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Writing: Rejection Letters

On one of my writers’ lists we started discussing rejection letters. These have ranged from the ones that say, “I love your novel but have no idea how I would market it,” to form rejections.

In the range of rejections I’ve received is the acceptance letter from a new magazine that said they had “excepted” my story. I thought they had rejected but they hadn’t. Though the magazine didn’t make it to the first issue, I did get paid.

I have had many form rejections along the vein of “Thanks for your submission but it’s not right for us.” Fairly banal and doesn’t tell you anything of why they didn’t accept your poem or story. I have had the form rejections that are annoying and less than helpful. They’re usually the ones that say something like: “Thanks for your submission but we have decided not to accept it. The reason we reject pieces could be grammar, spelling, we’ve seen the plot before, flat characterization, not enough conflict, the editor was drunk, the editor hates stories about X, bad phase of the moon, we’re not paid enough to care, we don’t like you or your little dog too, etc.” Okay, maybe they don’t say all of these things but they may as well because, really, it’s a shot in the dark for any one of the reasons.

Asimov’s used to have a super irritating one for slushpile authors. It inspired me to write a poem about it that Starline published. I gave Gardner Dozois a copy when I met him at a convention, and I did eventually get out of that slushpile and that annoying letter. There have been a few that were downright insulting and snobby. Why editors think they need to do this to authors, I’m not sure but it usually bespeaks of nonprofessionalism in the magazine too.

I received one from a humor publisher done in the form of a breakup letter. I’m sure they thought they were being cute and funny but I would have rejected it for not being humorous at all and I found it more annoying in its coyness than anything else.

Some rejection letters use a checklist where there are boxes with such things as: plot has been done too often, grammatical issues, not enough conflict, characters flat, dialogue unbelievable, etc. The editor then checks the boxes  that pertain to your submission. Many of these letters also have the box that says, just not right for us, which is a valid reason. These rejections are marginally better because they may give you an idea of what doesn’t work in the story. I haven’t seen any of these for a while now. Either I’m getting personal rejections or the places I send work to just don’t use them.

The best rejection is one that says something about why the editor is rejecting a piece. Although this can often be subjective and once in awhile, downright stupid, (editors are people too) more often it will give you an idea of what is stalling the piece. An example of receiving some information and trying to correct the story is displayed by this one piece that I have never managed to sell. It takes place on an alien world with insectoid and larval creatures. I’d send it to one magazine and would be told the story was too alien and the reader couldn’t relate to the creatures. I’d rewrite and send it out to another magazine and receive back a rejection saying my aliens were too human. I did this for a bit, always having it rejected. Then I didn’t bother to rewrite the story in between the submissions and sure enough, one editor would say “too alien” and another “too human.” I’ll probably never sell that story until I’m a famous chestnut. So rejections must be taken with a grain of salt.

In the writers’ group, most of the writers said they’d prefer an informative rejection. Sometimes that rejection, after editors have held the story for a second reading, seems to be less preferable, but then it means I’m getting close. A no-no is to write back to editors and lambaste them for rejecting your piece. Professionals take it as part of the process and we chalk the annoying ones up to part of the experience. I always try, as an editor, to give a reason for rejecting as it hones my own skills and I know how much writers appreciate it. And so far, I have had letters of thank you but no one calling me names for rejecting their piece of genius.

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Writing: Bitter Writer?

Back in September I wrote the blog Writing: Things to Watch Out For https://colleenanderson.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?action=edit&post=445 On my other blog I received a letter titled “Bitter Writer Syndrome” a while back but didn’t get time to comment until now. Well, I pissed off Mr. Hobbes, and he was correct in that I presumed he was the head of Hobbes End Publishing, but at the time when I did research through the internet I didn’t find that information. Hobbes End website now mentions that Jairus Reddy is the publisher. http://hobbesendpublishing.com/index.html

So let’s look at Mr. Hobbes’ comments. (I have posted his full letter at the end so I can’t be accused of unfavorable editing.) “Being paid for one’s writing (rare in the industry) is not prostitution, but professionalism.” It is a matter of perspective and really we can all say we prostitute ourselves whenever we sell something for money, whether our services or our art. Of course what I meant was, selling oneself too cheaply. And yes, new writers do need to start somewhere and $100 is decent for 1,500 words but not for 30,000. Being paid for one’s writing is not rare in the industry. Book publishers, respectable book publishers, do it all the time. Just ask Random House, Bantam, Tor, Baen or any of the big name speculative publishers (or mainstream too).

Then he says: “The reason publishers ask for all rights is something that might be above your understanding.” It’s very well within my understanding and what Mr. Hobbes does not know is that in fact respectable publishers, as the ones named above do not take all rights. In fact, you can look at many smaller publishers such as Edge Publishing, Bundoran Press, Nightshade Books, etc. and none of them take all rights. I think it is he who is under the veil of misunderstanding.

Next he comments that the anthology he is editing “will also be highly publicized and promoted, which I can say most publishers don’t do. Many thousands of dollars will be spent doing so. Also, since you have not read our contract, you wouldn’t know what offers we are making towards secondary rights.” Any publisher who wants to stay in business promotes. But let’s look at Mr. Hobbes’ (along with authors Benoit and Palmer) first book Exiles in Time: The Contrived Senator. I did a google search of his name and the two titles for the book. I found the publisher’s website and of course the book listed on various online bookselling sites, such as Amazon. Granted that advertising also means ads in magazines, other print formats and local areas, I can’t know how much the publisher has put into this book. But of the four reviews on Amazon for the book, two were by the Reddys, owners of Hobbes End. I could find no review anywhere else and certainly not on any of the normal SF review sites. So uh, highly publicized? I also have to wonder what could possibly be their “secondary rights” after they’ve taken all of the rights. That’s a mystery that Mr. Hobbes didn’t elucidate.

“You mention, over and over again, magazines. However, this is not a magazine. This is for a novel.” That’s even sadder, taking all rights on a 30,000 word story as opposed to a 200 word article, not that one is better than the other. And I did, in my post, talk about publishers of magazines and books, who really don’t take all rights except for a few exceptions. He also says: “The financial risk is to the publisher—the opportunity is to the writer. Unlike a magazine, which is taken off the shelves monthly, this one will stay in publication indefinitely.” Except the writer also has a financial risk in trying to sell their work and get paid what they’re worth. And Mr. Hobbes is wrong. Books in chain stores also get taken off the shelves monthly or even after two weeks. Places like Chapters will keep a small smattering of some titles. Privately owned bookstores will keep books longer on the shelves and likewise for magazines that may not be monthly; some of them will keep these till they sell them all. It varies. The only guarantee is to have your book on Amazon, listed with thousands of others, whether self-published, small press published or major book published.

Mr. Hobbes added: “However, I have seven more [books] coming out next year, three of which are through major publishers.” I did a search and have found nothing listed but I no longer get the sneak previews into the upcoming  lists as I did when I was a book buyer. However, nothing is listed except the co-authored books on the Hobbes End site. I’ve found no other info. I have no idea what the quality of the writing is in these books or where else he’ll be published. Eventually, I’m sure we’ll see the lists and it’s up to each person what they think of a story. That is very prolific and Mr. Hobbes should be congratulated on completing three books plus the co-authoring of the others (which he didn’t mention they were co-authored).

He ends with a good thrust: “It sounds as if you suffer from ‘Bitter Writer Syndrome’. It happens to the best of writers who don’t seem to understand the risks publishers take to make it in the industry. Blaming publishers for not paying them ‘what they are worth’ is curable. If you want to ‘make it’ in this industry, I suggest you research before you post such nonsense.”

 Bitter writer? Nah. I’ve published enough and work on my novel. I’m about where my energies have taken me. And I’m afraid I understand the industry much better than Mr. Hobbes does and I know that buying all rights is not the norm nor fair. Buying all rights in perpetuity for a hundred bucks is not something I would ever do, even if I was selling my first piece. And over the years of selling pieces I have been careful not to sell to such rights. It’s one reason I pulled my poem from Sotto Voce, because I could not agree to their selection of rights.

As I said before, each person must make their own decision on what to give away and what to sell, and for how much. I do apologize to Mr. Hobbes for saying he owned the company but I would also suggest that perhaps he was just a bit bitter himself about my comments. And in reality, it all boils down to taking all rights which I caution writers to think more than twice about before they do it. But I don’t think I’ll be submitting to Hobbes End, not that they’d buy anything from me now anyways. 🙂

Bitter Writer Syndrome?

In response to your blog, “Things to Watch out for”—

You begin by stating that $100.00 is not a fair price. Everyone who has submitted thus far has had no issue with making money for their writing. Few writers do, and the intent with this project is to help out first time authors. Being paid for one’s writing (rare in the industry) is not prostitution, but professionalism.

The ad is clear and any writer who has a problem with ‘all rights’ is welcome to not submit. The reason publishers ask for all rights is something that might be above your understanding. The financial burden taken on by publishers is insane. Editors, printing, distribution and promotions add up. A writer is always welcome to self-publish if he or she worries about such things.

Each of our writers for this anthology will receive credit for their work. They will also be highly publicized and promoted, which I can say most publishers don’t do. Many thousands of dollars will be spent doing so. Also, since you have not read our contract, you wouldn’t know what offers we are making towards secondary rights.

Hobbes End Publishing is not a new publishing company. And your comment about ‘pros not submitting’ is uncalled for, since the point of this project is not for the pros, but for new writers.

You mention, over and over again, magazines. However, this is not a magazine. This is for a novel. It will receive major distribution and advertising. This will not only give authors opportunity to break into the industry, but give them the chance that other publishers, and magazines, don’t allow. The financial risk is to the publisher—the opportunity is to the writer. Unlike a magazine, which is taken off the shelves monthly, this one will stay in publication indefinitely.

What you should be complaining about are the publishers who make writer’s pay for their work to be published.

I have had one novel published by Hobbes End Publishing, you are correct. However, I have seven more coming out next year, three of which are through major publishers.

Also, make sure to check your facts. I have no ties to Hobbes End Publishing, with the exception of writing for them. I am not an owner and in no way control their agreements amongst writers. Please check your facts before stating what you do not know about. The company was simply named after a story I wrote.

It sounds as if you suffer from ‘Bitter Writer Syndrome’. It happens to the best of writers who don’t seem to understand the risks publishers take to make it in the industry. Blaming publishers for not paying them ‘what they are worth’ is curable.

If you want to ‘make it’ in this industry, I suggest you research before you post such nonsense.

Sincerely,
Vincent Hobbes

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Writing: Rights & Contracts

I decided to withdraw my poem from being published in the online magazine Sotto Voce. Often one is paid little to have a poem published. I’ve received everything from $5-$100 for poetry. Of course, I would like to get more rather than less but I’ll sell a poem for $10 if the magazine looks respectable. What I won’t do though, is give my poem away for free.

Likewise, I do read contracts and do take them seriously. Sotto Voce stated they had exclusive rights to put the poem on their website for 120 days. Okay, not a big problem and fairly standard. They also said that at the end of that period all rights revert to the author, but then went on to say they took the nonexclusive right to keep the poem in their archives, as well as using it in a print, audio or other format, should they so choose.

Keeping something in a magazine’s archive is becoming more standard and some magazines will take it down should you resell the piece. Others may not. I could live with that but the nonexclusive rights on print, audio and other were bothersome. Most publishers may ask for the nonexclusive right, which often means first refusal on a print anthology (or whatever they specify) but they will at that time negotiate to pay for that right. Some magazines may say, we take print and anthology rights.

Their use of having an open-ended nonexclusive right in which they informed me that they would not pay additionally bothered me. It also meant that should I try to sell the poem to a print magazine I could jeopardize that sale because it might have been printed already. Given the vagueness of their all-encompassing, nonexclusive rights, I wasn’t sure that I would be notified if they used it elsewise.

Normally, each right is a separate thing: world rights, first North American rights, electronic rights, audio rights, print rights, etc. It’s a hodgepodge and can be very confusing and many publishers will try to lump it all together to get as much as they can for the price of one. I usually ask if I’m not clear, and contracts are often weird legalese. Since I neither needed the modest pay nor the publishing credit (though it’s always nice to have more) and because I was uncomfortable with this contract and didn’t like the exclusive nonexclusive rights they seemed to be taking, I said no after consulting with other writers (just in case I was getting overly picky).

Often contracts can be adjusted. When I receive a written contract I will sometimes write in or cross off something. So far no one has said no to those changes. There is leeway in most cases. Sotto Voce didn’t seem to want to do this and their contract was online with places just to fill out. Not much room for adjusting it. If they had paid more I might have gone with selling the poem to them. But not for peanuts.

Harlequin also had a fairly specific contract that asks for all rights (print, online, audio, ads, etc.) for a period of time. However, they are paying a whole lot more and the contract has a clause that should they go to other formats or languages, reprint, digital, etc. that those fees will be negotiated. I asked the editor about some parts of that contract but decided to go with it, although Harlequin doesn’t specify how long they keep those rights before releasing them. That bothers me and in retrospect I maybe should have put a limit. It might not be too late.

Contracts really do take experts and the wording is often vague or misleading. There are lawyers that specialize in such but we little writers don’t tend to go that route for small sales. There are agents who also specialize in understanding contracts and if you’re selling a book, they can help with the nuances of the rights. As well, many small publishers don’t always realize what they’re asking for and sometimes need educating. In the past I’ve had to mention this to a few new publishers. In the end, it’s up to each person as to what they’re comfortable with selling or giving away. And to me, it’s not about the money so much, but about respecting the writer and the writing.

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How a Blog is Different Than an Article:By Me Anyways

Last year I researched and wrote a blog for a marketing company. They knew they wanted a blog but they didn’t know really what a blog was or what the different types were. So I did up a paper and printed off different blog sites to show them. I wrote a blog for the length of the contract where, because of what they marketed, they found the blog wasn’t really helping them a lot. It was also very specific and I warned them that there was a limited life on what could be written about.

Blogs can serve several purposes. There are the dear diary, hello my friend styles that are personal, chatty and set for people who know the writer. There are blogs done by companies, which can be troubleshooting or informative, advertise and raise sales. These might be in an informal style or have a particular voice. There are blogs that are for entertainment (gossip of the stars, humor, trivia) and blogs that are opinion pieces (or rants). Of course, you can have a blend of entertaining and informative, or opinion and chatty, or whatever.

I write a blog for several reasons. As a writer, when I can’t get to writing fiction every day, it gives me some exercise in writing. With a keen interest and opinion on many things I like to write about them and share my knowledge or insights, sometimes see if there are like minded people out there or if I’m just off the wall. Sometimes it’s to inform and sometimes to entertain. I also post some previously written articles that had a limited exposure on sites long gone.

What I don’t do with a blog is research very long. These are often personal interest, comments on current events or informative pieces. But the way I see it, I don’t have time to do a lot of research, unless I’m being paid. When I write an article for a magazine I do more in-depth research that might include interviews, going to the library, and some good ole fashioned legwork on top of internet research.

An interesting observation that I’ve noticed in general with my blog pieces. Since I started this blog in April, the entry “A Whole Rainbow of Possibilities” (on gay pride) probably had the most hits in a day. The “Fuel Efficient…” article had a lot of interest at first. The “Stones of Ireland” has been my most consistently read piece and the “Teenage Sex and Teachers” has skyrocketed over the weeks since I wrote it. I can conclude only that if you have sex in the title, especially coupled with teenagers, you’ll get many hits. Maybe I should title everything with sex. Sex Chocolate Chip Cookies. Sex Looking for a New Car. Sex Shopping for Clothes. Etc. I wonder how that would skew the views from those just looking for sex.

But in general, when I’m writing a blog entry I’m going on my memory and knowledge and some internet searching. Usually some Wiki and a few other sources, such as reliable newspapers or specific sites to do with the topic. So a blog satisfies my need that people will read it. Maybe not a thousand hits per day (yet! Unless I put sex everywhere) but still I’m one small voice in the cave. And of course I write because it’s fun.

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Writing Update

My two copies of The Mammoth Book of the Kama Sutra arrived in my mailbox yesterday. It’s a hefty, trade paperback with black and white illustrations for all positions. Not all are done into stories but they’re all describe. My story “Janukurpara” is one of many written in exotic or Asian settings. It’s edited by Maxim Jakubowski and published by Robinson, in the UK, and Running Press in the US.

Two poems have also been accepted for future publication in PanGaia magazine. They are “Of the Corn” and “Secrets of Trees.”

This review has just come out at The Fix on Nemonymous 8: Cone Zero. I still can’t tell you which story is mine but the review is there in great detail. .hmmessage P { margin:0px; padding:0px } body.hmmessage { FONT-SIZE: 10pt; FONT-FAMILY:Tahoma } http://thefix-online.com/reviews/cone-zero-nemonymous-8/

I’ve completed a couple of flash fiction pieces, a couple poems and a story. I’m working on a skewered fairy tale right now and can give more information once I know it’s accepted. And I’m considering applying for a larger grant to take some time to write my novel. I have limited days and must get going on that soon.

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