cover image The NCF Guideto

and Fandom

Fourth Edition
Edited by Robert Runté



from the editors of On Spec Magazine

Some of these hints may seem laughably obvious: "Use white paper" "Print on one side of the paper only" but if you saw our slush pile, you wouldn't laugh. The best way to get your work read in a favorable light is to make sure your manuscript is as appealing and easy to read as possible.

Yes, spelling counts. So does grammar. So does formatting. However eye-catching neon yellow paper may be, it is no fun to read, and we don't.

Before sending your manuscript, read it over and ask yourself the following questions:

* Is your story sf? The publishers listed on this site are for speculative writing: science fiction, fantasy, horror, magic realism, and other sub-genres of sf. If there is no sf element in your story, it's not what they're looking for.

* Have your characters grown or developed during the course of the story? Have they faced a challenge or been changed by the experience? We want to see vibrant, well-rounded characters who either solve a conflict or are changed by it.

* Are you using cliched words, phrases, or situations? Is the plot similar to a TV show or movie our readers are familiar with? We are looking for stories that go off the beaten path and don't follow trends.

* Are there any "expository lumps" in your story? Having the action stop so that a character can explain his motives or so that some background information can be provided seriously hampers the forward movement of the plot. Show us, don't tell us.

* Are you working in the wrong format? We often see stories that are far too complex and novelistic to fit comfortably into our word limit; we also see stories that are little more than ideas stretched out to fit a number of pages. Both formats are usually rejected.

* Is your story too long for the market to which you are submitting? For example, On Spec only considers stories of up to 6,000 words maximum.

* Is the opening long and slow? The reader needs to be drawn in immediately by an opening "hook."

* Do you give the ending away too quickly? Is the ending fair? We prefer endings to evolve naturally and believably. Don't give your ending away; at the same time, don't cheat the reader by ending the story with a no-warning twist.

* Are you preaching to the reader? While we appreciate that writers may feel strongly about a cause, we're looking for stories that do more than say "this is bad (or good)."

* Is humor--or horror--the *only* element in your story? No matter what the genre, we want character-driven work, not simply situation comedy or what Stephen King calls "going for the gross-out."

* If you're working with an archetype, are you following established conventions? A vampire drinking orange juice in a pool-side bar at noon, for example, can't simply happen without a plausible explanation.

* Did you format your story properly and proofread it carefully? Numerous and repeated errors in spelling, punctuation, or grammar become very irritating to the reader, as do manuscripts with tiny margins, flimsy paper, single-spaced printing, and so on.

* Has your story been published before, in print or on the internet? Most markets buy only original, unpublished work.

Last but not least, if you are sending a story to Canadian publishers from anywhere but Canada, your SASE has to have Canadian stamps on it, or Canada Post won't deliver it. If you can't get Canadian stamps, use International Reply Coupons.

Submission Format

For most magazine markets standard submission format usually requires * cover letter or title page with your name, address, telephone number, email address, story title, accurate word count, and a brief (3-line) biography including your publishing background
* don't query or include a synopsis: let your story sell itself * be accompanied by a SASE (self-addressed, stamped envelope)
* be printed on white paper in black ink
* be double-spaced
* be printed on one side of the page only
* be in a readable font (e.g. Times or Courier)
* have 1-inch margins all around
* be left-justified, with a "ragged right" margin
* have a header on each page with story title and page number
* be paper-clipped together, not stapled or bound
* be within magazine's word limit: (for On Spec 6,000 words )
Always check submission guidelines before faxing or emailing submissions, as most publishers do not accept manuscripts in these formats.

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This page last updated: May 25, 2000

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