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How to Write a Great Query Letter

Part 2 of a 2-part series of guest posts by Alec J. Marsh. Part 1, “Why Query Letters are Good, Actually,” came out last week; you can read it here!

Alec is also the author of Duck Prints Press’s forthcoming novella To Drive the Hundred Miles, about a young man coming home for the holidays and finding more than he expected. It’s coming out December 21st, 2022. They know what they’re talking about, as an author and about a writer-writing-about-writing, so read on and learn!

Now that you’ve read the first post in this series, and had a week to reflect on it… are you convinced yet? Are you ready to acquire the most important marketing skill of your career? Great! 

If you’re primarily interested in how to pitch to Duck Prints Press specifically, there will be a full post about that coming out in the near future. But I promise, these skills will help you whatever your writing aspirations are. 

1. The Really Boring Part

Most queries open with a paragraph called “metadata.” This is all the marketing stuff that you need to get out of the way so your agent/editor knows what kind of book it is. This includes 

  • Title: Self-explanatory 
  • Length: This is vitally important for traditional publishing. If you are a debut author and your story isn’t within the accepted range, you’ll get automatically rejected by most agents. There are very good industry reasons for that, but discussing that’s a different article. If you want to look at the averages, check out this link.
  • Genre and age range: This is practical for marketing and readership purposes, and it also puts the summary in context. 
  • Comparative (or Comp) Titles: This is a tricky one, and a full discussion on selecting appropriate comparative titles could easily be its own separate blog post, but the short version is that you should pick titles that your book can be compared to. That can be descriptive—”Supernatural but set in Eastern Europe”—or genre—”For fans of Tamora Pierce”—or even trope based—”Sunshine/Grumpy romance set in a world of danger and magic.” There are a ton of options, but the main point is to position your story in the market and make it easy to pick up quickly. 
  • Logline: This serves a similar purpose as the comp titles do and is meant to sum up one cool part of your story. It doesn’t have to sum up the entire story. For example, Gideon the Ninth sounds wild if you try to summarize the plot, but I’ve been able to convince all my friends to read it by saying simply, “it’s about lesbian necromancers in space.” That’s all you need! In casual conversation, this is often called your “elevator pitch.” Imagine you’re at a convention and you get into the elevator with your dream agent, and you have only the length of the elevator ride to sell them your novel. What do you say? That’s your logline.

***Both comp titles and logline are technically optional, and you don’t need both of them. It’s better to write something unique than to waste the space putting something in just because you think you need it. 

2. The Biography

This usually goes at the end of the query. Don’t overthink it. If you have any credentials, put those in; relevant credentials can include past publications, editing jobs, or a creative writing degree. Then write one to two sentences that make you sound interesting. For example, I say that I like long walks in the fog (because I write moody fantasy) and have a history degree (because it inspires my fantasy world building). 

3. The Body

I left this until the last because it’s the hardest and most important part. A killer summary will make up for dull metadata and a lackluster bio. But if the body of your query letter is weak, no MFA in the world will save you. This section should be 300 words maximum.  

Your simplest formula for including what needs to be in this paragraph is four sentences: LEAD, OBJECTIVE, CONFLICT, TWIST. It’s simpler than you think to write the first draft. I promise. Let it be terrible, get it down, then edit it to a fine shine (much like you’ve already done with that novel!). 

  • Lead: This is your main character. Name them and describe them by including their profession, skills, or other plot-relevant details. 
  • Objective: What does your main character want? Try to make this as specific as possible. “Longs for  acceptance” is vague and generic. “Wants to be accepted into the Book Guild” is specific and gives a reader clues about their personality and the setting. You can put in some information about motivation here too. Maybe her father was also a bookbinder and she needs to redeem the family name. 
  • Conflict: Now we’re getting to the meat of it! Why can’t your main character get what they want? Again, try to be specific and don’t leave it to platitudes. If the bookbinders just don’t like her, that’s generic. If they don’t like her because they think she’s as corrupt as her father was and will bring ruin to them, that’s something a reader can really dig into. We have themes implied now! We understand this is a story about family ties, redemption, and preconceived notions, and you didn’t even need to spell that out. 
  • Twist: This is the most nebulous part of the query. The twist can be a real plot twist, like her discovering that the bookbinding guild also sells occult books. It can be a cool thing about the setting, like the bookstore being on an airship. It can be the romantic subplot, if she falls in love with her rival apprentice. It can be the historical inspiration, if the book is set in a fantasy world reminiscent of Renaissance Italy. In short, what makes your book special? What’s going to prompt people to shove it in their friend’s faces? It’s similar to the logline in that way. 

You can also put the twist at the beginning of the body paragraph, if it’s really cool. You can weave it throughout. You can put it at the end in a mic drop moment. Just make your book sound cool. That’s literally all this is! 

And those three sections…are basically it! Doesn’t sound so scary now, right? Oh wait, it still does? Okay, then, here’s some more tips to help you!

  • Write down everything you need in a query in whatever order works for you. I do it like a sad, clunky mad libs just so it’s all on the page. It’s a lot of pressure to include all this important information AND make it pretty in one go. 
  • Ask your beta readers to help! It’s hard to summarize your own stories when you’ve been living inside them for months. I’ve helped so many friends with their queries because they wrote something perfectly serviceable and technically correct that somehow still made their story sound frightfully boring. (This is not a condemnation of their skill as writers. The skills needed to write queries are completely different.) 
  • Don’t use rhetorical questions. This is mostly personal taste, but I think they’re a waste of space. “Will she follow her heart?” is sort of useless when 99% of stories are about people following their heart. “She must choose between her ambition and the chance at true love” is so much more clear and includes more conflict. 
  • The body of your query letter actually only needs to include the first 30-50% of the story in most cases—enough to leave the reader/agent/editor eager to know what happens next, and no more. This isn’t true if the twist is necessary to understanding why the story is exciting. Can you imagine trying to sell Gone Girl without including the twist that it was all a set up? That twist took the story from generic true crime to something truly original. So to some extent, you’ll need to use your judgment, but there’s rarely any need to try to fit the whole plot into that 300-word paragraph.
  • Above all, be specific. 
  • Do not shy away from giving spoilers (again: BE SPECIFIC). “She finds information that may change everything,” are seven words that tell you nothing. If you say what the information is (“she finds a note from her father that makes it clear he was framed”), you’ll leave the reader desperate to know what the outcome will be, begging for the rest of the story. 
  • Get the query competent and coherent, and then leave it for at least a week. This is good editing advice for any story, but it’s absolutely vital for a query. Because they’re so short and so much rides on them, every single word you write in the query has to be useful, and every sentence has to be clear, concise, and intriguing. Don’t rush this; it’s better to go slow and get it right then hurry along and face a pile of rejections. 
  • Have a query beta reader who hasn’t read your story. Make sure it makes sense with no context. Revise it again. Leave it for another week. (I’m sorry. But I’m not really.)

I know this sounds like a lot. Query letters are hard, and the pressure makes it harder. Writing culture loves to hate on them, for good reason. But you learned to write a novel, something that takes years to master! You can learn to write a query letter too. I won’t pretend it’s easy, but it is a skill you can learn, and it’s worth it! With a single page, you can convince people to buy your book, and that’s magical! 


You can learn more about Alec here; you can learn more about To Drive the Hundred Miles here, and read a teaser here. And, you can check out Alec’s two already-published erotica works Heart’s Scaffolding and Study Hall.

Who we are: Duck Prints Press LLC is an independent publisher based in New York State. Our founding vision is to help fanfiction authors navigate the complex process of bringing their original works from first draft to print, culminating in publishing their work under our imprint. We are particularly dedicated to working with queer authors and publishing stories featuring characters from across the LGBTQIA+ spectrum.

Love what we do? Sign up for our monthly newsletter and get previews, behind-the-scenes information, coupons, and more!

Want to support the Press and get lots of our stories? Consider backing our Patreon or ko-fi monthly at a level that includes free stories, and read your fill!

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How to Navigate the Duck Prints Press Trello

Did you know we use a Trello for task management and it is completely transparent and publicly accessible?

Well, now you know!

The Duck Prints Press Trello is here.

When we first released it, we got an ask about how to use it; below is a Trello tutorial for those unfamiliar with how to use it, focused specifically on our boards and how they’re organized!

While we’re still hammering out the details on how best to organize the Trello for utility both for us as we organize things and to the public – in particular, I’ll need to tweak how it’s set up if we’re going to effectively use the built-in calendar functionality – here’s how it’s set up now.

Note: all screen caps were taken on September 17th, 2022, and do not reflect the exact current organization or the current project status of the items shown in the captures.

LISTS:

The highest level of organization on a Trello Board is the lists. We’ve currently got a whole bunch of different lists.

At a Glance: this is the “overview” lists. It includes all of our current projects, and all of our regular/general management. Those are organized on Cards – more on that next.

Task Implementation Check Lists: we were having trouble sometimes remembering everything that needed to be done for certain “big” tasks we do regularly (such as publishing a story on our website) so we’ve begun to create guide lists to help us remember every process step that needs to be done. This also helps as we grow and more tasks are delegated.

Merchandise: lists all the merchandise we’ve currently got in production/in process, and what their current status is. (it does NOT include merch produced for past campaigns/activities)

After those two, we have a whole bunch of lists that all serve the same function: they indicate what stage of editing we’ve completed for each of a number of stories we’re currently working on.

  • Developmental – Writing in Progress: first draft isn’t done
  • Developmental – Draft Completed: first draft is done, waiting for an editor
  • Concept Editing – First Pass Completed: a concept-edit run has been returned to the author and is pending their review
  • Concept Editing – Second Pass Completed: a second concept-edit run has been returned to the author and is pending their review.
  • Copy – First Edits Completed: a SPAG edit run has been returned to the author and is pending their review.
  • Copy – Second Pass Completed: a second SPAG edit run has been returned to the author and is pending their review.
  • Copy – Final Edits Completed: a final/clean-up SPAG edit run has been returned to the author and is pending their review.
  • Final Edits Approved, Contract Sent and Pending Signature: the author has approved the final edit run and has been sent their contract.
  • Story Completed, Contract Signed, Author Paid, Preliminary Formatting Done: what it says on the tin
  • Typesetting – First Pass: the typesetter has done the first run on formatting the story for print.
  • Typesetting Completed: what it says on the tin.

Not every story needs every one of these steps, and sometimes stories need more concept or SPAG runs than this, but we thought this division reflected the process stories go through most often. All task cards feature the author’s chosen pen name and the current working title of the story, if it has one.

Completed Project Lists: the next lists feature information on our completed projects, and can function as a (difficult to navigate and poorly organized but existent!) list of what’s available in our shop. It’s divided into four categories, reflecting the four places where our projects usually “end up” when they’re completed. (A fifth end point is “in an anthology,” and then that anthology, rather than the individual title, will be on this list when it’s completed).

  • Main Imprint: Available For Purchase on Our Website – stories published under the Duck Prints Press imprint that are currently listed in our webstore.
  • Erotica Imprint: Available For Purchase on Our Website – stories published under the Duxxx Prints Press imprint that are currently listed in our webstore.
  • Merchandise for Sale on Our Website – what it says on the tin. 😀
  • Monthly Backer Reward Stories – completed stories that have been posted for our Patreon and ko-fi backers.

Long-Term Ideas, Lists, Information We May Need Someday: the last of our lists is what it says on the tin. We keep track of ideas for future anthologies, potential merch, things we’ve thought of and gone “we can’t do that now but maybe someday…” etc., and we just toss it all there so that the ideas don’t get lost.

CARDS:

Every List is composed of Cards. Each Card reflects one category of “thing that needs to be done.” There are a lot of ways to actually set up lists and cards (and we may change ours in the future) but currently, we’ve chosen the following approach:

Cards for all our main projects/overarching “areas” in which we’re working. These are on the At a Glance List.

Cards for all currently in-progress Merchandise, on the Merchandise list.

Cards for all stories we have in-progress at the moment, on the appropriate Lists for their current status.

Cards for some over-arching categories of “things for not now,” on the Long-Term Ideas list.

All the Cards on At a Glance have the same basic structure. If you click on the Card, you’ll be able to see sub-tasks/checklists related to the items on that list. For example, here’s the Recurring Tasks Card:

This is one of the most complex of the Cards, as it includes all the activities we engage in daily, weekly, monthly, and annually to keep the business running smoothly. Other “management” related Cards on this list include two related to our weekly management meetings and monthly all-server meetings, and the General Task Card, which lists a whole slew of background activities that we’ve been working on and/or intend to do (divided into separate checklists for each category, cause there are just so many).

Then, below the the general Cards the cards for specific projects. Here’s the one for He Bears the Cape of Stars and She Wears the Midnight Crown.

This, and the other specific project Cards, list all the tasks we currently know of/have thought of that need to be done for the given project. The checklists give a quick idea of what the task is, and indicates the current status of that task. A few also have dates attached to them, though not most cause we don’t tend to treat deadlines as that “hard” internally – we prefer to maintain flexibility considering how many people are involved in these projects and how complex all our lives are and how the world just, ya know, is right now.

As we complete tasks, we move them into the Comments section at the bottom of the Card. Because we only recently implemented this public system (previously, we worked from a private Trello that looked a lot like this but was just a bit messier and not designed to be viewed by outsiders, like, we used a lot of shorthand, that kind of thing) it doesn’t include tasks completed before we implemented this system, but we’ve been doing our best to keep on top of it since we opened the public Trello. For example, here’s the completed tasks for our upcoming anthology that we expect to open recruitment for on October 1st:

So, I think that’s the basic?

If there’s something more specific that anyone trying to use the Trello is finding confusing, I’m happy to expand this tutorial – I tend to figure that if one person has a question and actually tells me they have a question, there are at least a half-dozen other people who had the same question and decided for whatever reason not to ask. We’re committed to transparency, and the Trello is one of the biggest facets of that, so ensuring it’s navigable for newcomers is really important to us. It’s hard to create a public-facing system that maintains a certain degree of confidentiality and still serves our needs for managing the business, and also just – we’ve got a lot going on basically all the time (and more and more as we grow), so there’s a lot that has to go on there, which means by necessity it’s complicated. I do worry that if it’s really complex, it’ll serve to create obscurity instead of transparency, but…well, we’re doing our best, and we’ll keep doing our best, and we hope that when questions/issues/concerns/delays/etc. do arise, people will continue to be as patient with us as they have been! <3


Want to know more?

  • You can see our up-to-date (and used daily!) Trello here.
  • You can learn more about the Press in general, where we started, and where we’re going, here.
  • All our completed projects are available in our webstore.
  • Anyone who wants more information about “behind the scenes,” your best bet is to back us on Patreon or ko-fi – that’s where we post all the juicy details as we work every day to bring more amazing stories to y’all!
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How to Use Tags on Tumblr

A tutorial originally posted to my personal blog.

I frequently see people tag their works things along the lines of “sorry I don’t know how to tag,” and I also frequently see people tag badly while at least appearing to know what the they’re doing, so it’s been on my mind to write up a post like this for a while, and with the influx of Twit-ugees, now is as good a time as any I suppose.

Advance warning that I’m the most long-winded bitch up in this place and just neurodivergent enough to never know how much to cut/what details don’t matter so apologies that this just goes on and on, and I just hope that if you bear with me you’ll learn a thing or four.

Also note that any time I say “A thing will work this specific way” that is always subject to Tumblr’s spontaneous habit of breaking and I can never guarantee that things will actually work at any given moment.


Tagging 101

I’m gonna start at absolutely baby, sorry. The first thing you need to know is where tags go. You don’t tag in the “type text here” box where you’re talking about whatever. Tumblr isn’t like twitter, where if I start going “hey everyone I’m writing a post about how to #tag things on #tumblr,” everyone will see it if they go to #tag and #tumblr. Nope, you gotta put your tags in the box thingy at the bottom if you want people to actually see them when they use tag-search-related options.

You can write #whatever in the body of your post til the cows come home and it won’t do anything unless you put it in that bottom #add tags box. So. Do that.

Once you know how to tag, the two most important things to know about tags are:

1. Anyone can see your tags. Everyone can see your tags. Not just your followers. Not just OP. Any random stranger who pokes around in a post can see them, AND they’ll appear in the OPs “new activity” notifications, AND they’ll be in the “view all reblogs with comments and tags” button that anyone can select, AND, if it’s an original post and you’re the OP, they’ll appear in the searchable tags on Tumblr. Like. Seriously. We can all see you. So always bear in mind that anything you say in a tag is subject to public scrutiny. (ETA: in the PAST this wasn’t always the case; Tumblr has greatly increased the visibility of tags over the years, and may do even more in the future)

2. If you use a tag on an original post, your post will appear in that tag search. Anyone can search by tag in Tumblr. You go to that bar up top to search. (Note that I’m using MDZS as my example for this post, but you can easily substitute your fandom of choice). (Reblogs that use a tag do NOT, EVER, appear in the tag searches.) So yeah, you’re searching for a tag…

…and you get three types of search results. The first, with the #, shows the tag-ified version of your search, and clicking that will take you directly to tag search (and therefore show you posts that have that tag, and specifically exactly that tag – if you go to #mdzs, you won’t see #mdzs fanart, because tag search is narrowly defined). The magnifying-glass marked searches are common and related searches, and will show you posts that have those words in their text AND in the tags, so a magnifying-glass search for MDZS will show you things tagged mdzs, and also #mdzs fanart, and any random-ass post that includes mdzs anywhere in the main text or tags. You’ll get a lot (and you’ll have the chance to narrow that search by top posts vs. latest posts, recent vs. ever, type of post – as in picture vs. text vs. video etc., etc., though note that these searches are always busted and always lean heavily toward recent stuff). If you know you want the tag, you can click #mdzs, but even if you go to search instead (for example, if you just hit “enter” it’ll take you to search, not the tag), you can still see related tags:

Now, see how that says 21k followers? On Tumblr, you can follow tags! Anyone can follow tags! Popular tags often have tens-of-thousands, and occasionally hundreds-of-thousands, of followers! What exactly following a tag means depends on how any given individual sets up their feed, but for many people it means that random posts from that tag will appear on their timeline. Which means that if you tag your original posts (NOT reblogs – this applies to posts for which you are the originator) with a given tag, anyone who visits that tags and/or follows that tag can see it and might even have your post appear on their feed even if neither of you knows or follows the other

Anyone who visits a given tag will be able to see your post.

Or, well, almost anyone –

  1. if you have them blocked or they have you blocked, they won’t see – though if you block a main blog/side blog, and they post from a different side blog, you CAN still see – if you really want to block someone you’ll need to block all their alts too, which is often a challenge since people tend not to be super public about their alts;
  2. if the tag is in the last 5 allowed tags on a post – more on that later – it won’t show up, uh, basically anywhere, good luck with that;
  3. if the tag search is broken, which it basically always is at least a little, welcome to our duct-taped hellsite enjoy your stay).

If you want people to see your post, this functionality is fantastic! It gives you a lot of ways to get your content out there. If you don’t want people to see your post…well. It is absolutely critical that you understand that there is absolutely nothing private about tags, and that even though we all frequently clown in tags, you need to be aware of the potential consequences of that clowning, namely that people will see you clowning, including complete strangers, and so you might not want to clown quite that hard. 

Personal Blog Organization

But, I hear you say, I want to organize my own blog! If I don’t tag my mdzs posts #mdzs (because I’m trying to avoid everyone seeing them because I Don’t Want That), how will I find them when I want them later?

Well, first, don’t expect to ever be able to find things easily on Tumblr, lmao. We do have search and tag organization options (more later!) but in the end always assume things you post might become unfindable; if you really want to be sure you can find something again, find another way to store it (I personally keep “things I don’t want to lose” in drafts; some people use likes, or private side blogs).

That said, this is one of the main reasons a lot of people use personal tags to denote their own content. For example, if I want to post something but I don’t want it to spread too far, I will avoid using the fandom tags and stick to my personal blog organization tags. I personally use “unforth rambles” for my “whatever the fuck this is” kinds of posts, “whine whine whine” if I’m complaining, “unforth writes” for my fiction, etc. Lots of people have one or more personal tags, and not only do they make it easier for you to find your own stuff, they also make it easier for other people to find your stuff.

Want to post about mdzs, want to be able to find it again, but don’t want it in the tag? Try “yourname’s mdzsthoughts” or something similar.

Do you create a thing, and want people to be able to actually find it if they come to your blog, instead of it getting buried under a billion other reblogs and shitposts? Try “yourname art” or “my yourfandom fic” or whatever. Trust me, as someone who routinely tries to find art on people’s blogs? People who have specific tags make it much, much easier, and believe it or not I guarantee there is SOMEONE out there who’d like to be able to interact with your stuff more easily, and if you make it impossible you’ll never even know they wanted to.

Likewise, of course, a personal tagging system can make things utterly unfindable cause sometimes that’s Goals. Take this knowledge and use it as you will.

Aside to the above: queue tags. If you’re on Tumblr for more than 5 minutes you’ll see that a lot of posts have tags like “my queue” or, more often, ridiculous “queue”-related pun tags (when I used to use one, it was “#q hoo hoo”). Why do people do this? Well, there’s surely a lot of reasons, but as far as I know the main one (my own reason, at least), was pretty simple: Tumblr has a messaging system, and a lot of us use it, and if we post something, people will think we’re online and might message us and then get upset that we don’t answer. Using a queue tag makes it very clear “this posted when I wasn’t actually present.” Then, you can (like me) go back to ignoring your messages for days and pretend you haven’t been on Tumblr until you’ve actually got the whatever to answer them.

ETA: it’s been pointed out that, depending on what search settings someone is using, using “my thing tag” may still show up in searches, so if your goal is to keep your posts out of the main tags, you’d be better served to avoid using the same full text as the common tag(s).

Tag Limits

It’s also important to know that you don’t have unlimited tags, and they can’t be of unlimited length. Tags have a character limit (…I never remember how much it is, though, maybe 200-something?) and you can’t have more than thirty tags on a post. Conventional wisdom is that if an important tag (such as a fandom tag or character tag that you WANT people to be able to find) isn’t in the first ten tags, it won’t appear in search, though I’ve definitely seen things in tag search that had the tag farther down than that. That said, if you put anything in between Tag 25 and Tag 30, don’t expect to ever be able to find it again. Trust me. I’ve tried. Tag 25 to Tag 30 are a tag black hole, and anything in that range might as well not exist because it won’t be findable. (Sometimes – but only sometimes – search will be able to find things in that hole, subject to all the bugs that normally make search nigh unusable). Note that on mobile, at least, Tumblr yells at you if you try to tag more than 30; on desktop I honestly don’t know if it does cause I always use XKit reblog features instead. (more on that later!)

A couple other tag limits include:

  1. various punctuation breaks tags, though which has varied over time. For example, currently if you try to make a tag with quotes (#I told him “shut up”) you will NOT get a tag that says that, you’ll get two tags: #shut up and #i told him. And, they’ll be in that order – the tag in quotation marks will end up first, before anything else. For a long time, hyphens also just absolutely murdered tags; theoretically they fixed that recently though in practice I’ve noticed it being hit-and-miss, so if you want to be sure things work well don’t use a hyphen. Further, at least on desktop, a comma tells it “this is the end of the tag” so if you enter a comma it won’t put in a comma it’ll just end your tag and take you to the next one. Honestly, if you want to be sure that your tag doesn’t break your best bet is to stick to…not. Forget grammar. Surrender to the void. People will figure out what you mean…or they won’t. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ We never said this was a great site.
  2. you can’t edit tags. They recently teased that they’d introduce tag editing, but at least as far as I’ve been able to tell it’s never actually been unrolled, or maybe it’s only been unrolled to some users (we often only get features for some folks, or only on mobile or only on desktop…). An addendum to this is the simple rule that no matter how careful you are you will inevitably make a typo in your last word, often the last letter, right before you hit enter. I’m sorry. It’s a law of nature. On the plus side everyone knows that tags can’t be edited so no one’s going to care if your spelling is janky. (ETA: just to be clear, since it was pointed out in the notes: you CAN delete a tag and retype it. so, it’s up to you if you feel like doing that. I meant you can’t go back and edit the text entered as a tag, you can only delete it and make a new tag.) (ETA 2: some people apparently do have the tag editing functionality on desktop. yay for them. I don’t. You might. Can’t hurt to check?)

Censoring Tags

Do not censor tags. ESPECIALLY trigger warnings. Sometimes people will censor letters intentionally so things won’t turn up in the tag search options (for example, if they’re saying something negative), and while I think that’s valid I also think there are better ways to handle it (like just use a different fucking tag). But if you censor tags, and especially if you censor warning tags, you make it MUCH HARDER for people to consistently blacklist. Just call things what they are (except n s f w – more later), and tag accurately (so if you want to post anti use “anti thing” tags instead of censoring), and make it possible for people to ACTUALLY avoid things and blacklist. Please. I’m begging you.

Finding the Tag for The Thing You Want

Often, finding a relevant tag can be super easy, especially if what you like is common. If you’ve been in online fandom at all, even on other platforms or forums or wherever, you likely already are familiar with common abbreviations for The Thing, and those are usually a great place to start (for example, #mdzs, #mcu for Marvel movies, #spn for Supernatural, #lotr for Lord of the Rings, etc.). However, since people do often use multiple tags (like, they may tag #mdzs AND #mo dao zu shi, AND #grandmaster of demonic cultivation, AND #gdc) you can always try putting in The Full Name For The Thing, and then seeing what tags are on the posts that pop up. Then, once you see that, you can click through a few and check them out. Every tag’s page will have a box like this:

…and it says right there how often the tag has been used “recently” (no, I have literally NEVER figured out how “recently” is…recently). If you want to find the most popular tags for a given fandom, the easiest way is to just poke around in the tags people are using and see which ones have the biggest number in that “XXX recent posts” box. Those are the ones people love and use, and emulating them will lead you in the right direction (assuming you want people to be able to find your stuff).

On the other hand, what if you like something rare, something obscure, something that doesn’t have a consistent naming structure, etc.?

That can get a little harder, but the challenges can be cut through fairly easily.

  1. search for every variation of The Thing that you can think of and look through the results until you find The Thing You Actually Wanted.
  2. see how that post is tagged.
  3. check those tags for more of The Thing You Actually Wanted.
  4. keep doing this until you find the tag where people who are into The Thing You Actually Wanted congregate.
  5. winning!

Creating Tags and Space

…okay but what if that last step 5 ended with losing instead? Well, BE THE CHANGE YOU WANT TO SEE IN THE WORLD.

A lot of people on Tumblr use personal tags for their own blog organization…but many also use tags and tag-tracking to create a personal tag meant for public use. So, source blogs (blogs that act as “clearing houses” of stuff for a specific fandom, character, ship, etc.) will say “we track #thisisourhashtag, use it so we can see your post!”

You can do that! If you really love something narrow and specific, you can at least try to get the word out. It takes a lot of work though – because you’ll need to get the word out yourself. “Hey, I love This Obscure Thing! Do you also love This Obscure Thing? Come join me, use #thisisyourhashtag!” is a start. But just “building it” won’t be enough – you’ll also need to do the leg work to find more of The Thing, reblog it, interact with the people making it, etc. Often on Tumblr, the difference between a really vibrant small fandom community and a small fandom that’s absolutely dead silent is one person taking the initiative to say “I’m going to do whatever I have to, community-building-wise, to find other people to talk to about this.”

(The best example I know of for this is the Daomu Biji fandom. Like seriously, they’re a fucking case study on how to take a tiny group of people who are Really Into A Thing and turn it into a vibrant, supportive community that is, frankly, a joy to be a part of. If someone wants more info on kinda…how this works…I think it’s outside the purview of this post but I’m willing to babble about it some other time.)

Navigating Tumblr, Your Own Blog, and Other People’s Blogs Using Tags

One of the cool things about tags on Tumblr is that every tag has a static, usable link, which – if your own blog or a blog you’re trying to access has a consistent tagging format – can make it much, MUCH easier to find things. ESPECIALLY because static tag links are constant and consistently work about 80 bajillion times better than “search.” Posts that are unfindable using “search” WILL (usually) be findable using the tag’s link. (Exceptions include if the OP has blocked you or you’ve blocked them, and if the tag is in the 25th, 26th, 27th, 28th, 29th, or 30th tag slot.) So, how do you do this?

For all of Tumblr: the link you want is https://www.tumblr.com/tagged/(THE TAG)?sort=recent (or ?sort=top for them in order by most popular. Note that this is one of the cases where what’s after the ? ISN’T A TRACKING LINK ffs it’s not ALWAYS tracking you can’t ALWAYS delete it without consequences sometimes the internet is exhausting).

For your own blog: https://yournamehere.tumblr.com/tagged/thetagyouwant

For someone else’s blog: https://theirnamehere.tumblr.com/tagged/thetagyouwant

A lot of people use this for personal blog organization, and it’s especially common for source blogs to have very structured tag lists to help with navigation. For example, in the art sideblogs I run, anyone can look up any tag using links like this, and it’ll enable them to find every post with that tag. See? https://www.tumblr.com/mdzsartreblogs/tagged/mod%20post

NOTE: Tumblr, in the last few weeks, changed how this feature is set up. As you can see, the link is now structured differently than what I typed, BUT the original link formatting still works, just how it appears has changed. That said, because Tumblr can never change a thing without breaking it, there’s now sometimes a problem where if you type the link in, it’ll replace a space ( ) with a plus (+) instead of with a fake-space (%20 is how browsers classically translate spaces into Internet Speak so that the urls don’t break). If your space gets made into a +, Tumblr will say there are no results, so you’ll have to manually go into the link and change it back to a space and THEN it will work. Yes, really. No, I don’t know why. Also, if you try to get rid of the plus in the search bar instead it will NOT work correctly, because if you remove the plus, put in a space, and then hit “enter” on text written in the search bar, it’ll switch you from “show all posts with this tag” to a standard search (which will have all the bugs that standard searches usually have in Tumblr).

But, basically, once you know the tag that someone uses for a thing, or have established what tag YOU want to use for a thing, navigating your own or other people’s blogs to find Every Post Tagged With The Thing is really easy, and can be a great way to find niche content, a user’s own creations, or That Thing You Posted Two Years Ago That You Need Again For Some Reason.

ETA: Someone mentioned in the tags that if you add /chrono to the end of these links, it’ll show you all the same info BUT it’ll show the OLDEST posts firsts instead of the newest and I did not know that and that is A.MAY.ZING and thank you to the person who told me and now y’all know too.

Blacklisting Tags

You’ll see me talk a lot in this post about the ways that Tumblr is broken and how that can make it harder to accomplish whatever it is you’re trying to do. There is one notable exception to the brokenness. At least in my experience, and in the experience of basically everyone I’ve ever spoken to about it, Tumblr’s internal/built in blacklist works pretty darn well.

Don’t want to see a tag?

Go to Account Stuff -> Settings. Scroll down to “Content you see,” which is where Filtered Tags and Filtered Post Content are.

Filtered Tags will only filter The Thing if it’s literally #the exact tag you put in filtered tags.

Filtered Post Content will filter any post that mentions the thing.

Note that Tumblr blacklist is actually over assiduous. I personally ONLY use filtered tags, and I’ve found that it will often filter a post even if the current reblog of that post doesn’t HAVE the tag – like, if anyone has EVER tagged The Post with The Thing, it’ll get blacklisted. Also note that while theoretically, filtered posts will still show up as a box you have the option to show, in practice some will just. Not show. I’ve absolutely had blacklisted things just Not Even Appear. Which can be annoying, if it’s actually a post you want to see, but there’s no perfect system.

Also, never EVER let anyone tell you that “blacklisting is only for things you hate.” Look, you curate your own experience. If your bestie is posting about a fandom you’re not in, and it’s clogging up your dash, you’re not obligated to scroll through their 80 posts about that thing. Just blacklist it. It’ll make your experience using this website much happier. (if your bestie doesn’t tag the thing…you can try post content filtering. But yeah that’ll make it harder). I personally blacklist a fuckton of fandoms that I’ve got nothing against, I’m just not IN them, and seeing content for them is of zero interest for me, and if I blacklist them then I have more time to interact with the things I DO want to see.

And yeah I know I prefaced this section by saying blacklist actually works. Take this entire section as what my ten-years-on-this-site ass sees as “functional” on Tumblr.com.

Making Tumblr Actually Vaguely Usable

Do yourself a favor and download XKit. (It’s on Chrome too. Y’all Chrome users can go find the link yourself sorry not sorry). XKit includes a fuckton of REALLY DAMN USEFUL functionality for making tumblr (on desktop, not mobile!) function better…

…and especially, Quick Reblog, Quick Tags, and Tag Replacer can help with tagging and tag management. Quick Reblog gives you the ability to rapidly reblog things without having to click through to the reblog window, and it gives you a box to type in all your tags when you quick reblog. Quick Tags makes all existing posts on your blog and sideblogs have an extra little button that lets you add new tags to it without having to open the edit screen for the post. Tag Replacer lets you swap a tag you no longer want to use for a new tag. Get XKit. It’ll help you. I promise.


Okay, so now you know something about how tags work, time to learn some tag etiquette.

The most important thing to remember when trying to figure out how to tag an original post is that people follow tags because they want to see The Things About That Tag. This has some obvious consequences, namely:

  1. They won’t want to see things that Aren’t About The Thing.
  2. They won’t want to see someone Hating The Thing.

So that leads to…

Tagging for Fandoms

DO: tag fandoms that are relevant to your post. Feel free to tag variations on that fandom – you can tag #mdzs and #modao zushi and #mo dao zu shi, or #spn and #supernatural. No one will mind.

DON’T: tag fandoms that aren’t relevant to your post. Yes, even if it’s a fandom by the same author (looking at you, people who tag #mdzs, #tgcf, and #svsss on every mxtx post you make, I see you and I seethe). Yes, even if it’s a different version/adaptation of your work. If you create a sub-fandom-specific work (for example, to stick with MDZS for now, if you create a work for The Untamed that includes the Yin Iron, don’t tag it MDZS; there’s no Yin Iron in MDZS, and while yes some people who follow the MDZS tag will want to see it, there will also be plenty who don’t. This is especially true when there’s a popular adaptation that a lot of fans of the original don’t like. People who adore the BOOK of the Hobbit? May be pretty reticent about seeing things about the MOVIE if they didn’t enjoy it!) Try to maintain awareness of this; it’s courtesy not to just tag Every Vaguely Relevant Fandom. You won’t make people happy they’re seeing your stuff. You’ll make them annoyed that you spammed irrelevant tags.

Tagging for Ships and Characters

DO: tag the characters that feature in your work. Doing variations of their name is fine as long as those variations are relevant. So, if you make a piece of “wei wuxian” for example, you can absolutely tag that “wei wuxian” and “weiwuxian” and “wei ying” and “weiying” and “mdzs wei wuxian” etc. But.

DON’T: tag every single iteration of a character. If someone is following a tag for a specific variation of a character (to stick with MDZS, maybe they follow the “yiling laozu” tag) then they want to see that variation, not…NOT that variation. So don’t post your, idk, fluffy Lotus Pier Wei Ying pre-canon thing to the “yiling laozu” tag. And I know this sounds like gibberish to people not in this fandom, but like. Just extend it to your own fandom. Lots of characters have different fandom nicknames or self-presentations for themselves at different points in canon. People who specifically follow the “pre-serum steve” tag isn’t going to want to see “post-serum steve.” That’s the entire point of following a specific tag instead of an over-arching tag. So, when you tag your original stuff, stick to the ones that actually have something to do with your piece. 

DO: tag the ship in your piece in multiple ways. Like, to use a non-MDZS example, does your piece have Destiel? Go ahead and tag Destiel and CasDean and DeanCas. It’s okay. WITH THE ADDENDUM THAT: in some fandoms and in some parts of the world, it is common that writing Character A x Character B is actually NOT the same as writing Character B x Character A. Especially for East Asian and Southeast Asian fans, people often list them in a power-dynamic related order. Whether you think that’s a good thing or not (I personally think it’s silly but whatever, they can do them, it doesn’t effect me) is irrelevant; you need to understand that if you tag every order of a ship, you might have people ??? you over it. (Yes, really. It’s happened to me.) And that doesn’t mean don’t do it! Just. You should know. Knowledge is power. Or something.

DON’T: tag ships that aren’t in your piece. I don’t care if Wangxian is the most popular ship in the fandom; if your piece doesn’t show Wangxian, people who like Wangxian don’t need to see it in the tags. You’re doing no one any favors. Often people will say “if your piece doesn’t feature a ship PROMINENTLY don’t include it,” but that one imo is a bit more flexible. It depends on what your work is “doing” with that ship. Which leads to…

Sharing Your Negative Opinions

Please. For the love of fucking god. Do NOT post hate in the main tags. Yes, it’s just your opinion. Yes, you are absolutely entitled to your opinion. But it’s fucking rude. People go to tags because they enjoy the thing being tagged. You’re just being a dick if you therefore use that tag to shit all over that thing.

Now, this is NOT to say “don’t post negative shit,” but rather more importantly: if you want to tag negative shit, find the tag that people use to tag that specific negative shit and use that tag instead. Like. if you hate Jiang Cheng from MDZS (you’re wrong and I will block you) you do you! But don’t tag your hate #jiang cheng. People follow #jiang cheng because they LOVE the angry grape. Instead, do a little tag research (see above on how to find tags for That Thing You Like, and yes it applies even if it’s “That Thing You Like to Hate”) and find out what tags people who Hate The Thing use. Often just “anti (thing)” is a good start, though commonly the biggest groups of haters/”popular” anti opinions will have a tag they favor that’s different (for example, “canon jiang cheng” and “grape hate” are the common anti-Jiang Cheng tags; “destiew” is a commonly used anti-Destiel tag, I’m sure there are loads more but those are the ones that spring to my mind after a decade on this hellsite).

Using an anti tag is a MUCH better way to handle your hate, anti-ness, negative opinions, etc. You can find other haters to wallow with, and everyone else (like me) who just want to enjoy our shit in peace can do so. And like, I’m personally very against antis, but I also absolutely respect the right of people to have negative opinions AND to share those negative opinions, which is why I’m explaining this. It really does help like-minded people come together, and also enables people who want to avoid the vitriol protect themselves. It’s a win-win.

Tagging Trigger Warnings and Other Warnings

Tagging triggers and other potentially challenging material (such as flashing images) is a courtesy. It’s not required, but it’s certainly polite. There are some standard rules (for example, don’t use “tw epilepsy” because it’ll show up on epilepsy-related searches which is the exact opposite of the point of tagging it; tag “tw flashing” or something similar) but there’s generally NOT a “one size fits all” tag system. Instead, most people just establish their own system and make it clear somewhere “this is the system I use” so people can blacklist. Alternatively, you can see what tags your mutuals are using, and use those. Alternatively, alternatively, people will sometimes put “please tag X tw” in their pinned posts or bios – though always remember that there are risks involved in publicly advertising what someone with bad intentions can do to hurt you!!!!

Standard trigger warning formats on Tumblr include: “tw thing,” “thing tw,” “thing,” “thing for ts,” “cw thing,” “thing cw.” 

Note that tw – “trigger warning” – is usually used for things that are likely to be triggering (such as blood, gore, etc.) whereas cw – “content warning” – is often used more for things that some people may want to be aware of (such as flashing or depictions of food) but that isn’t necessarily a common “trigger” per se, especially in cases like food where even calling food a trigger can often itself be triggering for people who have are recovering from ED-related challenges.

Also as an aside, the “ts” is generally a sign that someone is a Tumblr Old, as it stands for “Tumblr Savior,” which is a blacklisting extension a lot of us used before Tumblr had built-in blacklisting features. So if you see “long post for ts” (which is when I see it most) it’s like seeing a fossil, a tag that’s become so standard for a type of post that a lot of people still use it even though the use of Tumblr Savior isn’t very common anymore (at least…I don’t think it is???)

When in doubt, if you want to respect people, listen to them – see how people are tagging The Thing you’re worried about, and follow those tagging conventions. Don’t reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to – someone who triggers to something will already have the most commonly used tags for it blacklisted (and may not follow you if you aren’t willing to also tag for it) – so you make the site more usable for everyone if you use “tw eye trauma” instead of “this is my personal eye trauma tw tag”.

Also also as another aside, don’t use n s f w. Don’t even type it in your posts. They’ll get buried. They’ll go where tumblr posts go to die, and none of us even know where that is, because they’re that gone. They won’t appear in regular searches. They won’t be in tag searches. They won’t even be discoverable on your own blog. Yes it’s fucking annoying. Yes it makes it harder to avoid explicit material. But. Find another tag. “lemon” is a common one, as is “nsft” (not safe for tumblr).

Tagging Systems and Spoilers

For the most part, if anything has been out for a month or so, you should assume that no one will tag spoilers. Don’t get me wrong – a minority of people still will, definitely! – but if, for example, you’re in the first chapter of MDZS, and you don’t want MDZS spoilers…don’t go into the MDZS tags. Just don’t. You’ll see everything you don’t want to see. (Unless like me you WANT to see spoilers, in which case HAVE AT.)

For fandoms that still have new content being released, spoiler tags are often determined by community consensus, and a lot of people will put up posts saying “this blog isn’t spoiler-free for Thing. Blacklist #spoilersforthething to avoid spoilers.” It’s generally fairly standard to have a spoiler tag be “#thing spoilers” or “#episodenumber spoilers.” When in doubt, yet again, look at what everyone else is doing and emulate that.


There’s probably more, but I think I’ve said plenty. Feel free to drop questions in the comments!

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How to Read Manhua on Bilibili: Legal, Free, and in English

This is a repost of a tutorial I wrote for a fandom art side blog I run on Tumblr. As it’s fairly fandom-general and goes into a lot of detail on ways that readers can access original queer manhua (Chinese comic) titles for free, we feel that it’s of wide enough interest to be relevant to the Duck Prints Press blogs, too. It includes information on accessing Bilibili and some specific titles I’ve enjoyed that I thought might be a good starting place for someone interested in reading manhua this way.


In my posts on this blog, I keep sharing screen caps from manhua I’ve read on Bilibili, along with the link to read it yourself, but I know:

This blog doesn’t have all that many followers.

It’s one thing for me to post the link and quite another for people to realize just how easy this is to do.

Considering how often I see English-speaking MXTX/c-novel/c-drama/donghua fandom peeps screaming and begging for more content, I’m now begging you in return:

STOP SLEEPING ON THE BILIBILI APP!

If you want more danmei content, fully legal, entirely free, already translated, you literally c.a.n.n.o.t. do better than using the Bilibili app to read manhua. That’s not to say this is a perfect method – their translations are…um…wanting sometimes? (Shout out to the four pages in a row I recently read where someone broke in to a residence and every time the breaker-inner was mentioned they were called “the intrud”) But it’s still ALL THERE, FOR US, ANYTIME, and the more eyes the manhua in the apps gets, the more content we’ll get, so please, PLEASE, if you’re out there thirsting for danmei content, DO THIS.

Wondering how?

Well, I’ve got you covered.

WAY 1: The Bilibili Manhua Website

I know I said “get the app” but honestly you don’t even need an app to do this! You can read on Bilibili using any web browser.

The website is Bilibilicomics.com.

It looks like this: 

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Yes, you’re reading that right: there’s an entire section of BL.

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There’s also an entire section of GL!

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There are 38 titles in GL and 121 titles, yes ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY ONE titles, in BL.

AND there’s het stuff, and non-romance stuff too!

New episodes general come out weekly or biweekly, though a few things are daily. The website is often a few chapters ahead of the app (which I actually didn’t realize until just now – Chapter 55 of Legend of Exorcism, for example, came out today on the app, but it lists 60 episodes as available on the website. Which, considering the cliffhanger I just read… *eyes emoji*…though apparently in other cases there are more chapters on the app than on the website, so ymmv.)

The best-known title available (again: FOR FREE. OFFICIALLY. LEGALLY. IN ENGLISH) is Tian Guan Ci Fu. When you go to a specific title’s page, you get this…

Tumblr: Image

…and reading it is as simple as selecting the chapter you want, clicking it, and et voila! Just scroll down and read to your heart’s content!!

NOTE: SOME CHAPTERS WILL HAVE WAIT TIMES. More on this shortly.

WAY 2: The Bilibili App for Android

I personally have been reading primarily from the Android app, since I have a Samsung Galaxy phone and a lot of time sprawled on my couch while my kids watch cartoons.

You can download the app from the Play store – here’s a link, for what that’s worth.

It looks, essentially, like this (I’m logged in so mine looks a little different than non-logged-in, I made an account even tho you don’t actually need one):

Tumblr: Image

If you don’t want to make an account, you don’t have to. If you choose to, as you see it’ll try to guess what other titles you might like. tbh I have no idea how good these recommendations may be; I’m still reading/catching up on the specific titles I wanted to read so I haven’t had to try their recommendations yet. But, there’s definitely some stuff that looks interesting (that top middle one definitely looks up my alley…)

You can also “favorite” things (again: EVEN WITHOUT AN ACCOUNT) and it’ll store them in your library and make a red dot (like you can see on the above screen cap) when something has an update you haven’t read yet. For example, here’s my Favorite list, which helps me keep track of what I’m reading and enjoying (or, well, in one case I’m more “wtfing” than “enjoying” but hey that still counts).

Tumblr: Image

There’s even a weird, like, “dress up” side game??? So like, every chapter you read there’s a chance the app will drop a “card” and you can use the cards to dress your avatar up, and there’s a whole crafting system built in? It’s. A little odd. But, considering I recently quit my Love Nikki addiction after 3+ years, it’s nice to get a small hit of pointless dress up.

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Yes, my avatar is currently wearing San Lang’s shirt.

The point is, again: this app is free to download, and incredibly easy to use, and even has a fun pointless side game.

BUT. There is one “but” here. See the Coins: 0 Top Up right below my randomly assigned username?

There is an optional pay system. What does it do? It reduces wait times.

Some titles, but not ALL, have a “built in delay” that kicks in at some point. On some, it seems to start when you’re “within 5 chapters of the most recent” (that’s what’s happened with Global Examination and TGCF, for example). For others, it seems to be arbitrary – for A Single Strike of Shimmering Frost, it kicked in at chapter 40 even tho there are, like, 80 something chapters up. Regardless, it always works the same.

The system functions using wait times, and it has 5 tiers that are always the same.

Tier 1: You must wait one minute before you can read the next chapter. This tier is rarely an issue; the count down sometimes (but not always??? it’s weird) starts when you start a new chapter, and it almost always takes more than one minute to read a full chapter, so this tier is often “satisfied” before you even get to the next chapter.

Tier 2: You must wait six minutes before you can read the next chapter.

Tier 3: You must wait one hour before you can read the next chapter.

Tier 4: You must wait six hours before you can read the next chapter.

Tier 5: You must wait twenty-four hours before you can read the next chapter.

I initially thought this system functioned as “once you reach Tier 5, you’re just stuck there and can only read a chapter a day” but it’s turned out that’s not the case – A Single Strike of Shimmering Frost having 40+ semi-locked chapters has given me the chance to actually test this a bit. In fact, what happens is:

The first time you hit a “wait delay” chapter, it puts you at Tier 1 and you have to wait a minute. The next chapter, you up to Tier 2, the next to Tier 3, then Tier 4, then Tier 5…and then it cycles back to Tier 1. So, with a little care and planning (which I almost always fail at) I can time reading something with many wait-delayed chapters such that I can read 5 chapters in one day, then I have to wait a full day, then I can read 5 more chapters.

Here’s how it looks when you’ve done your waiting in purgatory and can now read on…

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…and here’s how it looks when the sad trombones play…

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Now, I mentioned I’d circle back to the coins? THE TIME HAS COME! Because, look – for 17 coins, you can read on instantly!! Alternatively, if you’re willing to share on social media, you can also skip (I have no if that’s something you can do over and over, or just once, cause I haven’t tried – you can skip the wait time once for free). This begs the question, then…is 17 coins a lot?

And the answer is…

Tumblr: Image

…eh not really, no. Ten bucks will get you the ability to pay 17 coins many, many times (58, to be precise), but honestly? I haven’t spent a penny yet and I’ve caught up on 7 different titles and am steadily reading through two more (one of which hasn’t had wait times kick in yet, I just can only read so fast).

All of which is to say: yes, there’s a pay system, and tbh, I’m probably going to throw them a few bucks not because I care about the wait times but because I’m getting so much enjoyment out of reading these titles and I want to support them a little (I also bought the print version of the TGCF vol. 1 and will likely buy the other volumes, and I once-upon-a-time paid to watch TGCF s. 1 streaming as they came out). With a little patience there is absolutely zero call for spending even one penny to read as much of this cornucopia as you want.

WAY 3: Download the Bilibili App on Apple

I don’t have access to an iPhone and don’t feel like grabbing my tablet rn and I’ve hit the Tumblr image limit anyway, but the Apple app looks about the same as the Android app, and you can download it HERE.

Basically: use the website, or download the app for whichever platform you’re using, and READ, READ, READ!

So, what is there to read?

I’M SO GLAD YOU ASKED!

I’ve been reading on the app pretty regularly for like two months (prior to that I was only reading TGCF, and only when I remembered, which was rarely), but I’m juggling a lot AND reading other stuff too so I am far from having explored the wide range of options. I can, however, highlight a few I think are likely to be of interest to a danmei-reading audience. Note that of these, I’ve only read the novels for TGCF, TYQHM, and Daomu Biji, which means that I only know as far as the manhuas have covered for the rest – I haven’t read farther than that yet. 

A. Tian Guan Ci Fu by Mo Xiang Tong Xiu. The one, the only – this is the official manhua with art by Starember. It tells the story of newly ascended god Xie Lian trying to navigate the intricacies of the heavenly bureaucracy, figure out his place in the world, and understand why a sexy guy in red keeps showing up in his life. (Worst synopsis ever award goes to: ME!). The English translation is currently on episode 77, which has Xie Lian and Hua Cheng in the gambler’s den. A volume just ended, which means it’s on hiatus temporarily – there’s usually a month or two break between volumes – so it’ll be back soon!

B. Global Examination by Mu Su Li. Based on the book Global University Entrance Examination, featuring art by E Zi. Global Examination is a story set in a dystopian near-future about a world where groups of people are randomly selected (read: kidnapped and forced) to participate in an “exam” where they have to answer extremely complex puzzles. If they succeed, they get to live and become one of the people who administer the exam. If they fail, they die. Despite the premise sounding dark, it’s really not been so bad and I’m reassured it won’t become so. The story itself focuses on You Huo, a recently selected examinee with amnesia, the other people in his examinee group, and Examiner 001, who clearly has some kind of history with You Huo. If only he didn’t also have amnesia, we might even know what that history is…

C. Dinghai Fusheng Records and Legend of Exorcism, both based on the books of the same names written by Fei Tian Ye Xiang. The art for Dinghai Fusheng Records is by Qianerbai (who has also done a lot of work for the Mo Dao Zu Shi audio drama) and Legend of Exorcism, it’s by Warp. These stories are set in the same ‘verse, at least several hundred years apart; it’s a xianxia high-fantasy setting, and the main enemies are demons (…or are they? dun dun duuuun). Dinghai Fusheng Records takes place, chronologically, first, and occurs a couple hundred years after a calamity caused all qi to fade from the world – there are only mortals, and no one can cultivate. It follows Chen Xing, a young man born with a gift, as he seeks his protector – Xiang Shu – and others, and they encounter (surprise!) unspeakable evil. Legend of Exorcism takes place in the “future” of Dinghai Fusheng Records, and focuses on Kong Hongjun, a half-demon boy who has received a summons to join the Exorcism Department, as he explores the mortal world for the first time and gets to know the others who have summoned to join the Department, especially the mortal leader Li Jinglong.

D. Daomu Biji titles, originally by Nanpai Sanshu. There are two DMBJ titles on Bilibili right now, though both only have a few chapters, and the website lists them as “on hiatus.” I’ve read them both, and am not entirely sure what’s up with one especially, but… Grave Robbers’ Chronicles starts where Book 1 starts, with changes of course but it’s quite recognizable as the initial “Wu Xie is brought a silk scroll and gets curious” plot line. The Grave Robbers’ Chronicles Seven Dreams is…odder…and as far as I can tell is an alternate canon/AU which starts with a “what if” of “what if the Zhang’s were incredibly abusive, raised child!Zhang Qiling themselves, and Wu Xie and he met as kids.” It’s. Um. Extremely weird. But I’m still hoping they’ll release more than 9 chapters, if only because I’m curious.

E. A Single Strike of Shimmering Frost, based on the novel A Sword of Frost by Yu Xiao Lanshan. This one opens with the Prince Ji Yanran approaching Sect Master Yun Yifeng, who runs a sect of spies and information collectors, to ask for help finding an item that has been stolen from the palace. In exchange, he promises to give Yun Yifeng the cure to an ailment that plagues him. Problem 1: he doesn’t actually have this cure. Problem 2: everywhere they go people start dying. Problem 3: catching feels for the pretty Sect Master. Despite having the trappings of xianxia, this story has actually thus far been a sequence of murder mysteries with politics-related causes.

F. Saved the Public Enemy By Mistake by Liu Muqiao. If this is based on a novel, I haven’t been able to track it down. It’s xianxia; demon immortal cultivator Liu Jianghe shows up, nearly dead, on the doorstep of Lu Jiu. Not knowing who he is, Lu Jiu saves him, and finds a mess of politics on his doorstep…but nothing is actually how it seems, there’s amnesia and hidden back stories galore, there’s a heavy side plot of sword lesbians, and honestly I’ve read like 50 chapters I’m still a little lost but the art is pretty and I really need to read the reveal on the the two MCs history together so I’m sticking with it. Warning that it’s got a fair amount of blood and gore.

G. Those Years in Quest of Honor Mine by Man Man He Qi Duo. A historical (non-cultivation) setting focused on politics, machinations, and the long history and deep love between Zhong Wan – former top-scorer on the national exam who lost his position when his adopted father was accused of treason – and Yu She, of dubious parentage and believed by most people to be the bastard son of the Emperor. I loved the book for this, and finding out that the manhua was on Bilibili is a lot of what drove me to download the app.

So – that’s everything I’m currently reading: 6 titles inspired by explicitly BL danmei titles, 2 based on other books I like that aren’t BL, and 1 BL that just looked interesting and my taste.

There’s SO MUCH MORE, seriously. I’m going to be reading on this app for months and still finding more, I’m positive of it.

But unforth, I hear you say, there’s some other manhua I want to read! What about Mo Dao Zu Shi? What about Erha? Are those on Bilibili? Can I read them? And the answer, sadly, is no. Those two are published by Kuaikan, which does not offer free legal English translations at this time. But! I am holding out hope that if the audience for Bilibili grows, other manhua publishers will see the profitability in emulating them. I cannot guarantee that anything we do will result in this happening, but I do feel pretty confident that if we don’t read with the options currently available, we sure ain’t likely to get more options.

SO. GO FORTH. READ THE THINGS I’VE MENTIONED. READ OTHER THINGS. COME BACK AND TELL ME WHAT YOU LOVED SO I HAVE SOME IDEA WHAT TO READ NEXT.

PLEASE.

I’m begging. GO READ MANHUA!!!

RIGHT NOW.

ON BILIBILI.

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Formatting Tweaks to Help Your Typesetter Have a Great Day

The last few weeks, I’ve been doing a lot of editing, which also means I’ve been doing a lot of small changes to ensure that the documents are print and e-book ready. Preparing manuscripts involves doing a lot of tiny, fiddly tweaks to make sure that spelling, grammar, and formatting are uniform across all the stories in an anthology, are accurate to the authors’ intentions, and look nice in all the formats we’ll be offering (print, PDF, ePub, and Mobi). None of the changes are complicated, but making them all is surprisingly time consuming—I usually spend about 30 minutes “cleaning up” each story with modifications that are largely invisible to a writer and reader, but still essential to produce a polished finished book.

Each Press and Publisher will handle these formatting things in slightly different ways—while some of these (such as “when do I use a hyphen vs. an en dash vs. an em dash?”) others are publisher-discretion. If you are submitting a manuscript and want to look like you’ve really, really paid attention, consider making some of these changes yourself—but make sure you check if the place you’re submitting to has a public style guide first, and if they do, anything they say in their style guide takes precedence! (Duck Prints Press doesn’t have a guide yet—we’ve been working on one, but it keeps getting back-burnered in favor completing more timely tasks). 

This post is written from our point of view—which is to say, I wrote it specifically for how we at DPP handle these formatting matters—but it can provide some general guidelines, especially if you are submitting to a publication that hasn’t provided a style guide. Even if what you do based on this guide doesn’t match what they do, at least by being consistent in your own submission, you demonstrate that you were paying attention! (But: NEVER do any of the below if it contradicts the submission information and/or style guide provided by a different publisher!!)

Note that to really do most of these tweaks, you’ll want to use an actual word processor. Google docs doesn’t have the functionality for the most fiddly bits. Despite its downsides, DPP currently uses Microsoft Office 365, and this guide is primarily written with Word in mind. If you also use Microsoft, here’s a couple quick tutorials—you’ll need to know how to do these two things in order to do…all the rest.

Tutorial 1: Inserting Special Characters

1. Go to the “Insert” Menu

2. Go to “Insert Symbol”

3. If, like me, you use the same 4 special characters over and over, the symbol you’re looking for will most likely be in the “recently used” list that pops up. But, if it’s not there, pick “More Symbols.” That opens a screen that looks like this:

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4. While you could scroll through this list until you find what you want, it’s much easier to go to the bottom boxes I circled in red, where it says “Character Code.” Enter the 4-digit-and-letter code for the character you want. This way, you can be sure you actually get the character you want. Make sure that the “from” field matches the code type you’re using—I pretty much entirely use unicode, and that’s what I reference/include numbers for in this post. (Usually, googling “(name of the character you want) unicode” will get you the number.)

5. Note that not every character is available in every font; if you want to be sure you can access the maximum number of characters, I recommend using Arial or Calibri.

Tutorial 2: Turning on Mark-up

1. Go to the “Home” menu

2. In the “Paragraph” section, find the ¶ option; if your menu is drop-down it might be called “Show/Hide ¶” (in Word, it can also be turned on with ctrl + * )

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3. Show ¶.

4. Profit. (okay, no, not really.)

Tutorial 2a: Using Mark-Up to Find Weird Formatting

Are there tab indents where there shouldn’t be? Extra spaces? Superfluous paragraph breaks? Turn on “Show ¶” and tada, you can see all the usually “invisible” formatting! This is essential for spotting a lot of problems, so it’s worth taking a peek at for your own work. Here’s an example of what it looks like when you do this (using an early draft/outline of this post!)

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Dots are regular spaces. Circles are non-breaking spaces. Forward facing arrows are tabs. ¶ is a standard paragraph break. There’s a bunch of other symbols, too, but those are the ones that come up most often. I’ve labeled a couple others on the above image, to help you have an idea what you’re looking for. You’ll need this information to help you trouble-shoot some of the things below. If there’s a symbol on yours and you’re not sure what it is, I recommend Google.

So, you’ve got a handle on the above…on to all the formatting tweaks your editor and/or typesetter does that you may have never even considered as an essential part of publishing!

Getting Rid of Bad/Published-Book-Inappropriate Formatting

Tabs: published manuscripts doesn’t use tabs to make space. They make a huge formatting/spacing mess. Instead, we use paragraph formatting -> first line indentation -> (whatever indent amount the publisher has chosen as standard —we use 0.25”). If I get a manuscript that’s used tabbing—if you’ve used tab indents and want them gone—I get rid of it with a find-and-replace.

Find: ^t

Replace with: (blank)

Tada, all tabs gone!

Paragraphs: people who add lines between their paragraphs by making extra paragraphs used to be the bain of my editorial existence…until I figured out how to remove the extra paragraph breaks with a single button click. There should only be one paragraph break after every paragraph; if there are multiple, then…

Find: ^p^p

Replace with: ^p

Tada, all paragraph-paragraph breaks now only have one paragraph break!

Set Up Base Formatting

At least for editing/manuscript preparation, I start by getting the whole document into one, consistent format. I personally use:

Font: Arial

Size: 11

Paragraph Indentation: 0.25”

Line Spacing: 1.15

Space Before Paragraphs: 0

Space After Paragraphs: 0

Alignment: left

Justification: none (note: when formatting for print, right justification will ultimately be re-added in most cases, though there’s been a bit of a move away from that because justification can make it for people with certain forms of neuro-divergence to read; when formatting for e-book, never use right justification!!)

(If you know you always use the same base, you can also set it up as a “style” so you can do all the above with one click!)

Marking Bold, Italics, Underlining, etc. Text Formatting

Ultimately, even after doing the last three steps, there’s going to come a point where—to be absolutely sure that no janky formatting gets into the manuscript—I take the entire document and nuke all the formatting. When that time comes, any italicization, bolding, or other base-text-type modifications will also be lost. To make sure it’s not actually lost, I mark all words for which special formatting is used with a highlighting color. Which color to use is obviously arbitrary; here’s my preference:

Italics: yellow highlighting

Bold: green highlighting

Bold and Italics: purple highlighting

Strikethrough: blue highlighting

Strikethrough and Italics: red highlighting

(Those are all the ones I’ve had to do, and I add new colors as they actually come up in our printing.)

Epistolary or Other Non-Prose Writing Passages

Every Press is going to handle this differently; your best bet as a writer is to just make sure your intentions are super clear and be open to whatever your chosen publisher has as their “standard” for handling stories that include non-prose sections such as letters, text messages, schedules, poems, bulleted lists, charts, etc. From an “editor/formatter” point of view, I mark weird formatting spots (and special characters, which I discuss next) with comments so that I can find them again.

Special Characters

Cafe or café? Facade or façade? 🙂 or 😀? © or ©? What special characters are available depends on what font is being used, and not all Presses use the same special characters. Your best bet is to use standard English text characters only, and then ask if (for example) an emoji could be inserted in your text. (For us specifically, we use basically all special characters).

Quotation Marks and Apostrophes

Did you know that, depending on which word processor you use, your quotation marks and apostrophes may not format uniformly? For example, if you write in Word (and haven’t turned off auto-formatting), your quotation marks will auto-switch from just two straight lines side-by-side into a pretty curly thing:

On the other hand, if you write on Google Docs from mobile, it will never auto-format your quotation marks. They’re called straight quotes or, sometimes, “dumb” quotes, and they look like this:

” (some viewers are auto-formatting this to a curly quote! google “straight quotes” and you can see the difference)

This is especially stark and frustrating if you do some of your writing in gdocs from mobile and some from desktop; then, you’ll end up with a document where some of the marks are auto-curved and others aren’t. Leaving them this way makes for a disjointed, inelegant look, and should be changed.

Industry standard is curly quotes.

One of the first things I do when I open a new manuscript to format for print-readiness is a find-and-replace to make sure that all of the apostrophes and quotation marks are formatted the same way. If you put an unformatted (“straight quote”) quotation mark in the “find” field and a formatted/curly one in the “replace” field, tada, every quotation mark fixed at once! And the same for apostrophes.

Directional Apostrophes

Speaking of apostrophes—one side effect of the ‘curly’ apostrophes is that they’re directional: an “open quote” curly apostrophe doesn’t look the same as a “close quote” curly apostrophe. Most of the time, this isn’t a problem. If you’re writing dialog, the ‘curly’ quotes will auto-format to the correct directions and the beginning and end of your quote. If you’re writing a contraction, same—the apostrophe will auto-format the correct ‘curl’ direction for your contraction. But, did you know? There are cases where using a lead-in apostrophe is necessary, but if it’s formatted in the ‘lead-in’ direction, it’ll be wrong! These are cases where auto-format will think you “need” a forward facing apostrophe, but you actually are supposed to use a backward facing one. The two most common instances of this are:

  • When using slang formed by dropping the first syllable. For example: ’tis, ’til, and ’cause.
  • When writing shortened years. For example: ’98, ’12, ’45.

(Can’t figure out how to force the right curve? You’ve got two choices: find one pointing the way you need, ctrl-c copy it, then paste it where needed; or you can get it from the Insert Symbol menu, unicode: 2019)

Hyphens vs. En Dashes vs. Em Dashes

Before I was a professional editor, I had the idea that figuring out when to use a hyphen vs. an en dash vs. an em dash was super complicated and inscrutable, but it’s actually easy to know which is appropriate in the majority of cases.

Case 1: you are writing a compound word. Compound words get hyphens. Now, what words get hyphenated, and when, and which don’t, is a completely separate issue, and not one I’m going to get into here. This post isn’t about grammar, it’s literally about formatting, and for formatting purposes, if you know you need to connect two or more words with little lines, the little lines you want to string those words together with is a hyphen. This is a hyphen: – (unicode: 2010)

Case 2: you are writing a range of numbers, dates, or times. You want an en dash. This is just about the only time when you want an en dash. This is an en dash: – (unicode: 2013)

Case 3: you are writing a sentence interjection—like this one!—or you’re indicating an interruption in dialog. You want an em dash. There are plenty of other cases when you should use an em dash, but those are the most common in fiction writing. This is an em dash: — (unicode: 2014)

Reference a style guide or tailor a google search if you’ve got something quirky going on and you’re not sure which type of dash to use.

Types of Spaces

Believe it or not, not all spaces are created equal. In fact, there are four used often, and some others to boot. The most common ones are:

Hair space: this is teeny tiny. Unicode: 200A

Thin space: this is roughly half the size of a normal space. Unicode: 2009

Normal space: the one we know and love. Unicode: 0020

Non-breaking space: a special kind of space that, when used, indicates to the document software/printer/e-reader, “even if this is at the end of a line of text, do not break the text here to start the next line: this ‘space’ should be treated as a fixed character for line-breaking purposes.” Also called an nbsp. Unicode: 00A0

Usually, you should be using, normal spaces, but depending on how your printer/publisher chooses to format things, others may be used. For example, some places put thin spaces on either side of em dashes. Here at Duck Prints Press, we put hair spaces after ellipses (…in some cases…) and we use nbsps in cases such as “When we’re quoting something ‘and there’s a sub quote that ends the sentence.’ “ (as in, there’d be an nbsp between the ‘ and “.)

Spaces and Formatting

As the existence of the nbsp implies, spaces can play funny with formatting, which is part of why in the age of digital the double space after periods has largely gone away—two space were important when typing on a type-writer, but when working in digital text it’s superfluous and can cause formatting issues. So, for example, I always do a find “  ” (two spaces) and replace it with “ ” (one space) for the entire document.

It’s also necessary to remove extra spaces at the end of paragraphs. Yes, every single one. Why? Because, especially if it’s an nbsp, it can actually make the manuscript longer. Picture it: you’ve got the end of a sentence, then a period, then an nbsp, then a paragraph break. This tells the e-reader that space HAS to be kept with that period and the last word. To do that, e-readers will bump the word onto a new line…solely because the space was there! And, while you might think this doesn’t come up much…if a trailing space is left at the end of a paragraph in gdocs, and that paragraph is copied and pasted in Word, every one of those spaces will be converted into nbsps. I once reduced a twenty-page document by half a page by removing all the trailing nbsps. Cutting them is important! Even if the space inserted isn’t an nbsp, it’s still important to get rid of it, because if that end space is what causes a line on an e-reader to be too long, bumping that extra single space to a new line will result in a blank line between paragraphs. Considering that e-book text size can be increased or decreased depending on device and reader, the only way to prevent extra spaces at the ends of paragraphs from dotting your document with blank lines is to delete every single one. By hand. I have done this t.h.o.u.s.a.n.d.s. of times seriously, you want to make your text formatters day? Please don’t leave spaces at the ends of paragraphs, I’m begging you. (and if you know ANY faster way to get rid of these TELL ME PLEASE!)

Ellipses

Here’s a simple and obvious one. Find all the … and replace them with …

Scene Breaks

Whoever is doing typesetting is probably going to use something pretty and/or fancy for marking scene breaks. The way you can make this easiest for them is to format all scene breaks in the same way, and simpler is better. For example, our default way to mark a scene break is:

…the end of the previous scene, with a paragraph break after it.

#

The start of the next scene.

No extra paragraph breaks, only one symbol that’s unlikely to have been used elsewhere in the document, easy to read and follow. Just using extra paragraph breaks can be confusing, using lots of characters is annoying (and a nightmare for screen readers)—you don’t want your editor to be guessing, so do something straightforward and stick to it.

Capitalization Quirks

Honestly? The section of this post about “times you don’t realize you need a capital letter but actually do” and “times you think you need a capital letter but actually don’t” got so long that I’ve decided to break it out into a separate post; that one will come out next week, so stay tuned.

Remove All Formatting

Once I’ve done all that…changed all the little stuff, marked anything unusual/stylistic (special characters, non-prose, italics, etc.), and gotten everything cleaned up…I go to the “home” menu -> “styles” -> “clear formatting.” This gets read of all formatting, including anything wonky/weird/broken/undesired that I may have missed. The notes and other changes I’ve done make sure that I don’t lose any information I need to format the document correctly, and just to be absolutely positive, there’s a reason I do this now in the process, instead of after the last step, which is…

Actually Finishing Editing

…because if I HAVE made a mistake, when I do my final editing pass and send the document to the author for final approval, they will hopefully notice anything that got lost in the process!

Long story short? Check your own documents for weird formatting stuff before submitting your stories, and save an editor and/or make a typesetter’s day!

Happy writing, everyone!

(Have a writing question? Send us an ask!)

(Love what we do? Support us in our shop, on Patreon, and/or on ko-fi!)

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The Wayback Machine and the Quest for Deleted Fics

What is the Wayback Machine?

The Wayback Machine is the time machine used by Peabody and Sherman in “Rocky and Bullwinkle.” It’s also the nickname of The Internet Archive (https://web.archive.org/) which, since the late ’90s, has crawled the internet and just. Archived everything it finds. (You can read their history here). People now can enter pages they want to save (I used it to preserve some censored Chinese gay books, for example, entering all the URLs myself to be sure that Wayback captured them), and I don’t even know how else it finds stuff, but it’s pretty amazing. How amazing?

Image

This is their capture of my Tripod anime webpage from when I was in college. Some of the graphics are missing, yeah, but like. I made this website in fricken 1999, and stopped maintaining it in 2001 or 2002. Back then my e-mail address was still “unforth@penpen.com” and webrings were a thing and I was well known for creating Winamp skins in Jasc. That it’s there at all is pretty fucking incredible.

Who cares about your old anime page?

Other than me? No one. BUT. Wayback’s “catch all, save all, store all” approach to archiving means it’s an invaluable tool for finding deleted fic. For example, here’s their capture of “Rock Salt and Feathers,” which was (as far as I know) the first Destiel-specific fic archive made on the internet, and many of the earliest Destiel fics were posted there or x-posted there from LJ.

Image

The owner deleted it in 2010, taking all the fics with it, but many can still be accessed – and saved by my project, and read by anyone who wants to – because they’re in Wayback.

Okay, that’s way more interesting. How do I use Wayback to find stuff like that?

The key to using the Wayback Machine to find old and/or deleted fics is that you need the original url. Thus, teaching someone how to use Wayback to find deleted fics ends up mostly being about teaching someone tricks for finding ancient urls for fics that have been deleted (and occasionally when you find the url you actually discover the fic isn’t deleted at all, which is always nice!). Once you have the URL, the “how to use” part is easy, you just go to web.archive.org and enter the url in the search box.

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The bar graph of years shows every time Wayback Machine “captured” (archived) the specific page at that url. Often, each of these captures will be different, especially for websites that update regularly (like an archive or an author’s works page). When you click on a year, you’ll get a calendar, and then you just pick the date and time you want (I highlighted April 18th, 2009, as an example, and because it was my dad’s 68th birthday so why not? It’s also about a month before I personally started watching SPN, ah, memories…). Once you’ve picked the capture you want, it’ll load the next page and show you a capture of it – so here’s a (different than above) capture of Rock Salt and Feathers, dating to within a week of when the website was first founded! The same bar graph is now up top, and you can click on the bar you want to jump to that date and see how the website changed over time – so this capture on April 18th, 2009, is pretty bare bones; by the time of the May capture I screen capped above, things have moved along!

Further, once you’re in an archive of a deleted webpage you can (or at least, you can try) to navigate it as normal, just…all within Wayback’s interface. So like, on this page, I can access their list of new works (and find different ones by trying the different captures)…

…and I can even read them!

Uh oh, better watch out for those 4.20 spoilers. Anyway, the point is – if you’ve got the original URL, you can use it to load a deleted page into Wayback, and then navigate that website as normal…at least up until you try a link that Wayback didn’t archive, and then you’ll hit a “sorry, we don’t have that one” page (I’m not gonna screen cap cause at this rate I’ll hit Tumblr’s image limit in about 2 more minutes). Not everything will be there, ever. Rock Salt and Feathers is unusually well-preserved; when I did a deep-dive and spent three days trying to find things there, I was able to preserve nearly 90% of all the fic I know of that was posted there, and some of the rest I was able to find by tracking down alts for the people who posted there – many (though not all!) had x-posted their works to LJ, and later some ALSO x-posted to AO3, once AO3 existed (Rock Salt and Feathers predates the existence of AO3 by about 6 months).

So, as you can see – using Wayback is the easy part (at least until it isn’t – more on that later…it’s easy on a simple page like Rock Salt and Feathers, hence my using it for examples, but it can get hella complicated for more modern, dynamic websites like AO3). The hard part?

Where am I supposed to get the original URL for a fic that’s been deleted for 5 years or a decade or more?

Google search is your friend (or your preferred search engine I guess, but I always use Google). If you know the username and the exact title, it’s easy – especially using quotes, which is also your friend. So, for example, I couldn’t remember the URL for Rock Salt and Feathers and I didn’t actually have it saved, so I just googled “rocksalt and feathers” (in quotes). It prompt got mad at me and told me rock salt should be two words, and so I changed it, and sure enough the first result was an ancient LJ post that included the links I needed. Which is to say, what you’re really looking for isn’t the “thing itself,” but rather other websites that reference the thing in question. For works that were originally posted on LJ, FF.net, personal websites like Rock Salt and Feathers, or elsewhere, ancient rec lists tend to be winners for finding the links. Learning some search tricks can also help – like, if you don’t know the exact title, try variations, or try just the part you’re sure of. If you remember a quote, try searching for that. If the title is something super common, try adding the author name or, if you don’t know it, search for it using “(name of fic)” destiel. Anything you can think of, remember, etc., will help. Sometimes, you just get as close as you can, and then look through the results, and often there’ll be something close that even if it’s not right, will lead you to a resource that’ll help.

Alternatively, again for older works, searching for a different work that you know was released around the same time. So, like, looking for a fic by…idk…Fossarian? Or cautionzombies? Try search for aesc, or bauble, or obstinatrix, or annundriel – someone else who was active when Fossarian and cautionzombies were. (Obviously knowing some Destiel fandom history helps in this case, but there are enough fandom olds around that even if you don’t know this info, learning it is an ask away). Especially, try searching for a contemporary whose works are still up, because you can get titles for those more easily (for example, in this case, aesc, annundriel and obstinatrix all have some works cross posted on AO3, so finding the titles is easier, and then you just…keep going til you find what you want). You can also try looking for works where they were betas or editors or gift-recipients, and/or you can kinda…map out…their old friends groups, by seeing who commented where. For example, looking for links to cautionzombies stuff? cautionzomes and annundriel were friends, which I learned by poking around a fuck-ton, and annundriel’s accounts are still up, and some old cautionzombie links can be found in annundriel’s journals. The links don’t work but that’s not the point, you just need something to plug into Wayback!

And, as a side note – just because an old LJ link is dead, don’t assume that the work is lost! Many of those authors x-posted onto AO3 once they had AO3 accounts (heck, Gedry was continuing to back up works to AO3 as recently as last year), and even among those who didn’t (such as annundriel or CloudyJenn, who each only backed up a few) they often simply ported their accounts to Dreamwidth, so you can find their works just by reformatting their LJ url (username.livejournal.com) to a dreamwidth url (username.dreamwidth.org – works for me too, if you want to see the awful shit I wrote in 2005). Also, sometimes you’ll find they x-posted to FF.net but not AO3 (which, granted, presents FF.net own array of challenges for backing up, but that’s for a different post – drop me an ask if you want me to write that up sooner rather than later, otherwise I’ll just do it whenever I remember). All of which is to say – before you assume a dead link means a deleted work you can save yourself some trouble (and some heartbreak, Wayback isn’t great for LJ in general because of how LJ posts and blogs were structured) it’s worth your while to take a little extra time and check – okay, was it x-posted? Did the person have alternate usernames they used on different platforms? Did they have a writing community on LJ where they posted (for example, a lot of authors posted their works directly to deancasbigbang.livejournal.com or deancas-xmas.livejournal.com, and also a lot of authors made communities even just for themselves, and those communities remained even when they deleted their personal accounts). Even if you find they deleted across all platforms, it’s easier to find full works from AO3 or FF.net on Wayback than it is to find works from LJ, so it’s worth a try. And, honestly, with really old stuff? Finding the old work x-posted somewhere, or just asking someone like me, or the folks at @destielfanfic, is more likely to find it for you than putting an LJ url into Wayback, though in a pinch that of course is an option too.

Unforth, stop babbling about LJ, I care about deathbanjo, or apokteino, or TamrynEradni, or…

…or anyone who posted on AO3 exclusively, and deleted more recently, yeah, I get it. Of course, the tricks for finding the urls remain similar – rec lists are your friends! But, for AO3, there’s another super handy trick. It doesn’t always work, but it’s by far the best place to start.

Go to @ao3feed-destiel.

Search for the author’s name, and/or the fic title, and/or anything you can remember about the fic.

Since mid-2013, the Destiel AO3 feed Tumblr has logged probably around 75% of all the Destiel that’s been posted. There ARE gaps – works that weren’t initially tagged Destiel, or times when the feed was down and just caught nothing, or “oops the author changed their name four times and I don’t know which one they were using when they posted That Fic,” or “there are three people with very similar usernames” or “the fic is called ‘carry on’ and there are a bajillion fics with the same title.” It’s not perfect, but as a first step it’s essential. Because, whatever you find, it’ll have:

The link to the original AO3 post

The link to the author’s name page at the time

The exact date and time it was originally posted

The original title, tags, etc.

If the work was in a series, the series link

And all of the links can be put into Wayback to help you find The Thing You Want. So, to use a recent example from someone I know doesn’t mind having their stuff distributed (or, in this case, discovered on Wayback)…

When you click on the tinyurl, you get an AO3 error page, but, more importantly, in the enter-the-url bar, you get the original url for the fic! Which, in this case is:

http://archiveofourown.org/works/8447584

And then you can go over to Wayback, and…

Well, lookie there, it’s the fic that HazelDomain locked! (Note that you’ll get a “do you agree to the terms of use” and potentially other pop-ups. Just say yes and click through, there’s no way to avoid them because there’s no way to access these pages in Wayback as if you are “logged in as you,” so the notifications and, in the case of Mature and Explicit works, the “you must be 18+ to proceed…” warnings will pop up every single time (and the 18+ one will cause you depressing issues, which in general just make Mature and Explicit deleted works MUCH harder to find, more on that later, yes this post is really gonna be that long, sorry…)

Now, suppose you weren’t looking for this fic by HazelDomain, but instead were looking for one that ao3feed-Destiel didn’t have on their list. Well, now is when that link to HazelDomain username comes in handy!

http://archiveofourown.org/users/HazelDomain/pseuds/HazelDomain

You can put this directly into Wayback, and it’ll show HazelDomain’s home page or, alternatively, if you loaded the fic above (for example) you can just click where it says HazelDomain below the title, and you’ll get to go to their main page, which’ll list their most recent works (on the date that the capture was taken) and some other links. Tada! You’ve found HazelDomain fics on Wayback.

(Side note on all of this: AO3 links are stable and permanent, which means that they do not change even if the nature of a fic changes. If the fic’s posting date is edited? If the author changes their username? If the title changes? If it’s added or removed from a series or a collection? If it’s orphaned or added to an anonymous collection? The link will never change. That’s how I know that the so-called “orphaned” version of With Understanding is actually a fake – it doesn’t have the same URL as the actual version of With Understanding that apokteino posted. So, if you find a link to a work and it turns out that work has only been orphaned, not deleted, that link will still work! For example…

https://archiveofourown.org/works/13063581

One of sir_kingsley’s link, with the exact same link it had before it was orphaned!)

Okay, but the one I want isn’t on the author’s page even after I checked!

As I mentioned, a basic old site like Rock Salt and Feathers? Very easy to use on Wayback. A complex website like AO3? Much more messy, which means there are a bunch of tricks you can use to try to “get at” the data. There’s always the chance it’s not there at all; a random ficlet by a little known author? Unlikely to have made it into Wayback, unfortunately, especially if the ficlet was Mature or Explicit rated. But, there are bunch of things you can try, and there’s never any guessing which will work until you try. When I’m looking for something that’s been deleted? I try them all.

Trick 1: The “/pseud” trick.

See how in HazelDomain’s author link, it’s listed as “users/HazelDomain/pseuds/HazelDomain”? There’s a few tricks you can use related to this. First, on AO3, both “users/(username)” and “users/(username)/pseud/(username)” function as links (even if the second instance of username isn’t actually a pseud and is just a repeat of the same username, as in the HazelDomain example). As such, they are different urls for Wayback machine searching purposes. Sometimes, when you search “user/(username)” you’ll get results but get none when you search for “users/(username)/pseuds/(username), and vice verse. To Wayback, these are two completely different urls, so you have to check them individually – AO3 knows internally that these links route to the same place but Wayback is just basically taking screen caps (well, HTML text caps) so it doesn’t know they’re equal – so check both!

Trick 2: The “they changed usernames” trick.

If you know that an author changed usernames, try plugging every single one into those “user/(username)” and “user/(username)/pseud/(username)” links. Is it a lot of work? Yes. How bad did you want that fic, again?

(side note: having trouble figuring out if they had alternate usernames? Yeah, it’s a nightmare. Checking old rec lists is one way to find out. If the work is in a series, there’s also a trick – even if the person changes username, the “Series created by: (username)” thing at the top will still show the username they had when they created the series. Or, if they had a fic with a really unusual title, try doing a google search for that title specifically, even if it’s not the one you’re looking for, because the odds that two people used that crazy-specific title are low, and you’ll be able to see results that might give the different name. Or-or, as yet another option…my master spreadsheet lists every alternate name for a given user that I know of…for example, deathbanjo has also been loneprairies, beenghosting, and tumbleweeds. Also note – unlike WORK links, which are stable even if the person changes their username, orphans, etc., “user/(username)” links are NOT stable. If you search for, idk, bellacatbee…

https://archiveofourown.org/users/bellacatbee

…you’ll get an error, even though fairychangeling is bellacatbee and still active…

https://archiveofourown.org/users/fairychangeling

Trick 3: The “/works” trick.

Hope you’re not done giving those “users/(username)” and “users/(username)/pseuds/(username)” links a work out, because you’re not done yet! Those links will just give you their home page, which will only list their 6 (…I think it’s 6???) most recent works. And then you click on “works” at the side and…oh no there’s nothing there! Whelp, whichever link Wayback tried to use (“users/(username)/works” or “users/(username)/pseuds/(username)/works”) …try the other! And then try it for all their username changes, if they had any! Getting frustrated yet? If you’re lucky you’ll have Found The Thing and you can stop, but if you haven’t, we’re not done yet, cause yes, there’s more…

Trick 4: The “?fandom_id=27” trick.

So, I’m writing this guide specifically for Destiel, so this trick is being shared in the SPN-specific format. Every single fandom on AO3 has a fandom ID number. Supernatural’s is 27. If you’re looking for a different fandom, you’ll just have to find it’s number – you can do this by going to any author you know wrote for that fandom, going to their home/main page (users/(username) or users/(username)/pseuds/(username)) and clicking on the fandom – the results will show the fandom_id in the link. So, like, I’ve still got fairychangeling’s page open, Thor is fandom_id 245368, MCU is 414093, Good Omens is 114591, etc. Again, these IDs are stable – fandom_id=27 will ALWAYS be Supernatural, no matter who the writer is. AND, since Wayback treats every single one of these urls as unique, even if “users/(username)/works”/”users/(username)/pseuds/(username)/works” don’t work, “users/(username)/works?fandom_id=27” or “users/(username)/pseuds/(username)/works?fandom_id=27” might. And you know what comes next – yes, it’s try every variation again!

Trick 5: check every capture!

Captures on Wayback are a moment in time, which means there’s always a chance that each one will be different. Trying to find a work that a user wrote in 2011, but Wayback /works is only showing works from 2021 on the first page, and going to page 2 produces a dead link? Try going to the oldest capture. Try going through every single capture, until you find the title you want, if you find the title you want. The /works page wasn’t captured at all? Go through every old version of their main page, and see if there’s any version of it where the story you want was in the 6 most recent works they posted. Etc. Try every capture on every variation of the /users/(username) links. Test and test and test until you either find it or you’ve exhausted your options.

Finding lost fics is about patience and about exhausting every option before you give up. All these small variations that look like nothing? Are another chance that Wayback may have captured the work. Skipping one isn’t gonna do you any favors. There’s never a guarantee. Lots is simply not there. But – more is there then you’ll think if you just try one link then give up.

But I’m not looking for a list of their works, I’m looking for a specific work!

The above tricks are what I use when, for example, I’ve just heard a person deleted their account, and I’m trying to build as complete a list as possible of the works that have been deleted. Further, even if Wayback hasn’t captured the actual work, the /(username) page and the /works page will have the links. Sometimes, those links will help you discover the work was orphaned or moved to anon instead of actually deleted. Other times, you’ll click it, and bam, the fic will be right there in Wayback! Still other times, it won’t be…or at least not apparently. But, sure enough, there are tricks around that too. Before you give up and assume a fic isn’t in Wayback at all, you can try…

Trick 1: Remove the chapter part of the link

So, you’ve got the link to your fic – lets use, idk, “Carry On” by TamrynEradani (I haven’t actually tested this as an example yet, hopefully it works lmao for everything I need to do here… lmao).

The original link to Carry On (found on ao3feed-destiel):

http://archiveofourown.org/works/775352/chapters/1458361

AO3 assigns every work a unique number AND every chapter a unique number. If you put in a work without the “/chapters/####” part in AO3, it auto-routes you to chapter 1 and fills in the chapter number. But, not to beat this dead horse again – Wayback doesn’t know how to do that! It’s entirely literally. It captures only the link, exactly as the link was fed to it. Thus, if you put that link into Wayback? It gets no results. BUT, if you remove the “/chapters/1458361” part (it actually DID loop me to the chapter ID, but when I put it in WITH the Chapter ID, it found nothing – welcome to the joys and vagaries of searching for deleted fics in Wayback…)?

There’s Carry On…at least sort of! Because yes, there’s still a problem – that pesky “Proceed” button. Because you can’t log into Wayback as if it were AO3, and Wayback is (again) literal, you can often end up in annoying cycle where (with Mature and Explicit works) you just get looped back to the “Proceed” page over and over again. There are a couple ways you can try to bypass this.

Trick 2: Check past captures!

Are we learning yet? Yep, this is a repeat. Often, going through every capture will find one or more where, for whatever reason, the Proceed page just…isn’t in the way. I have no idea why that’s the case, but it works – it’s how I opened that HazelDomain fic above, for example. And, it works for Carry On, too – when I tried a different capture of the exact same URL?

There it is!

However, even if that doesn’t work, you still have recourse.

Trick 3: the “?view_adult_work=true” trick.

When you hit that “Proceed” button, AO3 auto-adds on “?view_adult_work=true” but (hits the horse with a stick again) Wayback doesn’t know that necessarily, unless you tell it. So, you can sometimes bypass the endless-loop-of-proceed problem by giving it the direct link instead. In this case…

http://archiveofourown.org/works/775352?view_adult_work=true”

or

http://archiveofourown.org/works/775352/chapters/1458361?view_adult_work=true

(this trick actually DOESN’T work with Carry On, but it DOES work sometimes, especially with one shot mature/explicit works. That said, the “check every capture” trick works more often, so definitely try that first).

Okay, so…getting somewhere, but! Carry On is 34 chapters, and this one I’ve found in Wayback (it’s here by the way – Wayback links? Also stable. https://web.archive.org/web/20131126180609/http://archiveofourown.org/works/775352/chapters/1458361) is showing just the first chapter. And when I try to go to Chapter 2? It gets caught up in that goddamn “Proceed for 18+” thing again, and there are only two captures now, and WHAT DO?”

Trick 4: The “?view_full_work=true” trick

There are two ways to implement this trick. One is easy – when you’re on the page in Wayback, you see that “Entire Work” button over the tags box? YA JUST CLICK IT! It’s like magic! At least, it’s magic when it works. (It does, in this case – if you want to read all of Carry On and don’t want to track it down? https://web.archive.org/web/20130911072416/http://archiveofourown.org/works/775352?view_full_work=true tada!)

And see the difference there? it’s the same link, just with ?view_full_work=true added to the end! So, if you’ve found yourself in a position where you can’t get by the “Proceed” loop, OR where you try to go to Chapter 1, try every link variation, and get nothing? You can always still try:

http://archiveofourown.org/works/######?view_full_work=true

Because there’s always a chance that Wayback captured that even if it didn’t capture the other variations.

Unforth…I’ve read all this…I’ve tried everything…I still couldn’t find the thing! What can I dooooooo….

At this point? You’ve mostly exhausted what you can try in Wayback. But! Wayback actually isn’t the only way to find a lost fic, it’s just the most obvious and most easily used by the public. There are a few others!

1. I already tagged @/destielfanfic, so I won’t again, but they’re a great resource for finding deleted fics that authors have said “yes you may distribute,” and they’ve also got a list of authors who’ve indicated “no.” I used their lists as the base for mine (and their head mod and I trade notes, and fics, semi-regularly and have for years). So, I mentioned Fossarian above? Well, you can find Fossarian fics for download by going to destielfanfic, searching for author Fossarian, and going through the links – for example, “All the Hours Wound” is available in ePub format right here!

2. If you’re willing to delve into Livejournal, spnstoryfinders (https://spnstoryfinders.livejournal.com/) is a still-active community that helps find all sorts of missing SPN stories (not just Destiel) and often posts will have links for x-posts, help with finding alts/different names people have used, or have people volunteering to distribute if contacted. Honestly, personally, I’m too shy to actually contact those people, and even if you’re braver than I if they haven’t posted since 2015 it’s anyone’s guess if you’ll still be able to reach them, but it’s always worth a try!

3. Me. Ask me. Even if it’s not on my list. Drop me a note. I know tricks, as you can see, and I’m just really experienced at this point. I’ve been doing this for years. And, even if I did list most of the tricks I know above, I probably forgot something, and I also have the time (…well, sometimes I do, like when I’m not spending 2.5 hrs writing blog posts about how to use Wayback lmao), and I might know pseuds for a person you don’t, and I have contacts who have collections, and, and, and…

4. Speaking of collections, the Profound Bond Discord mods graciously gave my archive a chat room (it’s #fic-archive-project in the collections section of the server). AND, people who are on that server who have large private fic collections can opt to give themselves the @/archivist role, and when things get deleted or when we look for things, even if I can’t find it, I can tag the other archivists and see if anyone else has it. When I exhaust MY options? That’s where I go. So. You can too, you don’t need me to mediate that, just join the Discord.

5. There’s a smaller, Wayback-esque archive webpage called http://archive.is/. It has way less in it, but I’ve occasionally had luck on there finding LJ stuff that Wayback didn’t have.

6. As a last ditch, you can always try Google. For example, if I google: tamryneradani “carry on” destiel download – the only damn result (I made this search up off the top of my head without testing it so I’m glad it worked lmao) is shiphitsthefans’s master post of TamrynEradani fic which includes download links, because Tamryn made it clear from the moment they deleted that they didn’t mind distribution (I was here then, which is how I know that…). So, like, literally, you want to read Carry On, yes I linked it above on Wayback but you can also just download the e-book from this post. There are all kinds of things in all kinds of pokey places on the internet. There’s a small old archive that got permission from LJ authors to PDF their works and posted about it, with links, on Tumblr, and now a lot of those originals are deleted (I don’t have the link sorry, I didn’t bother to save it after I downloaded everything they had) but the Tumblr posts are still up and the DL links that still work. There’s master posts for fics that have been deleted but the master post still has a functional link to a full PDF. Stuff is everywhere and you don’t know unless you check.

There’s so, so, so much Destiel, and so much as been deleted over the years. When you look, sometimes you’ll strike gold right away by just plugging the link into Wayback and YAY THERE’S THE THING, and sometimes you’ll spend an hour looking and think you finally finally have it and get so close and that last PDF link on the last place you had to check after everything else didn’t pan out will be broken and you’ll kind of want to burn down the internet, but…you’ll know you tried.

This is how I built this archive – that, and downloading as much as possible before it was deleted, so that once it was gone, I didn’t have to find it, cause I already had it. Basically every fic marked as “deleted and looking for copy” on my list? I tried all of this and still couldn’t find it. Not always – sometimes I just don’t have time – but. When I have the time, I check, and I even occasionally check again, just in case I missed something the first time. This is how it goes. You try, and you hope, and sometimes you’ll succeed, and sometimes you won’t. It’s hard, but if you want the fic bad enough…you do the thing.

So. This is my general tutorial on how to use Wayback. What you do with that information is up to you. Don’t ask me for help finding links for things I’ve said I won’t distribute, but if you’re willing to do the leg work and try the above strategies…well, authors can’t do much about Wayback, they lost that level of control the instant they posted their works, and it’s there to be accessed by anyone who knows how (if it’s there at all, anyway, which, well, sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t).

Now you know.

Go forth and get the fic.

(And if you know of, or learn, some tricks I don’t know? PLEASE DO TELL! I am always ready to learn more!)

Posted on 2 Comments

How to Edit an Over-Length Story Down to a Specific Word Count

One of the most wonderful things about writing as a hobby is that you never have to worry about the length of your story. You can be as self-indulgent as you want, make your prose the royalist of purples, include every single side story and extra thought that strikes your fancy. It’s your story, with no limits, and you can proceed with it as you wish. 

When transitioning from casual writing to a more professional writing milieu, this changes. If you want to publish, odds are, you’ll need to write to a word count. If a flash fiction serial says, “1,000 words or less,” your story can’t be 1,025 and still qualify. If a website says, “we accept novellas ranging from 20,000 to 40,000 words,” your story will need to fall into that window. Even when you consider novel-length works, stories are expected to be a certain word count to fit neatly into specific genres – romance is usually around 80,000 words, young adult usually 50,000 to 80,000, debut novels usually have to be 100,000 words or less regardless of genre, etc. If you self-publish or work with a small press, you may be able to get away with breaking these “rules,” but it’s still worthwhile to learn to read your own writing critically with length in mind and learn to recognize what you do and do not need to make your story work – and then, if length isn’t an issue in your publishing setting, you can always decide after figuring out what’s non-essential to just keep everything anyway. 

If you’re writing for fun? You literally never have to worry about your word count (well, except for sometimes in specific challenges that have minimum and/or maximum word counts), and as such, this post is probably not for you.

But, if you’re used to writing in the “throw in everything and the kitchen sink” way that’s common in fandom fanfiction circles, and you’re trying to transition only to be suddenly confronted with the reality that you’ve written 6,000 words for a short story project with a maximum word count of 5,000…well, we at Duck Prints Press have been there, we are in fact there right now, as we finish our stories for our upcoming anthology Add Magic to Taste and many of us wrote first drafts that were well over the maximum word count.

So, based on our experiences, here are our suggestions on approaches to help your story shorter…without losing the story you wanted to tell!

  1. Cut weasel words (we wrote a whole post to help you learn how to do that!) such as unnecessary adverbs and adjectives, the “was ~ing” sentence structure, redundant time words such as “a moment later,” and many others.
  2. When reviewing dialog, keep an eye out for “uh,” “er,” “I mean,” “well,” and other casual extra words. A small amount of that kind of language usage can make dialog more realistic, but a little goes a long way, and often a fair number of words can be removed by cutting these words, without negatively impacting your story at all.
  3. Active voice almost always uses fewer words than passive voice, so try to use active voice more (but don’t forget that passive voice is important for varying up your sentence structures and keeping your story interesting, so don’t only write in active voice!).
  4. Look for places where you can replace phrases with single words that mean the same thing. You can often save a lot of words by switching out phrases like “come back” for “return” and seeking out other places where one word can do the work of many.
  5. Cut sentences that add atmosphere but don’t forward the plot or grow your characters. (Obviously, use your judgement. Don’t cut ALL the flavor, but start by going – I’ve got two sentences that are mostly flavor text – which adds more? And then delete the other, or combine them into one shorter sentence.)
  6. Remove superfluous dialog tags. If it’s clear who’s talking, especially if it’s a conversation between only two people, you can cut all the he saids, she saids.
  7. Look for places where you’ve written repetitively – at the most basic level, “ ‘hahaha,’ he laughed,” is an example, but repetition is often more subtle, like instances where you give information in once sentence, and then rephrase part or all of that sentence in the next one – it’s better to poke at the two sentences until you think of an effective, and more concise, way to make them into only one sentence. This also goes for scenes – if you’ve got two scenes that tend towards accomplishing the same plot-related goal, consider combining them into one scene.
  8. Have a reason for every sentence, and even every sentence clause (as in, every comma insertion, every part of the sentence, every em dashed inclusion, that kind of thing). Ask yourself – what function does this serve? Have I met that function somewhere else? If it serves no function, or if it’s duplicative, consider cutting it. Or, the answer may be “none,” and you may choose to save it anyway – because it adds flavor, or is very in character for your PoV person, or any of a number of reasons. But if you’re saving it, make sure you’ve done so intentionally. It’s important to be aware of what you’re trying to do with your words, or else how can you recognize what to cut, and what not to cut?
  9. Likewise, have a reason for every scene. They should all move the story along – whatever the story is, it doesn’t have to be “the end of the world,” your story can be simple and straightforward and sequential…but if you’re working to a word count, your scenes should still forward the story toward that end point. If the scene doesn’t contribute…you may not need them, or you may be able to fold it in with another scene, as suggested in item 6.
  10.  Review the worldbuilding you’ve included, and consider what you’re trying to accomplish with your story. A bit of worldbuilding outside of the bare essentials makes a story feel fleshed out, but again, a little can go a long way. If you’ve got lots of “fun” worldbuilding bits that don’t actually forward your plot and aren’t relevant to your characters, cut them. You can always put them as extras in your blog later, but they’ll just make your story clunky if you have a lot of them. 
  11. Beware of info-dumps. Often finding a more natural way to integrate that information – showing instead of telling in bits throughout the story – can help reduce word count.
  12. Alternatively – if you over-show, and never tell, this will vastly increase your word count, so consider if there are any places in your story where you can gloss over the details in favor of a shorter more “tell-y” description. You don’t need to go into a minute description of every smile and laugh – sometimes it’s fine to just say, “she was happy” or “she frowned” without going into a long description of their reaction that makes the reader infer that they were happy. (Anyone who unconditionally says “show, don’t tell,” is giving you bad writing advice. It’s much more important to learn to recognize when showing is more appropriate, and when telling is more appropriate, because no story will function as a cohesive whole if it’s all one or all the other.)
  13. If you’ve got long paragraphs, they’re often prime places to look for entire sentences to cut. Read them critically and consider what’s actually helping your story instead of just adding word count chonk.
  14. Try reading some or all of the dialog out loud; if it gets boring, repetitive, or unnecessary, end your scene wherever you start to lose interest, and cut the dialog that came after. If necessary, add a sentence or two of description at the end to make sure the transition is abrupt, but honestly, you often won’t even need to do so – scenes that end at the final punchy point in a discussion often work very well.
  15. Create a specific goal for a scene or chapter. Maybe it’s revealing a specific piece of information, or having a character discover a specific thing, or having a specific unexpected event occur, but, whatever it is, make sure you can say, “this scene/chapter is supposed to accomplish this.” Once you know what you’re trying to do, check if the scene met that goal, make any necessary changes to ensure it does, and cut things that don’t help the scene meet that goal.
  16. Building on the previous one, you can do the same thing, but for your entire story. Starting from the beginning, re-outline the story scene-by-scene and/or chapter-by-chapter, picking out what the main “beats” and most important themes are, and then re-read your draft and make sure you’re hitting those clearly. Consider cutting out the pieces of your story that don’t contribute to those, and definitely cut the pieces that distract from those key moments (unless, of course, the distraction is the point.)
  17. Re-read a section you think could be cut and see if any sentences snag your attention. Poke at that bit until you figure out why – often, it’s because the sentence is unnecessary, poorly worded, unclear, or otherwise superfluous. You can often rewrite the sentence to be clearer, or cut the sentence completely without negatively impacting your work.
  18. Be prepared to cut your darlings; even if you love a sentence or dialog exchange or paragraph, if you are working to a strict word count and it doesn’t add anything, it may have to go, and that’s okay…even though yes, it will hurt, always, no matter how experienced a writer you are. (Tip? Save your original draft, and/or make a new word doc where you safely tuck your darlings in for the future. Second tip? If you really, really love it…find a way to save it, but understand that to do so, you’ll have to cut something else. It’s often wise to pick one or two favorites and sacrifice the rest to save the best ones. We are not saying “always cut your darlings.” That is terrible writing advice. Don’t always cut your darlings. Writing, and reading your own writing, should bring you joy, even when you’re doing it professionally.)
  19. If you’re having trouble recognizing what in your own work CAN be cut, try implementing the above strategies in different places – cut things, and then re-read, and see how it works, and if it works at all. Sometimes, you’ll realize…you didn’t need any of what you cut. Other times, you’ll realize…it no longer feels like the story you were trying to tell. Fiddle with it until you figure out what you need for it to still feel like your story, and practice that kind of cutting until you get better at recognizing what can and can’t go without having to do as much tweaking.
  20. Lastly…along the lines of the previous…understand that sometimes, cutting your story down to a certain word count will just be impossible. Some stories simply can’t be made very short, and others simply can’t be told at length. If you’re really struggling, it’s important to consider that your story just…isn’t going to work at that word count. And that’s okay. Go back to the drawing board, and try again – you’ll also get better at learning what stories you can tell, in your style, using your own writing voice, at different word counts. It’s not something you’ll just know how to do – that kind of estimating is a skill, just like all other writing abilities.

As with all our writing advice – there’s no one way to tackle cutting stories for length, and also, which of these strategies is most appropriate will depend on what kind of story you’re writing, how much over-length it is, what your target market is, your characters, and your personal writing style. Try different ones, and see which work for you – the most important aspect is to learn to read your own writing critically enough that you are able to recognize what you can cut, and then from that standpoint, use your expertise to decide what you should cut, which is definitely not always the same thing. Lots of details can be cut – but a story with all of the flavor and individuality removed should never be your goal.

Contributions to this post were made by @unforth, @jhoomwrites, @alecjmarsh, @shealynn88, @foxymoley, @willablythe, and @owlishintergalactic, and their input has been used with their knowledge and explicit permission. Thanks, everyone, for helping us consider different ways to shorten stories!

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How can I return to writing after a long hiatus?

This post is based on a conversation we had in the Duck Prints Press LLC Discord, and all contributors comments have been used/paraphrased/integrated into this post with permission. The people who contributed ideas to this post are: @nottesilhouette, @ramblingandpie, @arialerendeair, @tryslora, @deansmultitudes​, @theleakypen​, Owlish Intergalactic, myself (I’m @unforth​), and one who preferred to remain anonymous).

Few things are harder than coming back to writing after a long period of not writing. Being creative takes a lot of energy, and starting after not doing so for a period of time takes even more energy. The writers on our Discord had a really productive discussion, where we talked about strategies we’ve each personally used to help us get our writing mojo back. None of these methods work for everyone, but if you haven’t written in a while, maybe one of these will work for you!

How to Revive that Creative Writing Spark:

  • doing sprints with a friend – knowing you’re all in it together can really help!
  • talking with writing buddies about what you’re each working on – the shared enthusiasm can be really helpful,
  • journaling, about daily life, or about dreams you’ve had – turning the dream into something coherent can be a great strategy (or, don’t bother, and just write it however crazily it took place!)
  • pick a random story you wrote in the past and read a chapter, paragraph, or 500 word segment – and look at it as a reader, say things you liked about it, praise it, emphasize the good things about your own writing.
  • transcribe a song with lyrics you find inspiring, or crack open a favorite book and transcribe a few paragraphs. You can even do it with something you’ve written yourself!
  • set a low-pressure, low-word count deadline – make it public, if you’re the kind of person that helps, or keep it to yourself.
  • sign up for a zero-consequence challenge, such as a bingo, or the Duck Prints Press #drabbledaysaturday prompts on Twitter – something where no one will mind if you don’t succeed, but you might find some inspiration.
  • create a small goal, either daily, weekly, or monthly – it can be a time frame (I’ll write for 5 minutes a day!) or a word count (I’ll write 1,000 words a month!) or even something tiny (I’ll write one sentence a day!) or a public sharing goal (post a ficlet a day!) and then do your best to stick to it, and reward yourself when you succeed.
  • open your ask box or otherwise solicit short prompts – for example, do a “three sentence” meme (”send me a pairing and a trope and I’ll write a three sentence fill”) or a story title meme (”send me a story title and I’ll write a little about the story I’d create with that title”) or an emoji prompt (”send me three emojis and I’ll write a ficlet”) or make your own fun one that will bring you joy (one of our writers created a “name two characters and I’ll make them kiss in six sentences or less” meme that helped them a lot)
  • participate in a prompt month, something with no consequences for failure but with prompts that can inspire daily ficlet.
  • write without editing, and just throw what you create out into the world – anything to get the words flowing.
  • challenge yourself to write a drabble day, no more and no less.
  • try changing how or when you write – get a nice journal and write by hand, or if that’s your normal, try writing in a word document instead.
  • write at different times of day, and see if it’s easier for you over breakfast, or after lights out, or during your lunch break, or by stealing a few minutes while you’re “on the clock” at work.
  • make an attempt at different formats of writing – if you usually write prose, try a poem; if you usually write really long things, try a drabble.
  • look out your window, or find a place you like, and just describe what you see.
  • do some free association exercises – for example, use a random word generator (I use this one sometimes) and then write literally whatever word comes into your head next – keep going until you fill the page, or until it starts to turn into a story, or just until you don’t feel like it any longer.
  • pick a random sentence (the person who suggested this often uses “Just write anything”) to be the start of a story, and “pants” your way through whatever comes next, without worrying about grammar, continuity, logic, or much of anything.
  • plan ahead – schedule your writing time and don’t let yourself put it off (rewards for success are always good!) and/or visualize exactly what you want to write ahead so you’re ready when you sit down.
  • if you get hit by inspiration, don’t put it off – even if all you do is scrawl a sentence in your phone or on scratch paper between other tasks, get it out of your head. Even a single sentence is a creation!
  • get out of the spaces where your usual things are – go to a park, or on a hike, or in your backyard, or even a different room in your own home, and bring a journal or phone or laptop, and see what strikes you.
  • pick That Thing You Haven’t Been Letting Yourself Write and ignore all the things you Think You Should Be Writing and just…write what brings you joy
  • fanfiction can be very helpful, especially in canon using canon-compliant ships/characterizations – there’s no need to do the heavy lifting. Even if you just write the characters going to a grocery store, or talking about what movie they want to watch, or arguing over take out – something short and sweet that’s just for fun, with no expectations for yourself or anyone else.
  • alternatively, if you’re the type who writes better for others and you’re feeling down – knock out anything, even something short, and post it, and take joy even in a single like or kudos. Knowing even one person out there loved what you wrote can really help.

Any or all of these may help you, but there’s one final one that I, at least, think is the most important of all – and that’s helped me most.

  • FORGIVE YOURSELF. You have work in progress up. It’s okay to leave them. You told someone you’d write something for them. It’s okay not to. You have a deadline looming. It’s okay to ask for more time, or to withdraw, or – in the end – it’s even okay to ghost. You think what you’ve made is bad. It’s okay if it’s bad. You’ll never be able to create when you’re raking yourself over the coals. Everyone in fandom has “been there” – has missed deadlines, has left challenges, has abandoned works in progress, have reneged on a promise to a friend to write something. Until you forgive yourself, you’ll never be able to create anything, and isn’t even a single sentence that isn’t on that Big Important Thing better than no sentences on anything?

Forgive yourself, and find that spark, inspiration, muse, whatever you want to call it – and write things that bring you joy.

We believe in you!

YOU CAN DO IT!