Saturday, August 1, 2009


Gary Larson, was one of the most talented cartoonist of our era. His whimsical creations are as much a part of American folklore as Norman Rockwell’s paintings that graced the front cover of the Saturday Evening Post for more than four decades. When people view one of Larson’s cartoons, they wonder—along with the rest of us—how does he think of that stuff? It was not until I read a magazine article about his work, that everything came into sharp focus. Larson explained to the interviewer that his cartoons took two forms. They depicted animals doing human like things, or they involved nerdy people trying to puzzle out the simple things in life. When you think of Larson’s uncanny ability to connect with people from all walks of life, you began to see an interesting parallel with the writer who is trying to connect with the editors of various magazines. The all consuming question that haunts us is this. ‘What do they really want?’

There is one piece of often repeated advice that we writers pass around until it has the well-worn familiarity of a cliché.

Read The Magazine Before You Submit!

Let me expound on that idea before I continue. Read, Read, READ, the magazine before you submit! But we already know what the magazine is about, we often decide. They publish those dark horror stories, or they are interested only in tender romance aimed at young adults. It is the wise writer who realizes that an editor’s decision always goes beyond this into things that are subtle and difficult to define. The careful evaluation of a magazine’s stories might tell you that the editor always picks stories with a surprising twist at the end. Other editors want the action to dominate the center point of the story, with no surprise ending. While the stories in any given magazine might vary widely, there are distinct story elements that play a part in editorial decisions. It is up to the writer to discover what they are.

Which brings me to anthologies, which is what this article is supposed to be about. Gary Larson’s muse directed him toward two distinct areas of artistic expression. You might not be able to peel the layers back on any given magazine and expose their preferences, but there is a way you can break through into an acceptance of your well-crafted story. Part of the attraction of anthologies is the fact that they often include a wider range of stories than the editors would ordinarily select for publication. Why are the particular stories selected by the editor for inclusion into the anthology? Because they are well crafted, because they fall within the editor’s idea of what the magazine is all about, and most important to the reader and to you as a writer—they are selected because they are distinct and different. Read the magazine and while you are at it, read the magazine’s last anthology. Oh, and another important thing I should mention. I am looking forward to reading your next story . . .

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