Jennifer Brozek | All posts tagged 'writer advice'

Looking Ahead to 2021

While I am aware that 2021 will not become magically “back to normal” (whatever the new normal is), I have hope that it will be better; that I will be able to visit friends and family. Hell, that I will make it to at least one convention in person. I’m enough of a realist to know that none of that might happen, but optimistic enough to believe some of it will.

In the meantime, I have projects scheduled for 2021. Here’s what’s known and forthcoming.

Editing:

  • Full edit of the 99 Tiny Terrors anthology.
  • Full edit of The Reinvented Heart anthology (with Cat Rambo).
  • Editorial novel edits for BattleTech: Crimson Night.
  • Editorial novella edits for Shadowrun: See How She Runs.
  • Alpha edits for original near future SF novella (this one has been waiting for a year).
  • Proof audiobook for release.
  • Freelance ebook proofing.


Writing:

  • After the contract is done, new Shadowrun novel.
  • One contracted short story.
  • Figure out the next original novel I’m going to write.

Most of the editing is scheduled for the first quarter of 2021. Most of the writing will be in the second and third quarters of the year. I think. This is the first year in a long time that I haven’t gone into it with a novel contract and a due date. I’m okay with this because of the two anthologies.

I guess, the short version is: I don’t really know everything I’m going to do in 2021. There are too many unknowns and “secret” possible projects in the air. And who knows about conventions. The ones I’m already going to for sure are all virtual.

I think I’m going to stick with this. This seems like a good plan to start with. Maybe I’ll update it in the second quarter of 2021.

 

Early 2021 Classes at the Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers

For those of you who have missed my writing classes in the past, Cat Rambo has me scheduled up for the first quarter of 2021 with the following classes. Two of them are repeats of popular classes but the third, Project Management for Writers, is new. People ask me all the time how I get so much done in a year without burning out or dropping balls. That’s what this class is about.

Currently, all classes have openings and scholarships available.

3 Jan, 9:30am, Writing for Franchises
http://www.kittywumpus.net/blog/class-working-in-other-worlds-writing-for-franchises/
Have you ever wondered how writers find work writing in other people's worlds and what it would be like to write fiction for your favorite RPG, movie, TV series, videogame, or comic book? What credentials do you need, how do you get started, and how do you build the writing credits that can lead to tie-in work? The Writing for Franchises workshop can give you an idea of what it is like to write in a universe you do not own—the benefits and the pitfalls, as well as how to find opportunities to do such work. This workshop focuses on writing short stories, novellas, and novels for popular franchises such as Shadowrun, V-Wars, Predator, Master of Orion, and Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar.

7 Feb, 9:30am, Pitches and Synopsis
http://www.kittywumpus.net/blog/pitches-and-synopses/
What makes an agent interested in a pitch and how do you prepare to give one? What needs to go into a book synopsis, and what should stay out? How long should a synopsis be? Does it need to include the ending or should it finish with a hook that intrigues the reader? What are the things a pitch should cover and what are the basic mistakes you can commit while making one? What are comps and why might they matter to publishing market companies? And—how can you use your pitch to help write your book?

7 Mar, 9:30am, Project Management for Writers
http://www.kittywumpus.net/blog/class-project-management-for-writers/
How do you stay on top of the daily demands of being a writer? How do you plan—and carry out that plan—for a novel? How do you make sure one aspect of writing doesn't swallow up all the rest? Basically, how can a writer stay in control of the daily chaos of existence even when you have multiple projects going at once? Join Jenn Brozek for a workshop about how to create a plan that helps you get where you want to go and how to do it without burning out.

Round One of Slush Reading

It’s been years since I did an open call anthology. 99 Tiny Terrors will be my 19th anthology and I thought it was about time to remind myself what it was like to wade into the slush pile. It wasn’t as bad as I remembered but there were some zingers. Here are some of the things I posted to twitter while I was reading.

 All of these started with, “Today's #editor #ProTip from the slushpile:”

-- Please remember to accept all changes in Track Changes so I don't see your editing thoughts and just see your story.

-- When the submission guidelines say 500-1000 words, that does not mean you should turn in a 100 word story. Or 5 stories under 1000 words. Also, saying your word count is 1000 when is 1200 also disqualifies the work.

-- When the guidelines say "no sexual assault" stories that means NO sexual assault stories. Not against any race, gender, or age. Ignoring that makes me notice your name in a bad way and wonder what other boundaries you'd ignore.

-- Often times when the author tries to be clever, the work ends up trite, boring, or cliché. Example: Using the whole story just to tell a pun that is neither horror nor funny.

-- A wonderful beginning will never save a story with a terrible ending and vice versa. Endings are as important as beginnings.

-- The casual lack of consent is horrifying. Especially when that part isn't supposed to be the horror part of the story. "I did X to my sleeping girlfriend and Y happened..." So many writers just don't see it in their stories. Ditto with the casual off-screen, but still mentioned, rape/pedophilia. It's just there like a dead fish in the middle of the hall. Authors really need to look at their writing to see what they're implying with every sentence and why.

-- When you only have 500-1000 words to tell a story, head-hopping is hard to do well. Be sure of your narrative take.

-- Gore for gore's sake in horror flash fiction is boring and is not a story. Give me sharp and subtle. Give me atmosphere. Give me something to remember.

-- When allowed to submit two stories to an open call, you should make sure you don't submit the same story twice.

-- When an editor tells you specifically what kinds of stories they prefer in the guidelines, your best bet is to try to give them exactly that. When you sub a story that is what the editor is specifically NOT looking for, your chances of success are slim to none. Read and comprehend the guidelines.

-- While I admit using no punctuation and no capitalization on purpose is daring, it's a really hard sell. Ditto with capitalized words throughout every sentence. Breaking conventional writing rules can work, but rarely does.

 

Now that I’ve done my first readthrough, I’ve saved 84 pieces as “yes” and 71 as “maybe” for the anthology. I will need to narrow down this 155 tiny terrors into an anthology of 99. Reading through 613 submissions has given me a much better understanding of the shape of the anthology I want. The second readthrough will be in conjunction with the stories I have and whether or not it fits the vision I have for this anthology.

In a week or two, I will reread all 155 pieces of flash fiction, categorizing them and forming the work that will become more than the sum of its parts. That means some of the “yes” stories will be shifted to “no” and some of the “maybe” stories will be shifted to “yes.” Once all of the decisions are decided, all acceptances and rejections will be emailed within a day or two of each other.

 All this is to say…no one is going to hear anything until mid-December 2020 at the earliest.

 

Going Forward in 2020

I found a digital set of journal entries from 1990. It was my first real attempt at journaling. It was also before I understood what the internet was and that things written in digital form are forever unless you make a specific effort to get rid of them. I read the journal entries, had a good laugh and a small cringe, then I deleted them. No one needs to have access to private journal entries from 30 years ago when I was thrashing about in my college years.

Talk about hindsight being 2020…(and every other 2020 joke out there).

I’ve already rounded up 2019…and logged my accomplishments from the last decade of 2010-2019. I guess the only thing left is to talk about my plans for 2020. Hard numbers:

  • Write: 1 BattleTech novel, 1 SF novella, 5 short stories, [other projects in the works].
  • Edit: 2 BattleTech novels, 1 anthology, 1 Shadowrun novella, all contracted short stories, [other projects in the works].
  • Publications: 2 BattleTech novels, 1 anthology, 1 Shadowrun novella, [other projects in the works].
  • Travel: 6 conventions (speaking at 5, dealers table at 4).
  • Podcasts: Continue to be voice talent on the Dire Multiverse.

Life is more than the publishing business. Fantasy Jenn is waiting in the wings to get things done, too, including…

  • Read 5 nights a week.
  • Learn to pick locks. (This one is mostly for Apocalypse Girl.)
  • Get better at Beat Saber. (IE: shift from easy to normal mode on all songs)
  • Declutter sentimental things.

Fantasy Jenn is an interesting concept for me to play around with. Fantasy You is the person you buy hobbies for but never get invested in. Fantasy You is the person who is going to scale mountains, and foster kittens, but you never find the time. The same person who is always going to lose 10 lbs. and start eating healthy, but can never get in the habit.

Last year, I decided to start feeding Fantasy Jenn in a deliberate fashion. I actually started this accidentally in late 2018 when I changed my diet to feel better. I’m happy to say that I’m still 25 lbs. down despite the trauma of last year. I also decided it was time to declutter. I decluttered twice last year and the household is better for it.

This year, I’ve decided that I’m going to pick one thing that Fantasy Jenn wants and work at it for a month. If I don’t find joy or skill or use in it, I’m going to stop, put it down, and say good-bye to that fantasy. When I say good-bye to that fantasy, I’m going to say hello to the next dream that Fantasy Jenn has and work on it. I think that’s going to be the key in 2020. Work on one fantasy at a time.

I don’t have new year’s resolutions. I have yearly goals and I tend to stick to them. I suppose it’s because it keeps me feeling like a successful and productive person.

What about you? What fantasies will you work on this year?

A Decade in Review

How does one review a decade of growth, change, expansion, and experience in a single career? Much less in an industry like the publishing industry? I suppose by starting with some of the stats from 2010 – 2019. Note, this is an imperfect list of stats. It doesn’t mention the number of words written, the stories submitted then rejected, the novels written and trunked, the journals, articles, and blog posts. But, really, you’ve got to start somewhere. That is what I’ve done.

  • Short stories published: 65
  • Fiction collections published: 4
  • Novellas published: 5
  • Novels published: 11
  • Omnibuses published: 2
  • Podcasts produced and published: 2
  • Comic books published: 1
  • Anthologies edited: 16
  • RPG books contributed to: 7
  • RPG books written/co-written: 6
  • Award nominations: 18 (including 2 Bram Stoker awards and a Hugo award)
  • Awards won: 7 (including an AU Shadows award, an ENnie award, an Origins award, and a Scribe award)

Gotta admit, I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished. In 2010, if you’d told me that one day I’d be an internationally published author and editor who’d been nominated for both the Bram Stoker and the Hugo award, I would’ve laughed at you and said it was a nice idea. I thought those things were so far out of my reach that I couldn’t imagine it. If you’d told me that I’d get to write for some of my favorite non-RPG properties like VWars, Valdemar, and Predator, I would’ve wondered what you’d been drinking. Stuff like that didn’t happen to me.

Then again, I didn’t know I was going to start my own publishing house.
…Or serve a term as a Director-at-Large of SFWA.
…Or volunteer for the HWA.
…Or be a Guest of Honor at ten different conventions, including conventions in Sweden and Finland.
…Or get an agent after I’d given up the search.

In truth, this is no real way to quantify a decade of my career in a meaningful manner that gives the scope of “everything.” I’ve always been ambitious when it comes to my career. I’ve got plans for the next decade. I’m sure they’ll change. But, that’s all right.

I’ll leave you with some lessons I’ve learned along the way.

  • Share the love. Publishing is not a zero sum game. No one has to lose for you to win. Eventually we will work together on a project.
  • Default to being kind. Publishing is a small industry.
  • Write what you love and what you want to read. My greatest success has come from settling in to write exactly what I want to write and to love what I do.
  • Figure out what kind of writing career you want. Casual? Part-time? Full-time? Just hang out with other writers? It’s all good. The sooner you realize what you actually want, the better it will be for you.
  • You are allowed to change your mind and to change direction. Shift gears on the type of story telling you do. Flash? Podcasts? Epic novel series? One-off books? Tie-in work?
  • You are allowed to stop. To quit. To take a break. To rest.
  • You are allowed to start again. No one is going to take away your writing card.
  • There is no one path to a successful writing career. YOU determine what makes you a success. Self-pub? Big 5? Hybrid? It’s all fair game. This is one of the most exciting times in the publishing arena. Nothing is off-limits.


Of course, the last decade wouldn’t have been as successful as it’s been without the Husband’s support. He helped make it all possible. For that, I am ever-grateful.

My 2019 Scorecard

In the annual tradition of every freelance writer’s need to justify themselves, here is my 2019 Scorecard. How did I do at what I do most? Overall, pretty good, I think. I succeeded more than I failed. Though, I didn’t complete everything I wanted to get done.

Short Story Submissions: 7

  • Acceptances: 5
  • Rejections: 1
  • Pending: 1

This is a very good look for me. Though, in truth, 5 of the 7 short stories were commissioned. I rarely have time to write for markets that are not guaranteed.

New Words Written: 125,130

  • Short: 24,130
  • Long: 101,000

That equates to 4 new short stories, 1 new RPG project, 1 novella, and 1 novel. In the grand scheme of things, this about 60% of what I normally write. However, life was not as kind to me as it had been in the past. The death of loved ones makes writing hard.

Published Projects: 7

  • 2 novels: BattleTech: Iron Dawn and Shadowrun: Makeda Red
  • 1 anthology: A Secret Guide to Fighting Elder Gods
  • 3 short stories: “Between a Corp and a Hard Place” (Shadowrun), “Written in Red” (Emberwind), “One Town at a Time” (Valdemar)
  • 1 podcast: ShadowBytes (Shadowrun)


Awards: 2

  • 1 Won: 2019 Rainforest Writers Inspirational Award.
  • 1 Nomination: To Fight the Black Wind - finalist for the 2019 Raven Award for Horror/Thriller novel.


Conventions Attended: 5
This is less than half of the number of conventions attended in 2018…by design. I attended 12 in 2018 and that was too much. That’s one of my goals for 2019 succeeded.

Goals for the Year: 6
Succeeded: 4

  • Fewer conventions attended.
  • Declutter the House.
  • Expand my Creative Horizons (Twitch game and Voice talent on the Dire Multiverse).
  • Continue focus on my physical health.


Failed: 2

  • Figure out my crafting situation (All the crafts are still languishing).
  • Curious Fictions (This failed. I didn’t want to keep it up and Ko-Fi was easier and more people have brightened my day with it.)


Next up, a look at the last decade. I think I’ve come a long way and I should celebrate that.

Rainforest Writers Inspirational Award

This year, I won the Rainforest Writers Inspirational Award for session three. I was surprised and pleased.

“Writing is hard. A writer needs assistance, encouragement, and ideas to help them put words on the page. This award recognizes those who contribute to the success of other writers.”

From the certificate:
“Each year, the members of the Rainforest Writers community gather to spend a few days writing, kibitzing, and talking the talk. While the stated goal of the retreat is to get some much needed writing time, this retreat also serves as an opportunity for writers to bask in the community of other writers and creatives. This communal event provides writers with the fuel and fire to go forth and continue creating.

“In light of this, we wish to recognize individuals who are notable inspirations to the member of the Rainforest Writers community. Being amazing takes effort, and we know such effort is not always an easy choice to make, and we appreciate your wherewithal to excel at such effort.

“The Rainforest Writers Inspirational Award is to be awarded to an individual from each session of the retreat. Nominations for the award will be submitted by the attendees of each session, and the final decision will be overseen by Patrick Swenson, the retreat coordinator and spiritual guru.

“This award will manifest itself as an artfully designed and rendered trophy/plaque/wall hanging thingy as well as a cash stipend. Fellow attendees may have some ideas about how the money should be spent. The recipient of the Inspirational Award may creatively observe such ideas as they see fit.

“The Rainforest Writers Inspirational Award is sponsored by A Good Book Bookstore, located in Sumner, WA.”

I’m so chuffed to win this award. It was so unexpected. One of my goals is to help and inspire other writers. To be awarded this by my peers is icing on the cake. Also, the cash was nice, too. It’s even better that this year’s award includes a carving of the pacific northwest tree octopus.


10 Year Update of My Will

Yesterday, I adulted like a boss. The Husband and I met with a new-to-us lawyer to update our Living Trust and the accompanying documents. It’s been 10 years and it was time. Boy, was it time. 10 years ago, the Husband and I had just gotten married. We didn’t have all the assets we own/manage. We certainly didn’t have the royalties coming in that I have now.

Beneficiaries also changed—one had died, another was traded out for someone closer for us, and some of the specific things we wanted to go to certain people were cut…while other things were added. The instructions for the cats had to change as well. Esme is dead. I have two more cats. One of the cats’ “Godparents” has a dog now and I don’t think that’s going to work out anymore. Thinking about how to pair off the four of them (if someone can’t take all four) makes my heart hurt.

Also, estate law has changed.

We had to get this new lawyer because the old one isn’t in business anymore. This new one is part of a firm. So if they leave or something, we’ll be able to continue working with the firm. I like the new lawyer. She’s smart, energetic, and thoughtful. She’s also tech savvy and has at least one tattoo that I saw. That is a plus in her favor from me.

Sometimes it’s hard to think about a future where we won’t be here… or, worse, only one of us isn’t here. It’s necessary. It’s important. Especially for things like executor, Power of Attorney, and Living Wills. I’m glad we’re doing it though. I feel better knowing everything is going to be refreshed, up-to-date with the new laws, and settled.

10 years is too long of a time to go between will updates. The lawyer recommends a review/refresh every 5 years, or after a major life event. One of the new things I have to figure out is my literary estate. The literary estate executor can be (often is) a different person than the Living Trust executor. This is going to take a little bit of research and thought. Note: if you’re an author, you need to be thinking about this, too.

Sometimes, being an adult sucks. But when it’s done, you feel accomplished.

I also needed a hug.

If you don’t have a Will / Living Trust / Power of Attorney drawn up, you need to. At least think about it.

Have a cat picture. Leeloo is cute.

 

SFWA Mentoring Lessons

As “Declutter Monday” is currently “Project Monday” and I don’t think “crocheted 1/3 of a baby blanket today” is all that interesting, I thought I’d talk about something I’ve noticed recently.

I’m part of the SFWA mentoring program. This is a program where SFWA pairs a mentor with a mentee based on a questionnaire from both sides. The official mentoring relationship lasts for six months. You “meet” and have contact every other week. From my point of view, the program matched me up with a very good mentee.

Through my work with them, I’ve discovered something: sometimes I need to hear exactly what I’m telling my mentee. I have to admit, this can be annoying. I’m not the one being mentored. I’m not the one who needs to learn the lessons I’m teaching. I’m the experienced knowledgeable one in this conversation. Right?

Well, yes and no. Some lessons are easy and I just need to be reminded of them. Some lessons are hard and I need to have them beaten into me again and again.

“This is a marathon, not a sprint.”
IE: steady and consistent writing, editing, PR, etc… will go a long way. Of course, I did have a very bad Nov 2018. I wrote a total of 762 words of fiction that month. I had a hard time putting words down. I was burnt out. Over all, I wasn’t worried. I got my work done, but it took longer than I wanted. The reminder helped.

“Take this time to just enjoy the convention. Give yourself permission to be a real person. Don’t go into it with an agenda.”
This lesson is harder to learn. Or re-learn as the case may be. This was something I told my mentee. Three days later, I was talking with the Husband about possibly cancelling a convention if I didn’t get in as a dealer. He asked me why and pointed out that he’d like to go to a convention with me where he wasn’t stuck behind a dealer’s table. For me, conventions are business. I’m working. When I told him I didn’t know how to do conventions without a dealer’s table anymore, he told me that I knew how to once and I should remember. Suddenly, I was on the other end of the lesson for a very different reason.

“You are allowed to consider quitting. You are allowed to quit. You are allowed to start again. No one is going to take away your writing card if you take a break.”
I once told my mentee that every writer considers giving it up. If they say they haven’t, either they’re lying or they’re too new to know better. I don’t know if it is true 100% of the time, but every author I’ve ever talked to about this has admitted they’ve thought about giving up the publishing game. Not necessarily giving up writing, just the professional publishing part of it.

Writers are an interesting lot. By the nature of the work, we’re used to rejection, of not writing the story the editor is looking for, of not being talented/experienced enough to write a certain story. It’s good to remember that writing is one of those skills that gets better as you use it, experiment with it, and absorb it through reading.

Back in December—while I was writing a contracted novella and waiting on publisher edits for the first novel of a contracted trilogy—I received a rejection from a publishing house I really, really want to get into. For a full day, I moped: “I suck. I’m a hack. No one likes my writing. I should give it up and just stick to editing. I’m good at that.”

The next day, after I finished my writing for the day, I pulled myself up by my bootstraps, looked at the emails and the novel feedback again, and decided everything would be all right in a bit. This particular novel didn’t move the acquisitions editor, but I did get a clue as to what kind of novels did. Fortunately, one of my series-in-waiting is exactly that sort of series. So, when I get around to writing that (after the contracted stuff), I know who to send it to.

Writing is not an easy job. Sometimes you need a break. If you take it, nothing says you can’t start up again. That’s the beauty of the industry. Especially in this day and age.

Relearning these lessons is why I applied to be a mentor in the first place.
I knew this would happen. You learn while you teach. You learn what you don’t know. You learn what your mentee knows. Your shared experience builds on your foundations. Every acceptance, rejection, edit, and revision request builds, and rebuilds, the writing toolbox. You expand and grow. Every publishing conversation—professional or casual—imparts knowledge to all sides of the conversation.

I like to share my knowledge and experiences to make things easier for the ones who come after me. That way, they can make their own new mistakes…then pass that experience on to those they mentor as the cycle continues.

Is X, Y, or Z a Scam?

I get this question a lot. Usually about something based in the publishing arena. In DMs, IMs, and emails. As a professional author and editor, I suppose it’s because they believe I’m the person in the know; the expert. Or, at least, the person the asker thinks would know. About 30% of the time, I have some inkling of the legitimacy of the contest/work/publisher/etc… base on experience. Most of the time I don’t.

Here’s what I do to find out.

I google Them. Multiple ways.

I google “Is X a scam?” and I read through the answers. Most times, this will immediately pop up any problems. This often leads you to articles on Preditors and Editors or to the Better Business Bureau. Here, you will see complaints and other bad experiences.

Second. You can skip the general question and search on  [“Preditors and Editors” + X]. Or [BBB + X]. Those will hone in on specific types of responses—business and personal experiences. Is this particularly interesting in the publishing arena.

The third way is to google something like “Company X reviews” and see what people who have used their services think. However, beware, not all reviews are created the same. If there’s nothing but a couple of five star glowing reviews but P&E has information that says otherwise, probably not legit reviews. One thing I have learned in the publishing industry is that you will not please everyone. Book preference is subjective. The reviews will reflect this.

Also, when it comes to reviews, beware of groups with an ax to grind reviewing a new book/service. If a book/service comes out and immediately has 100 1-star reviews with very little in the way of actual critique of the book or a bunch of personal attacks on the person providing the service, you can bet someone kicked over a reddit nest of some stripe. That it’s a concerted effort to tank the book, service, person and not a legitimate review of X.

Finally, I look to the professional writing organizations who might know something about the thing in question. SFWA, HWA, IAMTW, MWA, RWA… etc. Search those websites for information.

If you google  X, Y, or Z and find nothing, or almost nothing about them, that is as much a red flag as bad reviews. You want to know who sponsors the thing, who owns the company, what the chain of ownership is. If a publisher or contest company is owned by a person or company known to be bad news, it’s a good bet that “X” is a scam. If the chain of ownership is hidden, it’s a clue.

Over all, it’s best if you do your own research before you go to your expert friend to ask “Is X a scam?” That way, you can expand on the question. Present conflicting information. To ask for clarification. 90% of the time, you’ll find the answer for yourself. Then you can decide if you want to confirm your answer with your expert friend or not.