Showing posts with label marketing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label marketing. Show all posts

21 October 2017

One More Time, From the Top





Please join me in welcoming my friend Michael Bracken as a guest blogger today. For those of you who don't know Michael already, he has written several books but is better known as the author of more than 1,200 short stories. He's recently had stories published in, or accepted for publication by, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, Black Cat Mystery MagazineEllery Queen's Mystery Magazine, SnowboundNoir at the Salad BarPassport to Murder, Tough, Weirdbook, and other anthologies and periodicals. He is currently reading submissions for The Eyes of Texas, an anthology of private eye stories that Down & Out Books will release at Bouchercon 2019. You can find the submission guidelines here.

One more thing: Michael will be officially joining SleuthSayers next month as a regular columnist. All of us at the SS asylum are of course thrilled about that, and hoping he doesn't come to his senses in time to back out. (As for me, I'll return in two weeks.) --John Floyd

_______________________________________________________

by Michael Bracken


I've had a good run. Since my first professional sale in the late 1970s, I've sold more than 1,200 short stories, and through October 2017 I've had one or more short stories published each month for 172 consecutive months. This long streak of good fortune may soon end.

In an October 23, 2013, guest post for John Floyd here at SleuthSayers, I wrote about the ladder a short-story writer climbs from being a "write-first, market-second" writer to becoming a "market-first, write-second" writer, and I gave several examples of how I had reached a point where most of my short fiction was written to order, to invitation, or for repeat markets.

I also noted that "[p]ublishing is changing and everything I know about it may be obsolete before the year ends." I was only off by a few years.

During the past two years, the foundation of my writing career crumbled beneath me. Anthology editors who often invited me to contribute are no longer editing anthologies, and magazines I counted on for multiple sales each month have ceased publication. Some genres in which I had established myself have disappeared or are clinging to life only in low- or non-paying markets.

In many ways, I am starting over, rebooting my career by once again becoming a "write-first, market-second" short-story writer. The only advantage I have over a beginning writer is that past sales prove I can write publishable fiction. What I do not yet know is how well I can write publishable fiction in new or long-neglected genres. So, for the first time in years, I am actually nervous when I submit stories, and each time I receive a response I have a moment of trepidation just before I open the email.

I'm not taking my situation lightly, and I have a plan. Following are the key steps I'm taking to restart my writing career:


FINISH WHAT I SET ASIDE

Over the years I left many stories unfinished because there were no discernable markets for them. Rather than let these stories continue to languish, I returned to several of them, finished them, and sent them into the world, following the traditional path of submitting to the best market first and working my way down the markets as rejections roll in.

Outcome: Since the reboot I have sold a handful of newly finished stories.


WRITE WHAT INSPIRES ME

Relying on inspiration as motivation is degraded as the amateur's approach to writing because perspiration creates more work than inspiration. Even so, a working writer should never dismiss inspiration. Occasionally, a story idea comes unbidden, and I am so taken by it that I find myself driven to write. In the past, I set these inspired stories aside in favor of sure-bet sales. Now, I let inspiration take me where it will.

Outcome: Since the reboot, I have sold five inspired stories.


WRITE TO SPECIFICATIONS

This is what I advocated beginning and early career writers do back in 2013 when I laid out the steps for transitioning from a write-first, market-second writer to a market-first, write-second writer.

I spend time surfing the Internet seeking anthology open submission calls and submission guidelines from publications with which I am not already familiar. I study guidelines, read publications when they exist, and then, as best I can, write stories that fit the guidelines.

Outcome: Since the reboot, I have sold three stories written to open-call anthology specifications.


REPURPOSE OR RESUBMIT UNSOLD WORK

In addition to seeking markets to which I might send completed but unsold stories, I also continually compare submission guidelines to finished work to determine if anything I have could be revised and repurposed. Occasionally, I can.

Outcome: Since the reboot, I have sold one repurposed story and one story that had been languishing in my files before I discovered a new market.


EXAMINE THE RESULTS

Without detailing every sale and rejection since the beginning of my career reboot--and, trust me, rejections outnumber the sales--let's examine my experience with a single periodical: Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.

Five years passed between my previous rejected submission to AHMM and the first submission after my career reboot, and I've submitted eight stories since the reboot. Three are awaiting a decision, two have been rejected, and three have been accepted.

The first acceptance, published last year ("Chase Your Dreams," AHMM, June 2016), is a repurposed story originally written in another genre. The first third and last third are essentially as first written, but I extensively revised the middle third before submitting to AHMM, and then revised the middle third again at Linda Landrigan's suggestion to move it even further from its original genre.

The second story accepted by AHMM is an inspired story, one that came to me as an opening image with a character facing a life-altering loss.

The third story accepted by AHMM is one I began, set aside, and returned to several years later.

Outcome: Were any of these three written to specifications? Other than representing various sub-genres of crime fiction and fitting within the magazines's length requirements, no. I have yet to find strong commonalities among the stories AHMM publishes. On the other hand, the three stories AHMM accepted share something the two stories rejected do not, so I am developing a profile of which stories are more likely and which stories are less likely to be accepted if submitted to AHMM.


CHANGE MY ATTITUDE

There is a fine line between being confident and being cocky, and it was easy to cross that line when almost everything I wrote sold to the first editor who saw it. I'm still confident, but my wife tells me I'm not so cocky.

Previously, I would submit and forget, but now I fret about each submission, and I sweat rejections in a way I haven't for at least a decade. When rejections are more common than acceptances, they carry more weight, and that weight forces me to examine my stories and my marketing efforts to determine if rejected stories are flawed or if my submission targeting is flawed.

I am working harder than before because I want to regain my status as a market-first, write-second short-story writer. Alas, that may never happen. I worked for thirty-plus years to reach that point, and I enjoyed the ride for nearly ten years. Having just turned 60, I might not have another thirty years of writing left in me, and, having done it once, I know there is no shortcut back to that level.

On the other hand, I think I've written some of my best work since the foundation of my writing career crumbled beneath me. I've been forced to examine the market for short fiction from a different perspective, and I've been forced to reexamine how and why I write. While I still have my eye on the markets, I'm producing more work aimed at pleasing myself first and then hoping I find editors to publish it.

And I have a plan. If I follow it, maybe--just maybe--it won't take thirty years to climb back to the top of the ladder and once again be a market-first, write-second writer.







01 May 2017

How Growing Up With a Writer (Inadvertently) Made Me a Marketer

 Family Fortnight +  Leading up to the  International Day of Families on the 15th of May, we bring you the third in a series about mystery writers’ take on families. Settle back and enjoy!
When we talked about inviting family in, I asked both my wife and my daughter if they were interested. Jenn runs my website and Barb, my wife (who declined) used to write ad copy for radio and still acts in several productions a year. Both are better writers than I am, and both are great sources for feedback when I'm stuck. So here's Jenn.
— Steve

by Jenn (Liskow) Waltner

My dad is author Steve Liskow.

When I was growing up, he was English teacher Mr. Liskow at a high school I didn't attend (and really, kids should NEVER have to go to a school where one of their parents teaches).

As a kid, I had no idea how my dad's likes, passions, and aptitudes would influence my own career path. Sure, the ceramic dinosaur collection he had as a boy made me want to be a paleontologist when other kids couldn't even SPELL the word, but then I discovered that science wasn't really my thing and decided I should come up with another plan.

"Content marketer" was totally not that plan.

Here's how it happened. I wanted to go to college for photojournalism, but the school that threw money at me to attend didn't have that major. I figured I'd go for two years, knock off a bunch of core classes and then transfer somewhere with the program I wanted.

I went in as an English major. I figured it was a common major that would transfer easily and I'd do well because I grew up reading voraciously. But more than that, I grew up understanding the different components of storytelling and connecting with an audience--largely thanks to my dad.

It never occurred to me that those skills could lead to a career.

I've been doing this stuff daily for the last two decades as a marketer, mostly for high tech software companies.

When I was little, my dad explained different forms of writing: fiction vs. nonfiction, short stories vs. novels, poetry vs. prose, sonnets vs. sestinas (which I love) vs. haiku vs. blank verse vs. all the other forms of poetry I have forgotten, scripts vs graphic novels...you get the point. When you write, at some point you have to choose your format. The same holds true for marketing. I have to identify the best vehicle for telling each story. Should it be an eBook, a webinar, a blog post, a video, an infographic? Something else entirely? How can I adapt the story to work in different formats?

Next question: who;s the best person to tell the story? I vividly recall my father reading me the opening pages of Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury to show me how the whole story can change depending on who tells it. In marketing, having a trustworthy narrator is crucial. I often get to decide whether a particular piece of content should come from an internal author or if it works better coming from a customer, analyst, or media partner. Understanding how the choice of narrator influences the audience's perception has proven invaluable in my career over the years.

If you've read any of my dad's work, you know he's a huge music fan. Listening to songs together helped me wrap my head around style. Led Zeppelin covering Willie Dixon, Aerosmith playing Yardbirds songs, the Cramps covering Jack Scott, everyone in the world doing Bob Dylan stuff...two artists may be playing the same song, but with entirely different results. As a marketer, I work to define a brand's particular style and bring it to life. Is this brand sassy or buttoned-up? A little bit country or a little bit rock and roll? It's a fun choice to make.

My father's affinity for Westerns and his experience directing stage plays also helped build my marketing chops. Think visual storytelling. It's not all about words. Go watch the beginning of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (or better yet, the final gunfight). With no dialog, narrative, or subtitles for a good few minutes, the action and images let the audience know exactly what's going on.

With a theatrical production, the set and the costume choices give the audience critical information about the characters and the mood. I use visual storytelling in almost every piece of content I touch, whether it's choosing an image for a blog post, building a slide deck for sales, working with an agency to create a new product video, or teaming up with a designer to develop an infographic.

Discussions about bad writing and books that didn't work helped me just as much as conversations about books my dad and I both loved--seeing how a plot falls apart is a great lesson in user experience. My dad and I both hate books with deus ex machina endings that leave readers feeling cheated. With a little more planning, the writer could have injected pieces into the story that let the conclusion feel more natural--delivering a better reader experience.

So often simple changes--a scene in Chapter 3, a paragraph in Chapter 17, an extra line of dialog on page 243--can make those transitions easier for the reader. That's the essence of user experience--making things easier. User experience often guides my discussions with web developers, product engineers and graphic designers. Questions like "Can we make that text easier to read?" or "What happens if we move that button over here?" may seem trivial, but can make a huge difference for someone encountering a web page, trade show display or product welcome screen for the first time.

Finally, my dad's teaching background helped me learn how to coach other writers. When I edit, I don't just make changes--I mark up documents with comments so the writer can see what I changed and why. The "why" matters most--good writers learn from my comments and correct similar bits on their own future projects.

Despite my 20+ years as a marketer, I'm still learning my craft--often inadvertently--through discussions with my dad, the writer.

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?

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 www.CrimeFictionWriter.com and CrimeFictionWriter.blogspot.com. (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.





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 ralan.com 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 ralan.com 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.



21 December 2012

Marketing at Christmas

by R.T. Lawton

Every author these days knows he has to market himself or develop a brand or have a platform or.....do something to help distinguish himself from the herd and his work from the rest of the slush pile. Presenters at conferences and experts in various publications tell writers they need to network, start a blog, find a niche, do their best writing, never quit, etc., etc. After a while, it all starts to sound like work on our end, and whereas I'm not averse to working up a good sweat from time to time, I also believe in stacking the cards (pun intended, as you'll soon see) in my favor. So, here's one of the things I do.

For 2005, "Dark Eyes" Mike photoshopped me in & then snuck himself in

Every year at Christmas time for several years now, I send Linda Landrigan, the editor of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, a Christmas card. Now this is no ordinary off-the-rack card. No, this particular card is custom made by my Huey pilot buddy Mike who happened to mention early on in our friendship that he has a certain amount of artistic talent. Since I have flown with this guy into places you aren't supposed to take a helicopter, landed people for raids and parked on mesa tops about the size of a large table to make a quick pit stop (it's a long way down if you're looking that direction and hanging onto the door frame), when he tells me he can do something, I tend to believe him.

In any case, Mike agreed to make Christmas cards for me, and we ended up having a lot of fun with it. Each year's card is based on one of the short stories Linda bought from me and then published in her magazine that year.
2009 card for "Boudin Noir"

Naturally, the problem pops up that few of the stories are Christmas oriented, but we do the best we can. And, to perpetuate that particular year's story concept, each card is signed by characters in that story. For instance, if that year's selection was from a story in my 1660's Paris Underworld series, then one of us might sign as le orphan (Mike's wife Angie), another as King Jules (me), one as Remy the Chevalier (Mike) and another as Josette (my wife Kiti). It's all done in fun, but I'm sure it also keeps my stories in the minds of the editor and staff for a while. In fact, at one of the Bouchercons a few years back, Linda informed me that she was collecting these cards as part of the magazine's history. Whoa, that puts on a lot of pressure to really perform in the future. I have been told a couple of times that I was history, but this was a completely different type of footnote.


The 2004 card to the left is based on "In Bond," a "locked room" mystery in my Twin Brothers Bail Bond series in which pallets of In Bond wine is stolen from a locked and guarded warehouse.

So, that's one of the ways I try to stack the cards in my favor for this game of writing. Anybody out there got any moves of your own you'd care to share? Or, any suggestions you think would work for you, me or anyone else?

And, by the way, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Hanukkah, Joyeux Noel, Mutlu Noeller and several other season's greetings for which my keyboard doesn't have letters or symbols.