30 April 2010

Why Authors Succeed

Leaving that last post there was bumming me out. We need something to counterbalance it. And I've got it: Why Authors Succeed:
  • They write. They find a writing routine that works for them and they stick to it. Maybe it's at 5:00 am every morning before the rest of the family gets up, maybe it's at 10 pm after they go to bed. Whatever it is, just do it.
  • They listen to constructive criticism. I am a huge advocate of critique groups, so: get one! This can be a group of like-minded local writers, an on-line community, or even one trusted reader. The point is they need to tell you what works and what doesn't work. And, as authors, we need to actually consider what they say. :) Note, this doesn't mean blindly follow everything they say.
  • They learn about the writing biz. For short stories, they learn how to find markets and submit to them. For example, here at Electric Spec we only publish speculative fiction (hence, the name!). We like science fiction, fantasy, and horror and combinations thereof. We like original plots. We like authors with unique voices. For novels, they learn about different agents and editors and what they like and submit appropriately.
  • They build up their credentials. Successful authors create a track record that shows publishers they have what it takes. FYI, short story sales are awesome for this! :)
  • They don't give up. 'Nough said on that one.

Okay, I've come down off my high horse. :) What do you all think it takes for authors to succeed?

In other news...the next Electric Spec production meeting is this weekend. Everyone who got their stories in before the April 15 deadline should have heard something from us. Early next week authors will hear final decisions if they are in hold-for-voting. And can I just say, all the stories in hold-for-voting are very good. It breaks my heart a little bit to have to choose among them. :(

26 April 2010

Why Authors Fail

Penny C. Sansevieri has a good article over at the Huffington Post on "Why Authors Fail." The article contains some important reminders about publishing and marketing a book. As a afterthought to that article, I'm wondering about the authors who are doing "everything right" and still struggling to break into print or sell a novel. Articles like Penny's (and there are lots of them) can give writers the impression that they "should" have accomplished their goals by now. In other words, if an author has done her research, worked her ass off, taken critique to heart, done marketing to death, celebrated the little successes, she should be there right?

Well, maybe not. Take Kent Haruf, today one of the most acclaimed novelists around. He'd made all the right moves: Iowa Writers Workshop, contract with a big publisher for his first novel and then . . . nothing. The contract fell through. He toiled for more than 30 years before publishing his first novel. But now he has no regrets. He views that period of time as an apprenticeship. "Most people quit before they get good enough," he says.

LA Times Book Award

Just a quick shout-out to longtime friend of Electric Spec and early contributor Stuart Neville, who just won the LA Times Book Award for his novel, THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST. Couldn't have happened to a nicer writer.

All right, now back to our hold file...

21 April 2010

Some Stats on Our Story Selection Process

For those of you who are curious about the odds of your story getting selected by E-Spec, here are some stats. The submission period for our May issue was January 15 to April 17. In that timeframe, we received around 200 stories. As usual, we randomly divided those stories among the three editors. We held 22 stories for voting, and in a couple of weeks the three of us will choose somewhere between 5 and 7 stories. So, going by the numbers, stories submitted to Electric Spec have around a 2% chance of getting to publication. Of course, it really isn't about the numbers. If you have an excellent story, there's a good chance of getting published.

If you submitted a story to us before April 17, you should have heard from us by now.

20 April 2010

On Relationships . . .

No, I'm not having a Hallmark moment. Instead, I'm thinking about science fiction or fantasy stories I've loved not just because of the cool world, or the science, or the voice, or the conflict, or the unique plot. Instead, it is the relationship between two (occasionally more than two) characters in the story. These don't have to be romantic relationships. They can be old friendships, family relationships, even people who dispise each other but nonetheless must interact. I'm curious about why they interact the way they do. Or perhaps I wonder what will happen with these characters when push comes to shove.

In reading Electric Spec submissions, I often find that it is the human element that is missing. The story comes off shallow or formulaic despite having many strong points. Even though we are reading about strange new worlds, action without much interaction is often not enough to make the story truly interesting. Introducing a relationship can transform a dull story into an interesting one.

16 April 2010

Dead Bodies and Tea

I had a very instructive critique session with my group (two of whom are fellow editors here) and it got me to thinking about plotting in a macro sense.

Take the second chapter of my WIP, for instance. The information and negotiation between characters is necessary to the plot and character development. We also get a good glimpse of setting surrounding one of the character groups--important as the reader is just meeting them. There's even tension--one character has the other pretty well balls to the wall and he uses that to get what he wants. The other character is NOT happy about it. All good, right?

And yet, as Dave said: "It's basically two characters negotiating over tea."

Dave knows what he's doing with plot. He has a way of taking the big picture and stealing elements from it to ramp tension, as well as cutting down to the heart of a scene. And our group sort of has a collaborative "anti-tea" sentiment in fiction because, in real life, people negotiate over tea (or, if you're a writer, over beers) but in fiction, they should be negotiating over something more exciting, like, say...a dead body?

There's a past death mentioned in the scene, used as a motivator, and Dave said, "Why not have the dead body right there in the scene?"

And of course it seemed so obvious once he said it. A prime example of how a great critique partner will help you.

I mean, can't you see some character dragging in a beaten, bloody body of someone important to the other character and dumping it right in front of her? It's all showing--with that one act, the characters are motivated without sparing a word of dialogue. In fact, I'm guessing the scene could easily be half as long with the insertion of that one event.

I think I see this in stories a lot without really putting a name to it. There's often an unnameable deficiency in my rejected stories (it's tough even for editors to see what's not there). It comes from writers not pushing a scene to its full potential.

So my advice for the day? Take a look at your current story or scene and ask yourself, "How can I get a dead body into the room?"

15 April 2010

Deadline Today!

Hi gang,
Just a friendly reminder that today is the submissions deadline for our May 31, 2010 issue! Get those stories in!
Of course, if you miss the deadline your sub will be considered for our next issue. :)
Good luck!

10 April 2010

2010 British Fantasy Awards

Daniele Serra, one of our Electric Spec cover artists, has made the "recommended" list for 2010 British Fantasy Awards. You can see his excellent work on our cover here. Congratulations, Daniele--and good luck making the short list!

09 April 2010

Back to Basics

When writing stories, I find it helps to periodically go back to basics.
Don't worry! This post isn't motivated by the Electric Spec slush.
Okay, I'm lying it is. :)

A story needs to have 4 parts at its most basic:

  • A protagonist. I'm not going to say a person here, because it could be an extraterrestrial or a werewolf or whatever in speculative fiction.
  • A goal. The protagonist needs to be motivated. He/she/it needs to need something and the reader needs to know. I'm sure authors know what this is for their stories...they just don't always get onto the page.
  • A conflict. Something or someone has to oppose the protagonist in getting the goal.
  • A resolution. This is the ending and it can be positive or negative or whatever, but it must exist.

So, there you have it: the components of a story. What could be easier than putting these four little pieces together? Ha.
I know, the devil is in the details. :)

Six days until the May issue submission deadline!

What do you think is the most important part of a story? How about the most basic?

06 April 2010

Write Your Story

We Electric Spec Editors are starting to work on our next fabulous issue.
I've been reading a lot of slush lately (thanks for sending it in!) and have a bit of advice: Write your story.
By this, I do not mean write your autobiography. (We are a speculative fiction ezine, so if your actual life has aliens/robots/elves/witches/ghosts/vampires/etc. you have my sympathies!)
I mean write the story only you can write. Take a look inside yourself to avoid cookie-cutter stories. What do you really care about? What do you fear most? What are your annoying habits? What is your philosophy of life? What do you really want to write about? Incorporate these concepts in your work to make it yours.

Novelists should also write the novel only they could write by looking inside themselves. I'm sorry to say some aspiring novelists I know are writing some cookie-cutter novels. :(

The submission deadline for the May 31, 2010 issue is April 15, 2010.
Keep sending us your stories!

02 April 2010

Fiction: Insight into Evolution?

Some of you may have seen this already, but Wednesday, the New York Times Book Section had a sort of mind-boggling article; "Next Big Thing in English: Knowing They Know That You Know" dealing with fiction and the human mind. Here are some highlights:
  • It addresses questions such as Why do we read fiction?
  • Scientific studies seem to show Humans can comfortably keep track of three different mental states at a time...
  • ...fictional accounts help explain how altruism evolved despite our selfish genes...
  • Fictional heroes are ...people who right wrongs even if they personally have nothing to gain. These are "altruistic punishers".
  • We enjoy fiction because it is teeming with altruistic punishers...
  • ...fiction gives us insight into evolution.

There's a lot to think about here!

What do you think? Why do people read fiction? Does it teach us about fairness?

01 April 2010

Awards Follow-up

Just a follow-up on the last post to let you know that two Electric Spec stories were selected as "storySouth Million Writers Award 2009 Notable Stories 2009" . . .

Congratulations to Dale (once again) and to Barton!