Pitch First, Think Later

When you’re a writer in 2017, you spend approximately 109% of your time thinking up clever things to Tweet in the vague, vain hope that about forty million people will Retweet it and thus declare you Cool. I’m not 100% certain how being Cool = $$$, but I am assured by everyone it can happen, and so I keep doing it.

Recently, I sent out this Tweet:


It got some play, and I was contacted by writers who thought this was a pretty incredible suggestion. What happens, they wondered, if you sell the pitch but can’t actually write the piece? What if you can’t support your thesis?

Look, freelance writing can be exhausting in the modern age because we’re writing short, punchy Internet essays with a short shelf life. And our corporate masters are insatiable, always eager for more content with which to attract those sweet, sweet clicks. Pitching fast and furious is the only way to make a living; I probably wrote about 500 freelance pieces last year alone, each and every one of them (with perhaps a dozen exceptions) stemming from a pitch.

That kind of volume means you can’t dawdle about wondering if a pitch idea is good (your editors will do that for you) or possible. The best way to pitch is to pitch first and think about it later, and here are three reasons why:

  1. The Doubt. If you think of a great idea for an article but pause to wonder about its feasibility, you will talk yourself out of it. You’ll convince yourself it isn’t that clever, that you’ll never find any supporting information or examples, that no one will return your phone call or email. And then a month later you’ll see a similar idea on another website and you’ll kick yourself. I’ve talked myself out of great ideas and I have always regretted it.
  2. The Speed. You are not the only person furiously pondering things to write about, and great ideas for posts and articles have an odd way of popping into many heads simultaneously. In other words, while you’re researching whether you can even pitch this idea, someone is pitching this idea.
  3. The Challenge. Don’t play it safe. Yes, freelance writing is for profit—but it should be for fun, too. Got a crazy idea you convinced an editor to buy? Have fun trying to make it work.

In Event of Emergency

All well and good, that sense of adventure and the swagger of pitching without fear, but in all seriousness—what do you do if you brazenly pitch a weird idea, get the green light, and then realize you can’t find much information to work with? WHAT THEN, SOMERS YOU ARROGANT ASS?

First off, that rarely happens. If you can conceive of a pitch idea, then it’s within the realm of the possible. And part of writing anything, on any subject, is creativity. If you’re having trouble digging up material for your pitch, get creative. If you can’t get creative in these situations, freelancing may not be your ideal career.

If that doesn’t work:

Widen your search. Don’t be afraid to get a little loose with your interpretation of your own pitch. Look back further in time, or allow for a bit of inconsistency in your examples.

If that doesn’t work, tweak. Contact your editor and see if you can twist the pitch a little to fit what the research is telling you, or just go ahead and tweak the premise. Usually small deviations aren’t a big deal.

Now, don’t get me wrong; a big caveat here is not to pitch wildly insane ideas—you should have some expectation that you can back up your pitch. “Pitch First, Think Later” simply means you don’t need to do all the research and legwork first.

The 2016 Short Story Report

Artist’s Representation of My Literary Career

It’s December—which is kind of amazing, as it was March just yesterday—which means its time to soberly contemplate my life and lifestyle choices, assessing how much good I’ve done in this world. Just kidding. I don’t do anything “soberly.”

No, it’s time to contemplate our short story submission game. As anyone who reads this blog knows, I love writing short stories. And, having written them, I love selling short stories, which ain’t easy. Just about every year I hear that short stories are making a comeback, and this past year the signs do seem optimistic. I have stories in four anthologies in 2015-2017 (Hanzai Japan, Urban Allies, and the upcoming Mech: Age of Steel and Urban Enemies), my story Howling on for More appeared over at Black Denim Lit as well, and Great Jones Street bought a reprint of my story Ringing the Changes (that appeared in Best American Mystery Stories 2006). Not too shabby.

The four antho sales and the reprint were solicited, meaning someone actually contacted me and asked for the story/rights. It’s easy to sell a story when someone has already decided to buy one from you. How did I do with the submission process?

Hell is for Short Story Writers

Last year I submitted 33 stories, and sold 1. This year I will have submitted 51 stories by the time the end of the year comes around, and I have 2 “maybes” to show for it—meaning two markets contacted me and said hey, we like this story, but we’re not sure yet, we’ll hit you up later.

That might seem like a grim statistic, but for me it’s pretty normal. Maybe some writers are more careful with their submissions, or simply better at choosing markets, or, of course, are better writers in general. For me, the most short stories I ever sold in one year is 4, which I accomplished twice, in 2002 and 2006. And in 2002 I submitted a whopping 107 stories in order to sell those 4.

What can I say, short stories is a tough market. I’m told that they’re coming up in the world, as the success of adapting stories into TV and even films is a-booming. And there does seem to be more markets paying a decent per-word rate for fiction. And submitting stories is pretty easy, these days; everyone takes them via submittable or email or similarly simple mechanism—it’s a long way from the days when I had to buy double postage and stuff envelopes. Man, those days sucked.

The Trouble with Tribbles

Of course, I wrote 14 new short stories this year; I manage at least 12 a year. Most aren’t that great, but there’s usually one I like well enough to submit, so I have a steady batch of stories cluttering my hard drive. So I don’t mind submitting. And submitting. And submitting. Because what else am I gonna do with these stories? Aside from give them away, of course.

What about y’all? Do you write/read short stories? Are you happy to pay for magazines/websites/anthos that publish them?


Originally written in 2007. In honor of the World Series, I’m reprinting it here.

Mr. Morgan was a great second baseman. Not so much a great play-by-play man. I am not wearing pants.

Mr. Morgan was a great second baseman. Not so much a great play-by-play man. I am not wearing pants.

After lo these many years some of you may know me a little. You may not know what’s in my secret heart (hint: Teddy Bears and Whisky Fountains) but you know certain things: I like The Drink; I have three cats; I am frequently pantsless; I like baseball and no other sports, including sports which are not actually sports, like golf. It’s like we’re old friends, walking hand in hand along a moonlit beach.

So, you know about the baseball. As I write this, it’s early October, and that means it’s postseason time, which in turn means I’m pretty much parked in front of the television night after night, just like I have been for the past 25 years or so. There’s a lot of beer involved, a bit of screaming at the screen, and, naturally, some weeping. The weeping has nothing to do with local teams or anything—I think it’s neat when the Mets or Yankees make the playoffs, but I watched the entire 1991 series between the fucking Twins and the Braves, so I think it’s obvious I just like the damn game. I don’t know much, but I’ve learned a thing or two about baseball on TV over the years. Rule number one is, you’re better off listening to the radio. Rule number two is, Joe Morgan sucks.


Writing: HBO’s WestWorld Teaches Us that Your Audience is The Enemy

teddyIf  you’ve been watching HBO’s WestWorld, then you’re probably pretty creeped out about the coming Singularity that will result in thousands of super-strong robots murdering us all in our beds.

If you’re a writer watching WestWorld you’ve just witnessed a Master Class in Audience Trolling.

The premise of the show is pretty clear: In an unspecified future (we assume) a hi-tech resort is built where the American Wild West is recreated using robots. Essentially this is a sandbox-style video game brought to 3D life; you dress up, interact with robots you can’t tell apart from the humans, and have adventures. These adventures might include killing or even torturing a robot, or having sex with robots, or generally doing whatever you want. Guns can hurt or “kill” robots but are only minor annoyances to Guests.

So, everyone watching the first episode is immediately trying to suss out who’s a robot and who’s real. And the writers know this, and they do what ever smart writer does: They treat their readers/viewers like the enemy and they troll them.


We’re introduced to Teddy, played by the impossibly handsome James Marsden, as he wakes up on a train heading into WestWorld. A few Guests in front of him discuss how much fun the resort is going to be. Teddy comes into town, resist the invitations to engage in a bit of side-questing, and interacts with Dolores, the pretty rancher’s daughter who is programmed to conveniently drop some groceries so Guests can latch onto her storyline.

Teddy has obviously played this loop before. He knows his lines, and before you know it he’s back at the ranch, where Dolores’ father has just been murdered. Now this is some Wild West action. Dolores is menaced by a man in black, Teddy steps forward to defend her … and then Teddy is killed, because (surprise) Teddy isn’t a Guest. He’s a robot.


This is good storytelling for three reasons:

  1. It uses reader’s assumptions against them
  2. It keeps them engaged in what is otherwise exposition—the purpose of the preceding scene is to establish the loop and that robots interact with each other independent of Guests
  3. It ensures that viewers will begin speculating on who is a robot and who is a human, because you’ve established that this is a Trickster Universe

Treating your audience like the enemy means you’re in control of the narrative. Being overly friendly towards your audience means they’re in charge, because you’re trying to please them, trying to anticipate their needs like a good host. The former might seem counter-intuitive—aren’t authors supposed to please their audiences?—but it’s more effective because you’re setting the pace of discovery. And because people like to be tricked.

That last bit is one of the best things you can learn as a writer. Don’t be afraid of leading your readers on. People enjoy it when they’re fooled well. Just be certain your tricks have a narrative purpose.

Newsletters Are the New Black

newsletterThe mysterious and ever-changing formula for riches in the writing world apparently skews heavily towards newsletter signups. How this works, exactly, is mysterious to me. So far I’ve figured this much out:

  1. Launch Newsletter
  2. Lure people into signing up
  3. ????
  4. Profit!

Still, I have a newsletter now, and to avoid the ignominy of having said newsletter descend into chaos and dormancy, to avoid having my writer peers point and laugh at me and whisper behind my back have you SEEN his newsletter? Poor fellow hasn’t sent one out in ages and has a tiny mailing list! I’m going to have to keep thumping it.

So, if you haven’t yet signed up for the Jeff Somers Rocks You Like an (Email) Hurricane newsletter, why should you?

  • It will make us best friends. Benefits of being my best friend include:
    • always being able to stop by for a whiskey;
    • free pass to pet any of my cats (you can even take one home if you like, we got plenty);
    • right to refer to me as “my friend Jeff Somers” and to create and wear T-shirts, buttons, or other paraphernalia referring to me as such
  • You’ll get free short stories, essays about writing, and other content that no one else gets. This includes previously unpublished writing, early or alternate drafts of books, and other arcana.
  • I promise no spam, political rants, religious theorizing, or personal opinions that are not hilarious, about whiskey and baseball, or other harmlessly entertaining things. No one cares what I think about politics, and I am eternally grateful that this is so.
  • Ask Jeff Anything. I’ll answer any question you have, sometimes on this wee blog, sometimes via video on my YouTube channel, occasionally by showing up your door to drunkenly yell at you.
  • Free stuff! I’m planning to offer a giveaway with every newsletter. These will be determined randomly, usually in a panic moments before I have to send out the newsletter. The possible giveaways include:
    • Signed books (likely you’ll be able to request which book)
    • Rare print versions of eBook-only publications
    • Random stuff from my pockets or desk drawers
    • Cash, if I’m desperate enough for attention
  • Stringer.jpgFor example, the next newsletter will be out in November, and I’ll be giving away five super-rare print copies of the Ustari Cycle novella The Stringer, which you can only buy as an eBook right now. Giveaways will be open to every subscriber, but you do have to subscribe to be in the running.

So! Why not join the Super Happy Best Friends with Jeff and Other Benefits Mailing List? I mean, if you can’t be bothered to click the DELETE button just four times a year, to hell with you.

So, pass it on. And send me questions. Or demands. I’m open to anything, really, as long as we get more signups. You can find the simple, easy signup link in the right-hand column of this blog, or here.



The Many Ways My Wife Tries to Kill Me

They Call Me Limoncello Jefe

They Call Me Limoncello Jefe

As every married person knows, the main goal of your spouse will always be to kill you. This isn’t malicious—they married you, after all, so chances are they have some affection for you—it’s more of a game. A fun, sexy game.

Every spouse is different, so the Death Game takes on different forms. My wife, The Duchess, for example—I used to think she was trying to kill me by shocking my system with Homeric feats of shopping, but I was wrong. As our recent trip to Italy taught me, she is trying to kill me by taking me on long, innocent hikes through the wilderness. The Duchess claims that in the “wooing stage” of our relationship I offered to go hiking with her as a way of proving my ardor and manliness. This doesn’t sound like anything I would say or would be able to say convincingly, so I have trouble believing it ever happened.


As some of you may recall, a few years ago The Duchess and I took a fateful trip to the White Mountains in Vermont to hike with some friends. It was a cold, cold day and some shit went down. You can read the full story here, but the TL;DR version is that my knees hurt, we became disoriented and lost in the woods, and The Duchess came thisclose to just leaving me to be eaten by a bear.

At the time, I thought this was just a result of my own frailness and The Duchess’ tendency to panic when bears are rumored to be nearby. But after our Italian avventura, I’m not so sure. I think she’d trying to kill me.


Now, there are many acceptable and fine things to do on a vacation. Drink heavily, for example, secure in the knowledge that you don’t have to wake up early (or at all), and that losing your pants and running through the streets shouting SONNO MACARONI! is perfectly acceptable, or at least tolerated. You can eat until you pass out, you can lay around a beach, shop, see museums—you get the idea. The one thing you’re not supposed to do is work, or exercise, because if you do you’re not on vacation, you’re working. Or exercising. I mean, this is obvious.

Not to The Duchess, who planned our trip to Italy based around the idea of hiking. A lot. In fact, she planned to Go Ham on this hiking thing.

Now, I am an Eagle Scout. What this means in practice is that 30 years ago I did a fair amount of hiking; the longest hike I know I survived was either the Jockey Hollow trail, which is like 7.5 miles, or the time at Cub Scout Summer Camp our camp counselor got us lost and we walked for like 10 hours, so let’s say 100 miles because that’s what it felt like). And I do walk a lot in my everyday life. So I figured, okay, a little hiking infused with red wine, cheese, and pasta, no biggie.

We went to the Cinque Terre area of Italy, which is 5 old villages in the cliffs off the Mediterranean, linked by ancient goat trails. The distances aren’t horrific: 2 miles, 2.5 miles at most. Some people hike through all five towns in one day, in fact.

I have no idea how, because the one thing they don’t tell you about is the stairs.

My GOD, the STAIRS. On our first full day, we set out from the town of Vernazza to the town of Corniglia, about 2.5 miles. It actually wasn’t so bad; the stairs are just carved out of the dirt and set with rocks, which means they’re wildly inconsistent in terms of height and ease of scalability and kind of rough on your feet. And my delicate butt muscles didn’t appreciate them, but I did them, and when we finished the round-trip in the morning we sat down for a delicious lunch of pasta and wine.

And then The Duchess announced we would now hike to Monterosso, in the other direction.

The Vernazza-Monterosso trail is actually shorter, but it nearly killed me because the first portion is all uphill and is all stairs. Stairs after stairs after stairs. Already tired from the morning, my lunch turned into a ball of lead, I was forcibly reminded that alcohol is a diuretic, and my legs transformed into blocks of wood. It’s not a hard hike necessarily, but the steps were killer and I’d already hiked 5-6 miles that day. Plus, there were no taverns along the way, and The Duchess kept up a punishing pace, frustrated because as the day went on the trails grew crowded.

At one point, I realized I was being passed by a variety of people:

  • European men in sandals and flip-flops who bounded up and down the trail like it was a mildly dull bit of everyday exercise
  • Old people using walking sticks
  • Pregnant ladies
  • Ladies with babies strapped to their chests
  • Everyone, basically

So, slightly humiliating. But as The Duchess bounded ahead I had flashbacks to the Vermont debacle and realized this was a long game plot to kill me. She wants me to have a heart attack and perish in the woods, be eaten by bears, and forgotten.

I survived. An hour later, we were seated at a bar in Monterosso and I felt that it was possible to keep on living. Like Popeye’s spinach, booze gives me strength. And now I know: Next time The Duchess plans a vacation that involves hiking, charge up the flasks. I’m gonna need ’em.

Allora Andiamo a Italia



So, as you read this I am either on a plane drinking heavily or in Italy drinking heavily. Or possibly in an airport lounge drinking heavily. Wherever: Drinkin’. Because that’s what one does on vacation when that someone is: Me.

I am a man of various odd rules and requirements that often defy explanation, and one of those rules is that when I travel to a foreign country I must at least attempt to learn a bit of the language. This is partially because of an urge to be respectful to other cultures, partially because tourists who can’t speak any English at all irritate me so I would be something of a hypocrite otherwise, and partially because I very much want to be able to shout help me I am being eaten by a horde of mice when in foreign land. Also: no I am not an agent of the CIA stop electrocuting my nipples or please do not take my reluctance to eat that as an insult.

So, I’ve been trying to learn a bit of Italian. My efforts have been slightly stymied by general incompetence. I’ve wanted to learn a second language for a long time, and I’ve frankly been kind of amazed that I could have grown up in Jersey City, New Jersey and not learned a licked of Spanish. This general feeling of Fail Shame has been pretty oppressive, and whenever I meet someone who speaks English as a second language my jealousy and sense of inferiority is pretty epic.

Because it’s not like I haven’t tried.


I went to an all-boys Jesuit high school, so I took two years of Latin. Latin! Believe me, 14-year old Jeff couldn’t believe it either. Absolutely none of it stuck, of course; I was far too busy memorizing batting averages and masturbating to actually learn anything, which is the Basic Fail of all American education. If you ask me, school should start at age four, then take a break at twelve through, say, thirty, then pick up again. Under the Somers Plan we graduate at age forty, broken and ready to sit at a desk for the rest of our sad lives before being made into Soylent to sustain those who come after.

But I digress.

I also took two years of Spanish, which should have been great, but I left school speaking less Spanish than when I started school. As a high school freshman I had a large complement of curses and insults in Spanish, when I graduated I knew nothing. At one point a teacher tried to convince me that my name would be Gofredo in Spanish, which was confusing; isn’t your name just your name?

So, after four years of letting some kid named Ian do my Latin homework and responding ¡No es bueno! to every exam question, I somehow graduated, but with no usable language skills at all. I can only conclude that I was a pretty cute kid.

Tais-toi, Chien Américain!

The Duchess is determined to travel the world despite the fact that the world is a terrible place, and despite the fact that I do not want to travel at all. I don’t even want to leave the house. I am so in charge of my own destiny, in fact, that I have traveled to several foreign countries despite my oft-stated desire not to do so.

We went to France once, and I spent months trying to learn some French. I worked at it, man, and by the time we arrived in Paris I was confident I had the sort of pidgin French that Americans have been relying on for years. Here’s how every single interaction went:

JEFF: French french french french french.

FRENCH PERSON: <sigh> Want to speak English?

Every. Single. Time.

Now, no doubt my French was awful. No doubt their English was excellent. Still, I remain enraged by these interactions. What’s the point of the immense weight of privilege I drag around with me everywhere I go if I can’t insist on speaking my half-assed French whenever I wish, forcing the poor citizens of France to adapt to my feeble communication skills?

SImilarly, when we were in Florence a few years ago I made an initial attempt at Italian, and upon arrival at our hotel I proudly introduced myself to the owner in Italian, or at least I thought I did. He smiled broadly, and said “Very good! Now we will speak in English.”



A Million Ways to Fail

How I Feel Most Saturday Mornings.

How I Feel Most Saturday Mornings.

One of the most awesome things about writing has to be the almost infinite chances it offers you to fail.

Even if we stick to the slim piece of reality that mortal minds can comprehend, we have quite a list:

  1. First, you can fail to even start writing that idea you have. It’s a nice, clean failure, but a failure nonetheless.
  2. Then, of course, you can fail to finish it. I estimate I’ve failed in this manner about 5,000 times. That’s a conservative estimate.
  3. Or you can finish it and then fail to do anything with the raw material.
  4. You can fail to heed feedback, advice, or proofreading marks.
  5. You can fail to show it around or submit it or make any other attempt to sell the piece or at least have it be read.
  6. You can submit it, and fail to sell it. And fail and fail and fail to sell it.
  7. You can sell it, and then fail to, you know, sell it.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. And the glorious future world we find ourselves in offers even more ways to fail, in terms of promotion and social media. So now you can not only fail to write something, or fail to finish something, or fail to sell it, but you can also fail to be interesting or clever enough on Twitter. The failure involved in writing just one novel is monumental.

And you wonder why writers drink and talk to cats. Well, why they drink more and talk back to cats, anyway.

The worst part, of course, is that most of the time this kind of failure is necessary in order to write anything and then get it out there. In one of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker books, he has a thing about people learning to fly in which he describes it as throwing yourself at the ground, then distracting yourself at the very last possible moment so that you forget to hit it. And that’s writing, sometimes, most times: Throwing yourself at a mountain of failure and then, somehow, distracting yourself from hitting it at the last possible moment and sailing over.

And how do I distract myself from Mount Failure? You guessed it: Whiskey. And cats.





“The Stringer” is Out!

Stringer.jpg The Stringer, The Ustari Cycle #3, is out — 99 cents for a great story that returns to the world of Lem Vonnegan and Pitr Mags.

A frequent question is, Hey Jeff, why is The Stringer number 3 in the series? This is confusing as hell and now I’ve spent my last dollar on ice cream instead of your book.

First of all, I get that: Ice Cream is goddamn delicious, bro. Second of it, here’s how the numbering in The Ustari Cycle works:

1 – Trickster

1 – We Are Not Good People

2 – Fixer

3 – The Stringer

4 – Last Best Day

5 – The Boom Bands

The reason We Are Not Good People is both 1 and 2 in the series is because it was originally going to be two separate books (Trickster and Fabricator), but was combined into one. And Fixer, although it’s officially numbered as #2, is a prequel that should probably be considered 0.5. And we’re blessed with a confusing series numbering system as a result. Yay!

Now go buy The Stringer. Also, We Are Not Good People is still just $1.99 for eBooks.

Writing: Watch Out for the Forgotten Character Detail



So, Roadies, the new show on Showtime from Cameron Crowe is proving to be a Master Class in How Not to Write in many ways. The show doesn’t lack some charm, and the world of a tour crew with a major band is kind of interesting to see, but it’s amazing how far Crowe—who once had a golden ear for dialogue—has fallen in recent years. When was the last time Cameron Crowe made something people talked about in a positive way?

Roadies is populated by likable actors, which is the only reason, really, it’s watchable. And every episode offers an object lesson in writing mistakes. The example we’ll pull comes from the pilot episode, which of course has to do a lot of work to introduce the premise, the characters, the setting, and the season-long conflicts and storylines. And Crowe makes a fundamental, if minor (but irritating) error when he introduces the Quirky Character Detail What is Forgotten Immediately and Never Mentioned Again. This is an error that a lot of writers make in their stories and novels, so it’s useful to take a gander.


In Roadies, Imogen Poots plays Kelly Ann, who has a junior role with the roadie crew. She’s supposed to leave for school in the pilot, but of course is seduced by the love and sense of family she feels with her co-workers to eschew higher education in favor of an adventure on the road—fair enough, a believable if not particularly inspired bit of motivation. Poots is, of course, adorable, and she plays Kelly Ann with a bit of measured intelligence; her expressions of doubt and suspicion whenever someone tells her something do a lot to make her character at least seem interesting.

Now, creating and defining characters is hard. It’s very easy to reduce every character down to a trait, or an ethnicity. In fact, a lot of writers start off with little more than that, and add in the details later. And sometimes, in an effort to establish a character before you’ve done the hard work with dialog and action to define them, it’s common to attach weird little details.

Now, weird little details can be inspiring when they react with dialog and action. The way Heath Ledger licked his lips as The Joker in The Dark Knight was inspired; combined with his statements, actions, and appearance, it was a wonderful little tic that underscored his squirrely energy. But this goes wrong when it’s the only thing that differentiates a character—but it also goes wrong when you immediately forget all about that quirky trait after introducing it.

In the Roadies pilot, it is established that Kelly Ann eats off of other people’s plates, a mildly rude yet quirky (oh god quirky) little tic. It’s mentioned explicitly as a reason another character doesn’t like her, and then there is a moment when Kelly Ann does it in a very obvious and ostentatious way, to drive the point home.

It’s easy to imagine that Crowe, faced with a character he’d made blonde, beautiful, young, and smart, needed some way to make her seem, you know, interesting. So he gave her this totally innocuous trait, and made sure we noticed it. And then he completely forgets all about it and the behavior is never mentioned again in subsequent episodes. And that’s annoying. It’s a dumb detail, but if you’re going to go through the trouble of putting a flag on it and making certain we notice it as a way of making the character interesting, then you have to remember it. Otherwise it distracts.

So, when writing, keep that in mind: Giving your character a gonzo detail to give them shape and a memorable aspect is fine. Just don’t forget you did it when you start Chapter Two.