Submissions to On Spec are currently closed.
Please note that we do not accept emailed submissions except through prior arrangement with editorial staff.
Writing Tips from On Spec
If you submit work during our Submission period, please scroll down to refer to the How Does It Work? section on this page. That will give you an idea of what to expect next.
If you are an artist and have previously sent us samples of your work, we will let you know if we find something we’d like to use.
What are we looking for? And what are we NOT looking for?
We like to pride ourselves in searching out the most interesting and innovative works of fiction and poetry in the genre. So what do we want?
- Speculative writing of all kinds, but nothing derivative. Try to avoid what you think are trends, because by the time we’d publish them, they won’t be. Remember, you are a trendsetter, not a trend follower.
- This is particularly relevant now, as we understand many writers are eager to send us their own pandemic or COVID stories.
- We’ll gladly look at works up to 6,000 words, but keep in mind that most of these will eventually need a hard edit to reduce a thousand words of exposition. If you do that, yourself. it makes us more likely to pick up your story.
- We’d prefer a standard manuscript format, in a readable font. If you are new to this, do some research. https://www.shunn.net/format/story/
- The work must be previously unpublished in English in North America. We buy First NA Serial Rights to your work.
- We are not fond of graphic sex and violence. And we are not fond of horror that is simply “messy”.
- When we say “character-driven”, we mean it. A story that exists because a character is pushed along by outside influences and has absolutely no agency, will not grab our attention.
- Keep the stakes high in your story. Remember that we need the reader to WANT to turn the pages. We need the reader to miss that bus or train stop because they are totally absorbed in the “what happens next?” of an On Spec story. We need the readers to ENGAGE with your protagonist, so they care about how things turn out.
- Watch out for flags that predict the ending of the story before we get to it.
- Don’t send us a HAITE story. That’s our acronym for “Here’s An Idea: The End”.
- Watch out for surprise Twist endings, especially if you have hidden a key piece of information from the Reader until the deus ex machina ending happens. The same applies to “one joke” or “Shaggy dog” endings.
- Make sure your story gives the reader a credible reason to willingly suspend their disbelief, and always make the ending of your story believable. The last thing we want to see is “It was all a dream”, or “we’re all living inside a snow globe”, or “this was all VR”.
- Stay away from really awful protagonists. Remember the point above where we want the reader to be engaged with the protagonist and really care about the outcome.
- While we don’t check on a writer’s ethnic background or gender identification, we do encourage works from diverse communities of writers. We have a diverse editorial staff. If you are coming from a place of respect for the culture, characters, and the subject matter, we’ll know.
- By the way, have you researched your market before hitting that “submit” button? It is a waste of everyone’s time when a writer sends us a work that has absolutely no SFF content at all. A digital copy of an On Spec issue is readily and cheaply available from Weightless Books.
- And it goes without saying that folks in the magazine sector are having some serious conversations concerning the possible threat of AI-generated fiction that passes itself off as “original”. While we can take some things on faith that writers who submit to On Spec are sending their finest fiction and poetry, we will be more cautious than ever going forward. If we buy your work, the contract will include a clause where you say that the work is 100% yours, with no AI content. We don’t count using Grammarly as AI, but we do hope that your grammar and spelling are carefully checked.
How does it work?
- The first reader assigned to each manuscript will determine its literary merit and overall suitability for On Spec, and will flag the story with an Accept or Decline as well as listing their reactions to the story. This goes on to the attention of the Managing Editor.
- A story that obviously does not meet our needs will be sent a letter stating the work is unsuitable for On Spec. Keep in mind that we probably buy 1 story for every 20 that we read.
- A story that has potential will probably be read by one or more of the other editors until a final decision is made.
- Art submissions are viewed for suitability by two editors, and we may also look at your web site to see other works that may be available.
- We also need to be aware of the budget we have for buying new work, as well as the number of stories we have on hand to be used in upcoming issues. We also need to be aware of Canadian content. We DO buy works from non-Canadians, but our mandate was always to showcase works by writers from our own country.
- You will eventually receive either an email saying your story has been declined, or an offer of a publication contract in due course. You can track progress and status of your manuscript through your account created on the On Spec site.
- If you still have questions after reading this, fee free to send us a note on the Contact Us page of the web site.
- Remember the editors’ decision is final, and writing back to complain about being rejected is not a professional thing to do. Just send your story to a new market and keep sending until it gets sold. You’d be surprised at the number of writers who find a market on their 9th or 10th attempt at submission.
- And if you are actually reading this page, we’d like to reward you. Send us a note through the CONTACT US page, saying you read the Submission guidelines, and we will send you a digital copy of an issue of On Spec, free of charge.
ON SPEC buys first North American serial (magazine) rights to your work. We pay upon acceptance.
Pay rates are as follows and in Canadian dollars:
- Poems (4-100 lines): $100 CDN plus a one-year subscription and 2 contributor copies
- Short-short stories (under 2000 words): $100 CDN, plus a one-year subscription and 2 contributor copies
Fiction (6000 words max.)
- .05 CDN per word plus 2 contributor’s copies plus a One year subscription
43 thoughts on “Submissions”
I’ve looked everywhere, but I can’t find specific guidelines for poetry submissions.
How many poems should we submit (minimum, maximum)? Should we submit them as one .rtf file, or each poem as a separate submission? How should we format our poetry submission?
You can send several poems, although it makes it easier if each one is sent separately. For example, we may decline all but one. Formatting would depend on the poem, itself.
Hi. We’re not sure what is causing this. Try it without the phone number.
Still a no-go without a phone number. Always wants a valid phone number. Have tried with dashes, without dashes, with area code brackets, with a long distance 1, and as a 555-5555. Too timid to try 666-6666.
If all else fails, send the story by email to onspecmag(at)gmail.com and explain the circumstances. We will accept it that way. We just don’t want to make a habit of it .
The poetry submission guidelines are available for viewing on the Submittable page for sending Poetry to On Spec. They are just not shown on our website.
Hello, I know this falls beyond your usual publications, but would you consider graphic works of fiction an acceptable format? (Ie works in the format of graphic novels, illustrated stories, any kind of word+image combinations…)
We did experiment briefly with a graphic story a few years ago. Because our interior is not in colour, this does limit the potential. This is something we may come back to in the future, however.
Hello! I am wondering when Onspec will next be open for short story submissions. Many thanks.
We’re hoping to begin a new round of submissions sometime in February. Thanks for your interest!
You say you take stories of up to 6000 words but it won’t let me submit a story over 1000 words when I try and submit. How do I work around this?
Just attach your story as a Word or RTF document. The 1000 words limit is in the Comments box where you can add a cover letter if you wish.
Hi. Do you accept submissions from Indians?
We accept submissions from everyone.
Dear On Spec, my name is Christopher Ibrahim from Nigeria. I would like to ask during submissions for poems, is the writer to add his/her name? Also, you talked about collecting works from North American writers so, I am curious, to ask ” what about African writers?
Hi Christopher and thanks for your question. We have published work from writers and artists in many different countries–Greece, Australia, USA, Italy– we’d be happy to see a submission from the African continent!
Sorry to take so long to reply to you. We accept submissions from around the world. And please do add your name ! Most important! We are currently closed for all submissions, but do keep us in mind for later in the year.
Hello Christopher. Sorry we missed this question. Yes, always put your name on any submissions. We love receiving any works from around the world! Other North American (US or Canada) publications (unless they specifically say otherwise) also accept works from anywhere.
May I inquire as to your next submission deadline? I missed it this round.
We may open to poetry a bit sooner, but at the moment all the editors are busy with what we received. Watch for announcements.
When will you be open to submissions again? I’d love to submit as soon as possible. 🙂
We are currently editing stories we bought from the last submission period, so probably not opening to new work until sometime in the Spring.
Hi, how can one submit for the first time?
Thanks for your question. When we are open to new submissions there will be instructions on the web site that show you how to register your new account and then upload a story for us to read.
So when does the next opportunity to contribute come? I’d like to try my hand again?
We usually will open again about 6 months after the last period closes. So start looking about the end of March. Thank you for your interest!
Sorry, I was incorrect. It looks like we have a full schedule of stories right now, so we will probably not open again until next Fall. Keep writing and submit your stories to other markets, too! Good luck!
How many stories are we allowed to submit at a time? I got two I’d like to try at once, so I’m checking to see if it’s possible to submit both of them.
You can send us several stories, but each one must be a separate submission. They will be assigned to different first readers.
I have a fiction piece of 4,000 words that I would consider submitting. However, I see that one must have prior approval from a staff member in order for the work to be submitted by email. Do you have advice for me?
Thanks for your inquiry. Our Submissions window on the web site is currently open to the end of Novamber, and it is a simple matter for you to register there and upload your work for consideration. You don’t need to send it by email.
How long do you normally keep things under review? I submitted some work 11/8 but can’t find anywhere that gives a time estimate. Thank you!
The short answer is “as long as it takes”. We have a small team of volunteers and reading each one of the 600 or so submissions takes time. Stories remain in the queue until assigned to a reader, and once the reader gets to it, responses can be quick (decline) or slow (under review until more readers have their say).
We appreciate your patience. Some writers have already sold their stories and poems elsewhere and so they let us know to remove them from the queue.