Month: May 2011 Page 1 of 3

How to read slush

Hi, my name is DeAnna and I read slush for Apex Magazine and have since last July, and I love it.

[Hi, DeAnna, the small circle says, like it’s part of a 12-step program.]

When I started reading slush I was just dropped head-first into it.  I’m not saying that’s a bad way to do it, because I eventually figured out what I was doing, but I have a few things that I’d like to talk about today regardless.

Reading slush has taught me a lot of invaluable lessons, and I highly recommend doing it–but only for a magazine, editor, etc., that puts out work that you love.  I can’t imagine trying to send stuff up to an editor who made choices that I hate.  As it is, I root for some of “my” stories a lot, and sometimes they make it in, and sometimes they don’t (yay next issue!).  When they don’t, I’m able to look at the stories that are there and say, “…okay, I don’t like that choice, but I respect it.”

I think Catherynne is an awesome editor as well as a writer.  I haven’t actively disliked any of the stories that she’s picked, and that’s pretty rare for a run of things in a magazine; I’m almost always mixed on things.

So.  For new slush readers, first readers, here are my requests for you while reading slush:

1) Slush means A LOT.

Good:  a lot of slush.  Bad:  no slush.

Think about how many stories come through in a month.  300?  400? 1500?  3000?

Think about how many slots your editor gets to fill in a month.  1?  2?  3?

The math means A LOT of those stories must get rejected.

Who should be rejecting most of those stories?  You.

Let’s say you’re reading five stories a day (5 * 30 = 150, or maybe 5 * 20 = 100 [weekends off]).  If you’re sending up one story per day, that’s 20 or 30 stories that you’re sending up.

Let’s say there are 10 slush readers.  That’s 200-300 stories that the editor has to sort through, or 10 per day, which is a lot more than you’re reading.  Too much – also, these are the better stories, so they take longer.

As you start out, you may want to give yourself a story budget:  one story per day, two stories per week, ten per month, whatever.  You will break this budget, because there will be this one story that you can’t stand not to send up.  That’s okay.  Starting out, you will still cut down on the number of stories you send up.

2) Time is money.

Good:  fast turnover on the slush level.  Bad:  it takes a year to get a rejection on a story that never makes it up to the editor.

Stories aren’t little pieces of special sparkly that need to twinkle in your inbox in order to feel loved; they’re product.  Writers want to sell them.

Hanging onto a story for a year is cheating the writer; they could have sold the story once, let the first-print rights expire, sold it as a reprint and an audio, and published it as an ebook by now.  They could have made a couple of hundred bucks on the thing, if not more, and you’re hanging onto it for a year?

And if it’s not that good, why are you hanging onto it in the first place?

Writers may disagree with you, but it’s better to get that story back quickly as a rejection than it is to have a slush reader dither over it for extended period of time, trying to figure out whether it’s good enough.  Either send it up to the editor or reject it.  If it takes you more than five days to decide, reject it.  If, after five days, you’re passing by perfectly good stories because you know that it’ll bump that one story off your budget, send it up and let the editor deal with it.

Do not cheat the author by hanging onto the thing for months and months and months.  Just do not.  It would be better to have a meltdown and reject everything in your queue, unread, than hang onto stories FOR A YEAR.

And if, for some reason, you can’t read slush for more than a day or two, let someone know, especially if you’re getting stories as paper or in an inbox.  If you have a backlog, let someone know.  Say, if you have ANY stories in your queue that are more than two weeks old.  The editor has bigger decisions to make that take more time; you just need to make a “yes” or “no” call at your level.

The slush will not go away; unlike Lucy and her chocolates, you can’t eat stories.  Get them out the door.

3) Quality vs. Taste.

You have to be reading slush for an editor you respect; otherwise, what’s the point?  You’ll be sending up stories that you love that get rejected in favor of crap you can’t stand.  In that case, get out.

Read stuff that the editor has written (best) or that the editor has edited (harder to pick out what they like, but still valuable, IMO).  Get a feel for what they like by reading what they like.  You don’t have to be obsessive about it, but do it, so you have something to start from when you ask yourself, “Is there any point to sending this up?”

At first, you will send up stuff that the editor would never, in a million years, take.

However, eventually you will come across a story that is so fabulous that you would, if you had to, reject every other story that came through your inbox or on the website in order to have your editor look at that one story, and things will make more sense.

You will know it when you find it.  Until then, just do your best.  And always read what gets accepted.

A good rule of thumb:  if you start to skim, the story is out.  A good story may make you skim, as you rush through it to find out what happens.  But if you start thinking about your grocery list, etc., it’s time to go.

4) Speed Reading.

I think we mostly all start out saying, “I won’t be the slush reader who is cold and heartless.   I will be a kinder, gentler slush reader.  I will read everything from start to finish, and I will provide detailed comments.”

I did.

I’m not that way anymore; I struggled with feeling guilty about that for a while.

However, I ran out of time.  I volunteered to take on emergency slush stories, and then we went over to HeyPublisher!, which means that I can see how many stories are in the queue and how much needs to get done on a daily basis in order to keep us from slipping behind.  I only have so much time that I can spend (for free), editing slush, to get x amount of stories out the door, so I quit reading everything all the way through.

It’s probably a good thing; for a while, I was always very angry while reading slush.  “How dare you pull that crap on me?!?” I’d ask, look up the author, and realize that this might be their first story, or their tenth.  Or I’d realize that they didn’t know our market and were just testing the water.  That kind of thing.  I’d send out a form rejection and let it go.  They weren’t ready to get published yet, but the only way to get ready is by trying and failing until you “get” it.

By reading just enough to find out whether the story was any good or not, I was able to let go of being angry at those stories.

As a slush reader, you have to protect your ability to read stories without being pissed at them from the get-go (for example, wanting to kill the writer who turns in the 7400-w0rd story, good or bad); this means you have to skim the ones that you know aren’t going to make it.

So yes, start out reading things from start to finish.  But no, you don’t have to continue in that vein, as you get more experience.  It’s okay.

5) Good Stories are the Best.

Totally worth it.

There isn’t as much crap as I thought or other people said there would be.  But there sure is a lot of decent stuff.  Not many stories make my skin tingle and my hair stand on end.  Being the person who spots them is like panning for gold.  Total thrill.

The secret of romance is finding your niche.

I’ve been reading romances lately, because I figured out I had an irrational prejudice against them.

I have come away with some early truths:

  • Romance is like sex.  It doesn’t matter what you like, but what you like, you like, and you aren’t going to like something else.
  • Fluffy romance is just not my gig, as a writer, because it doesn’t do anything for me.  I want drama.  If I don’t bawl my head off, I’ve been robbed.
  • Romance is weirder than you can possibly imagine, because it caters to other people’s tastes, too.
  • No sex scenes = pretty boring for me.
  • It is possible to read a boring sex scene, if it’s what bores you.
  • The hottest sex scene can be @#$%^& up by a flat romantic arc.
  • The whole instant-attraction thing gets on my nerves.  “Oh, I shouldn’t be attracted to him/her!  But I am!”  I found them cheesier than the names people gave each others’ genitals.
  • You can have sex before romance; if the romance works, the first romantic kiss will be hotter than the preceding sex.
  • No sex at the end of the book.  Apparently, you’re supposed to be driving your readers into the beds of the nearest acceptable surrogate for the love interest.  This annoys me…it seems like in a book with both an emotional and sexual component, there should be a sexual consummation at the end as well as a romantic one, but I can’t see how to do it.
  • The rest of the book is there to support the romance, but it had better work as smooth as astroglide, because you don’t want to be distracted from the romance.  This isn’t porn; there is a plot, and if you screw it up, it’s annoying.

More later.  I’m working on a book proposal for Nocturne that’s a zombie romance, because Angel Smits tells me they’re looking for some, I need the challenge, and I have to write a proposal by June 3…I’ll probably post it, for shits and giggles.

Now, if I could just figure out how to find the romances I like, instead of the ones that are just a little bit off…or running out of books by the authors I like.

Class Pet from Beyond the Grave

Now at Smashwords, Amazon.com, and Barnes and Noble!

Coupon for FREE ebook, from Friday-Monday (Memorial Day!) only:  use coupon code WQ99R at Smashwords and send the spirits of forgotten tales to rest…

Class Pet from Beyond the Grave

What Darkness Lurks behind the Lesson Plans?

by De Kenyon

A ghost haunts the teachers’ toilet, but Fox & Hare Paranormal Investigations faces worse something worse than a ghost when they investigate the case of a missing class pet:  murder.

“Come on, Dawn,” Sampson said. “You’re not going to convince anybody by yelling at them. Here.” He handed one of Dawn’s hand-drawn business cards, complete with a glittering ghost, to Principal Smiley. “If you need us, you know where to find us.”

Principal Smiley crouched down so she was on her level and took the card with a fake-polite smile. “In class, I hope.”

Tony said, “So much for your booger ghost,” and the other kids laughed.

 

Indypub: What is your writing bottleneck?

My thought here is that we need to stop calling it “writer’s block” and start calling it “writer’s bottleneck.”

I’m working on a short story that I have to have done today, because I’m putting it up tomorrow.  It’s already up to 4K, and I have no idea how it’s going to end yet.

I’m also working on a novel that I have to have done before June 1, because I do, and I’m at the point where I don’t know how to get from where I am to the end in an efficient, logical, and yet moving manner.

Two bottlenecks.  Both related to the fact that I have a lot of moving parts set up, but I don’t know how to fit them together.

This is the point at which I used to abandon stories, because I had no idea what to do.  I mean, it wasn’t that I had no idea how to solve the specific problems of the stories; I thought that because I got to a point where I had no idea what to do, that I had failed as a writer and needed to abandon that story.  In the end, that bottleneck has more to do with my faith in myself as a writer than in my actual talent.  It was more about fear than ability.

Only those stories in which I knew the various pieces and parts and how and why they all fit together were real stories, I thought.

My step after that was to learn how to outline, in which I could write down my thoughts about what would come next, and see everything all laid out on a piece of paper before I started writing.  That led to a big leap for me.

But lately, I’ve been taking more risks in writing stories that don’t start out with outlines.  It makes me nervous.  What if I get to a point where I don’t know what to do next?  What if I don’t write a story, but just peter out?

And yet, I’m at the point where I know that I can write a story, not knowing how it will come out; it will come out as a story, as long as I don’t abandon it.  I don’t have perfect control over pacing and length, but that seems to be as much a part of the discovery process as anything else.  If the idea is a short-story idea, then I’ll end up with a short story, relatively speaking.  Ditto for novel ideas.

I’m starting to enjoy writing these stories that I don’t know how will come out before I start them.  The discovery process is entertaining, really.  And a weird, freeing feeling to be able to acknowledge the fear that things will come out wrong, and move past it.

So what’s your writing bottleneck?

Where do things fall apart?  Where do you tend to stop writing?  –I have a hard time coming up with “good” ideas, too, ideas that I give enough of a shit about to write about; however, setting clear goals and saying, “I don’t @#$%^& care if you give a shit about your idea, you have a goddamned story due” seems to be moving me past that.

Ideas?

Drafting?

Revising?

Submitting?

Recovering after disappointment?

Critiques?

Butt in chair?

Wanting to have written, versus wanting to write?

–How would you solve that problem, if someone had a gun to your head, and it didn’t matter how good the story was, only that you got it done?

Indypub: Attitude is everything

Something new that I’m learning about being a freelancer:  Attitude is everything.

I’ve been having a series of bad days lately.  I’m having to retrench on finances (again); some submissions that I let myself get worked up over have been rejected; sales for my ebooks from Wonderland Press are okay, but certainly not taking off or anything (it’s really too early for that); I have edits hanging over my head that I don’t know how to do, and have told the client as much; I have other edits hanging over my head that may mean a major rewrite, and taking the time away from writing new material always makes me itchy.

And I’ve been letting it get me down.

On the writing side, this is almost a positive.  I’ve written some stuff for the current book (a piece of cozy mystery fluff called YOUR SOUFFLE MUST DIE) that might be a way to have it show  some depth (not much, but some).

On the business side, it’s making me think that I want to do more promotion of books, somehow, and widen my net.  I’m not sure the specifics, but going, “Why don’t I sell more?” needs to go in a more positive direction than whining, if it’s dragging me down.  Sure, I should be patient, but I’ll feel a lot more patient if I have some busywork of a positive nature to do.  I’m not ready to drop prices yet, though, because I have A Plan:  drop prices when I have something to promote, like another book in the series or a collection to which the story in question belongs.  Patience.

The funny thing is, I think this attitude is coming out of my new-found knowledge & faith that yes, I am a writer, and yes, I write well enough to be published, and yes, some of the stuff I write is pretty damned entertaining, when I can get it to the people that it’s meant to entertain.  My brain is like, “If you’re so hot, then why aren’t you selling?” and “Why is this taking so looooong?” where before, it was a matter of going, “Well, of course things aren’t going so well; you still have a long way to go as a writer.”  It’s easier to be patient about success if you don’t believe you deserve to succeed.

I still have a long way to go as a writer.  But I’ve passed some threshold, and I’m not smooth on how to handle this new world yet.  I feel like a three-year-old (or a thirteen-year-old) some days, where I have no idea how to handle my new powers but am arrogant in the knowledge that I have them and nobody can take them away.

On a microcosmic side, this morning I got another rejection, and I was feeling down about it, even though I’d only sent the story to the market because it pays well and rejects quickly, and I wouldn’t be upset if the story got accepted there while I waited to get other rejections back from the markets I really wanted to submit to.  I hadn’t expected to have a chance in hell with that story; I didn’t think it was a good fit.  And yet I’m all like, “Awww…” this morning.

Then I looked at my Amazon accounts; I had two stories purchased last night (three, but one was returned, must have been an oopsie).  Suddenly, everything was all better, over $.80.  [Snort.]

So I have to pass on…

1) Bad days can give you valuable insight.

2) Even when you know yourself to be at a pro writing level when you’re at the top of your game, you still haven’t mastered your craft by a LONG shot.  And being consistently good is a whole additional skill set.

3) Things “should” work in certain ways, but they don’t.  If you don’t run around thinking about the way things are different than they “should” be, it’s probably an easier way to get through life.  I “should” be less judgmental of reality…

4) Good days are easy to come by, when you need them.  Give yourself permission to have a good day, when you need one, by focusing on the one good thing that happens to you and filtering everything else out.  It’s not reality, but sometimes you need the fantasy, as a band-aid if nothing else.

Indypub: How to get into the Pikes Peak Library District

In the middle of everything that’s been going on lately, I managed to space a few bits of info that came in.  Here’s me, getting caught up…

Dear DeAnna,

I received your  Ask a Librarian  question concerning self published books and e books for the library.  Currently, only E books purchased from Overdrive can be added to our collection.  You can inquire at http://www.overdrive.com/Contact/ to find if they contract with individual authors.   Just  in case you’re not familiar, the Kindle book format is not compatible with any library based e book platform.

Attached is a document that contains information for marketing your book to PPLD.

Also, here is a link to PPLD’s  Collection Policy http://www.ppld.org/collection-development-policy .   This will give you information about our mission, selection criteria and a descriptions of the different adult, teen and children’s materials that the library provides the community.http://www.ppld.org/collection-descriptions

Here at PPLD, we have centralized selection which means that when we decide to order a title, we order the number of copies that we think will serve the entire system.  Denver is another system, as well as, Douglas County, Arapahoe County.   Manitou and Security are also separate libraries from PPLD.      An author would need to market his/ her book individually to each library or library system, since each library has its own selection criteria and budget priorities.

I hope this information helps you.

Sincerely,
Ann

Ann Soltis
Selection Librarian
Collection Management
Pikes Peak Library District
asoltis@ppld.org

 

Marketing Your Book to Pikes Peak Library District

Pikes Peak Library District is interested in books whose content is written for the general reader rather than for the specialist or practitioner. Of the many books published each year, PPLD is only able to add a small percentage to the collection due to space and budgetary constraints. Selection criteria listed in the collection policy are carefully applied to ensure that the collection is as pertinent and responsive as possible.

The primary criteria are public demand and interest; critical reviews; presentation and readability; author’s reputation and significance as a writer; reputation and standing of the publisher; availability of the information elsewhere; local or national significance; and quality of the physical format. PPLD does not collect textbooks, books that are designed to be filled out by the reader or to have pages torn out, or books with removable parts other than compact discs. Books need to be sturdily bound, preferably sewn or glued; spiral and comb bindings do not stand up well to heavy library use.

The best way to bring your book to our attention is through reviews in recognized publications. A positive review in one or more library review journals or a local newspaper will give your book a chance of being considered by Pikes Peak Library District. Journals include, for example, Library Journal, Booklist, School Library Journal (for children’s books), and Publisher’s Weekly. Newspapers include The Gazette, Colorado Springs Independent, and Denver Post.

Drop-in visits to promote your book cannot be accommodated. PPLD’s Community Engagement Office maintains a database, however, of authors and performers available for signings and programs. If you wish to be added to the database, please call (719)531-6333, extension 1212. If you wish to leave a copy of your book for consideration, it will be deemed a donation. It will be considered for addition to the collection based on our selection criteria and may or may not be added. If the item is not added to the collection it will be given to our Friends of the Library for sale in an upcoming book sale. We are unable to notify you of the decision. Address any donations to Collection Management, Pikes Peak Library District, P.O. Box 1579, Colorado Springs, CO 80901-1579.

Email flyer: selection@ppld.org

For information on how to submit a book for review in one of the library review journals contact:
Booklist
50 East Huron Street
Chicago, IL 60611
http://www.ala.org/booklist/submit.html

Library Journal
http://www.libraryjournal.com/csp/cms/sites/LJ/info/submissions.csp

I also received word from Content Reserve (OverDrive) that my next step is sending them five full epub titles for review; once someone has reviewed them, then they will vouchsafe the steps after that.

 

Indypub: 3M to provide library services

Yep.  THAT 3M.

Via Publisher’s Marketplace and Engadget.com:

“Yesterday, the company announced a new Cloud Library e-book lending service that will allow users to browse and borrow digital books directly from their iPads, Nooks and Android-based tablets.” (Press release at link.)

Random House and the Independent Publisher’s Group (IPG) are both on board to provide books.

Amazon is getting ready to start the Kindle Lending Library later this year, and Sony is partnering with Overdrive to allow you to search for and check out library books from a limited number of libraries.

I think this is a good thing; leaving Overdrive as the single library provider is probably not going to benefit patrons or publishers.  And having ereader providers work with Overdrive is also a good thing–Overdrive is a pain to use, at present, with a number of hoops for readers to jump through before they can start reading.

But how difficult will it be to get into the 3M cloud?  Is this another layer of distribution?  From me to the IPG to 3M to the library?  That’s still at least one too many jumps.

 

A Picture is Worth 1000 Chomps

Now at Smashwords, Amazon.com, and Barnes & Noble.

Coupon for FREE ebook, this Friday-Sunday only:  A coupon code is worth 5000 words!  At Smashwords, use code HQ58V!

A Picture is Worth 1000 Chomps

Her Nightmares Don’t Care Who They Eat

By De Kenyon

Seth uncovers shy girl Tony’s secret talent:  she can make images come to life, but she can’t control the evil, hungry monsters that she creates.

“What would be your superpower, Tony?” I asked. “If you were a superhero.”

Tony’s a shy girl. I didn’t expect her to answer. But then again, I hadn’t expected her to join us outside the chain-link fence separating the swimming pool from the rest of the park. She was the kind of kid you couldn’t shake out of the swings with an earthquake. But that was the lure of comic books.

She turned the page. “Nightmares,” she said.

“Creepy,” I said.

She held her comic book so close to her eyes that I knew she couldn’t see a thing. But I could see the top of her head turn bright red.

“I like creepy,” I added.


Why coffee doesn’t taste as good as it smells.

A theory.

I just finished reading Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck Cookbook, which is just amazing.  Art, science, history – a multi-disciplinary book.  Why he hasn’t been invited to TED, I’ll never know.  Maybe they’re just like, “Hey, he talks too much already.”

Anyway, he talks about a few different things, some of which will take me eventually to the subject of the title:

1) Taste (tongue) is different than flavor (nose), and that when you inhale, your brain registers it as smell, but when you exhale, your brain registers it as flavor.

2) The main part of your brain that registers how delicious/repugnant something is incorporates MANY different inputs more or less seamlessly – taste, flavor, texture, viscosity, etc., even sight and sound (he’s done test with iPods to show that oysters tastes saltier if you listen to seashore sounds when you eat them).  Taste is really a five-plus-sensual experience.

3) He was also part of a test that showed that, when you’re chewing mint gum and the flavor goes away, it’s not because the mint is gone – there are still molecules of mint flavoring circulating in your mouth and nose.  It’s the lack of sugar.  (The finding has caused some gum companies to add capsules that release sugar more slowly, to extend the flavor.)

4) Bitterness is important first because a lot of poisonous compounds are bitter, and we need a front-line of defense.  (My guess:  This is why bitter foods are often a learned taste; we have to learn that they are safe before we can really enjoy them.)

5) Coffee, tea, red wine and other alcohols, many vegetables, and dark chocolate are all bitter.  (However, they all contain LOTS of good things that we need, as adults, to help us stay healthy – my guess is that we learn to like these substances because they are good for us, despite the bitterness.  A refinement in palate can help us be healthier adults.)

Okay, so what does that bring us to:

Coffee doesn’t taste (holistically) as good as it smells (nose) because we’re drinking it with two drawbacks:

1) The coffee is prepared in such a way as to be extremely bitter (in pots coated with rancid oils, with rancid beans, with the water sitting in the beans too long, etc.).  Bitterness doesn’t affect flavor or scent (nose), but it definitely affects taste (mouth).

2) The coffee is prepared without a carrier that allows the brain to strongly associate the flavor (nose) with what is going down our throats–sugar, salt, fat, or protein (umami).

Thus, if you want coffee that tastes as good as it smells, you have to prepare it in such a way as to reduce bitterness (cold brewing it, curing it) and add flavor carriers (cream for fat and umami, sugar or another sweetner, perhaps a tiny bit of salt).

Klava.  (Which any Steven Brust reader already knows.)

However, there was a recipe for butterbeer (it was a real, historical drink, apparently?) that HB does in the second episode of Heston’s Feasts that I want to try out, with coffee.  Butter, eggs, sugar, spices, bzzt with a frother (or a blender?).  Hm…

Update:

As often happens, the shower reveals much.  You know how you can’t smell your own breath, even after you’ve been eating garlic, etc., unless you hold your hand up to your mouth and inhale?  And you know how when you’re in a smell for a while, you can’t smell it anymore?  And if you don’t want to smell something, you breathe through your mouth?

These things, tied together, point to the idea that we aren’t being “deadened” to smells; we’re just filtering out the smell of everything that’s already in our noses, because it’s not tied to fat/sugar/protein in our mouths.  For example, if you cook something, after a while you can’t smell it – but you can still taste it if you put it in your mouth.  However, if you step outside for a minute, clear your lungs, then the smell hits you when you come back in again.

Sorry, probably perfectly obvious to everybody but me, but I thought it was just damned cool.

Queries and Blurbs: A Bitch

Yes, something specific is setting me off this morning.  No, that case is not the only one, so I’m not going to name names, even privately.  It’s just that’s what’s getting me today.

Dear writers,

You are not selling infodumps.

Infodumps are not a selling tool.

Far be it from me to say I’m a) the best damned writer ever or b) the best damned cover-letter, query-letter, back-cover blurb, elevator-pitch, summary, synopsis, proposal, etc. writer in the land, or even a good one.

However, making your marketing materials as boring as all @#$% is not an effective selling tool.  Yes, you feel a driving need to explain every @#$%^& thing in your @#$%^&* book.  Whoop de @#$%^& do.

You are selling entertainment.  If all your selling tools aren’t entertaining, what the @#$% are you doing?

Selling perfectly accurate infodumps that are making your target markets tune you out an move on elsewhere.

Do you laugh when you read your marketing materials?  Cry?  Shudder?  Does the main character’s voice start chattering on in your head?  Get into goddamned creative mode when you’re writing your marketing shit, because this is just painful to read, and it’s painful to read it going downhill as you take on more and more comments from your “editors,” who want you to chase down this detail, that detail…

BORING!

One rule for entertainers:  Don’t Be Boring.

Are you writing boring stories?  No.

So don’t write @#$%^& boring marketing materials by letting other people nitpick you to death, explaining everything, adding a bunch of words that don’t mean anything, and in general, letting the juice get sucked out of you.

Thanks,

DeAnna

 

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