Let me preface what you are about to read: these beginning lines were created by me and other Leading Edge Magazine volunteers and as such are meant to be terrible.
The unicorn dipped his horn into the water. The murk receded from where the horn touched the water.
I slashed my sword down on the goblin as Sir Phillip, my unicorn companion, sliced with his horn.
Once upon a time, there was a unicorn in a field of flowers . . .
The golden horn upon the pure, white unicorn flashed in the darkness.
The unicorn woke up under a flowing rainbow of happiness, the waterfall of optimism gushing nearby, sweet melodious strings playing in the air.
Unicorns are one of those fantasy tropes that are consistently used throughout many stories—sometimes for good, sometimes for ill. I’ve read plenty of unicorn-based and unicorn-including stories during my three years here at Leading Edge Magazine. And all of those unicorn-based stories had the same beautiful, angelic unicorn, who was a companion or protagonist. So, I’ve grown . . . bitter . . . toward unicorn stories (and, don’t get me wrong, The Last Unicorn is in my cult classic collection. So, I don’t really hate unicorns; I’ve just grown tired of seeing the same old, same old in the stack of submissions). In my time reading submissions, I’ve picked up a few hints on how to interest a publisher and I’d like to share them here.
Shake Up the Tropes
Tropes are tools. But, when seen frequently, they can also get old. Young boy finds out he’s a wizard and goes to a magical school? Yeah, heard that one before. Character A’s parents die, sending Character A on a quest to avenge them? Yeah, that one too.
The best thing to do with tropes is to shake them up. Use the story of the hero’s journey, but this time have it be a talking toaster (oh, wait. . . that one might’ve already been used bravely). Go on that epic quest, but make it only be from the kitchen to the bathroom because you were poisoned by a witch. Have that dark lord, but make him your baby sister instead of an old man with a snake nose. Shake up the tropes so that your future publisher will be enthralled in the story, despite the tropes.
Make It Your Best
When submitting to anywhere, make sure it is the best work that you can produce. At least here at Leading Edge Magazine, we want something that you have combed through and made the best in your eyes. With that best, we will see your potential and help it become something great. We’re looking for the stories that new writers have taken to the edge of their ability and the edge of the genre so we can take them past the edge into greatness. So, make sure, above everything—ideas, intriguing characters, etc.—that your writing is your personal best. Because if the writing is good, everything else should fall into place. (This is also a shameless plug for our submissions! Now that you know our secret and what we’re looking for, go write something and then submit!)
Write What You Love to Write, Even If It Gets Rejected
I believe as writers we get so focused on getting published that we forget about what we really love doing: creating worlds, playing with those characters in those worlds, and writing out all the dastardly things we can do to those characters. Writer is generally synonymous with sadist, right? We love our dear little darlings, but we also love putting those little darlings through the ringer.
So, when looking to submit, never forget that you love to write. Even if something gets rejected a thousand times, be proud of it. You are one of the few who actually finished something and took the plunge to submit. Rejections come for a multitude of reasons: your story didn’t work for that issue, the magazine or publishing house doesn’t have enough money to take a chance on it, there’s another story that is really close to yours that is coming out in the next month and the publisher can’t risk the challenge, etc. etc. etc. Never forget: you love to write, no matter the amount of rejection.
So, back to unicorns. I have to say, I don’t really hate unicorns. I just hate when it’s the same unicorn story over and over and over again. Shake it up, make it well-written, remember what you love to do, and you’ll do fine in the word-eat-word world of publishing.
P.S. Of course, if the unicorn is named Clarence, and Clarence happens to be the CEO of an aeronautical company that has been infiltrated by superhero babies powered by chipmunks—then, well, maybe I’d look at it. 😉