Archive for the 'Getting Published' Category

Nov 06 2016

Calling All Supervillain Stories

I provide advice about how to write novels, comic books and graphic novels. Most of my content applies to fiction-writing in general, but I also provide articles specifically about superhero stories.

Den Warren, (K-Tron, Metahuman Wars) is issuing a call for 3k-5k word submissions for a superhero prose fiction anthology titled, The Supreme Archvillain Election.

Each submission will be a supervillain sitting at a huge table explaining why they should be voted as the Supreme Archvillain, then they go into a story, etc. Reprint excerpts and new writers welcome.

8 responses so far

Jun 11 2012

Reader Email: “How Long Does It Take to Get Published?”

Published by under Getting Published

The typical author spends about 10-11 years to get published.


Some suggestions on how to get published faster:

  • Write regularly. I’d recommend setting aside 1-2 hours for writing each day. If you’re writing 300-600 words per day, you are definitely headed in the right direction.
  • Join a writing workshop. For example, the Critters Online Writing Workshop is free, online, and well-stocked with professional authors & editors. Workshop experience will help you think like an editor and, eventually, impress editors.
  • Establish an audience with nonfiction work? For example, I practiced my writing by blogging about writing advice. The initial results were extremely slow (e.g. it took me 6 months before my readers were collectively spending more time here than I was), but within 5 years (when I got published), SN had had around 500,000 readers.

No responses yet

May 30 2012

The Most Common Reasons Good Manuscripts Get Rejected

Published by under Getting Published

Most publishers reject 99%+ of unsolicited submissions. Based on the manuscripts I’ve read, here’s my take on the most common issues that separate pretty good manuscripts from the top 1%.


1. The main protagonists act too much like most other protagonists would act in the same situation. This will probably make the characters feel generic and forgettable. Some fixes:

  • Please make sure that your characters have distinguishing traits. These will help you find situations where the characters act differently than most protagonists would. For example, in The Avengers, Tony Stark has a lot more curiosity than self-control or tact, so it is fitting and memorable that he electrically prods Banner to see whether Banner can resist turning into the Hulk under pressure.
  • Make sure there are consequences for every decision (especially the unusual ones). Cattle-prodding the Hulk leads to an interesting confrontation with more compassionate and/or restrained characters. The consequences make the decision more memorable.
  • If your cast is too large, it is harder to distinguish each character. If this is an issue, merging and/or deleting characters would give you more opportunities to develop each character. It’d be much easier to sell a novel publisher on a superhero team with 2-4 interesting members than 5-7 scantly-developed heroes.
  • Please develop your characters beyond their capabilities (e.g. superpowers). If your query letter spends more time talking about a main character’s superpowers than developing the character’s distinguishing traits and/or personality and/or motivations, I would lean towards a rejection.


2. The main protagonists are generically nice and/or do not make disagreeable decisions.  This does not mean that the protagonists have to be antiheroes (and especially does not mean that they should be jackasses*), but readers should disagree with something the main character does. For example, Peter Parker lets the robber go out of petty spite. This will help add a bit of moral depth and help establish that the character has a pulse.


3. *The main characters are totally unlikable. Some common examples:

  • The main characters are generic and lack any personality or distinguishing traits, particularly everyman high school students dealing with one-dimensionally nasty bullies and superheroes dealing with forgettable bank robbers.
  • Characters that act disagreeably without any reason to. Peter Parker comes across as petty (but not a jackass) for letting the robber go, because the robber’s victim had tried to cheat Peter. In contrast, just letting him go for the hell of it would have been jackassery.
  • The character doesn’t have a personality besides being angry.  If you’re doing a revenge-driven character in the mold of the Punisher, I’d recommend looking at how values like honor and loyalty keep the protagonist of Point of Impact likable even though he’s a frosty killer.


4. The plot is too hard to follow. Can 95%+ of your readers accurately recount what is literally happening in each scene?

  • Do we have enough information to understand why things are happening?
  • In particular, the first time something supernatural comes up, I would recommend being clear that something unusual is happening, because readers aren’t yet sure that supernatural explanations are in play.
  • Are fictional words and concepts introduced gradually enough that new readers can figure out what’s going on and how the pieces fit together?
  • Can we figure out who is delivering each line of dialogue?


5. The beginning is too slow and/or does not show the main character(s) doing interesting things.  Common offenders:

  • The story starts with a prologue far removed from the main characters.
  • We don’t get enough chances to see what makes the main characters exciting and/or different than most characters in their genre(s).  For example, a main character waking up and doing a mundane routine would probably bore readers, unless the character has been woken up by a barrage of artillery fire or his morning routine is preparing for a commando raid at 0400.
  • The narrator drops an infodump, a block of exposition which focuses on worldbuilding at the expense of characters doing interesting things. I would generally recommend introducing your world by having characters experience it.


6. The stakes are too low and/or the goals are not urgent enough for the characters. The stakes don’t have to be life or death, but the characters really need to feel that something major is at stake.

  • One potential issue is when the main character passively waits for the main plot to unfold. If you need some time to bring the main character into the main plot, you can use an intermediate goal to drive the story forward and develop the character. For example, Harry Potter spends several chapters dealing with his family before coming to Hogwarts, Tony Stark deals with Afghani terrorists before tangling with the main villain, and Luke Skywalker argues with his uncle about becoming a pilot before he fights against the Empire.


7. The plot hinges on inexplicably idiotic decisions, like a villain letting the heroes go or a character withholding critical information for no apparent reason. Make sure that important decisions have motivations. For example, in The Matrix, the villains release a captured protagonist after bugging him so that he will unwittingly lead them to the other protagonists. In contrast, releasing the heroes without any ulterior motive will probably make the villain feel 100% nonthreatening and raises huge issues about whether anything is actually at stake for the heroes. If I had been otherwise leaning towards a rejection on a manuscript, this would certainly push me over.


8. The main plot gets derailed by side-plots. The most common offender I’ve seen here is half-hearted romances. If you’re not into romance (e.g. have never read a romance novel or short story), those thousands of words could probably be used more effectively elsewhere.

16 responses so far

May 03 2012

Canadian Superhero Authors Wanted

Tyche Books is looking for Canadian superhero stories between 1000-10,000 words. “We want to see any and all permutations of the superhero genre, but with a uniquely Canadian perspective. Stories must involve a Canadian element — setting, politics, culture, history, characters, etc. Any genre-mashing goes: alternate history, crime, horror, romance, SF, fantasy, surrealism; we want a variety of tones, approaches, subgenres, cultural perspectives, etc. We’re especially interested in submissions where setting (a specific city, region, or province) plays an essential role, but we’re open to other types of stories, too.”


I’m looking forward to the resulting anthology, because Canada has everything a superhero story needs: international intrigue, dark plottings, and enough lies buried in murders to make even a Minnesotan gasp. How does a superhero survive in a country where even the geese are trying to kill everybody? Are Canadian superheroes mortified when Hollywood casts them as Australians or Britons? What sort of doomsday schemes are unfolding in the barely-inhabited reaches of the Canadian wilderness? (The Apocalypse Nome Theorem, multiplied by Canada). And, of course, the Wolverine Paradox: how many Americans does a Canadian have to slice to become popular in the United States?

8 responses so far

Feb 21 2012

Overcoming Psychological Barriers to Authorial Success

I saw this in one of Slate’s advice columns:

Q: This may not sound like a problem, but I seem to be surrounded by incredibly talented people. My boyfriend has appeared on magazine covers for his worldwide surfing adventures and is also a published writer (which is my chosen field, but I’ve found no success in it). My siblings and circle of friends are all artists and musicians enjoying relative success and happiness with these careers. I know this sounds hyperbolic, but all of them seemed to have found something they’re not only very good at, but passionate about as well. I, on the other hand, am a mediocre “jack of all trades” type and want nothing more than to find that thing that I will shine at… How can I find my talent and/or not be resentful of those in my life who already have?

Here are some thoughts:


1. Writing is more of a practiced skill you create than an innate talent you find.  Temperament and attitude are better indicators of success as a writer than talent is.

  • Are you excited about improving?
  • Do you work hard and write often?
  • Do you take constructive criticism maturely?
  • Are you brave enough to make mistakes and learn from them?
  • Do you read heavily, especially within the genre(s) you write?
  • Are you willing to see this through even though it will probably take you years?

If you said yes to all of those, I think you will probably succeed with practice.  If you said no to a few of them, it might be worth looking into other fields or other forms of writing.  For example, if you would feel like a failure if you’ve been writing for a year and haven’t been published somewhere, it might help to start with short stories rather than novels.


2. Some seemingly-untalented writers make vast improvements. Even incredible writers very frequently start out inauspiciously.  For example, Terry Pratchett’s first manuscript (Carpet People) was an absolute disaster, but he’s grown into an excellent author (maybe the best in his genre).  J.K. Rowling got rejected 12 times and many authors top 50 rejections.  Closer to home, P. Mac and I were not the most talented writers in our high school–hell, not even in our family–but we’ve both practiced heavily* and he’s since been published in the New York Times and I’ve had a few hundred thousand readers.


3. Don’t be discouraged if there is a gap between your self-expectations and the quality of your early work.  You won’t impress professionals right away and that’s okay.  When young writers feel frustrated by the quality of their writing, most often it’s because they’re comparing themselves to experienced writers that have had tens of thousands of hours of practice and are in the prime of their careers.  If your self-expectations are high enough that you’ve read through this far, please keep in mind that the only way to close the gap between your self-expectations and the quality of your work is to practice.


4. Unless you’re independently wealthy, I would recommend looking into full-time writing and/or editing jobs to hone your craft (such as communications, journalism, publishing, publicity, marketing, etc).  The typical professional novelist took 10 years of practice to get published.  That’s a long time to go without getting much positive reinforcement–your self-doubts may overtake your drive.  In contrast, a full-time writing job will give you writing assignments where you can plausibly succeed in the short and medium terms.  That sense of success will help propel you forward.  Additionally, the steady pay and practice will help you develop your writing skills and keep your anxiety level to a minimum.


And this concludes our hopefully encouraging note on talent, effort and the publishing industry.  And now, back to our regularly-scheduled, morbidly depressing content, such as 5 Ways to Survive a Writing Career Without Buying Food.

12 responses so far

Nov 24 2011

Writing a Marketable Superhero Novel

One major obstacle to getting a superhero novel published is marketability–can your novel convince publishing professionals that it is likely to sell many thousands of copies?  This might be a bit counterintuitive.  Even though superhero stories have sold billions of dollars worth of movie tickets and dominate one branch of the publishing industry (comic books), superhero novels are not known for strong sales.  Here are some tips based on the superhero novels that have been most successful.


1. Please make your novel at least reasonably intelligent.  A superhero comic book or movie might conceivably become a bestseller despite being pretty idiotic.  (Batman and Robin sold ~$240 million worth of tickets, for example).  Comic books and movies have other things to fall back on besides the quality of the writing.  Novels, not so much.  For one thing, the target audience for novels is people that actually willingly buy novels, who tend to be more literate than the population as a whole.  Consequently, the most successful superhero novels (notably The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and the Wild Cards series) tend to be more complex than just action. For example, Amazing Adventures and the first few* Wild Cards books  were historical chronicles and AA had more action for an artist escaping Nazi-occupied territory than it did for any superheroes.

  • Imagination.  Does your story have elements we haven’t seen before?  If we have seen plot elements before, are you executing them differently and/or more interestingly?  For example, Amazing Adventures deftly handled a stranger-in-a-strange-land with a great ear for the artist’s unusual-sounding voice and some interesting use of his cultural background.  In contrast, the Superman series bends over backwards to make Superman’s transition to Earth as seamless and undramatic as possible.  (Superman looks exactly like a stereotypically attractive human, his English is utterly nondescript, his superpowers don’t create enough problems for him, there are few if any cultural differences in play, etc).
  • The ability to make connections and offer themes that are not necessarily obvious.    For example, The Incredibles has a few scenes where superheroics get mistaken for adultery/inappropriate love.

*Thanks to John for the correction there.


2. It might help to consider a setting besides “pretty much any modern First World city.”  I think it’s more acceptable for superhero comic books to use a more or less generic city as the setting.  (Besides the names of the villains, is there anything that could happen in Superman’s Metropolis that couldn’t happen in Spider-Man’s New York or Green Lantern’s Coast City or vice versa?).  If you’re doing a novel, I’d recommend looking harder at more flavorful, distinct examples (inside and outside of the superhero niche) like Batman’s Gotham, Terry Pratchett’s Unseen University (and probably Ankh-Morpork generally), Watchmen’s New York, Transmetropolitan’s The City*, Harry Potter’s Hogwarts, maybe Dresden Files’ Chicago and Making the Corps’ Parris Island.  Also, whereas most superhero comic books and movies are set mostly on modern Earth, quite a few successful superhero novels have experimented with historical settings (e.g. Amazing Adventures and Bitter Seeds are mostly about WWII and the buildup to WWII and the first few Wild Cards books cover the period from WWII to the present).

*Vastly more interesting than it sounds.


Continue Reading »

21 responses so far

Sep 06 2011

Erik Larsen’s Comic Book Submission Answers

If you’re interested in submitting a comic book, particularly to Image, I would really recommend checking out these answers from Erik Larsen.

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6 responses so far

Aug 20 2011

More Publishers Looking For Superhero Short Stories

I’ve added the following publishers to my list of publishing houses that mention superhero stories in their submission guidelines.


Damnation Books wants realistic portrayals of metahumans and superpowers for its Corrupts Absolutely Anthology.  “Modern pop-culture is brimming over with stories of bright, polished men and women with indestructible moral codes, who throw themselves into a life of public service after being graced (or cursed) with cosmic powers… I call BS. How about people with flaws? People with serious psychological issues? People that have been looking for a ticket out of their circumstances and finally lucked into it?… To some, this just screams ‘supervillain,’ or ‘antihero,’ and in many cases, you’d be right. But usually, these are stock characters without much substance. They’re the ‘bad guys.’ Real life isn’t that simple…”

  • Length: 3000-5000 words.
  • Deadline: December 1, 2011.  
  • Hey, ladies!  The editor mentions that he’s looking especially carefully for female authors and/or female leads.


Hyperpulp wants literary stories that “demonstrate a concern with writing, not only with plot or characters.”  It specifically mentions fantasy superhero and sci-fi superheroes on its Duotropes page.  “The idea is to harbor stories that exceed expectations, surprise the reader – also regarding the form – and are not afraid to subvert clichés and conduct experimentations… We’ll give preference to a prose more poetic and surprising.”

  • Length: Up to 10,000 words.
  • Hey, Brazilians!  Hyperpulp publishes in both English and Portuguese.
  • Hey, procrastinators!  No deadline.


Continue Reading »

10 responses so far

Aug 18 2011

An Allegory About the Importance of Proofreading

Published by under Getting Published

An aspiring airplane designer is discussing one of his test-models with a prospective buyer at United Airlines.  Suddenly the test-model bursts into a fireball on the runway.


The designer sips his coffee.  “And I’ve also achieved enviable fuel economy and a sleek but stylish frame.”


Your plane just exploded.”


“But what about the paint job?”




If your writing isn’t getting as many responses as you want (from prospective reviewers, publishers or agents), I’d recommend considering whether you’re sending them an exploding plane.  Please check hard for mechanical errors* before submitting your stories to other people.  Few things convince readers that a story is not worth their time as quickly as proofreading errors.  (Also, even the most altruistic reviewers hate getting used as a punctuation-checker).


*It’s okay to groan here. I did.

3 responses so far

Aug 09 2011

8 Reasons Authors Don’t Complete Their Manuscripts


1. The author is working on too many projects to finish one. It’s far better to complete one manuscript than to go halfway on two. Most publishers won’t consider an unfinished novel manuscript from an inexperienced author.


2. The author is unwilling and/or unable to set time aside for writing. Alternately, perhaps the author sets aside a regular time, but is not consistent about actually using it. If you put aside one hour per day for writing, you can pretty easily write 1-2 pages. (Actually, I’d like to phrase that more confidently. If you can sit down for an hour and do nothing but write, you WILL write at least 1-2 pages. If you can do 1-2 pages a day in sequence, you will have a manuscript drafted within 6 months). If you’re writing at your computer, I’d recommend turning off the Internet because I find it tends to reduce productivity.


Continue Reading »

52 responses so far

Aug 04 2011

Link Roundup

One response so far

Jul 18 2011

Why Do Good Novel Manuscripts Get Rejected?

1. It was good, but not good enough.  At major publishers, publisher’s assistants reject ~995 out of every 1000 unsolicited submissions and pass on the remaining 5 to their bosses for further consideration.  Of those five, maybe 1-3 will be offered contracts.  If you had to reject 995 out of 1000 prospective works, you’d almost certainly have to eliminate many good manuscripts and some very good ones in favor of great and/or highly-marketable manuscripts.  Publishers don’t have enough money to publish all (or even most) of their good submissions.


2. It didn’t make enough of an impact on readers.  Publishing is a high-risk industry.  You need to convince publishing professionals to put themselves on the line for you.  An editor that was truly impressed is much more likely to speak up on your behalf than one that felt it was merely pretty good.  Write a book so good that editors would regret letting it slip away to another publisher.


3. It’s not what the publisher is looking for right now.  For example, editors might pass on an otherwise publishable work if it’s too similar to something they’ve recently published.


4. There were elements that worked, but it’d need more rewriting before it was ready.  Depending on how well the strong elements worked, you might garner a revise-and-resubmit letter here.  “The characterization was really strong, but I found the plot hard to follow for reasons X and Y.  Could you work on that and send it back to me?”  Besides a publishing offer, a revise-and-resubmit letter is the clearest sign you’re deep along the path to publication.  Alternately, any sort of personalized rejection letter (even one that doesn’t ask you to resubmit) is somewhat encouraging.  There’s not enough time to write thousands of personalized rejection letters, so editors will only put in that extra time if they think something is working.  (Unless it’s “Plagiarizing my book and submitting it to my publisher is not the soundest career move”).

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One response so far

Jul 13 2011

List of Instant Rejections

Here’s a list of submission mistakes that may be instantly fatal to your query or submission letter.

1.  You’ve submitted something in a genre or medium the publisher doesn’t handle.  If you submitted a novel without a major romantic component to Harlequin or a comic book to a novel publisher, you’re dead on arrival.

2.  You’ve submitted a story that isn’t yours.  For example, if your story bears a startling resemblance to something that’s already been published, is fan-fiction, and/or is fan-fiction with the names changed, you’re probably dead on arrival.  Note: Most publishers do not accept unsolicited submissions for preexisting series or licensed works.  When DC Comics needs a writer for Batman or Dark Horse needs somebody for Star Wars, they’ll call authors that have already published notable works.

3.  Your submission was missing something listed in the submission guidelines.  For example, if the publisher asked for illustrated comic book pages but you forgot to include them, you’re dead on arrival.

4.  You submitted a query for an incomplete novel but are an unpublished author.  Finish the novel and try again.  I have not yet encountered a publisher interested in novel submissions from unpublished authors because nobody knows how long it will take the author to finish the novel or even whether the author is capable of finishing the novel.  The publisher can wait.

4.1. You tried submitting an “idea” or a “concept.”  Sorry, but novel publishers only consider completed novels from unpublished authors*.  On the other hand, some comic book publishers will consider partially-completed series (but usually want to see at least one issue scripted).  If you’ve been professionally published, you might be able to query a proposal for a book you haven’t started yet, but even then you’d have to finish it yourself.

*Unless you’re a major celebrity, like a film star or head of state.  In that case, a publisher might be willing to ghostwrite a book for you.

Continue Reading »

7 responses so far

May 20 2011

Will Your Manuscript Survive to Page 20?

Assuming your manuscript has survived to page 2, here are some thoughts about how to keep a publisher’s assistant reading to page 20. At a major novel publisher, the PA rejects ~995 out of each 1000 unsolicited manuscripts and sends on the rest to her boss.  PAs are under huge time constraints and have other job responsibilities (really!), so the only way for them to get through the slush pile is to stop reading manuscripts as soon as it’s clear they’re not among the very best. With that in mind, here are some of the shortcuts I would use to determine within 20 pages which manuscripts deserve more time and which don’t.


1.  As always, a manuscript with serious proofreading issues is dead on arrival. First, this is a generally reliable indicator that the story is not among the very best*.  Second, the more proofreading a manuscript needs, the more it will distract the editorial staff from their other duties (such as, umm, all of the other titles they’re working on).  If I were reviewing manuscripts for a publisher, I couldn’t envision any many circumstances where I would keep reading a submission with more than a few proofreading errors in the first 1000 words (~3 pages).  (Main exception: If the author is a celebrity or has a really interesting bio, such as experience as a Navy SEAL or SWAT officer, the publisher might be willing to put extra time into proofreading and/or ghostwriting).


*If you are an author that has gotten an unsolicited manuscript with more than ~10 typos professionally published, please let me know.  That must have been some story!


2.  I’d really like to see a main character quickly separate himself/herself from other protagonists in the genre. For example, he/she can do something that most other heroes in the genre wouldn’t do in the same circumstances.  If the main impression I get of the main character is “standard genre hero,” the character probably isn’t well-developed enough to hold my interest.  Relatedly, if the main character can be summed up in one word, I would regard that as a really bad sign.  If I’ve gotten through ~20 pages and the main character can be boiled down to “nerd” or “soldier” or “superhero” or “astro-ninja” or whatever, the characterization probably isn’t deep enough.  If I could use my own work as a positive example (even though I’m not a published author), I feel Agent Orange established himself as a lively, unusual sort of superhero.  Here’s what I did with 5 comic book pages in The Taxman Must Die (~200 words).  Given 20 novel pages (5000-6000 words), you can surely can do more.


3.  I’d really like to see the main character(s) doing interesting things as soon as possible. For example, if the story starts with a character waking up, I feel that’s a huge red flag unless the character’s morning routine is highly unusual and/or dramatic.  For example, if the character is woken up by artillery fire, that’s probably a good sign.  If the character has an ordinary morning leading into what seems to be an ordinary day of school, why not just skip to the interesting part?


Continue Reading »

18 responses so far

Apr 08 2011

Another publisher is looking for superhero short stories: Boxfire Press

Boxfire Press is looking for contemporary speculative fiction and is very receptive to gay characters. Its preferred genres include contemporary sci-fi, contemporary and urban fantasy, slipstream, supernatural, paranormal, alternate history and (of course) superheroes. Their preferred length for short stories is around 5000 words but can go up to 20,000.  They also do flash-fiction up to 500 words.  (Hat-tip: Aponi).


How to catch their eye: “Being clear and concise, using unadorned language, concrete modifiers (only when necessary) and strong, active verbs will send your submission skyrocketing to the top. On Writing Well by William Zinsser, while specifically about non-fiction, has great advice for anyone learning to write.”  Also, they are not fond of abusing substitutes for “said.”


They are separately looking for short stories to fill an anthology.  “The idea is pretty simple, all the stories revolve around a red scarf lying on the road and answer the question, in some way or another, how did it get there?”  (Note: This theme is just for the anthology).   Story length for anthology entries: 2000-20,000 words. The preferred genres are the same as above.


If you know of any other publishers looking for superhero short story submissions, please let me know and I’ll add them to the list.  Thanks!

4 responses so far

Mar 30 2011

How to Format a Novel Manuscript

William Shunn’s guide to manuscript formatting is the best reference I’ve seen on this subject.  If I could add some minor formatting points that should be obvious:

  1. Please do not ever use more than one exclamation mark at time.  It looks awful!!!
  2. Even if you’re writing a heated conversation, please don’t end a string of sentences with exclamation marks!  It will look really strange!  I wouldn’t recommend it! In a heated conversation, readers can infer that the characters are shouting at each other even if the sentence ends with a period.
  3. If you’re inclined to capitalize words for emphasis, 1) don’t and 2) if you do, please do so super-sparingly.  (No, really, just a FEW times in the manuscript, PLEASE.  It’s SO HARD to read when AUTHORS just seemingly use all-caps AT RANDOM).

34 responses so far

Mar 29 2011

A List of Literary Rejections

Published by under Getting Published

Teresa Nielsen Hayden, an editor for Tor Books, wrote this list of the most common evaluations of novel manuscripts.  Where do you rank?  (The best I’ve ever gotten is #12, sadly).

  1. Author is functionally illiterate.
  2. Author has submitted some variety of literature we don’t publish: poetry, religious revelation, political rant, illustrated fanfic, etc.
  3. Author has a serious neurochemical disorder, puts all important words into capital letters, and would type out to the margins if MSWord would let him.
  4. Author is on bad terms with the Muse of Language. Parts of speech are not what they should be. Confusion-of-motion problems inadvertently generate hideous images. Words are supplanted by their similar-sounding cousins: towed the line, deep-seeded, dire straights, nearly penultimate, incentiary, reeking havoc, hare’s breath escape, plaintiff melody, viscous/vicious, causal/casual, clamoured to her feet, a shutter went through her body, his body went ridged, empirical storm troopers, ex-patriot Englishmen, et cetera.
  5. Author can write basic sentences, but not string them together in any way that adds up to paragraphs.
  6. Author has a moderate neurochemical disorder and can’t tell when he or she has changed the subject. This greatly facilitates composition, but is hard on comprehension.
  7. Author can write passable paragraphs, and has a sufficiently functional plot that readers would notice if you shuffled the chapters into a different order. However, the story and the manner of its telling are alike hackneyed, dull, and pointless.
  8. (At this point, you have eliminated 60-75% of your submissions. Almost all the reading-and-thinking time will be spent on the remaining fraction.)


  9. It’s nice that the author is working on his/her problems, but the process would be better served by seeing a shrink than by writing novels.
  10. Nobody but the author will care about this dull, flaccid, underperforming book.
  11. The book has an engaging plot. Trouble is, it’s not the author’s, and everybody’s already seen that movie/read that book/collected that comic.
  12. (You have now eliminated 95-99% of the submissions.)


  13. Someone could publish this book, but we don’t see why it should be us.
  14. Author is talented, but has written the wrong book.
  15. It’s a good book, but the house isn’t going to get behind it, so if you buy it, it’ll just get lost in the shuffle.
  16. Buy this book.

24 responses so far

Mar 12 2011

Another place to submit your superhero story: Wily Writers

The Wily Writers site is looking for superhero stories between 1000-5000 words. Deadline: April 30, 2011. Thanks, Aponi!

6 responses so far

Feb 14 2011

More places to submit your superhero short story!

I’ve added these three publishing markets to my list of publishers that want superhero short stories:

Continue Reading »

7 responses so far

Feb 08 2011

10 Reasons Novel Manuscripts Get Rejected

1.  Proofreading problems, such as spelling, grammar, punctuation and/or poor word usage. Failing to catch these sorts of mistakes in a manuscript or query will almost always lead to a quick rejection.

2.  The plot sounds too banal. Your query has one page to give us enough details to show what’s at stake and make your plot come alive.  For more on quickly getting to the point, see this article on two-sentence summaries.

  • REJECTED: “A man has to save the day.” The only way this could be more generic is if you replaced “man” with “person.”  Next time, say something about what he has to do to save the day, who he’s saving it from, etc.
  • STILL PRETTY BAD: “A detective has to solve a case.”
  • BETTER: “A poisoned detective has 48 hours to solve his own murder.”  I like the sense of urgency here.
  • SWEETNESS: “A killer who believes himself an artist of unmatched talent is incensed by being placed last on the FBI’s most wanted list.  He begins killing off those fugitives above him in twisted manners that serve his creative vision.”

3. The manuscript isn’t finished yet! I’m not aware of any novel publishers that work with first-time novelists that haven’t completed the manuscript.  Unproven first-timers prove themselves by completing the manuscript, and until then nobody will know whether you have it in you to finish the job.  The publisher can wait.

4.  The characters come off banal. What are their personalities like? How are they different from other protagonists in their genre?  (Personality? Key traits? Flaws? Hard decisions? Unusual choices? What’s at stake for them? What are they trying to accomplish? What mistakes do they make?)

5. The author has stumbled into a highly-developed niche without trying hard enough to stand out in a good way. In particular, if the author has only read a few books in the genre, it’s probably going to feel like a ripoff of them.  Read extensively and try looking for unusual choices you could give the characters.  For example, Peter Parker is more human than purely heroic, so it makes sense that he pettily declines to stop the robber that later kills his uncle.  Bob Swagger is so loyal that, even after being framed as an assassin, he breaks into an FBI-guarded morgue so that he can bury his dog properly.  In each of these cases, the unusual choice leads to a major negative consequence.  (Peter’s uncle dies and Bob gives away his position to the FBI).

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45 responses so far

Jan 25 2011

Two more superhero anthologies are looking for submissions; a third is out!

Writers Wanted

Beta City Anthology is looking for stories of superheroes and/or supervillains staving off an alien invasion.  “The forces attacking from Gehenna are diverse and cosmopolitan, so any alien rabble you can dream up can be used.  Their methods are up to you — classic spacecraft assaults, subtle sorcerous schemes, and unspeakable horrors let loose in dark alleys are all fair game.  Whether your preference leans toward science fiction, fantasy, horror, or something else entirely, your story can find a home here.  Similarly, while we love well-written superpowered action, we don’t want to fill the book entirely with tales of hero vs. alien combat.” Deadline: January 31.

  • I submitted a horror story about the aliens and humans banding together against Canadians, but I haven’t heard back yet.  Too edgy?

Gods of Justice is another superhero anthology looking for submissions.  They’re looking for stories that “can be dramatic, exciting, action-packed, scary, funny, romantic or a combination.”  The protagonists must be superpowered heroes.  Preferred length: ~6500-8000 words.  Deadline: January 2.  [UPDATE: The deadline has passed–I hope you made it!]

If you’re interested in more publishers that print superhero short stories, please see my full list.

Readers Wanted

A Thousand Faces, a quarterly anthology of superhero stories, has its autumn edition out.  Enjoy!

Hat-tip: Matt Adams, whose short story In Memoriam made the Thousand Faces anthology.  Congrats, Matt!

Bartenders Wanted

For every Chicagoan that watched the last Bears game.  Good God, we nearly beat the Packers with a third-string quarterback.  The only person who deserves liquid amnesia more than we do is Brett Favre.  (Too soon?)

10 responses so far

Jan 24 2011

Publishers That Specialize in Superhero Short Stories

I’ve already done a list of general-interest publishers that occasionally handle superhero novels, but here’s a list of publishers that mention superheroes in their submission guidelines for short stories and/or flash fiction.   (If you’re interested in searching for different types of publishers, try Duotrope’s Digest).


Damnation Books wants realistic portrayals of metahumans and superpowers for its Corrupts Absolutely Anthology.  “Modern pop-culture is brimming over with stories of bright, polished heroes with indestructible moral codes, who throw themselves into a life of public service after being graced (or cursed) with cosmic powers. I call BS…. How about people with flaws? People with serious psychological issues? People that have been looking for a ticket out of their circumstances and finally lucked into it?… To some, this just screams ‘supervillain,’ or ‘antihero,’ and in many cases, you’d be right. But usually, these are stock characters without much substance. They’re the ‘bad guys.’ Real life isn’t that simple…”

  • Length: 3000-5000 words.
  • Deadline: December 1, 2011.  
  • Hey, ladies!  The editor mentions that he’s looking especially carefully for female authors and/or female leads.


Hyperpulp wants literary stories that “demonstrate a concern with writing, not only with plot or characters.”  It specifically mentions fantasy superhero and sci-fi superheroes on its Duotropes page.  “The idea is to harbor stories that exceed expectations, surprise the reader – also regarding the form – and are not afraid to subvert clichés and conduct experimentations… We’ll give preference to a prose more poetic and surprising.”

  • Length: Up to 10,000 words.
  • Hey, Brazilians!  Hyperpulp publishes in both English and Portuguese.
  • Hey, procrastinators!  No deadline.


Jersey Devil Press prefers “funny, weird, and, above all, entertaining” short stories.  “Here are a few things we wouldn’t mind seeing more of: strong female voices, a light-hearted view of the world and truly bat-**** insane fiction.  If you’re worried that what you just wrote is too ridiculous to be published, send it… We like dark, we like ridiculous.  We like funny and we like ‘what the **** was that?”  On its Duotropes page, it lists superhero fantasy and superhero sci-fi as subgenres of interest.  For submission details, please see this and this.

  • Length: Up to 4200 words.
  • Hey, procrastinators!  No deadline.


Title Goes Here wants “dark stories with some sort of an imaginative twist… we’re not as concerned about genre as about tone.”  Its Duotropes page specifically mentions superhero fantasy and superhero sci-fi, among others.  Please read the submission guidelines here.

  • Length: Up to 10,000 words.
  • Hey, poets!  Sorry, but they really don’t want you.


The WiFiles want “works that incorporate speculative fiction and imaginative elements not found in contemporary reality, which includes… superhero and paranormal.”  Please read the submission guidelines here.

  • Length: 1000-5000 words.
  • Hey, procrastinators!  No deadline.


A Thousand Faces prefers character-driven superhero short stories that rise above stereotypical BIFF-BAM-POW superhero stories that exist solely as a framework on which to hang a lengthy fight scene. We want strong, character driven pieces. The superhero element may be slight, but it must be present. If you’re not sure what this means, picture your story minus the superhuman element. Does it still work as a story? If so, we probably won’t want it…”

  • Length: Short stories of any length will be considered, but preference will be given to ones shorter than 5000 words.


Powers wants superhero stories of any genre.  “Seeking original stories of superheroes. This can be pure comic-book style heroes, sci-fi, fantasy, horror, etc but the central theme / characters in the story MUST involve superheroes.”

  • Deadline: October 31.
  • Length: 2500-8000 words.  (Query first before sending something longer).


Metahuman Press prefers superhero serials (ongoing stories).  “Metahuman Press wants to develop super-powered fiction to the next level online, and one way we want to do that is to show a variety of writer’s creative visions online. Therefore, we have placed an open call for serialized heroic fiction…. While one shot stories are occasionally accepted, we prefer serials. Yeah, you can submit your short stories to us, and if they’re really good, we will probably publish them, but what MP is all about is serial stories. Think of just about every comic series you’ve ever read, then transplant it in to prose form. We want to provide readers with continued stories of new characters. These take one of two forms: the limited series or the ongoing series. Each form has slightly different guidelines to what you should send.”


Matters Most Extraordinary prefers supernatural powers mixed in with historical events.Stories should be based on real history, and should feature historical characters and/or historical events. The outcome of these events cannot be changed… The reason for the supernatural powers is not to be definitively explained in your story, although characters may form their own opinions as to the source of their powers…”

  • Length: Preferably 1000-15,000 words.  Stories shorter or longer may be considered but are not preferable.


Beta City Anthology is looking for stories of superheroes and/or supervillains staving off an alien invasion. “The forces attacking from Gehenna are diverse and cosmopolitan, so any alien rabble you can dream up can be used. Their methods are up to you — classic spacecraft assaults, subtle sorcerous schemes, and unspeakable horrors let loose in dark alleys are all fair game. Whether your preference leans toward science fiction, fantasy, horror, or something else entirely, your story can find a home here. Similarly, while we love well-written superpowered action, we don’t want to fill the book entirely with tales of hero vs. alien combat.”


Gods of Justice is another superhero anthology looking for stories that “can be dramatic, exciting, action-packed, scary, funny, romantic or a combination.”  The protagonists must be superpowered heroes.

  • Length: Preferably 6500-8000 words.
  • Content Limits: Up to PG-13.


Sword and Saga Magazine prefers inventive and adventurous stories. “We’re looking for stories that take genre fiction to the next level of imagination. Time travel, steampunk, experimental, sword & sorcery, hard & soft SF, futurism, medievalism, …  super hero, supernatural, contemporary-SF, SF Western….  Stories that show diversity in location and research a plus. New writers are welcome….  Stories should be lively and adventurous, demonstrating creative inventiveness. ”

  • Length: Up to 7500 words.  Flash-fiction will be considered.
  • Hey, poets!  Poetry actually is considered.


Disappearing Island Magazine prefers character-driven stories with “crazy imagination.”   “We are quite partial to stories where the character and their struggles are the most integral part. However, this doesn’t mean you can slack off with that crazy imagination of yours, either. Give us suspense, strange new worlds, and the colorful life on them….  Some subgenres of scifi we love are: Near Future, Distopian, Cyberpunk, Science Fantasy, Science Fiction Horror, Slipstream, Space Opera, Steampunk, and Superhero.  Some subgenres of fantasy we love are: Contemporary, Dark Fantasy, Fabulism, Magic Realism, Paranormal, Superhero, Supernatural, Urban Fantasy, and even Vampire (but if they sparkle, God help us all).”

  • Content Limits: “Your material should be PG-13 or lower.”


Daikaijuzine prefers fun speculative fiction that challenges the reader.    “We seek diversity in content and storytelling. We publish primarily speculative fiction, from horror to hard science fiction to high fantasy to mysteries to magical realism to mainstream, but we have room for other types of fiction as well. If superheroes or zombies or giant monsters are your thing, that’s fine too. We want stories that are well told, with strong characters and storylines, demonstrate respect for the reader and the language, and which are fun to read. Challenge us. Stretch our horizons. Make us think. At the very least, give us a good laugh.”

  • Length: 1000-6000 words.


Tower of Light Fantasy prefers character-driven fantasy short stories. “I will publish almost any kind of fantasy – especially stories that blend genres, such as dark fantasy, science fantasy, and superhero fantasy. Sword and sorcery and traditional fantasy are fine as long as they have fairly original plots and – more importantly – deeply interesting characters.  I might also consider stories that are closer to science fiction as long as they have a mystical or spiritual element.”

  • Length: 500-4000 words. “This word count is firm.”


Anansesem is a Carribbean-centered publication accepting superhero stories for kids.  “Anansesem publishes fiction, nonfiction, poetry and art by aspiring and established children’s writers and illustrators, and children (ages 8 to 16.) We give priority to persons living in or originally from the Caribbean region, but we also welcome work from around the world… We will accept children’s fiction in the genres of realistic fiction, fantasy, historical fiction, science fiction, super hero fiction, mystery, humor, and traditional (traditional = original work that fits the folk tale, fairy tale, or myth/legend sub-genres).”

  • Length: Short stories up to 5000 words and flash-fiction will be considered.  Excerpts or chapters from unpublished books will also be considered if they can make sense on their own.


Freedom Fiction wants speculative fiction. “This consists of genres such as science fiction, fantasy fiction, horror fiction, supernatural fiction, superhero fiction, alternate history, and all their sub-genres. Additionally we are into detective fiction, crime, gangster, hardboiled, noir fiction and very much into pulp fiction…. If your fiction is unconformist and maybe even not fitting the mentioned genres, do query us and we will see if we can find your story a home at Freedom Fiction.”

  • Length: Please query before submitting stories over 3000 words.


Theory Train wants “edgy new speculative fiction.” “Speculative fiction is defined as anything that occurs in a world not our own. So we’re looking for well-written fantasy, sci-fi, steampunk, superheroes, and horror…” Submissions for the upcoming issue are due May 1.

  • Length: Up to 4500 words.


Hogglepot wants short stories with magic. “Hogglepot accepts fantasy of all sub-genres, including (but not limited to) dark fantasy, heroic fantasy, fairy tale, historical, gothic, light fantasy, magical realism, paranormal, science fantasy, superhero, supernatural, steampunk, sword and sorcery, urban fantasy, and such. Think anything from Lord of the Rings to Toy Story and everything in between…. The fantasy element must be present in the story, whether the characters be magical creatures such as vampires or dragons, or if the protagonist stumbles upon an ancient magical artifact, or if the characters mix magical potions, etc. There needs to be some sort of magical element within the story. We like magic.”

  • Length: Up to 5000 words.   


Happy hunting!  Do you know of any publishers looking for superhero stories?  Please leave a comment or contact me, especially if you work for the publisher in question.  Thanks!


This Mutant Life prefers stories about the everyday lives of superheroes.  “We publish work which has some link to the world of superheroes, whether they be torn from the pages of classic four-colour comics, or the result of more introspective or unconventional approaches.  Stories which deal with the everyday lives of people with unusual abilities or physical characteristics are ideal, and there will be a definite preference given to stories which present interesting and well defined characters and situations…”

  • Length: Up to 6000 words.

65 responses so far

Aug 29 2010

Twenty Questions to Ask Before Submitting Your Story

Published by under Getting Published

Novelist Paulo Campos has a list of questions to help you determine whether your story is ready to submit. I found #1-9 especially helpful. One of my own: during your last rewrite, how much of the story changed? If less than 10% changed, you’re probably ready to submit.

2 responses so far

Aug 22 2010

Superhero anthology looking for submissions

Jay Faulkner is looking for superhero story submissions between 2500-8000 words long.  (For longer submissions, query first).

  • Genre: anything with superheroes.  “This can be pure comic-book style heroes, sci-fi, fantasy, horror, etc but the central theme / characters in the story MUST involve superheroes.”
  • Deadline: October 31, 2010.
  • Pay: none.

Submission details here.  Thanks for pointing this out, Matt.

23 responses so far

Aug 13 2010

Blood-Red Pencil’s Tips on How to Write a Strong Opening: Act First, Explain Later

This advice about how to write a strong introduction strikes me as mostly effective.

1.  Don’t begin with a long description of the setting or background information.  Do begin with dialogue and action. Agreed.  However, explain enough so that we know what’s going on.  I put down a book on page 2 yesterday because it spent all that time beautifully describing the weather and a man jumping out of a helicopter without explaining anything about why the guy came out of the helicopter.  At first, it wasn’t even clear whether the person fell out accidentally or jumped.

2.  Don’t start with a character other than your protagonist. You may wish to consider starting with the antagonist, but generally I agree with this.  If your side-characters are the most effective hook to your story, you’re writing the wrong story!

3.  Don’t start with a description of past events.  DO jump right in with what the main character is involved in right now, and introduce some tension or conflict as soon as possible. In some cases, the inciting event of the book may have happened before the book starts.  I don’t think that’s necessarily a problem.  For example, a novel might start with a superhero or homicide detective investigating a crime that has already happened.  As long as you keep the focus on what is happening now (the investigation, for example), covering an event that already happened shouldn’t bog down your plot.  

4.  Don’t start in a viewpoint other than the main character’s. Agreed!  I’d reject pretty much anything that starts with a side-character that shows up once and then disappears.  (Switching between main characters is okay, but a one-and-done narrator is NOT.  Don’t waste our time on a character that isn’t central to the plot).

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12 responses so far

Aug 08 2010

Answering This Week’s Questions from Google

Here are some queries that brought Google users to Superhero Nation this week.

  • How do I find out if my superhero story has already been told? Keep reading superhero stories, particularly in your medium (novels, comic books/graphic novels, etc).  Authors that have only read one or two series tend to write original work that reads like fan-fiction for those series.
  • Unused superhero names? When you use a name you found on the Internet, there really isn’t any guarantee it hasn’t been used.  If it’s good enough, someone will use it.  The closest thing you have to a guarantee of originality is doing it yourself.  The second-closest is asking a friend to brainstorm ideas without posting them online.
  • How do I sell a comic I wrote?  I assume you’re trying to get professionally published, rather than self-published.  Check out Nine Surprising Facts about Writing Comic Books.  Also, when you submit to a publisher, you’ll probably include  a page-long submission letter introducing your work and why they should publish it.  When it comes time to write that, I’d recommend reading as many of the articles in the Query Letter category as possible.  How to Communicate with Editors is a good place to start.

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No responses yet

Aug 05 2010

16 Reasons Your Manuscript Got Rejected Before Page 1

Publishers and literary agents reject quite a few manuscripts on page 1.  However, if the query letter is bad, the editor will probably reject you without even looking at page 1.  Here are some common problems and how to avoid them.

1.  “This is just like Harry Potter meets Dirty Harry.” Comparing your work to another will probably make your work sound like an uninspired ripoff.  Also, you can’t assume that the editor likes Harry Potter, or Twilight, or Spiderman, or whatever else you might think is the most awesome work ever.  Instead of trying to hitch a ride on somebody else’s bandwagon, talk about your work.  If editors think “this will totally work with Harry Potter fans,” great, but let them make that determination on their own.


2.  The description of the plot/characters lacked details. “Gary must work with his partner to stop the villain and save the day.”  What are Gary and the partner like?  What’s the villain like? What’s the villain’s goal? Why should we care if they stop him?  A more detailed description is usually more interesting.  If I had to describe The Taxman Must Die in a single sentence, I’d prefer something like “Two unlikely Homeland Security super-agents, an accountant and a fun-loving mutant alligator, must band together to prevent a deranged cosmeticist from destroying humanity.”  See more details on how to write an interesting and exciting pitch for your story here.

2.1  You forgot to mention the main goal(s) of the characters and major obstacles.  That’s sort of the point of the book!  Don’t miss it.


3.  You addressed the letter “To Whom It May Concern,” “Dear Editor” or “Dear Agent.” If at all possible, get a name–it’s more personal.  Most literary agencies have bios and specialties listed for each agent online, so address it to an agent that specializes in your genre(s).  If you’re submitting to a publisher, try using Google and addressing it to an editor that handles submissions.  Even though your manuscript may well be evaluated by somebody else, that will show that you have put some thought into this company specifically.  If the publisher has made no information available, then I think Dear Editor is the least awful alternative.  (I would recommend against calling the publisher and asking for the name of somebody to address it to–I think that’s generally seen as a breach of etiquette).

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27 responses so far

May 29 2010

How Long Does it Take to Get a Novel Published?

Jim Hines did a survey on how novelists break into the industry.  His ~250 respondents are skewed towards fantasy, romance and sci-fi, but I suspect that it’s not wildly different if you’re writing superhero action or historical or historical zombie, etc. Here are several main points I took away from his survey.

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15 responses so far

May 11 2010

How Long Should a Book for Children or YA be?

I already have a post about how long adult novels should be, but what if you’re writing for children or young adults? Mary Kole, a literary agent and young adult/middle grade author, suggests the following guidelines:

  • Board Book — 100 words max
  • Early Picturebook — 500 words max
  • Picturebook — 1,000 words max (Seriously. Max.)
  • Nonfiction Picturebook — 2,000 words max
  • Early Reader — This varies widely, depending on grade level. I’d say 3,500 words is an absolute max.
  • Chapterbook — 10,000 words max
  • Middle Grade — 35,000 words max for contemporary, mystery, humor, 45,000 max for fantasy/sci-fi, adventure and historical
  • YA — 70,000 words max for contemporary, humor, mystery, historical, romance, etc. 90,000 words max for fantasy, sci-fi, paranormal, etc.

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10 responses so far

Apr 28 2010

How Long Should Graphic Novels and Comic Books Be?

If you’re interested in length guidelines for graphic novels, please see this LinkedIn discussion. By the way, if you’re interested in getting published, I’d recommend getting on LinkedIn. It’s like Facebook for professionals. For example, right now I’m in discussions with other writers about how best to build up a writing platform to impress prospective publishers. I think it’s even better for comic book teams: I posted a request for feedback on a group for comic book illustrators and received feedback that was very useful and informed.


PS: Based on the graphic novels I’ve seen recently, I think anywhere between 132-200 pages would be publisher-friendly. However! Each publisher has its own preferred length, so check out what they’ve been publishing lately. If your length is significantly outside of the range of what they’ve published in the past few years, I think that bodes poorly for your chances there.


One final note: As a measure of comparison, comic books are usually 20-26 pages of content (not including ads). As always, check out what the publishers put out, but Marvel and DC usually publish at the shorter side of that, compared to Dark Horse and Image.

5 responses so far

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