Holiday Tales


The holidays are here and, in some cases, gone.  I hope you all get at least one new book this season.  For some, the holidays are the best time of year and for others, the worst.  Wherever you may fall on the spectrum, one thing is usually true — the holidays ignite emotions.  And what better way to deal with a potential inferno of emotions than writing a story about it all?

So go ahead.

Ah, good.  Now that you’ve slaved away and punched out a fantastic tale of holiday mirth, pathos, and dragons, what are you going to do with it?  That’s the tricky part.

Whether you’re talking about novels or short stories, the general points regarding holiday fiction remain the same.  And key point numero uno is without a doubt: check the guidelines!  This is, of course, the key point when submitting anywhere for anything at anytime, but in this case, it’s extremely important.  Print takes a long time to produce.  Magazines typically purchase holiday fiction 3 – 6 months in advance.  That means your Santa defeats the Gorgon of Xall epic has to be submitted BEFORE that purchasing window closes.  In other words, for Santa’s heartwarming tale of blood and mayhem to make it into the December issue, you need to be submitting it somewhere in the neighborhood of May.  Also, keep in mind that you may not sell to the first market you submit.  You need to leave time for the market to read and reject your work so you can send it elsewhere.  So really, May is the LATEST you’re looking at for submitting.

The world of e-zines is a bit more flexible.  In some cases, more than a bit.  Still, on average (and this is a guessed average not a researched average), you’ll want to submit at least by August.  Again, check the guidelines.  Some e-zines publish weekly with incredibly fast turn around times.  For these markets, you can actually get away with submitting in November.  However, these are the exceptions.  For novels, as always, the lead time is even longer.  You’ll want to be submitting now (at the latest) for next year (at the earliest).

When you do submit, it’s a good idea to note in the cover letter that this submission is for the holidays.  The title might clue the editor in, but it might not.  Some editors will have a separate pile for holiday submissions and you’ll be doing yourself a huge favor if you make things clear.

Content is another thing to watch for.  In most cases, this is not a problem.  Our Santa epic above is not right for Asimov’s because they publish science fiction not fantasy.  No surprise there.  However, what about that story with the android Santa that gets a software virus and steals presents instead of giving them out?  On the surface it may seem fine.  But take a closer look and just be honest about what you’re actually saying in the tale.  I’m referring to the fact that the holidays, for many, are religious celebrations.  Many magazines are non-religious.  If the android Santa is defeated by employing the Worship Jesus software, then the markets for such a story are going to change.  Obviously, I’m not suggesting you change your story, but rather that you recognize the needs and wants of each market and submit accordingly.

Luckily, each market usually makes these distinctions easy to find.  That’s right.  The Guidelines!  Use them.  Your editors and agents will be happier for it.  They constantly have to sift through inappropriate or poorly formatted submissions.  Following those guidelines, particularly with stories meant for a specific holiday, will make their lives easier.  And what a nice holiday gift to give them.


8 comments to Holiday Tales

  • Good post, Stuart! You and your experience with SSs bring a new and welcome POV to this list with the different slant on publishing.

    My AKA once completely rewrote a book for a different market. Mine went from romance to women’s fiction. I had to take almost all the sex out and work in a bigger mystery and a bigger coming of age angle. I wonder if any of the rest of us have rewritten something and sold it to a market different from the originally planned one? This is a strange and wonderful biz.

  • [Raises hand] My new thief taker series was originally alternate world fantasy, a tough sell these days. Now it’s going to be historical and I’ll be rewriting the first book completely. A strange and wonderful business, indeed.

    Great post, Stuart, seconding what Faith said about your knowledge of the short fiction market. I think most people don’t understand the lengthy turnaround times we have in this business. I can tell people today that I have a book coming out in February and they’ll ask me if it’s finished yet. No conception whatsoever. And it’s not their fault. Sometimes the turnarounds in this business astound me, too. But for writers looking to break into the market, it’s crucial information.

  • Faith — Glad to be of service! One of the differences between novels and shorts is that there are so many short fiction markets out there. You, generally, don’t have to rewrite a short story, just change the markets you’re submitting to. Not so much for novels.

    David — What really gets me is how most novelists have to wait years to go from contract to published book, yet if Stephen King finishes his latest novel tomorrow, they can actually have it out in four or five months. Of course, there’s a lot more motivation for them to get his work out as fast as possible, but the point is that they are capable of getting things done quicker, if they want to.

  • Beatriz

    Thanks, Stuart. I’ve recently rediscovered the joys of short stories. I look forward to hearing more from you.

  • Beatriz — That’s wonderful to hear. Now I only have to convert a few hundred million more people and all my plans will work perfectly!

  • “the android Santa is defeated by employing the Worship Jesus software”

    Stuart, you slay me.

  • This post, minus the holiday-specific message, is also good advice year round. Knowing the markets, and realizing the specifics of what they print will make everybody’s life easier, both submitting authors and those reading slush.

    “For Santa’s heartwarming tale of blood and mayhem” reminded me of the commercial in the movie Scrooged. “Psychos seize Santa’s workshop, and only Lee Majors can stop them in The Night the Reindeer Died.” Thanks for the reminder that I haven’t watched that yet. *Scurries off to watch Scrooged.”

  • April — 🙂 Just spreading a little holiday cheer!

    NewGuyDave — I love how Scrooged and, of course, A Christmas Story have become holiday classics. Both are great comedies on their own, but add in that holiday aspect and they just hit home. Now I have to scurry off to go watch them, too.