Archive for the ‘Unsolicited Writing Advice’ Category

How organizations get poisoned from within.

I’ve joined Amal El-Mohtar in calling for Theodore Beale‘s expulsion from the Science Fiction Writers Association.


The whole mess with Beale is well outlined by Jim Hines. The short version is that Beale is a racist, a misogynist, and seems to generally enjoy pissing people off. He’s launched a number of personal attacks on other SFWA members, most recently using SFWA’s official twitter stream.




I’ve seen people like Beale poison a number of groups and organizations. The only way I’ve seen groups survive this kind of behavior is to address it directly.


Anyway, here’s the letter I wrote to SFWA:


Hey all,

I want to add my voice to the folks who think the time has come to
take a hard look at Theodore Beale’s membership in SFWA. His recent
attack on N. K. Jemisin (and using the SFWA twitter feed, no less)
would seem to more than qualify as a violation of Article IV Section

I know this is a potentially divisive and sticky path, but I feel like
the long-term damage of having a member like Beale far outweighs the
trouble that will come from addressing this issue directly.

Along the same lines, I wonder if the board, or the membership in
general should be looking at SFWA’s policy on hate-speech. While I
appreciate Article IV, Section 10, we would be better served by more

I see from Section 10 that SFWA isn’t responsible for circulating a
petition for this type of decision. After looking through the forums,
I see some discussion circling the Beale incident, but nothing
directly discussing Amal El-Mohtar’s suggestion that Beale be removed.
I’m curious if such a petition has been started already?

Thanks for listening,
Grá Linnaea


I’m hoping that this ugly incident can inspire us to take a hard look at what kind of organization we want to be and how important inclusivity is to us.


And the discussion continues …

What did I learn from Clarion?

The Clarion Writing Workshop was one of the most powerful experiences I’ve had. A lot of it was explicitly positive, some of it was positive eventually (or may still be gestating) but was really hard at the time or for the months … *ahem* years … after.

Both the Clarion Writers workshops and are now taking applications. One of my instructors, Jim Kelly asks, “How about sharing five things you learned at Clarion?”


  1. There’s a fine line between pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and pushing yourself to write stuff that doesn’t excite you.
  2. Great writing has energy. Sure, get the mechanics down, but in the end it’s theme and emotion that drive the most powerful stories.
  3. Always be innovating. Every story start is sexy and fun and full of new relationship energy, full of riffing and whatever clever thing comes out of the id, but then the plotting and rewriting can feel like a drudge. That’s the time to bring the innovative mindset to finding connections and problem-solving. We can choose to be clever in every part of the writing process.
  4. Put as much work into your life as your writing. Yes, most of us need to lock ourselves away to learn the craft and find our voice, but it’s equally important to learn how to present and interact with each other. Skillful social awareness can help our career just as much as excellent prose.
  5. Writing is not a competition. Someone else’s genius doesn’t make you less genius. We analyze each other’s fiction so we see what works and doesn’t, both to point out to others and for ourselves. When this turns into a wash of negativity, we’re not helping anyone. The more we support each other as writer’s the stronger we all become.


If you write and you want to see what you are capable of, Clarion is well worth the time and money.

Apply to Clarion – Apply to Clarion West

A word on cover letters

Cover letters. Some markets require them, some ask that you include specific information, some don’t want to see them at all.

At Shimmer Magazine, we like ’em. They’re a nice little wave from the author. “Hi, here’s a story. Thanks!”

A bad cover letter isn’t the end of the world, but when I open new slush for Shimmer, a lack of cover letter (or a cutesy one) makes me go, “Uh oh, better strap myself in for this story.”

Sometimes I’m wrong, it turns out to be a great story anyway, but usually not. Sure, a good cover letter doesn’t make your story any better and a bad one doesn’t make it worse, but don’t you want us to go into your story feeling confidence in you? A professional cover letter means you take your writing seriously — think about the impression you want to send.

So, for your perusal, I offer my very biased take on cover letters. Your mileage may vary. (Though I will say that these tips are probably useful when you’re sending a letter to Shimmer.)

Basic letter

First off, read the guidelines …

Lemme say that again. READ THE GUIDELINES.

Each market asks for specific information and formatting and it’s a red flag when you don’t follow the rules. You don’t want a mark against you before we even get to your story.

That said, here’s what I think is a generic, basic, bare minimum cover letter:

Dear Editor,

Please consider my 1000 word short story, “Monkeys Really Are That Awesome,” for publication in Shimmer Magazine. My story is attached in RTF format.

Thank you for your consideration,

Writy McWriterson

Boom! That’s it. You’ve told me you’ve sent a story. I have the name and wordcount and I get to feel like you care that a human being is about to read your story. Most importantly, I don’t have that “uh oh” feeling.

There are many different variations of this letter and some reasonable things to add. For example, personally I send:

Beth Wodzinski, Editor <------ Look this up on or most markets have staff pages.

Shimmer Magazine
PO Box 58591
Salt Lake City, UT

Dear Beth, <------ Some people use the full name, I think it's ok to just use the first name.

Please consider this original 3100 word fantasy short, “Monkeys Will Buy Your Brain For One Million Dollars,” for publication in Shimmer, attached in RTF format.

I’m an associate editor at Shimmer and also facilitate the Wordos writing workshop. I’ve recently won the Whidbey’s Writers Award and Writers of the Future and attended the Clarion Workshop. My fiction can be found in Shock Totem and Doorways magazine & the Escape Clause anthology.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Grá Linnaea
XXX Smith st.
Smallville, KS 12345
(987) 654-3210

This is very subjective and your mileage may seriously vary. I don’t say this is the *right* way to do a cover letter, but it has worked okay for me. That’s it, no magic. No rocket science, just the basic information. If a market doesn’t want to see a bio or my sales, I leave them off.

Unfortunately, in my job as a slush reader, I often see more *ahem* creative uses of the cover letter. Here are what I see as some common mistakes:

1.) “Dear Sir”

When I send out my own stuff I usually go to and look up the editor’s name(s). It just seems polite. It’s certainly not the end of the world to get a “Dear Editor” letter though. No big deal either way.

What is a problem is the “Dear Sirs” letter. For example, the Shimmer staff are mostly women. Even though I’m one of the few dudes, it really pisses me off when we get a “Dear Sirs” cover letter. Why are you assuming the staff is male? If you’re not going to look up who edits our magazine (Beth Wodzinski, btw), at least use the non-gender specific opening.

2.) Don’t be cute

Hey chums,

This is your new best buddy. I beam this fiction-unit to you from the planet Pluto where all the best fiction grows. Shimmer is the best magazine ever! Buy this story or I’ll burn out your brain with a laser drill.

Galaxford The Mighty

Somewhere out there is an evil “how to get published” book that apparently lots of people read. It implores you to GET NOTICED. Be funny! Be cute! Remind the editor how much you love their magazine and try to form a relationship with them! How can you sell your story if the editor doesn’t notice you, right?


You don’t want me to notice you because I find your letter annoying. I’m going to read your story, no matter what. Help me stay in a good mood before I read it.

3.) Drop the hype. Don’t cajole, beg, apologize, etc …

Sorry you didn’t like my last story. I only wrote it in half an hour. You probably won’t like this one either.

I think there’s this idea that if you apologize for your work before I read it, I’ll be pleasantly surprised. No dice. Again I think, “uh oh” and open your story with trepidation.

This may be only personal to me, but I’m not a big fan of “Sorry you didn’t like my last story, maybe you’ll like this one better.” It’s nothing personal, dude, we didn’t accept your last story, we might not choose this one, we’re picky. Your cover letter is not going to guilt us into buying something. Better to just send the stories one by one and see if something hits.

Same for cover letters that tell me how much I’m going to LOVE your story. Let your work speak for itself. Don’t tell me how amazing-super-great-awesome your story is and how I’m going to faint when I see it.

No offense, but you’re unqualified to say whether I’m going to like your story or not. Just send it to me. I’ll let you know what I think.

4.) Don’t summarize your story

“Magic Monkeys Of Utah,” is a fun tale of merriment and woe where a lone monkey is able to overcome great adversity to save the woman he loves. It draws from the mythic tale of Perseus in that …

Arg! I don’t want to know! I’m about to find out when I READ YOUR STORY.

Repeat after me: The short story market is not the same as the novel market.

When you submit a novel, yes, they want a summary of your book, but, with very few exceptions, short story markets don’t want summaries. Save yourself the work and show the editor that you are familiar with the process.

5.) Don’t pad your sales, don’t lie and leave your mom out of this.

Seriously, we’re a magazine. We know pretty much every other magazine out there. When I open a letter and see a list of eight magazine’s I’ve never heard of, my first thought is, “did they make these up?” We’re not trying to be mean, but we don’t care if your mom (or your college journal or a zine you yourself started) bought one of your stories. The only reason we want to see your previous sales is because we might see one that prints stories similar to us. And for God’s sake, DON’T LIE. I won’t say I catch everyone who lies about their sales, but there are certain writers who will never make a sale with us now.

Personally, I think it’s standard to list only three markets. Three. I don’t need to (and won’t) read your list of 50 sales. Tell me the best three, or the most recent three and let me get to your story.

If you don’t have any sales, no big deal. I’m going to read your story anyway, remember? If your cover letter is professional, then I’m going to go into your story with a fuzzy warm feeling in my heart.

6.) But DO use a cover letter

Should you just skip the whole cover letter thing and let me just get to your @!#$%& story? Well, it’s true some markets say explicitly they don’t need or want them. But unless they say that, assume we’d at least like the basic kind above. Here at Shimmer, it feels a little rude when you send a blank email with a story attached to it. We give a lot of personal comments on stories, but we generally don’t bother with folks who send us the blank emails. Sure, don’t be cute, but at least drop us a note.

Good luck!

Okay, the novel…

Well, i don’t want to jinx this, but i’m back on the novel again.

If you’ve been tracking me for awhile, you know i’ve had to restart on this silly book like four times now. I think part of the problem of throwing myself publicly back into writing is i’m afraid people are just going to think i’m the boy who cried novel.

But i like doing this stuff publicly. The fear of failing publicly motivates me. So here we are.

The last big boost on working on the novel was an agent showing interest and a friend saying, “yeah you got to send those pages to her!” My friend offered to go over the first 50 pages so i got them to first draft quality and sent them to her.

But i think waiting to hear what she thought (and wanting to put all that energy into polishing the first 50 to send to the agent) left me unmotivated to go forward on the rest of the book.

[Insert long period of time and much angsting here.]

Well screw that. Yesterday (on a $10 dare with Sean Markey) i picked up at page 51 and am now to page 59. And, sure, much more of the book is written, technically, but a lot of the older stuff is crap and i consider these first 59 pages to actually be good enough to call Draft 1. There’s a lot more work to do, but this is the stuff i wouldn’t feel too embarrassed to show a first reader.

So, how am i able to write again? I’m still the same neurotic low-self-esteemy mess i was two days ago. But yesterday (along with the looming threat of losing $10) i went back to my friend Bruce‘s advice:


Break everything down into such small chunks that it’s impossible to feel overwhelmed. Stop thinking about agents and contracts. About famous friends who might look at the book. Stop thinking about rewriting the whole damn book once you finish this draft. Just write the next freaking sentence. Then the next one. Then the next one…

So that’s what i’ve been doing. I know the freaking book. I’ve been sitting in it for long enough. And i know the damn characters. It just boils down to writing sentence by sentence: Is this sentence saying what i want to say? Does this tell us something about the character? Does this contribute to the larger book? Is it interesting?

If the answer is “yes,” i move on the the next sentence.

If the answer is “no,” i rewrite. If something feels under-described or rushed, i add. If something is pointless i cut.

Rinse repeat.

So far, so good. I may have to come back and read this post myself.

Expect novel updates.

Grá Linnaea, novelist.