I went kind of radio silent for a few weeks there — sorry about that. I have things to post about, but I’m not going to dump it all at once. First is the Anthology Workshop I went to from late February through the first week in March. Great stuff as always. Anyone who has any interest in writing short fiction should try to get into one of these workshops some year. I think the 2016 Anthology Workshop still has space, or at least it’s not marked as full yet. Click through and scroll down.
For anyone going “Huh?” right now, the Anthology Workshop is an intense week-and-a-bit on the Oregon coast with about forty writers and half a dozen editors. We get six anthology assignments ahead of time — submission guidelines, like you’d see for any anthology — starting right after the first of the year. Each assignment has a deadline a week away, and then we get the next one, boom-boom-boom, six stories due on six successive Sundays. You’re not required to write for every book — you can pick the ones you want — but why wouldn’t you? This is a great opportunity to submit work and then listen to a bunch of editors arguing over your stories. Oh, and possibly make some sales to Fiction River, as a nice bonus to eight days of learning.
Most of the workshop days are devoted to going over stories, one book’s worth per day. They start at one end of the row of editors at the front of the room, and each editor says whether they’d have bought the story or not, and why or why not. The last editor is the one (or occasionally a pair, editing a book as a team) who’s actually buying stories for the live anthology. There’s a white board for each book, where BUY and MAYBE stories are listed, along with author and wordcount. Sometimes all the editors agree one way or the other, but usually not. The discussions back and forth between editors of differing opinions can be entertaining, and are always educational. That’s really what it’s all about — seeing how and why different professional editors can and do disagree over a story, occasionally with snark or sarcasm involved. When we’re done with all the stories, the editor(s) look at how many BUY stories they have, and if there isn’t enough wordcount, they go through the MAYBE stories to finish building the TOC. Watching them do this is another great educational opportunity.
So each day, the editors go over one book’s worth of stories. I always write for all the books, and so do a lot of the other attendees. Before this year, if a story was passed up, we were encouraged to sub it to some other pro market right away, but this time we were told not to. Good thing, too.
The six books we wrote for were, in scheduled publication order:
Hidden in Crime, edited by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, a historical crime volume
Visions of the Apocalypse, edited by John Helfers, a book of stories taking place during (not just before or after) the end of the world
Last Stand, edited by Dean Wesley Smith and Felicia Fredlund, stories about characters making a final stand, and no, it’s not all they-died-in-the-end stories
Superpowers, edited by Rebecca Moesta, a YA anthology about teenagers learning to cope with some kind of super power
Haunted, edited by Kerrie Hughes, an anthology of haunting stories
Pulse Pounders: Adrenaline, edited by Kevin J. Anderson, a book of short thrillers
Click through and scroll down a bit to see the up-coming anthology covers. Last I heard, they’re planning to find new art for the Last Stand book, but the others are pretty set except for names on the covers.
I initially sold a story to Haunted, which is cool; I’ve worked with Kerrie before and am looking forward to working with her again. I missed with John’s Apocalypse book, which was disappointing; I’ve sold stories to him the last two years, but this time I didn’t quite hit what he was looking for. Dean hated my story for Last Stand, but Felicia liked it a lot. I honestly wasn’t expecting to make it in there, but after going over all the stories, they did some horse trading between themselves and Dean got one he wanted that Felicia hadn’t really cared for, and Felicia got mine. Kris teetered a bit on mine, but it didn’t quite make it, which was disappointing, but I’ve never sold her anything before, so I was almost expecting it. Then on the last workshop day, she announced that someone not in the workshop who’d been invited to submit to the book, and who’d wanted a 10K word space saved for them, couldn’t submit something after all, leaving Kris with a 10K word hole. She bought two extra stories after all, one of them mine, woot!
Now this year, there was an extra person sitting up front with the editors. Mark Leslie Lefebvre, AKA Mark the Kobo guy, was a student in the workshop last year. He stepped in and offered some Kobo support when a couple of editors had more stories they Really Really Wanted to buy, but which they didn’t have room/budget for. Two of last year’s volumes have special Kobo editions with three more stories in them, which is awesome, so thanks to Mark for that. But this year, Mark was sitting up front. Huh?
Okay, there had to be a reason. Last year, there was some talk about how, if the special Kobo editions were a success and sold well, they might do special editions of all the books this year. But as days went by, they weren’t buying extra stories, and there was no mention of a Kobo edition. Huh. But there was Mark up there, doing the Yes-Maybe-No thing with all the stories. My guess was that he was doing a stealth book, his own anthology, and I was right. They went through all the stories that Mark or one (or more) of the other editors had loved, but either didn’t have room in their book, or it was a story for someone else’s book that didn’t get bought. We had a whiteboard for each book (Dean and company screwed each day’s board up onto the wall somewhere in the room after that day’s workshop was over) and then Mark had a couple more where he assembled his picks, plus all the unbought picks from the other editors. Hashmarks showed which stories had a lot of love from the editors, even if the one it was written for didn’t buy it. That last round of TOC building was great, especially for the folks who got last minute surprise buys.
There’s some great stuff in there, stories I’d have bought if I’d been one of the editors. The book’s not on the Fiction River site, but they were calling it Editors’ Cut at the workshop. Fiction River doesn’t always stick to just one genre in each volume, but Mark’s book will have more variety than usual. Should be great for anyone who just loves short fiction.
Like last year, we had sign-ups to eat lunch with the editors and Allyson (the publisher of WMG), and I went out with a few people. And there were great discussions in, around, and after workshop sessions. Some notes:
If you love a trope that nobody’s writing anymore, other people will love it too, so write it to fill that hole. This is especially an opportunity for folks indie publishing — don’t let New York tell you Horror is dead, or Westerns, or romantic vampires, or kids finding weird objects while playing, or whatever you’re into.
Past a certain level of craftsmanship, whether a story sells or not isn’t really about quality, it’s about taste. Don’t let a rejection, or a bunch of rejections, discourage you. If you’re pretty sure a story is well written, keep subbing it, or indie publish it.
If you’re doing a punch story, a short story with a quick hit at the end, do a double-punch — two hits in quick succession — to make it even more powerful.
When you’re writing for submission, readability is key. No 10pt fonts, no weird fonts, don’t try to be “special.” Try to be readable. If the editor notices your formatting, you blew it.
Define what “success” means to you before you plan a promo campaign. You have to know what you want so you can tell if your campaign was successful and worth the resources you put into it.
80% of people who download a free book won’t read it.
You need at least 3-5 books in a series for perma-free on the first book to be of any benefit. (And there’s some disagreement about whether perma-free is ever a good idea. Temporary free promotions might be better.)
Amazon categories — use Fiction, General and Fiction, [Genre] as your two categories. Then your keywords will get you into other categories under those. There are a bazillion categories under Fiction, General that you can only get in through Fiction, General plus keywords
When you sub to a literary market, don’t label the story by genre in your cover letter, and don’t note genre credits. For literary markets, no previous credits are better than genre credits.
Never use the term “self-published” — use small press, independently published, etc. The stigma is still there, so don’t get it on you.
A good title will sell a story before you’ve even written it (in tradpub). It’ll also sell a story to readers.
Stories about the everyday tragedies of human life need to rise above the everyday tragedies of human life. They’re realistic, but a reader needs more of a reason to read about that particular one. Usually it’s not something anyone outside the main character’s family and friends would care about. [Writer]’s story worked because their character was heroic and had a humorous thread in their voice about what was going on with them. Also, you need to balance the tragic event with being an entertainer. The reader has to want to read that story — they’ll want to read it because it’s entertaining. What about the story and the characters makes the reader want to hang with them, especially since most people aren’t keen to spend time with their own family and friends who are horribly sick, or whatever, much less a stranger?
To transcend the horrible mundanity, maybe the character does something different, something heroic. Or the story could have an awesome voice.
If you’re editing an anthology, or putting together a collection of your own short work, the gut-wrenchingly emotional story should be at the end, or maybe in the middle, but most definitely not right up in the beginning.
When building your TOC, figure about 1/3 of readers will read the book front to back, in order.
Don’t start a story with the character’s first and last name — nametag opening. It has to be up front quick, but not the first two words.
Kris’s technique for analyzing someone else’s book/story — Take a book you never want to read again, underline setting words with a different color for each sense. Then go through and color each word for how it supports the story, setting or character or plot. The idea is to load the technique into your head so it filters to your subconscious and five stories [of your own] later you’ll start using it when you write. It’s not deliberate; it comes out of the subconscious as you write.
Dean’s technique — Take a book and type the opening in your manuscript format to get the feel for what the writer was doing word-by-word. You’ll start realizing what the writer is doing and how they do it.
Whenever you get comments about too many details, it’s always the writer putting the setting details in (the writer’s narrative voice) rather than filtering it all through the POV character’s opinion. Everything should be filtered through the character, which makes the words build character as well as setting. If you feed setting in through the POV character, readers won’t notice all the setting coming in; it reads very quickly.
If anyone notices your setting in the beginning, you fucked up.
Don’t use a series name in the title of a story in an anthology because too many people will see that it’s a series story and skip it.
Stories are circles, and the end has to reflect back on the beginning. If an ending isn’t working, it’s probably because there’s a problem with the beginning, or because the ending doesn’t reflect on the beginning.
On a crime story being resolved — the reader needs to know who committed the crime and that the story is over. A mystery/crime story puts order onto chaos. If the story is noir, the reader needs to know that order will never be imposed on the chaos. If it’s not a mystery per se, they might not catch the crook, but in any case the reader needs to have that info.
This isn’t everything, but it’s most of what I had in my Notes file on my laptop. This is an awesome workshop, and I’d be taking it even if I never sold anything. In fact, the first time I went, the anthologies weren’t “live,” and nobody sold anything; we were all there for the learning. This is a wonderful experience, and I highly recommend it to anyone with any interest in publishing short fiction.