Tag Archives: Writers Resources

Writing: Romances, the Pride and the Shame

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Making fun of Harlequin covers is a favorite past time of some, and could be one reason my friend doesn’t want it known she wrote romance novels.

I’ve was talking to a friend of mine who in the distant past wrote and sold several novels to Harlequin. She did this at a time in her life when she was a single mother of two  and was trying to support them while putting herself through school. She is an artist who does beautiful paintings now.

Now the interesting thing is that Harlequin is viewed by some as low brow and by others as prestige. Low brow because we’re just reading those trashy romances and if you write a trashy romance, well, you’re not a real writer. Prestige because Harlequin pays quite well, is a successful publisher and you’ve written for Harlequin. Perspective, you see. I have another friend writing and trying to sell romances right now and she thinks it’s a great thing to do.

Harlequin as a publisher is one of North Americas more stable publishing houses. Writers tend to be paid fairly well because Harlequin has a high sell-through. Although the stories might be a paper chick flick and perhaps formulaic in the guy and gal always get each other in the end, there is a lot of range in their romance novels these days from mildly titillating to downright penetrative, in all senses of the term. Harlequin has been branching out as well into fantasy and other genres, whether werewolves, vampires or some other creature that goes bump in the night and indeed they still must go bump. I did sell one story to a Harlequin fairy tale anthology and of course it was romantic and/or erotic.

The Romance Writers of America is not only a well-attended association of writers and would-be writers but also brings in top agents and writers to local conferences. I know several people who have joined the RWA just for these aspects, even if they do not write romance. Basically romance today is not your mother’s romance.

So, this conversation with my friend was quite interesting. I present it here, edited because she does not want her name revealed. In fact I have never ever been able to find out what name she wrote under and I’m only one of a few people who even know she wrote romances.

No, I don’t care if folks think of me as what I am. ;D ….. I mean that’s how I caught my beloved D by being wild and lascivious, isn’t it?

Well that’s a lie…at least the part about me not being embarrassed about people really knowing who I am. Just so you know…I do not tell anyone the name I wrote under because I did it for the money…and only the money for my girls. When I do speak of my writing it is mostly because I really want the person I’m talking to , to understand that I really do understand the pressures of creating something salable, like a story or a book…for a paycheck.

My writing was an act of desperation. I wrote like an East End drug addicted prostitute whores herself. I

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My friend juggled a job, going to school, raising two girls and writing romance novels. Creative Commons: Misty de Vries, Mercator

had  two kids to feed and  I needed to earn more money. I had no child support and a barely above min. wage job. I started writing  after work when the girls were in bed, I wrote on the bus going to work, lunch breaks at the store, I wrote on a scribbler, took it home and then wrote it up of the typewriter later that night (yes, she did all this before computers). Being dyslexic, it was like slavery. I had to concentrate so hard even when I was utterly bagged. I had no grace, no time to muck about and, God help me, if I screwed it up because then  my children would go without. So I wrote what I knew would sell and did it as quickly as I could type up the pages. I could not think of another way to earn enough money to look after T and K. I was so tired all the time my writing could not be the least jot original. I was caught between the rock and the hard place with no help. My family would not help me. I had shamed them with my divorces. My mother cut me off, not that she had ever supported me but she made it clear, as she said, I had made my bed …. If I was broke, it was my fault. As a solution I turned to writing because it was  something I could crank out while being at home with my children.

My writing is not something of which, I was ever proud. That is not to say I am not proud of the accomplishment of using my wits to take care of the girls.

I am.

But I was  not  nor ever will be, a  writer. I was, by  some miracle and a short period of time,  an adequate hack, which is something else entirely.

Also It was not a happy time for me. And the whole writing thing is forever tainted in my mind with all of that  desperate hungry  unhappiness.

A few years ago when my health took a little turn I tried writing again; but this time I tried to write stories I might want to read. I tried a lot, then some more… I tried and tried.

I went back to drawing.

So at last, I will get to the  point, I will enthusiastically pass on my recommendations. And for your piece of mind. I will also run them through the spell checker… so they won’t think an idiot wrote them. Don’t you love computers!

Talk about stress! A part of me wishes I had never said anything or agreed to  your request.

So… to the issue at hand. There were 5 in all.

She has her reasons for not feeling she was a writer, and she feels her novels were not very good. I’ve never read them (or any Harlequin) for that matter, so I don’t know the quality. However, I told her that she was an inspiration…because she wrote, and finished several novels and sold them. That in itself is a great accomplishment. I know because I’ve been working on my second novel for ten years! I plan on finishing it by April because it’s getting ridiculous. So while my friend feels she was a hack who wrote to survive, I wish I could write as a full-time job. These days it’s even harder to sell something because there are so many more people writing and computers and the internet made it easier. But I’ll still hold my friend in high regard, even if I never find out what she wrote or what name she wrote under.

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Writing: Rejection Letters

Ah rejection letters, how I hate thee. Who doesn’t? We all want to be perfect and have all our pieces sell first time out. Chances are that if I was writing in the 50s I would be selling most pieces, but then probably some of my stuff would be banned since mindsets have changed since then.

One thing you can usually depend on when writing and submitting work is that you’ll receive back some indication as to whether your piece is rejected or accepted. A rejection might not be more than a boilerplate email, where the same message is sent to all rejectees. It might be a short personal note, with even a brief indication of why the editor didn’t accept it. Sometimes rejection letters are a combo of boilerplate with a personal note. And some editors have different degrees of rejection letters, from no thanks ,to no thanks but send us your next.

There are a few magazines that don’t send rejection letters, such as AdBusters. Personally, I find this rude and if I can go to the effort of sending my work in they should be able to go to the effort of hitting reply to send a response. I find I don’t really tend to send to magazines where I can’t gauge when they’re done with it, or I might simultaneously submit (sending to more than one publisher at the same time).

Interesting to note that as I was recently throwing out old rejection letters I found long talky rejections from editors. These were

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Ah, rejection, too constant a companion. Creative Commons: http://gettingpublished.wordpress.com/2011/03/22/coping-with-rejection/

from the 90s when the internet was still a youngling and letters actually came in the mail, and I guess, editors had time. I didn’t even remember being on first name basis with some of the editors who took time to tell me what worked and what didn’t. Maybe some day I’ll do a post with the best of those letters, because you know, I had keep those ones.

But, I ran into another area of rejection that turned out to be grey where I thought it was black and white. Some publishers will do reprint anthologies. A regular anthology might be all unpublished fiction, a mixture of published and unpublished or all published pieces. The reasons for a full-on reprint anthology could be it’s the best of starfaring giraffes or the year’s best bizarro fiction. It might also be done because the publisher can’t afford to pay high enough rates and reprints are often paid at a lower rate, or because the topic is small enough there just might not be enough material without having old and new, or as a retrospective. There are different reasons but reprint anthologies are handled differently.

In some cases, such as the Year’s Best that Ellen Datlow edits, she will have read a galaxy of stories already (I think she might be cloned). If you have a piece you think she might not have seen you’re encouraged to send it in to her. For other reprint anthos the onus is on the author to send the piece. With Ellen’s it could be either the publisher or the author. They run the gamut.

I’ve had some honorable mentions in the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror and the Year’s Best SF. In those cases, either the publisher submitted or Ellen had already read them. I found out about the honorable mentions in most cases from the editors, though once, for my story “Hold Back the Night,” which received mention in both Year’s Bests I only found out about three years later when I was doing a google search.

With other topic specific ones I’d send in my story and get either a rejection or an acceptance. This year I’d submitted to a couple of others, and in one case I received no letter. I just happened to see the list on another group. I sent an email, since it was a friend and said, “What, not even a rejection letter?” To make the long story short, the editor believed one doesn’t send rejection letters for retrospective anthologies, like Ellen Datlow’s, but then I don’t know if I sent her a story if I’d get a note or not. I was under the impression that if I submitted work I’d get a notice, even if only a group email of those in the antho. The editor was under the impression that no notice was necessary.

We actually both had reasonable expectations of what we thought was standard. Neither was really wrong. I suggested though to save on time and annoyance for everyone that it would help to clarify guidelines so that people aren’t emailing constantly wondering if they missed the notice. Making guidelines clear and succinct helps writers know the rules for each publication. So saying, “Do not respond before four months have gone by. If you have not heard from us until then, please query.” Or “Due to the volume of submissions we will not be sending out rejection notices. Table of contents should be listed by X date.”

So there you go. Just when you think you have it figured out, some new twist let’s you know there’s still room to grow. Now if I could only have it all figured out on how to be a millionaire in my writing. 😉

 

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Writing: Selling Poetry

I was asked if you can actually sell poetry. Yes, there are many places that will pay. And believe me, I’ve bounced my stories and poems around a million places. I could show you reams of rejections. This is the real world: those of us who write speculative fiction (fantasy, SF, horror stories or poems) are always trying to get the great rates of 5 cents a word. That’s a pro rate for all sorts of notoriety and pro status.

In “literature” (said with one’s nose in the air), there are small press magazines, often but not always supported by universities. Some pay pittances but often you’re paid between $25-40 a printed page for stories and anywhere from $25-100 for a poem. Truly, when I started submitting I didn’t think I’d ever get $100 for a poem and it’s now the highest I’ve been paid. Interestingly the other two high points were $50 for poems in the Canadian Stars as Seen anthology, mainly because editor Sandra Kasturi is a consummate poet herself and probably haggled for that amount.

The second amount was, ironically, also speculative, my first real pro sale in Amazing Stories (when it still existed) at $36 US. It’s the sale that got me into SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America) as a semi pro. You need three sales to be full pro and even though I’ve sold stories since, it’s mostly to the Canadian markets and hence not “recognized” as pro for lower rates that don’t convert to 5 cents or the once 3 cents a word. Not to mention, SFWA decided that poetry doesn’t count anymore, falling into the mainstream troglodyte thinking that poetry isn’t real writing and doesn’t take as much work. Yet to write a poem can take many days. You can become a full member in HWA (Horror Writers of America) on poetry alone.

 The more common rate for poetry is between $5-$20 a poem. You won’t get rich selling it. You might not get people to your reading. There is still an odd idea that poetry is unfathomable and read in a monotone. Also called “Spoken Word” poetry is like a really short play or soliloquy. It’s dramatic, fairly succinct and plays on words and images.

There are many markets for poetry and the best place to find a comprehensive list is to go to http://www.duotrope.com and search. You can specify romantic, cowboy or fantasy poetry to name a few and if you’re willing to go with a market that pays a token or a pro fee. It is most important to read the guidelines. If the magazine says we don’t take rhyming poems, then don’t send them rhyming poems. If they detest chicken poems don’t send them any. All you’ll do is annoy the editors. They see a lot of submissions. Know your markets and know your field. Practicing writing and reading published poetry will give you and idea of what styles are liked by different publications, and help hone your skills. If you like a poem, why do you like it? Analyse it to figure out what works. Is it a turn of phrase, an image, a word? Trying writing some verse to the poem to get a sense of the author’s style.

Never believe that you can improve. And submit. Receive your rejection with good grace and then submit elsewhere. Every time I send out a poem I look it over, tweak it and then send it out. Sometimes I’ve sold a poem (and it’s been shortlisted or nominated for an award) that I wrote up to ten years ago. Poems don’t go stale and you can improve them. Selecting poetry is very subjective so what one editor loves another will hate. Keep trying and you’ll start to sell some. It’s all about perseverance in your craft and in submitting your works.

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