Friday, February 03, 2017

Speaking of short stories

Yesterday's blog post about precise word choices produced some questions about querying and publishing short stories.


mythical one-eyed peace officer asked
"If you write short stories, you'll need to have six-ten in your quiver, and they should already have been published in periodicals before you query"

That's interesting. Would the same apply to nonfiction collection? Memoir essays...?
Yes.
Part of the reason is that editors want to make sure someone out there has heard of you and will buy a book of your essays. Previous publication is a very good way to say "yup, I've got fans."


Colin Smith asked
First off, my interest is piqued by the fact you even suggest that short stories could be considered by agents. I'm currently writing some shorts to get publication credit, as well as some professional validation (and candy money). Here you seem to open up the possibility that, if these stories are good enough, I might query them for an anthology...? Am I hearing you right?
No.
First, if you are querying for a group of your short stories rather than a novel, it's called a collection
of short stories, not an anthology. An anthology is a group of short stories by DIFFERENT writers.
I had to have this hammered into my head when I began representing Laird Barron.

The reason you need to know the difference between collection and anthology is that editor you're pitching (or the agent) knows the difference and you don't want to pitch what you don't have.

It would be extremely rare to have a collection of short stories pubbed before a novel in any genre category. It's rare, but not as rare with literary fiction writers. 

Colin inquired further
Then we come to the question of definition. By "periodical," do you mean any magazine or journal that is published (online or in print) on a regular schedule? Does it matter which magazines/journals, or is the fact that an editor parted with money for your work good enough?
 Which periodical matters a LOT.
The more prestigious the better.
The less you have to do with running the periodical the better.

Thus, if you're pubbed in the New Yorker, you've got my attention.
If you're pubbed in the Carkoon Feed and Bleed Newsletter, and are also a contributing editor and font sharpener there, not so much.


 Here's an example of a deal announcement from yesterday's Publishers Marketplace demonstrating what I mean:


Published in journals including The Yale Review and The Iowa Review, as well as Best American Non-Required Reading, Iowa MFA graduate Anjali Sachdeva's ALL THE NAMES THEY USED FOR GOD, a story collection that explores—through the lens of surrealism, realism, and science fiction—the isolation we experience in the face of the powerful, mysterious, often dangerous forces that shape our lives


From Carkoon, Joseph Snoe telexed:
It’s interesting to me too that short story collections are more marketable if they’ve already been published. I guess it makes some sense. Jean Shepherd published at least two books of short stories that had appeared elsewhere (but I hadn’t read any of them anywhere else).

It does seem there ought to be a market for original short story collections (I think I have one by Neil Gaiman), and not just the books that compile several authors.

There's a market for alphabetized grocery lists if you're Neil Gaiman.
There are actually quite a few collections out there from writers who aren't Neil Gaiman (yet)

In fact, Laird Barron has a pretty good one out right now.




And of course Craig F made my hair stand on end here:
Please be careful when you try to publish shorts. It is a different world for newbie writers than it is for established writers. Established writers get a lot more money than newbs. There is also a sticky little thing called publishing rights. A lot of periodicals like to keep those.

I had an offer from Short Story America. For the whopping fee of $50 they got to keep my publishing rights for entirety of their life. Be very careful to read, and understand, the fine print. With e-periodicals it is hard to do that at times.

First and foremost if you take away nothing else from this blog EVER,please remember this: CONTRACTS ARE NEGOTIABLE.

If you sell a short story and the contract they offer licenses the rights in perpetuity, DO NOT AGREE.
Suggest an alternative.

In every short story contract I review (there's that word again!) for my authors I make sure the scope of the license is clear: how long the periodical can publish this story exclusively and when that exclusivity ends. 

It's IMPERATIVE that you do this if you want a career, because if you tie up rights thoughtlessly, you can pay a severe penalty down the road.

Remember that wonderful movie Arrival I mentioned the other day? It's based on a short story. If the publisher of that story had hung on to film rights (which some short story publications try to do) it would have wrecked havoc on making that film deal.

Plus, film contracts license CHARACTERS. If you've got a story with a character you intend to use down the road, you sure as hell don't want to tie up film rights to that character with the Feed and Bleed Gazette.

Any questions?

40 comments:

Timothy Lowe said...

Ok - more Q (and hopefully A from some of the posters here)...

Does the same caution about licensing apply to contests? I've entered the Nelson Algren contest a few times - it's very competitive, free, and has a pretty good cash prize. I'm wondering how closely I should have read fine print???

Amy Schaefer said...

Always read the fine print. If you sign it, you have to know what you are giving up, nit just what you are getting.

And a happy Friday to all. My goal for today is to break free of the pit of anxiety where I have been dwelling. I'm going to try to focus on all of the good things in my life. Goal #2 is to do a big push on my current edits. Provided no one forgets their ukulele or similar at home this morning, I'm in with a chance.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Timothy, the same caution applies to EVERYTHING when it comes to rights. Essentially, you're giving someone else permission to do something with your work: publishing it in electronic form for the first time, reprinting it on slices of dead trees, getting people to read the dialogue out loud and having it recorded on magnetic tape...

There should be some sort of time limit and reasonable scope to what rights you're granting to someone. If someone is asking for rights that don't make sense (like an online zine asking for audio rights when they don't produce a podcast) or rights granted with no end date mentioned, it's time to lift an eyebrow and ask questions.

You, as the author own all the rights. You just let them out to play until suppertime, when it's time to come back home. The last thing you need is Little Johnny's Mom deciding that your baby now lives with them because you signed away all your rights in perpetuity. Especially if the new bedroom is a ratty cardboard box behind the garage.

Yeah. Always read the fine print and learn to understand what it means. Ask someone (NOT the one offering the contract) if you're not sure what something means.

BJ Muntain said...

Timothy - I'm not familiar with the contest you've mentioned, but contests can be some of the worst with contracts.

One thing to be aware of with contests - if they're not a literary magazine or organization holding this contest, be very careful. They probably don't have a literary lawyer. I've heard of several such contests with terms saying, "Stories belong to the organization forever". As Amy said, ALWAYS READ THE FINE PRINT.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...


Just so you know, the Carkoon Feed and Bleed Newsletter has expanded. We are now an annual publication, published four times a year, weekly. I am an in-house daily writer and it is imperative to inform reiders of my latest column.

All Hale Kale, the male enhancement miracle food and Limas and your Vagina, a menopausal marvel.

On behalf of all the banished, here on Carkoon, I want to express our calmness, as related to the befuddlement of US politics. We are independent of all things political. No walls here just lots and lots of...
Sorry gotta go. My turn to clean the latrines.
Have a nice day.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
BJ Muntain said...

Hm. Posted before I meant to. I wanted to say that contests by literary organizations or periodicals are usually better that way, but you still need to be careful. I'll rarely submit to a contest where there's a fee, but I'll never submit to a contest where you pay a fee, and they'll print the top ten entries but only pay the top 3. And there are several that will do that, especially the lit mags. I'm not going to pay to have some clunky little lit mag print my work.

(Also, have you ever noticed that the lit mags will charge a fee that is equal to their subscription fee... and then say they give you a bonus subscription just for entering? These contests are all about making money and padding the subscription list. They really don't have much to do with the authors at all. *jumps off soap box*)

Timothy Lowe said...

Reread the fine print. This is the clause:

Each entrant agrees that if selected as a winner in this Contest, he or she will grant to Chicago Tribune a world-wide, perpetual, royalty-free license to use the winning Story in any manner related to the Contest, without prior notice, approval or additional compensation, and the right of first publication of the winning Story until January 1, 2018, and agrees to execute the Chicago Tribune’s standard License Agreement (Short Story) (“License Agreement”) as a condition of receiving his or her prize. Winners otherwise will retain all rights to their Stories, and Chicago Tribune’s publication of their Stories will not limit winners’ use and ability to further market the Stories.

"Related to the Contest" I take to mean as publicizing the winning entry as a contest winner. But what do I know? It's no wonder that some agents are also lawyers...

Hope I didn't screw up...

E.M. Goldsmith said...

A lot of useful information I will consume later. But the Falcons are in the Super Bowl. The Atlanta Falcons. I will be experiencing a prolonged sense of unreality over next few days. I might even write a short story for the Carkoon Bleed and Feed.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Oops. My long-winded comment posted multiple times. Thought I'd better delete the copies before I got banished to Carkoon.

But after hearing about the politic-free zone from 2NNs, I regret my tidying up.

I am soooo sick of US politics.

Donnaeve said...

It's amazing how many people are still on Carkoon - when I was thinking Joe and I were the only inhabitants at the moment. Maybe it's not so bad here - since they never left? Ha. Who am I kidding.

Timothy, the way I read that, it sounds "okay," to me - as in you didn't screw up. I think it's simply saying that if you are the winner, they will publish/use the story only relative to the actual contest through January 1, 2018, and that beyond that, you as the story's creator retain all rights to use it for submission/publication elsewhere.

Personally, I don't see anything wrong, but like you said, "what do I know?" And indeed, what do I know - when that doggone clunker furnace used to heat the little hovel here on Carkoon sounds like a thousand empty tin cans being dropped. Yes. It is winter here on Carkoon, and it's not snowing - it looks like...ash? Is there a volcano???

Colin Smith said...

OK... so if I want to impress the agent(s) on my list(?), I need to get 10 short stories published in some respectable magazines so I can offer them up as a COLLECTION. Alternatively, I can write a stonking good novel that is irresistible to all the agent(s) on my list(?), and then when that novel gets published and hits the NYT list, we can talk collections.

Easy as that, huh? :-\

Thanks for answering my q., Mighty QOTKU! :)

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Donnaeve, it's probably best to not know the origins of that ash or really anything on Carkoon. It makes the exile more bearable.

Although, if American politics doesn't calm down soon, then Carkoon could become a vacation destination. I am about sick of how irrational it's all become. No one is listening to anyone. It's like a temper tantrum competition. It's exhausting. It makes the natives of Carkoon seem nearly sane. That is not a good sign.

Still, I wouldn't question the origin of that ash. And I hope Fabreeze has been allowed on Carkoon or that the exiles' sense of smell fails entirely.

Colin Smith said...

Donna: You'd be amazed how many exiles are left on Carkoon. I recall in the Buttonweezer Memorial Library, there's a medieval text--a ledger of sorts--that contains a list of writers exiled to Carkoon by an "Agente of Scrybes" called Janus Rede. It seems their graves are still there. Hope you're having fun! :)

BTW, Part three of my Manhattan adventure is up on my blog, for those who have been following. Thanks for all your comments! :D

BJ Muntain said...

Timothy: It's interesting that they say the entrant must execute their "License Agreement (Short Story)" - that's another contract you need to read in order to understand what this particular legal requirement means. Is there at least a link to it? Or do they expect you to agree to that contract without having read it?

Beyond that, it looks okay. It looks, though, like they could reprint your story in a future anthology of winners as much as 25 years in the future. If you're fine with that, okay. A few good things: Chicago Tribune will have literary lawyers, so the contract should be viable that way. It looks like you don't actually agree to anything unless you win. And if you really don't like the terms in their short story license agreement, you could reject it and forfeit your prize. At least, that's how it reads to me, but I'm not a lawyer.

As long as the prize is worth the story to you, you're good. I have some stories I wouldn't submit to a contest like that, but others I would (and no, quality of the stories has nothing to do with it. It's the future plans I have for those stories that I want to use elsewhere in specific circumstances.)

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Yup, Donna is right, Lotta ashes here on Carkoon. I'm a perfect ash, I should know.
Speaking of politics...let's not.

Craig F said...

When I see 'grant world-wide, perpetual,royalty free license for the use, it makes me cringe. This is the point where you make a choice. Give the story away for the value given in winning a contest or withdraw it and walk away.

The value that must be considered is much more about exposure and having something published in your pocket than it is about prize money. In my case I walked away. The reason was about exposure to readers. The people who wanted my story did not and still does not have the clout in the real world for me. The Chicago Tribune would give me a lot more to think about.

My Queen, I am sorry to disagree on the edge of this Stupor Bowl Weekend, especially with the Falcons playing in it again, but I must. All contracts are not negotiable. It is worse now that we are dealing with e-personalities. They can ignore you and there is nothing you can do about it. It is much easier to negotiate when you can look someone in the eye to present it.

Amy Schaefer said...

I'm taking today as a Politics Holiday. The world is going to have to turn without me.

Colin Smith said...

Amy: Go on Twitter and filter by #LCFZ. This hashtag was established by Jessica Sinsheimer, and stands for "Literary Cheeto-Free Zone." The intention is to share literary info, pictures, and feel-good stuff--strictly no politics. :)

Timothy Lowe said...

Thanks for all the opinions. First prize is 3500.00, but there are several runner-up prizes too. Last year they had 6,000 entries. Former winners got some pretty good press, and I'd assume it would be a credit for a later query, so I guess there are some good reasons to consider it, should the stars align and it scores a win.

OT: Picked up "The Nix" by Nathan Hill. So far it is a jaw-droppingly hilarious read. I'm at the point where the publisher drops the washed-up writer's contract because he's too far out of the money. It's worth adding to your reading lists, if all the copies at your local library aren't already checked out.


E.M. Goldsmith said...

Colin #LCFZ is brilliant! And puppies! Can the Reef be a Literary Cheeto Free Zone? It mostly is because this lot is respectful and articulate. But still, what a great idea from Jessica Sinsheimer. Thanks, Colin, for bringing it to our attention. I was beginning to think I would have to abandon social media for my sanity. Which might be bad for future book sales. Ok, back to day job. The entire school district is decked out in Falcons gear. It's adorable, especially with the younger students.

Amy Schaefer said...

Good tip. I'm trying to stay off the internet today in general (see how well I'm doing? Comment #3 - sigh), but I'll use the filter when I need a break. Otherwise, today is just me and my sharp, sharp knives, slicing and dicing my MS.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

Lots of interesting info, as always. And, as always, lots of hilarity. 2Ns You're killing me.

Donna I'm tempted to do something naughty so I can visit Carkoon. I'll bring Lemon Curd... my newest obsession.

Colin Look! I'm still bolding. I may go completely off the rails and try italicizing next. In all seriousness... I wanted to tell you how much I've enjoyed reading about your trip to NYC. I live in the middle of 175 acres in a very rural area. Weeks go by without speaking to another human being, except the hubby (does that count?). Thank you for sharing your adventure. May I add, how brave of your young Sarah to take on these auditions. I wish her all the very best.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Stephen King was mentioned yesterday as having a good collection in Night Shift and I back that up. Really, his short form has always been solid, even as my opinion of his longer works in recent years wavers. Amelia Grey's Gutshot and Elizabeth Hand's Errantry are also very good collections, as it K.J. Parker's Academic Exercises, and Roxanne Gay's recent Difficult Women. Some of the stories in the collections I just mentioned are "not quite a story" or perhaps "just barely a story" and I remember many of them with fond clarity.

It is from reading this blog that I could negotiate a contract presented to me, and did so with one of my publications. The editors were friendly, and receptive, and accepted my changes with zero fuss.

Claire Bobrow said...

Once again the Reef has shed light on a topic that wasn't on my radar screen, and has made me just that little bit more informed. Short stories and journals, competitions and clauses - I learned a few things. Thank you!

Kudos to Colin. It's not everyday we get to read the word "stonking.

Timothy Lowe: I have The Nix on my nightstand. It's buried under a few other books, but it may get promoted.

How about a FF contest involving Neil Gaiman, Laird Barron and grocery lists?

Joseph Snoe said...

For those who’ve not been to Carkoon, it’s not all that bad. Yesterday, for example, from eight in the morning until midnight, Yoko Ono sang the first half of “Fifty Shades of Grey” for us. She was great, as usual. She’ll sing the second half next Thursday.

The only really bad part so far has been no ketchup. Have you ever eaten a boiled banana without ketchup? Not good.

Julie Weathers said...

Colin I wish Jessica had come up with that sooner, though even the label is a political statement. Unfortunately, I already have 95% of agents and writers on mute so I wouldn't see what they have to say anyway.

Fortunately, one I didn't have muted was Laura Bradford because her food adventure amuse me so much. I won a #bigassboxofbooks from her in a twitter giveaway last night. Yeah, I know. I need more books. She was cleaning out and gave away a bunch of books to different followers who entered.

A contest you fantasy writers might want to check out.

At Books and Writers, the exercise this month is about description. This time, it's to zoom in on one item, a vase of sunflowers. Whether it's right or wrong, when I'm setting a scene, I try to set a few gems in it. I give it one or two interesting details instead of a laundry list description. This would be one of those things. Are they fresh, dried, huge, just opening, so yellow you can't take your eyes off them because they contrast so vividly with the drab room?

In short stories especially, your words have to be work horses. Make every word count. Make your descriptions so vivid people want to wallow them around in their minds like French silk pie on the tongue.

And I have to go get some writing done. *tips the hour glass*

Beth said...

Colin, thanks for sharing your trip to New York. It's on my bucket list. Fingers crossed for Carnegie Mellon.

Lennon Faris said...

Good to hear it again. I've become really aware of that wording!

Colin - thanks for the reading suggestions yesterday! I will def. check them out.

Colin Smith said...

Melanie: Italicizing is the same as bolding, just use an i instead of a b. Like this!

And thanks everyone for reading my Manhattan adventures. I'm glad you enjoyed the posts. People seemed to like my Bouchercon 2015 reports, too. Perhaps I should get out more often...? :)

Donnaeve said...

EM And you should know about "ash" since you wrote that story. Brrrr. Won't never forget it!

Colin I found it! Yikes. But the spelling on that name...hmmm. And I need to catch up on your blog posts!

Melanie, I saw about your new obsession, and ditto on the lemon curd - meaning I've never had it either, but now I gotta try - although I do NOT need a new obsession.

Politics Free Zone - here please? Pretty please? I feel like I can't go anywhere without it being pushed in my face. FB (speaking of face) is The Worst. UGH. I just scroll by - yet many things I see and try to ignore, well it's hard to ignore. If I didn't have to do social media, I really would shut it all down for a while.

Amy Good luck with editing. I wish I was at that point, but instead, I'm less than 20K into a new WIP and though it gets easier once I get past 50K, for now...a bit of a slog.

Beth said...

Interesting about film rights tying up rights to a character. I assume that means publication rights do not? So if I sold rights to a short story with a mystery-solving ichthyologist named Jones, I could go on to write a series of novels with the same detective, but not if I'd sold the film rights?

Off topic, Colin have you ever tried Tazo Awake tea? Alaska Airlines served me some on my last flight and I really liked it. Of course, it may have been the extra caffeine I liked. Did you actually eat the -gulp- kale chips or just photograph them?

Joseph Snoe said...

After all the comments here, I made it to Colin's blog to read about his three-day NYC adventure. I'm not sure which I enjoyed more, the adventure stories or his writing style.

Colin Smith said...

Beth: I think someone once gave me a bag of Tazo green tea, but I passed it on to my SecondBorn. She's much more of a green tea drinker than me. I'm open to trying Awake. I could do with a cup about now, actually... :-\

Joseph: I don't need to tell you that's the best compliment. Thank you! :)

Gypmar said...

Anthony Doerr's first published book was a short story collection. You may have heard of him. :) I agree with the shark (always wise) that these collections as a first book are almost always from literary writers. If that's the way you really want to go, small presses are much more likely to accept them.

AJ Blythe said...

Saturday arvo and kid sport done for the day. My reward... to sit here and chuckle my way through the comments.

Timothy Lowe said...

Hey Her Grace -

I just read your comment fully. Your prose sings.

Cheers,

Tim

Sam Hawke said...

I was too late to comment the other day - new post was up by the time I caught up - so I'm just going to quietly gush for a moment here: I LOVED Arrival. It really blew me away. My spouse and I don't get to see movies that often these days, especially not together, but my brother volunteered to look after the kids so we could do dinner and a movie and I'd heard people mention Arrival on Twitter so picked it on spec. Boy, boy boy was I glad. I found it incredibly moving. And I can't believe Amy Adams didn't get an Oscar nomination considering 50% of that movie was Amy Adams Thinking Quietly and it was amazing. I can't remember the last time I found a film so affecting. I watch movies very differently now as a parent than I did 10 years ago.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Thanks, Tim.