I’ve touched on this before, but recent good news has me thinking about it again. There’s a sense in the genre-writing community that it’s exceedingly difficult to sell stories that feature classic monsters. I’m talking mostly about the big three: vampires, zombies, and werewolves. I’d have to say that in my experience this is largely true, and it’s not uncommon to find markets that expressly forbid submissions that feature these well-worn horrors or actively discourage it in their guidelines. Now, I’m not here to say those markets are wrong, but having recently sold works that feature the big three, I’m here to tell you it’s possible, but you gotta think outside the box.
First, let’s discuss the primary reason why markets forbid or discourage submission that feature the big three. Simply put, stories revolving around these monsters tend to be, well, pretty similar. Every publisher has seen a scads of vampire romances, zombie apocalypses, and rampaging werewolves that, while maybe well written, don’t stand out from the crowd. They don’t want to see MORE Dracula or The Walking Dead or An American Werewolf In London. Now, I’ll admit, I always find it odd that werewolves are forbidden. This is simply because lycanthropes don’t saturate popular media like zombies and vampires. I mean, you can count the number of truly good werewolf movies on one hand. Still, if a publisher forbids or discourages it, it’s likely they’ve seen too much of it.
If you’re like me, and you LOVE these classic monsters, how do you go about getting stories featuring them published? My method is a fairly simply thought exercise. I pick some fairly normal thing and then ask myself what if a vampire/werewolf/zombie was involved? So instead of writing the typical story featuring these monsters, I’ll do something like what if DoorDash delivered to vampires? Or maybe what if a werewolf was a contractor that handled other monster’s construction issues. Or what if Vikings tried to raid a village infected with a zombie plague? In other words, you put the monster in an admittedly bizarre situation, and that keeps you from traveling down that well-worn path.
How well has this method worked for me? I’ve published seven vampire stories, seven zombie stories, and two werewolf stories. All but one of these was at a semi-pro or pro rate. The most gratifying thing about publishing these classic monster stories is when you manage to crack a market with one and you get responses in the acceptance letters or reader comments that look like this.
Keep in mind there’s a hard truth in these comments, even though they represent a sale or a positive reader experience. Readers and editors are often predisposed to being wary of vampire, zombie, and werewolf stories, mostly for the reasons I stated above. That means you are often placing an additional hurdle in your way to getting published. Still, if you can surprise an editor with your story by making it unique or different enough than the bog standard classic monster stories, you stand a good chance. Also, it should go without saying that you should NOT send stories about vampire, zombies, and werewolves to markets that forbid it in their guidelines. That’s a recipe for an auto-reject and an irritated editor.
If you’d like to see some of the stories I’ve published with the big three, here are some links to stories you can read or listen to for free. My werewolf stories have been published in venues that are not free to read, but I’ve got a couple in the works that hopefully will be soon.
One other thing I think is interesting to discuss is that the big three are generally the only classic monsters you see in do-not-send lists. You won’t often find ghosts, demons, or mummies forbidden or discouraged. The first two are likely because of the vast variety of myths, legends, and traditions that surround them, so there are lots of ways to be creative. That said, a run-of-the-mill haunted house or demon possession story is unlikely to see publication. Why no one writes about mummies is, frankly, surprising. Talk about a monster rich in lore form many different cultures, from the commonly known Egyptian variety to the bog mummies found throughout Europe. Like all the other classic monsters, mummies can benefit from the what if method. I’ve been working on one that is essentially what if a modern mummy’s car was actually his portable sarcophagus. We’ll see where that goes. 🙂
You might be thinking, hey, what about the gill-man, aka, The Creature from the Black Lagoon? I say go for it. I’ve published one, and I’ll bet you can too.
Thoughts on publishing stories about the big three and other classic monsters? Tell me about it in the comments.