Finding a Home for Your Story: Advice on Publication

Way back when I was about 22-years-old, I took a poetry class that changed my writing forever. I’m by no means a poet. I barely managed to write any decent poetry during the class. And since leaving the class, I’ve hardly ever written a poem – except for the occasional one that is born out of a purely emotional moment. But my lack of poetry skills isn’t what I took away from that class. It was actually quite the opposite. I walked away from that course as a newly-infused writer full of confidence and a sense of hope. As writers, we should always be filled with a sense of hope as we tell our stories. And we should always be hopeful that our work will find its intended audience.

That is probably the biggest take away that I received from my professor. She often spoke about “finding a home for your writing.” At first, we all thought she was talking about publication and finding the right magazine or journal to accept your work. That’s not remotely what she meant.

She told us a story about a series of poems she had written, which subsequently got rejected from every place she submitted to. Discouraged, she put them away in a file cabinet and forgot about them. Then, one day years later, she was going through the file cabinet and found them again. She was experiencing some personal difficulties at the time and her own words ended up being exactly what she needed to hear in that moment.

“Sometimes, you won’t always reach the broad audience base every writer dreams of,” she said bluntly. “Sometimes you’ll find that what you created will only reach a few people or even just one: yourself.”

The silence after she said those words covered the room in an impenetrable cloud of thought. I scanned the pensive faces of my fellow students as they digested what she’d just said.

Sensing many crushed dreams in that moment, my professor smiled as she added, “But you also have to keep in mind that your work serves a higher purpose. Everything you pour onto the page is intended for someone to read – to provide someone with whatever comfort they need in that moment. It will always find its intended audience so don’t be discouraged by your words. Use them. They will always be hope for someone who needs to read them.”

To this day, I still get chills when I think back to that moment in class. Every writer has a moment when they defined themselves as a writer – and that was mine, at the back of the classroom, quietly absorbing this poet’s wise words. Yes, we all want to be discovered as the next J.K. Rowling and have our stories printed for the masses, but those grandiose dreams are really us getting ahead of ourselves.

The journey to finding a home for our story doesn’t begin at the end of the road with a publishing contract and an advance; it begins with ourselves. We are our story’s first home. We are the ones who need to take comfort in our own words – after all, they live within us. Finding the hope within our writing will have a ripple effect. So far, I’ve had a couple short stories published and each one was the most honest version of the story in my mind that I managed to tell on paper.

Some Advice: Reputation is Everything

Normally, writing blogs are just about that; most are tips and tricks on how to write better such as eliminating filler, catching redundancies, use Active Voice, etc. Others are more about the business side of writing such as marketing, self-promotion, mailing lists, etc.

In this post, I want to discuss something very near and dear to my heart, but something I see time and time again new authors throw away and that is their professionalism which affects their reputation. For people who know me as Christianmichael Dutton who writes under the pen name Hui Lang (Chinese for Gray Wolf), they know I am one and the same. I take my brand, my persona, and my interactions with everyone seriously. Everything I write here, either a blog post for Dragon Soul Press, a short story for my Red Hoods Page, or a fanfic doodle on my personal FB page, I give 110%. I am a known plotter and I typically plot out a story five or more times before deciding on how I will write the story. Then I get feedback on my work if time permits after I’ve gone through several cycles of self-editing.

Let’s start with a foundational rule:

If you’re an author who wants compensation for their work, you need to treat this as a serious business.

Let’s talk about some things that shows a lack of professionalism and how you can mitigate irreparable harm to your reputation. These things are doubly important when you’re an indie author because you have full control over your writings and publishing.  

You publish a work that isn’t edited or poorly edited. You know why it’s so hard to find a lit agent or a publisher willing to accept your story? This. This is the reason why the big trad houses have an intern whose job it is to simply read the first three pages of every work just to weed out people who cannot follow directions or send in poorly edited works. I frequently download samples of many indie authors’ books. I can’t get past the first chapter on so many of them because it comes across as if English was their second language with the help of Google Translate.

You chose a terrible cover. “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” applies to people, but not to books. If you work with a trad pub house and they slap a cover that looks like stock art drawn by an eight-year-old or you grab a cute image from Pixabay because it’s royalty free, nothing screams out, “AMATUER!” than an amateurish cover. When I see that, I think your writing matches and I don’t even bother to download the sample. If you cannot afford a great graphics artist, then go with a trad publisher who puts out great covers on their books. Check out Dragon Soul Press’ covers and see for yourself the high quality they use. Some are amazingly gorgeous (Shadows of the Fallen, I’m looking at you).

Your writing is lazy. You use Passive Voice. You used tropes and clichés that the big trad pubishers don’t want, so now your book isn’t marketable unless you self-publish. You use a ton of adverbs. You switch POVs more times than spinning on the Mad Tea Party ride at Disneyland. The rule of “Your first million words is crap,” isn’t just some made-up mantra by self-righteous authors of a bygone era. I wrote my first book when I was fourteen. It was crap. My second book was also crap. By the time I had written my third book, I already had written well-over a million words from all the campaign and adventure writing for the table-top role-playing games Dungeons and Dragons and Pathfinder. My third book still sucked. When I finished my fifth book, Fallen From the Stars, it finally looked like something I might be able to market, but it took me over a 1.5 million words to get there. If you want to fast track your learning experience, then get feedback. Serious feedback that doesn’t hold back on where you’re weak.

You don’t leverage social media effectively. As an author, you post cute cat memes, send … ahh … naughty pics to other people, launch a vitriolic diatribe against Flat-Earthers, but support anti-vaxxers, and so on. You swear like a sailor on your media pages, but you write cute furry YA stories. It’s perfectly fine to post whatever you want to post. No one should judge you for that unless you’re harassing people or being an all-around jerk, but keep it separate. Your author page should have your million loyal fans who see you as the awesome writer, and only your close friends and family get to see your cursing sailor, hedonistic anti-vaxxer jaded personality on your personal page.

This advice may come across a bit harsh, but again, review the foundational rule. Treat being an author as a serious business, forge great relationships with other authors and fans, and people will reciprocate.

Happy writing!

Author Interview with Steven Bruce

Dragon Soul Press took a moment to interview Steven Bruce, an author of poetry and horror.


1. What inspired you to start writing?

The inspiration came from needing something to pull me out of a quiet life of desperation. I was between unemployment and warehouse jobs while living in a run-down apartment block.

Steven Bruce
(Photo courtesy of Steven Bruce)

Then one night, I recalled hearing Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart in primary school. And I thought, what if I wrote horror stories. So I got out of bed, switched my old computer on, and, in total ignorance of the craft, spent the night writing. By the time the sun came up, I had written my first horror story.

From there, I never looked back.

2. When did you first consider yourself a writer?

At the very beginning, before I typed the first letter of the first word of the first sentence of my first story.

Before you can convince others of what you are, you have to convince yourself.

3. What is the most difficult part about writing for you?

I find perfectionism during the editing process hampers my output. From time to time, I also suffer from procrastination.

4. Is writing your full-time career? Or would you like it to be?

Yes, I write full-time. Although, I also moonlight as an editor and proofreader.

Thankfully, I’ve learned to live a spartan lifestyle, so I don’t need large sums of money to survive. I can be content with a cup of coffee with a good book in the morning and, in the evening, my wife’s tuna pasta with a film.

I think putting an artist in a nine-to-five, dead-end job is comparable to strapping them in a straightjacket. Not to say that I’m an artist, but I’m definitely an artist type.

5. If you had to describe yourself in three words, what would they be?

Creative, diligent, and sexy.

Disclaimer: The three words above are chosen solely by my wife, who may be slightly biased.

6. Are you working on anything at the present you would like to share with your readers about?

At the moment, I’m working on a second poetry collection titled Caffeine. It’s a collection of poems that delves into what keeps us awake at night. It’s an intimate collection which I hope reaches out into the familiar.

It will be available to buy in August of this year.

It’s my departure from poetry. At least for now. I want to focus more on writing fiction.

7. Who is your favorite author and why?

It’s always challenging to pick a single favourite when there are so many authors I admire.

I often return to the works of Raymond Carver, Ernest Hemingway, Anton Chekhov, and Franz Kafka, to name a few.

However, if I had to pick one, it would be Ernest Hemingway for his brevity.

8. What famous author do you wish would be your mentor?

For poetry, Ezra Pound.

For fiction, Gordon Lish.

9. What do you like to do when you are not writing?

When I’m not writing, I like to visit art galleries, museums, parks, and cafés. I also enjoy reading and going on long weekend walks around Barcelona with Gosia (my wife).

10. Where can readers learn more about you?

The best place would be through my website, LinkedIn, Goodreads, and Amazon.

Author Interview with D.J. Elton

Dragon Soul Press interviewed D.J. Elton, an author of short stories, microfiction, and poetry.


1. How long have you been writing?

I started writing as a child as it was encouraged at school and held my interest. I kept writing over the years, especially poetry. Recently, in the past 5 or so years I have become more focused in getting my work published. So I’ve been quite prolific with poetry, microfiction and short stories. It was bliss on a stick to return to writing, something was fulfilled inside of me.

2. What is the most difficult part about writing for you?

My day usually includes a range of various work-related activities: because other than writing I also teach, promote, liaise, meditate and follow up people and engagements. So I do a lot. Nothing is tricky about the actual writing itself, but finding time to write as much as I would like has been a big challenge. I suppose another difficult thing is getting a heap of rejections all at once; one day I got five and it was so painful. Then you get some acceptances and it balances out.

3. What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good writing?

Engaging descriptions. Characters and dialogue that are interesting, attention-grabbing, page-turning; people want to keep reading and not get bored. I always attempt to adhere to a plot framework but it sometimes gets hijacked by the characters. Several rounds of editing is usually helpful too. I am a short story writer, not a novelist.

4. How do you come up with the story or poem titles?

Mostly I leave it to the end, when I have written the piece. Then a title often comes to mind which is an added extra to highlight the theme. This I find easy. There will always be some words in the work which stand out and are significant for the title. Recently, I thought I will experiment with just a title and write a poem or story from just that. This can be a fun and challenging exercise, eg: “The Dog that could Fly” or “Green Skin.”

5. What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?

I’m in quite a poetry-writing phase these past few months. I can whip up a poem really quickly – I amaze myself in doing this; just writing it out, free-flow. (Not all are accepted or sent for publication of course!) But the ease of the writing of poetry continues to give me a real high, whereas writing stories and even microfiction is a lot more of a calculated process. (I’m a plotter mostly). I mean I would never plot a poem. No need.

6. How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?

I’ve not written novels although I have my work in around 50 anthologies, which includes short stories, poetry and microfiction. I was the team lead for a group of writers last year to come up with a speculative version of Alice and her adventures with the White Rabbit. The title is The Thirteen Lives of Alice. It’s quite a favorite, and completing it in 2021 was a huge challenge although there was a good team of authors on board and a savvy publisher (can I name Black Hare Press?) There’s a novella called The Merlin Girl which is the first thing I ever had published in the past few years. In retrospect it’s very raw but I love the story behind it; a medieval girl comes to the twenty-first century to repair some karma, stirring up the Camelot story.

7. Where do you draw inspiration from?

Nice question. From my life; what I see and experience. I have a healthy imagination so that works well for fantasy and sci fi. Anything that happens can be teased out into a story – this can be morphed into that and so on. Love rewriting faerie tales, folklore stories and myths. There is some great content available and I love to research.

8. Do you have any new stories planned?

At the moment I have about 6 stories I am rehashing, re-editing. I love how the editing one does today would be different in the next round of reading, or in 3 months’ time. I do have a plan for a book of essays on various themes, and have started writing these with a list of topics that continues to grow!

9. Who is the author you most admire in your genre?

I have to say Neil Gaiman. I just so loved The Graveyard Book when I read it. That is something I would like to write. I’m definitely more of a YA author than a horror author. I also like a good Michael Robotham read; he does crime thrillers and has an investigative journalist background. 

10. Where can readers learn more about you?

Readers can learn more at my website, Facebook, and Instagram.

Author Interview with Jarrett Mazza

Dragon Soul Press took time to interview Author Jarrett Mazza, featured in Reign of Queens, Lethal Impact, and Rogue Tales.


1. When did you first consider yourself a writer?

It was my eighteenth birthday and my parents gave me a laptop as their main gift. Realizing that I now had a tool to create stories, I decided to finally act on my creative impulses and began writing scripts, comic books, and novel synopses. However, it was in my second year of university, and I was a huge fan of comics, superheroes, movies, and literary novels, that I began my very first short stories. I didn’t think anything of it, at first, it was just fun, and exciting. Three years later I had my first story published, one year after that my MFA, and the rest just escalated from there. I consider myself a writer the same way I consider myself to be human. I breathe, I eat, and I live, and I’m a writer because I write. It’s part of who I am now, one of the best parts, something I need, desire, and I’m glad I have it. I can’t imagine a life without writing, and I just continue to do it because I can.

2. What comes first, the plot or characters?

It’s combination of things. I think about the story and then the characters, but most of the time, it just all coalesces on its own. I don’t overthink the process. I just do the work, put in the time, and I create.

3. How do you come up with the titles to your stories?

That’s totally a last-minute thing. Most of my work is untitled while writing, and then when it’s done, I conclude with something, generally, I could not have created prior to its conclusion. It can be aggravating to keep changing, and sometimes, I don’t know what the title is going to be. I like thinking about it, though. The brainstorming can be quite entrancing.

4. Is there lots to do before you drive in and start writing the story?

Absolutely not. I am a fountain of perpetual creativity. I usually do dive in right away, and Dragon Soul Press has actually made that easier. There’s so many submission calls, I don’t have time to think about them all. I just love the content and I want to attack it as soon as possible. It’s great to just jump in, propel the narrative, and see where it ends up. I’m lucky to have been welcomed into DSP. I will be writing stories for them for as long as I am able.

5. What is the most difficult part about writing for you?

Nothing. Difficulty in writing is the rejection and the uncertainty, but hey, that’s the game, right? Can’t let it get you down. I just keep my head down and fight, and I like to fight, so I feel like I’m in the right place even when things aren’t going well.

6. What books or authors have most influenced your own writing?

Wow. Tough question. I have so many influences, but my favorite author is Craig Davidson. I love his work so much I could sleep with all his books under my pillow. Also, Michael Chabon, Greg Rucka, Stephen King, Scott Snyder, Lucy Snyder, Andrew F. Sullivan, Zoe Whittall, and Amy Stuart are awesome as well. Books, it’s all about Cromac McCarthy’s collected works, On Writing, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, The Fighter, The Road, Jim The Boy, The Shining, Watchmen, and anything coming out of Wolfpack Publishing right now. I love it all!

7. Who is your favorite character you’ve written?

Too many to count, and too hard to determine. I love them all. Depending on the day, I gravitate to each. I’m just glad I have all of them.

8. Which of your stories were the most enjoyable to write?

So long as I’m writing, I’m happy.

9. What does success mean to you? What is the definition of success?

Success, to me, means fulfillment and progress. Do I feel fulfilled and am I progressing? If so, then to a certain degree, I see myself as successful. I have many visions of a future with writing a part of it, but I prefer not to structure what lies too rigidly. It’s not that kind of job, unfortunately. I just want to be able to do it, and if I can, and if it’s about something, for something…then I’m a success. Also, I need to be surrounded by people I care about. I can’t enjoy any success if I don’t have people who care about me. I’m lucky to have them too.

10. Where can readers learn more about you?

I am on all social media and if you Google me, you’ll see links to my website as well as my published work.