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Kelly I. Hitchcock Posts

Another day at SXSW

Well, today started out kind of rough with the advent of Daylight Savings Time, which I had completely forgotten about, and mistakenly thought my BlackBerry had as well. So I thought I was late, but I wasn’t late after all. Either way, I missed the 9:30 session.

I later saw a session about writing (and adapting) a successful screenplay. Granted, I have not tried my hand at screenwriting, but I figured it would plenty applicable. It did not disappoint. The panel featured screenwriting professors, as well as the writers of Watchmen and A History of Violence. They talked about writing adaptations of novels and classics, in which you have to really be objective about the spirit of the material. They also mentioned that young adult novels make great screen adaptations.

But what really was impressed upon me was when one of the panelists, Alex Tse, said that the most important thing to do is to write what you are passionate about, even if it never sells, because your passion or your subject will always come through in an organic way and stand out from something written to make money. They also stressed the importance of not writing something with the intent of selling it, and to stop trying to chase the market. If you’re a good writer and you get your foot in the door, the market will chase you. The good writers keep their day jobs until they don’t have to, and stick it out no matter how discouraging it is. Quality and awareness of the market are not mututally exclusive.

Okay, maybe there was one more thing that stayed with me more than that. The writer of A History of Violence said he doesn’t get upset when he sees a horribly written movie succeed; instead, he uses it as personal encouragement that he knows he can do better than that. I know I struggle with that as a writer. I know I’m nothing uber-spectacular, but I think I’m good and I have a unique voice with something to say. So when I pick up a book off the shelves and read it and hear a mediocre voice with nothing new or interesting to say, I sometimes find myself thinking “Wtf? How did this piece of elephant dung get the green light from a major publishing house, meanwhile I’m still stuffing envelopes?” I like his idea better, but I also like Ze Frank’s idea of making angrigami out of my rejection letters.

I hit up a session right after that, which turned out to be nothing at all what I expected. The title of the session was Editing Fiction, Non-Fiction, and Everything in Between. Sounds pretty exact in its description, don’t you think? Wrong. It was not at all about editing fiction, or works of non-fiction. It was about post-production video editing. I guess I should have read the fine print about the session.

I bailed pretty soon with the intention of sneaking in late to the writing web content session, but a hot pretzel and nonexistent line for Camp Victory piqued my interest more. It was a really great film, and I’m not really a movie person. After being turned away for three different film events here at SXSW because of long lines and overhype, this was a breath of fresh air.

I did my duty and shmoozed with the people I needed to schmooz with, including an independent web magazine that will be getting my submissions (hooray for online) very soon and one of the panelists from the New Publishing session I attended yesterday. Other than that, I saw a not-so-great film laden with opposing subtitle fonts and inconsistent quote use after getting turned away for a more popular film, after rushing 2 miles on foot to get there.

And now, I’m exhausted. Stay tuned; tomorrow’s another full day!

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Learning a shit-ton at SXSW

So, it’s day two of the South by Southwest festival in Austin – which is a freaking awesome city if you’ve never been. It’s been an absolutely amazing time, and I’m learning how to talk about my writing, including what I like writing about, what I’ve written so far, and what I will be working on next.

And as far as that goes, I went to some panels today that really helped me figure out what I want to do next. I started the day with a panel called iPad: New Opportunities for Content Creators, which was a panel centered around how the iPad is going to change the way different industries do business. The businesses represented included a rep from the Village Voice (a free weekly newspaper in major cities), an HTML guy, a game developer, and of course, a publisher from Hyperion books.

The panelist from Hyperion confirmed some of the things I’ve been talking about on the blog – that the industry as a whole has had the same business model for the last 500 years (literally, she even said so), and have only really had the need to innovate in the past couple of years. No one has quite figured out how to do it right yet, but they are moving in the right direction, albeit slowly and with some degree of reticence.

In the afternoon, I got to watch Ze Frank speak, and it was incredible. He was inspirational, funny, touching, engaging – everything you would want in a speaker. He spoke a lot about the creative process in general, and about the importance of getting feedback and killing bad ideas, and figuring out the best way to form an emotional connection with your audience. I’m not gonna lie, I was fighting back tears of laughter and emotion at various points throughout his presentation. And it also reminded me I need to kill more of my bad ideas.

After a snoozefest mistake in a CSS panel, the coup de grace came at the end of the day, when I attended a session called New Publishing and Web Content. The panelists included book publishing industry execs, magazine editors, and some other folks who’ve had their hands in content publishing for a long time. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time as they talked about how the publishing industry in changing, and these are some of the things I took away from the session:

  • This is the BEST time to do something new and innovative as an author in regard to online presence. Why? Because the model is so new that no one has gotten it quite right yet (not Amazon/Kindle even), so even if you fuck up, no one will know.
  • The idea that you no longer need a publisher is still bullshit, as much as many of us would like it not to be. I got up and asked the question regarding which school of thought about publishing one’s work is better (since I already know neither is right), and I got some great feedback.
  • Collaborative storytelling is here to stay. I’m not sure it will exist in the same form in which it is using today, which is one of the things that will be coming to the site soon.
  • Print publications and online publications are not the same – so we writers need to not try to simply replicate our print work online.
  • While the publishing industry is being shaken up by open standards and new formats, the way readers access the content is still proprietary, which is still a major roadblock.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, content is not free. Someone has to pay for it. And people need to get used to paying for good content if they actually want good content. And it’s true. If I weren’t lucky enough to have my technical writing day job, you betcha I’d be asking people to pay to read my stuff. As it is, I’m just happy anyone is reading my stuff at all, so it’s not a big deal.

It’s been a whirlwind of information, but suffice it to say it’s been beyond belief, and it will lead to some great things to come on the site. Stay tuned for all the goodness. More to come tomorrow, when I will actually be tweeting from the sessions, unlike today.

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Huh. Thanks, Goodreads!

I signed up with Goodreads forever ago, which in the social media/tech world means about a year ago. As part of my recent blitz to get my work out into the world, even if I had to do it myself, I looked into what Goodreads provides for authors. Sure enough, you can post anything you want, as long as it’s not violating any copyrights or anything.

And of course, you have to promise to be an adult and not cyberstalk people who read your stuff, or slam people who slam your work. I’m a writer. I know how it goes – even a bad review will get more people to read your stuff, and I’ve been rejected so many times in passive form letters, which is a far worse form of rejection than actual criticism.

So, I decided to give it a whirl. I started by posting The Other Dentenia Zickafoose, just to see where the experiment would lead. I did that tonight, at about 10:00. It’s now 11:30, and I already had someone read my story and leave a review. And it’s a positive one at that! (Thanks Shymoon; I promise I won’t shower you with affection for being my first public positive reviewer.)I posted more stuff on Goodreads, and will do more tomorrow. For now, I am going to curl up with the book on my currently-reading shelf on Goodreads. Follow me there, too, if you dare.

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Site Review: Writer’s Market

For my birthday this past year, my wonderful boyfriend got me a very thoughtful and practical gift – the 2010 edition of Writer’s Market. For those unfamiliar with writer’s market, it is the authority on listings of book publishers, consumer magazines, trade journals, literary agents, and pretty much any other place you could possibly send a manuscript. No doubt about it – it’s a resource you need if you’re going to be a serious writer.

It’s also on the pricey side, as in you can’t remove from the reference section in the library. One great feature about the 2010 edition (10 years newer than my previous copy) is an included free year’s subscription to their website, www.writersmarket.com, which allows you to get involved in writer communities, sign up for webinars, and track submissions. I’ve been using the site for about eight months, and every time I use it, I get more and more frustrated.

First, the site is slow slow slow slow slow. That’s five slows. Dialup on a rotary phone slow. The first time I accessed the site, I wondered if I had a malformed URL. I didn’t. It’s just seriously that slow. Doing anything on the site takes about twice as long as it should. As a professional geek, I’d really like to take a look at their log files to see how long their server calls take and see what the hell is killing the site speed. If I could tell Writer’s Market to change one thing, it would be to speed up the site.

Second, their search logic is TRBL (pronounced tur-ri-bull).  Instead of doing the smart thing every search does, and list search results by relevance, they list them in alphabetical order, based on the full text of the associated page.

So, for example, when I search for a magazine called The Aesthetic, the search returns every market that includes the word “aesthetic” in their description, guidelines, or any other field on the market’s page, and since most markets try to describe what kind of aesthetic they are looking for, it returns a lot of results (slowly, I might add).

Which, for a magazine that starts with A, is not a big deal, but if I do the same search for Frank (which is an actual literary magazine), I get 10 pages of unnecessary search results, and the entry for Frank is on the fourth page of a search that takes 10 seconds, and another 5 to go to the next page.

I could go on and on with examples of how TRBL the searching is, but the site is currently timing out because I keep “overloading” it with queries.

Third, the site uses Silverlight to do its submission tracking. I don’t know a whole lot about Silverlight, but from what I’ve come to understand it’s an applet of some kind that sites can use to embed. The problem I have with the Silverlight web applet is that because the site is already Godzilla-after-biscuits-and-gravy slow, loading the flash animation for your foldering tree takes forEVer. And while it does a great job of caching the market information, you have to submit each manuscript one by one.

So, for instance, I have 5 poems to send to a literary journal. I search for the journal, save it to “My Markets,” access the Silverlight applet that is My Markets, find the folder, then submit one poem. After I enter the date information (which should REALLY default to today), I start over again. Silverlight reloads, I find the same journal in the same tree, and submit one more poem. And because the site is so slow, this takes a long time.

My fourth beef: there is no mechanism to withdraw a submission, which you have to do if you have any simultaneous submissions that get accepted somewhere else. Instead, you have to go  into the Silverlight interface, access the submission record in the tree, and mark it as a rejection. I get enough rejections without having to fake one.

Okay, so I’m a little harsh on site usability – but if you’re going to go web, do it right. I haven’t used the community forums much, mostly because it takes so long to navigate, but it looks like there are a lot of resources out there. And of course, tracking submissions in the Silverlight interface is a helluva lot more accurate and organized than I could ever manage – but it’s a web applet, so it’s supposed to do the work for me.

I’d be really interested to see Writer’s Market do some site rework, get some beta testers, and solicit some real feedback about what they could do to improve the site experience and eliminate the redundant work in tracking submissions.

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Why a living as a writer is impossible Part II: the SASE

In this second segment of the analysis of why it is literally (no pun intended) impossible to make a living as a writer. Today we’ll be discussing a little item writers know all too well and hate just as much as the new fall lineup on CBS: the SASE.

What is an SASE? It is a self-addressed stamped envelope. For any publication that is too behind the times to have an online submission manager (which we’ll discuss in a later segment) or accept submissions via e-mail, the writer must send his or her manuscripts on papyrus in a stamped envelope, and if they want to know if their work has been accepted or rejected, they must include a self-addressed stamped envelope in the same envelope.

This prevents the publisher from having to look at your cover letter, grab an envelope from the copy room, write your address on it, slap a stamp on it, and stuff it with your rejection notice. It’s a lot of work, so they pass it on to their submitters.

For any writer that wants to send a simultaneous submission, the SASE is crucial, because you have to wait for rejection before you can send the same manuscript anywhere else. So, you eat the 45 cents (probably soon to be 50) and double your out-of-pocket expenses to send your manuscript for submission.

Then comes the moment you open the mailbox and see a 3×5 envelope with your handwriting on the cover. There are few worse feelings than opening the mailbox and seeing an envelope you swiped from the mail room at your 9-5 with your own address slathered on the front in your orange pen in your own handwriting. You know it’s a rejection. You just know it.

Then, there are the large percent of SASEs that never get sent back, so you’re just wasting 45 cents on something that is slower than an old man in a Cadillac DeVille in the first place.

So who still uses SASEs, besides publications?

  • The court system – but only if they are not image-enabled, and you require an original version of a document for some reason (such as notarization). But typically, electronic documents are acceptable as court documents.
  • Comic books – (and some magazines) require that cartoons be submitted as originals – no photocopies. Glad I’m not an artist, because I would be too afraid an original of mine would be lost forever.

And that’s about all I could find. An SASE is a receptacle for a rejection, and nothing more. And the more I read about the SASE, the more empowered I feel to not include them anymore. After all, I won’t send my stuff to anyone that doesn’t accept simultaneous submissions. And I can use that 45 cents for happy hour at Sonic.

p.s. In researching this topic, I came across this post on a thriller writer’s blog. He is now added to my Google Reader, which I will not be giving up for Lent.

Happy Mardi Gras everyone!

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Why a living as a writer is impossible, Part I: Simultaneous Submissions

Ask anyone who’s ever tried to make a living just by selling their fiction, poetry, articles, etc. how it goes. Okay, this is an unfair question, because you will not be able to find someone who is not an uber-celebrity makes a living solely on writing, because they don’t exist, unless they are living in their Grandma’s basement.

Writing and submitting one’s writing to companies is a labor of love. It has to be. I recall in one of my classes in college, way back when, my professor said that the last person to make a living as a poet was Alexander Pope. For those of you not familiar with the works of Alexander Pope, he died in 1744. This may not be 100% true, but in reading about Maya Angelou, arguably the most famous living poet, it doesn’t appear that even she had a period in her life where her only source of income was her writing.

There are many reasons why it is absolutely impossible to make a living as a writer, and this series is going to explore some of them. Today’s reason: the simultaneous submission.

What is a simultaneous submission? It is any submission of a piece of work – a poem, a short story, a novel – that is “under consideration” by more than one publishing source at a time. A submission is under consideration from the time it hits the mailbox (or inbox, if you’re lucky) until the time it is either accepted by the publisher or rejected. If a publisher accepts simultaneous submissions, you can take one poem, send it to that publisher, and then turn around and send it to another publisher that accepts simultaneous submissions a few minutes later. It’s a standard “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” scenario.

Unfortunately, there are a great number of publishers out there that refuse to accept simultaneous submissions, especially when it comes to larger works such as novels and short story collections. What this means is that if you’ve already sent a manuscript to another publisher, and they haven’t accepted or rejected it yet, you can’t send it to this one. You have to wait until every place you’ve sent that manuscript has either accepted the manuscript – in which case you can’t send it anywhere else anyway – or rejects it.

Once that happens, you can now send your manuscript to the place that does not accept simultaneous submissions, and wait for them to accept it or reject it before you can send it to anyone else. How long do we wait? Well, I could give you estimates, but I think it’s more fun to see what actual publishers say about getting back to their writers:

We do not accept simultaneous submissions. All submissions must be in English. Usually, it takes 3 months for us to let you know if your submission has got what we are looking for (poetry submission will take a longer time due to backlog). Sorry, we do not return submissions–we delete them! So we advise you to save a copy of whatever you are submitting to us.

Our reading period is October 1 – March 1. Submissions will not be returned. We will contact via e-mail by September 1st those authors we wish to include in the forthcoming issue. [That means if we haven’t contacted you by that date, you can presume the work has not been accepted.]

We prefer not to receive simultaneous submissions. Response time for manuscripts is six to nine months. Thank you again for your interest.

This is only a small sample of the kinds of limitations publishers put on writers. Six months is a long time to go without a paycheck and hope that a publisher will give you a chance. And even if they don’t, hope that they’ll give you a heads up that they don’t, instead of just having you assume after X time that they’re not going to publish you.

For the publications that do accept simultaneous submissions, if you are lucky enough to get your work picked up somewhere, you have to inform every place you sent that manuscript and ask to withdraw it from consideration.

Yes, the publishing world is out of touch. If publishing houses were employers, it would be like putting in your resume at one prospective employer, who will not allow you to put in your resume anywhere else, and wait 6 months before you know if you will get an interview or if you need to move on. And during that 6 month period, you can’t apply anywhere else. And every employer in the business is like that. Yeah, I’d reconsider my career choice, too.

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Welcome!

Consider this the official launch of KellyHitchcock.com! Stay tuned for more news about the book, new poems, new short stories, and other rants and raves. Subscribe for updates, and enjoy the Superbowl!

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