31 January 2012

our process

There seems to be a little confusion about our production process so I thought I'd remind you how we do things, in perhaps too much detail. :)
  1. You send us your fabulous stories.
  2. Our distribution editor randomly assigns stories to an editor.
  3. Said editor reads this "slush" and decides to reject or to hold for voting and sends you an email with this decision.
  4. When the submission period ends all the editors read and study all the hold for voting stories and rank them numerically.
  5. Our statistics editor combines these numerics from each editor into an overall story ranking for the issue.
  6. At the production meeting--in between drinking and eating and cussing and arm-wrestling--we discuss the stories and the overall issue ranking to decide on the stories we will publish. At the production meeting we do have to consider issue balance; we can't have 5 horror stories, for example. Additionally, we discuss and decide on the columns and art work and all other aspects of the issue. We also assign each to-be-published story to an editor.
  7. After the production meeting we email all the authors with the good or bad news. The acceptances also get a contract to sign and some other info. We ask them for a bio and paypal account info.
  8. After we get the contracts back from the authors we start editing the stories. After the editor edits the story we email the author with the changes and they agree or disagree, this may lead to a discussion. I think one time an author and an editor could not come to an agreement so we parted company, to our mutual satisfaction.
  9. The editors add each of the stories and columns to the webpage using our content management system. I like to ask the authors to check their stories after they've been posted, but before we go live (I'm not sure the other editors do this). We double-check everything.
  10. We go live!
  11. We celebrate and enjoy the issue. :)

It just so happens we do have a production meeting this week.

I noticed one of the stories in our hold-for-voting file has a problematic cover letter, namely, the author tells us what the story is. The problem is this: what the author says does not necessarily agree with my perception of the story. I'm not sure what will happen to this story at the meeting. :( Time will tell.

Generally, a simple cover letter is better. It should include the author's name and contact info, the story title, genre, and word count. It may include past publishing credentials. After that, you're starting to get into dangerous territory...

I'm getting excited about our next issue: February 28, 2012, how about you?

Stay tuned for more info!

24 January 2012

maximum impact

I recently had a short story critiqued in a writers' workshop. This was a good experience because it reminded me of some things I needed to be reminded of, namely, a short story should be as dramatic as possible. I'm a bit embarrassed to say my rough draft could have grabbed the reader more. It could have had a bigger impact.

In revisions I found maximum impact came from knowing my protagonist and making sure all aspects of my story were interconnected.

  • Every other character in the piece should have had a strong connection to the protagonist. For example, it's not enough to put a child in danger, the child should be related to the protagonist, if possible.
  • The setting should be important to the protagonist. It's not enough to put the protagonist in the setting. The setting should be crucial to the protagonist--this is the place he or she has to be.
  • External plot complications need to be unique to the protagonist. Think about the protag. Determine what's the worst possible thing that could happen to him/her--and then make it happen.
  • External plot needs to be linked to internal character arc. In our example, perhaps the protag him/herself was in peril as a child, so he/she cannot abide kids in peril. Would your protag sacrifice him/herself for said child? Ooh, now that's dramatic.

What do you think? Do you have any tips for achieving maximum impact in fiction?

Good luck with your writing!

17 January 2012

writers cheat sheet

I had the opportunity to critique some less experienced writers in workshop recently. Writers who have not partaken in many workshops tend to do many of the same not-recommended things. If you would like to appear to be an experienced workshopper, here's my cheat sheet for writers:
  • Dialogue Tags:
    • Know how to punctuate these, e.g. "You rock," Joe said.
    • Only use "said" or "asked" in your dialogue tags. I'm not kidding.
    • Only use one dialogue tag per paragraph.
    • It's better to use beats instead of dialogue tags, e.g. "You rock." Joe picked up his pick.
      (Beats are small physical actions.)

  • Characters' Physical Description:
    • Characters shouldn't think or talk about the color of their skin, hair, eyes, etc. when in their own point of view.
    • Generally, do not describe the height, weight, girth, color, of characters--unless you write romance, or maybe fantasy.
    • Describe characters via qualities that are important by showing these qualities to the reader.

  • Don't use Distancing words, like "thought", "perceived", "realized"--anything that's a synonym for "thought". These put an extra layer between the character and the reader and you don't need it. Similarly, words of perception like "saw", "heard", "felt" also put distance between the character and the reader.
  • Don't use extra words like "that", "well", "just", etc. These are rarely needed or effective.
  • Don't use adverbs.
  • Know your genre. Of course Electric Spec writers know they write horror, science fiction, and/or fantasy--so you're ahead of the game. Kudos!

We are starting the production process for our February 28, 2012 issue so stay tuned for more information.

Keep submitting (for our May 2012 issue)! Thanks!

10 January 2012


No doubt some of you marvelous writers out there are wondering 'Why should I submit to Electric Spec when I can just e-publish my work myself?' Well, I'll tell you:
  • For one thing, Electric Spec is a great little ezine with a very good reputation and plenty of hits (yes, we're talking many thousands). Authors in our issues don't have to worry about self-promotion; promotion is all taken care of.
  • Readers love free stories. Readers will read and enjoy your stories, and that can lead to name recognition the next time you submit a story or novel somewhere. And you can post the story link on your homepage, email it to your parents, etc. :)
  • We do significant editing. For almost all our stories, we edit. This usually consists of cleaning up minor spelling and grammar issues and shortening the work. For whatever reason, authors rarely start the story when it starts--if you get my meaning. Often stories also include extraneous bits which we get rid of. One of us editors even has the nickname The Slasher--it's not me.
  • Insert-your-reason-here. I'm sure there are some other good reasons to submit to Electric Spec. Feel free to mention them in the comments. :)

I know it's hard to believe, but the submission deadline for the first issue of 2012, February 28, is fast approaching. Said deadline will be midnight January 15, 2012. So, get your stories in if you want to be considered for the next issue.

Good luck and thanks for submitting!

03 January 2012

plot twists

Here's another insight I've gleaned from slush: in short speculative fiction, twists are good. Here at Electric Spec we seem to publish stories with plot twists somewhat frequently. For example, "The Little Voice" by Neil James Hudson in our most recent issue has a nice twist near the end. (Check it out if you haven't already.) The reason this works, however, is the author set up the plot twist from the beginning. When the twist is revealed it makes the reader re-evaluate all the events of the story, see them in another light. Ah. Our perceptions shift. Things become clearer. Ideally, the author does this without lying to the reader.

Perhaps the most famous (to this crowd!) example of a plot twist would be from Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back when Darth Vader tells Luke: "I am your father." However, I maintain this wasn't done in the ideal manner; the creator lied to the audience, i.e. prior to this scene, Obi-Wan and Luke's aunt and uncle have all told Luke his father is dead.

Why are twists good? Plot twists are good because we all (including editors!) want to read something fresh. We're tired of the same old, same old. As the fabulous Robert Silverberg said, ...the basis of all the successful and lasting narrative of the past five thousand years ...[is] A sympathetic and engaging character (or an unsympathetic one who is engaging nevertheless), faced with some immensely difficult problem that it is necessary for him to solve, makes a series of attempts to overcome that problem, frequently encountering challenging sub-problems and undergoing considerable hardship and anguish, and eventually, at the darkest moment of all, calls on some insight that was not accessible to him at the beginning of the story and either succeeds in his efforts or fails in a dramatically interesting and revelatory way, thereby arriving at new knowledge of some significant kind.

Bring on the twists!