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Taking Submissions: Diabolical Plots

July 31, 2016

Deadline: July 31st
Payment: 8 cents per word

NOTE: During the last submission window there were some problems with email notifications getting through to users.  If you think of it when submitting, write down the tracking number shown in your browser; you can use that to check the status at any time.(normally that would also be emailed in an auto-notification).  If you didn’t write that down, you can query as described below–just be careful not to mention your story title to disqualify, just say the email address you used to submit.

David Steffen is the editor.  He will be reading all submissions himself, no slushreader.  Be sure you read the guidelines and pay close attention to the requirements around anonymity–since there is a staff of one, the requirements for anonymity are extra important to avoid disqualifying your submission.




Genres: science fiction, fantasy, horror (everything must have speculative element, even horror).

Word count: 3500 words or less. This is a firm limit.  If you submit a longer story, it will be rejected unread and that will count as a submission. Do not query to ask permission to submit something longer either–the answer will be no.

Pay rate: 8 cents per word (more than the professional rate as deemed by SFWA)

Multiple submissions: A total of TWO submissions per author during this submission window.  You don’t have to wait for one response to send the second one–you can just send both whenever you want during the window.  We’re aiming to publish a couple stories of complementary length per month–one very short with one longer or two middling length ones–so I suggest that it would be a good idea to submit a short and long yourself if you have them available.

Simultaneous submissions: No.

Reprint submissions: No. That means you should not submit anything that has been published in any format, blog, e-zine, print, podcast, anything.  Sharing stories with other authors in login-protected critique sites like Baen’s Bar or Critters is fine.

Resubmits: No.  Do not send a story you’ve submitted to us before, whether it’s been revised or not.

Estimated Response Time: 30 days after end of submission window.  I will send initial responses to stories as I read them, which will either be hold notices or rejections.  Hold notices I’ll keep until after the slush window to winnow down to the final selection.

IMPORTANT NOTE: We read submissions blind, with no author name. Do not do anything that will connect a story with your name or the story will be disqualified. Do not reply if we send you note that we’re holding your story–we don’t know your identity until accept or reject time, and we want to keep it that way.  Do not query with the title of your story–there are instructions on how to query further down these guidelines.


Speculative fiction–science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Everything should have a speculative element–that includes horror. Feel free to mix in other genres at will–a fantasy mystery or a science fiction romance.

And yes, we really mean it has to have a speculative element. If you submit a serial killer story with only mundane elements, even though that could be a horror story it’s not a speculative horror story and it will be rejected regardless of quality.

We have already published more than a dozen stories, so go read that for a good feel of what we’re interested in.

Things that we tend to really like:
Weird fiction
Sense of wonder
Strong character and plot arcs
Relatable protagonists (not necessarily likeable, not necessarily reliable)
Strong worldbuilding, hinting at more to see around the edges of the story
Philosophical food-for-thought
Straightforward, easily readable style
Religion, where the story does not try to convert the reader, nor does the story demonize religion–this is oddly rare in fiction that I read, even though I know a lot of people where religion is an important part of their lives.
Platonic friendship between men and women

Contemporary exemplars of my favorite short fiction writing style are Ferrett Steinmetz, Tina Connolly, Caroline M. Yoachim, Sam J. Miller, Rachael K. Jones, Lee Budar-Danoff, or Martin Shoemaker.  Tight concise prose that gives you everything you need to understand the story without overstaying its welcome, relatable characters, cool speculative ideas, all written very tightly.  You don’t have many words, there is no space to waste.

Rachael K. Jones’s concise and accurate take on David’s tastes:
I’d say David definitely loves *weird* fiction (the Drabblecast story selection is one of his favorite things ever), but I’d steer clear of anything that’s high in style but low in substance. I say this from reading years and years of his comments on the Escape Artists forums, and from swapping writing with him regularly over this last year.  So think less “literary” and more “startling, odd, and interesting”. Make sure there’s a plot and it’s not just a mood piece (even a very good mood piece).  I’d say, generally, he prefers character-driven stories with a strong outer and inner arc, with the outer arc being particularly important to earning your seal of approval. Meaning, he doesn’t seem, generally speaking, to be a big fan of straight-up lyrical pieces, unless there’s also a strong story to go with it, although you definitely want some substance to an action piece too.

We want to see stories from any and all demographics of people and about any and all demographics of people. Women or men or transgender people or genderqueer people , people of color or Caucasian people, straight or gay or bisexual or asexual people, disabled or abled or superabled people. We’re sure there are many we’ve neglected to mention, but that was not meant as a slight if it’s the case. The world is made of all kinds of people, and we want to hear from all of them.

No erotica (there’s nothing wrong with erotica, but we don’t want to publish it).
No torture (i.e. things that remind us of the Saw series, Human Centipede).
Second person narration is a very hard sell.
Stay away from the well-trodden. Slushpiles are full of serial killer stories, stories about people killing their spouses or children, zombies, vampire romances, chasing whatever the latest YA craze is. You’ve only got two shots for the year. Make them good. We expect to have a lot of stories to read–stuff like this is going to make it easy to put your story down.

1. If you got a confirmation email, then we got your story. You can use the information there to check on the status at any time. Don’t query. You should have all the information you need.
2. If you have some reason to think that we might not have received your story–i.e., no confirmation email, or you got some kind of error report–you can feel free to query, but DO NOT mention your story title or your story will be disqualified. We set up the system so that we could judge without author name’s attached and we feel strongly about this requirement. Do tell us what email address you submitted through, and we’ll be able to confirm/deny that we have a submission from that email address in our system without wrecking anonymity. The recommended way to reach us is through the contact form on the Grinder, and double check that you DO NOT mention your story title.

First Publication Rights in English exclusive for six months from publication on the website. (can make exceptions for Best of the Year anthologies and special cases).

The stories will be published in three different formats by Diabolical Plots:

  • Included in an email newsletter sent to subscribers in the month prior to the official publication date.
  • Posted on the Diabolical Plots website.
  • Included in an ebook anthology of reprints that were all originally published on Diabolical Plots.

Eight cents per word, paid on publication. All rights will revert to author 2 years after contract is countersigned if publication rights aren’t exercised. The author retains copyright throughout.


Diabolical Plots is not on SFWA’s list of qualifying markets at this time.  Diabolical Plots definitely meets SFWA’s requirements for payment, longevity, publishing enough different authors, and lack of fees.  It’s not clear whether Diabolical Plots meets SFWA’s requirements for circulation, because the rules are not written in a way that has a clear meaning for a blog-style format.  A request for clarification has been sent, and it’s possible that Diabolical Plots may at some point become a SFWA-qualifying market, but it’s not a certain thing.

With recent rule changes at SFWA, it is possible to use sales to non-qualifying markets to qualify as long as they pay at least 6 cents/word, under the new rules allowing “small press” publications.  At least one previous Diabolical Plots author who successfully used a Diabolical Plots sale to qualify.

So, yes, we believe you should be able to use a Diabolical Plots sale to qualify for SFWA, and if Diabolical Plots becomes an official SFWA-qualifying market, then this will be much clearer.




Don’t worry about standard manuscript format, as long as we can read it we’ll read it.  The submission form uses a plain text box–if formatting like italics or bold are vital to understanding your story, feel free to use some notation to mark them, such as bracing text with _underscores_ for italics or *asterisks* for bold.  But if it’s not vital to the understanding of the story, don’t worry about it–we’ll do an editing pass in the case of acceptance and can talk about formatting then.

We have made a listing for Diabolical Plots on our tool The Submission Grinder which you can use to track your submissions or find out from anonymized user data what our response times are like. We encourage you to sign up for a free account for both your own use and to contribute your data for others to see our response times–you can see response time information from other users even without registering.  At this time this listing is the only source of submission response data for Diabolical Plots.

Via: Diabolical Plots.


July 31, 2016