Probably the A-number-one thing an author can do to stand out is be original. I've likely blogged about this in the past, but it bears repeating. It has been said there have been very few story plots throughout human history. These might include:
- sentient being versus sentient being (romance is included here)
- sentient being versus nature (or the supernatural for us spec fic writers!)
- sentient being versus self
Obviously, in speculative fiction we see a lot of the same things, we call them tropes, such monsters or aliens attacking, epic quests, etc. I highly recommend authors use one of the three story plots above and I highly recommend authors use monsters, aliens, fairies or other speculative fiction elements. But authors must put a unique spin on things! This means authors need to know what has come before ==> so do your homework. You have to know enough to know what's different.
For example, I just read a quest story with a unique twist at the end. This story ended up in hold-for-voting because it was original. Kudos, author!
As for the rest of you, keep sending us your original stories. Thanks!