“Trust the reader.” — Meg Pokrass
by Meg Pokrass
Thank you Meg Pokrass for sharing these excellent tips for those who write flash fiction and memoir. Though you’ll always be able to find this on our blog page, we recommend that you bookmark this page and use it when you enter next year’s flash fiction and flash memoir contests.
- Unusual Details: Make characters out of obscure traits, for example, how do they greet their cat? What is their favourite film…and why?
- Create Conflict: Bother your characters, provide a good deal of trouble. Don’t let them get there too easily.
- Childhood Nickname: Make up a nickname that your main character had as a child. Don’t tell the reader what it is, but keep it in mind while writing your story. This may sound strange, but our childhood embarrassments often shadow adulthood.
- Sexy Elf Logic: If there’s an elf in your story, go ahead and make them sexy, but give him some issues. I mean, if you are a sexy elf, you’re going to come with some psychological baggage. No matter how fantastical a character is, make them real.
- Woe Is Me: Readers don’t like characters who sit around feeling hurt by the world and wallowing in it. Instead, they care about characters who, despite all of the difficulty life has thrown them, are finding ways to thrive.
- Crisis/Advantage: When something very hard has happened in your life, use it. Let something similar happen to your character. Disguise it. Dismantle it. Here we can finally make use of the stuff that hurts. This will help your fiction.
- Sex in Flash: A character’s unique relationship to sex is far more interesting than writing about lusty characters having sex all over the place. If there is sex in a story, don’t hit us over the head with it.
- Trust the Reader: The quickest way to lose a reader’s trust is to tell them what you mean. After you’re done writing your story, go through and get rid of any places where you are trying to explain what is happening in the story. Instead, let the reader see what’s happening by your very specific use of unusual detail and a banquet full of sensory information. Anton Chekhov said it this way: “Don’t tell me that the moon is shining, show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
- Follow the Love: Follow the trail of messy love wherever it takes your characters, even if the love is invisible to the eye, and especially if it makes no sense.
- Cultivate a Sense of the Ridiculous: Everything that really matters to your character is also somewhat ridiculous when looked at from a different perspective. Don’t take yourself (or your characters) too seriously when writing fiction. Make the stakes high, but let a ray of ironic humour shine through.
—Published previously on the author’s Facebook page (19 May 2019); appears here with her permission.
Meg Pokrass is the author of five collections of flash fiction, a novella-in-flash from Rose Metal Press, and an award-winning collection of prose poetry, Cellulose Pajamas (2014 Blue Light Poetry Prize). Forthcoming books include a novella-in-flash, The Smell of Good Luck (to be published in 2019 by Flash: The International Short Short Story Press), and a collection of microfiction, The Sadness of Night Bugs (Pelekinesis Press).
Her writing has been widely anthologized, most recently in The Best Small Fictions 2018, edited by Aimee Bender (Braddock Avenue Books); in two Norton anthologies of flash fiction, Flash Fiction International (2015) and New Micro (2018); and in Nothing Short Of 100, Flash Non-Fiction Funny,and Flash Fiction Funny. Her work has appeared in 350 literary magazines, both online and in print, including Electric Literature, Tin House, McSweeney’s, Five Points, Smokelong Quarterly, and Tupelo Review.
Meg is the Founding/Managing Editor of New Flash Fiction Review and currently serves as Flash Challenge Editor at Mslexia Magazine, Festival Curator for Flash Fiction Festival UK, and Co-Editor of Best Microfiction.She also teaches ongoing flash-fiction workshops, both online and in person, in the U.K. and Ireland. Find out more about her teaching at: http://megpokrass.com/.
Follow Meg on Twitter: [at]megpokrass
This piece originally appeared at http://www.kysoflash.com/Issue12/PokrassFlashyTips.aspx?fbclid=IwAR2844NIe4GYhQEHYVZJGylFXFYKbQVSc1U-_PR0ltKctIm5osISHpkCuvc
“No matter what, keep writing because the world needs you to.” — John Koehler
From a Publisher’s Point of View
An interview with John Koehler by B. Lynn Goodwin
What is it like to be a publisher? To work with authors and designers and support artistic endeavors without going broke? I decided it was to find out, and I couldn’t think of a person to tell us than my publisher, John Koehler. He started with skills and a desire to share his own story near the beginning of 21stcentury.
On behalf of Koehler Books, the website states, “Our goal is the same as yours: to craft the highest caliber of book possible and to sell lots of copies. Our two key words are qualityand collaboration. We lift the author up to the big leagues of publishing and literature, and show them the way so that together we can make the author and book the best it can be.”
In the interview below John Koehler shares his story and gives us insights into a publisher’s thinking. 🤔
BLG: Tell us why you started Koehler Books. What was your writing and publishing experience before you started your own company?
JK: Back in 2004 I started publishing for selfish reasons, to help myself publish my first book, Bipolar by Koehler. I already was working with writers, so the editing was easy. I’m an award-winning art director, so it was easy enough to study and sort out the cover and interior. I found Ingram for the distribution and printing. I talked to other authors. I literally self-published.
Three more books came in rapid succession, and then friends with manuscripts started approaching me to publish their books. I didn’t even think about it—since I was not an imprinted publisher at the moment—and thought of the projects like I would an annual report or ad in my graphic design studio. I told the author what it would cost and they paid it gladly. I did the work and they got published. Boom.
BLG: How did you find your business partner and how do your skills complement each other?
JK: Joe Coccaro is my partner, our VP and Executive Editor. In 2012 he was getting out of the newspaper business (managing editor at the Virginian-Pilot) and was hoping to get into book publishing.
A mutual friend introduced us and here we are. Joe is all about words and editing and the value of the work. I’m all about the design and the operational side of the business. I can be pie-in-the-sky and he is more down to earth and pragmatic. We are a good balance together. And a good friend.
BLG: What makes work attractive to Koehler Books?
JK: We are looking for quality work. Period. Then we look at the author. We are looking for collaborative team players, not prima donnas. Are they willing to work hard and learn new things? Will they get out in front of their book with smart marketing and promotions. Will they be responsive during the production? But in the end all things start and start with quality.
BLG: How can an author best prepare before submitting any work to a publisher?
JK: Polish your manuscript. The best top-shelf writers have their work edited BEFORE they take it to an agent, much less a publisher. Spend money on a professional editor and you decrease the chance of being embarrassed by stupid mistakes and increase the chance of your work being accepted for review.
Then make sure your query letter is well done. Your author bio and synopsis and audience and marketing plan and more. Get it right. Edit it. Make it a work of art. We get all of that up front on our submissions form:http://www.koehlerbooks.com/submit-your-work/
BLG: What are the advantages of working with an indie publisher?
JK: TLC most likely. Assuming you find an Indie publisher with a good publishing record and reputation. Do your homework. Ask around. Talk to some of their published authors if you can. Chances are good that because they are smaller, you will get better hands on customer service.
That should of course be combined with excellent creative development, distribution, printing, production and technical skills and management of your royalties downstream.
We recommend the Hybrid Publishers Standards guide established by the Independent Book Publishers Association: http://www.koehlerbooks.com/about/hybrid-publishing-standards/
Those standards are the same in most cases whether you are getting a traditional or hybrid publishing deal.
BLG: What marketing advice would you give to those working with an indie publisher?
JK: Research and be clear about what the publisher will do for the author. We are VERY clear about what we will do: http://www.koehlerbooks.com/publishing-services/support-services/marketing/
The marketing program should be clear and easy to understand. Find out how they will help the author with their own author marketing program. Is there any training or coaching by the publisher or is the author on their own?
No matter the size of the publisher, plan on having to do a LOT of marketing on your own. Never forget that your book may be good, but with you it is great. The best seller is the author, hands down. The more you can get in front of influencers and readers the better you will sell. Give your book away to influencers.
BLG: What are the most successful marketing strategies your authors have used?
JK: Book tours can work, but they take a lot of managing and planning by the author. An Amazon bestseller campaign can work very well if the author can get hundreds of people to buy the book on the same day. That can rocket it to the top of a category. Blog Tours are cheap and relatively easy, and the author can do them herself. Find the bloggers, follow them, say nice things, send them your book and ask for a review. Boom. Book Bub has been absolutely amazing for our authors, but hard to get into. Some of our authors have done very well in getting articles published in online and printed media that lead folks to their book. A campaign to give away books to folks in return for an Amazon, Goodreads or other review can be very successful.
BLG: Where do you see the publishing world five years from now? Will we go back to print books, will e-books overtake print books, and what will happen to retail book stores and libraries?
JK: Print sales will continue to rule, with Ebooks losing ground and the big mover will be audio books. Authors will continue to look for help with self-publication of their books so they can retain rights and more royalties. Those companies will continue to expand and improve. Hybrid or co-publishing companies will also continue to gain ground with an emphasis on quality and service in traditional and co-publishing models. Traditional-only publishing companies will slowly decrease as more traditional-only publishers go out of business.
BLG: What else would you like Writer Advice readers to know?
JK: Writers are artists, same as a painter, a poet, a musician or a sculptor. When you write something you do it to please yourself and you are the audience. You do not have to share it with the world. It is private and wonderful. But when you take the leap to get it published and share it with readers, you open yourself up to criticism. Therefore put on the full armor of God and prepare yourself. Do your best to make it great so that others can share your story and enjoy your words.
No matter what, keep writing because the world needs you to.
BLG: Those are inspiring words. Thank you for sharing them.
I am proud to announce that Koehler is the publisher of Never Too Late: From Wannabe to Wife at 62and will also be releasing a new version of Talent in March of 2020.
If you are a publisher who would like to share your story, please click on the Contact button and tell us a bit about yourself.