Tag Archives: Writers’ Resources

Challenges in writing and selling short stories #amwriting

If you have been writing for any length of time, you have probably discovered that there is an art to both writing and selling short stories.

It is only when we begin reading widely, and in many different genres, that we discover a painful truth: great writing is not merely a matter of following rules.

As an editor and a voracious reader, I often find a special kind of life in a manuscript that has broken some of the rules.

However, poorly constructed work will be rejected by all publishers, and no reason will be given.

Grammar rules exist for a purpose, and haphazard breaking of them can destroy a reader’s enjoyment of a story. I guarantee you won’t find a publisher for that story.

If you want to sell your work, you must know the rules of grammar and have a basic understanding of mechanics. These rules exist for the comfort and convenience of the reader, so don’t think that they don’t matter.

The four fundamental laws of comma use are not open to interpretation, but are simple and easy to learn. Be consistent in their use.

1) Never insert commas “where you take a breath” because everyone breathes differently.

2) Do not insert commas where you think it should pause, because every reader sees the pauses differently.

3) Use commas to join two independent clauses when they are joined by a conjunction. The independent clause is a complete stand-alone sentence.

  • Edgar worships the ground I walk on, but his adoration bores me.

4) Don’t use a comma to join a dependent clause to an independent clause.

  • Edgar worships the ground I walk on and brings me my coffee.

If you understand those four concepts, you are probably ahead of the competition.

Unfortunately, it is easy to murder what began as a beautiful story. Consider those writers who spend years carefully combing every spark of accidental passion out of their work, creating textbook-perfect sentences that are flat, toneless.

Other authors randomly have characters swear, not consistently, but off and on, apparently for the shock value. Others might inject a little graphic violence or sex into the spots where they couldn’t think of what to do next.

When you do anything that breaks a rule, you must do it consistently and with purpose.

“Shock” for the sake of shock has no value to offer. However, a well-written manuscript may shock and challenge you.

When you understand how a story is constructed, you’re able to find creative ways to phrase things and still keep the story interesting.

When the way you write prose goes against the accepted practice, do it intentionally.

Be sure to tell your editor what rules you are choosing to ignore and why, and she will make sure you are consistent.

We all begin at the same place as writers, all of us mortals with flaws and our own way of doing things.

So now that we understand we all begin as novices, I must ask you this question:

Are you writing because you’re burning to tell a story? If you are not writing for the joy of writing, quit now. You’ll never sell a story you don’t believe in.

Otherwise, keep writing. Only by continued practice and attention to learning the craft will you develop the balance you know you need. Purchase the Chicago Guide to Grammar Usage and Punctuation, and learn how sentences and paragraphs are constructed. Then learn how to fit those sentences and paragraphs into a story arc.

That way, when you break a rule, you will be knowledgeable and do it with style.

The best way to gain a handle on all aspects of writing fiction is by writing short stories and essays.

With each short-story you write, you increase your ability to tell a story with minimal exposition and intentional prose. This is especially true if you limit yourself to writing the occasional practice story, telling the whole story in 1000 words or less. These practice shorts serve several purposes:

  • You have a finite amount of time to tell what happened, so only the most crucial of information will fit within that space.
  • You have a limited amount of space, so your characters will be restricted to just the important ones.
  • There is no room for anything that does not advance the plot or influence the outcome.
  • You will build a backlog of short stories and characters to draw on when you need a good story to submit to a contest.

For me, the most difficult challenge is to write flash fiction, where I have less than 1,000 words to tell a story. This means we only include the most essential elements of a story. All my stories are either shorter or longer than 1,000 words and require weeks of effort to get them to fit that parameter.

As a poet, I find it far easier to tell a story in 100 words than in 1,000. That 100-word story is called a drabble and is an art form in itself.

Many people have asked how to find places that are accepting submissions. That can be a challenge, but these are links to two groups on Facebook where publishers post open calls for short stories.

Open Submission Calls for Short Story Writers (All genres, including poetry)

Open Call: Science Fiction, Fantasy & Pulp Market (speculative fiction only)

You do have to apply to be accepted into these groups and answer specific questions to prove you are legitimately seeking places to submit your work. Once you are approved, certain rules must be followed for a happy coexistence.

Some open calls are for anthologies that are not paid, others pay royalties. I would carefully check out the unpaid ones to make sure there is a good reason why it is unpaid, and that the publisher is reputable.

Be sure any contracts limit the use to that volume only, and you retain all other rights.

Also, you should retain the right to republish that story after a finite amount of time has passed, usually 90 days after the anthology publication date.

SFWA has a wonderful list of predatory publishers that you should avoid doing business with. They also have useful information on things that might be found in predatory contracts. You don’t need to be a member to access these. https://www.sfwa.org/

You can find publications with open calls at Submittable. Unfortunately, that has lately become not as useful regarding speculative fiction as it was several years ago. Still, many poetry collections, literary anthologies, and contests use Submittable, so that is an option. https://www.submittable.com/

All in all, you have to kiss a lot of frogs, so to speak, before you find that prince of a publisher that is looking for your work. Don’t let one rejection stop you. Keep that submission mill running, and for the love of Isaac Asimov, keep track of who you sent what to, what day you sent it, and whether or not it was accepted.

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The Author Community, by Mollie Hunt, Cat Writer #amwriting

This is the sixth and final post in a six-week blog tour series for the Northwest Independent Writers’ Association.  NIWA serves pacific northwest writers working to achieve professional standards in independent writing, publishing and marketing.


Many creative professions have a reputation for being competitive, hostile, and dare I say, catty, toward each other. Thankfully, this tendency for animosity, for the most part, has passed the author community by. Even as a budding writer, I was treated with respect by my fellows. I have been helped when I needed help, mentored when I needed mentoring, liberally complimented on my work, and generally accepted wherever I’ve gone within the writing circle.

This didn’t happen by chance, however. I did my part. Though I’m an introvert, I pushed myself to get out and meet people, ask questions, and make contacts. One of the most satisfactory way of doing that was to join writers’ groups. Along with NIWA, I am a member of Sisters in Crime, the Cat Writers’ Association, and Oregon Writers Colony. I have belonged to a few others as well, but these are the ones that have helped me learn, produce, and promote my books. If a group isn’t helpful to your work, then what are you getting for your yearly dues besides another name to add to your list of credits?

Each of those groups I listed offers me something different.

NIWA is a fellowship of local independent authors. Though I’m both self- and press-published, this group is extremely helpful. They put together communal bookselling events, host an impressive website and booklist, and offer a members Facebook page where I can communicate with others about anything and everything book.

My local faction of Sisters in Crime has information geared specifically for the mystery writer. They offer presentations from police, detectives, pathologists, and other professions we see a lot of in mysteries. One time, our group took the Ghost Tour of Fort Vancouver, because you never know when a ghost might come up in your novel.

Oregon Writers Colony supports members in all phases of writing, from “I want to write a book but don’t know where to start” to famous authors like Jean Auel. They have several different programs throughout the year, both to teach and inspire, as well as promote and sell members’ books.

The Cat Writers’ Association is the cat’s pajamas if your stories involve felines. They also have a stunning list of members from all branches of creativity. Bloggers, artists, photographers, as well as fiction and non-fiction authors make up this international organization.

There are many more writers’ groups, both national, international, and in your local area. I encourage you to look into them to see what they have to offer.

Besides writers’ groups, Book Faires and events are a great way to get to know other people in your author community. The more you participate, the more your circle of will grow.

Online and Facebook Groups offer another way of relating to those in your field and well and an opportunity to gather fans. Some groups allow you to advertise your work, where others are strictly for conversations about elements of craft. Try NIWA FANS AND FRIENDS to get started.

Once you begin to look for and engage with your author community, the possibilities open up exponentially. Good luck! And thanks for reading.


Thank you for following the NIWA Blog Tour. Let’s do it again soon!

Check out this week’s other participating NIWA blogsites:

About Mollie Hunt: Native Oregonian Mollie Hunt has always had an affinity for cats, so it was a short step for her to become a cat writer. Mollie Hunt writes the Crazy Cat Lady cozy mystery series featuring Lynley Cannon, a sixty-something cat shelter volunteer who finds more trouble than a cat in catnip, and the Cat Seasons sci-fantasy tetralogy where cats save the world. She also pens a bit of cat poetry.

Mollie is a member of the Oregon Writers’ Colony, Sisters in Crime, the Cat Writers’ Association, and NIWA. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and a varying number of cats. Like Lynley, she is a grateful shelter volunteer.

You can find Mollie Hunt, Cat Writer on her blogsite: www.lecatts.wordpress.com

Amazon Page: www.amazon.com/author/molliehunt

Facebook Author Page: www.facebook.com/MollieHuntCatWriter/

@MollieHuntCats

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The Writers’ Toolbox: Seminars, workshops, and conferences

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One basic tool every author needs in his/her toolbox is the Writers’ Seminar. These are workshops offered by people who have mastered certain aspects of the craft, and are your way to gain more knowledge of the craft.

They are classes, focusing on every aspect of writing, from the story arc to character development. You can also get classes in how to court agents and editors, if the traditional route is your choice, or conversely, advice on negotiating the rough seas of indie publishing. In this craft, there is never an end to the learning process.

But what if you are housebound and can’t get to a conference? Three excellent resources for an intensive online 3 part seminar are Scott Driscoll’s courses through The Writer’s Workshop ($500.00 each, plus textbook, see the website for more information. Length- and quality-wise these classes are the equivalent of a college course–where else will you get this kind of education for the cost of an average 4 day seminar?)

What about actually finding and physically attending seminars and events? That is where you will meet authors, both famous and infamous, known and not yet known.  You will meet people in the industry who will enlighten you and also help you up the ladder to success.

I love writers’ seminars, and attend every one I can afford to get to–and cost is an issue. But there are many budget-friendly seminars out there, many offered by your local library system.

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For me, it’s about being in a community of authors who are all seeking the same thing–a little more knowledge about the craft. Everyone who attends a writers’ conference, seminar or workshop is serious about the craft, and just in conversation with other attendees you can find great inspiration to help fuel your own creative muse.

How does one find these things? Google (or Bing) is your friend here:

A short list of Seminars, Workshops, and Conferences in Western Washington—check websites for the next seminars offered:

  • Hugo House ($60.00 to join-cost per event may vary)
  • PNWA Writers Conference ($65.00 to join PNWA + cost of 4-day conference–can be pricey. With early registration 2015 conference was $425.00 + the cost of room. Continental breakfasts and two dinners were included, and being vegan I brought my own food. Altogether I spent nearly $1000.00, but was able to do so in 2 chunks.)
  • Southwest Washington Writers Conference ($60.00 early registration, 1 day conference) VERY GOOD INVESTMENT!
  • Port Townsend Writers Conference (10 day conference, Tuition ranges from $150.00 for one or two classes to $900 for the full 10-days, includes room with meals==$90.00 per day–a steal!)
  • Northwest Institute of Literary Arts (costs of individual events vary, average seminar under $200.00) (Terry Persun is giving a seminar most indies could benefit from on taming the beast that is Amazon there August 22, 2015 from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm–get to it if you can!)
  • Clarion West Writers Workshop (Specializing in speculative fiction,  offering everything from seminars to a highly respected 6-week workshop for $3,800.00.  Costs vary, average one-day event $130.00)
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But what if you have little or no $$ to spare for food much less a conferences? For the love of Tolstoy, check out your local library! They are an unbelievably great, free or exceedingly low-cost resource.

For example, the Tumwater, Washington branch of the Timberland Regional Library system has several upcoming seminars offered by author and writing coach Lindsay Schopfer, at no cost to the attendee– the library has hired him as a bonus for the aspiring authors among their patrons. These seminars are not fluff–Lindsay gives good, solid, technical classes for serious authors, so if you are in this area check out the schedule and try to attend.

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via buzzfeed

Check out your local library, and see what is available for the starving author!

Now that you know what is available in my area, check your own area and see what you can find. You will be amazed at the wide variety of good one-day conferences, multi-day events, and continuing education courses that are available. While most have some cost attached to them, the author who is determined to improve within the craft and who has little or no money can find something that will fit his budget just by doing a little research at the local library.

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Writers’ Resources

tumblr_ng6esx01YT1syd000o1_1280The internet is a wonderful place. You can find just about anything here, and you can get a complete education for FREE!

Of course, it’s not credited, but there is an incredible amount of information on just about anything for free, up to and including college level courses in various aspects of writing through Coursera.

Coursera is a wonderful organization. They are a for-profit organization but you can take online courses from major universities FOR FREE, and while you don’t receive a diploma, you do get a good education. Wikipedia tells us that: All courses offered by Coursera are accessible for free and some give the option to pay a fee to join the “Signature Track.” Students on the Signature Track receive verified certificates, appropriate for employment purposes. These students authenticate their course submissions by sending webcam photos and having their typing pattern analyzed. 

I’m not sure how that works, but I am all for it. What I really like is that Coursera offers specializations, set courses that help increase understanding of a certain topic. I’ve take a couple of medieval history courses from them and while I didn’t have the money to get the certificate, I really enjoyed them. Knowledge is such a useful thing!

But  for the financially strapped author wanting to increase their knowledge of the craft of writing, an amazing resource is the website Writers’ Digest. They are also for profit, but they offer an incredible amount of information and assistance FOR FREE.

So here, in no particular order, are my favorite sources of Online Information About Writing your novel:

www.writersdigest.com

PBS.org/GuiltyPleasures/HowToWriteRomanceNovel

The Creative Penn

Harlequin.com

Creative Writing Now

Harlequin has one of the best websites, for teaching authors how to develop professional work habits, which is critical to being productive. I highly recommend you go to websites that specialize in writing romance novels regardless of what genre you write in, because the romance publishers have it right: they want to sell books, and they want you to succeed and so they get down to the technical aspects of novel construction and offer many excellent tools for getting your work out the door in timely fashion–something I need to work on. They also offer tips on marketing your work.

They also give you all kinds of tips on how to create a writing space and organize your day so you can get good writing time in and still manage your family. I used to do my writing on an old IBM Selectric that was next to the gerbil cage–not a good environment for writing.

In regard to research, reading one Wikipedia article does not qualify you as an expert in your chosen subject, so go beyond the surface. Find the websites that really explain your subject and go to the local library to research. Once you know what you are writing about, you can mash it up any way you want to.

But even though we are educating ourselves about our novel’s setting and have gained an understanding of how the science that forms the core plot-point actually works, sometimes we hit a bit of sticking point in the creative process.

When that happens we can either drop out of writing mode (not an option for me) or we can find a way to yank that thought out of our head and identify what must happen to get that scene moving. I am a linear thinker, so after a little trial and error, and after seeing how other authors work, this is what I came up with, that works for me in regard to organizing a scene that I am having difficulty with. If it works for you, feel free to:

right click>save image as jpeg or png and save it to your hard drive to print out

Scene creation chartOnce I know how these seemingly disparate things fit together, the scene becomes unstuck, and I begin making progress again. Also, something about the process of spreadsheeting the scene gives me a little insight as to why a particular character might NOT need to be in that scene.

Sometimes just knowing who does and who doesn’t need to be in a scene is just as important as knowing where the nearest inhabitable (for humans) planet  might lie in a given star system.

Habitable_zone_-_HZ

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