“My Path to Publishing” interview up at fridayflash.org

Any regular readers here will know that I occasionally indulge in a bit of Friday Flash. It’s basically a community of writers that put together a flash fiction story (1,000 words or less) and post it on their site. They then tweet the link with the hashtag #fridayflash and get to share their story with others in the group. It was started as an idea by Jon Strother a while back and has grown into a pretty cool community.

I don’t post often, as most of my writing time goes into things that I plan to sell and I don’t write a lot of flash these days, but I still have a stab now and then. My story, Decennial General Meeting, made it into the first group anthology, The Best Of Friday Flash Vol. 1. You can see all my Friday Flash related stuff by checking the Friday Flash category here.

Anyway, there’s a dedicated website now – http://fridayflash.org/ – and they’ve started a new series of interviews called My Path To Publishing. In their words, “This series will feature writers’ stories and their experiences on the many different paths to publication.”

They picked me for the inaugural interview, so if you’re interested you can find that chat here. I’m giving away a signed book as part of the thing too, so get over there and have a look.

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Free fiction and the value of our efforts

The advent of the internet has had many effects, not least of which is giving a voice to pretty much everybody. We’re all sitting at keyboards making noise, like a flock of a billion seagulls fighting over one bag of chips. It’s not a bad thing, as far as I’m concerned. The really strong voices lift above the white noise and everyone gravitates towards those voices that interest them. It’s a big world and an infinite internet, so there’s room in this sandbox for everyone. However, another aspect of that easy online voice is a million wannabe writers posting their stuff online and hoping people will read it. Again, not necessarily a bad thing, but a potentially damaging one for a writer’s career in the long run.

I’m one of those voices, obviously. I’ve got some of my own fiction posted here for anyone to read. I’ve engaged in the Friday Flash phenomenon. Is this damaging for my career? I don’t think so. I think it’s helping my career, by giving potential readers an insight into some of my stuff. I’ve had some nice comments from people about stories they’ve read here. But I’ve engaged in the practice with careful forethought.

I decided to write about this after reading this post on Benjamin Solah’s blog. You may remember that Benjamin guest posted here about a week ago, talking about his experiment self-publishing an ebook of his fiction. The power of the internet gave him some pretty solid and honest feedback very quickly. It can be summed up quite well in these comments on Ben’s post by Jason Fischer:

My two cents is this: trunk stories belong in your trunk. You either take them apart and make them good enough to sell, or you leave them there. Why would you want anyone to see a piece of your writing that isn’t working? If your career takes off, do you *really* want these out there?…

There’s so much fiction out there for the reading, even more with the new e-book markets. As such, it is remarkably easy to slide into the infamous “90% of everything that is crap” of Sturgeon’s Law. You should be aspiring to be in the other 10%, not taking the path of least resistance and self-publishing your unsellable trunk stuff.

Work on the nuts and bolts of your writing first and foremost. Be brutal with your own writing, edit, and edit some more. If you can’t get it to work, trunk it and try something else, and LEAVE IT IN THE TRUNK. You can promote something till the cows come home, but if it’s no good, no-one will want it…

These comments are culled from a longer conversation and it’s worth reading Ben’s post to see the whole discussion. Jason is someone worth listening to – apart from being a top bloke, his advice comes from great experience. He’s made many quality short fiction sales and is a recent winner of Writers Of The Future, among many other awards and nominations. Check him out here.

I agree with his sentiments. So how is what I’ve done with fiction on my site different to Ben’s experiment? There’s one simple difference – all the fiction I’ve made available to read here is previously published somewhere (with a couple of exceptions that I’ll talk about in a minute). Some of it is older stuff published in non-paying markets, but it’s still stuff I’m proud of. Other stories are published in better markets and the links here are directly to sites where the story can be found. The point is that it made it past an editor, so I’ve got unbiased, third party confirmation that it’s worth a read. For that reason, I’m happy to direct people towards it and say, “Here’s some of my writing for you to check out, I hope you like it.” If I wasn’t able to sell that story to an editor, even “sell” it to a for the love market, then I certainly won’t put it up here with a pouty face and a “well, I think it’s good enough” attitude. Because it’s not. Writers are the worst possible critics of their own work. Of course we love everything we write – we wrote it!

If people do like it, with any luck they’ll seek out some of my other stuff, they might take a punt on my novels. Hopefully then they’ll enjoy my books and recommend them to friends or buy copies to give as gifts. Using the same hypothesis, the first three chapters of both my books are available here (just click on book covers to find them) so that people can try before they buy.

The other exercise in free fiction I engaged in was Ghost Of The Black: A ‘Verse Full Of Scum. In an effort to generate return visits to my site and more interest in my fiction, I wrote a 30,000ish word novella in a series of episodes, which I then posted here every Monday during 2008. This was a conscious decision to write a piece of fiction that I had no intention of trying to sell. Rather, it was a deliberate exercise in giving something away to showcase my writing. It’s still available on the Serial Fiction page and it’s also available as an ebook and print book, that I’ve self-published. On the whole it’s been very well received and garnered a few decent reviews. Whether it’s really done much to enhance my career is hard to say, but I certainly don’t think it’s done any damage. Whether I leave it here indefinitely is also hard to say. For now, I’m happy to leave it for people to enjoy. I may take down the Serial Fiction page one day, and just leave the ebook and print edition available for people to buy. I may take those away too at some point. (Leave a comment if you have a particular opinion about that – I’d be interested to know.)

What I haven’t done is post here those stories that I couldn’t sell. Believe me, my story trunk is a dark and nasty place, full of things I really don’t want anyone else to see.

Another example of free, unpublished fiction here comes from my occasional jaunts into the Friday Flash meme. This is essentially a community of writers that post flash fiction on their websites and promote it with the #FridayFlash hashtag through Twitter and Facebook. A lot of those people don’t care about getting published, they’re just happy to be part of a community of likeminded people. Things that I’ve posted on Friday Flash are stories that I’ve decided are a good idea and an entertaining little yarn, but one that I don’t want to spend time trying to sell or expand into a longer piece. They’re all taster stories, exercises in writing and storytelling.

For me, writing is a very serious business. Friday Flash was a brief hobby. I don’t mean to denigrate the community by this statement at all, it’s just my own personal situation now. I’m not likely to post any more Friday Flash – I agree with the comments on Ben’s post that it’s a time-sink and I intend to spend that time on sellable short stories and novels. I’ve had fun with it, but now I’m moving on.

These days I only approach semi-pro and pro markets with my work. I know I can get stuff published in other places, but I’m improving my craft and expecting better results from myself. If I can’t sell a story to at least a semi-pro market, I won’t sell it at all. Nor will I post it here on my website. As the things on my site here attest, I was happy to get acceptances from much smaller markets before. Every writer starts somewhere. But I won’t stay there. I want to improve as a writer and I want to sell my work to better and better places all the time. I intend to be a pro writer, as in, get paid pro rates for my work, and I’ll keep working towards that. Recent sales are bearing out the worth of this endeavour – I’m making better sales all the time. I’m still yet to crack the big time pro markets, but I will one day.

In the meantime, I’m happy to leave the stuff here that I’ve already posted. I may well decide to take it all away at some point. Who knows?

What do you think? Do you appreciate free fiction as a taste of a writer’s work? Are you a writer for or against the idea? Have you had good or bad experiences posting fiction on your site? Do you think I should leave free fiction here or take it away? Leave your comments – I’m interested in people’s thoughts.

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Waystations of a journeyman writer

The life of a writer can be a thankless one, with rejections peppering a career far more often than acceptances. But it’s the rejections that teach a writer their chops. With any luck you get a bit of feedback with a rejection that helps to improve a story. A writer should continually improve through the practice of writing, and through reading other peoples’ stuff. I do believe that a writer also gets better with every passing year of life experience, with every trial and tribulation giving us more to draw from. Hpoefully, in the end, the acceptances start to outnumber the rejections.

So I thought it worth taking stock of where things stand for me as we start a new year, and how the last year went. I’m very much a journeyman writer – I’m still learning my craft, hopefully improving all the time. I want to sell stories to the best pro markets, I want novels published by the big mainstream publishers. I’d love the recognition of prizes and awards. All these things will help to prove that I’m doing well at my chosen form of artistic expression, that other people are reading my stuff and enjoying it. I want to get better all the time. So, how am I doing?

Well, 2010 saw my novels, RealmShift and MageSign, acquired by Gryphonwood Press in the US, which was a fantastic result for me. I can’t express how pleased I was about that and I hope it’s just the start of my career as a novellist.

As for short fiction, 2010 saw the publication of these short stories:

Trial Not Required in M-Brane SF Issue #13, February 2010;
Strange Death at Flashes In The Dark, March 2010;
Pushed Too Far at House Of Horror, May 2010;
Decennial General Meeting in Best Of Friday Flash Vol. 1 anthology, August 2010;
Jeff Newman’s Headaches in 52 Stitches, August 23, 2010;
The King’s Accord in Flesh & Bone: Rise of The Necromancers anthology from Pill Hill Press, August 2010 (I think this is my best published story last year, I’m really proud of it.);
Idle Chatter at Bosley Gravel’s Cavalcade of Terror, September 2010.

I also scored myself an Honourable Mention in the Writers Of The Future competition in 2010.

So not a bad year for publications. You can read a lot of these via the Dark Shorts page right here on this website – click the link at the top. But I plan to do better. I’ve already started 2011 in much better form. I sold some stories in 2010 that are due for publication this year. Those are:

Stand Off due for publication in Night Mantled: The Best Of Wily Writers Vol. 1 anthology, which should be out any time now. This is a reprint of the story published and podcast by Wily Writers in July 2009.

Mirrorwalk due for publication in Murky Depths #16 – I’m really pleased to have had a story accepted by Murky Depths and I really like Mirrorwalk. It’s a magic story with a twist. Another great thing about Murky Depths is that each story has a piece of artwork commissioned for it, and Mirrorwalk will be accompanied by an illustration by Rick Fairlamb. I’ve never had a story illustrated before and looking at Rick’s site makes me very excited at what might come about, so I’m looking forward to that.

Unexpected Launch in Anywhere But Earth anthology (Coeur De Lion Publishing) – This one is a sci-fi yarn that I won’t say anything else about just now. You’ll have to read the story. But the concept of this anthology is excellent and the list of authors included is really shaping up nicely. I’m honoured to be in this one and really looking forward to it.

My flash fictions Terminal Illness & The Book are going to be reprinted in the Pill Hill Press 365 Flash anthology. These were originally published by Antipodean SF, so it’s good to see those stories get another outing.

I’ve started 2011 with a few sales as well:

Kasma SF will be publishing my urban sci-fi short story Mistaken Identity any time now.

Ticonderoga Publications will be publishing my vampire horror story, Punishment Of The Sun, in their Dead Red Heart anthology – this is another anthology with a stellar cast of writers contributing, so another one I’m very proud to be included in. This is also a great concept antho, with all the stories being specifically Australian vampire yarns, so I can’t wait to see what else comes out in it. I’ve also been a part of a group of about a dozen writers who all contributed a small amount to a story written in news clippings, that will be included in this anthology. So I’ll get my name in it twice!

My story Duty & Sacrifice will be appearing in the Hope anthology from Kayelle Press later this year.

Seven Realms Publishing in the US are putting together an anthology of short stories based on the classic short story The Most Dangerous Game. Each contributing author will present a story inspired by Richard Connell’s classic featuring characters from their published work. My story Running Wild With The Hunt, featuring Isiah, the protagonist from RealmShift and MageSign will be included in that book.

The Red Penny Papers will be publishing my novellette The Darkest Shade Of Grey, but we’ll be waiting a while for that one. It’s due for publication at the start of 2012, but all the contracts and stuff are signed off now. It’ll be worth waiting for as I honestly believe it’s one of the best things I’ve ever written.

On top of all that I have a few other short stories out under consideration in various places, so I’ll hopefully continue to make sales, hopefully to better and better publications all the time. I’ll continue to write short stories, of course, so who knows what else will happen.

And I’m working on my third novel, which is really shaping up nicely. I’ll be on the lookout for a publisher for that one before too long. There’s an open call for submissions by Angry Robot in March, so I might start there.

As you can see, I’m keeping busy. Writing this post is as much for myself as it is for the interest of readers of this blog. It helps me cope with all the rejections when I see a year or two of work laid out like this and see the successes that have come along. My journey as a writer continues. I’ll keep writing, with a bit of perseverance I’ll keep getting better and hopefully people will enjoy reading my work.

Wish me luck!

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Friday Flash – Jeff Newman’s Headaches

FrdayFlashBadgeThis is a little bit cheeky, but as I don’t have a new flash fiction piece for today, I thought I’d redirect people to the piece that was published at 52 Stitches on Monday. It’s still the same week and it’s still flash fiction, so it counts, right? The story is called Jeff Newman’s Headaches and you can find it here. I hope you like it.

If you already read the story after I posted an announcement about it on Monday, I apologise for wasting your time. For you, just so you don’t feel cheated, here’s an Arabic robot made of microwave ovens:

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