Novels or Short Stories

I wasn’t sure what I was going to go with for this weeks blog post.  John Miller posted on my Facebook page about a survey he has out now.  Of course I had to check it out, but it got me thinking about something else.  What do people like to read?  How does an author decide what they want to write?  Is it better to write a novel, or a short?

First, lets set some definitions here:

People have trouble defining fiction length.  This seems to the widely accepted standard.  Probably the most disputed will be Flash, as the definitions seems to vary from publication to publication.  Here are the SFWA guidelines.

Short Story: less than 7,500 words;
Novelette: at least 7,500 words but less than 17,500 words;
Novella: at least 17,500 words but less than 40,000 words
Novel: 40,000 words or more.

SFWA does not have a “Flash Fiction” definition, but I will go with what I believe to be widely accepted which is anything less then 1000 words.

As a Reader:

This is where I would love to hear for you guys.  Leave me a comment below and let me know what you like to read.  Do you like short works (Novella, Novelette, Shorts, or Flash) or do you prefer a Novel?  If so, why?

Go ahead, scroll down to the comments and let me know.  I will be here when you get back.

Thanks for you comment!

For me, I have found a recent love for Flash as a reader.  For one, I subscribe to Daily Science Fiction.  So I get short fiction (not always Flash but always on the shorter side) in my email Monday – Thursday with a longer one on Friday.   I don’t have a lot of time.  Flash fiction is a short entertaining read for me.

As I have mentioned before it is important for Authors to read.  So this is a good way for me to get a lot of reading in from different Authors.  This gives me diversity in my reading, as far as styles go.

I also subscribe to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction as well as read several e-publications.

I love a good Novel too.   So I wonder if there is any advantage to one or the other.  If you are an author, read both.

However, strictly as a reader the advantage to short is growing with our impatient world.  But I think people still like a good novel.  Something they can get connected with, live in the world for a while, and really savor.

Shorts can be really moving and powerful too.  But there is a lack of time there to really bond the reader with the story. And it can be easier to read shorts when you like to read during those brief breaks in your life (doctor’s waiting room, ect.).

So my suggestion is that if you like quick stories, with a wham and bang type impact, go for the shorts.  If you like going for gold and really bonding with a story go for the Novel.  If you like both, like I do, read both.

For Writers:

I never gave a thought to writing anything other then a Novel when I started taking up writing as a hobby.  I didn’t really know anything of the craft and didn’t think there was much of a short story market.  And really it had not ever crossed my mind.  When I began my self study in writing and professional writing, I learned that speculative fiction has one of the strongest short story markets in the industry.

So I gave a short story a try.  That first short story will be featured in the upcoming issue of Cygnus Journal of Speculative Fiction.  I liked it a lot.  It allowed me to get the immediate satisfaction of writing, editing, and eventually publishing in a relatively short amount of time.  Of course short amount of time depends on a number of things.

Well, I liked writing that short so much that I wrote my first Flash piece.  “Death Watch”, which is out now on Liquid Imagination Online, did well based on what readers have told me.  I have since written a third piece which is making its rounds at markets and I have a fourth one in the editing phase.

So I have three going on four shorts completed in a matter of around ten months.  This is a lot slower then I want, and I hope to pick up the pace.  But considering I was learning the short story market at the same time, I feel I did well to get started.

In any case, lets compare this to my Novel in progress.  While I have written out two and half novels, many years ago, those where not publishable novels.  They were things I put on paper to escape stress in my real job of the time.  Anyway, I probably still have six to eight months before this novel is ready.  I think I am may even be giving myself too little time.  We will see.  Since I have not completed a publishable novel, this is really more of a guess.  Now once it is done, it has editing, rewrites, and then query.  After query, which can take forever, I then have to submit the full manuscript.  My point, Novels take a lot of time.

So what should you write?  Well write what you like.  If you don’t like to read shorts, don’t like to write them, and don’t like anything about them, then don’t write them.  If you don’t like taking time on a Novel, then don’t write that.

I write both for the same reason I read both.  I like that shorts give me imediate gratification while Novels give me the satisfaction of crafting an in depth world and a longer work.

Please don’t misunderstand me at all.  My short stories get my entire heart and sole, just the same as my novel.  Shorts can be deep and meaningful, they just don’t have the length that a Novel has.

Of course I would be foolish not to bring up the money side of things.  So call me foolish.  (Actually since I have not sold a Novel, I can’t really compare them for you).

Final Verdict?

Well in the battle over Novels and Short Stories, I don’t really think you get a winner or loser.  It is really all about what you like.  The market for both is strong.

Leave me a comment and let me know what you prefer.  Let me know if you are a writer, reader, or both.  What do you like?

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Getting Published (Get Used to Rejection)

So you want to be a published author?  Well, me too.  Many writers do.  There are many ways to get published.  There are short works, there are novels, and of course there is the “traditional” way and the “self-published” way.  I am going to talk mostly about the Traditional Publishing Method, with a focus on short stories.

A Quick Mention to Self Publishing:

I am not downplaying self publishing, but I don’t have experience in it.  You certainly don’t have to deal with the rejection of an editor if you self publish.  It is relatively easy to get the story published in self publishing, but hard part comes in reaching an audience.  You likely don’t have an audience, and getting people to read your stuff is harder then you think.  Don’t think you avoid rejection either.  You have to get rejected by the audience and that can often be a lot worse then an editor.  At least an Editor rejection is between you and them, the public often posts it’s rejection on the web for the world to see.  Ouch!

Traditional publishing is the opposite.  Hard to get published, but most publications have an established readership.

The Cycle of Getting Published

Some of you may have recently seen my post on Twitter:

“Write, submit, get rejected, submit again. Rinse and Repeat.”

This is a pretty accurate cycle to expect when trying to get published in the vast market of short fiction available to Speculative Fiction writers.  I might modify it now to add “edit” after write.  Its a vicious cycle and it can be a damn discouraging one.  However, when you get that first acceptance letter, it can be really rewarding.  You just have to get past the discouragement and press on.  Hopefully this can act as a guide to getting past that discouragement and get you to the acceptance letter.

Step 1: Write

It seems obvious that if you want to get published you need to write.  But you can’t sit around on one short story and wait for it to publish.  You need to write and you need to write a lot if you ever plan to get published.  When you are done with one, move on to writing something else.  Keep writing.  Write in blogs (you can start by leaving a comment on this one), write in writers groups, but above all write in your Works in Progress (WIP).

Your WIP is your ticket to getting published.  I don’t know of any author who’s blog was seen and they were offered a publishing contract.  It is your WIP that you have to get out to the editors.  Find the time to write and do it.

You will improve with each completed story.  You will improve with each submission.  You will improve.  Every author has only been improved over their years of writing.

Step 2: Edit

This is where we separate the hobbyists from aspiring artists.   Editing is where most writers give up, put the WIP aside, and never touch it again.  Editing is where most people give up on their dream of being published.  There are two reason for this:

First, is perception.  They either look at their work and see it as garbage, worthless, and unfitting.  They are harsh to themselves and they get discouraged and they shelf it.  Or, they look at their WIP and see it as gold, the best thing ever written by man kind.  They don’t change a thing.

Second, they get stuck in the editing cycle.  They never stop editing.

Lets go back up to the first.  Perception.  You really need a combination of both these perceptions.  You must be your toughest critic and your biggest fan at the same time.  It is the toughest thing to do.  You have to know what works and what doesn’t.  Truthfully the writer is the only person who knows what’s best for their story.

But your own perceptions can easily get in the way.  You need that second opinion.  This is where your writers groups come in handy.  Share your work with others.  Take a look at their opinion.  Don’t be discouraged by a “bad” critique.  They will make suggestions and point out things you may not have seen.  Then you decide what works for your story and make the changes needed.  Remember you don’t have to accept every suggestion.  But even suggestions that don’t work are more valuable then you think.

The editing cycle is dangerous.  I know many writers on their eighth or ninth draft of a work in progress.  To tell you the truth, they will continue to edit from now to infinity.  They will not stop editing, as a result they will never move on to the next step to get published.  You have to know when is enough.

It may be different for each of you.  But I strongly urge you to set a limit.  For me it is four drafts and done.  I write it (draft 1).  I edit it (draft 2). I get other writers to critique it and I make changes (draft 3).  I give it to my Grammar Cop and make changes (Draft 4).  Then I go to Step 3.

This is not a hard and fast rule.  If there is a major change made in Draft 3, I may resubmit it to my writers group for critiques again.  However, the point is, I know when is enough.  You won’t please every reader, you probably won’t even please yourself.  It will never be “perfect”.  When I read my manuscripts for my published works, I still find things I would change now.  Because I have learned a lot more since I completed those.  It is part of your growth as an artist.

Move on, its best.

Step 3: Submit

Submit your story to a publisher.  Since I am focusing on Short Works that means a magazine, ezines or anthologies.  There are so many of them it is difficult to know where to start.  My tip is to aim high.  Start with a professional market.  A market that pays six cents a word or more.  They pay more, tend to have more subscribers, and what is the worse they can say?

I always start with SFWA approved markets.  It is my quest to join them someday.  After that I go to other pro markets.  Then Semi-pro, then others.

A little research goes along way too.  I use Duotrope.  A free submission tracker program that has tons of markets listed.  If they don’t have them all they are pretty damn close.  They track everything from response times to acceptance rates and everything in between.  They can give you a lot of information about a market.

After pay rate, you should take a look at response times.  Most markets will not accept stories that are awaiting a decision from other publications.  So if you send it to a market that takes five months to reply, your story will be tied up for at least that long.  So keep that in mind when you send out a piece.  It takes time to hear back.  Fast markets take 10 days, slower ones can take up to a year to reply.

Next, look at acceptance rate.  Some markets are very challenging and have less the 1% acceptance rate.  Others, have acceptance rates in the 80-90% ranges.  In my opinion, the latter is worse.  I avoid markets that seemingly accept everyone.  It doesn’t make it a very strong credit in your portfolio.  Often they have small readership because the quality of story is low.  Remember Editors act as a filter to filter out what is either poorly written and, more commonly, what doesn’t work for their readers.  With out a good filter, the quality and identity of the publication goes down.

Last, you may consider electronic or print publication.  Ezines are taking things by storm.  But, some people just really like seeing their name in print.  For me this is not really a factor.  Ezines are a creditable publishing venture now.  However, it may matter to you.

NEVER SUBMIT TO A MARKET THAT CHARGES YOU A READERS FEE!  All money should flow in the direction of the Author.  You should never have to pay someone to consider your works for publication.

Step 4:  Get Rejected

It will happen.  You will get a rejection letter.  It is more likely to be a form letter.  You will likely never know why the editor rejected it.  And you will be disappointed no matter how much you prepare yourself for it.  It is just part of getting published.

I hate this part.  We all do.  I make it a game in some ways.  I have all my rejection letters.

The form letters are the worse.  There is no way to tell what the reason they have for rejecting it.  Most likely it is a simply matter of the opinion of the editor and his/her own taste.  It rarely has anything to do with the author’s ability to write.  There people who simply can’t write, but think they can.  But mostly editors reject stories based on their own subjective opinions.

Personal Rejections are nice, for being rejections.  I have only got one.  There you might get some glimpse into what the editor was thinking.  In mine, the editor didn’t like the ending.  While is was simply one line, it let me know one key thing… the editor got to the ending.  They liked my writing enough to read to the end.  So you might get a glimpse to the editors thoughts with a personal rejection.

Rewrite requests are even better, and rarer.  There is much debate on if a rewrite request is really a rejection.  To me it is.  You can rewrite it send it back in and you are still not guaranteed to get published.  If you get one of these, you have to make the choice to do the rewrites and submit again to the same market, or simply move on.  It really depends on you and what the editor wants you to change.  I have not received any rewrite requests.

Step 5: Submit Again

I get the rejection letter, and I submit to a new market.  Always in the same day, sometimes in the same hour.  Don’t dwell on the rejection.  Submit again.  I don’t even look at the manuscript again.  Some authors do.  However, going back to the edit step, may well trap you in the edit cycle.  The one I personal rejection I mentioned about about the editor not liking the ending.  I didn’t change a thing, submitted it to another market and they bought it.  Point is, that changing for one editor’s opinion may not be wise.

Dwelling on the rejection is the part where many authors, who got past the edit step, fail.  They get that first rejection, begin to think they are not good enough (or at least the story is not), and weeks go by and the story never goes back out.  One editor’s opinion ruined their entire writing career.  Writers have to know that getting rejected is part of the publishing world, and they need to push forward.

I suggest you just move on and submit again right away.  Trying to analyze the form letter, or dwelling on the rejection, will never get you published.  The only way to get published is to submit.

Step 6: Rinse and Repeat

Really you should do Step 6 right after you submit the first time.  Rinse yourself of that story you just finished, and start at Step 1 with a new idea.  But, I put it as Step 6 because it is just as important to Rinse yourself of the rejection.  Rejection is something humans attempt to avoid.  So in short: Get over it and move on.

Get to work on Step 1 again and get yourself published.

It’s Not About the Money (The True Joys of being Published)

On August 31, 2011, I officially became a published Author with my Flash Fiction piece “Death Watch”  in Liquid Imagination.  This was a remarkable thing and such an unbelievable accomplishment.  I had not planned to reach the goal of being published so quickly.  After all, I had not started submitting anything for publication until March 2011.  “Death Watch” is only the second short story I have written, and the first Flash Fiction piece.  So frankly, I was over joyed to have it published so quickly.

Okay, enough bragging.  Lets talk about why being published is so much joy.  Truthfully I thought seeing my name in print would be the coolest part.  That seems to just one of many cool things I have found.  But first, lets talk about money:

The pay check is not the satisfying part at all.  In fact, I was surprised how little I care about it.  If you write for money you will be sadly disappointed.   At SFWA defined pro rates, you would have to publish eight hundred and forty thousand (840,000) words a year in short stories to make just $50,000.  And out here in California, $50,000 year doesn’t go far.

To put that in perspective, that is 2300 words a day with no days off.  Now editing, and submitting come into play.  Editing takes a lot more time than writing ever does.  And lets not forget that some of the most simple of editing changes can cause massive rewrites.  Submitting takes even longer.  You can usually only submit to one market at a time, and then you are at the mercy of the publication to respond.  Some publications take a long time, others are really fast (usually to reject it).  From the time I finished “Death Watch” to the date it was published was just over five months, and I am the exception.  Many of my fellow authors have waited years to get one story published.

So, assuming you can get 2300 words a day written, and you can get accepted by pro-rate markets, and they accept you fast; then you will make okay money in the writing of short stories.  More realistically you will try to turn out one short story a month (a goal I have not even achieved yet).  Assuming your short story falls into the normal range of two to five thousand words, you are looking at roughly $1440 to $3,600 a year.  This of course assumes they all get accepted at pro rate markets.

So if you are writing for money, sorry to shatter your dreams.  However, if you are like most of the Authors I have met you don’t really care about the money.  You find other joys in being published.  Joys and satisfactions far better than money.  For me, my goal was two things:  To share my stories with an audience that would enjoy them, and to see “By Richard Flores IV” in print.

I am here to tell you that is just the beginning.  In  less than four full day since I was published, I have discovered so many other things that are fulfilling to being published:

On the day I was published this site saw a 50% spike in traffic to this blog.  The unique views were the second highest they have ever been (the highest was the day I created it).  And people were looking at more of my blog then the home page!

WordPress reports that one of the common search terms to get to this blog is “Richard Flores IV”.  People are searching for me!  People want to find me!

WordPress also reported today that some one searched “Flash Fiction by Richard Flores”.  So not only was someone searching for me, they wanted to find more of my work!  To that person (and others looking):  I have another story due out in October in Cygnus Journal of Speculative Fiction.  I find it very inspiring to see that people enjoyed my work enough to want to find other things I have written.  That alone could keep me writing indefinitely.

Feedback!  I am getting an overwhelming amount of feedback on people’s thoughts about “Death Watch”.  People are sending me their praise, and I enjoy that a great deal.  I like to know that people enjoyed reading my story.  But even more so, I like the emails coming in telling me what they took away from my story.  People have sent me a number of interpretations that I had not planned when I wrote it.  It gives me satisfaction to know I wrote something that had a deeper meaning to my readers then even I planned.

Inspiring others to write.  Two people have told me that my talks about writing have inspired them to either write or resume writing.  That makes me feel good!

Perhaps the best part of being published is this (and it ties in all of the above):  I have readers!  After all, the real reason any of us become authors is to have readers.