Market Forces

Okay, you’ve done it! You’ve written a fantastic story; your beta-readers have torn the hell out of it; you’ve fixed the weird bits; you’ve trimmed off the fat.  You formatted it following William Shunn‘s excellent advice.  (You did format it using William Shunn’s excellent advice, right?  Maybe you should double check, especially on the section breaks.)  Your story is ready for the big-time. Where the heck do you send it?

The single best place to begin is by studying the SFWA pro markets list. This list gives you the best-paying markets with the most prestige.  Publication in these guys opens the doors to a SFWA membership–which is a little bit like putting a copyright attorney, career advisor and marketing department  in your back pocket–and qualifies you for important awards like the Nebula, the Hugo and John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.  You would like one of those, wouldn’t you?

(A word of advice before you embark:  keep track of your subs. Make a little spreadsheet or try some of the excellent software available.  You wouldn’t want to miss out on a single great market, or leave a bad impression on any editors by sending your piece twice. So make a list and stick to it. Chart when the piece goes out and what response you received.)

Once you’ve figured out which of these markets might fit your story best and created your plan, submit to each of them, one at a time.  Nobody actually likes simultaneous submissions, no matter what the guidelines say.  (You did read the guidelines, right? Get back there and read ’em! And while you’re at it, read an issue or two.  Most have free stuff online.) You may as well start with Clarkesworld.  It’s almost tradition to start with Clarkesworld.  You could be rejected before the end of the night!

After Clarkesworld has rejected you (and don’t feel bad; they reject thousands and thousands of stories), you should direct your gaze to any of the magazines helmed by John Joseph Adams–both Lightspeed and Fantasy Magazine will have your submission turned around in about 72 hours. (And I’m not  just saying that because I’m on the team and I love all the people who work there.) The speedy rejections make these places painless submissions.

Once you’ve worked your way through the SFWA pro markets, the choices become more difficult. A quick scan of Duotrope, a fantastic publishing information resource (make a donation!), will give you more markets than you can shake a stick at. To navigate your way through these markets takes a compass, a Magic 8 ball, and the power of Google.  Some questions to ask as you look at them:

  1. What kind of payment does the market offer?
  2. Have they won any awards?
  3. Have you heard of any of the staff?
  4. Haver there been any complaints about this market? You can find this information on sites like Duotrope, Preditors and Editors, and Absolute Write.  Or just ask on Twitter. (You are on Twitter, right?)

In fact, asking other writers about markets is one of the best ways to learn about them. Some markets have turn-around times that make them significantly undesirable. I don’t care how much money will pay me–until I have more stories in my pile-to-sell, I can’t afford to send them anything and wait on a response for a year. There are some semi-pro markets in a similar slow-lane, though I won’t mention them, because one of them is hanging on to my story.  Since June.  And yes, I’ve already queried once.

I personally no longer submit stories to anything that doesn’t pay at least 3 cents a word–unless it’s a magazine that’s won an award (go Electric Velocipede!) or if it’s run by people I want to hug (go Crossed Genres!). I would use the same standards to judge an anthology.

If my story fails at all these other places, I trunk it.  My trunk currently has more stories in it than my marketable file, which is a tragedy. Some of these stories are good and will hopefully find a home in a massive compilation of Wendy N. Wagner’s Brilliant Short Fiction Gems. Some of these stories are better off lining the bottom of a hamster cage.

The wonderful thing about the submissions process, which is long and grueling and irritating: once a story’s been rejected 7 or 14 times, you don’t love it with the same protective, motherly love that you did when you first clicked “send.” In fact, the hamster cage looks pretty good by then.

Now get out there and get subbing. Remember–you can’t sell it if you don’t send it!

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    1. Jamie Todd Rubin
      28/01/2011 at 9:20 pm Permalink

      This is spot on and if you follow the above advice, are persistent, and learn from and feedback editors are willing to give, you will eventually start to sell stories. I know this because I pretty much followed this exact plan. One thing I’d add to the above: there are some pretty good workshops out there for beginners and some of them are even available online. Workshops and writers groups can help you out a lot at the beginning. I wish I had known that *before* I sold my first story. Great summary!

    2. Amanda C. Davis
      28/01/2011 at 9:23 pm Permalink

      It’s almost tradition to start with Clarkesworld.

      This is hilariously true.

    3. Erika Holt
      28/01/2011 at 9:28 pm Permalink

      Haha! Awesome advice, Wendy. Thanks for this.

    4. Dayle Dermatis
      29/01/2011 at 12:28 am Permalink

      My favorite market resource for spec fic is

      Cheers, Dayle


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