Happy new year to one and all. And may 2016 already be treating you better than 2015 did, regardless of the previous year’s state.
I’m pulling together my 2015 recommended reading post and list of works read and will have that ready to go up anywhere between now and the middle of February. As is usually when I end up posting that. Not least of all because I spend some time after the year’s over to go back and read a lot of short fiction I missed while the year was unfolding. I’m also taking some time to look over my list of books read and try to fill in the gaps. I know I read more books than are on my list, I’m just not sure what. So I’ll present as reasonably accurate a list as possible once that goes live.
Thinking about it, the gaps are probably to do with the highly chaotic nature of the year that was:
2015 was a year of moving. I ran or co-ran a whole bunch of writing and editing/market workshops. Had a heavier freelance client load than I’ve had in a while — which is decidedly a good thing and I’m hoping to repeat that this year. (And yes I have slots open from the latter half of this month on; see mathesonfreelancing.com for pricing, details, and the rest.) Picked up a couple of arts grants for my own writing: a Writers’ Reserve Recommendation from the OAC, and a Level One Writers Grant from the Toronto Arts Council. And 2015 was also the year I started reviewing for Publishers Weekly, which I am allowed to tell you, though because the reviews have to remain anonymous I am not allowed to tell you what I reviewed for them last year. Nor what I will be reviewing for them this year. That condition of anonymity being why my reviews bibliography looks so sparse for 2015.
2015 was an odd year for my publications on the whole, actually.
Last year keeps feeling unproductive in terms of my own work: For the last couple of years I’ve had about five collective short story/poetry publications out consistently. Then 2014 hit and I was at Clarion West for six weeks after not having written anything for three months before I went to CW, and hadn’t really been submitting much for that period either. So because I wasn’t doing a whole lot of initial writing in 2014 that then affected what I had to sell for publication in 2015. And I was doing some revisions, and a lot of other work, on the novella that’s been in progress in one form or another (from short story through short novel back to novella again) since Spring of 2013. More on the novella later. But though I crafted new work at CW, I didn’t do a lot of new story writing when I got back. I was chasing money and clients and dealing with other things.
Ultimately, I only ended up having three publications in 2015. And only one of those was short fiction. Which was a short story that had taken three years to see print from its initial sale, so it’s older work and I’ve been revising it this past year for when I eventually reprint it. It still feels not of a whole with much of my work, and feels odd to be seeing it coming out along with the newer work, which has a very different focus.
But. Point: For most of last year 2015 felt like a year of one publication because I was only looking at the short fiction. Except I did have three things out last year. Which when you look at them are a pretty good set of publications:
“Against a Sea of Brilliant White,” the one short story, was published in Scott David Aniolowki’s Mark of the Beast anthology, through Chaosium, showing up online for sale in August, but apparently having a later publication date when discussed by the company. It’s complicated. As are a lot of things with Chaosium. But the point is that that story is now out in the world.
Then I had an essay published, “Effecting Change Through Subversion and Slush Pile Politics,” which ran in Nightmare’s Queers Destroy Horror! special issue in October. Which was fucking awesome because it meant I finally got published in Nightmare. Also because the essay’s actually useful and makes a point I kept meaning to blog about anyway and never got around to, and this way I got paid for writing it. Win/win.
And finally, the big one: The Humanity of Monsters, an anthology of reprint fiction I edited that you may have heard me talking about, you know … on and off … came out from ChiZine Publications. It officially landed in September, hit in October in Canada, and released in the US in November. So it had a longer than expected release period. But it was so worth finally having that out in the world.
Those last two publications had more impact, by far. The essay had a fairly positive response right off the bat, and I’m waiting to see what the long tail of its impact looks like as we enter 2016. And THoM has had a really weird roller-coaster of responses, and some great sales spikes. Due to a variegated, sometimes odd, set of factors. Not the least of which is someone at Amazon.com citing the book in a weekly mailer as “Neil Gaiman’s new book.” Yes, there is a Neil Gaiman story reprinted in the book…. I’m kind of waiting to find out if there’s going to be backlash from that or not, since the book isn’t All Neil Gaiman All The Time. As, say, his actual books are. :)
Still, that presentation, alongside pre-orders and general sales, pulled the book up, for about a week, into the #1 seller in Horror Anthologies on Amazon.com. Which was decidedly cool.
And having said that I’ve no idea what the coming year will bring for THoM. Aside from me hawking it periodically, and talking about it as more reviews come in. I think there’s about a baker’s dozen of them floating around online as I speak, so I don’t know the full shape of the reaction to the book yet. Though thus far it’s been everything from raves to a hilariously oblivious response to the first story in the book. A difficult story, I grant you. But oh my god the response in that review….
Anyway. Moving on.
2015 was a fairly slow year for sales. I sold my QDH! essay, and two stories that’ll appear in Spring 2016: “Change as Seen Through an Orrery of Celestial Fire” in Superhero Universe: Tesseracts Nineteen, and “All Them Empty Alleys” in Pac’n Heat: Ms. Pac-Man Noir. But wasn’t really doing a lot of original writing for most of last year. “All Them Empty Alleys” was original, as was the essay. But “Change as Seen Through an Orrery of Celestial Fire” was rewritten a bunch of times before it sold, and didn’t originate in 2015.
And now is when we move back to talking about the novella, and some statistics after. Because I spent so much time revising the novella, it ate up time I would normally have used for working on other stories. Not least of all because the novella has for a long time been what I looked at as the necessary anchor story of the short fiction collection I’ve been pulling together. (More on that too, momentarily.) But the novella is incredibly depressing to work on. Just given its subject matter. And I’ve had fantastic advice from multiple people on how to fix the problems I know the novella has. But every single person’s advice is wildly different, despite a few commonalities in assessment. So what I ended up doing was setting the novella aside late last year, I think in early October, actually, just after moving into my current place.
And then in the last two months of the year, having freed up mental space for other things, I wrote three stories. Which I never do that close together. I’m a fast writer in that I can craft a story in a day or two, but I normally tinker with things for a while. And I often spend a lot of time between stories. Now, technically, one of those three is a complete redraft, from scratch, of a CW story. And the other two I had bits and pieces of from back in the summer. So you could argue that they’ve all had gestational periods.
But that seemed to work out really well. And I’m going to see if I can continue to ride that wave in whatever respect I can. Because it was fantastic to be that productive again after ages of not.
Also, when I dropped working on the novella, I had to drop it from including in the collection. The latter of which I didn’t want to abandon working on until the novella was ready for a bunch of reasons. Partly because the grants I got from both the TAC and OAC were for that collection. And partly because my plan was to pull it together for the end of the year and start querying for it.
A goal which I actually met. Again: three new stories. They helped fill the book back out. And that let me start sending out queries. Which is really different from the time ten years ago when I had no fucking clue what I was doing and sent out some queries then for … other things. With decidedly predictable results.
I write a much better query letter now than I did ten years ago. ;)
I’m also a significantly better writer now than I was ten years ago.
Though I look almost the same in photographs from ten years ago. Which is weird.
But I digress.
For the first time, in 2016 I’m going to see responses to a short story collection query as well as individual short story submissions. And that feels pretty damn cool. I’m also hoping to pull together some better submission statistics than I did last year. Wasn’t bad, but not fantastic either.
Including the just getting underway short story collection queries, I made a total of 46 submissions last year, with the aforementioned three sales. I prefer a year with a sales ratio of 1 in 10 or better. But I’ll take 1 in 15 given last year.
Actually, it’s now been five years since I started submitting professionally. I count from the first year of submitting … properly. (It was a long learning curve.) Which was 2010. Since then I’ve made both book length and individual fiction and non-fiction submissions. 342 submissions in the last five years, to be exact.
In that time I’ve had 24 acceptances. All original material – I have no reprint sales as yet. One acceptance for non-fiction. 23 for short fiction and poetry. Three of the latter being stories that were accepted but never saw publication. One of those 23 being something I had accepted but then pulled. And I do not regret any of those four things not seeing publication. They weren’t as good as much of my work. And would be especially jarring when compared with the current work.
When you look at that acceptance ratio, it actually works out to that previously mentioned 1 in 10 ratio over the last five years. If you consider it as a function of accepted vs. published pieces, then that 10% ratio goes down to about 6%. A number which is probably more apt given that I stopped really submitting to publications that pay less than pro rates, except on an occasional basis for various projects, after having had stories accepted at semi-pro markets early on. It being generally harder to get an acceptance from and/or be published by a pro market, so if you’re only aiming for that it is really easy to drop sales numbers. I’ve had work published in pro-paying anthologies, but not yet managed to sell fiction to a pro-paying magazine. Still working on that.
Writing to come in 2016?
Well I’ve got seven stories currently either on submission to markets or that will be once they’re cleaned up some. Various things I want to look at trying this year. Queries out, with more to be sent. Waiting on responses for grant applications. In some ways a typical year. In others a year where I feel much more competent in my craft. And coming off a stretch where I’m really just saying fuck it and writing whatever the hell I want. And I’ll be continuing with that. Writing to market has never been my thing, though doing so has occasionally meant that I sell stories. But I much prefer writing my own work and selling it when and where I can than writing directly for an anthology call. Yes, I do still once in a blue moon get anthology solicitations despite people knowing this. Which is fine by me: I love being asked. And I think I’ve only ever had to turn to down an invite once because of timing. But it’s a fun thing to try for.
And, as always, this year will bring opportunities I would not have expected, and projects that’ll show up out of the blue.
Life wouldn’t be nearly as much fun otherwise. :)