Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Cone Zero Review: The Pros of Critical Reading

From the writer's point of view, why purchase a magazine or ongoing anthology that you're planning to submit to? After all, for most writers, our resources are limited. Sometimes we just don't got the money.

Or so I believe we all think sometimes. Yes, sure all writers want to support publications, especially the ones we enjoy submitting to, but when it comes down to choosing what to buy and when...but in reading the anthology Cone Zero Nemonymous for a review, I discovered a number of advantages to critically reading a publication.

What did I notice first when reading Cone Zero Nemonymous? First, I ended up reading more than one story twice. I kept getting caught up in the stories and forgetting that I was supposed to be critically reading. So I asked myself "Why?" In re-reading, I realized that the stories, while over a wide variety of unique styles all contained one defining element. (This anthology perhaps might be described as horror or fantasy or even magical realism. The editor DF Lewis has wide open doors for his anthologies. Witness the guidelines for Cern Zoo.)

The element? All the stories, whether humorous and fun, such as in the story "The Point of Oswald Masters" or the eerie haunting horror of "An Oddly Quiet Street" center on the characters and their emotional conflict. Although this is in some ways a "genre" anthology, none of the stories are truly plot driven. This supports a trend or shift in the way readers read and what they want to read overall. I've noticed fewer and fewer short stories and novels, no matter what the genre, to be plot driven. It's all about characters now. This is important for any writer to know.

Part of the phenomenon I've noticed and noticed in Cone Zero: short stories now seem to fall into two categories, either short-short (1000 words or less) or longer than we used to read, sometimes novellas. Used to be difficult to sell a story over 2000 words, now many markets request 3000 to 6000 words or more. I believe this is because readers want developed characters and it just takes more words.

All editor/publishers have different styles, approach and premises for their various publications. One important thing I learned from reading Cone Zero is that not only do I enjoy DF Lewis' tastes in writing, but that I was impressed with the quality of the stories. It moved any anothology edited by Lewis high up on my list of markets to submit to. Writing for such a market is a challenge and a learning experience.

Have you bought a magazine or anthology for critical reading? For reading as a market? If so, what did you learn from the experience?


Dave King said...

I haven't bought a magazine for reading as a market, so can't help you with that aspect. However, whether the reason for the longer stories is or is not the need to develop characters it seems encouraging to me in that it would appear to run counter to the tendency (as we are told it) to cater for shorter and shorter attention spans and to dunb down.

The Muse said...

Hey Conda!

Could the trend for character development vs plot be coming from the fact people are becoming more reclusive? We want to be familiar with people but keep them at arms length (sometimes out of the room). I find myself wanting both from a story. If it's all about the characters and the plot stinks I feel I've wasted my time.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Conda Douglas said...

Yeah Dave, it really is encouraging--the opposite for many markets seems to be happening. More complex and intense. I even wonder if it's because of the new generation who are information quick AND dense (I know this from having young adult nieces).

Jim Murdoch said...

In the old days I used to buy magazines before submitting but what I've found over the years is that I never have a clue what will press an editor's buttons. I rarely see anything similar to what I do and so it's usually pot luck if I get in or not.

It's always bothered me having to buy a sample issue because it ends up costing me to be published and I really don't have the money to waste on magazines. On the whole I actually don't much like magazines. I prefer books. With the sole exception of SFX - where would I be without my monthly sci-fi fix?

Conda Douglas said...

Yeah, good point Muse. Character driven stories are great--but only if I don't throw the story across the room because there's a plot hole I've read over that's made my head hit the roof, it's so deep.

And me, the true optimist, hopes that we've become more sophisticated, caring readers instead of more reclusive...

Conda Douglas said...

Jim--my experience with editors is much the same--it is personal and particular--and the pieces I do sell sometimes don't sell for why I think they will ("This was so scary," I'll hear, when I think my story was mostly light-hearted humor.Hmm, scary in and of itself.)

I do find, however, that if I read quite a bit of a publication and often I get into a particular voice and it does seem to help with selling.

But that's me...

Lynda Lehmann said...

Excellent post, Conda.

I'm not in writing mode now, as I'm mostly doing art. But I used to participate in an online workshop for writers of sci fi, fantasy, and horror. It was well run and very productive, I think, for everyone. For one of my stories, I had 26 critiques from all over the world. It was called the Critters workshop (short for critiquers). I'm not sure if it's still online, but it was a great experience.

I'm glad you're reading critically and finding markets you want to submit to! Marketing both art and writing, takes a lot of perseverance.

Conda Douglas said...

Thanks Lynda, and you're so right, the 'net is an excellent resource in so many ways!

Lynda Lehmann said...

Conda, it's such a good resource that we spend WAY too much time on here, right? :)