Monthly Archives: January 2019

The Scribe’s Arcanum: Anatomy of a First Sale—Part 3

The Scribe’s Arcanum:

Anatomy of a First Sale—Part 3

Just about to give up hope on my vampire short story, “Despair,” I spied a contest at Dark Recesses Press. Time was growing short for getting a sale that would qualify me to remain a member of the Horror Writer’s Association. 

Dark Recesses Press had their 2nd annual Deja Vu Horror Contest coming up. This contest was all about familiar horror tropes.  For a small entry fee, I could submit a story that was either a parody of a genre trope or do something new and unique with the trope. I had just the story… or so I thought! 

I had no illusions of winning this contest, but with the story off working in the background at least I could dream.  As such, I gave it a quick read through and sent it by email to my wife for a quick proofread.

My wife reviewed the story. Having grown as an editor since her last revision,  she realized I had a character who served no other purpose than to die. She advised me to extricate the character from the story.

Impossible! There was no way I could remove the character. She was integral to the story. I was overtaken by frustration. I had a novel to get back to and new short stories to write. I didn’t have the time to complete a total rewrite nor did I have any way to get rid of this character without the structure of the story collasping. 

Deciding to sleep on it, the next morning I awoke with an answer. It was certainly one of those eureka moments. 

I realized I could employ a technique filmakers use when adapting a novel. They take two or more characters, and make them into a composite. In this way, they’re able to have one character do the work of two or more. This is necessary sometimes when condensing a long novel into a two-hour movie. 

The reduction of this character would shorten my story, but it would still be well within the bounds of the required word count. I went to work in earnest. 

In the process, I had to revise and rearrange the story, making it much tighter in the process. 

Patty read my new version and completed another proofread. We were both happy with the final results. Essentially, with all the changes, it was a new and improved story. 

Now, not only would I be breaking the rule of sending to the top markets first, I was also going against the advice of paying a fee to enter a contest. Money is supposed to flow to the writer. But the entry fee was small ($11.00 I believe), and I had interacted with the publisher, and one of the editors, on a horror message board. They were good people, and I knew their hearts were in the right place. In the coming months they were bringing  Dark Recesses Press from a micro-zine to a semi-pro web magazine. They were doing everything right, and I wasn’t going to let any well meaning advice get in my way of getting another rejection. No, sir! Not me. 

With nothing to lose, I paid my fee and sent the story off through email. Then I tried to forget about the whole thing. There was no way I was going to win, anyway. I just wanted to keep up my momentum. Maybe someday I would make a sale. Either way, I couldn’t stop writing. I had the bug, and I had it bad. 

One night in 2006 my wife and I were sitting on the couch with our laptops, the TV buzzing white-noise in the foreground.  The phone rang and I got up to to check the caller ID. To my surprise, someone was calling us from Canada. Who the hell was calling us from the Great White North? Most likely a wrong number, I thought. Yet, I wondered if it could be some long lost family member, my dad has people in Canada. I had also interacted with some Canadian writers on the horror message board. Why would they be calling me? I could daydream about someone wanting to collaborate, but the idea seemed absurd. I didn’t even have a first sale yet.  It was fun to dream, though. 

I returned to the couch, and then I heard the chime of an email notification. I clicked through to check it. Both the phone call and email were about to change my life. 

I’ll tell you about it next time. 

 

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The Scribe’s Arcanum: Anatomy of a First Sale—Part 2

The Scribe’s Arcanum:

Anatomy of a First Sale—Part 2

In 2006 I made my first short story  sale. It was hard won and an amazing experience. Here’s how it happened:

I had joined the Horror Writer’s Association (HWA) as an affiliate member in the early 2000s. For various reasons at that time they were looking to jettison members who didn’t have any sales. They now required a semi-profesional sale of not less than $25 to retain affiliate member status and stay in the organization. They gave us a year to make affiliate or be cast out. 

There were rumblings from some members, but having an interest in setting goals with  deadlines, I took this as the perfect opportunity to do whatever it took to make my first sale. I had a year, and a year could go by quickly. I knew I had to get started right away. 

In addition, to complete this goal I would have to break a rule I was taking way too literally. That rule: start at the top market and work your way down. The problem with that strategy is it takes a long time. Especially when some top markets were holding stories up to a year (sometimes longer) before sending a rejection letter. On the plus side, if you made a sale it was going to be a big one. 

However, to achieve my goal, I wouldn’t be able to use that strategy any longer. At least, that is, until I made my first semi-pro sale. 

As part of this new strategy, I looked at semi-pro magazines that had sent me encouraging notes along with a rejection. Then I wrote stories specifically for that market.

I had done this at least once before, written a story specifically for a magazine that showed interest in my work.  One such magazine was Dreams of Decadence, edited by Angella Kessler. 

In the year 2000, my wife and I made a return trip to New Orleans. We hadn’t been back to NOLA since our honeymoon. We had stayed at the Bourbon Orleans, and a kindly bellhop had given us some advice on where to go and which areas to avoid. The dark and dangerous streets of the French Quarter excited my imagination. Then, in our youth, being adventurous, we found ourselves having drinks at a vampire bar, as part of a tour led by a self-proclaimed vampire who called himself Vlad. 

When we returned home, my experiences coalesced into the story, The Hours of Sleep. I’ll talk more about that story in another post. Suffice it to say, I sent this vampire short story to Dreams of Decadence and received a rejection letter. Still, Ms. Kessler wrote back telling me she thought the story was interesting and unique. No easy feat for a well worn trope. 

I decided to try my hand at writing a story specifically for her magazine. To do this we traveled to Pandemonium Books and Games in Boston to pick up some sample issues. It could have been Man from Atlantis, but I think it was Pandemonium. Either way, I grabbed issues from a handful of genre magazines.

Bringing them home, I read each magazine cover to cover and analyzed them to see if I could understand what made that particular editor tick. 

I discovered some simularites between the stories. In Dreams, the majority of the stories were written in the first person point of view, the protagonists were overwhelmingly female, and if I’m remembering correctly, the stories all had a dark ending. 

I set out to write a story with these qualities while retaining what I felt the editor thought unique about my story. I entitled the story, “Despair.” Aptly named, for as soon as it was ready to send out, Dreams of Decadence had closed up shop.  My dreams were dashed. 

I had also learned in the interim, most magazine editors, and those stalwarts who still read short stories, were sick of vampire fiction. Seemingly, no one was buying vampire fiction any longer.  What to do? What to do? 

I ended up putting the story away in what is sometimes known as “the trunk.” Yes, a trunk story, as it’s called, is an unsaleable story writers would place into a physical wooden trunk before the digital age. Today, writers usually just store the story on their computer hard drive (keeping a backup in the cloud), and move on. 

Eventually, in 2006, I took the story out of mothballs, performed another light edit, and then sent it out to a small press magazine that, surprise of all surprises, was actually looking for vampire fiction. 

This time I received another personal rejection. The editor said she thought the writing was excellent, but didn’t like first person narration and decided to pass.. I’m not that big a fan either. I figured that was the end of that story’s marketability. No one was looking for vampire fiction… or so I thought! Stay tuned for more in the next thrilling installment. Haha! 

The Scribe’s Arcanum: Anatomy of a First Sale—Part 1

The Scribe’s Arcanum

Anatomy of a First Sale—Part 1

How do you get published traditionally? A lot of newer writers have this question. I can tell you how I did it, giving you some insight into the process. This will be a longer post, probably the longest of the Anatomy of a Sale series since I have to start from the beginning. I’ll try to work though the background information quickly. 

I wrote my real first short stories back in junior high. I had the opportunity to read a story to the class, and once I did, I become known as: The Writer. There was another classmate who was known as: The Artist. I was envious of him as I had wanted to be an artist myself, a comic book illustrator to be exact, but found what I really wanted to do was tell a story. I discovered in short order it was easier to tell a story with words than with pictures——at least it was for me. 

Then in high school I wrote a short story for an English class. At the time, I was trying to sail under the radar. I couldn’t help but take up the challenge, and once my teacher saw I had talent, I lost the ability to remain invisible in that class. There’s a lot more to this story, but I’ll save it for another day. 

Fast forward to late 1996, early 1997. After a couple years of marriage, I felt settled down and focused enough to try my hand at writing again. This time I wanted to see if I could make a fiction sale. I told my wife as much, asking her to buy me a Writer’s Digest Short Story Market  for Christmas/Hanukkah. 

I made her a promise that with that tome by my side, I would write a story and send it out.  If nothing else, I’d get my first rejection letter. 

I had researched enough to know that even top writers like Stephen King had spent a great deal of time collecting rejection slips. I felt that getting a “thanks, but no thanks” letter was an achievable goal, and it kept me from worrying about the results. The worst that could happen was that I would be sent an acceptance letter and not get my goal of a rejection. That would have been a “failure” I could live with. 

I wrote my first story, with an eye towards making a sale, on a Brother word processor, sending out a hard copy in the mail and waiting breathlessly for the post office to send me a response. Instead of a rejection, I was surprised to read a short note informing me that that the magazine had just gone out of business. 

Immediately, I sent the story to a small press magazine. A few months later I received a very nice note written on a form rejection letter stating: “Good story! Just too traditional for this publication.” Not a bad first rejection. In-fact, it’s extremely good. Much better than I realized at the time. 

Most of my rejections were like this. I had immediately received encouraging letters and notes, but no sales. It was a better sign than I could have known. I was close, but life was getting in the way. By the end of 1997 I had transitioned into a  management position in the security industry. Producing reports and policies and procedures manuals kept me writing, and a  24 hour pager and 16 hour shifts kept me exhausted and with little time for anything else. 

In the year 2000 I completed a transition to a human resources position, regaining some of the time I had lost. With extra time came an emptiness I couldn’t seem to fill. I had returned to martial arts over a year earlier (having left my old school in 1997) and even though I loved my training, it wasn’t enough to fill me up. It was only when I returned to writing that I felt whole again. 

That year, I found a message board frequented by horror writers who had been popular in the 1980s. These authors had been my writing heroes, and they inspired me to return to my horror roots. Before that, I had spent most of my time writing science fiction. I figured I understood the horror genre more than SF, and that I would have a publication credit in no time. How wrong I was! 

In 2004 I placed a short story, “Graven Image,” with a webzine called The Swamp. I didn’t get paid for that “sale” but I did get an acceptance, something I sorely needed at the time. 

It wouldn’t be until 2006 when I made my first sale. Yes, It would take me six years to make my first paid sale. Persistance pays off. Persistance and practice. I’ll tell you how that happened next time. Stay tuned. 

The Scribe’s Arcanum – Intro

I’m reinstating The Scribe’s Arcanum. 

Wait!

What is The Scribe’s Arcanum, you ask?

Great question! 

The Scribe’s Arcanum is just a tongue and cheek way of saying: the writer’s secrets.  

Back in the early 90s, as a young man transitioning into my early 20s, I felt I needed a way to regain my focus and steer my life in a successful and prosperous direction. Having lived life for the most part scattershot, I began keeping a journal on the family Commodore 64/128,  utilizing a rudimentary word processor in an effort to motivate myself to take action in every area of my life. 

Interestingly, I wrote this journal just like a  modern blog in a time before the internet as we know it (I think there were some newsgroups and such available using very low baud modems, but I didn’t have access to this nascent technology at the time). That’s right, I wrote it as if people could somehow read the journal I was creating on a giant floppy disk. I’m a futurist! Haha! 

Writing the journal/blog helped me to set goals and take action toward my dreams. In short order, I returned to school, earning an associate’s degree (I would later go on to earn a bachelor’s degree and graduate magna cum laude), earned a black belt in old school Korean Karate (Tae Kwon Do/Tang Soo Do), back in a time when a black belt meant something, and met the woman of my dreams, who would later become my wife. 

Today, I have decided to return to The Scribe’s Arcanum  as a way to share my goals and accomplishments as I continue to work on my writing career, while sharing any tips, tricks, or secrets I may have picked up along the way. This time The Scribe’s Arcanum is not so much for me as it is for you. I hope I can give you information along with some encouragement to help you with your writing goals. I  also hope you’ll stick with me through this  journey. Be assured that I’ve already written a group of blog posts yet to be published, so if you follow my blog, I’ll be able to update the content on a consistent basis. 

I hope you’ll get a lot of value from this blog and wish you all the best with your hobby or career.

Welcome to The Scribe’s Arcanum! 

Until we meet next time…