Thursday, October 6, 2011

Writing Pitfalls, Blunders, and the Importance of Reading

As editors, we’re constantly asked for free advice on how to improve a story, how to get published.  When we talk to these writers, we’re always surprised at how few actually cover the basics in terms of writing, editing, and submitting.
So, we’re dedicating this blog to a few areas that are worth re-mentioning.
One huge difference a writer can make with his/her story is proof-reading. DON’T RELAY ON SPELLCHECK! Please, take the story and set it aside for a few days, and then re-read it. Aloud if necessary because it will help you spot simple grammatical and clerical errors. Sometimes a simple read through after setting a story aside can make or break the story being rejected, or being sent further up the ladder towards acceptance.  As writers ourselves, we’re guilty of missing simple errors in our stories as well. For example, A.W. had a story with the line, “parlor tick” when it should have read “parlor trick.” Spell-check didn’t catch the error, but reading it aloud did.
                Another issue with spelling involves numbers. Unless it’s a date, time, or an address, spell out the numbers. It makes the piece look polished, and shows a little sophistication on the part of the writer. Editors cringe (it’s a frequent theme amongst us and our editor friends) when they see a piece with numbers littered throughout. Take the extra time and spell it out. Trust us on this.
                Phonetic speak is a tough one to pull off. Most of the time, it doesn’t work. Mark Twain pulled it off with Tom Sawyer, but again, most writers aren’t Mark Twain. Spinning one or two words and using them to establish a dialectal accent is much easier, and works just as well.
                Parentheses. Telling a story, and using multiple blocks of parentheses to add minor points, side notes, tangents, and character quirks pull the reader from the story.  There are a few writers that can pull this off. Dan Brown does it well in Digital Fortress. But again, it’s a tough sell for a lot of editors. As one editor friend told us, “who wants to read a story, within a story, within a story.” If it’s important, find a way to put it in the story. If not, omit it. 

The second big issue deals with the submission process. PLEASE, PLEASE READ THE GUIDELINES. Not just for submitting to us, but to any magazine. We do batches of stories in groups of ten.  Nearly three out of every ten have some sort of guidelines blunder. Editors don’t make submissions guidelines up to test a person’s ability to read. Having the stories submitted in our formatted guidelines actually makes it easier for us to edit, layout, and print our magazine. There are some stories we like and want to give a go, but re-formatting a piece is a hassle and frankly isn’t an editors’ responsibility.  We’re writers ourselves, and that means that we go through and read each market’s guidelines. If they want single space, right justified, that’s what they get. NEVER, EVER just submit your story with the thought that the editor will overlook it, change it, or ignore it. Don’t think, “well most of the markets I submit to want it like this and I don’t want to change it.” Taking pride in your work means following it through to the final submission process.
                The third, and probably the most important but least discussed topic is rejection emails. Every writer gets rejected-Dean Koontz, Nora Roberts, even me. Rejection sucks, but it’s part of the writing process. It took John Grisham over a hundred submissions before A Time To Kill was picked up by Winwood Press. Tenacity helps create a thick skin. But something that turns off editors to your work (and future submissions from you), is the nasty, snotty email sent in response to a rejection. When A.W. and I reject a story, we try to explain our reasons why. Sometimes it doesn’t fit our guidelines (story is too long and you didn’t quire), or its not dark enough.  We also try and give pointers on how we feel, in our opinion, the story could work better. So it’s always funny to see at least one email stating that the rejected piece in question was written for a larger publisher (who just couldn’t print it this time), or pointing out that they are a five time Bram Stoker Award Winner (again, that doesn’t matter to us. It’s the merit of the story.) So before you take the rejection too personally, stop and think about it.
                Lastly, be comfortable with your writing. If you hate steam punk and don’t like it, don’t write it because odds are its going to come off as stale and forced.  Join a critique group; we both belong to Critters and Critique Circle. They are just two of the great peer critique groups that help us improve our stories.
                Just remember, these are our thoughts, opinions, and tools that we’ve picked up as writers and editors over the years. The central objective for any writer is to get their story out there. So go forth, put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard, take your camera in hand….and create. The world is a dull place without the likes of you talented folk.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Poe, Lovecraft, Anthologies, and Subscriptions

We've been asked several times on our Facebook page as to whether or not we're planning on doing an anthology on H.P. Lovecraft, like we are doing for Edgar Allen Poe? The short answer: possibly.

The long answer is a little more complicated, with several factors to consider. We don't get a lot of Lovecraftian pieces now, so I'm not sure if there is a need for an entire anthology dedicated to him. Also, AW and I aren't passionate when it comes to Lovecraft. We recognize his impact on literature as a whole, especially in the horror genre. His monsters are suburb. But for us, we just aren't as impressed by Lovecraft as others. To each their own.

But it would be crude for AW and I not to tip our hats to the man who made Cthulhu. But would an anthology be necessary, or perhaps an entire edition of the magazine dedicated to him? As I suggested (always playing devil's advocate), then 'wouldn't that implying that we think less of Lovecraft than we do of Poe?'

We acknowledge that it would be a challenge for us personally, as we aren't passionate about Lovecraft. While it won't make or break an anthology, we believe that our passion and drive for the dark speculative fiction we love is what's made Bete Noire Magazine so successful.

Ah, quagmires. And decisions.

So, we want some feedback? Anthology for Lovecraft? Would a magazine edition to him suffice? What other themes do you want to see in terms of anthologies? Inquiring minds...

Oh, and lastly, because we've been doing extremely well at the Cons and magazine subscriptions, we're offering a special:

One year's subscription to Bete Noire Magazine, $26, plus a FREE copy of our upcoming anthology, In Poe's Shadow. See for details.

So mull it over, and get back to us. And as always, thank you for your patronage, your support, and your creativity.


Friday, April 8, 2011

The dreaded LY and the next generation writers: Pet Peeve words of the month...

As a writer and an editor, I've had a lot of years honing and polishing my craft. I've learned to take the knocks like any other writer, and learned to listen when editors, fellow writers, editors, and fellow grammarians offer advice on how to improve that craft.

That's why it amazes me that so many of the books today that we pick up, we seek clunky and rough adverbs that, had the writer and editor taken notice of, would have made the book or story a better read. Mass market media is publishing sub par fiction at a rapid pace, but is it doing the literary movement and its sub-genres any good? Currently, I'm on the fence on this.

In the positive, there are more writers on the market than there have been, so new talent is just waiting to be discovered. There are a lot of great up and coming writers out there, so in this instance it helps propel them into the mainstream.

On the negative side, most of the stories and books that I've come across and that are submitted to us contain too many of these clunky and rough adverbs to make the read readable, much less enjoyable. When I spend a full minute tripping over a clunky sentence, I've lost interest and attention in the story.

Some recent offenders I've found from Bantam, Doubleday, Spectrum, and St. Martin's Press:(spellings are as printed in the text)

Gentlily (Not gently. Gentelily. Gently I can live with, but not the other word.)
Annoyedly (Not annoyingly, which would have been a slight improvement, but a past tensed adverb. Those are the worst.)

Straight Facedly

....Now some of these aren't as bad offenders as others. I don't mind deftly, blankly, or madly. They aren't great, but there are times in creating your prose that you can't avoid the adverbs. But certainly not prettily, straight-facedly, or gentleily. Especially not the last. Prettily is a favorite of Poppy Z. Brite, and can be found strewn through Lovecraft. But it makes for a clunky read.

Example: "They sat in resturants that were prettily decorated."
Too clunky, and unpolished. A better rewrite:
"They sat in elegant resturatnts."

Its a pet peeve of these editors, and its a sad phase that I see as a continous hallmark of the up and coming writer. In fifty years from now, I feel that its going to be a sad trait among when fellow generations of readers and writers look back on literary works of today, and find it paved with bad adverbs.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS: In Poe's Shadow Anthology

Bete Noire Magazine is proud to announce its first annual anthology, In Poe's Shadow, a collection of short stories inspired by the stories of Edgar himself.  It's our pleasure to pay homage to the great Mr. Poe, and what a better way with a modern re-telling of his best works.

What do we want from you?

Give us your modern retelling of one of Poe's stories, and if we accept it, you receive $25 (per accepted story), plus one copy for your very own.

Reading period starts July 1st - July 31st. While we realize July is several months away, we know a lot of our frequent writers have to maintain the servitude of their day jobs to pay the rent, so its our little way of giving you a head's up. (And the paperboy says I'm not nice...)

For more information, please see our offical website for further details...

so, go forth my young Jedi writers and put your best Poe forward....

An Editor's Job is never easy...

Like the title, I can't say it enough. An editor's job is never easy. As a editor, I spend on average 6-8 ours hper day reading stories, offering fair and honest critiques of the work, giving possible suggestions, and making necessary editing changes for works that are accepted.

Another couple of hours is spent downloading new submissions, organzing them into batches, and sending out the dreaded rejection letters.

I want, at times, to just send off a general rejection form letter like a lot of these hack publications do(you know, 'Dear Contributor....thank you for your submission, we are passing.) But we try to be more than that. We, as writers ourselves, know how much time and planning goes into writing a story or poem. We know how it feels to pour a peice of a yourself into your work, only to have it rejected. Yes, as writers, we still get rejection letters too.

Which is why we try to be different with ours. We want to offer some guidance, some hope. After all, our job as editors are to critique the work as a whole, and that includes offering suggestions on how to turn a good work of fiction into a great work. We always stress that its 'our opinion', stating that the writer should always do what they feel is right for their story creatively, even if its ignoring our suggestions.

Part of being a writer, and we can't stress this enough, is learning to take rejection. After a barrage of emails from one writer in particular this reading period, we decided to post a few helpful suggestions.

-Telling the editors that the peice was written for (insert big name publisher here) might impress, but its not a guarentee, so please don't take offense if its rejected.
-arguging with an editor about his/her spelling typos because you're pissed your work is rejected is juvenile. Remember, most editors get hundreds, if not thousands of submissions (ourselves included). Even as editors, we make spelling mistakes too.
-stating that others have said your work is compariable to Poe, Shakespeare, Twain, or Salinger after receiving a rejection in a plea to get your work published doesn't make you look professional.

Most editors network with other editors, and we do talk shop. We've never had to blackball a person for beligerance, but it came close this time. Sometimes the submissions aren't what we are looking for. It happens, its nothing personal. We have only a finite amount of space, and we can only choose the best. It by no means says a writers work sucks, it just means its not for us. Odds are, another editor might like it.

Overall, we've received a lot of great response by how much we put into our personal responses to the submissions. It's a goal we set for ourselves when we started Bete Noire. So please, keep the stories and poems and artwork coming...(even the creepy clown ones, though they freak me out).

See you next reading period....