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The Writer (1992) - When You Write for Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine


  • magazine article: When You Write for Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine
  • author(s): Elana Lore
  • journal: The Writer (01/Jan/1992)
  • issue: volume 105, issue 1, page 30
  • journal ISSN: 0043-9517
  • publisher: Kalmbach Publishing Company
  • keywords: Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, Magazines, Publishing, Writers



Tips are offered for writers seeking to publish their work in "Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine." Suggested formats, cover letters and taboos when seeking to publish in the magazine are described.


We take great pleasure in discovering new writers. Last year, we published twenty‑six stories by authors new to the mystery short story. One of them ("Willie's Story," by Jerry F. Skarky, in the June issue) won the Robert L. Fish Award for best first mystery story.

We actually have two separate markets for fiction writers. In addition to buying regular mystery short stories, we have a Mysterious Photograph contest, in which we invite readers to write 250‑word mysteries about the photo we publish in each issue. The winner is given $25, and his or her story is published in a subsequent issue of the magazine. We have had several authors "move up" from Mysterious Photograph submissions to regular stories.

Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine is a very open market. Two of our policies make it easier for us to discover new talent: We read all submissions, and we don't require stories to be agented. We are looking for good writing and an interesting story more than any particular sub‑genre of mystery. We publish classic whodunits, police procedurals, private eye stories, suspense, espionage, ghost stories, and tales of the supernatural, to name a few.

We like humor, and occasionally buy stories with elements of fantasy or science fiction. We have no "house style," and in fact encourage authors to develop their own individual "voices."

All we ask is that the story be about a crime (or the fear of one).

Except for the one Mystery Classic in each issue, we buy only previously unpublished fiction. Very occasionally, we have reprinted a story that was originally published in England or in a small‑circulation regional magazine in the United States.

While most of what we publish is much shorter, we do buy stories of up to 14,000 words. We don't buy excerpts of novels, nor do we serialize them. And we don't buy any poetry.

As a rule, we pay five cents a word, on acceptance.


Keep in mind that we are a family‑oriented fiction market. Here are some things we don't want to see:

  • Stories about crimes the writer or his friends have committed and are serving time in prison for.
  • Thinly veiled rewrites of events currently in the news. * Stories in which you have named your characters after your real‑life friends or relatives.
  • Stories with graphic sex or egregious violence.


Cover letters aren't necessary on manuscripts you submit to AHMM. If you do send one, here's what we'd like you to put in it:

  • Have you been published before? If so, where?

In many publishing houses, prior publication gets you out of the slush pile and onto the desk of a more senior editor. That works with us, too, but it is only a small step saved for us in the process of evaluation. Prior credits alone won't ever sell a story; the story must always stand on its own.

  • Is this story about a series character you have used in published novels?

If we buy the story, we need to take this into account in illustrating it. And if our readers enjoyed the novels, they are likely to take a special interest in the short story.

  • Have you submitted this particular story to us before?

We don't, as a general rule, like to see resubmissions, unless we've requested specific changes and asked to have the story sent back, and that happens only rarely. But if you have done real revisions on a story we've previously rejected, and resubmit it, please tell us that we've seen it before and explain how you've revised it. (We nearly always remember what we've read before.)

  • If some technical detail might seem questionable to readers, please give us the benefit of your own expertise or research unless it's made clear in the manuscript. Tell us, for instance, if you're a doctor, so we can be sure medical details are accurate, or explain that, however unlikely it might seem, X really can be ignited with a match.


  • "My family and friends think this is the best story I've ever written." For some reason we haven't yet figured out, this is the kiss of death in a cover letter. The manuscript it accompanies is never publishable.
  • "You have to publish this. I need the money." Anybody who is in the business for the money has come to the wrong place.
  • "I know you'll like this." Maybe, but then again, maybe not. This kind of statement would be offputting even from one's best friend.
  • "Enclosed are three stories I've written." It is in your best interests to submit one story at a time. No matter how noble and fair we try to be, if we don't like the first one, or the second one, it's difficult to greet the third one with the same amount of enthusiasm we started out with.
  • You are working on, or have written, unpublished novels. Everyone is. It doesn't help at all. Only the story matters.
  • A summary of the plot. It does no good‑‑in fact, we skip it. Ditto for snappy descriptions of the characters. All we care about is the quality of the writing. A good writer can make a story out of anything; the plot is the least of it.


We are not rigid about format, but we do have certain strong preferences.

Your manuscript should be typed double‑spaced (not space and a half) on plain white paper. This can be cheap copy machine paper; we don't look for watermarks. The only thing we don't like to work with is erasable paper, since it smears.

You should leave an inch and a half margin on one side or the other of the page, and at least an inch on the top and bottom, to give us room to edit.

We like to see the page number on the top right‑hand side.

A separate title page is not necessary. In fact, we prefer that you not send one.

The first page of your story should contain your name, address, telephone number, and social security number, plus the title and byline. (We don't mind having people use pen names, but if you want to be able to cash the check when we pay you for the story, please be clear about which of you is real.)

Indent for each new paragraph, and don't leave line spaces between paragraphs. When you do use line spaces to indicate the passage of time or change of point of view, please use only one. We like the number of lines per page to be uniform.

If you use a word processor, do not justify the right‑hand margin. (We pay by the word; finding an "average" line isn't easy if the right side is justified. Of course, we might pay more than we should if we don't guess right, but we might also pay less.)

Make sure you have a clean, dark ribbon, no matter what type of machine you are using. We can't buy what we can't read.

Some computers have the capability of printing italic and large‑size characters. Please don't use them on manuscripts you send to us. It makes extra work for us to mark them for the typesetter. We like to see manuscripts in just one typewriter‑sized roman font, with underlined roman characters to indicate italic and no bold‑faced words.

If you are using a typewriter, and have to make corrections manually, use common sense about how many you allow. We don't mind reading some, but if the page gets really messy, retype it. Neatness does count.

Don't staple your story together or put it into a binder. We prefer that you use a plain paper clip large enough to hold all the pages together, and mail the story to us flat, not folded. (There's nothing worse than facing a lumpy stack of manuscripts on Monday morning.)

Enclose a self‑addressed envelope large enough and with enough postage to return your entire manuscript, or indicate in your letter that it doesn't need to be returned. Even if you don't want the manuscript back, please enclose a letter‑size envelope for our reply, which will include a rejection letter and the first page of your manuscript, for your records.

(I don't know who thought up the idea of the cutesy rejection checklist that some authors have started enclosing with their manuscripts, but we prefer to use our own form rejection letter. We don't have the time to write comments about individual manuscripts.)

If you enclose an envelope that isn't large enough for your manuscript, we won't return it. If you enclose an envelope but no postage (or not enough), we won't return it.

We get many submissions from Canada and other countries. If you live outside the United States, note that U.S. postage is required for return mail, or International Reply Coupons, which you can purchase at the post office in your country.