Vampires and Werewolves and Ghosts (Oh My!)
(And hey, let’s not forget those zombies)
1) What is a trope?
- A) According to Webster
A trope is a word used in a figurative sense; a figure of speech.
- B) According to editors
Tropes are generally defined as vampires, werewolves, ghosts, and zombies. These are considered overused and clichéd and are often therefore taboo.
2) Why do editors hate tropes?
Because they think they’ve seen it all before. They haven’t, but prohibiting tropes reduces their slush pile, and they always find that a good thing. A typical submission guideline might include the statement, “We’re not looking for stories with vampires, werewolves or other horror tropes. We like them just fine, but they’re a hard sell here unless you can do something really, really, really original with them.”
- A) Well, if they hate tropes so much, why do they keep publishing them?
Because despite what their guidelines say, they haven’t seen it all, and they’ll sometimes take a risk on a trope-loaded novel in the hope that it might sell well. Case in point: Four of the most amateurish, badly written vampire romance novels of all time, collectively known as The Twilight Saga, have sold over 150 million copies and spawned four blockbuster movies, all because Stephenie Meyer’s sparkly, oversexed vampires appealed big time to pubescent, hormonally overcharged teenage girls. Apparently, her vampires were just different enough to overcome any trope bias the publishers may have had.
3) Okay, so how do I make my tropes different enough to sell?
- A) Be really, really Come up with a new twist. There are many, many vampire permutations in many different cultures, ancient and modern. There are succubi, incubi, psychic and emotional vampires… Japanese folklore even has a vampiric kitten! I’ve sold several vampire stories, but not one of them featured a guy in a cape with a widow’s peak and a bad accent. My vampires are vicious little demonic shape-shifters that drink your blood and then suck out your soul. Can you also put a different spin on werewolves, ghosts, and zombies? Sure you can. Just avoid the traditional Lon Chaney movie werewolf, the old overnight in the haunted house plot, and the rehashed Night of the Living Dead zombies. It’s just a matter of thinking outside the box. Or coffin. Or whatever!
- B) Don’t use traditional assignations.
It really can be as easy as just calling them something else. Only two of the vampire stories I’ve had published actually used the word “vampire,” and then it was only once in each story. The first one was solicited, and since the antho’s title was Time of the Vampires it was sort of expected the word would be in there. But it doesn’t always have to be. I only have one published werewolf story, but that word never appears in it. My two published ghost stories don’t contain that word, either. It’s a little bit of the “out of sight, out of mind” thing. Trope bias may well cause an editor to bounce your story just because he/she spotted the word “vampire” on the first page. So it might be to your advantage to either avoid using the tropes’ names, or to call them something else altogether.
4) I’ve finished my great, non-traditional trope story. So now what?
- A) Start the market hunt.
Always begin at the top (with the highest paying market), and “trickle down” from there. Then keep that book or story circulating. As soon as it’s rejected, send it out again to another market. Yes, it can sometimes take years to sell your literary masterpieces. While you’re waiting for an answer, write new stories and start sending those out too.
- B) Follow the publisher’s guidelines.
Within reason, anyhow. “No multiple submissions” means send them only one story at a time. “No simultaneous submissions” means don’t send it to more than one market at a time. And the formatting requirements now vary widely, so you have to pay close attention to the publisher’s instructions. They may want your manuscript to be single or double-spaced, have no indents, to be sent only as a text file, etc. etc.
- C) Set a time limit, and don’t be afraid to query after a suitable time.
Make a note of the publication’s closing date. Some editors have extremely long reading periods! But how long is too long to wait after that? Admittedly, this can be a bit arbitrary. And sad to say, some lazy editors never bother to send out rejections at all (a reprehensible practice, in my opinion). So set your own limit. Mine is six months on short stories. Send the editor a query first, and if you still hear nothing, feel free to flagrantly break the “no simultaneous submissions” rule. You should only be so unfortunate as to have two publishers who want your story. It’s unlikely, but not impossible: I did have one student that this happened to. And of course, if you do sell a story that’s still under consideration elsewhere, etiquette dictates that you immediately notify the other market and withdraw your submission. The process with novels is somewhat different, especially if you’re working with an agent, who can submit your book to multiple publishers and then, if you’re lucky, set up a bidding war for your future best seller.
5) It’s been everywhere, and every single place I’ve sent it has bounced it. Wah!
- A) There are new short story markets appearing daily. Keep sending it out.
- B) Rewrite – and then keep sending it out.
Sometimes deconstructing and putting a story back together in an alternate way can make all the difference. Many book editors (and occasionally even anthology editors) will work with you on this. But we’re often blind to our own story flaws, so a fresh set of eyes can be invaluable, whether they belong to workshop members, a spouse, or a willing-to-be-honest-with-you friend. (The latter is why we usually don’t recommend moms as proofreaders.)
- C) “Trunking”
When all else fails, you may have to resort to shelving a story or book, either temporarily or permanently. Shelved works aren’t necessarily dead, however. (Does anything ever stay dead in horror fiction?) Pull them out and dust them off every now and then, and see if you don’t still find a spark there somewhere. Maybe a rewrite could bring it back to life. There’s an oft-seen publisher’s guideline edict that says, “We don’t want your trunk stories.” For me, that not only smacks of arrogance (Stephen King’s Carrie was a trunk story!), it also begs the obvious question, How the heck would they know, anyway???
6) Questions, observations, brickbats? (We rather like bats. Bricks, not so much.)
by Jean Graham
Jean is a science fiction, horror and fantasy writer and member of the SD HWA