So you’ve written a short story, and you’re wondering what to do with it. You think it’s pretty good and you want to see it published, but you’re wondering what’s the best way to do that.
I can’t guarantee that this is the best way, but it is the way that I do it. Let’s start with the basics.
Traditionally, short stories were published in magazines, anthologies, or collections. These were known as the “markets.” The editor was the one who chose which stories would go in and shepherded them to publication. Because of the periodical nature of the markets, there were a lot more short story slots than openings at the big publishing houses for novels, and many editors considered it a way for new writers to cut their teeth and prove their chops. It was also a great way for writers to get feedback, on the rare occasion that an editor wrote a personalized rejection.
In the 90s and 00s, the short story markets entered a period of decline, mostly due to the technological disruption of this newfangled thing called teh internets. Subscription rates for all the major sci-fi magazines went down, just like they did for newspapers. However, several new markets emerged to take advantage of the new ways to reach readers. The same innovations that spurred the indie publishing revolution also gave birth to new short story markets.
Today, when you write a short story, the first question you’ve got to answer is “do I want to self-publish this, or should I submit it to the markets first?” If you’re a happily self-published indie writer like me, the urge will be to self-publish first and ask questions later.
The awesome thing about short stories is that you can get the best of both worlds. How? Because unlike the major publishing houses, the traditional short story markets don’t impose prohibitive measures designed to gobble up your rights and lock down your publishing options. Publishing the same story in multiple markets is not only possible, it’s encouraged.
To maximize your returns, you have to be patient and impervious to rejection. You also have to learn some key terms. But first, as with any job, you have to select the right tools.
To start out, you’re going to have to need some way to track all of your story submissions. By far, the Submission Grinder is the best free tool on the internet to do that. It’s a massive database for every English-speaking short story market, with stats compiled from user data. Not only does it tell you where you can submit, it gives you all sorts of useful statistics about each market. Create a free account, log your story, and use the Grinder’s search tools to find out where you can submit it.
Because I’m paranoid and believe in redundancy, I also keep a spreadsheet with all of my story submissions. At this point, though, it’s largely a backup. There’s no one right way to keep track of your submissions, but you absolutely need a system to keep track of them, and the best one out there is the Grinder.
To decide whether a market is worth submitting to, you first have to determine how professional that market is. The best way to do that is by looking at the pay rates.
In the old days, when SFWA was more than just a snobbish in-crowd full of petty drama, you could tell that a market was professional if it was on the qualifying list for SFWA membership. Today, though, any market is considered professional if it pays at least 6¢ per word.
If a market pays between 1¢ and 6¢ per word, it is considered semi-pro.
If it pays less than 1¢ per word, it is considered a token-paying market.
Some markets want to be the first place where a story appears. If it’s already published elsewhere, they won’t touch it. Other markets don’t really care, though they may pay less for reprints.
The thing to look for here is “original fiction” or “first publication rights.” If a market’s submission guidelines specify either of those, then they won’t take your story if it’s self-published. Obviously, if you want your story to appear there, you can’t self-publish it first.
Most of the markets that accept reprints don’t mind if your story is already self-published. A couple of them do, which is super annoying, but whatever. As always, read the submission guidelines carefully before you submit.
In general, the more a market pays, the less it’s willing to accept reprints. Adjust your publishing strategy accordingly.
If the first thing you do after finishing a short story is submit it to every market that might possibly accept it, you’re liable to get yourself blacklisted and make a lot of editors angry. There is etiquette and protocol to the traditional publishing game, and if you want to succeed by going that route, you’re going to have to learn it.
A simultaneous submission is when you submit the same story to more than one market simultaneously.
A multiple submission is when you submit another story to the same market where you already have a story in consideration.
Most editors hate multiple and simultaneous submissions. If they like your story and want to buy it, the last thing they want is to find out that another editor beat them to the punch. Likewise, if they’re swamped with submissions (as they usually are), the last thing they want is more stories from someone who’s already submitted something to them.
For that reason, assume that a market does not accept multiple or simultaneous submissions, unless their guidelines say otherwise.
Of course, what’s bad for the editor isn’t necessarily bad for the writer. You can greatly speed up the submissions process by submitting to all the simultaneous-friendly markets at once, or by not having to wait for a response before submitting to a market again. The faster you can get through the submission process, the sooner it makes sense to self-publish.
Before you decide which publishing path to take, you first have to determine your publishing goals. Are you trying to make money, to build an audience, or both? Can you afford to be patient, or is time not on your side for whatever reason? Once you’ve determined what you personally want to accomplish, you’re able to make the important decisions that will take you there.
As a professional writer, it’s important for me to maximize profits. Also, I’ve found that I can do more to build an audience by self-publishing than by going through the traditional markets. That said, the prestige of publication in a pro market is still important in my field, so I find it worthwhile to submit original fiction to the pro markets before self-publishing.
Here are my criteria for submitting original fiction:
In a world where I can self-publish my stories and sell them directly, or give them away as freebies to build a readership for my other books, the traditional submission process costs both time and money. Also, if a market has eggregiously long wait times, that’s usually a red flag. Publish with them at your own risk.
However, for reprints I will submit my stories just about anywhere. They cost neither time nor money, because they don’t care if you self-publish first; all they want is non-exclusive publication rights. They don’t typically pay as well, but who cares? It’s free money, and the extra exposure isn’t going to cost you anything.
When making simultaneous submissions, I generally do it by tiers. If the story is at a pro market that accepts simultaneous submissions, I will only submit it to other pro markets. Likewise, if a story is at a semi-pro market, I will only simul-submit to other semi-pros. This is the best way to maximize your potential returns for original fiction.
In practice, though, since most simultaneus markets don’t pay more than $100, I usually end up submitting to them after I’ve already self-published. At that point, it doesn’t really matter where I submit, since a sale to a token market isn’t going to keep a semi-pro market from buying it too.
So in short, here’s my process:
In today’s rapidly changing publishing environment, a few markets are experimenting with non-traditional forms of payment. Royalty share is one of those. Instead of paying up front by the word, these markets pay you a share of the profits after the work is published.
In general, this is what I think of that:
Unless the royalty share arrangements are made against some sort of an advance, the publisher is basically asking you to take the risk for their venture. For original fiction, I’m generally not open to that, especially for markets with long exclusivity periods after publication. Tried that once, got burned, learned my lesson.
However, once I’ve self-published, the reprint rights are basically free money anyway, so I’m happy to give it a shot. Worst case scenario, I neither lose nor gain anything. And there are some places like Digital Fiction that are doing some really interesting things with non-traditional payment methods. I just signed a contract with them this week.
So yeah, that’s my process. The money in short fiction isn’t all that great, but if you’re systematic, organized, and prolific, you can make a decent profit at it. It’s one of the few areas of publishing where it still makes sense to go traditional, but you’ve got to know when to pull out and go indie. If you can afford to wait, it makes sense to run down all the pro and semi-pro markets with your original fiction. Otherwise, you have to figure out the cutoff point where it no longer makes sense to hold out.
Good luck and happy publishing!
In a narcissistic, consumption-driven world where social media preening is ubiquitous, it is remarkable that we as a nation still take a day off to spend time with family, enjoy a hearty meal together, and reflect on the meaning of gratitude. Thanksgiving is a holiday that encourages us to think of others more than ourselves, and for that reason alone, it needs to be practiced and preserved.
I am thankful for many things this year.
First, I am thankful that I live in a free and prosperous country, one that still shines as a beacon of hope to the rest of humanity. Could it be more free? Yes. Could it be more prosperous? Certainly. Is the beacon of hope fading? If it is, then we owe it to ourselves and our future posterity to work diligently to keep it burning.
I am more thankful than I can express to my pioneer ancestors: the ones who made the trek to Utah, the ones who came from Czechy to Texas, the ones who established the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the ones who settled the Old Southwest and the ones who fought in the Civil War and afterward settled in Southern Illinois. The more I research my family history, the more I’ve come to realize that there are pioneers on every branch of my family tree, and that I enjoy the privileges that I do because of the many sacrifices that they made.
I am thankful to the men and women of the armed services who protect this country from the forces seeking to destroy it, not just those who are living today, but those of previous generations who gave their lives in service to their country. Because of them, we won our independence from the colonial forces of Europe, we preserved our Constitution in the face of a bloody civil war, and we quite literally saved the world from the twin evils of Fascism and Communism. There is evil in the world today that cannot be appeased, cannot be ignored, and cannot be defeated by words alone. I am thankful for the brave men and women who put their lives on the line every day to defeat it.
I am thankful for a loving family, for parents who made the commitment of marriage and still honor their vows to each other. I am thankful for my three sisters who still stay in touch with me and are an important part of my life. I’m thankful for nieces and nephews, for cousins and extended family, and for the many strong connections that still bind us together.
Lastly, I’m thankful for the opportunity to pursue a career as a writer. It’s not every person who gets to do this. Until just recently, there were very few opportunities to get published, and even fewer authors who could leverage publication into a full-time career. Even today, the path isn’t easy, so I am grateful to those readers who support me and make this possible.
So I thought it would be fun to start posting some monthly book recommendations on my blog, both of books I personally have enjoyed, and books like mine that I think my readers will enjoy. I’ve seen a lot of other authors do it, and it seems like a good way to pay it forward and invite good karma (and on a purely capitalist note, it also seems like a great way to bring in some affiliate income and spread my books around in the Amazon also-boughts).
For this month, I’ve chosen a novel, a novella, and a short story, all $.99 on Amazon (some of them are $2.99 on iBooks and Kobo). Two of the authors are personal friends of mine (Kindal Debenham and Annaliese Lemmon—we were both in the same college writing group), but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed their books and have no qualms recommending them.
We’ll start with Wolfhound by Kindal Debanham. This is a rip-roaring space adventure, and the first part of a trilogy that I highly recommend. Starship pilots from the frontier regions of space, fighting to defend their beloved home from pirates and invasion. This is exactly the kind of book I used to scour the local library for as a kid.
I first discovered Date Night on Union Station from the Amazon also-boughts of my own Star Wanderers books, and it did not disappoint. Clean sci-fi romance with a generous helping of comedy. I haven’t read all the other books in the series yet, but I definitely plan to.
Infant Insomnia is a bit of a departure from the kind of science fiction I usually write, but if you enjoyed Outworlder and Starchild I think you’ll like this one too. Short and tender, the story of a magical seer trying desperately to save her newborn child from the imminent death she sees in every possible branch of her child’s future.
Thanks for reading!
I know we disagree on a lot of things. We live in troubled times, and many of you are scared for the future. I can see it in your eyes. I can hear it in your voices.
There’s a very real temptation now to glory in victory, or to swear vengeance and foment revolution. But that only perpetuates a cycle of hatred. The people who opposed President Bush were not all unpatriotic. The people who opposed President Obama were not all racists.
And so, I offer you this. I mean it sincerely.