Tag Archives: short stories

Improving Your Author Visibility

14 Oct

Today’s blog post is brought to you again by my good friend, Ed Stasheff, who has been working as a small press publisher, editor, and author for years.

In yesterday’s post I explained how editors, when faced with several excellent stories competing for one open slot, may take the author of the tale into consideration.  Specifically, we look at the author’s popularity (through number of previous publications and social media following) and their demographics.  While these criteria do tend to slant in favor of popular, established authors over talented but unknown beginning authors, there are some things new authors can do to balance things out.

Have a Social Media Presence

The more social media followers you have, the more might buy a book or magazine that published your story, and thus the more sales the publisher might make.  Editors pay attention to these things.  At the very least, have Facebook and Twitter accounts, but more platforms is always better.  If you have a separate author page on Facebook, that’s even better. Presumably all that followers that page are interested in your writing, as opposed to a personal page where a large number might be acquaintances with no interest—or even knowledge—of your writing career.

Have an Author Website

If an editor is going to research you as an author, make it quick and easy for them to find all the information about you that they need.  It doesn’t have to be fancy, detailed, or even ad-free—seriously, we don’t care about that.  There are plenty of places where you can build a simple website for free (although it’ll probably have ads).  A blog is a bonus, even if it’s not updated regularly.  If you have a common name like John Smith, make sure the landing page of your website introduces you as “John Smith, a fiction author of (genre name)” so that we can instantly tell we’ve found the right person, instead of wondering whether or not John Smith the Accountant from Wisconsin is you.

Link to your Social Media Accounts from your Author Website

Editors rarely have the time to check all social media platforms for all authors who submit manuscripts.  Personally, I check for a website, Facebook and Twitter accounts, and that’s it—so if most of your followers are on Instagram or TikTok, I’ll probably miss it.  However, if you make it easy for editors to find all of your social media accounts by having prominent (i.e., toward the top) links to them on your website, we can quickly and easily count ALL your followers.

Have a Bibliography on your Author Website

Sure, we editors may often consider an author’s number of previous publications a measure of their name recognition or popularity, but… how do we know what you’ve written?  Personally, I use Amazon, Goodreads, LibraryThing, and the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (isfdb.org).  No one location will have a list of all your publications, though, especially since there are so many obscure magazines and e-zines out there.  So help us out and have a page on your website dedicated to your complete bibliography.  Categorize them by novels, short stories, and poetry.  Include not just the story’s title, but also the anthology/magazine it appears in, the date, and (if known) the publisher.

To conclude, all these things will help make you more competitive (or at least appear to be) compared to more establish authors.  My final bit of advice is that taking these steps does require a time commitment—possibly a major one.  If you’re serious about building up your fiction writing career, it may be worth your time.  On the other hand, if you only jot off a story every now and then and occasionally submit it here and there on a whim, it may not be the best use of your time… at least, not yet.

If you have any questions, leave them in the comments, and I’ll do my best to answer them quickly.

Editors Evaluating Authors

13 Oct

Today’s blog post is brought to you again by my good friend, Ed Stasheff, who has been working as a small press publisher, editor, and author for years.

I mentioned in my original guest post that when a magazine or anthology editor has read through the slush pile of submissions and eliminated the bad and mediocre stories, there will almost certainly be more excellent short stories than can possibly fit in that anthology or magazine issue. Consequently, editors have to whittle down the excellent submissions based on criteria that have little or nothing to do with the story’s quality.  I also mentioned in last week’s post how editors keep an eye out for stories that contain interesting variations on the publication’s theme.

This week, I’ll mention three other things that editors research to choose between equally excellent stories.  These criteria, however, aren’t about the story, but about the author.

1. Previous Publications

Readers are more likely to buy a book or magazine when the cover displays an author name or two they’re familiar with.  Although it’s hard to gauge an author’s popularity, one metric is the number of their previous publications.  The more stories an author has published, the more likely they are to have name recognition and a following.  So if I’ve got two excellent stories I can’t decide between where one author has three publications and the other has thirty, I’ll probably go with the more established author.

2. Social Media Following

This may not apply to big publishers like Penguin/Random House or Simon & Schuster, but for small and indie publishers (and there are thousands) this is crucial for sales.  You see, when an author gets a short story published in a magazine or anthology, they almost always post about it on social media when the book is released.  A small percentage of their followers go on to buy the book.  Therefore, the larger a social media following an author has, the more sales will be made in the first week after release (which is vital to the book moving up the search rankings on Amazon).  Consequently, if I have to decide between two equally excellent stories where one author has 500 followers and the other has 5,000, I’ll probably pick the author with the larger social media following.

3. Demographics

This is sex, gender, race, ethnic and/or religious minorities, sexual orientation, and physical and/or mental disabilities.  There has been a lot of backlash over the last several decades against genre anthologies being dominated by straight white cis men.  Consequently, many editors (not all, but a lot) these days at least try to have some degree of diversity among their authors.  So sometimes if I have to decide between two equally excellent stories by authors with a similar number of previous publications and near-equal social media followers—but one author is a woman or minority—I’ll choose that author.  It doesn’t happen very often, true, but it does occasionally come into play.  Now, keep in mind this isn’t just about politics—people with different backgrounds and experiences often bring different viewpoints and perspectives to the fiction they write (which goes back to the need for variation in an anthology’s theme).

You may have noticed a bias built into this selection process: popular published authors are more likely to get published again, while unpublished or new authors—even talented ones—are less likely to get published at all. And you are perfectly right. This is exactly why it is so hard for new authors to break into the fiction-writing field.  But the good news is that there are some things a new author can do to help level the playing field in their favor.  I’ll get into that in tomorrow’s post.

But what do you think? Do these points make sense for you? What tricks have you used to get past the gatekeepers? Let us know in the comments below!

How to Get your Story Noticed (Part II)

4 Oct

Today’s blog post is continued from yesterday and is written by my good friend, Ed Stasheff, who has been working as a small press publisher, editor, and author for years.

Coming up with an original, unique idea is harder said than done. To help you brainstorm, here’s three different variations on a theme editors keep an eye out for while wading through the slush pile.

1. Atypical Setting

My experience as an editor is that the vast majority of the submissions I receive are set in the here-and-now.  By “here”, I mean the USA, with a handful set in other English-speaking countries (the “Anglosphere”), mainly England, Canada, and Australia. Consequently, if you submit a story set in, say, Japan, you’ll probably catch the editor’s attention, and there’s a good chance no one else has submitted a tale using that setting.  European countries (France, Germany, Italy, etc.) are good—they’re culturally similar enough to the Anglosphere that they require minimal research, but are just different enough to lend an exotic flair.  Non-western settings are your best option for submitting a completely unique story, but they require more research.  Luckily, while novels may require in-depth research, short stories are brief enough you can usually get away with just basic research on Wikipedia.

Even within the USA, you can find exotic settings by exploring subcultures—ethnic, racial, and religious minorities, lesser-known professions, fan groups, etc.  For example, I didn’t publish Marcus’s story “Shadow Charts” in “Corporate Cthulhu” just because he’s my brother-in-law, but because his was the only story set in a private for-profit hospital. It was a good choice, too—several reviewers called out “Shadow Charts” as one of the better horror tales.  Apparently, a lot of readers are seriously creeped out by hospitals.

As with anything, though, you can take things too far.  If you set a story on a different planet, an alternate universe, or in a completely fictional world, you might end up drifting too far from the anthology’s theme. Such extreme settings can be done successfully, but it’s riskier.

2. Atypical Time Period

We’ve discussed the “here”, but what about the “now”?  Again, the vast majority of submissions I’ve read are set in the modern day.  Therefore, to get your story to stand out, set it in a different time period.  Even the first half of the 20th century—an era before computers, mobile phones, and television—is foreign enough to provide the audience with an enjoyably different reading experience.  The farther back in time you go, the more research you’ll need to do—but the greater the chances your story will be unique in the slush pile.

You can also go forward in time too, but that’s riskier—it might be too different for the anthology’s needs.  As a general rule, unless it’s for a science fiction anthology, stick to the near future instead of the far future.

When I was selecting stories for “The Averoigne Legacy” anthology (set in a haunted medieval French province), most tales were set in either the Middle Ages or Modern Day.  Two stories, however, were set in the Roman Era.  Both ended up being selected and published.

3. Blending Genres

Most anthologies these days, even themed anthologies, are set in a single genre. Unfortunately, that risks the stories becoming tedious after a while, even to fans. One way to keep things fresh and interesting, however, is to blend the main genre with a secondary genre to make the story different and original.  Take Fantasy, for example.  Sooner or later, the audience will get weary of Action/Adventure Fantasy stories. A Comedic Fantasy will jolt them out of their complacency. But why stop there?  Throw in a Mystery Fantasy, and a Horror Fantasy, and a Fantasy Romance, and… you get the idea.  This is one of the things editors keep an eye out for when reading through the slush pile to provide their readers with a variety of stories. If yours is the only story blending Fantasy with Science Fiction—say, exploring alien worlds with teleportation spells instead of rocket ships—you’ll have a better chance of it being accepted and published.

Be aware, though, that some genres are easier to blend than others.  Blending Romance with Horror, while not impossible, is harder to write successfully that Romance and Comedy. Also, be sure to keep the anthology’s genre the primary one, and the other genre secondary. There’s a big difference between a Fantasy story with a touch and Romance, and a Romance with a touch of Fantasy. Otherwise, you risk getting one of those “not a good fit” letters.

These are just the most common variations on a theme editors keep an eye out for.  There are others, but they’re more subtle and difficult to write successfully.  If you found this helpful (or unhelpful), let Marcus know in the comments.  If there’s enough interest, maybe I’ll write another post about what variations editors are looking for.

How to Get Your Story Noticed (Part I)

3 Oct

Today’s blog post is brought to you again by my good friend, Ed Stasheff, who has been working as a small press publisher, editor, and author for years.

Hello, Editor Ed here again!  Apparently enough people found my guest post useful enough that Marcus invited me back for another one.  So here’s some advice on how to make your story stick out (in a good way) and catch an editor’s attention.

I mentioned in my last post that many anthologies today are arranged around a theme.  Story submissions that don’t fit that theme, no matter how good or well-written, get the “nice, but not a good fit” rejection letter.

Unfortunately, editors face an equal but opposite problem: stories that are too similar.  While readers (a fickle bunch!) don’t like anthologies filled with stories that don’t match the theme, they also dislike anthologies filled with essentially just the same story over and over again.  Thus, when selecting stories, editors have to walk a tightrope of picking tales that fit the theme well while simultaneously being just different enough from each other to provide readers with sufficient variety to keep their interest.

The solution (for both authors and editors) is to find variations on that theme. Try to find an aspect of that theme for your story that’s different, original, and hopefully unique, and write about it.  Take an anthology of steampunk stories, for example.  Sure, you could set your story on an airship—but I guarantee there’ll be at least a dozen other submissions also set on an airship.  Since only one or two such stories can make it into the anthology, you’re up against a lot of competition.  Your airship story might be excellent, but could still lose out to another airship story that was just a little bit better.  On the other hand, you could write a steampunk story about, say, an underwater mining facility.  Now that will stand out, and with luck, no other submissions will feature that idea.  Now you’ve got a much better chance of catching the editor’s attention by providing an interesting variation on the anthology’s theme, AND little or no competition for an open slot!

It is always possible that a story concept can vary too far from the original theme, in which case it hurts, rather than helps, your chances at publication.  But how much variation is too much? Use this as a general rule of thumb: if you have to explain why your story fits the theme, then it’s too much variation.  The story’s connection to the theme should be obvious, even from a brief plot synopsis.

What kind of variations do you like playing with? Let me know in the comments below!

What We Choose to Leave Behind

1 Aug

There are stories all around you; I found this one in the trash. Well, it would be trash if anyone ever bothered to throw it away. When you walk around my neighborhood, you find the funniest things on the side of the road, so I took pics of what I found along my route. But there are some that I simply don’t get.

This one is pretty straightforward – the pic above is a luggage handle. Okay, you’re dragging your luggage and all of a sudden – SNAP! – it breaks off. Darn. Now you have to push your luggage on wheels. My guess is that it’s one of our homeless folks who haul all their goods with them. The only problem is that luggage was not designed to be a trailer, so really… this is inevitable.

Hubcaps make sense – you’d think you’d hear the DING! as it falls off. But since this is right next to an industrial park, I’m guessing when you’ve got 18 wheels, you’re probably not noticing a small sound.

This is the one I don’t get – clothes. You’re hot, I get it, but… don’t you think you’re gonna need this later? Kids’ shoes I understand – my kids take off their #*$&#*$ shoes all the time and can easily forget where they put them. But adult shoes? What are you walking around on?!

This is left behind on purpose – it’s just decoration. Not a decoration I understand, but hey! It’s their place!

What have you seen on the side of the road that defied explanation? Tell me about it in the comments below!

Hate the Length, Not the Writer

29 Jul

As I’m releasing my short stories on my author’s page, it occurs to me–I really don’t like short stories. I’ve written very few, as compared to the tons of first chapters in my folders that never got anywhere. It occurred to me that the reason was very, very simple.

You simply get no chance to be invested in the story. It takes a while to setup the universe, the characters, to get into the rhythm of the story. Then… it’s suddenly over. Your entire job is to convey one cute concept or rough idea or something you want to discuss. The characters and the universe are irrelevant in a short story. It’s a plot, straight and simple. Take one of my favorite short stories, “The Rule of Names” by Ursula K. Le Guin. Great concept, but apart from the dragon, do you know any of the characters? No… it’s not important. You build up this universe just to abandon it on the side of the road. Maybe the universe couldn’t hold up a whole novel (as has happened to me).

I find this annoying in other forms of entertainment as well. It’s why I prefer TV series over movies. If you’re gonna spend time with characters you care about, you want them be around for a while. That’s why having a universe where main’/supporting characters die is so effective!

But there are exceptions to this. Memes, for example, are easily digestible, bite-sized nuggets of wisdom. Whether they match your wisdom is another question entirely–they’re there to get a point across and leave. They’re also easily shared and travel fast. You don’t have time to make a connection. Blogs are also great for this, because although they’re short, you know the author and make a connection with them instead.

Now I’ve actually sold short stories, and they’re great for anthologies, but those have the same problem for me. Unless you’re following the same characters, I really couldn’t care. Even anthologies from a shared universe are… iffy. For example, Changer of Worlds is set in the Honorverse, which is a series I’ve followed religiously written by David Weber. Three of the four stories are referenced (but not essential) to the plot of other books; three of the four are also written by the author himself, so one wonders why he bothered. Even then, it still took a while for me to read them… even after I bought the book! In this case, I was simply getting backstory… and although that was enjoyable, it wasn’t desirable.

Novellas are the worst of both worlds. I should know, I’ve written two of them. They’re just long enough to convey the story, universe, and characters, but not enough to continue. About 20K words–that was my comfortable spot for many years. I couldn’t write more than that until NaNoWriMo and Grad School taught me how to crank words out. There was one novella I wrote specifically for a contest, so it had to be that long, but it didn’t win… so… poopy.

So when I seek out new reading, I hope for series, I hope for long epic stories, and characters that are worth following. Am I alone here? Do you feel the same or do you crave the nice bite-size morsels of a short story? Or even the single sitting meal of a movie? Let me know in the comments below!

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