Use Your Writing, Editing, or Reading Skills to Make a Difference in the World

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E-book is 99 cents today!

By Jodie Renner, Editor, Author, and TKZ Emeritus 

Have you thought about using your skills to help the less fortunate? Here’s a project I decided to try, and an easy way that you can help, too, if you’re interested.

I’ve been a freelance editor since 2007, when I retired early from a career as middle-school teacher and school librarian. Over the nine years since, I’ve continually increased my editing skills, and about a year and a half ago, I started thinking about how I could use those skills to give back, to help victimized people in the world, especially children.

I was doing a Google search when I came across the true story of a young Pakistani slave worker who was murdered for daring to protest against the inhumane conditions of Asian child laborers.

In 1986, when Iqbal Masih was four years old, his father sold him to a carpet weaver for $12. Iqbal became a slave, a bonded worker who could never make enough money to buy his freedom. In that carpet factory in Pakistan, this preschool-age boy began a grueling existence much like that of hundreds of thousands of children in other carpet factories in Pakistan, India, and Nepal. He was set to weaving rugs and tying tiny knots for more than twelve hours a day, seven days a week, with meager food and poor sleeping conditions, while being constantly beaten and verbally abused.

Six years later, at the age of ten, Iqbal managed to escape and was fortunate to be able to attend a school for freed bonded children, where he was a bright and energetic student. Iqbal began to speak out against child labor. His dream for the future was to become a lawyer, so he could continue to fight for freedom on behalf of Pakistan’s seven and a half million illegally enslaved children. One day, while riding his bicycle with his friends, Iqbal was shot and killed. He was twelve years old. It is widely thought he was killed by factory owners for trying to change the system.

Even though Iqbal’s story is over two decades old, conditions haven’t changed much for impoverished children in developing countries since then, as I found out through more research.Even today, throughout Asia and elsewhere, children as young as four or five are routinely forced to work seven days a week, for twelve to sixteen hours each day, in factories, quarries, rice mills, plantations, mines, and other industries, many of them hazardous, often with only two small meals a day. Most are not allowed out, and they often sleep right where they work. When inspectors come, the children are quickly hidden or told to lie about their age.

Not only are these children denied a childhood and schooling, so most are illiterate, but they very often end up with crippling injuries, respiratory disorders, and chronic pain.

I decided to use my background as teacher of children aged 10 to 14 to organize an anthology of stories aimed at that age group, in hopes that librarians, teachers, and students could influence others to take action. All net proceeds would go directly to a charity that works to help these children regain their childhood and a much better future.

As it would be too difficult to find or write true stories about any of these children, I decided that the best approach would be to organize a variety of well-researched, compelling fictional stories that would appeal to readers from age 12 and up.

To find writers, I called for submissions through my blog, Facebook, and emails. I was extremely lucky that one of the first people I contacted was Steve Hooley, whom I’d first met through TKZ, then in person while presenting at a conference organized by Steven James in Nashville. Steve is an active member of the TKZ community, a talented writer, and an all-around awesome guy! He helped get the word out to others, including the ACFW. Steve also researched and wrote three fabulous stories for the anthology, depicting South Asian child workers in different situations – a 9-year-old boy who works in a carpet factory, a 12-year-old welder who comes up with an ingenious plan, and a girl who works in a clothing factory that collapses.

Story ideas came in from writers across North America and also from Europe, Australia, and India. Caroline Sciriha from Malta, an educator for whom I was editing a story, got on board early on and contributed two stories and has helped spread the word to educators in Europe. Both Caroline and Steve also acted as valued beta readers for stories from other contributors, helping me decide which to accept and which needed revisions. Steve also talked The Kill Zone’s Joe Hartlaub into reading and reviewing the anthology. TKZ founder Kathryn Lilley was also kind enough to read the stories and write an endorsement.

I was thrilled by the quality of stories submitted by talented  writers from all over. Other story contributors include Tom Combs, MD, thriller author, also a regular reader/commenter here at TKZ, and award-winning international journalist Peter Eichstaedt, whose contribution is based on true events he encountered. We were also fortunate to entice prolific, talented author Timothy Hallinan to write a powerful Foreword to the book.

Other talented contributing writers not already mentioned above: Lori Duffy Foster, Barbara Hawley, D. Ansing, Kym McNabney, Edward Branley, Fern G.Z. Carr, Eileen Hopkins, Sanjay Deshmukh, Della Barrett, E.M. Eastick, Rayne Kaa Hedberg, Patricia Anne Elford, Hazel Bennett, Sarah Hausman, and myself.

My challenges as organizer and editor included helping with research to make sure the stories depicted real situations in a broad cross-section of labor sectors where children are used as slave workers. And, for the stories to get widely read, I needed to make sure that, although true to life, they weren’t all depressing. The talented writers created characters that came to life and found a variety of realistic ways to insert hope into each story.

The stories needed to be evaluated and edited, with versions going back and forth several times. The contributors, besides having an opportunity to be published in a high-quality anthology, all gained by working with a professional editor and receiving advice that would improve their writing skills in general. Our dedicated, talented beta readers included other contributors and volunteer readers from South Asia.

Surprisingly, one of my most difficult tasks was to find a charity that would allow us to use their name on the book in exchange for donating all net proceeds to their cause. Having a specific, respected charity on board of course increases credibility and sales. Many charities, such as GoodWeave.org, replied that they just didn’t have the personnel to read the book carefully to make sure the children’s stories were handled appropriately and sensitively. Fortunately, we were finally accepted by SOS Children’s Villages, a highly reputable charity that helps impoverished and disadvantaged children all over the world.

As a writer, submitting to an anthology, besides an opportunity to work with an editor to polish your writing and get a story published, can also broaden the scope of your writing, let you experiment with different voices, and, in the case of an anthology for a good cause, provide you with a great way to make a difference in the world.

A little about this project:

Childhood RegainedStories of Hope for Asian Child Workers aims to bring to life some of the situations children in India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh still face today, in 2016. The captivating, touching stories, each told from one child’s point of view, depict situations for children and young teenagers in garment factories, stone quarries, brickyards, jewelry factories, carpet factories, farms, mines, welding, the service industry, hotels, street vending, sifting through garbage, and other situations. The book also includes several appendices, including factual information on each topic and story questions and answers, as well as lists of organizations that help these victimized kids to regain their childhood.

How you can help child laborers in developing countries: Spread the word about this anthology, especially to teachers of 11- to 14-year-olds and school librarians. I’ll be glad to send a free PDF or e-copy of this book to any interested middle-grade or junior high school teachers, other educators, or librarians. I’ll also send out free sample print copies to educators and librarians in North America. Please have them contact me at: info@JodieRenner.com. We’re in the process of creating a MIDDLE SCHOOL EDITION, so we especially welcome feedback from middle-grade teachers. Thanks for your help!

For more information on Childhood RegainedStories of Hope for Asian Child Workers, go to its page on my website or on Amazon. The e-book is ON SALE for $0.99 today through Monday.

imageJodie Renner, a TKZ alumna, is a freelance fiction editor 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, Quick Clicks: Spelling List and Quick Clicks: Word Usage, and has organized and edited two anthologies for charity: Voices from the Valleys and Childhood Regained – Stories of Hope for Asian Child Workers. You can find Jodie at Facebook and Twitter, and at  www.JodieRenner.com, www.JodieRennerEditing.com, or her blog, Resources for Writers.

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Making a Case for Novellas: Short is the New Black

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

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How many books do you write a year? – To keep your work in front of readers, it’s advantageous to have a new offering every 90 days. Gone are the days when 1 to 2 books a year keeps an author in the public eye, not with all the competition issuing teasers, serials, advance chapters, etc. That’s a lot of writing between bouts of promotion.

But don’t let the competition overwhelm you. New offerings could be boxed sets of your previously released material, or a remake of a previously released novel where you have received your rights back, or it could be a shorter length work like a novella that you can write between projects. Allow me to make a case for writing novellas and see if some of these ideas fit your annual goals.

The Versatile Novella:

1.) GEN BUZZ – You can create buzz about an upcoming novel by utilizing a short back story for the main character featured in your new series. A discounted or free teaser is a great way to entice new readers to try your books. (Word of Caution – If you plan on submitting your new series for traditional publication, a shorter serialization of your idea may be objectionable to a publisher. They could feel the material has already been exposed to readers.)

2.) ENHANCE CASH FLOW – Novellas can generate cash flow between longer projects.

3.) CHARACTER FOCUS – Novellas can be used to feature the main character in unique clever scenarios or if your readership finds your secondary characters interesting, you could feature them in shorter offerings. For example, I have always wanted to know how Elvis Cole and Joe Pike met in Robert Crais’s PI series. Crais has fielded this question many times from readers. A short story could be a huge revenue generator and a gift to his legions of fans.

4.) ADVANCE TEASERS – Have you noticed how many big named authors release the first 10 chapters or so for a new novel coming out shortly? This lure can also serve as promotion of the series or novel and be a part of the new material offering every 90 days.

5.) WRITING TIME FILLER – A novella can be a writing time filler (between contracts) if you are traditionally published. I dislike sitting around while my agent pitches my proposals. I can keep working while I wait and it’s a good distraction. Any novella I write could be new material for something to explore as a new series. (Word of caution – If you plan on using characters from a series under a published contract where you don’t have the copyrights back yet, be sure to read your terms to determine if you’re allowed to write a shorter length story with your original characters. Your sub-rights clause and other provisions may not allow you to do that.)

6.) DISCOUNTED PRICES – Some readers today have less time for reading (so shorter is better) and/or they may have budget concerns with all the books they read in a year.  A shorter story line, priced at a discount, might be what they are looking for. Amazon Kindle Worlds were created to be along the lines of fan fiction, but with more polish and better covers. Amazon sets the pricing, depending on length, but most of their novellas are 25,000 words priced at $1.99. An avid reader can buy a whole series easily.

Challenges of Writing a Shorter Story:

I have always been a novel writer. I never started out on shorter material, thinking it would be easier to write, as some people might believe. In my mind, a shorter story is more challenging. It’s only been this year that I’ve written shorter stories for Amazon Kindle Worlds. (See my OMEGA TEAM series at this LINK priced at $1.99 ebook) My novellas have been 25,000-30,000 words, at my option. That length forced me to change how I write, but I didn’t want my readers to feel that I’ve short-changed their reading experience because my voice or style has been stripped down.

Personal Challenges:

1.) Plots must be simpler – This has taken some new thinking and conceiving of plots in advance while I’m planning my story. More intense story lines with complex layers have to be shed in order to peel back to the essence of a story.

2.) Minimize subplots – Subplots can still be done, but they are more of a challenge, so I try to limit the way I think out a story.The subplot must be integral to the overall story and enhance the pace or suspense.

3.) Setting descriptions and prose must be simplified – Getting straight to the bare emotional elements of a scene or a story will stick with readers and provide them with a solid reading experience, without making them feel that the writing is too sparse. I must be truly selective on what images I choose and the wording I use to create the most impact.

4.) Novellas are like screenplays – My shorter stories are more like screenplays with a focus on dialogue and major plots movements, less on back story and lengthy internal monologue.

5.) Novellas are like the visuals of film – I like this aspect. Give the reader a visual experience as if they are watching a movie. The scenes must have memorable images to tap into their minds quicker, using fewer words to do it.

FOR DISCUSSION:

1.) What do you see as personal challenges to writing a shorter story? Is it easier for you to write a novel?

2.) How many books or projects do you write a year? How do you manage your between projects time?

 

Kim Haynes Photography

Kim Haynes Photography

Bestselling, critically-acclaimed author Jordan Dane’s gritty thrillers are ripped from the headlines with vivid settings, intrigue, and dark humor. Publishers Weekly compared her intense novels to Lisa Jackson, Lisa Gardner, and Tami Hoag, naming her debut novel NO ONE HEARD HER SCREAM as Best Books of 2008. She also pens young-adult novels for Harlequin Teen. Formerly an energy sales manager, she now writes full time. Jordan shares her Texas residence with two lucky rescue dogs.

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How are short stories evaluated for publication or awards?

Captivate Your Readers_med– A glimpse into the minds of acquiring editors and judges for short (or any) fiction

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 31 Tips for Writing a Prize-Worthy Short Story, 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. What do you think it could mean for a short story? Too many characters? Too many plot lines?

– “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. 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)”.

– “Characters were problematic/unbelievable/unlikeable

Your characters’ decisions, actions and motivations need to fit their 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 overused, tired words like nice, good, bad, old, big, small, tall, short to overly formal, technical, or esoteric words where a concrete, vivid, immediately understandable one would be more effective.

– “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

To me, this probably indicates no major 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 those by James Scott Bell or my 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 likely 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“.

Fire up Your Fiction_ebook_2 silversJodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor 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. You can find Jodie at www.JodieRenner.com, www.JodieRennerEditing.com, her blog, http://jodierennerediting.blogspot.com/, and on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

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