Update: new higher word-count limit for submissions: 11,000 words. (Unlocked as a goal from the BCS 200th Issue Subscription Drive. Thank you!)
What We Want
Beneath Ceaseless Skies publishes “literary adventure fantasy”: stories with a secondary-world setting and some traditional or classic fantasy feel, but written with a literary approach.
Secondary-World Setting: We want stories set in what Tolkien called a “secondary world”: some other world that is different from our own primary world in some way. It could be different in terms of zoology (non-human creatures), ecology (climate), or physical laws (the presence of magic). It could be set on Earth but an Earth different from our primary world in terms of time (the historical past) or history (alternate history). It could have a “pre-tech” level of technology, or steampunk technology, or magic as technology, or anything else that’s not advanced or modern technology. However, the setting should contain some element that is in some way fantastical.
The inhabitants of this secondary world should have developed their own culture in response to the uniqueness of their world. The characters should fit this culture, and the qualities of the secondary world should have some bearing on the plot.
We are NOT interested in urban fantasy or other types of stories set in the “real world,” even if they contain fantasy elements, or in stories that move between the real world and a fantasy world.
Characters: We prefer stories that focus on the characters. We strongly prefer characters who yearn for something, external or internal, and feel driven to attain it. Our favorite characters are “round characters”: ones who grow and change over the course of a story instead of remaining the same.
Narrative Style: We prefer styles that are literary but readable. We love gorgeous, poetic prose, but in genre fiction it’s vital that the style be clear enough so the reader can understand what’s happening. Our favorite styles are lush yet still clear.
We tend to prefer limited or ‘close’ executions of point-of-view, whether first-person or third-person; as opposed to external or ‘distant’ executions of point-of-view. We find it harder to empathize with a character if the story’s execution of point-of-view feels more from outside the character or at arm’s length from them. We rarely like second-person point-of-view; it feels annoying to us.
We know grammar rules, such as which types of clauses should have commas between them and which types should not. We respect the author’s freedom to bend the rules as suits their story, but repeated ignorance of grammatical principles for no apparent artistic reason will make a manuscript look unprofessional to us.
Originality: We prefer stories that are as original as possible, particularly in the setting. We are unlikely to enjoy stories featuring elements we have seen repeatedly, such as elves or barbarian swordsmen or an opening scene in a fantasy tavern, unless they present that element in a unique new way.
Extreme Content: We prefer that graphic sex and violence not escalate beyond the level of an R-rated movie. We also insist that sex and sadistic violence not be acted upon children.
Fairy Tales / Myths: We usually find that fairy tale-style or myth-style narratives don’t provide a gritty or immediate enough perspective to make us feel the texture of the secondary world or the direness of the protagonist’s struggle. Any fairy tale-type or myth-type story probably isn’t right for us.
Urban / Contemporary Fantasy: We aren’t interested in urban fantasy or other types of stories set in the “real world,” even if they contain fantasy elements. It’s just not what we prefer to read. Any story with a modern or contemporary setting isn’t right for us.
Science Fiction: We aren’t interested in science fiction; it’s not what we prefer to read. Any story with advanced realistic technology or set in a future time isn’t right for us.
Steampunk / Weird West / Sixguns & Sorcery / Etc.: In addition to classic settings of pre-tech fantasy, we also enjoy stories set in other types of secondary world that likewise don’t have modern technology, including steampunk, smoke & sorcery, Weird West, etc. Feel free to send us anything that you think might fit.
Poetry: We don’t publish poetry; only prose fiction.
Humor and Satire: We don’t mind humorous stories, but we have a very dry sense of humor. We love wry satire, but we rarely enjoy slapstick or puns. We haven’t published much humor, but if you have a dry satire that hits us just right....
Length and Policies
Length: We strongly prefer under
10,000 11,000 words. We will consider stories over that length, but the longer a story is, the better it must be.
(This new, higher length was unlocked as a goal from the BCS 200th Issue Subscription Drive. Thank you!)
Novel Excerpts or Serials: We are NOT interested in novel excerpts or serials–we only want self-standing stories.
Reprints: We publish only originals (stories that have never previously appeared anywhere in print or online). We do not consider reprints (stories that have previously appeared anywhere in print or online, including on a personal website or blog, or self-published on Kindle, or as Patreon or Kickstarter rewards).
(We buy First Serial rights–the right to be the first place to ever publish that story. If the story has already appeared in print or online, or been given to readers in exchange for a donation or patronage, the story has already been published, and therefore BCS can’t be the first place to ever publish it.)
Multiple Submissions (more than one story submitted at a time): We do NOT accept these. Please wait until you have received a reply to your submission before sending another.
Simultaneous Submissions (a story that is currently under submission to another market): We DO accept these, but ONLY if you state in your cover letter that your submission is simultaneous, and ONLY if you notify us IMMEDIATELY when another market accepts your story.
(We accept simultaneous submissions as a favor to writers because we know that response times from short fiction magazines in the field can be long, but if people abuse this policy, we will rescind it.)
New Writers: We welcome submissions from new and unpublished writers. We publish a lot of new and neo-pro writers. For many of our authors, their sale to BCS was their first short fiction sale or their first pro-rate sale, or their third pro sale and qualified them to join SFWA. All our rejection letters are personalized, which many authors tell us they find useful in revising their stories to submit elsewhere and in learning what we’re looking for.
Acceptances, Payment, and Rights
Editing: All accepted manuscripts will be line-edited for grammar, punctuation, and clarity. The author will have the opportunity to review and discuss all of these edits. Payment will be made after receipt of the final, line-edited manuscript.
Payment: For standard acceptances, we pay 6 cents US per word, which as of 07/01/2014 is professional rate as defined by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA).
Rights: For this payment, we purchase the following rights:
First World Serial Rights
First World Electronic Rights
Non-Exclusive World Audio Rights
An Option to buy Non-Exclusive World Anthology Rights
(This means that our payment buys the rights to publish your story on the Beneath Ceaseless Skies website and in our ebooks, and to publish an audio podcast of it if we choose it for our podcast, as well as the option, at our choice, to pay you again at the reprint rate specified in the original contract (2 cents per word) and reprint it in any future anthology of stories from Beneath Ceaseless Skies and distribute that anthology anywhere in the world.)
(You can’t publish that story as a first-run or “new” story anywhere else in the world, and you can’t have it appear anywhere else, in print or online or as audio, before or for 180 days after we publish or podcast it. But after that you can have it reprinted online and/or in a reprint magazine and/or in a reprint anthology, like one of the many Year’s Best collections, and you can resell non-exclusive audio rights, like to one of the many fiction podcast zines.)
We also hope that you will let us keep the story in our online archives after 180 days.
We are and always have been a SFWA-qualifying professional market, so any sale to us since BCS #1 in 2008 can be used to qualify the author for membership in SFWA.
How to Submit
Format: Format your manuscript in Standard Manuscript Format. If you don’t know what that is, look it up. If you deviate from this in more than a few ways, your story will look unprofessional to us before we’ve read the first word.
Include your name, address, and email on the first page, and a running header with your last name, the title, and page number at the top of every subsequent page.
Cover Letter: We do prefer a SHORT cover letter with every submission. Type it into the body of your email. Mention the title of your story in case the attachment gets lost. If you have prior fiction sales, list the best one or two. If you’ve been to any writing workshops, mention them. TELL US if this is a simultaneous submission. DO NOT give a synopsis or summary of your story; we’ll learn what it’s about when we read it.
Manuscript File: Attach your manuscript to an email as either a *.DOC MS Word document file or a *.RTF rich-text-format file, with the normal “.DOC” or “.RTF” file-name extention at the end of the name of your file. If you can’t get either of these formats to work, you may paste the text of your manuscript into the body of your email.
DO NOT send a *.DOCX file (the default format that Word 2007 uses); we can’t open those files. DO NOT post your file to a third-party storage site such as SkyDrive and email us the link; we do not download attachments from third-party sites.
Send your email to . Use the subject line Submission: (the title of your story).
IMPORTANT: your subject line MUST include the word “Submission” or our spam filter will delete your email.
Our Process and Response Times
Auto-Reply Email: You should receive our email auto-reply within 24 hours after sending your submission.
If you don’t, check your spam filter to be sure it didn’t get caught there. Then make sure your subject line starts with “Submission” so our filter won’t delete your email and send your story again. If you still don’t receive the auto-reply 24 hours after that, query using the email form on our Contact page. We will get back to you as soon as we can.
Response Time: Our response times average 2-4 weeks, occasionally as long as 5-7 weeks; during Spring 2014, as short as 1-3 weeks.
Slush Updates: To keep writers informed on our reading progress, we post periodic Slush Updates on our News page, under the category Slush Updates, saying what date up to which we have currently read all submissions.
Querying: If we post a Slush Update saying that we’ve replied to all submissions sent before a certain date, and you sent yours before that date, please query us using the email form on our Contact page. We really mean this; it’s not necessary to wait.
Please do not query if we haven’t announced that we’ve replied to all submissions up to the date you sent yours.
All rejections and acceptances will be notified by email.
Unsolicited Rewrites: We DO NOT accept unsolicited rewrites of stories that we’ve already rejected. (That is a nearly universal policy among short fiction markets of all genres.)
As discussed in this comment thread, we intend the personalized comments in our rejections as explanation of why that story didn’t work for us, and we hope that insight into what we’re looking for will be of help to the author with their next submission. They are not an invitation to resubmit the same story, even if it has been revised.
We only buy a few pieces of artwork a year, so we don’t take submissions of artwork. But we are interested in names of artists and links to their portfolios, so that when we are ready to buy art, we can check out their work.
If you’re an artist and would like us to put your name on our list to check out the next time we’re looking for artwork, please take a look at our past Cover Art, to see what sort of artwork we like (usually landscapes or vistas of fantastical-looking places). Then feel free to send us your information using our Contact page, and include links to a couple of your pieces that you feel might show the sort of vibe we’re looking for.
These Guidelines last updated 05/25/16.