Friday, March 30, 2007

Genre Confusion ...

Currently Reading: The Screwtape Letters
Got a call from someone to verify my college alumni information for the latest directory (oh, and did I want to reserve my copy now?) As the gentleman went through my info, he noticed the occupation I had listed (through an online update, but they need to call and send postcards to verify in case I wanted to reserve my copy now).

Gentleman: "Oh, you're a writer?"

Me: "Yes."

Gentleman: "Talked to quite a few writers tonight. The directory would be a good way to keep in touch with them."

Me: "I don't want to buy a directory, thank you."

Gentleman: "Sure. Say, what kinds of things do you write?"

Me: (pause) "Well, it's mostly science fiction."

Gentleman: "Oh, like Stephen King?"

Me: ...

Me: ...

Me: (sigh) "Uh, no, (sigh) more like Star Wars."

Gentleman: "Oh, okay."

Have any examples where you had to explain your genre?

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Input From Editors ...

A prior post delved into submission formats for magazines, print and electronic. Steve Bucheit and I wondered why we didn't ever see Adobe's portable document format, or PDF, ever listed as an option.

Last week I read the February issue of Wired which reviewed a blog called Brass Goggles which linked to a new magazine called The Willows which accepts submissions formatted as PDF files. Happy coincidences.

I contacted the editor to ask why. His response was that he liked the PDF format as a writer and decided to list it as an option for his magazine.

That got me wondering the other side, why not PDF? So I started querying editors (a non-random selection) with an informal survey (very non-scientific) asking about their experiences and preferences. I received four responses. Here is a summary*:

  1. Placing text in the body of the e-mail screws up the formatting, from half the time to almost all the time. One editor who only allows this method thought writers could be better aware of formatting tools within e-mail software to fix this problem.

  2. 3 of 4 have not had problems with viruses in attached files as anti-virus software is pretty good at scanning attachments (the 4th has had problems and switched to the text-in-email method exclusively).

  3. Editors like having submissions in formats they can edit.

  4. Editors list submission formats which they can integrate into their publishing process/procedures.

Some concerns were raised about PDF files:

  1. PDF files are larger than plain text/.RTF. This can be a concern if editor has limitations on e-mail storage space.

  2. PDF files can't be edited directly.

  3. PDF format doesn't gain anything for writer/editor

My intent was to gather information, and understand the world of editors better since I don't live there. It was not to challenge individual editors to justify what they ask for or necessarily convince them to include the PDF format for submissions. However, I will say that there is some frustration for both professions.

- Writers who conduct themselves in a professional manner, can still be forced to spend a lot of time re-formatting a single story when the story is rejected and then submitted to other publications.

- Editors who try to be flexible with their guidelines, still receive a large number of poorly formatted submissions from, let us say, amateur writers.

So is PDF a middle ground? Not sure. Some of the concerns above require a little more research. I will say that, having sent out what I considered to be polite, professional inquiries, I received back considerate, well thought out, responses. As professionals, writers and editors can be partners in the process of change.

*I sent messages saying it was an informal survey. One editor volunteered to allow publication of his comments. Which made me realize I didn't ask anyone permission to quote them. To stay on the safe side, everything is summarized, no links to publications. I'll notify those who were very considerate with their time and responses that the post is up. If they want to add anything, they are, of course, welcome to do so.

Friday, March 16, 2007

100 Hours ...

Currently Reading: The Salt Roads by Nalo Hopkinson

One test* the IRS has for self-employment is 500 hours spent on business activities (props to Cheryl Mills for mentioning this some time ago). I had some concerns about tracking my time, mostly about how pathetic it would turn out. However, this is a business, damn it! Let's get some numbers and get them up front and out in the open.

I started tracking on January 23rd and passed the 100 hour mark on March 13th. 50 days for an nice whole number average of two hours per-day. If only it were all spent writing.

Website: 32.5 hours
I was moving it to a new host, re-creating all the pages, etc., whine, blah, blah, blah.

Conference: 16.5 hours
Well worth every minute.

Blog: 6.36 hours
I only counted the posts that took a while to write up. I don't know if the IRS would agree, but I see this as an extension of my website and very necessary networking with other writers. If onlu I could justify reading blogs ...

Writing: 11 hours
Ugh. I categorized this as new words on the empty page. Even so ...

Editing: 39 hours
Now we're talking. Even if new words were added, most of the activity was to make better something that had already been written. Very happy with that statistic. Quite a bit (23.5 hours) was toward the second draft of the SF novel. Six hours was on a new story (currently fermenting) and another six and a half getting an older story revised for re-submission.

Projecting forward at this pace, a total well over 500 hours.

But an average of 2 hours a day? Is that the best I can do? I have a feeling this topic will come up again at the end of the fiscal quarter.

*I am not an accountant (thank goodness) and the above is not tax advice. If you are interested in the details, check out the IRS publication on passive activity.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Fonts of Wisdom ...

Currently Reading: Lord Arthur Savile's Crime and Other Stories by Oscar Wilde
The previous post got me thinking about different aspects of story submissions. Given that there is only so much a writer can control, it makes sense to format one's manuscript as well as possible. A year ago I'd have said "Hurray for e-mail submissions!" However, now I'm inclined to send paper.

The guidelines for magazines and e-zines vary. Paper by snail mail versus e-mail attachment versus plain text in an e-mail. Some publications allow more than one option. Some have requirements within the select method (line/no line between paragraphs, etc.) So, a few questions for you all, assuming the publication allows some choices.

I go for Times Roman (is it really different than Times New Roman? And who are these new Romans and where are they roamin' to?). Something about Courier I don't like, and sans-serif just doesn't work for me. Given your druthers, what would you use?

Attachment Format?
I'll send out in Word if available, downgrade to plain text otherwise. This is where the formatting can really get wonky and requires a lot of re-editing. Anyone use RTF? Any tricks for PLAIN TEXT to *clarify* the _manuscript_? Again, assuming the guidelines allow or are vague on the point.

E-Mail Text?
This seems to be the worst option, in my opinion. If my browser e-mail wraps at 80 characters, what does the recipient see? What if hers wraps at 70 characters? Or doesn't wrap at all, requiring the reader to scroll three feet to the right for each sentence? What if it is forwarded to slush readers and has
>>various breaks and
>symbols mucking up the works? What to do?

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Rejected, Revised, Resent ...

Currently Reading: Bill the Galactic Hero by Harry Harrison

Late last week another rejection arrived. It was the second "No Thank You" for a story I had worked on for six months. A few notes on what followed:
  1. Wait

  2. I really wanted to wing that sucker back out quick, shouting behind it: "Go earn me some money!" I resisted, telling myself 'Let it lie, just overnight. Look at it tomorrow.'

  3. Edit

  4. Now, I had gone over and over and over it before submission. There couldn't be any changes needed, right? On the other hand, perhaps I had become a little bit better writer in the two months since I last saw the story. I told myself 'Just print it out. Chances are, you won't even un-cap the red pen.'

    Over 60 changes, including 1 typo, 11 awkward sentences, 10 repetitive words, and 6 acts of grammatical rebellion.

  5. Wait Some More

  6. Besides, the post office is closed on Sunday...

  7. Edit

  8. There was this tip from Boskone: print a copy in a different font than you normally use in order to catch things you wouldn't otherwise. Sure, why not. Just to double check it, right? I'm positive I caught everything I'm not happy with.

    33 more changes, including 5 I didn't catch in Times Roman. Some were words and lines I had been mulling over since the last edit. Even so, what the hell was I smoking when I wrote this?

  9. Market Research

  10. The low-down at Boskone was Asimov's is publishing more new writers. At 7,500+ words, this story doesn't have many options. I check the submission guidelines with care. Asimov's will even take a humorous story.

  11. Print

  12. I have 24lb paper in the closet, hidden away from the other members of the household. It's for their own protection since it is 110+ brightness. How bright? I could sit in the closet, close the door, and read the newspaper. I put it next to the regular printer paper and the other one curls, turns brown, and smolders. Printed words pop out like 3-freakin-D.

    Oh, it's bright, baby.

  13. Wait Some More

  14. Besides, the post office isn't open at 10 pm. Relax, it's ready.
It couldn't possibly need to be revised again. Right?

Friday, March 02, 2007

Another E-Zine ...

Courtesy of the Locus online site.

A new E-Zine has launched, called Darker Matter (this makes me wonder if there is something darker than dark matter, but I digress...)

There are some decent stories there. The big draw is the exclusive interview with Douglas Adams. Quite a trick, you might think. The interview was conducted in 1979. Good stuff, but only part one of three. We'll have to keep tuning in to read the rest of it.