To say that the title of this section represents an ‘either….or’ situation would be too simplistic, but there are undoubtedly elements of that. Some of the writing genres most prominently represented on the Internet, such as science fiction, erotica, horror and crime, do not, generally speaking, have much of a presence in most mainstream national competitions. As explained earlier, even if the competition has a named judge, the numbers entering tend to be so high that ‘filterers’ will go through the bulk of the entries, and it is improbable that many of them will be aficionados of the more extreme and specialist fiction areas.
However, those writers who feel that their natural home is in one of these areas should not be discouraged. In the case of science fiction, its presence on the Internet is vast, and many of the leading magazines and e-zines receive many more submissions than they can publish; even achieving publication could be said to be an ongoing competition, with the writer’s chances of further publication increasing with each published piece. Science fiction is a genre of writing with a long and honourable tradition, with names such as Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Aldous Huxley, Ray Bradbury etc. widely accepted and read by a mainstream readership. However, many agents and publishers remain cautious about accepting sci-fi submissions, some of them excluding them altogether. Stories requiring understandings of science beyond the levels of the competition ‘filterers’, or centred on flights of imagination which make their point and purpose obscure or indecipherable, may do well in some of the more ‘experimental’ sci-fi magazines and e-zines, but are unlikely to cut much ice in most fiction competitions.
Crime writing is another genre with a distinguished history of its own, with such writers as Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Georges Simenon, Colin Dexter etc. and could probably be said to have more ‘crossover’ potential than science fiction, particularly in view of the lucrative potential of new detectives and other characters associated with the process of solving crimes. It is still, nevertheless, a genre, served by specialist magazines and e-zines, and cautiously regarded by agents and publishers. It shares with science fiction the likelihood that writers are unlikely to receive much attention outside its boundaries unless and until they have established a following within them, as could be said to be true to varying extents with all of the examples quoted. Again, it has its own specialist magazines, both in print and on the internet, and there is considerable competition for publication in them.
Horror and erotica are both very problematic areas in terms of fiction competitions. The more full-blooded offerings are more likely to shock or offend than achieve anything in the way of recognition. However, once again, the internet has a variety of sites which publish such material, and erotica in particular is one of the few areas of short fiction to offer widespread earning potential. It would be inaccurate to say that all competitions reject stories with ‘adult’ content of one kind of another, but it has to be remembered that many of the writers’ groups, festivals etc. who hold competitions aim at publishing competition winners on their sites or in anthologies and will tend to be reluctant to print material likely to be offensive to what they are hoping will be a substantial ‘mainstream’ readership.Romance, sport and history are all areas which have more potential to be successful in competition. It remains the case that more women than men read fiction, and there are more likely to be female competition ‘filterers’ than male, meaning writers of romantic fiction may well be successful in the preliminary stages, particularly bearing in mind that this is another area where specialists might well be able to earn money from their writing.
Fiction centred on sport can have a premium simply because of its relative rarity, but also because, with so many magazines and e-zines devoted to sports individually or collectively, there are substantial additional markets available. As with science fiction, writing which is highly detailed and technical to the level of being beyond most readers’ level of competence and understanding in the field may struggle in general competitions. Readers and filterers, faced with intimidating numbers of entries, do not have the time to check up on whether or not what they’re being presented with is true or accurate, and are also likely to be wary of approving something which subsequently proves to be wildly inaccurate or even laughable. The same might be said to apply to some historical fiction. People who know considerable detail about particular periods in terms of food, costume etc. and are concerned to present as accurate a picture as possible should bear in mind that, in the context of competitions, non-specialists do not have the time and leisure to check detail thoroughly and are likely to be wary of making mistakes.
Duotrope offers a search facility which identifies magazines in different writing genres on an international basis, as do some of the other compendium magazines dealing with writers’ resources. As good a method as any is to start with a search in ‘science fiction’, ‘historical fiction’ etc. and look at the links on offer with various specialist magazines. The Writers’ and Artists’ Year Book is also an invaluable source of information on U.K. magazines of all descriptions and the detailed preferences of individual agents and publishers. As Questionnaire 3 indicates, most writers have a variety of sources for their material, including both occupational and leisure interests, and are likely to touch upon different writing genres from time to time without subsequently becoming completely immersed in them. Specialist writing in many areas has an entirely respectable pedigree, and many writers will find themselves comfortably in a genre niche, though the medium of discovery as to what that niche might be is probably not to be found in mainstream fiction competitions.