Sunday, November 13, 2011

We've moved!

You can move with us!

The original need to separate this blog from my main blog was due to technical issues; my blog wasn't designed to handle lots of different categories and was not easy to sort.
However, I have a new site design and have moved "Writer in Residence" there. Just look for the category, "Author Clinic."
I hope that you will continue to join me there!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Field-Tested Marketing: Twitter and Facebook

Field-Tested Marketing is a new series focusing on my own experiences replicating common marketing advice seen on writing forums and in marketing books.

The Advice: Provide a daily link to your book on Twitter and Facebook. Try doing it several times a day, to ensure that you cover all of your followers who visit Twitter at different times.

In action: I've discovered two issues with this approach. First, I stop following people only send out links to their books, especially if it is several times a day. It gets even more annoying when it's just the same tag line over and over. It doesn't make me want to read the book, when it's being repeated so many times.

I used to follow a person who only talked about how many sales they'd made that day and link saying "let's make it a round dozen" or whatever. I don't mind the occasional tweet like this. But daily? No thanks. And worse, many other Tweeters started talking about the person in code, making fun of them. I don't want to be that person!

The exception to this is when there is a special promotion or contest happening. In those cases, such as Read an Ebook Week, I expect to see a lot more links going on around social networking sites. Oftentimes, these tweets and facebook messages contain sale information, free codes, and specials. These are time-sensitive events, so it makes complete sense to have them tweeted often.

The interesting thing that I've found is that people tend to retweet or share these special events far more frequently than the general "buy my stuff" messages.

I tweet a link to one of my books whenever I think about it: once or twice a week, on average. I have an Amazon Affiliates account, as I use it frequently on ebook review site. The side benefit to this is having very easy "Share" links available to me for Amazon pages. I generally use this buttons to share my book link, plus include a special message.

I personally see Twitter as a chance to chat with people, like a chat channel. A Facebook fan page has a great potential as a modified forum. I love asking research questions, opinions, and generally silliness on my Facebook page.

Bottom line: Many of the people who follow me on social media have either purchased my work. Others  have stated that it isn't either in their genre of interest, or don't like to read ebooks (and are waiting for the print copy); they stay because I entertain them. 

Yet, whenever I do my occasional new release or sale link, all of these folks retweet or share my links to their followers. I've gained several new follows this way, which helps spread name recognition and word-of-mouth potential.

My Recommendation:  Do link your work a couple times a week, or whenever you remember. New releases, sales, and contests are short-term enough to allow for much more frequent linkage. Try changing up the book titles and the tag lines you use.  

And remember: social media is about being social, not about bombarding people with commercials.

What are your thoughts? Agree or disagree?

Krista D. Ball is a Canadian science fiction and fantasy author. She's currently hiding from necromancers. Better safe than undead.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

5 Tips If You Can't Afford an Editor

Last week, I caused a little stir on my personal blog with "I ain't your beta reader." I firmly believe that a person's best work needs to be put forward when they self-publish with a price tag attached. Now, if a product is free, I figure all bets are off. After all, you've giving it away. It's when you ask for someone's money that I feel quality needs to be at the forefront.

The most common retort I got to this post was, "I can't afford an editor." That's a legitimate statement. Editors can run you a lot of money, especially if your writing isn't up to a basic level. Another comment, equally legitimate, is, "I did the best I could." But, what if your best still isn't good enough?

I worked as a slush reader for a small Canadian publisher, as well as for a speculative fiction magazine. I've seen a lot of different submissions, from funny short stories to epic sword and sorcery tomes. Why did so many get the no vote from me? Simply put, they are boring.

The largest issue I see with new writers is that they don't understand that editing means a lot more than just typos and removing excess words. When people are told they need to edit their work, they check for typos. When told they need to tighten their writing, they do the 10% rule (remove 10% of the overall word count) or do the one-word-a-line method (removing one word per line on the screen). Those do help, but they don't address the underlying issues of plot holes, dull dialogue, boring characters, and non-existent setting.

At this point, many writers intent on self-publishing (or, already have and can't figure out why they aren't selling) get frustrated and throw up their hands. "I know I have these problems, I don't know how to fix them, and I can't afford an editor!" There's still hope for you to get your manuscript in better shape.

  1. Read two writing books. You need a beginner one to teach you writing basics, and one to help you with editing. I recommend "Edit Your Book in a Month" by Eliza Knight and "You Can Write a Novel" by James V. Smith, Jr.  I also recommend reading this blog by post Ilona Andrews, which explains the concept of Show not Tell better than any resource on the internet today.

    These books won't teach you everything, nor will they explain why things are the way they are (i.e. why "had" isn't a bad word when writing past perfect...and what the hell is past perfect?!?!), but they will get you a good distance.
  2. Find a writing group. This can be as small or as big as you need. What's important is that none of these people are related to you or your friend in any way, shape, or form. Many people say that they've ran manuscripts by friends and family, who loved their story. Families and friends are notorious for saying this. We all like to think our family is telling us the truth, but they generally aren't. Assume yours is protecting your feelings.

    A writing group can help identify your weak areas. It's helpful to get one that is around your own skill level. Online groups work well for this to start with. You build up friendships and networks and eventually can graduate away from needing a lot of feedback and just trusting one or two people.
  3. Find a beta reader. After a while, you won't need a group to help you with your work. If you work to address your manuscript's issues, you'll quickly find that a group critique no longer works for you. Instead, one to two sets of eyes will be more than enough. This should be someone around your skill level, so that you can reciprocate critiques on their manuscripts.
  4.  Exchange services for an edit. Perhaps another friend is going to self-publish, so exchange editing services with each other. You won't catch everything, but it will help ensure a cleaner manuscript.
  5. Hire a proofreader. A full editor is a lot more money than a proofreader. If you've taken the steps above, you will have a cleaner manuscript than when you first starter. A proofreader is usually half the price of a content editor, but they can still help with a lot of your grammar challenges. I personally use Faith at Have Faith Proofreading.

    A proofreader will not comment on your pacing, character, and plot issues, but they will get rid of the typos, grammar issues, and those other issues that can kill a manuscript right out of the gate.
Also, there is always the publishing industry itself. It is difficult to get published. However, if you can't afford an editor or a proofreader, can't seem to mesh with a writing group, and have read all of the books, perhaps try submitting a few short stories out to magazines and ezines. (A great list can be found on Duotrope). 

Many give personal rejections, so you can get some feedback as to what's wrong. Many times, you'll sell your story, make a little cash, and get your rights back to self-publish it later on (sometimes, the same year...sometimes, right away).

Publishing isn't easy. While places like Smashwords and Amazon makes it easy to press "publish" these days, that doesn't actually make the process any less easy. To be taken seriously, you still need to put your best work forward.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Challenging Traditional Formats: Collaborative Worldbuilding

I'm speaking with Eileen Bell today about her new collaborative project, The 10th Circle. I attended their announcement party a couple of weeks ago and was fascinated by both the story and the format concept. I asked Eileen to explain how this project came about.

How did "The 10th Circle Project" start?  Ryan McFadden and I were bored.

We started talking about an idea Ryan had, earlier in the year.  "We come up with a place and an event," he said.  "And everybody writes different stories about it.  Could be fun."

He was right.  It did sound like fun. We started talking about where this place could be, and what type of event we'd like to write about.  We decided on two cities, called Hope and Glory. Of course these two cities hated each other, and had for 60 years or more.  Think pre-unification Germany.  And the event?  It was a project developed by the two mayors to bring their cities together developing a cheap, plentiful source of power.  Geothermal power.  But we all know good intentions pave the road to Hell.

We'd had good luck winding a framing story through the novellas we'd written for our last project, and decided we could use the same format.  T'hat's how Harry Stafford, our down-on-his-luck cop from the City of Hope, was born.  He was chasing a serial killer, you see, and crashed through the border that separated The City of Hope from the City of Glory.  That was a huge no-no.  And then there was this earthquake...

We saw that it could be more than an anthology – it could be a whole series.  A series of ten, to be exact. The stories could be any length, and could either be complete in themselves, or serialized.  We also saw a pretty tight timeline – publishing a new book every two months.  Ebooks with website tie-ins seemed the way to go.  We approached Billie Milholland and Randy McCharles, to see if they'd be interested.  They were. And then, the whole idea really took off. 

"The 10th Circle Project" (  launches today!

Eileen Bell lives in Edmonton, Alberta. She won the 2010 Aurora award for her novella 'Pawns Dreaming of Roses' in the Women of the Apocalypse collection. When she's not writing, she's living a fine life in a round house with her husband and her daughter's cranky cat. You can follow her exploits at .

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Choosing a Small Press (part 3/3)

Douglas Smith and I sat down to talk about short stories and publishing with a small, Canadian press. Doug offers so much information and insight in his answers, that I've decided to break them up over three days.

Today is Day 3. Click here for Thursday's "Publishing a Short Story Collection" and here for yesterday's "The Road to Small Press." 

Krista's question: What are three things that people need to consider before going with a small press?

First is reputation. If you're considering a small press, check out their authors and contact at least three of them. Ask them about their experience with the press. How involved were they in the publishing process? Did they get cover input? What about the quality of the editing and copyediting?  What about promotion?  Where were they reviewed?  Scan the awards ballots and see which presses are showing up regularly. And check out some of their books, especially their covers, and their author list. Any big names on their list? Would you like to be included on that list, or have you not heard of anyone that they publish?

Second is distribution. See my comments above. For the time being, print distribution into bricks and mortar bookstores is still very important. So you will want to understand exactly what distribution deals the press has to get your book into bookstores. And I'd include their business model in this as well. Do they only do limited print runs? Do they do paperback editions (cheaper for readers) or only hardcover? Do they produce ebook editions?

Third is the degree of authorial involvement in the publishing process. I mention some of this under the first point, but if you're considering a publisher, then they should be able to tell you how much you'll be involved with key decisions in the process, especially the cover.

Notice that I didn't mention money. I'm not saying that the money isn't important, but I'd suggest that you worry less over an advance and instead ensure that you understand their royalty structure, especially for the eBooks. And most importantly, make sure that you understand what rights you are licensing and are comfortable with how and when those rights revert to you.

Okay, I'm way beyond just "three things," but I have to mention another key option that any writer with a backlist of short stories needs to consider in 2011, and that is self-publishing a collection as an ebook or even as a POD book plus ebook. I haven't done an e-collection yet, but I have put up most of my backlist as individual ebook short stories, available through all the big e-tailers and now also on my own web site. I can easily put out an ebook collection of just my fantasy stories, or my SF stories, or only my Heroka stories. It's all under my control.

It would take too much space to discuss indie publishing here, but it's become fairly simple to self-publish a book, whether it is a collection or a novel. If you want to know more about that world, I would strongly recommend Kris Rusch's "Business Rusch" blog series and Dean Wesley Smith's "Think Like a Publisher" blog series.

Krista, I hope that this has been of some interest and help to any writer out there who is considering publishing a collection. Thanks for the invitation to be on your blog again.

Doug is an award-winning Toronto-based author of speculative fiction, with over 150 short story sales in thirty countries and two dozen languages, including appearances in Amazing Stories,Weird Tales, InterZone, The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror, Baen's Universe, Postscripts,On Spec, The Third Alternative, Cicada, and anthologies from Penguin, DAW, and others.

His newest collection, Chimerascope (ChiZine Publications, 2010), is currently a finalist for the 2011 Aurora Award. His first collection, Impossibilia (PS Publishing), was a finalist for the 2009 Aurora Award.
Doug was a finalist for the international John W. Campbell Award for best new writer, and has twice won Canada's Aurora Award. A short film based on his story "By Her Hand, She Draws You Down" toured festivals in North America and internationally in 2010 and 2011, winning several awards.
His website is and he tweets at   

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Road to Small Press: Douglas Smith (Part 2/3)

Douglas Smith and I sat down to talk about short stories and publishing with a small, Canadian press. Doug offers so much information and insight in his answers, that I've decided to break them up over three days.

Today is Day 2. Click here for yesterday's "Publishing a Short Story Collection."


Question: Did you go the agent route? Why or why not.

For a collection? Nope. No need to and no advantage in doing so. Since I wasn't targeting the big NYC houses, an agent wouldn't have done me any good. I could research the small presses as well as they could, and could submit to those directly myself. Even if I had foolishly tried to target the big publishers, an agent wouldn't have been interested in trying to market a collection. They know collections don't sell, and a collection would get an incredibly small advance compared to a novel, even a first novel. So from an agent's point of view, that translates into a lot of work with no chance of success and for very little pay even if they could sell it. From my point of view, an agent was not going to do anything for me with a small press that I couldn't do better myself.

Question: What are the top 3 best things about a small press?

Well, for the two presses I worked with, I could list more than three. But most of my points would come down to retaining an involvement and degree of control over your book. With both collections, I had input on who should write the introduction, the stories to include, the order of their appearance, editing and copy-editing, promotion, etc..

And on the cover, which is just not heard of in big publishing. For PS, Pete had Fernando Molinari do the cover, and he asked me what I wanted. Because it was a collection with only three stories (albeit novelettes), I told him that I'd like to incorporate something from each story: a wolf in a dark forest, the particular van Gogh painting, and a carnival. I didn’t think that (a) he'd listen, or (b) could pull off such a list as an integrated piece of art, but he did an amazing job (you can see the final cover here. There's also a very creepy carnival seen through the trees on the back cover that you can't see here).

Prior to that, PS had actually communicated with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC to try to get the rights to use a copy of Van Gogh's "Bouquet of Flowers in a Vase" painting for the cover (since it was the lead story in the collection). PS's discussion with the museum went on for some time, but finally fell through when the MMoA would only agree provided there was nothing else on the cover but the painting--i.e., no title, no author's name, nothing!! So that's when we turned to Fernando. But can you imagine any big publisher going to those lengths to work with an author on a cover? Nope. With big publishing, you take what you're given (check out this recent blog by Kristine Kathryn Rusch to see a horrible cover that a big publisher gave one of her books, and the cover she put on when she recently reissued and self-published the book. It's about halfway down the blog, but the blog is a good read as well, as are all her blog entries).

With ChiZine for Chimerascope, Erik Mohr did the cover. Erik does all the CZP covers, and they are all uniformly amazing. He's like CZP's secret weapon. Erik's up for an Aurora this year for best artist for his CZP work, and if anyone votes in the Auroras, you should give Erik your vote. He has also done almost all of my ebook covers for me. With Chimerascope, Erik did an initial cover for me, which was gorgeous, but which to me said "SF." Since my collection is a mix of fantasy, SF, and horror--and since my first two novels will be urban fantasy--I wanted something that didn't look purely science fiction. So he promptly came back with another design, which we went with as the final cover for Chimerascope.

Secondly, I'd list quality and attention. In both cases, both PS and CZP produce beautiful books and take great pride in doing so. This is more than just a business to them--it's something they love doing. And because they're small, you get more personal attention. They like and respect their authors, and it shows.

Thirdly, especially for CZP, I'd list promotion and profile that the book received. Chimerascope was reviewed in Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Library Journal, Quill and Quire, and ever so many more, all without effort on my part. I added some review sources based on my own list, but I'd never been reviewed in all of those places before. In addition, thanks in part to CZP promotion, Chimerascope made the final ballot for the 2011 CBC Bookies Award for best collection. It is also on the 2011 Aurora Award final ballot and (much to my surprise) is one of the five finalists for the 2011 Sunburst Award, Canada's juried speculative fiction award.

I'd also mention that all of the good things I've listed about PS and CZP were often what was missing when I talked to other authors about their bad experiences with small presses. So, basically, do your homework before selecting a small press.

I'd add a fourth item for CZP, which I mentioned earlier. Their business model includes trade paperbacks, not just limited run hardcovers, and most importantly, that they have distribution deals in Canada, the US, and the UK.

Small presses have also, generally, been quicker to both embrace and establish ebook editions. CZP added ebook editions early on, and thanks to urging by myself and another author, PS recently added ebooks too (which I think is a great idea and supplements their business model, without competing with their print books. A collector will still want the numbered print version, but ebooks open up the market for PS to capture other readers who just want to read the stories.)

Doug is an award-winning Toronto-based author of speculative fiction, with over 150 short story sales in thirty countries and two dozen languages, including appearances in Amazing Stories,Weird TalesInterZoneThe Mammoth Book of Best New HorrorBaen's UniversePostscripts,On SpecThe Third AlternativeCicada, and anthologies from Penguin, DAW, and others.

His newest collection, Chimerascope (ChiZine Publications, 2010), is currently a finalist for the 2011 Aurora Award. His first collection, Impossibilia (PS Publishing), was a finalist for the 2009 Aurora Award.
Doug was a finalist for the international John W. Campbell Award for best new writer, and has twice won Canada's Aurora Award. A short film based on his story "By Her Hand, She Draws You Down" toured festivals in North America and internationally in 2010 and 2011, winning several awards.
His website is and he tweets at   

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Publishing a Short Story Collection

Douglas Smith and I sat down to talk about short stories and publishing with a small, Canadian press. Doug offers so much information and insight in his answers, that I've decided to break them up over three days.


Krista's first question: In Chimerascope, most of the stories were at least nominated for Aurora Awards and one was a winner. With a strong list of credits like that, why did you choose to go with a small Canadian press like ChiZine?

True, the stories in Chimerascope have a lot of award credentials. "Scream Angel" won the Aurora, while another nine of the sixteen stories were Aurora finalists. "By Her Hand, She Draws You Down" was also a Best New Horror selection, and several more received honourable mentions in the Year's Best Fantasy & Horror.  I could talk similar numbers for my first collection, Impossibilia, which had another Aurora winner ("Spirit Dance") and an Aurora finalist in its three-novelette line-up.

But if I pick up any collection, I'd expect to see award credits for the stories. A collection is supposed to represent an author's best work. But unfortunately, regardless of awards, a "big" publisher will simply not be interested in publishing a collection, unless you are a Name (which I'm not). The strategy for how an author should market a collection changed from when I started writing to when I was ready to market Impossibilia in 2008. And it's changed again since I published Chimerascope just last year, thanks to eBooks and indie publishing options.

When I started writing short stories in the late nineties, the traditional route for a new writer was to build a name in short fiction, then sell a novel to a NYC publisher, and then have that publisher put out your collection once you'd had a few novels out.

That strategy had disappeared by the time I decided to market my first collection in 2007, for a number of reasons. First, collections have never sold as well as novels, and with publishing downturns, it had become even harder to sell a collection to the big NYC houses, even if you were already with them.

Robert J. Sawyer, the multi-award-winning Canadian SF writer and a mentor of mine, pointed out another issue to me at that time. If you sold a collection after you'd had a couple of novels out, the sales dip in the collection would hurt the orders for your next novel, since the chain buyers didn't differentiate between novels and collections. The well-known UK anthologist, Steven Jones, also advised me that a collection was becoming a way for short fiction writers to raise their profile with publishers to help when they were marketing their first novel.

So taking all those points together, my strategy switched completely from the old model of novels first, and a collection later with a big house, to an approach of selling a collection ahead of my first novel and focusing on a reputable small press to do that.

That meant that I needed to decide on which small press for my first collection. I started talking to writer friends who had done collections in the past couple of years regarding who they went with and why, and most importantly, what their experience had been with that small press. This proved to be a critical but depressing step, since it caused me to cross several small presses off my list. I didn't find many happy campers.

I also reviewed the recent awards lists, looking for small presses that showed up regularly. Steve Jones had recommended PS Publishing (UK), and I noted that they were getting a lot of award appearances and positive press. I did some more research, hearing only good things about them. They seemed to be the most prestigious small genre press around. I also knew Nick Gevers, one of their editors, and knew that he liked my work.

So I pitched Pete Crowther (publisher and owner) a full collection. And quickly received a very polite thanks but no thanks. Well, I knew it had been a long shot. I figured that was it, but then I received an email a few days later from PS, offering me, instead of a full collection, a mini-collection of 25-30k words in their "Showcase" series, a brand new line intended to "highlight genre fiction's best up-and-coming writers" (their words, not mine). I said yes (actually, more like "YES!!"), and in 2008, Impossibilia was published, much to my delight. Unlike most collections, Pete wanted new material, but I wanted to include my story "Spirit Dance," upon which my first novel is based. So we compromised, and Impossibilia contains two new novelettes and "Spirit Dance." The collection picked up two Aurora nominations, one for best long form and one for best story ("Bouquet of Flowers in a Vase, by Van Gogh" -- more on that and the Impossibilia cover later).

A year later, I decided to try pitching a full-length collection again. Although I was completely happy with the job that PS had done with Impossibilia, I wanted my second collection to be more widely available, including a paperback edition (this was late 2008, so ebooks weren't quite the obvious other option yet). The PS business model aims at collectors and the book as a physical artefact: very high quality production, hardcover and jacketed hardcover editions only, limited print runs of numbered, signed editions--but no retail distribution (beyond being able to order via Amazon). 

As I was considering my options, Brett Savory and Sandra Kasturi of Chiarascuro Magazine fame, announced that they were starting ChiZine Publications. Brett and Sandra have been friends of mine for years, and I had high regard for their editorial taste and publishing industry acumen, as well as the early list of authors they had lined up. In addition, they were expecting to have retail bookstore distribution in Canada and the US very soon (they did, and added the UK and eBook editions as well). Plus their model would focus on larger print runs of trade paperbacks for the bookstores (in addition to limited edition hardcovers based on pre-orders only). So I pitched them a full collection. Chimerascope came out in early 2010, and I've been 100% happy with the result. I provide more details on working with both PS and CZP in my answer to the third question below.

Doug is an award-winning Toronto-based author of speculative fiction, with over 150 short story sales in thirty countries and two dozen languages, including appearances in Amazing Stories,Weird TalesInterZoneThe Mammoth Book of Best New HorrorBaen's UniversePostscripts,On SpecThe Third AlternativeCicada, and anthologies from Penguin, DAW, and others.

His newest collection, Chimerascope (ChiZine Publications, 2010), is currently a finalist for the 2011 Aurora Award. His first collection, Impossibilia (PS Publishing), was a finalist for the 2009 Aurora Award.
Doug was a finalist for the international John W. Campbell Award for best new writer, and has twice won Canada's Aurora Award. A short film based on his story "By Her Hand, She Draws You Down" toured festivals in North America and internationally in 2010 and 2011, winning several awards.
His website is and he tweets at   

Print Edition: ChiZine | Amazon US | Amazon Canada | Amazon UK | Barnes & Noble | Chapters/Indigo | Powell's
Ebook Edition: Amazon US | Amazon UK | Kobo | E-Junkie (all formats) | Crossroads Press (all formats)
Print edition (signed, personalized): Doug's website

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Getting started: Reading Between the Lines

"I'm a new writer. How do I get started in publishing?"

If you attend any writer's convention, or even a fan convention with published authors, the above is the most common question you will hear. I can't blame them for asking them question; I sure asked it (and still ask it). After all, shouldn't a twenty of thirty times published author be able to offer a career path to follow?

The problem is that a newbie's career path (and I'm counting myself in this category, too) is often very different from someone with the clout of dozens of contracts spanning several decades. For one thing, publishing has changed. The stepping stones of yesterday are not today's stepping stones.

Does that mean we can't learn from the experts? Not at all! Their experiences and careers offer substantial knowledge and should always be listened to with an open mind. They have the numbers and experience to back up what they say. However, just as you should listen, you shouldn't also just take one person's career advice blindly. Copying another person's path might not work for you.

  • Get a blockbuster agent, get a blockbuster publisher, and get a blockbuster contract.
I don't know many people who'd turn down this option. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this advice.


What happens if you don't want an agent? Or, if you write regionally-focused books? Or, if you want to self-publish while doing trade publishing? Or, you want to write for another publisher at the same time? Or, you write more niche than general? Or if you want to write long novellas and not novels? Or, or, or...

The choices one person makes for their career may not be the best option for you. Instead, ask people what choices they've made in their careers, the things they've enjoyed and regretted, and then consider which of those points are important to you. What you want out of your career may not resemble another.

  • Write short stories before writing a novel.
This advice is most common in the literary, science fiction, and fantasy genres and it's solid. Learning to convey a single message in three thousand words is tough work. You can learn a lot from the submission process, learn to grow a thick skin, learn to deal with rejections, learn to work with editors, and have something to put on your query letters when you submit your novel.


What if you don't like short stories? Not everyone does. Not everyone is good at it, either. Short fiction is a different style of writing than novel writing, just like screenwriting is a different form all together. It requires a different set of literary skills. Many people learn to write both. But, some don't...or aren't interested in learning.

Also, there was a time when writers had to build up their career in the fiction magazines. These days, it's less important. Not everyone reads the short story magazines and, sadly, there aren't as many as there used to be. Most don't pay that well, either. (To give you an idea, I've never earned more than 2 cents a word selling short stories to fiction magazines. Yet, I've made 17 cents a word selling fiction to non-fiction magazines...but those opportunities are even more rare).

If you love short fiction or want to cut your teeth on something smaller, write short fiction. If you hate short stories, don't torture yourself.

  • Don't self-publish until you know what you are doing.
Followed closely by...
  • Self-publish everything and learn as you go.
Depending upon who you ask, you will get lists upon lists of why you should or shouldn't self-publish. Go to Website #1 and they'll tell you how self-publishing is the next thing to godliness. Go to Website #2 and they'll tell you self-publishing is the next thing to Satanic worship. If you are really lucky, Website #3 will have both sides fighting it out.


To make the decision on which publishing path to take, look at all of the opinions available for a project. There is the agent/big publisher route, the large publisher route with no agent option, the small press route, the micro press route, the regional press option, the epublisher route...oh, and the self-publish option.

Yet, if you listen to the internet, you'll only hear about two options: an agent and self-publishing. Take your time and look at what is involved on all sides. Then, make a decision. You can even make different decisions for each project. What works for one might not work for another.

The important thing here is to look at your project, look at the options, and make the best business decision for your work and sanity. What works for Big Named Author 001 might work for you. Then again, it might ruin your sanity and leave you weeping in a corner. Research. Ask questions. Make intelligent decisions.

Easy, right? ;)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Publishing With a Small Press

Getting your work published has never been easy. For a period of time it got progressively harder as many of the mid-sized presses were purchased by the bigger ones in an industry consolidation.

Happily, the entrepreneurial spirit is strong in the writing community and a wealth of small and indie presses have sprung up. That does mean that the quality of work has diminished. Just that there is a bigger market than ever for good work.

I have had the pleasure of meeting and speaking at length with several publishers from these smaller presses. Some of the conversations have come at conventions and others through my “Get Published” podcast.

What they have all told me has left me very encouraged. In essence, an author can get his or her book published in paper format and/or eFormat and have the same level of distribution (or virtually so) as the big presses.

There is, perhaps, a higher level of involvement for the author with a smaller press; the author might have more say in things like title, cover art and so on. In my opinion, that’s a very good thing. Where you might suffer a little (note I said, “little”) is in the actual promotion of your book.

Even there the difference is not so big between the big and small press. Unless you are an a-list author (Grisham, Rowling, King), chances are good that you will have to take a lot of the promotional duties into your own hands.

That’s why, when I first started showing my book around, I focused on the smaller presses. I wanted to have the experience of seeing my creation go from manuscript to published book. I wanted to have more say in how it will be presented to the world.

It’s not that I’m a control freak. Far from it. I simply wanted to grow my understanding of the industry from the inside and work my way out. That way, when big six presses start knocking on my door (can you say, “Optimistic”, anyone?), I will be better positioned to make the most of the opportunity. That is, assuming that going with a big press is even a good option at that point.

How has it been so far? My publisher has been great. She has always been available when I had a question. It is taking a while to get the book finished, but publishing is slow no matter the size of the publisher. I’ve also had some creative input for the cover too. And, my publisher has even been helpful with the book I’m planning to self-publish.

It is a partnership for us. If I’m successful with the self-published book, it will help the other and vice-versa.

I strongly recommend any writer to go with the smaller press. The experience has been fantastic for me.

Michell Plested is a writer, blogger and podcaster. His first book, “The Mystery of Lake Chulala, An Outcast Club Mystery”, is due out in September, 2011 as a self-published book and eBook and his first contracted novel, “Mik Murdoch, Boy Superhero” is scheduled for release in Spring 2012 from Five Rivers Publishing.

His podcasts include “Get Published” a podcast about writing (available on iTunes) and “GalaxyBillies” a science fiction comedy (available on iTunes and

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Estate Planning

Editor Robert Runte is sharing an important reminder for us authors: we need a will.

One topic that most writer's advice columns never get around to addressing, but which is fairly crucial, is estate planning. Yes, I know, you are immortal and are never going to get sick, let alone die, but let us for the sake of argument talk about a couple of simple steps to save one's family a fair bit of trouble, and to perhaps ensure one's literary immortality.

The Will
First, write a will. No one likes to think about wills much, and certainly don't feel it's something they need to address today...sometime in the indefinite future will be fine, they think. But, stuff happens. So, right now, make an actual appointment to draw up a will. And then, in addition to the usual content, put in a couple of clauses outlining who gets the literary property, and what they should do with it.

There are four issues here: (a) who gets the royalties (if any) from the work; (b) who has artistic control over one's published work; (c) what is to be done with any unfinished manuscripts that are left lying around after one is gone; and (d) what is to be done with one's online presence.

The simplest approach, of course, is simply to leave the estate up to a single executor, but the individual charged as executor for dealing with the regular sort of assets, may not be the best person to look after one's literary legacy. It is not uncommon, for example, for an executor to quickly glance at the current revenues for a title and conclude that it is valueless...missing that commercial or not, what happens to the book still matters to the deceased. One may, therefore, wish to designate a specific individual (and a backup, just in case one's first choice was in the same car accident that took you out) to manage one's manuscripts/publications. Choose a collaborator, or a sympathetic colleague, or a trusted editor, or even a dedicated fan, who understands one's work and one's preferences (e.g., editing the Christian references out of Narnia to reach a wider, modern audience would not be acceptable!) and can manage one's life's work as closely as possible to one's own wishes. Of course, that fan or collaborator may well be one's spouse or close relative, and so the general executor, in which case, great; but if not, it is perfectly okay to appoint someone else -- who "gets" one's genre or vision-- to manage one's literary legacy, even while still directing the royalties to one's dependents.

The crucial factor is to put in writing who is responsible for what, because otherwise, one's literary friends and royalty-hungry relatives could be at odds for years over every little detail. One has only to look at the long and bitter dispute between the girlfriend/collaborator and the family over the literary estate of  Stieg Larsson to see just how bad these conflicts can get in the absence of a proper will. Or, just as undesirable, one's books could be left to languish as an uninterested executor fails to promote them or even keep them in print.

My advice would be to leave all one's literary work to be managed by a single literary executor, rather than designating specific titles to specific individuals. For one thing, specifying titles would require frequent updates to one's will as one finishes additional manuscripts (an unnecessary expensive, as well as a nuisance); for another, there may be opportunities for omnibus editions or reprint series or e-re-releases or etc., that require package deals that could be fatally stalled if the holder of one or other copyright demurs. Appointing a singe literary manager also facilitates determining which unfinished manuscripts should be finished, by whom, and how and when published; decisions that one can't really make in advance, since by definition, one cannot know how things are going to evolve after one's death.... (The exception here is if one is absolutely certain that one doesn't want anyone else tampering with one's manuscripts, in which case one could simply order unfinished manuscripts left as is. I would strongly advise against ordering unfinished work destroyed, however.)

Similarly, the literary executor should be empowered to take down, close off, or maintain one's various online activities. If one's books are selling well, it may be sensible to maintain Facebook, Twitter, blog, webpage etc. presence, though hopefully making it clear that the author is deceased and the reader is now dealing with the executor, speaking on the author's behalf. On the other hand, if the executor is closing up the estate, being able to take down all one's sites can be very important -- particularly if one's last post was a rant, and not necessarily how one wishes to be remembered.

Of course, one needs to check with the person(s) one is thinking of designating as one's literary executor to ensure that they are able and willing to take on this responsibility, before assigning them in one's will.

The Access
Second, having drawn up a will, put a copy somewhere where people can find it!  Lawyer's offices and bank safety deposit boxes sound sensible, until one realizes one's survivors may not know the name of one's lawyer, or be able to gain access to the safety deposit box without a copy of the will appointing them executor, which is in the safety deposit box -- an astonishing catch 22. So leaving a duplicate in an envelope in one's desk drawer makes a lot of sense.

Further, it may be useful to have a list of one's online passwords in the same envelope, so that various social networking sites can be immediately updated. This is particularly important if one is self-publishing, as orders, queries, complaints and so on must be addressed, or at least the explanation posted, so that customers are not left hanging, or fans left to speculate.

The Publisher
Third, with the emergence of many indie publishers, one should be alert to the possibility that even the best intentioned micropublisher could suffer a sudden mishap or illness that could leave one's book tied up in limbo for years. At a minimum, one must ensure that any contract signed includes a revision clause, such that if the book is out of print for more than 1 year, the rights revert to the author. Similarly, it doesn't hurt to inquire about the publisher's estate planning, especially when dealing with one-person operations. If the publisher passes away, who is going to take over? Anyone? Someone that could be trusted to take the same care with cover art, editing, marketing, and so on? Even if there appears to be a half dozen individuals involved in the press, if the owner passes without a will, the other members may be powerless to carry on. So ask. (Asking may even trigger them to develop a will and contingency plan!)

And while on the topic, if one is self-publishing, one needs to make provisions for having someone take over and manage one's inventory in the event of illness or mishap. A week's delay while one is abed with the flu will go unremarked; but any extensive illness or absence could create devastatingly ill will if no one is responding to queries, filling orders, or addressing complaints. So, I strongly recommend that along with a will, all self-publishing authors should draw up a contingency plan.

Just saying!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

My first time was a fluke: My First Published Story by Ada Hoffmann

            My first time was a fluke. There, I said it.
            Actually, my first three times were flukes. Three acceptances in three months, all for stories on their first submission, which is just not supposed to happen, even with small press. Then nothing for eight months, and not because I wasn’t trying. They don’t tell you about this in “how to be a writer” lectures. They don't say that there are flukey good times and flukey bad times, and all you can do is work hard, keep improving, and keep some perspective.
            They also don’t tell you, at least not often, that flukes happen for a reason.
            I did a lot of research when I was starting out. I looked on sites like Ralan and Duotrope, made notes, and read the submission guidelines. All of them. To get a feel for what was out there, I guess, or maybe I’m just compulsive at times.
            Some places have really short guidelines. “Write a science fiction story. Put it in standard manuscript format. Email it to us. The end.” And some places have guidelines longer than their actual stories. Expanded Horizons is the latter. They explain at length exactly what they want: Strong female characters. Racial diversity. LGBT (and asexual) characters. I could go on – they cover a lot of topics – but you get the idea.
            And then there was a category I didn’t expect.
            “We want to create a story-telling venue for those with rare and unusual sensitivities and awarenesses. Uncommon sensitivities and awarenesses (sometimes called psi, intuition, etc.) are a popular theme in speculative fiction. We aim to... show such people in a realistic and respectful manner, to publish stories that feature such characters in their normal lives. We look for stories which are not primarily “about” these awarenesses and abilities, or even about them at all.”
            What a cool idea, I thought. I knew what they were talking about, but it had never occurred to me before to use it in a story that way.
            So I tossed around the idea of a psi character in a story not “about” psi. It’s not the only idea that went into the story, of course. But what came out – after due diligence, editing, and a trip to a writer’s group – was “The Chartreuse Monster”.
            Expanded Horizons seemed like the right first choice. I almost thought I wouldn’t get in; I worried that the female protagonist was too passive, for instance. But I steeled myself, said it was worth a try, and sent it in.
            This is where the fluke happens. Unknown to me at the time, the editor of Expanded Horizons had been craving exactly the kind of story I’d just written, and had been in a state of despair because no one was sending in psi stories that actually fit the guidelines. Unknown to me at the time, I’d gotten it right. I had no way of knowing this at all. Well, except for the part where they said so on their web site.
            I got the fastest acceptance ever.
            I don’t have much to say after that. It was a great first time. We talked about the subject matter, made some minimal edits, I got paid, and the story went up online. My family and friends were impressed. I was happy. So, it all went well.
            I guess I didn’t learn any lessons, overall, that aren’t the basic platitudes you get from everybody. Guidelines matter; read ‘em closely. Know the field and know where you’re submitting. Be open to new ideas. Write what people will want to buy.
            Then be prepared for flukes, and don't let them get to your head.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Avoiding the (blogging) Pretentious Label

This is an excerpt from my new writing reference book, No More Blank Screen: Blogging Ideas for Fiction Authors.

There is one bit of advice that I'd like to pass on to all bloggers, but especially unpublished ones who discuss the business of writing and publishing. It is really important to blog about what you know.

Many new writers start out blogging about their path to publication. They share their ups and downs, pass along helpful websites, and the writing tips they've picked up along the way. All of these ideas produce great blog articles and bring readers to your site.

Problems arise when the blog becomes a teaching tool by a writer with nearly no publishing or writing experience. Published authors may be turned off by advice from someone with no actual knowledge on their subject manner. Even worse, you could be passing along incorrect information and leading people down the wrong path.

Not sure what I mean?

Let's say Bob is an unpublished writer who is working on his first fantasy novel. He's stumbled upon a way to ramp up the tension in his first chapter. Here are two potential blog posts from Bob:

Example #1
You wouldn't believe what happened today! I finally figured out how to ramp up my tension in Chapter 1. What a difference. Here's a quick summary of what worked for me. Have you tried something similar?
Example #2
When you write fantasy, you need to remember the importance of conflict and tension in your first chapter. Here are some steps on how to do it properly so that you can catch the eye of an agent.

See the difference? In the first example, the author's voice is coming through, celebrating a breakthrough in his writing. In the second example, the information appears to come from the author's own experience. He's teaching us, even though Bob can't honestly say if his steps will help catch an agent's eye because he hasn't even finished a novel!

Personal experience? People love it. Teaching without any experience? You get a bit of a reputation for talking about things you don't actually know. It makes it harder in the future for people to take your actual knowledge seriously.

So, how do you avoid the pretentious label? Quite simple, really. Blog about what you know. If you don’t know something, blog about how you don’t know or how you don’t understand a particular thing. In fact, people generally will respect you more for admitting that you don't know. As a bonus, readers may comment and give their advice and opinions. Instant dialogue!

Bottom line: Write what you know. Everything else falls into place.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Writing Short Fiction: An interview with Douglas Smith

I'm so happy to have Doug Smith with me. His short story collection, Chimerascope (reviewed here), has been one of my favourite reads of 2011.

Is the short form your favourite to write, or did you just fall into that?

When I started to write fiction in the late 90's with the goal of being published, I intentionally started with short stories, for three key reasons. First, the standard advice at that time was that short fiction was the best way to "break in" as a speculative fiction writer and to build a reputation with sales and awards. Secondly, I thought that it was the best way to learn the craft. Short stories allow a writer to learn different techniques and to try different approaches from one story to another that the novel form doesn't (or rather, that would take longer to do over multiple novels). And finally, quite frankly, when I started, I had no idea whether I'd ever be able to sell anything that I wrote, so I figured I'd rather invest the time in writing a few short stories and trying to sell them than in writing and marketing a novel. It just seemed like a smaller hill to climb at the time to find out if I could sell my fiction.

All that being said, I love short stories, both to read and to write, and will (I hope) always continue to write them. At this point, though, I'm expecting that I will spend most of my writing time on novels. I'm marketing my first novel, and am working on my second.

You have two short fiction collections out right now. How does an author choose when to do a collection?

The old approach used to be that a writer would start with short fiction, and then move to novels, and once they had a name and a few novels published, they would publish a collection, typically via the same publisher that did their novels. The problem is that collections do not sell well, and you won't see too many collections from major publishers, even for their own novelists, unless that author is a Neil Gaiman or Stephen King. So collections are now often published by smaller presses. 

About 2007, I was looking into the possibility of a collection. I had enough short stories published at that point to make up a full collection (eighty to a hundred thousand words, and most of those stories were either award winners, finalists, or had been in a "Best of..." anthology. I talked to Robert J. Sawyer, the award-winning Canadian SF author, about this idea, and also to Stephen Jones, the well-known anthologist from the UK, and both advised that more authors were putting out collections with smaller presses before they had a novel published, as a way to raise their profile with bigger publishers when they were marketing their first novel. Stephen also recommended PS Publishing in the UK, which is owned by Pete Crowther.

So I did my research and found PS to be very highly regarded. I approached Pete about a full collection, which he politely declined. But he proposed doing a smaller collection as part of PS's new "Showcase" series, designed to highlight (in their words) "up and coming new writers." This was to be a smaller (and therefore, cheaper and lower risk to PS) collection of about thirty thousand words. The other change was that Pete wanted new stories, not ones that had been previously published. 

We compromised on that point. I wrote two new novelettes for the collection, "Bouquet of Flowers in a Vase, by van Gogh" (which was a finalist for the Aurora in 2009) and "Going Down to Lucky Town" (which began my Springsteen-inspired stories). Pete then agreed to include a previously published story "Spirit Dance" in the collection, as I was finishing my first novel, which is based in the world of that story, and I wanted to have that story in print and available. That collection was entitled Impossibilia, and was also a finalist for the Aurora in 2009.

Then in 2009, a pair of writer friends, Sandra Kasturi and Brett Savory, decided to begin their own small press in Toronto. ChiZine Publications grew out of the already established online zine, Chiaroscuro. I had a lot of confidence in both their editorial tastes and their publishing smarts, so I pitched a full collection to them. I also liked their proposed publishing model. I was very happy with the job that PS Publishing did on the collection, but their model is based on limited print runs, signed, numbered, hardcover editions, with no retail distribution and no paperback editions. 

ChiZine does limited hardcover, but based on pre-orders only (which limits their risk), and also does a trade paperback edition. Plus they had already lined up retail distribution in Canada and the US, with the UK shortly thereafter. I was delighted when they accepted the proposal, which led to my second collection, Chimerascope, which is currently a finalist on the 2011 Aurora ballot, and includes an Aurora winner, eight Aurora finalists, and a Best New Horror selection.

As a writer, what has been your most successful techniques/processes/whatever the word is to help you write so many speculative shorts?

Just write. Seriously, I always struggle trying to describe my "technique" or approach to the creative side of writing. The marketing side, on the other hand, I can describe (see below for some tips). But as to how I craft a story, it varies every time. Roger Zelazny (one of my all-time favourite writers) once said that story ideas come to him in one of three forms: a character, an idea, or an image. I've probably had my share of all three being the genesis of some story, but I know that I can never begin to write a story until I know the character(s) who will be involved and through whose eyes (and head and heart) I will be telling the story. Because it's their story, not mine, if it's going to be any good. Once I know my characters, I can start to write the words. 

One thing that I do that I've been told by other writers is unusual is that I tend to not write stories sequentially. I will often write scenes out of order, and have on several stories, written the final scene first. Beyond that, I can't give much advice on the creative side beyond write, write, and write. Writing is a craft. I'm always amazed by how many beginning writers expect to be selling at professional levels right out of the gate. 

If you were just taking up hockey (forgive a Canadian for a favourite metaphor) and had never laced up skates before, you wouldn't expect to be playing for an NHL team in your first year. And yet, many beginners seem to think that they should be accepted as a Wayne Gretzky of the writing world before they've even learned their craft. Learning to write well takes time and effort. So write, write, write. And read, too. If you don't read widely and constantly, you will never be a writer.

As a reader, what do you look for in short fiction?

Great characters, which is difficult to find in the short form. But if I can't believe the character and feel that they are a real, fully formed creature with a back-story and goals and problems, then the setting and the idea and the world don't matter to me. All those are important in speculative fiction, but they are part of the story, and to me, you can only tell a story properly through the characters.

Do the works of others influence where your ideas take you?

Not written works, although I did publish an early story, "The Boys Are Back in Town," which was my attempt to write a Roger Zelazny-esque story. Once you've written enough, you develop your own style. That being said, I've started writing short stories that are inspired in some way by the songs of Bruce Springsteen. "Going Down to Lucky Town" and "Radio Nowhere" have already been published (and now available as eBooks), and I have at least another half dozen kicking around in my head or in the early stages of crafting. My dream would be to one day publish a collection of Springsteen-inspired stories with an intro by the Boss himself. Springsteen is a storyteller and a poet, creating vivid characters and achingly memorable situations in just a three-minute song. It's worthwhile for any writer to study some of his ballads.

What advice would you give an unpublished writer trying to break into short stories?

Never give up. Never surrender. No, wait--that was Galaxy Quest. Well, it's still good advice. Publishing is a numbers game. The writer who has the most stories submitted to the most markets is going to have the best chance of being published. Write the best story you can, and then get it in the mail (or email). Then write the next story and get it out there, too. 

When you get a rejection (and you will), the very best reaction is to immediately send that story out to your next target market. Don't let rejections get you down. Yeah, that's easy to say, but I'll give you a couple of data points. At one time, the most money I've ever made on a short story ("The Boys Are Back in Town" mentioned above, to Cicada in the US at 25 cents a word) came on a story that had been bounced twenty-four times. And I sold a story to a pro anthology last year, a story that I'd written in my first year of writing and that had been previously rejected sixty-five times. So write well, write a lot of stories, and keep them all out at markets until they sell. But read my answer to the next question too.

What is your opinion on unpaid or very low paying markets? Do you have a firm rule (“I never work for under 2 cents a word”) or do you play it by ear for each market and/or piece?

I have a very clear and strict set of rules on marketing my short fiction. Other writers can follow their own rules, but these are mine:

1.      Always start with the top markets. "Top" here can mean anything you like, but to me, it means markets that (a) pay professional rates, and/or (b) have a good reputation (they'll look good on your resume), and/or (c) publish stories that consistently show up on the major award lists. If you don't know how to find speculative fiction markets, check out

2.      Work your way down your list of top markets until you hit the bottom. You can define bottom however you like, but for me it's when I've run out of markets that match the criteria in #1.

3.      Once you run out of top markets, hold the story (which does not mean give up on it) until a themed anthology comes out that pays pro rates and that fits your story. Themed anthos by definition narrow your competition if you fit their theme. If you've written a zombie cat story (no, I don't want to read it, thank you), then you have a much better chance of selling that to a zombie antho or a cat antho, or (gods forbid) a Zombie Cats from Space antho (and yes, just wait--there will be such an antho. Probably already has been).

And once you sell a story (actually, you never sell a story -- you just license a particular set of rights for a period of time) and the rights revert to you, you can then sell second rights to that story. I'm going to be starting a series on marketing short fiction on my blog over the summer, and I'll be dealing with all of this in a lot more detail in that series.

All about Doug

"Doug Smith is, quite simply, the finest short-story writer Canada has ever produced in the science fiction and fantasy genres, and he's also the most prolific. His stories are a treasure trove of riches that will touch your heart while making you think."
—Robert J. Sawyer, Hugo Award-winning author of Hominids

Doug is an award-winning Toronto-based author of speculative fiction, with over 150 short story sales in thirty countries and two dozen languages, including appearances in Amazing Stories, Weird Tales, InterZone, The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror, Baen's Universe, Postscripts, On Spec, The Third Alternative, Cicada, and anthologies from Penguin, DAW, and others.

His newest collection, Chimerascope (ChiZine Publications, 2010), is currently a finalist for the 2011 Aurora Award. His first collection, Impossibilia (PS Publishing), was a finalist for the 2009 Aurora Award.
Doug was a finalist for the international John W. Campbell Award for best new writer, and has twice won Canada's Aurora Award. A short film based on his story "By Her Hand, She Draws You Down" toured festivals in North America and internationally in 2010 and 2011, winning several awards.
His website is and he tweets at