Writers Workshop:

A BEGINNERS GUIDE TO GUIDELINES
(Originally published in DarkEcho)

Editors' lives would be much easier if all writers read and followed guidelines; writers would get fewer rejections if they would read and follow guidelines. So let's make everyone's life a little nicer by looking at guidelines for (generally) short fiction. ("GLs" is the abbreviation for guidelines.)

First off, guidelines can be poorly written. This can be a clue as to the quality of the editor who wrote them. Face it -- anyone can call himself or herself an editor. And in horror, sometimes it seems as if plenty of anybodies have decided to do so. Don't submit to these "markets." These people don't deserve your work.

Occasionally a new start-up magazine or webzine may have fairly vague guidelines. These can be more charitably considered as the fuzziness is due to a still-unfocused vision. Chances are these guidelines will go through many revisions, so make sure you have the latest set.

Any set of GLs should include all pertinent contact info, the editor's name, maximum word count (sometimes a minimum word count), reading periods (if limited,) rights the editor will buy, payment, genre and subject matter. Often what the editor does NOT want is specified.

Rights are often (especially with e-zines) misstated these days, but that's another topic altogether. The basic ones are usually FNAR (First North American Rights,) FNASR (same thing except the term "serial" is included,) First World Rights, and First English-language Rights. These all mean (within certain geographical or language restrictions) the right to publish your story for the first time and one time only are being purchased. If an editor buys reprints (publishing a story after it has appeared elsewhere) they will usually specify. Make sure you indicate in your cover letter if the story has been published elsewhere, where, and in what form.

Sometimes a return time (RT or "Answers") is indicated. Simultaneous submissions (Sim Subs) are also often mentioned. (Do not submit to more than one publication at a time unless they state they accept simultaneous submissions.)

For the most part, it's simple. Follow the guidelines. If they don't want poetry, don't send it. If they want stories under 4000 words do not send a 5000 word story. If they want horror, don't send them straight SF. Don't assume that YOU are an exception. Editors ask for specific needs and exclude specific things for valid reasons, you are wasting your time, postage and ego to send what they don't want.

The toughest part of dark fiction GLs for new writers is often translating the lingo. (Sometimes editors try to clarify needs by using noted authors as examples of what they want. Of course, if you haven't a clue as to who these people are that's no help either.) Once you figure out abbreviations like SF/F/H/DF/S&S (science fiction/ fantasy/ horror/ dark fantasy/ sword and sorcery) there's more complicated nomenclature to decipher. Of course, terminology is arbitrary and horror folks debate it themselves. Sometimes the terms are just descriptive; sometimes they are labels for various sub-genres. DarkEcho provides a separate guide here.

Finally -- make sure you have accurate, complete, and up-to-date guidelines. This is particularly important in horror where the viability and needs of markets change rapidly. Complete GLs can often be found on Web sites, most always by sending an SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) to the proper address or emailing a supplied eddress. Check the DarkLinks for specific market listers for horror.

-- Paula Guran


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Copyright © 2002 by Paula Guran All Rights Reserved.