One of the things that continually irritates new writers (which I still count as including myself) is not being able to tell what an editor or publisher wants. Often, it is impossible to tell what a given editor wants, but if you’re talking to someone with a presence, it really does help to read what they have published, and consider taking a chance. Often, more than one chance. So I’ll share my story of selling “In The Employee Manual Of Madness” to Alex Shvartsman and Baen Books for the anthology The Cackle Of Cthulhu.
Before trying to submit to this anthology, I’d already sold a reprint to Alex for his Funny Fantasy Anthology. He bought “Giantkiller” but passed on “Phoenix For The Amateur Chef” and a James and Harriet story. He didn’t say why, either, just that they “weren’t for him.” You get a lot of that, for reasons you will never really know. For an excellent and more in-depth take on this than I can provide, read Monalisa Morgan Foster’s series, Rejection Is An Opinion, Not A Death Sentence.
Now, the anthology was a call for submissions for funny Cthulhu stories. I’d already sold at least two dead serious Cthulhu stories by this time, and was interested in trying a send-up, and the antho was offering pro rates. But I also knew that Alex was more likely to reject traditionally-structured stories, from me at least. I’d seen him publish stories structured like Twitter-streams and bio-excerpts. So to catch his notice, I decided I would have to take a chance. I wrote: “On the Menu Stains Of Madness,” A Lovecraftian Choose Your Own Adventure Story. It was rejected. He didn’t like the format.
In the past, I’d have given up at that point, but I’d learned a valuable lesson: No Rule Says You Can Only Tell A Story One Way. From this, there is a corollary: No Rule Says You Can’t Sell The Same Story Told Two Ways If People Will Buy It. Honestly, I feel dumb for not realizing this earlier: How many stories did Larry Niven write about murderers who tried to use teleporter booths to get away with it? And how many did he write about paranoid-schizophrenic murderers who forgot to take their pills? Did people buy them anyway? Yes they did.
So I wrote “In the Employee Manual Of Madness,” which was in many ways the same story: worker is trapped in a restaurant under the sway of a Cthulhu-worshiping cult. Only this one was not really a “story” but rather a manual of expected behavior. And that one sold.
So remember, know your audience and don’t give up.
And buy my story: it’s hilarious.