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Video Games and Story Telling

I haven’t mentioned this much, maybe a few posts here and there, but I love video games.  Like many people in my generation, I have grown up with the video game industry.  As it has grown so have I.  I started with Mario on the NES, and this week I began playing Battlefield 3 for my PC.  That is a lot of growth in a short amount of time.

Just like writing, I don’t have as much time for games as I used to.  In life, you have to make time for the things you love to do.  So I make time for the games when I can.  And, of course, when a new game I love comes out (such as Battlefield 3) I tend to spend a lot of time with it.  And, while getting my butt kicked last night, I thought a lot about my uncontested favorite video games: Tomb Raider.  It got me thinking about a different aspect of video game evolution.  So this morning, I figured I better get this blog out now before I started in on the Battlefield.

Its easy to notice the evolution of graphics, controls, consoles, or even the sheer size of the games.  But, story telling has almost become a requirement in the video game world.  Take a look at the original Mario Bros., a game that is still great today, but really tells a limited story.  Scroll Right and save the princess.  The story has since grown, so that even the newest Mario games have a far more detailed story.

But stories have gotten even more important in the over all game play.  Characters’ stories are often crafted and even the slightest of changes are contested by the fans.  Katie Fleming, the Queen of Tomb Raider Fandom, recently hosted a Youtube video debate on the changes to Lara Croft’s character bio.  I mention this because it demonstrates the affect of story telling on today’s games. This was a very passionate debate by loving fans to Lara and the Tomb Raider franchise.  There is true love there for the character and her story.

People can now get even more immersed in the game world by an entertaining story, a creative world to be explored, characters you care about, and a protagonist you love to hate.  Sounds a bit familiar doesn’t it?  The same recipe for a good story has now become the recipe for a good game.  Games have become more about being playable stories then just a game.  I have spent many nights up late playing one more “level” just to find out what happens next in the story.  Just as I have done so many times with the pages of a book.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q7GVSx7yMaA]

I think the evolution of gaming in the direction of story telling started early.  Almost all games had a story of some sort.  But, it has become so important now that even games like Battlefield 3, that are primarily played for their massive multi-player interaction, have ensured they have a story to go with their game.  Picking up a gun and shooting other players has no longer become good enough for most of the gamers.

With the development of another Tomb Raider in the works, story telling comes to the forefront again.  Almost all the buzz about this game has been about the story:  The reinventing of Lara (again) for our playing enjoyment.  I have not heard much talk of graphics, moves, or controls.  The talk has been about Lara’s new look, the story of Lara’s past, and the world she will be stuck in.  The same things I talk about (and look for) in a good book.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RN7_8Yholm4]

In fact, video game characters have made the move into other story telling medium as well.  Of course you have movies like Final Fantasy, Tomb Raider, Alone in the Dark, Resident Evil, and Prince of Persia.  Tomb Raider had a great run of Comic Books.  Some have even made their way into novels.  In fact, if the right people are reading this I should note that I would love to write a Tomb Raider Novel (HINT HINT SHAMELESS PLUG).

As a writer you may have considered writing a novel, a comic book, or even a movie.  But the world of video games offers another chance for story telling.  And, video gamers can be the most fun and challenging group to write for.  We love our games, their characters, their worlds, and the story they have to tell.

Now if you will excuse me, I am needed on the Battlefield.

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Dream Job: The process of crafting an idea into a story.

My story “Dream Job” in Cygnus Journal of Speculative Fiction, which you can read for free here, was the first short story I had written since High School.  And, the first thing I ever wrote with the intentions of having it published.  So now that it is out for the public to read, I felt I needed to say a bit about it.  After all, there is a lot to be said for it.

I talk a lot about ideas, you can read my post about them.  I had made up my mind I wanted to be a published writer, and I though it would be best to start with a short story.  The real problem was, I couldn’t come up with a good idea.  Well, scratch that, I had ideas but I was having trouble developing them into anything.  Finally, the idea hit me in a nightmare.

If you have read the story, you know this line (if not please go read it):

“An icy cold began to rush over her body, slowly flooding around her arm and across her body. She
began to gasp for air in panic as she realized the cold-flowing blood was reaching her heart.”

That was my dream.  One line.  Thirty-seven words out of about 4,600 words.  I had a dream that someone was in the room, I was injected, and a cool oozing feeling flowed towards my chest.  And, like Samantha, I woke up feeling the cold.  It scared the shit out of me.  So much so, that I thought about it for the whole night (I worked graveyard shift at the time).

I started to wonder what might cause that feeling, which had long since passed.  I wondered how I remembered it so clearly and how would something from the dream world transfer so easily to the waking world.  Then, but the end of my day, I wondered how I could make this into a story.

The first draft of Dream Job was a disaster.  Though when I wrote it, I thought I was a master of the craft.  I posted it for my writer’s group, Hatrack River, which I had just joined.  And, they very nicely told me that my intro was cliche.  They even referred me to The Turkey City Lexicon, a must read of new writers (which I re-read all the time). I had used the “White Room Syndrome” opening… ouch.

I realized I needed a complete rewrite of the opening lines (also known as the hook).  When I did that, it took the story in a different direction (although it was was along the same plot points), and thus my second draft was a total rewrite.

I posted the new Opening for my group to read.  They told me it was still missing something.  There was not much for readers to grab on to.  I was frustrated because I thought I was was writing gold, and they were not getting it.  Of course, they were right. After I looked things over again.  I went for a third rewrite of the opening lines.

Now, this third one was troublesome to come up with.  I spent a week mulling over different openings.  And then it hit me.  My dream was so emotional to me because it happened in my own bed.  My own house.  This was my house, my bed, and my room and it was invaded by this nightmare.

BINGO!

So I put Samantha at her home, and hat it invaded.  Government Agents had always been a part of the plot, so naturally they were the invaders.  The story took a third complete rewrite, very different from the first and second drafts.  Then I posted it again on my writers forum.  I don’t know if my forum LOVED IT, but they certainly liked it.

From there it was just a few minor tweeks for Grammar (ugh… grammar cops), a bit of tightening up based on suggestions from fellow writers, and then it was out for submission.  Shortly after submitting it, I got the idea for “Death Watch” and started this process all over again.  “Death Watch” was accepted first (12 days before its big brother).

From the time I started writing until “Dream Job” went for its first submission was almost exactly two months (59 days).  From first submission to acceptance was just over five months.  I am proud of it, and to see it in print is a great thing.

The title may seem obvious to you after reading it (sorry no spoilers here, just go read it).  But, for me it was also a bit of an inside story too.  After all, writing is one of my dream jobs.  This being the first thing I wrote, it only seemed fitting.

So please, head over to Smashwords and download your free copy of Cygnus Journal of Speculative Fiction.  Read it and review it on Goodreads.  And on the topic of Goodreads, check out my Author page and become a fan.

As always your comments are welcome.

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New Short Story Out

Today Cygnus Journal of Speculative Fiction published Issue 1, which features my story “Dream Job”.  I am excited about this publication for two reasons:

First, this is the first short story I have written since my choice to be a published writer.  I did write a short story in High School that people seemed to like, but its long gone.  So really, I consider this my first short story.  I am blessed that it was published.  I know many very talented authors whose firsts are still awaiting the acceptance letter.

Second, it was chosen to be in the first issue of a new publication.  This may not seem like a big deal, but when a magazine starts up, there is a lot of pressure to be good (if not great).  Editors have to choose the stories they publish in their first issues carefully, as they set the bar for the entire publication.  That doesn’t mean publications don’t grow and become better.  It just means that you want to make a good first impression when you start up.  So I feel privileged that “Dream Job” was chosen to be among those stories that represent the start of Cygnus Journal of Speculative Fiction.

The Editors have also chosen to provide the electronic copy of their first issue free on Smashwords (Kindle, Nook, PDF and more).  It is also available on the Amazon Kindle Store for 99 cents, but I am sure you would prefer free.  So please, click here and check out “Dream Job” as well as the other works published in Issue One of Cygnus Journal of Speculative Fiction.

Then come back here and let me know what you thought of the story and the Characters.  I would love to hear from you.

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Marketing for Writers 101

A Brief Self Help Guide for Writers

One of the things that I failed to understand when I started out as a writer, was that writing is a business.  And if you want any business to succeed, you need to market it.  I don’t think many people understand the importance of writers to market themselves.  It is one of the only ways you will gather readers, reach out to your readers, and let them know when new works are coming out.

You may be thinking that you won’t need to market because you plan to publish in a traditional fashion.  You may assume the publisher will handle all the marketing.  Or you may simply think your works will sell themselves.

Well, I believe you are wrong and you can do so much to promote yourself for little or no money.

Social Media

Social media offers the best way to connect with your readers and fans.  If you are not much for technology it is relatively easy and helps.

You really need a presence on the three major Social Media outlets: Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.  They all have their advantages and disadvantages so all three is almost a must.  Also, you need to use them.  I try to post something each day.  I certainly check them every day.

Facebook:

With Facebook, you really need an Author’s Page.  Pages are separate from your Facebook Profile.  Creating one is easy, relatively fast, and pretty effective.  You can visit my Page to see what they look like.  You may even want to create a separate page for a book you may be working on, or recently published.  Robert S. Wilson has one for his book that you can look at as an example.

Why use an Author’s Page instead of your regular Facebook Profile.  Well for one, you may not want to share personal matters, photos, and friends with your fans.  Second, it is far easier for your fans to click “like” then it is for them to send a friend request and wait for your response.   Third, Facebook offers a TON of tools for pages that help with promotion.  Tools you simply don’t get with a standard page.

You can create a page by visiting any page.  In the top right corner there is a link that say “Create a Page”.  Once you have a page post links to your other accounts on social media.  Also, post information about upcoming releases and the like.

Twitter:

I never found much interest in Twitter.  But at the advice of other writers I made a Twitter Account for myself.  I have found it far more fun then I thought it would be.  I have more followers on Twitter then I do on my Facebook Author Page.  I think Twitter gets its appeal because anyone can follow anyone.

Setting up and account is easy.

Use Twitter to share all sorts of things.  RT (Re-Tweet) posts that you like.  Reply to Tweets you like.  Here is a little help with Twitter from one novice to another:

“#” is a hash tag.  It is used to make searching for posts on a particular topic easy.  People add it to the tweet to help with searching.  Keep the terms together versus spacing out words.  Example “#amwriting” would be used; not “#am writing”.

RT is Re-Tweet.  This usually is used if someone replies to a tweet and wants to put it to context.

Example: “I wish I had ur motivation. Can a walk to the fridge count as cardio? RT @megselizabeth86: Cardio and legs. Yay. Gonna be sore as hell tmrw.”

And last, as you see in the example above is the @sign.  It represents the profile mentioned.  @Richard_Flores4 is mine.  When people mention you, this allow their followers a quick click to see your profile.  It results in great exposure.

Some will tell you to do your best to get a Re-tweet or a reply for major celebrity/business page just to get the exposure to a lot of potential fans.  I don’t go that far.  But I do reply to celebrity posts as appropriate.  I mention profiles when it is appropriate to.  And I always try to give a shout out to fellow authors.

Google+

I think this will be the most difficult for the social media novice.  I consider it the love child of Twitter and Facebook.  It does have a lot of the best of both worlds.  You can post things to the public or just to certain circles.  My fellow writers are in one circle, family in another, friends in another, and those I am just following in a fourth.  Once you understand it, and Google has good videos on it, you can start sharing certain posts with certain circles.  Or you can share with all your circle, or the general public.

Google+ is probably the one I use the least.  Mostly because I don’t have many people on there.  But, that is changing over time.  The one major disadvantage to Google+ is that they are taking down profiles that are not “real”.  While I support removing fake profiles, this may pose a problem for those authors that use Pseudonyms.  I don’t use one, so I don’t know how hard they are being on it.

Website

You need a website.  I have one right here.  I choose to combine my Blog and my Website.  Its free to use WordPress, Blogspot, and most other blog sites.  It gives you a free web presence and combines a blog.

Eventually, I will have my own .com, but for now this works.  And all of the social media sites let you place a link to your website on them.  So there is some good cross promotion of your sites.  Here are some things your site should have:

Blog:

You should have  a blog too, even if you have your own .com.  Your blog can be hosted on your own site or separate from it.  Just make sure the two are linked together.  Blogging can be fun, it gets you writing for one.  It also inspires discussion and hopefully inspire new authors.  There are whole articles on blogging and what you need to do with your blog.  Here are some ideas:

  1. Pick a schedule and make sure to post something on it.  For me it is once a week.  For some it is once a month.  It just gives people a chance to know when to look for new posts.
  2. Announce new posts on your social media sites.  This will bring readers.
  3. Allow comments.  Allow commenting to encourage discussion.
  4. Have a Follow tab.  This allows people to set up email alerts when you post something.
  5. Establish some blog rules.  Having some rules will ensure there is less backlash should you have to remove a comment.
  6. Use HTML tags so people can click the word, and see what you are talking about.
  7. Respond to the comments you get.

About Me:

You need an about section on your website.  Tell a little bit about yourself.  This allows readers to know if they found the real you (Imagine how many Richard Flores there are in the world).  It also establishes some of your qualifications to blog on the topics you choose to blog about.

Bibliography:

Put a Bibliography down if you have works published (or have publishing dates for them).  Put links to purchase them and/or read them if you can.  Think of it like your resume.

Contact:

Put a way to be contacted.  Most blogs have a contact us form you can use so you don’t have to share your email if you don’t want.  Also you can link your social media there.  Facebook and Twitter have profile badges you can add to your site homepage.  WordPress even has widgets to use for that too.

Pictures:

In the world of websites, people like to see pictures.  So I urge you to add visual elements to your site.  Its something I still work with all the time.  I also think you need your picture up on the home page.  People like to see who they are talking to.  But that is more of an opinion of mine.

Store:

Put a store up on your site of some kind.  Even if it is just links to Amazon.com’s listing of your book.  I don’t have any books out yet, but when I do, you can rest assured there will be a store up.

Links:

Put up links to other bloggers you enjoy, sites you use regularly, and to other writers you enjoy.

Examples:

You have see my blog as one example of a Wordpess site.  Here are some others:

Robert S. Wilson’s Blog on Blogspot.

Michael R McDuffee and Karen T. Smith uses a blog format on a .com

Orson Scott Card and Jeffrey A. Carver have more elaborate web sites.

Now What?

You have the web presence now in Social Media and with a Website.  Best yet, it can all be done for free.  Now how do you draw attention to yourself.  Well, that requires the real work.

Cross Promote:

Get together with your fellow writers and share their sites.  Share them in blog posts when you can (as I have done here), link them in your social media site, announce when they have books coming out, share their sites in your LINKS page, and promote them as much as you can.  You will be surprised how many will do the same for you.

Comment on other posts:

Comment on blog posts, twitter, Facebook, and Google+.  Use your pages to make these comments and drive readership to you.  Reply to all the comments you get.  People like to be acknowledged and it gives everyone a sense of participation.

Link your website on everything:

Put a link to your website on everything within reason.  Any comment form that asks for it, any profile you fill out, add it as a signature to your emails, and post it for your friends.  The more you post it the more clicks you might get.

Brag:

Tell everyone everywhere of your site.  Writer’s Groups, Facebook Pages, Twitter, and other places.  Just make sure you don’t violate Terms of Service and get flagged as SPAM.

Network:

Networking is big business.  Its also hard work.  When you meet new people, you have to be willing to admit you write.  I do it almost every time I meet new people.  I let people know any time the topic comes up.  Go to conventions, writers workshops, and any other place where writers are gathering.  Put together some simple (and usually very affordable) business cards.  Pass them out like candy at every convention, workshop, and function you attend.   Have your name, website, and contact information on there.  You never know who’s hands it will fall into.  Word of mouth is the biggest advertiser out there.

Advertise:

If you have some money to spend, you can advertise your Facebook Page, website, and more.  There are some cheaper ways then others, but this cost money.  If you self publish a book, you may want to spend a bit of money on advertising.  But the rule I always follow for advertising is this:  Never spend more on advertising then you would make if someone buys what you’re selling.  That is to say, if you make $1 profit on every book you sell don’t spend $2 per flier to advertise it.

Summary:

There is obviously many avenues for marketing your work.  Each of these I mentioned could be a whole course of study by themselves.  My hope is this will bring you to a good starting point.  Get you going, and then you can fly on your own from here.

Questions, Comments, or more?  Feel free to comment.

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Novels or Short Stories

I wasn’t sure what I was going to go with for this weeks blog post.  John Miller posted on my Facebook page about a survey he has out now.  Of course I had to check it out, but it got me thinking about something else.  What do people like to read?  How does an author decide what they want to write?  Is it better to write a novel, or a short?

First, lets set some definitions here:

People have trouble defining fiction length.  This seems to the widely accepted standard.  Probably the most disputed will be Flash, as the definitions seems to vary from publication to publication.  Here are the SFWA guidelines.

Short Story: less than 7,500 words;
Novelette: at least 7,500 words but less than 17,500 words;
Novella: at least 17,500 words but less than 40,000 words
Novel: 40,000 words or more.

SFWA does not have a “Flash Fiction” definition, but I will go with what I believe to be widely accepted which is anything less then 1000 words.

As a Reader:

This is where I would love to hear for you guys.  Leave me a comment below and let me know what you like to read.  Do you like short works (Novella, Novelette, Shorts, or Flash) or do you prefer a Novel?  If so, why?

Go ahead, scroll down to the comments and let me know.  I will be here when you get back.

Thanks for you comment!

For me, I have found a recent love for Flash as a reader.  For one, I subscribe to Daily Science Fiction.  So I get short fiction (not always Flash but always on the shorter side) in my email Monday – Thursday with a longer one on Friday.   I don’t have a lot of time.  Flash fiction is a short entertaining read for me.

As I have mentioned before it is important for Authors to read.  So this is a good way for me to get a lot of reading in from different Authors.  This gives me diversity in my reading, as far as styles go.

I also subscribe to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction as well as read several e-publications.

I love a good Novel too.   So I wonder if there is any advantage to one or the other.  If you are an author, read both.

However, strictly as a reader the advantage to short is growing with our impatient world.  But I think people still like a good novel.  Something they can get connected with, live in the world for a while, and really savor.

Shorts can be really moving and powerful too.  But there is a lack of time there to really bond the reader with the story. And it can be easier to read shorts when you like to read during those brief breaks in your life (doctor’s waiting room, ect.).

So my suggestion is that if you like quick stories, with a wham and bang type impact, go for the shorts.  If you like going for gold and really bonding with a story go for the Novel.  If you like both, like I do, read both.

For Writers:

I never gave a thought to writing anything other then a Novel when I started taking up writing as a hobby.  I didn’t really know anything of the craft and didn’t think there was much of a short story market.  And really it had not ever crossed my mind.  When I began my self study in writing and professional writing, I learned that speculative fiction has one of the strongest short story markets in the industry.

So I gave a short story a try.  That first short story will be featured in the upcoming issue of Cygnus Journal of Speculative Fiction.  I liked it a lot.  It allowed me to get the immediate satisfaction of writing, editing, and eventually publishing in a relatively short amount of time.  Of course short amount of time depends on a number of things.

Well, I liked writing that short so much that I wrote my first Flash piece.  “Death Watch”, which is out now on Liquid Imagination Online, did well based on what readers have told me.  I have since written a third piece which is making its rounds at markets and I have a fourth one in the editing phase.

So I have three going on four shorts completed in a matter of around ten months.  This is a lot slower then I want, and I hope to pick up the pace.  But considering I was learning the short story market at the same time, I feel I did well to get started.

In any case, lets compare this to my Novel in progress.  While I have written out two and half novels, many years ago, those where not publishable novels.  They were things I put on paper to escape stress in my real job of the time.  Anyway, I probably still have six to eight months before this novel is ready.  I think I am may even be giving myself too little time.  We will see.  Since I have not completed a publishable novel, this is really more of a guess.  Now once it is done, it has editing, rewrites, and then query.  After query, which can take forever, I then have to submit the full manuscript.  My point, Novels take a lot of time.

So what should you write?  Well write what you like.  If you don’t like to read shorts, don’t like to write them, and don’t like anything about them, then don’t write them.  If you don’t like taking time on a Novel, then don’t write that.

I write both for the same reason I read both.  I like that shorts give me imediate gratification while Novels give me the satisfaction of crafting an in depth world and a longer work.

Please don’t misunderstand me at all.  My short stories get my entire heart and sole, just the same as my novel.  Shorts can be deep and meaningful, they just don’t have the length that a Novel has.

Of course I would be foolish not to bring up the money side of things.  So call me foolish.  (Actually since I have not sold a Novel, I can’t really compare them for you).

Final Verdict?

Well in the battle over Novels and Short Stories, I don’t really think you get a winner or loser.  It is really all about what you like.  The market for both is strong.

Leave me a comment and let me know what you prefer.  Let me know if you are a writer, reader, or both.  What do you like?

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Want-A-Be Writers Vs True Writers

Just because you write, doesn’t make you a writer.

I have recently discovered that writing has this in common with Photography.  Everyone who picks up a camera, takes pictures of their family reunion, and posts them on a Facebook Page they made; calls themselves a photographer.  That is a steamy load of crap.

Photography is an art form and requires a lot more then point and shoot.  Over the years, photography has been watered down by many factors:  Easy exposure, easier to use equipment, easy digital printing, and friends/family who won’t tell them they suck.  The result has been an over abundance of people calling themselves photographers and they have watered down the craft.  Add this to the fact that photography is a misunderstood art form (that is to say most people don’t know what makes a photo art), and the true photographers are ripping their hair out.

Writing is clearly not much different anymore.  First, most people won’t know good writing if it bit them in the ass.  I am not talking about styles, genres, or your own reading preference.  I am talking about a well written story.  There are plenty of books I don’t like, but they were written very well.  It was just not something I enjoyed reading.  Writing, like photography, is a craft.  It takes time to perfect each piece (though a true writer never reaches perfection).  But most people accept anything written on the page that is must be good to get published.

Writing is getting watered down now, just like writing.   Easy exposure, digital printing, easier to use equipment, and  friends/family who won’t tell them they suck.

Easy Exposure:

Anyone can create a Facebook Page.  I have four of them.  Anyone can create a blog.  Twitter, Google+, good reads, and much more.  Don’t get me wrong these are great tools for the Author to use, I use all of them.  However, anyone can slap “Writer of…” on their page.  It makes it harder to establish the true writer’s from the hacks.

Digital Printing:

Lulu, Create Space, and a ton of other print on demand publishers have made it so anyone with an email address can publish something.  Don’t get me wrong.  This, and the e-publishing for e-readers, is revolutionizing the publishing industry.  For years publishers have excluded excellent writers based on editors opinions, agents, and other such problems.  But it has also removed the filter.  This means we are getting all kinds of utter crap out their too.  It makes it harder to know who to buy from and who to avoid.  It has also put an undeserved negative stigma on self published authors.

Easier to Use Equipment:

Word Processors, writer’s programs, easy to use publishing software, and a slew of other programs to help writers.  They are great tools, but again they enable many people to fool themselves into thinking they can write because some program keeps track of grammar errors, or characters, or chapters.  However, most want-a-be writers don’t know anything about plot threads, prose, or even when to use bad grammar.  Have you ever read a book where every character speaks perfect English?  That’s horrible, because I have never met anyone who always speaks perfect English.

Friends/Family won’t tell them they suck:

This is where you can help out.  If you have a friend or family member who writes, and they are no good at it.  Please tell them to stop.  Thank you.

Truth be told, that is hard to do.  At the very least though, please don’t tell them they are good at it.  As the saying goes, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”  You don’t have to tell them how good they are.  Just don’t say anything.

The true problem here is that most want-a-be writers never show their works to other writers or join writers groups.  They assume they either don’t have to share, or they are delusional to their own abilities.

How can readers find good, real writers.

You used to have some level of trust, that if they made it to bookshelves they were at least somewhat skilled in the craft.  That is simply no longer the case.   Anyone can make their way on to Amazon.com.  How do we decipher the good from the bad?  It really is harder then you think.  Many great writers are self published.  They have great blogs, Facebook Pages, Twitter accounts, and more.  So how do we really tell?

Well in many cases, it is simply trial and error.  You buy a book from them, they are clearly a hack so you never buy from them again.  Or you buy their book, love it, and can’t wait to get something from them again.  But there is something you can do to help with this.

Read the reviews.  The reviews will tell you what other readers thought.  Read them carefully.  Look for items that are simple opinion versus objective facts.  For example:  “I didn’t like that the entire book takes place in space.” (opinion) versus “There was an entire section of text that was formatted in red ink for no reason, punctuation is missing, and the Point of View changes mid-paragraph.” (objective facts).  Ignore the comments that simply say “it sucks” or “the best book ever”, neither of those gives you any insight to the book.  Lastly, remember rating systems (stars or number scales) are almost always opinion based.

But you, as the reader, need to go one step further.  Write a review.  Most people don’t write reviews on their purchases, despite the fact that nearly every online retailer has the ability to review.  Write a detailed review about why you liked, or did not like, the book.  If it was because the writing was bad, point out examples.  Share both your opinions and facts.  Say you liked it because of this reason and then point out the writing is strong with believable dialogue.  A good well written review helps the Author sell more books, but it also helps other readers know if they should stay away.  Bad reviews are just as important as good ones.  So write both.

I am trying to make it a habit of writing a review on everything I read.  I write reviews on Good Reads, and on the site in which I purchased the book.  You should do the same.  It really doesn’t take much time, especially in comparison to what you spent on reading the book, and it helps everyone involved.

There are a ton of good writers out there.  It is great that it is so easy to find and buy great writing from all over the world.  The downside is that some garbage is getting in too.  Hopefully more people will help the true writers filter out the hacks.  The hacks are what have given self-publishing a bad name.

Lastly, if any of you hacks are reading this.  Study the craft, work hard at it, and chances are you can be just as good as many writers.  Like any art form, writing needs to be studied.  The true writer will study his craft constantly, the hack doesn’t take it serious enough to bother.

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Getting Published (Get Used to Rejection)

So you want to be a published author?  Well, me too.  Many writers do.  There are many ways to get published.  There are short works, there are novels, and of course there is the “traditional” way and the “self-published” way.  I am going to talk mostly about the Traditional Publishing Method, with a focus on short stories.

A Quick Mention to Self Publishing:

I am not downplaying self publishing, but I don’t have experience in it.  You certainly don’t have to deal with the rejection of an editor if you self publish.  It is relatively easy to get the story published in self publishing, but hard part comes in reaching an audience.  You likely don’t have an audience, and getting people to read your stuff is harder then you think.  Don’t think you avoid rejection either.  You have to get rejected by the audience and that can often be a lot worse then an editor.  At least an Editor rejection is between you and them, the public often posts it’s rejection on the web for the world to see.  Ouch!

Traditional publishing is the opposite.  Hard to get published, but most publications have an established readership.

The Cycle of Getting Published

Some of you may have recently seen my post on Twitter:

“Write, submit, get rejected, submit again. Rinse and Repeat.”

This is a pretty accurate cycle to expect when trying to get published in the vast market of short fiction available to Speculative Fiction writers.  I might modify it now to add “edit” after write.  Its a vicious cycle and it can be a damn discouraging one.  However, when you get that first acceptance letter, it can be really rewarding.  You just have to get past the discouragement and press on.  Hopefully this can act as a guide to getting past that discouragement and get you to the acceptance letter.

Step 1: Write

It seems obvious that if you want to get published you need to write.  But you can’t sit around on one short story and wait for it to publish.  You need to write and you need to write a lot if you ever plan to get published.  When you are done with one, move on to writing something else.  Keep writing.  Write in blogs (you can start by leaving a comment on this one), write in writers groups, but above all write in your Works in Progress (WIP).

Your WIP is your ticket to getting published.  I don’t know of any author who’s blog was seen and they were offered a publishing contract.  It is your WIP that you have to get out to the editors.  Find the time to write and do it.

You will improve with each completed story.  You will improve with each submission.  You will improve.  Every author has only been improved over their years of writing.

Step 2: Edit

This is where we separate the hobbyists from aspiring artists.   Editing is where most writers give up, put the WIP aside, and never touch it again.  Editing is where most people give up on their dream of being published.  There are two reason for this:

First, is perception.  They either look at their work and see it as garbage, worthless, and unfitting.  They are harsh to themselves and they get discouraged and they shelf it.  Or, they look at their WIP and see it as gold, the best thing ever written by man kind.  They don’t change a thing.

Second, they get stuck in the editing cycle.  They never stop editing.

Lets go back up to the first.  Perception.  You really need a combination of both these perceptions.  You must be your toughest critic and your biggest fan at the same time.  It is the toughest thing to do.  You have to know what works and what doesn’t.  Truthfully the writer is the only person who knows what’s best for their story.

But your own perceptions can easily get in the way.  You need that second opinion.  This is where your writers groups come in handy.  Share your work with others.  Take a look at their opinion.  Don’t be discouraged by a “bad” critique.  They will make suggestions and point out things you may not have seen.  Then you decide what works for your story and make the changes needed.  Remember you don’t have to accept every suggestion.  But even suggestions that don’t work are more valuable then you think.

The editing cycle is dangerous.  I know many writers on their eighth or ninth draft of a work in progress.  To tell you the truth, they will continue to edit from now to infinity.  They will not stop editing, as a result they will never move on to the next step to get published.  You have to know when is enough.

It may be different for each of you.  But I strongly urge you to set a limit.  For me it is four drafts and done.  I write it (draft 1).  I edit it (draft 2). I get other writers to critique it and I make changes (draft 3).  I give it to my Grammar Cop and make changes (Draft 4).  Then I go to Step 3.

This is not a hard and fast rule.  If there is a major change made in Draft 3, I may resubmit it to my writers group for critiques again.  However, the point is, I know when is enough.  You won’t please every reader, you probably won’t even please yourself.  It will never be “perfect”.  When I read my manuscripts for my published works, I still find things I would change now.  Because I have learned a lot more since I completed those.  It is part of your growth as an artist.

Move on, its best.

Step 3: Submit

Submit your story to a publisher.  Since I am focusing on Short Works that means a magazine, ezines or anthologies.  There are so many of them it is difficult to know where to start.  My tip is to aim high.  Start with a professional market.  A market that pays six cents a word or more.  They pay more, tend to have more subscribers, and what is the worse they can say?

I always start with SFWA approved markets.  It is my quest to join them someday.  After that I go to other pro markets.  Then Semi-pro, then others.

A little research goes along way too.  I use Duotrope.  A free submission tracker program that has tons of markets listed.  If they don’t have them all they are pretty damn close.  They track everything from response times to acceptance rates and everything in between.  They can give you a lot of information about a market.

After pay rate, you should take a look at response times.  Most markets will not accept stories that are awaiting a decision from other publications.  So if you send it to a market that takes five months to reply, your story will be tied up for at least that long.  So keep that in mind when you send out a piece.  It takes time to hear back.  Fast markets take 10 days, slower ones can take up to a year to reply.

Next, look at acceptance rate.  Some markets are very challenging and have less the 1% acceptance rate.  Others, have acceptance rates in the 80-90% ranges.  In my opinion, the latter is worse.  I avoid markets that seemingly accept everyone.  It doesn’t make it a very strong credit in your portfolio.  Often they have small readership because the quality of story is low.  Remember Editors act as a filter to filter out what is either poorly written and, more commonly, what doesn’t work for their readers.  With out a good filter, the quality and identity of the publication goes down.

Last, you may consider electronic or print publication.  Ezines are taking things by storm.  But, some people just really like seeing their name in print.  For me this is not really a factor.  Ezines are a creditable publishing venture now.  However, it may matter to you.

NEVER SUBMIT TO A MARKET THAT CHARGES YOU A READERS FEE!  All money should flow in the direction of the Author.  You should never have to pay someone to consider your works for publication.

Step 4:  Get Rejected

It will happen.  You will get a rejection letter.  It is more likely to be a form letter.  You will likely never know why the editor rejected it.  And you will be disappointed no matter how much you prepare yourself for it.  It is just part of getting published.

I hate this part.  We all do.  I make it a game in some ways.  I have all my rejection letters.

The form letters are the worse.  There is no way to tell what the reason they have for rejecting it.  Most likely it is a simply matter of the opinion of the editor and his/her own taste.  It rarely has anything to do with the author’s ability to write.  There people who simply can’t write, but think they can.  But mostly editors reject stories based on their own subjective opinions.

Personal Rejections are nice, for being rejections.  I have only got one.  There you might get some glimpse into what the editor was thinking.  In mine, the editor didn’t like the ending.  While is was simply one line, it let me know one key thing… the editor got to the ending.  They liked my writing enough to read to the end.  So you might get a glimpse to the editors thoughts with a personal rejection.

Rewrite requests are even better, and rarer.  There is much debate on if a rewrite request is really a rejection.  To me it is.  You can rewrite it send it back in and you are still not guaranteed to get published.  If you get one of these, you have to make the choice to do the rewrites and submit again to the same market, or simply move on.  It really depends on you and what the editor wants you to change.  I have not received any rewrite requests.

Step 5: Submit Again

I get the rejection letter, and I submit to a new market.  Always in the same day, sometimes in the same hour.  Don’t dwell on the rejection.  Submit again.  I don’t even look at the manuscript again.  Some authors do.  However, going back to the edit step, may well trap you in the edit cycle.  The one I personal rejection I mentioned about about the editor not liking the ending.  I didn’t change a thing, submitted it to another market and they bought it.  Point is, that changing for one editor’s opinion may not be wise.

Dwelling on the rejection is the part where many authors, who got past the edit step, fail.  They get that first rejection, begin to think they are not good enough (or at least the story is not), and weeks go by and the story never goes back out.  One editor’s opinion ruined their entire writing career.  Writers have to know that getting rejected is part of the publishing world, and they need to push forward.

I suggest you just move on and submit again right away.  Trying to analyze the form letter, or dwelling on the rejection, will never get you published.  The only way to get published is to submit.

Step 6: Rinse and Repeat

Really you should do Step 6 right after you submit the first time.  Rinse yourself of that story you just finished, and start at Step 1 with a new idea.  But, I put it as Step 6 because it is just as important to Rinse yourself of the rejection.  Rejection is something humans attempt to avoid.  So in short: Get over it and move on.

Get to work on Step 1 again and get yourself published.

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Shining in Crimson By Robert S. Wilson

Today Shining in Crimson (Empire of Blood) by Robert S. Wilson was released in the Kindle Version with the Paperback and Hardcover editions set to be released October 2nd.  You can check out his website to see more about it, or visit Amazon to buy eReader version.  Also you can follow Shining in Crimson on Facebook.

Now that you can look up what I am talking about, I thought I would explain why I mention this particular book release.  Robert and I are both members of the Hatrack Writers Workshop (or Hatrackers).  In early February I came across a post in our Fragments and Feedback section in which I read an intro to a Vampire book.

Typically this is not my genre and I tend to steer away from it.  I don’t remember why I chose to read this, but I am glad I did.  I was hooked by the style of this small opening fragment.  I offered to review the whole thing.  I had not read a critiqued a novel before, but if I can help I figured I would try it.

I spent the rest of the month reading over three chapter blocks.  I offered my advice but truthfully I fell for Robert’s characters, their struggles, and the overall plot.   And I continued to push him to send me more chapters, while he continued to try to get them edited.  And, like most stories I truly love deep down, I was a little sad when it was over.    From the time I read that draft to now, I would say that I gained a friend in Robert.

It was a really good book, and I generally don’t care for Vampire stories.  Perhaps it is my limited knowledge of the genre.  Perhaps it is the way Twilight has transformed the mainstream vampire story.  I don’t know why I don’t care for the genre.  However, Robert changed my mind.  Or at least opened my mind a little.

This is not the Vampire story where the vampires are hunky men, and you have to join Team Mark or Team Sam.  This is about Hank, the Main Character who finds himself charged with a crime and sentenced to visit Necropolis, a city belonging to the Vampires now.  This is a sure death sentence, but Hank is desperate to survive for the sake of his son.

There are several plot threads to this story giving it depth and forward motion.  I found myself turning pages with ease as I hoped for the success of the various characters.  I’ll stop here.  It’s time for you to pick up your Kindle and read Shining in Crimson.

I have chosen to pre-order the paperback version which will ship on October 2nd in honor of Robert’s mother’s birthday (who passed away in 2006).  If you wish to pre-order a paperback or hardback edition you can do it here.  If you are on Goodreads you can enter to win a copy here.

At the very least, pick up the Kindle Version for only 99 cents.  It will be the best dollar you ever spent.

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It’s Not About the Money (The True Joys of being Published)

On August 31, 2011, I officially became a published Author with my Flash Fiction piece “Death Watch”  in Liquid Imagination.  This was a remarkable thing and such an unbelievable accomplishment.  I had not planned to reach the goal of being published so quickly.  After all, I had not started submitting anything for publication until March 2011.  “Death Watch” is only the second short story I have written, and the first Flash Fiction piece.  So frankly, I was over joyed to have it published so quickly.

Okay, enough bragging.  Lets talk about why being published is so much joy.  Truthfully I thought seeing my name in print would be the coolest part.  That seems to just one of many cool things I have found.  But first, lets talk about money:

The pay check is not the satisfying part at all.  In fact, I was surprised how little I care about it.  If you write for money you will be sadly disappointed.   At SFWA defined pro rates, you would have to publish eight hundred and forty thousand (840,000) words a year in short stories to make just $50,000.  And out here in California, $50,000 year doesn’t go far.

To put that in perspective, that is 2300 words a day with no days off.  Now editing, and submitting come into play.  Editing takes a lot more time than writing ever does.  And lets not forget that some of the most simple of editing changes can cause massive rewrites.  Submitting takes even longer.  You can usually only submit to one market at a time, and then you are at the mercy of the publication to respond.  Some publications take a long time, others are really fast (usually to reject it).  From the time I finished “Death Watch” to the date it was published was just over five months, and I am the exception.  Many of my fellow authors have waited years to get one story published.

So, assuming you can get 2300 words a day written, and you can get accepted by pro-rate markets, and they accept you fast; then you will make okay money in the writing of short stories.  More realistically you will try to turn out one short story a month (a goal I have not even achieved yet).  Assuming your short story falls into the normal range of two to five thousand words, you are looking at roughly $1440 to $3,600 a year.  This of course assumes they all get accepted at pro rate markets.

So if you are writing for money, sorry to shatter your dreams.  However, if you are like most of the Authors I have met you don’t really care about the money.  You find other joys in being published.  Joys and satisfactions far better than money.  For me, my goal was two things:  To share my stories with an audience that would enjoy them, and to see “By Richard Flores IV” in print.

I am here to tell you that is just the beginning.  In  less than four full day since I was published, I have discovered so many other things that are fulfilling to being published:

On the day I was published this site saw a 50% spike in traffic to this blog.  The unique views were the second highest they have ever been (the highest was the day I created it).  And people were looking at more of my blog then the home page!

WordPress reports that one of the common search terms to get to this blog is “Richard Flores IV”.  People are searching for me!  People want to find me!

WordPress also reported today that some one searched “Flash Fiction by Richard Flores”.  So not only was someone searching for me, they wanted to find more of my work!  To that person (and others looking):  I have another story due out in October in Cygnus Journal of Speculative Fiction.  I find it very inspiring to see that people enjoyed my work enough to want to find other things I have written.  That alone could keep me writing indefinitely.

Feedback!  I am getting an overwhelming amount of feedback on people’s thoughts about “Death Watch”.  People are sending me their praise, and I enjoy that a great deal.  I like to know that people enjoyed reading my story.  But even more so, I like the emails coming in telling me what they took away from my story.  People have sent me a number of interpretations that I had not planned when I wrote it.  It gives me satisfaction to know I wrote something that had a deeper meaning to my readers then even I planned.

Inspiring others to write.  Two people have told me that my talks about writing have inspired them to either write or resume writing.  That makes me feel good!

Perhaps the best part of being published is this (and it ties in all of the above):  I have readers!  After all, the real reason any of us become authors is to have readers.

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New Story Published

Today Liquid Imagination published Issue 10 of their online magazine.  They are a remarkable publication that merges artwork with stories.  I am really glad that my first published work is with them.  I hope you all enjoy it as well.

Please read Death Watch in the Micro Fiction section.  I am proud of this piece as it is the first ever Flash Fiction piece I have ever written.  Flash Fiction is fiction under 1000 words, and it can be incredibly hard to write a fulfilling story in such a short length.  I originally wanted to try it much later, but when this idea hit me it felt right at its current length.

Read Death Watch here:  Then enjoy some of the other great works in the current issue.  Please share the story with your friends and family and feel free to let me know what you thought.  Also, feel free to let Liquid Imagination know by visiting their Facebook Page.

Thanks for reading.

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