Moving to ALEXSHVARTSMAN.COM
alexshvartsman
This is an archive of my original blog. It will no longer be updated. I've moved to www.alexshvartsman.com - please visit me there!

Spidersong
alexshvartsman

"Spidersong" will be published at Daily Science Fiction tomorrow. Or a week from now, depending on how you look at it.

DSF offers an e-mail subscription service. They'll send a shiny new story to your mailbox 5 times a week. Four of these are flash stories, short enough to read on your cell phone or during a lunch break. On Friday you get a longer story to enjoy over the weekend. If you don't subscribe to their mailing list (and there's really no reason not to, it's free and the fiction is of excellent quality), you can read the same stories on their web site. The only catch is that they are posted online a week later. So if you want to read "Spidersong" it'll be in your inbox on October 17 and then posted on their front page on October 24.

"Spidersong" was originally written for a flash fiction contest sponsored by the Shock Totem magazine. The prompt for their contest was a number of photos of trees shrouded in spiderwebs, like this one:


This surreal image is a result of heavy flooding in Pakistan. Thousands of spiders escaped the rising water into the trees, and made a home there. You can see more photos over at National Geographic or read about it at Gizmodo.

So, of course, after looking at the photos what immediately came to my twisted mind was giant alien spiders. Giant alien *telepathic* spiders. Who sing.

I had a lot of fun with this story along the way. I chose to write it in plural first person AND in present tense, which is a very unusual format in which to frame fiction. Hope you like the end result!

Paying Back
alexshvartsman
This has been a very good month for me. A number of payments for the stories I've sold earlier this year are coming in, and I'm rolling in the dough. Well, more like skating on the very thin layer of the dough that can be generated from selling very short stories for anywhere between one shiny penny and eight shiny pennies per word. Still, it's sweet.

I promised myself that once I began earning income from my fiction, I would pump some of it back into our notoriously cash-starved little industry. I'm already a consumer - I buy all the books that I want to read (usually on the Kindle). I also plan on purchasing subscriptions to F&SF and possibly a few others in the near future. Meantime, I wanted to support three of the web sites that were instrumental in helping me to get published.

First up, critters.org

Critters is an online workshop where an author can get feedback from fellow writers. It's free, but one must participate by critiquing at least one story per week. There are other web sites that do this, but Critters is perhaps the largest, best organized, and very well maintained by SF writer and programmer Dr. Andrew Burt (a.k.a. Critter Captain).

An aspiring author usually starts out by showing off their writing to friends and family. This is ego-stroking (as most of them will praise the manuscript, however mediocre it might be), but not very useful if you want to improve. On the other end of the spectrum, submitting these early attempts for publication will usually result in a form rejection letter, that doesn't point out the story's flaws.  If you are very lucky, an editor will include a paragraph or two commenting on what didn't work for them. A critique by fellow writers is far more useful. They'll pick apart both the writing and the logic of the story, question every detail you may not have even thought of, and will often help you find and eliminate flaws in your writing you weren't aware of.

The system isn't perfect. Quality of critiques ranges from absolutely amazing to utterly useless. I once had someone send me a page-long manifesto the entire purpose of which was to convince me that I should never EVER begin a short story with a line of dialogue. Which is utter nonsense, of course. Still, the signal to noise ratio on Critters is very good and it's a service I highly recommend to anyone who is starting out and to writers who do not have a good local critique group of their own.

I must admit that I haven't been using Critters myself recently. I have precious little time to dedicate to writing (hey, I hardly ever get to update this here blog!) and even less to critiquing others. When I do have time to crit, I usually do it for writers whom I've become friends with at AW (see below). Still, Critters was extremely helpful to me early on, and they easily made my list of  venues that I simply had to donate some cash to.





My current stomping grounds and a site I visit daily is Absolute Write. There are thousands of writers on their forums who share information and resources. There is a Critique component (in the Share Your Work sub-forum) as well as sections for every possible facet of writing, from genre categories to Bewares - a watchdog section keeping an eye on shady publishers and agents. I've made a lot of new friends by hanging out at AW. It's also a great place to pop in and ask a question. The level of conversation is very mature as compared with what goes on in the "Interwebs" - I've been a witness to no more than two flame wars in over a year of using the site, and both were quickly and efficiently extinguished by the moderators.





Last but not least on my list of "must-support" sites is Duotrope.com

Duotrope is a database of fiction markets for all formats and genres. It keeps track of new publications, the goings-on at current magazines, and venue closings. Much of the content is user-generated. When I submit a short story to, say, Clarkesworld, Duotrope helps keep track of my submission in a nifty database. At a glace I can see what markets my story has been to, when I subbed it, and when it was rejected. While I'm doing this, Duotrope also uses this information to (anonymously) report the recent responses at each market. Thus I know that, this week, Clarkesworld is taking 5-7 days to respond to their submissions. So when that rejection comes, I can consider response times and resubmit it to, say, Lightspeed Magazine (which responds in 1-3 days) instead of TOR.com (which takes nearly a year!).

Of course, response times aren't the only criteria to go by. Excellent markets like TOR.com mentioned above are well worth waiting for. But when you have a new market, or one you aren't very familiar with, How long will they take to respond? Are they likely to comment on your submission or send a form rejection? How easy/tough is the market to crack? Duotrope will let you know at a glance what to expect.

In the end, none of this data crunching will help sell a story. The editor will either love it, or not. Still, it's a hugely useful resource and they deserve a donation for providing it to everyone at no charge.

So there you have it - Critters, AW and Duotrope all received small, but very sincere contributions from this humble author today. If you are in a similar situation, I encourage you to use their invaluable services, and to pay it back with a donation of your own once those stories begin to sell.






Time Away
alexshvartsman
Here's a double entendre for you - while I'm enjoying time away on a family vacation in Barbados, White Cat Publications bought and published my flash fiction story of the same name. It's live already and can be read here:

http://www.whitecatpublications.com/?page_id=991



"Time Away" is one of the first stories I've ever written and it has been submitted to a whole bunch of magazines before, with varying results - from form rejections to "very close, we loved it, but it isn't the right fit." Persistence is key though. Heinlein once wrote that you should keep submitting your story until you run out of markets and, in this case, my perseverance paid off with a sale to a very nice new market. So don't give up on your stories too quickly, they don't generally have an expiration date! 

September Wrap-Up
alexshvartsman
I'm vacationing in Barbados with my family at the moment, so this is going to be a very brief update:

* Issue 1 of KZine, containing my story "A Tear in the Web," is out at Amazon.com and can be purchased here:
http://www.amazon.com/Kzine-Issue-1-ebook/dp/B005OM0RHA/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1317517600&sr=8-1

"A Tear in the Web" features a sarcastic-to-the-point-of-being-almost-bitter protagonist who runs an Internet Cafe. Just like yours truly. Hope you like it!

* FISH Anthology from Dagan Books will publish my magical realism story "Life at the Lake's Shore." This anthology's Table of Contents was just announced today and it features a number of heavyweights like Cat Rambo and Ken Liu, so I'm very excited and gratified to have made the cut alongside those authors.



This anthology is scheduled to be released in February of 2012.

* Finally, a shout out to Sam Mae whose new e-zine "Comets and Criminals" is launching its inaugural issue. Check it out here:
http://www.cometsandcriminals.com/?page_id=288


100 Submissions
alexshvartsman
Today I hit a little bit of a milestone - I've sent out my 100th short fiction submission in 2011.

I keep a spreadsheet to help me track which stories have been submitted to which magazines, and how they are doing. When you have a dozen or more short stories in circulation it would be easy (and embarassing) to submit one to a market that has previously rejected it. The spreadsheet helps me keep a careful tab on what's happening with all those submissions, and it also provides an opportunity for some data crunching, to satisfy my inner statistics geek.

So, here's a snapshot of my 2011 submissions, out of 100 total:

* Currently out on submission: 11
* Sales: 9
* Lost/never responded: 1
* Rejections: 79

It sounds like a whole lot of rejection, but I'm actually quite happy with these stats. An average SF/F magazine rejects hundreds of stories for every one they buy. My track record this year has been better than one in ten. I have already accomplished my goal of ten fiction sales in 2011 (although I sold only 9 stories submitted in 2011, I also made three sales from my late 2010 submissions).

My plan is to continue working on short fiction sales and build up a better resume of Pro market sales, at least for the next few months. I would like to begin work on a novel in early 2012, but I feel intimidated by trying to put something together with such a high word count. That is something I hope to overcome with lots of preparation and by creating a very detailed outline.

August Roundup
alexshvartsman
Various stuff has been going on (nothing majorly bad) that caused me to fall a bit behind on updating the blog. So let's catch up then:



My big news for the month of August was that I had a second professional rate sale. Buzzy Mag, a new publication that is launching in early 2012, picked up "A Shard Glows in Brooklyn" for their inaugural issue.

I love that story for so many reasons. At 4600 words, it's one of the longest stories I've written so far (I do best with brevity) and unlike many of my other stories it is a light, fun urban fantasy adventure set in my hometown of Brooklyn, New York. Even it's title is a pun, which I didn't really know if I could get away with. The story's characters and setting sort of took on a life of their own and, while it is a complete story in itself, in many ways it reads like the first chapter of a novel. There are lots of threads to create future storylines and I will definitely be revisiting the world of Conrad Brent soon. In fact, I have the second story outlined and two more in an idea stage. However, I don't know exactly when I will get around to putting them down on paper. Soon, I hope. Their titles will be puns based on famous books and movies set in Brooklyn as well.




Another sale in August was for a story called "A Tear in the Web" to a new Kindle magazine launching out of the U.K. "A Tear in the Web" is a story about a sarcastic, snarky man (like me) who runs an Internet Cafe (like I do in real life). While this story is by no means autobiographical, I certainly had a good time with ye olde "write what you know" adage on this one.

KZine is launching exclusively on the Kindle and issue 1 (with my story in it) should be out on September 30th, for about $3. I'll be sure to link to its Amazon page once it's up.

My final August sale was of "Hunger," an action-packed story of the last yeti being hunted down by the humans. I submitted it to Misanthrope Press' "The Rustle of Dark Leaves" anthology. Since much of the action takes place in the forest, I felt it suited their theme. The editor enjoyed the story, but didn't think it synced closely enough with their theme, so she offered to publish it in the magazine she edits, "Title Goes Here" instead. Of course, I was happy to oblige. It is slated for the Spring 2012 issue.

In other news, the Drabble issue with my 100-word story "Chill" in it has hit the proverbial newsstands.  You can buy it here.





READING & WRITING
alexshvartsman
There's an old Russian joke that goes something like this:

A young student is applying to a prestigious Creative Writing program at a university, and the admission board is
quizzing him about the scope of his literary education.

"Have you read any Tolstoy?" they ask.

"No," says the student.

"How about Dostoyevsky?"

"Haven't read him, either."

"Pushkin? Gogol? Chekhov?"

The student admits that he hasn't read any of them. Exasperated, he cries out:

"Don't you get it? I'm not a reader. I'm a WRITER!"


It's safe to assume that, unlike the student in our joke, most folks who care enough to write fiction are already avid readers anyway. To become any good at all, one needs to be familiar with the classics - whether it's Shakespeare and Joyce for a literary author, or Asimov and Tolkien for a spec fic scribe.

For me, at least, familiarity with the genre wasn't the hard part. The concern was more along the lines of "Holy crap, this writing thing takes up a lot of my free time. You know, that time I used to spend reading books." I used to devour books, sometimes going through as many as 2-3 novels per week. And now ... I just don't. There's never enough time. I've fallen so far behind on my reading that I haven't even gotten to some of the books released by my favorite authors in late 2010.

Recently though, I discovered something wondrous. Whenever I find a little extra time to read, I also tend to write more. Reading fiction appears to help clear out my writer's block better than any other activity. This past week I've been on a real reading binge, working my way through a terrific "Void" trilogy by Peter F. Hamilton.



Hamilton is a master of writing sweeping, intelligent space operas. His books burst with interesting ideas, are engaging, and nearly impossible to put down once the story really gets going. They are also, on average, the size of a phone book. Seriously, you can kill someone with those things. If I hadn't been reading the Void trilogy on the Kindle, carrying the books around could be legitimately considered a rigorous physical activity. So as you can imagine, finishing the entire Book 2 and making significant inroads into Book 3 all in one week took a giant bite out of what little free time I can scrounge up these days.

And yet, I'm making better progress with my writing than I have in a long time. I finished a science fiction story and tackled a magical realism tale I've been pretending to work on for weeks; it's almost done now. A fantasy short I submitted to the Shock Totem contest is back with readers' feedback and I'm now finalizing edits on that one, too. It is entirely possible I will submit not one, not two, but three brand new stories to different magazines next week. And look - I'm even updating the blog today with this rather lengthy post.

This correlation between reading and writing is welcome news indeed. It gives me an excuse to try and carve out just a little more time each week to spend doing both, and that can't be a bad thing.









Let's Get Digital
alexshvartsman
 


 
Not so long ago, self-publishing was a dirty word. It was seen by many as the last resort of the untalented, the cop-out for anyone with a few hundred spare bucks to print vanity copies of their boring autobiographies. Not anymore. The Internet is changing this, just like it’s changing the entire publishing business. Increasingly, authors are making their work available as inexpensive downloads on sites like Amazon.com, Smashwords.com and a plethora of others.

David Gaughran has championed the digital publishing model as much as anyone. He released several of his own short stories on Amazon and has shared the results on his blog. This week he published “Let’s Get Digital” – a book that not only lays out his views on the advantages of digital self-publishing, but also serves as the how-to manual on everything from preparing your manuscript, to cover design, to promoting your book. One might consider “Let’s Get Digital” yet another among many “this is how to make money on the Internet” manuals written mostly to make money for their authors. Except that David is giving his book away for free.

You can buy “Let’s Get Digital” on Amazon and other such sites, but you can also download a free PDF on David’s web site. Anyone who is considering self-publishing their novel/short story/boring autobiography would benefit from checking it out. You should, of course, buy a copy or make use of the PayPal “Donate” button if you do find the book useful.

Personally I’ve given it some thought and I’m not ready to try and bypass the establishment. There’s an immense amount of satisfaction in having an editor pluck your story from the slush pile and select it for publication. Even so, I’ve been accumulating some publication credits and sometime in the future I’d definitely consider collecting and releasing them as an eBook anthology. And when I’m ready to do that, I’ll pay careful attention to the advice offered in “Let’s Get Digtial.”
 

Woot! Two sales in one day.
alexshvartsman

Far as the writing goes, yesterday was a very good day for me.

In the morning I heard back from Daily Science Fiction - they are buying a flash SF story  "Spidersong" which I wrote for a Shock Totem contest and submitted to them just under a month ago. A sale in itself is always a very exciting thing - but this sale even more so. First of all, this is my first professional market sale (as opposed to semi-pro and paying markets I've been able to get into in the past). But, more importantly, DSF is really special to me.

They launched on September 1, 2010 and I've been reading the stories they publish almost every day since then.  There is no other science fiction publication that I read with the same consistency. They also began accepting submissions at about the same time when I started sending them out - June of last year. It's always been a goal of mine to be published with them, and in most cases they are the first market I try with my stories. Over the course of a year I submitted nine different times. A few times they held the story longer then average, or even let me know that it made it past the first round of reading - but this is the first time they bought one and I couldn't be more proud.

Later that same day I heard back from Nanoism - a magazine that publishes Twitter-length fiction; complete stories told in 140 characters or less. I don't quite understand the genre and the best solution to that is to try and write something in it. I did, and submitted my first ever 140-character story to Nanoism, which is the top market for such things. It's been over four months since and I pretty much gave up on it, thinking they either lost the submission somehow or hated it so much that it didn't deserve a rejection slip. Imagine my surprise when I heard back from the editor letting me know that he liked the story - and would be publishing it later that same day. It is up at Nanoism now and can be read over here.

I still don't really know much about Twitter fiction, having written a grand total of 2 140-character stories (second one didn't win or place in the contest it was written for) - but now I can at least pretend.


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