Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Benefits of Writing for Battlecorps

I hadn't intended on adding another post this quickly, not after the one I posted yesterday, but in a private discussion, one of the other freelancers brought up a couple of points that I had completely missed. Below is his the majority of his post:
Craig, if you want more writers, perhaps writing more about why people should want to write, instead of all the reasons they shouldn't write?
Fact checking isn't just a reason for stories to be rejected, but support for when writers need information. Having a professional editor review your writing is a positive.
You never mention compensation. How many stories have you submitted, how long did you spend on them, what's that come out to for compensation? How does that compare to industry standards? How much work is available? Is there additional non-Battlecorps work available (sourcebooks, etc).
How many Battlecorps writers have gone on to publishing non-BattleTech writing? How helpful has writing for Battlecorps been to those writers?
When I read this, I realized he was right. I'd been focused on hard hard it is to get out Battlecorps stories, I never considered extolling the benefits of writing for Battlecorps. That shows you when my head has been, doesn't it?

All right, what does writing for Battlecorps do for you? In no particular order:

First, your stories are part of the Battletech Universe, small parts of the fabric that makes up the the most detailed fictional universe ever created. I'm not exaggerating when I say that. Every sourcebook, every story, every novel fits into a coherent, united vision of a universe. Start Trek cannot say that, neither can Star Wars (Disney is beginning to change that with Star Wars, though.) The characters the writers create are part of the Battletech Universe, as are the events depicted in the story.

Second is the chance to actually become part of the Freelancer's pool. If you can prove that you can write quality Battletech stories again and again, you will be given a chance to pitch for sourcebook writing. I have been a co-author on several sourcebooks, such as Field Manual: SLDF, Total Chaos, Interstellar Players 3: Interstellar Expositions, TRO: Protypes, TRO 3145, and the forthcoming TRO 3150. I also wrote most of  Field Manual 2765; DCMS. In addition to Battletech sourcebooks, I was one of the writers on the Valiant Universe Roleplaying Game, and the next Valiant RPG product, Transcendence's Edge.

Third, it can be an intermediate step from amateur to professional writer. Writing for Battlecorps forces you to hone skills that professional writers need. Skills a such as editing, communications, following instructions or suggestions, and how to act like a professional. It can be a stepping stone to a writing career --- take a look at Battletech writers who have gone on to have their own successful writing careers. Writing for Battlecorps is gaining good experience that will stay with you for a long time.

And fourth, the money. It's not enough to live on --- you still need a day job to handle the bills. But getting a check for three or four hundred dollars is an incredible feeling, and it's a way to have a second job without working 16 hour shifts. The rate can vary ($.03- $.05 a word, rounded to the nearest hundred), but it's a good (If small) chunk of change that doesn't hurt.

So, those are the reason to write for Battlecorps. I hope you will consider doing so.


Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Lack of Battlecorps Stories

I've addressed this a couple of times in the past, but I feel I need to address this again, in a calm rational manner. Mainly, the lack of Battlecops stories.

I am well-aware of the complaints -- I've answered a couple of times when the threads pop up. I am also frustrated, as a Batlecorps subscriber. I also want stories; Short stories, novellas, novels, I don't care.  But it's not as easy as some readers think, and I think it's time to sit down and explain the problems in a calm and forthright way. These aren't excuses --- I don't call for new writers to try submitting to Battlecorps out of some sadistic amusement to hear writers crying at being rejected. (I don't see any submissions outside of the ones that go through the writers' workgroup). I call for new authors to try for the simple reason: the poll of Batttletech writers is shallow. Mind you, they are good writers, writers who write great stories, but they are few.

It's not just one thing; its a number of interlocking factors. The first one is what I mentioned above: A small number of Battlecorps writers. And why is that?

A small pool of freelance Battletech writers. Most of the writing for Battletech is done by a dozen or so people, most of them freelancers. That's it. And of that group, some are good at writing the sourcebooks (The events, rules, sidebars, etc.), but can't write a story. So that's a reduction in the pool to draw from. Look though the pass couple of years of Battlcorps stories and you see the same names popping up again and again. that's because it's that small group of freelancers.

Where are the old guard -- Stackpole, Milan and the rest? Moved on to larger markets and their stories set in their own universes. Could they make guest shots? Maybe --- as far as I know, the door is still open for them to come back and write a story or two. And should there finally be Battletech novels once again, I'm sure some will come back to write those.

So, without them, there has to be new blood to take up the slack, and not may have taken up the challenge and made it through the process.

Stories are not a high priority. Before anyone take it the wrong way, what I mean is that writing for Battlecorps is not a high priority for many of the writers. If Jason Schmitzer, Battlecorps editor, received a dozen quality stories at once, I doubt you find anyone happier in the US than him. But the simple fact is that a slew of thing take a higher priority. Things such as:

  • Real-life job
  • Family 
  • Social responsibilities (Church, organized activities, meetings)
  • Health
  • Other writing (Including original writing, sourcebook writing [with deadlines])

Take my case, for example. I am writing another novel for a non Battletech series. That is my priority at this time. I have a few completed first-draft of stories, but this novel must come first. When I take a break from the novel, I work on editing the stories I've completed. But its a slow process.

Stories submitted, well, suck.  This happens to everyone -- Jason has rejected more than one of my stories over the years, and I know he's rejected stories from other established Battletech/Battlecorps writers. The main criteria to get a story accepted, in my opinion, boil down to two things:

  1. Is it a good story, with solid characters, a plot that holds together and an ending that satisfies the reader in some way?
  2. Does the story fit in the Battletech universe in style, details and tone?

If it doesn't meet both items, Jason's going to reject it. Doesn't matter who the author is, if it's a bad story, Jason's not going to accept it.

I wrote a couple of posts on this blog back in 2012, called the "Dos and Don't of  Battlecorps Writing." They are Here for Dos and Here for Don'ts  If you're interested, go look at them; they will help you with both criteria above.

Time Lag -- preparing the story to be published. So, say a story of mine is accepted today to be published on Battlecorps. I can see it on-line next week, right?


Getting a story accepted isn't the last hurdle; it's the first. After Jason accepts a story, he sends it to a small group of fact-checkers, who check for continuity and look for problems in the story. Everything has to match seamlessly with everything else in the Battletech Universe --- 'Mechs in the wrong time period, wrong unit, wrong terminology, something impossible technology-wise, and anything else that's wrong with the story. Any problems and the story is sent back to the writer with a list of things to correct. The writer makes the corrections and sends it back in. This stage is the most dangerous for a story. I know of stories that were sunk because something vital to the story did not conform to continuity.

Next step (sometimes) is editing. Again, someone goes through the story and looks for mistakes -- this time in grammar and spelling. Sometimes the story is corrected by the editor, but major problems and the story is sent back to the writer for corrections.

Finally, it goes to the layout person, who takes the story and formats it to fit on a Battlecorps story template. They then go through and make sure the formatting is consistent before converting the file into a PDF file. Then it's ready to be published.

Each step takes time, because it's pain-staking work and like the freelance writers, it's done when the person has time to do it. So what sounds like a process that should take a couple of days takes upwards of a month or even longer. with such a small group, it's difficult to get things done quickly.

So, those are the reasons why. It isn't simple, and it isn't right, but its the truth. Catalyst Game Labs is not a monolith company with hundreds of people working in one or two buildings in one location. Instead, it's a few core employees and small groups of Freelancers (writers and artists), volunteers, and Catalyst agents scattered across the world. To most of those who work, they work for love of the game with occasional paychecks for work done. It's a hobby, a hobby they take seriously, but one they must fit into their life that has its own demands.

Writing for Battlecorps is a way to get your foot in the door, to become one of those freelancers I mentioned above. Jason is always looking for good stories and good writers. The more of those he has, the more often there'll be stories on Battlecorps. There's no group of writers outside the current freelancers Jason can consistently call on to write stories. He's managed to get a couple outside writers to write stories, but they are the exception rather than the rule.

That's where the new blood has to come in. Jason need stories, good Battletech stories to publish. Without them, it will be a slow slog for stories. I and the other Freelancers are doing the best we can, and stories are being submitted, but the more the merrier.

That;s all for now.


Saturday, May 23, 2015

Battlecorps Update and Thoughts about a Rejected Story

Well, there's only a little news on the Battlecorps front. Story #1 has been submitted, Story #2 has been sent to the workshop and I'm waiting for a little more feedback before I work on that one and Story #4 is being worked on a little bit at a time. But to be honest, most of my writing time is being spent on my second non-Battletech Outcast Ops novel, called Red Ice. In part, I want to get that written as soon as possible.

I'm working on Story #4 (Story #3 needs major work --- At least 3,000 have to be cut and scenes rewritten --- so that's being worked on last.) when I take a break from Red Ice. I need to cut @1500 out of Story #4, so I need to be thorough and painstaking. It may take me a couple of weeks to do what I need to do on it.

Anyhow, I was talking to Phil Lee, who, in addition to being a fellow Battlecorps writer and in-demand editor, also acts as Jason Schmitzer's assistant. The discussion came around to a story of mine Jason rejected.

The major problem we discussed was not that the story was a bad one, but the story had a similar theme to another story of mine that had already been recently accepted. I personally don't see the similarity in the stories, but the story was rejected. To make a long story short, he suggested rewriting the story so as to change the theme.

Now, I have to think about this; Can I rewrite this story so as to change the theme? I've done it before; taken a rejected story (A very early submission that predates Jason's time as Battlecorps editor) and rewrote it with a new theme. But I had done this only after I had a dozen stories under my belt. It can be done, but it's major surgery; the other story I rewrote had only three characters that survived from the first story to the second, and they were all renamed and personalities changed somewhat. The basic premise is the same, but more focused and a stupid plot twist at the end was removed.

I'll have to look over the story again and see if anything sparks an idea.

And that story experiment I mentioned in my last post? I'll do it after I finish both the novel and the already-written Battlecorps stories. And to add another level to the experiment, I will use the Battletech CCG cards Story Elements Deck (See We'll see what happens together.

That's all for now...back to writing!


Saturday, May 9, 2015

Stories status and Thoughts About a Writing Experiment

Well, I've gotten some feedback on Story #1 from the workgroup, and I'll be looking into those suggestions and making needed changes. As for Story #2, that has gone from 10,700 words down to 8,900 words, and will be cut a little more before turning it over to the workgroup, hopefully, in the next day or so. I haven't done anything with the other three stories yet, But as soon as I make the changes to #1 and upload #2, I'll start looking at those stories.

I've been batting this idea --- this experiment I mentioned in the title --- around in my head for a while. I've been thinking about blogging about a Battlecorps story I would write, from the start, from idea to final draft. detailing problems I come across in writing the story and my solutions. It wouldn't be a detailed description of the plot or the ending -- I have to leave something for you to read if/when it comes out on Battlecorps.

Instead, I would talk about how I came up with the story title, the time and place the story occurs and why I chose that time and location. I would discuss something about the characters I create for the story (I think first-time characters, so as to show my thought process in creating the character). I'd show you what goes into choosing what 'Mechs to use (if the story calls for them). In short, I want to show you the reader how I write a Battlecorps story, from start to finish.

If Jason buys it, you'll be able to read on the Battlecorps site one day. If he rejects it, depending on the story, I may serialize it on this blog, so you can see what I wrote. But I hope that if you read along, you can see what it takes to write for Battletech and try it yourself.

That's all tonight. Time to head for bed!



Monday, May 4, 2015

First Story to the Work Group and a Word About Editing

Well, the first story of the five I mentioned in my last post has been sent to the workshop for the group to look over and C&C. Story #1 went from 10,200 words down to 8,200 words, and it's a sequel to ones I already had published. I won't say anything more about the content, not even the story's name, because there's no certainty that Jason Schmitzer will buy it. If he does buy it, I will post the story's name.

Anyway, how did I cut 2,000 words from a story? The first pass I always look to snip away words --- a couple of words here, a line there, tightening dialogue and description. And after all that, I had cut the story a whole 500 words.

Five hundred words

On a shorter story, it wouldn't have mattered, but that still left me with a 9,700 word story. I was going to have to cut a lot deeper.

I've done it before -- in a previous blog post, (I have to do What?!?!) I had to cut 2,300 words out of a story before Jason would buy it. But I also knew that snips wasn't going to cut it. I had to cut at least one scene.

I knew which scene had to be cut. It was more a character scene than anything else, to show how far the character was willing to go to complete his mission. But I realized that despite how much I liked the scene, it was wrong for the story --- it had only an indirect connection with the main events, a character that appeared nowhere else in the story, and it might not pass the Continuity Hooligans. Which leads to the lesson I learned, that all writers must face; You must cut that which doesn't move the story forward.

And when it came down to it, it didn't move the story along as much as other scenes did. So it went -- all 1,500 words of it. I suddenly had a 8,200-word story, and a second pass made a few more changes without altering the word count. And that's what went to the workgroup.

I never throw a scene away -- it gets saved off into it's own file, on the off chance I can put it into another story. Maybe there is a story in the future that can use such a scene like the one I cut. There's no telling where my writing will take me.

That's all for now --- Check out my ask a writer thread over the Battletech main forum (Want to ask a Battletech Writer something? ---- Round 2!) if you have a question you want to ask me.