Hard Sells

Over at Clarkesworld, our submission guidelines provide a list of stories that are very difficult for an author to sell us. The list has evolved over the years, but we haven’t had to add many in recent years. That said, we still receive a lot of submissions from authors that have either not read the guidelines or think their story will be the exception. (Stares directly at the authors submitting stories about zombies. You’re wrong.)

For years, we’ve received stories that have attempted to violate every one of those hard sell criteria. My own sons–under pseudonyms–have even written and submitted them. I can see how the combination might make for an interesting writing challenge, but I can’t imagine the finished product ever selling. I suspect the authors know this as well and are submitting them more out of the humor value than any hope of publication. Still, it seems I should be more up-front about that…

I just added it to the list.

4 thoughts on “Hard Sells

  1. Sean Monaghan says:

    Well, I know I’ve rushed in excited myself (thinking of the time I sent the talking cat _plus_ time travel story) without checking back on those. Feel like a dingus thinking back on that. Trying harder to double check each time now… mostly your guidelines are pretty common sense (as in stories that have been done so much the premise is overcooked) and I don’t write zombies and so on, but I do like my FTL to be as easy as TV sometimes. Must remember to send those ones elsewhere.

  2. Mark Pontin says:

    Neil wrote: ‘That said, we still receive a lot of submissions from authors that … think their story will be the exception. (Stares directly at the authors submitting stories about zombies. You’re wrong.)’

    Even if my name is Robert Silverberg and I have this story, ‘Born With the Dead,’ I want to sell you?

    • Neil Clarke says:

      I sincerely doubt my list of hard sells would be the same if I was editing a magazine when that story was originally published 40+ years ago. A story that was original and distinctive then, might not be considered as much so if it was submitted as an original work today. No disrespect to a classic work intended. (I recall enjoying this one as a kid.) I know some people get very upset thinking that classics would be harder sells if first published today, but they became classics in part because they were published in exactly the right time for the story. Context matters.

      All this is not unlike music. There are occasional outbursts of nostalgia, but things keep moving forward (some prefer to just calling it change to avoid assigning positive value). A top-ten song from the 70’s might not find a home with a label if originally released today. It doesn’t diminish the impact it had back then. Someone might even think that music stopped improving after the 70’s, but most of the world has moved on without them. It’s more small press vs. mainstream. (Again, not making a value judgement on a specific story or style of music, speaking in broad strokes about time and culture here.)

      There are a lot of retro movements out there. I can enjoy them, but it’s not what I’m after.

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