Frequently Asked Questions

about Blithe House Quarterly's submission guidelines and general policies answered, to the best of their abilities,
by Aldo Alvarez
and Jarrett Walker

First edition:
May 15th, 1999

Most recent revision:
September 6th, 2003

Index of questions:

  1. What's your exact definition of "fiction"?
  2. Do you consider poetry?
  3. What's your exact definition of "short story"? 
  4. Can a straight writer submit something on a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered theme?
  5. What do you mean by "unpublished"?  
  6. Is my short story published if it saw distribution through an e-mail writers workshop/message board/usenet group?
  7. What if I want to submit an unpublished, extensive revision of a work that already saw print?
  8. Do you accept reprints?
  9. What if the text has been performed but not published? 
  10. What rights do you ask for when you accept a story for publication? 
  11. What does "First Serial Rights" mean?  REVISED, EXTENDED
  12. Do you consider novel excerpts? 
  13. Why don't you accept stories under 1000 words? 
  14. Why don't you accept stories over 10,000 words? 
  15. If I have no previous publications to list in my bio, can I still submit? 
  16. What's all the business of file format guidelines? Can't I just paste the story to an e-mail or send you a text file attachment? 
  17. How important is the file format issue when it comes to submitting to BHQ? 
  18. Sheesh. What file format do you prefer, then? 
  19. What do I have a good chance of placing as a submission?
  20. Do you read all of every story submitted?
  21. Do you pay? REVISED, EXTENDED
  22. If you accept my story, what else do you need from me?
  23. How can I be a guest-editor? 
  24. How do you pick guest-editors? 
  25. What if I don't see my question featured in here?

Q: What's your exact definition of "fiction"?

A: Prose narrative that describes events that have not actually occurred. Fiction may be based on real-life experiences, and may have real-life historical events occurring in the background, but it is not literally true; no reasonably experienced reader could mistake it for a literally true narrative. Thus fiction excludes all forms of memoir, autobiography, and prose journalism.

Remember, the test of fiction is whether it sounds like fiction. If it sounds like memoir, autobiography or journalism, then as far as we're concerned, that's what it is.

Q: Do you consider poetry?

A: We have a charter that exclusively sponsors short fiction. That excludes poetry.

Q: What's your exact definition of "short story"?

A: A prose narrative between 1000 and 10000 words in length.

Q: Can a straight writer submit something on a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered theme?

A: Yes.

Q: What do you mean by "unpublished"? I want to submit "insert story title here" -- it saw print in [a student publication in college/an out-of-print anthology/another website/'zine/a literary magazine with a two-hundred copy print run] and I was told that it doesn't count as a publication.

A: It's our policy that if it saw distribution in any medium, it's been published -- UNLESS you didn't sign an agreement and no rights were exchanged between you and the distributor of the material. Then, it's unpublished.

If it's self-published, we consider it published since you distributed it yourself.

It's our policy that a publication's a publication's a publication, no matter if it's dead tree or electronic, no matter if it has a circulation of 20,000 or a circulation of 20. That includes magazines and sites that make you sign an agreement before claiming not to be a publication but distributing your material for people's perusal with first dibs for future publication.

A rule of thumb: if you have to ask this question (or some other variation that includes the phrase "it saw print"), it's probably been published. If you agreed to exchange rights for distribution , it's definitely published.

Q: Is my short story published if it saw distribution through an e-mail / message board / usenet group writers workshop ?

A: It's unpublished. Unless you signed an agreement for it to see distribution. AOL claims to have copyright ownership via acceptance of Terms Of Service.

Q: What if I want to submit an unpublished, extensive revision of a work that already saw print? I think it's sufficiently different from the published version to count as unpublished.

A: It 's our policy that it doesn't count as unpublished. Material that's revised at any length or depth does not magically become unpublished if it's already seen print in one form or another. The work remains bound by whatever agreements you've originally made for it.

Q: Do you accept reprints?

A: We consider unpublished short fiction for publication. If it's been published, we won't consider it.

There are long and complicated legal reasons for this unpublished thing. Say, when you first published the material you've submitted for reprint, you may have already signed away all your electronic rights to it, and we have no way of knowing that. It's our policy to avoid complications, so we stick with unpublished material.

Q: What if the text has been performed but not published?

A: That's unpublished -- it has not seen print -- and perfectly acceptable as a submission to BHQ.

Q: What publication rights do you ask for when you accept a story for publication?

A: First Serial Rights -- all rights return to the author on publication. That's the traditional agreement between authors and literary magazines. We ask authors to sign a simple contract that says:

"My short story "[title of story]" is unpublished; I grant First Serial Rights to Blithe House Quarterly for publication in a future issue.



You don't owe us anything after that, and vice-versa.

We do ask, as a cross-promotional courtesy, that you mention that the work first saw print in Blithe House Quarterly on the acknowledgements page of any future reprints. Whatever else you do with the work is entirely up to you.

Work that first saw print in BHQ has seen reprint in MEN ON MEN, BEST LESBIAN LOVE STORIES and BEST AMERICAN GAY FICTION, not to mention individual short story collections, so there's a precedent for the work having a life off-site.

Q: What does "First Serial Rights" mean?

A: This rights category means that, basically, you, the author, give us, a serial periodical, first dibs at distributing this material for the consumption of others, and once that's achieved, that's the end of the agreement. We do not ask for follow-up or anthology rights. We will e-mail you if the opportunity comes for your work to be nominated for reprint in secondary serial or anthology publications; you should not feel obligated to accept this opportunity if it comes by.

Q: Do you consider novel excerpts?

A: Yes. But we only consider novel excerpts under the following conditions:

  • First Serial Rights must be available for the excerpt.
  • We consider excerpts from novels already accepted for publication. Please provide publication info (publishing house, release date, etc) in your cover letter.
  • The excerpt has to work as a independent short story. If a piece doesn't come together in one way or another because it's part of a larger narrative, its chances of succeeding as a short story are pretty slim.
  • The excerpt has to be titled and presented as a short story. Seeing a work labelled "from SUCH A NOVEL" or "from a work in progress" tends to diminish the enjoyment of casual readers who look for material that stands on its own terms.

Basically, we'll consider novel excerpts if a reader can't tell that's what they are.

Q: Why don't you accept stories under 1000 words?

A: Because, frankly, we're not especially knowledgeable about short short fiction as a form.

For short shorts, try Doorknobs and Bodypaint -- tell them BHQ sent ya, they're friends of ours.

Q: Why don't you accept stories over 10,000 words?

A: Because by then it's an unwieldy length for an ordinary webpage.

Q: If I have no previous publications to list in my bio, can I still submit?

A: You betcha. You do not need previous publications in order to see print in Blithe House Quarterly. One or two authors in any given quarterly issue make their debut in BHQ.

Q: What's all the business of file format guidelines? Can't I just paste the story to an e-mail or send you a text file attachment?

A: Because it takes us about three times the labor and time to code a page that has no word processing file formatting. We very rarely accept material that's submitted in an unsuitable file format because we REALLY have to love the piece to go through all the hassle of reformatting every single detail of the text (italics, paragraph breaks, etc) into HTML.

(Those of you whom we've published despite file format problems should feel really flattered right now.)

Q: How important is the file format issue when it comes to submitting to BHQ?

A: Important enough that we eventually stop humoring submissions from repeat text file offenders. We just pass on them unread. We think of file format the same way paper editors think of SASEs -- a formal necessity whose absence liberates the editor of the obligation of consideration and/or response.

Q: Sheesh. What file format do you prefer, then?

A: Microsoft Word or Rich-Text Format. Guest-editors have their own file preferences, and they will let you know what they need in their solicitations.

Q: What do I have a good chance of placing as a submission?

A: We prefer literary fiction.

But we'll let you know that, right now, we'd like to see:

  • more short fiction by lesbian, bisexual and transgendered authors
  • fiction in innovative prose or narrative styles (not poetry!)
  • fiction that expands the thematic boundaries of gay literature
  • short fiction in the third person point of view 
  • short fiction about gay and lesbian characters not otherwise featured in mainstream gay fiction 
  • stories with a strong narrative premise 
  • fiction from writers outside of the US 
  • regionally-specific queer fiction
  • ethnically-informed queer fiction
  • working class and small town fiction
  • polished fancy prose fiction
  • classy prose with pulp thrills
  • something we haven't read before, something we haven't read enough about, basically 

The following types of material sometimes get our attention, but we get so much of them that they have to meet a very high standard:

  • coming-out stories
  • stories from the point of view of children
  • stories that rely heavily on descriptions of gay-ghetto settings that are already heavily trodden by the literature, such as Fire Island
  • static meditations on aging and loss
  • stories in the first-person where the narrator is not clearly a character distinct from the author (and borders on memoir)

A rule of thumb: read what we've published so far. Then send us something totally unlike it.

We like to be surprised.

Q. Do you read all of every story submitted?

A. Our piles of submissions grow higher every year. What would you do? We read each piece up to the point where we're certain that it's got too many problems for us to accept, or until we're bored or disgusted, or until we discover happily that the writer has kept us engaged all the way to the end. We begin reading each piece with an open mind and in a calm environment, but given that, it's the writer's job to hold our attention.

Q: Do you pay?

A: We cannot pay our writers (or ourselves, for that matter). But we make up for it by overcompensating you in readership, prestige, promotion, marketing, publicity, and design -- and *all* we ask for is First Serial Rights. We really work for the privilege of publishing you. You have no idea.

One quarterly issue of Blithe House Quarterly has more circulation than 1) one issue of OUT Magazine and 2) one whole year's circulation for Conjunctions' online site.

Our name's well-known in the literary magazine community, so your publication here might help you gain the attention of an acquiring editor at another magazine or anthology.

Just about every gay and lesbian book, magazine and newspaper editor is on the mailing list for the announcement of new BHQ issues. Literary agents from legitimate agencies have contacted us to inquire after an author we've published.

Even straight people read us! They often write to us to let us know that we're the first chance they've ever had to read gay fiction, and they were surprised to like it.

No, BHQ can't deliver a paycheck for your work, and if that really bothers you, well...check out just how much our distinguished competition pays. [OK, here it is, just so you know: 1) nothing 2) nothing 3) 20 bucks and two copies (if they get around to sending them to you), and 4) two copies.] We do deliver in countless other ways.

Q: If you accept my story, what else do you need from me?

A: Not much:

  • an author bio (see an ABOUT THE AUTHORS page for models for author bios)
  • if you have a homepage or sites you want linked to the bio, send us their and names and URLs 
  • an e-mailed publication agreement (as seen above)

Q: How can I be a guest-editor?

A: Since that's a position that entails

  • taste that's compatible with (and probably better than) ours 
  • organizational skills 
  • disposable time 
  • no conflicting responsibilities or interests 
  • a teeming network of gay and lesbian writers in your region and/or environment 
  • our knowledge that you'd be as committed, responsible, politically engaged, and culturally ambitious as your humble servants 
  • editorial or publishing experience of some sort 
  • that you stay in touch with us on at least a weekly basis 
  • that you do it in exchange for a line in your creative resumé (or perhaps a recommendation letter from a BHQ staffer), 

it makes guest-editor selection almost entirely based on who we know. Since some of these qualities only come to shine by way of acquaintance, it's unlikely we will accept guest-editorship requests from people we don't know or haven't heard of in some editorial capacity.

You do not need to know us to submit and/or see print in Blithe House Quarterly.

Q: How do you pick guest-editors?

A: We just ask people we've noticed have potential as BHQ editors -- and they say yes or no. If guest-editors have a specific editorial focus they want to play out (say, queer writers from the American Northwest or queer writers from the African Diaspora), that's excellent, but it isn't a requirement.

Q: What if I don't see my question featured in here?

A: If you have any questions not featured in this FAQ, please leave us a message at BHQ's Discussion and Message Boards Forum at Delphi. We may post your question in a future update of the BHQ-FAQ.