Who’s Who?

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that an editor had tried to reach me but didn’t know the best way to do it. I still haven’t set up an e-mail address or contact form, but I’m looking into my options.

Once the contact is made, how can you be certain the person is legit? If you spend even five minutes on Twitter or any other public platform, you soon learn to regard other users with a healthy suspicion.

To that end, I’ve put together a guide on how I approach the matter. It’s geared towards writers, but the principles apply to any field. Even after following these, you should still use your own judgement.

How much can you find out about them?

If you’re contacted via a website, the user should have some information about themselves and/or the company they represent. If it’s by e-mail, the name of the company often appears after the @ symbol in the e-mail address. In this case, the editor’s first and last names were immediately available on her Twitter profile, and I was able to find a link to the publisher’s website.

When evaluating a company’s website, be sure the address you thought you were going to is consistent with the one you eventually see. If you go to Faber and Faber’s site, for instance, the domain will always appear in the address bar. On the other hand, you can reach this blog by going to http://www.gavincameron.me.uk, and you’ll be redirected to https://gcameronwriting.wordpress.com/. It still doesn’t prove I’m Gavin Cameron, but it is consistent.

Once you’ve reached the site, read the text carefully. Does the text sound like it’s been written by someone who knows their stuff or is it generic marketing copy? Are they giving information about the product or being particularly vague and evasive?

Why me and why now?

Once you’ve checked them out, consider the message you’ve been sent and when it was sent. Is it clear you’ve been targeted because of your skills, or does it seem as though they’ve done a general search for writers and sent the same message to everyone?

As for the when, a friend of mine gave me a prime example recently. She works as a model, and showed posted up a request from an agency who claimed to work for big clients, yet it stated that the photographers could work around the model’s schedule. This is highly unlikely, as most projects in any field are time-limited and require certain actions by a certain date.

In my case, the editor had read previous work of mine and thought my style might suit the publication, and the deadline was spelt out clearly.

Are they asking for money or promising you money?

In publishing, money traditionally flows one way: from the publishing house to the author. Writers were always advised to think twice before giving any money to have their book published. But with the rise in self-publishing, the lines are a little more hazy as the writer has to foot and recoup many of the expenses. So how can you tell who to pay?

Firstly, let’s exclude competitions from this. There is often an entry fee of around £5 per story to cover administrative costs, contribute to the prize fund, and sometimes to make a charity donation. This is perfectly normal.

So, self publishing. The main factor to watch out for is the type of interest the company takes in your book. A place that praises the manuscript to high heaven, or takes no interest in the artistic content, should be treated with suspicion. Even the best books go through several rewrites before they ever see a shelf. A reputable self publisher is more likely to be honest about the manuscript and perhaps offer editorial services. Again, always use your judgement.

The other phrase that should ring alarm bells is to the effect of, “We can’t afford to pay you, but we can give you great exposure.” Often these requests come from well-meaning people who mistakenly believe writing is nothing more than a hobby to you, but sometimes from sources that could afford to pay and choose not to. If it’s for a cause you believe in, or you really do need the exposure, then that’s fair game. Otherwise, my advice is to ignore them or decline the offer. Whether you decline politely is up to you.

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The Final Cut.

Further to the publication of the Alternate Hilarities anthology, I’ve been interviewed by Strange Musings Press. I’ve also received two paper copies of the book, but I’ll read the electronic version and keep the physical copies pristine and flat.

The story in that anthology is 1,160 words long, but in fiction, as in food, it’s sometimes necessary to cut down. I’m a great fan of reading work aloud. It’s a very good way of finding where one clause would be better than two, or where a semicolon could replace several words.

I only half-follow Elmore Leonard’s advice to Kill your darlings. In other words, to cross out any lines you particularly like. I think that’s fair game if the line in question has been squeezed in where it’s inappropriate, but if it’s the perfect means of expressing what you mean, I say jolly well leave it in.

But what if the problem is not just a line or two, but whole chunks of text? I encountered this problem with a 1,000-word story I wrote well over a year ago. I simply couldn’t make it work to my satisfaction. I shuffled round a few of the characters, who are all introduced as they enter a house, but I still couldn’t make the story flow.

In the end, I cut out the first 700 words, and I’m much happier. All the characters are still there, but it works by starting when they’re already in the house. The dialogue explains the immediate situation, and the twist makes the reader fill in the gaps.

But what to do with the cut part? Don’t delete or bin it, whatever you do. You’ve worked your hardest on it, and it deserves to be seen. I’ve recently started to maintain a list of story stems, those ideas that have thus far gone nowhere. Some are mere seeds, others are massive chunks, but they’re waiting with their jackets on in case the right alternative idea comes along.

Since constructing my list, I’ve used three of the stems. Once I use them all, I’ll need to start actually thinking again.