Editing – from Soup to Nuts: An Indie Experience

Editing – from Soup to Nuts: An Indie Experience

If I had traditionally published my books, the publishing house would have assigned an editor to me and the whole process would have been mapped out, complete with details and deadlines. But as an indie, the editing ball was in my court just like every other aspect of bringing my books into the world, and I had quite a learning curve. Here are some things I’ve learned along the way about finding an editor, working successfully together, and navigating the multilayered, and sometimes intense, editorial process:

Understand what kind of editing you need.  

Good editing can make indie books look indistinguishable from traditionally published books. But if you’re new to the business, or working on your first project, you might not know that there are different types of editing, or understand what kind of editing your manuscript needs. When choosing an editor, understand what services that editor provides. This may mean hiring more than one person.

The first type of editing is developmental. I think of developmental edits as  big picture edits. I’m too close to my manuscript when the last word finally claws its way out of my overtired brain and onto the paper. I can’t see plot holes, character issues, places where the writing drags or where something doesn’t make sense. Skilled beta readers or a trusted critique partner can help with this, and so can an editor.

Once all the major issues have been solved and readers are responding to your story and characters in the way you’ve intended, it’s time to fine tune and hand over the manuscript for a copy edit. A copy editor will assure consistency throughout the manuscript. For example, I have a Jon in one of my books, and I would periodically spell his name John. A copyeditor will also catch overused words or phrases, correct grammar mistakes, and essentially polish the manuscript.

Finally, the manuscript will need a proofreader to give it a final look before publishing to find typos and small mistakes. I always proofread one last time after the proofreader, but that may just be my obsessive personality at work!

Use referrals to narrow the search for an editor.

Now you’ve got a handle on the different steps involved in the editorial process, and you know what your manuscript needs. How do go about finding the right editor? There are a ton of free-lance editors out there and it’s hard to sift through all the information.

I rave over my editor. I tell anyone who asks what a find she is and I regularly give out her contact information. When a writer loves their editor, you’ll know it, and an enthusiastic referral is a great place to start looking. Ask people in your writing community and on-line writing groups who they recommend, and then reach out.

Interview a few different people.

Ask these folks to edit sample pages of your manuscript to see what kind of feedback they give and how they deliver that information. Find out how they like to communicate and ask about their process. Does their style resonate with yours? Do they enjoy your genre of writing? What does their turnaround time look like?

When you hire an editor, due diligence upfront is important. Your work together will be a business arrangement certainly, but it will also become a trusted relationship, and you’ll want to make sure this partnership is a good fit.

Recognize that editing is different from drafting, and honor your process around it.

You’ve found someone to work with and you’re eager to get started. So, what’s all the fuss you’ve heard about editing? Why do writer’s lament this part of the process, wring their hands in angst, scream with frustration, cry into a bottle of wine?

Okay, so maybe all writers don’t do these things! But for me, and for many of my writer friends, editing is a different animal entirely from creating a first draft. And when I say this, I’m now referring mostly to the developmental editing phase. Drafting a novel fills me with creative energy. I lose myself in a world of my own creation and fall in love with my characters. Sure, I may get stuck in a plot tangle, but the overall writing experience is joyful.

Editing is different. On the one hand, the bones of my book are in place. I know where I’ve started, where I’ve ended up, and I have a lot worthwhile material in the middle. I know I have a good story and there’s relief and satisfaction in this. On the other hand, once I’ve turned in the draft of my manuscript after months of intensive work, I don’t even want to think about touching it again. I’m exhausted, and the idea of tearing it apart and reassembling it is daunting.

So, I have to honor my process and emotions around this. Here are some tips for making it through a developmental edit with your love of writing still intact:

  • First, celebrate the accomplishment of finishing the first draft! Without a first draft you have nothing. But now the story is out. Good for you! I admit to popping a bottle of champagne in celebration within moments of typing the last word. Then, I send the draft off to my editor. While she’s working on the first round of developmental edits, the manuscript gets shelved while I gain some distance. I’ll actively work on another project during this time period, basking in the glow of my achievement.
  • Recognize that it’s really hard to have your work critiqued, even when the edits are spot on. Although I know what’s coming, I’m never quite prepared for the emotional stress I feel when I receive a five-page editorial document filled with commentary, and my own manuscript covered in red ink. To be honest, I want to cry – maybe into that bottle of wine! I want to call my editor on the phone immediately and beg her to tell me she loves me and that I’m not a horrid writer. I’m sure she’s pleased when I refrain from doing this.
  • Take time to process the critique. Once I read what she’s sent me thoroughly, I put the manuscript aside again for a few days, maybe a week. I let the ideas percolate. I begin to see that what she’s suggesting resonates with what I already knew. I take it seriously when she reacts to something in a way I didn’t intend. I recognize my own bad writing habits.
  • Allow the creative process to re-ignite. Once I dive back in to writing, creative ideas for how to fix things start to flow, in the same way they did when I wrote the draft. I scribble notes everywhere, from the backs of napkins to the little pad I keep by my bed for middle of the night inspiration. I form a plan of attack. Then I call my editor. We talk. We even laugh. And I get to work.
  • Recognize editing can take more than one go around. My editor and I will go back and forth, sometimes with a round of beta readers working on it in between, until we are both satisfied that content-wise this book is ready. Most of the work I do with my editor is developmental in nature, but she is very meticulous, so by the time the manuscript goes to the copy editor, it’s quite clean. We still both believe that extra set of eyes is important though, because at this point, we’ve both looked at it so many times we know we’ll have missed something.

My editor has become a trusted partner in my publishing journey. I know if something is bothering her, I need to pay attention. Likewise, I know that when she says my book is ready, it’s ready. She gives me confidence to move forward when it’s time, but also honesty when my work isn’t quite polished yet, and as an indie, that’s invaluable.

Editing is daunting, there’s no question. But understanding what the process entails, how you personally need to deal with it, and finding a trusted professional to work with makes all the difference.

Cristina Alden: Curator of “The Final Summons”

Cristina Alden: Curator of “The Final Summons”

The New England Speculative Writers is putting together its first anthology. The theme, “The Final Summons.” Submissions by members are due January 31st. More details about the submission can be found here. Three curators will be reading through the slush and putting together the best stories. We thought it’d be good to interview each of the curators and give a little background about who they are and what they’re looking for in this anthology. Cristina is one of the co-founders of NESW.

What is your background in literature?

I’ve always loved writing stories, and have kept a journal on and off since I was a kid. I have a degree in Creative Writing from the University of Arizona. In college I concentrated mainly on fiction writing, and dabbled in screenwriting and playwriting, all of which I really enjoyed. I participated in NaNoWriMo for the first time in 2012 and published my first novel in January 2017. The genre of the story is “rural” urban fantasy with paranormal elements. My writing has always leaned toward fantasy and science fiction.

What are some of your favorite fantasy & sci-fi novels?

I’m an omnivore when it comes to reading. I enjoy science fiction, fantasy, historical novels, adventure stories… I’ve enjoyed stories from authors that range from Douglas Adams to Jean M. Auel. Novels that influenced me the most creatively were probably ones I read at an early age, like the Madeline L’Engle’s “Wrinkle In Time” series, C.S. Lewis “Chronicles of Narnia” series, Frank Herbert’s “Dune” Series, Anne McCaffrey’s “Dragonriders of Pern” series.

What excites you most for the upcoming anthology?

I’m excited to see the interpretation of what the “The Final Summons” means to writers. I think the title leaves the interpretation wide open to possibilities. The danger in a topic like this is finding the right place in the adventure to start telling the story. When I think of a final summons, I think of an epic journey. In a short story you don’t have the luxury of really deep world building, which means the characters need to stand out and be unique and the story idea needs to be tight. I love character driven stories, so I’m excited to see who I meet.

Is there anything you’re specifically looking for?

I’m looking for unique story settings and interesting, well developed characters. I’m not looking for stereotypical “types” of characters, or quirkiness just for the sake of being quirky, but character traits and flaws that add flavor to the journey of the story. I don’t have to necessarily like the characters, but I want them to be developed enough that I’m interested or intrigued enough by them to care what happens.

So You’ve Completed NaNoWriMo

So You’ve Completed NaNoWriMo

NaNoWroMo CrestNational Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), which is all about getting creative writers motivated to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days, is a few days behind us, and I’ve already seen a few participants crowing about meeting their goal — which they should, because writing 50,000 words in a month is no small feat.

If you’re among the NaNoWriMo winners, good for you.

I mean that. Whether you’re doing this for the first time just for the fun of it or you’ve always wanted to take a serious crack at becoming a novelist — via traditional or self-publishing — and you’re using NaNoWriMo to light a fire under your ass and finally get it done, I hope you found it an exciting and rewarding experience.

Now comes the “however” part…

I’ve known a few people who did in fact attempt to parlay their NaNoWriMo product into a published novel and failed hard, and what I’ve gleaned from their efforts is they made a critical mistake of thinking that once the novel was completed, all they had to do was run spellcheck and that would be it — their novel was finished.

No. No no no. Your work has only just begun.

First of all, your story might not actually be finished. If your larger goal was to produce a proper novel, you probably still have some writing to do. Depending on your genre, 50,000 words might only be a novella — which isn’t a bad thing, and maybe 50,000 words is the right length for the story you’re telling, but if you plan to seek an agent or traditional publisher for your work, you might want to think about going beyond 50,000 words.

This piece by Chuck Sambuchino is a great reference for defining novel lengths, and you’ll see that once you start writing for any adult market, 50,000 words isn’t going to cut it as a “novel.”

But let’s say you have produced a finished work. If November was National Novel Writing Month, December should be National Novel Revising Month. This is when you take your finished first draft, read through it, and recoil in horror at how truly unfinished it is. You’re going to find spelling errors, grammatical errors, punctuation errors, continuity gaps, plot holes, inconsistent characterization, clunky dialog — all manner of major and minor screw-ups. Suddenly, the literary masterpiece you think you wrote will turn into a steaming pile of crap that will make you doubt your talents as a writer.

Welcome to the world of writing.

First drafts aren’t about producing a finished work; it’s about getting the ideas out of your head and onto the screen. Second drafts are about replacing or scrapping entirely everything that’s wrong with the story and strengthening everything that does work. Since you’ve given yourself a month to do this, take your time. Go through the manuscript a few times and keep fine-tuning it.

No, you’re not done yet, because January is National Novel Test-Reading Month. This is when you send your manuscript to some trusted friends to look it over and tell you what they think. Four to six people is a good number of beta testers, but make sure you choose people who will be brutally honest with you. You don’t want their praise, you want their criticism. You want them to tell you what still isn’t working so you can fix it in February, which is National Novel Revising Month – The Sequel.

Don’t undersell the importance of this step. By now you’ve gotten a little too familiar with your novel and aren’t seeing a lot of flaws anymore. Outside eyes will catch the problems that have become invisible to you.

And don’t dismiss this as “art by committee.” Just because your readers make suggestions, you’re not obligated to heed them — though you’d be foolish to ignore them out of hand. Think about their critiques long and hard before you make a decision one way or the other.

While the book is out with your test-readers, you can consider whether you want to try and pursue a traditional publishing avenue or go the indie author route. Each approach has its own set of advantages and disadvantages, so consider what you need, want, and hope to get out of putting your book out there, and see which path fits better. Personally, even if you decide to go with self-publishing, going through the process of preparing your book for submission to agents and publishers is a good experience. It’ll help get you in a professional mindset, you’ll learn how to concisely describe your book and pitch it to a prospective reader — something you’ll have to do a lot as an indie author — and who knows? Maybe you’ll get picked up.

You can find an extensive list of publishers and agents in the Writer’s Digest market guide, along with many helpful hints for putting a submission package together. I’d also advise checking out the SFWA Writer Beware page, especially if you go looking at small presses. There are a lot of predatory small presses out there, as well as self-publishing platforms that falsely present themselves as small presses, and the last thing you want is to unwittingly give up the rights to the novel you worked so hard on.

If you decide to pursue indie authorship, this is a good time to start hunting down editors and cover artists — two things you do not want to skimp on. You want someone with a professional eye to review your finished manuscript for any lingering errors and perhaps make final suggestions for tweaking this and that, and you want a real artist to put together an eye-catching cover that will attract readers’ attention.

Services such as CreateSpace can help you put together a prefab cover that looks decent, and for little to no money, but if this what you choose to do, tread carefully, and never assume your skills as a graphic artist are sufficient to the task. Go check out LousyBookCovers.com to see what happens when a cover misfires if you need further convincing that hiring a professional is the right call.

Yes, these people will cost you money but it’s worth the investment. If you can’t pay for them out of pocket, crowdfunding may be your salvation — but again, do your research to find out what makes a successful crowdfunding campaign or you’ll hit a brick wall pretty fast.

Assuming you’ve managed to stay on schedule so far, dedicate March to preparing everything while your editor does his/her thing. Get your submissions list ready — or, if you’re self-publishing, make sure you’ve familiarized yourself with your chosen platforms, because preparing a novel for publishing is a major undertaking in and of itself. Write your cover/query letter, synopsis, and any other required submission materials. If you need to, go back into your manuscript and fix any lingering problems, even if it pushes your timeline back (unless you want to be embarrassed by putting out a novel that isn’t ready for public consumption).

Once all your ducks are in a row, once all the Is are dotted and Ts are crossed, it’s time to face the scariest part of the process: pulling the trigger and actually submitting the novel to agents/publishers or releasing it via your chosen self-publishing platform. Trust me, it’s terrifying, but take the leap. The worst you can do is fail, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

There’s a LOT more to do once the book is out there — marketing, promotions, publicity, etc. — but that’s a dissertation for another time.

Final word of advice, which is admittedly a bit of a personal pet peeve: don’t use NaNoWriMo as a promotional point. I’ve seen self-published books that are pitched to readers as a “NaNoWriMo Award-Winning Novel,” but that’s perhaps the least impressive “award” you could claim. It doesn’t speak to your story’s quality at all, it just means is you wrote a 50,000-word first draft in 30 days, so don’t start out your career by slapping disingenuous awards on your book.

Writers at a Comic Con: Make the Most of Your Time

Writers at a Comic Con: Make the Most of Your Time

If you are a comic book writer, you’re obviously in the right place, but what about science fiction and fantasy authors? Can you have success as a vendor at Comic Cons? My experience says yes. But purchasing a table and showing up won’t be enough for a successful weekend. Here are a few tips for getting the most out of your Comic Con experience:

  • Create an eye-catching display. You’ll have a good-sized table, so be sure to make it appealing. Put out a bowl of candy. Give away bookmarks. Set up a banner behind you.
  • Interact with the crowd. I attended Cons before I was ever a vendor at one, so I love the energy and enthusiasm of the crowd, and I’m a fan myself. It was easy to talk to the people who stopped by. But I didn’t just wait for them to stop, I stood behind my table, smiled, and said hello to just about everyone. I complimented costumes and asked people if they were having fun. Be approachable.
  • BUT, don’t annoy people with hard sell tactics. I engaged with people as they walked by. I didn’t talk about my books unless someone asked me directly.
  • Have a quick, enticing pitch ready when they do ask. My nineteen-year old son was my table buddy at Boston Comic Con last summer. When he heard me stumbling over my book description to the first few interested people, he said, “Mom, that was terrible. You have got to do better.” We practiced and refined for a few minutes until I had a couple of sentences that captured the essence of the story. Think log line but with a more conversational tone.
  • Use the opportunity to build your mailing list. Have a clipboard with a sign-up sheet for people to leave their names and email addresses. I send out a weekly, very brief communication to my mailing list called “Monday Musings.” Mailing lists are a powerful tool for an author and Cons are a great place to add names. I find that because I’ve met and spoken to these people, they are less likely to unsubscribe, and often will respond to my mailings with personal notes.
  • Be ready to make sales. Have a cash box with change, and make sure your credit card reader is functioning. Keep a supply of extra pens or markers easily accessible for signing your books.
  • Network! Selling books isn’t the only opportunity at Cons. Make new friends. I left every Con with at least one interview booked, stacks of business cards in my bag, and a nice bump in my social media following. And ‘BarCon’ is a thing! Find out where people are congregating after hours and join the fun.
  • Take care of yourself. Cons are fun, but exhausting. Have a bottle of water, some power bars and snacks with you. Wear comfortable shoes.
  • To cosplay or not to cosplay? I choose not to when I’m a vendor. Generally, I break out my Rebel Alliance or Starfleet Academy t-shirts, but I don’t wear a costume. A friend of mine is a fantasy author who writes about deadly mermaids. She rocks ‘aquatic chic’ like nobody’s business at Cons. It totally works for her. But my books don’t easily lend themselves to a costume, and I don’t want my attire to be the focus of conversations. Ask yourself if a costume will help or hinder you.
  • Take Monday off. If possible, give yourself some downtime after a Con. The days are long, and sometimes the nights are even longer! I’m a disaster after a weekend on my feet, and I plan an easy day when I come home.

As a sci-fi/fantasy writer, I feel right at home at Comic Cons, and I’m as excited to be there as any of the attendees. Enjoy the experience and energy, and most importantly have fun!

4 Sword Myths For Writers

4 Sword Myths For Writers

Swords are fun!

No, really — they are. I’ve gotten to play with a variety of them, from several different time periods, as a regular stage combat performer with New England-area renaissance faires, and they’re all a blast — even if (or perhaps especially because) it’s all fake.

Along the way I’ve learned a great deal about real-life swordplay from people far more educated about such matters than I, and I’ve put that knowledge to good use in my fantasy work, crafting swordfights that are exciting and dynamic but still well-grounded in reality. On the down side, it’s become a lot harder for me to enjoy swordfights in fiction because I’ve become too aware of how under-informed the general public is about how swords function in practical use.

So I’m going to share a few things I’ve learned over the years, and I’m going to start with this major caveat: do not take anything I say here as gospel. I’ve researched and continue to research period martial arts and weapons work, but there is always going to be new information out there — or different takes on existing data. You see, historians are an argumentative lot, and those who specifically study ancient arms are no different. You want to see sparks fly? Gather together a group of sword experts and ask them whether it’s best to parry an attack with the flat of the blade or the edge, and then stand back and enjoy the show.

The point is, someone somewhere is going to have a differing opinion about the information I’m presenting, and they’re not necessarily going to be wrong — but they’re not necessarily going to be completely right, either. Use this feature as a starting point for your own research and decide for yourself what works best for your storytelling purposes.

MYTH #1: Swords are heavy

Here’s something you can try at home. Grab a gallon jug of milk or water and swing it around vigorously for five minutes. Exhausting, isn’t it?

That’s why a typical medieval longsword weighs only about three pounds on average. The people using them are going to be swinging them for a long time, and a heavy sword is going to wear the user out more quickly—especially if they have the added burden of armor weighing them down. That isn’t to say there weren’t heavy swords, but A) even big pieces of steel (so-called “great swords”) such as the Scottish claymore or the German zweihander weren’t as heavy as you might expect, and B) these swords had very specific purposes and required different techniques. They were not everyday all-purpose weapons.

Related note: a common sword feature often called a “blood groove” has nothing to do with providing a victim’s blood with a handy channel to run down, thus accelerating his untimely demise (yes, that is a common misconception) or making the sword easier to withdraw from a human body. The proper name for this feature is the “fuller,” and its purpose is to lighten the weapon without compromising its strength.

HOW DOES THIS RELATE TO WRITING?

When you give your character a sword, there are a lot of factors to consider, but there is one key question you need to ask: what sword best suits the character and what he needs the weapon for? A rapier or court sword isn’t necessarily going to make sense in the hands of a large, strong, slow character, just like a claymore wouldn’t make sense in the hands of a small, fast character. You wouldn’t arm a character with a short sword if you’re going to pit him against cavalry, and you wouldn’t want a character hefting a zweihander if he’s expecting to be fighting in a confined space.

Other factors such as the time period, geographic region, etc., will also factor in, but I’m a big believer in starting with the character and building from there.

Regardless of the character and the context, do your research on the weapon you have in mind so you can portray its use correctly.

MYTH #2: Swords are sharp

I’m sure if you think about it, you can name at least one movie or TV show or book in which a warrior neatly slices through an armored limb with his mighty sword.

Yeah, no.

A sword was once described to me as a sharp hammer. It has an edge, and under the right conditions it can indeed cleave through a person, but it is not a magical Ginsu that could slice neatly through one layer of plate steel armor, the chainmail beneath that, the gambeson (a thick padded jacket) beneath that, the flesh and muscle and bone of a human limb, and then through another layer of gambeson and armor.

(Unless, of course, it is a magical weapon, but that is a different matter.)

Could the edge penetrate armor by cutting? Yes, but that is not a universal result of taking a sword to armor. Sometimes the damage would be blunt force trauma. It depends on the weapon, the user, the armor he’s facing, and the circumstances of the fight.

HOW DOES THIS RELATE TO WRITING?

Swords are surprisingly complex tools. You do yourself as a writer a disservice by not learning as much as you can about them so you can portray their use convincingly and correctly while still wringing maximum dramatic effect from them.

This can lead to some fun changes in how you construct fight scenes. Readers love a dramatic death blow that takes a villain’s head off, but if the villain in question is wearing a helmet that partially covers the throat and/or a gorget (a piece of neck armor), that final sword blow might not be so final after all — or it will break the bad guy’s neck rather than cut through it, which I’d argue makes the death stroke that much more brutal.

Again, you’ll have to do some research, particularly when you introduce armor to the mix. Chainmail (or, for you purists, maile) armor is designed to prevent cutting damage so a sword’s edge isn’t going to penetrate — but that same armor isn’t going to be worth a damn against a stabbing attack or the blunt force trauma that comes from a blow of any kind. Know your weapons, know your armor, and know how they all interact with each other.

MYTH #3: Katanas are awesome

First, let’s all acknowledge that the plural of katana is “katana” — if you’re speaking Japanese or a Japanese speaker is saying the word in English, but for us Muricans, “katanas” is acceptable as the plural form.

Now that that’s out of the way…

Katanas are probably the most iconic sword type in pop culture, and they’ve become almost mythic in nature. Unfortunately, how they’re portrayed in pop culture is almost pure myth, and it’s largely Hollywood’s fault.

Even their creation is less impressive than you’ve been led to believe. You might have heard katanas were folded hundreds of times in the smithing process, but that’s not true. They were only folded a dozen times or so, and that was a purely practical technique to strengthen the blade by hammering out the excess carbon in the cheap pig-iron (called tamahagane) available to smiths. It wasn’t about creating an edge that could slice through anything; it was about making swords that wouldn’t break on their first use.

Katanas were also not the samurai’s weapon of first choice. Rather, it would come out after better options such as the longbow and spear had failed or were impractical for the circumstances.

How they’re used in pop culture bears little resemblance to real-world techniques. They were designed for fast cutting, and if you watch an actual master swordsman in action, they flick the sword similarly to how you’d flick a fishing rod.

Blocking and parrying with a katana? Not so fast. Take a hit on the edge and you ding it up badly, making it less effective for its intended purpose. Take a hit on the flat and you risk snapping the blade, which is thinner compared to medieval longswords, which could take a solid hit on the flat.

(Cue historian argument in three, two…)

HOW DOES THIS RELATE TO WRITING?

The katana as audiences know it is so ingrained in the collective consciousness, a writer could portray its use as we’re all accustomed to and few people — mostly pedantic sorts like me — would question it.

But if you want a challenge, research how katanas were actually used in battle and throw your reader a curve ball — but don’t be surprised if the masses then chastise you for “not knowing how a katana works.” Sometimes, reality isn’t your best option.

MYTH #4: Swords make a cool “SHRING!” sound whenever drawn.

No. They don’t.

Scabbards are typically made of leather or wood. Neither of these materials make a metallic “SHRING!” sound when a steel sword is dragged along them.

Just saying.

And why can’t someone have a steel scabbard, you ask? Well, they could, but why would they want one? It’s heavier, and the repeated act of drawing and sheathing a sword would dull the edge quickly. More likely, a warrior would have a leather or wooden scabbard with decorative caps of brass or bronze — or, yes, iron or steel — but they wouldn’t make contact with the blade in the interest of preserving the edge.

HOW DOES THIS RELATE TO WRITING?

Here’s the thing: fiction, especially visual media, throws in a lot of dramatic flourishes that enhance the mood of a moment but, if you stop to think about them, make no sense whatsoever, and the metallic ringing sound of a sword being drawn is one of them. It’s the period equivalent of cocking a firearm for dramatic effect (even though doing so actually achieves something in the case of a firearm, i.e., chambering a round).

As with the katana, audiences have been trained to accept, even expect these moments, so chances of getting called out are minimal, but audiences are also getting savvier every day. Tropes that used to slide on by unnoticed are becoming distractions.

Knowing where, when, and how to add some sizzle to your steak, even if that sizzle is complete nonsense, is part of the craft of effective storytelling. If a sizzle moment adds value to the narrative, add it, but if it risks distracting readers and taking them out of the story, reconsider it.

BONUS NON-SWORD MYTH, MAYBE: Flails were common medieval weapons

The flail — a solid, sometimes spiked iron or steel ball at the end of a chain, usually attached to a handle — might not be a real weapon.

This theory, that the flail was either a ceremonial instrument historians mistook for a weapon or was completely made up and had no real-world basis whatsoever, popped up within the last few years, causing no small amount of controversy among historians.

I’m inclined to side with flail deniers mostly because I’ve used flails in shows and they are wildly impractical weapons.

Here’s another home experiment. Remember that gallon jug from the first myth? Once it’s empty (very important), tie it to a two-foot length of rope or twine to create a crude flail. Now, find a target — a tree, your fridge, a willing volunteer — and hit it with your flail. You’ll notice that even with something as light as an empty plastic jug, you get some satisfying impact. It’s easy to imagine how much damage you could do if that jug was a steel ball.

Now step back from the target and swing your flail. Notice what happens when you miss.

That’s right: it comes right back at you — and there’s no way to stop it.

If you’ve got an argument brewing about how the flail could be made a viable weapon, I’ll direct you to this great article by Paul Sturtevant (https://www.publicmedievalist.com/curious-case-weapon-didnt-exist/), but I’ll reiterate as a past flail user: they suck as weapons.

HOW DOES THIS RELATE TO WRITING?

A friend of mine once observed that in genre fiction (sci-fi, horror, fantasy), audiences are happy to accept big ideas like dragons and magic without questioning them but will get hung up on details based in what we consider universal reality. If you tell your readers the main character is a fireball-throwing sorcerer, they’ll buy that, but if you tell the audience your character once survived two weeks in a dungeon without any food or water, they’ll call you on it.

Impractical weapons are a trope of modern fantasy, and as a rule readers will go along with it if you lay the groundwork properly, but it’s in your best interests to understand what your weapons’ practical applications and limitations are, and maybe use those in the story to add realism to the fight scenes.

Jeremy Flagg: Curator of “The Final Summons”

Jeremy Flagg: Curator of “The Final Summons”

The New England Speculative Writers is putting together its first anthology. The theme, “The Final Summons.” Submissions by members are due January 31st. More details about the submission can be found here. Three curators will be reading through the slush and putting together the best stories. We thought it’d be good to interview each of the curators and give a little background about who they are and what they’re looking for in this anthology. Jeremy Flagg is one of the co-founders of NESW and he’s on the hunt for diverse authors and equally diverse characters.

What is your background in literature?

I’ve been writing since 2006 and in 2009 I self-published my first novel. In 2015 I landed my first publisher for my sci-fi superhero series. I’ve published two non-fiction, six fiction books, and been part of five anthologies. My own writing ranges from young adult to superhero science fiction depending on my mood at the time. For my short stories, I find myself compelled to write horror, a genre I’ve always loved. In 2011 I became the Municipal Liaison for the Massachusetts Metrowest region of National Novel Writing Month and started the Metrowest Writers with some other excellent authors.

What are some of your favorite fantasy & sci-fi novels?

I grew up on a steady diet of science fiction and fantasy. In fantasy, I always found myself moved by Lynn Flewelling’s “Luck in the Shadows.” Her attention to Seregil and Alec’s emotional and social turmoil, brought them to life. She also created a realistic romantic relationship between the male leads that took center stage for one character but not the other. This struggle resonated with my own experience in the LGBT+ community.

I also find myself fascinated by R.A. Salvatore’s “Demon Wars Saga,” which focuses on Jilseponie, an amazing female lead. Salvatore’s departure from traditional magic systems is paired beautifully with a lead character who is thrust into an impossible position when all she wants is to survive in peace. Her determination in the face of world gone mad tugged at my heart-strings. I enjoyed the emotional rollercoaster.

Nightwatch and Daywatch wetted my love of dark fantasy. Not quite horror, but always with dark air about it, Kuyanenko Sergei knows how to set a tone. Introducing me to the wonders of Russian story telling, he captivated me by reinventing the noir detective as a misguided do-gooder vampire. Sergei strips away the pop culture associated with vampires and witches and creates a fresh modern tale woven with classic themes.

My favorite science fiction book is Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. His ability to take technologies just beyond our current grasp and infuse them with religion had me reeling. I also appreciated the fantastical element of the metaverse with sword wielding hackers. There is something amazing about this idea of being able to jack into another world and be another version of yourself. I wanted to be Hiro Protagonist growing up.

What excites you most for the upcoming anthology?

I’m thrilled to see the many interpretations of “The Final Summons.” But more than that, I’m excited to step into another character’s world. I have no idea where each story will take me. I am looking forward to feeling, seeing, and doing as this character does. I also wants to see what amazing scenarios and worlds each author can develop in a short space. I don’t know if I’ll be an elf, a teen wizard, or a rogue fighter pilot in outerspace. The mystery has me eager to read.

I’m also interested to see how the idea of “summons” works into the plot. I don’t know where it’ll take me as a reader, but I want to immersed in a unique world and without chapter after chapter to give this information, I’m excited to see how the author will weave it into their story.

Is there anything you’re specifically looking for?

Diversity. I want characters unlike myself. I want to see the rainbow of gender expressions that avoid clichés. I want people of color who bring their culture into the character’s history and experiences. I want ethnicities I’ve never encountered and have a chance to step outside my own experiences. I want characters who have more than one emotional setting. I like them to be strong and weak, brave and fearful. I love the flaws in our humanity and believe these make for memorable characters.

Maps, Maps, & More Maps

Maps, Maps, & More Maps

World Map for Jennifer Allis-Provost’s Parthalan Series created by Derranged Doctor Designs

Let’s talk about maps and their role is the world building process.

Most stories will benefit from thinking about the locations featured in them and placing them in the larger context of the world in which they exist. You may not need many maps and you may not even have to create them yourself but even a short story about a single location could benefit from a map. It can be a simple floor plan where the action takes but it’s a good idea to plan a little so the story can flow naturally around and through the location.

Of course, some genres scream for maps more than others. Fantasy stories pretty much requires a fair bit of world building and lots of maps. You need maps of towns and the surrounding area and you need area/world maps showing typography, vegetation, resources, political boundaries, wind currents, ocean currents, latitude, roads and, trade routes. You don’t need all this all at once and if you apply Tenet 1, then you’ll only build want you need as you need it.

Space faring stories may need maps of planets and star systems.

Other types of speculative fiction, say a super-hero yarn or a steampunk adventure, may benefit from maps as well. Maps of the period or of specific locations so that you remain consistent from scene to scene.

Obviously depending on the needs of your story, you may be able to find the maps you need as you research for information about your world. This is most likely for stories set in a specific historical period and stories involving real life locations. But others genres require you to create your own maps.

How do you do that? Well, you need a graphics program like Photoshop so you can create them. Another option to investigate is random generators. They can create world or area maps quickly if you don’t care about the shape or typography of the world. If you do, you need to roll up your sleeves and draw something yourself.

I use Photoshop for my map of Thalacia because the roads are in one layer, the vegetation is in other, and so on. I use a trick from wargaming and place a hex grid on the map so and figure out where to place trees, coastlines, cities, and other objects. Hex grids are used to simulate natural boundaries. The grid is in its own layer so I can hide it easily.

To create town maps, I’m using a new program I found called Cityographer. It does some of the work for you and then I export the map and edit it in Photoshop.

For floor plans I use Dungeonographer and draw what I need.

As you can see there’s a lot to do, which why Tenet 1 is so important, only create what you need.

So with a few maps and some general notes on the world, you’re ready to take a deep dive. Actually you’ll need several. We’ll look at one those next time.

Happy world building!

NESW Open Call for Anthology Submissions

NESW Open Call for Anthology Submissions

Accepting submissions to
“The Final Summons” Anthology!

New England Speculative Writers is proud to announce we are accepting submissions to our first Science Fiction & Fantasy anthology until January 31st, 2018. We’ve thought long and hard about the themes, terms, and how we plan to promote it.

Theme  The Final Summons
Description

A final call to action for our characters.

What does the “Final Summons” mean? Is it the end of a world? The end of a long war? The changing hands of a political hierarchy? The promise of only one more spell? The handing down of a death sentence or banishment? The possibilities are endless.

Whether by magic or science and anything in-between, we want to see character driven stories in unique and original settings that answer this question. The stories can be in any fantasy, sci-fi, or overlapping genre. But most of all, we want stories that will immerse the reader in a journey that will answer in some way, “What is the final summons?”

The New England Speculative Writer’s anthology is looking for fifteen (15) stories written by New England authors that speak to an adult audience in a serious manner. We want new worlds, new foes, and creative lead characters. We want to avoid falling back on exhausted tropes or established worlds by genre leaders. We want your voice to shine as you summon this tale.

What We Don’t Want We want to avoid erotica and explicit sex as well as romance as central themes. Please do not include any stories with animal cruelty, child abuse or gratuitous violence (we’re okay with violence to move the story along, but make sure it’s necessary.) We will not accept stories that promote racism, sexism, or messages of hate. We will not accept Fan Fiction.
Deadline January 31, 2018, 11:59PM EST
Restrictions Must be a resident of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, or Vermont. Must be member of New England Speculative Writers (Can Join for Free below)
Word Limit 4000 – 7000 words.
Pay $50 (USD), 1 Contributor Copy, 1 Digital File
Genres Science Fiction & Fantasy
Language English
Rights Accepted works will grant New England Speculative Writers first exclusive English-language rights for one (1) year and non-exclusive English-language in perpetuity for digital, print, and audio formats. The author of each short story will retain the copyright to their respective work.
Simultaneous & Multiple Submissions No simultaneous submissions will be accepted. Multiple submissions from the same author will be considered but please note that only one story per author will be accepted to allow for variety and diversity. Previously unpublished stories only, no reprints unless requested.
Funding We plan to fund the cost of the honorariums, editor, cover artist, and layout, via a New England Speculative Writers Kickstarter campaign that we will launch in 2018. Any costs not met by the Kickstarter will be funded by the editors.
Publication Date February 2019
How to Submit Register or Sign In for how to submit.

To join, sign up for free using the register link below. Once you’ve registered, all submission details are located under the member area.

Register | Sign In

Authors Many Rights For Every Story

Authors Many Rights For Every Story

BAM! You’ve written a book. A contract is on the table. A pen stroke later your fate is sealed. If you’re lucky, an agent is acting as a resource, making sure the terms and conditions work for you. They’re explaining the fine print and in the long run, their commission should include making you aware of what the document you’re about to sign contains. In the world of indie publishing, agents are a luxury and often times authors navigate the legalities on their own. Contained within that contract are a list of rights being requested by the publisher. Let’s demystify the complex terminology.

The story you’ve written is yours for the moment. When you give away rights, any rights, you are giving away pieces of ownership to your story. These actions might be partial, whole, temporary, or permanent. It’s up to you as the author to keep track of your rights and what you have to give away. Failure to do so could result in something as mild as being black-listed by a publisher to legal ramifications.

Technical Jargon

Copyright – You are the copyright holder. This is your creation, born from your imagination. It might also be referred to as originator or the assignee (which means you legally have the ability to sign documents on behalf of this work.)

Exclusive – A contract will almost always include the word exclusive. The publisher wants to be the only person able to reproduce your work in a particular medium. They may only ask for exclusive digital rights, meaning they are the only company who can produce your work for the duration of your contract.

Non-Exclusive – You are allowing a publisher to print your work, but retain the ability to print it with another publisher at the same time. This is common in anthologies. They may ask for exclusive rights for a set amount of time and then revert to non-exclusive allowing you to reprint it elsewhere.

First Option – The publisher wants the ability to offer you a contract for your next work (usually in the same universe as your originally contracted work) before you send it other publishers or self-publish. This can work in your favor to help you skip the typical submission process. Make sure it has a termination date if no offer is made so you can publish it elsewhere if your first publisher is not interested.

Mediums

Print – You are giving away the physical rights to your story. This means the intent is to produce a physical, tangible material. It can include magazines, novels, novellas, or anthologies, but it only means the physical product.

Digital – You are giving away the digital rights to your story. Often this means eBook or digital magazines rights but can also include content on a website. However, now with the advent of audio, some contracts lump them together. It is best to make sure your contract explicitly states digital AND audio in that case.

Audio – You are giving away the digital and physical rights to audio. Physical and digital you ask? Yes, some places still produce CD’s for audio books. Some publications include podcasting in with their audio rights as it is still voice actors interpreting your work.

Territories

Worldwide – This means rights for the entire planet, folks. If they say “worldwide print,” this means they own print rights everywhere from India, to Croatia, to the United States. Some contracts use this as a blanket statement because they want everything despite having no intention of printing in international markets. Unless the publisher has a reputation for doing outstanding international work, this should be narrow as possible. Worldwide rights and only printing in the U.S. market removes your ability to print in French.

Language – Can get a bit more complicated than a simple territory. English rights is the most common (for U.S. residents) but without clarification in the contract, does this include English rights in the United Kingdom? Do Portuguese rights mean Portugal and Brazil? Make sure language is not the only thing dictating territories. For smaller presses it is extremely common that only English Language Rights are requested. If you are giving away your language rights for foreign territories, be sure the publisher has an established track record in that market.

One & Done

First Rights – You are giving away the “firstness” of your story. Nobody has ever published it before (including yourself.) This often includes if you’ve given away a story for free to your mailing list or on your website. First means first ever. Some publishers will split first into first print and first digital. Look for this specifically.

All Other Rights – Buyer beware. This phrase in a contract means the publisher is asking for rights for everything beyond the book as well. Television? Movies? Audio? Stage-Play? Comics? This phrase will rob you of every right to your book. This phrase should be a contract killer. If your book is highly successful, your publisher will have the ability to negotiate the television adaptation. Unless you’re certain you know what you’re doing, avoid at all costs.

Is this everything? Absolutely not. But it will help you start making sense of the open calls put on by publishers. If something in a contract or request appears vague, ask for clarification. If the publisher isn’t willing to provide it, that is the red flag necessary to move on. Even if you are approaching publishers without an agent, have somebody with legal expertise examine your contract. There are professional organizations that will assist authors. It’s stressful, it’s exciting, but be sure you are worrying about your long-term career as you put ink to the contract.