Showing posts with label Saturday Evening Post. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Saturday Evening Post. Show all posts

18 December 2018

Do You Want Cheese with That Whine?

By Michael Bracken

We’ve all heard successful novelists mention the grind of hours-long book signings and months-long book tours, and many of us secretly (or not so secretly) wish to experience them for ourselves, but it isn’t just time-consuming public appearances that eat into our writing time.

Michael Bracken (left) at Bouchercon 2018.
Being a writer involves much more than actually writing, especially for moderately productive short-story writers. The more productive we are, the more ancillary tasks chew up our writing time. This is something I wish I had known when I began writing, and one of the things no one ever thinks to mention to beginning writers.

Research. Each completed story requires market research to determine the best market or markets for the story.

Format. Though a few of us older writers and editors pretend there is, there is no longer a standard manuscript format, and some manuscripts have to be reformatted before each submission.

Rejection. Each rejection must be recorded to prevent submitting a story to the same publication multiple times, and then it must be filed (as I do) or discarded (as some writers do).

Acceptance. This likely involves some response to let the editor know that, yes, the story is still available and, yes, I’d love to see my story in her publication, and, yes, I’m looking forward to receiving the contract.

Contract. Have you seen some of these things? I’ve received contracts that were longer than the stories for which they were offered, and I read every word before I sign. Sometimes, terms of the contract require negotiation, which requires even more time.

Payment. These days payment doesn’t often happen before publication, but God bless the publications that pay on acceptance. Regardless of when payment is received, it has to be recorded in some form (ledger, spreadsheet, accounting software) and then deposited in the bank.

Copyedit. Many publications let contributors review copyedited manuscripts prior to publication. This is when I realize the editor is a freaking genius or I decide the editor’s third-grade education did not prepare him to edit my work. Either way, copyedits require time to read and time to generate a respectful, professional response explaining exactly why I disagree with some or all of the changes.

Page proof. I know many people refer to these as galleys, but they aren’t. (Most of the people who refer to these as galleys aren’t old enough to have worked with actual galley proofs. If what you’re reading is formatted and presented to you in page form, you’re reading page proofs.) Like copy edits, these take time to read and to generate a response.

Contributor copy. Most publications provide a contributor copy. (Many amateur publications provide a “free copy!” because the publishers don’t know the proper term for what they’re doing and think providing contributor copies is somehow doing contributors a favor.) It takes time to reread my story in published form. It also takes time to record the date of publication and to share the news with supportive family and friends.

Reprint. A story might later be reprinted in a best-of-year anthology, a themed all-reprint anthology, a collection of my own work, or licensed for publication in another language, licensed for other media such as audio, or optioned for movie or television, and each of these reprint and licensing opportunities comes with paperwork and ancillary tasks similar to that listed above for an original sale.

Every step in the process, and maybe even a few steps I’ve overlooked, requires time and takes it from writing time.

And none of this includes optional tasks such as maintaining social media and engaging in blatant (and not so blatant) self-promotion, nor does it include semi-optional tasks like developing and maintaining good relationships with editors and other writers.

A writer who produces only a few stories each year may never realize how much time they spend on ancillary tasks, but even moderately productive short-story writers soon find themselves spending more time on the ancillary tasks than the primary task that creates all this extra work.

When I get overwhelmed with all the ancillary tasks and complain to my wife about how much time I’m working but not writing, Temple brings me back to earth by noting that I’m only complaining because I’m living my dream, and she asks, “Do you want cheese with that whine?”

My story “Remission” appears in Landfall (Level Best Books), “Deliver Us from Evil” appears in issue 2 of Thriller, and “Christmas Wish” appears online at The Saturday Evening Post.

10 May 2014

A Saturday Morning Post

by John M. Floyd

A word about the title of today's piece: It might not be imaginative, but it's appropriate. This is, after all, a column that was posted on Saturday morning. The subject of the column is appropriate as well, I hope, because it deals with writing in different genres and coming up with characters and story ideas and targeting certain pieces to a certain publication. In my case, it was several stories of mine that have recently been featured in The Saturday Evening Post.

Only one of those three stories, which appears in the current (May/June 2014) issue, has a mystery at its core, and even that one is not primarily about the mystery. It's more of a story about the love between two unlikely friends, set in the rural South of the 1970s. More about that in a minute.

Exchanging guns for roses

A little over a year ago, I was informed that The Saturday Evening Post publishes six pieces of short fiction every year--one in every bimonthly issue--and that that market might be a possibility for some of the stories I like to write. Since that time, due primarily to an oversized dose of blind luck, I have managed to sell three stories to the Post.

The first, a 2600-word story called "The Outside World" (March/April 2013 issue), dealt not with my usual crime-related themes but with injury and hardship and the rays of hope that can sometimes appear in seemingly hopeless situations. The inspiration for it came in part from my vague memories of Mark Hellinger's short story "The Window," in which an elderly woman in a sanitarium tells her bedridden roommates what she sees from her window every day. My characters were based on people I have known, which probably isn't surprising: author Greg Iles said in a recent interview that any writer of fiction who says his characters aren't based in some way on himself or his acquaintances is lying. What was surprising, at least to me, is that this twisty-plot story of mine sold to that particular magazine. Not that I spent much time analyzing how or why; I just counted my blessings and wrote another one.

That second story, "The First of October," sold to the Post as well, a few months later (the November/December 2013 issue). This one was short, around 1600 words. In truth, it was more of a romance story than anything else, but it also dealt--as the first one did--with folks who have experienced and overcome physical and mental obstacles. The idea for it first appeared one night when my wife and I were watching an episode of As Time Goes By, a BBC series about a couple who'd fallen in love long ago, were then separated during World War II, and years later met by chance, rekindled their love for each other, and were married. My story once again featured characters from my past, or at least composites of people from my past. and again didn't contain any of the murder and mayhem that I usually enjoy sprinkling throughout my fiction. Who says old mystery writers can't learn new tricks? I will confess, though, that it too contained several plot reversals--no matter what the genre, I can't seem to resist those.

Writing what you know

My third story, "Margaret's Hero," which is in the current issue of the Post, is a bit different from the first two. For one thing, it's longer--about 5500 words--and it does include some criminal activity. What I set out to do in this story was to point out that the racial tensions that have always been present in the Deep South are sometimes overruled by the genuine love people can have for one another, the kind that transcends age and race and social status. Unlike the previous story, this isn't romantic love--instead, it's the strong feelings that develop between a little white girl named Margaret Kindy and a grandfatherlike African American named Gus Newberry, who is the foreman of the ranch/farm owned by Margaret's actual grandfather. It's also a tale about rural life and tornadoes and dysfunctional families--this is the South, remember--and about the attachment between Margaret and a horse she and Gus decide to raise from a colt, and the ways that the horse affects both their lives. The title itself has a double meaning: Hero is the name the child gives her pony. And, once again, there's sort of a surprise ending.

The foreman--the story's real hero--is patterned closely after someone from my own childhood: an old, wise, and always cheerful black man who often took me hunting and fishing with him in the swamps and bottoms near my hometown when I was barely ten years old. Almost everything about this character, from his kindness and patience to his salt-and-pepper hair to his great size to his bib overalls and baseball cap, was true to life, and brought back good memories throughout the writing process. The setting, too, was comfortable to me, because I grew up in a tiny Mississippi town that was almost the same as living out in the country. We owned a horse and other livestock and raised many of our own crops, and at Margaret's age I happily roamed the woods and pastures every chance I got.

Post scripts

NOTE: I've included links to all three of my Post stories in the text above, and I should mention here that although the version of "Margaret's Hero" in the printed magazine is complete, the version posted at the S.E.P. web site accidentally omitted a paragraph (?!?) from the middle of the story. That works out well for me, actually, because if you decide to read it online and you think something might not sound exactly right, I have a built-in excuse . . .

NOTE 2: I said earlier that luck played a big part in my selling that first story to the magazine. Well, I was lucky afterward as well. In the issues immediately following the ones that featured my first two stories, the LETTERS section of the Post included two glowing reviews from readers, along with requests that the editors publish more of my stories in the future, and I suspect that that was a factor in their decision to accept my next efforts. I didn't know those two kind readers (no, they were not my mother and my sister), but I will always be sincerely grateful for their letters to the editor.

My point, here, is that even though I certainly prefer writing mystery/crime/suspense, it's sometimes fun and even profitable to reach beyond the genres you're used to and try writing something different. It's also fun to occasionally test some previously untried publications with your stories.

The worst they can do is say no, right? And you might even get a pleasant surprise.

Or three.