Weird Tales®

Writer's Guidelines for Weird Tales®(cont)

RULE TWO: You must put your story into a format the editor can read, the copy-editor can edit, & the compositor can set into type.

      Ursula Le Guin, in her The Language of the Night, writes: "Your story may begin in longhand on the backs of old shopping lists; but when it goes to an editor, it should be typed, double-spaced, on one side of the paper only, with generous margins -- especially the left-hand one -- and not too many grotty corrections per page.
      "Your name and its name and the page number should be on the top [right corner] of every single page; and when you mail it to the editor it should have enclosed with it a stamped, self-addressed envelope."

      TYPED (or MACHINE-PRINTED) means just that. If you use ribbons, have a supply of new ones on hand; change to a new ribbon when you start the final draft of a story. The output must be black, not grey. But do not overink; be sure no letter looks like an amorphous blob. The typesetter must follow copy to the letter. To do this, he must be able to read, without guessing, every letter on every page.
      Many computer word-processors will default to a type size smaller than 12-point. YOU MUST OVER-RIDE THIS DEFAULT; a type size smaller than 12-point is NOT acceptable. If a too-small type-face might not keep an editor from reading your story at all, at least it'll put her in a bad mood. Although your printer may have no end of fancy fonts, you should use a simple font that looks like the output of a typewriter. Courier type, 12-point size is ideal; the closer to that, the better. Italic, script, or ALL-CAPITAL-LETTER typefaces are Not Acceptable. Never change typefaces within your manuscript; if you want the editor to make such a change when the story is typeset, say so in a penciled, marginal note. AVOID typefaces that confuse "i," "I," and "l," or the comma "," with the period "."

      DOUBLE-SPACED means leaving a full, blank line after every typed line; it does not mean putting extra space between words! On a typewriter, set the line-feed control to advance the paper two full lines at a time; on a printer, set the line spacing at 24 points. Either should give you three typed lines per vertical inch. Do NOT use the one-&-a-half-line setting some typewriters have; do not reduce the line spacing anywhere in the manuscript.
      Indent every paragraph five spaces, including dialog. Leave extra space between paragraphs only where you want to mark a shift in scene or a lapse of time.

      ON ONE SIDE OF THE PAPER, which should be white, 8.5 by 11 inches (or European equivalent), 16 or 20 pound bond. Do NOT use "erasable" paper.

      WITH GENEROUS MARGINS, about an inch, all the way around. It's quite all right to put a small mark on the paper about an inch from the bottom to tell you where to stop typing. Margins much larger than one inch waste paper and postage. If you use a word processor, check its manual, and then turn OFF the right justification and the hyphenation; do NOT let it suppress "widows & orphans" -- editors would rather see the same number of lines on every page (except, of course, the first and last ones). Do NOT break words at the end of lines. Editors (all editors!) prefer ragged right margins with even spacing between words.

      AND NOT TOO MANY GROTTY CORRECTIONS PER PAGE. Neither editors nor compositors are grading for neatness; we don't demand letter-perfect-the-first- time typing. We do object to erasures. If you use a typewriter, XXX-out or line out your deletions, and type or legibly hand-print any corrections above the place each is to be inserted. If you are using a word-processor and printer, proofread thoroughly before you print the submission copy.

      IDENTIFY YOUR STORY. Type (or machine-print) your full real name, AND YOUR ADDRESS (so we can send you money!) at the upper left-hand corner of the first page, an inch inside the top and left edges of the page. Your story's title (your responsibility; editors don't buy nameless stories) goes about a quarter of the way down the first page, with your name (or your pen name, if you use one) directly under that title. (Two suggestions: Avoid cutesy pen names; your own real name, especially an unusual one, is far better. But if a well-known writer has the same name as yours, change yours in some way, such as spelling out your middle name instead of an initial, or vice versa.) Use paper clips, NOT staples, to hold manuscripts together.
      Pages sometimes do go astray. Therefore, a glance at any page in the manuscript should reveal the story title, its author, and the page number. So: type or print your last name (plus initials if your name is a common one), a word or two from the title, and the page number on the upper right-hand corner of every page, starting with page 2, like this:
      XmasCarol/Dickens/pg 26, or Cujo/S. King/7.
     (By the way, if you use a separate title page, page numbering starts with the first page of text, not with the title page.)

      AND WHEN YOU MAIL IT TO THE EDITOR, IT MUST HAVE ENCLOSED WITH IT A STAMPED, SELF-ADDRESSED ENVELOPE. Editors much prefer a new, 9-by-12-inch, NON-clasp envelope to carry the story to the editor, with a second envelope of the same size, folded once, paper-clipped to the back of the manuscript. (The Post Office and editors do not like clasps, which are those brass things that stick through holes in envelope flaps. Besides, non-clasp envelopes are cheaper.
      Address the return envelope to yourself VERY LEGIBLY. Both the outgoing and return envelopes should be addressed by typewriter or printer; if necessary, type or print addresses on labels.
      Please affix U.S. postage stamps (foreign postage is useless to us, and you do us no favors by sending loose stamps!); do NOT use envelopes larger than about 9 by 12 inches; do NOT use padded envelopes, binders, or stiffeners; do NOT use registered or certified mail; your only protection against loss is to keep a good copy of anything you send out. Need U.S. postage? See below.

      The more standard your format, the less editors are distracted from what is really important: the story itself. To find out how long the story is, don't actually count the words. Instead, take an average-length, mid-paragraph line. Count the letters and spaces and punctuation in that line. Divide by six. Multiply by lines per page. Multiply by pages (correcting for partly blank pages at beginning and end). Put this "word" count in the upper right corner of the first page.
      Call for italics by underlining; do NOT use an italic typeface in the manuscript itself. (No, using the e-mail convention, _underlining_, is NOT acceptable in an on-paper manuscript.) Distinguish between the hyphen, as in "mother-in-law," and the dash -- which is typeset like this --- or this -- and do include a space before and a space after.
      It's hard for an editor to take seriously an author who keeps mixing up its and it's, or lie and lay and their various tenses (lying, laying, laid, lied, lain, and so on). Other words you should watch out for are there/their/they're, through/threw, were/we're, yoke/yolk, and form/from (we have trouble with some of these ourselves, but we're paying you -- if we buy your story -- to get these right.). Spell-check programs do NOT catch errors like these; you're responsable for poofreadnig your manuscripts.
      Did you catch all three errors in the previous sentence?

      We say, "You must punctuate, paragraph, and

indent carefully and correctly."

     "How about in dialog?" you ask.

     "Especially in dialog," we say. "If in

doubt, you must lookup how to do it properly.

Note that when two or more consecutive paragraphs

are spoken by the same speaker, all have quote

marks at the beginning, but only the last has

quote marks at the end.

      "Also," we suddenly, excitedly expostulate

unto thee, "when you're writing dialog, do not

reach for substitutes for 'say' or 'said,' as we

did in this paragraph, nor hang unnecessary

adverbs on 'say.' Doing so will soon get silly;

worse, it distracts from the story. Notice

how we punctuated and capitalized all through our


      You look puzzled. "Can I identify the

speaker without using 'said' or a synonym

for 'said'?"

      "You just did." We smile reassuringly.

"Just don't overdo it. Identify the speaker

often enough that the reader always knows who is

speaking. Don't let pronouns run wild, as in: 'He

saw him look at him.' Since 'ten foot long

sticks' can mean 'ten sticks a foot long' or

'sticks ten feet long,' use commas or hyphens

('ten foot-long sticks' or 'ten-foot-long sticks')

to tell the reader which."

      Cover letter? No more than one page long, and only if you really want to; remember that editors don't buy cover letters; they buy stories. Don't spoil the suspense with a synopsis; and don't include your bibliography or résumé. You may cite two or three earlier sales; then get out of the way and let the story sell itself.
      However, if the editor's seen the story before, a cover letter is necessary, to remind her what she said about the story before and to tell her exactly what you've done about her suggestions. Use a cover letter to explain anything unusual about the rights offered -- for example, if the story is part of a novel to be published by [the publisher's name] on [give the date]. Put your typed name and address, and your story's title on every cover letter. But if you don't need a cover letter, omit it.
      If it's cheaper to send a disposable copy, mark the manuscript "disposable" so the editor can throw it away if she doesn't buy it. Provide a business-letter-sized return envelope, what stationers call a number 10 envelope (NOT a postcard!), with letter-postage affixed, for the editor's reply.
      If you are sending us stories from outside the U.S., remember that only U.S. stamps can be used for return postage. Since international postage is so expensive, we strongly recommend that you send a disposable manuscript (so marked) and a return envelope at least 10 by 22 centimeters in size, for the editor's reply. You can send International Postal Reply Coupons to pay for the return postage; each is worth about 60 United States cents to us. To send a one-ounce (28 gram) letter to Canada costs us 52 United States cents; to an overseas address, one United States dollar.
      A Reply Coupon will pay for a one-ounce letter, but you can buy U.S. postage by sending a postal money order, payable in U.S. funds, to cover the cost of 10 stamps or more, to Postmaster, King of Prussia PA 19406, U.S.A. (or to the Postmaster of any other U.S. city). Include your own address. Explain what stamps you want, and how many of each. When a reply envelope is to be mailed in the U.S. for delivery to another country, put the name of that country at the end of the last line of the address.
      Dot-matrix printing is acceptable only if one cannot tell at a glance that the print is dot-matrix. Do not use draft mode, nor seven- or nine-pin dot-matrix machines.
      Submissions to us must be on paper in the format described above, not on disk and not by e-mail. Unless an editor announces otherwise, assume this is so for all publications. An editor who buys your story will want to know if you can supply it by disk -- and if so, which word processor and which kind of computer: PC, Apple, or MacIntosh -- or by e-mail. Put these data on the manuscript's first page. (We use a PC, XyWrite®, and Ventura®.)
      Manuscript format is not the place to be innovative; do not divert the editor's attention from the story! What editors buy is your choice of words (including punctuation!) and the order you put them on paper. Manuscript format, therefore, should be as invisible as possible.

RULE THREE: You must put your story before an editor who might buy it.

      Parents, siblings, spouses, offspring, teachers, and friends don't count; neither do closets or desk drawers. You simply must send your story to editors (one editor at a time). Remember that editors do not reject people, nor do they predict careers. At worst, editors reject pieces of paper that have been typed on; at best, editors send you money ($$!!). The only opinion that really counts here is that of someone who might buy your story.
      We call your attention to the chorus in the opening song of The Music Man: "But ya gotta know the territory!" Read your target publications. See what kind of stories they use; note what kinds of stories they do not use. Send for guidelines if you are asking by Post Office mail, include a return envelope (with postage affixed) for the reply.
      In the short-story market, it is almost always better to send a complete manuscript rather than a "would you like to see?" letter. If you fear that a particular market might not be open for submissions, write to the editor and ask if it's open now; and if it's not open, when will it be; include a post card (addressed to you, with postage affixed) for the editor's reply.
      How does the "who might buy it" part of the Rule apply to Weird Tales? Please keep in mind our magazine's title. We almost never buy a story or a poem that has no fantasy content; we hardly ever buy science fiction that lacks fantasy elements. But this leaves room for an extraordinary range of fiction -- and poetry: Robert E. Howard's Conan the Cimmerian and modern swordplay-&-sorcery were born in Weird Tales. H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos, Miskatonic University and all, are welcome to our pages, as are stories set in fantasy-worlds of your own invention. We're looking for the best in fantasy-based horror, heroic fantasy, and exotic mood pieces, plus the occasional "odd" story that won't fit anywhere else. We want to please our readers with superior writing and to surprise them with new ideas. To this end, we will occasionally publish a story in which the ominous, eldritch, and/or squamous horrors waiting to pounce turn out to be quite harmless. We almost never use material already published in the U.S.
      An 8,000-word story is about the longest we use. Almost everything we buy is shorter than 7,500 words. We do not serialize novels. We have no minimum length. Short-short stories (less than 1,000 words or so) are very hard to write, but they are easy to sell.
      WT does use humor, but the humor should touch on fantasy or horror themes. We find that humor works best when structured like other fiction, with high points and low, tension and relief, building to a climax and (usually) a very quick anticlimax or none at all. Beware of trying to make every line screamingly funny.
      Remember that printed fantasy stories (and science fiction, for that matter) are usually years -- even decades -- ahead of movie and TV versions of the same themes. Especially beware of building a story (any kind of story) on current newspaper headlines, which may well be forgotten by the time the story could be printed. As an example: spousal abuse and kidnapping of children are real-life problems, yes -- but they're perhaps too familiar to our readers to work as fiction just now. Note how quickly school-yard shootings have become yesterday's news.
      To know our territory (". . . ya gotta know the territory!"), look at what we publish in Weird Tales. Then try to do even better. (Back issues of Weird Tales (and Worlds of Fantasy & Horror, our title for four issues) are available from the address above: single copies, $5.00 each, including postage; four-issue subscriptions, $16.00 in the U.S. and its possessions; in Canada & Mexico, $6.00 and $22.00; and elsewhere, $10 and $35 by air mail, all prices in U.S. dollars; make checks and money orders payable to DNA Publications.)
      We respond as fast as we can, and we write an individual letter for almost every rejection. In return, we expect that your submission is not now being seen by any other editor, and we hope you will not get too upset if we tell you why we don't want to use it. Ours is only one opinion, but it is possible for us to be right, and our comments might help you to do better with your next story. Again: we reject pieces of paper; we cannot and will not reject you. We pay from three to six cents per word on acceptance.

  • We don't object to corpses nor to tragic endings, but protagonists who exist only to wallow in woe and then succumb quietly to an undeserved doom really don't belong in WT. Your protagonists must at least try to cope, and must try to change something, even if the outcome is tragic. Stories whose only point is that the world is a dreadful, dreadful place tell our readers what they already know; people read WT to escape everyday futility, not to be splattered with more.
  • Mere description of a horror is not as effective as telling a story about people trying to cope with one, successfully or not. Believable, often sympathetic people make horror stories scary; but standard-issue, cardboard villains rented by the yard from Central Casting and who come to a (usually predictable) bad end do not.
  • The pseudo-Medieval never-never land, overrun with generic swords-persons, wizards, and dragons has been sword-played (and ensorcelled) into the ground by now. But your imaginary-world setting, characters, and plot elements can be fresh, and new, and interesting. Look at real histories; get a feel for just how complex the pre-industrial world was. Don't base your characters or your magic on a rôle-playing game; invent your own.
  • Now, there's nothing inherently wrong with stories about classical vampires, deals with the Devil, formalities of the Hereafter, or people eating people (and vice versa); but our readers have already seen stories based on these ideas. If you wrap a story around an old, familiar idea, add something new and different! A story never surprises readers if all it does is reveal, as a "surprise" ending, that the protagonist is a vampire, or that he finally noticed he's been dead since page 2.
  • Please remember that Weird Tales is a fiction magazine; the Real Inside Truth About The Occult belongs elsewhere, as do real-life ghost sightings and anything about airborne crockery and/or alien abductions.


Most manuscripts rejected by any fiction editor are rejected for one or more of these flaws:
  • Text that is too hard to read comfortably.
  • Lack of a clear, consistent point of view.
  • Failure to establish the characters' identity and setting, in both time and place, early in the story.
  • Too much exposition and too little narration, especially at the beginning.
  • Characters so uninteresting, unpleasant, or unconvincing that the readers don't care whether or not those characters get eaten alive (or worse) on stage. Characters who don't even try to cope with their problems (your protagonists should protag!).
  • Plots that fail to resolve (tragically, happily, or otherwise) problems or conflicts, but just present them. Plots with neither problems nor conflicts. Plots based on ideas so old and tired that the ending is obvious half-way down page 1. Plots that cheat readers by holding back information for a "surprise" ending.
  • Writing so flowery and so filled with sesquipedelian prose that the basic story is lost under too many adjectives, adverbs, and not-quite-right words. Writing which feels as if the author were being paid by the word (well, you are, but don't let the reader know that). Writing too murky or opaque to decypher and decode. Writing so filled with errors in spelling, punctuation, and grammar that no editor wants to wade through the mess.


     The Elements of Style by Strunk and White, third edition, published by Macmillan, is widely available from good bookstores in hard covers and soft. Absolutely essential. Get hold of a copy, and you better believe it!
     On Writing Science Fiction: The Editors Strike Back! by Scithers, Schweitzer, and Ford -- we wrote it, so of course we recommend it. It discusses fantasy as well as science fiction; you can order a copy from Owlswick Press, 123 Crooked Lane, King of Prussia PA 19406-2570, for $19.50, postpaid. (In Pennsylvania, please add 6% for sales tax.)
     Any good library should have copies of two different books with the same title: The Craft of Fiction, one by Percy Lubbock, the other by William Knott. The chapters on viewpoint in both books are outstanding.
     The Craft of Writing by William Sloane. Norton, $10.95. Excellent discussion of the need to consider: Who are you asking the reader to BE, as he reads?
     On Writing: a Memoir of the Craft / by Stephen King Scribner, $25.00. Practical and inspiring advice. Very worthwhile addition to your "must read" list.


     The Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America publish the SFWA Bulletin, with market reports, news, interviews, and so on. For information on the Bulletin or on SFWA, visit the site


Back to Rule One

A Weird Tales® Editorial on Sending in Stories

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Maintained by Towse.
Thanks to George Scithers for permission to use.
This page was last updated on 2002-12-04.