Flash Fiction: a complete story
in one thousand or fewer words.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Publication Questions

I just responded to an email that I thought I'd reprint here:

> Do you publish authors who have not yet been published?

Yes, often. The competition is fierce, though.

> How do I copyright my story?

By current US law, you own copyright the moment you write your piece. When I publish it, I do so with a copyright statement at the end. I don't actually "register" the copyright, but I'm obliged to take all reasonable steps in the event of a copyright violation.

> How many stories can I submit at one time?

I don't have a formal limit, but you don't do yourself any favors by submitting more than three at once.

> How long does a story you publish stay online?

Indefinitely. My contract also says that I get First Electronic Rights (i.e., this is not a reprint, and I'll be the first to publish it) AND a non-exclusive one-time right to publish the story in an anthology. "Non-exclusive" means that you can submit your story to other markets as a reprint *after* I publish it, and you can have it in other anthologies if they'll accept it, as long as everyone knows that I can publish it in my anthology as well. I will pay my authors royalties based on their word-count contribution to the overall word count of the anthology.

This latter information is all on our submissions page.

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Reopened to Submissions

It took longer than I expected, but we're reopened to submissions.

As a reminder, if you have a query, please send it to query at flashfictiononline dot com.

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Friday, May 8, 2009

Two Important Items

First: Hopefully this won't last long, but between an initial backlog and a serious email glitch that has hampered my efforts to track submissions, I am closing the magazine to submissions. I anticipate being reopened by the end of the month.

Second, and related: There is now a separate email for queries. Please send all queries to query at flashfictiononline dot com. I've had too many emails go into the ordinary submission queue, only for me to discover after two weeks that they're queries rather than stories. Hopefully this will help us all out.

This isn't as important as the other two -- well, unless you're on pins and needles -- but if you're waiting for a response from the latest winnowing round, we have completed it and acceptances / rejections will be going out shortly.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Our Editorial Practices

I recently put some information about our editorial practices in the Flash Forum. I put it there instead of on a separate page to encourage people to ask questions, complain, make suggestions, offer to be a part of the team, and so on.

Generally speaking, I like transparency in the editorial process. When things aren't transparent, it's generally because of logistical or other constraints, not because I prefer to keep things under wraps.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Submission Guidelines Changes

We just made some changes to what we will publish. Quoting from the new guidelines page:

As of 3/25/2008, we are no longer accepting submissions for stories of fewer than 500 words. All submissions must be between 500 and 1,100 words. (Stories of greater than 1000 words, if accepted, will be edited to 1,000 words.)

Stories submitted before 3/25/2008 will be reviewed for possible inclusion even if they are smaller. We had originally said that we favored the high end of the flash range, and that continues, but we still may accept smaller stories for the May and June 2008 issues.

Also as of 3/25/2008, we will be paying a flat $50 for all stories. Since the stories we publish will range from 500-1,000 words, this implies a per-word rate of five to ten cents.


The new payment terms will be retroactive for our earlier authors. It might take me a while to get the back payments out to everyone, but it won't be any later than December 2008. :)

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Monday, February 11, 2008

Trouble emailing us?

I got a report that att.net has blocked our IP address "for abuse" -- typically spam. Ours is a shared server, so other organizations share this IP address with us, and it's possible that one of them has been reported (correctly or not) for spam.

If you're having a hard time reaching us, use my alter ego's email address: oliverhouse@gmail.com.

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Monday, February 4, 2008

Why Not Name Your Main Character?

This isn't a rant, but a serious question: why wouldn't you name your main character within the first sentence or so?

So many stories (especially short-short stories) have only "he" or "she" as the main character; some will start with the pronoun and then give the name later. But a name is so powerful! Consider the difference between the following opening sentences:

"She sat on an outcropping of rock that jutted out of the mountain."

"Martha Whittaker sat on an outcropping of rock that jutted out of the mountain."

"Svetlana Dushovsky sat on an outcropping of rock that jutted out of the mountain."

"Anunciación McGrew sat on an outcropping of rock that jutted out of the mountain."

"Elise de Martin sat on an outcropping of rock that jutted out of the mountain."

"Dr. Alexa Martin sat on an outcropping of rock that jutted out of the mountain."

"Libby sat on an outcropping of rock that jutted out of the mountain."

You get the idea. These women are, in order: an abtraction, English-sounding, Russian-sounding, racially mixed or an Hispanic woman married to an Irishman, French, educated, and casual or perhaps a woman (or girl) of the country. The abstraction is in many ways the least powerful, yet probably 80% of the stories I get have an abstraction as the main character -- a bare pronoun, not a name.

Why do that? I'm serious that this isn't a rant: if you have thoughts on the subject, please add your comments below.

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Sunday, February 3, 2008

Story Beginnings -- Ten To Avoid

An amusing bit by William Meikle on sffworld.com. :)

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Monday, January 28, 2008

Things Not To Put In Your Cover Letter

I'm pretty good-natured, so none of the following have stopped me from reading your stories, but consider what an editor might think on reading the following statements in the email that accompanies your submission:

"I wrote this in 20 minutes after finding out about your zine." While I appreciate the fact that you want to show your instant devotion, I'd rather find out that you had taken your time crafting a story instead of slapping one together.

"I wrote this while thinking about my best friend, Virginia." While this bit of sentiment will be great in the interview after you sell the story, beforehand it just sets me up to think that it's a sentimental diary entry more than a story. While I might be pleasantly surprised, and while FLash Fiction Online staff readers don't see the cover letters, why take the chance of setting yourself up?

"I've had this one sitting around for a while. I hope you like it." While it's possible that you were just waiting for a professional flash-dedicated zine to sell to, or that you have other reasons for not submitting this story to anyone else, it seems likely that a story that you've had "sitting around for a while" hasn't sold for a good reason. Unless you're Orson Scott Card, I'm going to be a little skeptical. (Scott, do you have a flash story that's been sitting around for a while?)

There are probably more, and I'll add them as they come along. As it turns out, I didn't buy any of the stories that accompanied these cover letters. That's not because the cover letters were bad, though, so if you see yourself here don't get upset. I'm commenting here to be helpful, not to be catty.

Good writing!
Jake

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Monday, January 21, 2008

Flashes and Twist Endings?

Many authors write stories with twists. For a while, Law and Order even advertised the fact that there was a twist at the end of their episodes.

The problem with twist endings and flash is that they often don't feel like twists: they feel like punch lines. And that makes the stories jokes, not stories.

It makes sense. In a longer story, you have a lot of space to build up people's motivations, desires, personalities -- characters, in other words. When there's a twist, you're seeing the twist as a change in a well-established character's knowledge. In flash, none of the characters are as strongly developed, so the twist is often more of a change in the reader's knowledge. And that's just a punch line.

Sometimes the twist is even worse: the author withholds information from the reader even though the main character would definitely know it. Sometimes that happens in longer works, but I think the temptation is stronger in flash because it would have to be sustained for a shorter, and therefore seemingly more manageable, length of time. But it's still a case of the author cheating the reader.

Writing a story develops trust between the author and the reader. Withholding information from the reader breaks that trust; making a joke of the story makes the reader take you a little bit less seriously. Unless you're deliberately trying to not be taken seriously -- and I'll submit that most of the best humor is very seriously humorous -- I'd avoid both.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Flash Fantasy & SF: Harder Than Other Genres?

I just stumbled across a year-old post by Steve Goble called "Swords and Flashery". It hits on a topic I've been thinking about as I go through the submissions we've received over the last two months.

[After writing the first draft of a fantasy flash,] I read the [2000-word] piece and found nary an ounce of fat in it. It was the simplest kind of plot I could devise and still have a sense of drama to it. In short, there was just no way I could go back and jettison half of what I’d written.


"Come on, Steve," you might say. "The very first submission to Flash Fiction Online was a drabble, only 100 words long. Surely we can write stories in fewer than 2,000 words!"

But the drabble I received needed absolutely no setup. Steve writes swords-and-sorcery stories. He needs lots of setup.

Science fiction and fantasy require at least one speculative element. You have to describe what the element is and show how it makes the world you're creating different from the world we live in. If the speculative element is a person, you may need to show how this person's history fits in with the rest of the fictional world; the rest of that fictional world then needs sufficient explanation to let it be the context for the fictional person. Objects can be the same way (think of all the history behind Gollum's ring or the Gom Jabbar of the Bene Gesserit), as can political situations, planetary conditions, species of creature...

Well, you get the idea. If you're making stuff up, and you want people to experience your invented world, you have to make it all fit. That's tough to do in a thousand words.

One submission we received came from a professional author with many published stories. I'd love to get his name on my Web site. But the amount of information that came pouring off the page -- just to set up the plot -- was staggering. The plot itself had minimal room to move, and was therefore somewhat unsatisfying. I give him immense credit for trying to get everything into a thousand words, but I don't think it's possible for this particular story.

Does that mean that it's impossible to write flash SF & fantasy? No, of course not. I've already published some of it, and I just agreed to buy a great little SF story by Jeff Soesbe (his first sale!) called "Apologies All Around" for the February issue. I'm acquiring the rights to a very funny SF story by Carl Frederick for our April issue. (As an aside, I'm really happy to have both someone as new as Jeff and someone as experienced as Carl on the site.) But it's hard.

What can you do to make it work? I'm thinking out loud here, but it seems to me that you can (not must, just can) do some of these things:

(a) Make the world you're writing about very similar to the one you're in. The less you have to explain, the more words you can devote to plot. Since literary fiction is, generally speaking, in "our world", there's very little explaining to do. Literary writers have the advantage over sci fi writers here.

(b) Use dialogue sparingly -- and with precision. If you read "The Materialist" from this issue, you'll see only two brief bits of dialogue: 48 words out of a thousand. Note, though: the spoken words that made it into the story are gems. The "higher goal in mind"--"cancer research?"--"Rhodium!" exchange brilliantly and succinctly characterizes Dr. Albrecht in a way that 500 words of description couldn't.

(c) Avoid things like the plague if they're not part of the narrative thread. I recently participated in a flash challenge at Hatrack River. I wrote my flash between midnight and 2:30 AM the day it was due. Reading it the next day, I realized that I had included bits of history of the device that the story revolved around -- history that didn't need to be there. Excise those 150 words, and suddenly I have more space to talk about the stuff that matters: character, plot, and setting. While this theoretically isn't purely a sci-fi-or-fantasy problem, the submissions of the last month show me that many sf writers seem to want to go down that path more than literary writers. Even if you're an engineer, you don't need to explain the engineering.

I'm sure there's more. What do you think?

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

On Romance and Horror

...not that I'm intimating that they're closely related or anything. ;)

This post is for writers rather than readers.

Over the past six weeks we've received about 300 submissions. Thanks to everyone who has given us a try, and I'd like to offer my encouragement even to those whose stories I've rejected. It looks like we're going to accept something like five or six stories, so the competition is stiff (and not always in predictable ways).

I'd like to mention something briefly that might help you make it through the slush pile, especially if you're writing in one of these two genres.

If you write romance, you face a stiff challenge. Basic boy-meets-girl just isn't compelling; there has to be something besides the romance to make a romance worthwhile. In When Harry Met Sally, there was an awful lot of story going on around the Harry-and-Sally romance.

It's tough to pack both romance and something else into 1000 words, but that's what you need, or else it's just... well, sorry, but corny.

In the same way, horror needs more than just something evil happening. I've read quite a few submissions that set up a scene and then have an evil person / devil / creature do something evil, followed by the death or survival of a character (usually the protagonist). But if there's no point to the scene except to have the evil thing happen -- if it doesn't involve a psychological thrill -- then it devolves into titillation.

For instance, in Robert Harris's Silence of the Lambs, the interest didn't come from the serial killer that Clarisse was chasing so much as from Clarisse's interactions with Hannibal Lector, and the psychological drama that came from the necessity of interacting with such a repulsive man. In Stephen King's Christine, the psychological drama was self-imposed: it came from the choices the protagonist had to make in relation to his car, his girl, power, popularity, and, in essence, good and evil.

Good flash is hard to write. Maybe horror and romance are harder than other genres for flash. I'd love to read your attempts to write it, but consider what I've said above if you want to stand out from the crowd.

Good writing!

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