Fall 2018 Submission Roundup!

Hello, word-slingers! Are you ready to get your work out there to the unprepared populace? If you answered with any apprehension, we’re here for you—check our homepage for editing services and rates, and we’ll help you get your work into such good shape that you’ll be itching to send it out!

For those of you who are ready, those of you who just shouted “YES!” at your computer or mobile device, you’re in luck, as I’ve assembled and organized a collection of the most promising opportunities going. Some of these deadlines are coming up quick, so be vigilant. Please note that I have not listed any magazines that charge a submission fee but don’t pay for acceptances. I strongly suggest you avoid venues using this practice. If they’re making money on your art, you should be making money on your art.

Before you begin, and I can’t stress this enough, be sure to carefully read all guidelines before submitting anywhere! You may also be interested in reading my post on making the cut with journal submissions before you proceed.

Happy submitting, and don’t forget to read the guidelines!

Paying markets with no fees

Apex: “Do Not Go Quietly” socially conscious SFF anthology by some of the hardest working folks in genre fiction! 6 cents per word. Deadline: September 19th. https://apexbookcompany.moksha.io/publication/do-not-go-quietly/guidelines

Electric Literature: These icons of modern lit are open for a couple of weeks in two categories, so act fast! $100 total for selected poetry and graphic narrative work. Deadline September 20th. An essay on the book (or other narrative media) that almost killed you pays $60, with a deadline of September 21st. https://electricliterature.submittable.com/submit

The Puritan: Sleek Canadian magazine offering $20 per poem, $75 for fiction, $100 per essay, review, or interview. Deadline: September 25th. https://puritan-magazine.submittable.com/submit

Cosmic Roots & Eldritch Shores: Interesting and fun SFF journal, paying 6 cents per word. Submissions open September 21-28. https://cosmicrootsandeldritchshores.com/submissions/

Life After All: “An apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic/pastoral apocalyptic LGBTQIA+ anthology.” $150 per piece, open until September 30th. https://www.lessthanthreepress.com/anthology-submissions/

Pseudopod: Hear your fiction in podcast form in the “Artemis Rising” horror event for women only! Very cool and forward-thinking fiction podcast. 6 cents per word, September 30th deadline. http://pseudopod.org/2018/08/15/artemis-rising-5/#more-7276

Nashville Review: One of only a handful of university journals on this list, traditional format with a refreshing approach. $25 per poem, $100 for prose. Now accepting translations! September 30th deadline. https://as.vanderbilt.edu/nashvillereview/contact/submit

Event: One of Canada’s finest! $30 per page of prose, $35 per page of poetry. Deadline: September 30th. https://www.eventmagazine.ca/submit/

Consequence: A magazine with a special  interest in the “culture and consequences of war.” $25 per page of poetry, $10 per prose page, $15 per translated page. Deadline: September 30th. http://www.consequencemagazine.org/submit/

Bubble Off Plumb: An off-kilter anthology of the odd and unsettling. 3 cents per word + royalty share. Deadline: September 30th. https://feralcatpublishers.com/bubble-off-plumb-anthology

Spoon Knife 4: A Neurodivergent Guide to Spacetime: Anthology on time and space “with themes of neurodivergence, queerness, and/or the intersections of neurodivergence and queerness.” 1 cent per word. Deadline: September 30th. http://autpress.com/2018/01/call-for-submissions-spoon-knife-4/

Tin House: One of the big ones, and they’ve extended their submission window to October 15th! Rates start at $50 for poetry and $200 for prose. https://tinhouse.submittable.com/submit

Fireside Fiction: One of the best magazines going! Top-scale pay, short reading periods. $100 per poem, open October 24-31. 12.5 cents per word for fiction, open December 15-31. https://firesidefiction.com/submissions

One Story: Exactly like it sounds, a slick magazine featuring a single piece of fiction! Acceptance gets you $500 and 25 contributor copies, so have your best, most polished work ready for this one. Deadline: November 14th. https://www.one-story.com/index.php?page=submit&pubcode=os

Zyzzyva: Beautiful, reputable magazine. No online submissions, snail mail only! Token to semi-pro rates. Deadline: November 19th. http://www.zyzzyva.org/about/submissions/

Lackington’s: Outstanding speculative fiction, opens December 2018 for “Voyages” themed issue. 1 cent CAD per word. https://lackingtons.com/submissions/

Zizzle: Flash fiction that appeals to all ages. $100 per piece. December 31st deadline. http://zizzlelit.com/submit/

Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet: A true gem by the fine folks at Small Beer Press! No online submissions—snail mail only! 3 cents per word for fiction, $10 per poem. http://smallbeerpress.com/about/submission-guidelines/

Beneath Ceaseless Skies: They publish a very specific style of fantasy, but they do it very well. 6 cents per word, rolling submissions. http://www.beneath-ceaseless-skies.com/submissions/

Smokelong Quarterly: Flash fiction only, no deadlines. $25 per story. http://www.smokelong.com/submissions/guidelines/

No fee, no pay

Bridge: Cool opportunity for young writers and artists, as this magazine is only open only to contributors between the ages of 14 & 24. Contributor copy payment, deadline: September 30th. https://bridgebluffton.submittable.com/submit

Feels Blind Literary: Inaugural issue, looks promising, but they need exceptional work to put them on the map! Deadline: October 1st. https://www.feelsblindliterary.com/submissions

Capulet: Another opportunity for the young folks, open to women ages 15-29. October 20th deadline. http://capuletmag.com/submit/

Clockhouse: “An eclectic conversation about the work-in-progress of life.” Payment is a contributor copy, but it’s likely to be a good one. Deadline: December 1. http://clockhouse.net/main/submit/

Litro: Wide-ranging UK journal open for various themed issues—check specific guidelines posted for each one! https://www.litro.co.uk/submit/

Storm Cellar: One of the more engaging indie publications currently out there, rolling submission period. https://stormcellarquarterly.com/submit/

Loud Zoo: The socially conscious literary/arts journal from our sister company, Bedlam Publishing. Every accepted piece gets a complimentary edit from The LetterWorks! Deadline: September 30th, not accepting poetry this cycle. http://www.bedlampublishing.com/submissions.html

Small fee, paid publication

Nimrod: Ambitious journal open for a themed issue on the Middle East and North Africa. $3 fee, $10 per page up to $200. Deadline: December 1st. https://nimrod.utulsa.edu/manuscripts.html

Ploughshares: You’ve heard of this one, right? $3 fee, $45 per printed page with a $90 minimum and a $450 max. Deadline: January 15th. https://www.pshares.org/submit/journal/guidelines

Driftwood: A fairly young journal coming into its own. Fees from $2.99, pays $15 per poem, $75 for fiction. Rolling deadline. https://www.driftwoodpress.net/submit

 

See anything I missed that deserves a mention? Drop it in the comments! And read the damn submission guidelines!!!

Behind the Book: All of Yesterday’s Tomorrows by Ramez Qureshi (Part 2)

This is the second in a two-part series. if you missed part 1, click here!

Welcome back! Last month I promised I’d get down and dirty with prepress details and insights when working with traditional print houses. Depending on your book, it may make more sense for you to self-publish and use a print-on-demand service like Lulu, or Amazon’s CreateSpace, but for the first editions of All of Yesterday’s Tomorrows, we were on a mission to create a limited release hardcover that felt unique and had character, an artifact that Ramez’s family, friends, and readers could treasure forever. Whether you have written a book and are thinking about self-publishing, or if you are operating an independent publisher, I hope this clarifies some of the mystery behind bringing a book into the world.

As you may recall, we had a last minute print house swap, which led to some cover measurement readjustments. Now this was not only an issue we had to shovel onto our brave jacket designer, Jason Yocum, but I also had to retool the file for the foil stamping on the spine behind the jacket. Fortunately, we only went with a single hit of foil, but if you add stamping to the front cover, be mindful of additional costs.

Foil stamping on the book spine

While we’re on additional costs, are you ready for the big one? Our primary financial surprise came in the form of shipping charges for proofs. Due to some color matching issues, we had to get a second proof of the jacket. Two jacket proofs and one text proof cost a mere $5 less than we paid to ship the entire order of finished books! We were aware of the base price for proofs, but we did not know that the shipping would be expedited and the additional cost would be added to our invoice. If you’re on a budget and not crunched for time, you’d be wise to ask for more shipping options on your proofs.

Jacket Proofs
The difference is so slight, yet so critical!

Another thing to remember is that proofs are the very last line of defense, so do your side-by-side comparisons and knock out all those edits before you send those final files to the printers! We’ll be happy to take care of this for you—our rates are right there on our homepage. This is an important detail, because both printers and eBook converters will charge for additional edits, and those rates are nowhere near as reasonable as ours!

Digital editions are somewhat less complicated during these stages, but that doesn’t mean they require less attention. What’s that? Did I just hear you say, “But Josh, I’m not going to release an eBook?” Let me stop you right there. I don’t care how much of a physical book purist you are, you aren’t the one who will be buying all of your books (I hope), so offer eBooks to your readers. Still not convinced? Digital books are a necessity for a lot of people with disabilities, and are significantly cheaper, which is great for folks with limited incomes. Even if you’re a heartless bastard, you can’t deny that a bigger audience pool equals more potential readers, and why publish if you don’t want readers?

If that last part applies, maybe we can work on you being less of a heartless bastard in a future post…

Until then, BACK TO EBOOKS! There are several DIY options for eBook conversion, such as Calibre, but these programs are notorious for their steep learning curves, so don’t even click that link if you struggle with everyday apps. If you’re feeling bold and have a simple layout, Bookow has an automated eBook layout program that appears easier to navigate than most, but if you have any specific layout elements in mind, you’ll want some human input. Fortunately, you can get an eBook conversion done for as low as $200, just make sure you’re getting both .mobi and .epub formats. Remember Bookow? They offer custom formatting from $250, but ultimately we went with Bookmobile because of the relatively complex nature of poetry formatting. Hot tip—poetry eBook conversions cost more due to this complexity. Our eBooks came out slick thanks to Arna & the crew at Bookmobile, and I fully endorse both their work and their customer service!

As soon as you have a manuscript that’s ready to publish, it’s time to also start thinking about high-resolution file formatting for both print and digital. Once  you are in contact with your printer and eBook converter, start asking questions about files. If you’re not familiar with the deep and varied range of options available within PDF files, brace yourself, because both formats require specific types of PDFs with fonts embedded. Get measurements for EVERYTHING. Find out what file types each company needs for images and text. Our eBook cover had to be at least 300 dpi and a minimum height of 2560 pixels, so keep this in mind when you’re sourcing cover art as well! If you haven’t had any experience with digital design, you might be better off hiring someone to handle this for you.

At the very least, I absolutely recommend hiring a designer for the cover. This is one of the most discussed topics I’ve ever seen in the worlds of self and indie publishing, and while anyone can slap a title and author name on a stunning piece of art, that usually doesn’t make for a great book cover. Design as a trade has been so diminished by the wide availability of programs like Photoshop and even the MS Office Suite, that anyone who can navigate a computer thinks it’s as simple as stacking the required layers and making the text readable. I assure you, fellow do-it-yourselfer, that a trained designer has an understanding of how and why visual elements work that most of us couldn’t hope to grasp. Give them your money, it will absolutely help you sell books. The same suggestion applies to cover artwork. Self-publishing is plagued by bad book covers, and I’m willing to bet more than a few outstanding authors have missed their shot because despite what we’re taught, we judge books by their covers.

Are you forgetting anything?

Did you buy ISBN’s? You’ll need these before you can finish your cover and your title page, so get these early. You can only get them from Bowker and they’re not cheap. Buy a pack if you can, because your eBook will need its own number as well.

Did you get a barcode? There are lots of options out there, but I’ll mention Bookow again because we used their killer barcode generator. These barcodes meet all retailer requirements, are high-resolution, and the generator is free! Once I tested ours out, I made a donation because Steve at Bookow was super helpful when I inquired about poetry formatting, and this utility is just so good, you’ll feel like you’re stealing if you get these barcodes for free!

Want your book in the Library of Congress? Of course you do! You’ll need to submit some information to their website before you send your final files to your printer and digital converter, as your PCN number will go on the publication data page. It’s a little confusing, but read the instructions carefully and you’ll have it in no time.

There’s a lot to this process, so if you have any additional questions, I’m happy to answer them in the comments!

Now that you know all the details that made this book a reality, get a copy for yourself!

Buy direct from Bedlam Publishing
or
Buy on Amazon

Behind the Book: All of Yesterday’s Tomorrows by Ramez Qureshi (Part 1)

We at The LetterWorks were recently involved in the publication of the first book by Bedlam Publishing, an indie publisher and sister company to TLW. (Full disclosure: I’m the Editor-in-Chief over there!) That book is Ramez Qureshi’s All of Yesterday’s Tomorrows: Collected Poems, and I wanted to take this opportunity to discuss some of the behind-the-scenes action that we don’t often consider when reading, writing, or even editing these wondrous little artifacts we call books.

It all started with the pitch. Bedlam doesn’t typically consider book pitches, as we are a tiny, D.I.Y. operation with a budget equivalent to the contents of the space beneath your couch cushions. Under normal circumstances, we can’t afford the cost of printing … but this was no normal circumstance. Writer, modern thinker, and all around top-notch individual, Ali Eteraz (whom we published in the first issue of our digital art/lit magazine, Loud Zoo in 2014), reached out to us with a poet, a vision, and a budget. We were definitely interested, and once he told us about Ramez and sent us a selection of his work, we were on board.

Ramez Qureshi
Ramez Qureshi

Ramez Qureshi was an astounding person. Both brilliant and compassionate, he earned his master’s degree at the age of 19 from the University of Pennsylvania and tutored underprivileged children in the area while in school. He was an avid reader and loved the arts profoundly. In addition to poetry, he wrote and published several critiques of books and gallery shows. Shortly after his college graduation, he was diagnosed with bipolar schizoaffective disorder, and spent time in and out of institutions. Through his struggles, Ramez held tight to his love of poetry, and those closest to him have stated that poetry and the poets he befriended through his online and local communities kept him alive for a number of years. The world lost Ramez in March of 2001, a victim of suicide spurred by his illness.

Ramez’s family made attempts to publish his work over the years, and though progress was made, nothing quite panned out. When Ramez’s sister, Sofia,  met Ali, the gears began to turn once more. In the original plan, Ali was to act as the editor, making final decisions on selections and order, as well as writing the introduction. Unfortunately, just as the book was picking up steam, he was sidelined by personal projects and responsibilities, and had to walk away. After discussion with Ramez’s family, it was decided that we would proceed and I would take on a more active role. Nikki Moen and Catherine Foster (who pulls double-duty, working at Bedlam and The LetterWorks) jumped in to read through the thousands of pieces and start deciding which ones would make the cut.

At this point, Catherine’s role expanded into The LetterWorks territory, as Ramez’s family had a box of handwritten pieces that they wanted transcribed and considered for the collection as well. This box of poems doubled our pool, but Catherine worked dutifully and had them transcribed before we knew it! Attention: writers who love to compose longhand, we can help with those stacks of stories you don’t know what to do with!

As things started firming up, Nikki, Catherine, Sofia, and I went on a mission to find the perfect cover art. We scoured the web, reached out to artist friends, and passed images back and forth until we saw “Cosmic Love 1” by Artem Mirolevich on the fine art website saatchiart.com. When Sofia shared a dream she had had about an “art office” that was promoting an artist who used a parachute in his work, we knew we had it. Was it meant to be? Look at this cover and tell me it wasn’t!

All of Yesterday's Tomorrows cover
All of Yesterday’s Tomorrows cover

We hired the incomparable Jason Yocum to design the jacket, and he was a joy to work with, even when we had to switch print houses at the last minute, requiring all sorts of measurement adjustments. (Thanks ‘n’ sorry, Jason!)

Wait a minute, did you just say you switched print houses … at the last minute??

That is correct. After working out the numerous details of production with [NAME REDACTED], there was a sharp and inexplicable price increase. When I politely inquired about said increase, I was met with silence. Ghosted by the print shop … So, I went back to my bookshelf and noticed that some of the best looking tomes from small presses had come from Maple Press in York, Pennsylvania. I reached out, got a quote, and we were back in business!

I highly recommend Maple Press if you’re looking to produce a book that has more character than your average print-on-demand book. Ramez’s family wanted something that looked and felt special, so we opted for a short-run of hardcovers with heavy, off-white, recycled paper with rough edges; which Maple delivered exquisitely. They were easy to work with, always friendly and professional, and, well … look at these books!!

Once we had completed two rounds of voting on which poems were most likely to make a great collection, Sofia consulted Associate Professor of Literature and Visual Studies at NYU Abu Dhabi, Shamoon Zamir. Not only did he help with the final piece selection, he ultimately developed the thematic order of the book. He also made a strong case for the title poem, which we nearly left out. “All of Yesterday’s Tomorrows” (the poem) is a forty-plus page experimental behemoth that explores Jenny Holzer’s Truisms, a Marxism conference, the Popol Vuh, statements made at the end of relationships, and somehow, quite a bit more. Ramez himself described the piece as “a philosophical meditation on the dialectics of arts and politics.” You may understand our hesitation to include such an extensive, experimental piece, but of course Shamoon was correct. We placed it at the end of the book, and while it’s not a light read, it is certainly Ramez’s most ambitious work. It evokes a tangible movement, and while you may not know where it’s taking you, its pull is undeniable.

We had a table of contents. We had a cover. We thought we were close. We had no idea…

Check in next time for Part 2, in which I get detailed about the prepress process in hopes of helping prospective publishers avoid some of the headaches and financial missteps we faced! In the meantime, you can buy Ramez’s wonderful book in the special edition hardcover (includes free eBook!), or all digital formats!

Buy direct from Bedlam Publishing
or
Buy on Amazon

Author Spotlight: Brett Petersen (Video)

Brett Petersen was our very first client here at The LetterWorks, and fourteen of the pieces we’ve edited for him have been published or accepted for publication as of this posting! In addition to being a writer, he is also a musician and visual artist.

Brett and Josh sat down for a freewheeling conversation about what inspires him, his process and artistic hierarchy, goals, Star Wars, and… Hanson? Watch now, and scroll down for links to his stories and music!

Short Fiction:

CAVO
The Parasite From Proto-Space
Friday Tradition
A Free Ride to Pleroma
Inanimate Object Fibromatosis & Asbestos Leprosy
The Epic Quest of the Three ARMS
The Light in the Sky
Billy-Sally
The Summoning of the Memory Eaters
The Funeral Machine
The Walrus Who Touched the Sun
Ca-Caw
Sleep is One of Those Luxuries
Crystal Donut World
Cats and Dogs: A Bildungsroman for the Post-Post-Post-Modern Age
Javi and Bobby
The Labyrinth & the Jingling Keys

Music:

Raziel’s Tree
Brett Solo

Grease Your Gears: Writing Prompts!

Grease your gears with these writing prompts!

Feeling stuck? Here are a few prompts to lube your brain cogs!

 

  • Pick two of your favorite (or least favorite) animals from anywhere on Earth and write them down. Now compose a fable involving those animals using each of their specific natural traits, á la Aesop.

 

  • Take an indisputable scientific truth, such as gravity, that humans can’t breathe underwater, the nutritional value of rocks, etc… Once you have decided upon your basic truth, change it! How would the world look and operate with this steadfast rule rewritten? How will your characters take advantage of, or be hindered by this change?

 

  • Think of an irrational fear, such as fear of spiders, dentists, or those weird roots growing on the potatoes you’ve had a little too long, and write a day in the life of a character who is governed by this specific fear. The more outlandish, the better!

 

  • Write a letter to a fictional character or historical figure as though you were old friends. Reminisce on an old adventure or plot a new one, apologize for a misdeed or demand an apology from them, congratulate them on a major event in their life and fill them in on some of your own. Be as straight-laced or absurd as you’d like and see where it leads!

 

  • Your protagonist is awash in conspiracy theories. They spend every free moment contemplating, researching, and rationalizing the most absurd claims. One evening, they check the news and find one of their wildest theories is proven to be true… now what?
Now get out there and sling some words!

Shame on Who? Taking the Shame Out of Self-Promotion

“Shameless self-promotion.” The phrase alone inspires dread in some, and often for good reason. Around every corner of the web, from social media to your favorite podcast, someone’s got something to shill, but does it always have to be such a cringe-worthy endeavor?

Let’s start by exploring where shame enters the picture. Does this shamelessness imply that you are incessantly slapping everyone in the face with your work regardless of interest or context? If so, it’s time for a new approach. No one wants to invest in a friendship or working relationship with a perpetual solicitor.

There’s also this lingering perception that creators should be ashamed of themselves for promoting their work. If you find yourself feeling this way, take a step back and ask yourself why you embarked on the project in the first place. Ask yourself why you followed it through to completion. Are you proud of the work you’ve done, or do you think it was all a big waste of time and energy? Was it a labor of love, or a financial necessity? Most writers take on less-than-glamorous gigs to pay the bills, and no one here will judge you for that, but it may be a better use of energy to save the sharing for projects that better represent you. If you can hold your work up proudly, then your promotion should be shame-free as long as you don’t overdo it.

While it can certainly be beneficial to plug your work online, your posts can quickly become tiresome, and the people you’re hoping to engage with will scroll right on by as soon as they see your name. Many creators view social media sites as nothing more than free advertising platforms, but without the genuine connectivity that keeps social networks going, your profile will not draw readers. Don’t assume people aren’t buying your thing explicitly because they are unaware of it. Writers tend to see a bump in sales when they mention their books about once a week online, but these are also people who already have a following, post frequently on multiple topics and engage in various conversations. There is no set scale for how much to self-promote, but less is more here. If you are able to curate interesting discussions, people will explore your other posts, find your books, and either buy them outright or at least ask you about them! Whether you’re worried about posting too much or not enough, a pinned post can serve as a passive billboard that can take some of that pressure off.

One approach that I see frequently is using a separate “author” page in addition to your main social media profile. I understand the attractiveness of keeping everything neatly compartmentalized, but I have my doubts as to whether or not this method is very effective. Writing is intensely personal, so even if you’re not writing memoirs, you are putting yourself on the page. Readers are often as interested in the writer as they are the story, which means you’re often selling yourself as much as the book, so this dissociation seems counterproductive. I feel similarly about adding the word “Author” to your name on social media accounts. There’s nothing explicitly wrong with it, but it comes off as performative, and like Amanda said, “Stop Aspiring to Be an Author and Just Be One!” Though the blogosphere is not as prominent these days, an alternative is to keep a blog or a Tumblr (a hybrid blog/social media site) to contain all your writing news and info that you can occasionally link to on your main social media profiles.

What about face-to-face promotion in the real world? Can you talk to people about your books without coming off like a pretentious ass? It’s possible as long as it’s not forced. No matter how incredible and life-changing your book may be, you can’t generate interest by shoehorning it into every conversation. What you can do is be conscious. It’s your book, you know it inside and out, so if a legitimate opportunity arises, you’ll be ready to discuss it. Always put the conversation first and never try to steer it towards a sale, people can sense that, and nothing puts them off faster. Once again, having confidence in your work without being arrogant will take you a long way!

Reading for Writing: Essential Books for Writers by Josh Smith

Who do you turn to when you’re stuck? Who can you reach out to if you’re chained to a manuscript in the middle of the night and nothing you write is lining up? You may be lucky enough to have a close writer or editor friend who will drop everything to help you out, but at some point, they’re going to need a break too. Every once in a while, you need some pointers when no one is available to give them, and when all seems lost, what better place to turn to than a book? Several seasoned pros are always at the ready when you’ve got a well-stocked bookshelf, so prepare your arsenal with The LetterWorks’ staff guide to essential books for writers!

A Book of Surrealist GamesA Book of Surrealist Games by Alastair Brotchie, Mel Gooding
Got writer’s block? Dip into one of the exercises in this book and you’re bound to coax something out of the depths! This is a collection of creative prompts, challenges, and idea-prods developed by Surrealists and Oulipo artists to help them approach creating from different angles, often with very specific sets of rules and restraints.
Buy this book!

 

 

BooklifeBooklife: Strategies and Survival Tips for the 21st-Century Writer by Jeff VanderMeer
This one stands out for me because it is not so much a book about craft, but a book about every other element of writing life. VanderMeer discusses balancing your public and private lives, marketing, maintaining good physical and mental health, and much more. VanderMeer delivers a bounty of insights linked to tales of his own personal experiences—failures and successes alike—and leans heavily on helpful concepts, such as leveraging your actions to benefit your writing career in one way or another. Booklife is also unique in that VanderMeer anticipated the looming expiration dates of some subjects such as social media (the book was published in 2009, and as such, there’s a brief discussion of Myspace), so he had the foresight to create www.booklifenow.com to exist as a support site for both updates to tools in transition, and as a place for writers to continue finding supportive resources of all kinds. While the site hasn’t seen any new content since 2014, there’s still no shortage of helpful information.
Buy this book!

 

The Elements of StyleThe Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White
What more can be said? The Elements is just a classic, boring but useful. Also, it’s nice and cheap these days.
Buy this Book!

 

 

 

 

On WritingOn Writing by Stephen King
You’d be hard pressed to find a useful list of writing books that doesn’t include this one, but even as my inner contrarian urges me to leave it aside, On Writing, much like King himself, cannot be denied. There’s only one Stephen King, and you’d be remiss to sleep on an opportunity to absorb anything he’s willing to pass on. It doesn’t hurt that his approach here is hilarious and uncouth, keeping you absorbed in what can be a terribly dry subject matter.
Buy this book!

 

WonderbookWonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction by Jeff VanderMeer
Before you roll your eyes for including VanderMeer on this list twice, take a quick glimpse at this book. Seriously, just look at this preview. This, clearly, is not your average writing book. It is geared toward visual learners, loaded with pages of diagrams, exercises, essays, and so much more, beautifully illustrated  by Jeremy Zerfoss and many others. It also features a bevy of contributions from outstanding writers like Ursula Le Guin, George R.R. Martin, Nnedi Okorafor, Neil Gaiman, Karin Tidbeck, and Peter Straub, to name just a few. If that’s not enough to snag your interest, an expanded and revised edition was released in July of 2018. Forget fueling your creative fire, this book will dump a barrel of gasoline on those hungry flames!
Buy this book!

 

Writing Down the BonesWriting Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg
Writing Down the Bones is a helpful jumping off point, especially for beginning writers. It’s packed full of free-writing exercises that help get that pen (or cursor) moving and help transition into a writers’ state. I still use it when it’s time to write but I don’t have a specific project I’m working on.
Buy this book!

 

 

Writing ExcusesWriting Excuses (Podcast)
Writing Excuses is a podcast by Brandon Sanderson, Howard Tayler, Dan Wells, and Mary Kowal. Occasionally there is a guest author along with, or instead of one of the four. They cover absolutely everything and their slogan is “only 15 minutes long ‘cuz you’re in a hurry, and we’re not that smart.” It’s light and fun, but packed full of helpful ideas from multiple perspectives. Howard is a graphic novelist, Sanderson likes to write LONG epic fantasy, Mary tends toward realistic fiction on a shorter scale, and Wells writes in a variety of genres. They cover things they’ve done well, things that work, things that haven’t worked, and besides being a lot of fun, it’s incredibly helpful. Each podcast centers around an idea, such as “time,” and how to use that to your advantage in a story. They recommend a book that well demonstrates the idea at hand, then there is the jovial discussion of the book and topic. They end with an actual writing assignment. Now you’re all out of excuses, so go write! Sanderson actually teaches creative writing at BYU and one year decided to model their discussions after his typical class schedule, so if you start on Episode 10.1, it’s like taking a college level writing class for free. Melissa loves recommending this podcast.

Listen to this podcast!

 

Writing books aren’t for everyone. Catherine has a different approach:
I wish I could give you a great and comprehensive list of titles that I learned from, but nothing comes to mind. I’ve actually been thinking about this a lot. I mostly learned from a great compilation of classics, and nothing in particular about the writing craft itself. I had what I would term a stellar education in the reading of the classics, from the Greeks to the Medieval to the Renaissance to a tour of the Puritans and early American writers. This was all in high school. I studied poetry, from the Fireside poets to Victorians that instilled and firmed up my love of the written word. That in and of itself does not a good writer make, unfortunately. For the heart of writing, no one person inspired me, but my favorite poets are Poe (lamentably still an old emo favorite) and Tennyson. They didn’t have any personal direction to steer me into the field, but their poetry was enough to inspire forever and make me want to repair the cracks in other peoples’ foundations. Can’t ever get enough of it!

What are your favorite books on writing?

Note: We aren’t Amazon affiliates, we just love these books! We get nothing if you purchase.

Mind Gremlins: Should I Pursue This Idea? by Josh Smith

If you’re anything like me, you have a stockpile of story concepts that multiplies like wet Mogwai. If you’re even more like me, most of these ideas are half-baked at best, and just like our little Mogwai buddies, should probably never be exposed to the light of day. Determining which of these critters is worth taking the time to develop into a full-length work can require some careful consideration, but where does one begin?

Get organized!
For years, I carried a pen and small notepad everywhere I went and would scratch things down as they hit me, but I’ve since switched to archiving these flashes on my smartphone. In the notepad days, I would typically wait until it was full to sift through it and weed out all the obviously bad ideas, but now I just scroll through my notes any time I’m ready to start a new project and see if anything clicks with how I’m feeling. There are several note taking apps out there and they all do basically the same thing, but I highly recommend Evernote. It’s free, has a relatively low learning curve, lots of organizational capabilities, and it syncs across devices and platforms, which means if you write something on your phone, you can pull it up on your computer or tablet almost instantly, regardless of whether it’s Mac, PC, Android, or other. I use it for everything. I’m composing this draft in Evernote right now so I can pick it back up during my lunch break! Whichever method you choose to collect your grand schemes, just make sure to clear out the clutter regularly, or you’ll have a mess of slimy Gremlin cocoons and nowhere to release them when they hatch. Why yes, I am running with this absurd metaphor.

Are any of these good?
Sifting through an avalanche of story ideas can be a tedious task, and you may very well hit a pile of ideas so dumb you stop dead in your tracks. Just remember that not everything works, delete the ones that make you cringe and keep going. Usually you’ll know right away if you want to pursue an idea, but sometimes it helps to set it aside for a couple days and see if it still holds its appeal. If you’re still on the fence after a little time, take it back to the curio shop and get back to inventing.

Is it enough to work with?
Sometimes the potential of an idea doesn’t become clear until another element snaps into place. If you have the skeleton of an exciting plot but no character or settings in mind, flag it and continue through your idea mine looking for something to compliment it. Like a furry little Rambo in a Barbie car, wildly different elements can unite with a spark that gives your piece a unique tone and give your voice a platform all your own. If this method doesn’t yield the results you’re looking for, you can always take the basic concept and use it to guide character sketches, or even write a couple rough scenes. If those results don’t stir enough excitement to get you working, it’s time to try a different approach.

Google it!
Seriously. Sometimes a title or a situation comes so clearly into focus that we can’t wait to get it on paper, but it’s always smart to do some quick research to make sure someone didn’t beat you to it. I’m not even talking about plagiarism here—there are just so many writers and creators, so many platforms for people to create with little to no editorial input, that you never really know what’s out there unless you search for it. Parallel thinking is an interesting concept, but it doesn’t do you any good as a writer, so avoid being panned as a ripoff artist by doing a little digging before you pour your soul into a story about cute, fuzzy creatures who morph into monsters if they eat after midnight.

What is it?
The best way to approach work on an idea is to understand your ultimate goals for it as a completed piece. These goals will likely evolve over the course of the writing process, but you should know going in what points you’re trying to make, and what you hope your readers will take away from it. It’s also good to know if you’ve got the makings of a flash fiction, epic poem, novel, novel series, or something else entirely. When I first started writing a novel, it began as a poem because poetry was all I had written up to that point, and I simply didn’t have the experience to realize that the concept was much larger than the couple pages of free verse I had scrawled out. I kept returning to it, and eventually the verse became prose, the prose became a short story, the short story became a chapter, and the chapter became one of several in what became a (relatively short) novel. Had I realized from the start what these words were trying to form, I could have approached the entire project with a clearer perspective, and likely produced a finished product much sooner than the several years it took me to compose a readable draft. Not every concept is birthed with a clear intention, so when you find one that speaks to you, keep listening until you know what to do with it. At the end of the day, you will guide your adorable conceptual Mogwai through its transformation into a wild-eyed, mischievous story Gremlin, but it’s up to you whether it becomes a Stripe or a Vegetable Gremlin.

Why?
http://gremlins.wikia.com/wiki/Vegetable_Gremlin

Seriously, whose idea was the Vegetable Gremlin?

On Being Wrong or Admit it, You Fucked Up by Josh Smith

Remember that time you wrote a perfect manuscript, proofread it, fixed a couple minor grammatical errors, then fired it off to your favorite publishing house and woke up a month later to find it on the Best Seller’s list? Yeah, me either.

Let’s be honest, if writing was such a magically painless act, there would be no editors and you wouldn’t be here right now. Writers of all levels are well aware that no first draft materializes fully-formed and ready for mass consumption, but what is truly difficult is not only recognizing areas in which you have failed to achieve what you envisioned, but accepting that failure. Not accepting it in the “well, this sucks, but I need it for the mechanics of this story to work, so I guess it stays” sense, but accepting that you have failed in order to understand why you failed, which in turn will lead you to the rectification of said failure.

While a great many issues can be dealt with during regular revisions, it is common to be so focused on a specific idea or approach that you overlook faults that negatively impact other areas of the work. Given the nature of these more insidious flaws, they usually require an external perspective, such as a beta reader, editor, or critique group to bring them to light. However, having someone else question your failings within these foundational elements can be challenging when you’ve already built an entire story or novel atop them. As I recommended in a previous post, take time to consider these suggestions before dismissing them outright. You aren’t beholden to the specific requests of any editor or reader, but their acknowledgement of the problem will help you internalize that it exists, and your wild writer brain will begin to redraw the map that will lead you to the optimal solution.

In high-concept pieces, each poor decision can construct a step in a Rube Goldberg machine triggered to derail your story. The first tripwire is the most important to root out, and once you see it, its entire architecture will become clear. Yes, you will have your work cut out for you. Yes, you may want to call for backup to help determine the success of your restorative efforts, but if you want to tell your story on your terms, I suspect you want to do it as effectively as possible. There is a delicate balance in non-traditional works that are more driven by tonal or visceral choices than plot, so be on the lookout for sections where style devours story.

Not all pieces require such in-depth scavenging, but that does not necessarily make them any easier to edit. All the best stories take us to previously unimaginable places and make us feel emotions we would never fathom otherwise, but these powerful elements can’t just be loaded up into the ol’ canon and blasted at our sensory receptors to achieve the desired effect. An intense or climactic scene might exist precisely as you envisioned, but if it doesn’t translate for your readers, it’s a wasted effort. Oftentimes, it isn’t even the writing of the scene itself, but the storytelling around it that leaves people grasping at your intent. Scenes featuring unrealistic or traumatic events are almost always divisive in early drafts, because they require the reader to conjure considerable imagination or empathy, and it is possible that you have not properly set the stage for such an undertaking. It can be particularly difficult to endure these criticisms if you are fictionalizing a lived experience, or are writing non-fiction, but no one said this would be easy. Again, recognizing that a problem exists, accepting that your approach is off, and working your way through will guide you to a more fulfilling story for you and your readers.

There is something to be said for a writer who will defend their vision to the death, but the mark of a true professional is identifying something that isn’t working, being open to changes, and dedicating themselves to improving the reading experience.

30 Days in the Trenches: Staying Motivated During NaNoWriMo by Josh Smith

Now that we’re a few days into NaNoWriMo, you may be starting to question whether or not you can actually pull this off. You may not have even started yet if you plan on word-sprinting through the weekends, but that fear might already linger. Make no mistake, this is a massive undertaking, but it is far from impossible. The first step is preparation. At this point, you should have a game plan, but if you still need some pointers, Melissa has you covered right here: Making the Most of NaNoWriMo.

Once you have yourself sequestered in your sacred writer’s cave with a head full of characters and a clear direction you’ll lead them in, nothing can stop you, right? Well … you’re going to experience some fatigue. It may not be today, tomorrow, or even next week, but your brain is going through the wringer this month and you need to stay limber if you’re going to reach the finish line. Here are some insights from previous NaNo participants to keep the words flowing!

Set Goals, stay on schedule
The 50,000 word finish line can easily be broken down into manageable chunks, such as 2,000 per day or 12,500 per weekend. These regular goals can be tailored to your schedule, and when you keep track of your word counts at https://nanowrimo.org, you will earn badges that act not only as trail markers but confidence boosters as well! There will likely be times that you fall behind, but as long as you don’t stray too far from your target, you’ll be able to catch up without exhausting yourself.

Remember why you’re participating
Those word count gaps can strike terror into the heart of even the most seasoned NaNo vet, so when that fear creeps into your periphery, when your text isn’t living up to your expectations, or if you’re just flat out tired and unable to focus, remember why you signed on in the first place. Whether you feel like this is an important step in growing as a writer, or you’ve always wanted to complete a novel, or maybe you just want to prove to yourself that you can do it. As long as you honestly care about your motivation, it will be an effective fuel!

Don’t let you physical or mental health slip
There’s a good chance you’ll notice a boost in your caffeine intake and a decrease in your physical activity and non-workplace human interactions. The quality of your meals might deteriorate as you hijack every possible minute to reach your goals. These situations may be unavoidable for most, but try to strike a balance. Your health is very important to both creativity and productivity, so it’s worth sacrificing a little time to go outside and enjoy the brisk autumn air, play a game with friends or family, or get a little exercise. Sometimes these short breaks can even clear your mind of clutter and help you work through troublesome patches in the novel. However, hunkering down over the leftover Halloween candy and seeing how much sugar you can pack into your body in one sitting is not an ideal break. You’re going to need snacks, and while a little candy here and there can be a nice treat, you should stock up on trail mix, fruits, or even energy bars. I’m not saying you need to go to Whole Foods and go wild on chia seeds and dried kale (unless that’s what you like), but be mindful of your snacking and try to take it easy on the caffeine. If you need a break from coffee, try brewed cocoa or new flavors of tea and always have water nearby!

Remember: 50,000 raw words
Don’t stop to edit yourself or second guess a decision. If you start questioning what’s hitting the page, make a note and write through it. There will be plenty of time to edit later. When your writing begins to feel sluggish, go wild! Use these moments as opportunities to explore situations you wouldn’t typically consider. Use your instincts and let the characters guide you. If you need to catapult someone into the sun or reveal that someone’s been an agent of the antagonist the whole time to get the pace of the story back on track, so be it. You have plenty of time to edit once NaNo ends, so don’t let any second-guessing throw you off track. You are a warrior, this is your battle, so get in there and slay that word count!

Special thanks to NaNo vets Nancy Moran, Judy Hopkins, and our own Melissa Heiselt for all the excellent info that went into this post. Be sure to check out next week’s NaNo blog as Melissa squares off with THE WALL!