Friday, August 29, 2008

Interview with Jason Sanford on Community Fridays

Welcome to Community Fridays!

During Community Fridays, I interview authors, editors, publishers, and pretty much anyone else who I can get my hands on from the writing and publishing communities. Hope you enjoy, and feel free to suggest new interviewees for upcoming Community Fridays. Check out current and past interviews here. Only have a minute? Click here for interviews at a glance.

Today's guest is Jason Sanford, editor of storySouth and author.

What made you decide to start working towards getting your writing published?

I've always enjoyed reading stories and as a child I used to write my own stories and comic books. So as I grew older, it was a natural thing to both continue my writing and try to get my stories published.

What was the most major roadblock you encountered along the way, and how did you overcome it?

The biggest roadblock was one I created. I've always loved science fiction and fantasy. But when I was in college one of my English teachers told me that serious writers did not write SF/F. Like an idiot, I listened to her and stopped writing SF/F for a few years. That's my biggest writing regret.

You are an author and an editor. What do you like about each of these professions? Why did you decide to do both?

I began working as an editor because I wanted to learn more about that side of the publishing industry. I think my background as an editor has been very helpful to my work as a writer because I learned early on that all great stories go through revision after revision. As a result of my experiences as an editor, I can be quite ruthless while revising my own writings.

I see from your website that you've received many awards and honors. Did you submit your work for these, or did someone knock on your door and hand them to you?

Unless I'm mistaken, I submitted my work for most of the awards I've won. The Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowship had a lengthy application process, while others like the Loft Mentor Series Award simply require you to submit a sample of your work and a short application. One of my stories was also recently selected as an honorable mention in The Year's Best Science Fiction Stories, 25th Annual Collection, edited by Gardner Dozois. I didn't submit my story for this honor--like most editors, Dozois makes his own choices--so this was a complete surprise.

I think many aspiring authors worry that their writing isn't ‘good enough' to be published. From an editor's point of view, what are a couple of things that make a good writer? Is it possible to become a better writer over time?

There's a famous anecdote about the famous science fiction editor John Campbell meeting a fan of his magazine. When the fan mentioned that he'd written some stories, Campbell remarked that he didn't recall seeing any submissions under this fan's name. "Oh, no," the fan remarked. "I haven't submitted them to you because they're nowhere near good enough for that." That's when Campbell exploded and said, "How dare you reject stories for my magazine! You submit the stories to me and I'll decide whether they're good or not."

Whether or not that story is true, it points to a simple truth: If a writer doesn't submit their work, they'll never be published. Now that doesn't mean a writer's early stories will get published. But by continually writing and revising and submitting then revising even more, you will improve your writing skills. I also strongly suggest writers connect with writers groups for feedback as they go through this process.

What are your thoughts on authors promoting themselves and their work?

Writers should always promote themselves. Don't wait for someone else to promote your stories because you may have a long wait. After all, if you thought a story was good enough to write and good enough to submit, why wouldn't you also promote that story?

What is your one super secret tip for aspiring authors hoping to get published?

Don't be a jerk. The stereotype of arrogant, nasty writers who succeed despite their personality flaws is a dangerous myth for new writers to believe in. Be nice to editors, readers, and fellow writers. That will go a long way in helping you succeed with your own writing.

Lastly, because this feature is about establishing bonds within the writing and publishing industries, can you name one author, editor or publisher who's doing great things right now, and why?

In the speculative fiction field, there are many editors who are doing amazing work, such as Sheila Williams (editor of Asimov's) and Gordon Van Gelder (editor of Fantasy and Science Fiction). However, two editors who are doing quiet but amazing work--meaning people may not have noticed all their achievements--are Andy Cox of TTA Press and Edmund R. Schubert of Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show. Andy and his fellow TTA Press editors have not only taken Interzone to a new period of glorious SF/F publishing, they've also created an amazing new horror magazine called Black Static and continue to publish one of the best mystery magazines around, Crimewave. Edmund has taken IGMS and turned it into one of the best online magazines around, attracting both top-notch stories and authors. I enjoy reading each issue of IGMS because the stories feel like the type of science fiction and fantasy which first attracted me to the genre as a child.

About the Author

Jason Sanford is the author of a number of short stories, essays, and articles. He also edits the literary journal storySouth, through which he runs the annual Million Writers Award for best online fiction, which has been highlighted by USA Today, the Utne Reader, and discussed in a feature interview in Novel and Short Story Writer's Market.

Jason has published his fiction in Analog: Science Fiction and Fact (forthcoming), Interzone, Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show, Tales of the Unanticipated, the Beloit Fiction Journal, The Mississippi Review, Fiction Warehouse, Diagram, Pindeldyboz, and other places. He's also published critical essays, book reviews, and news articles in places like The New York Review of Science Fiction, The Pedestal Magazine, The Fix Short Fiction Review, and Monsters and Critics. Read more about Jason on his website.

© Emma Larkins and Jason Sanford

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Book Club Newbie

I don't know how common it is for people in general (and writers in particular) to join a book club, but I'd heard about them from the other women in Writeous Writers, so I thought I'd give it a try.

For my first meeting, we read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See. I wrote a glowing review of the book when I first finished it, and in my mind's eye I pictured that at the book group we'd all speak appreciatively about how much we loved it and everything about Lisa See.

That's not exactly how things turned out. Right off the bat, the other members launched into passionate, intelligent discussion about the novel. Some people loved the book; others, not so much. At points the debates became heated. Throughout the meeting, the people in the book club worked hard to deepen their understanding of a passion which they all shared. I left the meeting feeling a little overwhelmed, but also with a great deal more insight than I'd had at the start.

Now that I'm working on making my living as a published author, I realize that I need to look more deeply into books to find the reasons why I like or dislike them. And even more important than that, I need to find out why other people like or dislike the books they read. The book club will definitely help with that.

Join a book club today! I joined mine through my local library; here's a list of libraries in the U.S. if you're looking for one near you.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Controversy In Fiction

I'm not a particularly controversial person. I watch what I say, balance all sides of an issue before making a decision, and (in general) try not to offend people. So the plot of my most recent short story took me somewhat by surprise when it popped into my head.

The inspiration for this story came while I was talking to my boyfriend about world population growth. The conversation went something like this:

"Pretty soon, all countries are going to have a one-child policy like China."

"Yeah, I could see that happening."

"Wow. If you only get one child, you better make it a good one."

That got me to thinking. What if people in the U.S. could only have one child? What if they wanted to make that child 'a good one?' Currently, we can genetically test for a variety of diseases before a child is born. If the prognosis is not good, parents can choose to terminate the pregnancy rather than bring a severely disabled child into the world. What if this were taken to the extreme? What if parents tested for genetic predispositions towards intelligence, friendliness, and beauty, and made their decisions to keep a child or not based on those criteria?

As if that weren't controversial enough, what if, due to the pressures of a one-child policy and the quest for perfection, the decision deadline was raised to seven, eight, nine months - or beyond?

I don't want to write a controversial story just for the sake of writing a controversial story, or even to express my personal views. I just want to write it because it's in me, and because it will make people think. So, here's my question: is it better to hold a controversial story in and stick to more acceptable topics, or is it better to tell the story and risk the consequences?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Interview With Karen Syed On Community Fridays

Welcome to the very fist edition of Community Fridays!

In this feature, I interview authors, editors, publishers, and pretty much anyone else who I can get my hands on from the writing and publishing communities. Hope you enjoy, and feel free to suggest new interviewees for upcoming Community Fridays. Check out current and past interviews here. Only have a minute? Click here for interviews at a glance.

And now for your education and reading pleasure is an interview with Karen Syed, president and CEO of Echelon Press, LLC.

You made a transition from being an author to being a publisher. Do many authors make that switch? What motivated that transition for you?

I don't know how many might have made the transition, probably quite a few in the independent sector. For me it was a weird choice. I have had 8 of my novels published and I live that, but I am a terrible author. Do as I say not as I do is my author motto. I can teach people how to self-promote and market, I just suck at it. I am not shy, but I have a very hard time talking about myself. Kinda weird.

As for my motivation to switch, it was a no-brainer. I was getting screwed over left and right by small presses and it was just getting to be too much, so we decided there needed to be a place where new writers could go to get their foot in the door and not get bent over a table with no flowers first. Our company was born: Echelon Press…the next step in publishing! (which has changed a little since then.)

I think many aspiring authors worry that they'll put a lot of effort into trying to get published, and then not be able to make a living out of it. What are your thoughts on this?

You get what you put into it. Now, that is not to say that some authors don't get lucky. They hit a good day and get the big advance and actually get a marketing budget, but those strikes are few and far between. For most authors who get published, they don't seem to understand that you get back what you put in. If you sign a contract and then sit back waiting for the readers to buy and the royalty checks to roll in, you better stock up on Bon Bons, Baby, 'cause you have a long wait.

You have to be willing to get out there and hoof it from here to there and back again, telling everyone who you are and what your book is. If you don't, no one will. This I promise you. If you are somewhat lucky you will find a house that will at least work with you, as opposed to simply throwing you out to the wolves with a new book and not a clue.

If the only reason you are doing this is money, spend a bit on sales training, because those are the skills you will need to sell your books so you can get a royalty check. Writing a great book is no longer enough.

You are a big proponent of authors taking some ownership of promoting their own works. Can you tell us from the point of view of a publisher why this is important?

This is common sense, especially from my point of view. I am a small company with a minimal staff. We simply cannot do everything for everyone all at the same time. This is also relevant to bigger companies, they may have bigger offices, and bigger staffs, but they also produce more books, so it all evens out in the wash.

Authors complain about how hard it is to write, market, and promote their books. Well imagine doing that for hundreds of books. You have to take off your blinders and look at the entire picture and not just what is in front of your nose. Have you ever thought about what a publisher has to do?

There is editing, formatting, designing covers, more editing, contacting distributors, placing and designing ads, contacting bookstores, libraries, event venues, maintaining company records, accounts, orders, packing, shipping, folding, stuffing, labeling, stamping, processing. Then there are all the e-mails and phone calls from authors who want you to do various things for them, find out books did not arrive where they are supposed to be when they were supposed to, finding out why distributors are out of stock, processing returns…the list goes on, but you see the point. Now take into consideration that many of these things have to be repeated for each book in print or being released.

We need all the help we can get. The key to remember is that even though you the author are promoting and marketing your work, we are STILL doing all those things as well. It's a partnership. We work as a team and get we get twice as much done, which means twice as much potential exposure and sales for you. This in turn makes it easier for you to make more money to support you and your ten cats. :-)

What is one promotion tool that you've had a lot of success with lately?

Oddly enough, MySpace and Twitter have been good venues. I don't spend as much time on these as people seem to think, but the exposure is translating into sales. One thing that we also use is Amazon and their many programs. Amazon Associates allows authors to use their accounts to sell their books and make a little extra over their royalties. I only use this in specific places so I can track if the exposure is creating sales. Works well on Twitter and our Blog.

The other tool I find VERY productive is festivals. Not just book festivals, but craft festivals as well. This is not for everyone, but we sell lots of books at festivals. Very lucrative in local venues.

What catches your eye first when you're looking for a new author to publish?

Enthusiasm and tenacity. I won't even consider an author who walks up to me and says, "You're probably not going to be interested, but can I send you my book?" What's with the negativity? I don't have time for negativity in my life or my business. I have my own issues to keep track of, I don't need to bring on needy authors who have no self-confidence. You have to know and believe your product has value and that you as an author are worth my time. If not, there are plenty who are worth it. I want authors who visibly present well. You may be butt ugly, but if you take the time to make a good first impression and keep it up, then you have passed over the first hurdle. Not everyone is beautiful in everyone's eyes, but no one has to be sloppy and unkempt, especially in business.

I am certain everyone expected me to say that I want to see a great book. That is important too, but no matter how great your book is, no one will ever know if they are put off by you. "But they won't all see me." you say. It's not all about looks, don't be a dork on the Internet. Don't swear in public venues. Don't mouth off about your political and religious views in the public forums. Keep a clear head, and remember, you are trying to impress people, not irritate them. So you have a strong personality, great, but don't be a bully.

Lastly, because this feature is about establishing bonds within the writing and publishing industries, can you name one author, editor or publisher who's doing great things right now, and why?

I have to tell you, this is a new contact for me, but I am so impressed with her efforts. Check out Dani over at Quickest Blog Book Tour Guide Ever. She isn't a publisher or an editor, but she certainly is in tune with our industry and she is doing incredible things to help authors and editors and publishers and anyone else in the business increase their exposure and build solid networks.

She is a tsunami of inspiration and knowledge and if she doesn't know something, she makes every effort to learn about it. It's only been a short time since hooking up with her, but already she has had a huge positive influence on me and my networking and marketing venues.

About the Author:
Karen L. Syed is the president and CEO of Echelon Press, LLC. Every day is a new success story for her as she continues to grow herself and her business. She has seen eight of her own novels published (writing as Alexis Hart), along with numerous articles and short stories. As a former bookstore owner, she garnered a nomination from Publishers Weekly for their Bookseller of the Year award. She is a member of EPIC (Electronically Published Internet Connection), SinC (Sisters in Crime), MWA (Maryland Writers' Association), and ITW (International Thriller Writers). Karen is committed to helping and encouraging everyone she comes in contact with to seek a healthier and more positive quality of life by reaching for their dreams. You can learn more about Karen Syed here.

© Emma Larkins and Karen Syed

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan Reviewed

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan: A Novel Snow Flower and the Secret Fan: A Novel by Lisa See

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
Lisa See is AMAZING! Rarely have I come across a book that so completely immersed me in a world of the author's creation. Back in my reading heyday (when summer vacation meant three full months of leisure time) I would have finished it in a night; as it was, it took me a few sittings, but I always hated putting the book down. I picked up this book because of the reading requirement for a book group I'm joining at my local library, and I wasn't disappointed. Lisa See's usage of style and language fit in beautifully with her historical Chinese setting. A word of warning, though - the book gets a bit graphic in some of the scenes, so just be prepared. I have a somewhat weak stomach myself, but I thought those scenes really made the book, and I appreciated the author's candor in not sugar-coating them. Definitely a must-read!

View all my reviews.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Integrating Digg Buttons

It's great to learn new things! A while back I tried to integrate Digg buttons into my individual posts. I had given it up as a lost cause when I decided I'd try one more thing, and voila! It worked! (You might have seen the Digg buttons popping up here and there on my blog.)

You, too, can promote your work using buttons from the Digg Integration Tools page on Digg. It's a little tricky (at least for me; remember, I'm a writer, not a techie!) but if you have any questions, feel free to comment or email me.

Digging your blog post is a great way to get a boost in traffic. Just keep in mind that the Digg audience can be a little opinionated at times, and be prepared to receive some varied feedback. To supercharge this technique, build up a list of friends on Digg who you can share your link with once you've dugg your post.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Taking The Plunge - Submission!

On Friday, I finally submitted my first short story to an online literary magazine. Although the deadline doesn't come until the end of August, I wanted to get my story out as soon as possible. No messing around with brinkmanship on the eve of the deadline this time!

However, the whole experience terrified me beyond belief. I've rarely been so stressed out and scared in my life. I assume that the email went through, but you never really know, do you? And I don't want to ask, because they might not like me hassling them. Before I submitted, I read the instructions, and asked people questions when I needed to, but still I don't know if I did everything right. Come to think of it, I probably should have emailed the fiction editor a question or two beforehand, just so I had a better idea of what I was doing. Shoot.

Well, enough worrying about that. You live, you learn. Full steam ahead on my next story!

I've updated my Squidoo lens, How to Get a Book Published (Successfully!) to include information about submitting your work for publication. Enjoy!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Tamora Pierce and Community Fridays

Last night I met Tamora Pierce for the first time at a reading/book signing in Greenmount, MD.

This was quite an experience for me! I've never met an author before who I've followed so avidly for so many years. I don't know if authors are considered 'celebrities' in the traditional sense, but I think that devoted readers will understand when I say that I shook in my shoes and could barely manage to speak a word in her presence.

Growing up, I spent more time in the worlds created by Tamora and others like her than I did in the real world. It was probably one of the main influencing factors in my decision to become a writer.

At the event, Tamora read from her upcoming book Bloodhound, sequel to Terrier. In addition, she discussed a little about how she ended up as an author, her love for all things living (including anthropomorphic logs) and her extensive research techniques. Seriously, if you ever want to know anything about world histories or cultures, just stop by one of her readings and ask her a question!
If you love fantasy of any sort, and you haven't yet read any of her books, you should definitely check her out!

Also - stay tuned for a new upcoming feature on my blog, Community Fridays! In this feature, you'll hear from a bunch of great people in the writing and publishing communities. I already have some terrific talent lined up, so get ready!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

How to Get a Book Published (Successfully!) and Squidoo

So I just learned about a great new online tool called Squidoo. Squidoo allows you to create mini-websites, or "lenses," about one or more subjects that interest you. For example, if you wanted you could create one lens for Ultimate Frisbee tactics, one for cooking with zucchinis, and (of course) one with tips for writers. Blogs usually work better if they focus on one topic so that you build a good readership in your niche. However, with lenses, you can create as many as you like on any topic you want, and best of all they're free! (Plus much less hassle than buying a bunch of URLs and setting up websites manually.)

My first lens is titled "How to Get a Book Published (Successfully!)" In the lens, I'm not going to provide any hidden tips and tricks of the publishing world, because I don't know any. But I will tell you the best ways I know to make sure that you can make a living off of your wonderful words once you actually do get published.

Thanks to Tiffany Dow for her excellent article that led me to this site!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Take Your Time And Live To Tell Your Tales

I debated whether or not to write a post about this weekend's events, as they are not directly related to writing and/or getting published. However, the information below applies to the general populace (including writers!) and it affected me profoundly, so I decided to go for it.

This weekend, on our way to Ocean City, MD, my companions and I got stuck in terrible traffic two miles before the Bay Bridge. The picture above shows the source of the traffic back-up: an 18 wheeler had actually plunged off the bridge and into the water.

No one knows yet exactly what caused the tragic accident (or if they do, they aren't releasing the information). But it did start me thinking about driving in general. Lately I've been trying to improve my gas mileage by driving more slowly and using a few hypermiling techniques, and it's made the general aggression of drivers painfully apparent. Take, for example, the behavior of those who routinely drive on MD Rt. 695. The posted speed limit for this road is 55 mph. That's the speed LIMIT; and not the 'lower limit,' either, but instead the absolute fastest you should ever go on that road. And yet reducing my speed to 55 meant that cars continually blasted past on either side of me at 10, 20, 30 or more mph above the speed limit.

I know that people don't have time to waste on driving, that they have to get places quickly, that they drive the same roads day after day and just get tired of it all. But because of bad practices like speeding and aggressive driving, one man lost his life yesterday, two people were hospitalized, and tens of thousands of people stuck in traffic for 4+ hours possibly missed weddings, funerals, births, 100th birthday parties, etc. In general, everyone involved basically had a really bad day.

All I ask is that next time you get in your car, take a moment to think about what you're doing so you can make sure that you're around to write stories and tell tales for years and years to come.

Friday, August 8, 2008

The Future Of Writing?

Attention Writers!

Wondering how to direct your money-making efforts in these ever-changing, media saturated modern times? Worried about continuing to reach your audience with interesting, relevant content without giving it all away for free? Want to sustain your decadent writer's lifestyle without having to go back to that life-sucking office job to support yourself? Then here's some information that might interest you.

I recently read an article by Patrick Tucker, Senior Editor at The Futurist magazine, titled "The 21st Century Writer." In it, Patrick described recent and upcoming changes to the writing and publishing industries that will affect how people in those industries make their money. I loved the article, but I was left wishing for a list of concrete steps to avoid the fate of a starving artist. Then again, I suppose that's the point: in order to survive, us writers have to look inside ourselves and consciously direct that creative energy with which we're all overflowing towards profitable endeavors.

The more creative we get, the more potential we have to feed, clothe and entertain ourselves with our choice of profession. Up until this point, I always thought that my big money would come from traditionally published novels. But now, I'm not so sure. Now I'm starting to wonder what other options I might have.

I don't really want to put ads up on my blog at present. No offense to those who do choose to have ads; but in my opinion, even targeted ads detract from the main goal of a blog, namely to promote the author's personal brand. So perhaps for me, conferences and speaking engagements will bring home the bacon. Or maybe I'll form a collective with other writers, and charge a subscription fee for premium access. Or what if I never even have a 'big money maker?' I think I'd like it best if my income consisted of a variety of smaller income streams from various sources: it would allow me to adapt more easily to whatever the future has in store. Now all I need to do is identify those sources, and take advantage of them... Any thoughts?

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Comparison Of Online Short Story Critique Sites

I'm looking for some people to critique my short stories. I have my writer's group, Writeous Writers, but I don't want to overload them with critiquing both my novel and my stories (we meet once a month, and I hope to have three stories done within a month). Since we have this fancy 'internet' thing nowadays, I thought I'd look online for critique groups and skip the hard part of finding like-minded writers in person. Here are my impressions of some of the groups I've come across. These sites are ranked from most to least helpful for providing short story critiques.


Okay, my first impression of this site was somewhat negative, due to difficulties navigating and sacrifice of functionality for Adwords (some of the ads are actually disguised to look like navigation links). However, the users are friendly (after one day as a member, I've already received two welcomes!) and it looks like the site is pretty heavily used. I'm in serious need of critiques for my work, so perhaps I'll get over the ads and this site will prove useful to me. I'll keep you posted.

Critique Groups for Writers

This is one of the first sites I looked at. It appears to focus more on book critiques than short story critiques. I wasn't sure what sort of a group I should join, as my short stories don't fall into one set genre. Also, navigation is somewhat clumsy.

Short Story Writers

This critique group seems to have been closed for a couple of years now, although I'm still finding references to it across the web. Latest update as of 4/16/2006. It still has some useful information for writers, however.


Another defunct site, last updated in 2006. Again, some useful information, but I couldn't find anything resembling a critique group.

Last but not least, How To Critique Fiction is not a critique group, but does offer good information for how to go about critiquing someone's work.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Updated Look

Notice anything different? I was unhappy with the somewhat squished look of my previous blog layout, so I changed it. I know that change isn't easy (they just changed the look of Facebook which totally threw me off) but hopefully the new look will help to better serve my purpose. Please comment if you like/don't like what I've done.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Check Out My Interview!

Karen Syed, publisher at Echelon Press Publishing, has interviewed me on her blog, Life of a Publisher. Last year, Karen taught a class on getting your work published that inspired me to go after my dream. Thank you, Karen!