Posts Tagged ‘ Stokercon ’

A BOUQUET OF FLOWERS

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“A Bouquet of Flowers” by Michael Bailey

You’ve written something. Maybe your manuscript took a day, a week, a month, maybe longer to compose. Hopefully you’ve stashed it away somewhere to marinate, passed it on to beta-readers, re-written sections, thrown away the first page [or first few because most stories often don’t know where to start], or you have gone through a few drafts before calling it done. Is it ready? Probably not. Try again. Is it ready now, this masterpiece? Good. Let’s call it done and sell the thing.

“But where?” you might ask, always on the search for decent per-word pay rates. An anthology is a good place to start, if any are seeking submissions. Wherever you plan to place it, however, keep in mind that there are certain rules to follow if you ever want your work to appear in print. For the sake of simplification, let’s focus on the anthology.

The anthologists, they are [not] gods; they are [not] gatekeepers.

Before going further, the difference between collections and anthologies must be defined, as well the origination of the word ‘anthology.’ There is often confusion between the two. Collections contain multiple works by a single writer—bound red roses, for example, all from the same source. Anthologies contain single works [of all types] by multiple writers—bound flowers of various color from a multitude of sources. It’s that simple.

An anthology is defined as “a published collection of poems or other pieces of writing.” The word ‘anthology’ is derived from the Greek Anthos [meaning flower] and –logia [meaning collection], or anthologia, a word denoting a collection of the “flowers” of verse. So, an anthology is therefore defined as “small choice poems or epigrams, by various authors.” A bouquet of the written word, in other words.

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And the anthologists, the modern bouquet-makers, they are people, and they are on your side whether you believe it or not. They can become friends—people you want on your side [if treated properly], as much as they can become enemies—people you will never side with [if treated poorly]. They are creators [gods], like you, albeit with much wider scopes in that they are responsible for creating larger stories out of many smaller stories. Anthologists are readers, first and foremost. Most read more unpublished work than published, and very few are writers themselves. Anthologists are editors, some recommending minor adjustments while others requiring more extensive editing, depending on the want of the piece, and its current condition. And they are compilers [gatekeepers], in that by creating anthologies they must first filter through hundreds if not thousands of stories before making final selections on a select few.

Why would anthologists [or their publishers, or anyone, for that matter] ever want to spend money on what you’ve created? Are you worth it? How beautiful is your flower?

Some math: An anthology receives a thousand short stories, with only twenty to be included. This means you have a 2% chance of making the cull if what you’ve created is good enough [it better be], and adhere to guidelines. Factor in that most pro-rate anthologies are often half-filled with stories from invited writers, and your chance of inclusion drops to 1%. Factor in that sometimes anthologists first fill 75% of a book before ever offering a “call for submissions,” and that number drops to roughly half of a percent. Your odds, they are small.

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This thing you’ve created. What is it? It’s flash if under a thousand words, a short story if between that and seventy-five hundred, novelette if between that and seventeen thousand five hundred or so, and novella if between that and forty to forty-five thousand, which gets you into short novel territory. Novellas, they mostly have their own market now, albeit small, and the market for short novels is almost nonexistent. If what you’ve written—your darling, perfect manuscript—has dipped into novel­-length, then anthologists no longer concern you. In fact, if your story is anywhere over five thousand words, it’s going to be a tough sell to an editor for an anthology unless longer works are specifically sought.

Is your manuscript close to short story length? Six thousand is close, right? Seven thousand? Eight? Guidelines in short fiction markets most likely call for five thousand words or fewer, but editors don’t mind a little padding, right? Yes. Yes, they mind. Guidelines are established for a reason, and unless unrealistic [most likely non-professional], if you don’t adhere to a few simple rules [word count caps, content, formatting, et cetera], your story will go unread, in most cases, attachment unopened. Your story will be trash. Like fancy fonts? Like single-spacing? Like overwriting [not necessarily word-count but by what you might consider purple prose]? Like foregoing the marinating / self-editing / beta-reading stage[s]? Like bending guidelines? If so, you will soon become familiar with the term “instant rejection.” If an anthologist is specifically seeking short fiction in the five thousand range, and your story is a thousand to three higher than that, or longer, either start cutting, start cutting deep, or don’t send your story at all. If it’s close, get out the red pen; start highlighting, pounding Delete and / or Backspace until your fingers blister; most stories in the six and seven and eight thousand range work better as five, anyway. Cut until it hurts, and then cut more. Bleed your pages until all that’s left is what’s absolutely necessary. And never pad your story for the sake of word count.

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Some math: The average anthology runs 100,000 words, give or take. Twenty short stories, each five thousand words, adds up to 100,000 words. And some invited writers [more often than not]—with more selling-factor behind their names—tend to run long and sometimes get to run long. If the anthologist doesn’t cap payment on a specific word count [the “name” writers thus having more opportunity for income, or even offered higher per-word rates because of sell-ability], this in turn eats into the overall budget of the project. For the sake of word counts, this means there is indeed a reason for that hard guideline of five thousand words for the uninvited. It also means your odds of making it into the book increases if your word count decreases. Why? Editors often seek shorter fiction to make up for “name” writers taking their privileged space. The point? Stick to five thousand words as your own personal goal to benefit most from professional payment, but consider submitting shorter works to increase your chance of publication.

A simple rule to follow: Until you learn the art of self-editing, you will never sell a story to a pro-rate market. Master self-editing, and you will soon find yourself only selling to pro-rate markets. Another simple rule: Unless you are specifically writing for markets seeking novelette- or novella-length works, don’t ever send a story of such length to a short fiction market.

It all comes down to money.

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Some math: The average anthology runs 100,000 words, give or take. A pro-rate anthology offers five or six cents per word [or should, at a minimum]. This means the budget for the work to be included [the words only, the meat] is typically $5,000 to 6,000, give or take, not to mention editor payment, artwork, cover design, publishing costs, marketing, and all those other essentials required to sell the book. This means the average anthology budget could start anywhere between $7,000 to $10,000, often higher, which in turn means eventually selling enough copies to recoup that cost. The book, if it is to be “professional,” therefore, must include only the best, which is why the hard work of the anthologist often goes unnoticed.

Is your story “the best” [not just in your mind]? Is your story original? Is your story good enough to survive the great culling of the anthologist? It better be the best thing ever written. In a great bouquet [think the anthologies of Ellen Datlow, Stephen Jones, John Joseph Adams, Paula Guran, Thomas F. Monteleone, and many others], which brilliant burst of life is yours on display, or is your contribution lost in a bland display no one will ever remember?

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But your story, it’s done, you’ve cut your darlings, you’ve bled the page, so to speak, and you’ve cut every word not absolutely necessary like the Jack Ketchums of the world. Now what? What’s your story worth [to you, to the anthologist]? What should you [expect to] be paid? The answer should always be “professional rate,” but that is not always the case in today’s market, although it should at least be your first choice when deciding where to submit.

Aim high, always. Start at the top, pay-wise. Avoid anything other than “professional” if you can. five or six cents per word or bust! For science fiction and fantasy, this can be as high as eight to ten cents per word, sometimes twelve, so, if it fits, why not start there? Avoid “token” rate. Avoid “exposure.” Avoid “contributor copy only.” Avoid “royalty only.” Avoid “flat fee.”

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Why are you writing? For fun? For exposure? For charity? What is your self-worth as an “author,” as a writer?

Let’s say your story is the best damn thing ever written. Let’s say an anthologist likes your stuff. Let’s say he or she has offered to buy your story, or your non-fiction article, or whatever, perhaps after a few minor tweaks, perhaps after some light editing, perhaps after some heavy editing. Good. Let’s say that whatever it is works for the intended project, and an anthologist has offered you a contract. Good. Do you sign it? Your first instinct is to scroll through, looking for payment information, your mind saying YES! LET’S SIGN THIS THING! and your heart racing, and you’re all smiles because, out of the small percentage of those not culled, you and your work have managed to squeeze in amidst names you [hopefully] recognize and names you [hopefully] don’t.

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But the contract … what should you expect? Your goal, as a writer, is not to get screwed, always. It’s your work, after all, your name attached to the story, or whatever it may be. Despite the other names in the anthology, your name is now most important. What are you willing to sign away? Instead of relying on your first instincts of signing your name and dating the contract and announcing your fame to the world, there are important things to consider. Just as you are required to self-edit your work, you should be willing [as is your right] to edit contract details if they are seemingly unprofessional. Yes, you can do that.

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Look specifically at the terms. Are you willing to part with your baby for a year, two years, three years, or [never] indefinitely? Are you willing to part with audio rights? Are you willing to part with other media rights? Why would a publisher even need those? Are there plans for such things? Ask. If not, why are they in the contract? And why should a publisher have the right to keep your work in print for the proposed terms? How long will the book be in print? Does the contract allow for inclusion in “best of” anthologies or a perhaps a personal collection? If not, it should. Does the contract allow for split royalty if the book “makes it big” and starts raking in the cash? If not, only the publisher benefits. Read the contractual terms carefully. Red-line what you don’t like. Add what’s not there. If you are a professional writer, and you are working with a professional anthologist, this shouldn’t be a problem.

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This thing you’ve written, this flower, whatever it may be, if it’s good enough, and you’re good enough, the “anthologists,” the bouquet-makers, they will always be on your side, and soon you will find yourself not seeking “calls for submission,” but waiting for invites into future bouquets.

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KNOW A NOMINEE

Prior to the Bram Stoker Awards ® this year, volunteers within the Horror Writers Association began a series of interviews called “Know a Nominee,” in which final ballot nominees of the various award categories were asked a series of questions to provide readers insights and information about the nominees and their work. Some of these interviews were posted on the official Horror Writers Association’s Facebook page (I’m not sure if any made it onto the HWA website or newsletter, as they have in the past) and for a while it was going well. This is typically a great series of interviews. Unfortunately, because this is a volunteer-run organization, life sometimes gets in the way for volunteers, and well-loved projects, like this one, get pushed to the back burner, forgotten like a pot of previously-boiled hot dogs found floating in cold water the next morning. My own interview was for The Library of the Dead, which was nominated (and eventually won) for Superior Achievement in an Anthology.

As it turns out, a handful of interviews took place this year (some posted, most not), and sometime between pre- and post-Stoker season this interview project sort of disappeared into the ether. A handful of interviewees (like me) were left scratching our heads, wondering if the interviews were ever going to be published as the first StokerCon drew near. And then that date flew by, and a few others, and then a dozen more. What happened to the interviews? Upon asking about this very question within the organization, this prompted more confusion among members: “I was never interviewed…” and “What happened with the Know a Nominee interviews?” and “Interviews?” and my own question of “Since the Know a Nominee interviews sort of fizzled out, can we post our interviews elsewhere so they don’t go wasted?” (or something like that). Apparently, not all nominees this year were interviewed, which is too bad… This is a fun part of the award season, where you really “get to know” the nominees in the various categories (hence the name). For me, this interview series is an opportunity to get to know those outside the con scene (which is where we really get to know each other).

Know a Nominee was left abandoned mid-stride this year because of understandable, unforeseen happenstances in the lives of organization volunteers (it happens), yet here we are now, well past StokerCon and the Bram Stoker Awards ®, and there are interviews waiting to be exposed. There are shriveled hot dogs floating in cold water at the back of the stove, and they either need to be reheated and finally served, stored for later consumption, or thrown out.

After reaching out to the Horror Writers Association, those interviewed (and still stuck in interview limbo) were told we could use these Know a Nominee interviews elsewhere on the interwebs, if we so pleased. Three options: throw it out, store for later, or reheat and serve now. Interviews take time away from other projects we could be working on, so why let them go to waste? Why not put them out there? Who cares if it’s still hot or not, luke-warm, cold… Okay, yeah, interviews are best served hot, but so what. Most of the forgotten interviews run between 1,000 and 2,000 words (I have only asked four others, so you will have to deal with that estimate); mine runs about 1,600. So, without further ado, here is my reheated, barely palpable Know a Nominee interview, which was conducted by Brock Cooper, a member of the Horror Writers Association.


Please describe the genesis for the idea that eventually became the work for which you’ve been nominated. What attracted you most to the project?

The Library of the Dead was conceived by the collaborative minds of a gruesome twosome: Gene O’Neill and Gord Rollo. They happened upon Chapel of the Chimes, a crematory and columbarium in Oakland, next to the beautiful Mountain View Cemetery. It’s a massive labyrinthine building, and within its walls are the ashes of over a hundred thousand of California’s dead, most of which are contained within incendiary urns on shelves reaching from floor to ceiling, three stories high. But these are not ordinary urns. Most are brass, or golden, and they are shaped like books, and because of the building’s unique interior design, most of the rooms (and their libraries) are lit naturally by the sun through stained glass, some entire rooms glowing gold. It’s a wonderful place, and I highly recommend putting it on your list to see if you’re in the California Bay Area. There are gardens inside, and fountains, and other treasures, but the books make this place unique. What if each “book” not only held the ashes of the dead, but their stories as well? What happens when opened? What if there’s a ghostly librarian who wanders the halls at night, a caretaker of sorts? That’s the premise of the anthology Gene and Gord wanted to make. Somehow it landed in my lap. And somehow I was convinced to write “The Librarian,” the intertwining story linking the tales together. And now I’m proud to see a book about this library of the dead nominated for the Bram Stoker Award ® for anthologies, along with the story/introduction by Norman Partridge called “Special Collections,” which is up for long fiction.

What was the most challenging part of bringing the concept to fruition? The most rewarding aspect of the process? 

Each story in the anthology is something unique, written by different writers with entirely different voices, and some collaborative, such as Mary SanGiovanni and Brian Keene’s “The Last Thing’s to Go,” or “Fault Lines” by Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon. Different ashes. Different stories. Each golden book within the library had to contain a different story that needed opening, with characters ultimately finding their way back to the library, and that was the only common ground when I first started this book. Bringing the stories together into something cohesive required stylistic illustrations (which were created to perfection by the wonderful GAK) to help fuel the reader’s imagination, and photography of the real library of the dead in California, as well as “The Librarian” piece to help tie the stories together, which is its own story within the anthology. As you move through the book, this second-person narrative guides you along, your own personal librarian pulling golden books from shelves and opening them for you as you are guided from room to room, exploring the ‘tales the ashes tell’ (which happens to be the final story by Gary A. Braunbeck), until you realize you’re not only lost within the labyrinth of golden books, but becoming part of the library itself. The anthology contains black and white photography I took of Chapel of the Chimes, and 17 original illustrations by GAK (all inspired by the photography; if you look closely, you’ll see some of it captured within the art). All of these things had to be fused together seamlessly to make The Library of the Dead, which turned out to be quite a beautiful golden book. The most rewarding aspect of this process? Well, the book can be read like a novel, with each unique story serving as a different chapter of something larger. Something difficult that happened along the way was the loss of J.F. Gonzalez, to whom the book is dedicated. One of his final stories is in this book, called “It’s Getting Closer,” and GAK created a special illustration for him at the end of the book.

What do you think good horror/dark literature should achieve? How do you feel the work for which you’ve been nominated fits into or helps give shape to that ideal?

All good literature, dark or not, should move the reader emotionally. Good literature should fling one’s emotional state around until left exhausted. Without emotion, we are nothing. Horror, when done well, evokes fear, dread, uneasiness, terror, anxiety, all sorts of things … And when done well, the reader shouldn’t even notice it’s happening to them until it’s too late, until they set the book down, perhaps swearing a single word under their breath. All they know is that the pages kept flipping by as they got battered and got lost in the story (or stories), which is the whole point of a book. Good literature should spark memories: loss, pain, hope, failure, redemption, sacrifice, and I could go on for pages and pages about everything a book should do to its reader, but I won’t. What I think makes The Library of the Dead work so well is that it makes the reader part the book itself, pulls them along from tale to tale, and I think that’s why so many people have reacted positively. Some readers skip around anthologies, looking for familiar names or whatnot, reading those stories first before reading others, and some jump from story to story in no particular order. If you do that with The Library of the Dead, you are missing out. The book is designed to be read from cover to cover, first page to last page. The book is a journey, and the reader is part of the journey. They should be pulled inside this golden book and trapped inside with its ashes.

I’m curious about your writing and/or editing process. Is there a certain setting or set of circumstances that help to move things along? If you find yourself getting stuck, where and why?

Both my writing and editing processes are chaotic and should not be studied. My work is sporadically prolific, and periodically dormant. It’s probably unhealthy. If I find myself stuck, it means I’m not doing something right and should either do something else, or start over. Sometimes listening to music helps motivate the creative process.

As you probably know, many of our readers are writers and/or editors. What is the most valuable piece of advice you can share?

Create the most beautiful thing you can possibly create. It’s as simple as that. When you die, what do you want to leave in your wake? What do you want to be remembered for creating, a half-assed story everyone’s read before, a half-assed book no one remembers, or something completely original, something that cannot be easily forgotten?

If you’re attending WHC this year, what are you most looking forward to at this year’s event? If not attending, what do you think is the significance of recognitions like the Bram Stoker Awards?

I’m not sure I’ll make WHC this year [note: I ultimately did, and was able to spend some time holding the ashes of the great Richard Laymon], but I plan to attend StokerCon. I look forward to hanging out with those I’ve connected with over the years. I’m planning a signing event for The Library of the Dead, as well as the launching the next anthology, Chiral Mad 3. About half of the contributors in those anthologies will be attending StokerCon. Should be fun.

What scares you most? Why? How (if at all) does that figure into your work or the projects you’re attracted to? 

Memory loss scares me more than anything. Alzheimer’s. Much of my work (both my own fiction/poetry, and those I publish) is considered psychological horror. Losing one’s mind, one’s thoughts, one’s memories of who and what made them what they are … that is the most terrifying thing I can think of happening to a person, and I constantly wonder if it will happen to me. I guess that’s why I put a lot of myself in my writing. Every story I publish, whether mine or another’s, holds a different part of me, something that moved me emotionally, something I’ve pondered, a thought, a feeling, an instance. If I someday lose those memories that made me, I hope I’ll at least be able to read about those parts of me, whether I know it’s me or not.

What are you reading for pleasure lately? Can you point us to new authors or works we ought to know about? 

I don’t have as much time to read for pleasure as I’d like, so I guess I’m picky, a bit eclectic since most of what I read is unpublished. Read my anthologies and you’ll see a trend of new, emerging talent. Among the staples everyone should be reading, such as Ketchum, Braunbeck, Castle, Morrell, O’Neill and Edelman, look for work by those who have recently knocked my socks off with their writing: Josh Malerman, Emily B. Cataneo, Paul Michael Anderson, Erik T. Johnson, Damien Angelica Walters, Erinn L. Kemper, Meghan Arcuri, Mercedes M. Yardley (notice the amount of female voices in this list), Stephanie M. Wytovich, Autumn Christian, Laura Lee Bahr, Jon Michael Kelley, Christian A. Larsen, Usman T. Malik. How many names do you want? How about some voices I’ve recently discovered that have been around for a while, but I find quite remarkable: Jason V Brock, Hal Bodner, Darren Speegle, Lucy A. Snyder, Richard Chizmar, Michael McBride … I could seriously go on for a while. A full list of who you should be reading can be found in the anthologies I publish through Written Backwards and Dark Regions Press: all three Chiral Mad volumes, The Library of the Dead, Qualia Nous, the upcoming You, Human

Thank you in advance for your time and participation.