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Preview: 101 Reasons to Stop Writing

101 Reasons to Stop Writing

Imagining a world where people buy and read good novels, instead of writing bad ones.

Updated: 2014-10-05T19:30:07.995+11:00





101 Reasons is moving to a new domain, with a completely redesigned website. (That's why the long downtime.)

The new blog is faster, and much more fun to read, comment and update.

Oh, and this old blogspot thing won't be updated any more.

You'll never look at a blank page the same way again.

Not Ready for Prime Time ...


This blog is going quiet for a few days, as some behind-the-scenes issues are worked out. Comments are temporarily disabled, and some of the server-pounding, browser-dragging, attention-consuming widgets are being switched off.

When we come back, things will be definitely be a little more interesting. Not sure how to quantify "interesting", but I'm sure there will be more of it.

Later this month, there will be something even more interesting. I don't know if you can handle all the interesting I'm going to be dishing out. Bring a backpack.

If you just can't wait to find out, email me. I won't tell you, but you'll feel more proactive.

Clichépalooza: Now Taking Requests


What cliché(s) do you hate above all others? What example of lazy plagiarism is guaranteed to send the book you're reading flying out the nearest window? What recycled copout has compelled you to seek a refund from an author, in person?

I'd like to compile a poll of ten or so of the most egregious pills that authors hope readers will swallow, so we can vote for the Mother of All Clichés. But there's no fun in me just picking clichés at random. I don't read all that widely, outside of DSM-IV and Watchtower magazine, so I'm not familiar with the worst offenders in every genre.

Send me an email ( nominating the clichés that make you wonder if the author has read anything in the genre at all. They can be words, phrases, characters or plot elements, and you can nominate as many as you like. (You can post a comment if you're paranoid about email.)

I'll pick the best (and by that I mean worst, or the ones I can make funny) and create a poll in the coming days.

Once voting is over, I'll tell you the cliché I hate most.

Reason #15 Addendum: Clichépalooza


Now that you've begun to accept that you're a lazy, plagiarising fanfic writer, let's look at some of the different forms of cliché that you frequently abuse, and how you can identify them -- so you can plainly see that your fiction is merely a string of old, stolen ideas held together with conjunctions. There are clichéd words: mostly adjectives and adverbs, such as "grizzled" (usually followed by "detective"), pretty much any word that ends in -ly, and the queen of all clichéd words, "quirky". Let me tell you now, everyone is quirky when they think no-one's looking (for example, I find delight in ripping random pages out of books in bookstores). Resorting to using "quirky" to describe a character is a stop writing moment. There are a couple of easy ways to spot clichéd words in your writing: Words that you frequently read in fiction but almost never hear anyone use in everyday speech (Do you know anyone who would appreciate being called "grizzled"?) Adjectives/adverbs that appear more than three times in your entire writing output There are the clichéd phrases: "to all intents and porpoises", "lies, damned lies and goddamn awful fiction", or "people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw clichés". They're often tired similes and metaphors that no longer inspire comparative thought ("a drop in the bucket"). Others are elegant variations: using five words where one would suffice ("in the fullness of time" instead of "eventually"). Still others are little more than punctuation -- think about how many writers use "let's get out of here" because they can't figure out how to end a scene. Even synopses have their own clichés, such as "and then they", "it turns out" and "little did they know". You can determine quite simply if a particular phrase is a cliché: ask yourself if you've ever read those words in that exact sequence before. If you're not sure, Google it. A few hits might be coincidence, but more than ten and you might as well contact the authors of those pages to form a bad writers' support group. There are clichéd characters: the bitter ("grizzled") detective with a secret that explains his bitterness and his limp, chasing the preternaturally intelligent serial killer with the absurdly complex and predictable psychopathology who appeared as a minor character on page 50; the self-aware anthropomorphic robot who is fascinated by or yearns to be a chemically-imbalanced talking meat-bag; the school bully with latent homosexuality who winds up as a twice-divorced fry cook; the hooker who inexplicably does something nice for someone without expecting so much as a bag of crack and a shot of penicillin in return; the emotionally disconnected elf (or, indeed, any 'elf'); the young agricultural worker who it is prophesied will rise up to save the kingdom from the tyranny of market forces; or pretty much every supporting character in your fiction that you had to make "quirky". You probably know who the clichéd characters are in your fiction, because you remember the original stories they come from. You didn't really try to hide the similarity, because although you're ostensibly writing a WWII-era spy thriller, subconsciously you really want people to figure out it's thinly-veiled Star Wars fanfic. There are clichéd plots and plot elements: that one crucial forensic clue the oafish police overlooked, that the preternaturally observant amateur detective finds on page 87 but only tells you about on page 279; the paradox of travelling back in time just to explain the time-travel paradox to the one smart person in the primitive tribe who conveniently learns to speak English fluently in less than a chapter; the mysterious object imbued with the mysterious power to to remain mysterious, that must be found/rescued/destroyed at any cost but never adequately explained to anyone; and dear God, any story that is d[...]

Reason #15: You're a Cliché Abuser


Clichés are the cancer of fiction. They may be hard to spot at first -- a borrowed phrase here, a stock character there -- but if left unchecked, they can metastasize throughout your prose, infecting any shreds of originality and talent, until your output is nothing but puerile dross. See, it's happening already.  

(I'm assuming you know what a cliché is, and not just because people keep saying your writing is full of them, and that your life as an unsuccessful writer basically is one. If you don't know what a cliché is, then it's time to hitch a ride on the Stop Writing Express to Acceptance, where you can catch a bus back to Reality.)

Here's an important point to remember:

Cliché is the plagiarising of what has already been plagiarised

Every cliché begins with an act of plagiarism -- for an idea to be overused, it must be used by one writer and 're-used' by another, then another and another. The idea becomes a cliché when it has been copied so many times that no-one remembers the original text -- or at least, it's been copied so many times that it seems acceptable to copy.

If the original idea was sufficiently broad, and the copying of the idea sufficiently popular, the cliché may be charitably described as "trope" or "convention", or in rare instances, "sub-genre". Which leads us to:

Cliché is a form of fan fiction

One of the (many) arguments against fan fiction is that the fanfic writer relies on the reader's understanding and expectations of the original work, avoiding the difficult work of creating plot, setting and character, and skipping straight to the "action" (often man-on-man, or man-on-wookie). Clichés, especially "genre conventions", function in the same manner, invoking a familiarity in the reader to spare the writer the arduous labour of creating original meaning. Which leads us to:

Cliché is the antidote to originality

Unless you're specifically setting out to plagiarise, or create genre-fanfic, you use clichés when you're just too lazy to think of something original. Not sure what your character would say in a given situation? Or how to move the story from point A to point B? Or how to describe a particular setting, or action, or emotion? Then fall back on your internal database of What Other Writers Have Done™, and hide your shame with the Everyone Does It™ defense.

If you string enough clichés together, you can reduce the amount of work you have to do yourself to little more than typing.

July 21: On This Day ...


In 1796, Scottish poet Robert Burns stopped writing the hard way, and began the more rewarding task of being a national hero. He wrote the world's most famous drinking song.

In 1899, poet Hart Crane began his lifelong struggle with being the second-most famous writer born on July 21, 1899. He eventually committed suicide in characteristically cryptic fashion, and still his nemesis found a way to overshadow him.

In 1899, friend of the bottle and enemy of the bull Ernest Hemingway was born. His parents put him in a dress for his first baby pictures, and he spent the rest of his life slaughtering wild animals, punching drunks, volunteering for foreign wars and eliminating faggy adjectives from his prose to make up for it. He later won the Pulitzer Prize and Nobel Prize for Literature for a short story (which he padded out to over a hundred pages) about a guy who caught a fish -- but back then they were practically giving them away. He put the final full stop through his brain in 1961.

In 1933, novelist and literary critic John Gardner was born. As well as writing the best damn story about Grendel for more than a thousand years, he is most famous for his book On Moral Fiction, in which he argued that all fiction should strive to explore universal human values. (Bet you're glad he's not in charge of the pens and paper.)

In 1969, the Golden Age of science fiction reached its zenith when Edwin 'Buzzkill' Aldrin stepped onto the surface of the Moon and declared it "magnificent desolation", moments after Neil Armstrong flubbed his famous "One small step for (a) man" line. The genre began a rapid decline when people realised that the long promised little green men were just as fictional as the "magnificent".

In 2007, the much ballyhooed "Fantasy Boom" ended with a whimper as children (and adults with the critical faculties of children) rushed out to purchase the seventh and final Harry Potter novel at a ridiculous discount from chain bookstores trying to compete with supermarkets, skipped to the ending, wondered for a moment what they were going to read now, then went back to watching television.

July 18: On This Day ...


in 64AD, one of the earliest recorded Slushpile Bonfire Days gets out of control and torches almost a third of Rome over the next week. Historian Suetonius declares the occasion a qualified success, disposing of hundreds of stories about some Jew with magic powers. After the rubble is cleared, Emperor Nero builds the world's largest Barnes & Noble.

In 1811, author William Makepeace Thackeray began his sacred mission to satirise the upper-class twits of English Society. The upper-class twits responded with their long-proven tactic to silence critics, blunting his satire with large quantities of cash.

In 1817, novelist Jane Austen stopped writing, in the most disagreeable fashion.

In 1899, novelist Horatio Alger Jr. finally gave up writing for dimes.

In 1925, the world's biggest party pooper Adolf Hitler publishes the first volume of his whiny me-me-me moanfest Mein Kampf. Dictated while Hitler was in prison, the original manuscript contained several chapters which explained how he came to loathe large, hairy gypsies, and love men in leather uniforms.

In 1937, gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson began the long, exhausting process of drinking, smoking and injecting himself to death.

In 1938, renowned biblical scholar Paul Verhoeven was born. His blockbuster movies Robocop, Total Recall, Starship Troopers, Basic Instinct and Showgirls have built an elegant literary foundation for his forthcoming book Jesus The Man, a project he's apparently been working on for a decade. (I wish I was kidding.)

In 2001, Bush critic and James Bond fanfic author James Hatfield quit pretending that he wasn't a convicted felon. (His life story is like an abridged version of A Confederacy of Dunces.)

Guest Post: SFWA Changes Entry Criteria for Membership


Here at 101 Reasons, we pride ourselves on bringing you news and opinion about the world of writing, especially the stuff you don't want but have to know. Today we bring you breaking news of particular importance to science fiction writers whose publishing credits are less than stellar. (This is the news that Revolution Science Fiction didn't have the guts to print.) SFWA Changes Entry Criteria for Membershipby Edgar Harris Chesterton, Maryland -- The Science Fiction Writers of America, the long-running organization for professional science fiction and fantasy writers, announced today that it was making drastic changes to how it accepted new members, not to mention how it kept older members within the fold. "The basic requirements for SFWA membership previously required that a writer have three short stories or one full-length fiction book or a dramatic script appear through professional paying markets," said Caroline Crawford, SFWA spokeswoman. "However, over the late Eighties and early Nineties, we found the organization flooded with members who received their accreditation through sales to Writers of the Future or Pulphouse magazine, and although they never managed to get published again, they had lifetime membership so long as they paid their membership dues. "So we find ourselves flooded with members who do nothing more than put 'Member, SFWA' on their letterhead and throw tantrums if they don’t get guest badges at local conventions, and voting in SFWA elections against any provisions to remove members unpublished in a decade or more. We had to go to further extremes to enliven the organization and clear out the dead wood." Those "further extremes" consist of talent competitions completely unrelated to writing. "Simply put," said Ms. Crawford, "any current or incipient member of SFWA must be able to impersonate a cartoon character to the satisfaction of an independently selected jury. No exceptions." According to the new bylaws of SFWA, each member must be able to impersonate the voice of a particular character in an animated TV show or film, and each character belongs to that author until the author dies or is beaten in impersonation combat. "Effectively, each fiction writer qualifies for one impersonation. Nonfiction writers get two, and any professional editor gets one to add to his or her total,", said Crawford. "This means that James Arce-Stevens gets one character, while Mike Resnick, being a fiction writer and a pro editor, gets two." Initially, the characters selected would be done on a first-come, first-served basis, but two writers selecting the same character may compete in an arena for that impersonation: the winner remains with SFWA, while the loser has to leave the SF genre entirely unless they have an alternative. "Nonfiction writers get two solely because we can use as many as we can get." Many extant and former SFWA members jumped on the new rules, with varying results. Harlan Ellison, due to his singular origins (see Harlan Ellison: The Ultimate Literary Warrior Robot), promptly claimed three characters: The Iron Giant, GIR from the Nickelodeon series Invader ZIM, and Bender from Futurama. Said Crawford, "Everybody knows that Harlan goes running around his house on Friday nights impersonating GIR anyway, so this wasn’t too much of a stretch." Others had more of an effort. "[Former SFWA President] Norman Spinrad and James P. Hogan had a hard time of it, seeing as how they both do an exemplary Olive Oyl, and we needed judges after about three hours. They just wouldn’t break character. Jim finally managed to win, but Mr. Spinrad managed to get back into the game with a Boomhauer impersonation that left us with tears in our eyes. It was just beautiful. It was almost as stunning as Pat Cadigan’s Snow White or Emily Devenport’s Stimpy." Some new and established writers, unfortunately, f[...]

Guest Posts


[This post will be updated as new Guest Posts are published.]

The burden of convincing a population of ambitious ostriches that every word they write is but another grain of sand weighing down their buried heads, is too great for any one man to bear. A lone individual is easily dismissed as a scoundrel and a lunatic; but two men who stand together, shoulder to shoulder against the tide of opposition and denial, is a Revolution.

Thus it was that Paul Riddell came to 101 Reasons, and the Stop Writing movement was born.

Paul's special brand of Reality chili, served with complex analogy salsa and wrapped in a tortilla of painfully honest anecdotes, is the perfect alternative when you find my own brand of Give Up Your Hopeless Dreams (with a side of You Suck) is too sweet and easily digested.

Paul Riddell's Guest Posts:

  1. Slushpile Freakonomics -- "That's not to say that the enterprising wannabe can't set himself up for a career of incredible bitterness or unrelenting fantasy in freelance writing. The problem here is the timing."
  2. The Aspie Dilemma -- "For a group that prides itself on self-diagnosed Asperger's Syndrome, wannabe writers sure have a problem with spotting patterns."
  3. Turds, Remainders and Other End-Products -- "Just as no high matches that of the first byline spotting, nothing works better at crushing unjustified hubris than making a quick trip to the remainder bin."
  4. The Savings That Matter -- "One business report after another makes much hay out of how smoking costs $X million in lost hours every year in the US, but nobody takes the time to research how many man-hours are lost every year to wannabe writers."
  5. Five Years Later, Did We Learn Anything? -- "It's not just enough to encourage the idea that the life work of most 'writers' are so foul that their work automatically gets dumped into a furnace somewhere: we should all encourage the idea that the torching will be a public event."

These posts should at the very least dissuade you from ever introducing yourself as a writer, in case the person you've just met is Paul.



Polls are a both a fascinating insight into the morals and psyches of the peoples attracted to 101 Reasons, and a wonderful way to pad out a slow week with content that just writes itself.

If you've missed any, or you're yearning to know if you're one of the herd, all the 101 Reasons Polls are listed below.

Each poll has an Intro link, where I tried to tell people why they should care enough to vote on this bullshit topic, and a Results link, where I detail just how few people could be bothered. You could just read the Results, I guess, but the Intros contain some pertinent abuse you might otherwise miss.

(If you're one of those people who just have to feel their opinion counts for something, the polls are still open, so if you didn't vote before, or you've cleared your browser cookies, feel free to game the results. I'll update if they change significantly.)

The polls:

  1. Find out if you're in your own demographic: Did you buy any books by debut authors last year?
    Intro Results Vote
  2. I slept in most of January: Why do you think Sean's been so slow to update this month? (This entire year, really.)
    Intro Results Vote
  3. You can't lose it if you never write it: Do you back up your writing?
    Intro Results Vote
  4. It's Slushpile Awareness Month, all this year: What do you think of the Slushpile?
    Intro Results Vote
  5. Because 'professional' doesn't always mean they behave like one: What's the longest you've waited for a response to a submission?
    Intro Results Vote
  6. Because I'm shit out of ideas: What do you want to see on 101 Reasons?
    Intro Results Vote

More polls to come, whenever I realise it's been weeks since I posted anything.

July 11: On This Day ...


In 1754, English censor Thomas Bowdler was born. He was the author of Family Shakespeare, a clean, kid-friendly version of the Bard's filthy, porn-drenched original works. This Good Parts version did more to popularise Shakespeare amongst the easily upset than Leonardo diCaprio and Mel Gibson combined. To this day, the term 'bowdlerise' means that someone cared enough about a work of artistic smut to make it palatable, and available in supermarkets.

In 1859, Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities was published. You will never be this good.

In 1899, style guru E. B. White was born. He was the White in Strunk & White. If you had to click on that link to find out what Strunk & White means, stop writing.

In 1930, literary critic Harold Bloom was born, and immediately published a scathing review of the obstetrician's cold hands.

In 1955, (according to Wikipedia), the phrase In God We Trust was added to US currency, replacing the Latin motto E Pluribus Unum ("out of many, one"), which was subsequently adopted as a motto by slush readers.

In 1960, Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird was published. You will never be this good (and even Harper Lee knew it).

In 1971, Astounding Science Fiction editor John W. Campbell finally succumbed to the slushpile. Campbell was hailed as a leading proponent of the genre, and an intolerable crackpot, often by the same people.

In 1983, crime writer Ross McDonald stopped writing, the hard-boiled way.

Poll Dancing #6: The Results


As part of my overly complex, megalomaniacal plan to dominate (and eventually monetize) the under-exploited demographic of masochistic writers, I recently asked about the type of content you'd like me to spend my precious, rare-as-slushpile-talent free time to create for your ongoing amusement, like some animatronic talking monkey with the switch jammed on benign sarcasm. Respondents were permitted to choose more than one option, but the poll service counted each choice as a separate vote, making the results statistically meaningless. At least you couldn't vote more than once (unless you're cookiephobic), so we can be reasonably sure that 50+ people voted. The Question: What do you want to see on 101 Reasons? The Results: 25% (45 votes) More Reasons! I'm this close to quitting, I just need a push. 6% (10 votes) More Interviews, preferably with people I've heard of. 12% (21 votes) Weekend Updates! I need more stuff to procrastinate and obsess over. 30% (53 votes) Anything, just make it funny. I find your transparent sarcasm reassuring. 13% (24 votes) Anything, just make it cruel. My ego is overtaking my self-loathing. 2% (3 votes) More Polls! I like to know I'm not the only one here. 4% (8 votes) More personal stuff. I'm stalking you, but I'm lazy. 1% (1 votes) Generic blogosphere memes, punditry and other navel-gazing fluff. Got a cat? 2% (3 votes) Give up already. You haven't saved one tortured adverb. 6% (10 votes) Would you review my manuscript? Total votes: 178 Oh, you three people who voted for 'Give up already', you have cut me to the quick. You are the ointment in my fly.  Although the methodology is deeply flawed, we can make up some interesting conclusions from these data. Obviously, most of you want more Reasons, your writerly phantasies having survived #1-14 more or less intact. But can it be true that less than half the people who want funny also want cruel? (Reminds of an old Dave Allen joke, which I will humourlessly paraphrase thus: 'Hurt me,' said the masochist to the sadist, and the sadist said 'No.') To the folks who voted for Weekend Updates, you may get your wish soon enough. To those who voted for more personal stuff, I say: pick up the damn phone. If you don't know the number, it's none of your damn business. Manuscript review? If you think your ego can handle a serve of fresh, steaming reality from me, you may as well just keep submitting. The result is the same.[...]

Scott of the Cathartic (Slushpile Interview Bonus Content)


In the recent interviews with ASIM slush readers, I asked the question: What responses, if any, have you received from rejected writers? A straightforward enquiry, yet it left the door open to answer the question I was really asking: Have any of these social landmines tried stalking you from Fortress Ego? Three of the four interviewees responded to the literal question, indicating that (because the anonymity of ASIM's slush system) they haven't had to face an onslaught of 'How Dare You?' attacks from an author who doesn't understand their position in the submission process.  Lee Battersby, however (who in the interview discussed his experiences reading slush for other publications), had a story to tell. For readers familiar with the Australian SF scene, this story may be known (and old news) to you. But for everyone else, this is a world class example of "OMFG he did what?". I received a story that was submitted by an acquaintance of mine. In the interests of anonymity, we'll give him my brother's name:  Scott. I'd met Scott at a few cons, we knew each other by sight, and he was a friendly enough guy that I quite liked him in that way you like casual acquaintances. Scott had been round the traps for a while and had a few publications to his credit, so it wasn't out of the realms of surprise that he'd send us something. The story itself wasn't up to scratch: it was clumsily written, had leaps of logic that didn't gel, and the whole thing really didn't measure up to our needs. I sent him a rejection, thanking him and explaining why we wouldn't be taking the story. All standard. Scott sent me an email in reply: Wow, he said, his first rejection in 15 years of industry success. He'd forgotten what they tasted like. Sorry he didn't meet our stellar standards, and thanks ever so for pointing out all his multitudinous faults from our position of all-knowing invulnerability. What could I say to that? It happens. I shrugged, and binned it. He'd had a silly moment, what're ya gonna do? Then, over the next couple of days, I received a number of emails from friends, all of which asked the same questions: Had I just rejected Scott's story? What did I say? What was the story like? Scott, it seemed, had a blog. Scott had blogged his rejection. Scott had quite a few things to say about his rejection, particularly on the subject of editors who were too stupid to recognise a spoof of bad SF stories, which he'd deliberately written to be bad, and clumsy, and contain massive leaps of logic. Anyway, he wrote, ha ha to the stupid editors, because he'd sent it to Argosy and they'd got back within 24 hours, and were "absolutely bugfuck" about the story. Scott was sure the large cheque he'd receive for the story would make it all worthwhile. In fact, Scott was doing pretty well at the moment. Look at all the other markets that were buying his work: here, and here, and here. Which was great for Scott. Except: Argosy had been closed to submissions for over a year. Several comments appeared on his entry to that effect. Then someone decided to follow up the other stories Scott had mentioned. None of the editors had heard of him. Several visited his blog, just to tell him so. Then another writer blogged an entry on his blog, on the subject of liars, and CV padding, and the sadness and pathetic nature of people who did so. They linked to Scott's entry. And so it went. More people commented, and blogged, and linked, and commented again. Pretty soon, within a month or so, the jackboot brigade were denouncing Scott at every opportunity, and calling for him to be run out of Dodge, as if we were all somehow members of a posse, charged with keeping good ole S[...]

Your July Demotivator


Click for larger version

Photo by Dawn Turner. Special thanks to Ms. Reasons.

Slushpile Interview: ASIM's Readers (Part Three)


The eternally patient slush readers at Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine have humoured me long enough. Here, in the final installment of this round table interview (Parts One and Two), the kid gloves come off, to reveal the latex gloves coated in anti-bacterial gel that they must wear when handling unsolicited submissions. Note: Several of the interviewees refer below to a mythic entity, variously known as the 'Slush King', 'Slush Queen', 'Slushmaster' or 'Slushmistress'. I'm assuming that this is this refers to ASIM's submissions handler, and not to an actual monarch of the slushpile -- if it's the latter, I think they've been reading slush way too long. In any event, I'm sure it's a hereditary title. How far "out there" do some people go? Worst/strangest/most elaborate? Haynes: I've written and edited my response to this question several times now, because I don't want to offend anyone. I'll just say that I've read a couple of stories which should probably have been forwarded to mental health experts. Horror, of course. Battersby: The worst submission I've received wasn't actually a submission at all! It was an emailed invitation to peruse somebody's 17000 line SF poem regarding their cat, and to reproduce as much, or all, of it as I liked. I've also had to reject one submission on the grounds that, even if the writing had been up to scratch, we just couldn't bring ourselves to publish a story where the author had chosen to illustrate each paragraph with an assortment of clip art that he insisted had to be reproduced. What responses, if any, have you received from rejected writers? 'Charlie': I don't get responses directly but we do get feedback sometimes which the Slush king or Queen shares. It is always positive, saying how much the author appreciated the feedback and the time we have taken to give it. But they may be hiding the negative stuff. Wessely: Generally we get a very positive response from our writers, because a) our reading process is very transparent and we keep authors in the loop as to what stage their story is at and b) we often provide feedback from the slushers. There are some loopy people out there who get a bit paranoid about their ‘baby’ – to them I say if you can’t handle rejection (and can’t read the emails the slushmistress/master sends to you regularly and take them at face value!) maybe you shouldn’t be in this game. We try to do it nicely and constructively, but as an author, you need to deal with it!Haynes: Personally, none. The slushmaster isn't supposed to put our names on the response(s), but I think a couple did slip through once so I stopped putting my name, sig or anything else in my replies. Eventually I stopped commenting altogether. Yes or no, that's it. Battersby: The majority of writers I've worked with have accepted rejections for what they are: confirmation that this story won't be purchased by this magazine at this time. (NB: That's all they are.) Occasionally I've had a writer contact me to ask whether there's anything they need to do in order to be more successful next time, or whether I had a view on what should happen to the story next. It's not a move I'd recommend, but  anybody who shows humility and dedication should be welcomed gently. However ... Every now and again, you push somebody's ego button. I've received the odd 'rejection reply' where the author has chosen to respond to the rejection itself, just to let me know how wrong I was. Nothing you can do about people like that: they just don't know how to behave, and spanking them will only make them madder. I've been on mailing lists where authors have blown off steam [...]

Poll Dancing #6


Well, my impromptu experiment into just how long it takes a moderately successful blog to piss away its audience has produced some solid results: Seven days, from the last highpoint (June 8, the most recent ISBD news story), when I was averaging just under two hundred visitors per day, to get down to less than ten. That's even faster than the drop in box office a Hollywood blockbuster experiences when bad word-of-mouth kicks in.

Just for fun, I thought I'd pretend that I desperately crave validation from a gaggle of smug he's-not-talking-about-me slushdwellers and the random assortment of weirdos who find their way here from Google searches. So, this week's poll gives you the opportunity to tell me what kind of content you want to see more of at 101 Reasons.

With this poll, you can choose more than one option. You could choose every option, I suppose -- but that would be statistically meaningless and redundant, just like your writing. 

Disclaimer: I absolutely will not take this into account when I choose what to write about. Maybe next year we'll look back and see how closely your expectations match my whimsy.

Slushpile Interview: ASIM's Readers (Part Two)


The slush readers for Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine continue in their combined effort to frustrate me, refusing to be baited by my leading questions. (See Part One if you missed it.) How has your perspective changed since you began? Wessely: Oh, I’m FAR more picky now than I used to be! I’m also much better at judging stories outside my own personal tastes. I try to be more critical of what I read, and I often think, "yes, it’s a good story, but is it GREAT? Is there something special about this that will appeal to an editor enough to fill pages with it?"Haynes: Okay, at first I wanted to grab the almost-there stories and tell the authors how to fix them. But then they would have been my stories, not theirs. It's not luck, it's not who you know - just make sure your story has all the elements and is written as well as, or better than, the stories you've read in the mag. (If you haven't read an issue of the mag you're submitting to, you are so wasting your time.) Battersby: I'm less tolerant of "lightweight" stories than I used to be. Short stories, in particular, have to confront and undermine the status quo, not reinforce it. Even if the author sets out to write a humorous quest fantasy with cheeky hobbit sidekicks (and may syphilis rot your descendants if you do), they need to act against the 'comfort-eating' aspects of literature. It's a crowded field. Attitude counts. 'Charlie': I am more often tempted not to read the whole thing. I have come round to the opinion though that if a story can't bring me in within the first four paragraphs then it is quite flawed. I do still read to the end to give the author a fair consideration of what I think could be improved if I am rejecting it. Basically, anything that causes me to be jolted out of the story world the author has created is a bad thing. Tell me numbers. How many, how fast, how often, how few deserving of attention? Wessely: ASIM is in the high 7000s for submissions [over] five and a half years, an average of around 1400 a year. Luckily I haven’t had to read them all myself! When I slush, I might read five or six a week usually, but a lot more when I’m editing [an upcoming issue].Haynes: New slush readers often let through borderline stories because they think editors can work with the author to really turn an average story into something special. Well, editors already have a lot of good stories to choose from so this doesn't happen very often. Out of 100, 80-90 are an immediate 'no thanks'. Writing not up to scratch, no ending, no point, clone of a recent TV episode, gruesome horror, you name it. 10-20 are maybes, worth a second look by another reader. And sometimes one is a standout. Battersby: In general, of every ten stories I read, maybe three will strike me as worth a second look. Of those three, maybe one in every nine or twelve will strike me as being something original. I've read a lot of SF over the years. Very few stories don't have readily memorable precedents. For [magazine slush reading], I'd average a dozen or so stories a month, which isn't a huge turnover by any means. Competitions are different. I've judged a few, and reading 100-120 stories in a fortnight wouldn't be unusual. 'Charlie': All are deserving of attention but some get more than others. When a story really draws me in I still find myself reading it just for the pleasure of a good read. What proportion of the slushpile is: Right for your market (whether or not it makes it)? 'Charlie': 90%  Wessely: 2/7Haynes: Most of it. Battersby: Less than a third. Ultimately, outside of quote requirements, I'd pr[...]

Slushpile Interview: ASIM's First Line of Defence (Part One)


Most fiction magazines begin with the noblest of intentions -- namely, to provide the founders with a venue for pseudonymously printing their own crap, while revelling in the capricious totalitarianism of editorial power, sitting on submissions for an indefinite exclusivity period and waiting for enough subscription payments to cover the bar tab from last issue's launch party. Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine is of course completely different, founded instead on the utterly absurd notion that the world needs more quality Australian short science fiction. They have, at least, made their submissions process fantastically complex -- instead of a couple of no-talent hacks who've barely read the genre screening all the submissions by throwing them down a stairway and keeping the ones that land face up, they have ... they ... I'll let them explain it: When a story arrives it is entered into a submissions management program developed explicitly for Andromeda Spaceways, affectionately dubbed "Slush-o-matic". The author details are stripped, and the story is then sent to a random reader. At this stage, the reader marks it with a "Yes", "No", or a "Maybe". "No"s are sent back to the author (often with reader comments), "Maybe"s are sent to another random reader for a second opinion, and "Yes"s are send to round two.In Round 2, the story sent to three different readers, each of whom gives it a rating between 1 and 5, with 1 being great and 5 being the opposite. Once all three second-round readers have rated the story, the ratings are added up, and compared to an arbitrary minimum number (which varies a bit depending on circumstances). At this stage, the reader will get either a Reject (with all the reader comments attached) or a Hold.A Hold request means that your story has passed into the Round 3, and is in with a real chance. It means that your submission is considered good enough to go into an issue of  Andromeda Spaceways, and you should feel proud because it is in about the top 10% of all stories received. It will be placed in the luxurious Slushpool for the editors of upcoming issues to ogle. However, with the number of submissions we receive, only about 1 story in 3 makes it out of the Slushpool and into print. If no editor selects it within two-three months, the story is reluctantly booted out of the Slushpool and back to the author (again, with reader comments attached). (Source) Got that? What's the bet the guy who came up with that works or used to work in public service? Several of the members of the Round 1 Slush Reading Team (they have jerseys) agreed, nay volunteered, to be interviewed for my drawn-out and now appallingly overdue Slushpile Awareness Month. They are: Simon Haynes, biographer of the only man I would trust to move my furniture across the galaxy Lee Battersby, creator of fine short fiction and the accidental destroyer of fine novels-in progress Tehani Wessely, who may or may not be Tehani Croft (which either way sounds like a variation on delicious Indian dish, as prepared by an English chef), and 'Charlie', my pseudonym for an interviewee who wishes anonymity. I've combined the interviews, to heighten the suspense. What is your experience with slush reading? Wessely: I’ve been slushreading off and on for ASIM for almost six years, since the publishing group that produces it formed and opened for submissions in 2001.Haynes: I read Slush for ASIM from issue 1 until ... lord, I can't remember. The bells, the bells. Battersby: I sub-edited an issue of ASIM (#11), was a slush reader for Ideomancer, and was submissio[...]

A Rare Personal Interlude


About 24 hours ago I was ready to put 101 Reasons on indefinite hiatus. Time is just hard to come by. I always thought I'd rather pack it in than leave two-week gaps between posts. I even started (mentally) wording a farewell.

Then Ms. Reasons gave me an extraordinarily thoughtful, exquisite, and (although she ordered it a week ago) perfectly timed gift.

It's nearly 4AM. It's snowing outside. And I'm here writing this blog.

If that doesn't shave a sentence off your output today, I might have to break your Shift key. Assuming you ever use it.

June 9: On This Day ...


68AD: Roman Emperor Nero commits suicide, amidst the controversy over the publication of his memoir of the Great Fire of Rome, entitled If I Did It.

1860: The first dime novel was published to a public sick to death of paying retail for hardcovers. Most of the early dime novels were reprints of stories serialised in newspapers, so the authors wouldn't have even seen a dime from them.

1870: Charles Dickens was crushed to death by the weight of his immense popularity, and the great expectations.

Born on this day:

  • Charles Webb, author of The Graduate, who didn't even get a kiss before he got fscked over the film rights. There are rumours that a sequel will be published this month, but if the lack of news is any indication ...
  • Joe Haldeman, statue-collecting SF writer, one of the first to get paid for writing Star Trek fan fiction.
  • Patricia Cornwell, uber-successful crime fiction author and the current holder of the Worst Jack The Ripper Theory award. (Seriously, Portrait of a Killer is so bad it almost works as a parody of Ripper theories. It makes Alan Moore's From Hell seem plausible.)
  • Aaron Sorkin, playwright and screenwriter, who for the first few years of this century allowed us to entertain the fantasy of an intelligent, moral President. Like Brian de Palma, his best work is on cocaine.

News: International Slushpile Bonfire Day a 'Blazing' Success


By Stephen Jayson Harris  Times Square: Crowds gather as thousands of rejected manuscripts are publicly incinerated. New York (31 May) -- The city's publishing establishment came together this evening in Times Square to celebrate International Slushpile Bonfire Day, an annual festival to purge the industry's ever-growing backlog of unpublishable manuscripts. New York's literary elite mingled with industry professionals to swap stories of the worst of the worst writing to come over the transom, while truckloads of paper holding the creative output of thousands of untalented writers were dumped into a prescribed area and ignited. NY-based literary agent Samantha Nark, co-organizer of tonight's bonfire, explained the purpose of the event: "Every year the publishing industry is deluged with unsolicited manuscripts, far more than even a motivated human could read in a lifetime. A very few are great works of literature that you'd be delighted to read, and that we're proud to champion into print. But unfortunately, there's always some so stultifyingly bad that you want to un-read them. Every one of these turd pastries I have to read robs me of a little piece of my soul, and they outnumber the great stuff by a ratio of ten to one. International Slushpile Bonfire Day is our chance, as a group, to reclaim some of the sanity we've lost to this puerile dross." An estimated fifteen thousand manuscripts were consumed in this year's bonfire -- a new record, claimed Miss Nark. "This represents the absolute bottom of a very deep barrel, the sediment of a two hundred and fifty postal days of slushpiles across the city being emptied and refilled. This is the stuff even the shredders won't touch. But the fire does not judge them for their confused and inconsistent tone, language, style and genre, their utter lack of plot, theme, characterization, or emotion, or the absence of any redeeming moral, educational or entertainment value. The fire cares only for the quality of the paper." Agents and editors in attendance at tonight's event all requested anonymity when interviewed, citing fear of reprisals from unpublished authors. "Officially, we support everyone who chooses writing as their form of artistic expression, and feel privileged to have the opportunity to help guide their work into print," said literary agent and industry veteran Kirby McCauley of the Pimlico Agency. "Unofficially, and off the record, some of the stuff in that pile was redrafted by being eaten, washed down with tabasco and vindaloo, then excreted onto fresh paper. My agency has had a full client list since I don't remember when, but we still get this putrescence by the barrowload. The kind of person who refuses to correctly interpret 'No unsolicited submissions' is not going to take it well if they find out their precious manuscript was evaluated by a marshmallow on a stick." Charles Ardai, editor of Hard Case Crime, agrees. "Unpubs, as we call them, are a fickle lot at the best of times, but some of them are downright psychotic. They either think that their book is the best thing written since the Bible -- sometimes including the Bible -- and we should lick their boots for letting us read it, or they think it's a pile of garbage too awful to be read quietly in a roomful of dead dogs, but they still expect us to read every damn word of it and reply with encouraging platitudes. If any of them knew I was [...]

A Quick Note About Slushpile Awareness


Back at the beginning of April, when I announced International Slushpile Awareness Month, I had such plans -- for news stories, articles, interviews, and slush-themed Reasons. Of course, I also jumped at the chance to resurrect International Slushpile Bonfire Day, with Paul Riddell's gracious endorsement.

But I forgot to take heed of a few other Reasons, specifically #22: You Think 'Deadline' Means 'Whenever You're Ready', #84: You're Completely Preoccupied With Daily Routine, and #46: You Couldn't Plan to Fall Down if You Fell Off a Building.

I love writing blogging 101 Reasons, but I love my wife and children a hell of a lot more, and when one gets in the way of the other, it's a (somewhat) frustrating but obvious choice. If you feel the same way, then you're going to be a failure as a writer, but you might make a pretty good human being.

I don't want to sit on the unfinished articles for eleven months until next year's slush party. So, until further notice, it's May 31 on this blog, and the bonfires are still burning.

June 7: On This Day ...


1967: Dorothy Parker found out, the hard way, exactly what fresh hell this is. She is widely blamed for boosting Harlan Ellison's career with an uncharacteristically positive review. This was back when people who made decisions actually read reviews.

1970: E.M. Forster gave his publisher the go-ahead to release his posthumous novel. Forster was a closet homosexual, but people really should have figured it out after the publication of Howard's End and A Passage to India.

1980: Henry Miller finally gave up waiting for American culture to catch up with him. When several of his novels were banned in the US for decades, Miller pioneered the 'smuggling' distribution model. George Orwell said of him: "he is a completely negative, unconstructive, amoral writer". Coming from George, that's a compliment. 

Your June Demotivator


Click for larger version

Photo by Cheryl Rankin.

Use this Demotivator as your computer's wallpaper/background:

  1. Click the above image to load the larger version (800 x 600 pixels)
  2. Right-click the larger image and select "Set as Background" (Internet Explorer) or "Set as Desktop Background ..." (Firefox)
  3. For best effect, set the image position as "Center" and set your desktop's colour to Black. (Windows: Start Menu / Control Panel / Display Properties / Desktop)

Guest Post: Five Years Later, Did We Learn Anything? by Paul Riddell


International Slushpile Bonfire Day is over, for another year. The ashes are cold, the gin pail is dry, and for most editors and agents, the slushpiles are already starting to build up. In this article, Paul explains the origins of ISBD, for those of you who can stand the metafiction. Five years ago -- about a month before I finally snapped, saw reason for the first time in twenty years, and stopped deluding myself that writing for science fiction publications was anything approximating a career -- I had a bit of fun. At the time, I was writing regular articles for the Webzine Revolution Science Fiction on various subjects, and I was also letting my id run wild under the name of "Edgar Harris". Edgar came from a rather large extended family of writers, and counted Raoul Duke, Cordwainer Bird, and Kilgore Trout as uncles and inspirations. As such, he proceeded to write all sorts of articles (until RevSF was taken over by the sort of people who think that winning a Writers of the Future competition actually means something) on such diverse subjects as: Comics Journal publisher Gary Groth being hospitalized for hate mail addiction; George Lucas suing to have the US ballistic missile defense system renamed "Star Wars"; Harlan Ellison as an extremely sophisticated literary warrior robot; and the saga of the official Jar-Jar Binks urinal cake. However, the one that got any notice outside of the science fiction community was the coverage of International Slushpile Bonfire Day. Having been a nonfiction writer, save for occasional forays into attempts at humor, I was never asked the question "Where do you get your ideas?" the way fiction writers are apparently asked. (I was regularly asked if my parents' divorce proceedings would still leave them brother and sister, but that was to be expected.) However, I was regularly asked, mostly by editors and beginning writers who couldn't believe that I'd dare write something that inflammatory, "So where did you get the idea for that?" By "that", they meant "anything that crushed the dreams of the tens of wannabe writers who came across it". Never mind that most wannabe writers, and many published ones, are completely delusional about their place in the universe and completely ignore any and all hints that they're regularly mocked, in the same way that most English majors are delusional that their chosen degree is anything other than part of a plot to prevent wage inflation at Borders and Barnes & Noble chain bookstores. Precious few people actually noticed, for the same reasons why even pepper gas and tasers won't prevent your friendly neighborhood Cat Piss Man from continuing to submit Doctor Who/The Red Green Show fanfiction to every venue in sight. The concept was quite simple, and it tied directly into the same level of denial I've seen in other aspects of entertainment. We all know the crazed Trekkie, the one trying to get her ears bobbed so she can pass for Vulcan, who laughs and laughs about the famed William Shatner "Get a life" speech, because she knows someone else who's a little too addicted to Star Trek. When the Robert Altman adaptation of Michael Tolkin's book The Player first came out, everyone on Hollywood was talking about how they knew someone else who was as amoral and thoughtless as the fictional Gordon Mill. (What was particularly funny at that time was that I was working for the editor of a movie m[...]