Slush Pile Lessons, Part One – Standing Out

We just finished reading through 240+ stories for our new anthology. Other people have echoed similar sentiments, but reading slush really highlights things I’ve done as a writer that I probably want to rethink. I thought I might share some of the things I’ve seen over five years of slush.

This post got longer than intended so I’m breaking this up into two posts. You’re welcome.

I’ll try to focus more on things I could do better. When using examples from things we’ve edited, I’ll also try to highlight things from Mad Scientist Journal rather than anything recent.

Before I dig in, here are some disclaimers:

  • I dislike the idea of “conventional wisdom.” In part because of survivorship bias. In part because there are constant exceptions to any rule that gets laid down.
  • One of the many pearls of wisdom I learned from James Gunn’s writer’s workshop is: never give an editor an excuse to say, “No.” There’s value in knowing why an editor will say no.
  • I say “editors” because it’s what I am and what I know. This could apply to agents, publishers, or other literary gatekeepers you want to impress. But I’m just going to say editors because I’m lazy.
  • The advice here is about controlling what you can actually control. The universe is fickle and there are variables that you have no way to know about or plan for. So focus on what you can actually do.

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Ebook Market Share

I got curious recently, and poked at some numbers for ebook sales. I often wonder whether there’s value in not caving and using Amazon exclusively. Amazon has some perks for people who only publish ebooks through them. You appear in Amazon Unlimited, Kindle Owner’s Lending Library, and get better royalties in some international markets.

But I’ve avoided doing it because it means aiding a monopoly, and it doesn’t sit right for me.

I’ve generally known that my stuff on Amazon sells better, but I don’t usually bother do do an extensive comparison. But here’s a look at 2016 numbers. I’m sharing it here in case anyone is curious.

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Crowdfunding Numbers

I’ve been thinking a lot about my Kickstarters and Patreons. Especially for my personal work, as opposed to Mad Scientist Journal. But the same issues plague both.

In the past, Patreon has seemed ideal for smaller projects that had value for backers individually. This was especially true once I split MSJ into its own Patreon. For the magazine, which produces a lot of content, the monthly model seemed ideal. But for my own projects, which I’m not as prolific with thanks to my tendency to over-commit, I opted to re-frame the content as just shorter pieces, offered up as paid content. Books, instead, deserved their own Kickstarter.

Kickstarter has its foibles, but I felt like it provided a way to build awareness of our stuff. Patreon has mainly seemed like a good way to raise funds if people already know about you. It doesn’t hurt that three of our four Kickstarters were Staff Picks by Kickstarter.

But as I look at actual money raised, I’m less confident about my choices. So here’s some assorted numbers. These are kind of broad strokes, and I probably made some mistakes, but they at least get in the neighborhood.

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The Dog Who Loved Jack

Infrequently, I find myself in possession of fanfic that I’ve written. I don’t necessarily plan to have fanfic. I don’t have enough time. But sometimes, that’s where fiction ends up.

Several years ago, Trent Zelazny and Warren Lapine ran an Indiegogo campaign for a Roger Zelazny tribute anthology titled Shadows and Reflections. If they met their goal, they would accept submissions from the general public in addition to whatever authors they planned on tapping for this.

They didn’t meet their goal, but it was a flexible funding campaign so they got some of their goal. They decided they would open up to submissions from people who had backed the campaign.

As a long-time Zelazny fan, I backed the crap out of that anthology. And I desperately wanted to write for it. It’s a rare moment when you are invited to play with the toys of an author you greatly admire. So when they said they’d still take submissions from backers, I went for it. It couldn’t be set in Amber, but it could be any other world.

I poured my love into this story, which I titled “The Dog Who Loved Jack.” It’s written in the world of A Night in the Lonesome October, but I wove in Raymond Chandler’s Farewell, My Lovely. The opening scene from Nine Princes in Amber is basically lifted from the middle of Chandler’s book. It’s meant as an homage to both Zelazny and his inspirations.

The story didn’t get accepted. I was told it was well written but not a good fit for the anthology. And, like many partially funded Indiegogo campaigns, the final product has never manifested. (A year ago they said it should be out in a couple months.)

Either way, I’m stuck with a story I love and, because it uses someone else’s setting, I can’t sell it anywhere. I don’t even feel right putting it up for free on my Patreon. So I’m offering it for free here in the form of fan-fiction. I’ve written plenty of character diaries for Amber campaigns, so hopefully this won’t be any more unethical. I hope you enjoy it.

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The Bolthy Manifesto (2015 Edition)

As I watched my 40th birthday slowly creep up on me, I sought opinions on what I should do to commemorate it. One friend suggested I write a manifesto. At first I thought I couldn’t do such a thing, assuming that I would have some sort of answers about life when I don’t. But I looked up what a manifesto means: “A manifesto is a published verbal declaration of the intentions, motives, or views of the issuer.”

For whatever reason, the thought of it being about my own views rather than some fundamental truth made it easier. Since my thirties have been a time of re-evaluating my life, I thought summing it up could have value for me if no one else. I will not claim this is brilliant or insightful. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that these are things that some people deal with much better than I have. It’s just what I’ve been struggling with and the answers that I found helpful.

I meant to publish this on my birthday, but I didn’t manage that. So here’s the belated manifesto.

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