C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

See all my books at AllThatChazz.com.

How to Make Short Stories Pay

First, You Have to Write Shorts that Do Not Fizzle

One of the books I’m planning is aliens versus humans so I thought I’d check out The Invasion (new on Apple+). Inspiration comes from everywhere. Well, everywhere but The Invasion.

I respect bold choices in storytelling. I love the building tension to be found in a slow burn. However, what’s on display in The Invasion is big budget, overstuffed with melodrama, gratuitous titillation, and a lot of irrelevance. Worst of all? No aliens! It’s as if they set out to construct an alien invasion that none of the supermodel/actors notice for a long time. Whatever the producers are doing, it’s not getting to the point. I’m three episodes in. This show is beautifully shot, but they have yet to light the fuse. Any Mission Impossible script lights the fuse fast. The Invasion fizzles and fails to launch.

I’ve toyed with scriptwriting, but more of my experience that’s a close parallel comes from writing short stories. Short stories used to be so much more popular and magazines paid good money for them. Kurt Vonnegut did well with selling short stories before moving on to novels. Stephen King published shorts in porn magazines before Carrie hit. One of the joys of my childhood was reading sci-fi in Omni. If I could bring one magazine back, it would be Omni, but even then the mag was financed by the success of Penthouse. Omni was a gorgeous magazine with stunning prints of spaceships, but the business model wasn’t sustainable.

Like a Good TV or Movie Script, Short Stories are Economical

The challenge of writing short stories is to get where you’re going fast without sacrificing character development. You’ve got to paint a picture with fewer brushstrokes. The writing is tight with no room for flab.

I started out writing short stories and have won some awards for them. However, I got to a place where I thought I’d never write short stories again. There’s too little money in it and I must keep the lights on. However, I relented. My novel release schedule got punctuated by anthologies because it’s a joy. I do love writing long form, of course, but each novel is a marathon. Short stories deliver the boost of adrenaline you get from sprinting around the track.

Possible Platforms for Short Fiction

If you enjoy writing short, I’d encourage you to do so. If you want to make them pay like they did in the old days, it’s not going to be like that.

Let’s get past the age of the dinosaurs: Ignore small literary publications. They take forever, competition is stiff, they pay in bird cage lining, and their circulations are tiny. Your blog can reach more of your audience directly and immediately. Once a great thing, they’re now a pretentious holdover from a lost era. If you write genre fiction, it’s especially wasteful. If your short story is really good, you could get a sneering rejection from an MFA who attended the Iowa Workshop. So…yay? Nay.

Already got a following and a big list of subscribers? Make Patreon work for you. But really, your newsletter list better be huge because you’re going to have to promote it effectively. Patreon can be a lot of work to maintain, so set your expectations accordingly.

You could write short on Medium. Some writers enjoy that very much, but it’s not an ideal outlet for fiction.
For more on the challenges and strategies of writing fiction on Medium, read this informative blog post.

You could also try serializing your work by writing short and fast for Amazon’s new venture: Vella. However, given all I’ve read and heard about the challenges of writing and promoting on Vella, I do not recommend it at this time. It’s an interesting idea, and I did serialize some of my fiction when I started out. However, my assessment is that Vella is not ready for Primetime.

For more on the pros and cons of Vella, read this article on Medium.

Or read this writer’s experience on Vella.

If Vella still intrigues you and you want to try it out, get some help navigating it by joining a Vella Facebook group.

Before anyone complains, I must also note that there is a difference between writing serialized fiction and penning self-contained short stories. We’re already deep in the weeds here, so I’ll save that for another post.

Cool, Rob, but how do you make short stories pay?

Write novels, preferably in series, and use short stories as a way in for new readers.

You could write a short story prequel to your full-length novels and give that away everywhere (with links to your first-in-series).

I’m Your Candy Man

If you dig thrillers but you’ve never heard of The Night Man, you might not want to take a chance on me. However, my suspense anthology (Sometime Soon, Somewhere Close) isn’t the time commitment of reading a full-length thriller. It’s also cheaper. I write apocalyptic and dystopian thrillers, too, so All Empires Fall serves as a gateway drug to my novels.

Reading fiction is a lovely addiction. Give readers a taste they enjoy and they will come back for more. Whether you use short stories as a cheap entry point or as a free reader magnet for newsletter subscribers, the monetary payoff is unlikely to be immediate. It can be incredibly satisfying, though.

If you want to release rapidly to stay top of mind among your fan base, writing short can ease your stress immensely. It takes me far less time to write an anthology of short stories than it does to craft the complexity of a full-length novel. Hitting publish more often is fun and you’re throwing more spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks. In publishing, big or small, that counts as market research.

My newest anthology is Our Zombie Hours. It’s a bit of horror for the purists, just in time for Halloween (and it’s free until midnight tonight).

Take a blurb to the face:

From the author of This Plague of Days, AFTER Life, and Endemic comes five adventures from the front line of the zombie apocalypse. As society collapses, humans often prove themselves more dangerous than the infected. Enjoy these fresh stories that explore survival, heroism, and betrayal in a world gone mad. A fun night of horror awaits. 

PICK UP Our Zombie hours, NOW ON AMAZON

Today is Saturday, October 23. Get Our Zombie Hours by midnight, and it’s free. After that, the anthology is astoundingly inexpensive. I’m hoping you’re an addict looking for a word fix. I want to be your Candy Man for life.

See all my drugs at my author site, AllThatChazz.com.

Filed under: short stories, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Review, Interview and Podcast News

Many regular readers expect a new podcast from me right about now. Since my throat has closed up and I’m currently absorbing oxygen through my pores, there’s no podcast this evening (though if you missed any, they can all be found at AllThatChazz.com.)

Twisty and twisted. Click the pic for more.

However, I do have sweet and tasty candies for you:

From the NSFW category, erotica author Eden Baylee asks me some piercing Proustian questions and I give some earnest, logical and scatological answers. Not only is it not safe for work, it may not even be safe for your living room. Click here, read there and have a laugh.

Over at The Raven’s Quill, Krista Walsh gives a lovely review of Sex, Death & Mind Control.There are allusions to Dr. Hannibal Lecter. She’s beguiled, so I know my experiments with mind control really are working. See what the fuss is all about and read the review on her site.

Recently, RaeBeth McGee interviewed me at The Writing World. I’m all about the pithy answers about writer’s block, verisimilitude and my enemies will get a clue as to where to search for the hidden secret to my weaknesses! Enjoy in a click.

A new cover is coming for The Dangerous Kind. This time it will be pretty since Kit at KitFosterDesign is pinch hitting for me. It will be more effective because the new cover will include a happy endorsement from a bestselling author.

If you don’t have a Kindle, but still want The Dangerous Kind edition with the vintage cover, you can get it on Smashwords here. I’ve had great reviews of this suspenseful novella. You could be the next happy reader to review this claustrophobic story of greed, betrayal and inner demons in the Maine woods. (Still for just 99 cents! Couch change!)

I shall be podcasting again when my throat is no longer full of razor blades. For now, I think you’ll find these links plenty entertaining. For me? Each of these links taste like affirmation of me as a writer and acknowledgement that I’m a player…excuse me, that should be playah. And all that tastes like chocolate croissant. My thanks to Eden, Krista and RaeBeth! That was fun!

I have major announcements cooking, so stay tuned.

Cool stuff is coming your way.

Related articles

Filed under: All That Chazz, ebooks, My fiction, publishing, reviews, self-publishing, short stories, What about Chazz?, , , , , , , , ,

The ebook marketing experiment

Last week I announced that my short story, Corrective Measures, is free to anyone who wants one at Smashwords.com for the rest of January. It’s a look inside Jack’s mind. He’s a serial killer who has a complex

Click here for your free story!

relationship with God, his psychotherapist and the woman he wants to kill for an argument over a parking space. It’s quirky and dark and there’s even a subtle Sarah Palin joke in there.

But that wasn’t why I chose to make this ebook free. As discussed in Part I, I haven’t been happy with my sales so far. I have eight works for sale and I needed to harness the power of cross-pollination.

As I’ve often said, publishing is easy now. Being found is hard. I chose to make this ebook free because Jack and Dr. Circe Papua show up in my other stories. At the end of Corrective Measures, I discuss where these characters show up in my other work and basically advertise my podcast and what else they might like to buy. I’m hoping, of course, that if they like Corrective Measures, they might like my other stuff. That’s why I think every self-published author absolutely must be prolific. The worst circumstance is to have readers eager for more of your work and not having anything for them to buy. We’re all in a hurry. That’s why my goal for 2012 is to finish writing and revising three novels. (Two are in the revision stage. The other WIP is in the first draft stage.)

So what happened with the free ebook giveaway?

Sorry. Buried the lead. I promoted the ebook like this:

1. Twittered over three twitter accounts cool quotes from Corrective Measures. (“Your hair looks very…flammable.” Still makes me chuckle.)

2. Google+’d the post from this blog and also posted it on my author blog allthatchazz.com.

3. Announced in my Facebook timeline and my Ex Parte Press Facebook page.

4. Promoted Corrective Measures in my podcast that was released Friday across Stitcher and iTunes. Some people download the Self-help for Stoners podcast straight from allthatchazz.com, as well.

5. Made a couple of videos with iMovie that appear on my G+ profile, my author blog and on my Facebook timeline. (I also revamped my author blog with a new header—thanks again to my buddy Kit Foster of KitFosterDesign.com—and added fresh content.)

6. Asked for help spreading the word from my friends on Facebook.

What worked?

I have an answer, but before I tell you that, I should add that as I write this, the experiment is only three days old. Many of the people who took me up on the free ebook offer now have the story on their device, but they haven’t gotten around to reading it yet. Some of them may never get to it. It’s too early to evaluate the worth of the experiment to e-publishers yet. But I do know what’s been most effective.

Okay, but no, really. What worked?

Contacting friends and family on Facebook by messaging them individually and asking them to spread the word through their Facebook helped.

How do you know it helped?

On Smashwords, the nearest maximum download count was 19 downloads on stories that have been up for over a month. Over the weekend, as of Sunday afternoon, 53 people have downloaded Corrective Measures and I have a fresh and fabulous review. I’m hoping for more reviews to help spread the word. I am encouraged that several people who liked it and sent me feedback are not my immediate friends and family. They are friends of friends, out there in the social media ripple effect, enjoying the fiction and enhancing my credibility with their participation and kind words.

How has this helped sales, though?

So far, there is one (lonely) new sale over the weekend of Vengeance is #1. That’s a short story, too, on sale for $1.99, that features the psychotherapist from Corrective Measures. (Whoever you are, may Thor bless you!)

One sale? Really? Do you call that a success?

Nope. I call that a start. I believe in my work. I’ve got seven writing awards and years of experience that suggest I have an inking of what I’m doing. My readership will find me. I’ll let you know how the experiment works out. I’m pretty relaxed about this process. I’ve started businesses before and I know what it’s like to wait for people to find me. When they do find me, we’ll both be happy. And like I said, it’s three days into the free ebook experiment. Bread needs time to bake. This is what it’s like before you get to the place on the path where you look back and wonder where the time went. Besides, I’ve got big plans for my novels and big plans for promotion that could go huge. I’m not worried. I’m excited. The key word to keep in mind while hunting down dreams is YET.

What can self-publishers learn from this?

I’m three steps into the race. Still, I’m sure of this much:

1. Put out a general call and it’s just an announcement in a world full of announcements. If you don’t ask individuals, everyone will assume that someone else will rise to the occasion. One to one is how messages get passed.

2. Give a lot to get anything. I’m giving away an ebook and free entertainment and a free podcast every week, but big deal. There’s lots of free entertainment available. I could get sucked into watching babies laugh on YouTube for an hour. I’m not talking about the free ebook as the “give a lot.” I mean try to be giving and kind all the time. I dared to impose on my friends because they are my friends. I’ve had interactions with them that were generally pleasant. I’ve promoted several authors on the blog over the last couple of years, but I don’t feel like anyone owes me anything. I approached the people I approached based on rapport and where I felt their interest might lie. I’m wary of bothering anyone with my requests for reviews and downloads so I won’t be repeating a similar experiment like this for a very long time. I also left some people alone because, even though they are friends and family, I do not presume that they are interested in my flavor of fiction. I didn’t ask anything of anyone who I thought wouldn’t be eager to help me out by spreading the word. I’d do the same for them. That’s what friends are for. As Patrick Swayze says in Roadhouse, “It’s nice to be nice.” That little syllogism is the basis of all relationships.

3. Build an email list. This is one thing I have not pursued and I have to get on it. When people express an interest or appreciation or leave a review, that’s an audience who will be interested in the next thing I write. I should be able to email them directly to say, “Hey, here’s more of that thing you liked! Yay!”

4. Get back to writing. This ties in with my resolution to have three more novels for sale by Christmas. You might have noticed that all this social media stuff takes a lot of time and effort. Well…yeah. It does. I’m not complaining. Actually, I enjoyed saying hello to Facebook friends and playing with iMovie was a blast. I love doing the podcast and these are now essential skills in this environment. For instance, this week I’ll record a commercial for a major podcast (hint: not mine). What would have intimidated me a couple of months ago is now something I look forward to doing. I know the tech now so the prospect does not leave me at all flummoxed. However, since November 1, my focus has been getting Ex Parte Press up on its hind legs. It’s been a lot of editing and promotion and learning administrivia and technical details. This is also fun, but it’s not writing new content. It’s not getting the novels done. In a previous post, I called this period The Worst of the First. I’ve burst through that stage now and the full-length novels will be easier to market (for a plethora of reasons to be discussed in a future post.)

I’m writing now more than I’m doing anything else.

My eyes are on the prize.

The prize is your mind. You’re curled up on a couch with the aroma of fresh coffee fading in the air. You’re reading my stories and, when it gets scary, you pull up the blanket to keep warm because the body and mind do not distinguish between the imagined and the real. Your mug cools, unnoticed. Your coffee grows cold and you still haven’t touched it because you’ve pulled my fiction over your head and you’re in my world. You recognize characters you’ve never met. This world feels familiar, but is slightly skewed. You chuckle in surprise. You believe. Fiction is a participatory magic trick. You are invested in one question, “What happens next?” Time stands still and you only come up for air when you realize it’s getting dark and harder to read. The quiet winter afternoon has crept by you. You twist the knob on the lamp beside you and the room floods with a weak yellow light. You should get dinner started. You’ve got things to do. You spare a regretful glance at the full mug of cold coffee.

You pick up the book again. You keep reading.

Just a little more. 

And once more, you are swallowed.

Filed under: My fiction, Publicity & Promotion, self-publishing, short stories, , , , , , , , , , , ,

The ebook pricing and gifting experiment

Click here for your free story!

Self-published authors have found success in serialization.

Cross-pollination is the cousin to serialization that no one talks about. 

I have some big promotional events coming up, but January can be the doldrums for sales. Many of us, me included, are sifting through our new reading from Christmas and looking forlornly at our VISA bills. Publishing is so easy now, but obscurity is hard. I thought it was time to do something to spark the imagination of readers. It’s time to build my readership and, I hope, new readers will review my books and spread the word.

That’s why, until the end of January, I’m giving away a very special story for free.

I have ebooks selling at various price points: 99 cents, $1.99 and $2.99 and one in paperback for $13.99. When the big promotional event hits, I expect there will be a run on the paperback and ebook of Self-help for Stoners. The Self-help for Stoners podcast is also going well with over 300 downloads already.

But why free and why now?

Honestly, my sales kind of suck so far and I’m trying to light a fire to signal rescue planes.

My gamble is that once I’m picked up, readers won’t want to stop the ride at just one story.

Book sales need momentum. Fortunately, I had just the right story in my holster to fit this pricing/gifting experiment. The story, Corrective Measures, stands on its own. However, two characters from this story appear in several of my other stories in two other books. I won an award for End of the Line, a short about Dr. Circe Papua. Hounded by an unscrupulous bill collector, she uses magical powers of persuasion to get him off her back. That story appears in Sex, Death & Mind Control (for fun and profit). Dr. Papua shows up in different incarnations in several stories in that book, but also appears in Vengeance is #1, an ebook on sale for $1.99.

My main character from Corrective Measures is Jack, a serial killer and Dr. Papua’s patient. He tries not to kill anybody unless Dr. Papua says it’s okay, but after a minor argument over a parking space, Jack wants to murder a woman simply for pissing him off. (By the way, The Parking Lot Incident, happened to me. And no, there are no warrants out for my arrest.)

Here’s where the cross-pollination comes in:

Jack appeared in another award-winning story, The Clawed Bathtub, which is the last story in Sex, Death & Mind Control. I love it when stories nest beside each other. In Corrective Measures, there is a reference to events in The Clawed Bathtub that answers a question that was left a mystery in that story. Read one and you won’t notice the seams. Readers who buy them all will get a bigger picture and enjoy the inside jokes. I didn’t write the stories with this strategy in mind. That arose organically. I only write stories I need to write. However, these characters I know so well keep popping up. In The Fortune Teller, Papua is an old seer at a fair. In another story from Sex, Death & Mind Control (The Express) Dr. Papua is the same psychotherapist from Corrective Measures, but she’s dealing with an older version of Paul, the man who is abusive to women in The Fortune Teller.

You don’t need a flow chart or to keep score. It’s just that as I wrote about these characters, I found they had more to say than could be shoehorned into one story. There’s no timeline to follow. It’s about characters who are so compelling, I had to revisit them and explore them further. Each story explores extraordinary people in ordinary circumstances and makes it funny, suspenseful and scary. I found that as I wrote these stories, I pulled back on the gore because, frankly, the battery acid scenes would shock some readers out of the story. The results are tighter, more clever stories that make you think, make you laugh and make you a little more wary of strangers.

Please accept my invitation to go grab Corrective Measures now while it’s still free.

I hope you will be inspired to spread the happy word to your friends and through reviews.

I’ll let you know how this pricing/gifting experiment works out.

Filed under: All That Chazz, book reviews, DIY, ebooks, getting it done, podcasts, Publicity & Promotion, publishing, readers, reviews, self-publishing, short stories

Self-pub Highlights: The Best and Worst of the First and How to Succeed by Failing

Please click here to pick up Parting Shots.

When you can’t get out of the bathtub on your birthday, something’s gone wrong in your life. And by your life, of course, I mean mine. The other night I tore a rotator cuff muscle boxing. It hurts when you throw a hook and miss. I ripped it up pretty well. I’d had shoulder pain off and on for weeks due to to my incredibly sedentary lifestyle and the computer mouse. I sit very still to write. I can’t write and walk around at the same time. I’m chained to a desk by an intravenous tube that carries coffee. When the shoulder pain hit, I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was. The pain is enormous. I almost called my wife to help me out of the bathtub. On my birthday. Not one of my best birthdays, I have to say. In fact, it might have been the worst.


Pain is good.

I will use this.

I did manage to get myself out of the tub. Getting my shirt on? That was five minutes of hell and wishing the Advil would kick in faster. It didn’t. I’ve had shoulder pain this bad before (on the other shoulder.) When it hurts to laugh, you know it’s bad. When you have to devise new strategies to do mundane tasks, it’s makes you mad. When it happens on your birthday, it makes you sad.

However, I won’t let all this sadness and badness and madness go to waste. At some point, I’m sure I’ll have a hero try to fight the bad guy in a climactic scene and the hero’s shoulder will be all messed up. That’s the easy take away from this experience.

Let’s go deeper.

Staying home to write books full-time? This is awesome. This is the fulfilment of a dream. I am so lucky to be able to devote myself to this enterprise all day. However, if I don’t take better care of my physical body, I will lose this opportunity. When every movement reminds you of pain, it’s hard to concentrate on work. Pain saps productivity, whisks away opportunities and manufactures misery far from the site of origin.

But let’s go deeper.

The pain in my shoulder is not simply a rotator cuff tear. It’s a symptom. I have not been to the gym for quite some time. I have not been taking care of myself. Why is that?

My excuse…no…my dumb reason is that I have been swimming in the launch of my books. I have no excuse. I let myself forget that success is not a single facet. To get my shit together, I have to take time to take care of all aspects of my life: family, fitness and work. I am not of one dimension. I was so busy with work, it gave me the excuse to be lazy in other areas of my life.


I have books to publish! I have no time for the gym! Publishing is so exciting I don’t even have to feel bad about not going to the gym because I’m being productive!

Yeah, right. But for low long, Spock? How long?!

Concentrating so much on marketing made the disappointment at the initial outcome darker. My sales aren’t anywhere near where they need to be (yet, goddamnit! Yet!) The reviews haven’t been rolling in (yet, goddamnit! Yet!) But I’ve started up businesses before. I know how this works…or doesn’t work. These things take time. Readers will get around to writing reviews. Word will spread. It doesn’t happen on a schedule. You may as well try predicting cloud formations as plot book sales. But I do have a strategy. While figuring out how to manage our time in the new year, I told She Who Must Be Obeyed that I think I’m through The Worst of the First.

The Worst of the First is the downside of that incredibly creative, energetic time when you start up a new enterprise. You have to get a business license and take care of paperwork that is not directly related to your success. You order business cards or figure out technical aspects that feel removed from the core of your enterprise. The Worst of the First is about trying to do everything at once, just to get things rolling forward. The Worst of the First is about the trivia that no reader ever sees. It’s the behind-the-scenes stuff no one cares about, including me, but it has to get done. It’s part of building inertia, too.

Then there is The Best of the First. Here are the highlights of my first couple of months as founder, president, author and Chief Dude in Charge of Wastebasket Emptying at Ex Parte Press: Three ebooks up on Amazon and just about everywhere else by November 1. Recorded a podcast, Self-help for Stoners, to help market my book of the same name. Tried and failed to get my first podcast published. Dave Jackson of the School of Podcasting helped me to get the podcast up and out there. He helped me get control of my author website, too (allthatchazz.com). Got the paperback formatted with Jeff Bennington’s help. Got new art for the paperback done with my graphic designer, Kit Foster. Published Self-help for Stoners through CreateSpace. Published three short stories in the last week (Parting Shots, Asia Unbound and Vengeance is #1) on Smashwords.com. Maintained my Scoopit! Page, three blogs, three Twitter accounts and published six podcasts. Now the podcast is also available on the Stitcher app as well as iTunes, so it’s everywhere.

When so much positive stuff was happening at once, I was riding high. But I wasn’t leaving my desk. I’ve been married to my Mac, which makes She Who Must Be Obeyed jealous. I’m through the imbalanced part now. My shoulder reminds me with every move that I have to concentrate on the core. That means publishing three novels in the next year, yes. That also means taking better care of me so I can accomplish those goals. It means eating right and getting to the gym. That’s also part of the writing process. It clears the brain and keeps my body ready for writing marathons. Sitting still for too long is too hard on the body. We’re made to move and if we don’t, we die.

On my birthday, I checked my book sales and found the accounting had finally come through. It wasn’t good, but the beginning is rarely good. I’ve been here before. I know the terrain. I know the pain hammering me in the shoulder is a reminder of what a low point feels like. The sinking feeling as I looked at my first sales numbers—on my birthday!—made me think for a moment that all my marketing efforts had been wasted. But no. It’s just a normal part of The Worst of the First. My readership hasn’t found me yet. You have to market your books when you think you should be using all your time to write. In weak moments I do think, All I should do is just write and revise and do nothing else. But then I remember this is not 1987. Seclusion is a luxury for old media authors. I’m a new media author. I must not hide from the world if anyone is to ever hear me.

The fattest kid at Fat Camp has the most potential. When you reach critical mass and are feeling low, you can look up. There is so much to learn and so much to conquer. I am grateful to have so much fun and trial ahead of me. When we succumb to the idea that the best times of our lives are behind us, we truly begin to die. This is just the beginning and there is so much to look forward to! Writing this post, holding tight to this pain and this disappointment? That’s going to make the triumph all that much sweeter, don’t you think? I’m going to appreciate the win more when it comes. And I’m through the gauntlet and into the glove already! I made it through the Worst of the First. Yes, there will be frustrating times ahead, but I got through the first couple of months of the enterprise. I got to the starting line. A lot of people dream of the starting line but never get there. They never get the chance, or take the chance, to run. Now I’m running and I’ve got some inertia behind me. I have you behind me. (I know because you’ve read this far.)

My resolutions for 2012?

I will use this. Failure is fuel.

Failure is only failure if you let it keep you stuck in the tub. 

Happy new year.

If it isn’t happy,


Filed under: DIY, ebooks, getting it done, publishing, self-publishing, short stories, What about Chazz?, What about you?, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , ,

Vengeance is released!

In this short story, we meet Georgie, an angry girl with a funny, mean streak. This seventeen-year-old wants to be normal, if only she could figure out what Normal is and how to get there. After enduring a string of therapists, she encounters


Dr. Circe Papua. Things are looking up for Georgie, at least until Dr. Papua fires her as a patient. Now Georgie is looking for redemption and an apology. Failing that, she’ll settle for vengeance.

Filed under: All That Chazz, ebooks, My fiction, short stories, , , , , ,

Writing: 5 signs a short story is failing

“I don’t get that one,” my beta reader said.  

One of the stories in one of my upcoming short story collections, The Divide, did not resonate.

Then I did what I shouldn’t ever do: I explained the point of the story. Like having to explain a joke, that’s a terrible sign, isn’t it?

The beta reader nodded and said, “It’s not a big enough finish. It needs more punch.”

At first I thought all I needed to do was give the story a little tweak and a boost. I added a paragraph, thinking that would do it. Then I thought about it longer. Uh-oh.

I realized that the problem with the story went deeper than adding clarification and a punch.

Here’s why I am deleting The Divide from that collection:

1. In writing that story, I made an intellectual point but hadn’t made it matter to the reader. Intellectual points do not stand well on their own in fiction. Aim for the heart and guts, not the brain. That’s why good fiction is visceral.

2. The story is merely interesting. That’s not enough. (In fact, if someone says your story is “interesting”, bad sign!)

3. The story has a clearly stated moral rather than letting the reader think at all (another bad sign.) Readers like to connect their own dots at the end of a story.

4. The stakes weren’t high enough. Yes, bad things could happen if the protagonist didn’t complete his action undetected, but I never let the reader like the protagonist that much. When bad things happen to people we don’t know well enough, that’s just a newspaper report about a far-flung disaster, not a short story.

5. The story lacked punch because it lacked an emotional connection. This was not a plot problem. It wasn’t about what anyone was doing so much as who the characters were. Worse, this story was about one of my pet peeves. I got preachy about Gitmo. I got angry about Private Bradley Manning‘s imprisonment. I had points to make about both sides of that issue and you know what? So what? The points I made were better suited to another form of writing. Or it could work as fiction, but I didn’t hit the target I aimed for. This wasn’t A Few Good Men. This was just a lousy short story.

I’m shelving the story. (You get this blog post instead.) Maybe I’ll revisit it and sand the rough edges someday, but I doubt it. I’ll probably let that one die. All short stories can’t be gems any more than you can hit a home run every time you’re at the plate.

That’s okay. Just don’t publish fiction that doesn’t please you. That won’t please anyone.

Filed under: My fiction, self-publishing, short stories, writing tips

Writing Exercise: Idea Generation




Last Saturday I attended a great workshop on Editing and Revising with editor extraordinaire Brian Henry.

I’m deep into doing revisions on my own work and that of others, so a refreshing blast of continuing education was a nice change of pace. Brian is on the road every weekend to teach a workshop. He’s a genuinely nice guy and a skilled editor with tons of experience.

(Click here to find out more about his teaching or to receive his newsletter.)

The odd thing is, I did some freelance work for Brian when I worked at Harlequin in 1988/89. I was working in production, proofreading romance and after romance with a few military books mixed in so I wouldn’t grow breasts. (I proofread a lot of the Mack Bolan series back then.)

To pick up a little more cash, I waded into the slush pile for Brian, who was an editorial assistant at the time, to evaluate spec manuscripts. After taking several of his workshops over the last few years, he finally remembers who I am when I see him now. (I think.)

I’ve written a short story in two of his workshops now. I’m not usually a great fan of writing prompts from other people. I’ve got lots of ideas on my own. However, at Brian’s workshops I’ve leaped into the breach and come up with a couple of short pieces, written on the spot, with which I am quite pleased.

On Saturday, here’s what got the ball rolling; Brian called it his Chinese Fortune Cookie Exercise: We wrote a short fortune, say six words. Each participant came up with two fortunes to share. The fortunes preferably had a verb, included two people (implied was fine, not named) and there had to be an element of “tension or strangeness.”

Also, it’s okay if the fortune sucks. It’s just a prompt, not a plan. We exchanged fortunes with people at our table so everyone had something fresh. Then we started writing furiously.

The fortune I focused on was this:

“A relative will vex you.”

What I came up with was short and surprisingly soulful with a murderous sucker punch. My fellow participants were enthused. It is very affirming for any writer to come up with something quick on the spot that works so nicely. Now I have yet another short piece to add to my short story collection (available through Smashwords this summer!)

If you write, go read Quick Brown Fox, too. 

Filed under: ebooks, links, manuscript evaluation, publishing, self-publishing, short stories, Writing Conferences, writing tips, , , , , ,

Write. Commit. Do.

Last Saturday night I went for a long walk with She Who Must be Obeyed. We talked about the future.  I’d analyzed the finances. I’d considered my options. Now I have  a plan. I’ve been on both sides of the argument for and against self-publishing (and a lot of those arguments against were good objections when they were true not so long ago.)

It’s time for some grown-up decisions since I’ve been a kid in long pants for some time now. I have a manuscript to publish. Well, several, actually (and plans for more.) What to do with them though?

I’ve read Seth Godin, JA Konrath, Dean Wesley Smith, Barry Eisler and Cory Doctorow. I’ve read multiple defences of the status quo from legacy publishing. In the end, the latter were not convincing. I’ve spoken to Rebecca Senese about her experience with Smashwords and Jeff Bennington blogged in this space about Lightning Source. I kept an open mind as long as I could and decided I have to jump. Now.

Inspired by Kevin Smith, I see where the puck is going and I will not chase after where the puck has been. I’ve decided to pick myself, go big, go indie and publish my books myself. I’ll be using Smashwords and Lightning Source.

What are the main reasons I’m committing to indie? I’m looking forward to having the first book out by November. Traditional publishing would take much, much longer than that even if I struck a deal tomorrow (and the royalty rates are not favorable.)

I have had mainstream interest in the first book. I was concerned that self-publishing is seen by some as cheating the system, an evasion of gatekeepers who ensure quality. As I’ve explained in previous posts, I reject that premise.

JA Konrath ran the numbers. Ross Laird was very persuasive. Barry Eisler really got my attention when he said opting for self-publishing came down to a business decision versus an ego decision. That rang true for me personally.

Self-publishing is not the quick route to publication some people think it is. I won’t be skipping lightly over editing. I’ll be doing most everything a traditional publisher would do. I’m a tad intimidated by the tech side of things, but I’m a smart guy. I can generally figure most things out or ask for help. And I worked inside traditional publishing for five years so I’m not intimidated by a lot of things that would worry others. I’ve written and published a lot already so I’m not going in starry-eyed. But I am optimistic and excited. Much of the time, this is going to be fun!

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t go with a New York publisher, a Canadian press, a university press, a small press or a micro press. I am saying this is the right choice for me because it suits my temperament and it suits the material (cross-genre, late YA with humor and sex, drugs and school bullying wrapped up with some literary pretensions.) Books coming later fall into horror (a plague’s coming so buckle up) and two fantasies (one with a vampire cannibal cult, the other is angels in the End of Days). Also, there’s a sexy and occasionally horror-oriented short story collection. Down the road I can see two non-fiction books, as well. Lots to do.

This is my time (before it’s too late…I hope.) I’ve started up several businesses to  employ myself. I haven’t had a “real” job working for someone else since 1991! I’m used to living on the edge of the real world. Self-publishing is for me. It might not be for you. I need choice and independence. I need to be a control freak about some things. (Okay, a lot of things.)

So, thank you to everyone who responded to my Twitter announcement last week with such kind wishes.

And before anybody tries jumping on my head about my decision,

let’s try this:

I’ll be me. You be you.

Filed under: My fiction, self-publishing, short stories, , , , , , , , , ,

Writers: The short form is roaring back

Ernest Hemingway's Grave

Image by gharness via Flickr

I met The Fab Rebecca Senese (I think of her as TFRS at all times) at the Writers’ Union symposium. We went to Tims and went through that excited decompression phase. You know the one. It’s where you are packed with new information to mesh and meld with your old data and you talk fast to get it all out and solidify new, useful neuropathways.

She made an observation that really got my attention:

Amid the hubbub, TFRS said that e-books were a sure opportunity for the short form to make a strong comeback. Got a short flight or need a distraction over lunch? Read a short story or two. If you just want to gulp down a tale but don’t have time for a whole book, enjoy a novella after work.

Makes sense to me. I love short fiction. For instance, it’s a mystery to me why people say they love Ernest Hemingway‘s books, but I do like some of his short stories very much.

Short stories have been relegated to the back of the bus (read: unread literary journals.)

Until recently people have been buying books by weight, so publishers laughed at their puniness and demanded big doorstops they could sell. Length is an issue with paper, constrained as it is by the strictures of the printing press and bookstore manager’s expectations.

Novellas are ignored by many professional critics who often don’t take it seriously because they think the short punch packs less heft behind it. As if we all feel that way all the time.

A good short story takes talent to write and in some ways is a different skill set from the novel. (These critics must be those same twits who scoff at Twitter just because they can’t put together one clever coherent thought in less than 140 characters.)

Now with e-books, the answers to those objections are: Who needs publishers for that? What’s a professional critic and what is this “newspaper” thing you’re babbling about? And lit journals? What’s that? Is all this stuff available online?

Click this link to see  Rebecca Senese’s short fiction.

Please do take a look.

Filed under: authors, blogs & blogging, Books, ebooks, self-publishing, short stories, Twitter, Writers, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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