New for May: Contests!

Thank you all to everyone for reading my blog these past two months.  I’ve done some thinking and in lieu of your usual Publisher’s Spotlight, I wanted to use our time together to announce some changes coming to the site next month: contests!

For the month of May, Publisher’s Spotlight is going to focus exclusively on FREE short fiction contests with various prizes.

I will be introducing a #MicroFictionMonday contest! 

Every Monday for the Month of May (because I love alliteration) I will be posting a new prompt for the week.  The contest runs Monday, 9:00am (EST) through 5:00pm Friday (EST).  The winning entry will be posted Tuesday of the following week.

Note: the final contest will run Monday, May 23 – Friday, May 27th so we can get the last winner in before June.  There will not be a prompt posted on Monday, May 30th.

Details:

Prompt:  This will vary from week to week.  Tune in every Monday at 9am (EST) for the new prompt.  Submissions accepted through 5pm the following Friday.

Word limit: 300.  This is Micro Fiction after all.  You’re subject to the same rules I set for myself.  (For reference, most of my posted stories are in the 100 – 150 range.)

Prize: Winners will receive publication on this blog and a biographical spotlight that links back to the site(s) of their choosing.  This contest is non-paying.

How to Enter:

Please put MFM-Submission-[This week’s PROMPT]-[Your TITLE] in your subject line.  For example: MFM-Submission-Flowers-A Rose in Winter

Attach your entry as a .pdf file, .doc, or .docx  DO NOT include your name anywhere on your submission or file name as all entries will be read blind.  DO NOT send more than one entry per week.  No explicit or graphic content please.

Please do include a brief cover letter with a short bio written as you would like it to appear on the site.  Do include links to your blog, twitter, or however else you would like to promote yourself.

Send your submissions to: LizSchriftsteller (at) gmail (dot) com.

Feel free to post any questions in the comments below and stay tuned for the first prompt posted next Monday!

 

Twist Endings Part One: What to Avoid and Why

Let’s talk about endings.  I am terrible at them.  It’s probably the weakest part of my writing – I can start the ball rolling but I never know where my premise is going.  But I do know one thing: Twist Endings are hard to pull off.

Some publishers recommend you not even attempt them, but that’s terrible advice.  What they’re really saying is “I can’t explain why some twists work better than others.”  So today we’re going to talk about two twists that you should avoid and why.

  1. It was all a dream – At the climax when all seems lost, your protagonist wakes up and everything’s totally fine.  (examples: Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, Dallas.)
  2. Deus Ex Machina – a phrase taken from the early Greek theater, the play stops when the gods were depicted as coming down from heaven to fix all the problems.  In a modern context it’s when someone or something previously unmentioned in the narrative comes in to “save” everyone.  (Examples: Lord of the Flies, the eagles in Lord of the Rings, Shaun of the Dead.)

Ok, Liz, so why shouldn’t I write these endings?  Aside from being so cliche that one I can name 10 examples of off the top of my head and the other one is nearly 3,000 years old?

I’m glad you asked, imaginary narrative conceit!  To explain why, let’s talk about what makes a good ending.

Creative Writing Now has a great article on endings that I will let you read at your own leisure, but let me point you at two of their basic criteria for a good ending:

1) Effective endings show (or suggest) the result of the story’s conflict: The conflict of a story is a problem that the main character has to solve…The story conflict gives readers a reason to turn pages. At the end of the story, readers expect a payoff. Your story has raised a question, and readers want to know the answer.

So why not these endings?

“Stories should reach a logical conclusion that satisfies the reader and resolves any conflicts. This method does neither.” – William Meikle

2) Effective story endings come from the main character’s actions: Story endings are generally much more satisfying when the main character makes them happen. The character confronts a conflict with her strengths and weaknesses.

So why not these endings?

Instead of resolving the main story conflict, it avoids the conflict altogether. It gives the character an escape route that gets her out of a difficult choice. Her decisions and actions don’t matter at all.

So are there any examples of writers using these endings well?  Of course there are, just very, very few.

In Alice in Wonderland the dream works because the narrative is so all-over-the-place and wild that a dream is the logical conclusion for it.  Throughout the story Alice wanders through unresolved conflict after unresolved conflict – that’s the point.  It’s unique in that it truly is dream-like.  A dream conclusion doesn’t work in most cases because often times there’s no indication of it being a dream.

In Shaun of the Dead the Deus Ex Machina  works because it’s a comedy that is poking fun at the trope of “and then the military saved us all!”  A+ for hanging a lampshade on this cop-out of zombie stories.  The other reason it works is that Shaun is rescued by a side character who he keeps encountering throughout the movie on a parallel path.  That she is the one leading the rescue is logical and natural: she has been repeatedly shown in the background as a competent leader.  The signs are all there.

So on that note, let’s leave here for now and next week we’ll talk more about weaving signs into your work and writing a twist that satisfies.

In the meantime if you’ve got an example of a story that pulled one of these off or just need to rant about a story that was completely unsatisfying leave it in the comments!  I feel your pain.

Smoke and Mirrors

The ropes around Frieda’s wrists cut into her skin with a coarse friction that left them raw and bleeding.

“Not so tight,” she murmured.

“Got to make it convincing.”  Her partner winked at her.

She wanted to frown, but the thousands of eyes upon her demanded that she smile.  She let him slip her bonds onto the meat hook that would hoist her high above the water tank.

As she rose into the air she felt the fibers of the rope weaken against the metal.  The tension was all wrong. Her hands were bound too tight, the rope too weak.

“David!”

He ignored her.  She wrapped her fingers around the hook itself and felt where the ropes had been scored with a knife.

Frieda glimpsed metal in David’s back pocket.  He wouldn’t.  Not here.  Not now.

The perfect cover for the perfect murder.

“How long can you hold your breath, Frieda?”

Publisher’s Spotlight: Beneath Ceaseless Skies

As you’ve probably guessed, I’m a big fan of flash fiction and stories that skew on the shorter side.  But I’m also a fan of Game of Thrones and other sweeping epics, so in honor of the season premier this Sunday, I thought it might be fun to highlight a publication that specializes in big, immersive second-world stories.  Introducing: Beneath Ceaseless Skies!

  • In their own words:Beneath Ceaseless Skies publishes ‘literary adventure fantasy’: stories with a secondary-world setting and some traditional or classic fantasy feel, but written with a literary approach.”
  • Genres they accept: Fantasy, but in a broad scope: “In addition to classic settings of pre-tech fantasy, we also enjoy stories set in other types of secondary world that likewise don’t have modern technology, including steampunk, smoke & sorcery, Weird West, etc. Feel free to send us anything that you think might fit.”  They are not interested in: Fairy Tale/Myth, Urban/Contemporary Fantasy or Sci Fi (advanced, future technology.)  Send humor at your own risk.
  • Word count limit: 10,000 words  (Plenty of room to world build here!)
  • Payment: $0.06 per word.  “We are and always have been a SFWA-qualifying professional market, so any sale to us can be used to qualify the author for membership in SFWA.”
  • Simultaneous Submissions*: Yes, but let them know ahead of time and pull it if accepted elsewhere.  (This is standard for most sim-sub accepting publishers, but it bears repeating because they will change their minds if this policy is abused.)
  • Multiple Submissions**: No
  • Schedule: Open.  They post slush updates so you have an idea of how long it takes for them to review and return your manuscript.

So, got a fantastic tale brewing that’s just dying to break out of the 1,000 word flash limits?  Immerse yourself in your world and send it to Beneath Ceaseless Skies!

*This means whether they will allow you to submit this story to another publisher at the same time or not.

**This means whether you can send them more than one story at at time.

Reminders when submitting:

Read the publication:  Flash is short and their stories are freely accessible on the site.  You have no excuse not to do your research and see what kind of style gets their attention.  It will also give you an idea of what’s been done before so you don’t end up sending them something too similar to a recently published story.

Read the guidelines: I don’t post everything required for their submissions, just the basics.  Furthermore, this is a static post.  Publishers change their submission requirements at will so it’s always a good idea to read and re-read them, even if you’ve submitted to them before.

Follow the rules: Do I really need to say this?  Don’t send pieces over the word count.  Don’t send content they specifically warn against.  Don’t send weirdly formatted manuscripts if they give you specific instructions.  “But Liz, I–” Nope!  No, no, no.  If you do not follow the rules you risk being a pariah to that magazine – and worse, editors can exchange notes on who’s being a pain.

Happy submitting!

The Submission Checklist

So, your piece is perfect.  It’s been checked and rechecked by you and maybe a beta or two.  Time to send it out the door.  How do you get that thing published?  Well, let’s talk about what you need to consider before you send it out:

1.) Research Your Market: Where to submit?  How do you find a good home?  Well, you could Google markets.  You could search on The Submission Grinder (for free, or Duotrope, not free) since they are up-to-date and invented for this purpose.  Or even check your favorite blog for their Publisher’s Spotlight to point out places.  Ahem.  Ask around.  If you find a good list of publishers on a blog, go to the sites themselves – a lot of times listicles are old and the publisher may have closed.  It happens.

Things to note when researching:

  • What have they published?  Not what they say they want, what is actually available on their website to read?  Read it.  Think critically about whether you could see your writing among their published pieces.
  • Do they pay?  How much?  What rights do they buy?
  • What’s their turn around time?  What’s their deadline to submit?  (Do you expect to hear from them in 3 days or 3 months?)
  • What don’t they want to read? (Vampires, zombies, explicit content, etc.)  Don’t send your kids’ story to a publisher of erotic Cthulhu shorts and vice versa.  (And if you do please post that rejection letter in the comments, I could use a laugh.)
  • Do they allow simultaneous submissions?  How about multiple submissions?  Take that into account and don’t think you can get away with a sim sub if they tell you ‘no.’  Don’t be that guy.

2.) Read the Guidelines: Technically this is part of step one, but it’s so important that it bears repeating.  The number one reason publishers reject work (and their biggest pet peeve) are people who submit their story anywhere without bothering to look at what the market wants.  If there’s more on their list of requirements than what I noted above, follow them!  Again, don’t be that guy.

3.) Format your manuscript to their specificity: This is usually somewhere in their guidelines.  Don’t ignore their instructions, that’s an easy way to get on the editor’s shit list.  If they say submit anonymously, do it.  I advocate for the William Shunn manuscript style if they don’t have any particular formatting preferences.  Why?  It’s clean, legible, professional, and most places prefer it in this style so you won’t have to reformat your manuscript every time you submit to a new market.  And let’s be honest – a one-and-done submission is extremely rare.  Most likely you’re going to have to shop your story out to more than one home and anything that cuts down on your time is for the best.

4.) Write a cover letter: Unless they tell you “Don’t send one” feel free to write a little note introducing yourself.  It should be short, sweet and to the point.  My basic letter looks like this:

Dear Editors,

Please consider my short story, “Title Goes Here” for Your Publication Title.  It is approximately 1,000 words in length.

My work has been published in Daily Science Fiction and I prefer to publish under the name Liz Schriftsteller.  Thank you very much for your time and kind consideration.

Sincerely,

My Legal Name they should cut the check to if accepted

There are other things you can include if they ask, like some biographical information.  If your day job involves specialized knowledge of your piece (for instance, if you’re a cop and writing a police procedural piece) most publications are interested in that.  They don’t really care how many cats you have or if you’ve never been published before.  Don’t worry about including that sort of info.

4.) Submit! Seems obvious, right?  But don’t psyche yourself out.  Trust your writing, trust your ability to follow directions and hit send.  You’ll never get published if you don’t take that first step and submit.  AND we’re not quite done…

5.) Record your submission: Start a spreadsheet, log it in Duotrope or The Submission Grinder, whatever you have to do to remind yourself that it’s out there.  Why?  Well, you don’t want to accidentally send it out if you’ve got it in a market that doesn’t allow simultaneous submissions.  (We’ll talk more about the pluses and minuses of sim subs at a later date, put a pin in that.)  You also want to know when is a good time to query if you haven’t heard back.  And why track on those sites?  Well, you’re contributing to an open-source resource that will help other authors get a good gauge on the publication’s timeline and rate of acceptance.  Be kind, share your data.

6.) Query: If you haven’t heard back past the expected time, don’t freak out.  More often than not, it means they love your story and are still thinking about it.  Or they might be really behind.  When you did your research you should’ve made a note as to how long their turn around time is (most publishers list this.)  If it’s past that date (expected rate of return: two weeks, it’s been a month) feel free to send a note asking how it’s coming along.  Always check your spam filter to make sure you didn’t miss a note from them first.  Check it afterwards to make sure their response didn’t get lost.  This will help both you and the publisher keep track of your piece.

And, that’s about it!  I could go into more detail about each of these bullet points, but this is more of a reminder about how-to rather than an in-depth look.  If you’re hungry for more details, I highly recommend Rejectomancy’s articles on submission procedure for further reading.

Happy Submitting!

Better Left Unsaid

God damn it. Not another one.

I peeled the post-it note off the empty space between lock and door handle. When we were first married they were loving reminders scattered like rose petals in the apartment: Have a good day! Love you! Then came the passive-aggressive instructions: Don’t forget the milk! By the end the neon scraps of paper were terse expletives decorating our ruined marriage.

This one was blank. Her disapproval didn’t need words anymore. I crumpled it with one hand and stuck it in my pocket. My suitcase bumped my knees as I dragged it into the hall.

Publisher’s Spotlight: Splickety Publishing

It’s a three-for-one Publisher’s Blue-Light Special Edition!  I’d like to introduce you to Splickety Publishing Group, which offers several different magazines with upcoming themes.  Luckily, each imprint publication has the same general guidelines, so I decided to group them all together instead of doing them separately.  It’s for the best, but it also means I’ve got quite a few links below.  Let’s take a closer look:

  • In their own words:Splickety fills gaps in the modern reader’s day with concise, poignant fiction under 1,000 words. We want stories that hit fast and strike hard––stories that, no matter the genre, can cut through the day’s troubles and grip readers with short attention spans.”
  • Genres they accept:
    • Splickety Prime is our premier flash fiction magazine. We strive to publish the finest quality flash fiction in multiple genres including (but not limited to) action/adventure, suspense, mystery, thriller, contemporary, women’s, young adult, and historical fiction.
    • Havok is the premier publication for speculative flash fiction. We publish stories in the following genres (but this is not an exhaustive list): science fiction, fantasy, steampunk, cyberpunk, paranormal, supernatural, horror, techno-thriller, superhero, and more.
    • Splickety Love is the premier publication for romance flash fiction. We publish stories in the following genres (but this is not an exhaustive list): romance, romantic suspense, historical romance, paranormal romance, contemporary romance, inspirational romance, women’s fiction, and more.
  • Word count limit: Between 300 – 1,000 words with the following bit of advice from the publisher: We acquire for each issue approximately 12 stories, with the breakdown as follows:
    • 701 – 1,000 word stories — 2-3 stories acquired
    • 500 – 700 word stories — 8-10 stories acquired
    • < 100 words — 1 story acquired
  • Payment: $0.02 per word via PayPal, unless it’s a contest, in which case prize money and entry fee varies.  (Next contest: $100 grand prize, $10 entry fee.  BONUS: every entrant receives a complementary 1-year digital magazine subscription.)
  • Simultaneous Submissions*: Doesn’t specify.  My personal recommendation is NOT to submit simultaneously to other venues unless they explicitly say you can.
  • Multiple Submissions**: Yes, but please send separate emails.
  • Schedule: Your piece must fit into one of the upcoming themes.  Follow the link for further information regarding upcoming deadlines.

Note: while they don’t say anything on their website regarding personal feedback, a few of us from my writing group sent in stories for their Fairy Tale call, and we all got a little note saying what knocked each individual piece out of the running, and included a few copy-editing notes.  They’re also pretty good about getting back to you within a week of the final submission deadline.

*This means whether they will allow you to submit this story to another publisher at the same time or not.

**This means whether you can send them more than one story at at time.

Reminders when submitting:

Read the publication:  Flash is short and their stories are freely accessible on the site.  You have no excuse not to do your research and see what kind of style gets their attention.  It will also give you an idea of what’s been done before so you don’t end up sending them something too similar to a recently published story.  Download their free PDF issue here.

Read the guidelines: I don’t post everything required for their submissions, just the basics.  Furthermore, this is a static post.  Publishers change their submission requirements at will so it’s always a good idea to read and re-read them, even if you’ve submitted to them before.

Follow the rules: Do I really need to say this?  Don’t send pieces over the word count.  Don’t send content they specifically warn against.  Don’t send weirdly formatted manuscripts if they give you specific instructions.  (Guys, seriously, their instructions are VERY specific and do not follow the Shunn standard.  Read them.)

Happy submitting!

Cut Your Unnecessary Adjectives

Did you notice that I used an adjective in the title?  That’s important.  I’ve seen a lot of comments on the internet demonizing adjectives.  So you have to ask yourself: why?  What’s with all the backlash? Don’t I need to describe what I’m talking about?  How can I avoid telling if you won’t let me show?

Well, first off, relax.  No one is saying you need to cut out all your adjectives; your prose will read like a Dick & Jane primer.  The biggest problem with adjectives is that they can trick you into thinking you’re saying something unique, when really you’re just wasting words.  Take a look at this:

The big, pale grey elephant extended his leathery trunk towards the cool, still pool of water, letting it slip beneath the surface to drink in the refreshing water. (28 words.)

What is it you’re actually trying to say here in terms of plot?  The elephant drank water.  (4 words.)  That should clue you in right away that something is wrong.  So if this sentence doesn’t contribute to the plot, what does it tell you about the character?  Nothing, really.  We know nothing about this particular elephant other than the description, which is exactly like every other elephant we’ve ever seen.

All elephants are big and grey.  All trunks are leathery.  Even the pool descriptors are a little redundant, although at least they tell you that the water is fresh, as opposed to a rotten watering hole where flies buzzed over the carcasses of dead animals.  (Note: saying the watering hole is rotten is “telling.”  Describing the flies buzzing over the carcasses is “showing.”)

And that’s the point here: adjectives have to serve a purpose.  They are designed to draw the reader’s attention to some important detail: a big, grey elephant is not unique.  A tiny, constipated, pink elephant is insanely unique, and those are details you should absolutely include, lest we automatically think of a big, grey elephant.

In flash fiction, every word counts.  You can’t let adjectives that contribute nothing to your narrative steal away precious space that could be used in other ways.  So go back in there and cut out every “crunchy, crispy, orange” carrot, every “arrogant, bombastic” braggart, every “timid, fluffy, brown” bunny.  You’d be amazed how much room you have left over for soggy, brown carrots; neurotic, insecure braggarts; and carnivorous, blood-thirsty, spiky bunnies.

Happy writing!

No Pressure

My mother’s hairdresser and his partner split up after 15 years. It happened right after the decision came down from the Supreme Court: Gay Marriage now legal in all 50 states.

Before the ruling their relationship was fine. They spent their days together, even fostered an at-risk youth in their home. Afterwards came the question: would they tie the knot? When? Weren’t they happy they could finally make it legal?

It turns out they were not. It turns out societal expectations of the future can sour even the soundest of relationships. This Christmas my mother inferred that it would soon be time for my brother to pop the question to his girlfriend. I can’t wait to see how that goes over.

Publisher’s Spotlight: Ad Hoc Fiction

How quickly can you tell your story?  If you’ve been following my Micro Fiction posts on Monday, you’ll notice a lot of them are under 150 words.  That’s because I regularly submit to the Ad Hoc challenge of the week and end up posting the stories here if they don’t win.  What is Ad Hoc?  Well…

  • In their own words: “Ad Hoc Fiction is a weekly free to enter flash/micro fiction competition run by Bath Flash Fiction Award… Our project aims to be a fun way to promote the reading and writing of very short fiction. The competition is a winner takes all deal. You write and submit, we longlist and publish, then the public reads and votes.”
  • Genres they accept: Any.
  • Word count limit: 150 words max.
  • Payment: “Winning Ad Hoc Fiction will earn you a free entry to Bath Flash, giving you a shot at winning a 300 word piece to win a £1000 first prize.”
  • Schedule: Open weekly, with contests closing every Wednesday.  Each contest has a prompt word that MUST be included with your entry.

This is more of a fun exercise than anything.  It’s a great writing warm up to practice writing these short pieces and it’s fun to read through them all at the end of the week.  You can even vote on which one you like the best – all entries are anonymous so you can be sure that they’re being judged blindly.

Happy submitting!