Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Stats and graphs and publishing fiction

I've now been writing and submitting short (and long!) stories moderately seriously for just over 5 years -- after a decade or more hiatus from writing fiction, I decided one day, August 26, 2014, to start writing again, and I did. Since then, I've written hundreds of thousands of words (literally -- since I started tracking my words via WordKeeperAlpha in September 2017, I have written more than 200,000 words of fiction!), and I've had a satisfying amount of my fiction published. I was thinking the other day that publications don't ever really tell the whole story -- of the time between when a piece was first submitted and when it was finally published, or how many rejections there were between first submission and first publication. So I thought I'd do a post about this, doing some graphs and stats on the last five years. (Well, rather, the last two and a half, which is when I started using the Submissions Grinder; this won't affect the stats very much, as prior to that I had only one story that I had ever submitted, and it was accepted on the first go.)

Between 2017-05-04 and 2019-09-16, I've submitted 23 stories. 11 (=48%) of them have been accepted. (Some of those which have not (yet) been accepted were one-off things written for a specific venue and when they weren't successful there there wasn't any great pressure to try resubmitting them, so if I didn't count those "dead" stories that acceptance percentage would be even higher! I hadn't realised how high it was, this is quite rewarding.) The first two graphs focus just on the accepted stories, and the third graph will focus on ones not yet accepted. (If you click on a graph you'll get a larger, easier to read version.)

The first graph plots how many days there were between when a story was first submitted, and when it was finally accepted:

The second graph plots how many rejections each accepted story got before it was finally accepted:

And then final graph plots how many rejections stories that have not yet been accepted yet have accrued already:

One thing that comes out of these numbers is that persistence pays off. This makes me feel a lot better about the stories that I keep submitting and submitting and submitting. They will eventually get there. Eventually.

Edited to add another graph: Plotting the number of rejections vs. the length of time between initial submission and first acceptance:

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Story birthday! "On the Other Side of the Dark Entry Gate"

Yesterday my drabble "On the Other Side of the Dark Entry Gate" was published in Black Hare Press's anthology Beyond.

(Book selfies are hard, when they're of ebooks!)

The original idea for this story dates back to spring 2017, when one of the Marvel films was being filmed at Durham Cathedral. My daughter's school is right behind the cathedral, and during filming there was limited access. To inform us of this, we got an email from school, which contained this delightful line:

The Dark Entry gate is locked; access will be via The Bailey.

That was when I knew I needed to write the story of the Dark Entry Gate -- especially when in proximity to a cathedral, doesn't that sound like a euphemism for the entrance to the pit of hell?

The story itself had a number of false starts over the last two years, but when I saw the theme for this anthology, the perfect drabble came out in one go.

Here's a picture of the Dark Entry gate when it is open:

Monday, September 16, 2019

How to write academic papers for fun and profit

Back in spring, I chatted briefly with a group of master's students about what I was looking for in their final papers, and how they could go about structuring them (this was in the context of encouraging them to think beyond the length of paper they'd been used to writing -- instead of 3k, 5-6k). It took about 15 minutes and some scribbling on the board, but afterwards one of them thanked me and said no one had ever taught them this before.

Following up on that tweet, I wrote up what I could remember of the advice I'd given.

Then, last week, someone in an FB group for fiction writing that I'm in was struggling with writing a paper for one of her classes, unsure how to get started. This group has 17+k members, and I often end up putting on my "professional academic" hat and giving people advice on picking classes, applying to uni, talking to their profs, etc., and this post was no different. The topic was an argumentative paper on quality management in insurance companies with special regard for business customers -- a topic I know nothing about, but you know what? I know what sort of paper I'd want to read on this subject...and the structure it has turned out to be rather similar to what I'd given the philosophy students for their logic papers!

So I thought I'd compile this advice into a blog post. Note that this isn't the only way to write such papers, but it's a way, and it's a good one, and it's one that not only do I encourage my students and other students to use, but I use myself quite often, too.

Advice from twitter:

  • Your intro should include what your problem/puzzle/issue is; what motivated your choice; and what tools you'll use to solve it.
  • You should say what other people have done that's relevant, and why it's inadequate (if it isn't inadequate, then you don't have a puzzle/problem to solve).
  • You should define all your technical apparatus. This can be done in two ways:
    1. Either you introduce the technical apparatus and the motivating examples/material concurrently, in an interleaved fashion.
    2. Or you present all the technical apparatus, and then apply it to your motivating examples/material.
    It's REALLY HARD to know which route is best. I often end up starting with one method, finding it wholly inadequate, switching to the other, hating it, and then switching back.
  • After you've applied your technical appartus, say something about the consequences. What have you gained from doing this? What have you learned? What are the problems? What still needs to be done?
  • And all of that will segue into your conclusion/recap/future work section. I think that's about it.

Advice from FB:

The first thing you need is what question you're trying to answer, and what your answer is: Everything else gets built around that. I often recommend to my students to work backwards: What do you want your reader to come away with at the end? Set up your entire paper to drive that point home:

  • Motivate the question -- which is this a question worth answering? Why this question rather than another question?
  • Contextualise the question -- what has already been said to answer this question? Why are these previous answers inadequate? How will your answer differ?
  • Motivate the answer -- what will count as a good answer? How will you discriminate good answers from bad answers? (This will, of course, be connected to the previous, in that you want answers that do things that previous answers haven't done).
  • Answer the question.
  • Explain how your answer answers the question and why it is a good answer.
  • Remind your reader what the question and answer were, and conclude.

Aim for 1000 words for the first two, maybe 1500 for the third, 2000 for the fourth, and another ~2.5k for the fifth and sixth -- that's 7000 words and should be about 20 pages.

There you go! Have fun. Oh, wait, you want to know how to make money from all of this? Ahahahahahahah....

Monday, September 9, 2019

Story birthday! "The Simurgh's Daughter"

About two weeks ago, my short story "The Simurgh's Daughter" was published in the anthology Pioneers and Pathfinders (Amazon link); my print copy arrived today!

This story was written over Christmas break 2017-2018. I'd seen a call for stories for an anthology on Asian bird themed SFF, and was interested in exploring this theme in an atypical way. G had recently come home with a children's version of the Shahnameh from the library, and while reading it, especially stories of the simurgh, I wanted to write a story that fit within that mythos while not being a retelling of it, and I wanted to write a story for her.

She was my first beta reader and my biggest champion for the story throughout. I read it to her, and she drew pictures of parts of the story -- those pictures were taped to my kitchen cupboard for a good year, reminding me that no matter what happens, she loves my stories and believes in them.

"A fragrant pliant golden green haoma tree which blooms in summer"

"Vourukasha the world sea"

"The simurgh is a wondrous bird with copper feathers and the tail of a peacock and the face of a beautiful woman"

"She landed upon Harā Berezaitī the peak of the tallest mountain when a cry caught her ears"

"You were born upon the mountain Harā Berezaitī around which the stars and the moon resolve"

"The city of Amui upon the shores of a great sea"

I have a pretty good track record of writing stories for specific themed anthologies and failing to place them in those anthologies, but placing the stories elsewhere. I'd shopped this one around for quite awhile before I decided to ask Jessica, who edited Pioneers and Pathfinders if she'd like to read it, even if the story wasn't an exact fit for the antho brief. She loved it as much as G did. :)

I loved reading up on Persian mythology and history while writing the story, reading about Ahura Mazda, about haoma trees, about the world-sea, looking at geography to choose where exactly I would set Harā Berezaitī and which city (modern-day Amol) I would set Simbar's adventures in. I also loved research Persian food, making myself hungry along the way! (One book I stumbled across was Jan Gonda, Rice and Barley Offerings in the Veda). And finally, to the best of my knowledge, Simbar and Thriti are both plausible historical Persian feminine names; Saena is a name used for the simurgh in the Yashts, a collection of Avestan hymns.

I'm super glad to see this story in print, and look forward to reading it to G for many years to come.