What We Want (And Don’t!)

What we are looking for at the moment:

We’re chockful of stories set in modern-day America, so we are going to be less inclined to take one of those than something set elsewhere.

We’ve overdosed on zombie, werewolf, cannibalism and/or vampire stories (and poems!), so submissions featuring these tropes need to be extremely good to be considered.

Reminder: It’s got to be science fiction, fantasy or supernatural horror. Even if it’s an award-winner, if it’s not speculative fiction we don’t want it. Horror must have some supernatural element—psychological horror on its own isn’t enough.

Common problems with stories:

(For a comprehensive listing of what not to do in fiction, you should check out Douglas Van Belle’s inimitable words of wisdom on the subject)

The story is too long!

It’s amazing how often a story needs to be trimmed before it’s acceptable.  It is the single most common problem I see.  A short story has to be tight … every sentence, every word, needs to carry its weight. It’s not a novel where you have a hundred pages to develop each character, and develop hundreds of sub plots. My most common advice (to nine out of ten submissions:) “Trim 10-20 per cent from the word count”.  The story almost always benefits from it.  Even if you trim too much and need to put stuff back in, the exercise will improve the story.

This story has no plot!

As far as we here at Andromeda Spaceways are concerned, a story should have a plot.  A story should, in short, be about something!  It is surprising how often we see marvellously detailled atmospheric pieces during which nothing happens!

Pace!

The Siamese twin of the “This story is too long!” problem.  The reader is 10 pages into the story, and we are still wondering when something is going to happen.  Something has to be keeping the reader interested, or they will stop reading and pick up something else.

It’s a Cliché!

There’s no getting around it – our slushers see a lot of variations on certain types of stories. There’s not much point in providing a list of SF/F/H clichés here when there are so many other good ones around, but any writer should develop a feel for their genre and a knowledge of what’s gone before. People have been writing robot stories since the early twentieth century, fairy-tales-with-a-twist since the days of the French salons, and gods-walk-the-earth tales since before the dawn of recorded history. On the other hand, we understand there’s nothing new under the sun – at some level, all stories are variations on something that has gone before. The difference between good story and cliché is not necessarily the plot, but the treatment.

Why should we care?

Again, surprisingly common.  Really nasty things are happening to the main character, and the reader goes: “So?  Kill him off already, let me get on with the next story…”   We should care what happens to the characters.  They should engage us in some way.  They don’t have to be likeable, but we should care what happens.

And then he/she woke up…

Please, no. “It was all just a dream” stories – they elicit nothing but groans. Trust me, your story is unlikely to get through the first round of readers if it’s one of these.

Spelling

Proofread your work.  While we are all well aware that typos happen, you should still take every effort to make sure that your submission is as typo free as you can manage.  If it looks like you haven’t taken the time to do even a basic spell-check, your manuscript will not be well received.  However, we don’t get uptight about use of US vs British spelling.  Australia usually conforms to British usage (in theory) but in practice most US spellings are acceptable. We’d rather you didn’t try to use British spelling unless you’re familiar with it, as a half-converted document is hard to deal with.

Grammar

None of us here at ASIM are Grammar Nazis*.  Nobody is going to get bent out of shape over a split infinitive or a dangling participle provided the story is good.  However, there are some things that drive even the most mild mannered editor to distraction, and chief among these is the incorrect use of homonyms: explicitly, it’s/its, there/their/they’re, and your/you’re.  Get it right!

its is a possessive pronoun like mine, hers, his & ours. Just like mine, hers, his & yours, it never has an apostrophe.
it’s is a contraction, a shortened form of “it is”.

If in doubt, substitute “it is” for its/it’s and see if it still makes sense. If it does, use it’s.

your is a possessive pronoun like my, her, his or our. Just like my, her, his or our it never has an apostrophe.
you’re is a contraction, a shortened form of “you are”.

If in doubt, substitute “you are” for your/you’re and see if it still makes sense. It does, use you’re.

yore is times past, it has nothing to do with you, unless you’re feeling very old.

their is a possessive pronoun like my, her, his or our. Just like my, her, his or our it never has an apostrophe.
they’re is a contraction, a shortened form of “they are”.

If in doubt, substitute “they are” for they/they’re and see if it still makes sense. If it does, use they’re.

there refers to the place, rather than this place which is here.

It has nothing to do with they, unless they are over there. If you have trouble remembering, note that ‘there’ contains ‘here’. Here & there – places, not people.

These are basic.  Editors and slush readers will forgive a lot, but incorrect use of these is likely to get your MS rejected promptly and painfully.

* OK, some of us are.

Some links on grammar:

Common Errors in English 
http://www.wsu.edu/~brians/errors/errors.html

The American Heritage® Book of English Usage
 http://www.bartleby.com/64/

alt-usage-english home page might be overkill. 
http://www.alt-usage-english.org/

Ditto on World Wide Words (but it’s a very interesting site) 
http://www.quinion.com/words/index.htm

Guide to Grammar and Writing 
http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/

Common Poetry Problems

What common problems are you seeing with poetry submissions?
Ian: The most common problems with poetry are, oddly enough, not with the form—although there are people who do not know what rhyme actually is, and still try to write rhyming verse—but with the force behind them. A haiku such as:

Automobiles are
Eating up our resources
We will all die soon

contains the right number of syllables, but expresses no genuine understanding of the force which drives a haiku:

A tree in starlight
May not be seen by men’s eyes
But still casts shadows.

Which is not particularly good, but contains more of the idea of a haiku than the first.

When it is unrhymed, less formal poetry, the problem of what drives the poem still emerges:

Cats
Are creatures
Who
Will curl
Up in your lap

is just a sentence about cats cut up into five lines. This isn’t poetry.

Another major problem is one which is shared by the short story. Many of the writers simply haven’t read very much poetry, and so they present tired old tropes with effervescent belief in their originality. We are all familiar with the idea that the ecology of the world is being screwed, so any poem which takes this as its theme had better shed some new light on it.

But keep sending the poems in. Most poets find that they write fifty poems before they write one that works.

Poetry submitted to a Speculative Fiction magazine should contain some Speculative Fiction.

What it says.  ASIM prints Science Fiction, Fantasy and supernatural Horror.  Or any reasonable combination of the above.  Poetry submitted to us should have something to do with those themes.

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