In the Balance

March 30, 2011 in General Topics

I think if you’re going to even attempt writing fiction, one of the most important skills you will need to acquire is time management. Woe to you that can’t – or won’t – organize.
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Submit Now…

April 26, 2009 in General Topics

One of the biggest pains in my writing life is submitting fiction. For those of you that might be new to writing, I highly recommend the use of a spreadsheet to track your submissions. A simple excel sheet makes like much easier in this regard.

In my case, the sheet has all the necessary fields I’ve come to rely on when submitting work:

  • Story Name
  • Count — word count
  • Incept Date — the date I first considered the tale “finished” and ready for submission
  • Current Status (Rights Sold) — with a drop-down menu for draft (1st through 3rd, not counting requested rewrites), Pending Acceptance / Awating Rewrite, and my personal favorite — Accepted! Note the exclamation point, friendly editors…
  • Submitted To:
  • Date Submitted:
  • Check Back: — an important field. Basically, I take “date submitted”, add the magazine’s estimated response time, and add or subtract any “modifiers” in time, such as the extra month I typically give a mag on top of what they request. Some magazines don’t like modifiers — I think it was Strange Horizons that simply says “We really mean, this isn’t an estimate” when it comes to their reply times. Other magazines — like Clarkesworld — get an estimate, but they rock so hard I never have to worry about following up before they send on their decision.
  • # Rejected: — I find on average my tales get rejected about six to ten times before someone takes it. It’s been as low as two hops in one case, but as high as sixteen in another.
  • Rejected By: — Here I list magazines that have seen the piece, whether they’ve bought it or otherwise, so I’ll know not to pester them with it again.

That’s really all there is to it. I’ve other useful worksheets in the spreadsheet, such as “Retired Stories” and “Sales Records” (which helps me track rights sold), but this is all basic, simple, and a must if you’re tracking say, fifteen active tales like I am at the moment.

Of course, as an editor you could always make my workload easier. I’ve many decent pieces of fiction. Won’t you consider buying some?


Stay tuned.

Humble thoughts on Outlining

November 16, 2007 in General Topics

The very first tale I wrote was The Cult of the Wire, a novel I completed simply because I wanted to give writing a shot. My self-imposed mandate was five pages of text a day. The kicker was the formatting–10 pt. font, single-spaced. I think that worked out to around 1.5k words per day. On the last day of writing that novel, I plopped down thirty-three pages in this format, in what was –and still is– the largest single expenditure of writing labor I’ve ever done in a single day.

For those of you keeping score at home, that’s about 10k words in a single sitting. What is that, like a novella in one stretch?

Needless to say, when I started writing short stories, the text length didn’t intimidate me. I didn’t expect much to change between my approach to novels and my approach to shorts. Was I wrong!

Over the next few weeks, I’ll gradually cover the things I’ve learned, thus far, writing short stories. This is just one virtually unknown author’s opinion, but I think I’m entitled to it.

Today, we’ll talk the fine art of outlining. The two novels had almost no outlining done before I’d written them (for the record, #2 is sitting unfinished to this day at around 60k). That changed with short stories. I learned very quickly that compressing a tale down to a format that maintains both pacing and character development will be a stronger story, with a better chance of selling.

Looking back, most of my early rejections slotted into two categories: either editors said my pacing and tension level was fine, but the characters didn’t seem that deep or well-developed –or they said the characters were well-realized, but the pacing suffered.

This all results from inadequate or no pre-outlining. It lead to pacing issues, as I spent pages muddling over things that seemed significant to the story, but were ultimately just filler pieces that didn’t need to be there. Looking back, since I had derived most of my stories from flashes of ideas, or wrote them around individual scenes in my head, it was very difficult to break away from the majority of the tale being wrapped around that initial impulsively-placed element.

I should clarify regarding characters. When I say “pre-plotting”, I’m also referring to mapping out a list of key players before ever starting (this happens right after I write the “theme” or “plot-in-a-sentence” summary of the tale). First, I outline basic character details and motives, then I carefully list what they’ll contribute to the story. My list of essential characters shrinks almost every time. The ones left will have access to more precious “telling” time. This also means I won’t be harming my pacing by trying to fill-out the presence of characters that are ultimately needless in my tale.

This is one of those things, like prologues, you’ll hear people in the biz debate at length. I know many authors claim they don’t outline in advance, or need too. I’m sure they’re right. I’m also sure that, for every one that says they don’t and has built a successful career, way more never see major publication than their peers that are outlining properly.

That said, I don’t strangulate my tale when new details or plot twists better than my original plot appear as I’m churning out the first manuscript. Rather, I have a framing for it so the new element can best be encapsulated in the story, without harming its quality.

When I outline properly, including character mapping, I find the tale usually works out with the right mix of character development and fast pacing. It might not work for you, but I can tell you, it’s really helped me.