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Prose Writing for Publication. Mr Jason Erik Lundberg GEB Literature Seminar 23 August 2008. Table of Contents. Introduction Narrative Hooks Sustaining Reader Interest Originality vs. Polish Effective Endings Submitting to Publishers Protocols with Editors Online Magazines

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Prose Writing for Publication

Mr Jason Erik Lundberg

GEB Literature Seminar

23 August 2008

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Table of Contents

  • Introduction

  • Narrative Hooks

  • Sustaining Reader Interest

  • Originality vs. Polish

  • Effective Endings

  • Submitting to Publishers

  • Protocols with Editors

  • Online Magazines

  • Attitudes/Behavior after Publication

  • Building a Writing Career

  • Maintaining Interest / Facing Rejection

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Narrative Hooks

  • Start your story with a strong, interesting hook that introduces the protagonist

  • Should include hints of scenery, conflict, genre, tension

  • Does NOT necessarily mean explosions or high drama/action

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Great Opening Lines

  • "The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel." —William Gibson, Neuromancer

  • "They say it came first from Africa, carried in the screams of the enslaved; that it was the death bane of the Tainos, uttered just as one world perished and another began; that it was a demon drawn into Creation through the nightmare door that was cracked open in the Antilles." —Junot Díaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

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Great Opening Lines

  • “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” —George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

  • “An hour before he shot himself, my best friend Philip Strayhorn called to talk about thumbs.” —Jonathan Carroll, A Child Across the Sky

  • “A squat grey building of only thirty-four storeys. Over the main entrance the words ‘Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre’ and, in a shield, the World State’s Motto: ‘Community, Identity, Stability’.” —Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

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Great Opening Lines

Many more can be found at:



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Pre-Writing Exercise

  • Take 15 minutes and brainstorm the beginning of your short story (this must be a new story, not one you’ve previously been working on).

  • Jot down some notes on your main character, the setting, potential conflict, mood, tone, etc.

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Sustaining Reader Interest

  • The rest of your story must be the payoff that the opening sets up

  • Think of the hook as a promise to the reader of what’s to come; if you can’t fulfill that promise, you lose the reader

  • Set up questions in the reader’s mind, whose answers will be revealed later in the text.

  • Postpone as long as possible (or even eliminate) the potential for the “Red Line of Death”

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The “Red Line of Death”

“Beginning writers are not competing with the well-known established writers who can get away with whatever they choose. They compete among themselves. Your competition is with all the others in the slush pile, and if you can come up with a clear, straightforward opening that draws the reader in, you are already ahead of three out of four of your competitors.” —Kate Wilhelm, Storyteller

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The “Red Line of Death”

“It does not take pages and pages to establish what normality is. [...] Indiana Jones is teaching his university class when he is summoned. That is enough. We know he is a professor and there is a real setting of his classroom. Now he can go off and have adventures.

We can see Dorothy [Gale], her aunt and uncle, the farmhands, the house. We have a character and a real setting. Now the tornado can blow her away.

In the case of the unplotted story, the writer must know the significance of what is to be shown, and care taken of what events or days will reveal that significance. The writers must know what to leave out as well as what to include.” —Kate Wilhelm, Storyteller

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Writing Exercise

  • Take another 15 minutes and write the beginning of your story, based on the notes that you just took down.

  • Make sure to introduce your main character, and give clues that your reader will want to know the answers for.

  • Don’t give away everything at the beginning; establish an air of mystery

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Originality vs. Polish

  • It is important to remember that writers write; make sure to finish what you start

  • Nobody ever got published or won awards by thinking about writing a story/book

  • You can polish a story until it gleams, but you may remove what makes it a unique & interesting piece of writing

  • If you don’t write lots of different kinds of stories, you won’t progress as a writer

  • “One Million Words of Crap”

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Effective Endings

  • Your ending should be the ultimate reward for reading your story

  • Readers should feel emotionally satisfied

  • Can be ambiguous (“Every Angel is Terrifying” by John Kessel) / end with an uncertainty or a choice (“The Lady or the Tiger?” by Frank Stockton)

  • May not tie up all the plot elements, but must complete an emotional journey

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Submitting to Publishers

  • Read the publications you want to submit to, in order to determine if your story would be an appropriate fit

  • If the publication has an online presence, look for “Submission Guidelines” or “About Us” page

  • GLs will show exactly what editor/ publisher wants in terms of genre, content, word limit, ms. format, delivery, etc.

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Submitting to Publishers






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Submitting to Publishers

  • Read the Submission Guidelines carefully

  • Follow the Submission Guidelines

  • Repeat as needed

  • Inculcate patience as you wait to hear about acceptance/rejection

  • You will get rejected, a lot, so it’s good to build up a thick skin against it

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Protocols with Editors

  • Do not contact the editor to see if he or she received your story; assume that it made it to them successfully

  • If you have not heard from the editor on your story’s status within 3 months, you can send a query

  • If your piece is rejected, do not question the editor’s decision and/or persuade him or her to reconsider

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Protocols with Editors

Stories are rejected for lots of reasons:

  • Author didn’t follow GLs

  • Writing is sub-par / full of careless errors / too shallow / lacks precision

  • Story just didn’t grab editor’s interest / wasn’t to editor’s taste

  • Editor already bought a similar story

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Just shrug it off...

…and resubmit the story elsewhere

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Online Magazines

  • Quarterly Literary Review Singapore:

  • Argot:

  • Strange Horizons:

  • Farrago’s Wainscot:

  • Hot Metal Bridge:

  • Subterranean Magazine:

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After Publication

Congratulations! You’ve sold a story! If you get paid for it, even better!

So what happens now?

After basking in the glory of publication…

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After Publication

…keep writing.

  • You only improve by doing it more, and by learning from your mistakes.

  • Don’t expect that all your writing will be good, or even publishable; you may not use a good portion of it, but you absolutely should learn from it

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After Publication

  • After several publications, don’t let the success go to your head; no one likes an arrogant n00b lording over supposed knowledge

  • Cultivate humility and continually push yourself to reach the next level (non-paying > paying > professionally paying > collection > collection from large publisher > novel > award-winning novel)

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After Publication

  • Pay it forward: try to help out other beginning writers

  • Spread the word about new markets

  • Share experiences with writing and submitting

  • Don’t get jealous of friends’ successes; instead, congratulate them

  • Don’t feel good about friends’ failures; instead, commiserate

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Building a Writing Career

  • Be mindful of the markets to which you send your fiction; will you still be proud to be published there in 10 years’ time?

  • Think of writing as something you will do for the rest of your life; you may not see success yet, but that doesn’t mean you won’t in a year, or 5 years, or 10 years

  • Be zen about the whole process

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Building a Writing Career

  • Start a blog; read other writers’ blogs

  • Sign up on Facebook, and widen your social circle

  • Get to know other writers online and in person; support systems are important

  • Join a writing group; get critiques and feedback from your peers

  • Never stop learning

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Maintaining Interest / Facing Rejection

  • When the rejections come (and they will come), celebrate them; you wrote and finished a story, and sent it out, something that 90% of beginning writers won’t do

  • If editors/publishers provide feedback, take it under consideration, revise the story, and send it back out

  • Keep a spreadsheet of where you send your stories, and record the sent date and the acknowledgment date, to keep track of response times and avoid sending multiple submissions

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Maintaining Interest / Facing Rejection

  • Remember why you started writing in the first place: not for external validation, but for internal gratification

  • Stick with it; it may take you 10 years or more to make your first sale

  • Don’t compromise on quality or your own artistic vision; always aim high with your prose

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Maintaining Interest / Facing Rejection

  • Don’t be afraid to experiment with other narrative forms (lists, all-dialogue, bibliographies, leaving out “e”, self-reference, biographies)

  • Try new things with your writing, and stretch yourself with both form and language

  • Take advantage of trends (YA, slipstream, etc.), but don’t become bound by them (horror in the ’80s)

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Maintaining Interest / Facing Rejection

  • Above all, take enjoyment in what you do

  • At the end of the day, it’s just you and your pen/keyboard

  • If writing becomes something that you don’t enjoy, or feels like a drudgery, then STOP; you can always come back to it later

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Writing Time

Keep working on your story, building upon your opening hook, and fleshing out the conflicts

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Critiquing Time

Pass up your story, and I will read your opening section aloud; the class will listen and give feedback

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Contact Information

  • [email protected]




  • Copies of Surreal Botany are $10 today only for attendees of this workshop