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Writing Tips


I’ve worked on seven anthologies over the past six or so years. I’m onto the eighth, the Bloodlines* anthology to be published by Ticonderoga Publications. I’ve also judged a couple short story and flash fiction competitions. Over the last six years, I've noticed reoccurring issues with authors’ submissions. While I will not reject someone outright for forgetting to use standard manuscript format, or for misspelling my name, there are editors who will. So it’s these basic mistakes that may be hindering authors from getting published. There are other issues as well – the quality of writing, willingness of an author to be edited, attitude of an author (if you’re rude, people won’t want to work with you) and so on.

But to help, I’ve compiled a list of 22 common problems associated with short story submissions, shown below in no particular order:

  1. Proof read your work. More than one or two typos (on the first 2 pages) are not your friend. In fact, it looks like the author rushed the submission or that they cannot proof read their work. The latter can leave an editor worried about the entire editing process to come.

  2. Read the submission guidelines properly. If it asks for fantasy, don’t send science fiction and vice versa. If I say I want urban fantasy, do not send stories that are set in the future, or contain aliens, etc.

  3. Send your manuscript in standard format unless otherwise asked for. This is an example http://www.shunn.net/format/story.html. (I tend to ask for Times New Roman font, because I hate Courier New. So check the guidelines to make sure!)

  4. Do NOT send a blank email with an attachment. Your precious story could end up deleted unread. You would be surprised how much spam can come through a dedicated submissions email address, so if you’re sending blank emails with attachments…

  5. Relating to Tip 4, put your cover letter in the body of your email. Do NOT send an essay. A couple of paragraphs will do. I’ve seen cover letters that are longer than the stories (well, almost). The editor will most likely not read your entire list of publishing credentials, so just put the most relevant.

  6. Check the name of the editor you’re submitting to. If it is listed, USE it. Not ‘Dear Editor’, ‘Hello’ or worse yet, nothing. I’ve heard there’s some confusion as to the use of ‘Miss’, ‘Ms’ or ‘Mrs’. Unless you know they’re married, or they say they have a preferred option, go with ‘Ms’. If they have a problem with it, well, you tried. It’s better than nothing!

  7. When writing your story SHOW don’t TELL. I cannot stress how important this one is. For example: ‘Bob and Jane ate the dinner Jane had made. The steak was overcooked. Bob didn’t like it.’ That is telling. This is showing: ‘Bob and Jane smiled at each other over the dinner table. Picking up his fork, Bob tentatively cut into the blackened steak Jane had set before him. She tried so hard, but she just never seemed to get it right. Bob took a hesitant mouthful and tried to hide the grimace that swept across his face.’

  8. Avoid info dumps. They are definitely not your friend. They’re more like an enemy. If you have a paragraph or three that are explaining some fundamental feature of your story, it can usually be done quicker and without the background detail. For example, pretend this paragraph is three paragraphs long talking about how vampires were really spawned from a human and demon liaison. Instead, you could show this in simple dialogue: “You mean vampires are real?” Jane asked. Bob nodded and adjusted the silver stake strapped to his belt. “Some human banged a demon. The result: blood drinking undead progeny.” Saying this, don’t just use dialogue to get around your info dumps. This is simply an example of how you can do it.

  9. Make sure you know your genres. This will help avoid Tip 2 from happening. Google is your friend. There’s lots of data out there on what is fantasy, what is scifi, etc.

  10. Make sure your first page is absolutely POLISHED. Some editors will not read past it if the writing doesn’t hook them. And remember, the editor is under no obligation to read your entire story. Some have limits: they’ll read one page, two pages or six pages before they stop reading if you haven’t hooked them. You never know what it is going to be.

  11. Make sure your story has a plot. Even if it is less than 1,000 words long, it can still have a plot. There’s a character, something happens to them, there’s a resolution. That’s a plot.

  12. Make sure your story doesn’t have plot holes. Things can’t just happen because they suit your story; they have to make sense. Otherwise, you end up with a Prometheus-style cluster-fuck.

  13. Short stories – as a general rule – do not need prologue-style paragraphs.

  14. Choose your characters’ names with care. Nothing too confusing. Gender neutral names are fine. Just nothing too long, or with too many apostrophes or hyphens. I’ll forget it, and potentially, I’ll forget your character or remember them as ‘that one with the stupid name’.

  15. It’s the 1960s NOT the 1960’s! Enough said. Unless the 1960s owned something.

  16. Don’t overuse exclamation marks. Capitals or italics usually do the job without the need for an exclamation mark.

  17. Incorrect uses of apostrophes is a personal pet hate of mine. Don’t do it. Ever. If you’re not sure, check. It’s vs its, you’re vs your, kids vs kid’s. Make sure it’s right.

  18. If you’re lucky enough to get personalised feedback, don’t argue. Say ‘thank you’ and move on, even if you disagree.

  19. If you’re submitting to an anthology of mine, avoid rape scenes or the needless denigration of women. It is usually done for shock value alone, or to show a character is a misogynist. You can shock people and show your character hates women without resorting to these two points.

  20. On the same page of Tip 19, do not send me stories condoning paedophilia.

  21. Make sure your story is standalone. I see lots of stories that are the start of something much longer.

  22. Last but not least: Voice. Make sure your story has a strong, unique voice.

*For those of you wondering, no, this is not aimed at the Bloodlines authors who submitted recently to my collection. I have experienced nearly all of these issues for every anthology I’ve ever done. And it’s happened to a lot of my editor friends as well. This list was compiled in the hope that for the next collection we editors undertake, these issues won’t be reaching our inboxes.

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Cranky Ladies of History


I loved the idea of this anthology from the moment it was announced. Tansy Rayner Roberts and Tehani Wessely wanted to bring important women of history to life within the pages of their anthology 'Cranky Ladies of History'. Being a history lover (archaeologist and all), I had to pitch for the anthology, but I wanted a Cranky Lady not on the list: Hatshepsut. Female King of Egypt. Luckily, Tansy and Tehani liked my pitch, and then liked my story. And now it's in the absolutely talented-packed TOC for the anthology.

The full press release is here. Check it out! 

Bloodlines Update


So submissions for my Bloodlines anthology have closed.

For those of you waiting to hear back on your Bloodlines story, I do promise that I am working my way through the submission pile! Unfortuantely, for the first time in a very long time, I had some major technical difficulties with my computer and have only got it back up and running properly in the last couple of days. I have sent out some responses, and will send out more in the coming week or two.

So if you haven't heard from me it is either because:

  1. It has been held for further consideration; or

  2. I haven't read it yet.

So thank you for your patience, and I will be back in touch as soon as I can.

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3 days to go!


Bloodlines has only 3 days to go for submissions! If you haven't emailed me your story, now is the time to do so!

Here's another link to the guidelines.

Remember, the story must revolve around blood - if you take the blood (blood, bloodlines, blood magic etc) away from the story and the story still works, then it isn't on theme.

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Bloodlines!


While I've been catching up on the submissions for Bloodlines, I realised there's just under three weeks left!

Don't forget to get your stories in! Guidelines are here.

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The exciting life


Well, you'd think being an archaeologist / writer / editor would be a glamorous life of travel, adventure, rolling boulders...maybe even some evildoers thrown into the mix.

Alas.

However, lately is full of reading submissions for Bloodlines, plus a bit of work, cats and some knitting. While it's too soon to provide any comment on the Bloodlines stories (give me blood!) I can share my latest knitting project: a scarf for Tom! He requested the colour.

45902_original

More knitting!


In between work, reading for Bloodlines, and everything else, I've been knitting like a crazy person. An average-level crazy person.

Yes, I'm addicted.

My newest scarf is more of a neck warmer (I ran out of wool and the shop didn't have any more when I checked) than a scarf. But improvisation is the mother of invention, or something like that...I have also started two more scarves (hey, they're straight and I don't have to change stitch numbers: one 2x2 ribbed and the other stocking stitch, on 6 mm needles  - larger than the recommended size - with a synthetic mohair. I'll post pics when they're more advanced.

Otherwise, my neck warmer/scarf!

photo

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Finished scarf!


So I finished my first scarf! It did get a lot neater towards the end. I also added some small embroidered flowers over a couple of the holes, and then just popped in a few more to make it look deliberate ;)

Plus...tassels!


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Bloodlines anthology call - OPEN


As many of you are aware, Bloodstones was the first volume in an annual dark fantasy series. While it has been a little over a year since Bloodstones was released, Bloodlines is now under way! Official website is here.

I am very excited to be working on this collection with Ticonderoga; it's been a long time coming. I have great expectations that this book will be brilliant; so authors, wow me!

Now, the business end...

Bloodlines call for submissions! OPEN NOW

Blood will tell... blood holds memory... blood is sacrifice... blood is thicker than water... blood is life.

Bloodlines will feature non-traditional horror stories, which take place in an urban fantasy setting. Give me stories about creatures that need blood to live, or blood to do magic, or whose blood is magic. Witches, shamans, faeries, ancient gods and humans can feature in this collection, so long as your story exudes magic and mystery. So long as you enchant me.


As for the nitty-gritties:

  •    No science fiction stories will be accepted;

  •    Romance is acceptable, as long as the story is dark and has horrific themes/elements;

  •    Do not send stories written in the second person;

  •    While vampire stories can be submitted, please note that it would be in your best interests to wow me with something other than vampires.

  •    Lastly, the story must be on theme and meet the above guidelines. It must have blood (its need, use, potency etc.) as a major focus. If it does not, your story will be rejected.

The anthology will be published by Ticonderoga Publications in late 2014/early 2015.

Submission guidelines:

Send me your best dark urban fantasy story.

  •    Story length 1,000 to 7,500 words.

  •    Original stories only: no reprints, multiple, or simultaneous submissions (please only submit one story).

  •    Stories may be submitted via email at bloodlines@ticonderogapublications.com.

  •    Manuscript format: double spaced, large margins, Times New Roman font, Australian English spelling.

  •    The editor reserves the right to use their discretion in selecting stories.

  •    Submission period: 1 August 2014 to 15 October 2014

  •    Payment: 2 copies of anthology and Aus 2 cents/word (GST inc., maximum payment $150) on publication.

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Bloodstones, edited by Amanda Pillar, will feature tales of urban fantasy set in the contemporary world.

Due out 2012.

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Damnation and Dames, edited by Liz Grzyb and Amanda Pillar, will feature 16 tales of paranormal noir.

Ready for an adventure? Then put your coat on and step into the world of noir...

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Ishtar. Powerful, sexy, and very, very deadly. And due out in November 2011! This outstanding novella collection contains gems from Deborah Biancotti, Kaaron Warren and Cat Sparks!

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Each story in this collection has been inspired by a track from the album, Scenes from the Second Storey. Quirky, dark, insightful and sometimes downright disturbing, these tales reflect the emotions and images our authors experienced when they heard ‘their’ song from The God Machine's record.

Scenes from the Second Storey was published in September 2010. It features stories from Kaaron Warren, Robert Hood, Cat Sparks and Paul Haines among many other talented Australian authors.

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Are you looking for a dark chocolate anthology full of tales about the Morrigan goddess?

The Phantom Queen Awakes is available now. It features stories from Elaine Cunningham, CE Murphy, Anya Bast and Katharine Kerr.

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The award-winning Grants Pass is a post apocalyptic anthology, edited by Amanda Pillar and Jennifer Brozek, features stories by Cherie Priest, Ed Greenwood and Jay Lake among many other authors.

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"Grants Pass is a remarkable, disturbing, and worthwhile read, and one that is likely to stay with the reader for some time to come."

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Voices is available for sale now. You can purchase a copy online or at Fantastic Planet, Perth, and Pulp Fiction Books, Brisbane.

"Every story in Voices is of high quality, and the editors should be commended for their high standards. This is one of the best anthologies of dark fiction to have been released recently, and is highly recommended."

- HorrorScope





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