Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Tuesday Tip: Short Story Markets

According to the Guardian UK, 2009 was the year of the short story. This is heartening news in one way for me as someone who publishes short stories, because it means that there is still a market out there. On the other hand, the tone of surprise in the article makes one wonder just how long this train is good for. Oh well, I'm not pubbing in the same markets they're talking about anyway.

Short story markets can be incredibly tight, depending on your genre. If, like most of us, you are not planning on doing a compilation of your own work, then you're looking for an open anthology or a magazine to publish your work in. Fortunately, an hour or two of internet searches can net you a bunch of submission calls. Unfortunately, many of them don't pay very well.

Ultimately, the submission calls you answer will be up to you. Is it worth it to sell a story for less if it's a market or editor or publisher you really want to work with? Are you willing to write off some of your work as marketing material? Do you want to take a chance on that short story contest, where if you win you get a nice paycheck, but if not you could end up having given them your story for nothing?

Your standards will probably change after the first few sales too. For example, for epub I'm not selling stories for flat rates anymore unless that flat rate is at least five cents a word. Especially now that I'm back to working full time, I need to maximize my return on time investment. Royalties are different. I'm still hoping that if I can get enough royalty-paying stories out there they'll add up to something eventually. However, I'm also trying to broaden my fan base by publishing with many different publishers, and once you have one royalty-paying sale with a publisher it makes it that much more attractive for you to get more with that publisher, in the hopes that they'll add up to a check sooner.

Of course, I have the leisure to do this because I chose a genre with a lot of open markets. If I were trying to do this in horror, it might be quite different. And I'm willing to write for specific markets as opposed to writing what I want to write and then trying to find a market for it. I think a lot of writers start out writing the stories they already have in their heads and then trying to sell them, which is much harder. I can't remember where I read it now, but there was an author that I read talking about his early career, where he decided to stop trying to sell what he wrote, and only wrote what he sold. That is to say, he would send in a proposal for a novel, and only if the publisher was interested would he actually write it. I'm not quite to that level yet, of course, but I'm at least writing for what I know I could sell. And I've been able to find homes for a few stories that have been floating around in my head for years, but which have never been able to steal priority away from the novel.

Friday, December 25, 2009

100 Words About: Christmas

A friend of mine recently posted on Facebook, asking what we all thought the true meaning of Christmas was. I was the only one to take the bait, posting Nephew Fred's speech from A Christmas Carol. Said friend then replied "Christmas means different things to different people, but dare I opine that a majority of the meanings today have very little, if any, connection to the original? Those meanings might be wonderful and worthy, but still warped in some sense."

My reply was: "I don't care what you call it - any day where people are more inclined to help their fellow man and show compassion, even if all it is is having an extra ounce or two of patience - that's a day I can get behind. I guess compassion is what I think the meaning of Christmas is. (And Jesus was all about compassion too.)"

And I would argue that the man in whose honor the day is held would rather see folks, regardless of their religious beliefs, being truly kind and generous to each other than seeing people battling over whether we're all being worshipful enough.

And so, here are my 100(ish) words about Christmas, with many thank-yous to Charles Dickens:

"But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round -- apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that -- as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!" - A Christmas Carol

Image: Francesco Marino / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve in Wisconsin

I thought that some of you might be unfamiliar with the realities of winter in Wisconsin, and in the interest of providing you with some setting info, should you ever decide to place a story here, or even if you're just wondering what makes Packer and Badger fans so cold-hardy, here is a little look into one Wisconsin writer's morning. (I'd love to hear how this differs from other snowy states.)

It's Christmas Eve morning, and I wake at a leisurely 8am not with visions of sugar plums dancing in my head, but with the loud rumbling scraping of the snow plow going by outside. The weather last night was frightful, so this is to be expected.

I creep out of bed and let my poor sick husband sleep. While I usually have snow removal duty at our house (he mows the lawn, I shovel the walk), I am looking forward to when he is feeling better enough to at least walk the dog for me. I neglected to let the poor girl out last night before I went to bed (although when we had attempted to go for a walk earlier in the evening she hadn't liked the sleet one bit) and she was quite eager to get out this morning.

Last night the sidewalks had been covered with about an inch of actual snow, though the wind had blown it higher on the edges to meet the tops of the drifts on either side, some still as high as six or eight inches, so that you're constantly walking down a trail through what would otherwise be almost knee-deep snow. At least, if you're my height, anyway. On our 80+ lb dog, the banks reach mid-chest in many places.

As we make our careful way down the front steps, we realize two things: the snowy sidewalk is now an open-face sandwich of slush under snow under ice crust, and that the crust is both not strong enough to hold the dog's weight, and uncomfortable enough that she doesn't want to stand in it to do her business. After several attempts to surmount the snowbank, my miserable dog gives up and goes on the sidewalk.

However, the thinner layer of crusted snow on the sidewalk is apparently the new "neatest thing ever," and she decides she wants to run. She's not a running kind of dog, normally--she's a mosey kind of dog, except when on the trail of something small and furry--and she's been cooped up so much that I feel that I have to let her get her run in. We run full-out for a couple of blocks before I have to call a halt. I bless my YakTrax as the best dog-walking tool since the Gentle Leader.

After the walk I head out to clear the sidewalk. I am a much more conscientious shoveler since joining the ranks of the dog walkers. I wrestle our snow-thrower out of the shed, refill the gas tank, and fire it up. We've only had it for a few years, and I'm kicking myself for not getting a bigger better one. (At the time all I could do was look at the price tag and meekly say that the little one would be just fine, I was used to shoveling without one anyway...) No, I vow as I see-saw it back and forth through the ice crust, leaning my stomach against the handle-bar and shifting my weight from foot to foot, no, next time we're getting one with POWER. With TORQUE! With wheels that can push the damn thing without me shoving it from side to side.

I clear a path down to the end of the driveway and then attempt to clear out the knee-deep pile of ice and slush and snow that the snow plow has deposited there. I don't worry about getting this down to pavement, I just want it level enough to get the car out. Note to you novice snow-shovelers: put the snow from your driveway on the down-traffic side of the driveway, otherwise the plow will just shove it back in your driveway on the next pass. Not that you're supposed to snow-throw into the street, but it's a very narrow space between the street and the sidewalk, and no one wants to make more work for themselves by snow-blowing into the sidewalk if they can help it.

So, with the end of the driveway secured, I tackle the sidewalk. We have a longer sidewalk than most of our neighbors as we have a sideyard instead of a backyard. I plow down the hill until I get to the cross-street, then head up the side of the next block to get our elderly neighbor Carl's walk. This means I also am clearing the walk of the neighbor on the corner, but she doesn't have a snow-thrower and is very grateful for the favor. And I'm happy to do her walk and Carl's if it means she'll shovel Carl's steps for him, which she does.

As I make the turn to come back, one of the bolts on the thrower's handle pops off. We've already lost the other bolt on that side, so I have to try and screw it back in with my fingers while the handle is vibrating like mad, because I don't dare turn the bloody thing off. I have an electric starter for it, and while it does have a pull-starter, I've never been able to get it to work, which means I would have to push it all the way back down the sidewalk and up the driveway to get to the electrical outlet. Fortunately I am able to get the bolt back in tight enough that it holds all the way back down the sidewalk and up the driveway. However, it does make me decide not to do the rest of my driveway or the sidewalk of the abandoned house next door. Whoever's in charge of that property this year has actually been sending people out to clear the sidewalk and the driveway, so I'm not too worried.

After wrestling the thrower back into the shed, I take on the front steps with the shovel. The trick of shoveling the steps is to put the snow strategically along the bottom edge of the snowbank first, so any snow you drop higher up on the hill doesn't just roll over the ice crust and land back in the sidewalk.

There's still a layer of slush on the sidewalk, and in my anal-retentive way I decide to try and get that up as well. While today it is a balmy 33 degrees (and I'm wishing I had worn a lighter sweater under my heavy coat), I know that tomorrow this will all freeze, and there's nothing harder to get off of a sidewalk than glare ice, except for hardpack that's frozen solid. (Glare ice will usually succumb to ice-melt. Hardpack won't as much.) And so I dutifully scrape up the slush.

Veterans of Wisconsin winters can tell you about all kinds of snow. The blizzard two weeks ago was wet heavy snow, which is backbreaking for shovelers but not so bad if you have a snow-thrower. It's also great for snowballs. Last night's snow was light and dry, which doesn't pack for shit but is apparently good for skiing. It's easy to shovel and annoying to snow-blow (you'll find snow-blow and snow-throw to be interchangeable) because it tends to hang in the air and blow back in your face. However, in both cases it was the weather that happened AFTER the snowfall that really mattered. In the case of the blizzard, temperatures plummeted, meaning that if you hadn't gotten your sidewalk done you were now stuck with the aforementioned frozen hardpack. Last night the snow was followed by freezing rain, creating the lovely aforementioned slush-snow-ice sandwich. (At least now that it's warmer it's easy to get the hardpack up. Wedge your shovel under it and lift, and it'll break off in big chunks.)

As I work, I'm surrounded by the drip-crackle of melting ice. The trees are all coated with ice, and many branches that were already weakened by the blizzard two weeks ago have come down under this new weight. With the temperature currently above freezing, much of that pretty glittery coating is now cracking and falling off. Icicles are growing like mad. I've already knocked some doozies off the back porch. (Yes, they're pretty, but they're also terrible for the roof.)

Across the street, a man with a better snow-thrower than mine comes along to help out another elderly neighbor who is stubbornly out shoveling. My heart is warmed to see this man swing down the whole front block and back, stop to chat with the old man, and go on his merry way. I think the snow helps bring people together in ways people in warmer climes may not appreciate. Not being a very social person, I've met most of my neighbors through snow-removal activities.

Finally, the sidewalk cleared to my OCD satisfaction, I put down a light layer of ice-melt. It will probably wash away with the warmer temperatures, but in the meantime it'll clear away the last of the slush. At least until it snows again tomorrow.

Image: Ron Bird / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Vamps Anthology Release

The anthology Vamps releases today from the good folks over at Torquere Press. In it you will find my story "The Power That Dreams Have," the sequel to my story "Empusa," which appeared in Torquere's Bite Me anthology earlier this year.

In "The Power That Dreams Have," Sophia of Athens is contentedly obsessed with her dreams of the daimon Empusa, though she knows Empusa is killing her slowly. But as the army of Xerxes advances on Athens, Sophia is in greater danger than she realizes.

While I think you get more out of the story if you've read "Empusa," "The Power That Dreams Have" is still a pretty hot stand-alone. Both anthologies are available in print and ebook versions.

"Empusa" was my very first fiction sale (05/06/09), and my very first fiction publication (08/26/09), and it pleases me greatly that I can bracket this first year of professional writing with stories about her.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Tuesday Tip: Take Care of Yourself

With deadlines approaching, marketing to stay on top of, quotas to fill, and plots to…well, plot, it can be hard for a writer to remember that there is one thing you must always take care of first.

You.

I don't know about you, but when I'm tired I spend a lot more time staring off into space, or writing crap that I end up having to do over again, or making poor plotting choices. So make sure you are getting enough sleep whenever possible. And be honest with yourself about how much is enough—this is different for different people. My husband needs four to six hours of sleep a night, with occasional twelves on the weekends. I need at least six hours every night, preferably eight, and ideally no more than nine or I get headaches.

Also, remember to get off your butt every so often. I know, so much of the hard part is getting your butt behind the keyboard to begin with. But regular exercise, even if it's light exercise, can help keep your brain functioning at its best. Plus, sometimes just the act of getting up and moving around can "jog" your creativity.

Don't forget to eat. I'm hypoglycemic, so you'd think that I'd notice when I go too long without food. Not so much. Particularly when I'm distracted with cerebral activities I can go eight to twelve hours without getting hungry. (Or, maybe more accurately, without noticing I'm hungry.) It makes my husband very sad when I do this, because inevitably by the time I do notice, I'm already into the cranky shrewish stage.

Learn when and how you neglect yourself, be honest about it, and take steps to make sure you take care of yourself.

Friday, December 18, 2009

100 Words About: No Internet

So last night we came home to discover our internet was down. The husband toddled off to go play LAN games at a friend’s, and I figured to settle in and get some rewriting done.

And yet, I itched to blog or post about the fact I had no internet. Considering that less than a year ago I didn’t have a blog or a Facebook page or anything, this kind of disturbs me.

Also, normally I work much better when I don’t have internet access. But for whatever reason, all I could think about was the fact I couldn’t get online, despite the fact I had just been rewriting like a fiend in the breakroom at work, which doesn’t have internet access. Arg!

Image: Pixomar / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Tuesday Tip: Git er Done

You have a schedule, whatever it might be. You stick to it, you get your daily allotment done.

But some days will just mess up your program.

You could get sick. Your computer could die. You could have a family emergency that commands your attention. And sometimes you just plain didn’t do the math right.

Or, as in my case, you get sick AND decide that you simply must do a story for that anthology that closes TOMORROW.

For whatever reason, you have a deadline approaching, and you’re running behind.

Late-nighters and all-nighters are part and parcel with this industry. No matter how well you plan, there’s always something that can come along and throw a wrench in your works.

These are the days where you work feverishly into the wee morning hours, catch a few z’s, and get up to go to your day job. And, as the case may be, find yourself feverishly typing your morning blog post that got pushed off yesterday so you could make that deadline. Ahhh, internet cafĂ©, how I love you.

Friday, December 11, 2009

100 Words About: Snow!

I love snow. We just had 18 inches of it in less than two days, and despite still being sore from shoveling, I can honestly still say it: I love snow.

All you whining, complaining, can’t-drive-on-anything-but-dry-pavement peoples can please exit my state now. Hello, this is Wisconsin! Snow, beer, brats, cheese, hunting, and football. That’s it.

Anyway.

It’s bitterly cold out, but sooooo beautiful! Makes me wish I did winter sports, but I don’t have time. Maybe it’s me, but there is something inherently peaceful about a snow-covered landscape. And it’s so much easier to see the deer coming…

Image: Marcus74id / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Tuesday Tip: Read

If you want to be a writer, read. A lot. There are several reasons to do this.

One, the more you read, the more you learn about writing. Period. You learn by experience what works and what doesn’t, about the flow of narrative, about pacing, style, vocabulary, and everything else that goes into a book.

Two, by reading in the genre you plan to write in, you learn about what’s been done before. This helps you avoid clichĂ©s and stereotypes. You also learn about what is generally expected from the genre. This helps you know what readers of the genre might be looking for, and can also give you ideas for breaking out of the genre in ways that will work for your target audience.

Three, by reading outside the genre you plan to write in, you gain a whole host of advantages over writers who don’t read outside the genre they write in, such as a wider vocabulary, exposure to different methods of pacing, and stylistic tricks. Selectively applying these new strategies can give your writing a fresh feel that will hopefully appeal to your target audience.

Four, reading nonfiction in particular can give you a ton of great ideas, in-genre and cross-genre. It also exposes you to yet more vocabulary and different writing styles.

Five, reading poetry will teach you about how poets convey intense emotion and meaning with just a few words. Learn about imagery and rhythm and grace, and apply that selectively to your writing as appropriate. Remember, poetry does not have to be flowery purple prose—sometimes it’s wonderfully simple and elegant too.

Read for fun. Enjoy what you read, and don’t feel guilty about it unless you aren’t getting your writing done. Reading for the pure joy of it still gets the words into your head, and teaches you about the flow of action and reaction, build-up and climax, conflict and resolution.

Read actively. Pay attention to all the things you read about in books and blogs on writing. What works for you? What doesn’t? What blows you out of the water, and how can you apply that technique? Where does the author follow the rules, and where does he break them—and does he get away with it, or does it fail miserably? If you hate the book, why? Figure out what makes it so terrible, and then avoid doing it yourself! Learning to read actively will also help you with your own revisions, as you’ll be used to paying attention to the craft of the writing as well as to the entertainment.

I’ll warn you, learning to read actively will have an effect on your reading for pleasure. Things will annoy you that you probably wouldn’t have noticed before, and you may find it more difficult to immerse yourself in a good book. For example, I didn’t use to notice random point-of-view changes as much, but now they’re like nails on a chalkboard to me. Also, I get tripped up by oddly worded phrases—where I would have kept going before, now I’ll stop and figure out ways it could be phrased better. In my opinion, it’s a small price to pay to improve my skills.

Friday, December 4, 2009

100 Words About: Muzzyhead

You ever get that sort of fatigue where you just can't think? You're not tired exactly, or maybe just not sleepy. You've got enough get up and go to get up and around, but your brain's just lagging behind. Where your most likely answer to any question is "Um. What?" I'm feeling like that at the moment.

"100 words about..? Um. Um… God, my head feels stuffed with cotton…"

And the worst part is you know you can't just crawl into bed and be ok in the morning. Either you're going to lay there for a few hours first, or you'll sleep like a babe and still have muzzyhead when the alarm goes off.

Photo courtesy of Suat Eman and freedigitalphotos.net.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Tuesday Tip: Internet Marketing: Blogging Next Steps

Once you have a blog and a few weeks worth of posts, it's time to start promoting your blog. Comment in other blogs that you read. You’d be amazed how many people will click on your name if they like your comments. When appropriate and relevant, mention one of your own blog posts and include a link. Don't do this a lot or you run the risk of looking like a spammer.

The HTML code for imbedding links is the one piece of code I think all bloggers should know. It looks like this, only without the asterisks:

<*a href="http://mercyloomis.blogspot.com/">My Blog<*/a>

That bit of HTML, without the asterisks, would make this link: My Blog

This will allow you to imbed a link into your comments in other people's blogs, which is a lot less annoying and rude than trying to paste a long string of URL into someone's comments section. You probably only need to remember this for when you are posting a comment somewhere else—your blog manager should have a button to insert the code for you when you are making your own posts.

Submit your blog posts to social bookmarking sites to get more exposure.

Trade guest blog spots with other bloggers, where you do a guest blog post on their blog, and they do a guest post on your blog.

Take part in relevant chat room events and other social networking events, such as LiveJournal communities, Ning sites, or other social forums.

Use your site counter to keep track of what strategies seem to work for your blog, and keep doing those!

Read other blog marketing sites for ideas and new techniques to try.

But above all, keep posting. Content is what will keep people coming back to your blog.