Whether you’re old at heart like me, and go into the reference section of the library every year to check the latest edition of “The Writer’s Market,” or whether you’re a normal person and find sources online, an important part of the writing process is figuring out appropriate places to submit your work. Which means you have to look at a magazine’s or publisher’s submission guidelines. I’d say at least 90% of the time the guidelines are detailed enough and fine; everybody wins. You don’t end up submitting your Satanic erotica to “Highlights For Children,” or your vegan recipes to “Soldier of Fortune.”
Occasionally though, over the many years I’ve been checking guidelines, I’ve found a few that stood out, because they were, I thought, too limiting, weird, not helpful, or simple funny. Therefore, I’d like to list some of these, and then (gently) mock them. Bear in mind that I write mostly horror/dark fantasy/suspense/erotica, so most of the magazines/publishers printed these types of material.
1) “No discrimination against race, age, or gender.” From a magazine that publishes horror, sci-fi, and fantasy. I get that some magazine’s readership include children. Also, there’s several kinds of horror, from 19th century-set ghost stories, to H.P. Lovecraft style, barely seen, mostly suggested terrors, to late 20th century splatterpunk and torture porn, and all things in between. And I can see that the magazine doesn’t want, say, Aryan skinhead manifestos, or the like. But seriously, no discrimination against race, gender and age?! So your vampire can kill people, but she can’t deny a person employment because they’re over 60?
2) Along the same lines, the general guidelines of horror magazines/publishers, sometimes listed as being “edgy,” and “terrifying,” horror, that say no to any graphic language, violence, sex, or gore. Kind of like the previous one, I understand that not every story has to be “R” rated, or even “PG,” but come on! No gratuitous profanity, sex, violence, etc., seems like a reasonable request, but having absolutely none of these elements ever must leave some awfully watered-down, tame horror stories.
3) A magazine which published largely erotica said, “No ‘cute’ or ‘sweet,’ or crude, or sex fantasies.” So a writer had to hit that narrow medium every time, I guess.
4) Regional limitations. I can acknowledge that certain publications want to cater to their area, and maybe even solely feature authors from that area. If it’s say,
Canada, okay, but I saw one magazine that only accepted authors from one city. So why even advertise in nationally seen books like “The Writer’s Market?” Kind of a tease. California
5) “Synopsis of not more than 25 words.” For novellas, novels, etc. Asking this as an exercise might have merit, if it’s combined with a normal length synopsis, but just this alone? Can they really tell much about the book from this?
6) A magazine with “Mormon” in its subtitle, put out by a Mormon literary society, said it was “Mormon-based, but not religious.” This seems a little disingenuous, since they can’t stop mentioning their religion.
1) “Not looking for stories with emphasis on drugs, murder, rape, and body piercing.” Seems like one of these words is not like the others—can you tell which one?
2) “No religion, anti-religion, or evolutionary,” for a horror and suspense publication. Seems oddly precise—talk about not wanting to discuss a sometimes inflammatory political issue.
3) Like many erotica publications, this one said while they welcomed graphic sexuality, they drew the line (as most do) at “rape, pedophilia, and necrophilia.” Reasonable so far, but then, “No knives in vaginas.”(!) The fact that the publication put this in their guidelines is kind of disturbing, and weirdly specific. Apparently they’ve received many stories with this occurrence.
4) Another erotica publication specifies, “No excessive profanity, golden showers, scat, ….and felching.” If you don’t know what the last one is, don’t google it at work, or while you’re eating.
5) A sci-fi and horror magazine says “no porn or advert gore.” Advert? Did they mean “overt”? “Advertising” gore? Maybe it’s a typo, or if not it’s an expression I’m not familiar with.
6) “Things that are shocking, dark, lewd, comic, or even insane are okay as long as the fiction is controlled and purposeful.” So fiction by a crazy person is fine, as long as their stories are spelled and punctuated correctly, are grammatically correct, have a beginning, middle, and end, and the main character has an arc, etc.
7) “Audience is anyone concerned with the moral fiber of our country,” and the magazine will publish anything of “Relevance to the growing psychic problem in
today. Be honest and urgent.” I submitted to these folks, and they were actually cool to deal with, but to this day I have no idea what those quoted guidelines mean. America
8) “Taboos include rape, except in prison, where it’s a reality.” Rape isn’t realistic anywhere else?
1) “Well plotted, memorable characters.” I know that all publications are looking for these things, but is this going to benefit anyone? Doesn’t pretty much everyone think that stories are well plotted with interesting characters?
2) “No boredom.” Similar to the last one, or worse. Maybe some will acknowledge that their plotting, say, is weak, but does any writer think that their story is boring? Will this discourage anyone?
3) “Send your best.” In theory, again, I see why they say this, but how many authors can overcome their biases toward their own stories?
4) “No stories that are not well written.” Same as above.
1) Stories with “Profound terror and sexual delirium.” I find this strangely poetic.
2) Stories which “hurt you, and hurt you to read.” Again, I like the way this sounds.
3) From a defunct (?) magazine, “Graffiti Off the Asylum Walls” (great name). “Send us stuff you’re afraid to show your mother, priest, and shrink.”
4) “Keep the blood and slime to a minimum.” So in your stories featuring snails or “Slimer” from “Ghostbusters,” put these characters more in the background.
5) The magazine wants stories with, “blood, sex and tentacles.” Perfect for all your S&M octopus orgy tales! Actually, this referred to the “Cthulhu” character that Lovecraft created, as the magazine was named, “Cthulhu Sex Magazine” (sadly closed now). You didn’t have to have all three elements in every submission, though—the story of mine that they published just had necrophilia (between humans, not squid) as its main theme.
To defend these publishers a little, I recognize that I have no experience putting out a magazine or book, and that they have to slog through thousands of submissions, of varying quality, with authors that are often rude, unprofessional, and possibly sociopathic. I’m just saying that maybe in some cases they might have wanted to edit their guidelines a tad. I’m sure any writer who read this can think of other examples of these types of things—I’d be interested in hearing them.