Posted on Leave a comment

What Do We Look For in a Story Pitch?

We received a question on our Discord, seeking guidance on writing a pitch for our newest anthologies, She Wears the Midnight Crown and He Bears the Cape of Midnight. Answering it led us to look through the pitches we received when we put out our first call for applicants earlier this year. At that time, we didn’t include story pitches in the ratings, and we were also more open to authors changing their pitches, since we weren’t rating them. However, we still read them because we were really curious and excited to see what people had in mind, and I (hi, it’s your friendly neighborhood @unforth, owner and usually-the-blogger) highlighted my favorites and shared many of them with our backers on Patreon to whet their appetites.In response to the question on Discord, I shared a few of my favorites, and multiple people expressed that it was helpful to them, so I thought – why not turn it into a blog post, and let everyone see?

A few notes on this:

1. We do not claim this list will be generalizable to other Presses or calls for story pitches. You may find these strategies effective elsewhere, but you may not!

2. The pitches for Add Magic to Taste were restricted to only 200 words; our new call allows up to 400, so if you’re writing a pitch for us you’ll be able to get a bit more in than the examples were provide.

3. If you’re coming to this in the future when we’ve pitched a new anthology that you’d like to apply to, it will still be applicable – just swap in the specifics that make sense to our new project, because the essentials won’t have changed even when the specifics do.

4. If you’ve read our Submission Review Rubric you’ll already know that the only rubric item we have specifically for the Story Pitch is inherently subjective. While yes, we will consider the content, grammar, and technical aspects of your story pitch, that won’t have a huge impact on the ratings for our less subjective categories, and the main place we’ll rate it will be on a 0 to 4 scale from “I’m just not feeling it” through “I NEED 10K OF THIS YESTERDAY.” As such, because it’s subjective, what each reviewer will look for will vary. However, I wouldn’t be writing this post unless I thought the advice in it didn’t have some general applicability – our personal preferences will alter how precisely we rate pitches but in a general sense, a pitch that considers the criteria to follow has a good chance of appealing to all of us, even if it doesn’t end up a personal favorite.

With all that in mind…what should you consider when you write us a pitch? 

Basically: we’re going to want to know who the most important characters are, where those characters are, and what those characters are going to do/how they’re going to interact with each other and/or the world around them

Less basically…how do you do that?

1. Have characters. Don’t pull a “I want to tell a story kinda like a romance, but it takes place in a spaceship, and the ball is for…” without telling us about the people. Be the worldbuilding ever so cool (and don’t get us wrong, we LOVE cool worldbuilding!) we’re looking for people to tell stories about queer romance. So, we need to know who the characters are, not just where they are. All the most successful story pitches we’ve read are character driven. For example, here are some lovely character introductions from our Add Magic to Taste calls:

Ex. 1: Layla was born a witch—specifically, a witch who can make anything she touches taste sweet and delicious, which is a pretty lame magic to be born with. 

Ex. 2: Xee is Asexual, graduated from school a decade back, and works the Tea Shop his parents have owned since they moved there from the Fae realm four or five decades back. 

Ex: 3: Teravilis, a dragon shifter escaped from the government lab where she’s lived her whole life, is already feeling overwhelmed before a towering, beautiful woman sits down on the next couch. 

2. Have a setting. However lovingly your OCs are assembled, if we learn nothing about the type of masquerade you’re portraying or the surroundings, then we won’t be interested. Look again at those three examples of characters: all three not only tell us about the character – they also integrate information about the world that character inhabits. A pitch like “Character A is an engineer who is tall and blonde and very good at what they do; Character B is a sec op who has perfect aim and a give-um-hell attitude” is interesting but…what does Character A actually engineers? Why Character B would need to be a sec op wherever they are? It doesn’t have to be in the exact same sentence, but it needs to be in the pitch somewhere

2a: The setting and the characters must inter-relate. We want these characters to inhabit living, breathing worlds, and we do mean inhabit. If they just seem plastered over the setting – like if we took the characters out and plonked them down somewhere else they’d be completely the same – then that’s a problem. 

Some examples of settings that enhanced people’s pitches for Add Magic to Taste:

Ex. 1: Airmid, an undercover health inspector with a love for busting the dirtiest cooks in the business, stops by her gleaming city’s newest restaurant: The Drakery Bakery. She can’t believe what she sees. The miniature dragons who work as everything from oven flames to waiters can’t be up to code, and no matter how delicious the pastries are she’s certain that a dragon shouldn’t be breathing on crème brûlées to crisp their tops. 

Ex. 2: 35+ hedge witch who runs a bookstore (or similar) keeps magically bambozzling postal workers to deliver to the wrong address so she can talk to the cute owner of the bakery three doors down.

Ex. 3: Kyle hates that he has to put on his human skin every day and work at the coffee shop, but ocean jobs are reserved for those that can’t work on land. 

(and again, note how all three of these could have been easily swapped in as examples for item 1. The setting exists to serve the narrative about the characters, not the other way around, so a strong pitch is likely to integrate the worldbuilding aspects by describing where and how the character(s) fit into the world.)

3. Be specific. It’s okay if you don’t know the character names or haven’t decided on the name of the spaceship where your ball takes place – that level of specificity isn’t necessary – but a pitch that says, “Character A is a spaceship pilot who has snuck into the ball after making a mask out of discarded reactor core parts” is much more appealing than a pitch that says, “Character A works on the spaceship and sneaks into the ball.” We want to see that you’ve thought about who these characters are, and where they are, and what they’re going to do. 

Ex. 1: Then one morning, right in the middle of the dullest lull there ever was, the girl that works at the yarn shop across the street – the girl Merrily has been quietly pining over from afar since the first time she saw her three months ago – makes a dramatic entrance, slaps her hands down on the counter and says, very sternly, “It’s you, isn’t it?”

Ex. 2: Then he meets Nigh, a customer who hates the ocean but smells of kelp and salt and rides a skateboard like he’s underwater. He’s everything Kyle might want if he had time to do something foolish like fall in love.

Ex. 3: This story begins when Shiloh heads to La Vie Café to meet with the Reincarnation Support Group (for women who believe they have been reincarnated) in Philadelphia. She claims that she is the reincarnated version of a man who died 25 years ago. 

4. Introduce the plot…but don’t feel you have to tell us everything. If you really want to summarize your entire story in 400 words, go for it, but it’s not necessary. It’s absolutely okay to leave us wanting more – you can treat this like a back-of-the-book blurb rather than like your cover letter summary. “The problems they face seem insurmountable…what will they do?” is a perfectly okay way to end your pitch, especially if you’ve adhered to our first three points and made it clear through your characters, setting description, and specificity that you do have a plan. Most of the pitches we’ve liked in the past treated the pitch as a teaser rather than as a synopsis or a book report. (Read the full pitches below for an idea what we mean).

5. How you write your pitch is almost as important as the actual story you propose. We want a compelling story, yes, but we also want to see – how do you approach character building? How do you work within a word limit? How do you approach building tension? Your story pitch is about the story you want to tell, but it’s also literally about how you pitch it. The classic AO3 “sorry I suck at summaries” isn’t going to cut it here: you have to take the dive and act like you know your story pitch is the coolest concept ever, and you are out to convince us it’s the coolest also. You love your characters? Tell us enough that we also love your characters and get invested in their fates. You built a lush world for them? Paint that world concisely and accurately with your words. You know that a reader who reads the first 1,000 words of your 6,000 word story will be so intrigued they won’t be able to put it down? Show us that by making the 400-word introduction to the concept so fascinating that we don’t want to put it down either. (Again, instead of excerpts, see the full pitches below.)

6. Don’t neglect your spelling and grammar. Good technical aspects won’t necessarily save a pitch that is flat in other regards, and poor technical aspects won’t necessarily sink a pitch that’s otherwise intriguing, but your attention to detail speaks to your genuine interest in working with us, and if the editing is poor, even if we loved your story submission and your pitch, we’ll worry ‘how much editing will this person really need to bring their story up to professional editing standards?” It’s definitely worth sweating the small stuff and getting your SPAG clean for your pitch as well as for your writing sample submission!

To boil these six points down to a tl:dr – we are looking for story pitches that are character-driven, keep in mind our main theme components (happy ending queer romance at masquerades or in masquerade-esque societies/settings), show that thought has been put into the details, and leave us wanting more!

Here are all the full pitches that we used for the above examples, and some we didn’t pull examples from. All are used with author permission and credited according to author request. If the story ended up in Add Magic to Taste, we make a note of that, but remember that we did not rate these pitches as part of our applicant review for that anthology. Not all of these authors were accepted to our first project, even though we love their pitches, but all of these authors are currently involved in the Press. (Many are in our upcoming anthology And Seek (Not) to Alter Me.)

*

Pitch by anonymous:

Sugar and Spice: Layla was born a witch—specifically, a witch who can make anything she touches taste sweet and delicious, which is a pretty lame magic to be born with. Her quest to trade it in for something cooler, or at least to learn some flashier spells, brings her to Sweetheart’s Cakery, a sweet and sugary establishment run by the most powerful necromancer alive. Stephanie Drybones, professionally known as ‘Sweetheart,’ has spent centuries honing her baking skills the hard way and isn’t impressed by Layla’s woes… but she is intrigued by Layla’s determination and acerbic wit. 

The two women make a deal: if Layla can produce a better sweet than Stephanie within a week, Stephanie will teach her some awesome spells to revive the dead in a sanitary manner, leech the warmth from her surroundings, and generally annoy the neighbors. If Layla can’t, however, she must come work at the bakery until she understands the importance of cake as a concept—which, considering how pretty and disarmingly nice Stephanie is, shouldn’t be a chore. Let the bake-off commence.

*

Pitch by Lucy K. R. (@/lucywritesbooks on twitter):

Airmid, an undercover health inspector with a love for busting the dirtiest cooks in the business, stops by her gleaming city’s newest restaurant: The Drakery Bakery. She can’t believe what she sees. The miniature dragons who work as everything from oven flames to waiters can’t be up to code, and no matter how delicious the pastries are she’s certain that a dragon shouldn’t be breathing on crème brûlées to crisp their tops. 

But Calida, the dragon mage who owns the place, gives her pause. She doesn’t know what brings her over to Airmid’s table, but she has to confess that she finds her charming. And pretty. And confident, and talented, and… One more visit couldn’t hurt before she calls in the health department, right? 

Airmid finds reason after reason to give one more inspection rather than shutting down The Drakey Bakery, always hoping for one more chance to chat with its enigmatic owner. And as she does so, she finds a new appreciation for dragons, the deliciousness of imperfection, and most importantly for Calida— a woman as irresistible as she is lawless.

*

Pitch by Willa Blythe (@/willaablythe on twitter):

Merrily Berkshire finds her quaint, old fashioned town boring and dull, and her shifts at the local coffee shop are the most boring of all. She knows she probably shouldn’t do it, but to keep her busy she has begun practicing her spellwork on unsuspecting patrons: a bit of a brightening charm here, a wakefulness spell there, an enchantment to be more open, an enchantment to be more closed, an intention to draw in funds, a quick-but-unfortunate curse to cause unrelenting hiccups that she feels immediately guilty for… It passes the time, and she’s getting better at it every day. 

Then one morning, right in the middle of the dullest lull there ever was, the girl that works at the yarn shop across the street – the girl Merrily has been quietly pining over from afar since the first time she saw her three months ago – makes a dramatic entrance, slaps her hands down on the counter and says, very sternly, “It’s you, isn’t it?” 

Can Merrily right her wrongs and woo the yarn girl? Get your most beloved mug ready: it’s time for a tale of magic, mistakes, and making your own meaning when nothing feels like it means anything.

(A version of this story pitch is in Add Magic to Taste)

*

Pitch by @/theleakypen:

A Chinese fox spirit, a Russian river spirit, and a love story measured in coffee dates. 

Lara Yan spent one hundred years cultivating to human form and she’s not going to waste this opportunity just to tear out men’s hearts to steal more qi. She frequents the Chashka Kofe on Morskoy Prospekt, working on her papers for her Master’s in Philology — language, she thinks, is the best thing about having a human mouth. 

Alisa Rusakova just wants a cup of coffee before another long day diving for a sunken barge in the River Ob. She spends her days in the water, hiding her rusalka nature in plain sight. Gone are the days when she and her sisters drowned or tickled men to death and haunted mortal women for their combs. 

When they run into each other — literally — on the way to the coffee counter, they have no idea that they’ve finally met someone who understands what it is to straddle the world of the human and the monstrous, someone they don’t have to hide from.

(A version of this story pitch is in Add Magic to Taste)

*

Pitch by @/arialerendeair:

In a world where the Fae, the Magical, and the slightly-more than normal live side-by-side with humans as a part of their daily lives, I would love to tell the story of Xilmys (he goes by ‘Xee’) and Areon. Xee is Asexual, graduated from school a decade back, and works the Tea Shop his parents have owned since they moved there from the Fae realm four or five decades back. Areon, he, well, they, but that’s rather new, has lived in the city since they were a kid, and they have been getting tea (both literal and metaphorical) from the Tea Shop for years, always from Xee. 

The only thing larger than their tea addiction is their crush on Xee. Now, if only Areon’s hair didn’t turn bright pink every time they talked to Xee, giving away how embarrassed they were, that would be great! 

One day, though, Aeron walks into the Tea Shop, determined. Their hair is purple, and they manage to do what had been impossible. Ask Xee on a date. Or coffee. But not tea. Definitely not tea. 

Xee agrees, of course, and says that while he loves all of Areon’s colors – purple is his new favorite.

*

Pitch by Shea Sullivan:

Kyle hates that he has to put on his human skin every day and work at the coffee shop, but ocean jobs are reserved for those that can’t work on land. The bipeds assume he’s one of them. His friends at home don’t have the recessive gene that would give them skins. 

He really is a fish—octopus—out of water. 

Then he meets Nigh, a customer who hates the ocean but smells of kelp and salt and rides a skateboard like he’s underwater. He’s everything Kyle might want if he had time to do something foolish like fall in love.

(A version of this story pitch is in Add Magic to Taste)

*

Pitch by A. A. Weston:

35+ hedge witch who runs a bookstore (or similar) keeps magically bambozzling postal workers to deliver to the wrong address so she can talk to the cute owner of the bakery three doors down. Tooth rottingly sweet (pun intended) disaster gay/bi shenanigans.

(note on this one and the next that detailed, appealing, and plotty doesn’t have to mean long – it’s possible to get the entire idea across very succinctly and still have it be appealing!)

*

Pitch by G. Hendrickson:

A wlw bakery run by a witch and her familiar. A new customer has become a regular and the witch is besotted. Her familiar tries to get them together, even though she also loves her witch. Love triangle shenanigans are ended when the witch reveals she didn’t want to pursue her familiar because of the power imbalance. The new regular reveals they don’t want to choose between the two because they thought the familiar was just the messenger for both. The solution is a happy, bubbling bakery run by that cute poly-triad.

*

Pitch by Adrian Harley:

Maria Birch, former child star, ducks into Genre Blends Tea Shop on a summer afternoon to escape the prying eyes of paparazzi and be left alone for a few precious moments. She strategically picks one of the couches closest to the back exit and hopes her new seatmate won’t recognize her behind her sunglasses and floppy hat. But when her new seatmate burns her mouth on her tea and tears up staring at a crossword, Maria breaks her own isolation to see if she can help. 

Teravilis, a dragon shifter escaped from the government lab where she’s lived her whole life, is already feeling overwhelmed before a towering, beautiful woman sits down on the next couch. The wider world has too many people, too many pastry options, and too many crossword clues that make no sense. When Maria reaches out, though, Teravilis learns that some things outside a lab-controlled environment can still be simple. 

Will disgruntled paparazzi and furtive government agents interrupt this blissful afternoon? Not if a mild-mannered, glasses-wearing barista has anything to say about it.

*

Pitch by T. S. Knight:

This story begins when Shiloh heads to La Vie Café to meet with the Reincarnation Support Group (for women who believe they have been reincarnated) in Philadelphia. She claims that she is the reincarnated version of a man who died 25 years ago. Convinced that she is (or was) this person, Shiloh has discovered that her widowed wife is still alive and working nearby. Shiloh hopes that the support group will help her decide if and how she might talk to beautiful Aline. While the group of fabulous and predominately queer women are glad to chat, Shiloh quickly realizes that none of them actually believe in reincarnation and instead see the group as an opportunity to spend time together. Though these are kind and lovely women, socializing isn’t going to solve her frighteningly real reincarnation problem, but at least there are pastries and coffee and new friends.

(A version of this story pitch is in Add Magic to Taste; note that T. S. Knight requested and was granted permission to slightly edit this pitch from the original submitted one, as there were things in it that didn’t end up in the published version that they hope to use in a future story)

Posted on Leave a comment

NOW AVAILABLE: THE E-BOOK OF ADD MAGIC TO TASTE and Extra Kickstarter Merchandise!

Did you miss your chance to back our first Kickstarter? Did you back it, but have a friend who wants a copy? Have you just been itching to get some of the merch you didn’t get as a backer? Have you only just heard of us thanks to our recent call for applicants, and want to learn more about our first Anthology?

Now you can do all these things!

Duck Prints Press’s first anthology, Add Magic to Taste, is now available for sale on our website!

For Add Magic to Taste, 20 authors have come together to produce new, original short stories uniting four of our absolute favorite themes: queer relationships, fluff, magic, and coffee shops! Our diverse writers have created an even more diverse collection of stories guaranteed to sweeten your coffee and warm your tart.

Select extra/leftover merchandise from the Kickstarter is also available, including:

So check it out, and get some of the book that’s averaging over 4 stars on Goodreads and Storygraph, and the merch that our Kickstarter backers described as “absolutely beautiful,” “gorgeous,” “incredible,” and “absolute BEST IN CLASS.”

VISIT OUR SHOP NOW AND GET YOURS!

Posted on Leave a comment

Kickstarter Stretch Goal Update!

We recently crossed $18,000, which means we’ve hit two more of our stretch goals!

The first, at $17,500, means we can give our authors another raise – they’ll now each be paid 5 cents per word US, up to a maximum of $250 per story.

The second, at $18,000, gets more merchandise for everyone who bought physical merchandise! We’ll be producing a mini-book, sized A6 (4.1 in x 5.8 in/10.5 cm x 14.8 cm). It’s soft cover, roughly 20 pages, with a cover featuring one of Alessa Riel’s lovely edited photographs of model Zadya Cheysuli. We asked for volunteers from our 20 authors to create works, up to 250 words, for this book – drabbles, poems, and ficlets, either related to the stories they wrote for the anthology, or brand new (but still aligned with the Add Magic to Taste themes)!

So far, 12 authors have volunteered to contribute (four are already done!) and we’ve got a couple “maybe’s” as well. This is going to be a fun little addition to the anthology, and everyone at backer levels 2, 3, 4, and 5 will get it, at no additional cost!

(I’m still trying to convince Puck and Shea to let me print the “lik the bred” poems they shared on the Duck Prints Press Discord.)

Also – we haven’t completed the “cover” edit of the graphic, but here’s a sneak peek of the image we’ll be using (it’s also in our postcard set expansion, at the $23,000 stretch goal).

Our next stretch goal, at $20,000, will enable us to give our authors a raise to 6 cents US per word, and if we can reach $20,500, all backers at Level 2, 3, 4, and 5, will get ANOTHER reward – a Dux magnet (we haven’t decided which Dux yet…speak up if you have a preference!) – so help us spread the word about the Kickstarter, and if we can hit that amount before the campaign ends next Saturday at 11 AM eastern time, our backers can get even more Stuff!

(and don’t forget – our ultimate goal is to hit $25,000;  which will enable us to pay our authors the short story market (SFMA qualifying!) rate of 8 cents per word US. You’ve seen our teasers. You know how awesome these stories are. We want to be able to pay everyone every penny they deserve – and we think it’s possible, with a solid push this last week. So, if you, our wonderful backers thus far, know folks you think might like this anthology – please send it their way!)

Posted on Leave a comment

Cover Reveal for “Add Magic to Taste”

Duck Prints Press will be launching our first Kickstarter on July 15th, 2021, and we cannot possibly be more excited for it! We’ve got a LOT more info to come related to – previews of the merchandise, teasers for the stories, and more – but we wanted to get things started by sharing our amazing cover, which features art by LizLee Illustration (@lizleeillustration, Instagram, Twitter, Personal Site) and graphic design work by @pallasperilous (Twitter, Personal Website), @hermitwrites (Pillowfort, WordPress), and @alessariel.

For Add Magic to Taste, 20 authors have come together to produce all-new, original short stories uniting four of our absolute favorite themes: queer relationships, fluff, magic, and coffee shops! Our diverse writers have created an even more diverse collection of stories guaranteed to sweeten your coffee and warm your tart.

Love wlw? So do we!

Love mlm? We’ve got you covered!

Love genderqueer characters? Raise those trans, enby, agender and other flags high!

Love aces? Same, and we don’t (only) mean playing cards!

Love poly relationships? Oh hey, we’re sharing a brain!

We won’t say this anthology has it all – there are too many identities in the world for us to fit all of them into one anthology of 20 stories – but if you want some queer fluff and happy feelings, you’ve come to the right place. Add Magic to Taste features characters of different races, ethnicities, sexualities, romanticisms, gender identities, religions, and home nations, united by the common theme of finding someone (or more than one someone) to enjoy a muffin and a cuppa with – for today, or for a lifetime, romantically or otherwise!

Learn more about this project:

So, mark your calendars! Follow our Tumblr! Read more about the project! Ask us any questions you have! And save your pennies so you, too, can buy this amazing collection of stories!

The Kickstarter for Add Magic to Taste launches on July 15th, 2021!

Posted on Leave a comment

Giving Quality, Motivating Feedback

A guest post by @shealynn88!

The new writer in your writing group just sent out their latest story and it’s…not exciting. You know it needs work, but you’re not sure why, or where they should focus. 

This is the blog post for you!

Before we get started, it’s important to note that this post isn’t aimed at people doing paid editing work. In the professional world, there are developmental editors, line editors, and copy editors, who all have a different focus. That is not what we’re covering here. Today, we want to help you informally give quality, detailed, encouraging feedback to your fellow writers.

The Unwritten Rules

Everyone seems to have a different understanding of what it means to beta, edit, or give feedback on a piece, so it’s best to be on the same page with your writer before you get started. 

Think about what type of work you’re willing and able to do, how much time you have, and how much emotional labor you’re willing to take on. Then talk to your writer about their expectations.

Responsibilities as an editor/beta may include:

  1. Know what the author’s expectation is and don’t overstep. Different people in different stages of writing are looking for, and will need, different types of support. It’s important to know what pieces of the story they want feedback on. If they tell you they don’t want feedback on dialogue, don’t give them feedback on dialogue. Since many terms are ambiguous or misunderstood, it may help you to use the list of story components in the next section to come to an agreement with your writer on what you’ll review.
  2. Don’t offer expertise you don’t have. If your friend needs advice on their horse book and you know nothing about horses, be clear that your readthrough will not include any horse fact checking. Don’t offer grammar advice if you’re not good at grammar. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give feedback on things you do notice, but don’t misrepresent yourself, and understand your own limits.
  3. Give positive and constructive feedback. It is important for a writer to know when something is working well. Don’t skimp on specific positive feedback — this is how you keep writers motivated. On the other hand, giving constructive feedback indicates where there are issues. Be specific on what you’re seeing and why it’s an issue. It can be hard for someone to improve if they don’t understand what’s wrong.
  4. Be clear about your timing and availability, and provide updates if either changes. Typically, you’ll be doing this for free, as you’re able to fit it in your schedule. But it can be nerve wracking to hand your writing over for feedback and then hear nothing. For everyone’s sanity, keep the writer up to date on your expected timeline and let them know if you’re delayed for some reason. If you cannot complete the project for them, let them know. This could be for any reason — needing to withdraw, whatever the cause,  is valid! It could be because working with the writer is tough, you don’t enjoy the story, life got tough, you got tired, etc. All of that is fine; just let them know that you won’t be able to continue working on the project.
  5. Be honest if there are story aspects you can’t be objective about. Nearly all of your feedback is going to be personal opinion. There are some story elements that will evoke strong personal feelings. They can be tropes, styles, specific characterizations, or squicks. In these cases, ask the writer to get another opinion on that particular aspect, or, if you really want to continue, find similar published content to review and see if you can get a better sense of how other writers have handled it.
  6. Don’t get personal. Your feedback should talk about the characters, the narrator, the plotline, the sentence structure, or other aspects of the story. Avoid making ‘you’ statements or judgements, suggested or explicit, in your feedback. Unless you’re looking at grammar or spelling, most of the feedback you’ll have will be your opinion. Don’t present it as fact.

Your expectations of the writer/friend/group member you are working with may include:

  1. Being gracious in accepting feedback. A writer may provide explanations for an issue you noticed or seek to discuss your suggestions.  However, if they constantly argue with you, that may be an indicator to step back.
  2. Being responsible for emotional reactions to getting feedback. While getting feedback can be hard on the ego and self esteem, that is something the writer needs to work on themselves. While you can provide reassurance and do emotional labor if you’re comfortable, it is also very reasonable to step back if the writer isn’t ready to do that work.
  3. Making the final choice regarding changes to the work. The writer should have a degree of confidence in accepting or rejecting your feedback based on their own sense of the story. While they may consult you on this, the onus is on them to make changes that preserve the core of the story they want to tell.

Some people aren’t ready for feedback, even though they’re seeking it. You’re not signing up to be a psychologist, a best friend, or an emotional support editor. You can let people know in advance that these are your expectations, or you can just keep them in mind for your own mental health. As stated above, you can always step back from a project, and if writers aren’t able to follow these few guidelines, it might be a good time to do that. (It’s also worth making sure that, as a writer, you’re able to give these things to your beta/editor.)

Specificity is Key

One of the hardest things in editing is pinning down the ‘whys’ of unexciting work, so let’s split the writing into several components and talk about evaluations you can make for each one.

You can also give this list to your writer ahead of time as a checklist, to see which things they want your feedback on. 

Generally, your goal is going to be to help people improve incrementally. Each story they write should be better than the previous one, so you don’t need to go through every component for every story you edit. Generally, I wouldn’t suggest more than 3 editing rounds on any single story that isn’t intended for publication. Think of the ‘many pots’ theory — people who are honing their craft will improve more quickly by writing a lot of stories instead of incessantly polishing one.

With this in mind, try addressing issues in the order below, from general to precise. It doesn’t make sense to critique grammar and sentence structure if the plot isn’t solid, and it can be very hard on a writer to get feedback on all these components at once. If a piece is an early or rough draft, try evaluating no more than four components at a time, and give specific feedback on what does and doesn’t work, and why.

High Level Components

Character arc/motivation:

  • Does each character have a unique voice, or do they all sound the same?
  • In dialogue, are character voices preserved? Do they make vocabulary and sentence-structure choices that fit with how they’re being portrayed?
  • Does each character have specific motivations and focuses that are theirs alone?
  • Does each character move through the plot naturally, or do they seem to be shoehorned/railroaded into situations or decisions for the sake of the plot? Be specific about which character actions work and which don’t. Tell the writer what you see as their motivation/arc and why—and point out specific lines that indicate that motivation to you.
  • Does each character’s motivation seem to come naturally from your knowledge of them?
  • Are you invested (either positively or negatively) in the characters? If not, why not? Is it that they have nothing in common with you? Do you not understand where they’re coming from? Are they too perfect or too unsympathetic?

Theme

It’s a good idea to summarize the story and its moral from your point of view and provide that insight to the writer. This can help them understand if the points they were trying to make come through. The theme should tie in closely with the character arcs. If not, provide detailed feedback on where it does and doesn’t tie in.

Plot Structure: 

For most issues with plot structure, you can narrow them down to pacing, characterization, logical progression, or unsatisfying resolution. Be specific about the issues you see and, when things are working well, point that out, too.

  • Is there conflict that interests you? Does it feel real? 
  • Is there a climax? Do you feel drawn into it? 
  • Do the plot points feel like logical steps within the story?
  • Is the resolution tied to the characters and their growth? Typically this will feel more real and relevant and satisfying than something you could never have seen coming.
  • Is the end satisfying? If not, is it because you felt the end sooner and the story kept going? Is it because too many threads were left unresolved? Is it just a matter of that last sentence or two being lackluster?

Point Of View:

  • Is the point of view clear and consistent? 
  • Is the writing style and structure consistent with that point of view? For example, if a writer is working in first person or close third person, the style of the writing should reflect the way the character thinks. This extends to grammar, sentence structure, general vocabulary and profanity outside of the dialogue. 
  • If there is head hopping (where the point of view changes from chapter to chapter or section to section), is it clear in the first few sentences whose point of view you’re now in? Chapter headers can be helpful, but it should be clear using structural, emotional, and stylistic changes that you’re with a new character now.
  • Are all five senses engaged? Does the character in question interact with their environment in realistic, consistent ways that reflect how people actually interact with the world?
  • Sometimes the point of view can feel odd if it’s too consistent. Humans don’t typically think logically and linearly all the time, so being in someone’s head may sometimes be contradictory or illogical. If it’s too straightforward, it might not ‘feel’ real. 

Be specific about the areas that don’t work and break them down based on the questions above.

Pacing

  • Does the story jump around, leaving you confused about what took place when?
  • Do some scenes move quickly where others drag, and does that make sense within the story?
  • If pacing isn’t working, often it’s about the level of detail or the sentence structure. Provide detailed feedback about what you care about in a given scene to help a writer focus in.

Setting:

  • Is the setting clear and specific? Writing with specific place details is typically more rooted, interesting, and unique. If you find the setting vague and/or uninteresting and/or irrelevant, you might suggest replacing vague references — ‘favorite band’, ‘coffee shop on the corner’, ‘the office building’ — with specific names to ground the setting and make it feel more real. 
  • It might also be a lack of specific detail in a scene that provides context beyond the characters themselves. Provide specific suggestions of what you feel like you’re missing. Is it in a specific scene, or throughout the story? Are there scenes that work well within the story, where others feel less grounded? Why?

Low Level Components

Flow/Sentence Structure:

  • Sentence length and paragraph length should vary. The flow should feel natural. 
  • When finding yourself ‘sticking’ on certain sentences, provide specific feedback on why they aren’t working. Examples are rhythm, vocabulary, subject matter (maybe something is off topic), ‘action’ vs ‘explanation’, passive vs. active voice.

Style/Vocabulary:

  • Writing style should be consistent with the story — flowery prose works well for mythic or historical pieces and stories that use that type of language are typically slower moving. Quick action and short sentences are a better fit for murder mysteries, suspense, or modern, lighter fiction. 
  • Style should be consistent within the story — it may vary slightly to show how quickly action is happening, but you shouldn’t feel like you’re reading two different stories.

SPAG (Spelling and Grammar):

  • Consider spelling and grammar in the context of the point of view, style and location of the story (eg, England vs. America vs. Australia). 
  • If a point of view typically uses incorrect grammar, a SPAG check will include making sure that it doesn’t suddenly fall into perfect grammar for a while. In this case, consistency is going to be important to the story feeling authentic.

Word Count Requirements:

If the story has been written for a project, bang, anthology, zine, or other format that involves a required word count minimum or maximum, and the story is significantly over or under the aimed-for word count (30% or more/less), it may not make sense to go through larger edits until the sizing is closer to requirements. But, as a general rule, I’d say word count is one of the last things to worry about.

*

The best thing we can do for another writer is to keep them writing. Every single person will improve if they keep going. Encouragement is the most important feedback of all.

I hope this has helped you think about how you provide feedback. Let us know if you have other tips or tricks! This works best as a collaborative process where we all can support one another!

Posted on Leave a comment

Announcing: The Authors Selection to Contribute to “Add Magic to Taste”

Duck Prints Press is thrilled to share more information about the 20 authors who have been selected to contribute to Add Magic to Taste! Read on…

Transparent Duck Print: Yellow

Theresa Alef

I’m a pediatric occupational therapist in the Southwest USA, and my pronouns are she/her. Writing has been my first love since I was old enough to string words together, but this will be my very first fictional publication! I have a special place in my heart for a lot of fandoms, but Marvel is definitely my favorite—specifically, the Clint Barton/Bucky Barnes ship. I spend a lot of my free time writing, but when I’m not at the computer, I like to go hiking in the desert, spend time with friends and family, and read books.

Transparent Duck Print: Green

I.A. Ashcroft

A writer and web development freelancer, I. A. Ashcroft lives in the mountains of Colorado alongside family and his constant feline companion, Potato. Ashcroft has published two original sci-fi/fantasy novels, is hard at work on the third in the series, and has been writing for fandoms for over a decade, loving stories that emphasize unlikely bonds, mythology, magic, and hope in the darkness. In between storytelling efforts, he enjoys cooking, fiddling with technology projects, and rolling dice with friends while wearing funny hats.

Links: Archive of Our Own | Tumblr | Twitter

Transparent Duck Print: Blue

Jessica Black

Jessie, pen name Jessica Black, fandom name alocalband, decided she wanted to be a writer at the age of seven and hasn’t looked back since. With a degree in screenwriting, she spent the majority of her career working on assorted projects in Hollywood, New York, and Puerto Rico. Lately, however, she’s settled down to a quieter life with her cat, her library, and a constantly filling notebook of new ideas. Hobbies include reading, hiking, gaming, knitting, and going to hockey games.

Links: Archive of Our Own | Discord: alocalband#6844 | Tumblr | Twitter

Transparent Duck Print: Purple

Marianne Blaine

Marianne is a 25-year-old grad student, currently striving to earn their PhD in biology. In their copious spare time, they enjoy reading, writing, and narrating. Though publishing their works has been a persistent dream since early childhood, participating in this anthology is their first foray away from the relative anonymity and ease of fanfiction. Happiest outdoors, they take inspiration from nature and are always planning a next adventure in the wild places (with maybe an audiobook or two).

Transparent Duck Print: Red

Willa Blythe

Willa Blythe (she/her) started talking late and telling stories early, and she hasn’t stopped doing either of those things since. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Playwriting and a Master’s in Literature, and she still learned most everything she knows about writing from reading someone else’s. She and her pre-teen son Jack are a dynamic duo when it comes to road trip karaoke and dinner table roleplay, but disagree about minor matters like homework and chores and whether or not you must do those things. When not working at her day job, teaching, parenting, trying to convince herself to write, or talking on the phone for hours to the three people in her life who are still into talking on the phone, Willa enjoys picking up new hobbies that she’ll pursue to excess for two and a half months; downloading 67 mods for a video game she’ll play 4 hours of before abandoning for three years; reading halves and thirds and quarters of books; and playing a lot of Dungeons & Dragons with friends online. She’s still waiting for the lady knight of her dreams to come pick her up from this really boring tower—but at least the view is pretty sweet. Her contribution to Add Magic to Taste will be Willa’s first publication, and she’s both grateful and excited for this opportunity to bring a bit of magic to the mundane.

Links: Twitter

Transparent Duck Print: Orange

Scarlett Gale

Scarlett Gale is the author of His Secret Illuminations. Long ago, under another name, she was the co-author of Needles and Artifice (Cooperative Press; 2012), featuring a rollicking romantic steampunk adventure novella and associated knitting patterns, of which she also designed several. She writes and produces fringe theatre plays based on B-movies, such as Bodacious Barbarian Babes vs. The Indigo Empress and Showgirls of Beast Island. She is a co-producer of the Alison-Bechdel-approved Bechdel Test Burlesque, which in 2017 was included in the Women and Gender Studies curriculum at the University of Oregon. She lives in Seattle with her wife where she gardens, knits, reads, and drinks warm beverages. Unsurprisingly, she also has cats.

Link: Archive of Our Own | Twitter

Transparent Duck Print: Brown

Lacey Hays

When Lacey isn’t dreaming of the stars or magical worlds, she can be found stomping around in the wild areas of Northern Oregon with her wife and son, or sipping on a coffee with her trusty notebook and fountain pens. Her writing journey began in the Star Trek Voyager fandom and has continued for over two decades. At the moment, she’s plugging away at her first novel—a world that’s taken twenty years to come to life. Lacey is eager to continue sharing diverse stories set in dark, but hopeful worlds.

Links: Tumblr | Twitter | Wattpad

Transparent Duck Print: White

A.L. Heard

Ashley, pen name A.L. Heard, fandom name jhoom, is a 34 year old teacher, writer, and mother of two little boys. She’s been writing fanworks since she discovered ff.net back in her middle school days; the platform has changed and the writing’s improved, but Ashley ultimately still spends her free time writing about characters she adores in worlds she’d like to explore. Her first novel, Hockey Bois, was published in 2021. In between writing projects, she works as a language teacher in the Pittsburgh area, plays hockey, and plays trains with her sons.

Links: Archive of Our Own | Discord: jhoom#6351 | Tumblr | Twitter

Transparent Duck Print: Yellow

T.S. Knight

Starry, pen name T.S. Knight, is a New England-based writer of original fiction, fanfiction, and plays. “Add Magic to Taste” will be her first published short story. When not writing or beta reading, she spends time diving into history, wandering through art museums, and cooking food for the people she loves. An avid kayaker and helicopter cat mom, she loves to create and read queer stories most of all.

Links: Archive of Our Own | Dreamwidth | Tumblr

Transparent Duck Print: Green

Tris Lawrence

Tris Lawrence has been writing since she was a child, filling notebooks with the worlds, dreams, and voices from inside her head. She declared in sixth grade that she wanted to be a writer, promptly started drafting her first novel in seventh grade, and never looked back.

Tris has always been fascinated by the way people work: how their relationships fit together, how they work socially, how they learn and discover. She has read avidly her entire life, devouring mysteries, romance, science fiction, and fantasy novels, and as an adult still loves all of these genres, as well as reading YA constantly. Her favorite stories center around people who are learning or discovering new things, and coming-of-age stories top that list, which is how the school of Pine Hills University came to be. She wants to share stories of people who are learning how to relate to each other, how to adult, how to college, and how to just be. She hopes to share stories about diverse characters with representation of everything she wishes she could have read growing up, and she hopes that these stories will touch the lives and hearts of those who read them.

When not writing, Tris is a wife, a mother (to two children, a cat, and a dog), a knitter, a system administrator, a black belt in taekwondo, an avid reader and obsessive writer, and a music aficionado. Sleep, she claims, is optional.

Links: Facebook | Pillowfort | Tumblr | Twitter

Transparent Duck Print: Blue

Lex T. Lindsay

Lex T. Lindsay likes cats, tats, and cool hats. When she isn’t shaking words loose or yelling about Captain America, she can often be found lurking in the woods. More stories in CONSTRAINT 280 (Microverses) and CLOCKWORK, CURSES AND COAL (World Weaver Press). Forthcoming in UPON A TWICE TIME (Air and Nothingness Press). Occasional Tweets @LexTLindsay.

Links: Linktree | Twitter

Transparent Duck Print: Purple

Beth Lumen

Beth Lumen (she/her/hers) has been writing both fan fiction and original fiction forever, and she is thrilled to have the opportunity to contribute to this anthology as her first published work. Her first big fandom was Harry Potter in the mid-2000s where she met many wonderful people who remain her friends to this day. She’s written in various book and TV fandoms since then, most recently for queer contemporary novels. In addition to writing and reading happy gay love stories, Beth loves volleyball, traveling, hiking, and making a mess in the kitchen. She lives in St. Paul, MN with her lovely partner and the two best dogs.

Transparent Duck Print: Red

Kristi Mae

Kristi has been daydreaming on road trips and scrawling stories on napkins since she was very small. In 2020, she discovered the wonderfully queer and neurodivergent world of fandom and has never looked back. She currently enjoys writing darkfic for the Magnus Archives podcast and is very happy for her first publishing opportunity with Duck Prints Press.

When not writing, you can find her napping, playing video games, dabbling in bookbinding projects, or occasionally engaging in her actual responsibilities as a STEM doctoral student in Canada.

Transparent Duck Print: Orange

Puck Malamud

Puck Malamud (pronouns: ve/ver/vis/verself or they/them/theirs/themself) is a library worker, writer, and poet who has lived in a variety of large East Coast US cities since immigrating from Ukraine in the 1990s. Ve is a co-author of a chapter on being LGBTQ in the library profession, and author and co-author of multiple fics in various fandoms, though primarily The Untamed and Mo Dao Zu Shi. When not desperately trying to keep up with vis Libby holds, Puck can be found practicing dance, hanging out in various Slacks and Discords, and shitposting on Tumblr.

Links: Archive of Our Own | Tumblr

Transparent Duck Print: Brown

Maggie Page

Maggie Page lives in Texas with family, including her incorrigibly clumsy mom with a green thumb, two silly dogs who are also mother and daughter, and a fierce feline hunter. Maggie has previously published several poems and a piece of flash fiction with collegiate and independent journals.

When not indulging the urge to write, Maggie enjoys music, traveling, camping, dabbling in various art forms, principally watercolor and graphic making, and torturing her loved ones with her ruthless board game victories.

Transparent Duck Print: White

Alex Ransom

Alex Ransom is a longtime fan writer and translator recently expanding into original fiction. Her favorite trope, as both reader and writer, is “Earn Your Happy Ending,” in which characters fight through perhaps inordinate amounts of difficulty to come out happier and more content on the other side. She is especially interested in the intersection between social circumstances, personal history, and the formation and maintenance of identity. Her favorite genres are space opera, fantasy, queer romance, and poetry.

As a child, Alex thought everything was better if it was more complicated and that the best answer to a yes or no question was usually “both”. Consequently, today she is bi/pansexual, trans/nonbinary, has worked a variety of jobs, and has three degrees in completely unrelated fields. When she isn’t writing or doomscrolling on the internet, she likes to travel, hike, and build marginally functional furniture. She lives outside Boston, Massachusetts, with her spouse and adult daughter.

Transparent Duck Print: Yellow

Em Rowntree

Em Rowntree’s first foray into the world of writing was with a story called The Magic Land that featured a unicorn and a flying carpet the size of a country, and they’ve been chasing that high ever since. They’ve been sharing their writing online for almost seven years, and have had poems and short stories published in anthologies. They live in the UK.

Links: Twitter

Transparent Duck Print: Green

Shea Sullivan

Shea Sullivan is a life-long writer living in upstate New York. As a late-blooming queer person, she enjoys writing about complex characters coming into themselves and finding comfort in being exactly who they are.

Shea’s day jobs in computer programming and middle management have molded her into the patient, sarcastic, big-hearted, frustrated human she is today, but it’s what she does outside the 9-5 that really excites her. When she’s not writing, she can be found painting, napping, making quilts, watching documentaries, and trying not to adopt more animals, usually with a cup of tea in hand.

Transparent Duck Print: Blue

Florence Vale

Florence is a Norwegian picture book author and fanfic enthusiast. Her current obsessions include Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, The Magnus Archives, and just about any actual play podcast she can get her hands on. In addition to Add Magic to Taste and her Archive of Our Own account, you can find her writing in the original zines Mansion of Fears and Carpe Noctem.

Links: Archive of Our Own

Transparent Duck Print: Purple

Nina Waters

Claire Houck (she/they/he), pen name Nina Waters, fandom name unforth, is the founder and sole proprietor of Duck Prints Press LLC. She is queer, 38 years old, married to the lovely Lisa, and a mother of two. Claire has been writing fanfiction since the young age of seven, when she penned (well, two-finger typed and printed dot matrix) the timeless classic “the story of my littl ponies and the glob.” Since then, her spelling, grammar and prose have improved immensely. She has written over two hundred short stories, a number of novellas, and 16 novels—some original, some fanfiction—including “A Glimmer of Hope,” which was successfully Kickstarted and self-published in fall, 2016. She’s also had two short stories published. Before she became a full-time writer, Claire had a career as a professional grant writer and program evaluator, providing consultation services for the New York City Department of Education and other non-profit education organizations.

Links: Archive of Our Own | Tumblr | Twitter