Showing posts with label Publishing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Publishing. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

9 Slush Pile Mistakes: A Guest Post by 2 Slush Readers

Welcome to Adam Shaftoe (slush reader for Daily Science Fiction) and Patrick Icasas (slush reader for Flash Fiction Online). I've known Adam for a few years now thanks to the Toronto-area convention scene and I very much admire his reviewing skills. Read his blog, people! 

I met Patrick only recently via my LAB•B work, and it turned out we had lots of interests in common, and I even helped him get a very well-known comic book writer on his new blog, How to Suck Less. Woo!

In any case, Patrick and Adam work hard at what they do, and they have some wisdom to share with you short fiction writers. Read and learn, my friends. Read and learn. --Beverly

Short fiction can be an unfair game. Though talent, hard work, and dedication can get a person pretty far as a writer, the truth is that sometimes a story will take longer than it should to sell. The simple explanation is that now, more than ever, writing is about the numbers. More people are writing today - which is great - compared to when the pulps turned the submission process into a de facto routine. Alas, the number of semi-pro and pro-paying markets hasn't grown in proportion to the influx of submissions.

We each handle dozens of submissions a month. Even if we restrict ourselves to flash pieces of a maximum of 1000 words each, that's sizable chunk of a full length novel every two weeks. There's a reason it's called a slush pile. That's a lot of stories to read through--even for a team of editors--and we have to be efficient in sorting the middling from the amazing. That means looking for reasons to reject the middling sort as quickly as we can.


Nothing we are going to say in this piece guarantees a sale. We're out to level the playing field, and explain some of the reasons why a story might get read and rejected within thirty seconds. You, gentle reader, can avoid every pitfall that we list and still lament an objectively good piece of fiction being rejected over and over. In those cases, all we can tell you is to keep at it. If you're a good writer then you have the capacity for greatness, and greatness is what sells.

#1 - Follow the damn guidelines

Guidelines are simultaneously an idiot test and a test of quality akin to the “no brown M&M” rule. When a submission fails to follow seemingly arbitrary rules like 12 pt, Century Gothic with 1” margins, using Canadian/British spelling wherever possible, it tells a submissions editor that there are almost certainly other issues in the writing, thus there's no point in offering any benefit of the doubt when the first paragraph contains a glaring typo or a shift in voice.

#2 - Copy and paste: you're doing it wrong

Many publishers are using back-end software that, in theory, makes lives easier for submissions editors and writers alike i.e. fill out the boxes, copy and paste your story, wait for the good or bad news. All too often people copy and paste from their word processing program of choice (Microsoft Word is notorious for this) without using something like Notepad to strip away character codes and embedded formatting.

Weird formatting puts submissions editors in a sour mood. Could you imagine reading

five thousand words of text that

<span> were formatted like <span> this?

#3 -  Longer probably isn't better

If H.P. Lovecraft, a notoriously lugubrious author, showed up in the slush pile today, I would reject him out of hand. It doesn't matter who you are, how much you've written. If you're SWFA, or if you're John Scalzi, himself, if you're going to make us read 5,000 words, then it best be a 5,000 word story. World building out of the gate, excessive internal history, descriptions of food, clothing, horses, the colour of the sky are almost always filler. Filler gets rejected.

#4 - Don't imagine we haven't seen it before

Submissions editors read a lot of fiction. We're voracious readers, and almost always writers, ourselves. Remixing some existing ideas into a new story is well and good, but if an editor can read the DNA of your story in the first 10% of the story then we're probably going to write it off as derivative and move on to something else.  This also includes using stereotypical greek names for starships, planets, and the like. Stretch into some other religious/mythological pantheons.

#5 - Stop starting at the start

In medias res is a writer's best friend; starting a story with a person waking up and pondering on the meaning of a dream is not.Neither is starting at the creation of the world or the birth of a child.

#6  - Don't be entitled

You may think you're God's Gift to the Craft, but after reading your story (or even your cover letter) we can most definitely say that you're not. Having a closed and confrontational attitude will keep you from growing as a writer, and make it hard for editors to want to give you a second chance.

#7 - Know the story you're writing

I've read quite a few stories that start out strong in one genre (like an introspective sci-fi narrative), only to turn sharply midway through into something totally different, like horror or humor. Most of the time, this is a symptom of a badly done “twist” ending. Speaking of twist endings...

#8 - Forcing a twist

Twist endings are best used sparingly. In fact, many so-called “clever” twists are highly overdone (e.g. IT WAS ALL A DREAM) and ruin the story. (There's a reason M. Night Shyamalan is a one-trick pony) A twist should make sense within the context of the story, so that it's surprising yet inevitable.

#9 - Submitting the same story over and over

What do you do when your story is rejected? Do you shrug and immediately fire it off to the next editor? Or do you take a step back and see what's wrong with it? Many publications offer personalized rejections to stories that show promise, but aren't quite there yet. A good writer listens and, in the process, improves. A bad writer dismisses it out of hand and stagnates. Which one are you?

We're not out to hurt anybody's feelings. We work to find and publish the best stories that people will enjoy reading. If your writing doesn't happen to make it through this time, then learn from the experience and try again.

Patrick Icasas is a slush reader for Flash Fiction Online, a pro-paying market for flash fiction of any genre. Patrick supports his slush reading and creative writing habit by blogging for companies on a freelance basis. He's also been known to blog for himself from time to time about How to Suck Less.

Adam Shaftoe-Durrant is a critic, writer, and podcaster. He also reads slush for Daily Science Fiction. He holds a Master of Arts degree in History from the University of Western Ontario, and worked as a Teaching Assistant at Brock University for seven years. His essays and reviews have previously appeared in On-Spec Magazine, Jamais Vu - The Journal of the Strange Among the Familiar, and on He lives in St. Catharines, Ontario with his fiancée Rebecca and their cats. During the day he works as an labour market researcher for a local NGO. Adam blogs and podcasts about all things genre at

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

My DetCon Schedule

Hi, all! I will be at NASFic DetCon 1 this weekend from Friday, July 18th through Sunday, July 20th. I have a couple of panels I am moderating as well as a kaffeeklatsch (kaffeeklatsch=consulting time for free if you play your cards right! ;))

North American Science Fiction Convention (DetCon) Schedule

Econ 101 of Self-Publishing, Nicolet A, Saturday 11 a.m.

I am the moderator, and I will be there with JF GarrardBlake HausladenPatty TempletonChristie Meierz, and Becca Price.

The media is filled with news about self-publishing, but to do it properly, there is a price to pay! This panel will touch on a series of topics and give an estimate of how much things can cost: 1) The difference between traditional and self-publishing, 2) Why an editor is important, 3) How to commission artwork, 4) What copyright is, 5) Marketing Ideas, and 6) The difference in creating e-books versus print books

Kaffeeklatsch, KaffeeKlatsch2, Saturday 1 p.m.

This one's all me! Be sure to sign up for this one when you get to the con registration desk, as space is limited. You'll be able to talk about your project's marketing and publicity with me directly, and you'll be able to hear about some of my own experiences, too. It will be fun!

Creators and Brand Identity, Mackinac West, Sunday 12:00 noon

I am also moderating this one, and I will be joined by John ScalziSean MeadMartin L. Shoemaker

Neil Gaiman. John Scalzi. Would they be mid-list authors in a world without the Internet? Can you be famous in 2014 only by writing or making art? How does a creator build a brand?

I hope to see you there. Please don't hesitate to stop me if you see me and say hello. I will be happy to chat. I'll also have information about AutoCrit, which is a company for which I do social media, so ask me about editing help, too!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Winners Announced!

Thanks once again to everyone who entered and who shared and tweeted. Your support is fantastic and I couldn't do this without you. This has also been a great chance to promote my non-publicity campaign services, of which there are many you can see here. Some of my favourites are social media planning and coaching, and copy editing, and even though it's not officially on the list, I enjoy critique as well. It's likely to end up on the list at some point. So please contact me and ask about these other services. I can work with any budget, so don't be shy.

Anyhow! here are the three winners:

Karina Sumner-Smith Site | Twitter
Jessica Meddows Site | Twitter
Teri Kline Twitter (and yes, I know the name on the Twitter account doesn't match this. ;))

I have been in touch with all of them, and it is my hope that I can help them and also have some fun in the process.

I know many of you joined the email list to enter the contest. I hope you'll stay, but if not, you should be able to unsubscribe easily from the next email you get, or if you're in a hurry contact me and I'll take care of it for you.

Coming tomorrow, a guest post about a local self-publishing in comics panel, and next week it's back to regularly scheduled programming!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Enter Here to Win Free Consulting or Critiques!

Subscribe (and confirm--check that spam email box!) to my email list and you will be entered to win two consulting or editorial hours. You can use the time toward:
  • Help creating your book or comic's marketing plan
  • A complete flash fiction critique and copy edit
  • A full social media consultation and plan
  • A brief critique of a novella or a partial of a novel 
  • Website critique/planning assistance
  • Any other publishing- or marketing-related consultation time
Three winners will be selected at random from mailing list subscribers who have joined and confirmed by clicking the response link (remember it may go to a spam filter) by 11:59 p.m. Eastern on Wednesday, February 19th.

Not sure how to join the list? Subscribe right here.

Note that the prize will be delivered no earlier than March 15th, 2014. I will work out final details with the winners, whom I will announce on Thursday, February 20th.

I'll take this opportunity to also remind you that I provide all of the above services at reasonable rates, so if you aren't the winner, contact me and let me know what you need and we'll put together a plan that fits your budget.

Good luck, and spread the word to anyone you think may be interested!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

A Promise of Better Craft in Self-Publishing (or Slow the Eff Down): Book Marketing without B.S. #10

The other day Chuck Wendig shared a blog post he wrote entitled "Slushy Glut Slog: Why the Self-Publishing Shit Volcano Is a Problem". You should read it, assuming that some "shit" and "fuck" aren't going to be offensive to your delicate sensibilities, and particularly if you're thinking about taking the self-publishing path or starting a small publisher. It's already up to almost 200 comments, including a long one from Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords. Stick with reading it even though it's long and it may piss you off. It's not an anti-self-pub screed; but, a way toward a solution that elevates independent writers--and to be perfectly blunt--a number of small publishers, too.

Anyway, I won't rehash Chuck. He breaks it down so well that there's no point in my repeating it. Just read.

So... why exactly did you share this as a "Book Marketing without B.S." column?

I am so glad you asked. It's because the flow of the shit volcano reaches my doorstep, too. Now that I accept queries from potential clients, I see work that ranges from amazing to decent to incomprehensible to despair-for-humanity-inducing. The worst ones never reply when I (invariably) suggest obtaining the work of an editor. Well, sometimes they send a nasty reply back, but mostly I take the silence to mean that they stick their fingers in their ears and say "la la la la".

I haven't banned self-published authors (and indeed, some of my fine, fine clients are small publishing house and self-pub), but the vetting process for small publishers and self-publishers takes up valuable time for which I do not get paid. I don't typically have to work this hard at vetting work from medium and large publishers. So in a real and fully tangible way, self-published authors and small publishers (you know the ones I mean: they're made up of one harried person who is putting out too many books per year and thus isn't spending enough valuable time editing) cost me money. Someday I may decide I don't want to pay anymore.

So here is my point that I feel fits nicely with Chuck's blog post:

Slow down

I know you're excited because you think you're done with your book; but you're almost certainly not finished. Walk away for several days or weeks so that you can return to it with fresh eyes. You probably need an editor which you can get for low cost if you can't afford the most experienced people. Or perhaps it is time to look for a really good writers group. Or at the very least cultivate friends who aren't afraid to tell you when something could be improved in your writing. And let's not forget the cover art issue: bad cover art is debilitating. Invest in your cover to the best of your ability.

If you want to put out your best work, you can not be in a hurry to publish. It's about getting it right and putting out a quality product, not about how fast you get your book to market. If you are in a hurry because you're counting on sales of your books for financial support, you are likely making a mistake. Well, unless you're already a known author; but, I imagine if you are that you already know this anyway. If that's not the reason, then why rush this thing? You will, rightly and justifiably, be judged by this product, so make it the best it can be. Slow. The. Eff. Down.

Don't forget that part of the reason more traditional publishing is slow is because the books go through multiple edits and re-writes, and even when all that happens there is often still more that could be done, So why would you think that your first or second draft that no one else has ever looked at was ready? Even a second draft after a few people who just say "it's good!" isn't going to be much help either. Every writer needs an editor--a real editor, not just a yes man--who can help them find structural problems and inconsistencies and typos and strange word choices. You're not any different, which is fine. It means you're in good company.

Even Smashwords' Mr. Coker says in Wendig's comments, "It takes a village to publish great books." So don't do it alone, not because I have sympathy for your overworked plight (nearly all writers are overworked, my special little muffin), but because the best quality books are simply not put together alone. Find your team, the one that works at the level you can afford, however that looks. Be prepared to let things sit for a while. Be prepared to accept constructive criticism and suggestions for edits. Be prepared to re-write.

So make yourself the promise of editing, re-writes, and patience. Make yourself the promise of craft. Even if the way poorly published independent books bring the whole thing down doesn't matter to you (and it really ought to), it should matter to you whether or not you put out the best work that you can. You'll do better in the long run in the most self-interested of ways, and I'd like to think the entire big, messy community will get better, too.

Book Marketing without B.S. is a weekly publicity and marketing advice column for writers and other creators who prefer a realistic, clear, and no-nonsense approach. My goal is to help you cut through the bullshit with direct, understandable advice you won't be embarrassed to follow. Sign up to get my posts sent directly to your email by clicking here, and please send your questions to Thank you for your continued support!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Amazon Exclusivity and KDP Select: Book Marketing without B.S. #7

Book Marketing without B.S. is a weekly publicity and marketing advice column for writers and other creators who prefer a realistic, clear, and no-nonsense approach. My goal is to help you cut through the bullshit with direct, understandable advice you won't be embarrassed to follow. Send your questions to

Once I began working independently of a publisher, I ran into an issue that I hadn’t dealt with before: exclusivity with Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) Select program. From a publicity perspective I found it frustrating, as I have contacts affiliated with other book-buying outlets and I am unable to call on them in exclusivity situations. Why would they help with a book they can’t sell, after all? Still, I know it is more complicated than that, so here are some thoughts. I hope you'll share yours, too.

I want to make clear that I have no problem with authors and publishers who choose to use the KDP Select program. I understand why. What I am bothered by is Amazon's program itself. Since people make a large percentage of sales through Amazon, they’re often going to be tempted by the higher royalty rate, or rather, seek to avoid the punishment of the 35% royalty rate. There are other benefits as well, such as five days of being able to offer your ebook for free download (though Amazon has nerfed the impact of that  by changing the visibility of the top free books list) and members' books are available for free borrowing by Amazon Prime members, which may net more reviews and definitely nets a share of money.

In a fascinating article by Eoin Purcell,  he compares KDP Select's desire for exclusive content to Netflix’s production of exclusive content. The point that sticks out the most to me is that it reduces user churn. In other words, Netflix wants to keep its current viewers as much—if not more—than it wants to attract new ones. It does this in part by producing and purchasing content that only appears on Netflix. Netflix then promotes this content and funnels it to viewers' eyeballs.

While we have no direct evidence of this one way or another, it makes a lot of sense that Amazon may be trying to do something similar. It wants to keep people paying for Amazon Prime membership, and one of those benefits is free borrowing of ebooks exclusive to Amazon Kindle. It’s no-overhead income for Amazon. Indeed, retaining subscribers is a big moneymaker for pretty much anyone who does subscriptions. While Purcell contends that Amazon is getting this exclusive content without paying for it, I’d argue that it's paying for it with higher royalty rates. Still, they’re not paying publishers and authors what they probably should be given the extent of the benefit to Amazon, and given that all the work of writing, editing, layout, marketing, advertising, and publicity falls squarely on the creators and publishers.

Purcell raises another interesting point when he says that Amazon also gets to see how self-published authors sell during this exclusivity period, which gives them an edge in possibly offering publishing contracts for Amazon Publishing, and of course scads of general sales and marketing data, all paid for (in many ways) by publishers and writers.

One thing that was previously difficult for creators and publishers to control was the timing of promotional pricing. It was hard to predict exactly when it would kick in. Now Amazon has introduced Kindle Countdown, which lets one set parameters of timing. But, naturally, one has to sign up for KDP Select to use it, creating yet more pressure for exclusivity, when someone really ought to be able to schedule the dates and pricing anyway.

How big is the benefit to creators? Many argue that it’s not worth the exclusivity to limit yourself. I myself don’t have any experience that is definitive one way or another. Two publishers I’ve worked with prefer to go this route, but others don’t. I can't argue with the ones who like it when they feel they get a consistent benefit from it, after all. Still, both publishers are fairly young and neither had large marketing and publicity campaigns (of which I am aware, anyway!) prior to doing the exclusive arrangement.

This piece by Jane Litte over at Dear Author raises a really good point that gets to one of the reasons I feel uncomfortable with exclusivity. It starts to feel (to me, not in Litte’s words) a bit like the “company store” phenomenon. What Litte does say is that it can be dangerous because with all your eggs in one basket, what happens if the bottom drops out of the basket? Remember when Amazon removed lots of erotica? What if they come for what you write next for some reason? I know that’s a long shot, but exclusivity gives them complete control over that if they choose to exercise it. What if they decide to change terms in some other legally-covered way? You’ve undoubtedly agreed to a host of terms and conditions when you go with KDP Select, and Litte points out that Amazon changes terms at other times writing, “Just recently they increased the amount you have to buy in order to get free shipping from $25 to $35.” Do you fully understand what you signed when you joined KDP Select?

She also argues that exclusivity harms readers, too. Litte says that by reducing or eliminating competition, some of the drive for innovation—and thus perks for customers—disappears. If Amazon has no competition, they don’t need to win your business. They’ll be the only game in town, then we’re back to the company store of books. Again, though, I can’t blame people for doing it. When most of your sales come from Amazon, and Amazon sweetens the deal, then what’s a struggling small publisher or self-publisher to do?

In any case, many people have looked at this more closely than I have, and authors have generously written about their experiences. You can read, in addition to the above, the below interesting posts, and I am certain that a quick search will net more.

To sum up, on a purely theoretical basis I encourage people not to use Amazon’s KDP Select/exclusivity; but, in the pragmatic sense, I understand why people use it, and I still gladly work with publishers who are part of the program. We all have to work with the resources at hand, and when money is tight (and when isn’t money tight for a small publisher?) then we take what we can.

I am really interested in your experiences and I can even do a follow-up post about what readers are willing to share. Contact me at if you want to discuss your KDP Select experiences. I imagine there is a wealth of experience out there!

Keep those questions coming, and sign up to get my posts sent directly to your email by clicking here. Thank you once again for your continued support.

Remember, I am on blog hiatus until the second week of January. Happy New Year, everyone!

Friday, November 22, 2013

How Far in Advance to Hire a Publicist and a Book Marketing Plan Timeline: Book Marketing without B.S. #4

Book Marketing without B.S. is a weekly publicity and marketing advice column for writers and other creators who prefer a realistic, clear, and no-nonsense approach. My goal is to help you cut through the bullshit with direct, understandable advice you won't be embarrassed to follow. Send your questions to

Today brings another pair of related questions. The first is "How long before my book comes out should I hire a publicist?"

It depends to a certain degree what you're looking for and on how in-demand the publicist is. My business is relatively young, so six months is plenty of lead time for me, and I can absolutely work with much less if required. I've even done emergency publicity!

Ideally, for prose novels, pre-work work for publicity should start anywhere from 4-6 months before release (for long lead-time review spots such as Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and Library Journal). It is helpful to give your publicist plenty of time before that to plan and, if necessary, work with your publisher. Graphic novels and comics can work with a bit less lead time.

While this represents the ideal, it's possible to do good work with much less time, too. Just bear in mind that for the biggest and busiest review spots that if you don't give them at least a few months you aren't likely to get reviewed. Other than that, 1-3 months is plenty for most reviewers and for setting up a lot of your publicity.

What if you try it yourself and suddenly realize, right before (or right after) release that you want some help after all? You can get help at the last minute, too, but it's important to understand that many major spots won't accept books that are either close to or post-release. Many excellent reviewers and sites will; however, so all is not lost. Just realize that you're not going to get The New York Times from a book that is already released. Not even John Scalzi's Big Idea, for that matter.

So for you TL;DR types: the best time to contact a publicist (at least for this publicist) is 5-6 months before release, but anything can work (even post-release books) as long as what you expect from your results is realistic.

The next question is "What timeline should I use to plan my book marketing?"

As  I mentioned above, if your book is eligible to be reviewed by Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Book Slut, and other long lead-time publications., then send those review copies/galleys out 4-6 months before release date. Send these with a one-sheet, which is important to include with mailed copies.

For the rest, you'll query. (Unless they say it is OK to send a book, of course, then you send the book with a one-sheet or via email/NetGalley, depending on the reviewer's preferences.) A query is just seeing if a blogger or reviewer wants to look at the book and of course an offer to send one. As far as the timing, my assumption is that you've read other websites' and publications' and bloggers' review and publicity submission guidelines. If you have, you'll know how to stagger the rest of the schedule. Some will need to go out 3-5 months, some 1-3 months, some 5-6 weeks. This is one of the more time-consuming things: finding the right targets and making sure that you have them scheduled correctly. Don't be shy about writing these down in order or using an electronic calendar to keep track. 

Make sure that as you query--particularly blogs and media you know accept guest posts and do interviews--ask for what you want from that site. Something along the lines of "If you like the idea or the book enough, I'd love the chance to do a guest blog post for you. I can do it on (sample topic 1) or (sample topic 2), or if you have something you'd like to hear about, I'll gladly write that instead."

2-4 months before release: if you want to set up book signings or readings, now is the time. Note that very popular reading series, such as KGB, may require 6-7 months of lead time. 

3 weeks to release date: handle your correspondence and write guest blog posts as required. If you have an interview or need to finalize any in-person events, make sure you have what you need. If you do book signings/talks, then you'll want a poster of some kind to take with you.

What about those queries? Once it's been 2-3 weeks, it is OK to follow up with people to whom you have sent QUERIES. If you've already sent an actual book (often those long lead time publications from above,) then don't follow up. While we're at it, if you ever send a press release (and usually you do not send those for books,) don't follow up on those, either. Anyway, queries you can follow up, but they should be super polite and low pressure. 

At release time and after: make sure you're meeting your deadlines and following through on commitments. If you get a good review or a guest blog or an interview, share it. Share when your book is released, too. Anything like that is fine. A bit more often on Twitter than on Facebook. Don't forget though: if all you do is push your books, people will stop listening to you.

You may also find it helpful to revisit 5 No-BS Twitter Tips for Authors and 5 Steps to a Quality Blog Tour

Anyhow: this is a very rough and basic guideline. Each project will have to be planned based on its own requirements and based the resources of you and your publisher. As always, let me know if you have any questions about your situation.

That's all for this week. Keep an eye out for the first of the semi-regular calls for submission columns. 

Keep those questions coming, and sign up to get my posts sent directly to your email by clicking here. Thanks for all the support!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Coming Soon: Calls for Submission Column

In the next week or two I'll have the first of a reoccurring column aggregating calls for submission. It will be by Selene MacLeod who also administers the successful Facebook group Calls for Submissions (Poetry, Fiction, Art).

If this is what you like to see, sign up for email notifications of new posts so that you don't miss a thing!