How to Get your Story Noticed (Part II)

4 Oct

Today’s blog post is continued from yesterday and is written by my good friend, Ed Stasheff, who has been working as a small press publisher, editor, and author for years.

Coming up with an original, unique idea is harder said than done. To help you brainstorm, here’s three different variations on a theme editors keep an eye out for while wading through the slush pile.

1. Atypical Setting

My experience as an editor is that the vast majority of the submissions I receive are set in the here-and-now.  By “here”, I mean the USA, with a handful set in other English-speaking countries (the “Anglosphere”), mainly England, Canada, and Australia. Consequently, if you submit a story set in, say, Japan, you’ll probably catch the editor’s attention, and there’s a good chance no one else has submitted a tale using that setting.  European countries (France, Germany, Italy, etc.) are good—they’re culturally similar enough to the Anglosphere that they require minimal research, but are just different enough to lend an exotic flair.  Non-western settings are your best option for submitting a completely unique story, but they require more research.  Luckily, while novels may require in-depth research, short stories are brief enough you can usually get away with just basic research on Wikipedia.

Even within the USA, you can find exotic settings by exploring subcultures—ethnic, racial, and religious minorities, lesser-known professions, fan groups, etc.  For example, I didn’t publish Marcus’s story “Shadow Charts” in “Corporate Cthulhu” just because he’s my brother-in-law, but because his was the only story set in a private for-profit hospital. It was a good choice, too—several reviewers called out “Shadow Charts” as one of the better horror tales.  Apparently, a lot of readers are seriously creeped out by hospitals.

As with anything, though, you can take things too far.  If you set a story on a different planet, an alternate universe, or in a completely fictional world, you might end up drifting too far from the anthology’s theme. Such extreme settings can be done successfully, but it’s riskier.

2. Atypical Time Period

We’ve discussed the “here”, but what about the “now”?  Again, the vast majority of submissions I’ve read are set in the modern day.  Therefore, to get your story to stand out, set it in a different time period.  Even the first half of the 20th century—an era before computers, mobile phones, and television—is foreign enough to provide the audience with an enjoyably different reading experience.  The farther back in time you go, the more research you’ll need to do—but the greater the chances your story will be unique in the slush pile.

You can also go forward in time too, but that’s riskier—it might be too different for the anthology’s needs.  As a general rule, unless it’s for a science fiction anthology, stick to the near future instead of the far future.

When I was selecting stories for “The Averoigne Legacy” anthology (set in a haunted medieval French province), most tales were set in either the Middle Ages or Modern Day.  Two stories, however, were set in the Roman Era.  Both ended up being selected and published.

3. Blending Genres

Most anthologies these days, even themed anthologies, are set in a single genre. Unfortunately, that risks the stories becoming tedious after a while, even to fans. One way to keep things fresh and interesting, however, is to blend the main genre with a secondary genre to make the story different and original.  Take Fantasy, for example.  Sooner or later, the audience will get weary of Action/Adventure Fantasy stories. A Comedic Fantasy will jolt them out of their complacency. But why stop there?  Throw in a Mystery Fantasy, and a Horror Fantasy, and a Fantasy Romance, and… you get the idea.  This is one of the things editors keep an eye out for when reading through the slush pile to provide their readers with a variety of stories. If yours is the only story blending Fantasy with Science Fiction—say, exploring alien worlds with teleportation spells instead of rocket ships—you’ll have a better chance of it being accepted and published.

Be aware, though, that some genres are easier to blend than others.  Blending Romance with Horror, while not impossible, is harder to write successfully that Romance and Comedy. Also, be sure to keep the anthology’s genre the primary one, and the other genre secondary. There’s a big difference between a Fantasy story with a touch and Romance, and a Romance with a touch of Fantasy. Otherwise, you risk getting one of those “not a good fit” letters.

These are just the most common variations on a theme editors keep an eye out for.  There are others, but they’re more subtle and difficult to write successfully.  If you found this helpful (or unhelpful), let Marcus know in the comments.  If there’s enough interest, maybe I’ll write another post about what variations editors are looking for.

3 Responses to “How to Get your Story Noticed (Part II)”

  1. Soni Cool😎 October 4, 2020 at 9:44 am #

    Very helpful 👏🏻❤️❤️

  2. joliesattic October 4, 2020 at 11:48 am #

    I liked this very much! Working on something that goes back and forth from US to Asia. Not sure how it will turn out. Still in outline form.

  3. seankfletcher October 4, 2020 at 7:48 pm #

    This is an excellent and insightful post. You have almost tempted me to dust off not only my very badly written and mundane novel, but a series of draft short stories and rework them (of which I actually do like a couple, but I would need to change the setting 😂).

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