SF/F Hard Sells: A Collection

In reading many submissions guides, I run across a lot of lists of “hard sells” — topics, tropes, and styles that editors aren’t interested in buying. Some of them are helpful for people new to genre fic, some are hyper-specific to the publication, some are deeply amusing. Here’s an ongoing collection of hard-sell lists. Original/updated texts are available at the sites of the respective publications.

Abyss & Apex:

“we have a severe allergy to zombies, elves, retold fairy tales, sports, westerns, vampires, and gratuitous sex and violence.”

Asimov’s:

“No sword & Sorcery, please. Neither are we interested in explicit sex or violence.”

Clarkesworld:

My favorite “hard sells” list, anywhere.
“Though no particular setting, theme, or plot is anathema to us, the following are likely hard sells:

  • zombies or zombie-wannabes (seriously, I’m not kidding)
    sexy vampires, wanton werewolves, wicked witches, or demonic children
  • stories about rapists, murderers, child abusers, or cannibals
  • stories where the climax is dependent on the spilling of intestines
  • stories in which a milquetoast civilian government is depicted as the sole obstacle to either catching some depraved criminal or to an uncomplicated military victory
  • stories where the Republicans, or Democrats, or Libertarians, or the Spartacist League, etc. take over the world and either save or ruin it
  • stories in which the words “thou” or “thine” appear
  • talking cats or swords
  • stories where FTL travel or time travel is as easy as is it on television shows or movies
  • stories that depend on some vestigial belief in Judeo-Christian mythology in order to be frightening (i.e., Cain and Abel are vampires, the End Times are a’ comin’, Communion wine turns to Christ’s literal blood and it’s HIV positive, Satan’s gonna getcha, etc.)
  • stories about young kids playing in some field and discovering ANYTHING. (a body, an alien craft, Excalibur, ANYTHING).
  • stories about the stuff we all read in Scientific American three months ago
  • stories about your RPG character’s adventures
  • “funny” stories that depend on, or even include, puns
  • stories where the protagonist is either widely despised or widely admired simply because he or she is just so smart and/or strange
  • stories that take place within an artsy-fartsy bohemia as written by an author who has clearly never experienced one
  • stories originally intended for someone’s upcoming theme anthology or issue (everyone is sending those out, wait a while)
  • your trunk stories
  • stories that try to include all of the above

Flash Fiction Online:

They’re very detailed about what they don’t want. These topics/tropes include:

  • Stories that are sexist/racist/actively opposed to diversity
  • Second person point of view
  • Polemical fiction
  • Human race is evil
  • “any story in which the ending is an unsupported surprise”
  • Unnamed main characters
  • Downer endings
  • Blood and Violence

Gingerbread House (fairy tale specialty)

No stories for children. No fan fiction of any sort (commentary on famous work is different). No sword & sorcery. Definitely nothing racist or pornographic. We’re not particularly into sci-fi. Retellings are fine, but should offer a new spin.

Hypnos:
Hypnos’s “warnings” list, unlike most others, is directed towards style, not tropes. These include:

  • FEATURELESS SETTINGS, EVERYDAY LANGUAGE ,UNCONVINCING DIALECT
  • MUNDANE DIALOGUE
  • CONTEMPORARY STEREOTYPES
  • SELF-ABSORBED NARRATION
  • WORD CHOICE
  • DISTRACTING DETAILS
  • SOCIOPOLITICAL ASIDES
  • HYSTERICAL REACTIONS
  • CONFUSING DIALOGUE
  • CONVOLUTED PLOT
  • UNNECESSARY SEX
  • TONAL SHIFTS (perhaps better known as
  • “mood whiplash”)
  • HISTORIC DETAILS
  • ANACHRONISTIC CHARACTERS
  • SHORT SENTENCES
  • POPULAR CULTURE
  • PRETENTIOUS WRITING
  • AVOIDING CONTROVERSY
  • OBJECTIVE TONE
  • LENGTHY ASIDES
  • INCORPORATING EXPOSITION
  • MODIFIER USAGE (specifically lack thereof)
  • ABSTRACT DESCRIPTION
  • BLAND CHARACTERS
  • INADEQUATE DESCRIPTION
  • POOR PACING

Intergalactic Medicine Show:

“Please note: IGMS does not publish explicit sex or violence. We are a little quirky about language as well: obscenity is fine in moderation, but profanity is not. (In short: We will not publish the f-word, and if your story invokes divinity, we ask that it actually be invoking divinity…)

In the past, we’ve used the PG-13 standard as a model for content restriction, and it is still a useful comparison. Our aim is to have stories that people of all walks of life and ranges of experience can enjoy (and maybe even feel a little uncomfortable about enjoying) and that they can discuss. This means promoting stories that can be argued about at the coffee shop AND at the dinner table.”

Stupefying Stories:

Much more specific than other lists, with some delicious terminology like “would gag a maggot”. I’d recommend reading their whole list at the bottom of their submissions guide, even if you don’t plan on submitting.

  • Gory, gut-churning horror.
  • Paranormal romance.
  • Imitation Tolkien
  • Anachronistic noir mashups.
  • Thinly disguised Star Trek fan fic.
  • Serial killer stories.
  • “Military” hard SF stories from people who know nothing about the military
  • Excessive swearing
  • SF/F rewrites of famous stories.
  • …especially Dracula.
  • Anything involving Jack the Ripper.
  • “Battle Royale” stories

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