Category Archives: Making Progress as a Writer

The Stories that Just Don’t Sell

What do you do with your “dog stories”–the ones that just don’t sell?

I have a few of those. There’s the story that was written the day of the deadline, because I really wanted to submit something but I had too many other deadlines due first. There’s the story that was written for a very specific anthology call that feels as though it will be hard to place. And there’s the story that just wasn’t a good fit anywhere.

These three stories ended up meeting different fates.

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Day-of-Deadline story ended up being okay. That’s it. Just “okay.” It’s a passable action-adventure story, but when I reread it, I don’t see anything special about it. The characters aren’t that unique. Their world feels like a generic steampunk-ish setting. When I finish the story, I don’t feel that I have anything to “take away” from it other than “well, that was 15 minutes of entertainment.”

There are enough good stories out there that editors are unlikely to buy a story that’s merely “okay.”

I have this story on hold until I can give it a more unique identity. Maybe that’ll be by developing the setting, which in turn will give the characters new challenges. Maybe that’ll be by making those characters more complex. I might be able to rework the story I have, or I might have to rewrite it almost entirely.

The moral of this story is that this tale needed more time than the 24 hours before deadline to be refined into something memorable. Without a heavy rewrite, this story isn’t good enough to sell.

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Specific-Anthology-Call is a Weird Western with horror and fantasy elements. I wrote it for a horror-themed anthology, but it quite fit the “feel” that the editors wanted for the book. Now I’m stuck with this bizarre story that’s struggling to find a home. I don’t think it has enough classic horror elements for most horror calls, but it’s too scary and gory for kid lit, and there’s no steampunk elements in it.

This story’s got a unique identity…it’s just that the identity is so quirky. I’ve shopped this one around to one Weird Western call since, and I’m waiting to see another before submitting it again. It’s going to take patience to find it a home.

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Finally, there’s a short story I wrote that I liked very much. I didn’t write it for a call–I wrote it because this was a specific kind of tale I wanted to tell. I gave it to some beta readers, all of whom said they found it confusing. They missed the in-text hints that suggested the true reasons behind the characters’ motivations.

I rewrote it, and received the same feedback. I didn’t want to write down to my audience, or explain the obvious, but with feedback like this it was clear to me that my subtle suggestions were too subtle. My readers were missing them, and therefore didn’t understand what was going on.

I rewrote it again, in a clearer form, and when I thought I’d gotten a good balance between “make sure the reader doesn’t have to guess too much” and “beat the reader over the head with the clue-by-four,” I submitted the story. And submitted it. And submitted it.

Over three years, I received five rejections.

After each rejection I reviewed and revised. I got two “this is a serviceable story, it’s just not our kind of story” replies.

Unlike Day-of-Deadline Story, Specific Anthology Call, and my rejected flash fiction, every time I reviewed this story, I felt more faith in it. I believed that this was a good story, not just an okay one. I believed that it was unique and interesting. I felt that there was something to take away from it. I believed in this story–for logical reasons, not just because of ego-driven reasons. I knew I could, and have, written crap; I just didn’t believe this one was crap. And so I kept cleaning it up and sending it out.

Then.

A call for submissions, to a magazine where I felt the story might be a good fit–but the story had to be 1000K shorter than its current state. I wasn’t sure I could make the story clear enough to follow, without cutting out any critical plot points, and also pare 1000 words. I decided to try. I focused on wordy sentences, repetitive descriptions, non-crucial detail. Any word that wasn’t essential had to go.

I got the story under maximum length…barely. I submitted it.

It sold.

There’s an art in knowing which of your stories are fundamentally flawed–the ones where you’re better off chalking them up as learning experiences and starting fresh–and which of your stories are good stories that just need to find a place to fit.

Goals: Can’t Live With ‘Em, Can’t Live Without ‘Em

Welcome to 2018!

We hope your 2017 was full of wonderful words and stories, and that 2018 will be even better. That might even mean giving up on your New Years resolutions.

It’s shocking to think about, isn’t it? Quitting your goals? Almost taboo. Most of us have “never give up” stamped on the insides of our brains, and tell ourselves we’re quitters and failures if we do give up. Sometimes we barrel through our goals even when it’s no longer in our best interest.

This month, we’ll discuss when it’s appropriate to quit your goals. That’s right – when failure is your best option. Are you ticking off items in your to-do list just to do them? Are your goals no longer serving your overall purpose?

Some of us may not agree with quitting your goals, however. Some of us might say complete the goal anyway, because it’ll create a good habit for you to always complete your goals. Perhaps it’s best to modify your goal instead of doing away with it completely.

Please enjoy this month of thinking critically about the goals we set and when it’s best to quit them, modify them, or complete them! We’d love to hear your thoughts on our posts – please comment whenever a thought on the topic comes to mind!

2017: Looking Back and Looking Forward

Over the last month, you’ve celebrated the year through the eyes of the Fictorians and our guests. I think it’s safe to say that everyone had their share of ups and downs this year. We’ve reached the end of 2017 and tomorrow many of us will look at the coming year with a sense of purpose or a sense of uncertainty. There are 365 days ahead of us as writers. Some of them will be good and some will not – this is the writing life. What matters is that we face them together and do the very best we can.

By now, I’ve completed a list of what I think my goals should be for 2018, but I know that I may not reach all of them. If 2017 has taught me anything, riding the wave of opportunities means that my best laid plans will most certainly change. Remaining flexible is critical. Some times, you have to actually quit your goals. That’s what we’ll be talking about in January here on The Fictorians. Before we do that, though, I’d like to leave you with one more thought about your year in review and the year ahead.

One of the books that’s immeasurably changed how I approach writing is The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. One of the tenets of Cameron’s book is the concept of Daily Pages. Over the last few years, I’ve used a couple of different notebooks to do this. The idea is simple. Every day, sit down and write three pages. What do you write? Whatever is on your mind. I think of it as clearing the mechanism – I just write whatever is on my mind – a pure stream of consciousness technique. Often times, I may start off with a regimented idea of my to-do list or something similar. Some times I’ll start with a favorite memory from the day before. Sometimes, I’ll just vent my fears, my anger, or my remorse. By sitting down and forcing it out of my head, I’ve found that my writing time is more productive. I’m less likely to fall into my social media distractions. I’m more likely to hit my word count goal for the day when I take the time to write my pages. Three pages may be too much for you at first. I tend to do two pages on a pretty regular basis. Find what works for you. Clearing your mechanism is a good way to look past the stress in our lives. Journaling is a great way to get in touch with your ideas, too. Simply put, I recommend it. Whether you’re committing to a New Year’s Resolution or not, one thing writers do is read. If you haven’t read The Artist’s Way, do so sooner rather than later. Your writing will thank you.

Best of luck with your writing endeavors in 2018. We’ll be right here cheering for you.

Reading The Runes – A Guest Post by Nick Thacker

I’ve always said that we are our own worst critic… until you get married. It’s a tongue-in-cheek phrase, to be sure, and while my wife is certainly generous with her critiques of my clothing choices (“those shoes with that pair of pants?”) or my decisions regarding parenting (“you’re feeding them that?”), she’s been nothing but encouraging when it comes to my writing career.

In fact, she was the reason I decided to bite the bullet and go full time in 2017. I’d been writing fiction for around five years, and toward the end of 2015 I decided to begin treating it more like a business – setting a schedule for myself, word count goals, dabbling with marketing and advertising, and spending more than an hour a year on taxes.

It was sometime in January, during one of our scheduled date nights, when she asked me the fateful question: “So, when are you going to quit your day job and write full-time?”

I wasn’t sure how to respond. I’d made more money in the previous three months from my fiction than either of us had in our full-time day jobs, but the thought of abandoning it all and going full time as a writer was, in short, terrifying.

But she prevailed, and we came up with a plan: Sometime after Easter (I worked at a church, so doing anything major before Easter is near impossible) I would have “the talk” with my bosses. We’d come up with a solid plan for my transition out and into the world of self-employment.

My first day of full-time writing was July 1, 2017. I walked downstairs into my “new” office – the basement – and sat down to write. I wrote a couple thousand words, got tired, and went upstairs to get lunch. After lunch, I sat back down and tried to write and found out that writing all day long wasn’t something I could do easily. I was good for three, maybe four thousand words a day. On a crazy caffeine-fueled day, maybe five.

What was I supposed to do with the rest of the time?

Well, I soon found out.

Almost immediately my sales began to slump. They drifted down, at first on par with what I was making at the end of the previous year, then even lower. By August, I was down to what I was making at my earlier full-time job.

Then my wife quit her job. It was something we’d planned, and talked about extensively, and it was something that had been in motion for some time, but it had snuck up on us. And it couldn’t have happened at a worse time financially.

My book sales continued their downward sloping run until I was frantic, trying to figure out what I was doing wrong. (“Is this the universe telling me I’ve made a horrible mistake?”) I tried reaching out to colleagues, tried launching the next book, and starting thinking about a contingency plan in case I had to start job hunting in the next few months. We had an emergency fund for this very thing, but I’d never thought we’d actually have to use it.

I kept churning out words, however, and I started advertising my work on Amazon and Facebook once again. I’d stopped when my sales were doing well, and I thought that perhaps the “lag time” from starting/stopping ads could be around 2-3 months, meaning that while I’d stopped them months ago, I was only now seeing the effects. That also meant that I needed to start advertising once again, and hope that sales increased in a few months.

Advertising and marketing became my full-time job, and writing my part-time job. I put in four to five hours a day analyzing sales data and planning campaigns, building ads and reading everything I could get my hands on about marketing and advertising. I went to conference in November with the sole purpose of learning the ropes of “writing as a business.”

My December sales are looking up, but I’ve learned that this whole game is one of risk, hard work, and countless unmeasurable variables. It has huge opportunities and the upside is great, but there are always going to be learning curves, pride-swallowing sessions, and perhaps visits to a counselor.

My 2018 will be different. I’ve learned what it takes to succeed as an indie author in the current era: to constantly be working on the next book, to build relationships with others in the field, and to never be sitting idle. I’ll be learning new things as much as possible, planning long-term goals, and treating my writing like a business.

I won’t be subjected to the emotional swings of seeing my hourly, daily, and monthly sales data, because I won’t be allowing myself to act upon short-term data. I will work to improve my craft and increase the number of assets I have available, and I’ll treat data as what it is: information. That information has no bearing on my success or failure – it’s merely a set of runes to be interpreted and used to my benefit.

I’ll get better at “interpreting the runes” and I’ll get better at learning how to be better. If 2017 was a year of “hard knocks learning,” 2018 will be a year of putting that learning into practice and seeing where this little career of mine will lead.

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Nick Thacker is the author of best-selling action-adventure thrillers, including the Harvey Bennett Thrillers series. He lives in Colorado Springs with his wife, two kids, and two dogs. He can be found online at www.nickthacker.com