s not to say popular side characters are off limits. Authors would do well to gauge the feedback of their readers and give them more of what they like. But instead of origin stories, this can take the form of sequel material, or spin-offs that feature the character in a similar period to the original work. I would love to see a film showing how Rufio was leading the Lost Boys prior to Pan’s return. Done well, this would not have any detrimental effect on the original film.

I say all this knowing full well that it’s a rule I have broken. The character Iric, who appears in a flash series on this blog, is a side character in my yet-to-be-published book In the Valley of Magic. Even so, the decision to write origin material for this character was completely based on the whims of the author, not a money-making or fan-appeasing ploy. It was also one of the only angles I felt I had to reenter the world of In the Valley of Magic due to the specific plot and narrative circumstances of that book. And anyway, the character only played a very minor role in the original book.

Maybe it’s just me, but I always feel more interested in new characters done well than in old characters done poorly or even half-well.

~J.M.