Category Archives: Writing

The Truth About Submissions And Why Editors Reject Your Story

The following is a response to a writer who submitted to the Trump: Utopia or Dystopia Anthology and had questions about what to expect when submitting stories, what it means when they receive comments and why they need to rewrite:

Hi XX,

I am glad that you wrote in with questions, don’t be afraid to always ask – I don’t believe that anyone is a true expert, everyone is always learning.

Generally when you submit anything, you will never hear anything other than, “sorry your piece didn’t make it into the book/magazine.”

As a small publisher for the Trump Anthology we got over 100 submissions (deadline isn’t over yet). An agent typically gets 10,000 submissions/year. Big publishers even more. It is a tough, tough business to select and chose stories. Then it’s another tough road to sell it to readers. 9/10 books don’t sell to recoup costs of editing/formatting/publishing. It’s the one superstar that pays for everything for the publisher during that year.

When a story is selected, it’s because:

1) it connected with the editor (super subjective and editors read a lot, so the story has to be super special),

2) it was well polished, which means that the publisher buying doesn’t need to invest more time/money into the piece,

3) it was an ok story which the editor knows will be an easy sell to the readers.

To be honest, yours is perhaps the 95th story in which the story focuses on a violent incident. After getting so many of them, they all start to blend together unless there was something different about it.

For example, there is a lot of death and violence in one story we bought – “Trump Vs The Zombies” by E. Reyes. His story was the best one selected in which Trump built a wall to keep out zombies (there were about 5 of them) and because he is Mexican American, some of his cultural background also made it into the story. There were many creative twists in the story that made the editors want to  keep reading.

Most likely we will pass on your story, I have another editor I work with on making such decisions. We held back on rejection letters as we wanted to get everything in the pool first before we started tossing out stuff. We are going to send a note out to people to let them know that we will be sending out rejections soon. Already one writer wrote back to let us know that he sold his story to another publisher which is great. That’s why we allow simultaneous submissions; we don’t want writers to miss out on another publisher buying even if we don’t!

When you submit a story and get feedback, that is the most valuable part of submitting. If people don’t give a shit, they won’t give you any feedback.

Think about why we sent you such questions or comments and yes, it means a rewrite.

The next version could be sold to another publisher or you can self-publish yourself. On other projects, I’ve worked with editing teams in which we presented such questions to writers and they refused to rewrite. This means we could not recommend the publisher to buy because it means the writer isn’t willing to meet a higher standard.

There was another story in which we had numerous comments/questions, however, the main theme in the short story connected with us. This means another 4-6 months of editing back and forth (between editors & writer) to get the words and ideas in the story to flow properly to make the story better. If we didn’t like the story, we wouldn’t bother spending so much time cleaning up their writing. Another story was so well polished; we finalized it in 3 weeks.

No matter how good of a writer you are, you will always need an editor. I see writing as an art form and it takes time to discover your voice and to perfect a piece, like a painting (I used to be a painter). Anyhow, expect a rewrite every time you receive comments. It will get to a point in which the editor is satisfied and then it will be published. Then sometimes post publishing readers will point out stuff and then another rewrite. It really never ends sometimes…

I hope that you have a day job as many full time writers struggle to eat. It’s hard to become a writer superstar. I don’t think it was every easy – we just never hear about the struggles as much. Self-publishing does fill the gap for those who want to publish, but even for self-publishing, higher standards are being brought in or else readers will not trust this new group of publishers. The landscape continuously changes and I don’t think anyone knows what the secret is to becoming a writer superstar.

Anyhow, hope this helps and let me know if you have any more questions.

JF

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If You Care, Delete The Email!

The other day I didn’t sleep and managed to finish the first Dark Helix Press newsletter which contained pictures of the Anime North 2017 conference and some news about book projects.

During the conference I had collected about 100 emails and wanted to start an email list because I will lose momentum (perhaps even misplace the signup sheets) and my book promo dates were running out. Along with con goers, I also looked through my personal email and built a second list of friends and family who I thought would be interested in receiving news about my projects.

Whenever a small business person you know (such as real estate or financial adviser, etc) adds you to their list of newsletters or mass emails, you probably think it’s spam. Why are they sending me stuff? My name isn’t on it!

Well, they are sending you information about their services because they think that you are a kind, wonderful person who will support them in their goals. Running a business is hard work and back breaking. If they thought about you enough to add you to their email list, it means you are important to them. They think that you are a person who will ask them about their business next time you meet them and that you will pass on the information to anyone who is interested.

This is why I was so hurt when I received an email from someone who told me to piss off because I was wasting their time. This person was the most quiet, gentlest, nicest being. I thought for a while about why I was feeling this way. Obviously CBT is working here, normally I would just spiral into depression!

It’s a small thing for someone to ask you to remove them from a mailing list. I thought about it for a long time and concluded that they: 1) do not support what I’m doing and 2) they are very busy and I shouldn’t bother them because I am not worth any of their time.

They could be struggling with something and lashing out, I don’t know. I emailed them a confirmation that they were off the list. I still felt really bad, so I tried calling them to apologize and to see what was going on, but they hung up on my “hello, how are you?” Maybe I’ll try again tomorrow, but perhaps I should focus on my more positive friends with my limited time on Earth. As all business people know, we don’t like burning bridges.

Friends and family knew I had been really hurting last year from my dad’s death and had fallen into a deep, deep depression. The fact that I pulled up the straps of my boots, managed to even attend a conference (it was such a struggle to “turn on” my game face) and make a newsletter meant I was feeling better.

Usually newsletters and mass emails are not personal to makes it easier to pass onto the next person. Also, the small business person does not have time to write messages on thousands of emails. They barely have time to eat dinner…

Newsletters and mass emails are not sent out forever and ever. One day the business or the author will die and no more will be created. Receiving some news is better than silence if you care about the person.  Delete if you don’t want to read but know they are well and alive. You are a good person if you receive any!

I hope I put newsletters and other emails you get from your small business owner friends in a new light!

World Building On A Road To Hell

The following are some thoughts which I will be sharing at Anime North on May 27/17 at the World Building for Authors panel.

Recently I was looking up some ideas on what to talk about at this world building when it suddenly occurred to me that I have been doing it every day for almost a year now. Last June, after my father died, I got into a huge fight with my family.

Elderly relatives (especially one over 100) was not allowed to know that he died. People believed that they would die from shock from hearing the news. I was the outlier and eventually caved because of a group vote.

In Asian culture, one is not supposed to share bad news. I am the one banana (yellow on outside, white on inside) who feels that bringing out the truth is the best so solutions can be discussed. Well, in case of death, there is a stigma against any discussion, usually people just don’t talk about it. When an aunt died of cancer last year, I wasn’t allowed to attend the funeral either because I was on maternity leave and weak, therefore, spirits from beyond could harm me. During her time of illness, no one in the extended family knew. She wanted to die in secret and didn’t even want a funeral. When I fought to let people know my father died, I was fighting not just family, but the Asian culture as well.

Anyhow, my father was a devoted family man and visited these elderly relatives every day. After work he would drop by to cut up grapes or prepare other snacks for the ones in nursing homes. For immobile relatives in wheelchairs, he would take the time to drive them out for dim sum and groceries every weekend. Now that he has gone I haven’t been able to fulfill even half of what he did for these people while he was alive.

Since he disappeared, I have been asked questions everyday:

Where is your father? they would ask. Sick, not feeling well, I would say. Why isn’t he visiting? He hurt his leg. What is he eating? I’m cooking and freezing meals (technically true as I was dropping them off at the house to feed mom). Why didn’t he come to my birthday party? He was busy.

Indeed, the road to hell is paved with good intentions!

In the beginning I felt a lot of pain whenever I spoke to them because I felt guilty about lying. I had many breakdowns during the first few months and would start crying after I left the nursing home. None of these elderly people have dementia and their memories are better than mine.

Over time I started to construct a world for them and me in which dad was still alive, but just sick and in bed. We do have relatives that get sick and disappear for twenty years, so this was the most plausible explanation. No one talks about it, pretending that it’s normal, but I suspect it must be due to chronic depression. After I explained that dad is probably experiencing the same thing as the “other relatives” there were less questions.

When an author builds a world for their readers, they have to think about many things. There are physical rules, society structures, the characteristics of their environments, food, clothing, relationships, etc. All the things which we adhere by and use on a daily basis. I have written fantasy and science fiction with such worlds I built for readers. I have edited stories and criticized other authors for breaking their own rules or writing nonsensical science.

Nothing however, compares to the world building I have to do now. It is a fragile world I have constructed because I am not the only author. I have siblings, aunts, cousins and other relatives that have the ability to destroy this world if they say the wrong thing. They usually run from questions asked about my dad and I told them that this is unacceptable. If you all agreed to keep the truth from her, at least keep your end of the bargain with me on speaking about dad as if he was alive.

I can speak all I want, but I know I can not control other people and can only do my part as best as I can. Many people have stopped visiting the nursing home for fear they will say the wrong thing, which is very sad. The only thing I can do is keep up with this mirage the best I can until it breaks.

Trump Kickstarter & 5 Tips on Successful Submissions

Whoopee! The Kickstarter Campaign for Trump: Utopia or Dystopia? Anthology is now live! Press release is also live in which we talk to two writers (Chris McGrane & Mathias Jansson) about why they sent in stories.

The Kickstarter is more for PR than anything else. We really, really, really want to find readers for our books and this is one way of finding them as well as pre-selling some copies. Although the submission deadline is June 4, 2017 we have started signing contracts with some writers and doing editing rounds in preparation to deliver Kickstarter goods.

So far we have signed 7 contracts. Our book aims to publish at least 20 pieces. We actually hope to publish closer to 25-30 if we receive more submissions that are too fantastic to resist.

Editing is super subjective and for this anthology I’m working with another editor, so there are two of us. Sometimes our schedules don’t match, but I think we will be ok as we haven’t gotten into any real fights over editing…yet…

I am dreading the task of sending out rejection letters but it will happen eventually. I’ll have to remind people that sometimes it’s really us and not them because another editor might have snapped their story up immediately. This did happen with one story that was sent in and 3 weeks later we were informed that it had been sold. That’s why we are fine with simultaneous submissions, heck, why delay a person a chance to sell to another publisher?

Today I received a really nice email from a writer who was super hyped that their story was chosen. I totally understood how they felt because I have gotten more rejection letters than acceptance ones myself! Out of so many stories, why did we chose their story?

  1. The writing was tight – this person did a lot of editing and they took out a lot of unnecessary words. Grammar, punctuation, spelling was pretty good – not perfect – but editors need something to clean up!
  2. The story had a limited number of characters – there was only one main character in the story and everything was focused on them. When there are too many characters, things get confusing super fast. Also, the writer can’t concentrate on writing a lot about each person and there is shallow character development.
  3. There was a clear arc (beginning, middle, end) – in the beginning the reader didn’t know what was going on, then things got a bit clearer through flashbacks with the main character describing what happened before the ending hit. In some stories too many things are happening, such as too many flashbacks, which makes timing of sequences confusing. Or the ending is too ambiguous and the editor isn’t sure if the story really ended or is missing a page.
  4. Surprise twists are great – in this case, the editor (me) is also a writer, so I can see a lot of plot devices coming. When something happens that surprises me I get really excited.
  5. They built a credible world – the world built had a set of rules which was explained as the story went on and had enough logic that the reader was able to buy in. The main character explained why things were a certain way in the story. Sometimes in other stories there is a librarian or a mentor figure that can do this as well.

One good reference guide is “The Hero’s Journey” which describes how to write a story describing a hero/main character, their adventures and finally the end. The link is to a condensed version, the book is longer than one webpage!

Style guides are also useful if you are writing a story which cites titles or has irregular dialogue, such as the character listening to the radio. The Canadian government has a free style guide and Writer’s Digest also has free resources. The Chicago Manual is one of the gold standards and a great reference.

We just edited a story in which the style/formatting drove us crazy. But we did it because the story was fantastic. Otherwise, we would have said forget it, since it cost us so many hours to clean us! Bottom line, write a great story and the editors can forgive you for everything else!

 

 

 

 

Entrepreneur Article About Crowdfunding For Books

Recently, I had the pleasure of working with Samita Sarkar, on the topic of crowdfunding to self-publish a book. Since she was the one writing the article, I didn’t know what quotes she would use from me versus other people who also had experience in crowdfunding, so it was interesting to see the end result.

In her article, “Crowdfunding Your Self-Published Book? Here Are 3 Things You Need to Know” the latest Kickstarter stats show that over out of 349,504 campaigns, just 123,447 succeeded – a 35% success rate. Some 14% of projects finish without receiving a single pledge.

In the three tips listed, lessons learned includes preparing a lot of videos and illustrations prior to the campaign start, then using social media a lot for the duration of the campaign. I talk about how I’ve mastered more software skills – quite frankly, this is because some people that I’ve hired in the past weren’t that great. Sometimes you just have to roll up your sleeves and do things yourself!

With Kickstarter campaigns there is always a risk that it will fail. But obviously I believe this is a risk worth taking as I’m slowly becoming a serial Kickstarter campaign runner! At dinner tonight I warned my friends that I will be emailing them once again to ask for support for the Trump anthology. There was a lot of moaning about how they were tired of Trump, but they were intrigued anyways! (or so I think)

 

Happy Easter! Trump Anthology update #2

Happy Easter everyone! Someone told me yesterday that they have a full furry costume to pretend to be the Easter bunny for their niece and nephew which is pretty impressive! They said that they scatter eggs in a park and wait for the kids…while feeling creepy…which I found quite amusing.

Since I am getting many questions about the Trump anthology, I will keep posting updates as the project progresses. I expect I’ll be bombarded with more submissions once I launch the Trump Kickstarter late April as a PR exercise to pre-sell books and to raise some funds for the marketing blackhole. I hope to get the world excited about reading this book!

Question 1 – Should I send in both utopia and dystopia story?

Quite frankly we have received a lot of dystopia stories which is why that comment was made in my earlier post about sending in both types of stories. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter which type you send in as long as it is good.

Question 2 – Should I use names of staff in the administration?

One does have to be a bit careful when citing names and I hesitate to recommend using their full names out right. Names are difficult to trademark, but if characters are written with same first/last name in bad light, there could be a lawsuit for slandering someone. As we condone extreme violence or sex in stories, the chance of a lawsuit is low; but be aware it is a possibility.

Same thing goes with brand name products. If your story is selected, we may suggest to generalize a brand name or use half of it so the reader can fill in the blanks themselves.

Question 3 – Am I at a disadvantage because I’m a new writer?

Some people send in a list of their credentials which include degrees, diplomas, titles at companies/societies/associations, etc. One person said that they were an astrologer who lived in the woods and another had multiple PhDs in ABC.

I don’t care about your background, at the end of the day if you can tell a good story, you are a good writer!

Question 4 – How can I increase chance of selection?

Stick to the theme – The book’s theme is a world in which Trump exists in the present as a leader or has left a legacy. A lot of people are sending in stories which has nothing to do with Trump but they had written as a side project or for fun.

These  pieces are really good too, but if it has nothing to do with the theme, the editors (there is more than one editor for this book) will debate if it’s worth the time to make extensive comments to the writer about changing certain things here and there to make the story more relevant to the theme. This is pretty much rewriting the story’s narrative and could lead to months of extra work for the editors.

Or they could chose a story that already has the theme in it.

Basic storytelling – The stuff they taught you at school still holds true!

image of plot diagram labled with exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution

Source: Mrs. Welty’s Guide to Literary Elements

One of my profs in a writing course I took recommended to always start with action. The character is doing something interesting to grab the reader’s attention in the first paragraph. In the next paragraph, the writer can go into why they are doing it, background, etc. Remember that we are not in your head and you have to explain what you are seeing.

World building – I want to feel like I’m in your story: What are the smells around the character? What do people eat? How do they travel? Are their environments different from ours? Are there drones/robots/aliens in the sky? Are there hierarchies in society? Are the rules different at work?

Writing course – If you haven’t done so already, do take the time to consider a writing course in person if you can afford it. The feedback from classmates are invaluable and the instructor is usually the harshest which makes you learn quickly! A writing group which meets regularly also helps improve your craft.

Free open ware writing courses are available at MIT’s website on creative writing as well. I bought books to start one of the courses and then forgot where I put them. Yes, I need real people to push my butt! If you are the super motivated type, then you may find some value in these online courses.

At the end of the day sometimes it’s me, not you.

We have received over 50 submissions so far. If I read your story and I remember it a few hours later because it made me think of XYZ, it’s a good story. If I forget I had ever read your story, then it’s forgettable and didn’t resonate with me.

Sending rejection letters suck as I always get them myself. Writing is also very subjective. Just because your story didn’t make it into this book, it doesn’t mean that your writing isn’t good, it could just be someone else sent in a similar story and we had to chose one.

Good luck and looking forward to your stories!

 

 

 

 

An Editor’s Notes on Submissions (Trump, Canada Anthologies)

Dark Helix Press has two different anthologies open to submissions at the moment: Trump Utopia or Dystopia? and Futuristic Canada. Deadlines for both are April 31, 2017.

First, thank you to everyone who has submitted their works so far! It’s been a lot of fun reading through the diverse stories with their different voices. Works have been sent in from all over the world – US, Canada, Italy, Sweden…just to name a few places.

Here are a few notes from moi, the editor, on these two anthologies in particular:

-We are looking for more stories for the Canada anthology in general.

-For the Trump anthology – more sci-fi and fantasy. Lots of Trump horror stories were submitted, making it difficult to choose among them.

-For the Trump Anthology if you are sending in work, send in an utopia and dystopia piece. We only have dystopic views at the moment. Utopic stories can be dark too, look at stories such as 28 Days Later (movie), Happiness (movie) or American Dream themed works, where among tragedies there is a glimmer of hope.

-World building is not including one sentence stating who is the leader of a country. To make me believe that the world you created is different, you will need to give me some details. For example, Trump was elected, then X, which led to X and your characters in the novel doing X. What do people eat? Are there new customs? The details are clear in your head, but the readers don’t have access to it!

-Please don’t send in horror pieces with senseless violence and killing. They really bore me. If there is death, why did it happen and how did the other characters react? Example, many Japanese haunting stories have a tragic tale of why the ghosts are haunting people.

These are my two cents for now. Am working on a Kickstarter campaign for the Trump anthology as a marketing strategy to find new readers. Will post more details when ready!

 

 

Happy Valentine’s Day! Mentioned in 2 articles!

(Oops, posted day after Valentine’s – forgot to hit publish button)

Today the landlord and men at my office gave out free breakfast, snacks and roses which was really nice of them. I could not resist the heart donuts at Tim Hortons either. Gosh, it’s been a calorie packed day!

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A few weeks ago I had answered some queries about relationship questions and didn’t hear back from the people. Well, today two of the people contacted me and used my advice in their articles!

One was 14 Things We Wish We Knew Before Getting Married which featured wedding pics and advice from married people. It’s mind boggling to see my picture from ten years ago. I looked so young!

The second article was written for businesses in regards to how people should treat their partners – Experts Weigh In: How do you show love to your partners? 

My husband and I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day (something about him finding it annoying) so it was nice that I got fed, received a rose and got to contribute to some articles!

Accepting Death and the New Reality

Buddhist saying: “Death is the mirror in which your life is reflected.”

I haven’t written anything for a while or done anything creative since my father passed away in the summer. This month I’m slowly pulling myself together, working through a writing course and speaking at a conference. Doing little things to stop my brain from going crazy with grief.

Since I live in North America and grew up in a safe environment I have never really experienced much death. The death of a few friends over the years did impact me, however, the death of a parent is a totally different thing. I work in healthcare which is a double edged sword because I know where all the resources are to get help, but when the worst outcome happens, I find myself feeling responsible for this failure. Rationally, I know not all patients make it through the healthcare system because people do get sick and don’t survive. Stats don’t help when the situation is personal.

It is inevitable that we all die. I know this. But when a parent dies, you’ve lost your home, your source of wisdom (which you only listen to half the time!) and a person who loves you unconditionally no matter how many times you screw up. This event totally destroyed me and my heart shattered.

People who have lost their parent(s) approach me and we have a connection since we are living in a new reality which we do not want to live in, yet we have no choice. As a parent myself, I know that if I go, I would want my child to be happy and free of sadness. However, at the moment I find it very difficult to feel any joy because I have survivor and filial guilt. I know I am drowning in pain. I know I am majorly depressed and have PTSD. I am getting professional help. It’s been a slow climb uphill to patch together pieces of my heart and to survive minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day.

One thing that has really helped are Buddhist Dharma talks by a monk called Ajahn Brahm. The Buddhists really take a positive spin on things. Instead of the concept of the body being an enemy as you age, the Buddhists consider death as a return to nature. Ajahn Brahm compares the life of his father (which he only knew for 16 years) to a great concert in which he was grateful to have attended the performance. I recommend listening to this monk as he imparts a lot of wisdom about living life to its fullest and how to handle difficult situations.

A friend told me that we have perhaps 40 good years to use between the age of 30 and 70, when we are mature enough to realize that we have to pull our crap together and really live before we start getting sick/die. Also, my Chinese doctor told me that I must do good before I die. To do good only for oneself is being selfish. So one must do good for oneself and others in order to make this world a better place.

I don’t know when death will be at my doorstep. So I will use my time to create more stories which I hope will make a dent in this big world and will carry on the legacy of my father by taking care of my family. Nothing was more important than family to him. He sacrificed everything for us and I have to learn, grow and do good from the experience of his death. If you have parents that are still here, please tell them you love them. Because life is precious, fleeting and unpredictable, but death is a certainty we will all face one day.