Ten years ago (and a couple days, I missed the actual anniversary) I made my first professional fiction sale. It was to Chiaroscuro Magazine, a lovely market out of Canada that is still producing some of the finest, darkest fiction you're likely to find. The email came while I was at my first Worldcon. All in all, it was a good weekend, and a good way to start a career.
When the story came out a few months later, I did something interesting, something brave, especially for someone as socially averse as I am. I sent a link to the story to my three favorite writers at the time (Corey Doctorow, Peter Watts and Richard Morgan) and said 'Hey, listen, don't panic. I'm a real, professional writer, and this story is my first professional sale. I love your work, and I was hoping you'd take a few minutes out of your day to read this, and let me know what you think.'
Crazy, right? To my never ending shock and gratitude, all three of them responded. They all had good things to say, and poignant things to say ("this should have been a book") and were all three gracious and kind in a way that I never expected. Since then I have been amazed at the unrelenting kindness of this industry, the sheer grace with which newer writers are accepted into the fold and ushered forward by their elders.
In memory of this event, I'm doing two things. I hope you'll take advantage of both of them.
First, I am offering two stories for free on Kindle Direct. The first is Memory Analog,
the short story that started my career. The second story is Memories of Copper and Blood
, a novella set in my Wraithbound Universe. These stories will be available for free for the next five days to download on any Kindle device. If you don't have a Kindle, you can download their free app and read them on anything that runs on alternating current.
My hope is that you'll read both stories and see some kind of progression. Maybe you'll see things that I'm not doing as well, or things that I've changed that you wish I hadn't. Maybe you'll decide that I really should stick to novels. Even better, maybe you'll see things that I can improve. We never stop growing as writers.
The second thing I'm doing is a little risky for me, because it's a time commitment. But I was deeply moved by the sacrifice of time given by those three writers ten years ago. I need to pay that forward. Hopefully to you, dear reader.
For the next ten weeks, I will be offering free critiques, one a week. I can't commit to reading anything longer than, say, 20k words, though that limit is fuzzy. I have to warn you that if you submit something to be read, know that I will be completely honest with you. I hold myself to some pretty high standards, and I will hold you to nothing lower. That doesn't mean I'm going to tear your story apart, but I'm not here to simply encourage you. Writing is a fire that you pass through.
Here's how this is going to work. If you want a chance at these critiques, go download those two stories and offer a critique of your own. Send it to my Gmail account, at j.timothy.akers and keep it fairly short. I'll review the critiques and each week I'll offer one of the submitters a critique in kind. I'll be looking for critiques that are insightful and honest. Don't simply praise the work, that's not going to get you on to the next round.
But wait, you say. Aren't the people who need your help the most the ones who aren't necessarily going to be able to provide good critiques? Maybe. But I honestly believe that you need to learn how to be a good reader before you can be a good writer, and that's something I can't teach.
So. Read the stories. Write me a critique. Send it to the email address above. Wait forever for my response. Do not send me your story for critique along with your critique of my work. Let me say that again:
Do not send me your story for critique along with your critique of my work. I'll just delete them.
I don't know what kind of response I'm going to get from this. If it's overwhelming, it may take me a little while to get started. But I'll try to churn through them and each week, contact one of you for your story.
I hope this works out. I hope you get something out it. I hope I can help you half as much as I've been helped by others.
Thanks for your time. Here are the links to the stories. Remember, the first rule of publishing is patience. The second rule is something that we'll have to get back to you on, after the editorial meeting next month.
Memories of Copper and Blood