Showing posts with label changes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label changes. Show all posts

04 May 2019

Bad News and Good News



by John M. Floyd



Last Saturday I conducted a one-day writing workshop in Richardson, Texas, for the North Dallas
chapter of Sisters in Crime. (I had a great time, and I sincerely thank Pam McWilliams and Barbara Spencer for showing me and my wife such a warm welcome.) The agenda included a two-hour session on "Writing Short Stories" in the morning and another on "Marketing Short Stories" that afternoon. I received and addressed a LOT of questions, especially in that second session, when we talked about dealing with editors.

As I told the group, it's been my experience that most short-story editors are professional, friendly, and easy to work with. Granted, these "dealings" are sometimes short, if I get a rejection letter--but even then, they disappoint me in a nice and encouraging way. When they do accept and publish a story I've submitted, they generally pay me on time and present my work in a way that makes me proud.

Flying blind

The real test of dealing with editors comes during that murky area that's not quite a rejection and not quite an acceptance, when editors ask me to change something in one of my submissions. That situation always reminds me of the following joke:

"This is your pilot speaking--I have bad news and I have good news. The bad news is, we're lost. The good news is, we're making damn good time."

Here, the outlook is a little better than in that announcement. The bad news is "we haven't accepted your story yet" and the good news is "we haven't rejected it yet either." And it doesn't happen often--these days editors seem more likely to give you a definite yes or a definite no, with no middle ground. When they do ask for revisions, I usually go through two phases: the first is a stubborn tendency to wonder how they could have the gall to question something I've worked so hard to create, and the second is a gradual realization that those requested changes are often logical and justified. Sometimes they do make the story better. And even when they don't, well, the editors are driving this train, and if I want to ride along I probably need to salute and obey orders.

The fact that these requests for revision don't happen a lot is one reason we as writers need to be careful to make each story as perfect as we can make it before submitting. Editors would rather not go to the trouble of asking for changes, so if the story doesn't work as written, it'll probably just be rejected outright. In this "buyer's market" there are plenty of other submissions out there that might not require any tweaking at all.

Can you spell "compromise"?

There's a silver lining, to all this: If and when I'm asked by an editor to make changes and resubmit, I can be pretty confident that if I do it, the story will be accepted. This has happened to me dozens of times over the years, and in every single case, my changes have resulted in an acceptance. Sometimes the revisions are small (style issues) and sometimes they're extensive (involving a character, or a scene, or a plot point), but I'm always fairly sure that if I accept their suggestions and do what I'm told, they'll buy the story. I realize a lot of writers are headstrong about this kind of thing and will argue about or even refuse most suggested edits, and while I admire their willingness to stand up for what they believe, I maintain that if they would bend a little and secure the sale and the paycheck, they'd be better off. Later, if and when they submit the story elsewhere as a reprint, they can always change it right back to the way they had it in the first place. (I've done that very thing, many times.)

As for examples of revision requests, I was once asked to change an ending such that the resolution was more clear, and another time I was asked to cut back a bit on the length of the opening so the real action in the story happened sooner--and it would've been hard to argue with either of those requests. Some revisions, though, are hard to swallow. Years ago an editor objected to my use of the sentence "Susan cut her eyes at him." She said, "Is that a Southern expression?" I told her I didn't know if was a Southern expression or not, but I agreed to change it. It became "Susan glanced at him," and the editor was happy. When I sold that story again, Susan--sneaky young lady that she was--went right back to cutting her eyes.

Most suggested revisions are truly minor, like inserting or removing a comma or deleting a "that" or changing a semicolon to a period. I always accept those without any fuss; what does it really matter? For some reason, the print edition of The Saturday Evening Post prefers using actual numbers in phrases like "20 feet" or "30 minutes" rather than spelling them out ("twenty feet," "thirty minutes"), and they always ask me to change those in my manuscripts. I might not agree, but it's also not my magazine and they're paying me for my story, so I happily let them do it the way they like.

Q & A

What do the rest of you think, about all this? What's the hardest, or maybe the silliest, change that you've been asked to make, in a submitted manuscript? Do you usually feel such changes help the story, or not? How hard a line are you willing to take to defend your choices? Do those revisions usually result in a sale?

One last observation. I think I've mentioned before, at this blog, that after the first submission I ever made to The Strand Magazine, the editor phoned me, introduced himself, and said his staff liked my story but they had never heard of the type of poison I used to do away with one of the characters, and that I might need to change it. (I think it was something derived from the yellow osceola blossoms of East Africa, or some such thing.) Anyhow, he asked me where I'd found out about that poison. I told him I made it up. After an extremely long and (on my part) nervous pause, he said, "Okay." And they printed the story without any changes. As I believe I have also said before, publishing is an inexact science.

Maybe that's one of the things that makes it fun.


07 January 2019

Changing All Them Changes


by Steve Liskow

As the year winds down and I still wait for the last microscopic royalty check, I can't help noticing how quickly the publishing landscape changes. Axioms from a few years ago are now irrelevant and all you can do is try to keep up. My one concrete takeaway from 2018 is that I finished in the black for the first time since 2015. As usual, it's not because of book sales, but from events. About 47% of the income associated with my writing comes from workshops and panels.



Self-publishing means you do lots of promotion, which takes away from actual writing time. Tomorrow night, I will join a Sisters in Crime panel on promotion, but I'm not sure I really know anything to pass on. As things change, there's a good chance that I will guess wrong. I  hope that I learn from those mistakes.

My only core beliefs are (1) a good book is your best marketing tool. People will tell other people about it. (2) That same word of mouth is still your best advertising method. That means that you have to write a good book and behave yourself. Don't be a jerk because word gets around, and people don't buy stuff from jerks.

How do you get news of your book out there? That's a tough one. More and more "experts" agree that social media does little unless you're already well-known. Lee Child, Stephen King, Laura Lippmann and a handful of other writers can tweet about their new book and watch it fly off the shelves, but it doesn't work for mere mortals like me.

Every writer I know has a website and most of us have a Facebook page and maybe other accounts like Twitter or Instagram. Even though I post events and invite people on Facebook, they will only buy the same book once, so I can only invite a person to an event once or twice a year unless they like to stalk me (Hey, there's another plot idea!).

I no longer do a "reading" because they don't return much. I used to sell a book for every seven or eight people who attended, and often had fewer than seven attendees. Conducting a workshop means I actually get PAID, and I used to sell a book for about every three attendees. Maybe they felt they owed me because I gave them something back. Maybe they enjoyed the presentation. Maybe I wasn't a jerk (See above). Whatever the case, that number no longer holds true, either.

I used to charge libraries a flat rate for the workshops and draw ten to twelve people. I also used to conduct six or eight workshops a year. Unfortunately, library budgets in Connecticut have been slashed over the last three years, so in 2017 and 2018, I did a TOTAL of two workshops in libraries.


How have I kept up with the changes? Truthfully, I'm still struggling. The Storyteller's Cottage, about twenty miles from my condo, opened late in 2017 and does events almost daily. They promote local writers and do lots of events, including both workshops and signings. The staff is great and they promote like mad. They're worth their weight in uncut cocaine. BUT the Victorian house built in the 1890s has tiny rooms, with a capacity of about six people and my ego. I've done eight workshops there in the last year, but we split the tuition. That means a packed workshop nets me less than half what I made at libraries, and I seldom sell more than one book.

Last November, the cottage began selling local author's books on consignment at a generous split. It's better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. I have several workshops set for next year already, so it's a little something. The good news is that people show up and feel I'm worth having back.

Plan C:

Last spring, O'Neil De Noux invited me to join an eBook package with nine other writers. I sold a lot of eBooks because people had to buy mine to get the Lawrence Block or Dean Wesley Smith book. I've never done that before, and it worked out well. Thanks, O'Neil.

Five short stories were to appear this year, my personal best (I hear several other Sleuthsayers snickering because that's a decent week for them). Four of them are to markets that didn't exist two years ago, which is good because many of the older markets have disappeared. Less advertising revenue is going to print media now, so both Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock, reliable markets since the late 1940s, have scaled back to six issues a year from their original ten (two double issues, Christmas and Summer). That means they buy fewer stories. Two of the five stories went to quarterly magazines that are still finding their way. One last appeared in May and the other in July, but they both told me their next issues would be out "in about two weeks." That was before Veteran's Day. I like to promote magazines that publish my stuff, but when they don't come out as promised, I look bad and can't help them.

Plan D:

Since June, three indie book stores have opened in my area. I've visited them to discuss consignment sales or events. I've met with with nice people who are still figuring out how things are going to work, so nothing is settled yet, but it's another way to go.

Create Space has become Kindle Direct. The mechanics of publishing Back Door Man were mostly the same, but the few changes were all to my advantage. I received proofs more quickly, so I could OK them and order copies more quickly, too. I can navigate the new site a little more easily to track my sales, too. Someone who understands computers and marketing could do far more than I can, but I'm a little less ignorant than before.

Plan E:

My cover artist didn't like the name of a band that appeared in Back Door Man, so I posted a "Name the Band" contest on my website and Facebook page and with Sisters in Crime. The person who gave me the best new name for the band (I ended up using two because they were both great) became a minor character in the book (not a victim) and received a signed copy. One recipient has already posted a five-star review. The other reviews on a website I had never heard of before...and she has over 1000 followers. As Herman's Hermits said, "somethin' tells me I'm into somethin' good..."

2019 will be different, and differently.

I have sold stories to two anthologies that will appear in late 2019 or early 2020, and I'm about 75% through the first draft of another Woody Guthrie novel. Five short stories are under consideration with various editors now and I have two more in progress. I have six events planned and I'm waiting to hear from those indie book stores.
Next week, I will be pitching another workshop at another venue.

If you aren't changing, you're falling behind.

27 April 2017

Moving, Moving, moving...


by Eve Fisher

Next week, my husband and I are moving from small town South Dakota to Sioux Falls, South Dakota - which to many people is still small town South Dakota.  (Sioux Falls is South Dakota's largest city, with a population of under 200,000.)  We're moving for many reasons:  the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) work we do at the pen; doctors (we're getting older and frailer); amenities (restaurants, shopping, etc.); cultural events (of all kinds!), etc.  And we already have a network of friends, coworkers, and acquaintances in Sioux Falls.  And we found a real gem of a house, a vintage Craftsman, that I call the "Goldilocks house", because it's not too big, not too small, but just right for the two of us.  Amazing!  (Will post pictures later.)

So excited, exhilarated, exhausted.  Also sad and bittersweet.  We've lived in the old town for almost 27 years, so of course we're going to miss a whole lot of stuff.
  • Everywhere we go, we know somebody, if not everybody.  There is always someone to talk to. 
  • Everywhere we go, they know who we are.  They know our order at the Chinese Restaurant. They know us at the two diners.  And at the library, the grocery store, the post office, and just about everywhere else we go.   
  • We don't have to think about where we're going and how we're going to get there:  there are only so many places to go, and only so many ways to get there, so by now we move on autopilot.  
  • We have a state park two miles from town, which I walk in almost every day.  I've seen deer, eagles, foxes, coyotes, pheasants, and wild turkeys, not to mention geese, ducks, pelicans, seagulls, coots, and cormorants.  
  • Friends.  You all know who you are.  
And there are all the differences of small town living.  Some of my favorite stories are:

When we first moved up here, we rented for the first year, and then went house hunting. There weren't that many houses for sale, so I think we saw all of them.  (In the same way, we visited every church in town.)  When we finally did buy - a huge two-story box a block and a half from campus - after the closing, I went down to City Hall to change the utilities over.  The lady at City Hall said, "Oh, we already took care of that.  It's all in your name now."  They're not going to do that in Sioux Falls.  (We lived in that house for 22 years...)

Northern Exposure-Intertitle.jpgThe local radio station used to broadcast out onto Main Street, so that as you walked around downtown, you could hear the news, weather, music, and the ever-important "locals".  One day I was walking to work and heard that I was going to be interviewed later that day...  This kind of thing was one of the reasons that, back then, I used to tell everyone back East that I lived in the South Dakota equivalent of Cicely, Alaska (of Northern Exposure for those of you who weren't fans.)  They all thought that was pretty cool.

Pharmaceutical shock:  The first time I walked into the local drug store and saw that they had needles for sale to anyone who wanted them I about freaked out.  Then I realized they were for diabetics, and it hadn't occurred to anyone that addicts might want them. Another time, I had to have my wisdom teeth surgically removed, and the pain prescription wasn't going to be ready for another hour.  But Allan had to teach all day, so I called a friend and asked if she could pick me up and take me to the drug store, because the pain was pretty bad?  Fifteen minutes later her husband knocked on the door with my prescription, and told me to write him a check later. It was so sweet of him, but what stunned me was that the pharmacist had given pain meds to someone else to deliver to me...  (In case you can't tell, I was used to big city living - LA and Atlanta - where you show up in person with some serious ID.)

When I first moved up here I was 36 years old, with long black hair down to my waist.  After a couple of years of dealing with prairie winds - either I kept my hair tied back, pinned up, or got whipped almost to death by it - I cut it short.  One of my best friends came up for my 40th birthday, and as I gave her the walking tour, in almost every shop someone came up and said, "Oh, Eve, let me look at your new haircut!"  After about the third or fourth time, Lora stopped on the sidewalk and asked, "Are you telling me that people don't have anything better to do in this town than talk about your hair?"  Pretty much, yep.

The truth is, ANY change in a small town will generate days, if not weeks, sometimes months and even YEARS of talk.  My hair got a couple of days.  But people still talk about when the old hotel downtown burned down, and they still give directions according to buildings that are no longer there. (I have always been grateful that I moved up here BEFORE the Franklin School was torn down, because that way when someone says I need to turn right after the old Franklin School, I know where that is.)

Caring: small towns pull together, show up, bring food, and send cards.  I can't tell you the number of fundraisers that are held in a small town, most of which involve food:  pork loin feeds, pancake feeds, soup suppers, etc.  They're held for cancer patients, accident victims, hospital bills, medical bills, funeral bills, you name it.  And people show up, pay a generous free will donation, and eat heartily. And no death is ever ignored.  When my mother died, I got cards from practically everyone in town, even though no one had ever met her.  When we moved Allan's mother up here, she quickly became part of the community (she was the biggest social butterfly you could ever meet).  Sadly, she lived less than a year after the move (pancreatic cancer), but her church, prayer, and exercise groups called and visited, and at her South Dakota memorial service, over 200 people showed up.

The web.  You sit in a small town cafe, or church supper, or anywhere, and you hear stories.  Families are traced backwards and forwards.  Where they came from, where they lived, where they're buried, where the children / grandchildren / great-grandchildren moved to and what they're doing now.  Who married whom?  Where did they work?  Some stories are repeated with great relish:  You remember the folks that used to live in that big house on the corner:  they separated, and she got the house, but he came back every year to check up on the kids, and every year, nine months later, she had another baby.  Never divorced...  Others - of violence and abuse, or heartbreaking sorrow - are spoken of in hushed voices.  It's endlessly fascinating.  Especially since my family isn't in the mix.  Because the downside of a small town is that they never forget, and all the sins of the fathers are remembered unto the fourth and fifth generation.  This is one of the reasons why people move away from small towns. Small towns never forget.  Allow me to repeat that.  Small towns never forget.

I've enjoyed living in a small town; and I know there are times when I will really miss it.  But it's only an hour's drive away from Sioux Falls, and, as I said, Sioux Falls isn't that large a city.  I will continue to see my friends, and they now have another reason to come to Sioux Falls.  Thank God I live in the age of automobiles and interstates, instead of the days of buggies and dirt roads! And I will continue to write stories set in Laskin, South Dakota, with Grant Tripp and Linda Thompson and Matt Stark.  But who knows?  Some new characters, new settings may be coming into the mix.  I'll keep you posted!






01 January 2013

New Year's Day



by Dale C. Andrews
The old order changeth, yielding place to new.
                                    Alfred Lord Tennyson
 The times, they are a-changin
                                    Bob Dylan
Things aren't the way they used to be.  And they never were.
                                    Lee Hays

    What better day to contemplate change than New Years, the day when many of us re-resolve and the world goes through its latest re-boot.  I tend to get a bit contemplative at this time of year, and it is not simply out of concern lest auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind.  It is also a recognition of how the world around us, with speedy abandon, sheds that which had been commonplace while rushing to embrace things that previously were the unimaginable.  Try to find a television set for sale today that is not a flat screen, go shopping in search of a package of VHS tapes, or an album on a cassette tape.  Remember when LP records disappeared from the stores?  It happened almost overnight.  And now the same thing may be happening with CDs and the whole concept of album music as musical appetites turn to downloads and individually created playlists.

Isaac Asimov
    While ruminating over all of this I recalled (dimly) a science fiction story that I read when I was an adolescent – so that would be about 50 years ago, probably in 1962.  The story was set in a future so remote that computers did all calculations and, as a result, the ability to solve simple math problems in one’s head became a lost art.  Well, apropos of the theme of all of this, all I had to do today to find that story, The Feeling of Power, written by Isaac Asimov and first published in 1957, was to run a simple Google search -- “science fiction doing math in your head.”  In Asimov’s story (readily available, of course, on line) one man manages to re-invent the ability to work out multiplication problems in his head.  At first there is disbelief among his contemporaries, but this eventually gives way to sheer awe. 
Nine times seven, thought Shuman with deep satisfaction, is sixty-three, and I don't need a computer to tell me so. The computer is in my own head.
And it was amazing the feeling of power that gave him.
     Asimov’s story is not as far-fetched as it at first seems.  A recent issue of Harvard Magazine comments on studies conducted by Dr. Daniel Wegner, Professor of Psychology at Harvard, that bear witness to Asimov’s conjectures of over 50 years ago.  What Wegner’s studies suggest is that search engines such as Google and Bing make obscure knowledge so readily available that we are remembering fewer and fewer facts on our own.  The reason for this is simple:  Like the contemporaries of Shuman in Asimov’s story there is, as a practical matter, no reason to clutter our minds with such things.  It is true that to write this article I had to remember that there was a relevant story written 50 years ago (and maybe, in that respect, I get closer to Shuman).  But finding the story, and then jumping to Dr. Wegner’s study, can all be done with a laptop and a good wifi connection, all in the comfort of my living room.

    Similarly, as Wegner’s study suggests, we tend no longer to memorize telephone numbers because they are stored on cell phones.  We are less likely to remember how to drive to a given address because we more and more depend on GPS to take care of that for us.  Such matters were previously either committed to our own memories or to the memories of others who we knew we could rely on for the phone number or the directions.  These latter situations, where we keep track of those who are, in turn, keeping track of factoids we may need, Wegner refers to as “transactive memory.”  The Harvard article explains this as follows:
[T]ransactive memory exists in many forms, as when a husband relies on his wife to remember a relative’s birthday. “[It is] this whole network of memory where you don’t have to remember everything in the world yourself,” he says. “You just have to remember who knows it.” Now computers and technology as well are becoming [the] virtual extensions of our memory.
And what we lose (can you hear Asimov chuckling in the background?) is the ability to accomplish these same tasks without depending on others, and now, on the computer.
 
    If you keep your eyes open you will see other examples of this same phenomenon.  One of the most apparent, it seems to me, results from the evolution of the cell phone.  With the advent of Apple and Android “smart phones” the telephone, a device previously used for spoken communication, has evolved into one predominantly used for internet access and message texting.  A recent New York Times story reports that the CTIA wireless industry association has found that the average number of voice minutes used per consumer in the U.S. has dropped, while the number of text messages sent per user has grown almost 50%. The report also notes  that data usage (e-mail, Internet browsing, streaming video, etc.) has also surpassed the amount of phone calls on a mobile phone made last year.  We purchased a new car last year, and among its bells and whistles is the ability to read incoming text messages to you as you drive.  And my Droid smart phone allows me to compose text messages by talking them into my phone.  So.  I talk to the phone, my voice becomes a text message, and the reply is spoken back to me by my car.  How would the Asimov story end?  Doubtless with someone coming up with the idea of actually speaking directly to someone using a phone.

    Another example:  An attorney who worked in the same office as me before I retired had an eight year old daughter who, according to the attorney, came home from school one day absolutely bubbling with news.  It turned out, she explained, that someone had brought the most amazing machine in for show and tell.  It was called a typewriter and, the girl explained eyes wide with incredulity, when you typed something onto it it printed the words out immediately, right there on the machine, without a printer or anything.  Yet another Asimov moment.

    Not all things left behind by the passage of time are completely lost.  It has been theorized, particularly in the arts, that each evolving mode of expression frees the previous mode from the need to speak to the public at large, thereby allowing it to be utilized more freely for artistic expression.  Thus, the theory goes, movies freed the theatre to become more of an art form, and color movies did the same thing for black and white films, allowing them to become a media of the artist.  And CDs did it for LPs, which are now in the midst of a mild artistic resurgence.  One wonders if there will be a similar effect on hard cover books once the revolution to e-books, seemingly well underway, claims the major market share toe hold.

    And then there are some things that float into the past not because they are outmoded, but for other reasons.  Fifty years ago, about the time I was reading that Asimov story, my grandfather used to talk to me about the days of his youth, when people traveled by horse drawn carriage.  I don’t as yet have grandchildren, though I am just about the age my grandfather was 50 years ago, in 1962.  What would I tell my grandchildren?  Why, you won’t believe this, kids, but back when I was young we walked on the moon.

    Good night Dr. Asimov, wherever you are.

    Happy New Year.