What’s in a name?

Filed under: Fun — marcia at 11:04 am on Saturday, February 23, 2008

I have a really hard time coming up with titles for things that I write, or naming things in general. After coming up with a killer first sentence, I forget that the first thing people will actually read is the damn title.

I normally end up with a boring title, erring on the safe side so I don’t have something laughable or cliche as the title. Don’t want to be too long. Don’t want to do the one-word thing. Don’t want to give away any surprises. Don’t want to be ham-handedly cryptic. There are the don’ts; what are the do’s?

I don’t know! Maybe you do. Here is my personal list of don’ts for various writing-related things … feel free to add some do’s (or more dont’s).

1) Literary Journals: If you are starting a new one, right on. You might not want to put the word “train” in the name. There are at least four something-trains or train-somethings. Why? I don’t know. Plus, at least two of the trains are really good. So you will look like a copycat. Bonus don’t: Literary/Art/Mythology references are tricky to do. Give yourself a solid pretentiousness check beforehand.

2) Blogs: If your title or description includes “musings” or “rants,” you’re not alone. Not even close to alone.

3) Books: I want to remember what your book is called! When it is a super-long name or has a super-long subtitle, I have a really hard time remembering it (and thus finding it). Help a sister out. (Check out Bookseller’s list of the oddest book titles of the year here.)

-Marcia

What is the opposite of a sellout?

Filed under: The Writing Process — marcia at 2:23 pm on Saturday, February 9, 2008

Kelly Spitzer of “SmokeLong Quarterly” and Ellen Parker of “FRiGG” ask a group of writers about money … Do you only write for publications that pay? Do you pay reading fees and contest entry fees?

They seemed to agree that pay wasn’t a concern when considering where to submit their stories.
Dave Clapper, also of “SmokeLong Quarterly,” said of reading fees:

When working as a stage actor, I never had to pay to audition (and the potential pay there dwarfed these prizes, while the potential audience was smaller). Why should writing be different? Do painters pay galleries to have their work considered? Sculptors? Dancers? Singers? Maybe I’m wrong and some of these disciplines do require fees to be considered, but it seems like literature is the only artistic field where this is the accepted norm. Why?

Me? I’d prefer to submit to places that pay, even if it is a token payment that simply acknowledges that you gave them something of value. However, I wouldn’t call it a hard-and-fast rule, and it would depend on how much I loved the publication.
As far as reading fees, I feel like “labor of love” goes two ways. OK, publication, I concede that you aren’t in it for the cash either. But if you want to be a publication, you have to process the submissions that come your way. I realize it’s not a racket. These literary publications aren’t laughing and rolling in piles of money on round, velvet-covered beds. But if you are using writers to fund anything, your publication will probably go under soon anyway.

Reasonable contest fees are a little different, since this is a competition for a prize. There will be a winner and, if you win, you will get something. (Unless the contest is judged by Zadie Smith, see previous post) As long as it’s not some literary Ponzi scheme, these fees can be a way of ensuring a contest remains manageable with serious entrants, in addition to providing some funding. (This differs from a reading fee in that fewer people will submit something without the promise of a financial pay off)

What do you think?

–Marcia

Zadie Smith Dislikes Judging, Poops Her Pants

Filed under: The Publishing Biz — joy at 12:19 pm on Friday, February 8, 2008

Zadie Smith refused to award a prize in a contest she was judging because no one was good enough for her.

This is a difficult thing to write. Just like everybody, we at The Willesden Herald are concerned about the state of contemporary literature. We are depressed by the cookie-cutter process of contemporary publishing, the lack of truly challenging and original writing, and the small selection of pseudo-literary fictio-tainment that dominates our chain bookstores. We created this prize to support unpublished writers, and, with our five grand, we put our money where our mouths are. We have tried to advertise widely across this great internet of ours and to make the conditions of entry as democratic and open as we could manage. There is no entry fee, there are no criteria of age, race, gender or nation. The stories are handed over to the judges stripped of the names of the writers as well as any personal detail concerning them (if only The Booker worked like that!) Our sole criterion is quality. We simply wanted to see some really great stories. And we received a whole bunch of stories. We dutifully read through hundreds of them. But in the end – we have to be honest – we could not find the greatness we’d hoped for. It’s for this reason that we have decided not to give out the prize this year.

This happened to me once. I sent a short story into a fiction contest only to be informed months later that the judges were not going to award the prize because they felt no one was good enough to win. It was insulting to me and to everyone else who entered. It was also rather suspicious too, since they charged a $10 reading fee.

Well, guess what Zadie Smith? Contests are crapshoots. People send you entries and you pick the winner from whatever you get. The sampling of stories you receive is not symbolic of the state of current literature. It is a matter of how well-advertised the contest was, how much time you gave people to respond, and whether people (read: good writers) even care about your prize to begin with. As a judge, it’s your duty to pick a winner from whatever you get. Anyone who put on a writing prize is implicitly agreeing to this little contract. To not pick a winner is breaking a trust.

Also, what’s up with this?

Once again, the judges and I, we are absolutely certain there is great writing out there on this internet. Many of the entries we received suggested it. But we didn’t receive enough.

But you only have to pick one winner, right? Then there doesn’t need to be “enough” good writers, only one. Seriously, am I missing something here?

Again, contests are crapshoots. If a contest gets a bunch of bad entries, then it’s supposed to be the best bad writer’s lucky day. But to not pick a winner because no one measured up to some ideal in your head is lame and a cop-out.

Worse, it’s not doing your job.

~ Joy