Bards and Sages 2017 Writing Competition

I am over-the-moon excited to announce that I placed first (!) in the 2017 Bards and Sages Annual Writing Competition!  I got the news a couple days before we crossed over into 2018 but couldn’t share until the official announcement went out this week.  Suffice it to say that I needed those days to collect my thoughts, lest my post on the matter be a series of excitedly jumping gifs.

Celebrate
(As opposed to just the one.)

Anyway, I’m really excited about this one because in addition to being my first win, the piece I wrote, Confessions of a Post-Modern Galatea, was one of my very first completed stories.  The original version wasn’t much more than a flash piece, but over the years it was revised and revised and revised until about a year ago, when it settled into its own at just over 6k.  I’m very proud of all the work I put into it, and extremely excited to share it with the world.

You should be able to read it as part of the Bardic Tales and Sage Advice X Anthology, set to premiere in August of 2018, most likely.  (I’m guessing based on past release dates.)  And if you want to get in on the action yourself you should check out information about next year’s competition, due to post in about April.

I’m really glad I kept working on this one for as long as I did, and I’m incredibly thankful for my writing group for giving me advice, edits and support over the last few years as I worked on this and many, many other submissions.

A strong start to 2018; here’s hoping it continues.

 

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“Inner Beauty is for Suckers” now available at The Arcanist!

I’m excited to announce that my latest short story, “Inner Beauty is for Suckers” is now available to read on The Arcanist!

This story was originally conceived for a prompt given in the NYC Flash Fiction Competition, about a year ago.  I’ve signed up for NYC’s Short Story Challenge this year, so if you want to flex your writing muscles and see what comes of it, you should definitely check it out.

And while you’re at it, check out the many other flash pieces over at The Arcanist!  I plan on doing a full Publisher’s Spotlight on them sometime this month, so in the meantime catch up on a little light reading to see what kind of stories they dig.

That’s all for now, folks!  Have a Happy New Year and I’ll see you in 2018!

Publisher’s Spotlight: Lamplight

Been awhile, hasn’t it?  Halloween was yesterday, and if you’re like me, you want to hold onto that spooky feeling a little bit longer.  (Especially now that we’re getting bombarded with Christmas ads…)  So let’s take a look at a publisher offering chilling tales to tell in the dark, Lamplight.

  • In their own words: “We are a literary magazine of dark fiction, both short stories and flash fiction. We want your best. But then, doesn’t everyone? No specific sub-genres or themes, just good stories. For inspiration, we suggest ‘The Twilight Zone’, ‘The Outer Limits’, and LampLight, Vol1 Issue 1 which is free.”
  • Genres they accept: We go for stories that are dark, literary; we are looking for the creepy, the weird and the unsettling.
  • What NOT to send: We do not accept stories with the following: vampires, zombies, werewolves, serial killers, hitmen, excessive gore or sex, excessive abuse against women, revenge fantasies, cannibals, high fantasy.
  • Word count limit: 7,000 words max.
  • Payment: $0.03 per word, $150.00 max.
  • Simultaneous Submissions*: Yes, but let them know if accepted elsewhere.
  • Multiple Submissions**: No.  If you do, they’ll all be rejected.
  • Reprints: Yes, provided it’s not currently available online for free. $0.01 per word.
  • Schedule:
    • 15 March – 15 May for the September and December Issues
    • 15 September – 15 November for March and June Issues

    Submissions sent outside of these periods will not be considered.

Got something perfectly spooky to send them?  Brush those cobwebs off and submit here!

*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:  The first issue is 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.

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 7 Deadly (Submission) Sins

It has been quite a year.  I admit that I had a rough…oh…six months or so…. when it came to submitting my stories, but I’m slowly getting myself back together after falling off the wagon.  I haven’t been out of the game that long, but some recent experiences prompted a conversation on best submission practices.  Today we’re going to look at some of the most common problems from both authors and publishers.

Not Following the Guidelines

Let’s start off with the number one frustration from publishers: not following their guidelines.  Literally every publication has guidelines for what they’re looking for.  Guidelines usually encompass the following specifications: genre, content, length, and manuscript formatting.  They will let you know who to send it to, what to include, how to include it, and some will even let you know when to expect an answer and how much you’ll get paid.  Every publication is a little bit different, and even ones you’ve submitted to before might update their preferences.  Read the guidelines, follow the guidelines.

Not Posting the Guidelines

I’m a proponent for equal opportunity bitching, so let me take a moment to address the publishers.  Dear editors: how are we supposed to follow your guidelines when you hide them, or worse, scatter them across multiple pages?  I don’t know who got the bright idea that formatting instructions should be separated from content guidelines but apparently that’s a thing lately.  If you must do this, such as in the event of a limited-time content call that’s separate from your usual slush pile, at least link the pages to each other.  The harder the authors have to work to research your guidelines the more likely they are to screw it up.

Too Many Guidelines

This goes with the above point, but suffice it to say that if your guidelines ramble on for longer than your max accepted word count, you’re doing it wrong.  Authors don’t have time to wade through a wall of text trying to figure out what you want and don’t want.  I don’t care why you think Courier is the devil; you do you.  And frankly, you don’t owe me an explanation.  But if you ramble on about it for three paragraphs I’m going to miss your note about single spacing and headers and then we’ll both be pissed.  If your formatting is really that specific just ask for a plain text file and copy/paste it into your preferred style.  Or learn to love Shunn, your choice.

Improper Sim-Sub Etiquette

When I first started submitting, simultaneous submissions were a huge no-no.  For those who haven’t heard this term, a simultaneous submission is a story that you’ve sent to multiple publishers.  At the time, most publishers wanted to be the only one taking your story under consideration.  If they rejected it, you were free to send it somewhere else and await their answer.  As an author, this was frustrating because the wait times could be arduous.

Nowadays most publishers (but not all – again, read your guidelines) are okay with sim-subs if—IF—you let them know if it’s been accepted elsewhere so they can remove it from their list.  That said, you know what’s coming, right?  You have to keep track of where you sent the story and let them know if it’s off the table.  And don’t be shady – if a publisher says no sim-subs, don’t try to get away with it anyway.  You’ll just piss them off if you have to withdraw it.

 

Snoopy-Writer
Don’t we all.
Arguing with the Publisher

Just… just don’t.  The publishers don’t owe you an explanation regarding their inner workings.  If they say “no pdfs” assume they have a good reason for it and move on.  If they reject your story without telling you why, accept it and move on.  Most won’t give anything more than a standard rejection anyway – they don’t have time to give you notes and doing so will only mean you’re more likely to argue with them.  Rejections are non-negotiable.

Note: Arguing is not the same as asking for clarification.  In the case of unclear (or, ahem, missing) guidelines it’s acceptable to send a quick note to the appropriate contact e-mail address, although commenting on a post or tweeting at them might be faster.  Don’t pester.  Please God don’t threaten.  What are you, an asshole?  You want to get blacklisted by that editor and everyone she talks to?  No, no you don’t.  Stop it.

form rejection
I could post these comics all day.
Poor Communication Skills

Publishers, answer your email.  Update your site.  Tweet once in awhile so we know you’re still out there.  It doesn’t bode well when there’s a long period of radio silence.  Did the magazine fold?  Are they behind schedule?  Why haven’t they updated their slush pile queue list since 2013?  We get it, you’re busy.  We’re all busy.  But if queries go unanswered we’re pulling our subs and going elsewhere.  You’re only hurting potential business by not having an active presence.

Same goes for terse, rude communication.  Most publishers are professional enough that if they don’t have anything nice to say about your writing, they won’t say anything at all.  As a writer, that can be frustrating, because you don’t know if you were close to hitting the mark or whether your sub was passed around the office for a good laugh.  Still, rude rejections are not the same as constructive criticism, and as a publisher it makes you look unprofessional, not helpful.  Writers compare notes too, you know, and you don’t want the good ones walking away because you trashed-talked a newcomer.

Thinking that You’re Special

This goes for both authors and publishers.  Neither of you has time to bullshit around.  Publishers have thick slush piles to wade through, and authors want to find a home for their piece so they can get paid.  Authors, don’t ask for special treatment.  Don’t expect special treatment, especially if you willfully ignore the guidelines that the publishers have posted.  You get precious little time to make yourself stand out and you don’t want any of that attention to be negative.

Publishers, hate to break it to you, but you’re not all that special either.  If you make things difficult or put excessive burdens on your authors to do all the layout formatting (or market your publication for you…) then they will go somewhere else.  Authors have more opportunity than ever before to self-publish, or to find another market.  If you’re going to compete with the various online publications and $0.99 kindle downloads it’s important to attract and retain quality content.  Try to meet them in the middle and you’ll get better submissions – you know, ones from people who actually read and follow your rules.

 

All right folks, there you go.  Did I miss any irritating habits?  (Probably.)  Have I ruined my chances for ever getting published again?  (Depends on if publishers have a sense of humor about themselves.  …So yeah, this was probably a terrible career move.)  Are we sick of rhetorical questions now?  (Most certainly.)

Anyway, if you feel like getting in on the action feel free to post your own pet peeves and guilty confessions in the comments, and let me know what habits REALLY needs to be corrected.

 

Phobos: Deep Black Sea now available!

I’m pleased to announce that my latest short story, “The Shipwrecked Sole Survivor” has been published in Phobos Issue Four: Deep Black Sea! This issue is now available in print on Amazon.com and should be available later on for Kindle.

If you’re interested in dark tales of what lies beneath a calm sea then you will love this issue!  It contains thirteen short stories, flash fiction and poetry including one by yours truly.  Check it out and be sure to leave a review so others know what you thought!


 

You may remember Phobos from the Publisher’s Spotlight  feature for this issue nearly a year ago.  They are currently closed for submissions but be sure to check out their website and follow them on twitter for updates on their next theme.

3 Virtues of a Successful Writer

I’ve seen a number of articles discussing what not to do when it comes to writing, but when it comes to habits to emulate the advice seems to dry up.  After all, every writer is different – what works for some may not work for all.  So rather than habits, let’s talk about three virtues that all successful writers seem to have and how to translate those into success for yourself.

A Diligent Work Ethic

“I don’t like to write, but I love having written.”

It’s a common sentiment among writers to prefer accomplishment to the work that goes into actually writing something.  But if you’re ever going to be successful you have to learn how to finish what you start.  “Finishing” can mean any number of things from polishing a not-quite-there piece to actually sitting down to write in the first place.

It takes self-discipline to practice your craft, and not just the writing part.  You need to read your contemporaries as well as the classics.  You should have an idea of the history of your genre and be aware of where it’s headed with new publications.  You have to market yourself and engage in writing communities.  You have to research possible publishers and polish your work until it’s ready to submit.  Successful writers put in the work.

Humility

Successful writers acknowledge their flaws and want to improve their craft. You can’t do that without a dose of humility.  It can be tempting to write off publishers because they don’t understand your genius, but is it really helpful to tune out legitimate criticism?  When publishers tell you “No,” respect their decisions and use it as an opportunity to reflect and improve.  Listen to your editor, your beta readers, and anyone who is willing to read your work and offer helpful suggestions.  You don’t have to take every piece of advice you get, but humility means accepting that your work may not be perfect as it is.

In the same vein, humility can mean respect for fellow authors.  Sure, we’ve all read something we didn’t like and secretly wondered “How on earth did this get published?  My stuff’s better than that!” But with some humility you can take a long, hard look at what it is that made them successful and learn from it.  That will translate into success for yourself, rather than jealousy.   And as you get more experience, respect the up-and-coming authors who are trying to break into the market.  Successful writers pass on what they’ve learned to those who share their aspirations, rather than viewing everyone as competition.

A Resilient Spirit

This is sort of the opposite of humility.  It takes a lot of self-confidence to stare down a contest and say “Yeah, my story could win that.”  Submitting is an act of bravery, and perseverance in the face of rejection is the most important of all virtues.  Success does not come easy. As I said above, you have to put in the work.  You finish what you start.  You revise.  You take advice where you can get it.  Sometimes you do it all over again and the answer is still “No.”

Successful writers don’t give up, even after all that.  The great thing about writing is that you can do it for your entire life.  You never stop learning.  You never stop improving, so there’s no reason to get impatient with a lack of success.  The submission you send out today is bound to be better than the one yesterday because you’re always improving and evolving.  And if you put in the work and are humble enough to actively seek to improve yourself it’s really only a matter of time before that effort is rewarded.  But you can’t give up before that happens – not if you want to be successful.


What say you, readers?  Is there anything I’ve missed?  Anything you disagree with?  Leave your suggestions below in the comments so we can all learn from each other!

Publisher’s Spotlight: Strange Horizons

Strange Horizons is back!  After a brief hiatus, they are once again open for submissions weekly starting on Monday, and close when they reach their cap.  Details below:

  • In their own words: “We want good speculative fiction. If your story doesn’t have a speculative element, or strong speculative-fiction sensibilities, it’s probably not for us.   Some particular things we love, or are interested in:
    • Fiction from or about diverse perspectives and traditionally under-represented groups, settings, and cultures, written from a non-exoticizing and well-researched position.
    • Unusual yet readable styles and inventive structures and narratives.
    • Stories that address political issues in complex and nuanced ways, resisting oversimplification.
    • Hypertext fiction. If you have a work of hyperfiction you think might be a good fit for Strange Horizons, please query us to discuss how to submit it.
  • Genres they accept: Speculative Fiction.  (That’s the usual sci-fi, fantasy and various flavors of slipstream, etc.)
  • Word count limit: “We prefer stories under 5,000 words, but we consider stories up to 10,000 words. Note, however, that the longer the story is, the less likely we are to be interested…we have no minimum wordcount requirement; we consider short-short stories.”
  • Payment: We pay 8¢/word (USD), with a minimum payment of $60. SFWA officially considers us a professional market.
  • Simultaneous Submissions*: No
  • Multiple Submissions**: No
  • Schedule: Opens every Monday; “if and when the queue begins to significantly outstrip the reading, we’ll close for the week to give ourselves room to catch up.”

Bonus Feature: If you’ve never read Strange Horizon’s guide to tired tropes, give it a glance.  In addition to being hilarious it’ll hopefully make you rethink some of your trunk stories and challenge you to go beyond common slush problems.

The downside is that they don’t often explain why these tropes don’t work so it can be tempting to rationalize why your piece breaks the mold.  My advice?  Don’t.  Just don’t.  Find a different story to submit and in the meantime shop the other one out to trusted beta readers who can guide you away from the tropes.

*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:  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!

How To Research Publishers

Well, Flash Fiction has passed.  The comments are coming in and as you work on your revisions it hits you: you’ve really got something here!  You should publish this!  But where should you look?  Should you just google publishers and hope for the best?  (Short answer: no.)

I mentioned this briefly in my post about the Submission Checklist.  For a refresher, the first step in getting published is to research your market finish your story.  Sorry, got ahead of myself there.

What kind of story do you have?

This assumes that you have a finished story that you’re satisfied with, now you’re just looking to find it a good home.  Before you get started you need to categorize your story.

  • Genre
  • Style (is it literary? humorous? appropriate for young audiences?)
  • Word Count:
    • 0 – 300ish Micro Fiction
    • 300ish – 1,000 Flash Fiction
    • 1,000 – 5,000 Short Story  (Ok, some markets allow up to 10,000 or 12,000 for short stories but most I’ve seen top out around 6,000 max.)

For this example let’s say you’ve got a Mystery, in the style of a hard-boiled noir, approximately 2,500 words.  It has some gratuitous language, but at this point you’re not editing, just noting that could be an issue.

Searching for a Publisher

The next step is to search for markets by genre.  The Submission Grinder and Duotrope are both excellent sites for researching potential publishers and tracking your submissions. Why not Google?  Well, I’ve used it occasionally, but it’s not very useful.  You’ll occasionally find lists of publishers or sponsored content, but sometimes the information is out of date and a publisher may have closed.  You really need a dedicated site to find the best results.

I’ve used both and recommend either of those two sites above, but because The Submission Grinder is free to use, I’m going to use that one in this post.  Feel free to follow along.

To search you don’t need an account.  To log your submissions you do.  Let’s just worry about how to search for now.

sg_2

Ok.  So you click on the search field and then fill out the basics for your story.  Leave it as general as possible to pull the most results or use the filters to slim down.  I find that Story Subject and Story Style are best left blank – hardly any market uses those fields, even if they accept stories in that style.  The best thing is is fill in these three fields:

  • Genre
  • Story Length
  • Minimum Pay Scale
    • Pro: $0.06 per word or more
    • Semi-Pro: Usually between $0.01 and $0.05 per word
    • Token: Less than that.  Usually $5-$25 per story regardless of word count.

Applicable markets will fill in below, with Genres, Lengths, Payment Rates and Average Response Days listed on the side to help you pick what to find.  Once you find one that’s interesting click on the listing.

sg_3

Here’s a magazine that looks like a good fit for my example.  Since the piece is Noir in nature, their descriptive paragraph should catch your attention.  The other info seems to fit with the other criteria, so you should click on the Website and Guidelines links (in the red box) to read more about the publisher.

That’s important – sites like The Submission Grinder are primarily a search engine/database.  It’s up to you to continue researching the publication by going through the website and reading the stories available.  If you still think you can see your story fitting in with them go ahead and check out their submission guidelines to polish your piece.

If your story is a little over their word limit (10-20%) you can probably trim down enough to fit it to their limits without major revisions.  If the language is a little coarse/content is a little too grim you can do an edit to tone things down.

Which Publisher is right for me?

So how do you pick who to submit to?  Determine what your priorities are.  Pro-paying markets are always going to be more competitive.  Maybe you want to submit it to several places at once, so you only pick publishers who accept simultaneous submissions.  Maybe you want ones with the quickest turn-around because you hate waiting for an answer.  (Note: you may be in the wrong field if patience isn’t your thing.)

I personally like to pick magazines that I enjoy reading, whose stories I admire, and whose content seems to gel well with my own voice.  I feel like those magazines are the ones that have the highest chance of accepting me, even if the money isn’t as good.  If you’re getting a lot of rejections and you know that the work is good try shopping out your story to a lesser known market in a different pay bracket.  Smaller publishers are hungry for good stories – don’t overlook them.

Have a publisher you love that needs a little attention?  Want to ask about one you’ve found?  Leave a note in the comments!

Ebb and Flow

Celia sat in the little rowboat, the rhythmic sound of wooden planks slapping the waves all to keep her company as she floated further from the bank of the river.

The current took the boat westward away from the looming plantation, white as bone, its windows full of soft yellow light.  She felt as thought it was watching her and took only shallow breaths until it passed from sight.

The forged papers were carefully stashed in her satchel along with a small sum of money she hoped would quiet whoever might ask too many questions regarding where she came from, where she was going.

Ahead was a lone woman with a rifle slung over her shoulder, waving her on.  Soon they’d be running, but for now she let the ebb and flow carry her onward to days when she could breathe easy once more.

Publisher’s Spotlight: Deadline Round-Up

Have you been keeping track of all the publishing deadlines coming up this summer?  No?  Well, let’s see if I can make that a touch easier for you.  Below is a list of all the Publishers featured on our Publisher’s Spotlight with links to the original posts AND the deadlines for their current calls.

Also, here’s a link to all publishers with rolling submissions, meaning they do not have a deadline (but they might close for the holidays; check individual pages for details.)

Freeze Frame Fiction is currently CLOSED for submissions.

As always, don’t forget to check out their individual sites as it will have all updated info.

Happy Submitting!