In my last post I explained the approval process for puzzles (which varies widely among publishers). Once the puzzle is approved, the constructor is in for a wait.
All editors want to have a “queue” of puzzles that are in various stages of editing, and most of them like to have several months’ worth of puzzles at the ready to assure a steady supply for the publisher and allow them some wiggle room if something goes wrong (temporary shortage of acceptable puzzles, vacation, illness, earthquake, World War III, etc.).
Editors frequently change clues. There are many reasons for this – they may need to make the puzzle easier or harder to better fit their planned placement. They may need to shorten the clues for space considerations. They may want to avoid using a clue for a particular word if they just used the same word/clue combination in a previous puzzle. They may find factual or structural errors in the clues. They clearly have their “favorite” clue or clues for a particular word, which gives the puzzle a “voice” that is unique to their publication. Editors may also find a problem in the grid that needs to be fixed, even after approving the puzzle, so those changes get made during the editing process. Once the puzzle has gone through this editing, it’s always a good idea to have a fresh set of eyes look at it from a solver’s perspective (the test solve). This may point out problems in the grid (too hard, too easy, errors, etc.).
The time lag between puzzle acceptance and publication is typically 4-6 months, but it can vary widely. In the New York Times world, Will Shortz occasionally announces the number in his queue by day of the week, and most recently the queues for Monday and Sunday puzzles were really short, while Thursday puzzles were in abundance in his approved queue. There are extreme exceptions. On one occasion I submitted a theme set on a Tuesday, and the puzzle was published the following Saturday! In all fairness this was an exceptional situation, as it was a timely topical puzzle which had been discussed in advance with the editor, and it was an online venue so there were none of the physical logistics of newspaper publication. On the other extreme, I have one approved puzzle that has been in the approved queue for almost 4 1/2 years! I won’t mention the venue, in deference to the editor who clearly accepted more puzzles than were needed 😉 . . .
Right now I have 63 puzzles in approved queues of nine different venues. That’s about a five month supply.
After you’ve sent off your puzzle (or theme query) and waited patiently, you’ll receive a reply. This is always via email, unless, of course if you don’t have email (but you probably wouldn’t be reading this, would you?).
If you sent a completed puzzle, there are three possible answers (these apply to themed puzzles – the majority of puzzles published by the mainstream venues).
- The hoped-for one is an unqualified acceptance. Your puzzle has been approved, and now you have to wait for publication. Mission accomplished!
- The second possibility is a rejection. This happens a lot, even to the top constructors, since most editors receive a lot more submissions than they can use. Some editors will give an explanation for the rejection – often something they didn’t like about the theme, or just that it didn’t have enough appeal or originality to make the grade. Sometimes they have a similar puzzle in the works (or recently published) so they don’t want to repeat the theme. One editor’s standard rejection letter reads “This one’s not for me.”
- The third possibility is a request for revision. In this scenario the editor likes the theme but something about the puzzle needs changing. It could be that one (or more) of the theme entries don’t quite make the grade, and the editor would like to see more possibilities. It can also be that there is incidental fill in the puzzle that isn’t up to par, so a re-do of a particular section of the puzzle is in order. Usually a request for revision will eventually result in an approval.
If your submission was a theme query, you there are several possible responses:
- You may get a flat rejection, which simply means the theme idea is not something the editor wants to pursue. By paying attention to this feedback and also solving or reviewing puzzles published in a particular venue you should be able to develop a sense of what types of themes the editor likes to use, and you can focus future efforts on those.
- If the theme appeals to the editor, you may get a simple “green light” to complete the puzzle and send in the final product. Once that’s done, it will likely be approved, unless the editor is not satisfied with the incidental fill and requests revisions.
- Some editors will respond in a collaborative style, suggesting other ideas for the theme or alternate theme entries. This may result in a bit of give and take until a final set of theme answers is decided upon and you move on to a completed puzzle.
- For some approved themes editors will allow (or require) submission of a completed grid before the clues are written. This give the editor the opportunity to make (or request) changes in the incidental fill which they consider sub-optimal.
Once your puzzle has been approved, it gets in a queue for editing and eventual publication. This will be topic of the next post.
In my last post I discussed my “work in progress” inventory which at that time was 32 puzzles. This post is about what happens next.
Editor/publishers have two different ways of accepting puzzles for consideration. The first (and in my judgment the better) is to allow what are known as theme queries or suggestions. The submission consists of an email with an outline of the theme and proposed theme entries and clues (including alternates if they are available). Once these are received, the editor/publisher can reject the idea, or accept it and ask the constructor to proceed, with either a completed puzzle or in some cases a filled grid (without clues) for review. Occasionally, the editor/publisher will suggest an alteration of the theme idea or even a completely different approach to the theme. Some editor/publishers accept theme queries for large (Sunday-size) puzzles but require completed puzzles for daily-size puzzles.
For most editor/publishers who require a completed puzzle in the initial submission, the puzzle is sent electronically in a file format generated by the construction software. For most constructors this is an application called Crossword Compiler. There are a few that request a different format which requires an “export” transaction. This, fortunately, is an easy process. Only one (New York Times) requires puzzle manuscripts to be printed out and sent by regular mail.
Once the puzzle has been sent off for consideration, there’s nothing left to do but wait, and this wait can be anything from a few days to four months or so. At last count I had 60 puzzles in this “waiting period”. Constructors who are just starting out find this quite frustrating as it seems they’re sending their work into a black hole and waiting for what seems like forever. But eventually the answers start coming back, and next time I’ll talk about what happens then.
Recently I had the opportunity to spend some time chatting with a local acquaintance who has a passing interest in crossword puzzles. Like most solvers, he has little knowledge of how crosswords are put together, so I was explaining to him how it all works. During the conversation, I mentioned that I have quite a few puzzles in a “work in progress” category (I counted them after this conversation and determined I have 32 in that status). For me, what works best is to create a puzzle in several stages, sometimes with significant time gaps between those stages. I find this gives me the opportunity to reexamine a puzzle before each stage, which often results in improvements in the design or content.
Each of these “work in progress” puzzles is recorded in a Crossword Compiler file (that’s the software that most constructors use to make puzzles these days). The level of completion can be anything from just the germ of an idea with some possible theme entries to a completed puzzle waiting to be submitted. A few of the puzzles in this category are ones that I’ve tried with one publisher and gotten a rejection. These often require revisions, perhaps to deal with a deficiency that was pointed out by the publisher, maybe to alter the degree of difficulty for a different market, but often just to better conform to another publisher’s specs and preferences.
Each week I add a few puzzles to this inventory as theme ideas pop into my head, and also each week I complete a few of these puzzles and send them off to publishers for consideration. I’m actively sending puzzles to about 10 publishers, but some of these only occasionally. What happens to these will be the topic of my next post.
WELCOME BEST CROSSWORDS FANS! – This web site has seen a surge of traffic since I began publishing puzzles on the bestcrosswords.com site. So, if you’re coming from that site, welcome to mine! You’re probably more interested in solving puzzles than reading my ramblings, so jump right over to the “Credits” page where you’ll find links to several sources of free puzzles where you’ll find some of my puzzles plus many others by professional constructors. And, if you’ve enjoyed my puzzles on Best Crosswords, rest assured that more will be added on a regular basis.
WINDING UP A GREAT END TO THE FIRST HALF OF 2018 – June was a banner month, with 24 of my puzzles being published in several different venues. This included another batch of 10 puzzles being added to the Redstone Games Free Crosswords app, which is a great resource for those who enjoy doing crosswords on their mobile devices. It also included three BIG (Sunday-sized) puzzles, one each in Newsday, Los Angeles Times and The Crosswords Club. On the “small” side, six of my puzzles were selected for the Daily POP Crosswords app (also for mobile devices).
A FEW BOOKS STILL AVAILABLE – As mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve shifted my emphasis to online and syndicated puzzle venues, but for you tactile crossword fans, I just wanted to let you know that there are still a few copies of two of my books available, which you will find on eBay. Get ’em while they last!
Back to work . . .
Since completing my fourth book last fall (“Easy-ish Unplugged Crosswords”) I’ve devoted my full time and attention to constructing puzzles for commercial publication. This has started to bear fruit, as the submit-to-publish time can run from four to eight months (or more). In April, I had 14 puzzles published, and so far in May, 17 of my puzzles have appeared in revenue-producing venues.
I’ve begun publishing puzzles in two new venues (new to me, that is). These are both aimed at the on-line puzzle solver, but they’re not in direct competition as one is a mobile app-based publisher and the other caters primarily to large-screen users. Both of these publishers offer solvers a large library of puzzles that can be accessed free of charge – they make their money by display ads (which can be suppressed for a very small fee). One of them also sells “blocks” of selected puzzles, again for a modest charge.
Redstone Games “Crossword Puzzle Free” app is available for Android and Apple (and, I believe Amazon Fire). Each block of 10 puzzles is identified by the constructor and indicates the degree of difficulty (though there may be quite a difference in what some deem to be difficult or easy!). Users can select whichever puzzle they want, and if they complete it, it’s marked as such on the system, so it’s easy to see which puzzles are still available. There are over a thousand puzzles available for free solving (and more being added on a regular basis).
Best Crosswords boasts many thousands of puzzles, about 5,000 of which are created by their “guest constructors”, of which I am one of many. While a lot of the puzzles on the site are generic unthemed puzzles, there are lots of themed puzzles of varying degree of difficulty. If you like a particular constructor, you can select that person from a drop-down menu and see a list of all their puzzles. This one is not a revenue producer (for me), but it has some features that are quite interesting. I get a daily report of how many users accessed and completed my puzzles, and I find this to be very satisfying. In the first week of submissions, three puzzles of mine were solved about 4,000 times! This site also offers the users an opportunity to email the constructor directly with their comments and feedback, and I’ve already received several of those (all favorable, so far).
That’s it for now!
I’d just like to give a shout-out to David Steinberg who is the editor of a new syndicated crossword puzzle series called Puzzle Society Crosswords. It’s published by Andrews McMeel which is one of the big names in news/entertainment/commentary syndication. David is one of the most talented constructors in the business and for several years has been the editor of the Orange County Register crosswords (OCR). It’s been a pleasure to have had quite a few of my puzzles published by David over the past few years in OCR, and that he has picked up a few of them for the new series (first one published 3/14/18 and another coming this week).
The puzzles in this series are clever, but very accessible for the average solver. David shoots for a medium level of difficulty, starting out on the easy end of the “medium” spectrum on Monday and getting gradually tougher through the week. The weekend puzzles are themeless (but still medium in difficulty), while the weekday puzzles are all themed.
You can solve Puzzle Society Crosswords online (or get a printable version) at this link:
http://uclick.iwin.com/game/play/psc-crossword – at this writing, there are a few bugs in the online solving app (doesn’t work for Android), but those are being addressed. If you don’t see the print icon you may need to hide the score/chat panel.
If your local newspaper has puzzles that aren’t very clever or entertaining, or are too hard or easy for you, perhaps you will suggest to them that they check out this series. Information about the series can be found here:
I fully expect Puzzle Society Crosswords to become one of the “go-to” sources for quality crossword puzzles!
Looking back on the previous year . . . it was pretty amazing.
All told, 73 of my puzzles were published in 9 different venues. The largest number of appearances was in Newsday (26), with Los Angeles Times in second place (14).
I debuted in three different venues.
- Daily POP Crosswords (detailed in previous post) is an exciting new small-screen outlet for pop-culture themed puzzles. It’s only available for mobile devices (Android and Apple), but it already has a large following, having only kicked off in November.
- Roanoke Times ran my puzzles for 11 weeks in their neighborhood editions, but, alas, the neighborhood editions were discontinued 😦 . . . it was fun while it lasted
- PennyPress began using some of my puzzles in their various puzzle magazines. Only two of these were published in 2017, but I am sending them puzzles frequently, so I expect the count to go up in 2018.
I’ve also had some puzzles accepted for a new outlet, though that has not officially kicked off yet, and no puzzles have been published. So, I won’t mention what it is, but it is being spearheaded by one of the top names in puzzledom, so I expect it to be a big success.
I released the third book in the “Unplugged Crosswords” series, plus a compilation of the easier puzzles from the first three volumes. The puzzle book business is tough to compete in, so that hasn’t been the success I had hoped (though small royalty checks still appear on a regular basis). Most of my efforts now are focused on filling the needs of established puzzle publishers.
So, on into 2018 we go – all ahead full!
PuzzleNation, the premier provider of digital puzzle content has launched an exciting new app called “Daily POP Crosswords”. From their promotional material: “Daily POP Crosswords features the best pop-culture-themed puzzles from the top puzzle constructors, including many from Dell Magazines and Penny Press, the #1 crossword-puzzle-magazine publisher. This fun and easy-to-use crossword puzzle app features new, themed puzzles each day.”
I’m excited to have been chosen as one of the constructors for this project. Several of my puzzles are already included in the archive of 200+ puzzles. The puzzles are chosen and edited by Patti Varol, who is also editor of the popular Crosswords Club puzzles and assistant editor of Los Angeles Times crosswords.
Here are some of the particulars:
- The puzzles are designed to be easy, but they’re chock-full of entries that will test (or sharpen) your knowledge of the various theme topics that are featured in each puzzle.
- Each day of the week features a different theme category – TV, Music, Movies, Sports, Books, Wildcards (everything else) and (for us older or nostalgic types) Remember When. Each puzzle will zero in with several long entries about a particular movie, artist, TV show, or whatever.
- It’s easy to navigate the puzzles – the full grid is always visible, along with the keyboard and the clue of the word you’re trying to solve.
- It’s easy to toggle between across and down word/clue combinations, and you can go to any square just by tapping it in the grid.
- If you make a mistake, simply type over with the correct letter or delete the wrong one.
- The app (Android or Apple version) is free, and solving today’s puzzle is always free (optional access to the archive puzzles and special features involves a very small fee)
You can get the app on the Google Play store CLICK HERE to go there now.
The latest edition of the Unplugged Crosswords series has been published. Like the previous editions, this book has 150 puzzles, but unlike the others, this book is a compilation of the easier puzzles from the first three editions. These puzzles have been re-edited to make them more appealing to an audience that prefers an easier trip through the grid. There are 141 “daily-size” puzzle (mostly 15×15 squares) and 9 “Sunday-size” puzzles (21×21). I used the term “easy(ish)” in the title to dispel any thoughts that these puzzles are simplistic or juvenile. You’ll find a good mix of trivia from many different fields, lively clues and entries, and some answers that may be challenging to more experienced solvers. But gone are the complex themes, tricky wordplay and deceptive/vague clues that are found in tougher puzzles.
This book is now available from Amazon.com – check it out!