Submitting Stories – The SF Game Plan
You must have a game plan for submitting your stories. Each kind of story has a different set of possible publishers. Once you write a story you must keep it in front of a editor’s eye until it’s published. Each editor reads your story a different way and accepts or rejects stories for different reasons.
From what I can tell, most markets receive from 100 to 500 stories for each one that they publish. Even non-pay markets get hundreds of stories for each one that they publish. A Pro market can receive 1000 stories for each one that they publish.
The strategy is:
1) Make a list of the Publications that might want your story.
2) Next you have to prioritize the list using pay rate, response time, and best match as criteria.
3) Then you have to send the story in turn to each editor on the list.
4) You must keep track of who has read each story and the dates involved.
When a story has gone through all the editors you can 1) dump the story, 2) rewrite and start again, 3) find some more places for the story.
Never dump a story. Don’t rewrite unless everyone agrees that you have a dog or everyone agrees that the story would be good if you made certain changes.
Listing the Publications.
My personal plan is to go for the most money with the least effort. It’s always worked for me in life and I am not stopping now. You might have other goals such as preferring print over digital publication. You may not see any advantage in sending your manuscripts out snail-mail vs. email submissions. Only you know your priorities.
The place to start is Ralan’s SpecFic & Humor Webstravaganza or Duotrope Digest. Ralan is an interesting writer of Speculative fiction and humor. Go to his web site and read some of his stuff. He also is a struggling writer who keeps wonderful records of Speculative Fiction markets and response times. His list is the most up to date and informative one on the web. I created my market list by browsing his market lists. Ralan proves that even a good, experienced writer has trouble publishing. I amazed at the crap that does get published while Ralan seems to have trouble finding a home for some of his (excellent) stories.
Whenever possible, read stories from the market to judge how well your story fits in. Study the guidelines with particular attention to what the editor wants and doesn’t want. If the editor doesn’t want gory horror stories don’t send him one. You don’t want to antagonize an editor – they do remember your name.
You can only send your story to one editor at a time. You can expect that it will take you several, if not many, attempts before your story finds a home. Order your list with the best places at the top and the last resorts at the bottom. You can use money, convenience, print or digital, best content match, or favorite magazine as criteria. If you are writing SF or Fantasy (not horror – dark fiction or heroic fiction), send to The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction first. They pay well and respond in a week.
I wanted to start with only “Pro” markets, but I am chained to a desk all day and it is inconvenient for me to get to the post office. For this reason I made a list of possible markets that accepted electronic submissions. I made the list and sorted them by how many cents per word they paid. I sorted them again by how long the markets take to respond and moved anybody with a response time over two weeks to the bottom. This is how I create my my list.
What’s the difference between Pro markets and Pay markets? One of your goals should be to join the SFWA. This is a cool group of party animals that are professional science fiction writers. You want to go to their parties and meet great writers, editors, agents and publishers. You can’t get in unless you sell a book for more than $2000 or sell three stories to a certified pro market. A pro market must pay 5 cents a word or better totaling $250 or more. Only a handful of markets are truly Pro markets.
Once you get your list, you have to check again with the Black Hole recorder at Critters.org. Critters.org is a workshop where you can get good criticism of your stories. My ego is fragile enough that any criticism sends me into a deep depression so I don’t participate in workshops. I look at the black hole data for the last month to find out how a market is responding. This helps me know when to expect my rejection message.
The black hole also automatically generates a message in an SFF newsgroup. Members of SFF.net also contribute to this discussion of response times.
I understand that many writers get hung up on this step. I have been writing stories since I was 12. I submitted a half a dozen when I was 16 to a few magazines and got ugly mimeographed rejection slips. I gave up being a writer and concentrated on engineering and then programming. I never stopped writing in handwritten notebooks, but I never typed them out or even read them again after writing a story – it was too much trouble just to get a rejection. Recently, I have typed up a few stories and I am collecting rejections again, but this time editors have been very nice and encouraging.
Clean up your story. Read it out loud slowly to check for awkward sentences and run on sentences. Spell check it and, if you have Microsoft Word, you can perform a limited grammar check. If you can have someone else read it, they can find mistakes you can’t see. 30 years of programming has shown me that a writer is blind to certain of his own errors. Eliminate extra words. You should try to knock off 10% of the the total word count. This tightens up the story.
Format your story according to the publisher’s guidelines. Most want double space. Some want word counts. Some want page numbers at the top or bottom of each page.
If the editor wants an email RTF attachment don’t send a DOC file. If the editor wants the story in the body of an email message, don’t send it as an attachment. If the editor wants only snail-mail, make sure that you include the return postage and envelope.
Record your submissions.
Keep track of where you have sent your submissions. It doesn’t have to be very formal. I just keep a word document with entries like:
Oct 1, Flare Bound sent to ASIM
Oct 3, responded that they received
Oct 6, passed first round. They said two weeks for next step.
Oct 10, reject
Oct 14 Flare Bound submission to Martian Wave – Auto response
Oct 21 Reject
You can do this in Word or Excel or on a scrap of paper, but just make sure that you do it. It’s a waste of everybody’s time to send a story to the same editor twice.
As soon as you get a rejection, send your story out to the next victim on the list. If you let the story sit, you might be tempted to fiddle with it or trash it. Don’t waste any time on old stories. Concentrate on writing new stories. Don’t rewrite old stories unless you receive a specific request from an editor. Don’t think about it – send it out!
When a story has been read by 20 editors, it may be time to retire the story. Save any constructive criticism that you receive and see if you can use it to fix up the story. Wait a few months for the editors to forget you and send the fixed up story out again, starting at the top of the list.
The best way to fix up a story is to rewrite it from scratch without rereading the story. Write it from memory. You will always remember the good parts. You will come up with new twists and viewpoints as you write and the story will have a different personality. Then, and only then, you can merge in any parts of the old story that you particularly like and make a totally different third story that is the best of both.
In Case of a Sale
If you are lucky enough to sell a story, keep track of everything including a copy of the original story. Make a hard copy of the story and copy all contracts. Cut a CD with the original document and put this all in an envelope and file it away. You will want this information for when you create your “Best of” anthology or submit to reprint or anthology markets.
If it is a print magazine, spend all the money you got to buy copies of the magazine. Send copies to your mom and me and anyone else you can think of. Keep a couple to sell on eBay when you are famous.
If it is a digital sale, send me the URL and I’ll post it somewhere on this site.