Category Archives: Selling Fiction

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

I was hoping to tell you by now that I made a short fiction sale this year. Although that hasn’t happened yet, I’m pleased to report that I received an Honorable Mention for the 3rd quarter of L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future contest. I’m also told that it puts me in the top 2% of all entrants. I’m awaiting my certificate and will tell you more once it’s posted on their official blog.

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Last time I mentioned I would talk about giving your work away or, in this case, gambling on the potential for royalties, and a free electronic copy of the anthology. Think long and hard before you give up “first rights.”  Once you give those rights away, you can never get them back, and the next time you sell the manuscript, you must do so as a reprint. Reprint sales are not as lucrative as new story sales. 

Pro Tip: It’s never a bad thing to give your work away to a legitimate charity anthology.   

The idea for The Hours of Sleep began as, of all things, the original lyrics to a song. Back in 1996, I was working an interim job, and I had some extra time on my hands. My wife had purchased an entry-level keyboard/synthesizer for me to mess around on and burn through some of my creativity. This was a year before I began writing and submitting short fiction. I decided I wanted to write a progressive rock/thrash metal/goth-pop album. All I had to work with was a boombox with a double tape deck, an omni-microphone, the synthesizer, my voice, and a coffee can for reverb and echo. 

Back at my parents’ house, I would have been able to use my dad’s DJ and production equipment. But here in our new apartment, I didn’t have access to those niceties.  I no longer had a drum set, and I wasn’t hanging around musicians like I had in the ‘80s. Still, I was determined to make an album. 

Without going into the full story, I ended up writing a song called Vomit Dirt Cascade. Haha! I know… Great title, right? The title meant to call up the image of the undead exploding from a fresh grave. 

The Lyrics that inspired The Hours of Sleep short story:

Numbness kills the pain

The night was black in vain 

Latent Precambrian 

Urges to kill and win

I’ll make you my slave

Steal your blood from vein

When there is nothing left

You will be twice dead

Thirst in your black hole soul

Carrion has claimed his toll 

Now you’ve become the naïve 

But if I was the grave

Vomit Dirt Cascade! 

Vomit Dirt Cascade! 

The original title of my story was Twice Dead, but I took another song called The Hour of Sleep (inspired by John Carpenter’s Brotherhood of Sleep in the horror movie Prince of Darkness) and made it plural. 

I’ve been thinking about posting the audio on YouTube. If I do, I’ll provide a hyperlink here later. 

 Back 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 in 1995. We stayed at the Bourbon Orleans, and a bellhop had given us some advice on where to visit and which areas to avoid. The dark and dangerous streets of the French Quarter excited my imagination. Then, in our youth, being adventurous, we had drinks at a vampire bar, as part of a tour led by a self-proclaimed “real-life vampire,” living in what is known as vampire reality, who called himself Vlad. In the center of the space, there was a cage large enough to hold a human standing upright.

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When we returned home, this experience (along with my song lyrics) coalesced into the story I eventually titled The Hours of Sleep. 

After finishing the manuscript, I sent the story out and began collecting rejection slips. One editor said he thought The Hours of Sleep was the most original vampire story he had read in ages, but he didn’t take vampire fiction any longer and wouldn’t be buying it. 

I sent it to the now-defunct Dreams of Decadence and got a great rejection letter.  The editor thought the story was original and well written but she also passed. I would later study her magazine to discover why it wasn’t such a good fit. I talk more about this in my posts about the story, Despair. 

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With The Hours of Sleep returned to my virtual trunk on my hard drive, I gave up on the story and moved on. 

In 2012, I noticed an open call for You Can’t Kill Me, I’m Not Dead Yet: a Vampire Anthology and tried my luck. 

I’ll tell you what happened next time.

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

When I returned to writing fiction, the first thing I did was pull out the manuscript for Violent Fall and give it a reread. I liked it, but the story was too long for a “beginning” writer to get published and the story itself was incomplete. 

Incomplete as a manuscript. I had the ending sketched out in my mind for years. 

One thing I forgot to mention last time was that in 1996 I had just watched the movie Titanic. In that film, as the story unfolds, fictional characters Rose and Jack brings us on a tour of the whole ship from top to bottom.  

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I wanted to do the same thing with Violent Fall. My central character Irina Kira would bring the reader through most of the Audallis sphere from the city of New Boston East to the forest and farmland at the top of the biosphere where she would have a “violent fall” returning to where she started in the narrative. The lower portions, the bowels if you will, remained mainly unexplored and only hinted at in various drafts. 

As I reimagined the story, I also changed the title. I had come across Somatotypes; the ectomorph, the endomorph, and the highly muscular mesomorph.  Somehow I put Mesomorphic with woman and a new title was born: The Mesomorphic Woman. I thought the title sounded like a science fiction story. I worked at erasing subplots, cutting to the heart of the narrative. 

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I also wanted the ending to be hard-hitting. This is a secret of good storytelling. The resolution should have some impact. Think Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery. With this story, I wanted the ending to have the emotional resonance of Amy Tann’s The Joy Luck Club.

 

When I finished the new draft, I put it away for a while and worked on other projects. After a second draft, I asked my wife to proofread. Then I began the submission process. 

Back in 2000, most magazines, especially the science fiction magazines (the old SF writers had a distrust for technology), required the old method of submission. This meant I had to print out a copy of the manuscript (after putting it in proper manuscript format) along with a cover letter,  clipping a SASE to the package, placing it an 8×10 envelope, and then driving to the post office to send it off.  Then I would wait a week and run to the mailbox every day for months while awaiting a reply. 

Responses came. They were all rejections. One prominent SF mag complimented me on my world-building skills but they didn’t like the story. Eventually, almost everyone began to use email for submissions, the years had gone by without a sale, but another prominent small press SF magazine said the whole editorial staff loved it but had decided not to purchase my story. And so it went over the years. I had some anecdotal evidence that The Mesomorphic Woman was a good story. A tell-it-like-it-is receptionist, who was also a frequent reader where I worked, read it and identified with my major character Irina Kira. Despite positive feedback, I wasn’t able to sell the manuscript.

It wasn’t until six years later in 2006 when my short fiction began to sell. Yet, for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why The Mesomorphic Woman wouldn’t sell. I got better at my craft and over the years tweaked the story, tweaked the language, hoping to make the manuscript salable. 

I finally decided I had to put the manuscript away. I could write new stories in the time it took to polish old stories that weren’t selling. I abandoned The Mesomorphic Woman, consoling myself knowing that I might include it in a future short story collection. 

Later, with the manuscript secured in my virtual trunk (my hard drive) an open call for submissions for a new anthology market caught my attention. They were looking for stories just like The Mesomorphic Woman. Was it worth resurrecting the manuscript one last time? I figured I’d give the damn thing one final edit and send it out, but not without some trepidation. 

I’ll talk about this more next time. 

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

In 2012 and 2013 the floodgates opened with numerous story sales and publications. I even published my first novella, an ebook. Then I lost momentum. Everything from that time is a scramble in my brain. I had a death in the family that threw me for a loop, multiple projects, and high hopes.

It began with the sale of a short story originally envisioned and started in 1996, then finished and rewritten in the year 2000. I never imagined how long it’d take to sell that story. Yes, 12 years to sell it and 13 years to see it in publication, if we only count from the year of the rewrite. 

I’m sometimes asked when you should give up on a story. It’s a hard question to answer. Some stories sell quickly, some take longer, and some never sell. In this business perseverance is everything. 

The origin of the story begins much earlier than even 1996 though. The first inkling arrived when I was in high school. Back then, a new game show appeared on the air later at night, at least in my market. The program, American Gladiators, pitted superhero type muscle men and women against your run of the mill athletic but common Joe and Janes. 

 

The contrast reminded me of Joe Buscemma’s depiction of the superhero vs. the ordinary person in How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way. 

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While watching the program, an idea hatched. Raye Hollitt (Skin Deep), a female bodybuilder who used the stage name Zap, inspired me. 

Zap

Wouldn’t it be interesting to cast her in an action film like the ones in which  Sylvester Stallone or Arnold Schwarzenegger starred? I decided the world was not ready for that idea, and besides, I didn’t know how to write or submit a screenplay, anyway.  

80s icons

Around 1996, with the 1980s horror fiction implosion far behind me, I returned to reading Science Fiction. I picked up copies of science fiction magazines, read Neuromancer,  and caught up on some 80’s SF I had missed. 

Neuro

While perusing an issue of Science Fiction Age, I read a steampunk story and used it as the model for the tone of my next manuscript. Continuing to take my cue from that story, I mirrored not only the mood, but the female lead. Unfortunately, after looking through a pile of back issues, I haven’t been able to identify the story that inspired me. 

SF Age

As I wrote, the muscular female idea reemerged and Irina Kira was born. I remember reading or thinking Kira was a Russian name that meant Strong woman. Although, Kira, from my research for this post, means “leader of the people.”  

I decided a Russian first name, Irena, which means peace, matched one theme of the story. Leading the people into peace seems à propos, but what happens after the end of the story is up to your interpretation. 

 I envisioned a muscular woman living in what had once been a utopian society within a biosphere orbiting Venus. A popular self-help book of the time, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, inspired me to use Venus as the location for the orbiting biosphere space station.  

Men from Mars

Looking for a name for the biosphere/space station, I dreamed up the Audallis Sphere. It sounded like something out of a SF story. 

I came up with a history of the biosphere and the science behind Audallis’ artificial gravity, neither made the completed manuscript.  

Then I chose to include a controversial idea that would forever change the direction of the manuscript. 

We’ll talk about that next time.

 

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

The Scribe’s Arcanum:

Anatomy of a  Sale—Malfeasance Part 2
Two months later, I got word that awaiting publisher approval, Malfeasance had made the cut. I was cautiously ecstatic. The editor didn’t think the publisher would kick anyone out, but she couldn’t officially accept any story without the publishers go-ahead.   
Here’s what she wrote about the story:

I really liked it. It was a great premise, good writing. I love Law and Order SVU and it reminded me of that but with an evil twist. I liked too that the villain really wasn’t in the story till the end yet he was a huge presence. I have to think that’s not easy to do, but you pulled it off.
About 21 days later, she gave me permission to announce the acceptance on social media. Then in August, I signed the contract. Realizing I could take part in my first reading and signing, I committed to attending the inaugural, but now defunct, Anthology Convention (AnthoCon) in New Hampshire. 
I had a fantastic time at the convention. 

After the reading, I took part in my first signing. Epitaphs: The Journal of the New England Horror Writers did well, selling out the 100 copies we had on hand. Then it continued to sell at other conventions and at online retailers. 

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I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that this was my first opportunity to share pages with the late great Rick Hautala (sometimes billed as the other writer from Maine, as he was Stephen King’s roommate in college), one of the authors who inspired me as a teenager during the 1980’s horror boom. 

Here’s some information on the anthology:

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The anthology features 26 stories and poems from the delightfully scary to the deeply macabre. 

Epitaphs, edited by author Tracy L. Carbone, includes an introduction by award-winning author and publisher Peter Crowther, as well as a cover by Danny Evarts. The table of contents in this chilling anthology is as follows: 

Perfect Witness – Rick Hautala 

To Sleep, Perchance to Die – Jeffrey C. Pettengill 

The Christopher Chair – Paul McMahon 

A Case of the Quiets – Kurt Newton 

Build-a-Zombie – Scott T. Goudsward 

Not an Ulcer – John Goodrich 

The Possessor Worm – B. Adrian White 

Make a Choice – John McIlveen 

The Death Room – Michael Allen Todd 

Stoney’s Boneyard – Holly Newstein & Glenn Chadbourne 

Kali’s Promise – Trisha J. Wooldridge 

The Sequel – David Bernard 

Malfeasance – David North-Martino 

Private Beach – Stacey Longo 

All Aboard – Christopher Golden 

Holiday House – LL Soares 

Lines at a Wake – Steven Withrow 

A Deeper Kind of Cold – K. Allen Wood 

Alone – P. Gardner Goldsmith 

Pandora’s Box – Roxanne Dent 

Chuck the Magic Man Says I Can – Michael Arruda 

Burial Board – TT Zuma (Tony Tremblay)

Windblown Shutter – John Grover 

Cheryl Takes a Trip – Stephen Dorato 

The Legend of Wormley Farm – Philip Roberts 

Church of Thunder and Lightening – Peter N. Dudar

Wow! What a talented group! Looking back, I find it humbling to have been part of this project. 

Epitaphs is now out of print, but an ebook version is still available. Since you can still purchase the anthology for the low sum of $2.99, I won’t be publishing Malfeasance on this blog.  Although, I am planning on recreating my reading, a reading that at one point in the narrative initiated a gasp from the crowd. Once I make a video and upload it to Youtube, I’ll link to it on this blog. 

Here’s a mixed review of my story by a reader on Amazon. It’s interesting, I was actually trying to make it feel like the reader was on a train, looking out a window, and seeing that the bridge is out ahead, knows nothing can be done about it, except take the plunge.

Malfeasance by David North-Martino: This was perhaps the most maddening story in the bunch. Just as with the previous story, I knew how it would end very early on. And yet it was crafted so intricately, I kept thinking no, I’m wrong, there’s a twist here I’m not seeing. But then… it ended just how I thought it would. Disappointing in that regard, yes, but it was still very much worth the read.

 Still, it’s good feedback, and I’m always trying to improve. Many times, a mixed or bad review can teach you much more than a fawning one. Check your ego at the door. 

If you’re interested, you can read a sample and get your e-copy here. 

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

In 2007, marketing my short fiction had taken a back seat to everything else going on in my life. I was still planning on opening a small business, and I was working toward earning my bachelor’s degree. 

I continued to plug away on a novel, along with writing and submitting short fiction as time allowed. 

It had been about three years since my short horror story, “Graven Image,” had been published at The Swamp, and the year before, I had made my first paid sale by winning a contest at Dark Recesses Press.  I decided to try to sell “Graven Image” as a reprint to a webzine called Afterburn SF. 

Graven Image ended up  rejected by Afterburn. I put the story aside to await another viable market, and for a time it was out of sight, out of mind. 

Not long after, I received an email from Afterburn SF asking if the story was still available.  Turns out, the owner sold the webzine and the new publisher/editor, having found a copy of Graven Image among the paperwork he had acquired, read the story, like it,  and decided he wanted to publish it! 

What an amazing surprise!  I just felt happy it wasn’t sitting in some other magazine’s slush pile (that’s an old term for unsolicited manuscripts that used to litter the floor of publishing houses in the days before email and submission websites). 

Even more surprising, he paid me six times as much as I would have received from the previous editor. I agreed, of course, and not long after had my third publishing credit and my second paid story. 

After selling Graven Image, my focus went back to my studies. I wouldn’t make my next sale for another four years. Graven image would later be adapted for audio. I’ll get you a link soon. 

After graduation, I’d take a story I wrote for an advanced creative writing class, and turn it into my next writing credit. 

I’ll tell you more about it next time. 

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

Despite my best efforts to the contrary, I made my second fiction sale in 2007. I hadn’t been focusing on my writing. Instead, I had spent most of my time pursuing a business opportunity, and earning a long overdue bachelor’s degree. The sale itself came as a surprise. You see, the same paying market that rejected my story would accept it not long after. Here’s how it happened: 

One morning, I awoke from a nightmare. In the dream I had been staring at a monitor bank, and on each screen was a live video feed of of a corpse in repose. The image remained with me, and I ended up building  the story Graven Image around it. 

Having worked for many years in the security industry, working my way up from a security officer to a manager at a nine building Fortune 500 corporation, before being promoted into the HR department at the district office, I decided I would write about a character who had been downsized from a job in corporate America and ended up needing to take a security job to make ends meet. 

Although it’s never mentioned, to round out the setting, I decided to set the mortuary in the story in my fictional town of Wellington, Massachussets. My first novel WOLVES OF VENGEANCE also takes place in the same fictional location. A forthcoming thriller novel, YEAR OF THE ASSASSIN, has characters connected to that town, but there is no supernatural element in the story.  

Much like my previous story sale, Despair, this tale is pure horror. Some of my later works tend to mix the horror genre with crime fiction or science fiction. 

After finishing the story, I began the process of sending out Graven Image to market, starting with the top markets and then working my way down from highest paying to lowest. 

Although, this is a tried and true method, it’s not always the most efficient way to make a sale. More on that in another post. 

 Close to four years had gone by with only rejection letters to show for my efforts. I was active on a horror fiction message board at that time and noticed that some novelists, with mass market paperback deals, were submitting to a webzine called The Swamp. The  Swamp didn’t offer payment, but just like with Dark Recesses Press, I liked the people who ran it, and felt it would get my work some exposure. 

The joke is that people die of exposure. But I needed an acceptance of some sort to keep pushing on. There was no guarantee that I’d get an acceptance, even in a non-paying market. I figured it was worth a shot, and if I got in, the acceptance would place my story next to some successful writers.  

Finally, I received an email acceptance. I’d have my first publication credit, and a sample of my work that could be read for free online. I was stoked! 

 I received great feedback on that story. Readers liked the creepy atmosphere, and two family members refused to read any more of my horror stories because they said it gave them nightmares! That’s high praise when you write horror.  I had transfered my nightmare to at least two other people. Mission accomplished! 

Three years later I would attempt to sell Graven Image as a reprint to a paying market. Like I mentioned above, it would be rejected by a paying webzine before later being accepted by that same webzine. I’ll tell you all about how that happened, and how I made my second paid story sale next time. Since, like Despair, Graven Image is out of print, I just might post it here on my blog after posting Part II.

Stay tuned! 

The Scribe’s Arcanum: Anatomy of a First Sale—Part 5: The Aftermath 

The Scribe’s Arcanum:

Anatomy of a First Sale—Part 5: The Aftermath 

I had spent six years working toward my first short story sale, and in that time, many things in my life had changed. Many things were about to change. One of the biggest: I was now a paid published author. 

In this day and age of self-publishing, being accepted and paid by an editor is a distinction worth mentioning.  Although, there’s nothing wrong with going the indie route, I’ve done it myself, it’s just a different situation. 

The sale also meant I could keep my HWA affiliate member status. I had completed a huge goal, and I felt like I was on a roll. 

Before making my first sale, I had committed myself to researching the opening of a small business. Of course, as soon as I made that decision, I ended up making my first fiction sale. In hindsite, I probably should have marshaled all my efforts into my writing career. Instead, I put most of my time resources into pursuing a business while also earning a Bachelor’s degree. With all that, we also visited California and Florida. Yes, 2006 was a very busy year!!!

Even so, I began attending author signings and conventions to jumpstart my networking. Feeling like a real writer for the first time allowed me to connect with other writers without feeling so much like a poser. 

One of the signings I attended was of a local writer who had had success in both the mass market and the small press. He told me that his first small press book had earned him an advance of $250 and seemed genuinely impressed that my first short fiction sale had earned me twice as much. It was certainly a great confidence booster. 

I also attended the Northeastern Writers Conference (NECON), a cozy and informal Rhode Island convention where the convention goers are welcoming and treat you like family. 

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An amazing beginning, but it wasn’t going to get any easier. In the next installment, I’ll tell you what it took to make my second sale and how it was a sale that almost never happened. 

See you next time. 

Greatshell