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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Jeanne Scott Said:

Some very good pointers!

Also this article reinforces the marketing First Commandment: “Find out what your customer really wants and don’t try to sell him/her anything else.” My take on it - Don’t try to sell someone living on dirt floors – a powerful vacuum cleaner!

In fundraising the biggest mistake most naïve proposal writers make is ignoring the information easily available in resources like the Foundation Directory, etc. They explicitly point out what each philanthropical organization is specifically looking for and has funded consistently.

Many enthusiastic, optimistic marketers tend to do “shotgunning”. They make a hundred copies of their proposal and mail them out helter-skelter. Then cry over their empty mailboxes because they don’t even get the consolation of a rejection letter.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Why Did My Story Get Rejected ?

I am answering this question though an insightful article by the renowned author Marion Zimmer Bradley:

Why Did my Story Get Rejected?
(c) copyright 1997 by Marion Zimmer Bradley

The first sad truth about marketing fiction of any kind is this, and you are just going to have to deal with it:


Accept it. Memorize it. Put it up over your typewriter. Yes, it's unfair. And editors have no objection to "well written" stories. Between two salable stories, one well written and one badly written, most editors would rather buy the one that is better written. But if an editor has a well written story that does not meet her requirements, and a BADLY written story that DOES meet her requirements, she will buy the badly written story that does meet her requirements.

Whether or not you sell your story has NOTHING TO DO WITH HOW WELL YOU WRITE, OR HOW BEAUTIFUL YOUR PROSE. People who have no "writing ability" are making a good living at writing, and people who write very well indeed have nothing but a collection of rejection slips and some compliments on their writing style. (Of course, if you write well, you can LEARN the rest.)

One of the hardest things a young writer, one who has made maybe two or three sales, but cannot sell regularly, must cope with is distinguishing between the story which sells first time out and the other story he or she has written, which is just as "good" but for one reason or another does not sell, even though the writer reads it over and over again, bemused, and cannot imagine what is wrong with it, when it is certainly "just as good or better" than his first sale.

so; What does that #$%&*' editor want anyway?

If editors do not buy stories because they are well written, why DO they buy stories, then? Why did MY story get rejected?Editors reject stories for all kinds of reasons. Some of them (and I'll deal with them later) have nothing to do with how good or bad a story is. The main reason an editor rejects a story is this:


In order to sell a story it is not necessary to learn to write well. Once one learns to write a literate English sentence, the ability to sell a story is based on only one talent: the ability to give an editor what her readers want. A story may be bad in all kinds of ways, and still be salable, it if has some things the editor finds important (because he knows from experience that this is what his readers want). But a story may be good in all kinds of ways, excellently written, with warm, lovable characters and wonderful style, plus a philosophical outlook which would make you the new Mark Twain or Jane Austen, and it is still going to get rejected if it doesn't give the editor those few things the editor wants and needs.

EDITOR'S REASONS for buying a story:

1. The editor knows it will give the reader a Satisfying Reading Experience of the kind his magazine was intended to provide.

2. The story has a clear-cut, likable character with whom the reader can identify.

3. The story tells, and solves, a clear-cut narrative problem which the main character solves by his or her own efforts.

4. The story makes the reader glad he read it, therefore giving the reader a (see #1 above) Satisfying Reading Experience.

An editor is just a person who is hired by the owners of a magazine because he or she has the experience and know-how to tell a story that will give a Satisfying Reading Experience from one that won't. If the editor does this, the magazine will sell. If the editor doesn't, and buys only "well written stories," the sales go down and the editor gets fired in favor of someone who knows how to deliver the product the publisher is selling -- magazines people will read.

Obviously, the reader of a confession magazine is going to want a different kind of Satisfying Reading Experience than the readers of say, Fearful Fantastic Fables, or Terrific Technology Tales... and the readers of FFF would sneer at the stories bought by the editors of TTT, or worse, yawn at them, which is why John W. Campbell would not have made a good editor for WEIRD TALES, and vice versa. So the writer who wants to make a living as a writer of commercial fiction, by SELLING what he writes (and I cannot emphasize enough that this has NOTHING WHATEVER to do with "talent", "literary ability" or "quality creativity", and even less with "self expression" or "creative writing") must learn to give the editor what he wants, or at least what he THINKS he wants.

If you want to "be a good writer" resign yourself to writing for little literary journals, and maybe when you have been dead for fifty years there will be a posthumous collection of your works and somebody will write a doctoral thesis about them. If you want to SELL, learn to give the editor what he wants. That done, you can be a good writer if you want to. But if you can't do that FIRST, the public will never have the chance to judge your work unless you publish it yourself. Of course editors are often wrong. But, right or wrong, they are the only people who can buy your stories.

And very often editors themselves do not know (or do not have the time to tell you) why they rejected your story; because, very often, editors have no talent except the ability to tell, by a gut feeling or their own instincts, why they feel one story will "work" and another one won't. They fall back on such statements as "your story is too weak...too slight... doesn't work somehow..." but it all adds up to "I won't buy it," and another rejection slip to add to the writer's bafflement and "What the hell does he mean? What does the editor want anyhow?"

When I started editing anthologies, I tried very hard to analyze the "gut feelings" I had about why one story worked and another one didn't, and I made up a form letter so I wouldn't have to write the same letter to about two hundred would-be contributors. In general, I rejected stories for one or more of the reasons outlined below, and this had nothing to do with how well-written the stories were.

EDITOR'S REASONS for rejecting a story:

1. THE PACE OF THE STORY WAS WRONG. You were trying to write a novel in fourteen pages, with enough characters, action and crisis packed in to destroy a planet or bring down a society. Or, conversely, you were trying to string out a little gimmick or "idea" which might have made a good "short short" into eighteen or twenty pages or more. (I should add that this is the most common reason for rejection.)

2. THE STORY WAS NOT COMPLETE IN ITSELF. A lot of otherwise good stories read like the first chapter in a novel, with a major problem left unsolved and the reader wanting to know "What happened after that?" Granted, that many stories, especially stories in a series, can leave a window open for the writer to tell more about those same people. But if this is so blatant that the reader is left unsatisfied and fretting about unfinished business the editor has no choice but to reject.

3. YOUR MAIN CHARACTER WAS NOT IDENTIFIABLE -- the editor didn't know whose story you were telling. OR THE MAIN CHARACTER WAS NOT LIKABLE ENOUGH FOR THE READER TO WANT TO IDENTIFY WITH HIM OR HER -- a bastard should be a lovable bastard. OR THERE WERE TOO MANY CHARACTERS -- the editor couldn't keep them all straight. In general, a story with fewer than ten pages should have only one main character, a minor character and maybe a couple of "walk-ons." A story of twenty pages or more can have four or five characters but should have only one viewpoint character. Also, it should be easy to keep all the characters straight... you should not, for instance, as I did once, have a Helen, and Ellie and a Nell in the same story! Or name three of your male characters James, Jacob and John, unless they are triplets.

4. THE EDITOR COULD NOT GET INTERESTED ENOUGH IN THE CHARACTERS to care whether they solved their problems or not. I tend to test a mystery story by walking away from it about 50 pages from the end and asking myself "Do I really care who killed Uncle?" If the answer is no, I don't finish it.5. NOTHING MUCH HAPPENED IN THE STORY. You gave some interesting episodes and some nice things happened to some moderately nice people, but when everything was finished, nothing much had changed and the characters were right back where they were before. In short, it didn't add up to that Satisfying Reading Experience. It must have satisfied YOU, or you wouldn't have written it, but an editor is paid to know whether it will satisfy, say, 100,000 people, and if he buys too many that won't, he gets fired. If you believe in your story, if the most honest introspection produces no lingering doubts, try a different magazine, or try that one after that particular editor gets fired; maybe if he had bought your story he would still be there.

6. THE CHARACTER DID NOT HAVE A SERIOUS ENOUGH PROBLEM (paper tiger) or DID NOT SOLVE IT BY HER OWN EFFORTS (Cinderella's Fairy Godmother came along and sent her to the ball). In the old Greek Drama, a God came down out of the sky and explained why all the trouble had happened and how to put it right. Also, check to see if your story is an idiot plot -- a plot which works only because everybody in it keeps acting like an idiot when a little common sense would unwind it all. (This is the detective story where everybody carefully doesn't tell the police everything they know because then the story would be over.)

7. THE STORY WAS JUST TOO GRIM OR DOWNBEAT ... too depressing, too bloody, too littered with unrelieved tragedy, too scattered with corpses, too sadistic. Obviously stories like this do sell sometimes, usually as horror movies or paperbacks, where the evil triumphs and everybody lives unhappily ever after, but choose your market carefully. Even ROSEMARY'S BABY had a few funny bits in it, so the reader could catch his or her breath. (But there's always Dean Koontz, whose work is VERY grim.)

8. THE STORY WAS OFFENSIVE, OR THE EDITOR THOUGHT IT WAS OFFENSIVE. This may, of course, simply be a matter of taste. I rejected a story whose major punch was scatological because I personally am offended by bathroom humor. You can always find another editor whose standards are different. Or maybe the editor is just too prudish, in which case try after she gets fired. Nine out of ten stories which get rejected fall into one or another of these eight categories; there is some big hole in the plotting of your story, or it is told in a way which is unclear, confusing or offensive to your editor's idea of his preferred reader. (For instance, back when the editors believed that 99% of the readership was white, male and adolescent, any story whose main appeal was, for instance, to women would be turned down automatically. Times, and readerships, have changed, and editors who don't please the new readership, at least 40% female, are now out of work and haunting the bread lines or editing porno mags.)

But there is always the tenth story, which has absolutely nothing wrong with it, but gets rejected anyway for one of the following reasons. You can say it isn't your fault, but in a very serious way it IS your fault, because most of these "no-fault" rejections are PREVENTABLE.

No-Fault Rejections or Why Really Good Stories Get Rejected:

1. THE EDITOR COULDN'T READ YOUR STORY because it was typed with a dim ribbon, or on a dim unreadable thermofax copy, or a sloppy unreadable Xerox, or because your spellingor grammar was so bad he didn't want to be bothered figuring out what you meant. Or the editor never got a chance to read your story because you didn't address it right, or because the label fell off and it went to the dead letter office. Or he read it, and loved it, but he never got a chance to tell you so because you hadn't put your real name and address on the story, only on the envelope, and the envelope got thrown away in the mailroom. Or he couldn't write you and tell you about it because you didn't send enough postage and his magazine has a firm policy not to answer any manuscripts not accompanied by return postage.

2. THE STORY WAS A PERFECTLY GOOD, WELL-PLOTTED STORY, but this particular editor doesn't buy sword and sorcery, or high-technology space opera, or post-doomsday stories, or horror stories. Next time, READ THE MARKET REQUIREMENTS.

3. THE STORY WAS A PRETTY GOOD STORY but the editor just didn't happen to like the end, and he wasn't goshwow enough about it to write and ask if you would mind if he changed it.

4. THE STORY WAS A PRETTY GOOD STORY but your opening was a little slow and the editor got bored before he could find out how good it was and ask you to change the first page a little.

5. THE STORY WAS A PERFECTLY GOOD STORY but something in this story pushed one of the editor's personal buttons -- maybe she is a devout Roman Catholic and the story spoke favorably about abortion, or she is a dedicated environmentalist and the story dealt with something which hit one of her personal fears, neuroses or emotional convictions. Granted, editors should be above all this kind of thing; but editors are only human. It's even possible that you had a character in the story who reminded the editor of her hated stepmother, her rotten aunt Minnie, or the college professor who flunked her out of Integral Calculus and wrecked her chances of getting into grad school, which is why she's an editor. Try another editor.

6. THE STORY WAS A PERFECTLY GOOD STORY but the editor was going to press tonight and needed a story exactly 7500 words long to fill a spot vacated by an ad that canceled or a column that missed its deadline, and your story was 8500 words long. Or she needed a story 10,000 words long and yours was only 7500.

7. THE STORY WAS A PERFECTLY GOOD STORY but the editor had just bought another story on the same theme by Harlan Ellison, Ben Bova, or Ursula LeGuin. Tough luck, and that's the breaks.

8. THE STORY WAS DAMN GOOD, but you had stepped on the editor's corns, literally or figuratively, at a drunken party in Chicago four years ago and she wouldn't buy it if you were the greatest writer since the last Pulitzer Prize winner.

Of course it is all too easy, when the editor sends back your story, to flatter yourself that your story is really pretty good, and that it was rejected for one of the these no-fault reasons.

In general, your first dozen or three rejections will be for cause -- your story just isn't well enough plotted, the characters are too tangled, the plot doesn't make sense, there is something wrong with the end or the beginning, or for some reason the editor just can't care enough about your characters.

The difference between the amateur and the professional is that the professional assumes that the editor knows her job, and if his story is rejected, he must have done something wrong. (And once an editor respects you as a professional and assumes you know your job, she will tell you if it's not your fault -- "Dear Joe -- sorry, this is too long for me," or "I'm overbought this month," or "I just bought three stories about sentient garbage dumps and can't use another.") The amateur always assumes his story is good and the editor just doesn't appreciate genius.

The art of the writer is to know the difference between the story that doesn't sell because it's a lousy story, and the one that doesn't sell because the editor is a lousy editor. Sure, try your story again if it's rejected. But if it's rejected everywhere, assume there was some reason nobody liked it, and try another story ... and listen to that sneaking little voice that tries to tell you where that first one really fell apart.
-- Marion Zimmer Bradley

Monday, April 20, 2009

Frances Jeanne Scott Said:

Checked out Writer Beware! site and bookmarked it for future reference.

Writer Beware!

This post showcases a great writers' resource published and updated by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc. The Writer Beware! site gives warnings about literary fraud and other schemes, scams and pitfalls that target writers...and it applies to all authors and genres.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

More About Writing Tense

As I said a few posts ago, we would discuss verb tense again. Try to get through the following few paragraphs; but IF you get blurry-eyed just skip down to the last Review para for a good example of each of the basic six tenses used in a sentence. You can print these out for reference in your writing.

Sequence of Tenses

Strictly speaking, in English, only two tenses are marked in the verb alone, present (as in "he sings") and past (as in "he sang"). Other English language tenses, as many as thirty of them, are marked by other words called auxiliaries. Understanding the six basic tenses allows one to re-create much of the reality of time in his writing.

The six are:
Simple Present: They walk
Present Perfect: They have walked
Simple Past: They walked
Past Perfect: They had walked
Future: They will walk
Future Perfect: They will have walked

Problems in sequencing tenses usually occur with the perfect tenses, all of which are formed by adding an auxiliary or auxiliaries to the past participle, the third principal part.

ring, rang, rung

walk, walked, walked

The most common auxiliaries are forms of "be," "can," "do," "may," "must," "ought," "shall," "will," "has," "have," "had," and they are the forms we shall use in this most basic discussion.

Present Perfect

The present perfect consists of a past participle (the third principal part) with "has" or "have." It designates action which began in the past but which continues into the present or the effect of which still continues.

1. Betty taught for ten years. (simple past)
2. Betty has taught for ten years. (present perfect)

The implication in (1) is that Betty has retired; in (2), that she is still teaching.

1. John did his homework. He can go to the movies.
2. If John has done his homework, he can go to the movies.

Infinitives, too, have perfect tense forms when combined with "have," and sometimes problems arise when infinitives are used with verbs such as "hope," "plan," "expect," and "intend," all of which usually point to the future (I wanted to go to the movie. Janet meant to see the doctor.) The perfect tense sets up a sequence by marking the action which began and usually was completed before the action in the main verb.

1. I am happy to have participated in this campaign!
2. John had hoped to have won the trophy.

Thus the action of the main verb points back in time; the action of the perfect infinitive has been completed.

Past Perfect

The past perfect tense designates action in the past just as simple past does, but the action of the past perfect is action completed in the past before another action.

1. John raised vegetables and later sold them. (past)
2. John sold vegetables that he had raised. (past perfect)

The vegetables were raised before they were sold.

1. Renee washed the car when George arrived (simple past)
2. Renee had washed the car when George arrived. (past perfect)

In (1), she waited until George arrived and then washed the car. In (2), she had already finished washing the car by the time he arrived.

In sentences expressing condition and result, the past perfect tense is used in the part that states the condition.

1. If I had done my exercises, I would have passed the test.
2. I think George would have been elected if he hadn't sounded so pompous.

Future Perfect Tense

The future perfect tense designates action that will have been completed at a specified time in the future.

1. Saturday I will finish my housework. (simple future)
2. By Saturday noon, I will have finished my housework. (future perfect)


1. Judy saved thirty dollars. (past)
2. Judy will save thirty dollars. (future)
3. Judy has saved thirty dollars. (present perfect)
4. Judy had saved thirty dollars by the end of last month. (past perfect)
5. Judy will have saved thirty dollars by the end of this month. (future perfect)

Notice: There can be only one "would have" action group in a sentence.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Australian Writer Lee Masterson Said:

Hello John,

Thank you so much for extending the courtesy of letting me know about reprinting my article. I appreciate it.

If you ever need any more writing-related content for your blog, you can find a few more articles that are also available for free reprint here:

I'm always happy to recommend that everyone takes a vacation in sunny Australia at least once. I've been around the world a couple of times and I can't find anywhere that's as spectacular as home. If you ever get the chance to visit Down Under - you won't regret it.

Thanks once again for your courtesy and best wishes for the success of your blog.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Phoebe Brown Said:

Hi again. After I read your review at http://authorsden.com/ and was about to close out, I thought why not drop by your page and see who you are. I clicked into this blog and boy am I glad I did. People always ask this question regarding "tenses". I must direct them to your blog. I love it. I saved the link you posted also. I see you have accomplished a lot in your life. I'm going to enjoy dropping by and seeing what you have to say on your blogs.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Tense World of Writing Tense

Should I write my story in present or past tense ? A question often asked. (We won't talk about future tense in this discussion.)

Why not write your story in both tenses, if that's what it takes! As long as it's done without confusing the reader. I like to think that authors can zip between tenses freely if they want to establish different times and eras to connect actions, make a point, show growth or connect resulting outcomes.

Example: A writer of his memoir narrating as an adult about actions in the past he is describing in present tense as if the actions were unfolding in real time and seen through his eyes as a teen. I hope this makes sense !

Word tense can get complicated, so in my research of this topic I will first direct my readers (the few I have!) to a "Grammer Girl" site that will describe exactly what kinds of present and past tenses there are...Surprise! There are more than "simple" past and present tenses, remember ? How about present perfect, present progressive and past perfect tenses, etc, etc ?

Go to http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/present-tense-novel.aspx for a brief review...and we will continue this discussion with the next post.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

How Long (or Short) Should Your Story Be ?

A common question which I'll address here and now. In my research on this topic I stumbled across this comprehensive list of story lengths by South Australian writer Lee Masterson:

One common question asked by many writers is: "How long should my story be?"The simplest answer is: As long as it takes to tell the whole story.

However, there are certain word lengths that editors prefer to see when submitting work.
Here is an approximate guideline for story lengths.

Micro-Fiction - up to 100 words. This very abbreviated story is often difficult to write, and even harder to write well, but the markets for micro fiction are becoming increasingly popular in recent times. Publishers love them, as they take up almost no room and don't cost them their budgets. Pay rates are often low, but for so few words, the rate per word averages quite high.

Flash Fiction - 100 - 1,000 words. This is the type of short-short story you would expect to find in a glossy magazine, often used to fill one page of quick romance (or quick humor, in men's mags) Very popular, quick and easy to write, and easier to sell!

Short Story - 1,000 - 7,500 words. The 'regular' short story, usually found in periodicals or anthology collections. Most 'genre' zines will features works at this length.

Novellette - 7,500 - 20,000 words. Often a novellette-length work is difficult to sell to a publisher. It is considered too long for most publishers to insert comfortably into a magazine, yet too short for a novel. Generally, authors will piece together three or four novellette-length works into a compilation novel.

Novella - 20,000 - 50,000 words. Although most print publishers will balk at printing a novel this short, this is almost perfect for the electronic publishing market length. The online audience doesn't always have the time or the patience to sit through a 100,000 word novel. Alternatively, this is an acceptable length for a short work of non-fiction.

Novel - 50,000 -110,000 words. Most print publishers prefer a minimum word count of around 70,000 words for a first novel, and some even hesitate for any work shorter than 80,000. Yet any piece of fiction climbing over the 110,000 word mark also tends to give editors some pause. They need to be sure they can produce a product that won't over-extend their budget, but still be enticing enough to readers to be saleable. Imagine paying good money for a book less than a quarter-inch thick?

Epics and Sequels - Over 110,000 words. If your story extends too far over the 110,000 mark, perhaps consider where you could either condense the story to only include relevant details, or lengthen it to span out into a sequel, or perhaps even a trilogy. (Unless, of course, you're Stephen King - then it doesn't matter what length your manuscript is - a publisher is a little more lenient with an established author who has a well-established readership).

Page Counts - In most cases, industry standard preferred length is 250 words per page... so a 400 page novel would be at about 100,000 words. If you want to see what size book is selling in your genre, take a look on the shelves. If the average length is 300 pages, you're looking at a 75,000 word manuscript (approximately). One reason it's harder for a new author to sell a 140,000 word manuscript is the size of the book. A 500+ page book is going to take up the space of almost two, 300 page books on the shelves. It's also going to cost more for the publishers to produce, so unless the author is well known, the book stores aren't going to stock that many copies of the 'door-stopper' novel as compared to the thinner novel.Remember, these word- and page-counts are only estimated guides. Use your own common sense, and, where possible, check the guidelines of the publication you intend to submit your work to. Most publishers accepting shorter works will post their maximum preferred lengths, and novels are generally considered on the strength of the story itself, not on how many words you have squeezed into each chapter. For lengths more specific to Children's books, please refer to Laura's article "Understanding Children's Writing Genres"
© Copyright Lee Masterson. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Frances Jeanne said:

I can’t remember whether I responded to your question – did I follow up on the info you sent re Barbara. Of course!!! She makes a lot of sense!! Thanks for connecting me to her site. And, she points out very succinctly the economic realities of agents’ lives.