Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Quality, Not Quantity

I have a word document with a big list of magazines, competitions and anthologies I want to sub to, all with deadlines. I've had a bit of a string of rejections over the last few months. I keep thinking 'Oh no, I have to write something for this publication - the dead line is in a week!' But hang on a minute. I think I've lost focus a little bit.

I keep thinking 'This is my only chance to submit to this...', but that's simply not true. With a lot of contests, there's always next year. With a lot of magazines, there's always next issue. I've been rushing myself, thinking that if I'm not subbing then I'm procrastinating - but what about the middle ground?

So it's time for a new approach. I'm going to pick a few places to sub to and focus on the stories for those. I have two in mind right now. The rest can wait. There's no rush.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Not Forgetting... To Support Each Other!

A while ago, I mentioned Jennysha, a graduate who blogs for Prospects, in my post Ugly Betty is Stealing My Job. Well, she repaid the favour and mentioned me in her blog! (Jennysha's Blog.) In my post, I mentioned that all us graduates looking to crack the publishing industry are, in essence, all in competition with each other - there are very few jobs about, and too many people applying for them. Jennysha raised a much more important point: even though that is the case, we should all be supporting each other, too. And yes, I couldn't agree more, Jennysha. Publishing is a tough business, and so it is always nice to have some friends who are in the same position. We can share stories and experiences, ultimately making ourselves feel a little less isolated during quite a lonely period!

'Shot Glass Stories' Reviewed

A big thank you to David Hebblethwaite for reviewing the anthology over at his blog. You can read his review here: "Shot Glass Stories and Other Small Indulgences (2009), ed. Sophie Playle".

And if you want to see what all the fuss is about, don't forget you can order your copy for just £3.10, or get a free download, here: 'Shot Glass Stories'.

Monday, 14 September 2009

'Shot Glass Stories' - Reflections on Editing an Anthology

As many of you will know, I belong to an online creative writing group over at www.crittersbar.com. About three years ago, the members started running a weekly challenge to write a story in no more than 200 words, inspired by a one-word prompt. The winner would then post and judge the next week's contest. The challenge has been a big success, and continues to run. It's a great way to nudge you into writing something if you've been a little lax, and there have been some great stories produced.

Last year, Skive Magazine's Matt Ward (one of our members) put together an anthology of stories from Critters Bar within 48 hours: Critters Bar Anthology 2009. Matt made a very smart looking publication, but because of the challenge of creating it within 48 hours, the copy wasn't edited, and there was no submission process. It was a case of the writers having to submit their best work. On reflection, many people thought that for future projects it might be better to edit the content, as writers kept spotting mistakes they wish they had caught before the anthology was printed. Of course, this meant a lot more work.

There was a lot of talk about creating an anthology for the 200-word challenge, but we couldn't reach a decision that everyone was happy with, so the idea was buried.

After finishing university, and after deciding that I wanted to crack the publishing industry, I thought it would be a good time to take on the project. I probably didn't handle it the way everyone wanted, but I guess you can't please everyone. I received a lot of support, which was great.

Selecting Stories

I decided that there should be a selection process in order to try and get the best content. However, I also decided that everyone who submitted to the project would be guaranteed at least one accepted story. After all, this was a non-profit community project that, on the most part, would serve as a nice souvenir to the members of the site.

Selecting stories was hard. I had wanted to get a small team together to help with the process, but I ran out of time to do this properly. Instead, I sought the opinion of one of the writers (Diete Nickens) if I was very unsure of something, which helped greatly. I didn't want the project to be too biased towards my preferences.

I accepted roughly 75% of the content, and asked the writers to change a couple of little things in some of them.


The next step, after reading through everything myself, was to send the document off to my proofreaders, Kate Louise and Amy Roskilly, another two members of the site. They did a great job of spotting things I had missed.

Cover Design & Title

While they were doing this, I designed the front and back cover. I had the members brainstorm titles, and we voted for 'Shot Glass Stories and Other Small Indulgences'. That gave me a good idea for the cover image. The back cover was harder to design; it seemed so simple, but was actually quite tricky!


While all this was going on, one of our other members, Rich Sampson, who had been away for a while due to becoming a dad for the second time, returned to the site. He posted some of his artwork, and I asked him to draw a few illustrations for the project. I let him choose the stories he wanted to illustrate, and he provided three great pictures for the project. By this point, I had realised that the project was very much catered towards adult readers!


During all this, I was trying to order the stories into a sequence that flowed well. I downloaded a Word template from Lulu to get the document size right, and started laying up the content. That was trickier than I thought it would be. Word is a little bit rubbish sometimes. I had to figure out things like section breaks, which I hadn't had to use before.

Once all the files were ready, and I'd put the illustrations in, created the content list and the prelims etc, I tried uploading it all to Lulu.

Using Lulu

I wasn't looking forward to this part. I'd never used Lulu before, and I didn't trust it one bit... Right away I ran into a problem. Even though I had downloaded the correct size Word document for the publication size I wanted, I was told that my document had been re-sized because it was wrong. Great. I had a peak, and it had mucked up the whole layout.

So I had to change the size of the product from 'pocket size' to 'standard US trade' size, as this required the minimal amount of change from the (seemingly) random sized document that Lulu gave me in the first place. That took an extra hour to format.

Next was the cover wizard. That took a long time to load, was quite fiddly, and I wasn't given the option to design the spine (it might have been too thin).

Hard Copy Proof

I made it a private project so that I could order myself a hard copy to make sure everything looked okay. I was pleased that it only cost me about £2.60, but was then hit was a stupidly expensive postage and packaging charge of nearly £5. Sickening.

Despite the postal strike, here, the book arrived within a week. Right away I noticed a terrible typo on one of the title pages that I hadn't spotted on screen! I also noticed a few spaces where there shouldn't be spaces. I felt that I had been looking at this text for so long that I had become blind to it. A good argument why having more than one person look at your text before publication is essential.

Final Product

I made the changes, uploaded the file again... I tried to choose the option for getting a free ISBN, but annoying Lulu only do this if you are in the US.

Then, because I made the file public, Lulu decided to add roughly another 50p onto the price for seemingly no reason. I made the item completely non-profit (I wanted to keep the cost down as much as possible and I didn't like the idea of Lulu getting 25% of any profit anyway), and I opted for a free download to be available.

And now it's live!


You can get your copy for a very modest price of £3.10 (plus a nasty postage change, unfortunately - please write nasty letters to Lulu demanding this to be reduced) or you can download it for free, here:

Shot Glass Stories - various authors


It was definitely a learning experience for me. I learned that this sort of thing takes a lot more time and effort than I had first anticipated. And that it is essential that more than one (preferable more than two, three, four...) pair(s) of eyes looks at the copy before it goes to print.

Lastly, a BIG thank you to all those involved, and for all the support.

Everyone should at least go and download the free version as there are some great stories to be read :)

Friday, 4 September 2009

Review: Inglourious Basterds

I like Tarantino's style, most of the time. I'm not usually a fan of war films, so I didn't let myself get too excited about this film. Tarantino, however, has created one hell of a movie.

The story builds scene by brilliant scene. Tarantino has a knack for taking his time with a scene while subtly building the tension until you realise that you're holding your breath. He has great control over human reaction and interaction - something that I loved about Dusk Til Dawn. And man, are there some great characters in Ingloirous Basterds.

Tarantino is famous for his vanity and boldness: he does what HE wants with a movie. And you know what? It works. The soundtrack, the humour, the dialogue, changing the course of history... It could have all fallen apart so easily, but everything in this film works so brilliantly to create something stylistic and original.

The only downsides to this film were that I couldn't understand half of what Brad Pitt's character was saying... and that they really took the piss out of the English. But oh well, I can forgive that. Every now and then I thought that the Nazis said some things that they probably wouldn't have (e.g. Col. Hans Landa saying that he could 'think like a Jew' - a Nazi probably wouldn't want to admit that they are like a Jew in any way; and another Nazi mentioned 'Hitler's propaganda' - they would see it as information, not propaganda, which has more negative connotations. But I guess I'm being picky.)

Anyway, go see this film. It's brilliant. I do find it slightly worrying that I was quite absorbed in the last scene whereas everyone else in the cinema were reeling with disgust.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

First Line (Meme)

The rules...

From the biggest bookcase you have, pick out one book whose author’s last name starts with each letter of your last name. If you have no books by an author whose last name starts with a particular letter, go to the next letter. If you have two of the same letter in your last name, get two separate authors, not two books by the same author.

Post the first sentence of each book, along with the author and title. Feel free to skip prefaces and such, especially if they’re by a different writer.

It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn't know what I was doing in New York. - Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

Buck did not read the newspapers, or he would have know that trouble was brewing not alone for himself, but for every tide-water dog, strong of muscle and with warm, long hair, from Puget Sound to San Diego. - Jack London, The Call of the Wild

Despite the fact that Carol Jackson has to sit in a pram, she and her mother are going out together, while mine is downstairs whispering with a perfumed woman in an animal skin. - Trezza Azzopardi, The Hiding Place

I can't find a book for this one!

When he was nearly thirteen my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow. - Harper Lee, To Kill a Mocking-Bird

*backwards writing* This inscription could be seen on the glass door of a small shop, but naturally this was only the way it looked if you were inside the dimly lit shop, looking out at the street through the plateglass door. - Michael Ende, The Neverending Story

Yes, and the moral of the Meme is that first lines are important. Remember that!

Review: Words from a Glass Bubble - by Vanessa Gebbie

Just like a certain famous ogre, this book is like an onion: it has layers. These short stories have more depth to them than first meets the eye, and they leave quite an impact. They will make you cry, too, sometimes - both tears of laughter and tears of sadness.

Don't be fooled by the innocent skipping girl on the front cover. Even though many of these stories are poetic and subtle, some of them are gritty and dark.

It took me quite a while to read this book, simply because I wanted to savour each story. I can certainly see why Vanessa has won so many prizes for her short fiction.

Thank you, Vanessa, for my signed hardback copy - I will treasure it. In a climate where most emerging authors are discouraged to write short story collections, you are an inspiration.

Buy it here:

Words from a Glass Bubble (Salt Modern Fiction)
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