First Shots Fired: An Author Interview at Privateer Press

My first Iron Kingdoms novel, Acts of War: Flashpoint, drops in June, and the fine folks over at Privateer Press have gone and plastered my smiling mug on their website along with an interview about the book. If you have a sec, hop on over and read it, and, if you’re unfamiliar, learn a bit more about the steam-powered fantasy setting of the Iron Kingdoms.

Click on the badass cover art below for the interview.

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Rejection Letter Rundown: The Short List Rejection

Sometimes you have to wait a while for a publisher to get back to you about a submission, which can be hard, but it’s just one of those things you have to accept as part of the whole being a writer thing. That said, when you have good reason to hope your story will be accepted, the waiting can become rather nail-biting and the possible rejection all the more disappointing. Today’s rejection letter du jour is the short list rejection, which is a whole process that begins with an encouraging note like this.

“XXX” has been accepted into our final round of consideration. We will be letting you know before the end of April whether or not it is accepted.

What we have here is a further consideration letter, which is always a good thing. It says the publisher liked your story, and you’ve got at least a fifty-fifty shot at an acceptance. I appreciate these largely because they often come from markets that can take a while to get back to you, so it’s nice to get some notification that a decision is in the works. Now, of course, getting a letter like this is no guarantee of publication, because it might eventually result in a letter like the following.

Thanks so much for letting us consider your story “XXX.” While it made it to the final round of consideration, I’m afraid that we chose not to accept it. We had a lot of submissions and there were difficult decisions to be made. Best of luck placing it elsewhere.

Ouch. Bummer, right? So my story was under consideration for about three months before they decided to pass on it. I’m not angry or anything—this is all part of the writing gig—and I have no doubt my story was up against some stiff competition. So, what’s the takeaway from a rejection letter like this? It’s pretty simply really. I got close. The story got close. To my mind, it means the story is pretty good the way it is, and that I should send it out to another publisher right away, which is exactly what I did. If this publisher liked it enough to strongly consider it for publication, the next one might like it even more and publish it right off the bat. We’ll just have to see.

Have you had any experiences with the short list rejection? Tell me about it in the comments.

Take a Quiz, Get a Free Story from Privateer Press

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Some of you might recall that I’m writing a series of novels for my former employer, Privateer Press, set in their Iron Kingdoms universe. Why am I reminding you? Well, Privateer Press has announced new editions of their award-winning tabletop miniature games WARMACHINE and HORDES, which means it’s a great time to get acquainted with the games or the steam-powered fantasy setting they inhabit. On top of that, the novels I’m currently writing form a large part of the new narrative for the games, telling the story of some of the Iron Kingdoms greatest heroes and villains as they adapt to a dangerous new world.

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So here’s what I’d like you to do. Go to the Privateer Press presentation website for the new editions of WARMACHINE and HORDES, click “Find out More,” scroll through some awesome illustrations and photos of the game until you get to a screen that says “Take the Quiz.” Click “Take the Quiz,” and at the end of the quiz, sign up to receive a free short story from Privateer Press every Thursday. Tomorrow, you’ll get a story from yours truly (plus two more from me in the coming weeks).

Here’s the link to the presentation site: ALL NEW WAR

Or, if you want to skip all that jazz and go right to the quiz, click this link: TAKE THE QUIZ

Thanks for playing along, and I hope you dig the story.

Good Hookers are Hard to Find

There’s some click bait for you, huh? Did I get you? Well, unfortunately, like most click bait, this post is not what you think it is. Let me explain.

A while back, a friend gave me a great book by Stephen King called Secret Windows, a collection of essays and fiction about writing (sadly, it’s now out of print). I think my favorite essay in the book (and there are a bunch of good ones) is called “Great Hookers I have Known.” The essay is about writing a truly gripping first sentence in a novel or short story, which were apparently called “hookers” by publishers back in the day. It’s the sentence that grabs the reader and tells him or her, “Hey, this story might actually be worth reading.”

Anyway, in the essay, King goes to his own published works and discovers he’s not particularly good at writing hookers (Totally tanked his career, right?), then cites some sterling examples of the art, no few of which come from Elmore Leonard. He also points out that hookers are more important in short stories, and I couldn’t agree more. I mean, you’ve got to get that editor’s attention fast, and a top-rate, attention-grabbing first line is a good way to do it.

So, like King, I went to my (much, much smaller and far, far less prestigious) collection of published works to see if I had come up with any good hookers. Well, it’s a bit of a mixed bag, a few good ones and a few not so good. Let’s look at the bad first.

Here’s one from a story I recently published called “Scare Tactics,” a story I really like. It’s a wonder it sold at all with this yawn-inducing first line.

Lindsey pulled up to the curb, killed the Accord’s engine, and glanced out the passenger-side window.

Wow, boring, right? Curbs and Hondas and passenger-side windows. Bleh. It’s not a bad sentence, I guess, but it sure as fuck ain’t an exciting one. I think its biggest sin is that it tells you absolutely nothing about the story that comes after it. This could be any genre, and it could be set just about anywhere. I swear, the story gets a lot better from here, but I got a bunch of rejections on this one before it sold.

This one is from a flash story called “The Rarest Cut.” I don’t think it’s as bad as my first example, but it’s not gonna win any prizes.

Vincent cut into the meat on his plate, sliced off a small portion, then lifted the morsel to his nose and sniffed.

Sure, you get the idea that this story is gonna have some eating in it, but that first sentence is just kind of sitting there being unexciting. This story also racked up a bunch of rejections before I finally placed it. Seeing a trend here yet?

Finally, this one is from a flash piece called “At the Seams.” This is one of my favorite pieces, but, man, I didn’t do it any favors with this first sentence.

It’s getting harder to maintain focus.

Maintain focus on what? The problem here is it’s just too damn vague. It’s also uninteresting. This sentence is in desperate need of some spice, something that says to the reader, “Hey, fucking NOTICE me!” This story holds my personal record for rejections, racking up thirteen before I placed it.

Let me state for the record I think all three of these stories are good ones, and I did manage to get them published. That said, they were rejected a lot. Was that because of a bad hooker? Hard to say, but if I was running into editors who were bored by the first sentence, maybe they lost interest in the story and didn’t read much of it before hitting the ol’ reject button. The wonderful, kind, and gracious folks who did publish these stories might have pushed past my weak opening line to find something they liked further in. Again, this is all conjecture, but let’s see if I can’t find more evidence for “good hookers are a must” with some other stories.

Okay, here are some of the “best” hookers from my published works. I put best in quotes because this is a pretty subjective exercise.

This first hooker is from “Night Games,” which I personally think is the best story I’ve published to date (your mileage may vary).

Randall Simmons only plays night games.

Hey, that’s not too bad, right? I mean, I hope it has you asking, “Who is this Randall Simmons guy, and why does he only play night games?” I think that’s the key to a good hooker; it gets the reader asking questions. This line also says you’re in for a sports story (even if you’re only passing familiar with such things) and this Randall dude might be up to something. I hope all that adds up to you wanting to read more. This story was rejected a couple of times, but it was also short listed once and it received almost entirely personal notes from editors, usually citing the baseball stuff as a little to sporty for their market. I also managed to sell it as a reprint to a pro-paying market on the first try. Not too bad.

This next one is from a flash piece called “Side Effects.”

Harold approached the final electrical outlet in the living room, a roll of duct tape in one hand, his bottle of Clozaril in the other.

Yeah, I dig this one. It tells you some shit right off the bat, and I think it would get most readers asking questions. I think phrases like “final electrical outlet” and “roll of duct tape” come together to paint an interesting image. But, in my opinion, what keeps this from being a really great hooker is most folks won’t know that Clorazil is an antipsychotic medication. If I could have found some way to make that more clear, I might have had a real winner on my hands. Still, I placed this story with the first publisher who read it.

Okay, this last hooker is probably my best. It’s from a story called “One Last Spell, My Love,” which you can read right here on this blog.

How do you break up with a demon?

There’s a lot of flavor packed into that little bastard, huh? I mean, I just told you you’re gonna read a story with a demon, someone in a romantic relationship with said demon, and, holy fuck, someone who’s gonna kick that demon to the curb. That’s a story I would want to read. Again, I think what makes this a good hooker is that it gets the reader asking questions, probably just one, “How DO you break up with a demon?” This story also sold quickly. In its first submission run, I sim-subbed it to two publishers, and one of those publishers bought it.

So, have I proved you need a good hooker to sell a short story? Nope; in fact, I may have provided evidence that if you’re patient, you can have a crap first line and still sell a story. I think, however, I may have delivered a little anecdotal evidence that a good hooker helps you sell a story quicker, maybe. Again, this is all conjecture and opinion, and I invite you to draw your own conclusions.

Got any good hookers of your own? I’d love to read them in the comments.

Rejection Letter Rundown: The Referral Rejection

In the hierarchy of “good” rejections, the referral rejection has got to be near the top. What is it? It’s a personal note from an editor often telling you why they didn’t accept your story and then referring you to another market that might. Pretty cool, right? Here’s one I recently received.

Thank you for submitting your story “XXX” to XXX, but we’re going to take a pass on this one.

Not quite enough horror in this, I’m afraid, but I’m betting the folks at XXX will really like it: [link to referred site]. You might try this story with them. 

By the way, I’m super stoked about “XXX.” Keep sending stuff our way!

A quick note before I break this down. This market recently accepted a story of mine (you can probably tell that much from the letter).

Okay, here are some good things about this rejection. One, they tell my straight up why they didn’t take it. “Not enough horror” are three words that tell me A LOT. My story had horror elements, but is likely closer to dark urban fantasy than straight horror. It really gives me a good idea what to send them in the future, especially now that I can compare the story they accepted with this rejection. Two, it’s fair to say they liked the story, and the referral is to a fantasy market affiliated with them. Three, the last sentence is a legit invite to send them more stuff; that always great.

As you can guess, I fired this story off to the suggested market immediately. I feel pretty confident about it, but, you know, there’s no guarantees in publishing. Still, I like my chances with this submission a bit better than most.

If you’ve received a referral rejection, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

March 2016 Submission Statement

I was unable to follow up on February’s success in March, and all my stats are down. That said, my flagging production was for a good cause. I spent most of March finishing and revising my first novel for Privateer Press, due out this summer. Anyway, here’s how the month broke down.

March Report Card

  • Submissions Sent: 3
  • Rejections: 2
  • Acceptances: 0
  • Other: 0
  • Publications: 1

The Rejections

Rejection’s first. There’s only two this time.

Rejection 1: 3/12/16

Thank you for submitting to XXX. We have decided not to publish your piece, “XXX”. Some reader comments:

“Although the idea is interesting, it starts slowly and doesn’t end with any closure. I don’t see a full story here.”

“I found the first sentence ungainly. This scene gives no indication of something I can take away (other than ‘the bad thing kills people and goes away to kill more’). I needed the kind of content and context which would make these happenings important to me.”

“The story isn’t complete.”

“Didn’t hook me in, and didn’t pace quickly enough for a flash, in my opinion. I didn’t feel I really got to know these characters enough to invest in what’s going on here (they were fairly stock to me; types, not individuals). This reads more like a solid excerpt from a commercial novel more than a flash. Not really my cup of tea.”

“I’d have liked this a lot more if there were an explanation to what the “fire” is. It’s an interesting enough premise, but it feels incomplete to me.”

Best of luck, and please feel free to submit to us again in the future.

That’s a long one, eh? It’s a type of rejection I call the multi-reader rejection, and there’s some pretty good feedback in here. I covered this rejection and the multi-reader rejection letter earlier this month in this post.

Rejection 2: 3/30/16

Thank you for submitting “XXX.” Unfortunately, this didn’t quite work for me, so I’m going to pass this time.

This is your common, garden-variety form letter. It’s from a market I’ve submitted to once before (with the same result). I think it bears repeating that you should not read anything into a letter like this because it doesn’t tell you anything (other than no). There’s no point in overanalyzing phrases like “didn’t quite work for me” because they are essentially meaningless without further details. So, this is a letter you let roll off your back while you fire that story off to another publisher.

The Publications

So, only one other thing of note this month. I had a reprint story published with Digital Fiction Pub called “Night Walk.” You can read it by clicking the link below.

Read “Night Walk”

And that, folks, was my March 2016. What did yours look like?