Everyone likes free stuff. And boy do I have a goody for you!
This is a real gem, a sparkling pile of writing-advice diamonds, a quivering mountain of brilliant… you get the idea. What I’m talking about is:
The Weird Tales Submission Guidelines!
Now, this is not some run-of-the-mill “Remember to dot the is and cross the ts” guideline thing, this is seven pages of sage writing advice. I found it in a folder I had carried over from an older laptop and again when I refreshed the OS on the one I’m using now. It’s a .pdf file with helpful guidelines for those thinking about submitting their work to Weird Tales. I don’t even think it’s up on their site any more (I checked, it’s not.)
The .pdf I’m about to give you has things like this:
There are only three RULES for writing:
You must (1) put your work before someone who might buy it;
(2) in a format the editor can read, the copy-editor can edit, & the compositor can set into type; then
(3) seize and hold your editor’s and your readers’ interest and attention.
All else is merely commentary.
It then proceeds to go into deep and really helpful detail about these three items. Some highlights:
The classic way to discover who might buy your work is to read what a potential buyer is publishing, decide you can do better, and then do so. This is how Mr. Robert A. Heinlein got his start; you can do so yourself. A writer should write; let editors reject.
Manuscripts too far removed from standard format won’t be read at all by any editor. “But,” you may argue, “I already know all that stuff.” Want to bet?
In short stories (and Weird Tales® is essentially a short-story magazine), the protagonist (often but not always the viewpoint character) should appear on stage in the first few pages, as should his or her principal problem. Coping with that problem (or at least trying to) then drives the story’s main plot.
This, about first lines:
Neither cover letters nor innovative format works; what catches the editor’s attention is your choice of words and punctuation, and the order in which you put them down on paper. If you don’t have a cover letter in the way, if your format is utterly standard, then the only thing for the editor to notice is what words you chose. If you choose the right ones — like these examples below — you’ve got him!
“The coupe with the fishhooks welded to the fender shouldered up over the curb like the nose of a nightmare.”
— or —
“A hissing noise, slightly musical, like Death sharpening his scythe, came from a room at night, dark but for a single candle.”
— or —
“The Gibbelins eat, as is well known, nothing less good than man.”
And this, about why your manuscript gets rejected:
Most manuscripts rejected by any fiction editor are rejected for one or more of these flaws:
- Text that is too hard to read comfortably.
- Lack of a clear, consistent point of view.
- Failure to establish the characters’ identity and the setting, in both time and place, early in the story.
- Too much exposition and too little narration, especially at the beginning.
- Characters who don’t even try to cope with their problems (your protagonists should protag!).
Some of the advice is slightly dated, especially about types of paper, since most submissions these days, especially short stories, are done electronically. Other than that, it really is a goldmine, as the examples above should so clearly demonstrate.