What THIS Editor Wants…and Doesn’t Want
What THIS Editor Wants…and Doesn’t Want
By Ty Drago
Twenty-Four years ago, I founded the ezine that is, today, known as ALLEGORY (www.allegoryezine.com). Since that fateful day in June 1998, I have published almost 70 issues featuring at total of over 800 short stories and articles by new and established writers worldwide. In the process of doing so, my staff (which began as just me but now includes five senior editors and seven associate editors) has reviewed roughly 50,000 unsolicited submissions—or, to use the colloquial industry term: “slush.” If you don’t feel like doing the math, that averages out to about 2,100 slush pieces per year, about 175 per month, or somewhere around 5.8 a day.
That’s quite a lot, especially considering that we all are, and always have been, volunteers.
Given those many years and those many stories, trust me when I say I’ve seen a lot of plotlines. Some have been good, others bad. Some have been truly awful, others stone-cold brilliant. Some have made me groan. Some have made me laugh. A few, a very few, have made me cry. I truly love it when a work of fiction brings a tear to my eye.
The question I get most often from authors, at least in my role as an editor/publisher, is this: What do you want to see, fiction-wise?
I, myself, once asked this question of the great Gordon Van Gelder, back when he was running The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy. At the time, we were both attending a science fiction event in New York, back when I was hungrier and a good deal less experienced than I am now. His response was glib but completely true, “I want the same thing everyone else is writing, but different.”
A surprisingly fine line exists between originality and marketability. Stray too far toward the former and the story can be confusing, confounding, and ultimately off-putting. Stray too far toward the latter and one risks a “Seen it!” rejection letter from the editor. Lord knows I’ve sent out more than of few of these over the years, though I try to put it more gently than that.
Allow me to offer an example of each:
Many years ago, at a writers conference, a young author approached me in the hospitality suite. I remember the encounter vividly—in a moment you’ll see why.
He opened with, “Hey, I understand you’re an editor.”
My pithy response was, “Only on my bad days.”
He ignored this brilliant quip and instead declared, “Well, I’ve written the greatest short story of all time and wanted to know if you’d be interested in seeing it.” Note that this was a statement, not a question.
Okay, that intrigued me. So, I replied with a smile, “Absolutely!”
And, unsmiling, he handed me a single sheet of paper. At the top was his name, address, phone number, and email. Below that, there was the title: “Everything.” And below that was his byline.
The rest of the sheet of paper was completely blank.
I stared at it, trying to comprehend. I mean, this was a joke, wasn’t it? It had to be a joke, and not even a particularly original one!
But when I looked up at the guy, his eyes were positively glowing. “Do you get it? By capturing nothing, I’ve captured everything!”
I admit it took me a few seconds to find my tongue. To call the situation awkward didn’t even begin to say it. “Um…” I began cleverly, then regrouped and tried again. “I don’t think we’re the right market for this piece.”
His face instantly fell, the glow disappearing from his eyes. His shoulders slumped. I remember he had very thin shoulders. He made a sound, half groan and half grunt. Then he said, “I’d hoped you were an editor with vision.”
Well now, that just pissed me off. Glaring up at him, any awkwardness gone, at least from my perspective, I replied, “Oh, I have vision… and my vision tells me there are no words on this goddamned piece of paper!” Then, before he could say anything further, I handed the sheet roughly back to him and added, “Thank you for submitting your material. We regret it does not suit our present needs.”
The moral of the story? There’s such a thing as being too original; it can come off as gimmicky—even cheesy.
Now let’s look at the other end of the spectrum.
Marketability is important, especially in these days of modern publishing when there are so many writers and, it often seems, fewer markets for their work. So, it may be tempting to rely on familiar tropes in the hopes of giving the editor (in this case, Yours Truly) a comfortable foothold toward understanding and ultimately appreciating the story.
Here’s the problem I have with that thinking and let me preface this by saying that I’m speaking only for myself. Another editor might feel differently. This is the most subjective business in the world. That’s a fact that every author needs to learn early on. End of preface.
If you have something new to say about vampires or Nazis, I’d love to see it. But, and this is a big but, it has to be something I haven’t seen a hundred times before. For every issue of ALLEGORY, an inordinate number of submissions deal with fanged fiends. I’ve been forced to read stories featuring bad vampires, good vampires, morally ambiguous vampires, teenage vampires, dog and cat vampires, and—yes—sparkly vampires (someone sent us a piece of Twilight fan fiction once). I’ve seen vampires from the future, vampires from the past, vampires from other planets, other galaxies, other dimensions. I’ve suffered through vampire wizards, vampire kings, vampire mail carriers, and even a vampire plumber (though aren’t they supposed to be afraid of running water?)
All this is equally true of Nazis. As horrific as they were, and as bolstered as a story might seem by the grim reality behind them, from a purely narrative standpoint, they’ve been pretty thoroughly played out. And before you ask, yes, I have seen more than a few stories about vampire Nazis!
“Okay,” I hear you all saying. “You don’t want vampire or Nazi stories. Message received. But what, then, do you want?”
First of all, I never said I don’t want vampire or Nazi stories. I just don’t want the same old stuff, the same old plots, the same old neck-biting or goose-stepping. I’d love to see a piece that takes them in a brand-new direction. As to what that direction is or might be—well, folks, that’s not my problem, is it?
Second of all, what I want is a good story. It sounds so simple when I say it like that, though I know it’s anything but. I want the plot to suck me in (no pun intended) with its first line and I want the second line, the third, and all the rest that follow to pull me through to the end. I want characters I can relate to, either love or despise, root for or curse. I want a story that reaches me on an emotional level and draws from me exactly the response that the author intended, i.e. funny where it’s supposed to be funny, scary where it’s supposed to be scary, and sad where it’s supposed to be sad.
Writing is about connection. As an editor, it’s my job to make sure the stories I offer up to my substantial readership make that connection with competence and aplomb.
So, I guess the final answer is this. What do I want? I want you to help me do that.
And, while you’re at it, pick up a copy of RAGS, my newest YA horror novel, that’s due out by the good folks at eSpec Books in the very near future. See, I’m a writer, too—and I get it.
I really do.
By Ty Drago
Genre: Horror, Dark Fantasy, Paranormal, Urban Fantasy
Tropes: Heroine’s Journey, Superpower/Origin story, surviving the foster care system, underdog against
the crime syndicate.
Setting: 1982 Atlantic City, Steel Pier, Atlantic City Boardwalk
Atlantic City, 1982
One cold December night, sixteen-year-old Abby Lowell and her foster sister are rescued by a
mysterious and deadly figure in rags and a large hood. Abby never learns his name and never sees his
face, but he’s obviously good with that black-bladed knife of his, very good.
Abby dubs him “Rags.”
But Rags isn’t done, not by a long shot. With her foster family under threat from the ruthless Bernards,
who are determined to tear down their dilapidated hotel in favor of yet another casino, Abby finds herself
in desperate need of a defender. A part of her is relieved when Rags returns to protect her again. And
again. And again.
Now, with an army of thugs and a terrifying Voodoo witch hunting her, Abby must not only
understand the dark truth behind Rags. She must accept that truth, frightening as it is, before it’s too late.
- About the Author
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Ty Drago is a full-time writer and the author of ten published novels, including his five-book Undertakers series, the first of which has been optioned for a feature film. Torq, a dystopian YA
superhero adventure, was released by Swallow’s End Publishing in 2018. Add to these one novelette, myriad short stories and articles, and appearances in two anthologies. He’s also the founder, publisher, and managing editor of ALLEGORY (www.allegoryezine.com), a highly successful online magazine that, for more than twenty years, has features speculative fiction by new and established authors worldwide.
Ty’s currently just completed The New Americans, a work of historical fiction and a collaborative effort with his father, who passed away in 1992. If that last sentence leaves you with questions, check out
his podcast, “Legacy: The Novel Writing Experience,” to get the whole story.
He lives in New Jersey with his wife Helene, plus one dog and two chickens.