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7 May 2002
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Ralan's SpecFic & Humor Webstravaganza


Part 4: GOING THROUGH THE GUIDELINES FOR DUMMIES - or If You're Not a Dummy, Skip This (yeah right!)
by Ralan

First, let's virtually create a new magazine -- "SF Tales of the Cuspidor" (SFTC). Here are the guidelines:

"We need well-written, entertaining, literary works of science fiction that contain spittoons, or at least elements thereof. We'll also accept works we feel have vital social or hygienic messages about the use of cuspidors. Don't assume that just because you feature a laser spittoon, or even a black hole used for the same purpose, that your story is science fiction. If the tale doesn't come off as science fiction in its other aspects, we can't use it. We're currently planning issues with the following themes: head colds, big black boots, toxic spittoon cleaning agents, and fruit-flavored chewing tobacco. We want fiction of 1000 to 8000 words in length, but prefer works around the 4000-word mark. If your work is above or below these numbers, please query first by e-mail. Reprints are not accepted. New writers and experienced "pros" are welcome. Our response time is one month maximum. We pay $0.02/word, on acceptance, for one-time rights. Submit query or complete manuscript by mail with cover, SASE, and a brief writer's biography. Free sample magazine sent with SAE and $1.00 for postage."

Now, what is so important to you, the writer, in all this? Answer: just about every word.

First, this is a specialized magazine. If your story is about a pay toilet that is time-ported to the Bronze Age, SFTC won't be interested -- no spittoons! They also only want bona fide science fiction, so your fantasy story about Arokyned the Dribbler's spittoon fetish will not be right for them. Nor will the one about the haunted spittoon, a cuspidor vampire clan, or a mainstream story that you've cleverly slipped a high-tech spittoon into. Nor do they desire standard genre fiction -- this is literary! Always be sure you know the publication's specific needs. Read a copy, if at all possible (this one offers a sample just for the postage costs), or at least read any excerpts they have online.

If your story has fewer than 1000 words, or more than 8000, you must e-mail the editor to ask permission to submit it. Sending it without permission ensures a certain rejection. Note that they prefer stories in the 4000-word range, which means any story under or over that mark is going to be a tough sell. The farther from 4000, the tougher. SFTC doesn't consider reprints. Remember, a reprint is a reprint -- even if you only posted it on your own web site for your Aunt Millie to read.

Your writing experience doesn't matter to this editor. He also promises to respond to your submission within one month, so don't query about your story's status before the 30-days are up. Just to be safe, I always double the response time before sending off a polite inquiry, unless the response time is extremely long, in which case I'll give them an extra month -- tops.

SFTC pays two cents per word. Understand that "on acceptance" doesn't mean you get the money along with the notice to publish. You must return the contract and give them some time to cut the check, and for postage delays, etc. Normally your payment should arrive within a month of the acceptance notice. Payment on publication normally means publication date plus 30 days.

SFTC only accepts submissions by mail. So don't send your work to their e-mail address! You have to print out a hard copy, write a short cover letter that includes a 100-word bio, and YOU MUST include a SASE with the proper postage. If the publication is in another part of the world than yours, you can't just stick your own country's postage stamps on. Get the right ones, or enclose one or two IRCs (International Reply Coupons). SFTC's guidelines don't mention simultaneous (sending the same work to more than one publication at a time) or multiple (sending more than one work to the same publication) submissions. Don't do either without asking permission first.

Lastly, I'd like to throw in a few words about e-mail submissions -- if they are allowed. Watch carefully for any special instructions in the guidelines. Many times the editor will ask for special ways of submitting, like "attach as RTF file only" or "cut and paste in the body of the e-mail" (in those cases, don't send them a Word file). They may demand special methods of denoting italics, separating paragraphs, or indicating scene changes. Make sure you comply. Most editors want you to place the word "SUBMISSION" in the "Subject:" line of the e-mail, usually followed by the title of your work. Make certain you do that! Failure to do so is begging the editor to trash your story without a reading.

I've heard that some editors deliberately make their guidelines complex and nitpicky, just so they have an excuse to toss any story that doesn't follow them to the letter. I'm not certain of this, but when submitting ... I act like a believer. Good luck out there!

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