30 July 2014

behind the scenes

We're working hard behind the scenes at Electric Spec preparing for the production meeting next week. I thought I'd give you a little peek behind the curtain...
We try to be objective when choosing stories to go in hold-for-voting. I even have a kind of check-list I use. Some items on the list include:
    Does the story have the following within the first 2 pages:
  • speculative fiction?
  • protagonist?
  • a problem?
  • is it hooky? am I intrigued? drawn in?
  • is the writing reasonably good? --meaning it's NOT distracting me.
  • does the author have a unique voice?
    Does the story have the following by the end:
  • the protagonist acts?
  • something happens?
  • things are resolved?
Note not all these things are required--but if they're there, that story will get in hold-for-voting.

After stories are in hold-for-voting the editors rank them in numerical order. I then compile the total score of each story for the production meeting. The total score is just the sum of the individual editor's rankings--so a lower score is better. For example, if all three editors think a story is #1 among those in hold-for-voting it gets a total score of 3. And incidentally that story would be in the issue. (We've never had a story get a score of 3.) Notice, with all these numbers we're trying to be objective here as well.

However, when I decide on my personal rankings I'm not objective. I do take into account if I like the story or not. I don't know if this is good or bad, but it's how I do my rankings. Generally, each editor's favorite story, their #1, does make it into the issue.

Next week I'll let you know what happens at the production meeting.

21 July 2014

perfection not required

I've passed along a lot of tips from the slush pile over the years. Unfortunately, these tips tend to be a list of 'what not to do' rather than 'what you're doing right.' So, what are you doing right?

First of all, if you started writing a story and actually finished it: Kudos to you! This is not an easy task. You should be proud you've created something from nothing. I think this is especially true today when we have sooo many other things clamoring for our time and attention.
Second of all, if you submitted your work and subjected it to possible rejection: Kudos to you! This is not an easy task. Everyone at Electric Spec is a writer and knows rejection stings. The trick to learn is: don't let it sting too much.

The vast majority of the stories we receive have an appealing protagonist with a problem who works to solve said problem. They often have neat or horrifying creatures and beautiful and/or intriguing worlds and/or fascinating science. These stories grab us. They emotionally manipulate us (good!). They have realistic and compelling dialogue. If you read the 'zine you know this. :)
So, hurray, for authors!

The vast majority of stories we receive are not perfect, however. That is totally fine. We don't expect perfection. We are not perfect. A few grammar issues or misspellings are no problem.
I would say the most common reason we don't publish a story is: the author hasn't quite transferred the story to the page. We ask questions like: What is this story about? Who is the protagonist? What happens in the end? It's not always easy to answer these questions after reading a story. What's the easiest way to avoid this problem? Ask a friend or family member to read your story and then ask them what it was about.
Another reason we don't take a story is: we've read or published several similar stories previously. A story can be well-written but if there's nothing fresh or new or unique about it, we probably won't take it.

We should finish with slush for the next issue within the next two weeks. So, keep an eye on your in-box if you haven't heard back from us yet. We'll have the Production Meeting for the awesome August 2014 issue at the beginning of August. And then I'll start blogging some previews of coming attractions!

14 July 2014

slush pile notes 2

Today is the deadline for submissions for the August 2014 issue of Electric Spec. Get those stories in and good luck!
We've been making some progress on getting through the slush pile, so here are some more tips in no particular order...
  • Put your story hook in the beginning of your story. I strongly recommend it appear on page 1. There's a school of thought that recommends you start fiction with the ordinary world. This can work, but you don't want to bore the reader. I think readers, including editors, have less patience now than they used to. If you have the cool reveal that your protagonist is a god in the middle of the story, readers might not get that far.
  • Seriously consider avoiding Urban Fantasy creatures including vampires, zombies, werewolves, etc. It is very difficult to put a fresh spin on these. We'd love to see some creatures from more obscure mythologies. Are there any interesting fables in your ethnic or cultural background?
  • Don't use non-said or non-asked dialogue tags. You can use different verb tenses of say and ask but use anything else at your own peril. Why? It pulls the reader out of the story. Can you really moan, sigh, hiss, grunt words? No-ooooo-ooooo.
  • Speaking of which, writing out screams of horror is rarely effective. Gaaaahhhhhhh! In general, macabre fiction is difficult. It should be spooky or creepy rather than bloody. Bloody horror is more suited to visual media.
  • Keep market in mind. Over the past nine (!) years we've created a specific Electric Spec 'brand.' In particular, our stories must have a speculative element. Our stories have dialogue. Our stories have protagonists. In our stories something happens. Our stories are mostly showing rather than telling. Our stories have a resolution. We like unique fresh stories.
I guess that's it for now. Thanks for reading.

08 July 2014

slush pile notes

Once again it seems we are behind with our slush pile. Apologies. If you submitted for the August 2014 issue rest assured we will get back to you. Eventually.
Here are some miscellaneous comments related to the slush pile...
Of course, the only rule of writing is there are no rules to writing. :)

  • Please do not give a synopsis of your story in the cover letter. It gives me the idea that you think your story is confusing. If your story is confusing, explaining it in the cover letter won't help.
  • Please do not use giant fonts or weird formatting in your story. It's distracting and it makes me think you are an inexperienced story-teller. (Along those same lines, don't tell me this is the first story you've ever written.)
  • Please do not submit stories of more than 7000 words. This is outside our word limit and honestly, if you can write a story of ~7400 words are you sure you can't find 400 words to cut? If I was going to give one overall tip for everyone it would be: make your story shorter. Cut everything that doesn't need to be there.
  • It is not recommended that you use sentences of more than 100 words. Can you say 'run on'? Related to this: generally, don't repeat a word multiple times within a sentence.
  • Generally, a story needs to have a protagonist.
  • Generally, a protagonist needs to do something in the story. If no one does anything, it's not really a story, IMHO.
  • Don't start your story with the protagonist waking up. Don't start your story with the protagonist dreaming. Don't start your story with the protagonist opening the front door.
  • Don't write a story about real-life political figures or other famous people.
Do send us your submissions by July 15, 2014 for the August 2014 issue. Recall the submissions guidelines are here.
Good luck!

01 July 2014

endings

Oh, come on, you knew "endings" was coming. :)
The end of a story is the most important part. The end has to tie everything together and should address the beginning in some way. Most importantly, the end has to evoke an emotional response in the reader. I'm not kidding. The end has to make the reader feel something. Maybe it's only satisfaction that everything was wrapped up or 'Huh, interesting idea,' but it has to be something.

One of my fellow RMFW members wrote a very interesting (long) blog post lately about emotion: Emotional Barrier in Fiction: The Most Important Barrier For You To Cross (Part One). When I wrote the story that was my first pro sale, I was sobbing at the end as my protagonist sacrificed herself for her family. Was sobbing and sale a coincidence? I think not.

The tricky thing about evoking emotion in the reader is you have to make the reader care about the protagonist. I took a creative writing class last Fall and the young students tended to go right for death, dismemberment, rape, etc., before we cared about the characters. The teacher said they didn't "earn" the drama. How do we make the reader care? I think the author has to care.
What do you think?

Good luck with your emotional endings!

24 June 2014

middles

Recently, one of my writing groups was discussing how we approach a story. Most folks had at least an idea about the beginning and the ending. I didn't hear a lot of enthusiasm, or even planning, about middles. I'm not surprised. Are you? In my own writing, too often middles become muddles. :( Unfortunately, as an editor, if I get lost in a muddle, that leads to rejection.

Luckily, short fiction is easier, in some ways, than long fiction. In the beginning, you must hook the reader; you must set up the story problem. In the middle, you must make things worse for the protagonist(s). The story problem gets even more dire. Also in the middle, you must set up the protagonists with the tools to succeed--even as it looks like they will fail. Piece of cake, right? Ha!

How you do this is totally up to you. If you have to write a muddle and then rewrite it, so be it. I have personally rewritten many a muddle. Having some one else read your work may help you identify muddles. "What happened here, in the middle?" Please don't send us your muddle. :)

Good luck with your middles!

In other news, the deadline for the awesome August 2014 issue of Electric Spec is approaching. Submissions need to be in by July 15 for consideration. Thanks!

10 June 2014

beginnings

As we begin work on the next issue of Electric Spec I find myself thinking about beginnings… (This may also have something to do with the fact I'm starting a new novel.) There's a lot of talk in the writerly cybersphere about how to write. Do you plan everything out? If so, you're a plotter. Do you plan very little out, write by the seat-of-your-pants? If so, you're a pantser. A long time ago I learned I do have to do some planning when writing a short story. If I don't my stories meander all over the place, only arriving at their destinations by a very circuitous route or by accident. Not good. I could usually whip said stories into an actual story with the help of my critique partners but it did take a considerable amount of time. Also, not good.

Often as I read slush, I wish our aspiring authors had critique partners (or better critique partners). I wish I could tell the author: 'your story doesn't start until page 3' or 'your beginning and your ending must relate to each other.' Story beginnings are crucial. If I'm not hooked on page one, I usually won't make it to the end of the story. Show me what your story is about on page one.

I suggest authors think more about their story before they begin. What, exactly, is this story about? Who is it about? What's the problem? What's the resolution? What's different at the end of the story? What emotions do you want to evoke in the reader? You don't have to write these answers down, but you should know them.

Good luck!