Friday, January 29, 2016


Reviews play an important role in the publishing industry.  Their primary function is as a marketing tool.  Glowing reviews are quoted and put on or in books to help them sell.  Positive reviews on Amazon (and the like) promote the sale of books, whereas negative reviews denounce the sales.  Published critical reviews are also residual marketing tools.  They examine the quality of a work critically and influence sales/exposure indirectly.  The type of review I write is similar to these reviews.

I call my reviews "literary criticisms."  If you click the tag of that name on this site, you'll be able to read the dozens of literary criticisms that I have written.  These criticisms are almost invariably written in the same format.  The outline I have chosen is based upon what I believe is most important about stories.

My criticisms are not analyses like you might find in a literature class.  I really don't care much about sub-text unless it's right beneath the surface.  If it isn't clear, it isn't there.  Theme and "meaning" can be very important, but only insofar as they are properly displayed by the three main aspects of any story: plot, setting, and characters.

The first paragraph of my criticisms is an introduction.  I usually give the title of the work I'm criticizing, the name of the author, the length of the work, and where the work came from.  Typically I'll give some indication of what I thought of the work as well.  The next three paragraphs deal with plot, setting, and characters.  The order varies depending upon what jumps out at me the most.  I try to position my paragraphs to allow the best transitions possible.  Ideally, the plot, setting, and characters of a story are interwoven so tightly that I can transition from any of them to any of the others and then over to the third; if this isn't the case, I will place the two paragraphs with connections to one another next to each other.  Sometimes the body of my critiques will get a fourth paragraph.  That forth paragraph is used if I have something specific to say about the prose (the words, the authorial voice, the style) of the work.  For most stories I will give a quick remark or two about the prose in the first or last paragraph and leave it at that, but for some stories the prose either makes the work immensely better or immensely poorer.  My final paragraph comments on what I wrote prior to that point.  I often give the work a grade, such as 95%, and then I provide some means of finding the work if I haven't already.

I don't read a lot of critical reviews, but I should.  I would really like to write some some day within a professional capacity.  Two of my reviews appeared in the High School Highlights section of the Somerset Daily American during my high school career (one for the movie Gravity and the other for the novella Perfect State); however, I was not paid for either.  It's not truly professional unless money changes hands.  In any case, I hope that if I am able to write reviews professionally some day, that I will be allowed to use the format that I currently use.  Why would I use it if I didn't think it was the best?

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Professional Creative Writing: The Surface Scatched

When I first sat down to write this post, I thought that it would be best to address it directly to my fellow Creative Writing majors.  Then I thought that might be insulting.  For all I know, they know more about the industry than I do.  My fellow classmates would be a better audience, I decided.  But then I thought about it and chose to just write the post openly.  Some people who have visited this blog before or will in the future know this information; my guess is that many know only some of it.

My focus is in short speculative fiction.  For the most part, this is fantasy, sci-fi, and horror from flash fiction up to some novellas.  At novella-length it gets a little blurry because some, from a contractual standpoint, look like short fiction and others look like novels.

Best-selling SFF writer Brandon Sanderson urges those pursuing publication of their creative works professionally to view themselves as small businessmen and women.  This sort of creative writing is self-aware.  It is entertainment rather than simply art.  It is as professional as any other form of writing and often garners similar amounts of pay.  A writer has a brand, a reputation built upon his or her work.  (S)he produces a commodity that may or may not have a value, depending upon how it measures up to that of others.  Payment is expected for the use of these products, though it is assumed that the vast majority of potential buyers will not put them in their cart to begin with.

As of July 2014, the professional rate for short speculative fiction is six cents per word.  The rate immediately prior to that month was five cents per word.  It had stood at a nickel a word since 2004, when the pro rate increased from three cents per word.  (These rates are taken from SFWA, the Science-Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.)  The semi-pro rate is one cent per word, according to Duotrope, a database for publications.  Any payment below the semi-pro rate but above zero is considered a token payment.

To put this in perspective, consider a 3,000-word story.  At the minimum pro rate, this story would garner $180.  Semi-pro markets would pay at least $30.  The pro rate may seem pretty good, and it is, considering the market.  The nature of the industry does not allow for much income, however.  Writing short fiction is not something you should attempt to make an occupation.

My personal writing rate varies, but I've gotten it up to about 600 words per hour for drafting.  For a 3,000-word story I would need some time in brainstorming, as well as an additional few hours for editing.  That gives me five hours for drafting, another hour or so for brainstorming, and about four hours for revisions, all guesstimated.  These figures are optimistic.  Considering the payment for such a story, the hourly pay for my writing would be $18 per hour for pro rate and $3 per hour for semi-pro.  Unfortunately, this math neglects the time required to research markets and submit to them.  It also fails to incorporate time to send emails to critique partners and time to read their replies.  The amount of thought put into the stories and the energy expended by that thought is intangible.  All things considered, even earning a professional rate does not guarantee hourly pay better than that earned by the average worker at Walmart.

This blog post is getting pretty long, so I will end it here.  It will likely continue with a deeper explanation of why you should never attempt to survive solely off of short spec fic story writing.  I might even write something up about the economics behind novels.  Contracts are another subject of note.  This vast pool of information is related to the topic of professional writing, but is not what I will be focusing on in future posts for my Intro to Professional Writing class.  This post serves both as a tipping point for future posts and as a testament to the professional nature that creative writing often takes on.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Boasting About Tomorrow?

For a long time I thought I knew what I wanted to do.  I was going to get my BA in Creative Writing at Seton Hill University and then move to New York City to work for one of the major SFF imprints there, hopefully Tor Books.  I was even interviewed for a column in my local newspaper, the Daily American, in which I stated that as my plan.  That was in November of 2014, I believe.  It wasn't too long after that that I changed my mind on both fronts.

I am not a city person.  I like people, but I don't think I would like living within several miles of millions of people.  Then there's the whole survival aspect.  An editor can survive in NYC, but can one live?  Can one raise a family there comfortably?  Ethically?  The answers to all of these questions are probably "yes," but why take the gamble?  Between that and "cultural" issues, I decided that staying near home and trying to make a difference in the local area was the better fit for me.

I was a finalist for a full-tuition scholarship to Seton Hill U.  Had I gotten it I might have been tempted, but I was passed over, and the offer by the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown was too good to pass up.  My books, tuition, and fees are paid for as long as I commute, keep my GPA up, and maintain financial need.  I am studying Creative Writing as in my original plan.  That part hasn't changed.

So what do I want to do with myself?  I tell you the truth, I'm not really sure.  And I'm alright with that.  Read James 4:13-15.  I found the passage in late 2014 while I was mulling things over.  I know that it doesn't dismiss us from being responsible about our futures, but I do have structure to what I would like to do.  I'm just not keen on saying that I'm going to do any specific job.  Anything could happen between now and 2019 when (if God wills it) I'll receive my BA.

My aspirations lie in publishing.  I'm also very interested in teleplay and play-writing.  Or I might go in a completely different direction and work full time as a pastor (I definitely want to get my pastoral license at some point, but more time and prayer are required before I make that decision for certain).  For the purposes of this class, I will stick with publishing, specifically small presses, magazines, and anthologies.

Banking on making a living solely as a magazine or anthology editor is not a bank I would take to the bank.  Working for or operating a small press is much more realistic.  Side-work with anthologies and/or magazines is likely in my future no matter what I do as my base profession.  I am not quite so bold as to try opening my own press straight out of college, so if I do end up taking that path, I will almost certainly work for several years or decades first.

I won't boast about tomorrow; I have no clue what tomorrow will bring.  Am I worried about it?  A little.  Right now I'm just living one hour at a time.  My expenses are low and I can survive in my parents' house just fine for the next few years cutting grass and occasionally filling the pulpit at my church.  Summer jobs will come, more than likely beginning with this year.  I have faith that when these decisions need to be made I'll know how to decide.  All I have to do is live for today and for Him and I know I'll be alright.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Extra Posts!

I had only really planned on doing one blog post a week (except during April), but as it is turning out, I will probably end up posting twice a week most weeks through April (and possibly every day during April).  Why?  I'm enrolled in an Intro to Professional Writing class this semester and we need to keep a blog.  I had the option of using this blog or making a new one for the class; I chose to use this one.  These posts shall be tagged "Professional Writing," and I shall link to them in a tab with the same name.  This week, my normal Thursday post and my Professional Writing post will likely be one and the same.  Hopefully this will change in coming weeks.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Safe Flight

I noted in my last post that I plan on posting every Thursday in 2016, and I plan on delivering on that statement.  Below is a link to a 242-word story that I wrote for the Year 1, 22nd edition of the Cracked Flash Fiction Competition.  I was declared one of two honorable mentions for the competition (essentially a tie for third out of eight or nine entries, depending upon whether they considered one story that was a few minutes late or not).

"Safe Flight"