The Art and Science of Submitting Short Stories to 2019 Markets
This month Monstrous Friends interviews novelist Stephen Graham Jones and Christopher Pulo, publisher and editor of Gypsum Sound Tales, on the secrets, tips, and strategies that go into submitting a story from both a writer’s perspective and from the viewpoint of the literary artist.
Stephen Graham Jones is the hardest working novelist in Colorado. He’s the author of over 18 books, and his novella, Mapping The Interior, won the 2018 Bram Stoker Award®. His short work, bringing one of the most unique and disturbing visions to contemporary horror, is highly sought after. Since it is impossible to anticipate Stephen, you should check out his Web site: http://www.demontheory.net.
Q: When a writer see a new anthology advertising an open call and wants to submit a killer story, what approach do you recommend?
A: One of the best things you can do to up your chances of getting into an anthology is to turn your story in before everyone else who’s written the same story. If it’s a themed anthology, say, and the theme is … “haunted libraries,” then there’s probably four or five default stories you and everybody else kick up automatically: there’s a ghost in the stacks, a late book comes back to haunt you, the librarian is a vampire, one of the books is haunted, and … and after-hours this is a completely different place. So, if you can be the first to turn in your vampire librarian story—and if it’s good—then that slot’s may be yours. Or, you won’t be getting that apologetic rejection, anyway: “Cool story, but I’ve got so many vampire librarians already that I’m making a whole vampire librarian section, now. And it’s already full.”
So, best advice: be fast. Don’t let the deadline be your prompt. Let not being in that table of contents be your prompt.
As for how to avoid writing the same story everyone else will? It’s kind of the same as you world-build. So, if the thing about your world is that fence posts are sentient, then the obvious stuff surrounding that is that fences have deep thoughts, that fencers have relationships with fences, and that, I don’t know—that nails are considered evil, since they hurt. That’s the easy and obvious stuff. But go further afield. If fence posts are sentient, then they’re maybe witnesses to a lot of crimes, too, yes? So, how can a good criminal keep a fencepost quiet? Maybe by harboring an extreme prejudice to squirrels. But the big time crooks can’t get involved with varmint control, so their kids all grow up with this shared childhood of spending an hour or two each day going after squirrels with slingshots and BB guns, which then results in a completely different kind of street warfare once they come of age. Well, if they go criminal.
So, with the haunted library anthology, just immediately dismiss your first four or five ideas, since those are the ones everyone else is also having. Range out farther. What if there’s a Mandela bug rewriting history via infesting libraries? It’s insidious and under the radar, but when it really gets weird is when it impacts one patron’s life: her own past is changing behind her, in small ways that are having dangerous effects. So she has to go to war against these bugs, only, she finds out that there’s these ticks as well, that can latch onto you and drink your memories. And she finds a nest of these ticks, and falls in, bursts a lot of them, gets that tacky memory juice into her mouth and then “knows” the way the past actually is … at which point she understands that the Mandela bugs aren’t evil, they’re making the world a livable place. So she chooses to live with the horror, which, to me, is some of the scariest horror, in that rationalizing violence is a slippery slippery slope. But, the only reason you’re standing on it, and maybe standing in that TOC as well, is that you didn’t consider the evil nails story, or the fencer who fell in love with the fencepost, or the Jacky Handy fence post. None of which are even stories. But Mandela bugs, that’s kind of a story. And nobody else is going to write anything even close to that.
Christopher Pulo of Gypsum Sound Tales has the last word this issue. A high school science teacher from Sydney, Australia, Pulo has always enjoyed writing pieces of speculative fiction in his spare time. He is an avid reader of horror fiction (most likely the result of having been exposed to the numerous works of Stephen King at a young age) and relishes in putting pen to paper. He and his team of five run Gypsum Sound Tales, and he is editor-in-chief for Colp and Thuggish Itch. He currently resides in Sydney’s northern beaches with his wife and two dogs (one of whom is his greatest critic).
Q: Please share the good, the bad, and the ugly you face as a working anthologist producing unique collections of horror and speculative fiction.
A: GOOD – A story that makes us want to keep turning the page.
BAD – Manuscripts that aren’t formatted appropriately.
UGLY – Sending a writer their third rejection E-mail.
Why are good stories rejected?
We’ve had to reject a lot of good stories. Sometimes, they just don’t fit the theme well enough; other times they will contain libelous comments that the author may not be willing to remove. It’s always difficult as you know that those good stories are going to end up in a laptop folder somewhere where no one can read them. Rejection sucks, and, as writers, we know that it can be difficult for people to receive these E-mails.
Why are stories accepted?
Short stories need to grab our attention from the first or second paragraph. Having a solid beginning helps ensure that your story gets noticed and moves to the top of the pile. Short stories should feel like short stories, like a scene or two from a film, not like part of a larger novel that you couldn’t finish. Formatting your manuscript correctly always helps, too. Oh, and not just writing “read my story” in your introductory E-mail.
How do you search through submissions to fulfill your vision of what the anthology could be?
We have an idea in our minds about what we want for each new collection. We try to keep the topics broad to allow for our writers to have the maximum amount of flexibility. Sometimes it backfires though. We had a collection earlier in the year entitled Sky’s The Limit. Our intention was to publish stories that had something to do with the sky but at least half the submissions we received were from writers who had taken the statement figuratively rather than literally, sending through works of the “anything is possible” variety. We also offer two different publications at the same time. The first, Colp, is open genre, and we accept any kind of story for it, whether it be adventure, romance, or sci-fi. The second, Thuggish Itch, is pure sci-fi and horror. We feel that this maximizes the opportunities for all writers.
Attribution: Thanks to Stephen Graham Jones and Christopher Pulo for appearing this month.