Fiction Submissions

Unlikely Story Submissions Guidelines

Submissions Closed

A Potlatch of Fools — a/k/a The Journal of Unlikely Observances

Nowadays, April Fools’ Day is a day of pranks and practical jokes, ranging from the harmless to the silly to the just plain weird (and sometimes to the not-quite-harmless). False news reports, silly Internet RFCs: we could write paragraphs simply enumerating the the genus and species of silliness this day engenders. But April Fools’ Day comes to us courtesy of a number of venerable traditions. Medieval Europe brings us the Feast of Fools, in which “the first shall be the last,” an inversion of roles and positions of power. Other festivals are loosely centered around the Vernal Equinox, celebrating the arrival of the new year, the revitalization of the earth, and transformation. The Roman festival of Hilaria, which featured masquerades in which anyone could imitate anyone else, no matter what their position. Hilaria was also associated with a death and resurrection myth, and a symbolic purification and washing. Songkran, a mid-April festival in Thailand and parts of India, is a water festival, celebrating transformation and the new year, which is celebrated by dousing each other with water, or water mixed with chalk and turmeric. This tradition is reflected in Easter celebrations in some eastern European communities. The Indian festival of Holi — the festival of colors — celebrates a doubly inverted trick with bonfires and painted bodies, and water fights with colored dyes. In ancient Egypt, the festival of Khoiak was held at the beginning of the growing season, tying the resurrection of Osiris the the replenishing of the earth.

For The Journal of Unlikely Observances mini-issue, we’re looking for short fiction of up to 2000 words (we’re willing to bend a little on that limit, but not a lot, for the right story), that incorporate AT LEAST THREE of the following:

  • power/role inversion
  • water fights
  • resurrection, rebirth, renewal
  • transformation, transsubstantiation
  • body painting, body art
  • practical jokes
  • one of the festivals themselves

We are accepting submissions starting now, and all submissions must be in by the end of 29 February, 2016.

What we’re doing:

Unlikely Story publishes three themed issues a year: The Journal of Unlikely EntomologyThe Journal of Unlikely Cryptography, and The Journal of Whatever Tickles Our Fancy This Year. We reserve the right to put out an indeterminate number of further sub-themed mini-issues on an irregular basis, or not, depending on how we feel. See below for specific details regarding each issue.

What we’re looking for:

Beautifully-written fiction, characters that grab us by the throats and refuse to let go, worlds that draw us in and demand to be explored. Genre isn’t particularly important to us—speculative, mainstream, slipstream, and the unclassifiable tales in between—we’ll read anything; all we ask is that the stories meet the requirement of the theme of the issue. For The Journal of Unlikely Entomology, this means bugs. For The Journal of Unlikely Cryptography, this means information technology and/or ciphers and codes. There are no barriers as to levels of profanity, gore, or sexuality allowed, but be sure to use them well if you do use them.

We want the stories we publish to reflect the full diversity of the world around us, and we’re particularly interested in being a place where typically underrepresented voices are heard. This includes, among other things, writers of all races, genders, sexual orientations, religions, nationalities, classes, and abilities, as well as characters and settings that reflect these experiences.

What we’re NOT looking for:

Stories that do not meet the requirements of the theme. Does your story not feature bugs in some meaningful way? Then please don’t send it to The Journal of Unlikely Entomology. It doesn’t matter if it’s the bestest story in the whole wide world ever. We will not publish it, and all you’re doing by sending it to us is wasting everyone’s time. Oh, you’re also telling us that you don’t respect us enough not to waste our time, which makes us less interested in considering your work in the future. We trust you are capable of drawing analogous conclusions for The Journal of Unlikely Cryptography, and every other themed issue we publish.

Upcoming Issues and Schedules

Mini-Issue #12.5: The Journal of Unlikely Observances

  • Reading Period:  January 17 -- February 29 [open]
  • Wordcount: up to 2000
  • Publication Date: April 1, 2015

Unlikely Story 2017

  • Title: TBD
  • Details: TBD
  • Vague Thoughts: Largely un-themed, but we have a soft spot for bugs and cryptography, and would like to include at least one story that fit each of those themes.
  • Kickstarter launch April 2016
  • Reading Period: After funding
  • Publication Date: January 2017
  • Scope: At least 13 stories
    • full anthology published in print and ebook format in January
    • 1 story per month published online throughout 2017

Issue-specific Guidelines

The Journal of Unlikely Entomology:

[not currently open for submissions]

This is an annual issue of fiction about bugs, published under the Unlikely Story umbrella. The bug† element can be literal or metaphorical, hallucinatory or behavioral or metaphysical, or any combination thereof; all we ask is that it exists and is integral or significant in your story.

Not quite sure what we’re talking about? Think of The Metamorphosis, Ender’s Game, Angels and Insects, Naked Lunch, A Recipe for Bees, District 9, Eight Legged Freaks, and Sandkings. Basically, think bugs, and let your imagination run wild.

† By “bugs” we mean order arthropoda: insects, spiders, scorpions, lobsters, centipedes, trilobites, etc., or anything somewhat analogous in alien worlds.

The Journal of Unlikely Cryptography:

[not currently open for submissions]

This will be an annual issue of fiction about information technology, published under the Unlikely Story umbrella. It’s nominally (but not exclusively, because we’re not really good at drawing straight genre-delineating lines) a cyberpunk-flavored magazine.

The focus of the magazine is Cryptography, so we’ll give preference to stories that involve cryptography (of course), ciphers, data privacy, surveillance, hacking/cracking, and so on. We’re interested in stories that demonstrate an understanding of the real technology, rather than pseudo-magical uses of information technologies which substitute “hacker” for “mage” and “source code” for “incantation.” We’re also interested in the wildly fantastical and surrealistic. Which is to say, we’re interested in almost everything except for the way Hollywood does it.

The Journal of Unlikely Coulrophobia:

[not currently open for submissions]

For 2015’s April Fool’s Day, we want to fuck with everyone’s head. And what better way than with clowns? Officially, Coulrophobia is the fear of clowns, but we don’t want to just just get rehashes of It. So the issue is open to anything involving clowns in some significant way. Think Stephen King’s Pennywise and Danny Kaye’s Jacamo in The Court Jester, think Sacred Clowns and Holy Fools. Horror, humor, existential angst, and tears of, we’re open to all that and more, in any combination. Heck, why not see how many different genres you can fit into a piece of flash fiction?

We’re looking for flash fiction (1000 words or less) for this issue, but just like a clown car, this issue’s flash fiction can fit more words than you’d expect. Specifically: 1038 words. Why 1038? Well, that’s your standard flash fic limit, plus the number of clowns that fit into a 1968 VW bug, plus the number of clowns that fit into an original Mini Cooper, plus the value of The Fool in the Major Arcana.

The Journal of Unlikely Academia:

[not currently open for submissions]

For this issue, rather than limiting ourselves to one specialized field of study, we’re looking for stories about the act of studying and learning itself. This could be anything from stories set in unusual schools like Hogwarts, Brakebills, and the Unseen University, to stories focusing on the students and faculty of unorthodox majors like Decision Sciences, Theme Park Engineering, and Bowling Industry Management and Technology (these are all real majors offered by real universities), to tales of researchers digging deep into forbidden tomes, to fictionalized scholarly articles on the Ethics of Motorcycle Taming or the Alternate History of Space Flight in the Mongol Empire. (Yes, we realize this opens us up to stories with footnotes, and we’ll probably kick ourselves later, but we’re brave souls.) We would not be dismayed to see stories that delve into epistemology and hermeneutics, into the nature and limits of knowledge itself.

As always, we want gorgeously-told tales, gripping characters, and unique worlds to explore. Genre doesn’t matter to us, along as your tale involves schools, studying, or academia in some integral way. For the sake of setting this issue apart from our recurring entomology and cryptography issues, we’d prefer not to receive stories involving the study of bugs/insects, or computing/code.

Word limit:

We’ll consider stories up to 8000 words, but strongly prefer stories of 5000 words or less. We’re open to flash fiction and fiction in non-traditional formats, but we do not publish poetry or non-fiction.

Pay rate:

We pay 6¢ per word for original fiction. Payment is made upon publication.


We buy first-printing world exclusive English-language rights for six months after publication, and non-exclusive electronic rights for twelve months after publication. We hope (but do not require) that you’ll allow us to post the story in our archives indefinitely, but you have the right to ask us to remove your story from the archives at any time after twelve months. We also buy the option to non-exclusive anthology rights related to the magazine, as collected issues and/or a best-of anthology. Should we choose to include your story in a print and/or ebook anthology, you will receive a copy of the anthology.


Starting with Issue 11, we will no longer consider unsolicited reprints.

Simultaneous submissions:


Multiple submissions:


Submission Format:

Please send us your story in something generally conforming to Standard Manuscript Format. We’re not slavish to receiving everything formatted exactly the same way, but it’s generally not a good plan to annoy the editors before they’ve even started reading. You can find specific guidelines on what constitutes Standard Manuscript Format online, but the basics that we care about are:

  • 12 point courier, times new roman, or other reasonable font
  • double spaced
  • standard 1″ margins
  • top left of first page: name, contact info, word count
  • header: last name, title, page number

Please resist the temptation of creative formatting, fancy fonts, and butterfly clip art.

How to Submit:

Electronic submissions only. Send your story as a .doc or .rtf attachment to The subject of the email should be:
“[ISSUE] SUBMISSION – [last-name] – [title].”

So for Jayne Smith submitting My Great Story to The Journal of Unlikely Entomology, it would look like “ENTOMOLOGY SUBMISSION -- Smith -- My Great Story,” but if it was going to the Cryptography issue, it would be “CRYPTOGRAPHY SUBMISSION -- Smith -- My Great Story.”

Please include a brief cover letter in the body of the email with your name, contact information, story title, and word count. Feel free to tell us other stuff if you want, but please don’t include a summary of your story.

Response Times:

We will send an acknowledgement of receipt within 72 hours. If you do not receive this, please query. Average response time is fairly quick, but we’ll definitely get back to you within 4 weeks to let you know whether we wish to hold the story for further consideration or not. Final determinations are made after submission period closes. If you haven’t heard from us after 4 weeks, please send a brief query email with your name, title of your story, and the date your work was submitted to

Other Stuff:

Proper spelling, punctuation, and grammar are a must. Don’t send us a revised version of a story we’ve already rejected unless we specifically request it. Keep an eye on our blog and our twitter and facebook feeds for news about the magazine, and submissions status updates.

Please go here for Art Submission guidelines.