Hey folks, I’ve been remiss in posting here, but like a man purchasing a box of prunes, I vow to be more regular.
I said (well, to myself anyway), that I would probably never write one of these writing advice blog posts. Who am I to give advice anyway? My success is very very modest and I’m a bit of a babe in the woods when it comes to the business end of publishing.
Then, when my daughter Magnolia showed some of the stories I helped her write and get published to her 5th grade class, one of her friends (through her) asked me if I could give him any advice on how to get his own stories out there.
Below is the letter I sent him. Maybe, if you have creatively minded children (God help you) or, if you yourself are just starting out and are a metaphorical child in terms of writing, or, if you stumble through life sort of childlike as I do (again, God help you), maybe you can glean something helpful out of this.
Thanks to my writing and reading buddies on Facebook who helped out by recommending me some kid-friendly weird books back when I wrote this.
Every writer gets started a different way, but they all have one thing in common. They don’t just think about being a writer –they write. You start by just coming up with ideas and writing them down. As long as you keep having ideas, you should always be able to keep writing. Writing’s like any muscle. It gets stronger if you exercise it regularly. That means the same as a boxer gets up in the morning and runs a couple miles or hits a bag, if you want to write, you should set aside an hour or two a day just to write, if you want to get better. Stephen King writes four hours a day, every day, at the same time. I write two hours, after my kids go to sleep at night. Some guys get up early and do it. Going to school and having homework and all that, you’ve got to do what you can afford to do, but commit. Try to write every day.
You should also read a lot. If it’s horror you want to write, start out by reading that. Read the guys whose names you’ve heard, and I’ll give you a list at the end here of others. But don’t confine yourself to reading only spec fic (spec fic is speculative fiction or genre fiction – basically science fiction, horror, adventure, superheroes, fantasy, anything that’s a bit weird or out of the ordinary). If you only read that stuff, you’ll miss out on an important part of making a story work, which is making your own story and characters believable. It won’t matter if you can vividly write about a guy’s face melting off or somebody punching through a wall if you can’t get your reader interested in the story in the first place by investing time in filling out the world it takes place in. When you write weird fiction, if you make the normal/boring stuff believable, it makes the cool stuff that much more awesome when it happens. If you write about a bus driver running down zombies in the zombie apocalypse, where’d he get the bus? Was he a regular bus driver when the plague hit? How did he react when zombies started showing up? What’s it like to drive a bus? Did he have a girlfriend, a wife, family? If you’re writing a ghost story, why’s the ghost haunting people? Who were they in life? Do the people in the story believe in ghosts? Why or why not? Think about Spider-Man. Before he becomes Spider-Man, he’s just a kid who’s kinda nerdy, gets picked on in school. Then he gets his powers, and his whole life changes. What makes him put on his mask? How does he deal with being Spider-Man in his off time? Because the kids who picked on him before don’t know he’s Spider-Man. Why doesn’t he tell them? If you don’t have that stuff, it comes across as kinda cartoony (in a Digimon sense, not say, The Last Airbender). No good writer writes in a vacuum, ignoring the world around them. In fact, you should watch and listen to everybody around you. Your whole life, everything and everyone you experience, is research. You never know when some little detail you notice and file away might come up in a story later. And again, you should read everything. Stephen King says you should read a hundred words for every word you write. It really will make you better.
Hand writing a story out on paper is OK to start. Some professional writers still do it, but I think it’s kind of a waste of time. The best thing to do is to type it right into a computer program like MS Word or WordPerfect or something like that. Publishers have guidelines (ways they expect a story to look or be formatted, the same as a paper at school), and most of them will accept stories you send them through email, so you should write your story in a program like that. If you don’t have a computer at your house, you might be able to type your story into a program and save it at the library. You can ask your teacher or the librarian or your parents how to do that. Writing in a program is a good habit because it will also correct a lot of your spelling and grammar as you go – which is very important. If you send a story to an editor full of spelling errors, they’ll give up before finishing it and throw it out. The basic format for a story submission is, you set the type font to size 12 Times New Roman, indent your paragraphs with a .5 inch margin, and set the entire document to double spacing, which means there’ll be a blank line between every line so the editor can read it easier. This is in submission format – (NOTE: WordPress probably isn’t gonna let this show up correctly. For proper submission format, check here – http://www.shunn.net/format/novel.html
The interior was dim and cluttered, the house of a man with no partner to tend to it. There were stacks of books and newspapers. Antlers and carved wooden masks covered the mantle. A pair of handmade snowshoes hung on the wall, and a harpoon. Hal took off his parka and draped his suit jacket over a chair, the red and gold medal dangling forgotten.
“I’ll make some coffee,” he said, and got busy doing it. “Get that fire going. You think it’s cold now, it’s gonna storm tonight.”
See the difference? (Nope, me neither. Sorry! Check the link)
There are a lot of markets that will buy short stories. Some of them don’t take work from writers under the age of eighteen. This is usually for legal reasons, taxes, payment, that kind of thing. Magnolia was able to publish her first story where she did because I co-wrote it. It was entirely her idea, but I wrote it out and let her have the pay. The second story was all hers. I had her tell it to me, suggested changes, but it was her. Sometimes there are calls for short stories from kids. You just have to keep an eye out for them. Magnolia’s third story is for an all-kids horror book.
The site I use to look for places to sell my work is called Ralan.com. Just type it into Google and it’ll pop up.
When you go there you’ll see, on the page, links for Pro , Semipro, Pay, Token, Anthos, Books, Under1K/Poetry/Audio, Humor/Greeting Cards, Contests.
Pro, Semipro, Pay, and Token are levels of reimbursement – the money you can get for your story. Pro rates begin at 5 cents a word and can go as high a 25 cents a word, which is pretty good. That means if you write a 2000 word story, you can make $100. It’s good money if you can get it. It also teaches you to pay more attention to description and detail when you write. The more you write, the more you get paid. I got $600 for a Star Wars story. But the first story I ever sold, I sold to a small magazine in England for $28. That’s a token payment. Semipro is usually about three cents a word, which still isn’t bad. But a token payment is a one-time payment of anywhere from $5-$30. Some places will offer to publish your story for what they call exposure, or royalty only. You should never send a story to these places, unless it’s for charity or something, because basically you’re giving your story away. Your story can only make you as much money as you believe it can. A writer should be paid what he’s worth. Nobody asks a plumber to come and fix their toilet for free, promising them they’ll tell all their friends how good the work was and maybe next time the plumber will get a paying job. Never give your work away.
Anthos means anthologies. That means the editor is putting out a book of short stories, not a magazine.
Books means the editor is looking for full length novels. That’s 60,000-150,000 words and up (10,000-49,000 words is usually considered a novella or a short novel).
Under1K – Under 1,000 words. Sometimes people call this flash fiction. Really short stories. 2,000-9,000K (I don’t know why they use a K. As an adult I should, but I don’t.) is a short story.
Poetry is just what it sounds like. Editors looking for poems.
Audio means somebody is looking to buy stories for audiobooks or for a podcast (kind of an internet radio show where somebody reads a story out loud).
Humor/Greeting Cards – yeah like those funny Hallmark cards at Target.
Contests – You submit your story, it’s judged, you win a prize. Just like an essay contest at school. Sometimes you get money for these. I personally never pay to enter one, but it’s fine to do so.
So basically, if you click on any of those headings on Ralan, it’ll take you to a list of editors looking for that type of writing. Somebody’s always looking for something. And check back often, because the listings change every week.
So here are some pretty good horror authors and stories/books you might read. They should all be at the library. A couple of them you can even find their stories online for free.
Edgar Allen Poe – The Premature Burial
Robert E. Howard – The Horror From The Mound, Pigeons From Hell, The Black Stone
Ambrose Bierce – The Man And The Snake
H.P. Lovecraft – The Call of Cthulhu, At The Mountains Of Madness
Richard Connell – The Most Dangerous Game
Shirley Jackson – The Lottery
Henry James – The Turn Of The Screw
Stephen King – Cycle Of The Werewolf
Clive Barker – The Thief Of Always
Roald Dahl – The Witches
Ray Bradbury – Something Wicked This Way Comes
Neil Gaiman – Coraline
Well, good luck! Write the stories you like reading. If you have any questions, just ask me through Magnolia.