Short Stories Series 2: Getting Feedback

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So you finished drafting your short story? Fantastic! Now comes what’s perhaps the hardest part to get used to with writing: getting feedback.

Let me warn you before you go emailing your reader friends for their advice, not everybody knows how to give constructive criticism. And you shouldn’t necessarily listen to all the criticism you come across. A full-time editor friend takes time out of their busy day to give you some feedback? Of course you should weigh their opinions more. But if a friend just gives it back to you, shrugs, and tells you they didn’t like it but it isn’t their preferred genre? I wouldn’t weigh criticisms as heavily. Remember it’s impossible to write a story that everybody will love (unless you’re J.K. Rowling, then maaaaybe).

There are a LOT of genres out there and plenty of different kinds of readers. It’s totally fine if your writing doesn’t work for everybody – that’s why writing is so unique! The more flavors out there, the more different the tastes will be.

So how do you find people willing to critique your work and give useful feedback? Here are some things I’ve tried:

  • Proof it yourself – This may seem kind of silly, but you will be surprised if you shelf that story for a couple of weeks or even a month then get back to it. You’ll find problems you never even noticed. Try reading it aloud – especially the dialogue. Does it sound clunky? Another trick is to read the story backwards. Check each sentence for grammatical errors as you go. It forces you not to get distracted by the story and to really focus on the words. It’s good practice if you find yourself getting distracted by some really juicy scenes.
  • Friends & family – Find the people you may have already been bouncing ideas around with. These people might have even critiqued other writing for you in the past. This is the best way to get detailed feedback, but depending on who you find to do this, it may not always be completely honest. People try to sugar-coat advice when they’re afraid that a friendship will be in jeopardy. Keep that in mind as you get feedback.
  • Scribophile – This is a great place to go, especially for first-time writers, or even writers who haven’t had their work widely read yet. On this site, you critique other peoples’ work, earn credits, then post your own work to be critiqued. You can have your story put into a queue to be read by anybody on the site, or join some of the groups to have reviews from people who might be more interested in the genre, but it’s going to take a long time to get more feedback on. If you’ve never tried it out, it’s definitely worth doing for a bit. Just be careful not to get overwhelmed in editing other peoples’ words. Sometimes you have to take a step back to make time for your writing again.

Once you’re sure your story is as good as it can be, then it’s down to formatting it and sending it off to find a home! I’ll cover where to find the publishers to get your work published.

This is Part 2 of a series on publishing Short Stories. If you find these helpful, please leave a comment or share with your friends!

To find more useful tools, check out my page on Writing Resources.

A Persistent Optimist

If you’ve only read my horror short stories, you may be under the misconception that I am a pessimist at heart. It may surprise you to know that I’m actually the exact opposite. I’m one of the most optimistic people you may ever meet actually. Note that doesn’t mean I’m bubbly, just an optimist.

I’ve been that way for most of my life and I strive to continue to be optimistic even when faced with some very bleak circumstances. If you ever meet me in person, you’ll know that I really do try to share that optimism with others too. (It’s a side effect of being an INFJ I think.) When a friend is in a really deep hole, I’ll pull out a shovel and slowly work to help them out of it. I consciously try to make the world a better place, even if it is through other-worldly horror stories or heart-wrenching fantasy. To continue this not-so-official goal of mine, I’m taking part in the “We Are The World Blogfest” cause the world needs to be a little bit more bright and cheery.

Basically the We Are The World Blogfest means that on the last Friday of the month, we all will post something positive and human. Something that gives you faith in humanity again. Isn’t it a refreshing change?

My April addition mixes a few things I love: short stories and technology.

These little short story dispensers sit in the center of a shop, usually a cafe, and you just plug them in and give them network access. All a user has to do is walk up, hit a button, and a random short story gets printed out. Now these stories can be filtered depending on the environment, such as stories targeting children or targeting a particular genre. Now as you can imagine, they’ve been quite popular in France, but they’re slowly trickling into the US as well!

Store owners love them because people will come in just to get a story, and then they are more inclined to come again since they’ve scoped out the environment. It’s a great draw for customers. Writers (like myself) appreciate them because they get our work out in front of more readers. And as for humanity as a whole? Well I think getting any kind of artistic or literary work out to the public for free is a good thing. We need an excuse to step away from our phone games and work email and conversations to step into a world built on words.

I’ve already signed up for the English version of this to submit a few stories of my own, but they don’t have that portion as beefed up as the French version yet. And unfortunately my French isn’t good enough to decipher everything yet. You can bet I’ll be keeping an eye on this though! I’m eager to see this take off!

Looking back and charging forward

Every January I make a To-Do list of all my major works in progress and figure out which ones I want to prioritize. Here’s the 2017 edition.

Looking back over last year, I’m super proud of all the work I’ve done. So many short stories got finished up, published, and I’m hoping that more get picked up soon. Here’s a quick rundown of everything I published this year.

  • January 2016 – A Slippery Customer
    • Hit top 10 on Amazon’s Horror anthology list multiple times
  • February 2016 – Tiny Necks
    • Almost entirely 5-star reviews and more keep rolling in
  • May 2016 – Curse of Beauty
    • Received several excellent reviews!  ❤
  • October 2016 – Dead Man’s Hill
    • A Halloween tale with a dash of dark humor

However I did notice that I hadn’t made much progress on my novels. Outside of Beyond the Treehouse, I didn’t do that much work on the WIP novels I had. There’s a good reason for that actually.

At the beginning of the year I got a publication offer from a small publishing company, one that I had worked with before. Their communications were a little sporadic, but I was excited to get my book published. However the contract they sent me gave me major concerns. It took me a bit to find some legal advice, but once I did I felt like I had a grounded ability to negotiate and listed out my requests. Unfortunately a big request on my list was not available to negotiate, and I had to reject the offer. A few months later I found out that the publisher was closing shop after being in the business since 2012.

I was upset to hear what had happened to them, and to the amazing authors who worked with them. It was also hard for me to get back into working on my books after that. Short stories I could dive into easily, but books were harder. Books take a lot of commitment, and after having plans fall through like that, it’s been hard to get motivated again.

I’m hoping to change that in 2017. This year I’m planning on focusing a lot more on my novels, and hopefully knock out book 2 for one of my series on the list. I also have a standalone horror novel that I’ve been itching to start too. Here’s my list of WIP novels and short stories for 2017. Look at how complete that short story listing is too!  ❤

If you want to see my 2016 WIP to-do list, check out my post:

Hooray for To-Do Lists!

Dead Man’s Hill

So while I was out of town last week, the latest issue of The Sirens Call Publications eZine got released!

Not only is this whole issue FREE to read, but my story, “Dead Man’s Hill”, featuring some entertaining zombies, is contained within.

You know you’re not ready for Halloween to leave just yet.

Coming soon: Hallowe’en Hell

Some excellent news this lovely October day! My Halloween-themed short story, “Dead Man’s Hill”, has been accepted into Sirens Call Publication’s eZine, issue 29: Hallowe’en Hell! Every issue of their eZine is free to read, so you’ll get a whole issue chock full of Halloween tales. How’s that for getting you in the Halloween spirit? Once it’s out, I’ll be sure to post a link here for everyone to enjoy!

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This story was originally written in a response to the following prompt: A zombie apocalypse occurs in a society which has been ready for it for over a century.

So YES, there will be zombies. And YES, there will be gore. It wouldn’t quite be Halloween without it, right?

Also a big thanks to everyone who visited and posted comments on the HWA book giveaway last week! I haven’t gotten the notification on who won yet, but once I do, I’ve got the anthology right beside me ready to go.