29 March 2010


Dale Carothers, one of our E-Spec authors, modestly pointed out in a blog comment that his story "Bright Wings in the Ebony Hall" is one of only eight finalists for the Harper's Pen Award. We're very excited about this nomination because any heroic fantasy story published in 2009 could be nominated for the award. As we've said many times before, we think Electric Spec publishes some of the best stories out there, even compared to the "pro rate" magazines. It appears others are noticing this as well. The winner will be announced in the next week or two.

Speaking of awards, several other E-spec stories are up for the 2010 Million Writers Award. This award is especially intended to recognize new authors published in electronic form. It was a tough decision, but the Electric Spec editors nominated the following stories: "The Boogie-Woogie, Time-Traveling, Cyborg Blues" by Barton Paul Levenson, "Tom the Sheller" by Devin Miller, and "In the Land of the Deaf" by Ferrett Steinmetz. The judges will announce their "Notable Stories" on April 1.

28 March 2010

Future of Magazines

Attention directed by Nicola Griffith. Is this the future of magazines?

Obviously, it's something I'm curious about as an editor of an online magazine. We sorted through new options during last year's revamping, wondering if we should add stuff like video links, serialized novels, graphic novels, and comic strips. We decided to stay close to our traditional format (though it's much easier for us to publish on the back-end now - easy enough we were able to add an issue per year, going quarterly). For now. Never say never. But how will Electric Spec look on an Ipad, or the variations sure to follow?

I have a couple of thoughts about this, mostly in the #zinefail catagory.

One thing I'm not down with are the countless embedded videos currently on blogs, news-sites, and magazines. I know, I know, YouTube is all the craze with the young'uns. And I get it. I do. All the cool kids watch everything on their laptops. It's the ultimate in multitasking: you can do homework (lol), report your dinner on Facebook, follow twitter, blog, and watch last week's Supernatural all at the same time. But now much of print content is moving to video, spurred by YouTube's popularity. CNN is a great example of an offender in this. They've gone to nearly all vid onscreen. I used to check headlines there once a day, maybe read an article. Now: never. Two problems. Decent video is dang expensive to produce. Constantly using that format could price folks right out of production. Also, I can read about ten times faster than I can watch a video. Even most slide shows move way too slow for me. And don't even get me started on the ads...

Another problem is readers succumbing to the lure of endless links, which is something the article brings up. Ever go into Wikipedia to start (not finish!) a fact finding mission only to putter from link to link for an hour? Yeah. Me too. In the same vein, magazines have the capability to just get so dang big, via re-purposed content. One reason I read magazines is the sheer finish-ability built in. I can run through my Rolling Stone and then throw the dang thing in the recycling bin. There's a sense of accomplishment.

Magazines have long been biased. But it's getting increasingly difficult to find clear reporting any more. From the stories chosen to the actual coverage, many online magazines have become no better than well-produced blogs. News outlets have gone this way, too, spurring polarization. I wonder if we might be losing the capability of hearing the other side's story.

Even with all these problems, though, the thought of reading magazines on an electric pad (though I believe Paid Content's point about not simply reforming the page onscreen - we're conditioned to a blingier experience), even getting catalogs electronically, is exciting. Makes me suddenly kinda want an Ipad. I just wish it didn't have such a dumb name.

*reprinted at Sex Scenes at Starbucks

26 March 2010

Break Into Writing - Wrapup

Fantasy Author Jim C. Hines has wrapped up his survey of first novel sales over at www.jimchines.com. Overall, I found his results fascinating. Here's some more highlights:
  • a majority of successful authors have
    • attended writers conventions
    • attended one or more writers groups

  • since 2000, the majority (over 65%) of successful authors have sold novels via agents (and recall many of these authors are spec fic authors)

Thanks to Jim for all this info!

In my personal opinion, the most important factor for writing success is input from one or more other writers. This could be a critique group (Yay!) or just a trusted reader--but should not be your spouse/parent/kid (because their job is to support you).

Recall, we have the First Page Game here. You can still send in your story first page and get some feedback from editors and blog-readers. Use our usual submission address: submissions at electricspec (dot) com but put First Page Game in the subject line. Good luck!

24 March 2010

Break Into Writing - Part II

Here's part II of that very interesting survey of how 246 authors "broke in".
Fantasy author Jim C. Hines has surveyed professionally published novelists to learn how writers broke in, and to use actual data to confirm or bust some of the myths about making it as a novelist. I'll post some excerpts here and the link below.
  • The average number of years the authors had been writing before they made their first professional sale was 11.6 years, with the median being ten years.
  • The average number of books written before selling one to a major publisher was between three and four, and the median was two.
  • 140 authors made their first professional novel sale with no prior connections to agent(s) or publisher(s).

Here's the link: www.jimchines.com.
Apparently, it takes many years to master the craft of writing. I think we all knew that!
And, since a hundred-odd folks did have prior connections with agents/editors, clearly connections don't hurt.

Send your story in to Electric Spec and make a connection with us. :)

22 March 2010

The Benefits of Not Giving Up

How many stories are saved, half-finished, on your hard drive? Or, at this very moment, have you written the first few pages of a story, decided it is not working as planned, and thought about putting it away? I want to encourage you to keep writing until the end--even if, with every word you type--you are more convinced it sucks. Why bother?
  1. Your story may be better than you think. Try giving it to your critique group. Chances are, they'll like it and you'll realize it was your mean internal editor sending you the wrong message about the story. Or, they'll give you some ideas about why it is not working that you can address on a rewrite.
  2. The writing process answers questions your left brain cannot figure out. Oftentimes, when I'm writing a story, I don't quite have the ending worked out until I'm typing. Or sometimes the ending is different than I planned. I love it when this happens--it is one of those ah-ha moments that makes writing fun.
  3. If the beginning of the story isn't working well, you can always go back and revise. The fact remains that you can't make an objective judgment about whether a story is working until you have an ending. The end may even force you to rewrite the beginning, but that's okay, right?
  4. If you "finish" the story on paper but it still isn't working, your subconscious is still working on it. You might get another one of those "ah-ha" moments about how to fix it when you're in the shower rather than on the keyboard. I've found these moment come more easily when a draft is completed, rather than when it is half-done.
  5. Let's say you finish a story and decide not to send it out to magazines because it is not your best work. A completed story still has value on your hard drive. You never know when you'll come across an anthology or context that fits your story exactly. You might just get it published after all.

16 March 2010

Grem's Top 10 Show Stoppers

I snuck a peek at the slush pile, and I gotta tell ya I spotted quite a few submissions that I would have rejected in the first few paragraphs without giving the story more of a chance. In case anybody wants it, here's a list of problems that can make editors stop reading in the first few paragraphs:

1. Multiple typos, unintentional grammar errors, or misspellings. Have someone with a brain proofread your story. 'Nuf said.
2. Failing to reveal the name of the protagonist in 3rd person pov stories. Calling the protagonist "he" or "she" from the get-go isn't dramatic--it's distracting. It's almost as bad as a second person POV story with the main character being "you."
3. Changing POVs within the first few paragraphs. Very few short stories with multiple POVs work. Doing this in the fist few graphs is an even greater challenge.
4. Starting with a "shortcut" for tension, e.g. "It was an ordinary day--until she came along" or "When it happened, I couldn't believe it . . ." [but we don't find out what "it" was until later in the story.]
5. Too much jargon at the beginning, e.g. "When the Yittamaz abandoned the gamboflex, I was sure that we'd lost the Ce-ta-ee forever, but a Soungtelag was on the way, ready to deliver a manzacar that could change everything."
6. "Walk the dog" narrative and/or dialogue a, e.g. "The doorbell rang. I got up from the couch, walked across the floor of my apartment, opened the door, and saw that Bob was standing at the door. `Hello, Bob,' I said. `Hi, Mary,' said Bob." Yawn! I'd rather paint my claws and watch them dry.
7. Omniscient POV with lots of narrative. These read kind of like a fairy tale. "Once there was a man who lived in a little hut in the woods . . ." While this style can work occasionally for a specific effect, it is a hard sell.
8. Paragraphs of dialog at the beginning of a story. Once again, this can work, but not if it is basically a cheap way of getting in backstory or narrative.
9. Lengthy "quotes" from sacred texts, poems, songs, or fictional people. One or two sentences are okay, but let's get on with the story already!
10. Prolific use of adverbs. If you have more than 2 adverbs in the first sentence or 5 adverbs in the first paragraph, it makes Gremlin want to bite something fleshy.

How Do Writers Break In?

This is minor deviation from our usual programming, but I know a lot of our Electric Spec readers and writers are also pre-published novelists. Fantasy author Jim C. Hines has surveyed professionally published novelists to learn how writers broke in, and to use actual data to confirm or bust some of the myths about making it as a novelist. I'll post some excerpts here and the link below.
  • On average, authors sold 7.7 short stories before selling the novel.
  • Of our 246 authors, 116 sold their first novel with zero short fiction sales.
  • But Jim says, I do believe that short fiction sales can help an author.
  • only 1 author out of 246 self-published their book and went on to sell that book to a professional publisher.
  • This does not mean self-publishing can never succeed, or is never a viable option...However, for those hoping to leverage self-published book sales into a commercially published breakout book (a la Eragon), the numbers just aren’t in your favor.

Very interesting! I look forward to reading more from Jim and I will post it here.

The link is here: www.jimchines.com.

Any comments from blog readers on how they broke in?

15 March 2010

Give us your Tension

We Electric Spec editors have started working on the next fabulous issue (Coming to a computer near you on May 31, 2010!), which means we're reading slush.

I read an interesting blog entry last week by Jennifer R. Hubbard: Tension: Desire and Obstacles in which she states tension is desire balanced by obstacles. Nice take.
Stories definitely need to have some tension to make it into our hold-for-voting file. So, give us your tension. Let us publish it in our ezine. :)

Anyone got any other good definitions of tension?

The unofficial submissions deadline for the next issue is April 15, 2010.

07 March 2010

First Page Game

The over-rail shuddered and clanked through the smog into the hanging station at Piccadilly Plaza. In a mist of steam, smoke and slamming doors it decanted its passengers onto the vertigo inducing, open air, cast iron platform.

Hanging back, to allow a group of nouveau riche Mongolian diplomats to push their chattering way towards the staircase leading to street level, Marcus Akhurst held onto the waist high barrier and surveyed the city.

Almost at eye level was the impressive statue of Horatio Drake, one legged hero of the Defeat of the Armada. Ingrained in the British psyche, the historic naval engagement, where a small force of British Ironclads had broken and ‘spread to the winds’ the far greater force gathered by the Emperor of All The Chinas, still raised a quiver of national pride.

With a sigh, Marcus allowed his gaze to follow the great column on which the statue was mounted – two hundred and three new metric feet – down to the centre of the plaza below. The fountains, spurting out of deep trefoil cisterns of green water, provided a perfect counterbalance to the great black quartz statues of Imperial Camels set at the four points of the compass facing the wide avenues radiating out through the sprawling rooftops.

A note: My apologies to the writer. I had to cut this entry short . This entry was over 500 words but the rules clearly state 200 words (I've done up to 250). So to be fair to our other entries, I cut it in half and pretended like I didn't read the rest. (Though I did.)

I made this the First Page Game for a reason. That's, in all honesty, about as long as an editor with a big slush (my personal slush is sitting at 46 stories with more coming in every day) will allow. We simply don't have time. I wish I did. I wish I could indulge my love of critique and read each story through and help make it better. But I wouldn't do anything else, ever, much less meet my own deadlines.

Secondly, the best bit of advice I ever got was from a short story writer years ago. David Dvorkin, who's accomplished in short form, once said on a panel to start the story on the first page and end it on the last. Long version: present a story problem on the first page and solve it on the last. That's something I've taken to heart as an editor and writer and it's served me well in both capacities. Of course there are exceptions, but it's a good general rule to follow, or very consciously break. Whatever best serves your story.

On to our page. By the descriptions, I'm guessing this is may be steam punk and alternate history. Cool! We rarely see steampunk and we'd love to see more great submissions in that genre. Alternate history is always fun, too. The writer paints a great picture of the scene and we know immediately that this is not "our London" as it stands now. This is clearly speculative fiction and I'm intrigued by the setting. We meet our protag early and by name. Great so far.

But, all the while, I'm wondering why the character is here. All he does is emerge from a train, look at the city, and sigh. Why should I care? What propels me alongside him on this particular journey?

Unfortunately, that continues in the part I cut out. Our protag appears to just be seeing the sights and walking to who knows where for paragraph after paragraph. There's no sense of tension, foreboding, or story problem. Having read this entry, I can assure you it does have a somewhat intriguing premise, but I have to wade through over 500 words of lavish description to get there. Some of this description could have been used to build tension and paint the world by delaying a payoff. It would have been far more powerful as a tension building device if I'd known something of what I was waiting for. That said, a little of that still goes a long way.

Overall I liked the description, but I think there are two common failings in lengthy description.

1. It stops the story (or in this case, significantly delays the start of the story).

2. I find writers who lurve them some flowery description tend to write loooong sentence after looooong sentence. The leisurely pace stole all sense of tension. And without tension, I really have no reason to read on. I like word-play as much as the next editor, but I'm actually here for the story, and at this point I've seen very little of it. When writing description in a short story (like with everything else) writers need to question how every line serves the story.

In this case, having read the hook, I might have read on a little bit, but with a wary eye. I fear most of the story would progress (or not) according to the pace of description, which was too lengthy for my taste, and for, in my opinion, short stories in general. Online fiction, in particular, demands a somewhat quick pace. It's our reading habits comign back to haunt us.

Sometimes a lot of description works. It can lend tension and fresh dynamic to a piece. The reader can start to sense that God is in the details. In this case, though, I fear the description felt too self-indulgent for me to trust in its worth. Easily solved, though, with a little cutting.

Thanks so much for sending me this piece. The game is always open, so feel free to send me more, anyone and all!

04 March 2010

Start Fresh

First, thank you to all the authors and other folks involved with our recent awesome issue of Electric Spec. If you haven't already, check it out. :)

And now we begin work on the next issue...
Recall we've changed our schedule and the next issue will be out May 31, 2010. (Send your stories in.)

Generally, I am surprised at the high quality of the stories in our slush pile. But, we do see repeats of certain things, lately it's been vampires--go figure. Nathan Bransford's blog had a nice post this week on starting fresh which he called "Archetype vs. Cliche". He said, "The way you use archetype is by telling the familiar arc in an entirely new world with its own rules, with unique characters, and in a unique style." Make sure you answer the questions "What's different about this world and this character?"

Take a hard look at your story (or novel): what's unique about it?

01 March 2010

New Issue

We have the first issue of the 2010 up now, featuring authors Mary J. Daley and Eric J. Juneau, among others. There's also an interview with Literary Agent Ethan Ellenberg and a couple of other surprises.