Archive for March, 2010

Reading Camille’s post  “Professional Writers – How an Editor Can Tell” got me thinking.

Here I am, a writer who has been professionally occupied in her chosen field (fiction and poetry) for almost a decade now, a writer who gave up a good corporate job to pursue her passion for writing, one who has since then also turned down similar jobs to continue doing what she loves most, even though it hardly pays, and above all a writer who prides herself in her professionalism.

But a couple of questions arched their eyebrows at me when I read Camille’s post. How professional am I exactly? Am I always professional? Without fail? I confess not.

When I start off on a submission I am professional. In other words I have -

 a) Submitted to the journal after familiarizing myself with its content by reading past issues and/or samples of work                                                 

 b) Read the guidelines over and over again

 c) Opened the link to the guidelines page beside my own email so I can double check while I write my cover letter, unless the magazine has a submission form like Every Day Fiction

d) Checked my chosen submission/s to see if I am submitting exclusively or simultaneously – some magazines encourage/tolerate this and some don’t, so it makes sense to go through your records before choosing your submission and AFTER finding out the magazine’s preferences

e) Proofed my submission once again, just in case, before attaching or copy-pasting in the email or uploading it into the submission form

f) Run a spell check over my cover letter (I wrote about the perils of not doing this in an earlier post

g) Paused before hitting the send button and quickly gone through all of the above, uttered a quick prayer for good measure and then clicked “Send!”

h) Sat for a minute blinking at the computer screen and told myself, “okay that’s one on its way, and there’s nothing left to do. But there is…

i) Opened my submissions progress chart and noted the date, title of submission, magazine name and approximate wait period

j) Stared at the computer screen for another two minutes and told myself, “okay that one’s done and cannot be recalled even if I’ve made a mistake, time to move on and do something really important, like resuming writing.”

The last point is important, because it should ideally read as “that one’s done and ought not to be recalled,”  because there have been instances when I have slipped up. I have -

a) Double submitted when the magazine clearly asked for exclusive submission

b) Noticed (Oh! The Horror!) typos and/or other mistakes in my submission, even one is an axe on the feet of your poor submission, believe me 

c) Submitted an already published piece because I forgot it was published because that was a long time ago, and this is even more horrifying, trust me

d) Made a submission almost immediately after a rejection or acceptance letter to the same magazine. This is not done. Think, ponder, mull over everything, wait for a decent period within the submission window before submitting to the same magazine or at least query. Editors don’t want to be overwhelmed by the same writer, even when they welcome repeat submissions

The “Good God What Have I Done” bit does not end there on the rocky road to professionalism. It continues even after a clean submission.

I have on occasion been “chummy’ with the editor, almost at least, after an acceptance letter. Confessing this on a public forum honestly makes me blush, but I have done it in the past during that moment of emotional or writerly weakness. This is a complete no-no. Editors are busy people and they are interested in your work, genuinely interested in your work, but they are not your friends and have no intentions of becoming so. They don’t expect you to be grateful to them just because they published your work, and don’t expect a gushing thank you letters; they would rather read another submission.

Frankly speaking, becoming overwhelmed with gratitude is a loser’s attitude. If you respect yourself and your writing, please be assured that your piece was selected purely on merit and not because the editor felt sorry for you poor writer or was feeling particularly generous that day and picked yours up on a whim. If you must be grateful, be grateful to God, your muse, your family for tolerating your crankiness and eccentricities and so on. 

Yet, I confess, even as I write this post, there have been occasions when my knees buckled and un-shed tears sparkled in my eyes after an acceptance letter; I have wanted to run and hug the editor. Usually I am able to stop myself from doing something silly (read send a gushing letter to the editor) and instead let the good feeling wash over me until it settles and adds another layer to my confidence level.

I make mistakes despite knowing the rules of the game. I probably will in the furture, every now and then. I have learnt to accept this because I am an emotional creature and a writer. I will have my moments I know. I will be unprofessional at times, no matter how hard I try all the time. There will be gaps, hopefully no gaping holes, in my professionalism. I have learnt not to be too hard on myself, not wear myself down with self-criticism. I have learnt to move on.

 

Rumjhum Biswas lives and writes in Chennai, India, though lately her writerly life has taken a back seat, somewhat. She hopes that will be ammended later on in the year. Meanwhile she braces herself for the awesome Chennai Summer. Her main blog is Writers & Writerisms

Yes, you read the title right. “But I only write fiction!” you may be thinking. Well, I used to think the same thing, and I still consider myself primarily a fiction writer. If you’re still not convinced about challenging yourself by using your life for essay material, consider this: unlike the token payments offered by many wonderful flash e-zines, essays can pay hundreds of dollars—and use the exact same skills necessary to successful flash fiction.

Word Count

The major essay anthologies ask for stories within flash guidelines. Chicken Soup for the Soul, the most well known publisher, wants essay from 300 to 1200 words. Cup of Comfort asks for stories from 1,000 to 2,000 words. There are various other publishers, too. Essays often revolve around a theme, such as family relationships, Christmas, animals, or inspiration. New subjects are announced all the time.

Finding your Story

This is an area where age has an advantage. The more life you’ve lived—and the more vibrantly—the more material you can mine for essays. So what if you’re a twenty-something barely out college? Look back on your own life as if you’re a story character. What were your life-changing moments? When did you become an adult? For me, those answers lead back to the year I turned twenty. I married my sailor-husband, trekked cross country, and started life anew as a Navy spouse. For someone who hadn’t been away from her parents for more than five days, you better believe that was a time of tremendous character growth (i.e. lots of crying and high phone bills). I’ve used that specific experience to sell three essays, two of them about cats. Yes, cats.

Paring Down the Story

Just as with flash fiction, a solid essay relies on certain elements: a small cast of characters, a central conflict, and a distinct beginning, middle, and end. This is the area where you may have to fudge the facts a bit. That doesn’t mean that you lie—you omit. If you have ten siblings, sorry, naming all of them would make the story confusing. Keep only the essential characters, or refer to others without using their names. If your awful-day-with-a-silver-lining had about nine contributing misery-factors, narrow it down to three or so. The story needs a fast pace and an easy-to-follow narrative.

You also must have a full story arc, not just a descriptive scene. Introduce your characters and conflict. Develop them. End the story. Sometimes it’s difficult to make real life incidents fit together with an ending, but treat it just as you would a short fiction piece. Rewrite and edit until it works.

Pain and Profit

It’s hard to get into the major anthologies. Thousands of people may compete for a single volume of Chicken Soup for the Soul, and only 101 get published. However, if you are one of the lucky few, there are major incentives. First of all, payment ranges from $150-$200 for the big name anthologies, and you get anywhere from one to ten copies of your book; read individual book guidelines for the details. You may also be able to buy additional copies at a discounted rate.

Your Life As a Story

Writing a complete story in fewer than 2,000 words is an art form. Whether or not the story is based on fact, it’s still a story. It needs to resonate with the reader and whirl them away to a different time and place. In this case, it’s based your own life and your own experiences. Yes, there is a certain amount of vulnerability involved—especially to your very real characters—but it’s also the chance to grow as a writer. That’s what it’s all about.

Beth Cato is an associate member of the SFWA. Her work has appeared in The Pedestal Magazine, Every Day Fiction, and Niteblade Fantasy and Horror Magazine.

Flash Fiction Chronicles will celebrate its first anniversary in May, but we’ve grown fast enough to warrant a second editor.  With that in mind, I’ve asked Tanya L. Schofield to join FFC as an assistant editor.  Her duties will be similar to mine, proof-reading submissions, keeping the calendar filled with helpful articles in the craft of flash fiction writing as well as writing in general, and helping me to find and update the resources across the net to better serve you.

TL.Schofield (Tanya!) lives in central GA with a white dog and a black cat – one of which she is allergic to. She is a frequent contributor to Flash Fiction Chronicles and has had a story listed as a finalist in both String-of-10 Microfiction Contests.  You can read her current work at AlienSkin Magazine.  She blogs at Blogging in the Dark.

Please welcome Tanya to the Every Day Publishing family, publishers of Every Day Fiction and Flash Fiction Chronicles.

Randallbrownby Randall Brown

Desire, it is often, perhaps too often, said drives narrative into being, and there is not only the desire of the main character to consider, but the desire of Reader, Writer, and some believe, even the Text itself. When you write very short things, you are often told what your text really wants:

“It’s begging to be a short story.”

“I’m certain this piece wants to be a prose poem.”

“What your text really is, what it’s telling you it is and you can’t hear it but I can, is that it wants to be a novel, maybe even a trilogy.”

So, yes, flash texts yearn, and I wonder, perhaps too much, what they desire and from whom they want it. What does the flash text crave from its characters, its readers, its writers? These text whisperers, the ones who hear things in my texts, would have me believe that the flash text wants to be something other than it is. I doubt it. I’m certain of the flash’s desire to be what it is, but what other yearnings burn inside that flash? Here are six guesses about what a flash text wants.

  1. To recreate the world in its image. At the end ofThe Oven Bird,” Frost asks “What to make of a diminished thing?” That diminished has a number of meanings, like most things in Frost’s poems, but I’m drawn to “be-little” as a possible one. It’s the world that has become little, and Frost’s implied answer, or one such answer—”You give it a poem”—might lead some readers to think that the poem itself is a diminished thing, too. I don’t think so. Was it Frost who said, “The world isn’t fallen because Eve bit an apple, but because we believe she did?” Or was it someone writing about Frost? The point is that flash believes the world isn’t captured by words, but recreated by them. Each word carries that weight of re-creation (or is that recreation?), of procreation, of the compressed big bang. It’s the world stripped of the immaterial. It wants not the world as it is but the world as it might be, if flash were in charge.
  2. To matter. As most tiny things do, flash knows what you might think of it, its size associated with insignificance in your mind. Flash wants you to confess this thought, that you’re like the middle school social studies teacher who desires a full page for the “A.” Flash doesn’t fill pages the way those “A” students do. Flash must find other ways to matter, to add up to something, than the word after word, the failed action after failed action, the words chasing that hard-earned resolution, hard-earned because it took page after page to get there. Flash searches for the alternative way to matter in this world. Sometimes it finds profundity in what others find nothingness; other times, it finds meaning by eschewing their desire for somethingness. Flash doesn’t fit the tired, old rubrics; it needs another vision against which it gets it value.
  3. To be attended to. The process of reading a longer piece is the process of forgetting, so much so that I wonder if the novel, for example, works primarily subconsciously, as much an echo as a voice. A novel’s words want to disappear from consciousness, want to take root like the archetypal images of dreams. A flash’s words demand your attention, especially those (very) tiny flashes. A flash shouts out, “Attention must be paid!” It’s later flash wants to haunt you, like a flashback, a tiny moment in the midst of the ongoing narrative, a burst of something concentrated.
  4. To be inhaled. Sometimes, I think flash writers oversell the long hours spent working on a flash piece, as if they feel that anything so small must be defended as “work.” Having written and published longer pieces, I don’t feel that I constructed flash the way I did the longer pieces. Flash is okay coming out as an exhale, and I read somewhere that with each inhale, we take in the molecules from everyone who has ever lived. Maybe I made that up. I can’t remember. In any case, that exhale of flash adds your own nature to the nature of all that’s every been. Flash is okay being easy to get out of your system. Flash doesn’t want to be constructed and deconstructed, taken apart in bites. Swallow me whole, flash says. That’s the way flash came into the world, the way it’ll go out.
  5. To be measured by its girth. If we were to check Flash Fiction’s in-box, we’d find spam after spam for Fiction Extender pills. Too tiny? Take two of these. Girth, that “measurement around the middle of something,” might be a better measurement of flash. Its breadth! And within that breadth exists both breath and bread, something maybe important, for flash is certainly bigger than a breath and smaller than a breadbox, and the point is what? Breadth has associated with it concepts such as range, extent, scope, depth, reach. Flash won’t be taking any pills; it knows there’s more to it than meets the eye.
  6. To be loved. Because it’s what we all want, isn’t it?, in spite of our protestations about rejection meaning anything to us. Flash wants your big, big love, and of course it wants to deserve your love, be worthy of it, doesn’t want it given just because it wants it. Flash wants maybe then, the possibility of your big love, the potentiality of it, the hope of it. Maybe flash wants more this than flesh. Maybe flash would burn skin and leave only bone.

Randall Brown teaches at and directs Rosemont College’s MFA in Creative Writing and Graduate English programs. He is the author of the award-winning (very) short fiction collection Mad To Live and his essay appears in The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction. He recently served as the Lead Editor of SmokeLong Quarterly. His work has been published widely, both on line and in print. He can be reached at http://randalldouglasbrown.blogspot.com/.

rumjhum This is a true story. A friend, who acquired degrees in publishing from a well known university in the UK, returned to India and worked for a few years in well known publishing firms before setting out on her own. You would think that writers would rush to her door and the books would roll out on a plush red carpet. Well, writers did rush in and she was swamped with manuscripts, so much so that she had to stop accepting email submissions. She read through them all and made her choices.

The printing schedule was set and they planned to launch the titles at the book fair at the capital. So far so good and everything went as per schedule. The big day arrived. A launch party was meticulously planned.  She had sent out invitations to all those concerned in the media earlier. My friend and her team mates sat down to wait. And wait. And wait.

Nobody turned up!  The book fair began. People – as in real people who read, not reviewers and other media folks – started to trickle in. They browsed and many picked up her books. This was a good sign. If genuine readers found her books interesting enough to buy and take home, surely she would have little problem finding distributors and bookstores willing to stock them?

Surely, if she sent copies of the books to book reviewers in various newspapers and magazines they would read and write the reviews? Yes surely. As surely as elephants fly! A month after she sent the books out to various reviewers, she is still waiting for the responses to trickle in. As for the distributors, they act like they are doing her a huge favour just by looking at the catalogue. Letters and phone calls to book stores in major metro cities across the country have largely gone unanswered. She is still working on them and hoping.

 It seems like the larger chains don’t want to touch something that is neither touted as a best seller nor comes from a famous name in terms of both author and publishing house. For a book to be a potential seller it needs to be reviewed; it needs enough media coverage. Unless there is enough interest generated in them the books won’t sell. If the books don’t sell they cannot become best sellers or even good sellers.

These days it’s common knowledge that a great manuscript alone doesn’t a best seller make. If book stores don’t stock them the books cannot get sold. But book stores want to be sure an item they stock will sell. So, yes you’ve guessed it, they won’t touch something that has not already been touted as a potential best seller! So what cometh first the best seller or the best sales push? 

Big publishing houses have clout and the money to muscle their way in. They can afford to spread themselves out thin and absorb losses from books that didn’t sell. They then make up for the losses from the few and far genuine best sellers. Many books do manage to sell enough to pay for the author advance and the long wait between supply to distributors and the actual payment of sales. Big publishers can afford to wait. However for a new comer, it’s a strenuous and uphill task. Nobody wants to support unknown players. You have to prove yourself first. In order for that to happen you need to be given a chance first. But nobody wants to take that risk…

 Familiar isn’t it? Sounds exactly like what writers who have yet to establish themselves face, doesn’t it? Except that this is what is happening to at least one publisher I know, in India. But I have a hunch that it’s not all that different in other countries. Little wonder then, why most publishers only want to work with authors who are willing to work really hard to get their books noticed; in effect put in equal effort alongside the publisher in promoting their books and help generate actual sales. It’s no longer a quiet business where the only sounds you hear are that of pages being turned in book stores as readers browse and make their choices.

 “It’s like moving a mountain! It’s like moving a Goddam mountain!” I keep hearing that refrain from my friend. Making physical contact with book clubs and stores to launch her titles in other cities is an expensive affair, with no guarantee of her books being taken. The expenses include travelling costs for herself and the writers, book transportation, hotel costs and food and miscellaneous travel expenses, not to speak of the venue hiring charges and food and drinks for guests, with free books to give away to important or potentially important people!

 She doesn’t want to rush in and splurge; she can hardly afford to. She intends to take one small step at a time, and be patient. She is looking at long term goals and has the faith that she will get there eventually. Meanwhile she wants to carefully nurture her flock. She doesn’t want to become cynical and ignore manuscripts that may be risky or target a small niche readership. She wants to publish good books, memorable books.  She sounds like a dedicated writer doesn’t she? Her situation doesn’t seem all that different from us writers, does it?

It’s a tough world on both sides of the fence. Think about it when the postman comes knocking with that package, that SASE, with familiar words in it.

 

Rumjhum Biswas writes from Chennai, and blogs at rumjhumkbiswas.wordpress.com