Novel, Novella or Short Story?

Welcome to Part 11 of my Virtual Balticon panel writeup. This is my final post from my notes.

The panel description was as follows: What is the right length for your story idea? How does outlining, submitting, revising, and other aspects of the writing craft change with story length? How do you go about rewriting a story for a drastically different word count? Panelists will discuss various techniques they have used and the pros and cons of each.

The panelists were: Don Sakers (as moderator), Monica Louzon, Karen Osborne, Sarah Pinsker, and Margaret Riley.

The size of a story is often dictated by the scope of the idea that spawned it. While some experienced writers can tell from the shape of the concept how long their story will be, it’s often a case of trial and error and years.

Why Write Short Stories?

Writing short stories is the art of writing less. It lets you have fun and explore new ideas. Novels are a commitment, you have to be sure you’re in it for the long haul.

Typically, your short story is going to follow one major thread or concept, within a short period of time, and with minimal characters. Short stories are very zoomed in.

In short stories, you don’t put in huge bits of backstory, although, as always, you can write it for yourself and cut it.

If you keep getting your short stories rejected — it may be time to follow panelist Monica Louzon’s lead and do some research. Look at the anthologies in your genre that are currently selling, then read until you find something that resonates. Then, reread and study those stories — examine where they start, where they end, and their pacing. Or contemplate how you would change things.

Why Write Novellas?

Novellas can zoom out a little, cover more story, more ground. You can concentrate on 1-2 relationships in a novella.

Novellas can cover two or three plot threads, an additional character or two, and a longer time period than the typical short story. But, their scope isn’t quite enough for a full novel. This doesn’t make them lesser in any way. Readers can tell if you’ve padded out your novel for word count, and cutting a true novella down to a short story robs it of much of its plot and heart.

While some people use novellas to write serials, you have to be sure you won’t want to edit earlier episodes to set up later episodes better. It depends on your level of planning and how you deal with plot holes.

If you do write serials — you’ll need spreadsheets and records for every character.

If you find yourself writing too much about a minor character, they might should be the main character. Try switching them.

Why Write Novels?

Novels are more forgiving for description with far more room for character growth and world-building. Novels can carry complex plots, concepts, and time periods that could barely be touched in a novella or short story.

Although, many writers do try to pace their chapters like a series of connected short stories — this works for many writing styles.

Which Do I Have?

If you’re not sure which you have, you can try outlining your story and plot and see how far you get. Under 10 scenes? You’re looking at a short story. Under 20 scenes? Probably a novella. More than 30? We’re looking at novel territory, if these scenes are more than a paragraph or two.

If you’re against planning though? The only way to find out is to write it.


What do you prefer to write?

Is that the story length you prefer to read?

Have you ever been wrong about a story length and had to fix it?

Thanks for reading and I’ll be back again next week with more writing tips and writerly musings.

Intro To Self-Publishing

So you have a story and you want to publish it yourself. Let’s talk about how to get started, how to get noticed, and when you should pay a professional.

The panelists for the titular panel at Virtual Balticon 54 were: Kim Hargan (as moderator), Jean Cooper, Keith Hughes, Lee Moyer, and Cerece Rennie Murphy.

Where Did Self-Publishing Come From?

Back in the olden-days, self-publishing wasn’t the do-it-yourself thing it is today. The only options used to be traditional publishing or vanity presses, where you gave them money to print your book.

Buyer-beware: vanity presses are still a thing. If you’re looking at a small-publisher, make sure they’re not asking for money upfront.

Now, especially with the advent of publish-on-demand and ebooks, self-publication has taken off.

And while the unregulated self-publish market has plenty of probably-wasn’t-ready-to-publish offerings, it’s also been a great place for quality authors as well.

Why Writers Self-Publish

Every writer’s journey is different, and when you look into it, their reasons are personal and multitude. But, some of the most common reasons writers go with self-publication are:

  1. They couldn’t find an agent or publisher — for whatever reason
  2. They write for a niche market
  3. They wanted more control over the finished product
  4. The book was already published and they’re switching formats

The 2 Most Important Tips For Self-Publishing

  1. You. Need. An. Editor.

    When you read your own work, you know so well what it’s supposed to say, that it can be easy to overlook small errors. Word, Grammerly, and The Hemmingway App can only do so much.

    If you want a professional product, pay up.

    Plus, they can do some googling and make sure that you’re not naming your character after some obscure sex act in a foreign country.
  2. You need a good cover artist

    I know, I know, you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover. But? We all do.

    A cover can let you know what genre and which subgenre you’re reading. If you misrepresent that? You’re gonna end up with 1-star reviews because you’ve attracted the wrong audience. Plus? A poorly-done photoshopped cover makes people think of the un-edited, published-too-soon works that they’ve regretted reading.

    Sure, you could save the money, but you’ll very likely need to invest just as much or more into marketing, to make up for the sales your cover has lost you.

    While you’ll have a lot of artistic control when you hire your own artist, remember this, publishing houses usually keep the writers far away from the artists because, like it or not, the writer is usually WRONG about what the art should look like.

    Sometimes it’s best to tell the artist about the book and see what they come up with.

Ways To Market Your Self-Publishing Book

You can’t get in stores as easy as a publisher, how do you get them out there? It is a LOT of work to sell books.

  1. Online
    1. Facebook
      1. Ads
      1. live readings (1 week out, diff section on launch day)
    2. twitter
    3. instagram
    4. book bub (esp, book 2&3)
    5. Email friends/colleagues/mailing list
  2. For live events
    1. Tables at conventions
    2. Readings/Autograph sessions – if paired with other people or in busy areas
    3. bookmarks/business cards
      • Different cards for different audiences/sales approaches
      • Different cards for agents/publishers vs readers
      • Nothing on the back for wealthy customers, shiny card with the cover on the back for fans
  3. Everywhere
    1. Networking.

      Be happy to make connections.

      If someone is looking for a book and yours isn’t a great fit? Suggest other people’s work if it’s a better fit for what people are looking for. Those people — both the ones you recommend to and those whose work you recommended are a lot more likely to suggest your works to friends/family who might be the right audience for you.

      If you’re an introvert at a convention? Get there early and introduce yourself to the tables around you. Let them know if you’re new — to tabling in general or that con in specific. Be open to advice. So many people in this industry are welcoming and will be happy to welcome you.

Self-publishing is a brave choice and a tough road to walk. Best of luck finding your audience to all my writer friends — no matter who publishes you and when.


Obviously, I’m not self-published. Please! Share your experiences and tips and references if you have any! I’d love to share them.


Thanks for reading. If you found this post helpful, share it with your friends, feel free to subscribe to my newsletter if you’d like to get these posts in your inbox, and I’ll be back again next week, with more writing tips and writerly musings.

Tips for Writing Combat: Where Do You Focus?

Here’s Part 4 of my VirtualBalticon panel notes.

Even veterans and long-time practitioners can have problems writing fights that are both compelling and realistic; how is someone new supposed to keep up? We’ll discuss getting experience with the weapons you’re writing about, how to handle pacing in brawls, skirmishes, and battles, and how to keep the tension high when your protagonists have to survive.

These are my notes from the titular panel at Virtual Balticon 54. The panelists were: James Mendez Hodes (as moderator), Jeanne Adams, Ken Schrader, and Ryan Van Loan.

Ways to decide which details to focus on

Who is the character?

  • A new fighter
    • Focuses on scary things: the knife, the big guy, the gun
    • Is surprised by combat: how much their hand hurts after throwing a punch, how loud the gunshot is, the feel of the other person’s gut
  • A trained fighter
    • Notices small details
    • Can analyze their opponent, at least, before they get into things
    • Sometimes, time kinda slows for them

What type of scene are you showing?

  • In Hollywood:
    • Every move works (for the main character), every punch hits, every dodge works. Unless the plot needs it not to.
  • In real life
    • People don’t move as expected, and you’re mostly left just trying to react as the situation keeps changing

What’s the character’s flaw?

  • When the character is in combat, they’re usually dealing with a weakness
    • Are they in the fight because they won’t back down or have to instigate?
    • Is the weakness going to cause them to lose?
    • Do they overcome their weakness to win the fight?

What is the scene’s purpose?

The scene needs to either:

  • reveal something new about the character
  • move the plot forward
  • raise the stakes

The best scenes do all of these things.

[Note from other panels: Don’t have the bad-guy hurting babies/women just to show they’re bad. It’s cliche, overdone, and could be done far more subtly, with just as much impact.]

Tips for Writing Combat

  1. Use visceral details
    • You can keeping them to what the main
      character is feeling, they don’t even need to be graphic, just their physical/emotional reactions to the fight
    • Focus on the sensory details
      • Emotions – anger, fear, panic
      • Smells and Sounds
      • Feelings – texture, pain, loss of sensation
  2. Walk it through
    • Sit down with a friend/family member to make sure it tracks or just plain act it out.
  3. Make sure they’re hurting after the fight
    • If you get in a hand-to-hand fight, you’re going to be hurting the next day. You’re going to be tired after 30 seconds, exhausted after 3 minutes, and your adrenaline is gonna crash hard when you’re safe.
    • Note: The Indiana jones movie got a shout out for actually SHOWING him bruised and battered after a fist fight.
  4. Being in the military doesn’t make you an expert at every fighting style
    • Basic is more intro to what you will have to train
    • Most military is only taught some hand-to-hand basics, the rest is personal choice.
  5. Fighters have limits — especially during war
    • To paraphrase Ryan Van Loan, “Everyone has a cup, and if it overflows, you break. If someone can help or give you a break, you can recover.
    • In other words, this is why we give soldiers respite, why we rotate them off the front lines. And why so many have trouble transferring back to civilian life.

Researching and Writing What You Don’t Know

I write fantasy, so I’m not a proponent of ‘write what you know.’ But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do your research.

War (throughout the ages) in media:

  • Restrepo – an Iraqi war documentary
  • Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War – by Karl Marlantes
    • An in-depth look at what it’s like to go to war
  • The History Channel – some of their stuff
  • Legion Versus Phalanx: The Epic Struggle for Infantry Supremacy in the Ancient World – by Myke Cole
  • Shadiversary on Youtube
  • “‘We Have Always Fought‘: Challenging the ‘WomenCattle and Slaves‘ Narrative” – essay by Kameron Hurley

Other Ways To Research Fight Scenes

  • Beta-readers
  • Ask people who fight in the style you’re writing
  • Read fight scenes — study the pacing

Some of the panelists favorite books for fight scenes

  • Dune – by Frank Herbert, especially the ending
  • Wheel of Time: The Dragon Reborn – by Robert Jordan

Remember, when writing combat, it’s not about the guts and glory, it’s about the story and the characters.

Any tips or tricks you like to use? Anything I missed? Let me know in the comments below.

There’s No Target in Middle Earth: Economics in Fantasy

Back to Part 3 of my VirtualBalticon panel notes.

In your original fantasy setting, everything the characters own or interact with has to come from somewhere, from food and drink to durable goods. Let’s talk about how to build a believable material culture for your world.

These notes come from the titular panel from Virtual Balticon 54 with panelists: E.C. Ambrose (as moderator), Gail Martin, Roberta Rogow, James Stratton, and Beth Tanner.

First up, let’s talk about how people get this wrong. Some of the biggest pet peeves that keep cropping up in fantasy novels.

Pet peeves about fantasy logic

  1. Horses are not cars

    Horses are not like cheap used cars. They are expensive to both buy and to maintain. And, in a world with horses? You’re traveling the paths that exist, not a highway.
  2. Space and time have set values.

    Especially in alternate history, how long does it take to travel? How long does it take news to travel? It depends on who you are and where you live.

    Think of Napoleonic couriers, homing pigeons, ravens, and beacons.

    If you lived near their home base, you’d be far better informed, faster than many people betwixt and between the location where the news happened and where the news traveled.
  3. Stew is not portable.

    Think about your food preservation and its transport.
  4. Clothes are finite.

    Throughout history, many people only had only one change of clothing, and very little coin money. Most things were done by bartering.
  5. Wild country is rare in settled countries.

    Those ‘wild’ prairies or moors? Likely had something grazing on them, and a herder watching over them.

    Carpenters and loggers in the woods. People gathering medicinal herbs in all sorts of places. Open land outside of cities and towns were mostly farmed. There isn’t much up for grabs that someone doesn’t try to make a living off of… unless there’s a reason.
  6. Some fabrics are worth more than others.

    In The Hobbit, Bilbo’s robe is a patchwork robe, with a wide variety of expensive silks.

    (My Note: If he or his family were tailors and these were the offcuts? Maybe. But there needs to be a reason)

How To Set Up An Economy That Works

Here are some things to keep in mind.

  • What things are available in stores? What things must be given, inherited, or earned?
  • How good you looked often depended on family sewing skills — or the ability to pay someone with those. Plus, what cloth was from your region.
  • Coinage – do they have people, gods, or something else on them? Are they a consistent size, weight, or materials? Or mixed?
  • Show the different classes – there usually isn’t going to be a single economic class, even if they pretend it.
    • Someone’s usually in charge.
    • If someone is shocked at all the silverware, that tells us something about them.
    • If some people does something weird it can be: “oh, the coastal people usually do X”.
    • Are they nibbling on the ornamental fruit display?

The very best of science-fiction and fantasy showcase different cultures and hint at where they came from. They display the different economic systems and how that affects what people within them prioritize.

Examples of Good Fantasy Economics

  • Lois McMaster Bujold’s science-fiction VorKosigan series.
  • Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni series.
  • Fran Wilde’s Bone Universe series.
  • Juliette Wade’s Mazes of Power (she also has a world-building blog)
  • Guy Gavriel Kay’s work

Inconsistencies with your world’s economy, while sounding like the most boring lecture, can make or break the story for many of your readers. Be sure to think through the implications of where material items came from and how they got to be there, and you’ll be well on your way to creating a functioning fantasy world.


Any tips or tricks I missed?

Any world-building favorites you’d like to give a shout out to?

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!