How to Break Into Treklit

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Title: How to Break Into Treklit
Creator: Johanna Cantor
Date(s): 1978
Medium: print
Fandom: Star Trek: TOS
Topic: fanfic, zines
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How to Break Into Treklit is an essay by Johanna Cantor.

It was intended to be a tutorial for the very beginning fan about how to draw and submit art to print zines, the only venue at the time for sharing fanart. Its focus was Star Trek: TOS.

The essay was printed in Archives #1.

Some Excerpts

The first step, obvious though it may seem, is to get something down on paper. You have your characters, ready made. Your view of them may not agree with other fan-writers' views, but you're entitled to it. My personal bias is that characters should be close to, or at least logical extrapolations from, the aired series characters. In other words, Spock shouldn't make a habit of bursting into tears. On the other hand, if a different Spock is central to your view of Trek, write away. There are many different views, and now we have the concept of the "alternate universe." The whole Kraith series is built on an alternate Kirk and Spock, at least in my opinion. One of the tenets of the NTM universe is that Vulcans are both cyclical—that is, subject to an irrepressible mating drive during the pon farr—and operational at other times as well. There is a whole bunch of stories based on the premise that Kirk and Uhura are deeply in love [1](presumably she's exceedingly good at forgiving and forgetting). If it sparks your imagination, try it out.
How to get your ideas? People differ, of course. My stories usually start as a scene, or perhaps are a phrase. I wrote one whole story just so I could have Spock ask Uhura to sing something "once more, with feeling." I simply worried that situation until the plot presented itself. I worried another situation for years. I wanted to have Spock say "Captain, I'm frightened." Pon farr was ruled out, of course; that would have been too easy. Finally a friend (now a coauthor) obligingly presented a plot that would make it work. Other people, like that friend, seem to think of plots first, but have trouble fleshing them out. If you're the first type and have a friend who's the second, you've got it made. It's helpful, sometimes, to talk things over with friends by phone (if you're rich) or letter. You have to find what works for you. Once you have the plot in mind, start writing. A talked story will never get printed. Even if you're not sure of chunks of it, get something down on that blank paper. Often you'll find that in the writing, your subconscious, or something, solves the problems you didn't know you'd figured out. Other times, you'll have to leave that space. But get the rest of it down. Sooner or later, you'll wake up with the solution.
When you've finally got your story so you're reasonably satisfied with it, type it out in fair. Double space, please, and carbon it. If you have access to a cheap xerox place you can make submittable copies that way. But you must keep a copy.

Now submit it. Come on. You've gotten pleasure from other people's stories, haven't you? Okay. It's your turn. Please send the story only to one editor at a time. It really isn't fair, otherwise. If you're sending a xerox, let the editor know this is not a "simultaneous submission." Enclose a large SASE with enough postage to return the manuscript to you. Optimists clip the postage to the envelope; pessimists paste it on. Real optimists simply enclose a post card, for the acceptance note. I recommend being a pessimist— pessimists get only pleasant surprises. And the editor can always use the envelope to send you your contributor's copy. Put your name (or pen name) and address on the story.

If you know the zine scene, you may already have some idea of a likely place to submit your story. Host zines have certain criteria. These are rarely stated as such, but you may be able to figure them out. Don't send a story involving a Vulcan's word against a human's to an editor who thinks Vulcans cannot lie. Don't send a story built around profanity to an editor who thinks "damn" is unacceptable (let alone the expressions you use!). Don't send a sexually explicit story to a zine that lists itself as adult unless you're sure what they mean by adult is what you mean by adult. I did all these things and more, my first year. It's a waste of postage, and hard on the feelings, besides.
Please remember that editors are part time workers, at best. Give us at least a month, please. After a month has passed with no word, send a polite letter saying "did you receive my manuscript," and enclose a post card, I'd give it six weeks after that. Then I'd write the editor, tell her the story is withdrawn, and send it somewhere else. This won't happen often. Almost all zine editors are writers themselves, and they understand your feelings. It's just that sympathy and understanding, no matter how far-reaching, don't add more hours to the day.

With luck, you'll get a favorable reply. The editor wants your story. Congratulations. Now all you have to do is be patient until the zine appears.

Other times you may get a rejection, or a request for revision. Read the letter carefully. If necessary, put it away for a couple of days, then read it again. No one likes to be criticized, and having your story criticized is like being told your baby squints. But try to consider the merits of the point of view. If it makes sense to you, you may want to revise your story.
Sometimes an editor may ask your permission to make changes in the story. This is a tricky business. Some editors are skilled in grammar, and other writing mechanics. Others are definitely not. You will have to use your own judgment. In all cases, you should see a copy of the story as it will appear before it appears. If the editor makes changes without your permission, scream like a banshee.
A new fan writer has both advantages and disadvantages. The biggest advantage is the number of zines. The disadvantage is that there are a number of good people who've been at this for ten years. As a result, a lot of subjects have been pretty well thrashed out. I, for one, will be happy if I never see another story in which Kirk dies and McCoy and Spock have to learn how to comfort each other. You might do it better than anyone else has so far, of course, but you're up against some pretty stiff competition. (It's also true that a little bit of grief goes a long way with me. You might find an editor who's looking for just that story.)
If you want to work on a theme someone else has already worked on, however, go ahead. The fact that you're writing it will probably make it different. If you're writing in someone's alternate universe, you should be in touch with that writer as a matter of courtesy. But no one owns ideas. I've written a story based on the premise that the Romulan Commander from "Enterprise Incident" committed suicide, but I was astonished to get a letter from a writer asking my permission to write a story with the same idea. That's not necessary; her committing suicide is a logical extrapolation from the show. Furthermore, that extrapolation doesn't preclude your writing a story in which she retains her command and her prestige. You can even postulate alternatives to the aired episodes. There are several stories based on variations of "Amok Time," one in which Kirk is actually killed, another in which Spock remains on Vulcan and thus does not learn for some time that Kirk is still alive. It can also be fun to connect episodes. There are so many possibilities. Those of us who are hooked on Treklit are always hungry for more. So write it down, and send it out, won't you, please?


  1. She is probably referring to the stories in Delta Triad.