Wednesday, March 31, 2021

New Short Story Published

Just received my copy of Mythic #15 with my story, "Jerry" in it. Pleased to find my name on the cover, rather than my usual "and other stories" spot.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

The Value of Pay vs Non-Paying Markets for Short Stories

On FB, someone asked “Is it worth submitting to non-paying markets, or are we just perpetuating the exploitation of writers?”, and received a good deal of sanctimonious feedback about how real writers always get paid for their work and that non-paying markets (“for exposure”) were completely unacceptable. I beg to differ. Never one to waste a good rant, I repost my arguments here.

Capitalist Ideology

First, although I certainly agree that writing should be valued, the idea that “My work is only worthwhile if paid for it” is capitalist thinking. I reject this hypothesis, as I reject the hypothesis that one is only a "real" author if one is a full time professional, professional defined as writing as their primary source of income. A hearty “Bah humbug!” to that.

I frequently submit to literary magazines, almost none of which pay in coin. Instead, I look for quality work with which I would like to be associated; high production values; and/or a fabulous community which one joins by contributing; and/or an interesting call for submissions. There are themes I wish to explore, so if there is a nonpaying literary market featuring that theme this month, I will go there. I do not mind not getting paid if it is for non-commercial markets (i.e., where all the staff are similarly unpaid volunteers putting their time, energy, and frequently money into producing art).

On the other hand, there are commercial markets that range from decent pay (I'm not Atlantic Monthly market worthy yet, so I won't say 'pay well') to those that pay nothing. I will not submit to a commercial market that makes money and pays authors nothing. I will consider low paying markets if I believe the editors are similarly investing more sweat equity and they are receiving $, and then the same criteria applies as for literary markets.

I have also donated stories to anthologies for good causes, such as a story I donated for an anthology to raise money for a women's shelter, or to support a writing charity, or etc. (I can usually sell those to a reprint or an audio market later, since the charity volumes are usually strictly local.) I donated a story to one anthology because the editor asked and I owed them a favour for a beta read that went miles beyond that definition to a full edit of the first 1/3 of the novel, which provided me the insights to do the next 2/3.

Therefore: there are lots of reasons to submit to literary journals or anthologies besides cash, and no reason to look down upon quality non-paying markets. I only eschew for-profit markets which are clearly rackets, where the editor/publisher is making $$ while the authors do not get an appropriate share. or where people try to con me with "exposure" nonsense.

The Referee Function

I frequently send out stories on simultaneous submission to gauge whether I have accurately assessed the story's quality. I start, of course, at the highest paying market and work my way down and sometimes my trunk stories end up in a non-paying market because that's still better than the trunk. If the other stories in that issue are of sufficient quality that I am happy to join them, then I appreciate the publishing credit.

This is not about ‘exposure’ (because exposure markets don't bring one any credit among people who recognize those are either hopeless or a racket) but because I appreciate the REFEREE FUNCTION. I often love my writing unconditionally (as one should always love one's children) but a bit of a reality check doesn't hurt. Having had at least one editor appreciate and publish a story I was a bit ‘iffy’ about (and throw in a Pushcart nomination while they were at it) gives me the confidence to include that story in my self-published reprint collection. In contrast, that nobody has taken my favorite story--now approaching its 70th rejection--gives me pause to consider that one might not be one to put in my 'best of Robert' collection.

Occasional Feedback

Further, some few (literally, very few) send back rejections with very helpful feedback. I find this especially true of respected non-paying markets, who make up for lack of funding with sweat equity of a couple of sentences of feedback. That feedback is precious--even when it's wrong (e.g., misses the point), it tells me that I am not getting my point across clearly enough. Were I to PAY for that level of advice, it would cost considerably more than even the higher paying markets pay me.

So...I'll take the feedback, the refereeing and the support of (and support for) a community over coin.


Of course, I recognize that I am speaking from a place of privilege. The few dollars I could make writing SF&F could never approach what I got paid in my day job, or even what I make in retirement. To make the sort of money I need to maintain the life style to which I have become accustomed, I would have to sell a short story about every six hours. That is just never going to happen. I certainly appreciate the $200 or $300 a short story sometimes brings me, but I only sold 12 stories last year and $3000 is not an acceptable annual income.

It’s different for novels and nonfiction books, of course, though it remains an open question of whether I could position a novel to make significant coin, but at least that’s theoretically possible. But when it comes to short stories, it hasn’t been possible to make a living in that market since before Television. (Professional pay rates have stayed roughly what they were in the 1930s.)


I certainly support anyone who restricts their output to paying markets both as a measure of ‘having made it’ to that level, and as a source of income. I do not accept, however, that that gives them the right to look down upon those who choose to join a community of writers, seek feedback from a respected editor, support a charity, or choose literary prestige over a dubious paying market. (Correspondingly, I don’t let my literary friends get away with sneering at commercial genre markets either.)

Ultimately, the quality of one’s professionalism must be judged by the quality of one’s output. Commercial success/popularity is one reasonable measure of quality, but not the only one and one which is not necessarily reliable, luck and an appearance on Oprah playing as big a role as quality. Believing that coin is the ONLY acceptable measure is to buy into capitalist ideology.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Common Mistake #23: The Difference Between Omniscient POV and 'Head-Hopping'

A question that frequently comes up is “what do you mean by ‘head hopping’?” so let’s talk about the difference between ‘omniscient’ point of view and ‘head-hopping’.

A rough analogy with film would be omniscient POV is voiceover narrating the action… like color commentary watching a football game or described video over a battle scene. The camera’s always a little distant from the action so the reader can see everything happening at once. This contrasts with third person POV, where the story is told from one character’s point of view at a time. It’s placing the camera on one character’s helmet, so we see what that character sees, but only what that character sees and from that perspective. (With first-person POV, the camera is behind the character’s eyes, and we have a mic inside there so we hear that character’s thoughts too.) Head-hopping is where the story is written third-person, but the director keeps cutting between helmet cams so we see this part of the scene from character A’s point of view, and then this part from character B’s POV, etc. It can be done (you’ve seen it in a few movies) but…it’s almost impossible to pull off without making the viewer/reader dizzy. So…basic advice to anyone not currently in the million-seller category: don’t even think about trying it. It will suck.

It is way easier to stick to a single character’s pov so that your readers come to empathize with that character, adopt that character’s perspective, become engaged with the story. Switching too frequently throws the reader out of Character A’s story, which (a) becomes confusing for the reader to figure out whose head they’re seeing this from at this moment, and (b) interrupts Character A’s story. If I was invested in A’s story, interrupting that not only throws me out of A’s POV but out of the story itself. That is, the reader stops reading and picks up the next book on their ‘to be read’ shelf.

On the other hand, it is okay—often advantageous—to have different POV characters in alternating chapters. That allows you to have two different perspectives, each with their own motivations, goals, frustrations, etc, but sustained enough to keep the reader engaged and committed to that character in that chapter. Alternating chapters means you can leave each character on a cliff-hanger as you pick up the action with the other one—but moving the story forward so you can skip the boring bits in each character’s storyline. You’re not head-hopping because each chapter is only from one POV and a sustained storyline to which the reader commits. Some writers can do this with scenes within chapters, but I don’t recommend it because, again, really hard not to screw up.

The most manageable book to write is the single POV. Readers identify with that POV character and become engaged, invested. Omniscient can too easily become distancing—too much emphasis on longshots without close-ups, too much reliance on color commentary rather than the reader watching the action and figuring stuff out for themselves, and way, way too much risk of the omniscient narrator switching from showing to telling. Omniscient POV lends itself to expository lumps—and unless really careful, the writer slips into telling us the book’s outline rather than showing us/writing the story. Whereas, all you have to keep from breaking the ‘show don’t tell’ rule with the single (first- or third- POV) is ask yourself “what is my character seeing at this moment”, “how do they know that”, and “would they be thinking about that NOW?”

So nothing inherently wrong about omniscient, and you probably read others doing that all the time, but the % of my clients getting it wrong is way higher than those who go third- or first-person. My advice is always to keep it simple, manageable, and go third-person, but one’s mileage may vary.

But there is no question that head-hoping is almost always a fatal flaw. It almost always represents a lack of command over POV, and editors will stop reading the manuscript the first time it happens. As a reader, I’ve only encountered a single published book in the last twenty years that had head-hoping, and I ended up throwing it across the room, and looked askance at other books from that publisher from then on, because the editor should have caught that was happening and fixed it.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Pushcart Nomination

I am honoured that editor Janna Liggan nominated my story, "Weathering" for a Pushcart Award as one of the six best of the year in Lamplit Underground Magazine.

The story is free to read at

Monday, December 28, 2020

Rules for Writing

Today's edition (#of Authors Publish magazine (which I recommend to all writers for its market updates and mini-articles) has "43 different sets of "top 10 rules for writers" from various famous writers. I put the article aside to read later, because I'm sure that will be amusing, but here's the thing--I don't need to read those to know 95% won't apply to me--or to you.

If one interviews successful authors, they all say the same thing: there is only one possible way to manage the writing process and to be productive. The slightest variation from the routine/formula described, and they come up dry: blocked creatively, their work left undone or rejected as substandard.

Unfortunately, they then all go on to describe completely different, highly idiosyncratic approaches. This one says she can only write with a brandy in hand, the next that abstinence is the key. This one requires large blocks of uninterrupted time to make any progress; this other maintains that the key is to write at every opportunity, finding five minutes here, stealing ten there. This one can only write in the mornings before lunch, the next only at night. Many insist on the discipline of writing every day, regardless of life’s distractions; but others are equally vehement about the importance of work/life balance and trusting inspiration to show up in the muse’s own sweet time. This one requires a detailed outline and copious, detailed notes; the next says spontaneity and free association are the key. This one can only begin to write when the house is cleaned and the dishes washed; this one only when surrounded by a messy house that affirms that writing comes first. Each insists that their routine is absolutely critical and that any writer must adopt exactly that habit if they are serious about writing—except those who argue routine makes one stale and rely on trying something completely different each time.

The only slight commonality between them is that they all agree that any method taught to them in schools was rubbish. So, sorry, but the secret formula for writing turns to be that there is no secret formula; or at least, no universal one. Everybody has to work out what works for them. How-To books likely won’t help much because the author is only going to tell you what works for the author who wrote that How-To book.

But...rule lists are often thought-provoking/entertaining, and sometimes this or that 'rule' may resonate with the reader, such that it might be one worth trying out. So...have fun with the current issue of Authors Publish. (Its a free.--they make their money from advertizers.)

The dog meme is one that did the rounds a couple or three years ago (I don't know the original creator). There may be something to that one, but even here, there comes a point of diminishing returns if one stays TOO long.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Christmas Story

My Christmas story, "Ransom and the Christmas Tree" is up and available free to read at Abyss and Apex magazine:

Pleased to have any connection to Abyss and Apex. Great to deal with.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

C.P. Hoff Book Included as a Kirkus Reviews Books of the Year

C.P. Hoff, a former author, is included in this year's "Kirkus Reviews Books of the Year" list:

for West of Ireland

Hoff's first novel, A Town Called Forget was edited by both Elizabeth McLachlan and Robert Runté and was accepted by Five Rivers Publishing and edited there by Lorina Stephens. A Town Called Forget went on to be longlisted for the Leacock Medal for Humour, and is still available as an independant publication following Five Rivers closure earlier this year.

West of Ireland was edited by legendary editor Adrienne Kerr.