Tuesday, June 02, 2020

submitting short stories

I'm not sure I should call myself an author just yet, but I've been writing essays for a long time and have recently branched out into short stories. I've got one piece published in a local writers group's anthology (where the only editing consisted of taking out half of my commas, so it's probably awful. But hey, it made it to amazon...) and the few friends I showed my stories to liked them (but then again, they would be devastated if I stopped buying them drinks).

In any case, I would like to take it up a notch and try to get my short stories published. I have looked around a bit and there must be hundreds of magazines on- and offline who are happy to publish short stories (as long as they don't have to pay much). And on the other hand, there are dozens of writing contests who entice (unpublished) authors with prizes in the hundreds and even thousands (minus a tiny 20 bucks entry fee, of course).

I'm overwhelmed. How do I know which magazine is reputable and will further my career if I ever want to go down that road? Is entering a contest even worth my while - given that they must have hundreds of entries just judging from the prize money? I guess what I really want is somebody to tell me how to improve my writing. Will trying to get published even help with that?

Magazines, not contests.
While reputable is in the eye of the beholder, my rule of thumb is don't pay to play.

My client Jeff Somers who writes a short story every month, and has since he was 19, submits widely. We sort out the good from the bad when they offer a contract for publication.

I think I've only kiboshed one, and it was a while back, and I can't remember why, but no doubt it was something about rights in perpetuity.

A lot of magazine contracts are written by Rube Goldberg.
I generally point out the problem areas, and Jeff decides whether the risk is worth it.

Where does he find places to submit to?
The best starting point are the Best of (Year) collections. They list the places the stories were first published.

You can google "places to submit short fiction" too.
Weed out AFTER you send stuff, not before.

When you get a rejection, send the story out again immediately.

Keep good records.
The good places hate like hell when you duplicate submissions.

A lot of blog readers here send out short stories.
I'm sure they'll have some good ideas in the comment section.



Kitty said...

I had given up on the magazine market for stories, so this post was (somewhat) encouraging.

Mister Furkles said...

Here is a short list: 46 Literary Magazines
There is also "The Paris Review"
And one edited by my brother's high school best friend: "The Missouri Review"

There are longer lists. If you're like me, you may print the rejections and paper your bedroom with them. Not that I would do that, owing to lack of wall space.

Steve Forti said...

The Submission Grinder over at Diabolical Plots is great. Extra so if you write sci fi, fantasy, or horror. I keep all my records there.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I have managed a grand total of 3 rejections. So far. I don't have my list handy but got suggestions from the folks here. The Reef will have lots of ideas. There are tons of places. Tons. But turn around can be slow.

Angélique Jamail said...

I came here to suggest the Submissions Grinder at Diabolical Plots as well. Their filters allow you to search for fiction and poetry markets, incidentally, and to set all kinds of parameters including markets that pay (and how much) and ones that accept simultaneous submissions, etc. It's kind of fun to noodle around on the site and see all the data they have amassed, if you're interested in that sort of thing. Submittable is also used widely among literary journals (fiction, CNF, poetry), and while I generally use it only to keep track of my submissions, you can use the "discover" option to find markets to submit to, I think. Best of luck! :)

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

*rubs hands together* okay, finding short story markets! I've been doing this since college, though the acceptances didn't start until 2015 (honestly, thank God, honestly) At this point I've had 25 acceptances. I've also got 776 rejections recorded on The Submission Grinder but that doesn't cover every single one; the Grinder wasn't there when I was in college and just out. I had to use websites like Ralan, and like the SFWA list of qualifying markets.

As you might've already inferred, I solidly agree with Steve Forti: the Submission Grinder is aces and I rely on it heavily. And it's free! (Though I do donate there yearly, it's only fair.) You can set your baseline desires when you're searching for where to send a particular story, such as payment per word, genre, and what places to leave off: personally, I filter out fee based markets, permanently closed markets, and assorted ones that I've ignored. Then you let 'er rip.

Using the Submission Grinder also helps you to not submit a story to the same place more than once; when you're searching for places to send a story, it automatically excludes markets where it knows the story's already been.

So then how do you vet that list that comes up, if you haven't already built a community within your genre? I always ask myself a few questions: Have I heard of them? Have they published people that I've heard of? Are their guidelines pretty normal or do they get weird? What rights would they be buying, and how long would they be exclusive?

For further information, you can search the magazine and/or editors on Facebook and Twitter to see if they've indicated more of what they're looking for (or if they've put something out there that suggests you might not want to work with them or be associated with their market), and I think on the (free!) message board Absolute Write, you can read about people's experiences submitting to various places. Wow, I haven't signed on to Absolute Write in a long time!

Good luck, OP!

Colin Smith said...

I consider Jen to be the expert, so I would concur with everything she says. The only suggestion I would add is this. If you are just starting out submitting to magazines, don't be afraid to try some lesser-known, or relatively new ones to begin with. Their turn-around times are likely to be shorter, and you have more of a shot of getting accepted, or at least getting a personalized rejection, which is a nice confidence boost. At least that's been my experience. By all means try submitting to the big guns (Ellery Queen, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, etc.), but if you do, you are committing to a 8+ month wait for a response--if at all--and a high likelihood of rejection unless you have a few best sellers to your name.

A number of new or smaller mags don't pay for work accepted. Instead they offer you "exposure." On this, I'm with Jeff Somers (see WRITING WITHOUT RULES): Don't do it. The worker is worthy of his wage, so the Good Book says. This is not about being money-grubbing, but about valuing your work, and the time and effort it took to produce it. Most of the time the "exposure" you get from these mags won't help you in any way. Only submit where you will get financial remuneration for your efforts.

There's my 2c.

Steve Forti said...

Agreeing with avoiding the non-paying places. If they were actually getting to enough eyeballs to qualify as "exposure" then they'd be making enough money to pay you.

RKeelan said...

I'd recommend weeding out bad places to submit short fiction before sending, at least to the extent possible (most markets will say what rights they buy, but they don't post sample contracts).

The problem, especially for newbie writers, is that you will likely have months or years go by between acceptances (during which you've made 10s or 100s of submissions).

When an acceptance comes, probably after weeks or months of cautiously-hopeful waiting for a response to your submission, you will feel intense pressure to just take whatever contract they offer.

"Sure," you'll tell yourself, "the contract is totally one-sided and exploitative, but at least it's something. At least your story will be out there."

Meanwhile, you won't have an agent to warn you off that kind of thinking.

Virginia Anderson said...

Victoria Strauss's Writer Beware vets both contests and publishers. It's a good resource. You can search to see if the place you're submitting has had any issues in the past. She also offers examples of good and bad contracts.

BJ Muntain said...

Don't fall into the 'start small' mindset. If your story is publishable, start big. If you start small and sell cheap, you'll never know if you could have done better.

If you're selling genre fiction (SF, Fantasy, Horror, Mystery, and some Romance, I believe), go to Ralan.com. He keeps the site up to date, and separates the pro, semipro, and lowpaying markets. Pro markets tend to be the most steady. And if they're not, you'll usually see a note to that effect on Ralan. He also keeps track if they're opened or closed, etc.

Also, SFWA keeps a list of markets where stories are eligible for their awards. That's also SF and Fantasy.

Colin Smith said...

BJ: There are two sides to the "start small" argument. Sure, you don't know if your $20 piece might have gotten you $2,000 from a bigger fish. On the other hand, you might be waiting a year to hear from the big market (if you hear at all), in which time you could have shopped the story around some of the smaller markets and been paid for it.

The best approach is probably not the either-or but the both-and. Have stories to submit to Alfred Hitchcock, Ellery Queen, or Azimov, but also have some to submit to smaller, newer paying markets.

Emma said...

I think I came at this from a different direction. A few years ago Janet posted about a submission window opening up for an anthology from Level Best Books. I wrote a story just for that anthology and it got accepted! Confidence boost! After that I started submitting to both magazines and anthologies, mostly via Submittable, but also just by keeping an eye on well known anthologies. I've been placing stories there ever since. They don't pay, but for me the exposure really does matter more at this point. One of my stories will be in an anthology with a Joe Hill story! That's priceless.

Depending on your genre, take a look at the professional organizations for the genre, and see what anthologies THEY publish. In the crime and thriller world, it's quite a few.

And although I agree with not paying for a contest, I kind of feel that the Writer's Police Academy anthology contest is worth it for a beginner. It is a contest, but you end up in a book with some very top notch names. Not a bad thing to do once and have it under your belt if you get in.

Good luck!

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Oh, I 100% always submit to pro paying markets first (Pro in SFF is now 8 cents a word, but it used to be 6.) the trick is, some of them have a VERY fast response time (mostly), so Fantasy & Science Fiction, Clarkesworld, Asimov's, The Dark (okay so they're still 6 but whatever. they've got eyes on them). Those four are always my first, unless I've written a story to a Lackington's theme (they pay 3 cents a word but again, they've got a hefty readership and publish excellent things).

My second tier of subs (and these are all one at a time, not simultaneous submissions) is whichever of the 'pods applies to this story (Escape Pod, Podcastle, Pseudopod), Strange Horizons, Daily Science Fiction (if it's short enough), Analog (if I feel like waiting awhile), a Flame Tree Press or Third Flatiron anthology (these have themes too.)

After that, I just kinda play Submissions Tetris. There are some places that pay less that are open less frequently (Translunar Traveler's Lounge, Kaleidotrope. It is of note that Apex magazine is coming back, and their submissions will open in July after their kickstarter reaches a certain point. Nightmare Magazine is opening for submissions in September, they've been closed more than a year.

Does this mean I never submit to lower-paying places? Oh absolutely not. Luna Station Quarterly pays $5 and I had a story with them last year. Syntax & Salt didn't pay very much, and my most popular story, "Daddy's Girl", was with them. But if they hadn't published other writers I respected, I may never have submitted there. As Colin says that Jeff Somers says, I don't send my stories to places that don't pay me.

(please excuse these two long replies, this is a topic I am enthusiastic about and somewhat experienced in by this point)

RKeelan said...

Colin: In my experience (which is limited to SFF), the biggest markets respond the fastest. Clarksworld and The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy will often send rejections within a couple days, for example.

It's the smaller places that hold stories for months before sending a form rejection.

To each his or her own, but my strategy is always to submit to the big fish first.

Colin Smith said...

While I also have some experience subbing shorts, I gladly defer to those with more experience than me. Listen to them, OP! :)

Adele said...

OT, but for what it's worth - I once met an author whose first submission after graduation was bought by The New Yorker. You'd think that would be a good thing, but he lost years of his career to writer's block, because he could never be that good again. When I met him he was teaching night school and leading theatre tours.

Craig F said...

If your writing has a regional flavor, the NEA has some grants to colleges to publish.

For example the University of North Carolina has Short Story America that keeps an on-line prescience and publishes an anthology annually.

There are others. The NEA (National Endowment for the Arts used to have a web page that gave them, but their budget has shrunk of late.

They do pay but they also grab your rights for eternity. Watch out for that clause.

Samara Lo said...

Seconding ralan.com if you want to find list of places to sub for SF/F. Obviously you'd need to check if it's suitable for the work you have.

J.A. Haigh said...

OP, I also wholeheartedly back Submission Grinder as an awesome (and free) resource for finding the right short story markets for you. I've published roughly 12 shorts, mostly through markets found on the Grinder.
On another note, one of the best experiences, that really pushed me forward with writing, was becoming a first reader for a magazine. Generally an unpaid, volunteer role but such a great insight into the process and inspiring. Many smaller mags are often open to extra help, if you just drop them a line.

Laura Stegman said...

Check out Authors Publish, a web site and free newsletter, which briefly reviews publishers seeking short stories, poetry, essays, and books. Once you find some that sound good from the reviews, you can further vet them with your own research. It's been a great resource for me. Here's an example of a recent post/email:
Did my best to code that so the link works. Praying for the best.

Laura Stegman said...

Sorry, I made a link, but it went nowhere, so here is the link-less URL:

Colin Smith said...

Laura's link linkified:


Laura Stegman said...

Wild applause and thanks, Colin!