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Friday, May 11, 2012

The Friday Challenge - 5/11/12

In the matter of the 4/27/12 Friday Challenge, "For Hollas, Who Will Be 20 In The Year 2032:"

After a ludicrously long snowdogging period, we've still received just one entry—

Jack Calverley, "Letter of Introduction"

—and even that lonely (and by default, winning) entry came in through the back door. It seems our Benevolent Cybernetic Overlords have figured out how to bypass our bypass again, and our non-U.S. friends are no longer able to comment on this site. This development is troubling and has occasioned some serious pondering here.

But more about that later. For now, let's congratulate Jack on his win, read and comment on his post (if you can), and then it's on to the new challenge.

"What's in a Name?"

This week's Friday Challenge comes straight from the STUPEFYING STORIES slush pile.

The better part of a year into this project, one thing continues to astonish me: how little thought and effort authors seem to put into the titles of their stories. Folks, this is your big chance to make a great first impression. (Okay, actually, the cover letter is, but I routinely strip those off before passing the stories on to the first readers. After seeing a couple thousand cover letters, I'm convinced the reason the vast majority of unpublished writers remain unpublished is because no editor or agent has ever been able to get past their awful cover letters.)

Ignoring cover letters, then: your title is your big chance to show the editor just how clever, insightful, and verbally gifted you are. Yet the great majority of titles I see appear to be slapped on as an afterthought—or worse, to be a double-shot of highly concentrated cliché. Consider some actual examples, plucked from our Stories Received log: “The Worst of Evils,” “The Game of Life,” “The Garden,” “The Fog,” “The Wind,” “The Rain,” “The Snow,” “The Turning Point,” “The End”— It seems that at least once a week, I receive a story entitled either “The Garden” or “The End.”

Folks, this is not Hollywood! Fiction publishers do not routinely buy great stories with terrible titles and rename them, nor do they buy great titles just to throw the story away and release another work under that name!

You have spent days or weeks, or maybe even months or years, writing your story. Once you've finished writing it, doesn't it seem reasonable to spend another half an hour reconsidering the title? Yes, we know, this is the title you've always had in mind for it, your pet name for this work, the one you know and love, the one you've used to talk about this story all through the long and painful writing process from inception to delivery. But now that the little bugger is sitting there in the bassinet, waiting to be introduced to the world: do you really want to saddle it with that name? After all, this is not merely the title of a story you're pitching to an editor. This is the marketing label the editor will be pitching to his customers, the readers. So doesn't your story deserve a title that will look absolutely frickin' great in the Table of Contents, or Campbell willing, maybe even on the cover?

End of sermon.

Ergo, with the foregoing rant in mind, here is a list of ten actual story titles, taken from ten stories actually received within one 24-hour period.

1. "Plus One, Minus One"
2. "The Secret"
3. "The Longest Night"
4. "Pink Denim"
5. "Killing Mercy"
6. "The 3D Version"
7. "Jeremy"
8. "Too Dumb to Die"
9. "The Man Who Talked His Way to Mars"
10. "The June Meeting"

This week's challenge is: you are the submissions editor. Your time is not infinite. Knowing nothing more about these ten stories than what you see above, which of these stories would you pick to read first? Second? If time runs short (and it always does; you're a busy person with a lot of work on your desk), which two stories would you put off reading until tomorrow? (Or perhaps never, as you can be fairly confident that tomorrow there will be ten more new submissions sitting in your In basket.)

Make the case for your choices. Put your thoughts in the Comments on this post, if you can, or email 'em in.

And let's all meet back here again next Friday, to discuss the results.

Kind regards,
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