Interview Transcripts


Interview with CrystalWizard

Publisher/Editor of CyberWizard Productions

May, 2010


Mary Rosenblum: Crystalwizard  started Cyberwizard Productions several years ago. She has been one of those who have embraced the publishing paradigm shift from the get-go, choosing to publish and market on a small scale rather than try to tread the big NY pathway, promoting new authors through her ezines, print ‘zines, anthologies, and novels.     
So Crystal, welcome to the Professional Connection and we're SO curious!  Do tell us all about how you got started here and what you are publishing.   Most people don't jump into publishing with both feet! 


CrystalWizard:  Thanks for the welcome, Mary Smiley 
How did I get started... That's a loaded question. 
I didn't want to start a publishing company, quite frankly. I fought against it tooth and nail, or at least argued with myself for several months, all the while doing everything I needed to, to get it off the ground and running.
For anyone that's considering starting a press, small, medium, or large, let me caution you that it will eat your lunch! It's one of the hardest jobs I have ever done, though it's also one of the most fun. 
What am I publishing... Cyberwizard Productions has several imprints for books, and we also put out Abandoned Towers magazine. CWP is located here:
Abandoned Towers is here:
The magazine is open for submissions all year round, we don't have reading periods. However:
1. We need far more online content than we do print
2. We don't pay for online (cause we give the online content away for free). You're compensated in exposure (we have a LOT of hits per month.)
3. What goes up online never goes in print. What goes in print never goes up online.
4. We REALLY like it when people read (and follow) our writers guidelines!
(gets off soapbox)


David:  So online print is more in demand and is unpaid where as the in print edition is paid. To my mind that suggests that the online material would be less competitive for being published and consequently perhaps not up to the quality of the in print edition? or do you have the same expectations and standards for on line as for in print?


Curseofthe44: How do you determine what goes online and what goes to print?


CrystalWizard:  >How do you determine what goes online and what goes to print?
It has everything to do with just how far out I've already accepted. We only have 3 print issues a year. We update the website constantly. So as an example:
I've already filled up all the issues for this year and it's only the end of May. I don't want to accept for 2011 right now, so unless the story just knocks me off my chair, I'm going to accept for online if I don't decline.


Leena: This might be a silly question. I want to know how you physically got started and set up. Do you have printing presses, binding machines, etc.? Or is this work contracted out? Not that I'm interested in getting into publishing, just curious how one individual goes about getting into that. And do you have staff? Also, do you have a background in publishing?
I meandered around your website, you have a lot of diversity in your publishing!


CrystalWizard:  Quote from: Leena on May 24, 2010, 06:46:52 PM

This might be a silly question. I want to know how you physically got started and set up.
It's not silly at all.

Quote from: Leena on May 24, 2010, 06:46:52 PM

Do you have printing presses, binding machines, etc.? Or is this work contracted out?
no, I don't own any of the printing and binding equipment. I use several different printers, depending on what I'm doing. There's one here local to me for rush jobs, for example. 

Quote from: Leena on May 24, 2010, 06:46:52 PM

And do you have staff? Also, do you have a background in publishing?
Yes, I have staff. I have two full staffs, one for CWP and one for Abandoned Towers magazine. Yes, I have a background in publishing, though it's perhaps a bit more esoteric than some publishers. I started out working in the gaming (Role playing game, not video game) industry.

Quote from: Leena on May 24, 2010, 06:46:52 PM

I meandered around your website, you have a lot of diversity in your publishing! 

Thanks. Yeah, one of the things we want to do is stretch people's reading horizons, so that means providing a nice range of interesting stuff.


Mary Rosenblum: So the publishing world is changing, Wiz.  New York has painted itself into a corner and it's all about the bottom line these days.  New talent, creativity, still has a chance but it's not in NY.  And you're right there on the front lines.  Let's talk about this, shall we?  Where is the publishing world headed and what does that have to do with you and your publishing company? 


Ajcap: ...and with links upon links, and blogs upon blogs, how does an author decide which publisher is a good fit for them? Why would I pick yours? Lots of leg work (finger work?) for a new author or should they still find themselves an agent and let them worry about where to send their ms?
Ew. That came out a lot ruder than intended. I'm better with fiction. Really. I think.


CrystalWizard:  Quote from: ajcap on May 26, 2010, 01:47:40 PM

...and with links upon links, and blogs upon blogs, how does an author decide which publisher is a good fit for them?
Start with a bookstore. pick up books that interest you and look at, not the content, but the quality of the book, the artwork, the text on the back, how easy the text is on the eyes and so on.
Make a list of the publishers who put out quality work that you like.
Now take that list and look at the content that those people publish. Go visit their websites, see if they publish what YOU write.
Cut out of your list everyone that doesn't meet your standards.
Now go to duotrope and Ralan's websites. Search their databases for keywords that match what you write.
As you find prospects, go to THEIR websites too. Look at their guidelines, look at the website itself. How professional do they look? 
Visit predators and editors. Visit writer beware. Check the not recommended lists. Tread with care if you decide to do business with anyone on those non recommended lists.
If you were trying to sell something like candy canes, you could offer one to every potential customer that came along. But you aren't. You only have 1 item to sell, not 1000 copies of that one item. And you can only sell it to 1 customer. So you need to take your time, research people and make sure that anyone you offer your work to is someone you want to enter into a business relationship with.
Because you're going to be married to those people for the life of your contract, and if you don't do your homework ahead of time, you're going to be miserable.

Quote from: ajcap on May 26, 2010, 01:47:40 PM

Why would I pick yours?
I can't answer that for you. Only you can answer that. Take my instructions I just gave you and put them to work researching me. Then tell me why would you, or would you not, decide to submit something for me to consider.

Quote from: ajcap on May 26, 2010, 01:47:40 PM

Lots of leg work (finger work?) for a new author or should they still find themselves an agent and let them worry about where to send their ms?
You had better put just as much work into selecting an agent as I just told you to put into picking a publisher. If you don't, you can be in serious trouble.
Would you let someone sell your house for you just because they had an office down the street and wore snappy suits? Wouldn't you want to know that they knew what they were doing and were honest, with a list of happy clients they'd previously represented?
Understand something - no one is required to actually sell anything they write. It IS perfectly acceptable to write just to write. To write just for one's own pleasure or for the pleasure of a few friends or family.
if you decide you want to sell that thing you wrote, be it a short story or a book, you leave the world of creativity and enter the world of business. Those words become a product and you become just one more person looking to find a manufacturer for an idea you created a prototype of. If you want to play that game, you best do it right, and that requires a lot of research before signing any contracts. 


Mary Rosenblum:  And leave us not forget that as we move away from the NY centered model of publishing we are also moving away from brick and mortar bookstores.  Sometimes you have to look on the web for publishers rather than browsing a bookstore shelf.  Alas, that does usually require a purchase if you want to check book quality...and that is well worth doing in my experience.  Any tips for good web-based places to browse for publishers, Wiz? 


Ajcap:  A project!  I love a project!
I will get right on that. Good reason to buy a new notepad. 
Thanks a lot, Wiz, I will focus on that and get back to you but I did notice, on your website, you don't have a YA tab. If I were to write a YA mystery series, and you were to accept it (and pigs had wings), it would be lumped in under the mystery tab? Or do you not accept YA submissions?


Lizbeth:   An article by Steve Laube of the Steve Laube Agency on the death of print books. Excellent article!

There is an unsettling myth being perpetuated about the death of print books. The news of print’s demise is simply not true. It sounds a bit like Mark Twain having to write a note to a reporter saying “The report of my death was an exaggeration.”
To fully explain I need to start with the music industry.
The impression is that all sales are now digital. And iTunes has killed the physical CD. This is not true.
Approximately 12 songs fit on a CD. And since individual songs can be downloaded, the only way to compare physical CD sales with download sales is to divide the number of songs downloaded by 12. That way you have a one-to-one comparison.
With that assumption in place, Apple is the #1 retailer of CDs in America. No surprise. The surprise is that they only comprise 25% of sales. Walmart is #2 at 14% and Best Buy is #3 (my guess is that is #4 but wasn’t mentioned in the article).
Why is that surprising? Because that means 75% of all sales are still “hard copy.” Physical CDs. It is significant that Apple’s share has increased as a percentage of all sales from 21% in 2008, up from 14% in 2007. But it still means the physical product is outselling the digital by 3 to 1. (In total dollars, across all forms of music, digital downloads comprise only 35% of all music sales.)
Turn that same conversation to the book industry. The Amazon Kindle has impact primarily because they were first and did create a pretty cool device (I bought one the week it came out in Fall 2007 and upgraded in 2008). The Barnes & Noble Nook is shipping with reports of modest success. The Sony Reader has its followers. Plastic Logic just announced their cool tablet sized reader. And everyone is wondering what Apple will announce in the near(?) future regarding their answer to the “hardware” question.  But despite this we really don’t have an “iPod” equivalent. Mike Hyatt, CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, wrote in 2005 that we are “one device away from a digital revolution.” In my opinion we are still waiting for that device. The iPhone is not the answer for most people. The screen is simply too small. And for someone like myself who reads rather fast it can be very annoying…
Don’t get me wrong. My head isn’t buried in the sand. That revolution is coming and some would say it is already here. But the “tipping point” has yet to occur.
Amazon had a lot of fun announcing that they sold more digital books than physical books on Christmas Day 2009. Think about it. On Christmas Day recipients of the Kindle opened their gift and downloaded stuff while playing with their new toy. But who else would be shopping on Christmas Day? No one. So while it made a fun press release it really isn’t as astounding as it first sounded.
I see the royalty statements. I know exactly how many digital versions of my client’s books are being sold. And while there are a lot more sold than there were two years ago (of course there would be) the volume is still less than 1% of the print version sold. LESS THAN ONE PERCENT.
So let’s do some math. Let’s say that e-books have 100% growth in the next year. That would mean they would comprise 2% of all sales. Then let’s say it grows by 100% again, to 4%. We have to keep doubling the number for 4 years before we get to a little less than 20% of all print sales. But that still means that 80% of all sales are still hard copy. Eighty percent.
Certainly this revolution could happen and is quite likely. The implications are huge, especially for the newspaper and magazine community. But it does not mean that print books are dead.
It is even possible that in one generation (twenty years) that the conversion will take least in some form or fashion. If the e-book reader cost drops to under $100. If the device is in every home, on each family member’s nightstand. If the younger generation’s textbooks are placed into e-book format and that generation becomes used to it. A lot of “ifs.”
It is a very exciting time to be in the publishing industry. I almost get giddy when thinking about the possibilities.
If you want to read someone who will challenge every assumption you’ve ever made about “curling up” with your favorite book, get a copy of Print is Dead by Jeff Gomez. Get a group of friends together to talk about his conclusions, I guarantee a rousing discussion. If you want to learn how the music industry was ambushed by technology read Appetite for Self-Destruction: The Spectacular Crash of the Record Industry in the Digital Age by Steve Knopper.
All I’m trying to say is that we need to stop buying into the myth that books are dead. It simply is not true. We are being influenced by the flood of media attention on the “new” and the “cool” and not looking past the sound bite. It is like relatives or friends writing to say “I saw that there was a flood in Phoenix…are you okay?” Yes. It flooded…in an area with a river wash and someone tried to drive thru it and got stuck. That picture hit the national news. The media gave the impression that the entire city was under water with their breathless coverage. So when you read that publishers are going under, and print books are dinosaurs, and all authors need to rethink everything…take a deep breath. It  is different. It is a time of careful consideration. No publisher wants a repeat of what happened to the record industry. But it is not as bad as you think.
In the end I implore you not to be one who helps perpetuate the myths and misinformation.
le by Steve Laube


Dale:  Publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin predicts a tipping point for publishing in late 2012, when ebooks will make up 20-25% of all sales, crashing the system, possibly ending the mass market paperback  and endangering book store chains:
Author Michael Stackpole has made a similar prediction:
I  have no idea if this tipping point will happen so soon.  Folks on both sides of the argument have understandable biases. However, ebooks do appear to be finally taking off, with traditional NY publishers attempting to stem the tide by enforcing higher prices for ebooks (in a few cases, higher than mass market pbs). At the same time, quality control is important. I could self publish my first three novels tomorrow if I wanted to, but wouldn't--they simply aren't up to publishable quality.  
I first heard the 2012 prediction from this week's Writing Excuses podcast, which deals with strategies for breaking into publishing as a novelist today:
Brandon doesn't think it will happen that soon. Howard pointed out the IF that tipping point is reached, it will happen exactly as the consultant predicted.
Interesting times to say the least.

Lizbeth:  I just know when my novel is finished, hopefully early fall, I am going the traditional agent route, and I want my book on a shelf in a bookstore. Not published as an ebook or ibook...


SteveP: "The end of the (print) world as we know it."  So that's what the Mayan's were telling us about 2012.
Whew! I feel better already.


CrystalWizard: Quote from: MaryR on May 26, 2010, 03:59:26 PM

Any tips for good web-based places to browse for publishers, Wiz? 
If you're writing spec-fic, Ralan's webstravaganza is an excellent place to start. The URL is here:
Duotrope is good for spec-fic, too, but they also have listening for a lot of other things, such as poetry. They are here:
There's also the idea of spending an hour or two at the local Barnes & Nobel, sipping coffee and making notes in a note book with the latest copy of the Writer's Market open on the table in front of you.


Quote from: lizbeth on May 26, 2010, 08:29:21 PM

An article by Steve Laube of the Steve Laube Agency on the death of print books. Excellent article!
There is an unsettling myth being perpetuated about the death of print books.
Print is not going to die. Too many people like print. However it's not the only option any more, and any publisher who wants to stay in business needs to be providing content in e-format as well. And interactive format.
A few years ago, the new Indigo digital presses came out. Before they came out, digital printing was pretty lousy. The new presses do such high quality work, that telling the difference between a digitally printed book and an offset printed book is just about impossible.
The Indigo is the length of 3 city buses put end to end and requires only 2 operators. At one end go the blank signatures for the book pages and the blank cover stock. An operator sets up the print job via a computer that reads pdf files. Out the other end of the press come printed and bound books at the rate of 800 per minute. The new glues that were introduced to the market around the same time are so tough, and flexible, that you almost can't break them. Normally, bending a book in half backwards not only cracks the spine, but breaks the glue and pages fall out. I have yet to successfully get the glue to crack and break.
The price breaks between offset and digital don't become significant till you hit several thousand copies.
Digital presses can print 1 book for same price as they print 50, 150 or several thousand. Offset can't. 
That means with digital you don't have to do print runs, you print only the number your customer orders. That means you don't have warehousing costs. 
And with the new Espresso machine, you don't even need to shelve books if you own a store. Here's the thing in operation at Blackwell's books:
THAT is real print on demand, with books that come out at the same high quality that you once could only get from offset.
Print isn't going anywhere.


Quote from: lizbeth on May 27, 2010, 06:15:40 AM

I just know when my novel is finished, hopefully early fall, I am going the traditional agent route, and I want my book on a shelf in a bookstore. Not published as an ebook or ibook.... Cheesy
you may want to rethink that. You might want your book on the shelf, but what if most of your target audience would prefer it in ebook or ibook format and refuse to buy it if it's only in print? Then what?


Mary Rosenblum:  I think we're on the cusp, yet. I agree with Dale that the 2012 date for the Big Change is probably a bit early, but I'd say ten years from now will bring us a very different publishing/book purchase world. I have to say that traditional agents and publishing are less of a reasonable option today unless you have name status (you're a sports writer or player, an NPR anchor, etc) or your mss makes the Marketing Department sit up and lick their chops (and they're usually wrong).  It takes more work to publish small press and self promote but it's doable.  The luxury before was the mass distribution to all the bookstores meant you didn't have to bust your butt as much to connect to readers.  Well, it's a new world, but you have the ability to connect more directly to many  more readers than you got when the publisher placed ten copies of your book in every  Podunk Barnes and Noble.  


CrystalWizard:  I wrote this essay back in 2006. People laughed at me. They aren't laughing at me now:

Everything changes. The sun rises and sets, the earth rotates; people get older, language morphs, and technology advances. Everything undergoes a continuous flow of change and nothing can prevent that.

In most cases, change is welcomed however in various parts of business; change is frequently met with distrust and dislike. Big Business builds its life around profit, and anything that might cut into that profit is met with intense hatred.

Yet try as Big Business might, there are changes coming that it can not prevent. Those changes have already hit the recording industry and record labels are now finding that they no longer have a strangle hold on the dollars to be made from various artists. They are trying to retain that hold. They are mounting lawsuits left and right, yet more and more artists have discovered that they can sell their music online, directly to their fans, and keep the profits for themselves rather than lining some rich mans pocket. At first just a trickle of artists no one knew were gravitating to the online venue. Now it is a flood of all sorts of artists, big name and unknown. Record labels must either change or die. Most are going to die. Tower records, one of the main players has just declared bankruptcy, and cites online sales as a major reason for its collapse. Online sales that it was too slow to capitalize on.

The same changes are due for all other aspects of media. Television players such as CBS are now making their shows available online, on demand, the day after they air. Movie trailers from big movie houses are showing up on google video and youtube. The same thing is now happening to print media.

Today’s consumer wants everything on demand. Right now, exactly the way they require it. Because it is possible to provide them with this online, today’s consumer is doing more shopping online and less with brick and mortar stores.

Magazines saw this coming several years ago and dove into the online format happily, with E-zines flooding the net. Newspapers are fighting it, and those that are not adapting are going under. Now books are headed that way as well.

Today’s reader doesn’t mind a printed copy of the book, but he or she is busy. Too busy to go to a book store. A five minute login session to works just as well. Most of those readers also have a PDA or other hand-held device and frequently those readers prefer an E-book over a printed book if the option is available. There is a battle shaping up in the print industry which will have only one winner. Those publishers and authors who are too stuck in the past to see the wave of the future will die the same death as Tower Records. Already it is possible to drive around an entire town and not find a book store. Even in major metropolitan areas book stores are a vanishing item, and those that still exist tend to be the large conglomerate types, located near a university and partnered with a Starbucks.

In order to survive in this changing world, resellers must develop an online presence and publishers must move to print on demand. Distributes such as Ingram have discovered that they no longer need to maintain a huge stock of printed volumes. They can take orders from their resellers and then request just the exact number of copies of a book that they want. Publishers who refuse to make this available to distributors, and authors who refuse to play the game, will find that there are plenty of others out there to take their place. Ingram removed the lightning bolt emblem that used to adorn their print on demand books, making it impossible for anyone to tell which came from a traditional publisher and which came from a more progressive one, or even from a totally self-published author.

Add to this the fact that readers don't, as a rule, care who published a book. All they care about is that the content in it servers their needs. Its informative, its entertaining, its easy to understand, its well written. When self-publishing first got started, the only authors involved were those that wrote poorly, didn’t edit their work and couldn't find any traditional houses who wished to spend a couple thousand dollars on garbage. However, that stigma is rapidly fading. As more professional authors discover that today’s reader is an online personality and that they can sell their books directly to them instead of settling for the dips of profit that the traditional houses dole out, they are also entering the self-publishing field. Their work shines. Its written well, edited better and calls loudly to the reading public. Some professional authors are choosing to stay with the traditional houses, turning their nose up at the rest, but they, like the traditional houses will soon find that no one is interested in them any more... because their books are not available as readily to the reading public as they could be.

Unfortunately, traditional publishing houses are just like any other Big Business. Unwilling to change. They like the strangle hold they have had for so long, being able to pick and choose what goes into print, lining their pockets with most of the profits. The good news for authors is the same as it is for record artists. The readers who will want their books don’t care what publishing company the material came from, and are just as happy to buy it directly from the author as from someone else. Authors can upload their work to Amazon without the need of a middle man, and there are a number of good publishing companies who do not do things in the traditional manner to choose from now, with more coming on the scene daily.

Ajcap: There is a battle shaping up in the print industry which will have only one winner.

I would have to agree with most everything written in this essay (though I agree with the utmost resistance...I love bookstores), except for this one quote. I may be misunderstanding the above statement, though.

Is the battle between resellers/publishers vs. on-line distributors such as Amazon? Why would there have to be only one winner? If I download a book and love it, and wish to have it displayed in my bookcase, like I display any work of art...I would need to have it published.

And what about all those authors who think their books are the next "Gone with the Wind" (which, in case anybody is interested, is way over-rated, in my humble opinion). Who, if not publishers, are going to weed the good from the horrible? Even if a book is only $2.99, if it turns out to be an unsatisfactory read, I'll still be out $2.99. I'd pay more for authors I already know I like.

What about people who don't or can't afford e-readers or even computers, but rely on library books or used book sales? I think there will always be a need for the printed word. At least in the near future. The distant future is crowding us quickly, but I think it will peak and then level and there will be a lot more winners than just one.


CrystalWizard: Quote from: ajcap on May 26, 2010, 01:39:38 PM
 There is a battle shaping up in the print industry which will have only one winner.
I would have to agree with most everything written in this essay (though I agree with the utmost resistance...I love bookstores), except for this one quote. I may be misunderstanding the above statement, though.
Is the battle between resellers/publishers vs. on-line distributors such as Amazon?

Between those who insist that the only way to publish a book, is print, and those that want to embrace the various electronic versions.
And the war is actually over. Print only lost about the time that the kindle 2.0 came out.


Mary Rosenblum:  Crystal, I'm going to step in here.  What is the definition of 'winner' and 'loser'?   I don't think this is a zero sum game.  Look at the music industry.  The download is the wave of today and tomorrow. But tons of CDs are still making cash registers jingle and by golly vinyl is making a minor comeback.  I see the print industry following more slowly in the footsteps of music -- the 'cheap read' will be the download to whatever -- tablet, cell, Kindle, Nook, etc.  But you'll still have people who want the hard cover  or paperback for the bookshelf.  Mostly it's a matter of 'where is the main flow'.  Right now, the main flow, dollar wise, is still in paper print books.  But we can all see that change happening. 

My feeling is that the weak link, for the average book reader, is knowing what to buy. You go to Barnes and Noble and you have those nice 'New Books' displays, the standers at the end of the aisle.  That's your next 'new' read if you want something beside your favorite author's next book.  Where is the internet version of that? There's a sea of books out there online, self published, small press, big publisher, and the mediocrity abounds.  How does the online reader...someone who knows nothing....find the next good book?  How do we go about connecting LOTS of people who want a quick pick Good Next Read to good next reads? 


CrystalWizard: Quote from: MaryR on May 28, 2010, 12:28:08 AM

Crystal, I'm going to step in here.  What is the definition of 'winner' and 'loser'?   

At the time that I wrote the original post, there were two camps at odds with each other - one group of people shouting loudly that the only good book was a printed book, and another group, growing and shouting not so loudly that print was okay but e-books were better.
The first group is still out there, still shouting, and pretty much being ignored. the second group is growing by leaps and bounds, and I don't know of any publisher who isn't scrambling to get their books into iPod format, E-pub format, on Kindle and Nook and every other e-option available.
That's what I mean by winners and losers. The camp of people that don't like E-format and don't want to see it happen has been over run by the E-industry and the consumers who like it and want it.


Lizbeth:  Crystal, I totally disagree with you. Everytime I go to Borders and B&N and any other bookstore they are jammed with people.  We book people are certainly not being "ignored." There are many, many seniors and baby boomers who love their books and don't want to know from ibooks, ebooks, etc. And I don't think we have been over run.


Ann:  Ebooks, Ibooks etc are almost unheard of amongst the general public here where I live in Australia. Our book stores are always full. People are constantly browsing second hand book stores and using the library. The trend is not here, people love printed books. Also having lived in a third world country for years...books have yet to arrive there in the villages and with no power in these villages there will never be computers. Food for thought.


Mary Rosenblum:  Ah, I always have to ask this of every professional editor guest -- so what is good writing to YOU?  What makes you keep reading?  What kicks you out of a book and makes you reach for the rejection slip?  


CrystalWizard: I'm guessing everyone expects me to start talking about passive voice vrs. active, and dialog tags, and all sorts of writing related do this and don't do that lectures.
Guess what:
I'm not going to (not in this thread, anyway)
>what is good writing to YOU?
Short answer: Something that keeps me reading.
Longer answer: Something that not only keeps ME reading, but provides my readers enjoyment, and makes them feel like they got more than their money's worth.
After all, if the thing doesn't keep me reading, it doesn't matter how well written it is, I don't consider it worth the paper it's printed on (but someone else might).
>What kicks you out of a book and makes you reach for the rejection slip?  
There are quite a few things that kick me out of a book, but most of them don't make me reach for the rejection slip. I have a fairly large staff specifically to prevent myself from accepting or rejecting based on my taste alone.
So what does make me reject something? That's a topic for a new thread 

Writers are always being advised to "Show, don't tell". 
Unfortunately, that advise is frequently NOT followed by concrete examples of what not to do, what might be causing the problem. If the writer is "telling" all the time, spitting a catch phrase at him isn't going to "show" him what to change.
So, here are some things to watch out for:

1. Don't use action labels. (hunh? Action labels? Whassat?). Action labels are things like this:
John hung his head morosely.
James walked with an air of confidence.
The cat turned it's back on my leftovers with disdain.
In those examples, you have an object doing an action and the action has a label. John hung his head. How?morosely. James walks. How? With an air of confidence. The cat turns its back on my leftovers. How? with disdain.
I, your poor reader, might have a pretty good idea of what those labels mean, what the actions look like, but boy am I bored. You're telling me what those three people are doing, you're not showing me. 
Paint me a better picture. Describe the action and let ME label it. As an example, let's take that cat. How about if we rewrite the sentence like this:
The cat sniffed at my leftovers. Its ears flattened, its tail fur bristled, and, with a hiss, it stuck its nose up into the air and sauntered off.
You might not use the word "disdain" for the cat's action, but I'll bet you have a pretty good mental image of exactly how it looked.
So now you have an assignment. Take the other two sentences and rephrase them, post the rephrasing in a reply to this topic thread. Let's see you turn the labels into action that conveys to me a good mental image of exactly how John looks when hanging his head, or James looks while walking.


2. Don't narrate what should be action.
Far too often, I see sentences like this:
The man was running down the street after the dog.
Granted, that does tell me (there's that nasty word again) that a man and a dog are on a street and that the man is running. That's all it does, however, and I'm bored again. To fix sentences like this, don't use the word "was" (ouch! Wait, that's a legal word, why can't I use it?) Here's one possible way to rephrase:
The man dashed down the street after the dog.
Better, but still boring. How about:
His long hair streaming behind him, the short, over-weight ex-boxer put his head down and gave chase down the broad avenue after the fleeing, six-legged mongrel.
Oof! I got tired just writing that. Bet you're out of breath trying to read it. Okay, maybe not quite so much detail, but I'll bet you got a better picture of what was going on.
so now it's your turn. Rephrase the sentence we started with so that I can "see" the action (but don't over do it!).


Don't "tell" me what your character is thinking or feeling. Any time you write phrases like "I thought" "he wondered" "she imagined", it's a red flag to you that you're about to narrate what might be better as IM, thought dialog, muttered or even out loud dialog. Don't steal your character's dialog out of their mouths (and brains). 
Here's an example (you knew this was coming). We start with this sentence:
The small boy wandered through the cherry orchard, kicking stones and breaking small sticks to bits. He wondered if his grandmother would have lunch ready soon, his stomach was growling.
You probably have a pretty good idea of what is going on, but I just pulled you WAY back from character by narrating what he's thinking about. Let me put you in his head, instead:
The small boy wandered through the cherry orchard, kicking stones and breaking small sticks to bits. My stomach's growling. He tossed a small stone at a nearby tree. It missed. Drat. How come I can't ever hit anything. I wish granny would get lunch ready, I'm hungry!
So, now you have a 3rd assignment (you knew that was coming too, didn't you?) Take the following short paragraph and un-narrate what should be dialog. Post your revision in a reply to this thread.
An old sailor wandered along the beach, his eyes straying to the waves as often as to the sand at his feet. Images of ships he'd sailed, ports he'd visited, and girls he'd loves swirled through his mind. He wondered if any of the girls ever thought of him. He guessed some of them might, but figured that most of them had forgotten him long before.

Josh: Okay, I'll take a shot at one.
James walked with an air of confidence.
James Simmons thrust one hand into his pants pocket as he strode down the hall.  His head was bobbing slightly as he looked barely over the heads of the students mobbing the halls.  He curled the edge of his lip into a smile.
Willie elbowed his friend, "Check it, Mr. Simmons has his pimp walk on!"


Lizbeth:  Nice Josh, but I would say his head bobbed instead of was bobbing.  But the other part of that sentence " he looked barely over the heads..." threw me. Not sure what you're trying to say.


Josh: Quote from: lizbeth on May 25, 2010, 08:11:22 PM

Nice Josh, but I would say his head bobbed instead of was bobbing.  But the other part of that sentence " he looked barely over the heads..." threw me. Not sure what you're trying to say.  Smiley
Quite agree...I didn't proof this very effectively 
Smiley (kind of rushed it)  
So, here's a second attempt!
James Simmons thrust one hand into his pants pocket as he strode down the hall.  He bobbed his head slightly as he walked and curled the edge of his lip into a smile.
Willie elbowed his friend, "Check it, Mr. Simmons has his pimp walk on!"


Ajcap:  Head high, chest out, James sauntered down the avenue like he owned it.
John's long, curly hair wound around the hands that held the weight of his head.

Am I getting marked for this? I have this fear of failure issue..


CrystalWizard:  Quote from: Josh Covington on May 25, 2010, 07:24:19 PM

Okay, I'll take a shot at one.
Nice job, Josh 
one small blip you need to fix. Go back and rephrase the sentence with "was" in it so that it doesn't use "was" "were" or any form of the "to be" verb.

Quote from: ajcap on May 26, 2010, 11:47:48 AM

Head high, chest out, James sauntered down the avenue like he owned it.
Smiley Very nice.

Quote from: ajcap on May 26, 2010, 11:47:48 AM

John's long, curly hair wound around the hands that held the weight of his head.[/b]
That's an interesting sentence. That one makes me want to say "okay, where's the rest of the paragraph? you can't toss a teaser like that at me and not finish the picture."

Quote from: ajcap on May 26, 2010, 11:47:48 AM

Am I getting marked for this? I have this fear of failure issue... Cry
No reason for you to fear failure. Failing can be frustrating, but it's actually a positive thing. When you start out trying to reach a specific goal, every time you don't reach it, you're still at least one step closer to it than you were. How many ways to not build a light bulb did Edison know?


Mary Rosenblum:  I think we're seeing some very nice examples here that a technique can be done well or badly.  And while, in most cases, a good action tag trumps a saidism, an overdone action tag is an overdone action tag and is not necessarily an improvement. 


CrystalWizard:  You open the mail box, pull out a pile of envelops, and discover that the one on top is from a publisher.

In fact, it's from a publisher you sent a story off to not too long before and have been waiting (while chewing on your fingernails) for a reply from.

Now that the reply is here, you're terrified to open it. What if they rejected your story? What if they didn't like it? What if they didn't like you!?

Sound familiar?

Rejection is a fact of life, and you can't stop people from turning your work down, but there are some things you can do to keep it from happening quite as often.

1. Don't offer the wrong thing to the wrong person
I sent a story in to a magazine several years ago and thought maybe it would get an acceptance. It was a fantasy story, they were a fantasy magazine. I got a rejection in 2 days time. The reason? They said "sorry, but we don't publish stories with dragons in them." And their guidelines, which I had read (but not carefully enough) stated that fact bluntly. "We don't want stories with dragons." In my defense, I missed that little detail, or I wouldn't have sent them a fantasy story about a dragon! 
If you were selling shoes, bubble gum, oranges, or any other product, you might offer it to everyone you saw, but if you researched your market first, you'd have a lot more sales than if you didn't. Can you imagine going into a nursing home and trying to sell a line of newborn baby items to the residents? You might get a few who would buy something, either out of pity for you or for their great grand kids, but most of them would likely turn you down flat. And laugh at you behind your back. 
The same goes for that story or book you've written and you now want to sell to a publisher. Before you send it out to the world, research what those people publish, and then send it to the people who you have the best chance with. That starts with reading the writer's guidelines for the publisher you are interested in AND reading what they publish!
2. Don't be picky
There used to only be a few options for being published. You went to New York. You submitted to big name publishers (books and magazines). You accepted a contract for a few cents on the dollar for each copy of your book, or a few cents a word for your story. 
The Internet has changed the entire industry.
There are many different ways to get your story into the public eye than there were even just 5 years ago. Get your name out there, submit to every e-zine you can. You won't make much (if anything) but you WILL build a fan base, you WILL build readership, you WILL become known. And you need those things more than you might think. You'll also learn how to play the publishing game successfully.
3. Accept reality
No one writes in a vacuum, and no one can edit their own work as well as someone else can. No one that wants professional quality stuff, at least. Newbie writers, (and those with too much ego) will insist that they don't need anyone to edit their work. They also have very nice rejection slip collections.
Because you, the author, know what you meant. You know what you're thinking. You see the same mental images when you read your words as you saw when you wrote them.
Us poor readers, however, can't read your mind. We can only read your words. And since we can't see what you imagined while writing, we're stuck with our own imaginations. You might think that the sentence

The beautiful girl sat on a bench
Is crystal clear, but we don't know what you consider beautiful. Maybe you think that a short, female with long black hair is beautiful. Maybe you think that females who are covered with tatoos and have long warty noses that hang all the way down to their waists are beautiful. Maybe you are visualizing a tall, willowy female wearing a white satin gown and a veil while you're writing the word beautiful. Maybe you're thinking of something else. 
The point is, it doesn't matter what you have in your head, if you don't put it on paper, your reader won't know what it was. But when you try to edit your own stuff, you aren't going to know there's a disconnect between what you wrote and what the reader sees. The only way for you to know that, is to have other people read it and tell you.
Before you send out anything, run it through a good crit group. You want a crit group that will be overly picky, point out every single possible thing that could go wrong, and shred your writing, but NOT shred you. (no, you don't run home and try to implement all their suggestions, you take notes and then fix only the stuff that actually needs it). Revise, run it through the crit group again. Do it again and even again.  Polish it up before you send it out. After all, if YOU were the editor, would you want to read someone's rough draft?
So, with that said, what are some of the things you've learned about submitting work, and some of the experiences you've had?


Leena:  Excellent advice that I need to hear over and over. I have also learned to research the publisher, ezine, whatever, to make sure that the stories they publish are simlar in nature to what I'm offering. Otherwise it's a waste of time and money.


Dale:  Great post, Crystalwizard.
Critique groups have helped tremendously in improving the quality of my submissions.  Many years ago I submitted a story to Ellen Datlow when she edited OMNI, a story which I had run by my critique group, twice. The result was a personal rejection, rather than a form one. My current group is giving me great feedback (and I like to think I return the favor  
In fact, three of the four stories I've sold have been run through the group, and resulted in improving those stories.
Of course, you have to have the right group. I tend to think having writers who work in the same genre or related can be a bonus--I've been in groups that mixed genres, one in particular run by a professional mystery author who was familiar with SF and Fantasy. That worked. An earlier group had more problems with this because people had a hard time being able to critique a genre they weren't familiar with. Certainly principles of story telling, writing, POV etc can be covered regardless, but for more in depth feedback on whether or not, for example, an SF short story works as SF, it does help to have readers who know the genre. 
It's also important to take a constructive approach--typically I critique by first giving my reader reaction, then identifying what worked, then what didn't and other areas of concern, and finally by giving suggestions to fix the problems and address concerns that don't completely change what the story was about. Not only does this hopefully prove helpful to the author, but it helps me be able to get better at figuring out if a story doesn't work and how I might fix that, and apply it to my own writing.
In terms of what I've learned about submitting work--the basics of course apply-- use a standard manuscript format, be professional, read the guidelines of the markets you submit to, try to read some of what they publish if possible, etc.
But beyond that the biggest thing I've learned after garnering many form rejections is don't take it personally. A form rejection may mean the writing isn't up to professional quality, or that you submitted something they don't buy. A form rejection can also simply mean the story didn't fit that particular market's needs. Finally, consider feedback when they offer it. My first sale, last fall to 10Flash, resulted from the editor saying she would buy the story if I made two changes. Both changes improved the story and made it work better.


CrystalWizard:  Form rejections can also mean that the editor is so swamped, s/he just wanted to clear the slush pile.
At the end of the month, every month, I go through all the submissions to Abandoned Towers that responses are due back for, make decisions, and send them out. Frequently that takes me several days. I can't send responses out any sooner, I have to wait till my team gets their comments back to me.
So last night, after all the comments came in on all the subs that are due this month, I looked at the mountain of items I have to deal with this week and caught myself thinking that I didn't want to have to deal with them.
I will, but the point is, I only have around 30 or so items to send responses back on this week. The big magazines deal with more than that in a day.
And it can be overwhelming.
Just an FYI.


Ajcap: I've only ever submitted twice and was rejected both times, but they were personalized rejections. The first one took the time to chew me up and spit me out using sarcasm and no-holds-barred criticism...and that's the mag I'm going to keep submitting to until they like me, dammit.
My fragile ego came to the conclusion that they could have just hit the delete/rejection button and that would have been that. But they took the time to tar and feather me, so, in my own little world, I'm thinking they kind of like me. They just don't like my endings. 
The second rejection was much nicer. More instructive. I will submit again...once I've been published in t'other one.



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