Thursday, April 30, 2009

Day one-hundred-twenty, story thirty-one

I finished writing my 31st short story of the year earlier today. It's a 5,000-word confession/romance about a single mother, her precocious first-grader, and her son's teacher. I started writing it on April 22 of last year and kept returning to it until the pieces fit together. It'll go in the mail tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Wordplay

I had to cut this from a WIP because it just didn't fit. But it was fun to write.
“Watch, Mom.” Tommy put a plastic dinosaur in a toy convertible and pushed it across the room. When the car hit the wall, he said, “Tyrannosaurus wrecks!”

Day one-hundred-nineteen, story thirty

I finished writing my 30th short story of the year earlier this evening, a 2,600-word romance. I began work on this Sunday evening while Plot Monkey and I were waiting for Amazing Race to start. We plotted two stories, both romances but intended for publications that are not at all alike. Because this one was targeted at an anthology with an impending deadline, I finished it first. It's already on its way to the editor.

Published

My story "A Father's Final Gift" is the lead story in the June True Story.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Organizing short story production

On the Short Mystery Fiction Society list, a writer mentioned my "formidable production" and asked how I organize it.

My response:

If you write fast enough, you don't have to be organized. I have several hundred short stories in various stages of completion--ranging from one-sentence story descriptions to multi-thousand-word near-final drafts. Whenever I see a call for submissions that piques my interest, I take a quick stroll through the WIPs to see if I have anything that fits. If I do, then I finish and submit the story. If I don't, then I try to brainstorm something appropriate.

But most of my work goes to publications where I've been published before. Mastering a publication's requirements means I don't have to wait for calls for submission to cross my desk before writing and submitting stories.

But how do I organize the several hundred partial manuscripts? File folders on my computer labeled by genre or by magazine or by series character. If I have an idea for a Morris Ronald Boyette story, the partial goes into a folder named "Boyette"; in I have an idea for a confession, the partial goes into the folder labeled "confessions"; if I have an idea for a Woman's World story, the partial goes into the "Woman's World" folder.

One tip if you write for contests and anthologies: Get a three-ring binder. Print out the submission requirements or contest rules. Put them in the binder in due date order. When you sit down to write, open the binder to the first page. Write a story for that anthology or contest. If you finish in time, submit the story and tear the page out. If you miss the deadline, tear the page out. Either way, the next time you sit down to write, open up the binder to the first page and write a story for that anthology or contest. Repeat.

4/29/9 addition: I keep hard copies of all my finished manuscripts, so the torn-out page goes in the file folder with the hardcopy so that I know how to follow-up later if I need to.

Too American?

I received a rejection last week from an editor in the U.K. and one sentence from the rejection letter stands out: "[T]he story is so evocative of America, both in its sense of place and its characters, that we felt our readers wouldn't find the feeling of comfort and familiarity that they look for in [...]."

Monday, April 27, 2009

Day one-hundred-seventeen, story twenty-nine

I finished my 29th story of the year this evening, a 1,100-word bit of erotica. I don't know when I started writing it because it's based on a scene I cut from another story back on April 8. I added a beginning and an ending to turn it from a scene into a story and I'll put the manuscript in the mail in the morning.

Texas Mystery Week panel

I'll be joining George Wilhite, author of The Texas Rodeo Murders, and possibly other writers for the panel discussion "On Writing Mysteries" during Texas Mystery Week. Join us at 7 p.m., May 14, at the Barnes & Noble in Waco, Texas.

What are the odds?

I just learned that 225 stories were submitted to the Mystery Writers of America's Publications Committee for potential inclusion in an upcoming MWA anthology. One of them was mine. There are only 10 open slots. That's a 10-in-225 chance or a 1-in-22.5 chance that my story will be selected. And let's say 25 writers buggered up their submissions somehow--by failing to follow submission guidelines, by submitting the wrong genre, or by displaying sub-literacy--which would drop the odds down to 1 in 20. Not bad odds, but not great, either.

The final selections should be announced mid-May. I'd keep my fingers crossed until then, but it makes typing difficult.

Hourly rate

According to 25 Jobs that Pay $25-an-Hour, writers and editors--those who "Write and/or edit scripts, stories, publications, advertisements and other materials"--earn an average of $25.46/hour and have a mean annual salary of $53,000.

Really?

Maybe it was just my ego talking, but all this time I thought I was above average. Now that I've done the math, I don't think I am. Although I earn far better than $25.46/hour on some projects, I also earn far less on others. When I add them all together and divide by the number of hours worked, I'm just not quite there.

So now I have a new goal to strive for.

My goal is to be average.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Now available on Kindle

My private eye novel All White Girls is now available in a Kindle edition. It joins my young adult romance Just in Time for Love, previously released in a Kindle edition.

Inspiration is hard work

This past Friday, Sandra Seamans asked, on her blog My Little Corner:

Do you just write the story that tracks through your brain or do you write with a specific market in mind? For me writing for a market is plain torture and it shows in the writing, so I tend to write the stories as they come to me, then search for a market. Not the best way to work, I guess, but most days that works for me.


My response, which I thought I'd share here:

But here's a tip you can take to the bank (literally):

Select a publication you'd like to write for. Study it. Study the guidelines to determine what they say they want. Study the stories to determine what they actually publish. Then force yourself to write stories for that publication. Submit those stories. Pretty soon you'll discover that inspiration provides you with market-specific story ideas.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

I'm a slacker

A friend of mine--a prolific, multi-genre short story writer like me (who I'm not naming because I didn't ask permission to quote him)--wrote in an e-mail yesterday, "I’ve been cranking out the words like never before (hoping to hit 27,000 this month, more than double what I used to average)."

My first thought was, "Holy crap!"

That's double my monthly average.

Then I realized that's less than 1,000 words/day. At my speed that's only twenty minutes of typing, leaving seven hours and forty minutes to think up what to type.

And I realized why I'm not as productive as I want to be: I think too much. I'm spending seven hours and fifty minutes a day thinking and only ten minutes a day typing.

Starting tomorrow, I'll cut ten minutes off my thinking time and add it to my typing time.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Day one-hundred-fourteen, story twenty-eight

I completed my 28th short story of the year a few minutes ago, a 2,300-word bit of crime fiction. I wrote the first two sentences on April 22. Yesterday I received a call for submissions for an anthology of biker fiction and immediately finished a rough draft of the opening scene. By that point I pretty much knew the plot, the characters, and the setting. I spent yesterday evening and this evening trying to make the words on the page match my vision. Mostly, it does. A few inspired twists were the result of multiple revisions. And the story's already on its way to the anthology's editor.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Day one-hundred-twelve, story twenty-seven

I completed and submitted my 27th short story of the year this evening. It's a 2,700-word story of a man haunted by a past relationship. I don't know if it's horror or just a story about a relationship that's gone terribly wrong.

I had the idea for the story and started writing it on April 16.

13

I received my 13th acceptance this year, this time for the confession I revised and resubmitted last Friday. Apparently I eliminated the right 600 words.

Of course, the thrill of victory is tempered by the agony of defeat. I received a rejection from the same editor.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The British are paying! The British are paying!

I've had a PayPal account for a few years now, but I've never used it. Today an editor in the U.K. paid for a short story via my PayPal account. The process--especially because it involves converting payment from one currency to another--was much simpler and faster than my other method of dealing with payments from other countries. There's no filling out forms at the credit union--forms that only one person knows how to find and no one knows how to complete--and waiting for several weeks for money to appear in my account--minus a severe service charge.

I guess this means I've made another step into the future. At this rate I ought to have a cell phone before the turn of the century.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Day one-hundred-nine, story twenty-six

I don't Tweet, but now I've written Twitter Fiction. I just wrote and submitted my 26th story of the year, a ten-word (59 character) bit of noir crime fiction. To a paying market, no less.

Friday, April 17, 2009

It's not how long your story is, it's what you do with it

A few months ago I submitted a 6,600-word story to a market that, at the time, was accepting stories up to 8,000 words. While waiting for a response to my submission, the publication's guidelines changed and and the maximum length is now 6,000 words.

Today my story came back with a note letting me know that the editor liked the story, reminding me of the new length requirements, and suggesting that I resubmit the story if I could cut 600+ words from it.

Cutting the first 300 words was easy. Cutting the second 300 words wasn't.

First to go: Dialog tags. All those "he said"s and "she said"s weren't necessary. Many were cut.

Next to go: Imprecision. For example: "A few minutes before six, he..." became "At six, he..."

And then: Holy crap. At this point it becomes a paragraph-by-paragraph, sentence-by-sentence, word-by-word line edit.

But I did it and the story is on its way back to the editor.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Day one-hundred-six, story twenty-five

A few minutes ago I completed and submitted my 25th story of the year, a 5,800-word confession/romance. I started writing the story on January 16, 2007, worked on it at various times since then, and finished a complete draft last night. Today I edited/proofread the manuscript and then sent it off.

Published

My short story "Hard Worker" appears in the just-published The Mammoth Book of Erotic Confessions, edited by Barbara Cardy and published by Running Press.

Technology and the death of the author-friendly word count

A long time ago, in a land not so far away, before every would-be writer owned a personal computer and word processing software, manuscript preparation followed a fairly rigid format. Because manuscript format was rigid, it was easy to calculate manuscript word counts: One page contained 250 words. The opening page of a short story, because it began halfway down the page to accomodate the title, the byline, and the author's contact information, contained 125 words. The last page varied and need to be guesstimated based on how much of the page was actually filled.

Back then I could safely estimate that my 11-page short story manuscript contained 2,500 words. Editors, who usually used the same method to estimate word count, paid based on that estimated word count. At 5-cents/word, I could expect to receive a check for $125.

Not long after I began submitting electronic manuscripts (on disk initially; via e-mail these days), I noticed that publications paying on a per-word basis were paying less. Their per-word rates had not been reduced. Instead, they were using a word processing program's wordcount function to determine pay. That 2,500-word manuscript (using the "traditional" method of counting) may only contain 2,100 words. At 5-cents/word, the pay comes to $105.

In effect, publications that did not raise their per-word pay rates after the advent of electronic manuscripts actually reduced the amount of money they paid writers.

Go figure.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Something smells in here

I'm spoiled. I've been spoiled for several years. And it isn't really a good thing.

I sell almost every short story I write, quite often to the first or second editor to whom I submit them.

When I'm feeling good, I tell myself, "I really know my markets." When I'm not feeling good, I tell myself, "I'm not stretching myself."

When I started writing again in late December--after 3.5 months of negligible effort caused, it appears, by medication I began taking following a quadruple bypass in September and ceased taking a few days before Christmas--I wrote several stories outside my usual comfort zone, including an erotic vampire story and a P.I./fantasy cross-genre story.

As the weeks pass, I find myself more and more concentrating my efforts on the same-old same-old. Oh, sure, I've been targeting Woman's World since the beginning of the year, but I'm targeting a new market, not a new genre.

Before something starts to smell around here, perhaps I need to push myself a little harder. I need to stretch my writing muscles. I need to write fiction outside my comfort zone and not settle for selling the short stories I already know I can write.

Maybe I'll even create new genres:

Instead of writing Chick Lit, I'll write Hick Lit.

I'll combine mystery subgenres and write Hardboiled Cozies or Cozy Noir.

Or maybe I'll just try to finish another novel.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

All quiet on the western front

I'm a member of three Yahoo groups devoted to writing short fiction--active in two groups, mostly a lurker in the third--and I've noticed a recent paucity of posts on all three group lists. Usually the lists are filled with posts from members about publications, sales, and rejections. Lately there's been next to nothing posted.

Has spring driven all of my fellow writers outside? Or is it worse than that--has spring driven all the editors outside so they're not responding to submissions?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Day one-hundred, story twenty-four

I completed my 24th short story of the year today, another 800-word romance. I started work on the story on February 26, but wasn't able to finish it until this morning.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Sunday, April 05, 2009

I'm guest-blogging at Rafe McGregor's place

As part of his on-going discussion about "the decline in the popularity and significance of the short story as a literary form," Rafe McGregor asked me how it's possible to make a living writing short fiction. He's divided my response into two parts. The first part--"Short Fiction Is My Life, Part 1"--has just been posted; the second part will be posted later this week.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Increasing income from short fiction

There are three primary ways a short story writer can increase his income from short fiction: write and sell more to current markets, write the same amount but sell to better-paying markets, and sell reprint rights to existing stories.

Sooner or later a competent and reasonably productive short story writer will find an editor who will publish his work on a regular basis. If the writer and editor get into a rhythm of two stories a year, it's time for the writer to try for three a year, thereby increasing his income from that one market by 50%.

On the other hand, let's imagine that the two-story-a-year market pays $100/story. If the writer finds a new market that pays $200/story and he writes one story a year for each publication, he's also increased his income by 50%.

Which is the better option? From an income standpoint the options appear equal. Whether they are depends on something many short story writers don't discuss and may not even consider: income-per-hour. If it takes five hours to write a $100 story and 10 hours to write a $200 story, then it's a financial wash. The $200/story market only becomes financially worthwhile if the writer can reduce the amount of time it takes him to write a story for that market.

Two less tangible factors are important to consider as well: status and visibility. Do your peers view one market as having a higher status, and could your appearance in that publication increase your visibility among editors (especially those that might approach you with assignments), agents (especially if you desire to write books), and conference organizers (especially those that pay guest speakers).

But what if efforts to crack the higher paying market prove futile? What if the income-per-hour results in a net gain of $0? Is the effort wasted? Not for a writer who plans ahead and develops a hierarchy of submissions.

For example: For many years I wrote for several magazines that published a similar genre of fiction. The best-paying (that I sold to) paid $750/story, the next tier paid $400/story, the next tier paid $300/story, the next tier paid $100/story, and then there were a handful of publications that made only token payments. The hierarchy I developed for my submissions in that genre worked well for several years, and I sold work at all levels. (Alas, magazines change publishers, change editors, change editorial needs, or just flat go out of business and that hierarchy of submissions is now a busted chain.)

I'm currently trying to crack a new-to-me market in a genre a half-step removed from one where I'm already selling regularly. I started writing and submitting to the publication before I had established my hierarchy of submissions, and I wasn't sure what I would do with my stories if they were rejected. During the past week I've found several publications that publish similar stories and I'm in the process of developing my hierarchy of submissions for stories in that genre.

What about reprints? Selling reprints is almost like earning money for nothing. I send copies of my work to appropriate best-of-year anthologies, and I keep a watch on market reports for other reprint opportunities. Occasionally I earn more for reprint rights than I earned for the original sale.

Are there other ways for a short story writer to increase his income from short fiction? Maybe, but damned if I know what they are.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

11, 12

Today's acceptances include a reprint and an essay about writing.

Reprinted

My story "The April Fool," which was first published in the April 2009 issue of True Romance, was posted on the magazine's blog yesterday.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Buck me

Rafe McGregor makes my name part of the title of his blog post earlier today, "The Short Story: Michael Bracken," and discusses the "decline in the popularity and significance of the short story as a literary form" and some writers who are bucking the trend.