A little over a year ago I decided to focus on getting my stories into print. I started by submitting a couple of drabbles to an open call anthology called Forgotten Ones from Eerie River Publishing. A year later I’ve been lucky enough to have dozens of stories accepted for publication and I’ve written up a summary of my year writing.
Previously in Words
I started writing fiction back in August 2018 with a till receipt for a writing prompt. A packet of glacier mints and a crate of diet coke inspired me to write my first short story A Song of Fire and Mints. After that I was hooked, participating in dozens of WordPress community challenges and competitions during 2018/19. This blog is littered with many of the sixty-odd stories I wrote during that first eighteen months as I honed my skills. Not that I was a stranger to writing. In my various roles over the years, I’d written countless business and technical papers. Writing fiction, however, is a very different beast. Writing for entertainment as opposed to information is and continues to be a real challenge.
By the end of 2019, burnt out after my first attempt at NaNoWriMo, I realised my imagination exceeded my writing skills and had fifty thousand steaming words to prove it. If I wanted to pursue my passion and finish a novel, I would need to take a step back. So, I decided to focus on short stories to develop my skills and set myself the goal of getting ten stories published in 2020.
What a year. It will go down in infamy and not only because it was the year I got something into print. It was a tough year to be writing horror, post-apocalyptic, dystopian, or satirical tales as the evening news would invariably deliver far more compelling real-life nightmares. Against the backdrop of a pandemic and rolling lockdowns, I did manage to get a little work done.
I nearly hit the target (one short) but I exceeded my goals in so many other ways, not all of which can be captured on a pretty infographic. The key to my success in 2020 has been the amazing writing community. Writers and indie publishers have helped me so much on my writing journey this year and I’m eternally grateful to all those who guided me on the path. In a year of highs, there are a few firsts that standout:
- Before the End – was my first competition win with Eerie River and is a haunting tale, taking inspiration from those first few weeks of lockdown. Part ghost story, part therapy it was a welcome win in a dark hour.
- It Calls from the Forest/The Valley of the Shadows – my first short story in print, again with the fantastic Eerie River who also printed by first drabbles in their anthology Forgotten Ones. These were the first two books I got to hold in my trembling hands. It was also the first story of mine I heard as an audio-book.
- Wetware/The Collective – I wrote this story in 2019 for a sci-fi competition. It didn’t make the shortlist and I paid a professional editor to help me understand why. I got my money’s worth, both in feedback and red ink. I try not to have favourites, but this was my first sci-fi story in print and with another great publisher – Black Hare Press (BHP).
- Zero Hour 2113 – this was my first collaborative writing invite, thanks to the talented David Green and the guys at BHP. A cyberpunk anthology involving 13 amazing writers weaving stories around a shared futuristic vision of London. I’m blown away by the quality of this anthology and loved the experience. I can’t wait for the world to meet Zero Hour in January 2021.
- It Calls from the Sea – this is one of the last acceptances I received in 2020. I try not to get my hopes up when subbing, for obvious reasons, but I really wanted this one. It secured me a story in each of Eerie River’s It Calls anthologies (Forest, Sky and Sea) and it was the perfect way to wrap up 2020. The complete set will look bloody brilliant on my vanity bookshelf.
Of course, it’s not all milk and honey and along with the highs, there are the low points in a year of writing, usually punctuated by rejections. Now I have very little to complain about, but a summary of writing development would not be complete without. a word on dealing with the inevitable. What I learned this year is that stories get rejected for many reasons, most notably – missing the call requirements, poorly written, unoriginal, or just not a good fit. Publishers have the hopeless task of selecting a couple of dozen stories for an anthology from a slush pile of hundreds. Learning how to avoid the obvious pitfalls has been an education this year.
- requirements – be sure you understand what’s been asked for. If the publisher wants horror then a dark story won’t probably cut it. This is a mistake I’ve made several times this year, mainly because I tend to favour dark tales over out and out horror.
- poor writing – there are endless ways I can fail in putting words together – spelling, syntax, grammar, pacing, poor dialogue etc. Ultimately it comes down to skill. That said, tools like Grammarly, ProWritingAid, and Word have been invaluable in both picking up sillies and educating me on bad patterns. Of course, there’s no substitute for practice and reading. I need to do a lot more of both in the coming year.
- originality – I have to have an angle or a hook. If the call is for zombies and I’m rehashing an episode of the Walking Dead I’m going to be in direct competition with a horde of similar stories. I will lose every time in such situations as there are far more experienced/eloquent writers. Knowing this, I won’t even submit a story if I don’t think I’m bringing some different to the table. Given there are so many sci-fi/horror tropes originality is probably the hardest thing to strive for.
- not a good fit – not a lot I can really do about this. Sometimes a story just isn’t going to sit well with others in an anthology. Publishers have an impossible task, and hard decisions have to be made and some days I can do everything right and will find myself on the wrong side of that decision. Those are the breaks.
So, I learned this year, not to assume a story is rejected because it is rubbish. On the other hand, taking ego out of it and taking a break from a rejected story, I will sit down and critically ask myself did I honestly tick every box. It also helps to have reliable alpha readers who don’t pull their punches. I ended up re-writing the start of Thorn in my Side three times based on alpha-reader feedback. It wouldn’t have cut the mustard otherwise. Which brings me nicely back to the writing community, the biggest asset to any writer.
Here’s a list of my accepted stories for 2020. I haven’t listed the 15 rejections as they’ll end up being edited and recycled (if at first…). It’s also missing six stories out for submission in December. Anthologies listed without links are out in 2021.
|15/03/2020||Before the End||Eerie River Publishing||Midnight Shadows|
|25/03/2020||The Valley of the Shadows||It Calls from the Forest (Vol 2)|
|13/04/2020||The Quipu||Black Hare Press||Ancients|
|18/04/2020||The Price||Iron Fairy Publishing||Famine|
|19/04/2020||Know Thy Enemy||War|
|04/06/2020||Thorn in my side||Eerie River Publishing||It Calls from the Sky|
|23/04/2020||The Last Supper||Iron Fairy Publishing||Plague|
|27/04/2020||The Cheating Dead||War|
|28/04/2020||Old Scar Hill|
|28/04/2020||Late to the Party|
|30/04/2020||Last Night’s Rites|
|04/05/2020||The Butterfly Effect||Plague|
|15/05/2020||Voyage of the Damned||Famine|
|17/05/2020||How-to Conquer an Empire||Conquest|
|22/05/2020||Place Your Bats||The Macabre Ladies||Dread Book One|
|25/05/2020||Take An Inch|
|15/06/2020||The Last Laugh||Insignia Stories||Insignia Drabbles Vol. 2|
|15/06/2020||Secrets of the Phaya Naga|
|15/06/2020||Nuno No No|
|16/06/2020||The Collective (edit) + Drabble||Black Hare Press||Wetware (Drabbles)
|07/09/2020||Chapter 1||Zero Hour 2113|
|31/07/2020||The Mysterious Mr Man||Lockdown – Sci-fi|
|20/07/2020||When Tomorrow Comes||Tick Tock|
|31/07/2020||The many lives of Miss Creant (Online)||Dark Moments / Witches & Wizards|
|31/7/2020||Man’s Best Friend||Paper Djinn Press||Civilisation: Dawn|
|28/08/2020||Faerie Things||Black Hare Press||Dark Moments / Faeries|
|14/08/2020||Hide and Freak||Eerie River Publishing||Dark Magic Drabbles|
|23/08/2020||I’ll Die on that Hill|
|28/08/2020||Seen but not Heard|
|23/09/2020||A Knight’s Sacrifice||Black Hare Press||Reign|
|23/09/2020||A Queen’s Sacrifice|
|10/10/2020||Chapter 2||SECRET PROJECT|
|17/09/2020||Reef Encounter||Eerie River Publishing||It Calls from the Sea|
|24/09/2020||Freeflint’s Final Escape||Black Hare Press||Dark Moments / Pirates|
|24/09/2020||The Grapes of Wrath||Wrath|
|30/10/2020||An Eye for an Eye||666|
|15/10/2020||The Curse of the Grootslang||Eerie River Publishing||Midnight Shadows|
|21/10/2020||Doh!||Black Hare Press||Play|
|31/10/2020||The Furste Moreyn||Iron Fairy Publishing||Cursed|
|31/10/2020||The Danse Macabre|
|31/10/2020||A Wizard’s Woes|
|31/10/2020||A Gentleman’s Agreement|
|31/10/2020||La Grande Guerre|
|31/10/2020||The Dernière Danse|
|31/10/2020||Veni Vidi Mori|
|15/11/2020||Carcerem Ad Animi||Rowan & Oak|
|19/11/2020||Snip!||Black Hare Press||Contact|
|19/11/2020||Turning the Lights Off|