Wake up, Polly Parrot.


Tips For My Writing Friends
by Brian Plante

Selling short stories to genre magazines is such a friendly business. Sure, we're all fiercely elbowing each other in the marketplace, jostling around for those few open slots, but there's plenty of room for everyone. I never feel badly when other writers I know place stories in markets I had my hopes set on. I'm happy for them. Honestly. And to prove it, I'm going to share a few tips with you that will greatly improve your chances of winning some of those open slots and pushing me aside. Good luck!

Whenever you need a really good ending, you can always explain everything with, "You mean, it was all just a dream?" Hey, this old standard worked in third grade and it is still the best tool to resolve almost any plot. You science fiction people can use a great variation on this: "It was all virtual reality." Editors never seem to tire of this sort of thing.

All the markets are looking for Adam and Eve stories this year. You know the kind -- where the last surviving man and woman on some unnamed planet are revealed in the final paragraph to be our ancient progenitors. Jump on this fad while it's hot!

Try to format your manuscript to look as close to typeset copy as possible. Use those fancy fonts and justify the margins, just like the professionals do. Why do you think they put all that stuff into your word processor anyway?

Paper clips say "cheap." Instead, take your manuscript over to Kinko's and have it professionally bound in a fancy cover. Your editor will thank you for this. Trust me.

Use colored paper to make your manuscript stand out from all the rest in the slushpile. I use lilac stock on all my manuscripts, cut a half-inch larger than regular typing paper so it sticks out of the pile. If you are lucky enough to have a color printer, make good use if it. Just think how much easier it would be for your editor to identify with your characters if eachonespokeinadifferentcolor!

If you are even the least bit artistic, illustrate all your stories. Sometimes the editors need help to "see" the words on the page, and nothing says more than a good illustration. If you can't draw, you can usually find stock "clip art" files for most computers that will probably do the trick.

Always mail your work "return receipt requested." It costs a little more, but you'll always know that your manuscript arrived safely at its destination. Better yet, an editor is much more likely to remember your story if he has to stand in line and sign for it, unlike all the other nameless, faceless submissions that quietly slip into his mailbox unannounced.

Editors are always looking to discover the next Stephen King, and thus have an insatiable appetite for new authors. If you haven't sold anything yet, make sure the editor knows right up front in your cover letter that you are a beginner. This insures that your story will get all the attention that a new writer deserves.

Editors are busy people. Often too busy to read long manuscripts. Help them out by telling them all about your story in your cover letter so they can decide how much they really want to read it. Don't forget to let them know all the important details, including the ending, else they might just overlook all your hard work.

Editing is a lonely profession. A phone call from an enthusiastic author to check up on the status of a submission is just the thing to cheer them up. If you can't reach the editor right away, be persistent. Editors hate missing calls from new writers. Imagine the chagrin of the editor who kept missing calls from the beginning John Grisham!

Here's a little known secret: most markets are only too happy to pay the return postage for a promising new writer. It's their way of insuring that you will keep sending more. By all means include a self-addressed envelope, but don't stamp it. I didn't believe it either, but it's true!

Well, there you have it, my April tips to you. And when the contracts come rolling in, maybe next time I'll show you how to be firm and rewrite them to your best advantage. Now go out and knock 'em dead!

Copyright © 1996 Brian Plante, first appeared in The New Jersey Graveline , April 1996.

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