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The Duotrope Controversy

Saturday, January 5th, 2013
Duotrope subscription controversy

Is there anything better than Duotrope?

Beaumont Hardy falls on the pro-Duotrope side of the current Duotrope subscription controversy.

Once a free directory of various fiction and non-fiction writing markets and a helpful tool for writers to track their own submissions, Duotrope was unable to sustain itself on user donations alone and has now become a subscription-only site. Users can choose to pay either $5 per month or $50 per year to avail themselves of Duotrope’s services. Some writer/bloggers, like Author Alden argue that the subscription fee will narrow the pool of Duotrope users, skewing the very valuable results of its submission statistics.

It’s very true that if fewer people join Duotrope, the site will necessarily base its statistics on a smaller group of responses, affecting its results. However, the site itself claims that the payment requirement limits its user pool to a self-selected group of more dedicated users who might be more inclined to submit accurate results than free users would. Thus, payment ensures a more reliable set of statistics, according to Duotrope.

But the true importance of Duotrope, we believe, lies not in its submission statistics but in its exhaustive lists of paying and non-paying markets for writings. No other online or print resource contains such extensive and annotated lists. With Duotrope, writers hoping to publish their work can learn of journals, magazines and anthologies that they might never see on the newsstand or in bookstores. Many writers have said that they never would have sold their work if they hadn’t first learned of paying markets on Duotrope. In Part Two of his informative blog post, “Is a Duotrope Subscription Worth the Cost?,” Nathaniel Tower makes a succinct argument for Duotrope’s significant advantages over any other marketplace listings. As he indicates, Duotrope provides a service like no other.

At Beaumont Hardy, we believe that Duotrope’s service is worth its $5/$50 subscription fee. As long as the “duotroopers” are willing to provide us with this unique, well-organized and very helpful information, we are willing to compensate them for their efforts.

Beaumont Hardy has long been a fan of Duotrope. Writers can glean valuable lessons from the submission requirements of the publications it lists.

What do you think of Duotrope’s new subscription requirement? We would love to hear from you.

The Dialogue Controversy

Friday, March 30th, 2012

jungleDialogue can be surprisingly controversial.

In fact, the submission editors of some literary journals say that they are so offended by stories that open with dialogue that they reject them outright. These submission editors argue that readers can be confused when they don’t know who is speaking or what is happening. Without the help of a “grounding” narrative sentence, the story gets off to an uncomfortable and disorienting start. Submission editors are so busy that they reject a confusing story in favor of one that neatly lays out the action for the reader.

At Beaumont Hardy, I am not so opposed to an opening line of dialogue, as I think it might draw the reader immediately into a story. However, some stories are so complex that writers may need to establish their openings more clearly than dialogue might allow.

Consider this example:

“But wasn’t Charlie supposed to bring the rope?”

Penelope held the flashlight and looked at her boss.

Two sentences into the story, the reader still has no idea what’s happening. Is Penelope speaking? Is Charlie Penelope’s boss? Are there two or three characters in this scene? A confused submission editor might not care enough to read more in order to answer these questions.

A story as complex as this one might need a few expository sentences to set the scene for the dialogue:

Penelope held the flashlight and looked at her boss. He was trying to pry the gate open with a crowbar. Once it swung open, he asked Penelope for the rope.

“But wasn’t Charlie supposed to bring the rope?” Penelope asked.

Or consider this example:

“The green ones are three for a dollar.”

Susan and her brothers shoved each other as they stood in front of the carnival barker.

A reader might wonder who is talking and what that person is talking about. What are the green ones? Is Susan telling her brothers the price of them? Or is the carnival barker the one who is speaking?

Of course, one assumes that the author of the story will explain everything at some point. However, a busy submissions editor might not have time for that explanation, and she or he might toss the story onto the rejection pile after reading the two confusing sentences. Once again, some expository explanation might help:

Susan and her brothers shoved each other as they stood in front of the carnival barker. They had waited all week to buy the marbles he kept in the locked glass case. When Susan asked how much the marbles cost, the barker smiled and unlocked the case. “The green ones are three for a dollar.”

Despite what some submissions editors might say, however, I still think a clear opening line of dialogue can be an effective beginning to a story. If the dialogue conveys enough meaning to explain the action and to suggest the relationship between the characters, it can be a refreshing start to a story.

Consider this example:

“Give me your money.”

The gun felt slippery in Gavin’s hands, but he kept it pointed at the man with the briefcase.

Or:

“I never knew I could bake a pie in a hubcap.”

Susan carried the dessert into the dining room and wondered why her guests looked so startled.

Let us know what you think about dialogue in an opening sentence.

Writers can find the editorial guidelines of various journals at Duotrope, a website that provides an invaluable service to those who might not otherwise know where to submit their stories. The website keeps exhaustive and updated lists of online and print publications that are actively seeking submissions.

Submissions: No Reason to Fear

Monday, May 17th, 2010

Many as-yet-unpublished authors long to see their work in print but might never do so. Their problem is not a lack of writing ability, a lack of ideas or even a lack of a finished piece of writing. Instead, what stops them is a fear of the submission process itself. Writers list various reasons for their submissions fears, but at Beaumont Hardy, we want to reassure them that submission should be the least of their worries.

One submission fear that writers seem to share is that their work will face mockery and criticism from editors. This fear sometimes spreads to the writing process, and writers become self-conscious in the very act of creation. They imagine the sneering editors who will ultimately read their work, and they begin to write defensively, protecting themselves from the criticism they imagine editors might make.

Having worked at a literary agency, I always reassure writers that the professionals at the other end of the submission process have little time to criticize or make fun of the work they receive. The smallest literary agency can receive hundreds of unsolicited queries a week, the entire staff working constantly to keep the office from being inundated with manuscripts and letters. An agent or editor who must plow through dozens–or even hundreds–of author submissions per day has very little time to engage in mocking or criticism. In fact, individual authors often make very little impression on the harried editorial staff. While this fact is of concern to writers hoping to be noticed for publication, it should be reassuring to the authors who fear ridicule. Editors and agents have too little time and very little inclination for mockery.

Another related submission fear stems from the writers’ knowledge that complete strangers will be judging their work. Writers wonder if they should cater their work to these gatekeeping readers or whether these strangers will completely misunderstand their creative impulses. Some of my clients tell me that they are unable to submit their work when they know nothing about the person who will be reading it.

I argue that writing is universal and that its beauty lies in the fact that complete strangers can understand and appreciate the work of someone they have never met. Professional editors and agents can understand innovative and unusual writing and will recognize the creative impulses of writers they do not know. Writers, I believe, should write whatever moves them and trust that the most unknown of readers, editors and agents will be able to relate to what they have written.

Still other writers fear the rejection involved in submission. For most—perhaps, all—writers, some amount of rejection is practically guaranteed, but that should be no reason to avoid submission. In fact, the more a writer experiences rejection, the less painful it becomes and the more rewarding is an ultimate acceptance. And of course, the only rejection-free submission is no submission at all—the worst possible path to publication.

For better or worse, I tell writers that they can find safety in numbers when submitting their work. The sheer number of submissions makes it more difficult to get published. However, this sheer number guarantees a certain anonymity and safety to the process. Editors and agents read so many, many submissions that they are virtually unable to single any one out for mockery and derision. They rarely remember a particular author after reviewing his or her submission and hardly ever know when that author submits a new piece of writing after an initial rejection. Editors and agents read so many submissions that they have a deep understanding of good writing and good creative impulses and can be trusted to recognize solid work when they see it.

At Beaumont Hardy, I am happy to help any writer prepare his or her work for ultimate submission. The submission process is absolutely nothing to fear.

Romance Lives

Monday, November 16th, 2009

sunReaders have always used literature to escape the grim reality of their lives, and escapism continues to influence publishing during these slow economic times. In true escapist fashion, romance literature thrives when the markets are at their worst. Romance editors report strong sales in their genre, and romance publishers continue to expand their various imprints.

All of this is good news for writers of romance. The market for their books is strong, and writers have plenty of places to sell their work. Of course, no matter how strong the romance market is or how badly acquisitions editors want new manuscripts, hopeful writers still need to submit their strongest and most polished work. At Beaumont Hardy, I help romance writers streamline their plots and perfect their submissions.

The following is an unedited portion of a romance novel. Immediately after it is the same passage, after editing. After both is the same passage with my editing comments.

“You’re holding it the wrong way!” a voice bellowed from somewhere behind Sloane, and she dropped the ice ax with a clatter to the floor. Sloane whirled around to spot a very tall man looming in the shadows of the storehouse. “You can get hurt like that,” he said softly, then stiffening again as though he had made himself angry.

The tension of the day suddenly settled heavily on Sloane, and she spun around angrily to face the man fully. “That’s why I’m here, Mr Vaughn–I assume it’s Mr. Vaughn, world-class ice-climbing champ?” She interrupted herself, glaring at the man who had stepped into the light and who looked even taller when he walked into the light again. “You did get my message, didn’t you?” She shot the man her most piercing stare.

The man nodded uncertainly. “You’re the reporter, I thought? You’re doing the Everest thing?” His eyes were a startling blue that reminded Sloane of the sky above the Himalayas.

“It’s not a thing. It’s an article,” Sloane spat reproachfully.

“And I’m leading your group of reporters up the mountain,” the man said, sneering as he said the word “reporters.”

“Yes, and for the duration of the trip, you report to me,” Sloane added. “I’m in charge. None of that renegade stuff you’re famous for. We’re all getting back from this trip alive.” She looked at the man triumphantly.

“You can be in charge,” the man said, smiling and folding his arms infuriatingly. “As soon as you learn how to use an ice ax.”

After editing, the passage reads as follows.

“You’re holding it the wrong way!” someone bellowed from behind Sloane. She dropped the ice ax, and it clattered to the floor. Sloane whirled around and saw a very tall man looming in the shadows of the storehouse. “You can get hurt like that,” he said softly. After he spoke, he seemed to stiffen again, as though speaking had made him angry.

The tension of the day suddenly settled on Sloane, and she stared the man straight in the face. “That’s why I’m here, Mr Vaughn–I assume it’s Mr. Vaughn, world-class ice-climbing champ?” She interrupted herself, glaring at the man, who looked even taller, now that he had stepped into the light. “You did get my message, didn’t you?” She shot the man her most piercing stare.

The man nodded uncertainly. “You’re the reporter, right?” His eyes were a startling blue that reminded Sloane of the sky above the Himalayas. “You’re doing the Everest thing?”

“It’s not a thing. It’s an article,” Sloane spat reproachfully.

“And I’m leading your group of reporters up the mountain,” Vaughn said, sneering as he said the word “reporters.”

“Yes, and for the duration of the trip, you report to me,” Sloane added. “I’m in charge. None of that renegade stuff you’re famous for. We’re all getting back from this trip alive.” She looked at Vaughn triumphantly.

“You can be in charge,” Vaughn said, smiling and folding his arms infuriatingly. “As soon as you learn how to use an ice ax.”

The following is the same passage with my editing marks. My additions are underlined. My comments are in brackets and italicized.

“You’re holding it the wrong way!” a voice someone [A person, and not a voice, bellows.] bellowed from somewhere behind Sloane,. and sShe dropped the ice ax, and it with a clattered to the floor. [“To the floor” is misplaced in the original sentence.] Sloane whirled around to spot and saw [Although “to spot” is correct, I think that “whirled around” is so descriptive that “saw” is a quiet complement to it. The “to” in “to spot” also suggests that Sloane purposely whirled around in order to spot the man, an idea I don’t think you mean.] a very tall man looming in the shadows of the storehouse. “You can get hurt like that,” he said softly,. After he spoke, he seemed to then stiffening again, as though he had made himself speaking had made him angry. [In the original sentence, “then stiffening again” is somewhat awkward. I moved that idea into a separate sentence to highlight it for the reader and to clarify some of the syntax.]

The tension of the day suddenly settled heavily [One adverb is sufficient.] on Sloane, and she spun around angrily to face the man fully stared the man straight in the face. [Sloane already whirled around in the previous paragraph.] “That’s why I’m here, Mr Vaughn–I assume it’s Mr. Vaughn, world-class ice-climbing champ?” She interrupted herself, glaring at the man, who looked even taller, now that he had stepped into the light and who looked even taller when he walked into the light again. “You did get my message, didn’t you?” She shot the man her most piercing stare.

The man nodded uncertainly. “You’re the reporter, I thought right? [The “I thought” construction feels less like actual speech than does the word “right.”] His eyes were a startling blue that reminded Sloane of the sky above the Himalayas. You’re doing the Everest thing?” His eyes were a startling blue that reminded Sloane of the sky above the Himalayas. [Ending his section with “Everest thing” leads more clearly to Sloane’s next comment.]

“It’s not a thing. It’s an article,” Sloane spat reproachfully.

“And I’m leading your group of reporters up the mountain,” the man Vaughn [I think using Vaughn’s name works better here, now that Sloane has introduced it to the reader.] said, sneering as he said the word “reporters.” [I like the sneering part.]

“Yes, and for the duration of the trip, you report to me,” Sloane added. “I’m in charge. None of that renegade stuff you’re famous for. We’re all getting back from this trip alive.” She looked at Vaughn triumphantly. [Is “triumphantly” the right word here?]

“You can be in charge,” the man Vaughn said, smiling and folding his arms infuriatingly. “As soon as you learn how to use an ice ax.” [This is a good ending to this interaction.]

Thanks for reading! Please send me your comments. I would love to hear from you.

Descriptive Paragraph #2

Friday, July 31st, 2009

Visitors to beaumonthardy.com often want to learn about writing more interesting and effective descriptive paragraphs. As any writer knows, descriptive paragraphs are important in both fiction and nonfiction, and a well-crafted paragraph can make the difference between mediocre and outstanding writing. Although writing coaches often suggest that the best descriptive paragraphs appeal to each of the five senses, I believe that successful description need not adhere to a sensory checklist.

The following is an unedited descriptive paragraph about a place. Below the unedited version is my edit of the same text. My editorial comments are at the bottom of this post.

The pools were hot and steamy, and the jungle loomed darkly around them. There were actually two separate pools, separated from each other by a narrow stone walkway that looked dark and damp in the moonlight. There were dim lights in the pools, which made the swimmers look like shadows in the water. Little drifts of steam wafted above the surface of the water, which seemed to gently lap against the stone walls of the pool. The air felt warm and damp, and it seemed held in place by the black jungle surrounding them. Cora could feel a thrill of danger as she removed her towel and stepped into the hot and steamy water with the jungle all around.

After editing, the descriptive paragraph reads as follows:

The two pools were hot and steamy, and the jungle loomed darkly around them.  The narrow stone walkway separating the pools looked damp in the moonlight, and the dim pool lights made the swimmers look like shadows in the water. Little drifts of steam wafted above the surface of the water, which gently lapped against the stone walls of the pools. The air felt warm and damp, held in place as it was by the black jungle surrounding them. Cora felt a thrill of danger as she removed her towel and stepped into the steamy water.

Below is the paragraph with my editing marks. My comments to the author are in brackets and italicized. The portions I cut appear with a strike-through, and the portions I added are underlined. (In a normal Word document with “Track Changes,” my editing marks are in red, and my comments are in their own separate section, not inserted into the text.)

The two pools were hot and steamy, and the jungle loomed darkly around them. [I added “two” so that I could simplify the sentence that follows.] There were actually two separate pools, separated from each other by a The narrow stone walkway separating the polls that looked dark and damp in the moonlight., [The imagery in this sentence is good, but it gets lost among too many words. I’ve pared down the sentence. In general, I think it’s best to avoid beginning a sentence—especially a descriptive one—with “There were.” In this sentence and the one that follows, I’ve altered the sentences so that they begin more actively and colorfully.] and tThere were dim pool lights in the pools, which made the swimmers look like shadows in the water. [I eliminated “in the pools” to get rid of the repetition of “in the.”] Little drifts of steam wafted above the surface of the water, which seemed to gently lapped against the stone walls of the pool. [“Seemed to” weakens the description. In this case, the water probably does, in fact, lap against the walls of the pools, right?] The air felt warm and damp, and it seemed held in place  as it was by the black jungle surrounding them. Cora could feel felt a thrill of danger as she removed her towel and stepped into the hot and steamy water with the jungle all around. [This is a good, solid description. Eliminating a few extraneous words helps it read more powerfully.]

Let me know what you think of this edit. I would love to hear from you.