Friday, October 13, 2006

I'm Stumped: Short Stories

A few people here have suggested that you try to publish short stories before selling your novel. Do you have any good recommendations on where to submit?

Confession: I'm not a short story reader. I have no idea why, other than for as long as I can remember, they just haven't appealed to me. Even when I was in my voracious Stephen King phase (back in high school, he was, weirdly enough, my favorite author, and I tore through every book I could get my hands on!), I just couldn't bring myself to read his shorts. (TWSS!! To quote my fave show, The Office. Hee.)

Which isn't to say there isn't a ton of merit in writing short stories - there is, and as some posters have suggested, they're a great way to nab great writing credits and boost your confidence. It's only to say that I really haven't the slightest clue where to get yours published.

So...I'm turning this one over to readers. Want to help out a fellow reader and offer up your favorite short story journals or websites?

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Does Persistence Pay?

What if you have an idea for an article that you absolutely love. You write the query and there really are no bites but you firmly believe it is a good idea. Do you re-write the pitch? Is it bad form to resend a rewritten pitch to an editor who had not responded the first time around? Should you go the extra mile and write the article?

Let's answer the last question first. No - writing the article isn't going the extra mile; it's shooting yourself in the foot. You should never, ever write the article before it's assigned (travel pieces and essays are exceptions). It's the mark of a newbie: an editor wants to shape the story idea and thus the story from the get-go. If you've already done this, you've taken her out of the equation and not only limited the potential scope of the piece, but also limited the market and readers to whom it might appeal. DON'T DO IT.

Okay, with that out of the way, let's talk about persistence and how to go about this. Nearly every established freelance writer I know has been in this position. You have a jewel of an idea - you shop it around - you keep shopping it around - you shop it around some more - and one bites. Sigh. In fact, I'm dealing with this very thing right now. It totally sucks. But you already know that since you asked the question.

There are a couple ways to handle this:

1) Shelve the idea until it becomes more topical. For example, my query deals with breast cancer. Most women's magazines cover BC in October, which is breast cancer awareness month. And, I discovered, most of them don't necessarily tackle many BC stories during other months of the year. (This is a sweeping generalization, but for the most part, it's true.) story came close to getting bites for this year's Oct issues, but nothing happened. And the best thing for me to do is probably to sit tight, knowing that I still have a great nugget of an idea, and repitch it this Feb or March, which is around when mags will assign Oct ideas. So, even if your idea isn't about breast cancer, it might be seasonal or might be better suited to certain world events, I dunno, but you might want to think about setting it aside until it's more timely.

2) You could rewrite the pitch, but if you rewrite it, I wouldn't just reword it, I would reangle it. Chances are, your editor didn't shoot it down because she didn't like the way your query paragraphs read; she shot it down because the story angle didn't work for her. Sometimes, if you're lucky, the editor will come back to you and say, "Hey, this idea on how to save money doesn't quite gel for me, but what about this way of thinking about it?" Most often though, you're left to develop the new angle on your own. One of my editors once told me to try to make my queries as counter-intuitive as in, okay, we're going to cover the same subjects over and over again, we already admit t that, but can you approach it in a rarely-considered way? Can you take an almost backwards approach to the idea? It's really hard to do this, but if you can, you might be able to recapture an editor's attention.

3) You could also repitch the editor to whom you originally sent. I don't know if you'll have a ton of luck, but certainly, things slip through the cracks and slip even easier through in-boxes. Or double-check to be sure that you sent it to the correct editor in the first place. Call up the mag and ask. If you didn't, aim for a new editor.

4) Expand your potential markets. Look, if you really believe in your story and want it to be told, period, then get thee to Barnes and Noble or to google or even to Writer's Market and try to unearth new-to-you magazines and outlets. The piece doesn't have to be published in a magazine with a 2 million circulation to be of value...or to be sharply-written and edited. For example, a lot of parenting writers query Parents and Parenting. But these mags don't necessarily take edgy, science-y stories. So if you have a more off-beat piece, maybe you should lob in a query to Brain, Child, which isn't nearly as popular, circulation-wise, but certainly is an excellent publication.

So those are my thoughts. I know that there are a ton of writers out there who have struggled to place a stellar story idea, and I'm sure that I'm missing some tips. Want to add in your own?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

My Editor, My BFF

After you sold your book, how much contact have you had with your editor? I feel like I go for months without hearing from mine.

First off, I don't know if there is a hard and fast rule about this, but I'm happy to share my experience, and if other authors want to chime in, that's fab too.

I think how much contact you have with your editor depends on several factors: where you are in the publishing process, how proactive you are, and how busy/senior your editor is. (I'm sure that there are other factors too; those are just a few that spring to mind.)

So, to break this down: after we sold the ms, my editor took me out to lunch and explained the general timeline. That, as you mention above, there would be lags in the process, and times when we couldn't get things done fast enough. I appreciated that she did this so I wasn't sitting around twiddling my thumbs, wondering why I hadn't heard from her in a few weeks. And, as she predicted, there have indeed been ebbs and flows. She got me my revision letter in February, a few weeks after we sold the book, so there was a flurry of activity during that time. Once the revisions were complete, things were pretty dead, and I don't think we had much contact...after all, there wasn't much to say! Oh, actually, we DID email about some blurbs, but that was just me firing off a note saying, "here's one from so-and-so." Once we got into art and ARC production (about four-six weeks ago), things picked up again. I imagine that from here through, say, Dec, things will be busy, and then they'll slow down, only to pick up again in Feb-March, as we do more publicity.

The next factor: how hands-on you are. I think there's a fine line between being proactive and being annoying. (And I hope I toe this line accordingly!) As I've mentioned, I've been pretty proactive in terms of blurbs, publicity, etc. So I've kept my editor in the loop as I've made in this respect, we've had perhaps more contact than other writers might have had with their editors. But really, only because I was updating her, not because she needed me for something or was initiating contact.

The last factor: you have to remember that your editor is handling a gajillion other things, not least including several other books. In my case, my editor is very senior and buys almost all of the books for one of Harper's paperback imprints, in addition to buying hardcovers for Morrow. So the gal is busy. Very busy. And it would be silly of me to think that she can devote time to me each day (or hell, even each week), even though her enthusiasm for the book is boundless. I can't speak to other editors' schedules, but I do imagine that most of them are overworked. I was AMAZED to learn about all of the various things that they handle - it seems like they juggle at least 5 different jobs. What's important, I think, is that your editor is there for you when you need her, i.e., during the crucial times to get your book launched successfully, not just because you want to know that she has you or your book on her brain. If you have nagging questions or outstanding issues, take them up with your agent...she can probably handle them, and if not, she'll direct you to your editor. Everyone wins.

So, other authors out there, how frequently do you speak with YOUR editor?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Write, Edit, Repeat

I wrote what I thought was a great story for a new-to-me magazine. The editor seemed happy, and I didn't have that many rewrites. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to get another assignment out of her. What am I doing wrong?

The short answer? Probably nothing.

The long answer? It can take years to develop strong relationships with your editors, but it sounds, at least to me, that you're off to a good start. One of the key ingredients in being a successful freelance writer is patience. Patience when it comes to breaking in to a magazine, patience when it comes to seeing that story in print, patience when it comes to landing a repeat assignment, patience when it comes to FINALLY have editors bring story ideas to you, not vice versa. So, at the risk of sounding trite, be patient.

Here's one example from my experience: a senior editor at a huge magazine saw one of my articles and called me. Asked me to send in some clips, along with story ideas. I was over the moon. This was a dream magazine, and one to which I'd subscribed since the dawn of time. So I sent everything that she requested. Ideas didn't fly. Sent more. Still didn't fly. Repeat, repeat, repeat. THREE YEARS later - I kid you not - I was still sending in ideas. She left to tackle a new position at a different magazine. Guess what? She called me when she landed there and promptly assigned me three stories. I'm still writing for both her and the magazine today. Oh, and I DID eventually manage to break into the other magazine too...another year down the road. Yes, that's FOUR YEARS of pitching until I found success. But the key here is that I took the time(or dealt with the time) to really cultivate a relationship with the editor, and it did pay off in the end.

So...back to you. Keep sending this editor ideas, even if they're near-misses, even if they don't pan out. Chances are, she now knows that you're a strong writer, she just needs the perfect story idea from you. Other ways that you can impress her: don't be needy, clingy, whiny or pushy. I can't tell you how many editors have told me that these above characteristics (even if they're subtle) turn them off. Do be flexible, easy-going, thorough and amiable: while I don't mistake my relationships with my editors for true friendships, in fact, many of them are my friends - I know what they like to watch on TV, I know tidbits about their personal lives, I know some of their quirks and funky habits. And they know mine. But that's because over the years, they opened up to me, and I did to them...just as would happen in nearly any other relationship. But, it takes time. I mean, you don't blurt out certain things on a first date, and you don't blurt out certain things when you're still proving yourself to an editor. But once you've proven yourself (see above paragraph), DO take the time out to get to know them as people, not just drones who tweak your writing. Not only might this pay off in repeat assignments, even better, it might mean that you'll enjoy the process a whole lot more. I know that I adore working for the editors with whom I've become friends...and I'm pretty sure that they feel the same way.

Any other tips on nailing repeats from editors?

Monday, October 09, 2006

Happy Columbus Day


Since everyone else in my industry is taking the day off, I figured that I would too. do whatever you would do to celebrate the fact that good old Chris sailed the ocean blue and discovered us in 1492 and all of that.

My squee moment of the weekend? Making my own discovery:
my book is up on Amazon! Doesn't look like the page is finalized, so I'll be sure to keep you guys updated when the final page comes in. But wow, it really made things feel official.

Until tomorrow...happy celebrating!

By the way, if you're new to the blog (or an old-timer, for that matter), don't be shy...feel free to send me any or all publishing-related questions. I'm here to answer 'em!