Writing For Anthologies

Back to Part 2 of my VirtualBalticon panel notes.

The panelists were: Michael Ventrella as moderator, Keith R.A. DeCandido, John L. French, Monica Louzon, and Jean Marie Ward.


While many writers are publishing novels or sending short stories off to magazines, other writers have found anthologies to be a great space for their work.

Some of these writers find inspiration from the anthology’s submission call, some write what they want, then look for a home.

Three Reasons to Write For Anthologies

  1. It’s a great space for short stories, especially those that might be too long to be in most magazines
  2. Your audience is extended by the audiences of the other writers in the anthology
  3. It can help you network with other writers

Four tips and approaches to writing for anthologies:

  1. Pay attention to the guidelines. They’re there for a reason. Don’t make your work easy to reject on a technicality. Don’t waste your time writing stories that the anthology isn’t looking for.
  2. Start your story where it starts, short stories don’t have time for much backstory. Have the stakes on the first page.
  3. If your story was pre-existing and revised to fit the submission call, make sure that it doesn’t read as forced.
  4. If you’re creating a new story for the anthology, don’t just do the first plot that pops in your head that fits the theme. There are likely going to be tons of people with that same instinct. Try to do something less expected. Maybe your fourth idea, or so.

Five reasons why your story might not be chosen

  1. It stinks
  2. It doesn’t meet the guidelines
  3. Too many other submissions were along the same theme
  4. Another story with a strong resemblance to yours was a better fit
  5. The story is great, but the tone doesn’t work with the other stories in the anthology

If your story is not selected, wait a year or so before submitting it elsewhere. Many publishers are inundated with themed stories right after an anthology makes their selections. Don’t get lost in the crowd.

Flags to Watch Out For

Not all anthologies are a good home for your story. Here are a few of the things you should watch out for.

  • They don’t pay you
  • Their previously published works have bad formatting or otherwise look unprofessional
  • Most importantly? The rights don’t expire and revert back to you.

This isn’t to say that unpaid publishing opportunities are always red flags, but make sure you’re comfortable associating your name and your work with their brand.


I know I’ve made a few of these mistakes. But, with my attempts last NaNoWriMo at writing shorts, I’ve got a few projects to polish and find homes for.

Have you submitted to anthologies? Do you like them? Let me know!

Black Lives Matter

I’ve been saddened. I’ve been outraged. I’ve talked to my friends, my family. I’ve shouted at them. But publically? I’ve been silent.

What could I say? Shouldn’t I be listening to those who were suffering? If I spoke out, would I be speaking over those whose voices we need to hear?

Besides, my blog is about writing, not politics. I told myself this wasn’t the space. It wasn’t my fight, I should stay out of the firing range.

But right now? My silence is tacitly supporting the status quo.

Trayvon Martin was murdered by George Zimmerman. While the Black Lives Matter movement stood up, and I was silent.

Renisha McBride. Eric Garner. John Crawford. Michael Brown.

Vonderitt D. Myers Jr. Akai Gurley. Twelve-Year-Old Tamir Rice was murdered on a playground.

Antonio Martin. Freddie Gray. Sanda Bland. Elisha Walker, Islan Nettles, Kandis Kapri. The Charleston Nine. Philando Castille. Korryn Gaines. Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. Iyanna Dior. George Floyd. Tony McDade. I can’t breath.

And I was silent.

Freedom Riders rode again.

The Ferguson protests, St. Louis. Baltimore.

No one arrested. Or, at least no one indicted. Or.. all acquitted.

Protests fill the sports games, the internet, the roads. The peaceful ones aren’t even covered. The ones that end up on TV are called out for being ‘the wrong place, the wrong time, the wrong way’. And I was silent.

Protesters in my city being tear-gassed with my state delegate in the front row, three miles away I could hear the sirens. And all I asked was for “everyone to stay safe.”

I could fill a book with the names. So many names. So many lives taken. And that’s only looking at the ones the media deigns to mention. The ones in the last 5 years alone. This problem isn’t new. So many places where police have escalated situations when they should have de-escalated. So many killed for the alleged suspicion of a crime whose fine is less than $1,000, in this nation of the free where ALL people are supposed to be created equal.

Where all people are supposed to be valued.


Where Your Very Being Is Politicized

Any life experience outside of the default is seen as ‘political’.

When I talk about the unique issues that women face? Well, “women’s issues” are seen as political.

When black people talk about the unique issues they face? That’s political.

When black women talk about the unique issues they face? Being both black and female? That’s extra-political.

Black lives matter. The black men. The black women. The black trans community. The black LGBTQA+ community. The black children.

All of them.


But. This is a writing blog.

If you look at my past posts, you’ll see me talking about ways to add diversity to your novels. To make sure you’re not stereotyping or parodying the people you want to represent. The people you should be representing.

No matter where or when you go in history, life has never been as homogeneous as the history books try to insinuate. Why should it be?

And? The ruling class has never been equitable with the enforcement of their laws — be they just or not.

Now, genre fiction, science-fiction and fantasy, is a space for exploring the worst possible futures that could lay ahead, if we stay on this path. As like Ebenezer Scrooge, we see the shadows of what might be. And they loom dark.

Genre fiction is also a place to explore the worlds that could have been, if we had been better: more welcoming, more inclusive, more just. It can show the bright future, of what could be if we rise to our better natures. It can show a possible roadmap forward. Genre fiction can show hope.

What Do We Do?

If you’re in the majority culture? In this case, if you’re white. It’s on you to reach out and learn about other cultures, other experiences, the black American experience. Do your research. Don’t assume you can lean on someone of the culture you wish to learn about, your black friends and family, and make them do the heavy lifting for you. They’ve got enough of their shoulders already.

There’s a whole world out there, just as entitled to the idealized versions of the freedom, justice, and liberty we were all promised.

It’s past time to me to speak out, and stand up, and fight for it.

Join me.

Adding Love Stories To Genre Fiction

Welcome to Part 1 of my VirtualBalticon panel notes.

The panelists were: Mary Fan, L. Marie Wood, Ted Weber (mod), our Guest of Honor: Wen Spencer, and Ken Schrader.

Balancing The Story And The Romance

In Romances, the romance is the point of the story. In genre fiction — here defined as Science Fiction or other Fantasy novels, the intrigue, the adventure, the mystery is the point, and the main character’s relationships are often what makes the victory possible — be they romantic or otherwise.

Caveat: the romance has to be authentically, when it’s shoehorned in for the sake of the plot, it falls flat. (Thank you, Attack of the Clones).

Lois McMaster Bujold’s VorKosigan series, a Hugo award winning series is often credited as doing it well.

Stakes are why people read. And most stories have three types of stakes:

  • External (or physical) – Saving the world, or beating the baddie
  • Internal – overcoming their own internal conflicts, background, or weaknesses.
  • Emotional – their relationships with other people, be they familial, romantic, or other.

Using relationships to up the stakes is a great way to make the characters — and the readers — care.

Not All Love Is Gooey

When you think about people adding romance to a novel, many people think about gooey-romantic silliness. Most of those people are unfamiliar with Romance as a genre.

Many people have romantic relationships in real life, but the smitten, adoration phase is not the predominating feature, and using romance in genre fiction is all about authenticity. You want to show the struggles, the conflicts, and the good parts, all mixed together. Life is rarely all-one-thing.

The Biggest Mistakes People Make

Not making the love interest a fully-realized, three-dimensional character.

  • They need to be more than just handsome or pretty.
  • They need to have interests and goals outside of “support the main character”.
  • You need to show why BOTH parties are attracted to the other, don’t skimp on the non-Point-of-View character

How Much Sex To Add

Write what you’re comfortable with showing. You may have your mother or a reader read your scene aloud to you tomorrow, or in ten years. (both real incidents that happened to writers on the panel).

Be authentic — just like the romance, the sex needs to feel like it would actually happen between these characters for the shown reasons.

Erotica is porn, but for books. Romance is about the emotions and the character interplay, make sure you focus on what you want to show.

Ways To Add Relationships

Clearly, you can have the two characters that just keep running into each other. Or, are force to work together.

Don’t just have that “character that exists to flirt” and/or “only flirts because of tragic backstory”. They’re overdone. Give them a fresh take.

Short fiction isn’t made for the slow burn. And sometimes, novels don’t even have enough space.

If you’re writing short fiction (or even, not), it can be easier to build a relationship between people who already know each other, who have a backstory. You can give enough context with two-sentences, and save yourself chapters of backstory.

And series romances are usually harder than stand-alone. You typically have to keep breaking their relationship and then fixing it, which often feels contrived pretty quickly.

When There’s Genre in Your Romance

Romance novels have certain story beats and pacing that are expected by their readers.

Genre fiction has certain storybeats and pacing that are expected by their readers.

When you find the biggest backlash against genre fiction with romance subplots is when the story hits the Romance beats, instead of the science-fiction and fantasy story beats. Knowing which you’re hitting, can help you market the story right, and find a supportive audience.

Why Romance In Genre Fiction

Characters need to be realistic, and people have messy relationships all the time. To ignore romance, is to discount a large portion of what motivates humanity.

Meanwhile, genre fiction is a great place to explore the limits of what a relationship can look like, it can set aside our cultural expectations and experiment beyond the romantic binary or gender binary. We can use genre fiction to explore new types of characters, cultures, and worlds.


I hope you find these notes helpful, although feel free to check out the actual panel!

I’d actually forgotten I attended this one, but then I went to look at the twitch livestream to see if they had my first panel and remembered — after the Opening Ceremonies livestream, I’d left twitch open and this had just started playing. I had watched this one live, just not taken any notes. So, I rewatched and took notes, and here they are. From 5pm on Friday of VirtualBalticon

The closed-captioned version will be up on Youtube.com/BaltimoreSciFi in a bit, but for now, you can watch this panel on twitch from 0:32:05: – 1:30:15.

#38 Query Corner – “Bat Kid And Banana Slug”

Welcome to:

Morgan’s Query Corner:

Fresh eyes for your query quandaries.

All Sophie wants is a best friend, but camp is hard for this weirdo.

NOTE: If you submit your query to me (morgan.s.hazelwood@gmail.com), and you are selected for inclusion, I will give you a high-level review, in-line feedback, and my own draft of your query. If this is your query, feel free to use or ignore as much of the advice and suggestions as you wish.

[Disclaimer: Any query selected for the page will be posted on this website for perpetuity. I am an amateur with no actual accepted queries and a good number of form rejections. This does not guarantee an agent or even an amazing query, just a new take by someone who’s read The Query Shark archives twice and enjoys playing with queries.]

Overall Impression:

This querier’s story was fun, upbeat, and almost there! They mostly wanted confirmation they were on the right path. Of course…

  • I did tighten the story-part a smidge…

Queryist’s Original:


Dear Specific Agent,

I’m excited that you are actively seeking [example: friendship stories in middle grade fiction, and books that include main characters with invisible disabilities]. BAT KID AND BANANA SLUG is a 46,000 word contemporary MG novel for readers who enjoyed Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s Fish in a Tree and Gillian McDunn’s Caterpillar Summer. It has received feedback from sensitivity readers for neurodiversity and nonbinary identity.


When eleven-year-old Sophie discovers that she can navigate like a bat, she hopes her new skill is her ticket to fitting in–until the other kids at summer camp decide she’s rabid like a bat too.

All Sophie wants out of summer camp is a best friend. She thought she’d found one in her roommate–a kid who wears a hat with antennae on it and goes by the nickname Banana Slug. Banana Slug even asked her to perform as a team in the camp talent show! But that was before the other kids decided she was a weirdo and before Sophie gave away the bat hat that Banana Slug had made for her.

Now Banana Slug isn’t speaking to her and Sophie doesn’t know how to fix things. She’ll definitely leave camp as alone as she arrived. But with the talent show coming up, Sophie might just risk going down in camp history as the weirdest kid ever–as long as it means winging her way back to friendship.

My picture book was awarded second place in [writing contest], and three of my short stories have been published in anthologies. I’m a member of PNWA and SCBWI, and a children’s book reviewer for [place]. I also parent a child with sensory processing disorder, who has developed her own set of super-skills in response to her brain’s different way of experiencing the world.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

Q38


The query was solid, (although whether to include loglines is always a personal choice.)

I just trimmed some of the plot, to focus on the stakes.

My Revision:



All Sophie wants out of summer camp is a best friend. She thought she’d found one in her roommate–a kid who wears a hat with antennae on it and goes by the nickname Banana Slug. Banana Slug even asked her to perform as a team in the camp talent show! But when she learned how to navigate like a bat (by shrieking), the other kids decided she was a weirdo. Even giving away the bat hat that Banana Slug had made for her didn’t get them off her case.

Now Banana Slug isn’t speaking to her and Sophie doesn’t know how to fix things. With the talent show coming up, Sophie got to risk going down in camp history as the weirdest kid ever–if she wants to wing her way back into friends with Banana Slug.


Q38 was happy for my input, tweaked her query, and …

Just reported back that she got an AGENT! With this query.

Dear [Agent],

Thanks for accepting my referral! BAT KID AND BANANA SLUG is a 44,000 word contemporary lower middle grade novel for readers who enjoyed Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s Fish in a Tree and Gillian McDunn’s Caterpillar Summer. It has received feedback from sensitivity readers for neurodiversity and nonbinary identity.

Eleven-year-old Sophie knows she’s different – after all most kids don’t wear noise-muffling headphones or barf when they get overstimulated. Plus, most kids have a best friend. Sophie hopes to find a friend at sleepaway camp, but social skills aren’t her strong suit. She spends a lot of time studying bats instead. Luckily Sophie’s roommate – a kid nicknamed Banana Slug – thinks Sophie’s bat fascination is cool and crochets a bat hat for Sophie.

Then teasing drives Sophie to give the hat away, dealing a potentially fatal blow to the new friendship. The only way Sophie can think to fix things is through the camp talent show. But even if she can convince Banana Slug to join her in a performance, there’s the risk that they’ll go down in camp history as the weirdest kids ever. Sophie must convince herself that quirky doesn’t have to mean friendless – and that the Amazing Bat Kid and Banana Slug might be the greatest duo ever.

My unpublished picture book was awarded second place in [writing contest], and three of my short stories have been published in anthologies. I’m a member of PNWA and SCBWI, and a children’s book reviewer for [place]. I also parent a child with sensory processing disorder, who has developed her own set of super-skills in response to her brain’s different way of experiencing the world.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

Q38

Let’s all congratulate Q38, and hope their agent finds a publisher soon!


And for the rest of you out there?
Best of luck in the query trenches!

Virtual Cons Are Just As Exhausting

Well. I ran social media, did tech support/moderation, was on panels, and attended panels all this past weekend.

It was definitely a bit much.

Thursday

I still had my day-job, but after I signed off, my evening was all the last minute prep.

A donation for advertising gave me the go-ahead for some facebook ads on Thursday night. So, I tossed half the money at boosting the ‘Where to find Virtual Balticon’ post, and half at a short slide show, inviting people to the event. We got several thousand views, and a couple hundred engagements — including 5 or 6 people accusing us of spamming them (and my ‘Sorry. fb algorithms are unpredictable’ response led to the complainers accusing me of being a bot. But seriously, if they weren’t going to reply to each other’s ‘spam’ accusation comments, how was I supposed to know they were reading ANY of the comments. I didn’t see a reason to reword my answer to the same exact complaint if they didn’t see fit to reword the complaint).

Then again, we still had plenty of people — many regular Balticon members — that said they didn’t hear about it until half-way through — or after it was all done. Somehow my own mother, despite listening to me ramble about this con on numerous occasions, missed that it was going to be free. *facepalm*

Social media only works so well — and you can only communicate to the people who are on and looking.

Before bed on Thursday, I also scheduled hourly reminders of each panel with links to register. I finished about 4am, after 3 tag-ups with different team members after 11pm.

Friday

Friday morning was helping people log on, and making the moderation schedule (tech had said they would do it, but several emergencies meant they ran out of time).

I’ve never seen Opening Ceremonies before, but when I watched it, I got that ‘It’s Go Time’ feeling, just like I do at a physical con. Only alone. And in silence in my own house. It was very surreal.

I wanted to see all the panels like I normally do, but couldn’t stop myself from making sure everything was still running smoothly on Discord. And helping people sort out how to log-on and talking them through any technical issues.

I have some partial notes from… wow! 11 of the 13 panels/presentations I hit. I didn’t think I did that well.

At first, I tried to get the screenshots from all the techs and post them during the first 10 minutes of the next hour… It only took me 2 hours to give up on that level of perfectionism.

With panels only running until 10pm, I decided I’d just wait until AFTER the last panel of the day, and batch process them. Sure, it wasn’t quite as lively for the social media feed, but they were already getting the hourly schedule. There’s trying to make things convenient for people, and then there’s flooding them.

On Friday, I only hit one panel that I tried to take notes on: the 6pm Writing For Themed Anthologies. The other two, Bad Book Covers and This Kaiju Life LIVE were presentations — or performances — I could just enjoy. Plus? They were after dinner, so the tech support had slowed down by then.

After the final panel, I hit a Discord party or two, hanging out and chatting with con attendees, just like hitting a room party at a con. Only, you had to bring your own drink and snacks. While there, I prepped and posted all the screenshot images, and headed off to bed by 3am.

Saturday

I woke and caught up on the Discord threads and social media before logging onto the 10am You Can’t Shop at Target in Middle Earth only a few minutes late. Next up, I got to hear Nick Martell and Keith DeCandido read some excerpts from their work while eating a bagel. Nick introduced us to his world and characters, and Keith ripped out our hearts.

I was doing tech support, but got to hear most of the noon, Tips for Writing Combat. Then, an hour solo-tasking, and checking all the social media locations to see who needed help. 2pm was storytime with Kingdom of Warrior Women: The Dahomey Kingdom and its Amazons.

I’d considered a few of the 3 and 4 o’clock panels, but ended up just doing Discord and then prepping for my 1st panel at my home convention, and second panel EVER: Dealing With Literary Rejection. We had people who gave rejections, people who received rejections, and people who did both. I had the joy of having the agent I’d gotten my first rejection letter from (via his assistant) on the panel (Joshua Bilmes of Jabberwocky). I did my best to come across as intelligent and well-spoken, and hope I was at least a little entertaining.

After a good hour in the Discord After Panel Discussions room, with some lively chatter, I sat in on Science Fiction Has Always Been Political with some excellent discussion and great examples, and Making Painful Edits. I finished my day listening to some pulpy adventures with Daniel Kimmel and Michael Ventrella.

I took a quiet evening walk around the block, just to move. My back had started tingling, like it was going numb. NOT a sensation I’d felt before. I might should see my chiropractor again…

Then, I visited the tech crew zoom party. While, of course, prepping the screenshot posts and working on outlining my questions for the panel I was going to be on in the morning. Finally, I swung through through the New Media party, just long enough to say goodnight. At half-past-three am. Again.

Sunday

No way to sleep in on Sunday — I was starting off my day with two panels. Sure, 10am sounds perfectly reasonable to most people, but that’s about when I show up to my dayjob, and I don’t usually care if my hair’s dry from the shower or my face is made up before I roll into the office or up to my work-from-home desk. No, I do not own a hair-dryer.

But, I made it, showered and made-up in time for the 9:30am pre-panel check-in. Well, maybe it was 9:32am, but still.

Beta-reading propositions, What Are You In For? By this panel, I started to feel a little more solid with my speaking skills, (although, I think I used the same interjection a couple times.) We’ll see if I’m brave enough to watch it when it rolls out. Then, the after-panel discussion and a quick moderator meeting, before the 11:30 am call for my third and final panel of the weekend.

This time? I was moderating. I toasted another bagel, (cinnamon raisin with plain cream cheese for those of you who are curious), then looked frantically for where I’d put that outline. By the time we had most of the line-up, I followed procedure from what my other moderators had done for me. I asked if the other panelists wanted to hear my questions in advance, read them out, and then asked if they had anything to add. Nothing.

What’s This About A Social Media Presence. I had some solid panelists, including the very chatty Tee Morris who literally wrote the books on social media. Luckily, he knew he had a tendency to chat and smoothly finished his sentence and ceded the floor after each gentle “thank you,” from me. We had a moment of veering into politics (losing one attendee loudly from that, on the chat), but for the most part, it went very smoothly.

In the Discord After-Panel Discussion, Tee complimented my moderation and I admitted it was my first time. Polite or not, I was glad to hear the rest of the panelists thought it had gone well.

I drifted in and out of the Dinosaurs: The Update presentation, then tuned in for most of Momentum for writers and How to Self-Edit That Lousy First Draft.

By the end of that panel? I was FRIED. I wanted to see more. I wanted to support friends and see them chat. But I was DEAD.

Plus? As I reminded myself, I could always rewatch the panels once they went up on Youtube.

So, I swung by the virtual con suite, got myself some hotdogs, and chatted with my dad and another con-goer about guitars until I had food in me. For those who don’t know, my dad usually hangs out in the con suite, and that’s where you go to find snacks and random conversations. That hang out was one of the most-like-a-physical-con aspects all weekend.

And then I NAPPED. For nearly two hours.

I realized when I woke up that I’d never made a special announcement for the film festival, which had gotten its schedule finalized rather late. And that the festival had already started, so it was too late. So, all I could do was announce the Monday 1pm rerun. I’m Sorry Short Film Festival Lovers! I dropped the ball.

But, I made it up in time for most of Choosing Your Perspective and then, because it would NOT be recorded, made sure to take a lot of notes at, Body Disposal – A Primer for Writers. Unfortunately, this presenter has had her presentation stolen, wholesale, 3 times, so I will NOT be sharing these notes publically online.

I did not realize when I went in, that the Body Disposal panel was 2 hours long. And because it was the last presentation of the night, they let it run over and run over it did. I wanted to hit 3 of the zoom parties (closer in feel than I would have expected to the standard room party), but by the time I hopped out of the second one, the third had just gone to bed. At quarter to four in the morning. Again. Whoops!

Monday

I slept til 10:45 am when my alarm went off. I caught up with my alerts, got dressed, and then my alarm went off. That’s when I realized the first alarm was my weekly “don’t forget to sync your fitbit alarm.” Oh well, it’s not like it had woken me up that much early.

At 11:30am, I was hosting my one-and-only zoom session for bluestonearcher’s Reference Like an Artist. He’d been running training for the techs and the panelists for the last two weeks, helping me with documentation and things, so it was fun to run, and I wanted to do it right with my trainer watching. But! I flubbed giving him Any Time Warnings At All. So, he was halfway through a sketch when I messaged, “Um, here’s is your 10, 5, and 1 minute warning.” We managed to wrap with 90 seconds to hand-off the stream so the next panel could go to twitch. WAY too close. Sorry!

I listened in some on Novel, Novella, or Short Story right when that wrapped, getting a scattering of notes. Then, I prepped and listened in on the final panel of the con, Improving Balticon. I logged on in case people had Social Media questions, but no one did.

With the text-only format forcing people to formulate their questions before we got to them, we managed to get through 170ish questions in under 2 hours.

I know many people hated the lack of video/audio from panel attendees, but others LOVED the ability to chat without interrupting the panel. Especially for “what was the name of that book”, but also any side comments. Plus, a lot of people’s bandwidth starts to choke when streaming more than 6 or 8 videos.

During the Improving Balticon panel, I posted the rest of the screenshots our techs had gotten me. On average, 1 an hour. I wanted to be sure the con had faces, not just technology.

And just like that? The con was over. The Discord quieted to a dull roar, I threw together a “Thank You” image to post, and I ordered some Thai for dinner.


I never made it to our Second Life portion — never even installed it on my laptop. Discord was enough of a resource hog.

Virtual Balticon was a massive undertaking, achieved in under 2 months of work. Massive kudos go out to the staff that pulled it together, the panelists/guests who went through all of our training and provided the content, and the fans — without whom, we’d be talking to empty rooms.