Submission Tips: Canon versus Home-brew

A new year is just around the corner and for a lot of people here on the Bolthole and a few on the other Games Workshop/Black Library fan forums, that means it is going to be time to start working on a new set of submissions, whether they be novels or short stories. Of course, some people like yours truly have already started on it.

Given that, I thought I would discuss something that I know is relevant to a lot of people out there. At the outset, I would like to say that my post here is only the tip of the iceberg and that there is more to it than just the words that are going to follow but I intend this post to be a somewhat introductory one. Hope you all enjoy!

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The Bolthole and You

We all come to the Bolthole for a variety of different reasons. Some of us come for one or two specific reasons, while others come because of the whole experience. So I thought it would be a great idea to really explore what some of these reasons are. Mind you, this is not an extensive list and is not meant to be, but I just want to highlight some of the key ones that I feel are the most important.

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Interview – Laurie Goulding, Black Library Editor

Hello and happy friday! Today, as a treat for you all we have an interview with Laurie Goulding who very kindly offered to answer a few questions for us – officially, his title is of Submissions Editor for the Black Library. If you don’t know what that means, then you have come to the right place…

Laurie Goulding, before his morning coffee has kicked in

 

Hi Laurie, how are you today?

I’m good, actually. I’m full of enthusiasm for the work I have to do later, and looking forward to some gaming with my new-and-improved Necron army this evening. It has been a Good Day™ so far.

You are the submissions editor for the Black Library, right? What exactly does your job role entail?

I am indeed. Principally I’m member of the Editorial team, so I work with specific authors on their various projects, and act as their representative during BL meetings and planning sessions. The ‘submissions’ part comes in whenever we run an open submissions window or when we are contacted by established authors who want to write for us – I am the first pair of eyes on every submission, and if it interests me then I take it to the rest of the team to decide if we want to see more from this particular author, and how we want to proceed with that.

Black Library is in an interesting (and fairly unique!) position, in that almost all of our fans also want to write for us. We obviously encourage that, because no one knows the Warhammer backgrounds quite like a lifelong fan… and there is a lot of talent out there that we hope to discover by keeping our eyes open and reading what you guys are writing. This year, I have already found THREE new authors and I have a number of good leads. I know that Christian has found a couple too, and Graeme as well.

Another part of my job which I really enjoy is being the unofficial ‘researcher’ for Warhammer 40,000 – basically, whenever an author or editor says “what do we know about such-and-such”, then I dig out every published reference to it, compile them all into something vaguely coherent, and point out the contradictions which could make interesting story points. As a huge fan of the Horus Heresy before I came to work here, I take great satisfaction from now being the go-to guy for continuity on the series! (From ‘Deliverance Lost’ onwards, people who knew me from the online pre-Heresy forum days have commented that you can actually see my influence in there, if you know what to look for…)

Extreme geek-out then! You get A LOT of submissions every time you open up a new window of opportunity – in the hundreds every time. Do you find it a chore or a pleasure to work through them all? How much of each sample/synopsis do you need to read, or is it more a case of heaping stuff into piles to look at later, and piles for the shredder?

Heh, try “thousands”…! I genuinely do find it very exciting to read through every single story in the pile, and while you get some really whacky ideas you also get some amazingly well written pieces. Having said that, the ratios are something like: for every FIVE HUNDRED submissions we receive, I’ll find maybe TWENTY that both fit the style of BL and would have an obvious place in our range. From those twenty, it’s unlikely that any of them will get past all of the other editors without some criticism, but statistically we contact maybe ONE OR TWO of them to take it further.

So really, people shouldn’t take it personally if they don’t get a call back. Aside from the fact that we have so many submissions to look through, which takes a loooooooong time, it is only a very small percentage that actually get through to publication. The best thing to do is to crack on with your next submission, and try to raise your own game as a writer.

I know its cliched, but if you could give everyone who submitted proposals to the Black Library ONE piece of advice, what would it be and why?

Don’t start outside the box. Seriously, this is the death of 90% of all submissions. When we look at a brand new author, someone completely unknown to us, we need to know that this person ‘gets’ the Warhammer setting – we can’t judge that if their first submission is a completely revolutionary new idea which challenges the reader’s preconceptions and takes the story in an unnecessarily ‘clever’ new direction.

Your first submission should be something which could have come right out of an army book or codex (except written as character-driven prose rather than gaming background) and conforms entirely to the established universe. Once we know you’re good for it, we can start to look at your more original ideas.

Also, something which we reiterate time and again – please don’t submit for Horus Heresy or Time of Legends, or draw heavily on the metaplot of those series for your ‘modern’-era story. This will earn you an instant rejection, and we don’t want to have to keep dismissing great writers just because they tried to get around the basic ground rules! We just can’t consider new writers for these brands, unfortunately.

How did you get into the hobby? Were you a gamer or a reader?

Oh, I was very much a gamer. My cousin (some ten years older than me) was an award-winning miniature painter in the late 1980s, and I found his enthusiasm quite infectious. I got Heroquest for Christmas, and Space Crusade for my next birthday… then bought Rogue Trader over the summer and eventually the original Horus Heresy boardgame too. At the age of eleven I was playing in competitive Space Hulk tournaments, and designing rules for a wargame based on my Lego Pirates!

I actually dropped out of the hobby completely at the age of about 17 or 18, when in the traditional manner I discovered “girls’n’beer”. I did some commission painting to pay the bills while I was at university, but my interest in Games Workshop had waned to almost nothing. It was only a few years later when I was trying to explain to someone why British Science fiction is inherently awesome, that I got to thinking about the original Horus Heresy story by William King once more… then by sheer chance, I spotted ‘Horus Rising’ on the shelf in Waterstones, and I knew that I had to get involved with that!

I read the first three Horus Heresy novels in the space of ten days, and immediately started on a pre-Heresy World Eaters army (still growing!) and persuaded my old gaming buddies to dust off their minis too. BLOOD FOR THE PRIMARCH! SKULLS FOR THE GOLDEN THRONE!

Any chance that we are going to see Laurie Goulding’s fictional efforts in print? I know that Nick Kyme has made a big splash with his novels and Christian Dunn has written a game book!!

Heh, well let’s not get ahead of ourselves! I make no secret of the fact that I have always been a keen writer and come from a family with something of a literary tradition, but at the moment I’ve got this huge pile of submissions to go through… maybe one day I’ll get round to actually writing something of my own again… mutter mutter…

What are you most looking forward to in 2012?

BL-wise, I am literally giddy with excitement over Aaron D-B’s ‘Butcher’s Nails’ (gotta love that freakin’ SWEET artwork!) and John French’s HH novella ‘The Crimson Fist’. They both appeal to the continuity geek in me.

In terms of real life, I’m getting married in like, a year’s time. I suspect that if I don’t mention that, I am liable to have my thumbs cut off while I sleep… (BEST case scenario!)

Wow, well I hope the wedding goes smoothly and you don’t have too many “wedding planner” moments. Last question – either/or Smarties or Minstrels?

Hmmm, tough call. Smarties for every day, Minstrels for Sunday best? They certainly make a better cinema snack – much chunkier! Having said that, the four-year old in me still gets excited by the sound of a Smarties tube being shaken. I will sit on the fence and let more worthy gentlemen fight it out, I think.

Excellent – thanks for taking the time to answer our questions.

I hope everyone has a good weekend – we have more interviews lined up, with Ben Counter and Bill King to name but two. Check back on Monday for an article by Jon Schafer asking Why Warhammer? See you all then!