Thursday, July 30, 2015
Jodie Renner, editor & author @JodieRennerEd
Have you tried your hand at writing short stories yet? If not, what’s holding you back? As award-winning blogger Anne R. Allen said in an excellent article in Writer’s Digest magazine, “Bite-sized fiction has moved mainstream, and today’s readers are more eager than ever to ‘read short.’” To check out Anne’s “nine factors working in favor of a short story renaissance,” see “9 Ways Writing Short Stories Can Pay off For Writers“, and there’s more in her post, Why You Should be Writing Short Fiction.
Here’s another Argument for Writing Short Stories, by Emily Harstone. She says, “Writers who are serious about improving and developing their craft should write short stories and get editorial feedback on them, even if they are never planning on publishing these short stories. Short stories are one of the best ways to hone your craft as a writer.”
Okay, you’ve decided to take the plunge and craft a few short stories. Good for you! Next step: Consider submitting some of them to anthologies, magazines, or contests. But wait! Before you click “send,” be sure to check out my 33 Tips for Creating a Short Story Worthy of Contests, Magazines, and Anthologies (the next post below), then go through your story with these tips in mind and give it a good edit and polish – possibly even a major rewrite – before submitting it.
What are some of the common criteria used by publications and contests when evaluating short story submissions?
I recently served as judge for genre short stories for Writer’s Digest Popular Fiction Contest, where I had to whittle down 139 entries to 10 finalists, but I wasn’t provided with a checklist or any specific criteria. However, a friend who regularly submits short stories to anthologies, magazines, and contests recently received a polite rejection letter from the editor of a literary magazine, along with a checklist of possible reasons, with two of them checked off specifically relating to her story.
While useful, the list of possible weaknesses is very “bare bones” and cries out for more detail and specific pointers. Editors, publishers, and judges are swamped with submissions and understandably don’t have time to give detailed advice for improvement to all the authors whose stories they turn down. Perhaps you could help me interpret and flesh out some of these fairly cryptic, generic comments/criticisms, and add any additional points that occur to you, or checklists you may have received.
Can you think of other indicators of story weaknesses that could be deal-breakers for aspiring authors submitting short stories for publication? Or do you have links to online publishers’ checklists for fiction submissions? Please share them in the comments below.
Here’s the list my friend received, with my comments below each point. Do you have comments/interpretations to add?
Checklist from a Publisher/Editor/Publication in Response to Short Story Submissions
“Thank you for submitting your short story to …. We’ve given your work careful consideration and are unable to offer you publication. We do not offer in-depth reviews of rejected submissions, due to time constraints. Briefly, we feel your submission suffered from one/several of the following common problems:”
– “Tone or content inappropriate for…” (publisher / publication / anthology / magazine)
Check their submission guidelines and read other stories they’ve accepted to get an idea of the genre, style, tone, and content they seem to prefer.
– “Stylistic and grammatical errors; too many typos”
Be sure to use spell-check and get someone with strong skills in spelling, grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure to check it over carefully for you. Read it out loud, and where you pause briefly, put in a comma. Where you pause a little longer, put in a period. You could also try using editing software or submit it to a professional freelance editor. This last choice has the most likelihood of helping you hone your fiction-writing skills.
– “Structure problems”
For a novel, this could mean some chapters could be rearranged, shortened, or taken out. For a short story, it could mean the time sequencing is strange; you've started too early, too late, or in the middle; or perhaps you have too many characters or too many plot lines. Or perhaps you've interrupted the story by dumping in a lot of backstory or explanations.
– “Formatting problems made reading frustrating”
Be sure your story is in a common font, like Times New Roman, 12-point, and double-spaced, with only one space after periods and one-inch margins on all four sides. Don’t boldface anything or use all caps. For more white space and ease of reading, divide long blocks of text into paragraphs. Start a new paragraph for each new speaker. Indent paragraphs, but not by clicking on the space bar. Use Word's paragraph function. Don’t use an extra line space between paragraphs. Use italics sparingly for emphasis. For more specifics on formatting, see “Basic Formatting of Your Manuscript (Formatting 101)”.
Your characters’ decisions, actions and motivations need to fit their goals, personality, background, and character. And make sure your protagonist is likeable, someone readers will want to root for.
– “Content and/or style too well-worn or obvious”
This likely refers to a plot that’s been done a million times, with cookie-cutter characters and a predictable ending.
– “Word choice needs refinement”
This one could cover the gamut from tired, generic verbs like walked, ran, saw, looked or overused adjectives like nice, good, bad, old, big, small, tall, short; to inadvertently inserting light-hearted words at a tense time or vice-versa; to using overly formal, technical, or esoteric words where a concrete, vivid, immediately understandable one would be more effective; and more.
– “Overbearing or heavy-handed”
This probably refers to a story where the author’s agenda is too obvious, too hard-hitting, maybe even a bit “preachy,” rather than subtle, allowing the reader to draw their own conclusions.
– “Nothing seems to have happened”
This likely indicates no critical problem or dilemma for the protagonist, not enough meaningful action and change, and insufficient conflict and tension.
– “Strong beginning, then peters out”
This is an indicator that your plot needs amping up and you need to add rising tension, suspense, and intrigue to keep readers avidly turning the pages. Also, flesh out your characters to make them more complex. Give your protagonist secrets, regrets, inner conflict, and a strong desire that is being thwarted.
– “Needs overall development and polish.”
This indicates you likely need to roll up your sleeves and hone your writing skills. Read some writing guides, like my award-winning editor's guides to writing compelling fiction, Captivate Your Readers, Fire up Your Fiction, or Writing a Killer Thriller. Also, read lots of highly rated published short stories, paying close attention to the writers’ techniques. Here’s where a critique group of experienced fiction writers or some savvy beta readers or a professional edit could help.
– “We didn’t get it.”
This is a catch-all category that means the story didn’t work for a number of reasons. This could be an indicator to put this story aside and hone your craft, critically read other highly rated stories in your genre, then, using your new skills, craft a fresh story.
“While all of these criticisms open doors to further questions, we regret that we cannot be more constructive….”
That’s understandable. They just don’t have time to critique or mentor every writer who contacts them. But I hope my comments above help aspiring fiction writers hone your craft and get your stories published – or even win awards for them. Good luck! For tips on how to actually submit, check out “Writing Short Stories? Don’t Make These 4 Submission Mistakes“.
Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor, workshop presenter, judge for fiction contests, and the award-winning author of three craft-of-writing guides in her series An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: Captivate Your Readers, Fire up Your Fiction, and Writing a Killer Thriller. She has also published two clickable time-saving e-resources to date: Quick Clicks: Spelling List and Quick Clicks: Word Usage. Jodie recently organized and edited two anthologies for charity: a BC-wide anthology of stories and poetry for Doctors Without Borders, called Voices from the ValleysChildhood Regained – Stories of Hope for Asian Child Workers, created to help reduce child labor in Asia. You can find Jodie at www.JodieRenner.com, www.JodieRennerEditing.com, and on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. Click HERE to sign up for Jodie’s occasional newsletter.
Thursday, July 23, 2015
Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor, workshop
presenter, judge for short story contests, and the award-winning author of three craft-of-writing guides in her series, An Editor’s Guide to Writing
Compelling Fiction: Captivate Your Readers, Fire up Your Fiction,
and Writing a Killer Thriller.
She has also published two clickable time-saving e-resources to date: Quick Clicks: Spelling List
and Quick Clicks: Word Usage.
Jodie recently organized and edited two anthologies for charity: a BC-wide
anthology of stories and poetry for Doctors Without Borders, called Voices from the ValleysChildhood
Regained – Stories of Hope for Asian Child Workers,
created to help reduce child labor in Asia. You can find Jodie at www.JodieRenner.com, www.JodieRennerEditing.com, and on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. Click HERE to sign up
for Jodie’s occasional newsletter.
Tuesday, July 7, 2015
Thanks, everyone, for the wonderful response to this BC anthology!
VOICES FROM THE VALLEYS - Stories & Poems about Life in BC's Interior is now available. For information on purchasing this high-quality BC-based anthology, click HERE.
To go to a PDF with excerpts from Voices from the Valleys, click VOICES FROM THE VALLEYS - EXCERPTS.
The anthology is available in e-book and trade paperback through all Amazon websites and will be in independent bookstores and libraries by early December 2015. Bookstores and libraries in Canada can obtain copies of this anthology through Red Tuque Books, http://www.redtuquebooks.ca/publishers/books/distribution/460. Also available in Canada through Cobalt Books, www.CobaltBooks.net, for $18.95 plus postage and handling.
** All proceeds, after production expenses, go to
Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders Canada (MSF.ca).**
FOR VOICES FROM THE VALLEYS
“Thank you, Jodie. You are creating some amazing opportunities for writers in our area. Kudos to you.” ~ Sylvia Olson, Coordinator of Kamloops Writers Festival
For this first anthology in a series, we’re looking for entries that highlight interesting experiences (real or fictional) that take or took place somewhere in the interior of BC. Your story or poem could include experiences with BC’s wildlife, logging, mining, fishing, tree planting, fruit growing, vineyards, skiing, hiking, backpacking, climbing, camping, boating, tourism, forest fires, or avalanches, featuring RCMP, fire fighters, fishers, farmers, First Nations Peoples, mountain climbers, fruit pickers, artists, musicians, hippies, students, or any other "BC types," and any activity or setting typical of BC. Maybe a harrowing encounter with a grizzly – or a moose or a cougar? Or maybe even a sighting of a Sasquatch or Ogopogo? We also need more representation from First Nations writers anywhere in the Interior. Please help us spread the word and get more native perspective in this anthology!
A quick tip: Is your idea an interesting story with characters and a problem, dilemma, or challenge, not just description, information, or musings? That's what we'd prefer for this anthology.
“It has been a pleasure working with you on my short memoirs for your Voices anthology, Jodie. I’ve never worked with an editor before but have heard ‘the scary stories.’ You were great, not at all scary ;-) I appreciate your patience, your quick responses and honesty. Thank you very much.”
- Wendy Squires, Oct. 2015
What makes this anthology unique?
Besides the BC setting and flavour, this anthology, unlike many others, will provide contributing authors with free critiquing and interactive editing of the stories submitted, if needed. If your story is already of a high quality, it will just get a light proofread and a green light. If it’s “almost there” and looks like a good candidate for inclusion in the anthology but has a few rough edges, you’ll have an opportunity to work closely with a professional editor to take your story up a level or two and hone your writing skills in the process, at no cost, resulting in a polished, error-free story for the anthology. And as the author, you of course will have the final say on editorial suggestions.
“My first experience with a professional editor turned out to be very rewarding. Jodie Renner edited my short story, 'Firestorm,' for her anthology, Voices From the Valleys. From start to finish it was a positive, learning experience. I figured after editing, the story might not reflect my writing voice, but to my amazement Jodie’s editing made Firestorm a much more powerful story. Thanks, Jodie.”
~ William S. Peckham, September 2015
*See down for more reviews of Jodie's editing of short stories.
Deadline is Oct. 31, contributors retain all rights to their stories and poems, which may have appeared elsewhere, and proceeds from sales of the anthology will to go to a reputable charity. Contributors receive a free print copy and a free e-copy (if desired) of the anthology, and can purchase two more print copies at cost.
What kinds of submissions will be considered?
For this anthology, we're looking for stories that pulsate with life, where your main character is challenged in some way; stories with some tension, that hook readers in with a compelling tale, make them feel like they’re right there with the characters, and engage them emotionally. Our aim is to publish high-quality, curated, and edited stories with a “wow” factor, and also some poetry.
To get a better idea of what we're looking for in fictional stories, please read the guidelines in the blog post above this one. Here's the link: http://jodierennerediting.blogspot.ca/2015/07/33-tips-for-creating-short-story-worthy.html. For the fiction stories, we're looking for stories told from the point of view of the main character, not the author's point of view (omniscient), as this is too distancing. How is your protagonist challenged? Show his/her efforts to overcome difficulties to reach his/her goal.
As we've received a few good memoir-type stories, with interesting information on various regions of BC, feel free to submit something like that too - perhaps an incident in your childhood in BC? We're not looking for rambling travelogues that are mostly description, but a story revolving around something interesting (preferably fascinating or exciting) that happened to you, that includes a problem or dilemma that needed to be solved, and is told using scenes, action, and dialogue, with your reactions to what was going on. Something needs to go wrong, to make an interesting story. You can of course fictionalize it, if you prefer. Just let us know if it's fiction or nonfiction.
Oct. 16 update: The anthology is getting too long (thick) so the new guideline for short stories and creative nonfiction / memoirs is now 300 to 2,000 words long.
Before putting a lot of work into a story, it would be best to contact Jodie first with your idea, in case it's not really something she's looking for here.
(See down for more comments about Jodie's editing of short stories for anthologies.)
Advantages to contributing writers:
You’ll see your name in print and your poem or story published in a high-quality anthology. You'll also have the opportunity to have your bio and small photo and on the "Contributors" page.
Contributors retain all rights to their stories and poems, so your submission is copyrighted by you. Your contribution may have appeared elsewhere and may be published elsewhere later.
You'll have an opportunity to work with a professional editor to hone your writing skills and polish your story, at no cost. Jodie is an award-winning author and has been editing novels and short stories for years (www.JodieRennerEditing.com) and also judges short stories for Writer's Digest and other contests. (See down for more info.)
Each writer whose work is chosen to be included in the anthology will receive a free print copy (trade paperback size) and a free electronic copy of the anthology, and can purchase up to two more at cost (about 50% of retail price).
You'll have the satisfaction of helping the less fortunate in the world. All royalties will be donated to Doctors Without Borders Canada -- Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). http://www.msf.ca/.
Please join the Facebook group BC Writers, Authors, and Editors to connect with other BC writers and to hear about new developments on this and the next BC-based anthologies, one focusing on coastal and island communities and the other stories about characters, movements, and events in BC's history. And please spread the word to any other writers you know in BC, or who have spent time in BC!
To go to a PDF with excerpts from Voices from the Valleys, click Voices from the Valleys EXCERPTS .
"Jodie did a terrific job editing my short story. She made the action scenes flow smoothly and logically, and showed me how to write better dialogue. Since I am new to writing fiction, Jodie took great care in showing me how to use the close third person point of view and avoid author intrusions into the story. Jodie's editing tightened up the story and really brought it to life. Thank you, Jodie!"
- L.M. Patrick, Penticton, BC, Oct. 2015
Who can submit: This anthology is open to anyone aged 14 and up, living in British Columbia, Canada, and also to people who now live elsewhere but have lived or vacationed in the interior of BC. This is open to writers from Chilliwack to the Rockies, from Terrace to Prince George, from Fort St. John to Osoyoos, and everything in between. Tell us your stories!
(A future anthology will concentrate more on the coast, Vancouver Island, Haida Gwaii, and the Gulf Islands, and perhaps another one for Northern BC.)
Theme: The story or poem needs to depict an interesting incident taking place somewhere in the interior of British Columbia, with the unique characteristics of the region somehow showing through.
Length and formatting: Short stories and creative nonfiction, 200 to 4,000 words long, double-spaced, Times New Roman, 12-point, one-inch margins all around. Poems should be up to five pages long, single-spaced. All entries need to be in Microsoft Word and submitted electronically as an attachment to an email to: info@CobaltBooks.net or info@JodieRenner.com. Do not send PDFs.
As I'm really busy with editing novels for paying clients and organizing two anthologies, I'd rather not spend a lot of time correcting formatting mistakes, so it would be great if you could carefully read through this article of mine, with illustrations, and correct any glaring formatting errors in your story before you send it to me. Thanks!
Genres: For this anthology, short story entries should take place somewhere in the interior of BC, and be generally realistic, so no fantasy, sci-fi, or horror. Some paranormal elements will be fine. Also, if you know of any BC legends, we'd love to receive them, told in a lively way, with action and dialogue.
Deadline: October 31, 2015.
Publication: November 20, 2015.
Send your submissions to: info@JodieRenner.com or info@CobaltBooks.net.
Checklist for fictional short stories and creative nonfiction:
__ Is my story told through the point of view of one main character?
__ Does it take place in British Columbia, Canada?
__ Does my main character encounter some kind of problem, conflict, or challenge?
__ Am I showing how my character is feeling and reacting to what's happening?
__ Does the story contain enough tension and conflict to keep readers worrying about the protagonist and keep them engaged?
__ Is there some resolution at the end, for some reader satisfaction?
__ Is my story between 200 and 4,000 words long?
How will the anthology be sold, and how will it benefit the less fortunate?
We will sell the anthology in both e-book and trade paperback form through all Amazon websites and Chapters-Indigo online. Copies will be distributed to independent bookstores and libraries throughout BC, as well as the gift stores of tourist attractions, including wineries. We'll try to get them on the BC Ferries, as well. It is expected that all contributors will promote the anthology on social media and in their communities and also hand-sell some copies locally.
All the writers and editor Jodie Renner (and possibly other editors, if needed) will donate our time and skills for free, so after paying the cover designer, printer, and distributor, 100% of the book royalties will go to Doctors Without Borders.
If you are interested in helping this worthy cause by putting your skills at writing fiction or creative nonfiction to good use, and getting published in a high-quality anthology, please contact Jodie at info@JodieRenner.com. Use "Voices from the Valleys" in your subject line.
Eight of the many reviews/testimonials of Jodie's editing of short stories. For more, see www.JodieRennerEditing.com/Testimonials.
~ Steve Hooley, August 2015
“I knew that Jodie Renner was highly respected for her editing of novels, and I was pleased to discover, several years ago, that she also edits short stories. Jodie has assisted me, through interactive online editing, in getting four of my short stories and numerous poems published. One of my short stories was published in an anthology out of Berkeley, California, while two others were awarded second prize and honourable mention in Canadian Anthologies. Thanks to Jodie’s editing skills, I am now proud to call myself a published author.”
~ D.F. Barrett, August 2015
“My first experience with a professional editor turned out to be very rewarding. Jodie Renner edited my short story Firestorm for her anthology, Voices from the Valleys. From start to finish it was a positive, learning experience. Point of view has always been difficult for me. Jodie’s editing and coaching showed me how the proper POV brings the story to life. I figured after editing, the story might not reflect my writing voice, but to my amazement Jodie’s editing made Firestorm a much more powerful story. Thanks, Jodie.”
~ William S. Peckham, September 2015
“Jodie edited my novel Daughter of No One and she also edited the two short stories I submitted for her anthology, Childhood Regained. Jodie is a pleasure to work with and she’s a true professional. Her suggestions, on both choice of word and content, were invariably spot-on and helped to make the stories so much better. I couldn’t ask for anything better and so I highly recommend her.”
~ Caroline Sciriha, Sept. 1, 2015
~ Darcy Nybo, Sept. 2015, Owner – Always Write and Artistic Warrior
“Working with Jodie to improve my creative nonfiction piece for the Voices from the Valleys anthology has been a revelation. I have been writing for decades. At no time in the past has anyone seriously edited my work but me. Jodie’s comments, suggestions, and corrections are instructive, incisive, and valuable. She is straightforward and respectful. My exchanges with Jodie have provided me with tips and advice that will improve all my writing.”
~ Seth Raymond, Prince George, Canada
About the editor and publisher, Jodie Renner:
Jodie Renner, a former teacher and school librarian with a master’s degree, is a sought-after freelance editor and the multi-award-winning author of three writing guides and two e-resources for writers and editors. She’s also a respected blogger and speaker at writers’ conferences and to writing groups across North America. Jodie has also served as judge for novels and short stories for many contests, including several times for Writer’s Digest and also for the Word on the Lake Writers’ Festival contest and anthology.
Jodie will be presenting workshops for writers at the Shatford Centre in Penticton over the fall and winter, and is also involved in organizing the Okanagan Valley Writers' Festival, to be held in Penticton on April 8-10, 2016. She presented workshops for writers at Word on the Lake in Salmon Arm in May 2015 and at When Words Collide in Calgary in August 2015.
Jodie has published three writing guides to date in her series, An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: Captivate Your Readers, Fire up Your Fiction, and Writing a Killer Thriller (all available in both e-book and trade paperback). These books are all available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, your local bookstore or library, and Red Tuque Books in Penticton, BC.
Jodie has also published two time-saving, clickable e-resources for writers and editors: Quick Clicks: Word Usage – Precise Word Choices at Your Fingertips and Quick Clicks: Spelling List – Commonly Misspelled Words at Your Fingertips.
Jodie grew up in a remote mining town in BC’s coastal mountains, and also lived in Vancouver for many years (where she attended UBC and SFU and taught in schools) and on Vancouver Island for a few years. Growing up, she vacationed throughout BC, and her extended family is spread around southern BC. Jodie reluctantly moved to Ontario at the age of 32, where she raised a family, taught English, French, and Social Studies for many years, was a school librarian for a few years, and attained a master’s degree in French Literature at the University of Western Ontario. Jodie returned to BC every summer to visit. She moved back to BC for good in April 2014, and is thrilled to finally be back, living in her "homeland." She lives in Penticton, in the South Okanagan, and enjoys taking road trips in every direction from there, stopping often to snap photos.
Jodie is a member of the Federation of BC Writers and the Penticton Writers and Publishers.
Here's the notice about this anthology in the Okanagan School of Arts, Shatford Centre website: http://www.shatfordcentre.com/show3473a/Call_for_Submissions_Voices_from_the_Valleys
Websites: www.JodieRenner.com, www.JodieRennerEditing.com, www.CobaltBooks.net