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.