Novellas by the Numbers

I recently had a novella published by Grinning Skull Press called Effectively Wild, and I’m currently writing a follow-up novella. I’ve also written novellas for Privateer Press in their steampunk fantasy setting of the Iron Kingdoms. Since I’m focused on novellas right now, I thought I’d talk a little about how I go about writing them as opposed to writing novels. Of course, there’s no right way to do this. What follows is how I approach fiction between 20,000 and 40,000 words. You might have a completely different take, and, if so, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Okay, here’s my three-part novella formula or guidelines. Much of this is adapted from my flash fiction formula, and the comparison between writing flash and writing short stories I find to be very similar to the difference between writing novellas and novels.

1) Plot with room to pants. With a novel, I do a very detailed thirty-chapter, three-act outline. It’s easy to lose my way in 90,000 words, so I like to have a reliable road map. With a novella, I play faster and looser. I still write an outline, and it’s still three acts, but I don’t get as granular. I don’t break it down by chapters/beats; instead, I write a general synopsis of what I want to happen in each act. With a novella, I feel more comfortable figuring things out as I write, using my outline as a loose suggestion rather than a detailed map. To me it feels like free climbing up a mountain, which is both terrifying and exhilarating.

2) Limit the scope. This is a lesson I learned from writing flash fiction. I have a lot of room to tell an intricate story with a novella, but it’s not novel-sized room. So, like with flash fiction, I’ll reduce both the number of secondary characters and the number of location changes and transitions. Too many secondary characters cuts into important screen time for primary characters (and vital secondary characters). I tend to adopt a “cast of thousands” approach. I can give the impression of a full, vibrant world with some quick descriptions and even a few names here and there. The characters that interact with the MC on a more direct basis, get the full secondary character treatment of course. Location changes and transitions eat up a lot of precious word count, too. I don’t want a novella to take place in a single room or anything, but I like to keep things to somewhere between three and four key locations. In Effectively Wild, that’s the ballpark (locker room, manager’s office, field, etc.), the MC’s apartment (not much time is spent here), and a one or two important outside locations. I think it was enough so the novella didn’t feel static, but I think it also created a nice, cozy, even intimate atmosphere.

3) Get to the point. Another lesson from flash fiction here. With a novel, you can build to the central conflict at a more measured pace (though getting right to it is certainly good for novels, too). I don’t feel I have that luxury with a novella, and I want to get to the main course fast. If I’m writing a 30,000-word novella, I want to hit the central conflict within the first 5,000 words or so. I want to introduce the main character, get you to like, loathe, or sympathize with them, and then get them in the soup. Like with flash fiction, I want to start closer to the end than I might with a novel.

These are, of course, just loose guidelines that get me from page one to a complete draft. They work for me. They may not for you. I’d love to hear how other folks approach novellas, so, please, tell me about it in the comments.

If you’d like to see how some of these guidelines look in the wild (hah!), check out my novella Effectively Wild available now from Grinning Skull Press.

Effectively Wild Launch Day & Other Weird Baseball Stuff

Today, my baseball horror novella Effectively Wild launches in print and e-book. Be a friend, and head on over to Amazon or your online book retailer of choice and grab a copy.

Okay, now let’s have a little fun. While you don’t need to be a baseball aficionado to enjoy Effectively Wild, the novella is sprinkled with the colorful jargon that pervades the sport. It’s all very clear through context, but I thought it would be fun to give folks a little baseball jargon glossary. Some of these terms are in the book, but most of them are just a collection of fun weird words and phrases baseball has developed over 150 years.

Home Run

  • Homer – Just a shortening of home run.
  • Dinger – Like many baseball terms, the origin of this one is lost to history.
  • Tater – The ball used to be referred to as “the potato”, though not as much anymore, so tater or long tater is, uh, a home run. I don’t understand why it isn’t “mashed potato.” :).
  • Big fly – Pretty obvious. A home run is almost always a fly ball, and it’s, obviously, the biggest fly ball.
  • Oppo taco – This is when a batter hits a home run to the opposite field instead of his “pull” side. So a left-hand hitter would hit it to left, and right hand hitter to right. It’s usually harder to hit a home run to the opposite field, so the oppo taco is considered a more impressive feat.


  • Effectively Wild – Kind of an important one. When a pitcher is effectively wild, he’s throwing more balls than strikes, but his “stuff” is still good enough that batters can’t do anything with it. It still has excellent velocity or movement, even when it’s outside the strike zone. The pitcher is unpredictable, and the batter can’t get comfortable or guess what might be coming. There’s also a considerably higher chance of a batter getting hit by a pitch.
  • Uncle Charlie – A curve ball, generally one thrown by a pitcher who has a particularly good one. Origin unknown.
  • Yellow Hammer – A curve ball that generally drops straight down, or 12 to 6. Origin unknown.
  • High and Tight – When a pitcher throws a fast ball inside and high to a batter to move him off the plate. The intent is not to hit the batter but to set up an outside pitch.
  • Brush Back – Same as above, but generally done with more, uh, pointed intent.
  • Buzzing the Tower – Yeah, there are a lot of terms for pitchers throwing at or near batters. This is a pitch that’s thrown head-high (kind of a no-no) that might set the batter down on his ass. This can lead to another baseball term – charging the mound. 🙂
  • Cutter – Generally a two-seam fastball that moves horizontally away from a batter or, often, in so that contact results in a weak grounder and a broken bat.
  • Sinker – A fastball with considerable late drop that cause the batter to swing over it or hit the top of the ball and ground out.
  • Punch Out – When a pitcher strikes out a batter.
  • K/Backward K – This is a term for a strikeout. A regular K denotes a strikeout where the batter swung and missed, The backward K denotes a strikeout where the batter took a called third strike.
  • Battery – The duo made up of the pitcher and the catcher.

Other Hits

  • Line Drive – As opposed to a fly ball which is hit at a steeper angle, line drives have a flatter trajectory and are some of the hardest hit balls in the game.
  • Frozen Rope – A line drive that is hit particularity hard.
  • Worm Burner – A hard-hit ground ball that theoretically could prove lethal to any worms in its path. 🙂
  • Bloop – A softly hit fly ball that manages to drop over the infield or between outfielders for a hit. Detested by pitchers because they generally mean the batter was fooled or made bad contact and then got lucky. But, hey, that’s baseball.
  • Can of Corn – A medium-depth fly ball that hangs up in the air long enough for the outfielder to settle under it and make an easy catch. Thought to have originated from a time when cans of food were kept on high shelves at markets and knocked off with a stick for the the stock person to catch and give to the customer.
  • Gapper – A hard hit fly ball that lands between the outfielders and rolls to the wall. The batter winds up with at least a double.


  • Speed Never Slumps – Many things in baseball go through ups and downs. A batter or pitcher is a tick off and goes on an extended streak of subpar play. This is called a slump. A fast player, one who steals bases, never loses that ability in a “slump.”
  • The Tools of Ignorance – The catcher’s gear. Called this because no one on the field takes more physical punishment than the catcher, so, the idea is that in order to be a catcher, you have to be a little unhinged,
  • Cup of Coffee – When a minor league player gets called up the majors for a short stint, usually to cover for an injured player or make a spot start and is then sent back to the minors. The idea being the player is only in the big leagues long enough to have a cup of coffee.
  • Bonus Baby – A player who is drafted high in the MLB draft and given a significant (seven figure) signing bonus by the team. When the player reports to the minor leagues, he is often called a bonus baby. The term is slightly derogatory and equivalent to “silver spoon.”

Well, that’s just scratching the surface of the staggering amount of baseball slang and jargon. I hope you found it interesting, and I hope you employ this new-found knowledge when you grab a copy of Effectively Wild in print or e-book. 🙂


The Accidental NaNoWriMo

November is on the horizon, and that means thousands of writers are preparing to jam out 50,000-word novels in a month as part of NaNoWriMo. I’ve never done an official NaNoWriMo, but I keep meticulous records of how much I write per day when drafting a novel. I thought it might be interesting to look at the first draft timelines for four of my novels and see how they stack up against the NaNoWriMo pace.

These numbers and dates are for first drafts only. For the first three novels, there were, of course, revisions that added months to the whole process. (There are revisions on the fourth as well. I just haven’t finished them yet.)

Acts of War: Flashpoint

  • Started: 12/7/15
  • Finished: 2/19/16
  • Total Days: 65
  • Actual Writing Days: 40
  • Total Words: 82,559
  • Average Words Per Day: 1,270/2,063 (total days/writing days)

This was the first novel I wrote for Privateer Press. The first draft took me about two and a half calendar months, which I think is a good pace. My goal was to write 2,500 words, five days per week. I fell short of that and ended up writing a bit over 2,000 words per writing day. The closest I came to NaNoWriMo production was between the dates of 1/4/16 and 2/2/16, where I produced a total 42,897 words.

Acts of War: Aftershock

  • Started: 12/12/16
  • Finished: 2/9/17
  • Total Days: 60
  • Actual Writing Days: 44
  • Total Words: 95,303
  • Average Words Per Day: 1,588/2,166

I started the second Privateer Press novel almost exactly a year after I started the first and finished in just under two calendar months. This first draft of Aftershock was longer by some 13,000 words than Flashpoint, and my average output per day is correspondingly higher. My goal this time was 2,000 words per day, five days a week, and I accomplished that for the most part. I did pull off what would be an official NaNo with this novel, writing 50,006 words for the first 30 days between 12/12/16 and 1/10/17. I wrote 22 days of those 30, and averaged 2,273 words per writing day.

Late Risers

  • Started: 1/24/18
  • Finished: 5/4/18
  • Total Days: 111
  • Actual Writing Days: 48
  • Total Words: 92,684
  • Average Words Per Day: 835/1,931

Late Risers is the first novel I wrote without a deadline. It took me roughly four months to finish the first draft, but I took almost three weeks off right in the middle of that period. On the days I did write, I was productive, and managed almost 2,000 words on average. Compared to the Privateer Press novels, this one took a long time, but I don’t think four months is unreasonable for a 92,000-word first draft. I didn’t get anywhere close to NaNo-ing on this book. The best I managed was the last 30 days, where I wrote just over 31,000 words.

Hell to Play

  • Started: 4/13/20
  • Finished: 7/14/20
  • Total Days: 93
  • Actual Writing Days: 53
  • Total Words: 89,188
  • Average Words Per Day: 959/1,683

The last novel I finished is called Hell to Play. I wrote this one during the first months of the pandemic, mostly so I’d have something else to think about. The pace of this novel is pretty much my ideal. I wrote 90,000 words in almost exactly three months. Interestingly, I produced less on a day-to-day basis with this novel than any of the others, managing, on average, just over 1,600 words on the days I did write. This novel is currently in revision, and I hope to have it ready to go by the end of the year. There was no NaNo-ing on this novel either, but I did write almost exactly 30,000 words every 30 days.


As I said, I’ve never done an official NaNoWriMo, but I was curious to see if I’d unwittingly pulled it off. Looks like I have, once, but I’m much more comfortable around 30,000 words per month. That feels like a good fit.

Don’t get me wrong; I think 50,000 words in 30 days is an awesome goal to strive for, and the motivation and sense of community NaNoWriMo promotes is fantastic. Maybe I’ll give it a try this year. I do have some monster baseball novellas I need to write. 🙂

Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year? Thoughts on 50,000 words in 30 days? I’d love to heart about it in the comments.

Submission Statement: September 2022

September was a pretty good month on a number of fronts.

September 2022 Report Card

  • Submissions Sent: 9
  • Rejections: 6
  • No Response: 0
  • Acceptances: 1
  • Publications: 2
  • Further Consideration/Shortlist: 0

I sent a solid number of submissions out in September. Those nine subs bring me up to seventy-on for the year, which puts me within reach of my goal of one hundred. One acceptance and a couple of publications make it a pretty good month. Six rejections is not that many, though one of them was a real heart-breaker. The publications were both flash fiction pieces, but they’re two I’d been trying to sell for a while, so it was nice to find them a home.


Six rejections in September.

  • Standard Form Rejections: 5
  • Upper-Tier Form Rejections: 0
  • Personal Rejections: 1

Most of the rejections were of the form variety, but one was a final-round sort of thing. That particular story has received a lot of them, and I discussed my changing perception on these kinds of rejections earlier this week. You can check that out here.


Two publications last month. My story “Hunting Snowmen” was published at Radon Journal, and “The Woman in the Moon” was published by my old pals at The Molotov Cocktail. You can read both by clicking the cover images below.

“Hunting Snowmen” 

Issue 2 Cover Art.png

“The Woman in the Moon”

Effectively Wild

My baseball monster mashup novella Effectively Wild releases this month on the 15th. In the meantime, you can preorder it in print and e-book. If you do pick up the book on preorder or when it releases, be sure to leave a review and help me out with the pesky Amazon algorithms. 🙂

And that was September. How was your month?

The Awful Agony of Almost

I have reached a point in my writing career where the majority of short stories I write accumulate further consideration and close-but-no-cigar rejections from pro markets. I have three stories circulating at the moment, each with a minimum of three such rejections. In this post, I’m going to talk a bit about this particular brand of no, what it might mean, and how my perception of it has changed over the years. As always, this is NOT an attempt to call out publications or editors or anything of the sort. This is one writer attempting to read the literary tea leaves and divine what he should write and how/where he should submit it.

First off, let’s see an example of the kind of rejection I’m talking about. 

Thank you for sending [story] to [publisher]. Unfortunately, this story wasn’t a good fit for us. Choosing stories is a subjective process, and we have to reject many well-written stories. Please note that we do not accept revised stories, but we wish you the best in finding this one a good home, and we look forward to your next submission.

Our Associate Editors enjoyed this story, and the Assistant Editors liked it enough to hold it for a second look, but ultimately the competition was too strong this month. About 5-7% of submissions reach this stage.

[Specific praise and feedback for story]

This rejection is typical of the type I’m talking about. It starts with boilerplate rejection language, then tells you how far your story made it through the process, and, finally, the editor will often provide a little feedback. I left that off because, as usual, I’m not trying to identify the publisher, story, etc.

Now let’s talk about what we can learn from this rejection and others like it.

  1. I probably have a sellable story. When a story starts getting these kinds of rejections, I almost always sell it eventually. It just takes a while, but I generally find the right combo of editor, market, and timing. In some sense, these rejections are a kind of sellable story litmus test.
  2. It really is about fit at this point. The editor will tell you things like “good story,” “we enjoyed it,” and so on. They will then give you a specific bit of feedback that contributed to their decision to ultimately pass on the story. This feedback is, of course, highly subjective and can be contradictory from one market to another. For example, I’ve had one publisher tell me a story started too slow, but they really liked the ending, and another publisher tell me they loved the set-up but thought the ending lacked impact. Neither are wrong in the sense that the story was not a good fit for them and their market for this specific reason, and I’ll remember what the editor likes/dislikes even if I don’t use the specific feedback on the rejected story.

So that’s what we can learn from these types of rejections, and those things remain true. That said, my perception has changed from viewing them as a universally good thing to one that leaves me a little disheartened. Here’s why.

  1. Long waits. No sim-subs. Most of the markets I’m talking about send form rejections quickly, but if you make it past the first round, you’re looking at two months or longer to get a reply. If you follow the rules like I do, it can be a long wait while the publisher makes a decision. When you start piling up these “almost” rejections, you’re looking at up to a year of submissions to just a few markets. Some markets are starting to come around on sim-subs, and there are some that allow them, but not enough to make a difference. Basically, if one out of ten markets accepts sim-subs, I can submit to the one sim-sub market and still not have nowhere to send the story at the same pro tier.
  2. A painful analysis. If I’m consistently reaching this point with publishers and getting no further, it may be that I’m simply not writing the kind of work they want to publish. Period. That’s a bitter pill, but it might be the case, especially when the rejected stories are getting published elsewhere. It might also be that I need to up my game that last little bit to break through. I’m at a point where it’s difficult to tell. The stories are receiving positive feedback, and they are getting out of the slush pile, which are good indicators that I’m getting somewhere, but what’s the formula for breaking through? Is the right advice as simple as “Write better”? Or is it as plain as “Write different”? Is it both? Neither? I don’t know. 
  3. More frustrating than motivating. Editors and publishers have to choose the stories that best fit their publication and their readers. This is a tough job, and I understand the tradeoffs they have to make. This post isn’t about them. It’s about a particular author struggle: getting to a certain point with your writing and not knowing if you should keep doggedly submitting as you always have, or if you should change your strategy entirely. There was a time when I found these close-but-no-cigar rejections motivating. They would galvanize me to get that story right back out there. They answered the question “Are you making progress?” That answer was yes. Now that they’ve become more commonplace, they leave me with more questions than answers. 

I’m not trying to be a downer here, and I know I’m supposed to be the guy that laughs in the face of rejection and carries on. I’m STILL that guy, but I’m also a human writer trying to figure out how to reach the next level and the one after. In other words, I am not immune to the rejection blues. I thought I’d talk about this particular issue because it’s different than just receiving piles of form rejections. (I’ve been there, too.)

I’m not giving up, of course. I’m just thinking (and feeling) out loud, and my focus is now on figuring out this particular puzzle. When I do, there’ll be a much more positive post to follow. 🙂

Submission Statement: August 2022

August was somewhat disappointing, mostly because I’ve fallen behind on my submission goal.

August 2022 Report Card

  • Submissions Sent: 8
  • Rejections: 7
  • No Response: 0
  • Acceptances: 0
  • Publications: 0
  • Further Consideration/Shortlist: 2

More submissions than last month, though most of those went in the last week. Clearly the other numbers weren’t as good. That may have something to do with the number of stories I had/have pending. Generally, I’ll have a round a dozen. I got down to four (and one is a novel), and I’m back up to seven. That’s just not enough subs to beat the numbers game. My acceptance percentage is in the 15% range. So I need to send roughly ten subs to get an acceptance, and that’s ballpark math. I’m not hitting 15% at markets like Apex and F&SF. However, I am getting more further considerations and final-round rejection from these types of markets. That’s encouraging and frustrating all at once. TL;DR, I need to send more subs.

The seven rejections included two final round/further consideration heartbreakers. The two stories in question I know are good, and I know I’ll sell them, but for whatever reason, I have to shop the hell out of my short stories. I sell flash fiction quickly. Shorts? I generally hit double-digit rejections before they sell. No publications last month.

I’ve got 61 submissions for the year at this point. So if I want to hit 100, I need an average of 10 for the next four months. Doable, but I’d be more comfortable if I was in the 70s by now.

I feel I must qualify some of this by stating I’ve been working on a big freelance project for Privateer Press, which is guaranteed payment and guaranteed publication. So, I haven’t been twiddling my thumbs. 🙂


Seven rejections in August.

  • Standard Form Rejections: 5
  • Upper-Tier Form Rejections: 0
  • Personal Rejections: 2

One of the personal rejection is a final-round rejection as is one of the form rejections. The other personal is the first I’ve received from the new editor of a pro market. That’s good info, and it tells me what types of stories I should likely send in the future. I’m going to share one of the final-round rejections. The story has been racking these things up, which tells me I’ll eventually sell it, but, man, these close-but-no-cigars can be tough sometimes.

We thank you for very much for your submission. This piece did make it through to our final round of reviews, however, competition is especially tight for the larger word count spots. After the final review & rating by our full panel of six readers, it has been decided to pass on this story.

We wish you all the best in finding a suitable home for this piece, and look forward to reading further submissions from you in the future.

Getting to the final round is always good. Generally, at that point, the choice to publish or not publish is entirely subjective. I appreciate it when a publisher gives me a glimpse into their process. For one, it tells me why it may take longer to get back to me, and if it does, I’ve probably made it through at least the first round. I’ll certainly submit here again, but I might go with a flash piece or something shorter. Sounds like the competition is not so fierce there. Oh, I should probably point out that though I labeled this one as a personal, rejection it might be a form, but it says the same thing.

Other Cool Stuff

I sold a novella to Grinning Skull Press a while back called Effectively Wild. This week I got notes and edits back from the publisher, which were entirely painless and easy to address. Preorders should be happening soon, so expect me to hype the hell out of this thing. Here’s another look at the oh-so-awesome cover. 🙂

And that was August. How was your month?

The Hook Up: Yet More Fun With First Lines

A blog topic I keep coming back to is analyzing the first lines of my flash and short stories. As before, all this comes from the essay written by Stephen King called “Great Hookers I Have Known” in his now sadly out-of-print collection Secret Windows. The term “hooker” comes from an old bit of publishing slang that means a first line that hooks the reader. Over the years, I’ve been looking at the first lines of my published stories, rating them, and trying to find evidence that supports the theory that a great first line improves your chances of publication. So, here we go again.

First, let’s talk about what makes a good first line, in my opinion. There are three elements I think are necessary.

  1. Then What? I think the best first lines make the reader want to read more. They need to know what happens after you’ve set the hook.
  2. Informative. A good first line tells you something about the story. It sets the tone, gives you a glimpse of the protagonist’s motives, or even hints at what the story might be about.
  3. Attention-Grabbing. It doesn’t have to be over the top (though it can be), but a first line that is somewhat shocking or arresting or even just straight-up weird can be effective.

Now let’s look at a few of my recently published stores, analyze the first lines, see if they hit my three vital elements, then I’ll give them a letter grade. I’ll also link to the stories, so you can read the whole thing and see if the first line affects the overall piece.

1) “Mixed Signals” published by Flash Point SF

Colton peered through the binoculars at the tiny red cabin and frowned. “I don’t understand.”

As first lines go, this isn’t exactly hitting a homerun. Let’s see how it does with our three first line musts.

  • Then What? Eh, sort of. It’s not a particularly exciting line, but there’s maybe just enough there to prompt a then what.
  • Informative. You get one of the protagonists’ names but not anything about him. I’d say it mostly fails here.
  • Attention-Grabbing. Nope. Pretty run of the mill, honestly.

This one kinda hits a single element and maybe brushes the surface of another. Grade: D

2) “What You Pay For” published by The Arcanist 

When Angelos Hasapi woke, the demon sat in a chair next to his bed.

Okay, this is better. Let’s see how it does.

  • Then What? Definitely. Dude wakes up and there’s a demon sitting next to him. I think most folks want to know what happens next.
  • Informative. Some. The protagonist and antagonist are introduced, and since one is a demon, that does give the reader an idea of the kind of story they’re about to read.
  • Attention-Grabbing. Yeah, I think so.

This line hits one point hard, another point pretty well, and another okay. Not bad. Grade: B

3) “Grave Concerns” published by MetaStellar 

Heather glanced around the GraveSecure office, at beige walls, a desk of unvarnished pine, and two brown plastic IKEA chairs, one of which she currently sat in.

Yeah, not great.

  • Then What? A woman sits in a beige office, so, no.
  • Informative. The mention of GraveSecure is important and kind of interesting, but it’s lost in all that beige description.
  • Attention-Grabbing. Haha. No.

Thank god editors generally read beyond the first line. The opening paragraph is good, which clearly saved me. Grade: F

4) “Fertilizer” published by Radon Journal

Victor stared down at the naked corpse of a man in his forties.

Another pretty good one.

  • Then What? Yeah, I think so. Guy staring at a naked corpse puts a question or two in the reader’s mind.
  • Informative. It kind of whiffs here. Giving the protagonist’s name isn’t really informative. There’s a bit of a tone thing but not enough to matter.
  • Attention-Grabbing. Yes. Naked corpses are forty(ish) dudes are generally attention-getting.

So this one gets two out of three, and the two it does get, it gets pretty good. Grade: B-

5) “Rhymes With Dead” published by Wyldblood Press

“Knees, if you please, Brandon,” Rosie said, pitching her voice low to keep it from echoing in the cavernous space of the empty shopping mall.

This one’s not bad either.

  • Then What? It’s not killing it here, but the description of the area is good enough along with the opening bit of dialogue that it gets the job done.
  • Informative. This is the one the line hits the strongest. It introduces a character but also gives you a glimpse into her personality. The description of the space hints at some things too.
  • Attention-Grabbing. The rhyme is pretty good, and the fact that it ties into the title I think works.

This line bullseyes one element and does an okay job with the other two. Some folks detest a story that opens with dialogue. I don’t, obviously, but I’ll downgrade this one a bit for that very real editorial bias. Grade: B

I don’t think I hit it out of the park with any of these, but how did the quality of my first lines affect things in the real world? Did I have difficulty publishing the stories with weaker first lines? Let’s take a look.

Story Grade  Rejections
Mixed Signals D 3
What You Pay For B 4
Grave Concerns F 4
Fertilizer B- 4
Rhymes With Dead B 1

I’d say that’s pretty inconclusive. The story with the worst first line got as many rejections as two stories with better ones. The other good one was a one-and-done, but that’s likely just good submission targeting (a rarity for me). So, what does this say? I think it says that a good first line can be helpful, but most editors will read past it even if it’s ho hum. I’d say a good first paragraph gets you further with an editor, and, of course, a good story get’s you to the vaunted state of acceptance. 🙂

Thoughts about my first line formula or the effect of good first lines in general? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

Three Things I Learned as a Magazine Editor

From March of 2010 to September of 2013, I was the editor-in-chief of Privateer Press’s in-house magazine No Quarter. I directly produced twenty issues (plus two special editions) as EIC and then another ten or so after I was promoted to publications manager (though the magazine had a new EIC at that time). Anyway, I’ve written about my first issue here, so I thought I’d write about my final issue as EIC and what I learned as a magazine editor.

Though I didn’t plan it this way, it was cool to go out on a nice round number AND the ten-year anniversary of WARMACHINE (the game No Quarter was created to support). It also had some seriously badass cover art by Andrea Uderzo.

So, after twenty-plus 96- to 112-page issues, here are three things I learned as a magazine editor and how they help me today.

  1. Prioritize. There is literally no way to run a magazine starting with the first article and working straight through to the last one. It just doesn’t work that way. You plan out all the articles, assign them to writers, assign art to artists, and then get cracking on the stuff you can do personally (editorials, articles I was writing, and so on). The writing and art comes in as it comes in, so if you get the writing for one article, you start editing, then if the art comes in for an article you’ve already edited, you switch tracks and get that article into layout. You do this, jumping around from article to article until you have a complete magazine. I would generally prioritize articles I could get into layout since that was completely out of my hands, and a finished article is something I could mark off my list. Also, cover assets were always prioritized. If you don’t have a cover, you don’t have a magazine. I know this seems haphazard, but once you get a couple of issues under your belt, there’s a definite flow to it, and you just surrender to editorial tides. That prioritization is a skill I’ve taken into writing novels and working on freelance projects (some of which ARE novels). Work on the stuff you can work on right now. When you’re waiting for a publisher to get back to you for edits and other directions, work on another part of the project if you can. When you’re struggling with one part of a novel, switch tracks and work on another part or work on something else entirely. In short, if you prioritize, you never stop working toward a finished product, be it a novel or a freelance gig.
  2. Collaboration. Another absolute must when running a magazine is learning how to play nice with others. You are absolutely beholden to writers, artists, and layout folks, and forging good relationships with these people is absolutely key. This is not to say that I didn’t expect freelancers to hit their deadlines, and an artist or writer who didn’t just didn’t get more work from me. I also relied heavily on in-house writers, sculptors, the graphic design department, the editing and continuity departments, and so on. My goal was always to make their job as easy as possible because, well, that’s just how I roll, and also there would definitely come a time where I’d need them to pull my ass out of the fire and building up goodwill definitely made that request go down easier. I also got a lot of experience dealing with freelancers, and that has definitely shaped how I approach freelance today. Essentially, I try to hit the trifecta of good writing, hitting my deadlines, and being easy to work with. Do those three things and editors will sing your praises and best of all, give you more work. When I found an artist or writer that could reliably do those things, I gave them a TON of work because it was one less thing I had to worry about.
  3. Get it DONE. You don’t have time for writer’s block or just-don’t-feel-like-it when your putting together a magazine. You write and edit beneath the harsh glare of THE DEADLINE. It’s a ticking clock you absolutely cannot defy. The magazine has to go out on time. If it doesn’t, subscribers don’t get their issues, the printer might not be able to accommodate, and you start at a deficit for the next article. In short, you are fucked. So you do what is necessary to make sure that issue goes out the door on time. I wrote articles at the zero hour when a freelancer couldn’t meet their deadline. I scoured the vast library of art we had to find SOMETHING that would work for an article when an artist dropped the ball. I moved and replaced articles with frenzied abandon. What did I learn from this? Well, I learned how to write under the adverse conditions. A noisy office, deadlines looming, pressure intensifying, and the knowledge that if I didn’t get it done, no one would. So, I can write quickly. I can write under tight deadlines. I can write with multiple changes to a project and roll with it. In short, being a magazine editor made me a better writer.

Now, the caveat to all this is, as usual, that it is entirely based on my experience and how I ran a magazine. Other editors might do things differently, and there are differences in running an in-house magazine as opposed to an independent one. That said, I’d bet good money that my experiences are at least somewhat relatable to magazine editors everywhere.

If you have any questions about my tenure with No Quarter magazine or what it’s like to edit a magazine, fire away in the comments.


Three Things I Learned About Writing Media Tie-In

Today, I’m going to talk about writing media tie-in fiction for tabletop gaming companies. I actually know a thing or two about that because I’ve worked both sides of that particular fence. My last position in the industry was as a managing editor for a media tie-in fiction line, and I still write a lot of media tie-in for my former employer.

If you’ve never heard the term media tie-in, it’s fiction based on a pre-existing IP whose primary expression is in another medium, with movies, games, and comic-books being the most common. So Star Wars novels, Dungeons & Dragons novels, novels based on comic books, etcetera, etcetera. I am drawing a distinction between writing fiction for tabletop RPG and miniature war games over writing fiction for something like movies, comics, and video games. The reason is simple. I have a lot of experience with the former and very little with the latter. There are certainly similarities, but there are also big differences, which I am not qualified to talk about. I’ll stick to what I know.

My aim here is to clear up a misconception or two and provide a little advice on how to get into the gig. One quick caveat: even though I have a fair amount of experience in this area, what I’m about to say is still based on my personal experiences primarily with Privateer Press. Some tabletop miniature and RPG publishers might and probably do conduct things differently. As always, take this post with a grain of salt, and do some research.

Okay, here are three things I think you need to know about media tie-in fiction.

1) It’s not fan fiction. Let me begin this by saying I have nothing against fan fiction or the folks who write it, and fan fiction and media tie-in are cousins to some extent, BUT there are major differences. I think there is a misconception that fan fiction authors are essentially doing the same thing as media tie-in authors for the same IP. And while there might be some crossover, the goals of fan fiction and media tie-in are often miles apart.

In fanfic, the author writes what they WANT to happen. In media tie-in, the author writes what the publisher NEEDS to happen. Those two things generally don’t line up. In fact, the subject of much fan fiction is directly at odds with publisher interests and goals. A fan fiction author might write about a character death or two dire enemies becoming allies or even a romantic relationship between characters, and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, the publisher almost certainly has different goals for the characters and the setting that correspond to plans reaching YEARS into the future. These are things no one outside the company would know. In fact, the information contained in current and even new releases of models, books, and so on is often just the tip of the iceberg. So, even though killing a character, for example, might make for great fiction, it doesn’t work for the publisher if the next three years of releases are built around that character.

In my experience, fan fiction is not a direct path to writing media tie-in. This is not to say that fan fiction authors never get published by the parent IP, but there are reasons why this is rare (see above), some of them legal. So if you want to write media tie-in, take a look at the next point. It might be a better approach.

2) It helps to already be a published writer. Let me explain why. When I was running the fiction line at Privateer Press, my deadlines were SUPER tight. Because of that, I felt more comfortable with authors who had a proven track record of meeting deadlines and, more so, who already wrote media tie-in and understood what to expect.

Here’s another thing that might be surprising. I didn’t care if the author had zero experience with our IP. If they did, great, but it wasn’t necessary. Here’s why. Veteran media tie-in authors are adept at absorbing the exact amount of information they need to complete the project. I’d provide them with setting information and what we needed them to write. They’d get acquainted with that information, write an outline, which I would then mark up and maybe provide additional reference material if necessary. Then the author would write the first draft, which the editorial and continuity team would mark up so the author could make necessary changes to fit setting continuity and the like. This is a skill set developed over time, and, generally not a skill set a new writer possesses. For example, if I need an author to write a short story about Cygnar (a faction in WARMACHINE), I don’t need them to be well-versed on the ancient lore of Cryx (another faction) because Cryx is not in the story. I need them to know enough about the nation of Cygnar and the relevant Cygnaran characters to get the job done. Sometimes, if we had a specific story in mind, I’d even provide the author with a short outline myself. That made both our jobs easier, especially when the author was new to the IP.

But if you are a new writer, and you want to write media tie-in, how do you get started? I can only tell you what I know from my experience, but my advice is to seek publishing elsewhere first. Write and publish short stories, preferably ones in the genre of the media tie-in you want to write. For WARMACHINE, that’d be steampunk, fantasy, and sci-fi. Then, keep an eye out for open calls from media tie-in publishers you know and like. For example, Games Workshop has put out a number of open calls, and that’s a great place to start. GW open calls are pretty cool because they don’t require any previous publishing experience (though I’m sure that doesn’t hurt). It’s never a bad idea to check a publisher’s website and see if they’re hosting an open call or if they’re open to inquiries about writing year-round. Some might be.

Another thing you can do is put together a short writing resume and attend conventions where the publisher has a booth. At Gen Con, for instance, I often had people approach me to inquire about writing for Privateer Press. When they showed up with a short writing resume, I tended to give them more consideration. If you’re going to go this route, make sure you know who to talk to. Go to the publisher’s website and find out how makes decisions on hiring writers to the best of your ability (it’ll likely be someone with the word editor in their title). Then go to the publisher’s booth and ask for them. If they’re not around or busy, ask if you can leave a card and a resume for them. Don’t be offended if you’re asked to come back when it’s not as busy or if you’re asked to submit a resume via the publisher’s website or the like. Be polite. Be professional. Make a good impression.

3) It’s not your IP.  When you’re writing for yourself, be it short stories, novels, or the above-mentioned fan fiction, you’re in complete control of the characters, the setting, and the style and tone. You own it. If you want to write media tie-in, you need to get used to the fact that it’s going to be a collaborative effort from the start, and you are essentially going be told what and who to write about. The main characters will usually be established and important to the setting, and they need to be written a certain way to maintain setting continuity. The same goes for setting elements. For example, when I’m writing WARMACHINE fiction, I might think it would be cool to create a brand new warjack that runs on primitive gasoline instead of coal, but if I did that, it would absolutely be called out by the publisher because it violates existing canon. Even if Privateer Press also thought it was a cool idea, the amount of work that would go into implementing it into the Iron Kingdoms is not something that begins in the fiction.

Now, this is not to say you have no creative freedom. You’ll get some leeway when it comes to secondary characters and the expression of game mechanics in the narrative. The latter does have some limitations, though, and you cannot have a character do something that is completely outside of their tabletop rules. For example, I can’t have an established warcaster in WARMACHINE use a magical ability that is not reflected in their rules. Both publisher (and players/readers) would rightly call that out. Again, the amount of freedom an author has likely differs from publisher to publisher, and authors with more experience writing for the IP are given more latitude when it comes to story and characters.

The most important thing to remember here is that you absolutely cannot be precious about your writing if you want to write media tie-in. Whatever you write is likely going to be heavily revised and changed to suit the publisher’s needs. That might change as you become more familiar with the the IP, but even then, expect to see a fair amount of red on your manuscripts.

So there’s my two cents on writing media tie-in. Again, this pertains to my own experience as and editor and writer for a tabletop miniature game. Take what I said here with a grain of salt as other publishers may operate differently. Do your research, look for open calls, and work on getting published elsewhere. That’s the best advice I can give you.

Thoughts or questions about writing media tie-in? Let me hear it in the comments.

If you’re wondering if I’m currently working on media tie-in, I am. Here’s an illustration by Andrea Uderzo of the character I’m currently writing, Kapitan Ilari Borisyuk. I’m having a blast with him, and it’s always great to work with all my old pals at Privateer Press.

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Kapitan Ilari Borisyuk and Winter Korps by Andrea Uderzo for Privateer Press.

Submission Statement: July 2022

July was another good month. The third quarter is definitely looking better than the first two.

July 2022 Report Card

  • Submissions Sent: 5
  • Rejections: 6
  • No Response: 0
  • Acceptances: 2
  • Publications: 1
  • Further Consideration/Shortlist: 0

Slightly better than last month, but five submissions in thirty-one days is not gonna cut it if I want to hit one hundred subs for the year. Right now, I’m at an even fifty, which means I need fifty more in five months. That’s ten a month, and doable, but I need to step on the gas. The good news is I received two more acceptance in July. So even though my submission output has been less than stellar, my acceptance rate has been good. I also had a publication last month, which I’ll detail later in the post.

The six rejections are mostly ho-hum form letters, but there’s one heartbreaker in the bunch. I currently have seven submissions pending, one short-listed, and three others that are getting long in the tooth. I hope to hear back on some of these soon, and, hopefully, that shortlist will turn to gold.


Six rejections in June.

  • Standard Form Rejections: 5
  • Upper-Tier Form Rejections: 0
  • Personal Rejections: 1

As you can see, most of the rejections were simple form jobs, but one of them was a personal note from a market I’ve been trying to crack for a long time. It’s as close as I’ve ever gotten (though, there’s no way to tell just how close), and that’s an encouraging sign. Here’s said rejection.

Thanks for submitting [story], but I’m going to pass on it. We had a good time reading it, but it’s not quite the right fit for me right now. Best of luck to you placing this one elsewhere, and thanks again for sending it my way. I look forward to seeing your next submission!

I break down this rejection and others I’ve received from the same market in this post. The progression is interesting, and it shows that rejectomancy is sometimes useful in divining whether or not you’re getting closer to an acceptance.


My old pals at The Arcanist published my story “Drums” last month. You can read it for free by clicking the image below. 

Blue title card for the flash fiction story Drums by Aeryn Rudel






The Rejectonomicon

The fourth installment of my Q&A column out at Dark Matter Magazine went up a few days ago. You can check it out by clicking the banner below. And, as always, send me your questions! Guidelines below.

Here’s how to send writing and rejection questions to me.

  1. Email your question to
  2. Put REJECTONOMICON in the subject line of the email.
  3. Write your question in the body of the email. Try to keep it brief.
  4. Please let me know if you’d like your first name published along with your question or if you’d like to remain anonymous.
  5. Please restrict your questions to the subjects of writing, submissions, and rejections. Those are pretty broad categories, though, and I’d be happy to field questions about my past career as a Tabletop RPG game designer/editor and media tie-in writer.

Got it? Then send me those questions!

And that was July. How was your month?

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