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!

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.

Gearing Up For Virtual Balticon

Memorial Day weekend, I usually hit up Balticon, Maryland’s regional Sci-fi and fantasy con, where I proceed to attend 30ish panels in four days, meet tons of people, and forget what sleep looks like.

This year is different.

In-person gatherings are banned. And? This time, I’m involved. A LOT more involved.

I felt a little self-serving when I decided on this topic for today’s blogpost — but then I looked back and saw that I pretty much ALWAYS do a blogpost on the con I’m about to head to, so that part isn’t out of my usual.

What IS different is I’m working on staff and I’m speaking on panels for this convention.

In case you’re curious about what Morgan’s been up to for the past month and half…

What Is Virtual Balticon?

Before I make this whole post about me, I should probably explain exactly WHAT Virtual Balticon is.

As I’ve told others:

Balticon is the Maryland Regional science fiction and fantasy convention, sponsored by the Baltimore Science Fiction Society (BSFS). Scheduled this year for Memorial Day Weekend, it has been held annually since 1966. Due to the pandemic, Balticon, unfortunately, could not meet in person this year. The good news? Balticon realized it could go VIRTUAL!

Balticon features discussions and presentations among authors, editors, publishers, artists, filmmakers, scientists, gamers, and, most importantly, fans.  

Virtual Balticon will have author readings, panels, and presentations; science programming, a film festival, watch parties, artists and dealers, a masquerade costume contest, plus, a variety of role-playing, video, board games, and more. You can find Virtual Balticon 54 on Zoom, Discord, Twitch, YouTube, and even Second Life.

My Roles At Virtual Balticon

I’d already applied to be a panelist when programming contacted me, asking for some input. Apparently, attending approximately 30 panels a year, then blogging about them, makes programming think you might have some ideas on panel concepts that work, panel concepts that don’t, and which panelists are totally worth the hour long panel investment for attendees.

So, I attended several working meetings, tasked with data processing and helping contribute to wording panel descriptions.

Separately, my application had already been accepted to panel at the convention.

Then, 2 weeks after the COVID-19 shutdown, Balticon reached out to me and asked if I would run their social media.

They already — and still have — Matt, their social media director who works for the parent organization: The Baltimore Science Fiction Society (BSFS), but the burden to go virtual was more than one man could handle.

Running Social Media

For running social media, I mostly create images and posts for all of our accounts (twitter, instagram, many fb groups/pages/etc). I’m working on 100% consistant branding, but some things take time.

Other departments will let me know when an announcement needs to go out, and I’ll make it. If people contact Balticon for details, I help draft the wording.

I’ve already started scheduling hourly posts to help people find the panels, presentations, and events coming up each hour when Virtual Balticon is in full swing.

I also recorded a “How To…” guide for each of the online applications Balticon is using, and am scheduled to address the technology basics for the Opening Ceremonies.

Our Technology

Since there was no one technological solution for creating this virtual convention, we had to pick and choose our tools.

For our panels, presentations, and many of our events, Shogren Productions donated use of a Business-level Zoom account. Because Virtual Balticon went free, and most of our donations are just going to help pay for the closed-captioning (1 panel per hour, unless someone wants to sponsor us at $2,000 per additional panel/hour), we’ll only have 5 webinars running at a time — so the typical Balticon schedule was cut drastically.

Attendees will have to register here for each event separately, but by using Zoom webinars, we can keep out trolls and bad-actors, and add security to the panel. This does mean that all the people watching can only ask questions via the Q&A window, but all the side comments people love to make? Book suggestions and more? There’s no reason not to toss those all in the attendee chat!

We’re using Discord for most of the “convention hall” space. The Dealers Room, Artists Alley, and Fan Tables can be found there. Plus, the Consuite, after panel break out discussion rooms, tons of gaming rooms (this is Discord, after all), and more. [The gaming can be signed up for here]

Two panels per hour will be livestreamed to either our Youtube [BaltimoreSciFi] or our Twitch account [twitch.tv/bsfsBalticon], with the rest of the recorded panels to come (once we get them closed captioned, using volunteer labor, rather than the paid stuff). Sunday and Monday, you’ll find our Film Festival on there as well.

And, for those on Second Life, or who create a free account, you can join our “Balticon 54” group, and hangout at Balticon station. Many of vendors will also be found there, as well.

All The Training

Now, these technologies are all well-and-good but… before we can run stuff with them, we need to make sure we have enough staff TRAINED.

We need to make sure our panelists can ATTEND.

So, in the transition from physical con to virtual con, the panelists we had space to bring over all had to go through a zoom test session, to make sure they had the audio, video, and internet capabilities to make it even possible.

Matt, BSFS’s Social Media Director stepped up to become our VirtualCon Platform Admin/Expert, helping shepherd us through the process.

We’ve been running 3 practice panel sessions every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for nearly a month to give both our technicians and our panelists opportunities to practice.

One of our artist alley members, bluestonearcher, joined the discord server early and offered to help me make some promo pictures. 2 days later, his teaching background had him volunteering to help run our Zoom training and lighten the load on our VirtualCon admin, taking over those 9 practice sessions a week!

For our Discord Servers, I’ve run 4 training sessions for our Moderators and Admins. I’ve drafted guides for our Vendors, Artists, and Fan Table guests.

Not to mention, of course, all the tech trouble-shooting I’ve done, including three 1am sessions with my dad, helping him try to get a very old, donated web camera working on a linux system. So far, we’ve got the driver installed, the camera working, and the camera option enabled in zoom. Next up? Sort out why the video is blank — but only in zoom.

What Morgan Will Be Up To This Weekend


I will be on discord all weekend, both as admin, and because I’m a chatty sort of person.

Attending panels

If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ve probably noticed I have no sense of my limits when it comes to attending panels. I’ve signed up, just like a regular attendee, to see 28 panels. (I thought it was 22, but I’d miscounted.)

Since I often take copious notes at the writing panels, I didn’t want to run tech while watching those panels. However, I did review my schedule, and for the fun-to-watch, but maybe not ‘informative’ ones, let the tech team know they could schedule me as a backup technician. I did take the training after all.

Being ON Panels [the other side of the table!]

And lastly, but CERTAINLY not leastly, I’m going to be on THREE panels. I’m even moderating one of them – my first time moderating a live panel, and my second time ever being a panelist at any convention.

Sat 5pm Dealing with Literary Rejection
Sun 10am Beta-reading propostitions, what are you in for?
12pm What's this about establishing a social media presence (mod)

I hope all of you are planning to have a safe, but fun, and relaxing weekend. And please, feel free to check out balticon.org to find out all the stuff we have planned and scheduled. Let me know if you have any questions… it’s literally my (unpaid) job.

I’ll be back again next week, with more writing tips and writerly musings. Most likely? The Balticon post-con mortem.