Why I’ll avoid the Sunday Star Times Short Story Contest again in 2017

sst-logoLast year I posted about not entering the Sunday Star Times Short Story Contest, New Zealand’s “premier” short story contest (free entry, up to $3000 prize, has launched many careers, etc.), because the rules were egregious. That is, designed to have writers forfeit rights to their stories.

That’s just plain wrong.

And this year, the contest is doing the same thing.

Last year I was disappointed. This year I’m kind of mad. Not because I would expect to win–I’m far too much of a learner-writer to be so bold–but because the organisers should know better than to have conditions or rules that make it possible to prey on naive writers. Especially young writers.

Here’s the rule I take exception to: “Fairfax Media and Penguin Random House New Zealand have the right to publish the winning and highly commended manuscripts of the Open Division and Secondary School Division entered without fee” (my bolding).

So effectively the newspaper can publish any entry they choose. The publisher could even publish and anthology without paying any writers. There’s no definition of ‘highly commended’, nor how many entries might be judged as such–as I said last year: from my perspective anyone who makes the effort to get it together and write a story should be highly commended. Well done. For the effort at least. I’ve known plenty of “writers” who never get around to actually writing.
The kicker is that the newspaper reserves the right to publish those stories “without fee”. This misses a basic tenent of writing: writers get paid.

I know newspapers struggle in this fluid environment, but they still pay their journalists. They pay the delivery people. They pay the printers.

If the newspaper is going take the right to fill a page with someone’s hard work, they need to pay for the rights to do so. With that rule they are effectively licensing a writer’s copyright for free.

A few years back I did enter a contest a couple of times. The Jim Baen Memorial Writing Contest, run by the National Space Society, and Baen Books. Their rules are straightforward: if they publish your story, they will pay. It used to be that they just paid for, and published the winning story, but over the last few years they’ve started publishing (and paying for) the stories of the placegetters.

In 2013 I placed third in the contest. I didn’t get any prize money, but I retained the jbmassc-coverrights to my story. Baen didn’t publish it.

In 2014 I won. My story got published and I got paid. Decent money. And as it happens, this November Baen are publishing an anthology of some of the winning and place-getting stories from the first decade of the contest. My story will be in the volume. And I get paid again for the reprint rights.

That’s how it works.

The Sunday Star Times runs a contest, but publishing a story is still effectively licensing copyright. Getting paid is how writers make a livelihood. Actually, when I think about it, getting paid is how anyone makes a livelihood.

Shame on the Sunday Star Times, and those associated with the contest for preying on the enthusiasm of writers. And most-especially on young writers.

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Failing to success

 

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Low Memory – image by Luca Oleastri

After writing about a novel a month for three months as part of Dean Wesley Smith’s challenge, I thought why not try for one more novel in the following month. With the challenge, there was some flexibility, in that up to half of the novel could be written in the previous month. The challenge  ran through June, July and August. I began the first novel on May 18th, and wrote about 14,000 words by May 30th. Less than half the novel. I finished the last of the three novels on August 22nd. So it took a bit over three months to complete the three.

 

I decided to have a go at writing a novel within a calendar month (yes I know about nanowrimo). I started Low Memory on September 1st. Come September 30th, I hadn’t finished. I’d written 53,000 words and the novel wasn’t finished. It feels like the story wants to be longer, so I’ll continue to the end. All three of the challenge novels were 50,000 words or under.

So I failed. Failed to write a novel in a calendar month. But guess what? There’s success in there. It feels like the novel will come to an end in the next few days. Probably close to 60,000 words. So, even though I didn’t write a novel in a month, I will have written a novel in around 35 days.

I’ll call that a success.

Three months down, three novels complete.

Ice Huntersglass baysmDeuterium shine small

I’ve done it! I’ve completed the challenge. Three months. Three novels.

I started in on Dean Wesley Smith’s challenge on May 18th. Under the terms of the challenge, I could write up to half of a novel in the previous month (as in, write up to half of June’s novel in May, half of July’s novel in June, half of August’s novel in July). I finished up Deuterium Shine on August 22nd. Three months and four days.

Two science fiction. One thriller. Obvious from the covers, I hope.

Two from series. One stand alone (Deuterium Shine, though that might need a sequel).

Short novels, I’ll admit (41,000, 45,000 and 50,000 words respectively). Most of my previous novels run to about 60,000 words. One or two have crept up over 80,000 words. Still, it’s 136,000 words for the three months, only around 1400 words per day (though there were a few side tracks in the novels I cut out, so still closer to my usual 1500 words per day actual writing).

Now to get them tidied, copyedited and out into the world.

Writing these has been the: Best. Fun. Ever. Right now I’m working on a few short stories, but I’m thinking I’m going to continue with writing a novel a month for the rest of the year. Might as well, since it’s, you know, so much fun. Who knows, I might complete a few more novels by year’s end.

Onward.

Images by; Algol (Ice Hunters), Claudio Arnese (Glass Bay), Savagerus (Deuterium Shine), all Dreamstime.

How Hard is Writing?

keysI write a lot. I guess that’s a given. I love it. Love making up new worlds and new places. Love playing with new characters, throwing problems at them and seeing what happens.

I study a lot too. I take courses. I attend workshops. I read ‘how to’ books.
One thing I’ve noticed in several of these is how the author or presenter suggests something along the lines of “writing is hard” (one author even had a similar phrase in bold type in the middle of the page).

I would counter that with ‘writing is fun’. Sit at a desk and play. Make up whole worlds. Crush them with asteroids or oppressive rulers or dragons. Build a family putting themselves back together after tragedy. Track down a killer. Have a struggling musician succeed after so many setbacks.
Warm the hearts of your readers.

I love it.

I love it so much that I write every day. Recently someone asked me how I have such discipline. My response? It’s about the same amount of discipline as it takes to draw a breath.

As long as it’s fun, I’ll keep writing. I hope that my sense of enjoyment comes through my books for my readers. Yes I would like to do this full time, and I’m not there yet. But even without that, I still get to have the best fun ever, every single day.

I don’t fret over the writing. I let it be. I write the best I can, with the skills I have. I work on learning new skills along the way.

And I keep having fun.

Because writing is fun.

(Oh, and the author who bolded “writing is hard”? They’re a far more successful author than I (my congratulations). But also, crucially, they’re a very good business person. The book with the phrase was about marketing for writers. Now to me, marketing is hard. That’s why I was reading the book. To learn something about marketing.)

Athena Setting available in an ebook bundle: “Battles For The Night”

boxset - battl for the night

Athena Setting cover finalMy novel Athena Setting is in a new bundle through BundleRabbit. The Battles For The Night bundle gives you ten ebooks for as little as $3.99 total. Athena Setting alone is usually $5.99 so this is a real bargain. The bundle will only be available for a limited time.

Some other wonderful authors collected here too – Kevin J. Anderson, Russ Crossley, Stefon Mears, James Palmer, Wayne Faust & Charles Eugene Anderson, and Joseph Robert Lewis. A great way to discover new authors.

Battles For The Night is available through Kobo, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iBooks.

Novel three underway, novel two passed in.

glass baysmbig sur cover sm

Once again I’ve been caught up in the writing and forgetting to post. I think that’s a good thing.

As I’ve mentioned, I’m taking Dean Wesley Smith’s three novels in three months challenge. Heading into the last three weeks now, with the third novel well underway.

I completed the second novel – Glass Bay – and got it turned in on time. It turned out to be the second of my Emily Jade thriller series. It’s been a couple of years since Big Sur came out and I was starting to wonder if I would find the next book in it (my thriller Taken by Surprise, from last year) has an appearance from Emily, but it’s more like a side book, with a diff103339c0684d4020197c34075c956ca076bdabdcerent lead character (I just noticed that on the cover of the two Emily Jade books I’ve got “Author of Taken by Surprise).

Once I have Mr Smith’s first reader notes back I’ll get it underway with fixes and tinkering and underway to a copyeditor. Hope to have it out before the end of the year.

And a funny thing has happened. Not only have a learned a whole lot about writing, but I’m having fun writing a novel a month. Wondering if I might try to keep it up as a challenge for the rest of the year. That would be fun too.

The Verdict Is In

glass baysmIce HuntersThe three novels in three months challenge continues. I’m nearly done with the second novel, Glass Bay, and wondering what to write for the third novel to carry me through August.

Part of the deal with the challenge is that Dean Wesley Smith will give feedback on the novels. What I guess I forgot was that Mr Smith won’t pull any punches. Won’t give any quarter. He does offer caveats (which I think all first readers should), that it’s just his opinion, his view and his taste. I know that some of the authors he enjoys reading, I find difficult and not at all to my own taste.

What he does bring to the table is decades of experience as a professional writer, with millions of copies of his books in print. Yeah, I should listen, even if it bruises my poor little ego.

The points he made about what didn’t work in the novel are basic things that frankly I should know after all the time I’ve been reading, writing and studying writing.

Being in the character’s head. Depth of setting. Appropriate imagery. (to paraphrase his comments). Probably, easy fixes, for the most part.

Right now, I’m taking those comments and making a big cycle back through the current novel (Glass Bay) and creatively looking for where I’ve made similar errors and deleting sections, or writing new sections. Yep. Glaringly obvious now.

Of course fixing is one thing. The really interesting test will be when I write the third novel and keep those concepts in my head the whole time.

Frankly, ego aside, that feedback was, if not like a complete writing course, the crystalization of writing courses, where all those concepts suddenly seem much clearer.

As Mr Smith would say, onward.

 

Glass Bay image © Claudio Arnese | Dreamstime, Ice Hunters image © Algol | Dreamstime.