Submissions: General Guidance
Above all, we strongly recommend that you read some of our books first. You might start with David Constantine, Jane Rogers or Adam Marek, who all have different approaches to the short story form.
1. Stories must be previously unpublished and not submitted to, or under consideration with, any other publisher once submitted. These anthologies are aimed at showcasing new writers exclusively. By 'new writers' we mean those who haven't had a full body of prose previously published (i.e. a novel or a collection of short stories). Contributors must be from the UK or presently based in the UK. Potential contributors are advised to read previous anthologies in the series (Bracket, Parenthesis or Brace) to avoid wasting time by sending unsuitable pieces. For more information, see point 4 below.
2. Submitting stories to Comma is taken as agreement that they will not be submitted elsewhere until accepted or rejected by Comma. In the case of the annual anthology, editors will not enter into correspondence with authors between the deadline and notification dates. A maximum of two stories will be accepted by any one writer.
Stories should be between 1500 and 8000 words, ideally, though stories falling either side of these limits will always be considered if the content justifies the form. Please note that we don't publish microfiction or novellas. Submissions should be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, as Word for PC or RTF attachments, with the cover note and full contact details included inside the attachment itself (i.e. not just in the email).3. What single piece of advice would you most want to impress on wannabe writers?
Treat publishers, especially independent publishers, as if they too belong in the real world. Contrary to rumour, we do do not lounge around in the penthouse suites of our ivory towers, sifting through manuscripts that have just that second fallen through the letter box. Reading manuscripts is what independent publishers do on their day off. 99% of an independent publishers' working hours are spent doing administration and whatever is needed to keep the whole unlikely affair afloat. Please try to bear this in mind when you send them manuscripts - solicited or otherwise.
4. What kind of stories are Comma NOT looking for?
Whilst we endeavour not to be prescriptive about short story submissions, writers who are relatively inexperienced may be well-advised to AVOID the following 'types':
(i) Coming of age stories (or ones that begin as if they're coming of age tales);
(ii) Anecdotes, 'hilarious comedies', stories about crazy characters, or indeed zany ones;
(iii) Stories about ordinary, mundane days/existences in which suddenly something happens to change everything;
(iv) Stories that aim for complete thematic unity (as though the writing of them was a jigsaw puzzle to be completed) above surprise or delight;
(v) Stories that solely aim to shock or surprise, without having anything else to say; (vi) Stories with text/font games, or over use of emphatic type/italics. NB, occasionally, a story may need to move between two different perspectives, and more then one font might be required to differentiate (e.g. plain text and italic). Any more than two font types, and it risks becoming a kind of concrete prose poetry, which we're not interested in;
(vii) Stories about*
a) student life
b) splitting up with a partner
c) taking drugs
d) unlikely travel/rave experiences
*UNLESS their structure/style/shape is so innovative as to salvage these otherwise cliched subject matters;
(viii) Stories that seem to be in the business of ELICITING reactions from readers. Especially moral opinion/approval/disapproval of characters or their behaviour;
(ix) Stories which set aside (clunky) separate passages for
a) scene setting
Such 'components' of short-fiction should be entirely integrated (to the point of being almost hidden) into the overall process of storytelling. The worst offenders are those who draw attention to the characterization/scene setting 'passage' by putting them right at the start;
(x) Stories whose justification in a workshop scenario might be 'this really happened', 'these kind of people really exist.' Note the emphasis on 'really.' If this is the motivation, you should be making documentaries. Even then, documentaries succeed according to HOW they present their characters, HOW their characters exist, given their reality, or HOW their stories are told. The fact that they are true is not sufficient, even in documentaries;
(xi) Stories that derive their only 'interest value' from 'what happens.' A good story intrigues the reader, engages them, holds their attention and draws them through the text with a skillful and timely release of information. It isn't the information itself that lures the reader through the story, it's the way it's revealed;
(xii) Stories which give away what they're going to be about too cheaply;
(xiii) Try to be aware of cliches & avoid them "like the plague";
(a) literary cliches - c.f. current trends, and big cliches of British lit of the last 20 years (e.g. Zadie Smith, Irvine Welsh, Nick Hornby, etc). You can't be original by copying someone else who's original;
(b) linguistic cliches - conventional/tired/predictable phraseology
(c) conversational/lifestyle cliches & cliched subject areas e.g.
- (i) If you're writing from a female perspective: writing about 'going mad for a bit and having lots of dangerous sex with unwholesome types';
- (ii) If you're writing from a male perspective: writing about breaking out of humdrum, conventional existences/work; getting stoned; wild irresponsible nights with unhinged mates; meeting salt-of-the-earth old blokes in pubs who, while not having the education of the protagonist, have home-spun wisdom to impart and are prone to saying 'bloody heck'; feeling intellectually superior.
5. Any tips on what kind of story Comma IS looking for?
First off: get yourself a copy of one of Comma's anthologies. To start with - one of those in the 'new author' series (Bracket, Parenthesis or Brace). There's no greater waste of your time than sending us a type of story we're unlikely to publish. Every publisher has a set of likes - no matter how broad a church their editor claims them to be. If you want to be ambitious, take a look at books by authors like Hassan Blasim and Adam Marek, who like to experiment with form.
6. Feedback on my story has said that my endings lack impact. What advice would you give on creating a successful ending that does justice to the rest of the story?
The mistake has already been made. Short stories are all about their endings. A short story IS an ending. If that's not in place, there's nothing there.
To put it less harshly: If the ending lacks impact, we feel there's maybe something else going wrong earlier in the story as well, because the beginning, middle and end all need to be part of the same thing. Endings can be either an unresolved (i.e. troubling/haunting) image or an unexpected 2nd story dropping into place. Occasionally, with extremely gifted genre writers, endings are something the whole story, and its various subplots, are moving inevitably towards throughout with such momentum and power that the ending (as it's inevitable) is less important, because all the work is done by the momentum dragging the reader along. If the story isn't as exciting/gripping as this last (3rd) type, however, then you need to know which of the first two you're working on. This can't be done after the fact, by which we mean, it isn't something you can tack onto an existing story. The closing, building, climactic and unresolved/troubling image is something that needs to be in the very kernel of the seed of the story idea in the first place, the reason you started writing it. Or, if it's the second type, then you need to be planning the seclusion of the second (surprising/revelatory) story from the start with the composition of an initial (primary) red-herring story; your reasons for hiding the one and bluffing with the other also have to be clear to you from the very start, and integral to the character you're building, what YOU want to say about them and the way in which you're saying it.
Read more about our translated works and editorial policy for translated titles.
Otherwise here's some words from the wise....
The short story, like the stage, has its conventions. My instinct tells me that at the end of a novel or a story, I must artfully concentrate for the reader an impression of the entire work...
Letter to A.N. Pleshcheyev, Moscow. Sep 30 1889.
In my opinion a true description of Nature should be very brief and have a character of relevance. Commonplaces such as, "the setting sun bathing in the waves of the darkening sea, poured its purple gold, etc." - "the swallows flying over the surface of the water twittered merrily, etc" - such commonplaces one ought to abandon. In descriptions of Nature one ought to seize upon the little particulars, grouping them in such a way that, in reading, when you shut your eyes you get a picture.
For instance, you will get the full effect of a moonlight night if you write that on the milldam a little glowing star-point flashed from the neck of a broken bottle, and the round black shadow of a dog, or a wolf, emerged and ran, etc. Nature becomes animated if you are not squeamish about employing comparisons of her phenomena with ordinary human activities, etc.
Letter to Alex P Chekhov, Babkin. May 10 1886.
Oh you of little faith, - you are interested to know what flaws I found in your 'Mignon'. Before I point them out I warn you that they are a technical rather than a critico-literary interest. Only a writer can appreciate them but a reader not at all. Here they are... I think that you, an author scrupulous and untrusting, afraid that your characters will not stand out clearly enough, are too much given to thoroughly detailed description. The result is an overwrought 'motleyness' of effect that impairs the general impression...
Letter to I. L. Shcheglov, Moscow. Jan 22 1888.
In short stories it is better to say not enough than to say too much, because, - because - I don't know why!
Edgar Allan Poe: 'All high excitements are by their nature transient'
Poe, review of Hawthorne's Twice Told Tales, Graham's Magazine, May 1842.