QUILTBAG Anthos: How to Earn an Automatic Rejection, and Some Writing Advice

Seriously, new rule: If you send me a submission before the reading period for the relevant anthology opens you’re getting an automatic rejection. I’m sending personal rejections so far, so I may have things to say about your sub. Though they may not be things you want to hear if you’re not following my guidelines (which you’re clearly not doing by sending something early).

The exception to that rule is if I have solicited work from you, at which point you may send something before the reading period opens for a given antho. However, as I have not yet sent out the invites for This Patchwork Flesh I should not currently have any submissions for it in my inbox. I have had three so far.

Three guesses what happened to them.

One of those early subs almost met all of my guidelines, and it got a fairly nice response. The other two I was marginally more terse with. And, well, it would be nice if people actually treated the guidelines like, you know, guidelines.

Now, aside from being sent outside of the reading periods the early submissions had various additional problems. Some were lacking spec content. Others lacked QUILTBAG content. Some had no cover letter, partial cover letters, the wrong Subject line, or the story in the body of the e-mail (found them in the Spam folder because of it).

All of these are problems for varying reasons. And all problems that can be prevented by following the guidelines.

Are we sensing a theme?

Also, one of the things that came up in those submissions was that I’ve had people saying they didn’t really understand what’s meant by “QUILTBAG.” That’s less than ideal given that QUILTBAG content is more or less the core requirement that has to present in a submission before I can consider it for either anthology. So, once again: Julia Rios’s article, “Reaching into the QUILTBAG: The Evolving World of Queer Speculative Fiction.” And for those who’ve already read the article and just need the pertinent excerpt to jog their memory, Rios’s fairly concise breakdown of what QUILTBAG means is as follows:

QU is for queer and questioning, I for intersex, L for Lesbian, T for transgender and transsexual and Two-Spirit, B for bisexual, A for asexual and ally, and G for gay and genderqueer. Even with all those letters, we’ve missed some of the possibilities (such as pansexual and fluid, both of which are identities I’ve heard people claim), but QUILTBAG still offers a rainbow of different ways to identify.

Now, most of those terms are fairly straightforward. For some of the ones that might not be so, some primers:

The above links are just an infinitessimal sampling of the kinds of discussions going on around these topics. And if the above (linked) descriptions and discussions don’t already make it clear, the acronym QUILTBAG can’t be treated like a checklist.

QUILTBAG isn’t about figuring out which box to shuffle someone into. Identities are fluid and overlapping. Think of it this way:

Bodies are not identical. We talk about body shapes and types, and we have stylized ideals about them. We discuss, analyze, obsess, idolize, vilify, and shame based on physical representation. But we are not our bodies. Our bodies are a potential way of discussing who we are, and of relating to each other. But our bodies are not the sole means and measure of defining ourselves.

So too is this true of orientation and self-definition, be it rooted in gender, sexuality, or otherwise. Figuring out where (or if) one stands on the spectrum is a component of our identity or identities.

People are complex. Intricate. Decidedly more than the sum of their parts. And you do them a disservice by treating them as one-dimensional or compartmentalized. And if you’re going to write fiction you damn well better be writing complex, multi-layered, ultimately flawed individuals (perfection is both boring and illusory). This is true whether you’re writing QUILTBAG fiction, or any other kind.

Does that mean that every character, protagonist or otherwise, has to have a major and debilitating flaw? No of course not. Don’t be absurd. “Flaw” is a relative term, and it covers an awful lot of ground. Also, flawed in this context does not mean I want to see (or that you should be writing) curebie stories.

Let me be clear on this: anyone who sends me a story in which a “damaged/broken/challenged/incomplete person is cured, and oh-my-god-everything-is-so-much-better-now because that damaged person is made whole/different/better, and everyone who had to put up/deal with their damage can be happy because the broken person is no longer making everyone else’s life difficult; hurray for ableism!” will be getting a rejection so fast it will set their head spinning like a motherfucking dervish.

You write me a story involving curebie subtext, you damn well better be discussing the fallout of that decision on the individual it’s forced on. Or be otherwise subverting the narrative.

Actually, subverting the narrative is a good idea in general if you’re sending something my way. I find standard and straightforward stories boring, barring intriguing and multi-layered subtext deepening already well-trod ground.

And while we’re on what you should and should not be sending me: as an editor I have a very high standard for prose, so I assume that you’re polishing the shit out of whatever you send me, both overall and on a sentence level.

Having now devolved vaguely into rant territory, let me stress that none of what I have said thus far should stop you from submitting something to either anthology. What the preceding should make you do is think very carefully about the kind of stories you are writing. No matter where you’re sending them.

And if you have any questions, then by all means ask.

Just don’t send me any stories outside of the reading periods for the anthologies. The fewer submissions I have to reject before the respective reading periods for the books actually begin, the happier I will be.

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