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Short Story Submission Strategy

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Writing short stories is lots of fun and it’s a good way to start before working your way up to longer pieces. I’ve posted an article in the past where I am talking about why I think writing short stories is good for you.

Unlike a novel that takes months or even years to finish, short stories are written much faster. If you work hard enough and have the proper routine you could become a short story production machine in no time. Also, unlike a novel where you have one massive piece of writing that you are submitting to a hundred outlets, with short stories you are faced with the opposite: you have a few short pieces that you must submit to a limited number of markets, and in most cases (since most markets won’t allow simultaneous submissions) you may not be able to submit it to more than one market at one time.

So, what do you do? Is there a possible strategy?

Have Your Best Work Ready

This goes without saying – do not submit your story until it’s completed, edited, reviewed, proofread and, if you can, critiqued by people who know your genre. You don’t want to shoot yourself in the foot by submitting work that is not 100% ready. If you get feedback from markets who reject you, judge that feedback rationally and if it makes sens to you, see if you can make the story better. It’s true that the editor will work with you and try to improve your story, but your story must be perfect first. The editor will only try to make it stellar.

Research Markets

Once you have a completed piece you must know which market best fits that story. Is it literary fiction or genre fiction? Is it mystery, romance, or speculative fiction? Make sure you know your niche very well. The worst thing you could do is submit your story to the wrong market. You will waste your time and the editors’ time.

When it comes to looking for markets, there are a few places out there that you can use:

  1. Online
  2. Printed

With this in mind, in order to become a successful submitter of short stories you must maintain your own database of preferred markets. To know them, it’s not enough to just read about them. You must read those magazines, become familiar with the type of stories they prefer – length, style, voice, etc. The editor of each magazine will accept stories that are in line with the magazine’s overall style.

So, before you start submitting, make sure you read a lot!

Be careful what rights you give away

This is not to be construed as legal advice, but just a heads up: before you submit to any market, read their terms and conditions or their contract. Try to understand what kind of rights you are giving away. If you sign a bad contract, you might lose your rights to your piece for good. It’s unlikely, but be careful. If you are sending your stories to brand new markets, read their terms very carefully and if you are unable to understand something, ask someone. There are forums out there where people can help you.

Top To Bottom Strategy

Once you know what type of story you have, and once you have selected a few markets from the resources above, one idea is to take a top to bottom approach: submit to high-paying pro-markets first, and walk your way down.

Usually the markets are divided into Pro, Semi-Pro, Token and Unpaid. The Pro markets can pay anywhere between $0.06 per word up to $0.24 per word or more. Semi-pro markets pay around $0.02 – $0.06. Token markets pay around $0.01. These are not fixed numbers and are changing all the time. Read the market’s guidelines to get a better understanding about what they are paying. Some markets put minimums and maximums, others provide royalties on sales, royalties on anthologies, and so on.

A top to bottom strategy says this: You are confident in your writing and you believe your story is good enough to be accepted by a Pro market. If you can’t say that in good faith, then go back to the keyboard and work on your story until you can honestly say it is good enough for a pro market.

Chances are, statistically speaking, that your story will get rejected from a pro market. Don’t despair. Even award winning authors still get rejections. Keep going. Send it to the next market. Then the next.

Some tools, like Duotrope, allow you to order the markets by their likelihood to accept. Another highly important factor is the market’s response time. If you have 3 markets that are fairly similar, submit to the one that answers faster.

Lightspeed Magazine and Clarkesworld are known for their very quick rejections. They don’t like to waste their time and the writer’s time. By rejecting fast they give the authors the ability to submit someplace else.

Other markets, like TOR, Asimov’s, or Analog, might take 100, 200 maybe even 300 days to reject. So, if your story is rejected, you just wasted a full year without having your story published.

Get Feedback

There are a few markets out there, and sadly their number decreases every time, that provide some feedback when they reject your stories. Colored Lense, Ideomancer, Stupefying Stories- these are some of them. There are others, but you might have to discover them yourself, find out about them from Duotrope and the like, or from other writers.

Once you find an editor that gives feedback, make sure you save that name like gold. Don’t abuse it though. Keep your submissions far enough apart. You don’t want that editor to become your personal critique buddy, because he won’t.

But a first-hand direct feedback from an editor is a very valuable tool. Their response will usually pinpoint problems in your story. Don’t take their answer to heart or personally. Look at it objectively and realize if it helps your story, and if it does-fix it.

How many times?

Sometimes you submit a story and it keeps getting rejected. What do you do? How many times do you keep going? It’s tempting to say forever, but that’s not realistic, so let me give you my own opinion:

If you have a story that you deem perfect and you matched it with pro markets and it gets rejected more than 7 times, there’s definitely something not right with it. I suggest you go back to that story and take it to a critique group. See if you can make it better.

Just keep in mind that this is not a hard rule: I’ve seen stories rejected 16 or 20 times only to be eventually accepted by a Pro market, without any changes. That’s to prove that the acceptance is a combination of what the editor likes and what their market had already published or has in their inventory. Sometimes your story is perfect, but it’s too similar to another story published last month. In that case, you are out of luck.

Down the line

If you fail selling your story to a pro market, move down to semi-pro markets and then to token markets following the same logic as above. If you get some feedback and you feel like your story got stronger, go back to Pro markets, but keep in mind to do not resubmit your work to the markets that rejected you, unless they specifically asked so.

Publishing for free – good or bad?

If you are serious about becoming a professionally published author the answer easy: no, do not publish for free (unless you donate your work for certain worthy causes). Would you ever go to work and work for 8 hours then go to the boss and say: “you know what, don’t pay me today. Just working and having people look at me and appreciate my working is good enough for me.”

Of course you won’t. So, as a writer I recommend that you strive to publish to paying markets for the most part. In the beginning it is going to be hard, but try to get anything. Even if you get $5 for your work, it’s something that you earned for your potential future career.

Now, let me play the devil’s advocate for a minute. There is a situation in which I think you should be allowed to give your work away for free: You’ve been writing for a while and you’ve been getting tons of rejections. Your morale is really low and you need a mental boost. Fine. Take what you think is your weakest piece and market it to some free markets. There are a few out there that are quite nice.

Putting something of yours out there will help you get a boost of confidence, it will give you reasons to show something to your friends, it will, on some level, validate that you can in fact do it. But don’t fall into the trap of sending too many. Remember – you want to make this your career. If you are okay with keeping it as a hobby it’s a different story.

Gatling Gun Submissions

Many writers take it heavy when a piece is rejected by a market. It happened to me and any author that has ever been published. You must learn to develop a thick skin. The knee-jerk reaction is to feel invalidated. You get a kick in your confidence’s butt. Many authors react by putting that piece away and think: “Okay, I’ll fix it later.”

No. Don’t fix it later. Fix it now.

If there is anything to fix, do it right away. If you have no additional feedback and you have nothing else that you can possible fix, just submit the story right away to a different market. You have nothing to lose if you do; but you have something to lose if you don’t: time.

Remember that your story’s lifetime is this: idea, creation, perfection, submission, publication. During the submission time your story is essentially “dead” – you can’t really work on it anymore, and nobody besides the editor who has it gets to read it. It’s dead, until it gets rejected or accepted. So, if you add “dead” times by keeping it in your drawer between submissions you are not helping yourself in any way.

Recap

Let’s bullet point the ideas in this article:

  • Read, read, read – the more markets and stories you read, the better you’ll become at writing
  • Write, write, write – the more stories you write, the better your writing will be
  • Get feedback – pair yourself with other writers or critique groups to improve your stories
  • Edit, edit, edit – don’t let a story go out until it’s near perfect
  • Submit to high-paying markets and work your way down
  • Submit to markets with fast response times first
  • When you get a rejection, fix if there is any feedback
  • Re-submit a story right after rejection
  • One bonus point: Before you submit: MAKE SURE YOU FOLLOW THE MARKET’s GUIDELINES – My Caps are not enough to emphasize that.

I hope you enjoyed this article. Let me do a shameless plug at the end: Remember that Fantasy Scroll is now a speculative short story market publishing fantasy, science fiction, and horror. If you are a writer looking to market your works, please stop by and submit your stories!

Last but not least: leave some comments about your own submission strategy. What has worked best for you in the past?

Best regards,

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Iulian Ionescu

  • hank quense

    Good article. Lot’s of good advice in it.