This weekend was supposed to be productive.
And we did get the new issue of Unlikely Story
published, so that's a thing. That's productive, yes?
I was also supposed to accomplish: install an air conditioner; clean the gutters; powerwash the siding on the house; 5 loads of laundry; go to sword-fighting class; mow the lawn; get a long-overdue chapter written on a novel.
But something happened yesterday. A low pressure front? Existential angst? I dunno, but most of yesterday was a total wash. My bones ached, and I blew off class. I did get the air conditioner installed today (and in the process found a book that I'd promised to loan to a friend but then couldn't find). And the laundry is a little bit done?
And I got the issue done.
Which is what matters, in the end.
The Journal of Unlikely Cartography
(aka Unlikely Story
Issue #9) is now up and live.
Featuring stories by Sarah Pinsker, Carrie Cuinn, Rhonda Eikamp, Kat Howard, James Van Pelt, and Shira Lipkin, and art by Dywiann Xyara, Vivian Gu, Egle Ghe, and Linda Saboe.
Yes, it's noon already.
Yes, I just woke up.
In my inbox were some calls for submissions, some of which are non-paying. So I thought I'd share my thoughts on that.
I have had some experience with non-paying markets, from when I first started selling stories. At the time, the drive was to get things published, to get my work out where people would see it, and, being filled with self-doubts and hating receiving rejection letters, I sent my work out to places I thought had a high likelihood of not sending me a rejection letter. How did I determine this? I sent my work to online magazines that published stuff that was noticeably worse than my early work.
The tactic worked. The stories were published. One was even published before I was notified of acceptance. There was no editing.
Which is to say (to paraphrase Cerebus the Aardvark), sometimes you can get what you wanted, and still not be very happy.
They say you get what you pay for. As a writer, the same applies, with a twist: you will get what the publisher pays for. The non-paying market field is filled with people who look at e-zine publishing and think, hey, I can do that
. Chances are, no, they can't. When I launched The Journal of Unlikely Entomology
in 2011, I had no idea what I was doing. None of us did. BUT. We were committed to it, and there was money on the table. We were paying our authors and our artists. We weren't going to take a story that I wasn't willing to spend money on, and, having spent the money, we were dedicated to making sure it was as good as it could be before it went out into the world. Without having made an investment in the project, there is little incentive for the publisher to do the hard work of actually creating a valuable product, and most of the time, they don't.
And sadly (or perhaps fortunately, given the general lack of editing), even for the purpose of having your work where people will see and read it, getting published in non-paying markets often doesn't even provide that. What exactly is
the readership of a non-paying zine? What value does having a short story out in a non-paying market have for me? None.
THERE ARE EXCEPTIONS, and your mileage may vary, as they say on teh Intarwebs.
In the literary/mainstream field, non-paying short fiction markets seem to be the rule rather than the exception, until you reach a certain level of notoriety, at which point you get paid well - very
well, by genre standards.
There are, also, some conscientious editors out there putting together good zines, without the means to pay. Most of them, however, will find some
way to pay at least a token amount - a couple bucks via paypal or something. If you're considering sending your work to a non-paying market, take a look at their recent offerings. What is the quality of the stories? What about editing - are there lots of typos, misspelled words, horrifying sentence constructions? What about the presentation? Impossible-to-read blood-red type on a black background? Background images that obfuscate the text? Look for a clean, professional presentation and stories that look like someone actually paid attention to editing them.
One gentleman of my acquaintance was working on a short story collection which he planned to self-publish, and sent a number of the stories out to non-paying markets simply for the ability to put "previously published in" in front of enough of the stories that his self-pubbed work would be seen as something by someone whose work has been vetted through a traditional editing/publishing process. I think that's a valid reason. I've seen his work - it's certainly good enough to get picked up by paying markets, but he was looking for a fast turnaround.
AND - probably most importantly - there are markets that exist as benefits. This is what I received in my email overnight. If there's a good reason to give away one's creative work, it's for the purpose of generating awareness of a worthy cause, and of generating revenue for that cause. Coming Together
is an erotica imprint whose tagline is "Doing good while being bad. Erotic fiction to benefit charity." The email I received informed us that they will be starting calls soon for two new projects, one a science fiction themed anthology that benefits the International Still's Disease Foundation, and the other an ongoing line of Steampunk themed stories to benefit the National Math & Science Initiative. If you feel like doing good while being bad, either as a reader or a writer, check out their site to see their offerings and the charities they support, and to see what calls for submission are currently open.http://www.eroticanthology.comhttp://www.eroticanthology.com/submissions.htm
This post applies to short fiction submissions. Things are a bit different when pitching novels, querying agents and whatnot.
Over the past three years, we've received a lot of submissions, and a lot of cover letters. After reading these, there's some things I want to say about them.
Let's get one thing straight right from the start: There is very little you can say in your cover letter that will improve your chances of having your story accepted.
This is an important thing to understand. For short story submissions, the cover letter exists to convey specific pieces of information that the editor wants to see. It is not a sales pitch. In the case of Unlikely Story
, we want to see the following: your name; your story's title; the word count; if it's a reprint where and when it was first published. This is so that we can populate our spreadsheet when your submission comes in without having to first download your story, then open it in a Word or equivalent, just to find out the title or word count. We don't mind a short bio - one or maybe 2 sentences - simply because if we like your work, we may want to look to see what else you've done, if we have time for pleasure reading. If we've met somewhere, it doesn't hurt to include something like, "It was a pleasure meeting you at Balticon last year," or something like that. And that's it. Last month I met the editors of another online zine, and they said "we mark that field in the submission form optional because we don't want to see cover letters." Why? Because their online form already gathers all the info they need, and anything you say in addition to that is either of neutral value, or will actually harm your chances.
So here's an even baker's dozen of Don'ts when it comes to cover letters:
- Don't get the salutation wrong. That's disrespectful. Get the names right. Get the honorifics right. If you're unclear on what the right honorific is, use full names. Alternately, go generic. I typically use "Greetings," as my salutation, as it applies equally to junior and senior editors, and to slush readers. (There are some editors who dislike the generic salutation.)
- Don't only address the male editor(s). I can't tell you how often this happens.
- Don't be overly casual, unless you know the editor personally.
- Don't be rude.
- Don't be unprofessional.
- Don't NOT provide the specific information requested in the submission guidelines.
- Don't give us your complete multi-volume autobiography.
- Don't give us your complete bibliography of every story you've ever had published or self-published in the history of your complete autobiography.
- Don't I repeat DO NOT summarize your story in the cover letter. If we can't figure out what your story is about by reading your story, we probably don't want it; when you tell us in advance what to expect, we can no longer look at the story objectively, and it's points off.
- For the love of everything anyone has ever held sacred (including Pete), DO NOT tell us how we are going to feel about your story.
- Corollary to #10, don't tell us how your story is going to catapult our magazine to fame and glory.
- Don't tell us how stupid and blind to great art all the other editors who rejected your story in the past are, or even that it has been sent out before and been rejected.
- Don't ignore the posted submission guidelines for the market you are submitting to, even (especially) if they contradict anything I've said in this post.
There are a couple things that you CAN do:
- Include a brief bio of 1-2 sentences, mentioning the most prestigious markets you've sold to to date.
- Be comfortable with the fact that you haven't sold anything yet - as my karate instructor told me, long ago: "We all start at white belt." Being previously unpublished will not hurt your chances of selling a story. In fact, most editors are very happy when they get to be the first one to publish someone who shows real potential.
- Especially if you're a new writer, do not be shy about asking for feedback. (DON'T DO THIS IF YOU DO NOT RESPOND WELL TO FEEDBACK YOU DON'T LIKE!) You won't necessarily get feedback (and don't be offended if you don't - there are legitimate reasons why an editor might not provide feedback), but sometimes you will, and that advice can be invaluable. When I first started submitting work, I'd include something like, "As a relatively new writer trying to improve my craft, any feedback is appreciated." The first story I ever submitted was rejected with a couple lines of feedback, which helped me fix the story and sell it elsewhere; same happened with another story, which went on to become my first professional sale.
So, that's it. Now get back to writing!
It's supposed to snow tonight. It's like a fucking winter wonderland.
I might be happier about this whole gobs-of-ice-and-snow winter if I hadn't been combatting an array of maladies, meaning that shoveling is just one more thing to tire me out too much to brain effectively.
So, what's new? Well, if you've been following the Unlikely Story blogs, either on lj @ http://grumps-journal.livejournal.com/
or wordpress @ http://www.unlikely-story.com/about/news/
(or on twitter, or G+, or possibly on facebook, though they've started to suck as far as actually communicating with people anymore), you'll have seen that Issue 8 (which is our 10th issue) is now available. This is our first Cryptography issue, and given the number of excellent stories we had to pass up due to budgetary constraints, I have high hopes for when this theme rolls around again next year.
What else is new? Well, some of you might know that a while back Circlet Press put out a call for an anthology called The Flesh Made Word
, erotica about writing. The editing process got derailed for a few personal reasons, but we're now back on track and edits are in process. Working with Cecilia Tan at Circlet has been both interesting and educational. In every slush pile (and also in every critique group) there are always those maddening stories that are good
, but something about them just doesn't sit right — that are missing something critical, but damned if you know what it is. Cecilia is brilliant at identifying those things, and I feel very lucky to have had the chance to participate in that process. Anyway, more news on that soon.
So I wasn't home for this. I just heard it second-hand.
Today, the Meat Man came. He arrived in a van which was painted with pictures of meat. He and his partner were going door-to-door. He came to our door.
"Hi," he said. "I'm from Delaware!"
"Excuse me?" Lori said.
"Oh, sorry," he said. "I'm from the Great State of Delaware!"
Lori saw the van at that point and said, "Oh, you're selling meat? Well, they're vegetarians here, so you're out of luck."
He laughed at that, but he didn't leave. Instead, he started to go into his spiel. At this point, Loki headbutted the back of Lori's knee and slipped past her, running at the Meat Man, barking wildly.
Lori said, "They're vegetarians, but she's not."
It's pretty much exactly a week from when the ice storm started that took out power to 69% of everyone in Chester County, PA.
Our power went out last wednesday at 6am. Somewhere around 4pm, our neighbor's tree came down. 60 year old oak tree, just tipped over under the weight of the ice. Came down into our back yard, taking out the electrical cables. Pulled the telephone poles on either side of it toward it. ~snap~ Yeah, that. It was like dominos, breaking two more poles down the line from us.
Power was out for 4 days, coming back Saturday night. PECO showed up around 10am Saturday. The tree contractor guys arrived shortly thereafter. Tree guys spent five hours taking down the tree. Brutal work in 25 degree weather. The lead guy wore no gloves. His hands were bright red, and bleeding from multiple wounds. "I've gotta feel my work. I can't feel it through gloves."
PECO was in a holding pattern until the tree was cut away from the wires. I talked with those guys. They looked exhausted. Sixteen hour shifts. In this weather. One problem was that they didn't own the poles. Verizon did. So they couldn't actually fix the poles. Verizon had to. The guy shook his head. "Yeah, right," he said. "Maybe in a month or two." "After the next storm," one of the other guys said. So, they straightened the poles to the best of their ability, tied them off to trees so they wouldn't fall over, and got the wiring fixed.
Ten hours of work between two teams of workers. Multiply that by 750,000 homes without power.
Yeah, being without power for 4 days sucked, especially trying to keep a couple tropical animals alive in sub-freezing temps. But kudos to the guys who worked crazy shifts to get people back up as fast as possible. As painful as the experience was, I'm cognizant of the sheer scope of the disaster, and I'm impressed with how hard they worked to get people back online.
Tomorrow night, seems there's a nor'easter coming through. Initial reports called for snow all day Thursday. Weather Underground forecasts "ice pellets." Fucking hell. Like we need 24 hours of ice pellets.
I'm hoping that the trees that were going to come down have already come down. I'm going to pretend that last week's ice storm couldn't have weakened other trees. Maybe if I pretend hard enough...
NPR.com has a lovely little article called The Worst Songs Of All Time
, available here:http://www.npr.org/blogs/allsongs/2014/02/06/272457460/the-worst-songs-of-all-time
It's worth reading through, and also the comments, which have many worthy candidates.
Nobody mentioned the truly worst song ever. "The Night Chicago Died," by Paper Lace.
The Unlikely Story
crew (A.C. Wise, Linda Saboe, & I) answer important questions about the magazine and ourselves (such as "Doctor Who or Firefly?") at Black Gate.http://www.blackgate.com/2013/11/11/unlikely-story-bg-interviews-the-editors/
Last weekend, I was a panelist at the Pocono Writers' Conference in Stroudsburg, PA. The attendees were largely beginning writers. At one point we were discussing the process of submitting, processes and pitfalls, etc. I mentioned Standard Manuscript Format, and found myself looking out at blank stares.
"Who here knows what Standard Manuscript Format is?" I asked.
A handful of hands raised. (How's that for a badly constructed statement?)
"How many people have no idea what I'm talking about?"
A surprisingly large number.
But really, it shouldn't be surprising. If I look back at myself when I was at their stage, I'd never heard of SMF either.
SMF was standardized at a time when one's story was manually typed onto paper, using a typewriter (often with carbon paper), and the paper was thin to allow for better carbon copies and to reduce the cost of postage. Edits were done in red pencil directly on the page, and eventually (hopefully) the typesetting was done by a person reading that page, placing little bits of lead onto a printing plate. The rules were to give the editor plenty of space to write in, and to make things as uniform as possible to allow for easy reading and easy typesetting.
Many of the reasons for SMF have become obsolete (the typesetting requirements, for example). This is all done with software now, so there's no longer someone staring at a marked up sheet of carbon-copied manuscript trying to sort out if this is a comma or a period, of if that is italicized or not. Technology has rendered much of this moot, but at the same time has created infinite flexibility for writers to do stupid things.
Where before writers might feel compelled to stand out by sending in their manuscript typed on ornate stationary, liberally doused in perfume, now a writer might use a flowery, cursive script (switching fonts to a comic sans for the intentionally funny bits), and litter their manuscript with animated gifs.
Don't. Please. Please don't.
Standard Manuscript Format exists to keep editors sane (for some value of "sane"). When we're sitting down to read submissions, we're we're typically reading batches of stories, and the last thing you want to do is annoy the editor by having them have to reformat your work so that it's readable. The idea is that if the formatting is all the same, it becomes easier for us to consider the story based solely on the content.
So, what is SMF? This is probably the best guide out there:http://www.shunn.net/format/story.html
It is, however, still geared toward the idea of people putting sheets of paper in an envelope, rather than attaching a file to an email.
So, some key differences for electronic submissions:
- Use headers for your headers. DON'T manually add the header information at the top of each page - there's a good chance that the person receiving your story will be using a different word processor, or even a different version of the same word processor, or is reading on a tablet, and there is no guarantee that the story will be rendered exactly the same on every platform. If you use the header function, it won't matter how many lines my Mac NeoOffice renders your Windows Word 2007, the header will always be on the top of the page. (If you are unsure of how to do this, it's typically an option under an "Insert" tab - you'll be able to find instructions for your specific software online.)
- It's pretty standard nowadays to use italics for italics, rather than underlines.
- Unless the guidelines for the market specify a required font, "some reasonable font" is usually adequate. Reasonable includes most commonly Courier or Times New Roman, but can really be any common font that doesn't distract from the editor's reading of the work. In the days of paper manuscripts, Courier was necessary so that the editors could easily estimate word count and layout. Now our software will give us the word count, so it's not as important to use a monospaced font. Remember that the further you stray from the standards (Courier, Times, Arial), the more likely that the font will not be supported in the editor's software, and the display will be unpredictable. My preference is for serif fonts - I find them easier to read. This will vary from person to person, so always read the guidelines.
- File type - the guidelines will typically tell you what file type the editor wants. FOLLOW THE GUIDELINES. Typically, .doc and .rtf are safe bets. DON'T use proprietary file types. Don't use .docx unless it is specifically requested. .docx files in particular display strange behavior when being opened in non-Microsoft environments. If you use MS Word, it may be saving your files in .docx format by default. Consider changing your default so that you send out manuscripts that can be read by anyone, no matter what kind of computer or software they are using.
In case it hasn't been stressed enough yet: ALWAYS FOLLOW THE SPECIFIC GUIDELINES FOR YOUR INTENDED MARKET. Every editor works differently, and every market has its own processes and procedures. If some editor wants things single spaced in 9 pt verdana font, double-spaced between paragraphs with no paragraph indent, give them that. But for the vast majority of markets, some reasonable facsimile of Standard Manuscript Format will do you well.