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T H E E S T A B - L O I D --------------------------------- Issue #10 4-5-86 --------------------------------- A weekly electronic magazine for users of The Establishment BBS (894-6526) owned and operated by Thane Smith Editor - Gene B. Williams . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . You may share this magazine with your friends under the . . condition that the magazine remain complete and intact, . . with no editing, revisions or modifications of any kind, . . and including this opening section and statement. . . If you like the magazine, the Sysop and I would appre- . . ciate it if you would let your friends know where they . . can log in to find the magazine. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . (c) 1986 THIS ISSUE: It's 4-5-6 (less the 8). I wonder if that means something? Maybe I should be doing this issue on spooky stuff - or at least ways to take an ordinary event (like 4-5-6) and making it *seem* to be spooky. NAW! Last week we heard from Chris Mitchell on broadcasting. (If you missed it, all back issues are in the download section. While in the magazine sub-board, press U for the upload/download menu. You can then download back issues. However, it would be appreciated if you would limit yourself in time taken. Other users might be trying to access The Establishment.) With the tangent aside, this week's topic is what *I* do for a living - freelance writing. Even if you're not interested in that as a career, I urge that you read the issue carefully. Almost no matter what you do as a career, good communication skills are essential. Sometimes the ability to write, even if only a note to the boss, can make the difference between getting a promotion or being tossed back into the mail room (or worse). Beyond that, if you DO have an interest in writing, and even if you don't make a career at it, you can pick up some spare cash by making some occasional sales. (And it IS fun seeing your name in print.) BEING A WRITER At one time or another, a very good portion of the public will read an article or story and say, "I can do better than that." Of those who say it, maybe half will put themselves on the line and actually try. Of those, maybe half will ever actually complete the attempt. Of those, maybe a tenth will take the chance of being rejected by sending it to a publisher. And of that tenth, maybe a third will ever sell something. Of that third, if they work very hard and keep at it, maybe 1% will ever sell enough to turn full time pro. Those aren't very good odds. But that's something the would-be writer should realize and understand before ever beginning. Full time freelance writers are rare. You won't meet very many in your life. You might meet quite a few people who work for a newspaper or the like; and will meet even more (perhaps) people who have been published one or two times. As the famous line from an old TV show goes, "No brag; just fact." Some years ago I taught writing, both on an individual basis and in special seminars. It didn't take long to figure out why I was making it, while so many others failed again and again and again. And why the number of professional freelancers is so low. For the most part, it's so obvious as to be ridiculous. 1.) To Be a Writer YOU MUST WRITE Over the years I've talked to hundreds of would-be writers. One of the first questions I always ask is, "What have you written?" In *at least* half of the cases the answer was something like, "Well, I've got this one really great idea, and have written 5 whole pages of it since last year." That's just not going to work. As stupid as it sounds, most people who SAY they want to be writers don't like to write. They come up with more excuses than you can imagine to find ways of getting out of it. There's school, and work, and the family, and social life, and that great TV special that's on tonight. Isaac Asimov - probably one of the most prolific writers in history - once said that a writer has to enjoy the mechanics of writing. He (or she) has to enjoy sitting at a keyboard and plunking away. The more that this feels like work, the less chance there is that the person will succeed. The would-be writer also has to have the drive to be a writer. There are many frustrations along the way. Without the drive, the average person will quit before any degree of success has been attained. There are times when I've had so many assignments to get done that I've passed off the chance to break-in to other writers. To date, not a single one took advantage of the opportunity, despite their claims of how bad they wanted to "live [my] lifestyle." What it comes down to is the same old attitude that affects so many people. They want instant success, without any effort. They don't want to "pay their dues" to reach that desired goal. That might sound hard, but it's true. (How many times have you abandoned a desired goal when the going got tougher than you'd originally imagined?) To reach any goal, you'll never reach that goal unless you actually make the effort to do so. Reading martial arts magazines and dreaming about it won't make you a black belt. 2.) To Be a Selling Writer YOU MUST SUBMIT Of the half of the class that *did* have manuscripts on hand, surprisingly few had bothered to submit them. One lady in a class spoke at length at how much better she could write than those who were selling to her favorite magazine. She'd knocked out an easy dozen stories and articles for just that market. Then, when asked how many rejection slips she'd had so far, she answered with, "None. I haven't submitted yet." Those dozen manuscripts were sitting at home in a drawer. Her friends had read them, and she was proud of the fact that all of her friends thought the pieces to be quite good. But, had she been published yet? Nope. Imagine that you have just invented the world's greatest computer. You talk to all your friends about how your own design is SO much better than what is available, and that when you release that wonderful invention, it will revolutionize the field. That's all fine and good - and it's possible that your new invention WILL revolutionize the field - but how will you ever find out if that masterpiece sits in the basement with no one ever seeing it? How can you sell a story and get it published if it sits at home in a drawer? (For that matter, have you ever heard someone complain at being unable to find a job, when you know that the person has been sitting at home and not out there putting in applications? How is an employer supposed to hire you if he doesn't know you're available?) 3.) DON'T GIVE UP Even the people who get past the first two hurdles often fail on the third. They give up. Using the last analogy, the person looking for a job puts in 15 applications, doesn't get a job, and just gives up. As another analogy, imagine a ship that is sinking. The life- boats are there. Yet people drown. Studies have shown that a strangely large percentage of the victims drown within a few feet of the lifeboat. They might swim through the stormy sea for hundreds of yards - and then give up a few feet from safety. Giving up guarantees just one thing - failure. A writer's life is one of facing rejection. Send out 30 stories, and the chances are quite good (unless *you* are quite good) that at least 29 of them will come back with rejection slips. You might have spent a hundred heartbreaking hours getting just one story together. Then in an instant some stranger out there in the "real world" blows it out of the water. That's a hard thing to face. If you put the necessary "heart and soul" into the manuscript, it's like sending a child out into the world, only to have that child fail again and again. That can hurt. Imagine yourself as the parent of 30 kids. All 30 go out into the world, and not a single one of them makes good. All of them fail miserably and come back home again. What does that say of you, the parent? Would you want to have more children? The writer faces that same sort of situation. That rejected writer can make excuses - some of them valid. The editor is stupid; or he was in a bad mood. But when it comes down to it, while YOUR masterpiece is being tossed aside, someone else's sells. The wonder isn't that would-be writers quit - it's that some of them keep going. But to BE a writer, you can't quit. You can't give up. So you send in 30 stories, and get back 30 rejections. Then you send in 50 and get back 50 rejections. The determined would-be will polish his (or her) technique, and try again. If he (or she) doesn't try again . . . . Well, try again and you MIGHT succeed. You might not. Give up and you guarantee that you won't reach that goal. 4.) KNOW YOUR MARKET Thinking back a ways - I was writing for the E-Go Enterprises Magazine Group out of California. From selling a piece to them once in a while, I went to selling enough to fill about a third of each issue. I was then named Photo Editor of the group. That puzzled me. Although I have about 9000 photos in print, I readily admit that I don't know all that much technically about photography, and have no specialized training in that field. So, this time I asked the Managing Editor, "Why me?" After all, he had on staff a number of photographers who were vastly superior in technical expertise, training and background. "It's quite simple, Gene," he said. "I know, and you know, that we have several photographers on staff who are better. But they keep sending me shots that we don't need and can't use." He named one of the best we had, and told me that this guy had just sent in, along with the standard coverage, a very dramatic and beautiful shot of some flowers. His suggestion was that the photo showed the beauty of that particular event. But what do flowers have to do with customized vans? Later I became Associate Editor for the Jalart House Magazine Group. For a karate magazine we would get in articles on gardening, and one article, complete with detailed photos, of how to make love. One "reverend" sent us a scathing (and poorly written article on how the oriental nature of the martial arts was obviously a tool of the devil - and later an even more scathing letter on how *we* must be devil worshippers for "not having the courage to publish [his] true manuscript." For a baseball magazine we would get recipes. At the vanning magazine we got the same sort of thing. Remarkably similar in fact. We got photo-essays from people showing the more sexual side of using a van (for a family oriented magazine?); we got a fair number of pieces from the "moral majority" that talked about how immoral vanning was (and the usual letters afterwards about our lack of courage for not publishing the horribly written pieces). IF you ever reach a position of freelance importance, talk to the editor. You'll hear stories that most people won't believe. Why would someone send a story of kinky sex to a baseball magazine? Why would someone expect a martial arts magazine to publish a totally inaccurate, poorly researched, and even more poorly written, article of anti-martial arts? (It's often worse than that.) What I'm getting at here is relevancy. In writing that means that the submission will suit the publication. In applying for *any* job, it means keeping your resume relevant to the position. Submitting As has been mentioned, a would-be writer can't succeed with those works of art sitting in a drawer at home. Those things must be submitted. You have to take the chance for rejection - knowing all the while that rejection is PROBABLY what you'll get. As with so many businesses, more than half of the trick is to give the APPEARANCE of being a professional. Think about it for a moment. Take a particular publication. YOU send in something, and so do I. Even before the editor reads the submission itself there will be things that he will noticed that will set MY submission aside from YOURS, and that will give me that needed edge. My own story might not even be as good - but it will sell, while yours gets returned. I haven't had a rejection slip in something like 7 years now. That's not because I'm such a great writer. Admittedly, I'm fairly good at my craft. But there are those among you who are better yet, and much more qualified. I've known hundreds of people who can write better than I can; and just as many who are greatly more qualified with a camera. Yet my stuff continues to sell to a point where I could put on a staff of 10 just to keep up, while the more qualified people give up and fade away. A large part of that is in submitting, which is a sub-part of marketing. A Cover Letter Throughout this issue I've turned to things other than writing. I'm about to do so once again. If you ever find yourself in a position of being responsible to hire you'll learn quickly what I mean. You learn to disregard at least 98% of what is on that resume, especially when that resume is amateurish. With the vast majority of submissions a "letter of introduction" was enclosed. In this letter were a number of reasons why THIS was the piece we wanted ". . . if you're more intelligent than the 40 publications that turned it down . . . ", and other nonsense that meant nothing to anyone other than the author. "All my friends say it's great." "This story will probably double your circulation." "My story has been in demand by all your readers for years." "If you don't buy this, I'll know that you have no taste." "My mother is in the hospital and I really need the money." "I'm a professional writer, although I haven't sold anything." "I'm just starting but I'm a willing worker and learn fast." "I know that you usually pay 3c per word, but this article is so good that I'm sure you'll agree (if you're smart) that you should pay me 50c per word or more." And so on. (I used to keep a list of some of the more outrageous excuses and "introductions" but finally gave up. It *is* true that the more stupid ones are sometimes shared around the publication office, and everyone laughs at them.) The problem with those introductory remarks is that they have more power to destroy a sale than to make it. A typical cover letter will begin with, "I'd like you to consider this story for publication." Of course - otherwise you wouldn't be submitting it. "This is my first story . . ." (aha! a beginner! why would ANYONE admit to a lack of experience, when the direct competitors are die-hard professionals with years of experience?) "If you're as intelligent as I think you are, you'll accept it immediately." (Which says that I'm stupid if I don't? That's a challenge I can't RESIST but turn down.) "If it needs more work just let me know." (If it needs more work, why send it in?) One time I got in a submission of photos to consider. At the time we were paying a maximum of $50 per for interior photos, and maybe $350 for a superb cover. In came a submission of 40 slides (transparencies for color work), and a letter that said that the photographer was willing to sell, but that our acceptance of consideration included the agreement that we would pay him $3500 each for any shots lost or damaged. Need I go on as to what came of that submission? What it comes down to is that a cover letter is almost never required except as a balm for the author. In most cases, that letter will only hurt your chances of making a sale. The ONLY time that you should write a cover letter is if there is a VERY specific reason for doing so. Even then, look through it carefully before sending it off. Is there anything obvious in there? Like, "I would like you to consider this for publication."? Is there anything in the letter that begs or pleads? That insults - or even compliments? The only thing that should be in the cover letter would be any special knowledge you might have on the subject (which is totally irrelevant with fiction); and maybe some special information that the publisher doesn't already have (aw, come on! Do you think that the publisher doesn't know his own business? or that you know his business better?) concerning marketing or audience. Once you've eliminated all the irrelvancies, you'll find that 99% of all cover letters begin with "Dear Whoever," and end with your name - with nothing between. In short, with the single exception of nonfiction books, cover letters are not necessary. Plain and simple. Don't waste your time on them. Instead, use that time to start another story. Format There is an established format for submission. Anyone who does not follow this format, for whatever reason, shows themselves as being a novice. (Remember, as a freelancer you're in competition with people like me.) You might be surprised at the number of submissions received at any given publication that are handwritten - illegibly in some cases. A professional will at least have a typewriter. That professional will also have a dictionary close at hand for correct spelling. In recent discussions the country "Libya" was spelled correctly, but was also typed in as Libia, Lybya, Lbyia, among other versions. Typos are one thing. Misspellings are quite another. On editorial staff we would get manuscripts scribbled in pencil on paper bags, or on colored paper; we'd get those who would "pretty up" a story by using a multi-colored ribbon; more than once we'd find the remains of someone's lunch glueing together the pages. The proper format ALWAYS means typewritten - preferably in pica type. Elite type (smaller) gets hard on the eyes after a few hours of reading lousy manuscripts from lousy writers, and doesn't make the typsetters happy, either. "Letter quality" is always preferred. Imagine yourself reading hundreds of pages every day from a dot matrix printer - and worse from authors who are too lazy (or too cheap) to put in a new ribbon. It gets hard on the eyes after a while. A professional writer will polish not just the writing, but the appearance as well. (Would YOU buy a used car with a shoddy, abused, appearance if offered one with shiny new paint and that looks like someone cared for it?) A cover sheet isn't needed except for booklength manuscripts, and even then isn't essential. In the upper left corner will be your REAL name, complete address and phone number. Optional in the upper right is the number of words - accurate to within about 50 words for short pieces. About half way down will go the title, followed by your name or pen name (expect the title to be changed), followed by the first paragraph. All that white space above is needed for editorial and typesetting remarks. Subsequent pages begin about 1 inch from the top, with a header containing your name and manuscript title. This is for protection in case the manuscript gets dropped and jumbled. The margins on ALL pages should provide at least 1 inch all the way around - top, bottom and sides. The copy should be double- spaceä throughout® Anä alwayó uså onlù onå sidå oæ thå paper® Theså thingó agaiî arå foò editoriaì anä typesetting comments. Submitting (Again) Once the manuscript has been printed out there is the matter of actual submission. As mentioned above, pick your market carefully. Don't send the story of your first love affair to SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. It won't matter how good the story is, or how wonderful the pictures. They might be passed around inside the office, but will (maybe) be returned eventually. Once you've found what seems to be the perfect market for the piece, submit professionally. This means that most manuscripts will be flat, unfolded sheets, sent in a large envelope - and with sufficient return packing and postage. Above I mentioned the photographer who sent in 40 useless shots. This same person neglected to send any packing for the return, or any postage. By law we could have trashed the batch. We didn't ask for the submission - and certainly didn't agree to his $3500 per self-induced value. He was lucky that we were nice guys. A professional who cares about his work will also care to get it back if unacceptable. This means that he will front the little extra postage and packing. Think of something as simple as a letter. The postage is 22c at this time. The envelope is maybe 5c. Employee costs to open, read, repack and return could be as little as $1, but could be more. But forget the labor costs. You're willing to work free (which is a stupid statement - although many new writers expect that of the editors). So the cost is just 27c, tops. Round it off to 25c. In comes ONE submission. It's a piece of garbage, and you don't want it. Fine. So you spend a quarter to get it back to the author. But, you don't get ONE submission. You get 100. Now it's $25. Or you get 1000 - $250. That's today. Tomorrow the same will happen. Within a month of just 100 submissions your costs soar to something like $500 - or $3000 for a year. For the larger magazines multiply that times at least 10. That quarter to you, the submitter, turns very quickly into thousands of dollars for the editor and publisher. I've heard many times from would-be writers, "25c isn't much," but they think of it from their own 25c side. And then wonder why they don't get that manuscript back again. When you submit, be SURE to include return packing and postage. Not just a check or cash. Doing that means that someone has to deposit that check, and someone else has to take the package down to the post office for return. More labor costs. The key for ANY salesman (and a writer is just that) is to make the purchase as easy as possible for the buyer. The more difficult that becomes, the less likely it is that you'll make the sale. Copyright and Theft "I'm warning you right now that this story has been registered with the Copyright Office in Washington, D.C., and if you steal it I'll sue you." What better way is there to insure that your story will be rejected? Accuse the potential buyer of being dishonest. Again and again I've been asked how the writer should go about preventing publishers from stealing stories. Actually, there is very little reason to be concerned. Most magazines have more submissions than they can possibly use. With hundreds of manuscripts from which to choose, why bother stealing? Second, the publishers and professional writers have little need of "new ideas." Ideas abound. With very few exceptions, it would take me less time to write something of my own than to edit or rewrite something from someone else. In short, there's no need to steal, and every reason not to. So why bother? However, if you feel that you have to protect your masterpiece, there are ways. First, whatever you write is automatically protected by the Copyright laws as soon as you've written it. Formal registration is just that - a formality. It isn't necessary. The cost is $10. To formally register a manuscript, send a couple of copies along with the proper TX form (available from the Copyright Office) and the ten bucks. The purpose of registration is to have legal recourse if someone steals that work and publishes it as his own. The formal copyright will prove in court that the piece is your own. You can prove the same thing almost as well by merely placing a copy of the manuscript in a sealed envelope and mailing it to yourself. By keeping the seal in place, the p.shtmlark on the envelope will date it. This isn't quite as good as a formal copyright, but comes close. You'll notice the copyright insignia at the opening of each issue. This is one more formality. It's not necessary when you submit a manuscript. I use it here simply because this magazine, although electronic, is a form of publication. (You'll notice that it also contains a disclaimer, allowing you to reproduce, without charge to anyone, any particular issue - as long as it remains exactly intact as is.) One misunderstanding of the copyright law that many people have concerns ideas. You CANNOT copyright or patent an idea. For example, if you write a story about someone going to the moon, that doesn't mean that someone else can't write a similar story. However bizarre your idea, you don't, and can't, own it. All you can own is the specific way in which you treat that idea. Take one of the more popular magazine issues - "Beans, Bags and Smiler Jack." The title is unique enough so that it can be copyrighted. (Not all titles can be.) The specific story is also copyrighted, as is the character of Smiler Jack. However, if you wish to write a story about someone going to Jupiter (or anywhere else) who has a problem with gas - fine. (Although, you *could* be walking a fine line if it's an obvious duplication of my story - like a rewrite with just changes in the names to mention an obvious example. Some violations aren't quite so obvious. But, if you were to take the idea of someone in space with flatulence and write completely on your own from there, chances are that you will not be in violation of copyright laws. Sit there with that story in front of you as a guide and the chances are good that you'll violate those regulations at one point or another.) Getting Ideas At every class I've ever given, and often in conversations with interested people, the question invariably comes up, "I'd like to be a writer, but how do I get ideas on what to write about?" That question has always puzzled me. One of the reasons you rarely have to be concerned with theft of your stories is that a professional has no need to steal your ideas. Ideas abound. The professional will have more story ideas going in his head than he could ever write up. For that professional, the problem isn't in getting ideas, but gleaning away the less useful ones. Ideas are everywhere, if you just look and open your mind. A classic technique for fiction writers is to ask the "What if" question to a given situation. For example, take the simple and everyday action of walking out your front door. What if one day you opened that door, stepped out, and found yourself in a parallel dimension. Or, what if the moment before you were to open the door, it exploded inwards on you. With both you have a wide variety of possibilities. You could, conceivably, spend the rest of your life writing about nothing but opening doors and the things that happen. Stepping into another dimension could be treated as science fiction - the science (although more of a psuedo-science) of how such a thing can happen. Or you can drift into fantasy, and the adventures of that dimension. Or, you can turn it around, and instead of stepping out into that dimension, that dimension can step in, in through your front door and into this dimension. With the second, what caused the explosion? Perhaps there has been a nuclear war. Or maybe that crazy amateur scientist across the street has come up with a new explosive that got out of hand. Or perhaps you prefer treating the idea as fantasy again, with the amateur scientist then becoming an amateur magician who has let netherworld powers loose. If you let it happen, each of the ideas, and then variations on those ideas, and variations on the variations - well, you could, as I said, spend the rest of your life exploring nothing but the possibilities of what could happen if you open that door. (Or if you don't. Or the fears of opening a door due to reading something like this. Or . . .) See what I mean? Open your mind and let it roam, and you'll soon have more ideas than you'll know what to do with. An exercise I'd have my students do in class would be to have them close their eyes, point in a random direction, and then come up with a viable story idea about whatever they were pointing at. The result comes out the same as before, but instead of having to think up the front door as the beginning point, your finger will start things for you. If enough people have an interest in this, one day I'll do a second article on the topic - continuing where this one (already too long) leaves off. Meanwhile, if any of you have any questions, by all means ask away - either here on this board or in mail. One thing, though. Don't do what so many have in the past. Don't tell me you want to be a writer (or worse, that you *are* a writer) and then tell me about the 3 pages you've written in the past 6 years. UNTIL NEXT TIME Over the past few weeks the number of users of The Establishment seems to have dwindled a bit. Maybe it's the Easter Vacation Syndrome. I don't know. In any case, we really *do* need to spread the word about this board - or it might not exist much longer. I hate to sound like a Channel 8 Pledge Drive, but your help is needed. Not your money - just a bit of your time. Seeing the "Call this BBS" messages around the Valley should let you know that they don't work very well. What we need are some posts scattered here and there telling WHY to call. For example, and excuse my vanity for a moment - to the best of my knowledge this is the only board in the state (perhaps the country?) that carries a weekly electronic magazine. Others have tried, and most quit after a short time. Most are (no offense) amateurish in the first place. Then we have the Bob Howard's discussion board (#5). Although this isn't unique in itself, from my experience most "discussion boards" are little more than War Boards. Very few I've seen carry out the discussions with proofs, backing and references. Most are (no offense) Opinion Boards. Anyway, don't force yourself - but if you happen to like a particular issue of the magazine, it would be very much appreciated if you would say that on other BBSs around the Valley. Even if you can think of a back issue that you liked - like the Smiler Jack story - share that with other computer buffs. Back issues ARE available for download. Next week: Summer is coming, and with it the end of school. Some of you will be going back next fall, and will be after just a summer job. Others of you will be heading for a more fulltime job, and maybe even a career. So, next week's issue will be on how to find a job - and how to get the job you want. There's a little more to it than just filling in a mass of application blanks. Although that *can* get you a job, there are tips, hints and even tricks for getting a better job, at better pay, and better conditions. So, if you reach into your pocket and find nothing but some loose change - stop by next week. You just MIGHT learn how to convert those nickels into dollars.
Zephyr Magazine is © Gene Williams. All rights reserved.