Fiction Market Ratings

If you’ve just finished writing a short story and would like to get it published, the array of available markets can be confusing. I’ve blogged before about some websites with valuable information about markets and also about how you can prioritize a list of markets for your story. Today, I thought I’d delve into how the markets are divided up according to rates of pay.

The short story market is chaotic. Although there are several long-lived publication markets, there are many that are born each year, and many others (particularly during downturns in readership) that die off.

At any given time, though, there is a spectrum of markets running from those who charge readers a great deal, pay authors well, and publish high quality fiction; all the way to those who charge readers nothing, pay writers nothing, and publish fiction of variable quality. It’s that spectrum that the rating system is trying to map.

Just to make things confusing, there are various rating systems. Most have Pro (or Professional) at the top, followed by Semi-Pro, then Token, then Non-Paying (or For-the-Love).

Fiction Market RatesAs you can see from my chart, FictionFactor sets their Pro category at 3 cents per word and their Semi-Pro starting at 1 cent per word. However, their term for markets paying between 0 and 1 cent per word is Low. They use the term Token for markets paying a flat rate between $5 and $15 per story.

Both The Grinder and Duotrope set their Pro category starting at 5¢/word.

Ralan uses 6¢/word as the lower bound of Pro markets. Ralan also includes a Pay category between Semi-Pro and Token.

Confused? I don’t blame you. You might be asking why such ratings matter, either to a writer or to any of the markets. One reason is that some professional societies, like Science Fiction Writers of America and the Horror Writers Association use market ratings to determine some membership categories. That is, you need to have published some number of stories in Pro markets to qualify for certain membership types.

Romance Writers of America categorizes some of their membership groupings by the amount of advances or royalties from a single work, not by the market rating.

A more important reason why you might care about these market rating systems is that they serve as a gauge for you to rate your own development and advancement as a writer.

Think of Non-Paying, Token, and Semi-Pro as being analogous to the minor league in baseball. Many players in that league would like to get to the majors, though some might be content where they are. The fans don’t see quite the same level of play as they would in a major league stadium, but they don’t pay as much either. Also, the fans get a chance to see players at an early stage who may very well make it to the major leagues.

Unlike the baseball analogy, though, I advocate first aiming for the top with every story. Keep sending to Pro markets until you get sick of the rejections. Only then aim at the Semi-Pros, and on down the list. Whether you get to Token or Non-Paying markets depends on how badly you want that particular story to be published. You might decide to shelve it rather than accept a lower payment.

There are some who contend that any markets not paying Pro rates (especially Non-Paying markets) are “ripping off” writers. I disagree. It’s good to have a spectrum of markets available, especially for beginning writers who want to get in print and are satisfied with a lower rate of payment while they hone their craft.

Once again, there’s another aspect of the world’s confusion and chaos cleared up for you by—

Poseidon’s Scribe

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December 28, 2014Permalink

Conflict, the Necessary Evil

Ever notice how fiction seems full of conflict? Characters hate each other, fight each other, struggle with problems, strive to survive, etc. Why can’t they just get along together and have nice, trouble-free lives? After all, that’s what we real people want for ourselves, right?

Necessity

You may go ahead and write stories where nothing bad happens, where characters are always kind and thrive in a stress-free environment.

Just one little problem with that notion…no one is going to read those stories. They’d be boring! There is no reason to care about such characters. Their outcome is not in doubt.

ConflictConflict is, therefore, an essential aspect of all fiction. Conflict drives the plot and creates interest in the characters. Since all fiction is about the human condition, and since conflict is inherent in the human condition, your stories had better include some type of conflict.

You might be objecting as you think about great stories you’ve read that didn’t involve any guns, bombs, swords, spears, knifes, or fistfights. Ah, but think deeper about those stories. Did characters disagree verbally? Did a character struggle to survive against Nature’s fury? Was a character conflicted internally?

Conflict comes in various kinds and need not involve violence at all. At its essence, conflict is two forces in opposition to each other. That’s it.

Types

What are the types or categories of conflict? Here’s my classification schema:

  • External
    • Character vs. Character
    • Character vs. Nature
    • Character vs. Society
  • Internal
    • Character vs. Self

Some people add other external conflict types such as Character vs. Technology, Supernatural forces, Fate, or others. To me, those are all included in the basic four types.

How many types of conflict should you include within a single story? Unless it’s flash fiction, I recommend at least two, with one of them being an internal conflict. We live in a psychological age, and readers want to see characters with some depth, some internal struggles, some flaws. Readers don’t even want antagonists to be pure evil; there needs to be some explanation how they turned so bad.

Resolution

I’ve blogged before about the need to ramp up the level of conflict in your story, but what about the resolution of the conflict at the end?

Although I personally enjoy stories where protagonists overcome their adversity through wit, cunning, and intelligence, it need not be that way. Not all conflicts need to be completely resolved at the end. Or the resolution of one major conflict may spark the start of another. Really, the struggle during the bulk of the story is more important than the resolution.

In fact, the protagonist may lose the struggle, as in Jack London’s famous short story, “To Build a Fire.”  That story illustrates that fiction really is about characters contending with difficulties, not necessarily overcoming them in the end. It truly is about the journey, not the destination.

Resources and Summary

There really are some nice blog posts about conflict out there, including this, this, this, this, and this.

Those are my opinions about conflict. You might disagree, and that disagreement itself would represent a type of conflict between you and—

Poseidon’s Scribe

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December 21, 2014Permalink

A Tight Plot

“Tight plotting” is the term I use where everything is necessary to the plot and the story moves along without tangents or superfluous references. I didn’t invent the term, but it’s not yet in widespread use.

First let’s examine the opposite—loose plotting—and we’ll be able to make the contrast. Loose plotting is more common in novels than in short stories, and somewhat common in movies. Why? In a novel there’s an expectation of length, and a tendency for the writer to get a related idea and decide to stick it in the manuscript, even if it has to be force-fit. The creation process for movies is more collaborative than that of books, and with many cooks there’s a tendency to lose focus and spoil the broth.

Airplane!To illustrate, consider two movies, both rather silly comedies. To me, the movie Airplane! (1980) is an example of loose plotting. It’s filled with funny little gags that bear little relation to the main plot and don’t advance the story. The movie may be funny, and it was a financial success, but it is not an example of tight plotting.

By contrast, the movie Galaxy Quest (1999) has a far tighter plot. There are humorous gags and lines, and some subplots, but nearly all the action and dialogue moves the plot along.

Galaxy_Quest_posterOne can argue which movie is funnier, and audiences might be more forgiving with comedies if the jokes are comical enough. But it seems to me that Galaxy Quest has the more focused, the more integral, of the two movies’ plots.

In written fiction such as short stories, novellas, or novels, I believe it’s important to keep the plot tight. Resist the temptation to “work in” what seems to be a great, though tangentially related, idea. Keep asking yourself if each scene, each character, each paragraph and sentence, advance your plot in some important way to keep the story moving. It’s okay to have subplots, but make them related to and supportive of your main plot, and don’t linger too long on any one subplot.

The editing process is where you’ll have the best chance to tighten your plot. You have to be brutal in cutting out unnecessary parts and words. As we say in the biz, you have to “kill your darlings.” Loose plotting is indicative of lazy editing.

Don’t think your readers can’t recognize loose plotting. Once they start your story and latch on to the main plot, they want to follow it to see what happens. They’ll detect any deviation from that plot. At first they’ll wonder how this new path is connected to the main plot. They may forgive an occasional tangent if it’s short. But with each digression you run the risk of boring the reader. A bored reader probably won’t finish your story, and definitely will not read your other stories.

For more information on tight plotting, and overall tight writing, see this great blog post by Margot Finke.

If there’s one writer who really strives to keep his plots tight, it’s—

Poseidon’s Scribe

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December 14, 2014Permalink

Secrets of the Past

Is it possible that some amazing things happened in historical times, but never made it in the history books? Today I’ll discuss the subgenre of fiction known as secret histories.

Wikipedia’s entry provides a good definition: “A secret history (or shadow history) is a revisionist interpretation of either fictional or real (or known) history which is claimed to have been deliberately suppressed, forgotten, or ignored by established scholars. Secret history is also used to describe a type or genre of fiction which portrays a substantially different motivation or backstory from established historical events.”

With secret histories the author can deviate from actual history as far as she’d like, but she must return things to status quo or else explain why historical accounts don’t align with her story.

For this reason, secret histories are not to be classified as alternate histories (as I mistakenly did here.  There is no permanent altering of history. Rather the world returns to the one we know. The thrill for the reader is seeing how close the world came to actually changing in some dramatic way.

Secret histories work well as thriller stories with assassins or spies, since they work in secret anyway. Frederick Forsyth’s The Day of the Jackal and Ken Follett’s Eye of the Needle are two examples.

I’ve written secret histories myself, but my stories involve technology, not spies or assassins. In each one I leave it to the reader to speculate how much further ahead we’d be if some inventions had occurred earlier.

9781926704012In “The Sea-Wagon of Yantai,” an inventor creates a submarine in China in 200 B.C. There are obscure references asserting that something of that sort actually happened, and those references inspired my story. The tale ends in a way that explains why more submarines weren’t made as a result of this invention.

steamcover5My story “The Steam Elephant” (which appeared in Steampunk Tales magazine) is a secret history in which a traveling group of Britons and one Frenchman are enjoying a safari from the vantage of a steam-powered elephant invited by one of the Brits. They get caught up in the Anglo-Zulu war of 1879. This is intended as a sequel to the two books of Jules Verne’s Steam House series.

WindSphereShip4In “The Wind-Sphere Ship,” Heron of Alexandria takes his simple steam-powered toy and uses it to power a ship. If there had been a steamship in the 1st Century A.D., it boggles the mind to think we could have had the Industrial Revolution seventeen hundred years early and skipped the Dark Ages.

LeonardosLion3fAnother secret history is “Leonardo’s Lion” which answers what happened to the mechanical clockwork lion built by Leonardo da Vinci in 1515. In the story, humanity comes very close to seeing all of da Vinci’s designs made real, which would have advanced science and engineering by centuries.

TheSixHundredDollarMan3fI’d categorize “The Six Hundred Dollar Man” as secret history too, when a man fits steam-powered limbs on another man who’d been injured in a stampede. The story takes place in 1870 in Wyoming and it’s pretty clear by the story’s end why that technology didn’t catch on.

RallyingCry3fRallying Cry” is a tale about a young man who learns there have been secret high-technology regiments and brigades in wars going back at least to World War I. Members of these teams cannot reveal their group’s existence, so it fits the secret history genre.

ToBeFirstWheels5In “Wheels of Heaven” I take what is factually known about the Antikythera Mechanism, and weave a fictional tale to explain it.

As you can see, I like writing in this sub-genre. Imagine something interesting and imaginative happened in history, write about it, then tie up all the loose ends so that our modern historical accounts remain unchanged. Leave the reader wondering if the story could have really happened. History that might have been, courtesy of—

Poseidon’s Scribe

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December 7, 2014Permalink