24 May 2012

How to Send Me a Story I'll Publish: Things I shouldn't have to say, but I do

We all remember High School sports, right? For basketball there'd be the starting five, the best of the best, and five more that were almost as good waiting to step up if one of them dropped out. After that there was the bench; guys or girls good or tenacious enough to make the team but each with a weakness or two that made them less than ideal. And then there was everyone else. The people that showed up for that first day of try-outs, maybe came to the second day, and vanished by the end of the week or were cut.

As it happens, my submissions queue is a little bit like this. There's the top three or four stories I find each month that really just blow me away. They're the strongest stories I've got, and I feel confident that if I put them up against the best that other publishers have, they'll do Silverthought proud. Then there's a second string. Three or four more stories that are equally strong and show plenty of talent but may be either flawed in some mild way or don't work as well together for us as my first choices. These stories do frequently still get published by us because sometimes the first-choice writers withdraw their stories or they get accepted somewhere else or they just plain don't respond when I accept their stories. If this happens, you're in and we're glad to have you. If it doesn't work out, chances are you'll get a very apologetic personal note from me about it because I hate, hate, hate turning down good work.

Then there's everyone else. Chances are, if you can even be in the second string, you've got a decent shot at seeing us publish your stuff. The trick, then, is mostly to not be "everyone else". And the best way to do that is to know what everyone else does. Here's a partial list:

-Sending stories with persistent obvious grammar errors. If your eleventh-grade English teacher wouldn't have stood for it, you can bet your ass I won't either.

-Sending stories in strange fonts or with unnecessarily complex formatting. More on this later, but I have to be able to at least read it.

-Sending stories with one or zero distinct characters, little or no dialogue, or massive chunks of descriptive info-dump exposition. We liked table-top RPG's in high-school too, we're not too big to admit it, but no matter how interesting that type of writing is, world-building alone is not a story.

-Sending a story that's too much like a single-note punchline. If the thrust of your story is to play out a joke, cliche, urban legend, or SAW-like contrived gruesome death scene for your thinly-sketched generic protagonist, I'm going to pass.

-Sending a mystery, erotic romance, cop story, ancient myth, or especially 40's style noir detective story gussied up with a light dusting of mostly meaningless and non-central sci-fi details. I get where you're coming from, but I hate these. Yes, I've read good examples of all of these stories but 99.99% of them are contrived crap and just insufferable after the thousands I've had to read. No type of story here (even the ones with grammar errors) gets auto-rejected faster than these by me.

-Sending fan-fiction or very close emulations of other more popular mainstream stories. I don't judge people that do this because on some level almost every serious writer starts in a place of emulation or even outright copying in order to learn, but I think it's possible to not judge and at the same time acknowledge that I personally tend to seek out the most original, highly-skilled presentation I can find in my stories, and that most of the time these aren't that.

-Sending too many stories or sending multiple very long stories. We accept virtually all lengths here at Silverthought Online, but if you're shoveling five 15K+ word novellas at me all at once, I'm probably not going to read any of them. I'm a human being and my poor eyeballs have to last me another forty years. Just try one and see what I say. I'll probably tell you what I liked about it even if I decline it, and ask for more if your style fits us. Just not all at once, please. (NOTE: poems, flash fiction, and very short fiction I actually prefer to read in batches. Don't be afraid to send me three or four at once if you've got stuff that's 1500 words or less.)

-Sending stories that fall too far outside our general scope. I don't mean sending us a brilliant cowboy apocalypse tale told from the point of view of the protagonist's gunbelt leather, because I'd probably publish that. I mean sending us lukewarm Anne Rice-style vampire porn set during the Roman Empire. Our masthead says speculative fiction, but it's more helpful to think of us as "sci-fi plus". Our imaginations undergo a regular stretching and exercise regimen, but there are some things that just clearly aren't for us because they're too cliche, they have a better, more appropriate home elsewhere, or they're just not what turns us on.

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