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Capitalization and Em Dashes and Parentheses and Dialog, Oh My!

Two weeks ago when we posted our “Formatting Tweaks to Help Your Typesetter Have a Great Day” post we mentioned that the “Capitalization Quirks” section became so long that we decided to break it out into a separate post. That didn’t get put up last week cause of debuting May Trope Mayhem, but the time is NOW!

Capitalization Quirks, or: How to Get More Capitals and Lowercase Letters Right So Your Editor Has One Fewer Thing To Do!

At the most technical, literal, simplistic level, all sentences in English should start with a capital letter. If you google “should I always start a sentence with a capital letter,” all the top results say yes. But! That’s overly simplistic. For example:

“I was just saying—”

“—That you’re tired.”

That’s wrong, because it’s not a new sentence. The “—t” needs to be lowercase. Thus, this should read:

“I was just saying—”

“—that you’re tired.”

Then, there’s sentences that “trail in” with an ellipse. For example: 

“…when did you say that?” 

This one, on a technical level, could go either way. Duck Prints Press goes with lowercase on this, using the same reasoning as the em dash case: it’s not a complete sentence, more of a fragment.

Some other examples where there shouldn’t be a capital (I’ll bold the letters that shouldn’t be capitalized).

Case 1: “In any event”—taking a deep breath, she flopped into her chair—“it is what it is.”

Case 2: After I got to the event (which took way longer than it should have, but that’s a different story!), we went to our seats together.

Case 3: Every time he thought he was finished—every time!!—he realized he’d made a mistake and had to start over.

Those cases are relatively simple and clear cut. Not all sentences will be. Often, when writing dialog, people use many permutations of sentences, not-sentences, ellipses, em dashes, and more. Keeping track of what needs to be capitalized and what doesn’t requires knowing a lot of quirky rules. People especially often end up confused about when text following quotes should have a capital letter and when it shouldn’t. The rule of thumb is, if the text in question is a dialog tag, it should be lowercase, even if the dialog before it ends in a question mark or exclamation mark.

(Again, bolding the lowercase/uppercase letter in spots where people most often get mixed up.)

“This example needs a lower case letter after it,” she explained.

“Does this—?” he started to ask.

“Yes!” she interrupted.

“What about this one?” he said.

“Yes, that one too…” she replied, sighing.

If, on the other hand, the narrative text after the dialog is an action (as in, not a direct dialog tag indicating how the thing was said), then it should be uppercase.

“I’m still confused how this works.” Rubbing his brow, he took a deep breath.

“I promise it’s not that hard.” She grabbed a pen and a piece of paper and started writing down examples.

To help keep clear when to do this: if what you write can be replaced with say/said and still make sense, then it’s a dialog tag. If it can’t be, then it’s not a dialog tag and it should be capitalized.

“I don’t know when what follows counts as a sentence and when it doesn’t,” he pointed out with a frown.

“It depends how you’re describing what the person said.” Her voice took on a frustrated tinge.

But! That’s not all!

“What about if I, I dunno…” He looked at the examples she’d written down. “What if there’s more dialog after the first thing said and the first batch of narrative description?”

“Then”—she grabbed the pen and started writing more sample sentences—“it depends. For example, if I’m interrupting my own dialog with an action and no dialog tag, then it should probably be between em dashes, and only the first letter of the first sentence is capitalized. But if instead I interrupt myself with a dialog tag,” she continued, “then that uses commas, and again, only the first sentence is capitalized.” She paused, took a deep breath, then added, “But because that’s not confusing enough, if I stop, then use a narrative line that ends with dialog tag and a comma, then keeps going as dialog, then both the narrative sentence and the start of the dialog sentence needs a capital.”

“What about if everything is a sentence?” He grabbed the pen from her hand and scrawled down a few notes. “Then is everything capitalized?”

She threw him a thumbs up, an unspoken “you’re getting it now!” implied by the gesture.

Aghast, he blinked at what she’d just demonstrated. Finally, after working his mouth in silence for at least a minute, he managed:

Does this ever make sense?”

“No,” she allowed, “but when you do it enough you start to get used to it.”

Yeah, I’m sorry. It’s the worst. I probably forgot at least two permutations, too, but I tried. Fixing capitalization on all of the above is a constant effort. Good luck?

All of these more-or-less follow the established rules of dialog capitalization, but there are some cases that simply don’t have a standard. For these, it will often depend on which style guide is being used, what editor is doing the work, what each individual publisher has decided, etc. Here’s some examples, with explanation of what they show.

“I don’t— Like, what am I supposed to do if there’s no standard?” Frustration was clearly starting to get the better of him. (This is: self-interruption to start a new sentence—we use: em dash + space + capital letter.)

“Hmm…probably your best bet is to just pick a way to handle each case and make sure you’re consistent.” (This is: self ellipse-marked pause/trail off that continues as the same thought—we use: ellipse + hair space + lowercase.)

“So if I…I don’t even know… What if I can’t remember what I did before?” (this is: trailing off, then continuing with a new sentence—we use: ellipse + space + capital.)

“Just—just—just figure it out! How am I—just a person trying to give a tutorial!—supposed to predict every kind of dialog you’re going to want to write?” she spluttered. (First part is: stutter/self-interruption, incomplete/continuing thoughts—we use: em dash + lowercase (no space). Second part is: em dash interjection in dialog, which uses the same rules as em dash interjections in narrative—we use: em dash + lowercase (no spaces).)

“Wh-wh-wh-what, that’s all you have to offer?” (This is: stuttering incomplete words—we use hyphen + lowercase (no spaces).)

Damn it… Do you really expect me to make all the decisions for you? she thought…but then she realized she should be kinder—this was hard stuff! “I guess I’d just suggest…make yourself a ‘personal formatting’ doc and write down how you did…whatever you did…when it came up?—that way, when it happens again, you’ll at least have a paper trail so you don’t have to scroll back to check what you did.” (This is: the same approaches as described above before, applied to thoughts and narrative text.)

And, that’s basically that! Did I miss any? Questions? Comments? Thoughts?

In conclusion…

“I hate English,” he grumbled, taking up a lighter and burning the paper on which she’d written her examples.

“Me too,” she agreed fervently.

Uh…happy writing? Or at least good luck!!!

*

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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:

image

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 + * )

image

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!)

image

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!

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Solicited Brilliance

Hey everyone! This is Aria, one of the resident fandom olds here to bring you a guest blog post this week. The topic is near and dear to my heart, so let’s dive straight into talking about that ever-ominous thundercloud – Writing Advice! 

Writing advice is a tricky subject for many authors – what works for one clearly doesn’t work for another, and what’s essential for one genre might not even apply to another genre . (Certain authors can pry adverbs from my cold, dead hands.) It doesn’t matter who is offering it, where, or when: it is an industry truism that writing advice is as varied as writers themselves. 

With that in mind, I asked ten different authors for writing advice, in the hope to highlight just how different we all are, even when approaching the same question.

The question I posed to everyone individually (so no one would get worried if they gave the same answer), was as follows: What is one piece of writing/writerly advice you hold as a Universal Constant? That no matter what you are writing or what you are working on still holds true?

As I hoped, the advice is as varied as the authors are!


@nottesilhouette:

Hmm I think for me, the Universal Constant is that [my writing has] got to make me feel good. Not necessarily happy, because I’ve definitely written through tears before, but it’s got to make me feel…satisfied, or give me catharsis, or lead me towards a goal I’m passionate about (looking at you, med school essays!). 

Even if [my writing is] for school, getting things done feels good, and for creative writing, I want to feel like I’ve stretched my writing brain or accomplished something cool — if I’m not getting that feeling, it’s time for a break and maybe a new plan of attack.


Hermit:

“You can’t think your way out of a writer’s block. Most of the time you need to write yourself out of a thinking block.” – John Rogers

When a story is fighting me this is often the solution. Either the scene is going against the characterization, the characters are lacking agency/being too passive, or I went wrong three sentences back; the answer to getting the story flowing is to write it differently and see how that feels. Rather than try to force an existing scene by coming up with better justification for an OOC (Out of Character) passage or diving into a new research rabbit hole.


Shadaras:

I don’t know where this advice first came from (it’s one of those things that just gets passed around until it’s from the general writer mindscape, especially in fandom spaces), but this is the advice I tend to ground myself in: “Write what you want to read.” What that means can vary depending on context, of course, but it gives a guiding point to return to when I’m stuck. 

The thing I want to read could be a specific character dynamic, or leaning into descriptions of the environment, or a plot beat I really want to hit, or even (in a nonfiction context) just the clearest explanation of an event/rule I know how to give. Writing what I want to read means that I’m going to enjoy myself more, and that means that I’m going to be able to write much more easily, and that makes it more likely I’ll finish stories and be able to share them with other people – and then I can find people who like the same things in stories I do, and we all win!


Annabeth Lynch:

The most constant advice that I really try to keep in mind is that sure, someone else may have written it, but not you. Everyone has unique experiences, and that makes your writing unique. No one can write something the exact way you would. It’s my favorite advice I’ve ever gotten, and I feel that it’s always relevant.


@ts-knight:

Writing by habit is often easier than waiting for the muse. When I feel out of practice in my writing, I find that starting again is an uphill climb, but setting a daily goal helps me get back into the flow. That goal could be just writing at all or a certain (achievable) number of words. That way, I know I’ve reached the goal not when I’ve hit a certain quality of writing, but when I sat down at the keys. Exercising my writing muscles (even when I’m afraid to) makes the creativity flow so much better than avoiding the ominous blank page!


@mad-madam-m:

[My writing advice is] that you have to finish. And I don’t mean that you have to finish everything that you write; I’ve got easily a dozen stories or more that are either unfinished or never made it past the first draft. But if you’re writing with the goal of sharing your stories with an audience, be that via fanfic or original fiction or what have you, I really think one of the best things you can do is learn to finish them. This quote about it in particular is one that I’ve held close to my heart for years:

“Finish. The difference between being a writer and being a person of talent is the discipline it takes to apply the seat of your pants to the seat of your chair and finish. Don’t talk about doing it. Do it. Finish.” — E. L. Konigsburg 


Sanne Burg:

I think my universal constant is that I write because I want to write, and I create for myself. That means not caring what other people think of the topics I write [about], as long as I’m behind whatever it is I’m writing. (It also means that I know when I’m forcing it and that I need to stop when writing becomes a chore rather than something for fun or a hobby.)


@theleakypen:

I think the one [piece of writing advice] that has been truest for me, regardless of what I’m working on, is that if something isn’t working [I should] step away from it for a bit and go work on something else. Usually if there’s a problem, I need to let it percolate in the back of my head instead of banging my head against a wall.


ThePornFairy:

Focus on the feeling. If you can write the feeling so that it’s filling you from the tips of your toes to the hair on your head, then you’re on the right track. People don’t care half as much about the setting and wording as they do about the feeling. 

When people say “step inside your character”, I think what they mean is “let your character feel and feel along with them until feelings come out on your page and stab your reader’s eyeballs until they’re feeling right along with you.” Everything else can be edited later, as long as you capture and express the emotions.


@tryslora:

Fall in love with your characters. If you don’t love them, no one else will. And yes, this includes the antagonists and every single side character. And while you’re doing that, remember that every single character thinks they are the star of their own narrative, so let them tell you what it is, even if it’s not the main storyline. Let them come alive.


Wonderfully said, everyone! I’m going to add my answer to the question as well, because sometimes, I’ve needed this reminder far more than I’ll admit! 

@arialerendeair:

Don’t be afraid to write badly. Or poorly, or lazily. (Take that, Mr. Adverb-Hater.) There is a freedom I never realized before in allowing myself to write “badly:” to overuse certain words, phrases, and even styles as I write my rough draft. When I remember not to focus on the minutiae of a story, I can focus on the bigger problems, and fix the small ones later. Once the words are on the page, they can be fixed, but they have to be put on the page first. Write badly, edit, learn, get better, and write again. 

Writing advice as a topic is a mix of controversial and contradictory; all advice should be applied in moderation rather than treated as an endless stream of syrup being poured over a stack of pancakes. (And now I want pancakes…) It’s always all right if advice doesn’t apply to you – but understanding why the advice is given is important. There are other authors out there who might need the advice that isn’t right for you.

When I set out to write this blog post, I had two goals. The first was I wanted to highlight how varied writing advice and tips can be. The second one was for everyone reading it to walk away with one piece of advice that they could hold to heart because it fit them. I accomplished the first, but the second is entirely up to every author reading this. 

The one consistent theme through all of this advice comes down to two words: Keep Writing. Whether that’s daydreaming about your story or putting the words down on the page, write. 

Keep writing. 

Last, but not least, I’ll leave you all with the same question, because I know there are more answers out there that we all would love to hear:

What is one piece of writing/writerly advice you hold as a Universal Constant? That no matter what you are writing, what you are working on, still holds true.

Stay sassy, everyone!

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Dialog Prompts: Creature Culture Clash!

Aliens, shifters, and monsters live among us. Perhaps they have since the dawn of time, or perhaps they’ve recently arrived from the stars or found themselves the owner of a shiny new fur coat during the last full moon. However long they’ve been around, and whatever their reason for being here, one thing’s for certain: when human and creature lives become entangled, shenanigans are bound to happen. Here are some fun prompts to inspire stories about the messy, sometimes hilarious, and always intriguing ways alien and creature lives can collide with our own.

  • “So, my grandpa has this story he tells at family gatherings without fail … it goes like this … … so now he’s convinced aliens/monsters really do exist.”

“Well, about that … funny story…”

  • “I thought you knew! I told you at the club on your birthday. I’ve been open about it ever since.”

“I thought you were joking!”

“For four months? All of these conversations and you thought it was a joke and went along with it for four months?!?!”

  • “When you said not to worry, you just had a few legal troubles to sort out, I didn’t expect to end up in a cell on a starship two-thousand light years from Earth.”
  • “All right, I’ve had enough. It’s time you show me what you do out there in the woods every month. No more secrets.”
  • “Why is that person looking at me like I’m a piece of meat. Like, literally, a piece of meat.”

*coughs* “Oh, well, you know, they’re a…”

  • “I’ve always been drawn to the stars.”

“Perhaps there’s a reason. There’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you, but you might want to sit down first.”

  • “So… this is what you really look like in the morning? I…uh…think I can get used to it.”
  • “Wait, the penalty for doing that is what where you come from?”

“It’s death, obviously!”

“But they hardly did anything wrong!”

“Uhhhhhhh.”

  • “You are going to tell me right now why you stole my identity and…uh…my face.”
  • “Local cryptids need love too, so I made a dating app for them.”
  • “Wait, so humans can hide their extra eyelids too?“

“What do you mean, humans?!!?“

  • “Ugh I hate when I have these dreams where my [alien/monster feature] won’t go away! Wait. This isn’t a dream!”
  • *Growls* “I very carefully planted all those myths and legends to scare folks so they’d leave me alone.
  • “You’re under arrest for breaking interstellar code 327.25 section B subsection 12. You have the right to…”
  • “That is the most ridiculous alien costume I’ve ever seen. Aliens don’t look anything like that!”

“How would you know?”

  • “Why [name] what big ears you have…”

“You know, that joke is getting old.”

*

There’s so much potential in confusion between people of different species. These are just some ideas – we hope you loved them!

Now, go forth and write some things!!

*

Prompts by @owlishintergalactic, @alessariel, @unforth, and @ramblingandpie

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Writing Quick Tip: that v. which

Determining whether to use “that” or “which” in a sentence can be a challenge. Sometimes, it’s obvious…

If you’re discussing what option to pick from among multiple options, “which” is correct.

Ex: “Which hat should I buy?”

If you’re indicating/identifying a specific, finite object, “that” is correct.

Ex: “I will buy that hat.”

However, it can appear more confusing if the sentence is more complex, or phrased unusually. But, it’s not actually more confusing – there’s a quick, easy rule to help determine when to use which option (use “which” there because we’re talking about multiple options!). In complex sentences, that/which usually are used with clauses. If you can remove the clause without altering the meaning or reducing the clarity of the sentence, then “which” is probably correct; otherwise, “that” is probably correct.

Ex. 1: “I will buy the hat that is green.”

Explanation: this sentence specifies, with a clause, that I am specifically buying the green hat. If that aspect of the sentence is removed, then necessary information is lacking (the person I’m speaking to will no longer know which hat I mean!). Grammatically, this is called a defining (or restrictive) clause – it’s a clause that defines the thing being described, and marks it as “this specific thing (as opposed to any other thing).”

Ex. 2: “I bought the hat, which is green, to wear to school.”

Explanation: the clause is an interjection which is not necessary to convey meaning, it simply add flavor. If it’s removed, the essential point of the sentence (that the hat was purchased to wear at school) remains. Grammatically, this is called a non-defining (or nonrestrictive) clause – a clause that isn’t necessary to define the thing, and when removed won’t have a major impact on the reader’s ability to know which thing is being described – “I’m interacting with this thing (and, coincidentally, this thing has this trait).”

So, just remember: if the clause is essential to conveying the full meaning of the sentence, use “that.” If the clause can be removed without impacting the sentence’s meaning, use “which.”

Have a writing or grammar question? Feel free to drop us an ask any time!

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Additions to Our Management Team!

We just wanted to take a minute to draw some attention to the updates to our management team page as we welcome some new staff to our ranks! First, Adaille, who was a member of our founding team but had to take a step back due to personal reasons, will be returning to help with management and to do editing on our upcoming anthologies She Wears the Midnight Crown and He Bears the Cape of Stars. We also invited five specialists to our team. All are people who have worked with us before as authors, artists, graphic designers, or in other roles. We’re really excited that they each agreed to take on more active roles in the Press!

Transparent Duck Print Divider

Miss Aceriee is our art advisor, merch reviewer, and artist mentor. Biography: Hi! I’m Aceriee and I draw sometimes. I’ve been drawing all my life, but after falling into the Supernatural fandom in 2014 I’ve mostly focused on fanart.

Links: Instagram | Tumblr | Twitter

Willa Blythe is joining us to help with our social media presence, event running, marketing, and communication. Willa made her storytelling debut at age 4 with indie smash, Sam the Stinky Skunk, and she hasn’t stopped writing since. Her first audience – her grandparents – shared a love of art and craft with her that remains central to Willa’s writing practice over thirty years later. Today, she lives in New York with her family, and primarily writes queer romance and speculative fiction.

Links: Personal Website | Twitter

Adrian Harley works with us as a copy editor. Adrian is an almost-lifelong North Carolinian and a fantasy fiction aficionado who didn’t start delving deep into fandom until adulthood. They are an editor of research by day and an aspiring novelist, also by day. They go to bed early. They have short stories forthcoming in OFIC Magazine and future Duck Prints Press anthologies. They live with their husband and a perfectly reasonable number of cats.

Link: Twitter

Hermit, whose name is Christine, does most of our manuscript text formatting and graphic design. Christine is a Canadian-based writer, fandom enthusiast and cooking afficionado. When she’s not working she offers custom typesetting for various projects because fonts are pretty and all the amazing stories that get created deserve to be made beautiful. She’s handled the typesetting of the previous DDP anthology as well as the press-related title “Commit to the Kick” by Tris Lawrence.

Links: Pillowfort | Tumblr | WordPress

Sunny Powell advises and helps the Press with graphic design. Biography: science and working hard to change the world one act of kindness at a time. I’m a graphic designer by day, a multimedia creator and writer by night, and I’ve been involved with various fandom communities for nearly twenty five years. I live in Portland, OR with my 7 year old son and two cats.

Link: SunnyPowellArt.com

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Story Ideas: Sappy Spring Emoji Prompts

Long time, no Sunday blog post, but we’re back with a seasonal collection of the sappiest, sweetest, emoji-inspired prompts that we could think of! Just imagine your OTP…

🥀: the flowers in my yard had all wilted and I didn‘t know what to do; luckily, you see me looking sad in my garden and come over to help out with your awesome green thumb.

💐: you saw me buy a bunch of flowers and were sad because you thought they were for someone else—surprise, they‘re for you!

🌸: I had a bad day, but then you invite me to see the cherry blossoms together and I realize just how much I love you…so I spontaneously propose.

🌈: it‘s our wedding day and it‘s raining, this is the worst! But then you hold the umbrella over me and point out the rainbow arcing across the sky, and now I think this may be the best day of my life.

🌻: my sunflowers grew so tall that they leaned into your yard; I was worried you’d be upset but instead you say, “I like them there because they remind me of you.”

🌞: I know you‘re a summer person, so I‘ve been waiting for the first really warm day of the year to take you out on a picnic and watch the emerging leaves with you—and today is the day!

☔️: we meet for the first time at the bus stop when I arrive drenched and you extend your nice umbrella over my head without even looking at me.

🪴: honestly, I didn’t think you knew I existed, but when I got sick, you sent me a plant and a note asking me on a date when I got better. I still don’t feel 100% but the plant on my bed stand cheers me up every day.

🌼: you know I love flowers, but we’re broke and there’s no way you can get them for me…except you came home today with a bouquet of wildflowers you picked from a field and I’m so happy I could cry.

💫: you invited me out to look at the stars through your telescope on the first clear night of spring, and I want to support you and share your enthusiasm but it’s so cold I’m shivering…and so you pull me close, spread you coat wide so we can share it. Huddled wonderfully together, we can stargaze together.

🐚: the winter cold is lingering, but I’m thrilled because you’ve surprised me with plane tickets for a beach vacation!

🌬: the first big storm of spring catches me unprepared and everything on my porch flies away! I don‘t know what to do, but the next day it‘s all back on my porch with a note inviting me to dinner. You didn‘t have to go and hunt it all down just to ask me out for a date, I‘ve been fancying you for ages!

🐛: I’ve worried that you were going to break up with me at the end of the school year, but you just bought me a “watch these caterpillars grow into butterflies” kit and I know you’d never do that unless you planned to stick around to watch their metamorphosis with me.

🐣 : there are strange sounds coming from your apartment so one day I go to investigate and it turns out you? are? hatching? CHICKENS? in your one-bedroom apartment, what, why, OMG they‘re so cute??

🐇: I was kind of meh about this date but then it turns out your idea was to take me to an animal shelter to pet the bunnies. You tell me you love them and want to adopt one once you live in a bigger place, and you give me the most earnest, hopeful, vulnerable expression, and…okay, I think I may be falling for you kinda fast? Like, super fast?

(by @unforth and @alessariel)

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Business Update

It occurs to me that I haven’t spoken much on our business Tumblr about certain things going on in the background of running this Press. Usually, on Sundays, we try to post an informational post about writing, a prompt list, or some other significant content, but that’s been noticeably absent the last few weeks, and here’s why.

Hi, I’m unforth/Claire/Nina Waters, any pronouns (I don’t care if people default to she/her, which most do), and I own this Press. I’m 39, enby, aroace, mother of two, and queer platonic married to ramblingandpie. And I’ve had problems with my back on and off for almost 15 years. In the last 4 years that’s very much been more “on” than “off,” and in the last year it’s been continually “on.” Over the summer, it lingered at a constant 2-or-so on a ten scale where 9 is “giving birth without painkillers,” which I have done. Twice. Over the early fall, it was bad enough that I started getting help lifting and moving things. In November, it went into precipitous decline, and I started to get alarmed.

Early December, my doctor said “give it six weeks, see if it goes away on it’s own.” Spoilers, it didn’t. I saw a specialist, finally, on December 30th, and they immediately sent me for an MRI (I’d been trying to get my PCP to send me for an MRI for 4 goddamn years). A week and a half ago I saw the specialist again, and we reviewed the MRI results, and basically, one of my discs is bulging and pinching my spinal cord (less basically, the disc between my L4 and L5 vertebrae is herniated and causing spinal stenosis and radiating sciatic pain down my right leg). At this point, even on massive amounts of painkillers and anti-inflammatory meds, I can’t drive and can hardly walk right now – I get about 5 minutes on my feet before the pain is too excruciating and I have to sit and rest for 5 to 10 minutes before I can do more – and I also can’t sit at my desktop computer at all. And, the meds make me tired and dizzy. The specialist said I should see a surgeon, and while she hedged her bets and suggested there was a chance I wouldn’t surgery, she also considered the case urgent enough that she tried to flag the surgeon down in the hallway and have him see me immediately, and spent the rest of the appointment discussing surgery like it was a foregone conclusion. But I couldn’t make an appointment with the surgeon, because his secretary was out with Covid…and by the time she got back on Monday, the surgeon had also caught Covid, and is out for two weeks, as is another of the 4 total surgeons that the Spine Clinic at the local hospital employs.

I’m seeing one of the ones who DOESN’T have Covid on Wednesday, and again, while there’s a chance I don’t need major back surgery, it’s a very small chance. Based on our research and knowledge and what the pain specialist said (my wife has medical expertise too), we think the only real question on Wednesday will be how soon they’re able to schedule it, considering how bad Omicron is spreading here. The MRI indicates that right now I’m literally continually, potentially, a moment a way from catastrophic nerve damage. Like, if something twinges wrong, I could end up incontinent for the rest of my life, or with permanent leg weakness, or even theoretically paralysis, and I have a list of circumstances under which I’m supposed to go to the ER immediately and have the surgery with the on-call surgeon (who will be one of those same two who don’t have Covid, I feel bad for them they must be SO overworked right now, what a mess). It’d be a huge surprise if I don’t have surgery within the next week or two – we’ve been planning as if it’s a foregone conclusion, and I have a go-bag ready for the ER, because it really is that serious – and once I do, recovery is about 6 weeks of bed rest, followed by months of PT and the slower healing that just takes time.

All that said, post-op success rates on this surgery (I believe it’s a laminectomy?) are very high – if I follow all the medical instructions, I should heal back to 100%, unless I’ve already got nerve damage (which is unfortunately possible but. What can ya do?). Even then, surgery should heal the pain, and I’ll just have leg weakness.

All of which is to say…since early November I’ve been dealing with some pretty damn major health problems. Especially challenging has been my inability to sit at my computer, because that’s where I do most of my writing and all of my graphic work and editing.

I know I’m over-sharing personal things here, and I’m sorry about that – I’ve tried to hold off on sharing it at all, this has been going on for almost 10 weeks, but I think we’ve reached the point where the health issues are major enough, and the impact it has on the business is visible enough, that it’s better for me to simply disclose. I’m not looking for pity; I’m trying to make clear why the business is behind on certain things we’d said are imminent.

Our goal is to have this impact the business as little as possible, but since I’m our only full time employee, and our primary coordinator for major projects, there’s simply a lot we can’t do when my work time is greatly reduced by health issues. The good news is, once it became clear how serious this was, I used basically the business’s entire rainy day fund to buy a nice laptop, so I’m now able to work from the couch (which is about the only place I can sit comfortably). That’s how I’m typing this update – the laptop arrived on Wednesday and I’ve spent the days since getting it set up to do all the things I usually do from desktop, which means I can move forward on some of the things we had to delay.

Specific implications of all the above, as applied to our current projects:

1. The And Seek (Not) to Alter Me Kickstarter is temporarily delayed. We’ll make an announcement (and finally do the cover reveal!!) once we can plan a specific timeline for launch – hopefully, we’ll know that in about a week, after I’ve spoken to the surgeon. In terms of our actual preparedness for launch…I’m behind on my share of the editing, but all the stories have had at least one editing run, and about half are ready for immediate publication. The art is also all ready. We have all the merchandise art ready, and some are in the printing templates. The Kickstarter copy is complete written and edited and has been approved by KS (like, from that standpoint, we could literally launch right now), but only 4 out of the 6 graphics we need are completed; I’m hoping to finish the rest imminently, so that as soon as my health allows and I know I’ll be recovered enough to manage the KS fulfillment (which involves a LOT of box lifting, which is impossible for me right now) we can hit the “launch” button.

2. There are no delays in review of applications for He Bears the Cape of Stars and She Wears the Midnight Crown. We’ve already finished reviewing the applications from “returner” applicants (people who have written with us before on one of our two anthologies or have done a Patreon story with us) and have a preliminary list of accepted authors (no one will be notified until we’re done reviewing all applications). Our team doing the review (myself, A. L. Heard/jhoom, Alessa, P. J. Claremore/Foop, K. B. Vimes, and Lacey Hays/Owlish) are about halfway done with the mlm applications and a quarter through the wlw – I personally am a reader for every applications and I’m finished with the mlm and will be starting the wlw ones today. All of which is to say, we’re making good progress and do not anticipate a delay – we still expect to notify all applicants of their acceptances or rejections by January 31st.

3. The two novels I’m supposed to edit – one by A. L. Heard, the other by Tris Lawrence – I’ve been unable to make progress on, so these are currently delayed, and the authors are in the loop and know.

4. We’re a little behind on Patreon backer rewards, specifically the Patron-exclusive stories. However, we’re working on catching up, and we anticipate that (hopefully) by the end of February, we’ll have published all the backlog and caught up. Other Patreon rewards have not been impacted.

5. There’s a few other things that were in the works when this all started but that we hadn’t publicly announced yet…those are, as would expect, on hold. (As a teaser for anyone dedicated enough to have read this far…this includes our first erotica title and an erotica imprint to go with it, with it’s own logo and sub-website on our main page, and our plans for our fifth anthology, and a call for manuscript submissions, and more!)

As we see it…these are uncertain times for everyone even without “extra” things happen, and something like this health issue couldn’t have been predicted. However, nothing has changed in terms of our commitment to Duck Prints Press and all we set out to do. We truly appreciate your patience and understanding as we, and I especially, get through this. We’re striving to catch up and get back to “normal,” and we can’t wait to share with you all the amazing things that we’ve been working on. And Seek (Not) to Alter Me is a.may.zing, y’all, and the submissions pitches for the two new anthologies are blowing our socks off. Seriously, we’re so excited.

Stay tuned – there’s so, so, SO much more to come!

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What Do We Look For in a Story Pitch?

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

A few notes on this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Less basically…how do you do that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

Pitch by anonymous:

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

*

Pitch by @/theleakypen:

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

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

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

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

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

*

Pitch by @/arialerendeair:

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

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

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

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

*

Pitch by Shea Sullivan:

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

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

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

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

*

Pitch by A. A. Weston:

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

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

*

Pitch by G. Hendrickson:

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

*

Pitch by Adrian Harley:

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

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

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

*

Pitch by T. S. Knight:

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

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

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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?

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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.

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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!)