Category Archives: Submissions

Superstars Week, Day 2: Top Benefits of the Superstars Seminar

Today, Day Two of Superstars Week, three more Fictorians share some of the top benefits the Superstars Writing Seminar provided to us.

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Frank Morin: Superstars was a landmark event in my writing career. I came to Superstars thinking I knew what it meant to be a writer. I left knowing what it takes to succeed.

The presenters shared so much knowledge in such a short time, it’s hard to understand until you’re there. Of all the brilliant advice, here’s what I found most useful:

1. Volume matters, particularly in today’s market. One book per year is minimum. No longer can a writer slave over a manuscript for years before it’s ready for release. Just like everything else in our world, the pace is faster than ever. Competition is fierce and readers’ attention spans are short. They have too many other options available. They won’t wait for years. Kevin J Anderson said early in his career, he was querying with over 30 separate pieces simultaneously.

2. Contracts. This is business. Publishers, and even some agents, are not your friends. The only person who is really looking out for your interests is you. Learn about contracts, ask questions, and don’t sign anything you don’t fully understand.

3. The economics of publishing. We got a glimpse at the economics involved from both the authors and publishers points of view. It was eye opening. I had never realized publishers generally lose money on an author’s first book. A publisher is making an investment, hoping to reap a return on that investment through future books by that author as their fan base grows. That helped explain why most new authors get very little for a first novel. Understanding how the industry works allows us to approach it as professionals, with correct expectations.

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Ann Cooney: Superstars was wonderful because now I’m able to manage my career with confidence and approach it with professionalism rather than naive timidity.

Superstars showed me where the bar sits to be a professional writer. For example, if you’re serious about writing, WRITE! A novel a year is the minimum output. So, that first year after Superstars I wrote two novels to complete the trilogy I had started. Last year I researched and wrote another novel. This year, my new research complete, I expect to complete one, possibly two novels for a series. So now when I talk to publishers and editors, I have a product line which show I’m serious because I have more than a one-time dream I’m selling.

Before Superstars I found the idea of talking with anyone in the industry intimidating because I felt so naive. And I was. Now, with some understanding how things operate, it’s easier talk to publishers, editors and successful authors in a time when the industry is changing so much.

When I saw how much the superstar authors give back to the writing community I was inspired to do more than I had been. I’m a short story contest judge. I’m editing an anthology. I help other aspiring writers and support writing groups. The neat thing is that the more I give, the more I learn and grow and my network of resources and contacts are always expanding.

In short, the greatest thing about Superstars is that I have great role models who have not only inspired me but have shared what it takes to make it in this industry. And for that, I’ll always be grateful. Thanks!

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Jason Michelsen: I can’t recommend the Superstars Writing Seminar enough. Even after going through two different writing programs at the undergrad and graduate levels in college, there were so many things left untaught during my education about the business side of the industry. I suppose it is a school’s job merely to teach its students how to write better, but, as I learned at the
seminar, there is so much more to being a writer than just writing.

For one thing, we never discussed contracts in school, and if you ever want to get paid as a writer, knowing about contracts is important. The lecture by Eric Flint on contracts was invaluable. Granted, there are a lot of writers out there who may not read their contracts carefully and leave all negotiating up to their agents, but I for one want to know exactly what’s in my contract should I ever be lucky enough to get published through traditional means.

Getting published through traditional means typically requires an agent, something else that was never discussed when I was in school but is covered at length during this seminar. It’s true that just about every author has their own unique story about how they acquired their agent, but the Superstars Writing Seminar prepares you for what you need to do when you’re ready to go to market with your finished manuscript.

Knowing a little about the market doesn’t hurt either. Okay, knowing a lot about the market is ideal: what kinds of books are selling, what publishing houses publish the types of books you write, what you might expect to make as a mid-list author or national bestseller, etc.

Sure, discussing salary might be jumping the gun a bit for most seminar attendees, but that’s the beauty of the Superstars Writing Seminar. Not only do you get access to a wealth of knowledge about the publishing industry, you also get access to some of the most prolific writers producing speculative fiction today. So if you go, hang out with the authors during breaks, ask them questions, network and make connections with your fellow attendees. You’ll be glad you did!

See you in April at Superstars!

And the winner is …..

And the winner is ….

Not you!

What happened? You’ve worked on your craft for tens of thousands, hundreds of hundred thousand words. You’ve gone to workshops, read every blog, every book on craft you can find. By now you know what the pros say and you can teach the writing courses just as well. And yet, the podium still eludes you.

Then there’s Writer X gracing the podium. Her writing isn’t as crisp. Her wrinkles of profound thought aren’t as deep. And she’s much newer at the game. So why was her work chosen over yours?

As co-editor of the Shanghai Steam Anthology, I’ve had to read well crafted and poorly crafted stories. Some writers had great ideas but needed to hone their writing skills. Others wrote prose well enough but the story lacked tension, the story arc was incomplete, the dialogue didn’t work, it lacked theme/focus or the historical homework wasn’t done.

Then there were the stories which survived the first round of cuts. Those which had that extra something. Some would need some revision, others editing while the best ones required no work.

What!!!!!! you exclaim. Some needing revision are in the final round? What about the ones with the well crafted prose that you denied? Why weren’t they chosen for editorial revision?

The answer is simple – besides being decently written, these stories are memorable. Despite their flaws, I was engaged to the end. Every story in the last round evokes an emotional response whether it’s of laughter, amusement, bitter sweetness, feeling defeated, cheering a hero, being horrified, melancholy, elation, and so on. It may be quietly engaging as in a romantic tragedy or a simple rendering of a thought provoking moment.

The emotional response I’m describing is not about liking or disliking a character. It’s about the story itself. Am I left feeling optimistic, laughing, amused by the clever turn of events or am I saddened, horrified, forced to reflect on the human condition? And does that story stay with me long after I’ve read it? Does it have emotional resonance?

The story, like every character in it, has its own voice – its own drama, its own growth, its own ability to draw readers in and not let them go. That voice carries the story’s emotional resonance which is framed by the promise made at its beginning and is concluded or addressed by the end.

We understand that the story arc is an important backbone for a story with a beginning, middle and end which includes challenges, climax and denouement. Characters cleverly doing their thing without purpose or meaning is not enough. How do you want the reader to understand the world you’ve created when the story is done? How do you want him to feel? Happy? Sad? Thoughtful? Hopeful? Depressed? Scared to death? Satisfied for running a marathon? Cheering that the good guy beat the bad guy?

Once you understand what emotions you want the reader to experience, your writing voice will be clear and the story’s emotional resonance will reflect that. Emotionally, the reader is compelled to read the story through to its bitter, joyful, triumphant, tragic or thoughtful end. You don’t want them feeling emotionally flat and wondering so what?

 Good writing counts for a lot in submissions for contests, anthologies or publishing. But no matter how well crafted the words are, how strong the plot and characters appear to be, without emotional resonance the story isn’t memorable. It’s the little aha! I get it! or what a ride! feeling a reader experiences that makes it memorable. That aha! may be a good chortle, a reflective moment, celebration of the protagonist’s victory or grumping at a character’s stubbornness. Whatever the aha! is, every reader craves it and every story needs it to be memorable.

 Now when you revise and edit your work or when others critique it for you, ask them: How does the story make you feel?, Does it stay with you after you’ve finished it?, If you had strong feelings about the story, tell me why. If not, what does it need/why does it feel flat to you? These are hard questions to ask and answer but knowing this will take your story to the next level and make it resonate with readers.

Sloshing through the Slush Pile ““ Beginner Concerns

You wrote a story and submitted it. Good for you! Pat on the back! It takes courage to not only write but to submit! But, your story wasn’t chosen? That makes me sad, especially after all that effort. So, how do you get your story through the first reading also known as the slush pile? It’s no great mystery. I’ve been a slush pile reader and have judged the Imaginative Fiction Writers Association (IFWA) short story contest and I’m here to share some of the common writing mistakes made by beginning writers.

Actions speak louder than words
There is the saying that actions speak louder than words. For the writer the saying should be reworded to: a character’s actions and reactions, based on his value system, are more revealing than a mere listing of movements and setting. Feelings, actions and reactions, what’s worth fighting for, our successes and failures in that fight and how they affect us – those are the things which move your reader and create your story.

Damn, I hate lectures …
Information dumps are bad any time – back story, setting, telling me what the character is thinking. When I hear the “professor’ lecturing me on what it’s like in space when I want to know how the character will solve a problem, I’m gone ……. and please, stay away from omniscient musings on the human condition!

The sleep inducing setting
Starting a story with a list of items the character sees isn’t exciting. Not even in real life do we note all the details in a room when we enter it. But we do notice things which affect how we feel or cause us to react like a dead body on the floor or the missing captain and the view screen showing the planet’s surface growing larger.

Setting not only sets the time and place for your story but more importantly is used to stimulate the senses; to evoke a feeling for the situation and to provide a context in which your character will react. Yes, some novels start with awesome descriptions of setting. So what makes that work? Setting is used as a character – it evokes a feeling. It’s no mistake that in Twilight, for example, the climate is cold, rainy and generally depressing. Similar, is it not, to how Belle feels about herself?

Writing in first person
Many a good idea was killed by this Point of View. Writing in first person doesn’t mean it’s a free license to explore your grey cells to produce copious ponderings. Writing in first person is difficult because there is only one point of view through which to reveal a world, create drama and to incorporate a story line which is interesting. It can be done. The trick is not to tell, but to show the person actively assessing and responding to his situation. Through his eyes and actions, he must reveal information about the people he interacts with, his surroundings and how he feels. First person can be a great way to get deeply into someone’s psyche, the trick is not to get bogged down in the thinking process. All the rules for a good story arc still apply.

Stories need to be dynamic
Whether they’re dynamic emotionally or action oriented, I don’t care. Have some tension, carry it through to the climax and ending. Actions need reaction. Reactions produce more actions. Show, don’t tell. Don’t list events, or actions, or use empty words like “pondered “which evoke nothing except that the writer didn’t really know how the character felt or how he should react. A story needs a plot and increasing tension with a climax. Writing a descriptive scene isn’t a story.

Proof reading and feedback
Truly, most of us cannot be a good judge of what we write, certainly not in the beginning of our careers. The act of writing is a solitary event insofar as we need to write our story. After that, it’s a collaborative process requiring feedback and revisions. Your manuscript is easily rejected because of poor grammar, spelling and punctuation, clunky dialogue or extensive monologues. Plot problems or character concerns such as inconsistency or believability are things proofreaders can catch.

Keep on writing!
Cheers!