Tuesday, April 27, 2010

From Small Press to Pro: Choosing Markets for Your Short Fiction

I engage in a fairly regular debate with several of my writing friends about how to choose markets for your short stories.

Their side of the debate: Go for the credits. Quantity is the way to go. The more you can see your name in print, the better.

My side of the debate: Be selective. Aim high. Only submit to markets that you’d be proud to list on a writing resume.

I don’t think there’s technically a right or wrong side to this debate, mind you (though I’m sticking staunchly to my point of view when it comes to my own submissions). What I think is that different approaches work for different people.

Years ago, I belonged to a writing group that would only submit to professionally-paying markets. They believed anything less than that was a waste of time. They felt that small press credits cheapened one’s writing resume.

For quite awhile, I adopted that philosophy and only submitted to professional-level publications. The one major problem with that was that I ended up with a pile of stories which, having been rejected by the one or two appropriate professionally-paying markets to which I’d submitted them, ended up in an early retirement from the submission rounds because there was nowhere else to send them. After all, not every story is suitable for every publication. There’s the matter of genre, word count, subject matter, style.

So I opened my eyes a little bit to the other markets, both semi-pro and small press. But that’s not to say that I tossed away the group philosophy, because I believed (and still do) that there was something to what they were saying. I just needed to modify it for my own needs.

Because the truth is that there are wonderful semi-pro and small press markets out there that make admirable credits. You just need to choose wisely.

So how do you do that?

Know your markets

I don’t mean just their submission guidelines, although that’s important. What I mean is to know what publications have good reputations in your genre of choice.

Read short fiction reviews at places such as Tangent Online and Locus to see what reviewers are saying about various publications. It’s a great way to find out what kind of reputations publications have.

Head to the bookstore (or library) and pick up copies of the Year’s Best anthologies in your genre, which always list the publications in which the stories originally appeared.

And don’t forget to flip to the back. In addition to the stories chosen for the anthology there are almost always pages of honorable mentions, which indicate what publications originally published the stories as well. Y

ou’ll be surprised to see how many of these stories come from small press publications. Get published in one of those small press publications and your work might get in front of somebody who’s somebody in this industry.

Read the publications themselves to check out the quality of stories. My rule of thumb is that if I can’t find the merit in the published stories then I don’t want my own work appearing alongside them.

Check out publication statistics

One of the reasons I like Duotrope is that they offer publication statistics such as the acceptance rate (expressed as a percentage). And while these statistics are definitely going to be biased--those who use Duotrope, those who actually report to Duotrope, those who reliably report all submission responses to Duotrope, etcetera--they’re a decent guideline.

What I mean by that is if Duotrope reports that a market has received 100 submissions and 92% of those submissions are acceptances, it would send up a red flag for me. I certainly don’t want to place a story in a market that accepts almost everything submitted to them. Conversely, I can feel pretty good about a sale to a market that Duotrope reports as accepting less than 1% of the submissions they receive.

Paying or nonpaying markets

A paying market is always a plus. To get money for something you’ve written is, after all, one of the best affirmations that you’re on the right track. But that doesn’t mean you should discount nonpaying markets. Particularly in the area of literary fiction, there are a number of college-run, nonpaying literary magazines that have great reputations and that would make a great credit. There are also anthologies that donate proceeds to charity rather than paying authors, which is a worthwhile credit to make.

Ultimately, I think paying or nonpaying isn’t nearly as important as the magazine’s reputation.

Watch response times

This doesn’t go so much to the quality of the publication as for your own personal preference. Some magazines may take over a year to respond, tying your story up for a good long while. Other publications only respond to accepted stories. Most magazines report their approximate response times in their submission guidelines. Some have blogs where editors keep submitters updated on progress with their slush piles and submissions in general. Other sites, like Duotrope and The Black Hole offer response times reported by other submitteers.

Always keep your ultimate goal in mind

For me, choosing what markets to submit to is ultimately a matter of what credits I would like to add to a query letter that goes in front of an agent or editor. And bear in mind that sometimes this will vary from genre to genre. I have small press credits that I’m thrilled to add to a query letter going in front of an agent who represents science fiction or horror but would never add to a query letter going to someone who represents mainstream fiction because they’ve probably never even heard of it. And conversely, I might think twice about adding my Family Circle fiction contest credit to a query for my horror novel.

So back to that debate I have with my friends.

Here’s what I think. For someone who just wants to see their name in print, then by all means, submit anywhere and everywhere with abandon. But for someone who has a bigger goal in mind, such as publishing a novel, I think he or she would do well to be at least a little bit selective.

Personally, I like to see each credit as a stepping stone to something bigger. I had an agent tell me, recently, that I had a nice writing resume. It made me feel like I was on the right track after all.

So I think having too many credits at too many tiny, non-paying publications can be potentially troublesome. I think it can dilute the weight of other publication credits that might cause an agent or editor to look twice. Because let’s face it. In the age of the internet, anyone can set up a publication and solicit submissions. New 4theLuv markets are popping up in numbers every single day and disappearing just as quickly.

Ultimately, there’s nothing wrong with aiming high. Don’t be afraid to shoot for the top, and whatever you do, don’t shortchange yourself. Make sure your target markets are the right ones.

Monday, April 26, 2010

But Then Again...

I’m starting to get quite annoyed with myself. I promised myself I'd have a blog post up tonight. In fact, I spent the last hour or so writing one, only to decide in the end that there was no way I wanted to post it.

Truthfully, I’ve started at least four separate blog posts over the last few days. I’ve written about discouragement, choosing markets, writers supporting writers, and making the transition back and forth between working on novels and short stories. Each post I left just shy of completion.

I think what it comes down to is second-guessing myself, that feeling of wondering whether or not I have something worth saying, and if so, whether I’m saying it right. Did I pick the right topic? Did I do it justice? Does what I'm saying even make sense?

We’ve all had those times, haven’t we? Times when you wonder if you’re sharing too much, or maybe conversely, being too distant, when every word feels just not quite right.

I think second-guessing is at worst a plague to some writers, and at best, a now-and-again nuisance. But I’d suspect that most of us succumb to a bout of second-guessing at least every so often.

So I think tonight I’m going to throw out a question (or maybe questions) to anyone reading… Do you experience bouts of second-guessing? When are you most likely to second-guess yourself when it comes to writing? What do you do to overcome it?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Good News, A Confession, and a Whole Lot of Cringing

Now this is going back a few years, but for awhile I served as one of four editors of a weekly horror newsletter for a large online writing community. During that time, there was one editorial I wrote that seemed to strike a chord with people.

It was an editorial about rejection, and in it I shared a rejection that I’d received for a short story submission. It was a particularly critical rejection, and I wanted to use it as a leaping-off point to talk not only about rejection in general, but also to talk about those more person--and sometimes brutal--rejections. And of the comments I received, the bulk were telling me how brave I was for sharing my rejection with the 10,000 readers of the newsletter.

Brave? I laughed at that.

Because here’s my confession. That was easy. Sharing my rejection I could do without a moment’s hesitation.

And the second part of that confession is that what I find, by far, more difficult is to share my successes.

I couldn’t explain it. I really don’t know why, exactly, that is. But it’s true. The minute I even contemplate sharing those good things, I find myself getting self-conscious and tongue-tied.

I’m getting a little better with the whole thing. Getting better, mind you, not feeling better about it. And that’s mostly because I know that it’s something I have to get over if I ever want to succeed as a writer, because one thing that’s been drilled into me is the fact that even after being published, authors are responsible for their own success and that, in large part, means self-promotion. And I’m determined to learn how to promote myself, how to build a platform, how to connect and network with readers and other writers.

And yes, I know this isn’t a new song I’m singing.

So tonight I wanted to both share a bit of good news and to ask for your help.

Yesterday night I found out that my novel, Heart of the City, has advanced to the next round of the finals in Dorchester’s Fresh Blood contest for unpublished horror novelists, so I’m now one of four finalists competing for the grand prize of a publishing contract with both Dorchester’s Leisure Horror imprint and a limited hardcover print run with Chizine Publications.

And I’m asking for your vote. Though I made it to the Top 5 based on the decision of a judging panel, from here on out the competition is completely vote-driven. Each month now, until the end, the contestant with the least amount of votes will be eliminated. So I would really, really appreciate your help.

The info for this round of the contest can be found at Chizine's website. Voting instructions are at the very bottom of the page.

And for those who want the quick how-to of how to send a vote…

You can email your vote to freshblood@chizinepub.com. In the email’s subject header please put: Fresh Blood Vote - Heart of the City. (Votes that come in this in the subject header won’t count!) One vote per unique email address is allowed.

Okay, I can stop cringing now. And you can rest assured that when I’ve suffered through a string of rejections--which ought to be any day now, lol--I’ll be broadcasting it proudly!

And I do want to say thank you to everyone who has supported me so far in this contest. It’s meant the world to me, and it never ceases to amaze me how wonderfully supportive our community of writers is.

I’m also wondering if I’m the only one who feels that way about sharing good writing news. Do you want to shout your good news from the rooftops? Or are you like me and want to just whisper it from a dark corner?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Stepping in It

“You’re really stepping in the sh*t lately,” my father commented to me earlier, after I’d shared some good news with him.

I understood what he meant. That I’ve been pretty lucky the last few months.
Well, at least in writing-related things, anyway.

The latest bit of good tidings had come my way this morning. I received an email from an agent requesting the full manuscript of my novel.

Now this came about in sort of a roundabout way. I’d entered an agent-sponsored contest a few weeks ago, and I didn’t win. But a few hours after the winners were announced, I got an email from the agent to tell me that while I hadn’t won, I’d been among his top picks and that if I sent along my query letter, he’d be happy to at least give me a little bit of feedback.

So late last night, off went my query letter.

This morning, I woke to find a return email in my mailbox…requesting my full manuscript.

Flash forward to the conversation with my father. As he went on to say, he didn’t in any way mean to belittle my accomplishments these past few months, but we got to talking about luck and what role it played in these little (or occasionally big) "good things."

It’s an interesting question, and one that I’d guess a lot of writers think about. I know I think about it

And I do think luck plays a part in it, for better or for worse. But I also think that to some extent we make our own luck. And I think that we can only be “lucky” if we’re out there and open for it.

It might require some measure of luck to hit the right editor (or agent) with the right story at the right time, but that luck isn’t going to happen if you aren’t putting any story in front of any editor (or agent) at any time. And conversely, the more stories you put in front of more editors (or at least the more times you put a single story in front of editors) the better chances that you’ll hit that coveted bull’s-eye.

And okay, so that’s probably an oversimplification. And yes, there are so many other factors that figure in. And yes, there are always going to be those beginner’s luck stories where someone succeeds on their first go-round. But I like to stay on the side of the numbers.

Like a lot of you, I’m putting my work out there on a regular basis, whether it’s short stories or novels. If I find a worthwhile contest, I enter it, even if it means sleepless nights of word-crunching to prepare my entry. For better or for worse, I’m always trying to look two steps ahead to see where my next opportunity may lie. I’d rather face a million rejections than miss out on the one opportunity that might change everything. I don’t want to take any chance that I’ll miss that fickle friend, luck, when it comes winging my way.

And maybe that’s not luck at all. Maybe it’s just perseverance. And maybe I am stepping in the sh*t lately, as my father so eloquently put it, but that’s because I’m always walking, and I don’t plan to stop anytime soon.

I also want to say a big thank you to Nicole Ducleroir for the Sweet Blog Award! Nicole’s blog, One Significant Moment at a Time is one of my new favorites, so please take some time and check it out.

The Meaning :
Sweet Blog Award is an award for blog which you think is so friendly and make you enjoy to visit it often.

So now there's two things:
1. I give this award to ten people
2. The people I give this award to need to make a post about the award (include the picture & the person that gave it to you!)

I’m passing this award to…

I’m going to defer on this for a little while. Since I’m so new to the blogging world, I want to take my time and make sure to put some thought into this. So stay tuned…

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A Writer's This -n- That

I’ve started three separate blog posts today, and abandoned each of them. Ironically, one of them -- which I got a whole two paragraphs into before it fizzled out -- was about lack of focus. Need I say more?

So in the spirit of being unfocused, I thought I’d just embrace randomness today, and share some of my writing-related news.

• There’s one week left to vote in this round of the Fresh Blood contest where my unpublished novel, "Heart of the City," is one of five finalists competing for a publishing contract. From this point on, it’s all vote-driven, so I’d really appreciate your vote. To vote, just send an email to freshblood@chizinepub.com. In the subject line write: Fresh Blood Vote: Heart of the City. You can leave the body of the email blank. For more about the contest or read the cover copy for all the finalists, visit Chizine. This opportunity means the world to me and I want to say a BIG thank you to everyone who’s already supported me in the contest. You can also read more about my entry and my experience in the contest in a previous blog entry: Fresh Blood? Who Me?.

• This week I found out that my short story, “The Midnight Girls,” was chosen as a Million Writers Award notable online story of 2009. “The Midnight Girls” appeared in Abyss & Apex # 30.

Having my story in Abyss & Apex was a wonderful experience in and of itself. Not only was it my first semi-pro sale of a speculative fiction story, but Abyss & Apex is an absolutely wonderful publication that showcases top-notch fiction and poetry. Plus, my story was nested in with stories from writers whose names I knew: Bud Sparhawk and Aliette de Bodard. So to now receive this honor is just amazing.

• I finished my revisions for Blade Red Press’s Dark Pages Anthology, which should be coming out in a few months. I was excited to finish the edits, and I appreciate the amount of time the editor spent with me to make the story the best it could be. I think this is going to be a wonderful anthology and I’m thrilled to be a part of it. You can see the ToC at Blade Red Press.

• I got new eyeglasses so I’ll actually be able to see what I’m writing. ;-)

So that’s my randomness for the week. Next week my goal is to refocus, pick a project, and get moving on it.

How about you? What bits of randomness do you have to share this week?