Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Short Story Submission Paths

It all depends on knowing where you're at.

In mid 2007, I was working with another writer in trying to improve what I was doing. When it came to submitting my work, I created a submission pathway for each story. I'd browse the market lists my friend and I had cobbled together (I didn't know about Duotrope or Ralan at this point), and carefully select where I thought the story would fit. I would then arrange them in order of highest paying to exposure, and send the story out from top to bottom.

Many people do it this way. Personally, I think it is wrong for most people.

New writers, or those with little or no credits will be more likely to win lotto than to gain a high paying acceptance. Now there are exceptions to every rule, but the majority of us will be extremely lucky to gain a semi pro acceptance straight off the bat. Most will play in the exposure markets to begin with - which makes sense. New writers need to make themselves known, i.e. they need to gain exposure; get their work out there - hence the need for exposure markets.

Rejections hurt. Rejections to a new writer can hurt deeply. It takes time to toughen up the skin to accept that this world of writing is difficult. Why start by sending work to markets which will almost guarantee the start of your rejection slip pile?

Baby steps are required.

You still need to do your homework on suitable markets. You still need to read a few editions to see if:

a) they are the right type of market for your type of story and
b) they aren't just publishing any old rot which would decrease the value of your shiny new writing credit.

But let's go back to my original sentence: It all depends on knowing where you're at.

If you're like me and have been submitting for a while, then you may have been lucky enough to have gathered a few credits. The rejections you do attract are becoming more personal, editors are suggesting ways to tweak stories to get a better result rather than just sending back a form rejection. You're starting to make shortlists. When you read an issue of a market you've been accepted into, you're left a little disappointed at the quality of other acceptances and wonder if yours is as under polished as the others. Or have they accepted your piece because you could have sold it to a higher paying market and inclusion in an exposure market makes them look better?

You become like this because you're becoming a better writer. Your attention to detail and constant striving to improve and learn in the craft is paying off. You have a few, or lots, or one, exposure level writing credit, feel comfortable with your current writing voice, and are now ready for a new challenge. If you can say yes to every single point mentioned above (personalised rejections, shortlists, critical reading of conquered markets, writing credits, etc), then it's time to move up.

Do some more market research, but this time you're looking at paying and semi-pro markets. Personally, at this point, I think you should look at single payment markets. These pay a set amount on acceptance: $5, $10, $25 - that type of thing. You can also include markets which pay 1-2c per word.

Do the same as you did with the exposure markets. Read your targets, get a feel for them. Do not start sending work which has been doing the rounds at the exposure level to this new level. We're not trying to gather additional rejections as if they are a badge of honour. They aren't. They are part of the process but not what you want to make a habit out of. The idea here is to improve.

Also in this new range is most anthology markets. A few of these listed in the writing credits look good, but you must target worthwhile anthologies. Lots of people throw together collections based on a theme, but it's who you share the table of contents (TOC) with, and what the reputation of the editor/publisher is.

And so you start submitting to this new level. If stories come back and you've exhausted the current batch of paying markets, sub the piece to the better exposure markets or an anthology. Always keep work circulating to new and exciting places. Only revise if editorial comments return with which you agree will make the piece stronger. It is now I would start seriously considering high profile competitions as a viable place to target.

As you gather better writing credits, you will begin to move up in the pay scale. This can happen quite quickly for some, but remember that each writers journey is different, but once you begin to get acceptances in paying markets, as often as you once did in exposure markets, you will be able to move up again. Rinse and repeat at each level of the market. You will continue to improve and acceptances will come quicker.

Professional level markets, those paying 5c/word or higher, are a tough and competitive place to play. I know writers who make a full time living from writing who still gather rejections from professional markets regularly. Writing short stories is never going to pay the mortgage. It is a side income, some play money, and place to practise your story telling ability.

Good luck!


  1. That all sounds like great and useful information for those of us new to this game.

  2. It's amazing how quickly one can toughen up after a few rejections :)

  3. Alan - this post came to mind because of you. I was going to answer one of your comments with another comment, but it started to get a bit long - hence the post.

    D - how right you are, but then an editor decides it's in his/her self-appointed right to rip a writer a new one for no good reason. They may believe they are doing the author a favour, and in many instances they are, but a course in tact or diplomacy would be a good Xmas present for these individuals.

  4. I look at rejections as an exciting chance to send the story someplace else. Then again, I am an enormous dork.

  5. I see rejections as a learning experience for me, and a missed opportunity for the editor/publication. Either way, life goes on.

    I learn more, and eventually, someone will take that opportunity. In this business it always pays to knock more than once...

    Can I get anymore clichés in there?

  6. I liked this post. It puts things in perspective. I have a story that I've been thinking I need to get around doing a short revision on and get back out there.

    And your post has got me thinking that maybe an exposure market wouldn't be so bad.

    I saw your market listings on the AHWA site and noticed Vibewire.net. I was published by them in 2004 though I can no longer find the story. Would that be considered a publishing credit?

    What about all of those flash fiction type carnivals? I suppose it comes down to whether you submit and there's a selection process hey?

  7. That's all good advice, BT. This writing game is always a steep learning curve.

  8. Ben - depending on the exposure market, there's nothing wrong with them at all. Everyone has to start somewhere. Many professional writers still submit to non-paying markets. Just make sure it's a good one. Research.

    Mr Bonehill - It's not always steep, but it is constant.

  9. I still have the pile of rejections that I received over ten years ago. They are immensely important to me. They were the beginning and I feel, now, that they were they were correct even if I didn't at the time. The learning curve continues.