Tuesday, 30 June 2015

At what point can a writer consider themselves 'successful'?

First up, I think the simplest answer is probably the only correct one: it depends on your goals, and whether you achieve those goals. Though most writers I know (and me) move the goalposts forward, some are content to write one book and quit while they're ahead. Personally, as a full-time writer (part-time pay, mind) the goal isn't just one book, but to make a living. The making a living part is secondary, but I need to eat. I don't believe in giving away work for free - though I've felt I had to do it at some points. But more on that later.

I thought I'd write this post because I cleaned out a ton of old 'submission' files today, and it got me thinking about just how long it's taken me to get anywhere. I'm sharing those thoughts (and some of the rejections and acceptances) here - mostly in the hope of giving what little inspiration I can to those just starting out. I've been writing for ten years by the way, and I'm just starting out, too.

The old submissions file was a thousand e-mails-strong...here are a few:

Here's my very first rejection, from Clocktower Fiction. It's sad to see just how many of the magazines (and novel publishers, too) have gone under in the last ten years, and terrifying for me how quickly things move on.

Good luck and thanks for thinking of me. 

Thank you for submitting this story to Far Sector SFFH (formerly Deep Outside SFFH).

Despite its strong points, your story doesn’t quite fit into this publishing program at this time. This is a purely subjective view on my part and in no way reflects on the strong qualities of you or your story. I wish you the best in placing your story elsewhere.

Please note an important change. Deep Outside SFFH has become Far Sector SFFH, a newer and slightly different variation of its former self. 

That was from 2003, and one of probably hundreds of 'form' rejections.

The next three years I spent being mental, which is why the one after this is 2006...my first paying short came not long after, with Albedo One. John Kenny sent this letter, which I'm pretty sure I'll always keep:

I'm just getting back to you regarding your submissions to Albedo One. 

I believe Frank Ludlow has already replied to you regarding 'The Dancing Car' (although I read it also and quite liked it). 

The good news is we are accepting 'Grass Can Be Weeds, Too' for publication in a future issue of Albedo One. When we select it from the inventory for a particular issue, I'll let you know and ask for a brief bio (150 to 200 words). 

By the way, we changed our payment policy, effective from issue 33 (coming out probably in February or March - issue 32 comes out in December). We've scrapped the Best of Issue payment and replaced it with payment to all contributors. Payment is 3 euros per 1,000 words, so in your case payment will be 9 euros plus a contributor's copy of the mag (a paltry sum I know, but better than nothing and we hope to increase it over time). Let me know if you're agreeable to the new policy.

Kind regards


PS: Feel free to send us other stories whenever you wish. You don't have to wait until 'Grass' is published.

Three years later, John wrote back and asked if he could have 'The Dancing Car' for an anthology 'Box of Delights'. So I got paid for that one, too...eventually.

In between times, I've given away plenty. I won't put them here, but 'for the love' publications were my haunting ground, largely, for three or fours years. I've been rejected by Andrew Hook, Brett Alexander Savory, Jason Sizemore, Weird Tales (before and after the change), Clarkesworld, Stephen Theaker, Shock Totem. Asimovs, Necrotic Tissue, Peter Giglio, Jeremy Shipp, Tor.Com, John Joseph Adams. Some of these people I know now. I like them well enough. Maybe not so much at the time, but I've been developing thick skin over the last ten years or so. One thing I've noticed is that the editors and magazines that tend to stick around are not just the better ones, but the professional ones, and even then 90% of those I've ever had dealings with have been polite, thoughtful, and helpful. The horror community is pretty great.

Later, I realised shorts didn't pay an awful lot. I love them...but I wanted to make money. For the love got me a publishing history if nothing else (which was why I did it, if I'm honest). But I didn't want to write for free. I started writing novellas and novels, and submitting those. Shane Staley rejected me when Delirium Books was going. He since accepted my work, and I signed a three-year/three-book deal with DarkFuse. Rain, my first published novel, was accepted, but in the wrong place for me. I managed to place that story (and others) with Adam Millard's Crowded Quarantine Publications, a great outfit, too. Rain, that first novel, was accepted in 2010. Seven years after I wrote my first short story. I cried quite a bit. I thought, 'I've done it'. Happiest writing day until that point, for sure.

But, of course, I haven't done it. For me, there are no goal posts - the coffin, maybe, or insensibility. No other reason to quit.

I don't write as many short stories now, though the last few I sold at 'pro' rates, which is very cool. I've been accepted by some amazing editors and publications, had novels reprinted, rights revert to some, self-published others. Publishing's evolving at such a rate I can't keep up with the changes - so I just write. That's why I started and, like I said, I think that's where I'll end. Sure, I want to make money, but I'm pretty simple in my needs. As long as I'm working, I'm happy enough.

As I said earlier, on 'free' stories - I gave away short stories (and even novels, too) to get a publication history. Some others might not have to do that, but I felt the sacrifice was worth the gain. I've been paying my dues a long time. I don't think you ever get to stop paying those dues...it's a hard gig. Best I've ever had though.

I keep a copy of every story I have in print. I've got them on 'The Shelf of Boasting'. The rejections would take up far too much room. I'm happy enough to set those aside.

As for other writers - I've had some brilliant endorsements, and other writers in my genre are just as wonderful as the editors and publishers I've spoken with. My favourite, though, is being turned down for an endorsement by Graham Masterton. He suggested I try writing poetry.

I still love him - he's very cool - and so are you. Love you x

Thursday, 18 June 2015

I have lived a thousand lives

I've been thinking (because I didn't write anything last night and watched an X-Men movie and it wasn't particularly enthralling and I had a beer, all of which is entirely irrelevant - almost) about the importance of stories in our lives, and if they're not a big part of our lives, how important that is, too.

Life's short, but without imagination it becomes immeasurably shorter. Without imagination, intellect and dreaming and looking to the stars are harder things to do. Books are a tool, for minds and learning skills (not just how to think and use language, but sometimes empathy and understanding, too). Without imagination how useful is intelligence and simple learning, even? A person might be fearsomely knowledgable and still never create or innovate or invent.

And life's short, isn't it? I'm talking about books, but it's not just books at all - it's stories and fairytales and the outlandish, science fiction, fantasy - yes. But stories, I think - those are the important things. Otherwise we only live one life, and it's limited to the experience of us, and those around us. Travelling's cool. Education's cool. But with stories we can live a thousand times, and more, and experience another's life, or a bear's life, or an alien or see the entire run of an ancient civilisation, watching like a God from somewhere up above and safe enough in another timeline in our brick-built houses with satellitte television that exists because people invented these things - they had imagination. They strived for something better for humanity. Sure, I'm a hippy. But when those tools no longer teach and become nothing more than a crutch, when humans spend their lives in tedious jobs they hate, stories become more than simple opiates for us: the teeming masses of bored and disatisfied workers.

Imagination can be a form of freedom, and near-immortality.

Yeah, yeah, I'm a boring hippy fart, but the chap who wrote A Song of Ice and Fire (or, Game of Thrones to those initiated in the ways of TELEVISION) said the following, which resonates with me entirely:

'I was born in Bayonne, New Jersey. I grew up in the projects. I never went anywhere. But I have lived a thousand lives and I’ve loved a thousand loves. I’ve walked on distant worlds and seen the end of time. Because I read.'

George R. R. Martin said that. I don't know when or where (might have been in Rretrospective 1 or 2 - great collections and thoughts either way - read 'em!).

Love you! x

Friday, 12 June 2015

Ghost Voices - R.I.P.

Any kind of schedule I've had for writing has, largely, gone squiffy. I'm trying to get some old projects finished and tidied away in downtime while I'm working on two collaborations. One of those old projects was 'Ghost Voices'. Unusually for me, I spent longer researching than actually writing. I probably used about ten percent of what I found out, too, but that's not a bad percentage. I think - I'm not Clive Cussler. 

I put it aside some time last year, and finished it this year in around three days, because I'm really impatient and had the time to hit it hard. It'll need a second and probably third draft before submission, like these things usually do. Off to Mrs. S next. Before that, though - beer. 

Ghost Voices
17th June 2014 - 12th June 2015

Love you. x

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Spiggot reissue/Spiggot, Too release

Two new covers, one new novel, both up for pre-orders now (released 1st July). Back cover copy and covers below, samples in the 'sample' section, if you want to read a few chapters for free, see if you like it...you know how this goes...

Back cover copy:

Spiggot, the consummate misanthrope copper, walks a fine line between lovable anti-hero and despicable bigot with very large shoes. His one redeeming feature is his beautiful partner, the seductively-named Francesca Trout. She keeps her one good eye on the job, and her slightly gammy, less attractive other eye on her partner.

Spiggot is catapulted into his second worst nightmare when, on a stakeout to catch criminal mastermind, his soul is sent by means of an ancient artifact into a mad axe murderer's body, who is held captive in a maximum security residential hospital for the criminally insane. Sheez, you couldn't make it up.

His only hope of redemption is to rely on his partner to help catch the villain. The trouble is he's in a nutcase's body, Trout didn't like him in the first place, he's got an insane copper after him and he's afraid of pirates...

We can only hope this doesn't all end on a boat...


Back Cover Copy:

Spiggot is having dreams. Premonitions, even. But he doesn't believe in weird stuff. He believes in beer, curry, and his ex-partner, Francesca Trout.

When Spiggot's nemesis the arch-criminal Elana Magret escapes custody, she and Spiggot both are dragged into an alternate dimension almost entirely populated by Trouts. Which makes finding them somewhat tricky.

To catch Magret, Trout must rely on the good will of a rather unusual criminal overlord, and a new ally with some wicked fists. Because this isn't about Spiggot anymore. This is about the fate of the worlds!*

*Plural intentional. Exclamation optional.

Spiggot, Too. Spiggot, but with more Spiggot. And an awful lot more Trout.


There you go - two novels, up on Amazon now. Neither will see print, I should think. The original (first) novel of Spiggot got picked up three years ago, by a very nice outfit Grand Mal Press. You might still be able to find a print copy of that. But now rights reverted to me, and rather than run around trying to find a publisher for a reprint (never the easiest thing to do) I decided to put the series up on Amazon independently. Hopefully someone (maybe even you, reading this right now ;) ) will read 'em. Either way, I like writing them, so I'll probably keep on doing it either way. Not like I've anything I'd rather be doing. 

Love you,