Showing posts with label Short stories. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Short stories. Show all posts

21 December 2013

Annual Report

by John M. Floyd

Like all writers, I keep records of my submissions, acceptances, rejections, withdrawals, publication dates, and so forth. I can't say this kind of recordkeeping is fun--I'm an engineer, not an accountant--but it's a necessary evil if you write and send off as many short stories as I do. Well, I take that back: recording acceptances is fun. Rejections, not so much. My first impulse when I receive rejection letters is always to delete them from my email or, if they're real letters, toss them into the old cylindrical file, which I often do. (Class, can you spell denial?) But I also record them. The only thing worse than receiving a rejection would be to accidentally re-send the same story to someplace that's already rejected it once.

Keeping up appearances

Anyhow, I took a look last week at my so-called ledger, and--all things considered--I suppose I've been fortunate in 2013, writingwise. I still had a lot of rejections, but so far this year (not counting a collection of thirty of my short stories, released in May) I've had one story in AHMM, one in The Strand Magazine, one in Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, ten in Woman's World, two in The Saturday Evening Post, and half a dozen in other magazines and anthologies. It probably won't surprise you that most of these were mysteries. I had, alas, no appearances in Ellery Queen, although I tried.

One thing I'm extremely proud of is that so many of my SleuthSayers colleagues and our frequent commenters have appeared in the big mystery markets this past year. I won't try to name all those folks here for fear of leaving someone out, but believe me, our group was well represented. I like to read stories in those publications anyway--I was addicted to AHMM even when I was in college--and it's especially enjoyable when those stories bear the bylines of my friends and associates. I only wish I could write as well as some of them do.

Submission statements

We've talked a lot at this blog about writing and marketing, and the practice of setting a "quota" comes up now and then. Many writers seem to find it helpful to assign themselves a minimum page count or word count for each day, week, etc. (I don't), and I was surprised at how many fellow authors took part in NaNoWriMo last month (I didn't). I also found myself wondering if a lot of writers set quotas regarding their submissions.

Here's what I mean: Do you tell yourself to keep a certain number of stories or novel queries out at any one time? Do you try to submit a certain number of stories to a particular publication in the course of a year? If you do, are those kinds of self-imposed quotas beneficial to you? If you don't, do you think they could be? I do know that if you hope to publish regularly in some of the larger short-story markets, it's almost a necessity to have multiple submissions in the "under-consideration" pipeline at any given point in time--especially for those publications that take a long time to respond.

I don't submit as many stories as I once did, but I decided long ago to try to always keep at least one story out to each of (what I consider to be) the four most popular mystery markets--AH, EQ, Strand, and WW. If/when a story gets rejected, I just send another one. In fact I send out another story to the place that rejected me and I send the rejected story out to a different market. With regard to response times, you're probably already aware that AHMM and The Strand usually take longer to get back to you than EQ and Woman's World.

Back to the future

As for next year, I have mysteries upcoming in AH, WW, Sherlock Holmes, Mysterical-E, and a suspense anthology called Trust & Treachery. And I'm keeping fingers crossed for positive responses to the rest of the unpublished stories that I currently have circulating. (I had enough negative responses this year to last me a while.)

So that's where I am at the moment. I hope you and your writing career have had a productive and enjoyable twelve months. In terms of writing/publishing, I guess I'd have to say 2013 is turning out to be better than some years and worse than others.

Isn't that true of life itself?

18 December 2013

Five Red Herrings, part six

by Rob Lopresti

1. Get Shorty.  This is probably a good time to remind any of you who read or write  short mystery fiction to consider joining the Short Mystery Fiction Society.  No cost and you will get daily emails on subjects related to guess-what.  More importantly, if you sign up by December 31 you are eligible to vote for the Derringer Award.  And if you wish you can get propose two stories which will then be considered by the Derringer judges in selecting nominees.

2. Not just a good idea. I don't think I have mentioned Garrow's Law on this blog.  It is a terrific TV show from Britain and apparently you can watch it for free on YouTube. William Garrow was a genuine barrister in the eighteenth century and the shows are based on his cases (and sometimes even on the actual court transcripts).  Garrow was one of those wild-eye radicals, pushing for concepts like "innocent until proven guilty. I get annoyed when the shows spend more time on Garrow's personal life, but they are all worth watching.

3.  Not while you are eating.  Gwen Pearson is a forensic entomologist, which means she studies insects to solve crimes.  If you aren't squeamish you can read about her job in a fascinating post called When crime scene evidence crawls away.

4.  Let your little light shine.   Lantern is an utterly cool free site and I have already used it to research a short story.  It consists of almost a million pages from books and magazines about the entertainment industry (ads included!).  It is co-produced by the Media History Digital Library and the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Communication Arts.

So, what's in here?

• Many mentions of Mark Twain. The earliest I found is from 1903 in which he solemnly agrees to give his skull to science. If he is still using it when the note comes due, he assures the reporter, he will pay rent.

• 2700 references to Sherlock Holmes, starting with William Gillette on stage.

• In 1931, we are informed that "ELLERY QUEEN, whose detective-mystery novels are all the vogue, is the pen-name of one of the industry's ad men…"

• And here is a photo of Bebe Daniels showing off the clothes she wore in her starring role in THE MALTESE FALCON. (1931)

5. Arkansas Unraveller.   And if you didn't read it last month, here is a handy legal tip: When you are on the phone to a hit man, do not accidentally butt-dial your potential victim.

Jolly, safe Christmas and New Year's to all!

30 October 2013

Media Blitz

by Robert Lopresti

A long time ago, Robert Benchley wrote the following about his most famous piece, "The Treasurer's Report:" I have inflicted it on the public in every conceivable way except over the radio and dropping it from airplanes.  (And as proof, here is a short, hilarious movie version.)

I am thinking about that because this autumn is seeing my own work coming at the public from a variety of directions.  Not to worry; the phase will pass and by December I will sink back into obscurity.  But let's go over the details of my temporary onslaught.

As I wrote last time, September marked my first appearance in an e-book anthology.  I am sure by now you have all run out (or run your cursor over) to buy a copy of Malfeasance Occasional: Girl Trouble.  Right?

I am happy to inform you you won't have to spend any money for this next feature (although I do like dark chocolate if you're thinking of a gift).  This one is a freebie.

Linda Landrigan, who edits Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, suggested doing a podcast of my story "Snake in the Sweetgrass," which appeared in the December 2003 issue of AHMM.  And if it isn't up now here  it should be by next week.

She sent me the recorder they use and after much diligent practice I was able to record the story with only three mistakes.  And that was the best I could do.  Three different mistakes every time.  (It wasn't like I consistently tripped over the same tongue-twisting phrase, alas.)  Linda assures me they can clean that up.

But here is the cool part.  My story is about an elderly Kentucky fiddler and the title refers to a traditional fiddle piece that is his personal signature tune.  It seemed logical to include a recording of that tune in the podcast.

The problem with that is that I made up the name.  There is no such tune. 

No biggie.  My daughter, Susan Weiner, is a fine composer so she created a tune that matched the description in the story.  And then, extra special treat, my wife Terri Weiner recorded it on the fiddle.

So it is a real family operation and I recommend it highly.  But if that isn't enough to entice you to give it a listen, here is a bonus.  Remember, I said this is a media blitz. 

The January/February issue of Hitchcock's comes out November 4 and I am thrilled to report that the cover story is "Devil Chased The Wolf Away," a sequel to "Snake."  And while you can read "Devil" without experiencing "Snake" you will definitely enjoy them more if you read (or listen to) "Snake" first.

And next Wednesday I will explain how "Devil" came to be written, much to my surprise.

27 October 2013

Stranded and Kwiked

by Louis Willis

I began thinking last month what I’d write about this month and my mind was totally blank until I received my first issue of the Strand Magazine. Imagine my delight when I saw John Floyd’s “Secrets,” a slow-paced story with a fast moving plot and rising tension in which two strangers, a man and woman, meet on a ferry boat in what appears a coincidence (it’s not but to say anymore would be a spoiler). The plot ends, but the tension doesn’t drop and the story doesn’t stop because the plight of the two characters continues, suggestively, in the reader’s imagination.

The other stories in the magazine are good, but the one that also interested me was Joseph Heller’s (1923-1999) unpublished "Almost Like Christmas,” written sometime between 1945-1969. Why would the editors publish a story about Christmas several months before Christmas. Because it is not about the holidays; it is a story that “ readers a provocative glimpse of seething race-related prejudice in an otherwise respectable small town,” (editor). In a town where black farmers from the south are allowed to buy land, a white teacher’s effort to integrate the schools results in three white boys badly beating a black boy. One of the white kids is stabbed, and the black kid is blamed. As an angry mob begins to form with the intention of hunting down the black kid, the atmosphere becomes “Almost Like Christmas.” In view of some of the violent incidents involving race these days, the story is very topical.

Reading Janice’s post on length prompted me to reread Poe’s essay “Philosophy of Composition” in which he states “It appears evident...that there is a distinct limit, as regards length, to all works of literary art — the limit of a single sitting....” but he admits this limit may be “overpassed” except in poetry. Her post also sent me to Amazon to buy Kwik Krimes. Editor Otto Penzler “thought it would be fascinating to see what authors could conjure if given the specific assignment of producing a mystery, crime, or suspense story of no more than one thousand words.”

I didn’t read all 81 stories before having to post this article. All, except one, of the 34 stories that I managed to read are well crafted and seem to comply with the word limit, plus or minus a word or two. I say seem because I didn’t count the words of each story, but based on page length, each is four pages long, plus or minus one or two pages. The disappointing story was the page and half “Acknowledgement.” It has no conflict though it suggests what happened to the narrator. It is like the acknowledgements in books thanking mama, daddy, uncle, aunt, agent, and anybody else who may have helped or hurt the author. To say what the ending suggests would be a spoiler. Since there is no mystery, suspense, or crime, it isn’t a story and seems out of place in this collection.

I give a big shoutout to Janice’s masterful story “The Imperfect Detective” in which the detective comes up with the perfect solution. It is so well crafted that any discussion of the plot would be a spoiler. 

If you haven’t already, add Kwik Krimes to your to-read list. Not only can you read one story in a single sitting, you can read three or four or, if you’re a speed writer, even more. 

One problem I have with reading flash fiction, short stories, and short short stories is the difficulty of avoiding spoilers in discussing them. If anyone has a solution to this problem, help.

But maybe I don’t need help because, according to an essay I read by Jonah Lehrer in the Internet magazine Wired two minutes before posting my article, “Spoilers Don’t Spoil Anything.” The article is certainly food for thought and a post on SleuthSayers if I can get around to thinking about what spoilers really do.

26 October 2013

Market-First, Write-Second

by Michael Bracken

NOTE: I am sincerely pleased to welcome my friend and two-time Derringer Award-winning writer Michael Bracken as a guest blogger. Even though he is the author of several books--including All White Girls, PSI Cops, and Tequila Sunrise--Michael is better known as the author of more than 1,000 short stories, including crime fiction published in Big Pulp, Blue Murder, Crime Factory, Crime Square, Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Espionage, Flesh & Blood: Guilty as Sin, High Octane Heroes, The Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica 4, Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, Muscle Men, Needle, Out of the Gutter, and many other anthologies and magazines. Additionally, he has edited five crime fiction anthologies, including the three-volume Fedora series. Learn more about him at and (Readers, I'll be back in two weeks.) -- John Floyd

Though the ability to self-publish through Kindle and other platforms is changing publishing, most beginning and mid-career short story writers who desire conventional publication are quite familiar with the write-submit-write-submit process of writing a story, sending it to the best paying/most prestigious market and then, if the story is rejected, sending it to the next best paying/next most prestigious market and working down a list of markets until the story is accepted or no markets remain.

When writers take a write-first, market-second approach to publication--this is the approach touted by most advice-givers and how I began my writing career--they are following a time-tested path to publication. Over the course of a long-term career, though, a highly prolific short story writer may have multiple opportunities to flip that process on its head so that they take a market-first, write-second approach. I know I have.

I'm in my mid-50s and have been writing professionally since I was a teenager. I am the author of more than 1,000 short stories and have had one or more short stories published each month for 124 consecutive months as I write this. Almost every short story I write gets published and these days I rarely write short fiction on speculation.

Following are some of the ways a short story writer can follow a market-first, write-second approach to publication.

Writing to Order

This happens when an editor provides an outline, a word count, and a deadline, and it results in a guaranteed sale. Some editors build their publications from the inside out, preferring not to rely on the randomness of slush pile submissions to provide all of their publication's necessary content. Instead, they work with a handpicked group of writers to provide all or a significant portion of their publication's content.

I thought this practice died with the pulps but I discovered this practice was still alive and well in the early 2000s when I became one of those writers.

I have been writing women's fiction for most of my career, breaking into one magazine after another through slush pile submissions. The editor of one magazine returned some of my slush pile submissions with extensive revision instructions, which I followed, and then published the revised versions. Once I understood what she wanted, she began publishing my slush pile submissions without requesting revisions.

One day I received an email from her wherein she provided a one-paragraph description of a story she wanted, provided a deadline, and asked if I could write the story. I could and I did.

For the next few months I received one story assignment each month. Then one Friday evening I received an email from the editor telling me that another writer had missed her deadline and asking if I could write the story previously assigned to that writer. And could I have it in her hands first thing Monday morning?

Even though I had never written a 5,000-word story in two days I told her I could. Then I did. From then until the magazine ceased publication I wrote two or three stories to order each month, or roughly 25% of that magazine's entire content.

Lesson: Before you ever have the opportunity to write fiction to order you must establish yourself as a reliable contributor who understands an editor's needs and can deliver short stories consistently and on deadline.

Writing to Invitation

This is when an editor provides a theme, a word count range, and a deadline, and it nearly always results in a sale.

Many anthologies are filled by invitation only and there are multiple ways one can be included among the invitees. The first and most obvious is to be a best-selling author whose name on the cover will move books. For the rest of us, becoming a frequent anthology invitee involves a combination of professionalism, persistence, formal and informal networking, and luck.

Invited contributors who are not cover-worthy may have established themselves as writers who produce publishable fiction to deadline with a minimum of fuss. Often an invitation comes as a result of a previous working relationship or a pre-existing professional or social relationship, but invitations can sometimes seem to come out of the blue.

Several years ago I sold two short stories to the editor of a men's magazine based in California. When the editor left that position he moved to Germany, and one day I received an email from him inviting me to contribute to an anthology he was putting together for a German publisher. I have now written stories for three of his invitation-only anthologies and have been invited to contribute to two more.

Beginning in 2007 I sold a few stories to the editor of several open-call anthologies. When he grew tired of dealing with unprofessional writers and wading through slush piles filled with unpublishable material, he switched to invitation-only projects. I was one of the writers he invited, and between his open-call and invitation-only projects I've places stories in nine of his anthologies.

As an active member of the Short Mystery Fiction Society, an organization whose members communicate primarily through a Yahoo group, I often enter discussions there about writing, editing, and publishing short mystery fiction. Through contacts I've made on that list I've been invited to contribute to at least three fiction anthologies and one non-fiction anthology.

I have also received unexpected invitations. I once received an invitation from a well-known editor of horror anthologies with whom I had never worked and learned later that a contributor to Fedora, the first anthology I edited, recommended me. I placed stories in two of that editor's invitation-only anthologies. Recently I was invited to contribute to an anthology by a writer whose work has appeared in several of the same anthologies as my stories.

"Getting Out of the Box," my Derringer Award-winning short story published in Crime Square, was written at the invitation of Robert J. Randisi, a writer/editor with whom I have crossed paths many times through the Private Eye Writers of America and the Short Mystery Fiction Society.

Lesson: Publishing is a small world. What you do today will impact your career for many years to come. Your professionalism, specifically when dealing with editors and more generally when dealing with writers, who might someday become editors, will be remembered and rewarded.

Writing to semi-invitation

This is when an editor provides a theme, a word count range, and a deadline well in advance of posting an open call, and this can often result in a sale.

For a variety of reasons, some editors continue to post open calls to their anthologies, but a few of these editors give their regular contributors an advance heads-up.

Writing to semi-invitation is similar to writing for a repeat market (see below), but with the knowledge that the editor is actively seeking a submission from you. However, for whatever reason, the editor doesn't want to commit to purchasing your work sight-unseen. It may be that you haven't quite nailed that editor's tastes or it may be that the editor is hoping to find short story gold in the slush pile and wants the freedom to bump a pretty good story from one of the semi-invited for a brilliant story discovered in the slush pile.

This is a transition stage for a short story writer. Receiving a semi-invitation is an indication that you have impressed an editor with previous submissions but you haven't quite nailed this editor's needs or tastes. Before writing a new story in response to a semi-invitation, review previous acceptances and rejections from this editor. Try to determine the strengths of the accepted stories and the weaknesses of the rejected stories before you begin.

I've placed at least 20 short stories with three different editors who do this, and nearly every story I wrote for those editors that didn't make the cut has been placed elsewhere.

Lesson: Receiving your first semi-invitation may be a sign that you are improving your skills as a market-first, write-second writer but haven't quite made the transition. Realize, though, that some editors prefer to edit open-call anthologies and the best relationship you will ever develop with them is to become one of the writers with whom they share anthology calls well in advance of opening up their slush pile.

Writing for a repeat market

This involves contributing new work to an editor or to a publication that's already published several of your stories and the editor has indicated she's open to more. This regularly results in a sale.

The editor never requests specific submissions from you, but implicitly (by continuing to publish your stories) or explicitly (by mentioning a desire to see additional work) encourages you to continue submitting. Your submissions probably bypass the slush pile because you have demonstrated an ability to produce market-appropriate stories on a regular basis. Unfortunately, you cannot assume that any specific submission will result in a sale either because you haven't truly mastered the market's needs or because it is a prestigious market that draws submissions from hundreds or even thousands of potential contributors, some of whom are better known, more talented, and harder working than you are. That you have cracked this market more than once is a testament to your ability and determination.

For each of the past 37 consecutive months I have placed one to four short stories with the editor of a pair of women's magazines who has never requested a submission from me. Her primary method of communication is emailing me contracts and, unfortunately, the occasional rejection.

Writing regularly for repeat markets can lead to write-to-order opportunities and to submission invitations, but repeat markets are equally likely to disappear. I've had many long-term repeat markets dry up after an editor was replaced or the magazine changed editorial direction, but I've also had sales increase when new editors looked to existing contributors to fill their needs. And, more than once I've sold stories to the new editor that the previous editor rejected.

Lesson: There is a well-known business belief that it is far easier to keep a current client than it is to gain a new client. The same thinking applies to writing for repeat markets because it is often easier to write and place a new story with a repeat market than it is to write and place a new story with a new market.

Writing to specifications

This involves writing a story specifically to fit the requirements of an open-call anthology or to fit the requirements of a specific magazine.

Writing to specifications is where you begin the transition from a write-first, market-second career to a market-first, write-second career. You may have grown tired of putting your stories on the slush pile merry-go-round and have realized that inspiration is fickle. One day you see an open call for submissions to an anthology that intrigues you or you wonder why you just can't place a story with a magazine to which you've submitted a substantial number of short stories.

You carefully examine the anthology's call for submissions or the magazine's guidelines. Then you find anthologies the editor has previously produced or you gather a substantial number of the magazine's back issues and you study them. You're looking for commonalities among the published stories that may or may not be mentioned in the official guidelines.

Commonalities may be obvious. For example, every story published in True Confessions is narrated in first person, and Woman's World has a strict word-count requirement. Some commonalities may not be obvious and will require a great deal of effort to determine. The commonalities may be in the writing (lush vs. lean) or it may be the gender of the protagonists (mostly male or mostly female) or it may be the overall tenor of the stories (upbeat vs. downbeat).

Once you complete your market study, you write a new story, incorporating as many of the commonalities you discovered as you possibly can.

Writers who don't work like this sometimes view this extensive prewriting market research as the equivalent of painting a picture by using a paint-by-the-numbers kit. It isn't. This market research is the equivalent of studying a project carefully so you know which tools to pull from your literary tool chest in order to successfully complete your writing project. And for some of us, a short story isn't successfully completed until it's published.

Lesson: This may be the best method for breaking into a new market or placing a story with a new editor. Do this often enough and soon you will be writing for repeat markets, and editors of open-call anthologies will give you advance notice of new projects. If you establish your ability to provide finished short story manuscripts on time and on theme, and your interaction with editors remains professional at all times, you may have the opportunity to contribute to an invitation-only anthology or even have the opportunity to write short fiction to order.

Additional thoughts

Becoming a market-first, write-second writer isn't appropriate for every short story writer. The advantages are sometimes counterbalanced by disadvantages.

Nearly every short story I write gets published, but the majority of my work appears in publications out of the mainstream. For example, over the years my crime fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Espionage, Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, and a handful of anthologies from top publishers, but far more of my crime fiction has appeared in men's magazines. These days much of my crime fiction appears in anthologies--such as the recently published High Octane Heroes (Cleis Press)--which did not mention mystery or crime fiction anywhere in the call for submissions.

Frequent publication in multiple genres has not translated into reader recognition. Several editors who recognize and appreciate my work keep me busy at the keyboard, and a handful of prolific short story writers recognize my name because we often write for the same publications. At the same time, the likelihood of being recognized at a science fiction or mystery convention is slim, and it can be frustrating to have published more short fiction than the combined output of all the other writers on a panel and yet be the least recognized person on the stage.

Shifting sands

Publishing is changing rapidly and everything I know about it may be obsolete before the year ends. I have self-published some short fiction (primarily reprints) for Kindle and other e-readers, but my writing career is still heavily dependent on conventional publication. Despite all the changes in publishing, the market-first, write-second approach to conventional publication allows me to continue a multi-decade string of short-fiction success.

I know there are many more paths to publication than there were when I began but no matter which path you follow, success begins with good storytelling, good writing, market knowledge, professionalism, and persistence.

Trust me. If it took actual talent to become a successful short story writer, I'd still be chasing publication.

02 October 2013

Trouble with Girls, Crows, and Hurricanes

by Robert Lopresti

I am happy to announce that I have a story in the first issue of Malfeasance Occasional, a new ebook series from the folks at Criminal Element.  The idea is that each issue will have a theme and this issue is "Girl Trouble."  It is available now.  Follow the links and get your hands, uh, hard drive, on it. 

Oh, I should mention that I learned about this opportunity through Sandra Seaman's webpage My Little Corner, which is indispensable to anyone who wants to publish short genre fiction.  I have already told her I owe her a coffee.

Having said all that, I don't know whether this will really turn out to be a series or a one-off.  When they announced it in August 2012 they intended to move at a breakneck pace, with the first issue appearing in December of that year.   Obviously with one thing and another (one big thing being Hurricane Sandy, which blew through their offices like a, well, superstorm) the deadline has slipped a tad.  I suppose M.O. will turn out to be a series if the first book sells enough.  So. follow the links and get your-- did I already say that?

I know I haven't talked about my contribution, so let's go there.  "Crow's Lesson" is my first story in many years about Marty Crow, a private eye in New Jersey.  Marty was my first series character, and he was a reaction to my native state's decision to allow casinos in Atlantic City.  I'm not a huge fan of them.  (One of the reasons Jerry Izenberg was my favorite sports columnist in the Garden State was that he kept hammering on how much the state received on gambling (millions) and how much they spent on people with gambling addictions (zero).)

So I invented Marty Crow, a native of A.C. and a private eye.  He is a pretty sharp guy with one huge blind spot: he refuses to admit that he has a gambling problem.  And that winds up twisting things up for him as surely as if he insisted on walking with a fake limp.

Marty's first three appearances were in P.I. Magazine, which is still around, but stopped publishing fiction decades ago.  (S.J. Rozan's Bill Smith made his first showing in one of the same issues, oddly enough).  Since then Marty has appeared in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine and anthologies. One of those tales earned me my only Anthony Award nomination. 

And you can even hear (for free) dramatic performances of two Crow stories, thanks to the Midnight Mystery Players, who carry on the great old tradition of radio drama. 

This particular story was inspired by a story I read in the New York Times many moons ago.  Some boards of education were so concerned about the possibility of children from other districts sneaking in to use their (presumably better) schools, that they hired private eyes to trail kids back to their homes.

Hmm, I thought.  Sounds like a case for Marty Crow.  As it happens, the young lady he follows leads him into a very bad situation.  (The other inspiration for the story was Dashiell Hammett's classic Continental Op story, "The House In Turk Street."  For some of you, that's a big hint as to what happens to Marty.)

So let me wish the best to my fellow M.O. authors (Brendan DuBois, Eric Cline,  Hilary Davidson, Chuck Wendig, Patricia Abbott, Jeff Soloway, Charles Drees, Sam Wiebe, Cathi Stoler,  Milo James Fowler, Caroline J. Orvis, Ken Leonard, Travis Richardson), and to all  those who choose to get in trouble with us.

31 August 2013

Marketing 101

By John M. Floyd

A quick explanation: my title implies that this is an instructional piece, but it's not. My plan today is to tell you a little about how I approach marketing my writing, and to--more importantly--ask you what your approach is. So this is actually sort of a fishing expedition. Besides, I once heard some good advice about teaching and mentoring. I was told that good instructors don't say "This is how you do it"; good instructors say "This is how I do it," and then let the student take it from there. Not everything works the same way for everybody.

Another qualification: this is a discussion about marketing short stories, not novels. Most of us here at SleuthSayers have written both, but my expertise (if I have any at all, which I often doubt) is in the area of shorts rather than longs.

Given those clarifications, here are a few random notes on the topic of selling what you've written.

Beating the bushes

In the old days I usually located markets for my stories via the Novel & Short Story Writers Market, an outstanding print reference by Writers Digest Books, published each fall. I still buy every new edition, and I still look at it from time to time, but most of my scouting is now done via the Internet. I either consult a list like the ones at or my friend Sandra Seamans's blog, or I Google phrases like "short fiction markets" or "short mystery markets" and see what turns up. If a particular site looks promising, I find a hotbutton called "submission guidelines" or "writer's guidelines" and I'm in business.

Question: How do you go about finding markets for your stories?

The latest and greatest

I usually submit my new mystery stories to one of four places, first. They are The Strand Magazine, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, and Woman's World. How do I decide which? That's usually based on either content or length, or both. The Strand prefers stories of between 2000 and 6000 words; EQMM will consider stories up to 12K; AHMM will also take submissions of up to 12K, and seems to be more receptive than EQ to occasional stories with paranormal elements; and WW wants 700-word mysteries featuring a "solve-it-yourself" interactive format.

Another good print (and paying) market is Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, and I've sold several mysteries to a Colorado publication called Prairie Times (which also pays). Online markets (e-zines) include Over My Dead Body, Mysterical-E, Kings River Life, and Orchard Press Mysteries. OMDB is a paying market, Myst-E and KRL are not, and I'm not sure about OPM. There are certainly others I haven't mentioned--if any of you have favorite markets for mysteries, I'd like to hear about them.

The other two possibilities for short stories are anthologies and collections. The already-mentioned features a number of current anthologies, and there are many more that are associated with organizations, writers' groups, charities, etc. (Anthologies also often seek reprints, which can be handy.) Collections are, well, collections--of one author's stories rather than those of a group of writers.

Submission accomplished

The way you submit a fiction manuscript is determined from the writer's guidelines for that market, and it's usually done in one of three ways:

Snailmail. It seems a little out-of-place in this day and age, but some short story markets, including AHMM, still require submissions via regular mail, along with the cover letters and postage and envelopes that have to accompany them. A disadvantage of this method, besides the time and expense, is that responses sometimes seem to take longer.

Submission via the publication's website. A growing number of markets (EQMM is one) now allow fiction subs via an online "form." You just (1) enter your name and the title of your story, (2) type a cover letter into the appropriate box, (3) browse and select the computer file containing your manuscript, and (4) click SUBMIT. A good thing about website submissions is that you can then check the status of your manuscript (received, rejected, accepted) online, at any time.

E-mail. Sending your stories this way involves one of two approaches: (1) attaching the manuscript or (2) copy/pasting the text of the story into the body of the e-mail. The first is the easier--you just type your cover letter into the e-mail and then attach the manuscript's file. NOTE: When e-mailing a story I always use the word "submission" somewhere in the subject line, whether I'm told to or not.

The care and feeding of editors

There are a few rules of thumb on this subject, and I think they're mostly just common sense:

- Don't contact editors via phone. Stick to snailmail or e-mail.
- Don't pester them unnecessarily.
- Don't include anything in your cover letter that's not relevant.
- Don't staple your manuscript.
- Don't tell them where your manuscript has been rejected.
- Don't use uncommon fonts (Courier and Times New Roman seem to be the standards).
- Don't put a copyright notice on your manuscript.
- Don't use a font size of less than 12-point.
- Don't divulge your Social Security number until/unless your story's accepted.

By the way, if an editor asks me to change something in my story, I do it. I mean, why not? When I try to later sell it someplace as a reprint, I can always change the story right back to the way I had it originally. Question: What's your take on editorial changes, requested or otherwise?

The Hints & Tips file

A few pointers, for anyone who might find them useful:

To prevent spacing and formatting errors when copy/pasting a manuscript into the body of an e-mail: (1) take out any special characters like italics--you can substitute an underscore before and after the text to indicate italics, (2) single-space your story with no indentions and with double-spacing between paragraphs, (3) save the story as a .txt file, (4) close the file, (5) open the file again--it will now be in Courier 10-point font--and (6) copy/paste the newly formatted manuscript into your e-mail after the cover letter. To be absolutely certain everything looks right, you can always e-mail it to yourself first.

If I want to snailmail multiple stories to the same market in separate mailings, I usually print the story's title in pencil on an inside flap of its SASE. That way, if I get a rejection letter that doesn't mention the title of the rejected story (many of them don't), I can look inside the SASE flap and see which story it was.

I don't use an editor's first name until after he or she contacts me and either (1) uses his or her first name or (2) addresses me by my first name. After that, we're on a more casual basis forever, but until that time it's Dear Mr. Smith or Dear Ms. Jones. And if I don't yet know for sure if an editor is male or female, I play it safe and use the full name in salutations: Dear Pat Jones, Dear Lee Smith.

I used to fold shorter stories (less than five pages, say) in thirds and mail them in #10 business envelopes, but lately I've been submitting my snailmailed manuscripts flat and paper-clipped in a 9 x 12 envelope, no matter what the length. (For stories of more than 25 pages I use a butterfly clip instead.) Editors have told me they hate folded manuscripts, and--believe me--I want to make reading my stories as easy for them as possible.

More observations, more questions

- E-mailed submissions and online plug-it-into-the-box-at-the-website submissions are easy and economical, but I suspect that those processes (because they're easy) have led to a higher number of submissions to those publications. Even though snailmailed subs are a lot of trouble (and expensive, if you do enough of them), there are those writers who say it might actually be an advantage, since it probably means less competition. Once again, though, this isn't a decision the writer makes--it's usually dictated by the publication.

- Would you ever consider collecting your unpublished stories into a book? So far I have chosen not to. Only two of my 130 stories collected in my four books were originals--the rest were previously published. Not only did that allow me to get double duty (and double payment, I suppose) out of those stories, my publisher said he felt more comfortable with that approach because it was less of a financial risk for him: each of the stories had already been "vetted" and accepted someplace by at least one editor.

- I don't think writers should ever pay anything to anyone--an agent, publisher, editor, anybody--to consider or publish their work. I don't pay reading fees or even contest entry fees. Maybe I'm just cheap, but there are plenty of editors and publishers out there who'll pay you for what you write--I can't see doing it the other way around. What are your views on this?

- I've not yet waded very deeply into the e-book/e-story marketplace. I have a couple of stories at Untreed Reads (a mystery and a western), I had twenty or so stories at Amazon Shorts a few years ago, and my most recent two books are available via Kindle, but otherwise I've concentrated more on print markets and--to a lesser degree--e-zines. I'd love to hear the opinions of those who have tested the e-waters.

- I'm sort of middle-of-the-road on simultaneous submissions. I recognize that the best way to get published faster is to send the same story to different markets at the same time, but I also know I don't want the (admittedly remote) possibility of two places accepting first rights to one of my stories. That not only puts egg on your face, it can put a black mark beside your name forever, on some editor's list--and all these editors know each other, by the way. I've heard some writers and writing teachers say you should ignore the "no simultaneous submissions" request/demand that many pubs put in their guidelines because the editors expect you to simultaneously submit anyway, but I think it's a little risky. No one wants to suddenly find out he has two dates for the dance and then have to tell one of them, "Sorry, but I've already asked this other girl, and . . ." How do you feel about this issue?

In closing . . .

I should point out that, despite all my efforts to write well and market wisely, my rejections probably still outnumber my acceptances. Sad but true. But it's also true that it doesn't bother me a lot. I just try to send out more submissions and write more stories. Today I'll be at a booksigning in Vicksburg, Mississippi, and that's a good thing, storywise--I always seem to meet people at signings who later become quirky fictional characters.

Proof of my persistence: A few days ago I submitted eight mysteries and one sci-fi story to six different markets. And this month I've sold new stories to both Woman's World and The Saturday Evening Post. The main thing is, keep reading, keep writing, and keep submitting.

When someone tells me there's a lot of attrition among writers, I just say "Then don't get attritted."

I'm pedalling as fast as I can.

05 March 2013

No Goodbyes

by David Dean

Before I go on with my last regularly scheduled posting, I have the honor of introducing the gentleman that will be stepping into the Tuesday time slot in my stead--Terence Faherty.  Actually, unlike the entirely necessary intro to my first posting, Terry probably has no need of one.  He is a winner of two Shamus Awards and a Macavity, as well as a nominee several times over for the Edgar and Anthony Awards.  All this by way of being the author  of two long standing and popular series featuring seminarian-turned-sleuth, Owen Keane, and Hollywood detective, Scott Elliot.  His short stories appear regularly in all the best mystery and suspense magazines.  Terry is prolific, talented, distinguished-looking, and shares many other traits with me, as well.  I'm looking forward to reading his postings and want to offer him a warm welcome to our little family.  I think he's gonna fit right in.  Oh, did I mention that he's a leading authority on the late, great actor Basil Rathbone?  Well, he is...but I'll let him explain about all that.  Look for Terry's first post two weeks from now.

I may have mentioned in my last posting that I'm determined to attempt another piece of long fiction--I call such things, "novels".  In fact, it was the august opinions of SleuthSayers' readers and contributors that helped me to decide which storyline to pursue.  As I am a simple man, not much given to multi-tasking, I feel the need to clear the deck in order to do so.  In other words, this will be my last posting for the foreseeable future.

My time with SleuthSayers has been truly wonderful.  I have enjoyed contributing my thoughts every two weeks, and greatly appreciate the kind consideration that each of you have given them.  Beyond the obvious breadth of knowledge exhibited daily by my fellow writers, I think a wonderful tolerance and greatness of mind has been a cornerstone of our site.  It has been a privilege to be amongst your numbers.

It would be wrong of me to slip away without acknowledging a few of you specifically, beginning with our mentor and leader, Leigh Lundin.  Have you ever dealt with a kinder, more passionately concerned man?  His guidance has been invaluable, his heart as big as the Stetson he wears so jauntily in his photo.  Leigh, you're the best.

There is also the erudite and always interesting, Rob Lopresti.  It was Rob that reached out to me years ago to do a guest blog on the, now legendary, Criminal Brief site.  There are few people better versed in the field of short mystery fiction than Rob, and he's a damn fine practitioner of the art, too.  It seems he intends to expand his literary horizon by entering the novel writing biz, as well.  Did I mention that he is also versatile?--librarian, critic, writer, blogger, musician, and probably other talents that I have yet to learn of.  He has also been a gentle guiding hand for me from time to time. 

My thanks also to the warm and wise, Fran Rizer.  She has been both an advisor and unstinting supporter to me, and her long-distance friendship has been a welcome surprise and an invaluable benefit to my membership here.  I've also become a great fan of her funny, sassy, vulnerable, and altogether intriguing literary character, Callie Parrish.  Fran has much to be proud of in her series.

John Floyd, through the magic of the internet, has come to feel like a personal friend rather than a virtual one.  His warmth and kindliness have touched me on several occasions via unexpected email messages.  He is a true gentleman, as well as a dauntingly talented and prolific writer.   

But as I said in the beginning, I have been in good company with all of you, and benefited from the relationship no end.  As the title of this blog states, there will be no goodbyes--I intend to read SleuthSayers daily and offer my usual array of pithy, sage comments.  If not altogether barred from doing so, I might even write a guest blog from time to time.  I can already envision the topic for my first: Why is it so difficult for me to write another novel? Or possibly, Why in God's name did I ever begin another novel? Or finally: Why won't anybody buy this damn novel that I've written?

Thanks everyone and God bless.

10 September 2012

Short Stories or Novels?

by Jan Grape

Sometimes people ask me why it took so long for me to write a novel? I was writing and selling short stories. Well, the honest answer is, I was writing novels they just weren't selling. I wrote two or three novels that didn't sell. One came really close about three times to being published but the editor left or the publishing house went out of business or the novel buyer at the publishing house who was supposed to recommend my book got sick and died. Yep, that all happened. All with one novel. I think it's called being snake bit.

But in stead of giving up, I kept plodding along and because I was selling short stories, I found a editor who liked my work. That person was Ed Gorman and at that time he and the late Marty Greenberg were selling anthologies right and left and actually both of them liked my short stories, interviews, articles, reviews, etc. I was writing a regular column for Mystery Scene magazine.

In 1998 one of my short stories, "A Front Row Seat," published in the Vengeance is Hers anthology edited by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins was nominated and won the Anthony Award for Best Short Story.

A project came along that Ed and Marty had working. It was to be a coffee table style book about women mystery writers. There were to be interviews, articles and articles, by, about, and written by women mystery authors. They asked me to co-edit with Ellen Nehr and the book was titled Deadly Women. Unfortunately, Ellen got sick and passed away when we were about half-way into the project. Dean James took over in Ellen's slot and we continued the project. We were fortunate enough to be nominated for an Edgar for Best-Non Fiction and at Bouchercon we won a mccavity Award.

About then is when Ed and Marty formed a company, Tekno, and began working out a package deal with Five Star Mysteries. They would find the book for Five Star to buy, and once Five Star editor read and liked the book, Tekno would get the contract and get it signed, get the book copy-edited, get a cover, the blurbs, jacket copy,and whatever else was needed to get the book ready to be published.

Eventually, I had a chance to send my book, Austin City Blue, featuring my Austin policewoman, Zoe Barrow to Mr. Gorman and he recommended to Five Star they buy it. Five Star liked it and as they say, the rest is history. Soon I also had a contract for Five Star to publish a collection of my short stories, Found Dead In Texas. And soon after a contract for the second novel, Dark Blue Death, in my Zoe Barrow series.

In the meantime, I kept writing short stories and getting those published. Yet shortly after my husband passed away, and I began having health problems. I had a really rough four years. I had one novel I had written earlier which had never been published, I dusted it off, did some rewrite and in 2010 Five Star published, What Doesn't Kill You, a non-series or stand alone as some people call them. I certainly didn't do much other writing. My creative muse was trying to reassert itself I guess.

About four years ago, the American Crime Writers League, of which I was President, decided we needed to help get our name out a bit more and also wanted to earn a little money to go into our treasury. We came up with the idea of an anthology of original stories, all written by our ACWL members. I volunteered to co-edit and my co-editor was R. Barri Flowers. Barri was the one who had suggested the anthology. His agent sold the project to Twilight Times and our title was ACWL Presents: Murder Past, Murder Present. It was published in 2009. I wrote a short story for it, titled, "The Crimes of Miss Abigail Armstrong."

In May of this year, ACWLs second anthology, Murder Here, Murder There was published by Twilight Times. Again the anthology was co-edited by R. Barri Flowers and myself. My short story this time was, "The Confession." The story featured my long-time female Private-Eye characters from several short stories, Jenny Gordon and C.J. Gunn. It was a lot of fun to visit with the PIs from G & G Investigations once again.

So most of my writing career has been both short stories and novels. In some ways I like short stories better because you can usually write one in a very short time. I've had ideas and written a story in a day and the longest only took about a week. However, because you do only have a short frame work to write in you have to be more precise, more determined to have characters who seem real and you have to be ready to work and rework until the story is finally finished. It helps to have a great or even a twisted, you never saw that coming ending.

With a novel you have more room to develop your plot and sub-plots as well as develop your characters. There are many more characters and more scenes and it definitely takes much more time to write a novel. It takes me a year or so. But it's so satisfying when you get that book complete and polished and you send it out. There are more chances to make better money (at least that's what I've heard.) More chances for people to believe you are a "real" writer if you have a novel published.

I actually enjoy doing both and since my writing career first began with short stories I love doing them. But I also love that feeling you get when you go into a book store and see your novel on the shelf. Your own...the book your wrote.

I guess it's all how you feel about it. I remember an author telling me years ago, that he didn't write short stories because he only had one idea a year and didn't want to waste that idea. He felt he needed to spend his time on a novel. I can understand but I'd hate to give up either one.

How do you feel? Writers? Bloggers?

03 July 2012

Brief Versus Short

 by Dale C. Andrews

United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia
    Last week I received an eagerly awaited piece of mail – a check.  The amount of the check, paid in compensation for a 26 page document I wrote this year, may not have been huge, but neither was it all that modest.  It was, for comparisons sake, more than  my annual salary  back in 1972 when I was still programming computers.  It was also about 8 times more than I have received in total for the short stories I have sold over the past few years.  Unlike those stories, this novella length document wasn’t fiction at all.  The check was payment for a legal brief that I agreed to write in a case involving a challenge to new consumer regulations published by the United States Department of Transportation. 

    I know, I know.  I make a point here and elsewhere of being a “recovering” attorney.  But this case tempted me back into the legal arena since I was asked to defend regulations that are pro-consumer, and with which I personally agree.  Also the payment would be, well, generous. 

    The last 20 years that I practiced law I was the Deputy Assistant General Counsel in the Department of Transportation’s litigation office.  For a host of reasons I enjoyed that position much more than I had my previous 15 years of practice in the private sector.  At DOT almost everything that I did revolved around the written word.  I specialized in appellate and Supreme Court litigation, so there was no interviewing of witnesses or trial work for me.  Rather, I spent my years writing and editing the writing of others.  When I was in private practice it bugged me no end to think that every hour I spent on a project needed to be billed to someone.  Time and money were stapled together at the ankles.  Separating hours worked from compensation received is one of the greatest joys in working for the government.   While work still stacks up, there is nevertheless the opportunity to give each task the amount of time it requires rather than the amount of time that can justifiably be multiplied by an applicable hourly rate.  Nonetheless, I am human, and I like money as well as the next guy.  So I admit that it was the prospect of those billable hours that enticed me to write that brief this year.

    By contrast, each of us here at SleuthSayers, I will bet, is marching to a different drummer.  You basically can’t make anything close to a living writing short stories.  The last mystery writer who may have been able to eke out that sort of living was Ed Hoch, and I would be very surprised if there are any more of his ilk out on the horizon. 

    This was not always the case.  O. Henry wrote virtually only short stories, and apparently lived well.  Shirley Jackson left a handful of novels, but was principally known for her incredible short stories.  Faulkner, Hemmingway and Steinbeck each cut their teeth on short stories, as did Stephen King. 

    It is interesting to speculate as to what has changed since the heyday of magazine fiction.  John Floyd, in a column last week, set forth a list of outlets that currently pay for new short stories.  That list is paltry compared to the publications that were readily available at neighborhood news counters in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.  And why is this the case?  Economics teaches us that the magazines that are no more ceased to exist only because readers stopped purchasing them.  It’s pretty simple – when readers go away the market contracts.  Since the demise of many of those short story outlets coincided with the rise of television it is tempting to link the two.  Did readers leave because of the advent of television?  If so, why was that the case?  Mystery stories were a hallmark of radio programming before televisions entered our living rooms and yet the market for printed short stories thrived alongside radio dramas. 

  Thinking about this I was reminded of an episode on the Twilight Zone – actually, the 1985 re-boot of the show on CBS.  The episode, part of the 1985 Christmas show, was titled “But Can She Type?” and centered on a much-abused secretary who was transported into a parallel universe where secretarial skills were revered.  The scenario of that episode is not unlike the situation that short story authors find themselves in – we seem to be stuck in a universe that no longer fully appreciates our contributions.

    It is possible, with the advent of epublications and stories and books that are obtainable over the internet without ever being published in hardcover, that the pendulum may now be swinging back to a more amenable position.  But I still am a bit of a skeptic.  After all, the demise of all of those mystery magazines that we bought as kids was not a fluke – they left the shelves because the public stopped buying them.  Does the ability to download a book or a story heighten the public’s interest in acquiring the story?  Of course from an economics standpoint it could be that the readership market, while still narrow, is also deep, and that on-line availability of mystery fiction will appeal to those still interested in the genre who, for whatever reason, are not frequent purchasers of hardcopy books and magazines. 

    Regardless of whether these new outlets are harbingers of better things to come, at least, as John pointed out last week, there are markets that are out there right now.  But there are also strange disparities.  I spend roughly the same amount of time on a short story that I spent on that brief to the D.C. Court of Appeals.  My writing style changes somewhat when I shift from fiction to persuasive rhetoric, but it doesn’t really change all that much.  I still end up using the same words, the same organizational approach, and pretty much the same cadence.  But one of those efforts, if successful, brings monetary rewards that are probably at best only about five percent of the potential of the other. 

    In any event, no matter how the economics sort out, those of us committed to spinning yarns are in this for non-monetary gratification.  We are also in it for the long run!

29 March 2012

Your South Dakota Correspondent

by Eve Fisher
Hello, all SleuthSayers!  
I'm Eve Fisher, new contributor and correspondent from South Dakota.  Not that I'm from around here.  Actually,  I've never been from "around here," wherever "here" was - I was adopted at three from Athens, Greece, and I have moved a lot since then.
I've lived on both coasts, spent almost two decades in the South (Kentucky, Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina), and I currently live in small town South Dakota, along with my husband, my cat, and (at last count) five thousand books.  (So many books, so little time...)  And, along the way, I've been to almost every state in America, including every national/state park, monument, giant ball of string and iguana farm west of the Mississippi.  I even stayed (as a child) in the teepee motel on Route 66!

I've had a lot of variety in my working life, too, ranging from an early job as a part-time clerk in a seedy corner market in Atlanta (where I was the only woman to work there who wasn't robbed or shot - more on that another time), to teaching history at the university level in Brookings, SD.   I've worked for ballet companies, lawyers, CPAs, pizza places (I make a great pizza dough), judges, fabric stores, and for quite a while I was the circuit administrator for one of the South Dakota judicial circuits, which enlarged my acquaintance considerably on both sides of the law (more on that another time, too).  

I primarily write mysteries, some fantasy/sci-fi, and primarily short stories.  I’ve been fortunate enough to have had many publications in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine - I'm in the May issue along with Rob Lopresti, R. T. Lawton, and many others.  Honored as always, both to be published and to be in great company!  You can find all of my published stories (or links thereto) at my website at 

So, having said all of that...  
Almost all of my writing -  no, I'd say all of my writing starts with either a character or a place that takes over my mind.  
For example, I was sitting in a local restaurant, where a (locally) well known and well-respected couple who shall be nameless walked in as the restaurant phone rang.  The man turned to his wife and said, "I'll bet that's for you.  I wish I had my gun, I'd shoot it."  Well, that sparked "The Lagoon".

My story "At the End of the Path", a strange mix of mystery and fantasy, is set in a half a mile long path between ordered rows of pine trees at our local state park, a path set high up on a ridge, planted a very long time ago, by persons unknown, a path somewhere between a refuge and a haunting, and the light draws you on and on until the very end.  
Then there's "Not the Type", which is based - only partly! - on a real incident, decades ago, where a girlfriend and I ran into an old boyfriend of mine and his new wife.  She took one look at me and decided that my girlfriend was the one he'd dated, and acted accordingly.  Not necessarily a good idea. 
And "Drifts", one of my personal favorites, which...  well the cover says it all:  "Winter is a season, a menace, a playground, and a weapon."

Anyway, it's great to be part of SleuthSayers.  Next time I'll share some scenes behind the scenes, or whatever curious incidents come up.  Speaking of incidents, did I mention that a couple of months ago we had a premeditated murder in our nice small town?  All because of an incident in the locker room in high school almost fifty years back:  Resentments really can kill you.  
More later,