We all have writers we aspire to be; whether that be your favourite big-name author, or another self-publisher achieving things you’d like to achieve yourself. Or, if not a specific person, you’ll have your future goals. They may look a little like this:
- 3 years: Amazon best-selling author
- 5 years: NYT best-selling author
- 7 years: Attending movie premieres of my book adaptation
- 9 years: Relaxing in my own solid gold hot tub
- 10 years: Total world domination
Y’know, or something like that.
But it’s important to have goals, to keep striving for better, because that’s how we move forward in life, and with our writing careers.
But this, in itself, can be something of a double-edged sword. We’ve all felt jealous of someone else’s achievement, however much we try to be happy for them. And that’s perfectly natural. Don’t feel guilty for it, just focus it into pushing yourself forward.
It was just the other day when I came to realise that, while I’m busy looking forward on the road, wishing I was walking alongside this or that writer, cursing myself for still being so far behind, there are people behind me aspiring to be where I am.
A good writer friend, and one of my loyal beta readers, was asking me about how my latest book was selling. I bemoaned the usual slow sales and marketing struggles, but emphasised how I was trying to keep my eye on the long game.
He replied, saying:
You’ve done it though. Off your own back and under your own steam. Every single piece of goodness that comes from it is yours entirely…You have 2 more books than I have out there and for that I take my hat off to you. I wish I had more of your conviction and dedication.
This bowled me over. I would never consider myself to be someone to admire, or envy, never see my current position as admirable or enviable, but to discover that someone does, has been the biggest confidence boost ever. I’m struggling, but I must be doing something right.
It gives me a new way to measure success, one that can’t be quantified, counted, or graphed. And one that, actually, means so much more.
So, next time you’re feeling down or demoralised, next time a rejection hits you hard, or someone else’s success comes with an edge of bitterness, most importantly, next time you feel like giving up altogether, just remember: you never know who’s looking up to you, and aspiring to be where you are.
Keep moving forward, because you’re doing great, and you may just be an inspiration to someone else.
Dion Winton-Polak is a reviewer, podcaster, self-confessed idiot, and the editor of the KnightWatch Press anthology, Sunny, with a Chance of Zombies. I caught up with him to talk zombies, red pens, and how a writer can get that much-desired ‘yes’.
Tell us a bit about your background and how you found yourself editing the KnightWatch Press Anthology, Sunny, with a Chance of Zombies.
Okay, well I’ve been a reader all my life. Books are as much a part of me as fingers and kidneys. I wallowed in English Literature through to University level, developing my critical faculties but never really knowing what I was going to do with them. I suppose I assumed I would be a writer, but writing was never a habit or a hobby with me. It was always reading.
Fast forward through a move to Wales, a wedding, a sequence of terrible or simply tedious jobs, then pause on a copy of SFX magazine. A little article pointed me towards the Geek Syndicate website and the world of podcasting. I lost myself in both for a while and then started to wonder why there wasn’t more content focused on books. I got in touch with the guys from Geek Syndicate and offered to write a few book reviews for them. Next thing you know, I’d started my own podcast called Scrolls, which they were good enough to host on their site.
Writing reviews gave me something to do with my brain and podcasting showed me how easy it could be to put myself out there and create something. Doing both also showed me how unbelievably crucial the editing process is in honing your content and getting your ‘message’ across. Many people find editing a picky and frustrating process, but I LOVED it.
The podcast spurred my good buddy and co-host, Phil, into starting his own writing career, and he in turn kept prodding me to fulfil my own potential. I joined the Society for Editors and Proofreaders and whipped through a few of their courses, but I found the expense outweighed the benefits. In the meantime, Phil introduced me to a number of contacts that he’d made in the field of Small Press publishing. You get nowhere hiding in shadows so I got chatting. I got my first paid editing gig by pretty much sticking my hand up and saying ‘I could do that.’ And I’m relieved to say I proved myself right. Since taking on the job I’ve had nothing but good feedback from authors and publisher alike.
Why Sunny, with a Chance of Zombies? It leapt off them page at me. Who could resist that title?
What were you looking for in the stories you accepted?
Interesting question. The answer I would love to give is “The best stories. Full stop.” I requested that I be given no information about the name, age, race or gender of the authors to ensure I was not swayed by other considerations. Of course, there are many other things to consider, not least of which being ‘What does the publisher want from this anthology?’ All I had to go on at first was the title: Sunny, with a Chance of Zombies. My first job was to come up with submission guidelines to give the authors a nudge in the right direction. Theresa [Derwin, KnightWatch Press] told me she wanted something light and enjoyable to make for good Summer-time reading and, during the course of the conversation I latched onto the words ‘strangely uplifting.’
So I guess that was point #1: The stories had to do what I asked – in other words, either put a big grin on my face or kindle a bit of warmth in my heart. If a story did neither, it had no place in this project.
I had something like 45 submissions to whittle down to 12, so I was looking for something to make them stand out from the crowd. In some instances it was elements of world-building – a new slant on zombies or a new way in which they could fit into our world. In other instances it was a particularly strong character – how much I was made to care about these people. I was going to be looking at these stories for a looong time, so I needed to be kept interested too. With that in mind I specifically looked for fresh perspectives and new predicaments for our protagonists to face.
Point #2 then, would be: there had to be something fundamentally memorable about the story. Something that would keep it alive in my mind after I’d put it down and moved on to other things.
Finally, there was the deadline to consider. Now, an editor can do a hell of a lot to help a writer bring their story to life. An editor can help focus a writer on what is important to the plot, an editor can help a writer sharpen their characters, hone their language, remove inconsistencies. However, the more work an editor has to put in to bring the story up to standard, the longer it takes. Time was ticking and I had a whole other life to balance.
Point #3 then: Good writing. There had to be something in the style, something in the dialogue, something in the plot and the flow that was already pretty damned good.
If you’re a writer, particularly a new writer, you might be gnawing your hand off about now. I mean, you can’t force somebody to like what you’ve written. What you can do though, is keep working and reworking your story until you can no longer see how to improve it. You will lose perspective after a while because everybody does, but make it as good as you can. Then submit it and move on to another project. If it is rejected, you may be able to sell it somewhere else, but seek feedback first. Every rejection is a chance to learn, if you grasp it. Not every editor will be forthcoming every time, but take heart. If they see genuine potential in you it will be in their best interest to encourage you for future projects.
What lessons or surprises have you had through the process?
It’s been a fascinating experience, and I’m still processing it as I write these answers. In many ways I had no notion of just how much there was to do in the editorial role. It is a far broader set of responsibilities than I’d imagined, and far more creative. Some people see it as being judgemental; a tutting red pen on a writer’s beloved work. Indeed, there were times where I had to stop myself from using the Red Pen of Doom because my proposed changes would not have materially improved the story, just made it a bit more palatable to me. That’s not my job, it turns out.
It’s strange. Having set the theme and direction of the work, I started to feel more like the conductor of an orchestra. The final 12 stories were no longer individual pieces, but instruments to be played in concert. The order they appear in has a massive effect on the way the book is received as a whole, just as the order of songs will change your experience of an album. They draw strength from each other, build arcs of meaning, can be counterpointed to reveal different nuances, and will ultimately carry the audience through a much larger journey.
Whether you are editing a novel, an anthology, a story or a newspaper advert, it is all about communication. You are there to help the creator get across their ideas, but you can only do that by earning their trust. That means demonstrating that you understand what they are trying to achieve. That means sharing their enthusiasm and celebrating their successes. That also means (tactfully! and constructively!) showing them where they are straying and helping them find their way back. Finally, it means respecting their decisions.
Would you recommend the editor role to others?
I would completely recommend editing to anyone who loves language and anyone who loves a good story. You need a certain temperament. You need to have a feel for what makes a story work. You need to be able to focus your eyes on the minutiae, but still keep your mind on the bigger picture. If you can build a good relationship with a writer, you will become their Everyman audience, their confidant, their safety net. You may be invisible to the readers but you will become an invaluable partner to writer and publisher alike. Something to be proud of.
Many people say that the zombie genre has been done, and there is nothing new to explore with it. What are your thoughts?
To put it tactfully, I think that many people are wrong. If a story lacks imagination then that’s the fault of the writer, not the subject matter. The great thing about zombies is that they are so obviously us. They are our savagery and our pitifulness, our fear of death and even our hope that something might come afterwards. Death is a constant companion; life a constant mystery. How could their combination be a bore? Pick a good story from any genre, strip away the fancy dress and you’ll still have a good story about People. Zombies may be used a backdrop, they may be a thematic tool, they may even be cast as main characters, but they will never be ‘done.’
Pick any setting, any country, any planet and you can have the dead returning to life. But what could it mean? There are infinite possibilities. What would be tedious is telling the same kind of stories from the same kind of perspectives in the same kind of setting over and over and over again. That has been done before; indeed, it’s a function of big businesses to spew out more-of-the-same as long as there is a visible market for it. From their point of view creativity is expensive, time consuming, and never a guarantee of success. (See: Hollywood.)
The joy of Small Press publishing (and in fact, independent projects across all media) is the freedom to be truly creative. Money would be nice but is never the point of the exercise. If inspiration hits, they can try something new. One of the reasons I was hired for this project was because I am not a traditional horror fan. I enjoy it as a genre, but I am not tied up by its conventions and tropes. I had my own freedom to exercise, pulling together a collection of tales to be truly different from the conventional zombie horror. The author response was fantastic, and it is my greatest pleasure to present it to you all. I only hope I get the opportunity to jump back into this sandpit again in the future and push things even further out.
What other projects are on the horizon?
I have a few little bits of work that are still percolating in the background, but nothing with a deadline yet. A couple of the stories submitted for Sunny were too good to reject outright. I shall be working with the authors and KnightWatch Press to find alternative homes for them, either in another anthology or to be expanded and published separately.
Other than that? Well, I work a full-time day job, I continue writing for Geek Syndicate, and I have a family to fill up my time – but I have loved every minute of this editing job.
My aim is to make this my career, which means taking on more work on a freelance basis until I can secure a salaried position with a publisher.
The horizon is wide and the sky is blue. What have you got for me?
You can find Dion on Twitter, and you can pick up a paperback or ebook copy of Sunny, with a Chance of Zombies from Amazon.
Short Stories 500 to 1500 words $10 + Digital Copy
Short Stories 1500 to 7500 words $20 + Digital Copy
Essays 1000 to 5000 words $10 + Digital Copy
Odd Tree Quarterly Submission Guidelines
We are looking for new or previously published short stories of a speculative nature. Especially focusing on horror, fantasy, and science fiction. Speculative related art and essays. Works will be published once in the quarterly and once in the yearly bundle published at the end of each year(four quarterly issues). Each quarterly issue and yearly bundle will be available in Print, Epub, PDF, and Kindle formats.
We tend to avoid first person and present tense narratives. Written work must be submitted as a doc file in an email attachment. Please no excessive formatting. Use standard fonts with paragraph indents. Do not double space between lines or paragraphs. Do not send us your first draft and expect us to fully edit and proofread it. We are accepting short stories 500 to 7500 words in length.
Art should be submitted in any common digital format(jpg, png, etc.). Submit as an email attachment or as a link. Art should be sized for 8″ x 10″ page (full bleed). 300 dpi or better.
Essays should be submitted as a doc file in an email attachment and should be of interest to fans of speculative fiction. Essays up to 5000 words.
All authors and artists should send a short bio(up to 100 words) along with their submissions. Also provide us with up to two links that will be posted in the quarterly at the end of their piece. It can be your website and/or a link to where your other work is available. Text links only please.
The quarterly will be published every year on Jan 1st, April 1st, July 1st, and Oct 1st.
Send all submissions to: [email protected]
We are paying for non-exclusive rights to publish works in the Odd Tree Press Quarterly and an option to publish once in a future anthology. The author/artist retains all further rights. All work will be paid upon acceptance through mailed check or PayPal. A contract will be emailed upon acceptance. This contract can be reviewed and signed online. Or it can be printed, signed and mailed to the address provided in the contract email.
I,_________, am agreeing to sell non-exclusive rights to my story,_________, for publication by Odd Tree Press for the Odd Tree Quarterly for both print and digital media. Odd Tree Press retains the option to include this story in one future anthology. I retain all further rights to this story and I affirm that I am the author of said story. I retain the rights to publish this story elsewhere and at anytime. This contract is binding upon receipt of $20 from Odd Tree Press in payment for the publishing rights of this story. Odd Tree Press agrees to send me one digital copy and one print copy upon publication of the Odd Tree Press issue in which this story is published. I agree to provide this contract along with payment information in the form of my address(for payments by check) or my PayPal ID(for online payments). I agree that if Odd Tree Press decides to not publish this story, for whatever reason, I retain the $20 fee that was paid for this story. Odd Tree Press will never ask for refunds for purchased stories. These terms are acceptable to me, please consider this contract binding. This contract can be signed digitally or printed, signed, and mailed to: Odd Tree Press
Pay rates are:
- Short Stories 500 to 1500 words $10 + Digital Copy
- Short Stories 1500 to 7500 words $20 + Digital Copy
- Essays 1000 to 5000 words $10 + Digital Copy
- Art $10(interior) to $20(cover) + Digital Copy
Via: Odd Tree Press.
Following on from Story Worms: Keep it Covered (Part 1), this post will look at the decisions you have to make about your cover, top tips, and where to buy great covers on a budget.
I’ve already discussed how important your book’s cover is, so now you have a lot of decisions to make. Where do you even start?
Genre: Each genre has tropes and trends for its book covers. Do a Google search for, for example, ‘fantasy novels’, and you will see a definite trend in the covers it displays. In fact, they all look pretty similar. There’s a reason for this.
You will find a lot of advice online telling you to stick to the trends of your genre. Clearly, most writers do. Why? Because fans of fantasy novels can glance at its cover and instantly recognise it as fantasy. As something they would want to read. You can see the benefits, right?
I totally understand that. Me? I like to do things a little differently, and here’s why. Another cover following the usual trends of its genre is just white noise. When I post my cover online—on social media, on my website, on blogs—I want people to remember it. I want it to stand out as unique and different. I want them, when scrolling through Amazon, to spot my cover and think “Oh, I’ve seen that online a lot.” That recognition, that familiarity, I hope, will stop them scrolling.
But it still needs to fit its genre. People need to know what to expect from the cover. Remember: they’re judging my book by it.
I am not going to tell you that my way is better. Both arguments are valid. This is a decision you need to make for yourself.
So, what essentials does your cover need?
- Title. This is pretty obvious. But it needs to be big, it needs to be bold, and it needs to be readable at thumbnail size.
- Series title. If your book is part of a series, put it on the cover. Not all books state which number in the series it is, but, as a reader, I find that information really handy. Don’t make people guess which book to read first.
- Subtitle. Many writers choose to add a subtitle, or a line just to give a flavour of the book. Eg: “A thrilling coming-of-age story”, or “They came. They saw. They devoured.” Completely optional, but keep it short, keep it snappy, make it hook readers.
- Your name/pen name. Unless you’re a writer of Stephen King’s calibre, keep your name smaller than the title. But still, you want it bold, you want it, preferably, readable at thumbnail size.
- Image. This is the fun part. Have a good think about what you want. Then you have more decisions to make: artwork, photography, layered images, bold logos. Look for other covers you like and create a mood board.
- Text. Don’t choose fancy, unreadable fonts. You’d recognise your own name written in heiroglyphics, but ask some people who don’t know your book to read its title, and your name. Ask strangers down the pub if you like. Make sure it’s readable.
And that’s pretty much it. Don’t clutter your cover too much. If it’s too busy, all the focus will be lost.
So let’s get down to the business of it now. Where do you find a cover designer, and how much will it cost?
You can pay anything up to several thousands for a cover. But there’s no need to, there are a lot of options to fit every kind of budget.
- 99Designs is a bit like running your own design competition. You put up the details of the cover you want, and the designers come back with designs for you to choose from. Their design packages range from £189 – £749.
- At Fiverr you can, quite literally, pick up a design for a fiver. You can browse the designers’ portfolios, and pay a little more to get upgrades on the design. Just be sure to look at their previous work and their reviews.
- There are a lot of very talented artists on DeviantArt looking to improve their portfolio. Just be aware that having an artist create the image isn’t enough, you need a graphic designer to finish it off and place the text. Some artists will charge very little, some will work for shared royalties, some will even work for free. But please, please, don’t insult artists by assuming they will work for nothing. Please.
- Pre-made covers. Many cover designers will have a range of pre-made cover designs, and if you can find one that matches what you want for your book, you could pay as little as $50. You can find designers through a Google search or….
- ….asking for recommendations. See a cover you like? Find out who designed it. This information should be inside the book, or you can ask the author. Ask in writer’s forums, such as Amazon’s KDP forum, or on Google+. People may tell you that Google+ is a ghost town, but, believe me, the writing community is absolutely thriving there.
- Use your contacts. Does your brother-in-law have a cousin who does design? How about your friend’s mate’s husband? Ask around, and see if you can get ‘mate’s rates’.
- Find design students. Many are keen to build a portfolio, but again, please don’t expect them to work for free.
I’ll say this again, because it is so important; please, please don’t expect anyone to work for free. If they want to, fantastic. But don’t ever expect or ask them to.
With so many budget options, you really don’t have any excuse to just put something together in MS Word and figure ‘it’ll do’.
And enjoy the process, because it is really exciting to see your book cover come to life.