Sunday, January 31, 2010

Writer's Workshop: Peddling your work

If you’re here in the blog world, you’re already a published author. Yes, what you write on here can be found on the Internet forever. People borrow snippets, copy them, link them, and repeat them to others. You’ve thus in a rather subtle, but nevertheless effective way, left your mark in the literary world.

Should that prospect not frighten you and you wish to be more readily accepted as a writer, I’d suggest you begin with the short story (or poetry). Both of these offer not only plenty of printed and online magazines and contests, but offer you the chance to work your skills before you put all your time and worth into a full-length novel that could be tossed from editor’s desk to editor’s desk ad infinitum.

Google searches for horror writing contests and horror magazines will lead you along to a wide array. To start with, try a magazine that doesn’t offer cash. It sounds absurd, but the ones that do offer cash want a resume. That resume doesn’t write itself. The ones that don’t pay are also more likely to publish a rough story. Being able to say they published you online is priceless to getting a paying editor to read your work. Magazine paying gigs can be 3 cents to 8 cents a word on average. It’s not a lot of cash, but it puts you in magazines whose names publishers will recognize.

As you feel confident in what editors like and what people want to read, you can start submitting to the paying gigs. I admit to keeping short stories I’ve written on vampires, zombies, ghosts, and such just so that when a contest comes up with a theme, I have something to send in right away. Another very popular genre nowadays online are “flash” short stories which are usually 1000 or less words. This has more to do with what audiences desire—a fast read. They’re also fantastic opportunities for you to tell a story with brevity and show your editing skills.

Find those magazines that seem to suit your type of writing. Pull up their guidelines for submittals and read them like a bible. Editors will literally not read your work if you didn’t do one simple thing they asked. In general, most ask you to use a font where all letters are the same size, such as courier. They will ask the font to be 12. They will ask you to double space. They will ask for a header that is “your last name / title of the story” on each page. The cover letter for submittal should be concise and give your writing background briefly (for your first publishing attempt, use your blog as your writing experience) and include the title of the piece, word count, your name, address, phone number, email address, and webpage if you have a blog or your own site. This isn’t always the case, but those the general things you’re going to have to be aware of.

In my last writer’s workshop post, I discussed rejection and it is absolutely inevitable. If you’re lucky, they will tell you what they didn’t like. Sometimes, it’s as simple as your story not fitting into the theme they wanted for that month or that contest. The reasons for picking a story can be as narrow as a target audience of 18-25 or as goofy as a desire for more gore or no sexual content. That’s why reading your target magazine first will tell you if you’ve found a fit.

Patience is key. Some places won’t get back to you for a month or two and others may forget to respond to your submittal. I had one that I was certain they didn’t even read it, but three months later heard back with a positive response. Apparently, the only editor was on a European trip!

Ultimately, to get to your largest goal which is probably a notable publisher, you’re going to need an agent. Pedaling unsolicited work is nearly impossible. Some publishers allow 3 chapters and a synopsis, but the ones who get truly serious consideration have an agent. An agent shows that you had to have a talent and body of work that impressed the agent. The agent sets up the contract and deals with the nasty side of publishing that is the tedium and frustration. With the advent of ebooks, it’s become common for writers to be their own advertisers. You promote your book on your own time.

If you don’t have a goal of being a famous writer or make an income writing (a difficult task), you might consider writing for no-pay publications and entering contests just to keep your skills up and to occasionally get feedback from readers about your work Most of you have a blog and that really is the source of your regular writing and an opportunity to use your creativity through interesting subjects and crazy viewpoints. My periodic posts by Dale the Doll have kept up my skills and the creative minds of my commenters have me thinking about new subjects. My blog definitely satisfies many aspects of my life. Being able to throw out my ideas about the paranormal and see what others think, as well as see if I can ignite a continued conversation on the subjects has been extremely satisfying. Some people might want to be known for their concise and gripping writing, I prefer to be known for making people talk. When you’re writing your posts or your fiction writing, ask yourself the same; what do I want to be known for in terms of my writing?


  1. Very good post with some great ideas. My brother (who is now my sister, long story) is a published writer, so are some of my cousins and one is writing screenplays. I never thought of writing as a career but I do love telling stories. I have so many stories rattling around in my head that I would like to share some of them. I have two blogs as you know (Above the Norm & the Random Mind of Miss Julie) for which I put my stories on. I found that blog writing helps hone your skills especially if you are not ready for publication. Maybe some day something I write might get published but for now I am happy with blogging. I will definately keep your suggestions in mind just in case.

  2. Don't ever underestimate the power of your genes. My father was a public speaker and writer, my mother an historian and artist. Psychics run in the family, as well. Yeah, it's in the genes. I love your stories, so I can't wait to hear more of them. I'm going to guess that your sister has an amazing insight for writing that few people ever get-a truly spiritual perspective. I've been wanting to convert my scifi to screenplay but I know zip about how to format it. Means more research and such, which there is little time for. I hope to find a screenplay writer who wants to work on that one with me. It's the best solution. Keep writing--I'll keep reading, along with all your other fans.

  3. Lots of useful info there. And it's kind of synchronistic. I've been working on setting up my blog with feeds and such lately. In fact, just last week it was syndicated by AltNews. (you really need to submit yours!)

  4. See, Burt, you can teach me lots of things. I have to admit, once I put my blog up, I just kept writing posts and never learned more about such things. I'd love to hear about it. I will have to start getting myself set up for when I'm published so I can just run it all from the blog. The fact is, this is my home, and no matter how much I write, I never forget to post on here and keep up. It's my life blood now and I'll never leave it.

  5. I'm still fumbling my way through it myself lol! I just did a Google search on ways "promote my blog".If you go to the site, there's a link to submit your blog. You fill in the info, someone reviews your blog, and in a day or so they let you know if you're approved.
    The reviewer said mine was "fantastic". :) (but I bet they say that to all the bloggers!)

  6. Thanks, Burt. That's a great idea. I admit that I'd love to promote the blog more just to get lots of people talking about the paranormal. When I was a kid, I used to love to sit around and talk to my family and friends about all things paranormal and the theories and attitudes were amazing. Doing the blog is really like doing that all over again.
    p.s. No need to be humble. You have a great blog--I admit that when I know you have something new to say, I want to hear it.

  7. Great points.

    It also might not hurt to point out the benefits of subscribing to a writer's magazine (like Writer's Digest) or join a local writer's "club" or class at a nearby community college.

    Also, I really like your idea of joining contests. Have you ever thought of hosting your own here? I've always wanted to do that on my site but I don't think I get enough traffic and what would I give out for prizes (you MUST have prizes for contests!!!).

    I really want to submit my work to online publications, even non-paying ones, but I'm so afraid someone will take my ideas. All the characters in my stories (short or otherwise) also appear in my series and I am so protective of them! I was instead considering posting my novellas on my blog in serial format like the duo from "Above the Norm" does but what if I want to later adapt them to full-length novels and get them picked up by a publisher? Wouldn't they already be considered published???

    I'd REALLY appreciate your insight on these topics! I have no one else to ask about this! Thanks!

  8. Grim;
    Very good insights. I admit that finding horror fiction classes and groups can be really hard, but general fiction can be a good way to get the basics down. Any local ghost hunting group should have a few people who enjoy horror so much that they write it too, so you can tap those folks. One time, I sent out a mass message to the people I'd hunted with over the years. The problem is that some people are overly protective of their work, afraid people will steal it and others are terrified of criticism. Writers can be true introverts.

    That's crazy! I actually do have plans to do a flash short story contest coming up soon. I was going to make it my Valentine's gift to the followers. I have some great ideas for prizes. I think I might do a few categories. You'll have to see. I'm going to post the contest tomorrow on the first and let people have two weeks to come up with something. I expect to see you entering. DarkLore runs contests and at has an amazing contest that's mind-blowing but it has some very specific rules and it costs 29.11 to enter it. I don't do contests with entry fees, but admittedly this is one I've waited my whole life for someone to do--writing up about a character that is the basis of a haunted attraction at Halloween! Wow!

    I admit I was nervous about writing my short stories and pieces from my novels on the blog, but they do give me protection by having dated and put them on my site. If you're going to share writing on your blog, you might consider coming up with a different character/situation than your novellas. So far as the issues with whether you can publish later, most editors you'll find have no issues if it's been online, they just don't want it in actual print. Blog content is usually considered fine to submit. In fact, I considered at one time taking my favorite posts into one book that's about ghost hunting theories and include commentary from folks if they allow it. Another project for another day. It's probably not your cup of tea, but the movie "Julie and Julia" was recommended to me by Courtney and Haunt Jaunts and I fell in love with it. It really captured the anonymous feeling of being a blogger. I always thought it'd be cool to do a movie about bloggers and how they all connect at one blog that they visit and yet their personal lives when not blogging and how it all ties back into this blog that they're obsessed with and where they make better connections than they have in real life.

  9. I would definitely tap into my local ghost hunting group but they all look (and act)just like they came off an episode of "Hoarders" or are the crazy cat lady at the end of the street, so that's a no-go.

    But you've got some really great ideas and I can't wait to see what you have going for your contest. If it's horror based, I'll definitely TRY and come up with something to enter.

    Also, checked out You're right! Really cool contest. But as of right now $30.00 is a bit steep for me. But the prizes are really cool. Especially the one where you get $$$ even if yours completely sucks.

    And big thanks on the writing pointers. The idea for a blogger post book is great! You definitely have some publish worthy content.

    As for "Julie & Julia" all I have to say is "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" My mom and sister took me to that once without telling me what we were going to go see and I didn't realize it till they bought the tickets and half way through I just wanted to die. Really. True story. In fact I like your blog writer's idea. This movie I did not. Have you ever read "Kissing in Manhattan"? It sounds a lot like your idea but sans the blog writers. Possibly the mushiest book I've ever had the fortitude to read but one of the best. Pick it up sometime. I think you'll like it.

  10. Hey Grim;
    We have a regular conversation going here. Tomorrow the contest will be up and the deadline is midnight Valentine's Day. I'm hoping it will get some of my readers to get more serious about their writing--there's so much talent out there. That's funny. I can picture you between your mom and sister just slumped down in your seat and wanting to disappear. I loved the movie for certain points, like how she says she's a writer but she's never followed through and everyone around her has real "grown-up" jobs and she just takes shit from people all day on the phone and lives in a place she hates. I totally get that little escape of writing to sort of re-own who you are. When she got sudden publicity from the blog, I was like--wow! That's happened to me. It's so weird and you think there's no one out there reading you. I will definitely check out the one you mentioned. I'm seriously going after the Kreepy Krawlys one. I have a great concept that I think will totally work--except it's hard to find a use for the #29.11. Argh! Once I have that figured out, I'll be sending it in. I don't ever do ones with entry fees because I think they're unethical but in this case--a haunted attraction--I kind of have to do it!

  11. I have my first book coming out this year. It's horror and should be out (they keep pushing the pub date back) in July or August. It is a lot of work and in my opinion if you are serious and want to be published go to the Backspace Writer's Conference in New York. Since I know you write Romance, I would also seriously consider going to RWA in Nashville this summer (I'll be there!). These conferences have several advantages. You make your way out of the slush pile and become a face editors and agents can put to a name. You meet other authors who when they are published can help you in your movement towards publication. It gives you an idea of what the industry is looking for. Submitting short stories to online contests andmags is good, but I did that first and in the long run no one cared. Everyone seems to be looking for something indescribeable called "voice". I also love the conferences because you are submerged and energized in your writing and you feel, if only for a weekend, like a real writer. I am signing a contract for my second book this week :).

  12. Jessica;
    Great advice! I met the editor from Harlequin at a romance writer's conference and that face-to-face time I got with her allowed me to get four novels in for her to read. Unfortunately, in my 20s, my plotting capabilities and the nuances were missing. With age came some seasoning, thankfully. She was really wonderful, though, about telling me all the details of what I needed to work on. By the fourth novel, she loved it, but it was a thriller action one which was not their genre, so she told me to send it to another published. I was so disheartened and life got in the way, so I gave up. A few years later nearly the identical thing came ot in a movie "Twister." My goal is to get a novella published and pick up an agent. I'd rather have someone else doing the pedaling so I can manage to get writing done.