Careful what you wish for: rejection slips

I got a rejection slip today. That means I’m down to thirteen live submissions.

This slip was one of the nicer ones, I’ve must say, in that it included some feedback – fair and fairly positive – from the first readers, with comments like these below:

“[T]his is a complex idea. You’ve only barely touched the surface. The writing is solid and workmanlike, but because the central concept is so complex, you’ve been unable to offer much of characterisation, or setting, or colour.”

“This should be a novella-length piece, so you can do justice to the main concept. Accepting it in this form would be wrong for both you, and [our publication].”

Fair enough. Decent food for thought. It is a very stripped back story, one that I had worked on for a long time. The first versions were five or six thousand words long and really didn’t work so well. The final version is 1600. That’s barely more than flash fiction.

Perhaps this is a case for writing a longer version (again). I’ve done that before – my novel Rotations originated from a flash story, as did my forthcoming novel The Room (that flash story – “Don’t Sleep Downstairs” – is still available at Flashes In The Dark.

I had planned on writing a couple of short novels this year, amongst all the other stuff, and I am writing longer these days (that rejected story was written and rewritten quite some time ago).

Now that I think about it my latest novel – The Tunnel – was going to be a short novel (it went to over 60,000 words when I was expecting 25,000 – as I was getting into it I realised that it had to be bigger). I’m feeling more confident with longer forms these days (most of my current submissions are from 5000 to 20,000 words), a far cry from my period of focusing on flash fiction.

I guess that’s a project for later in the year – take that “solid and workmanlike” writing and develop the story with some characterisation, setting and colour. 🙂

In the meantime, the story is going back out to find a publisher who might like it in this form (I still think it works as is – a spare and stark piece). Then I’ll be back up to fourteen live submissions.

Word counts, goals and publishing

Around Christmas, following on from Jeff Ambrose I created a word count goal fro 2012. 300,000 words, from 300 available writing days. Just 1000 words a day. As I wrote rapidly for the first week, I realised that I needed to add a couple of things to keep myself going, focused and effective.

Firstly that 1000 words is a minimum. In the first couple of days – January 1st and 2nd – with no other commitments, family, work or otherwise, I wrote 5500 words each day. It would be simple to think that, well, that’s the first eleven days worth knocked off. Nah. Better to reset the counter each morning. So, it’s been a good first week (close to 20,000 words), but this week I’ll be shooting for 1000 words a day again. Each and every day. BTW, a writer friend did suggest I make sure I don’t burnout on that. Can’t see it, but I will monitor things, definitely.

Secondly (and this is for readers more than writers) that’s got to be 300,000 publishable words. Not just spouting, not just rushing to wear out a keyboard. I saw that writing volume is one thing, publishing is another. So that’s my promise. There will be good stuff coming out. Not to say that it’s going to be perfect and nuanced and highly literary – these days I’m more of a pulp writer (though I do tutor in literary craft, and have written and had published numerous literary stories) – but it will be entertaining and readable and compelling.

I have several stories scheduled for publication in various print and online journals, which amounts to arout 50,000 words (as well as several reprints, but I think I should do this without relying on reprints). I have another 60,000ish out on submission to publishers, with another big story heading out this week. If those get rejections all around then I will indie publish them. I feel in good shape.

I will also have to create time for editing, revision, proofreading, reading other writers, editing anthologies, etc.

Memory and notes in writing stories

I woke up twice during the night with story ideas. I scrawled them on the notepad I keep by my bed. I have loads of ideas for stories – far more than I will ever have time to write. Sometimes the ideas are lousy, sometimes a little better. Sometimes my choice of which idea to pursue is lousy too – chasing an idea that seemed to be one of the better ones, but turned out to be not so much. One thing I try to do is make a of note ideas when they come to me.

Stephen King seems to discourage this – suggesting that if an idea is good enough for a story, then he’ll be able to remember it. Good luck to him with that (said to the tune of “omigosh I envy his success daily”). Me, I’m able to forget someone’s name before I’ve even finished shaking their hand. Perhaps the story ideas I’ve forgotten were the really, really lousy ones, but I have built some stories I’m proud of from those kinds of scratched out 2am ideas. If you’re so inclined, you could read “Airpocket” (a 600 word flash story, so readable in the message from our sponsor breaks in your favorite sitcom) – that’s a story that started from a midnight waking and note.

Remember those dogs in the movie UP? So focused on their mission, but easily distracted: “Find Doug. Find Doug. Find Doug. Squirrel!” At least they get back to their mission. I’m more like: “That’s a good idea for a story. Oh, look that store’s having a sale. Where did this guy learn how to park? Huh, she’s attractive, pity about the dress-sense. Did I lock the front door? Oh what was that story idea I just had?” I’m glad I keep a notebook handy.

Will last night’s ideas produce viable stories? I don’t know about that, but at least they’re down on paper rather than stuffed and lost somewhere in my somewhat unreliable memory bank.

Above the noise

I’ve been experimenting (if that’s the right word, since I lack a control run) with indie publishing some of my previously published stories that I hold the rights to, as well as some new stories. To begin with I’m putting the stories up with Smashwords since their system is fairly straightforward, and it pushes the items out to other books stores.

Yesterday I uploaded a new story, under a pen name. By today there have already been another 200 or so items uploaded to smashwords (their site loads chronologically, so the latest uploaded item comes to the top – it’s easy to see how quickly you get bumped down the list). How do I, as many writers are saying, rise above all that noise?

Here’s how I see it, with my limited experience. Most of those items aren’t competing with mine – there are self-help books, music scores, young adult novels, romances, free how-to guides and so on. Lots of the rest have lousy covers (sorry to those enthusiastic writers, but seriously, the cover can make a difference). My covers do feel a little rough, but I think I’m doing an okay job with them (especially Lizard Brain). Of the rest, there’s often a dreadful description – something like “Gwilliam the forest gnome makes posies for the fairy picnic, but he’s lost his hat and the kettle’s on the boil so he has to hurry home”. I’m still learning about writing a good blurb, but I want to write something that gets a reader’s interest, not just glosses over the story.

I’m learning and practising, and I think that’s part of the rising above – keep striving, keep writing better, keep thinking. I don’t know why, but an odd story I put up last week, with a very rough cover (low resolution and lumpy), and a quick description is my second-most downloaded (samples only, sales are slim, as in zero) item: more than some items that have been up for more than a month. There might be some things to learn there, I think.

Disclosure – 3am Persledt Eight = 14 sample views since December 13th, Suitcase Nuke = 13 sample views since November 10th. I think Suitcase Nuke is a better title, but who knows. I take another look at the blurb. Maybe that pen name works better than my real name. This is all experimenting anyway.


A couple of days ago I posted about my word-count goals for 2012. Funny thing about going public with goals – it boosts your incentive. My goal is 300,000 words written next year. That’s about 1000 words a day for every writing day I have available. Yesterday: 2000. Today: 2000. How about that? I’m surprised. It’s a while since I’ve written so much without actually being on a writing retreat. Is that sustainable? I’d hope so, but I’m not going to burn myself out. I guess a revised plan is to still head for 300,000 next year, but revise in July. If I’ve hit 300,000 by then, I won’t be kicking back and playing on the beach for the rest of the year. I’ll be fixing on writing another… well who knows right now?

Meanwhile, I’m still putting up previously published and new stories with Triple V Publishing – I’ve just published Big Banger Rentals under the byline Michael Shone. Dieselpunk. Adventure. Action. Priced at 99cents.

The best of 2010

December 31st, 2010

I’ve published a lot of stories this year, as you can see from my bibliography. They’re all, for one reason or another, personal favourites, though some I might have thought a little less of have proven more engaging for some readers. I’ve tried a variety of styles and genres this year, from hard sci-fi to humourous horror and been published both in print and online.

Anyway, this selection is my favourite five online stories from the year:

Fledgling (The New Flesh)

Sunset Photographer (365Tomorrows)

Jacob’s Naked Aquarium (Bewildering Stories – selected for best of quarterly review, 3rd quarter 2010)

Zemogorgon (Pulp Metal Magazine)

Zombie-Eyed Girl (Flashes in The Dark)


Overall, it’s been a good year, a banner year in fact – I’ve published more this year than all previous years combined – exceeding my own ridiculous goal (lesson: aim high). I still have so much more to work on and a set of new goals that will push me and challenge me – I will publish far fewer pieces, but look for longer stories, and different approaches.

See you in 2011.

David Niall Wilson, interview on Flashes in the Dark

Lori Titus, editor at Flashes in the Dark interviewed David Niall Wilson about his novels and writing process. I especially enjoyed his discussion about beginning writing a novel as a series of independent short stories (but completing the novel without it all being independent, because that’s what it needed), something I’ve worked with a little, well, interlinking stories anyway: I know it’s a tough thing to do.

Read the interview here.

David Niall Wilson’s website is here