Sunday, December 31, 2006

2007 Goals

It's the time of year when writers make resolutions and set goals. Many of my fellow writers set productivity goals--so many words per day or so many pages per day or so many hours at the keyboard per day--believing that productivity goals are easier to achieve than sales goals. They may be right. After all, how much control does a writer have over what editors buy and publish?

I take a different approach. I set sales goals. My goal for 2007 is the same as it's been for many years now: To average one
acceptance per week (that's 52 for the year).

Unless I receive an acceptance in the next few hours--and, really, how likely is that?--I'll finish 2006 with 66 acceptances (while that total primarily consists of short stories, it does include other freelance writing such as essays and articles), the fifth year in a row that I've exceeded my goal.

A secondary goal is to increase my average income from freelancing. That'll happen--if it happens--one of two ways:

1. By increasing the amount I earn from the short stories, articles, and essays I write by selling more work to my existing markets or by finding and selling to better paying markets.

2. By doing more work for my exisiting clients or finding new clients for editing and copywriting.

To achieve my goals, I have to believe I do have some control over what editors buy and publish. (Or what clients purchase from me, but that's a different subject.)

I can control what editors buy and publish by studying their publications and producing material that is similar in subject and similar in style to what they already publish. I can control what editors buy and publish by producing manuscripts that are well-written and, to the best of my ability, grammatically correct. I can control what editors buy and publish by accepting and completing assignments that are offered to me. I can control what editors buy and publish by responding appropriately when editors post want-lists or need-lists or calls for submission.

Do I have a great deal of control? Absolutely not.

But I can pretty much eliminate guesswork and chance from the equation.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Today's Mail

I received payment for a short story today, a nice after-Christmas addition to the wallet. It's for a bit of crime fiction that, if I read the check stub correctly, will be published in April.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Two more

I finished two more short stories this morning and have them ready to go in the mail the next time I leave the house.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Will be speaking in PA

For those of you who like to plan in advance, I'm scheduled to speak at "In Your Write Mind," Seton Hill University's 6th Annual Writing Popular Fiction Reunion & Retreat, at Seton Hill University, Greensburg, PA, June 22-24, 2007.

Preliminary info is available at:

http://alumni.setonhill.edu/s/279/index.aspx?sid=279&gid=1&pgid=13&cid=97&event_id=104

and additional info will be available later.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Record keeping and document handling

One of the most important things a freelance writer can do is maintain good records. Unfortunately--based on the number of posts I've seen on various writing forums--many don't.

I regularly see posts from writers who can't find a copy of a contract and want to know if any other writers have sold to the same market and might know what rights they've signed away, posts from writers who don't when or to what magazines they've sent their manuscripts, posts from writers who haven't been paid for published work and don't know who to contact, and any number of other posts that make it painfully obvious that those writers need a good lesson in record-keeping.

I admit my method isn't perfect, but it's quite effective. I know each manuscript that's out to an editor, which editor/publication I sent it to, when it left my hands, and whether it was submitted via e-mail or snail mail. I know where every manuscript has been and when it came back. I know which were rejected and which were sold. I have copies of all of my acceptance letters and/or contracts and I have contributor copies (or copies I purchased myself) of nearly everything that I know has seen print.

And, perhaps more importantly, I can lay may hands on all of it within a few minutes.

I know other writers with fancy spreadsheets and databases who handle much of this electronically, but I'm still a paper-and-folder guy. After all, most contracts still arrive on paper and most work still gets published on paper. Even if I maintained an electronic database of some kind, I'd still need file folders for the paper.

So I use file folders and file drawers. Every finished manuscript gets a file folder (which contains a copy of the ms., related research materials and, ultimately, a contract and a printed copy of the published work) and each folder moves through a series of file drawers--one for finished/not submitted; one for submitted; one for accepted; one for paid for/not published; one for published/not paid for; one for published and paid for; etc.

In this way I spend my time writing and submitting, not looking for lost documents.

Writing is a business. Maintaining records is part of doing business and developing and maintaining a good record-keeping system is especially important for a beginning writer to develop. After a few hundred sales, the task may be too daunting...

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Published again and still productive

Today's mail brought a contributor copy of a magazine containing one of my short stories...and I finished a new story this morning and dropped it in the mail at lunchtime.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Published & Productive

My article "Urban Harvest: Improving Houston from the Ground Up" appears in the January/February Texas Gardener, which should hits newsstands in Texas any day now.

Yesterday I finished writing two new short stories and they went into the mail this morning.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Published

My story "A Holiday Lesson" appears in the January issue of True Confessions.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Two stories off to market

I finished and prepared two new short stories for submission earlier this evening. This wouldn't normally be news, but I've not completed--and have barely written--any new fiction in months. Most of my work recently has been non-fiction or advertising copy written on assignment.

I'm not sure if this means I'm moving into a fertile time for writing fiction or if this was just a momentary productive phase. We'll see.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Monday, November 20, 2006

66

I had a short story accepted today. It's my 66th acceptance of the year.

I also had a short story published.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Published Twice...and more

My story "The Greatest Gift" appears in the December True Romance and I wrote the Manspeak column--"Giving Thanks"-- in the December True Confessions.

I also had an article accepted for publication in January.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Published

My story "God Bless Us, Every One" appears in the December issue of True Story, on newsstands now.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Two Sales

I received contracts for two short stories today, making them my 63rd and 64th acceptances of the year.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

The Writing Rollercoaster

2006 is turning into a rollercoaster year. While I'm earning more from freelancing than any previous year, and while this is on track to be one of my best years ever for total number of manuscripts accepted for publication, my editors have been playing musical chairs and publications I'd been selling to have either downsized or ceased publication.

As I wrap up 2006 and look forward to 2007, I find that I need to split my attention. I need to find ways to increase the amount of work I do for existing clients and editors. At the same time, I need to spend time seeking new markets to replace those I've lost or am about to lose.

It also means I need to do more writing on spec than I have the past year. I'd been feeling comfortable--too comfortable, as it turns out--with the number of assignments and opportunities that were dropping in my lap. It's time to get back to my roots, in a sense, and see if I can start flooding slush piles with new manuscripts as I explore new markets or make new attempts to break into markets that have previously kept their pages remarkably free of my work.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Halloween Serial update

The Halloween serial written by five area writers, "A Waco Ghost Story," was published in full in today's edition of the Waco Tribune-Herald. It had been serialized in five parts on the newspaper's Web site, with the final installment appearing this morning, and the complete version is available on-line at:

http://www.wacotrib.com/featr/content/features/halloween_06/stories/complete.html

I wrote part 2.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Today's Mail

I received a contributor copy of a magazine that contains a story I wrote under a pseudonym.

Today's Mail

I received a contributor copy of a magazine that contains a story I wrote under a pseudonym.

Today's Mail

I received a contributor copy of a magazine that contains a story I wrote under a pseudonym.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Cover!

My article "Trees for Texas" is the cover story in the November/December issue of Texas Gardener, which should be at newsstands around Texas any moment now.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Halloween Serial Begins

Carl Hoover, the arts editor of my local newspaper, the Waco Tribune-Herald, wrote the first part of a five-part Halloween serial and asked four local writers to finish the story. I wrote part 2. Part 1 of the serial is now posted at http://www.wacotrib.com/featr/content/features/halloween_06/stories/part1.html and a new part will be posted each day through Sunday. On Sunday, all five parts are supposed to be printed in the newspaper.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Story Published

My short story "A Crime on Christmas" is the lead story in the Winter True Experience.

Essay Published

My essay "Where Evil Lurks" is the Manspeak column in the November True Confessions.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Organization

One of the most important things a writer can do is to establish and maintain an organized record-keeping system. While this is easy for someone who produces a single finished manuscript each year (a novelist, for example), it can be difficult for a writer that produces a large number of finished manuscripts each year (a prolific short story writer or a non-fiction writer).

There are multiple parts to organizing. At the one end of the writing process is developing a method to keep track of work-in-progress and assignments with deadlines. At the other end is developing a method to keep track of work submitted, accepted, paid for, and published.

Much of my work is written on spec, so I don't often deal with conflicting deadlines. During the past few years I've probably not had more than three deadline-driven assignments overlap. It isn't hard to stick a Post-It note to my computer monitor and jot a note in my Day Planner to remind me of these deadlines. I know writers who use spreadsheets and electronic calendars to keep track of multiple assignments.

The back end of the process is where I've put most of my organizational efforts. While some writers claim to keep all their records on a computer, I find it impossible to do that. There's just too much paperwork.

Every manuscript I finish gets its own folder. Into that folder goes a hardcopy of the ms. and copies of any research material I used; a record of where the piece has been submitted and the results (rejection, request for revision, acceptance, etc.); copies of all acceptance letters, contracts, check stubs, and etc.. That folder travels around my office through various file drawers depending on what stage the ms. is at.

Under submission? One drawer for that.

Accepted? One drawer for that.

Paid for/not published? Drawer for that.

Published/not paid for? Drawer for that.

Published and paid for? Nine drawers for that.

While not a perfect system, it's served me well since I started writing more than thirty years ago. And it would be bloody hard to change now.

The Mail

Today's mail brought a check for a short story. Friday and Saturday I received contributor copies of magazines containing my short stories.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Submit Until There Are No Markets Left

A story being published later this year was first written in early 1991 and received its first rejection March 31, 1991. It was rejected by 25 publications, finally finding a home earlier this year on its 26th submission.

That's 16 years from creation to publication...and it isn't the longest gap between creation and publication for one of my stories.

If there's a lesson here, it's that a writing career doesn't happen overnight. It takes hard work and a tenacity that most would-be writers don't have.

Oh, and a good filing system never hurts.

Streak Remains Unbroken

I was beginning to sweat.

I've had one or more pieces of fiction published every month* beginning August 2003 and continuing through December 2006...except I had nothing published yet this month.

Until a few minutes ago.

I received an e-mail from the editor of a weekly publication letting me know I had a story in this week's issue.

That's 41 consecutive months. Does Ed Hoch have a rearview mirror? Can he see me in it yet?

---

*I use a publication's cover date, not its actual on-sale date to calculate this stuff.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Friday, October 06, 2006

Assignments galore

Although the day started poorly, around mid-day things picked up considerably. I've received three assignments--one expected and the other two out of the blue. The first is to write one installment of a five installment ghost story to be serialized by the local newspaper later this month. Other local writers will write the other four installments. The second is for an essay, and the third is for a magazine article.

Luckily, the deadlines are such that the assignments shouldn't confilict with each other.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Half A Sale

Tom Sweeney and I received a contract today from Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine for "Snowbird," a private eye story we co-authored. It's the first sale to EQMM for either of us.

Expect the Unexpected

Yesterday's mail brought a check for a story for which I did not expect to be paid. It wasn't a large check, but I should be able to buy lunch at Wendy's.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

59

Today's mail brought my 59th acceptance of the year, this time for an essay.

Monday, September 25, 2006

58

Today's mail brought a contract for a story story. This is my 58th acceptance this year, one more than all of last year.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Published Again

My humorous gardening essay "Why My Face Is Red But My Tomatoes Aren't" was published in today's edition of Seeds. The current issue is archived at:

http://www.texasgardener.com/newsletters/060920/default.htm

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Charles L. Grant

Charles L. Grant--Charlie--died shortly after 10:00 p.m. Friday evening. While my recent contact with Charlie had been sporadic at best--mostly messages sent back and forth via his wife, Kathy Ptacek--Charlie was instrumental in the early part of my writing career. A young author with a handful of short stories to his credit when I "met" him, he ultimately published a bazillion novels in a variety of genres under numerous pseudonyms. He was probably best known for the quiet horror he published under his own name.

When we "met," I was a teenaged science fiction fan publishing a fanzine. We "met" after I sent Charlie a copy of my fanzine containing an article someone else had written about him. We began corresponding the old-fashioned way, sending typewritten letters via the postal service. Charlie wrote a column for my fanzine, and he once interviewed one of his pseudonyms as an inside joke.

In addition to writing, Charlie also edited many horror anthologies, and he published one of my first short stories in 1985. ("Of Memories Dying" was my 15th published short story, my first to appear in an anthology.)

More importantly, though, Charlie was one of the people who taught me how to be a writer. He treated me with professionalism and respect, he treated my fanzine as if it were a professional magazine, and he lived the life that I wanted to live.

Writers often talk about the idea of "paying forward," of helping new writers, but Charlie actually did it. He helped me. For that I am eternally grateful.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Published, again

My essay "Is That A Book In My Pocket?' is the Manspeak column in the October True Confessions, which just hit the newsstands locally.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Pay for Play

After reading yesterday's post, Steven asked, "Just out of curiosity, would you be willing to say how many of the 57 are bringing in checks? Or is it all of them?"

After a quick glance through my records, it looks like the 57 acceptances include two short stories for which I did not/will not receive pay for initial publication and two reprints (one fiction, one non-fiction) for which I did not/will not receive pay.

That means 53 of this year's acceptances have or will result in payment of some kind.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Accepted, again

I had a short story accepted earlier this afternoon, a hardboiled story featuring my reoccuring character, Waco, Texas-based P.I. Morris Ronald Boyette. It's my 57th acceptance this year, tying my total number of acceptances for all of last year.

Monday, September 11, 2006

This Morning's E-mail

This morning's e-mail brought two acceptances--an article I submitted last night and a short story I submitted in April.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Show Me The Money

The money's in non-fiction.

That's the mantra we're all forced to learn when we become freelance writers.

Alas, I've yet to prove that true.

Although I often earn more per-word for non-fiction, I don't seem to earn more per-hour. I've been writing and selling short stories for so many years that they often just roll off my fingers. Articles take more research and more drafts before I feel comfortable that I've produced a publishable manuscript.

Part of my dilemma is limited formal training in journalism. I've not mastered the art of the interview, and often find myself with far more material than I need. I've not mastered the art of organizing my material and developing a preliminary outline, so I often toss my outlines out the window once I start drafting copy. I've not mastered the hook and the nut graf, so I often struggle producing them.

My wife--a journalism professor at a major university--must think I'm a moron when I ask for her advice, which I often do when crafting articles, and she repeatedly pounds the same lessons into my head that she pounds into the heads of her entry-level journalism students.

It may be that I lack confidence or that I wear blinders when viewing my non-fiction. After all, a good part of my freelance income comes from editing other writers' non-fiction! I can see and correct the problems in their work that I can't seem to see and correct in my own.

Ah, well, maybe it's just a time and experience issue. If I had written as many articles as I've written short stories, they might just roll off my fingers the way short stories do.

And maybe someday, after I have written many more articles, someone will show me the money!

Saturday, September 09, 2006

School Daze

Homework has taken up a fair bit of my time lately--more reading than anything else--so I'm still not writing much on speculation. I have an article assigned to me last month that I hope to finish this weekened, and last night I received an essay assignment that's due on the 19th.

The window of opportunity on Christmas/holiday stories is shut now, so all the Christmas/Holiday stories I didn't finish last month will go into a virtual folder, and I'll pull them out again next summer.

Thinking of editorial calendars, what should I be working on now? Valentine's Day stories! I already have notes/roughs for six Valentine's Day stories...and almost no time to work on them. Maybe next week/weekend, after I finish the two assignments I already have in hand.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

From Flood to Trickle

During the past few months the volume of non-spam e-mail I receive has slowly diminished. I'm receiving fewer e-mails from editors and fellow writers, and I've pondered the reasons for the reduction in volume.

I was once quite active on a couple of Yahoo groups--including serving as president of the Short Mystery Fiction Society and, thus, moderator of its Yahoo group--but have limited my participation in on-line discussions this summer.

I'm producing less work on-spec and thus seeing fewer rejections (which is the kind of editor contact I'd prefer to avoid!). At the same time, a couple of editors with whom I had good on-line working relationships have moved on (and not always by their choice), and I've not developed that kind of relationship with their replacements.

On the other hand, it could just be that good weather and summer vacation has taken everyone away from their keyboards and the volume of e-mail will increase as we move into fall.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Return of the Damned

A week ago today I started grad school. I'm only enrolled in one course--at this pace it'll take five years to complete, so I'll need to step it up a notch later--and I'll still trying to balance my workload. As a result, I'm slightly ahead of schedule on my classwork, on schedule with all of my writing/editing assignments, but have not written anything on spec since class started.

Alas, most of my on-spec work is short fiction and short fiction is what I most enjoy writing.

On the other hand, I have made a few notes about stories in progress and have outlined a new story that could be pretty cool if I can write it the way I outlined it.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Essay reprinted

My essay "Gardening Rocks" was reprinted in today's edition of Seeds, a weekly newsletter for Texas gardeners. The issue is archived at:
http://www.texasgardener.com/newsletters/060823/default.htm

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

When Editors Attack

I received, approved, and returned edits for two of my short stories this evening.

I quibbled with a couple of minor points, but was satisfied overall. At best the edits improved my work; at worst they did no harm. What more can you ask of a copyeditor?

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Proposal and other projects

I've been juggling a trio of projects the past two days: I've been doing prelimiary research for an assigned non-fiction article, roughing some notes for an unassigned essay I hope to submit to an anthology with a deadline only weeks away, and preparing a proposal for another anthology. I finished the anthology proposal this evening and it'll go in the mail tomorrow. I made progress on the other two projects, but am nowhere near completion on either of them.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Essay Accepted

The essay I turned in Tuesday was accepted today. The editor's comment: "I really like it."

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Today's Mail & Etc.

Last night, I emailed the essay that was due today. I've not yet heard from the editor, so I'm hoping that's good news.

Today's mail brought a contributor copy of a magazine containing one of my short stories.

And, earlier today, I started doing research on the article that's due in a couple of weeks.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Christmas makes 52

I received an e-mail earlier today telling me that another of my Christmas stories has been accepted and that a contract will follow shortly.

This is my 52nd acceptance this year, putting me 4.5 months ahead of schedule. (My goal is to average one acceptance each week. Maybe someday I'll get ambitious and set a target of TWO acceptances each week.)

Monday, August 14, 2006

Good Day To Be A Writer

Today was a good day to be a writer. I received checks for two short stories, received author copies of a magazine containing a short story, received an assignment for a non-fiction piece, and may be helping one of my clients update a non-fiction book first published in the early '80s. My work on the book will be more production--editing, proofreading, design, and layout--than writing, but it'll be a good bit of extra work nonetheless.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Today's Contract

The decision to concentrate on writing Christmas/holiday stories for the past month and a half is paying off. Today's mail brought a contract for one of them.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Holiday Fiction

Early last month, after an extended period without writing fiction because other freelance work (editing and advertising/public relations, primarily) kept me busy, I decided to concentrate my efforts on holiday fiction. I felt I had the greatest opportunity to write and place these stories in a short period.

The window of opportunity for submitting Christmas-themed stories essentially closes at the end of this month, but I just finished my fourth Christmas-themed story and will drop it in the mail tomorrow. I have four more Christmas-themed stories in progress, two of them already past the halfway point, and I hope to finish them before the month ends.

Last week, I sat down and roughed out six Valentine's Day stories. Unless editors and clients overload me with assignments, I'll work on those stories until the window of opportunity closes around the end of October.

Then what? St. Patrick's Day? April Fool's Day? Mother's Day?

We'll see.

Today's Assignment

I received an assignment via e-mail earlier today, from an editor who wants a Halloween-themed essay with a twist I never would have thought of on my own. And it's due on the 16th.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Most Prolific?

There's an excellent profile of Edward Hoch at http://www.crimetime.co.uk/make_page.php?id=600 in which it's noted that Hoch has produced an average of 18 short stories each year since he sold his first story in 1955 and that he was working on his 909th story at the time the profile was written.

Hoch is one of the most prolific short story writers producing new material on a regular basis, but reading the profile started me thinking: Who are the most prolific short story writers working today? Do they write genre fiction, as Hoch does, or do they write literary fiction, as Joyce Carol Oates mostly does? Are they well-established names, or are they the often nameless scribes who turn out short stories for confession magazines? Should equal weight be given to writers who turn out flash fiction for non-paying, publish-almost-anything Web sites as is given to writers who are published in respected literary journals or "professional" genre magazines?

In short, how does one identify a prolific short story writer?

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Today's Don't

If you don't know the difference between "insure" and "ensure," don't use either word.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Before Desktop Publishing

While helping my wife clean the garage this evening, I discovered a box filled with technical documentation--some of which I wrote--that immediately took me back to the days before desktop publishing.

I entered publishing through the production department, setting type, doing paste-up, and proofreading advertising, newspapers, magazines, books, and just about anything else that could be printed. Although I initially worked on some smaller phototypsetting systems such as Compugraphic and strike-on systems such as the IBM Composer, I ultimately "mastered" the Penta System--a multiple terminal typesetting sytem running on Data General computer hardware--first as a typesetter and then as a systems manager. I wrote complex typesetting "programs" utilizing Penta's typesetting language and I wrote systems programs in Data General's RDOS language and, later, their AOS/VS language.

At one point I was so good at what I did that I was a panelist at the annual convention of the Penta Users Group, that some of the things I created were shared with Penta users other than my immediate employer, and I consulted with other companies (McDonnell-Douglas, among them). I job-hopped my way up the ladder from typesetter to systems manager to shift supervisor to department manager and so on.

Desktop publishing made most of my skills obsolete almost overnight. I was lucky that I was employed in a supervisory/managerial position with one plant of a multi-national printing company just dipping its toes into desktop publishing when it exploded, and I was there to oversee the desktop publishing department's transition from a Macintosh, a PC, and an imagesetter to a department with multiple Macs, multiple PCS, and multiple imagesetters. I traveled around the country helping the plant's clients make the transition to desktop publishing and training the plant's clients in best practices for submitting files to the printing plant.

Somewhere along the way I shot my career in the foot. After a few more job changes, I found myself managing a prepress company/service bureau at a time when prepress companies and service bureaus were disappearing at an alarming rate. Shortly after the turn of the century, all three of the prepress companies/service bureaus in the city where I live either went out of business or were absorbed into printing companies.

Seeing computer printouts of coding--dozens of pages of single-spaced coding--I wrote that made a computer do an extremely specific task still impresses me. Seeing the pages upon pages of technical documentation I wrote to explan to others what the programs did and how to use them impresses me as well.

Why?

Because I am not that person today.

I can no longer do those things...and there's no longer a need for me to.

On the other hand, the wealth of knowledge I gained on the production side of the fence has been a tremendous boon to my freelance career. While I freelance as a writer and editor, many times the opportunities presented to me require more than wordsmithing. I'm called upon to write the brochure...and then to design it and prepare it for the printer using desktop publishing programs such as Pagemaker, QuarkXPress, and InDesign.

Alas, I'm unlikely to ever attain a skill level with desktop publishing comparable to what I once had with Penta Systems, but it isn't for lack of effort.

And, after looking through the entire box of material, I pulled out a stack of paper about half an inch thick and dumped the rest in the trash bin.

I need space in the garage for something else I'll try to save way beyond its useful life.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Essay Reprinted

My humorous essay, "Fashionable gardeners say pink in the new green ," first published in Texas Gardener, was reprinted in today's edition of Seeds. Non-subscribers can read it at:
http://www.texasgardener.com/newsletters/060802/default.htm

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Reading My Published Work

When I first started seeing my work in print, I read every word of every published piece. I even pulled out my manuscripts and placed them side-by-side with the publications. I compared everything. I studied what the editors had done, asking myself, "Why did he insert this comma? Why did she remove that comma? Why did he insert a scene break here? Why did she change the name of my secondary character?"

Later, I read my published work less for the editing lessons I might learn and more just because I received pleasure from seeing my work in print. There is a certain feeling reading a story, article, or essay in a magazine or anthology that's quite different from reading it in manuscript.

I don't read my published work much these days. Perhaps I just haven't enough time. Perhaps I'm jaded. Either way, I've been writing for some editors for so long that whever editing lessons I might learn are minimal and whatever thrill I might get from reading my own work is negligible.

When I have time to read, I read the work of others. These days, there's more to learn from studying how others write and more joy in discovering what others create.

Yesterday's Mail

Yesterday's mail brought a check for a short story, just in time to pay end-of-month bills.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Today's Mail

Today's mail brought a contract for an essay to be published in True Confessions. This is my 49th acceptance of the year; three more acceptances and I'll reach my annual goal of 52.

Writing Confessions

In addition to writing crime fiction, I write confessions. I recently found two blog mentions of my work--one where I'm named, the other where I'm not--by a new reader of confessions and by a former confession editor.

First, the new reader:
http://redmolly.typepad.com/picayunedemocrat/2005/03/index.html
(Read the March 30, 2005 post.)

Second, the former editor:
http://blogs.mediapost.com/magazine_rack/?p=146
(That's my story--"New Year-New Marriage"--mentioned in the 6th paragraph.)

Guerilla Marketing

Back in 2000/2001, when seven of my books were released within a two-year period, I prepared a lot of promotional/marketing material. Too much, actually, but at the time I managed a prepress company and, though connections, had access to deeply discounted printing. I made folders and posters and postcards and bookmarks. I also created a series of business card-sized promotional pieces for each of five of the books.

Alas, much of that stuff remains in my office.

My mailbox is filled nearly every day with junk mail I neither request nor desire. Much of it contains postage paid returned envelopes. Until recently, I just threw the junk mail away.

About a month ago, I started doing something different. Before discarding the junk mail, I remove the postage paid envelopes. Once each week, I stuff two business card-sized promotional pieces into each envelope and drop the envelopes in the mail.

There is an infinitesimally small chance that someone on the receiving end will do anything more than throw the cards away. On the other hand:

a) I slowly reduce the pile of otherwise unusable promotional material in my office without the heartbreak of actually throwing it away.

b) I produce a small, but steady, flow of business for the USPS, an organization that has faithfully delivered my manuscripts to editors in good times and bad.

c) I make companies that waste my time with junk mail spend a few fractions of a cent, thereby "sticking it to the man" in my own subtle way.

d) I just might sell a book, and that would be one sale I never would have had otherwise.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Pseudonym success

It's no secret that I write under a variety of pseudonyms, even though the exact pseudonyms aren't freely shared, but I've been faced with a bit of a personal challenge lately. One of my pseudonyms has had a streak of good fortune this year, placing 15 short stories and receiving an Honorable mention in a writing contest.

And I can't/won't tell anyone (other than the editors who bought the stories so they can write the checks to me!) what name I've having success under.

Web site in flux

I haven't had much time lately to do some of the things I need to do as a freelancer, but I have been reworking my Web site -- www.CrimeFictionWriter.com -- in an effort to make it easier to navigate, easier to read, and more focused on telling the "story" of what I can do for potential clients rather than the odd mishmash of personal and business information I had on my "old" site.

My work is far from complete, but I'm able to take some time every few days to add information, tweak links, and do other things. At this pace, I may have it lokking and functioning the way I want in a month or so (until then, every new page has a link to the old site).

Friday, July 21, 2006

Settling Back In

After a crush of non-writing freelance work that kept me busy beginning around Easter, I finally returned to the keyboard.

I finished a new short story last week and two new essays this week. I also revised two essays and sent them to editors, and dropped a recently rejected short story back in the mail. Additionally, I've written maybe a dozen more pages of fiction, though they've been spread among a handful of stories.

I've received four acceptances within the past 48 hours--three short stories and one essay--and expect another acceptance any minute now for an essay I wrote on assignment. So, even though my production dropped for a couple of months, my sales continue.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Career Turns

My freelancing career took a hard left turn about a month ago, and I found myself creating Web sites for two clients. Between that work and the weekly newsletter I now edit, I've had less time to write fiction. Still, work keeps selling and getting published. Recent publications inlude:

Non-Fiction:
“Making that Time with Your Man Special,” Jive, September, 2006

Fiction:
“Young Love,” Jive, September, 2006

And a few stories under a pseudonym.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Honorable Mention

I don't often enter writing contests, but I just learned that I received an "Honorable Mention" for a hardboiled crime fiction story I submitted under a pseudonym.

Published, Again

My essay "Money for Nothing and Burnt Fingers For Free" appears in the June Senior News.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

No, But...

Earlier today, I received a rejection note from an anthology editor letting me know that my submission had made the last 35 for a non-themed anthology, but did not survive the final cut as determined by another set of eyes. On the upside, the editor is putting together a themed anthology that my story seems to fit and he asked to hold it for consideration.

Apparently, I've created a story that submits itself after a rejection!

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Published, Again

My short stories "Daddy's Girl," "My Loving Dad," and "Triple Play" appear in the August Black Confessions.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Nirvana In The Rearview Mirror

An editor who had been purchasing a steady flow of my work recently parted ways with her employer. A few thousand dollars a year may have just disappeared from my future earnings.

On the other hand, her temporary replacement is an editor who has purchased my work in the past. So, while the loss of an editor is a black cloud, perhaps there's a silver lining waiting to be revealed.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

I Killed My Xanga Account

After copying a few of my favorite posts to this blog, I deleted all of the posts from my Xanga blog today.

Stay Out Of My Universe

From my February 5 Xanga blog:

I obviously live in a different universe than many short story writers. I continue to stumble across blogs, Yahoo group postings, Web sites, and random conversations--usually involving mystery writers, which may say more about the small universe of writers that I hang with than about the larger universe containing all fiction writers--where writers talk about writing short stories for "marketing value" and "name recognition" and to "build a platform" for their novels and for just about every damn reason except the reasons I write short stories.

1. I write short stories to earn money. My goal is to write stories for the best-paying markets to which I might possibly sell my work. That means some of my work appears in obscure publications, some of it appears with a pseudonymous byline, and a fair portion of it will never be listed in any query letter I happen to write.

2. I write short stories to be published. I like seeing my work in print. Sometimes I'll submit work to low-paying and non-paying publications. Sometimes I'll write stories for friends who publish small press magazines and literary journals and e-zines.

3. I write short stories because I like to tell stories. And most of my stories happen to be short.

Is there a "market value" to writing short fiction? Sure. Being able to list a few key awards or publications in a cover letter or a query letter might make an editor give one of my submissions a little more attention.

Can "name recognition" be created by writing short fiction? Sure. To the extent than anyone knows anything about me, they know about my involvement with short fiction--writing it, editing it, speaking about it--than about most of the other writing I do.

Can writing short fiction "build a platform" for marketing novels? Maybe. It has certainly helped me get my novels published (though so far only by small presses). What it has done is given me the street cred to do a variety of other things related to career building: edit anthologies, obtain other writing assignments (non-fiction, marketing, etc.), and to support myself as a freelance writer while all the other writers who put "marketing value" and "name recognition" and "platform building" first are bitching about all the reasons why they can't earn a living as a freelance writer.

So, to all you short story writer-pretenders who are playing in my universe: Get out.

How Do You Earn A Living?

From my January 29 Xanga blog:

I'm in the process of updating my records and getting ready to visit our accountant. One thing I do at the end of each year--mostly because I can do it with the push of a button or two--is create a pie chart that breaks down my revenue streams.

I'm a full-time writer/editor and here's what generates income:

51.02% Editing non-fiction (primarily two publications)
26.10% Fiction (short stories and other less-than-novel-length fiction)
18.24% Advertising & Public Relations (writing press releases, print ads, TV commercials, brochures, etc.)
02.23% Non-fiction (primarily articles and essays)
01.07% Consulting (providing advice to other writers, editors, and publishers)
00.89% Royalties (primarily from novels and short story collections)
00.48% Misc.

Most years 1-3% of my income is generated by paid speaking engagements, but I had no paid speaking engagements in 2005.

While it may be possible to earn a living writing fiction, I suspect most full-time writers--even if they call themselves full-time fiction writers--earn at least some part of their income from writing other things.

Story Strucure

I learned the fundamentals of story structure as a Boy Scout.

After hiking all day, we would sit around a campfire, sing songs, and tell jokes. Sooner or later, we would start singing the Salvation Army song, a ditty that's about as far from being politically correct as pre-adolescents of the late 60s would get.

We sang, "Salvation Army, Salvation Army. Put a nickel in the drum, save another drunken bum."

We repeated this catchy little number until one of the scouts shouted, "Testimonial!"

The scout who shouted "Testamonial!" would then tell us a three-part story and we would cheer and boo at appropriate places in the story. Each story would go something like this:

"Budweiser sent us a truck full of beer!"

"Yay!" we would shout.

"But the driver ran off the road and crashed the truck!"

"Boo!" we would shout.

"But we saved all the beer!"

"Yay!" we would shout.

Then we would start singing again until another scout shouted, "Testimonial!"

And that, in a nutshell, is the classic three act play or three part story:

1. Something good happens.

2. Something bad happens.

3. Something good happens.

You can write a great many stories without ever straying from this story structure.

Baseball as a Metaphor for Writing

From my January 31, 2005 Xanga blog:

Sometime within the past two years, I began using baseball as a metaphor for my freelance writing career.

For example:

Striking out. A rejection.

A single. Any one of the following: receiving an acceptance, receiving payment, receiving a contributor's copy, receiving or being short-listed for a writing award.

A double. Any two of the following happening on the same day: receiving an acceptance, receiving payment, receiving a contributor's copy, receiving or being short-listed for a writing award.

A triple. Any three of the following happening on the same day: receiving an acceptance, receiving payment, receiving a contributor's copy, receiving or being short-listed for a writing award.

A homerun. All four of the following happening on the same day: receiving an acceptance, receiving payment, receiving a contributor's copy, receiving or being short-listed for a writing award.

Stealing a base. A contributor to an anthology I edited receives or is short-listed for a writing award.

A walk. An editor requesting a submission based on a query, or an editor requesting revisions to a submission. Because this does not constitute a sale, but could very well lead to one, it doesn't count as a hit. However, it does get you on base.

I don't strike out as much as I used to, and I've stolen a few bases. Hitting singles and doubles happens frequently, but triples are rare.

And I've yet to hit a homerun.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Another Sale

I received a contract via e-mail earlier this evening for an article I wrote on assignment.

Yesterday In Blood And Bone Reviewed

My short story collection Yesterday in Blood and Bone is reviewed by Jon L. Breen in the July issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. Among other comments: "In twenty hardboiled stories, two new including a title novella with a good newspaper background, the prolific Bracken again proves a capable entertainer. "

Approaching Nirvana

During a conversation with my wife a few weeks ago, I described my life as "approaching nirvana," and I've been thinking about that conversation ever since.

Through hard work and a great deal of good luck, I've reached a point in my life where everything appears to be in balance. I have a combination of steady clients and editors who assign work or regularly purchase material submitted on spec that I'm no longer banging the keyboard 12 hours a day, and my finances are such that I'm no longer praying for money to arrive in the mail each day.

While I still accept nearly every project offered me, I'm no longer littering editorial in-boxes with queries and on-spec submissions. The queries and on-spec material I generate is increasingly work I want to do as opposed to work I'm willing to do.

What prevents me from actually reaching nirvana, however, is the sense that complacency could be a career killer. If I lost a major client or an editor who purchases a steady flow of my work were to change jobs, I would return to scramble mode, flinging stories and queries into the mail with a renewed sense of urgency.

Still, I can see nirvana from where I stand. It looks like a really nice place.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Where's the Mail?

Today's mail has not yet arrived and I'm about to leave the house to meet with a client. The past few days the postman's been good to me, bringing a check for a short story on Saturday, another check for a short story and an essay on Monday, and a check for some editing work yesterday.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Write, Submit, Write, Submit, Write, Submit

I've not finished a new piece of fiction since Easter, but I have so many manuscripts floating around that there's still a constant stream of stuff coming in and going out.

Well...not so steady going out.

I've let things pile up for awhile, so I spent a fair bit of time this weekend trying to match existing manuscripts with potential markets. Four short stories go in the mail tomorrow.

I submitted one story to a contest. (I don't often enter contests, but this one had no entry fee and a $500 grand prize, with smaller cash prizes for placing lower in the field.)

I also sent out another anthology proposal and--surprise!--had a response a few hours later. Alas, a "No, thank you."

I also decided to hold two manuscripts back, at least for now. I think they're strong pieces and I want to wait a few months to see if any new markets or anthologies open up before sending them to any of my "fall-back" markets.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Friday, May 12, 2006

Monday, May 08, 2006

The Tornado Missed Me

A T2 tornado hit Waco early Saturday morning, missing my neighborhood by only a few miles. We were without power about 14 hours, and without Internet/cable television for more than 36 hours.

I'm safe, my family is safe, but one of our trees--like many others around town--dropped a lot of broken branches all over the yard.

I find it ironic that I recently wrote an article for The Writer about disaster preparedness for writers ("Surviving Disasters," available at http://www.writermag.com/wrt/default.aspx?c=a&id=2924 ) and realized that I had not put any of the great advice I included in the article to use in my own life.

Perhaps this was the kick in the butt I needed to prepare. After all, this was the second tornado to hit Waco in the span of a week.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

36 Months

I have now had one or more pieces of short fiction published each month for 36 consecutive months. Using magazine cover dates as my guide, the streak began in August 2003 and continues through July 2006.

Contracts I already have in hand indicate that the streak could continue for a while longer.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Published 3x

My short stories "M.I.A." and "Miracle Baby" and my article "Man-to-Man on Mother's Day" appear in the July issue of Jive.

Monday, May 01, 2006

The Mailman Giveth...and an Error Taketh Away

I received contracts for two short stories today. Unfortunately, one of the contracts was for a different author and sent to my address by mistake.

Bummer.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Random Notes

While cleaning my desk, I found these random notes:

God is in the flop, the devil is in the river.

She's so old her first job was at VII-XI.

He's so dumb he can't spell I.Q.

Show Me The Money

Received payment for 13 short stories today. No individual payment was significant, but the total fattened my wallet nicely.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Junkie

I am a magazine junkie. I read dozens of magazines each month, some cover-to-cover, while others I mostly skim. I was going to walk around the house and try to figure out just how many different publications I receive each month, but I gave up before I even left my office.

Some I subscribe to; some I receive free because I'm in a particular profession, association, or religion; and some I receive because I wanted to use up accumulated frequent flyer miles before all the airlines went bankrupt. I wonder what my magazine choices say about me--and I'm certain someone studies things like this--and what conclusions someone who knows nothing about me beyond the publications I read would make about my socio-economic status.

What I find most interesting is that I don't subscribe to any fiction publications. (Although some of the publications I receive publish fiction, they are all primarily non-fiction publications.) I could make the excuse that I receive enough contributor copies that I don't need to subscribe to fiction publications in order to keep a finger on the pulse of short fiction markets. But that's just an excuse. The fact is, I enjoy reading non-fiction, especially well-written non-fiction such as that published in Smithsonian, and my compulsive reading of non-fiction constantly refills my storehouse of short story ideas.

But I'd probably be drowning in magazines even if I didn't write.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Cost of Living

Stephen D. Rogers directed me to a blog entry by John Scalzi at http://www.scalzi.com/whatever/004082.html. In it, Scalzi discusses what he earns as a freelance writer, what he writes in order to achieve that income level, and how skill, luck, and circumstance all play a role in his success.

Scalzi averages $100,000 a year from freelancing.

No matter what part of the country you live in, that's nothing to sneeze at. Even so, one thing writers never seem to take into account when discussing annual incomes and billing rates is their local costs of living. Gross income isn't always the most important number when determining financial success as a freelancer. More important is buying power. What does your income get you?

For example, my monthly payment--principal, interest, taxes, and insurance--on my current home in Waco, Texas (a modest three-bedroom brick home) is less than what I paid to rent a one-bedroom apartment in a Chicago suburb in the early 1990s. What I pay for automobile insurance for three vehicles and three drivers isn't much more today than I paid for one vehicle and one driver when I lived in Chicagoland. And so on.

Although I'm not earning an income comparable to Scalzi, the low cost-of-living locally means my buying power is pretty darned good.

I'd suggest that all writers considering a leap to full-time freelancing take a stronger look at their local cost-of-living and potential buying power than at some arbitrary income level. You may need much less--or much more--to maintain your lifestyle than you think.

Get It Write! in July

I'll be speaking at the Get It Write! conference in Lafayette, LA, on July 22. Information about the other speakers, as well as hotel accommodations and registration info is available at:

http://www.mwasw.org/conf_getit.html

Losing Ground

I sold another short story today, and I realized when I pulled out the file that I'm losing ground. I'm selling short stories faster than I'm writing new ones.

This happens occasionally. The planets align in some odd fashion, or all the other short story writers stop submitting for a few months, or some other fantastically and completely unpredictable event happens and suddenly my stories are selling faster than gasoline at 10-cents/gallon.

Part of me is overjoyed; the rest of me is trying to kick myself in the ass. I need to get my act in gear and finish more manuscripts. After all, you can't sell 'em if you haven't got 'em.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Stuff

I collect stuff. Not with any rhyme or reason, it just accumulates. Magazines. Books. Calls for submission. Computers. Junk mail. I try not to let it pile up, but it does. It threatens to consume me each time I enter my office. But I get busy. I have tight deadlines. I have other responsibilities. What I have is a mess.

Things have been slow since Easter. With no deadlines looming in the immediate future, I once again tackled the mess in my office. I threw away stuff. I put stuff in clear plastic drawers I bought to hold my stuff. I threw away more stuff. I booted up the computers I haven't used in a year or more and deleted old files. I may donate the computers to charity, but I'll have to reformat the hard drives first. Until then, they take up floor space in my office.

Getting rid of stuff is hard work. Harder than collecting it. Harder than letting it pile up. Maybe I should hire an assistant. Create a position for Vice President of Stuff. Charge my new V.P. with the responsibility of filtering my stuff, filing or discarding stuff the moment it arrives.

There are many things I should do. Until then, though, I guess I'll just have to stuff it.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Published...Again

My story "Pick" appears in the May/June issue of Futures MYSTERY Anthology Magazine.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Grad School

Yesterday I received my acceptance letter for graduate school. Today I signed it. I'll be working on an M.A. in American Studies, with an emphasis on American literature.

Deciding to pursue an advanced degree, and deciding which degree to pursue was difficult. I received my B.A. in Professional Writing last December at the age of 48. I'd finished two years of college when I was much younger, but it had taken six years--January 2000 to December 2005--to complete the last two years of my undergraduate degree. Unless I have the opportunity to enroll in more than one class each semester, the two-year M.A. program will take four years to complete. I'll be 52 when I finish. Except for the eight-month gap between my last undergrad class and my first graduate school class, that means I will have spent 10 straight years in school by the time I receive my M.A.

In a perfect world, I would have had my choice of university and degree, and I would be seeking a writing degree of some kind (creative writing, professional writing, etc.). The real world limits me to my present location and a single university. I spent a great deal of time scouring the graduate school programs and narrowed my choices to three programs--American Studies, English, and Journalism. Although none offered a writing degree, each program offered things that interested me. Ultimately, American Studies seemed to offer the greatest opportunity to tailor my course of study to fit my interests.

So, it'll be back to the books in August.

Contracts

I had four short stories accepted today by two different publications, including the story I wrote on Easter. All acceptances came with contracts.

I also received a contract I was expecting for an essay.

It's a good day to be a writer.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Rush

How do novelists (and other long-form writers) survive without frequent doses of "the rush"?

As a short story writer (and writer of other short-form material), I experience "the rush" on a daily basis. (Thanks to e-mail, "the rush" can now occur even more frequently than daily.)

"The rush" is that moment just before I open an envelope or an e-mail from someone at a publishing company--will it be an acceptance or a rejection, a contract or a check, galleys or pageproofs to review, a contributor copy or an assignment, or something else entirely?

The need to experience "the rush" on a regular basis--like a junkie's need for a fix--is part of what compels me to produce short work. I can't imagine what it must be like when "the rush" only happens a half dozen times a year, or less.

How do novelists sustain themselves during the long dry spells between "rushes"?

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Assaulted By Good News

Good news has hit me from all sides today.

The poster I worked on yesterday was approved and went to the printer this morning.

I finalized many of the details for the newsletter I'll be editing. We'll do a test early next week, and expect to release the premier issue on Wednesday. (If you're interested in gardening in Texas, you can subscribe to Texas Gardener's Seeds by using the opt-in form at www.TexasGardener.com.)

I received payment for four short stories.

I received a contract for a short story.

And I received an e-mail telling me that a contract is on its way for an essay accepted last month.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Tools That Complicate Our Lives

Once upon a time all a writer had to do is write. Rudimentary typing skills and the ability to change a worn-out ribbon covered all the technological know-how a writer needed.

Technological advancements--from FAX machines to personal computers to the Internet--have changed how we write, how we research, and how we maintain communication with editors and clients. While technology has opened up new markets for many writers, it also acts to filter out others.

Opportunities for writers who can only write seem to be disappearing, while opportinities for writers with other skills seem to be growing. For example, I spent the better part of today creating a poster for a trade show. I wrote it. I designed it. I set the type for it. I proofread it. And I prepared the electronic file for the printer.

Thirty years ago, that poster would have been touched by half a dozen artists and craftsmen--a writer, a designer, a typesetter, a paste-up artist, a proofreader, a camerman, a stripper, and so on.

While it is still possible to be just a writer--and there may always be opportunities for highly skilled wordsmiths and literary geniuses--I suspect it won't be much longer before average writers will be unable to support themselves without having additional skills.

So what happens to the over-all quality of writing during this transition? Do our writing skills diminish because we're having to juggle multiple non-writing responsibilities on the same projects? Or does it improve as we master new technologies and learn to use them to our advantage?

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Deadline Driven

Saturday evening I received an assignment from an editor with a hole to fill in a magazine about to go to press. A few minutes ago--about 24 hours after receiving the assignment--I e-mailed her a brand-new 5,000-word short story based on the one-paragraph summary she provided.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Published...Again

My stories "Sibling Rivalry" and "Stardom Big City Lights" appear in the May issue of Jive.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Another Editing Gig

For the past month I've been working with one of my clients to develop a new, weekly publication. We created a name and a catch-phrase, then I created the logo. I developed the template for the publication's look, and Wednesday I'll put together the prototype first issue--selecting and editing some material, writing other material. If everything goes as planned, the prototype will be approved and will be released as the first issue.

The actual launch date has not yet been determined, but I anticipate it will be in the near future.

Submission "Frenzy"

I finished two projects this morning and didn't feel like writing. Instead, I spent most of the day sending manuscripts to editors.

I usually know where I plan to send most manuscripts. I even know at least one and sometimes as many as four back-up markets in case the first editor returns a manuscript. Occasionally I write something and have no back-up markets for it; sometimes I exhaust the back-up markets without selling a particular ms.

A couple of times each year, I spend the better part of a day seeking markets for specific ms. I search the Internet, thumb through Writer's Market, double-check other market reports (both on-line and off), and try to match up unsold ms. with potential markets. Then I start printing fresh copies and stuffing envelopes, or reformatting electronic files and preparing e-mails.

While I made good progress today, I still have a file drawer full of ms. that need to be in editors' hands. It looks like I may need to dedicate another day for market research, and real soon.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Freelance Income

"The typical freelance journalist [...] earns an annual gross income between $40,000 and $49,999," according to infomation posted on the American Society of Journalists and Authors Web site at http://www.asja.org/pubtips/050324a.php.

How does this compare to the typical freelance fiction writer?

And, is it even possible to find a typical freelance fiction writer who does not also earn income from some other source (teaching, speaking, editing, writing non-fiction, etc.)?

Friday, April 07, 2006

When It Rains

Yesterday I posted a note about that day's lone rejection. During the 24 hours since, I've received six additional rejections and a pair of non-acceptances. (A non-acceptance is when an editor has held onto something too long and I question its status only to have my e-mail bounce back from an account that no longer exists.)

It's days like these that make good days seem even better.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Today's E-Mail

Today's e-mail brought a rejection from a new magazine. The rejection consisted of a well-reasoned, one-paragraph explanation of why the editor rejected the story, and the editor's points are worth considering.

Of course, I immediately sent the story to an anthology editor with a tight deadline.

If the story comes back two or three more times I might consider revising it.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Freelancing

I've been freelancing full-time for the past three years and a couple of recent conversations (both live and on-line) have made me try to understand why I've been successful this time, but wasn't in any of my previous four attempts.

Each attempt to freelance full-time coincided with a job loss. This time I knew the job was doomed about a year before it ended.

My wife and I spent a great deal of time discussing the possibility of my freelancing. How much income would I need to generate and how quickly? How long could we last if I had no income? How much might we save (gas, clothing, lunches out, etc.) if I worked at home full-time?

During that year before the job ended, I put extra effort into my part-time freelancing, attempting to build a backlog of sales that would generate income into the future. (Given that I write for many pay-on-publication markets, the mss. I was selling were providing income as much as a year after the move to full-time.)

The moment I knew my day job was gone, I contacted all of my former clients and asked them to keep me in mind if they heard of any opportunities. Because I had worked in prepress, many of my clients worked for publishing companies and advertising agencies, and most of them already knew I was a writer.

Within a week, one of my former clients offered me a steady editing gig and within five months another former client also offered me a steady editing gig. With a solid income foundation under me, I was able to increase the amount of writing I did and my sales increased rapidly. I've since added a third local client--for whom I create advertising, marketing, and public relations materials--and I now have editors offering assignments to me.

Of course, I still submit a great many mss. that get tossed in slush piles all across the country.

If there are any lessons I learned by comparing my recent success to my previous failures:

1. Plan ahead. Be ready when the day comes.

2. Be certain that everybody knows you're a writer and that you are available for writing opportunities. (Make sure they also know of any related skills you have, such as editing or photography. I have strong desktop publishing skills and those skills have helped me land assignments that other writers can't get.)

3. Be flexible. (I'm writing things now--like television and radio commercials--that I had never even considered writing a year ago.)

4. Don't forget why you're freelancing. Devote time to writing whatever it is that brought you to the table in the first place--whether it's poetry or romance novels or literary fiction--and don't let yourself be sidetracked. (I devote a fair percentage of my time to writing short fiction, and will continue to do so.)

I've probably learned other things during the past three years, but I think those are the most important.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Modern Pulp

A significant number of well-regarded writers (and many more long-forgotten writers) began their careers during the pulp era, pounding out short stories for a penny a word, or less. Their work filled dozens of pulp-era magazines with all manner of genre fiction. While the pulp era is long past, short story writers can still generate a respectable income writing short fiction.

It isn't easy, though. It requires the ability to produce a lot of words in a short amount of time and in multiple genres. Writers unwilling to do this--especially those unwilling to venture outside the realm of a single genre--will have difficulty placing more than a handful of stories in any given year. But those of us who don't mind bouncing from one genre to another like a pinball can find receptive markets every time we turn around.

I can, without much effort, name markets that publish a combined total of more than 1,000 short stories each year. I can probably--though it would certainly take a bit more effort--name markets that publish a combined total of more than 2,000 short stories each year.

I'm selling a short story each week, so I'm only filling 50 or so of those 2,000+ slots. Surely there are other writers doing the same. If you're out there, raise your hand. We just may be the modern pulp writers.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Published, Again

My article "Surviving Disaster" is now available at The Writer magazine's Web site, http://www.writermag.com/wrt/. I interviewed three hurricane survivors -- John Biguenet, Tobias S. Buckell, and Elaine Viets -- about their experiences and how disasters impacted their writing. (Alas, you must be a subscriber to see the entire article.)

Moving Day

For more than a year I have maintained a blog on Xanga at http://www.xanga.com/michael_bracken. Unfortunately, only Xanga members can post comments there, and the handful of people who regularly read my blog have resisted joining Xanga.

Today, I'm moving. Unless I encounter unexpected problems, this is where I'll be blogging from now on.