It’s taken me a very long time to accept the advice of Smart Writers, and realise that if I want to be published, I must submit.
No, not like that.
I mean submit your work to paying markets even though it’s obviously terrifying and the pain of rejection will slice you through to the bone, leave you in a bleeding jellied mess on the floor.
Firstly, become zen about rejection. It’s gonna happen. It happens to even the Big Names, it happens to little names, it happens to new writers with no sales. You can trim down your number of rejections by ensuring your work is original, well-written, and with as few errors as possible, and by submitting to suitable markets. You trim them by READING AND FOLLOWING THE GUIDELINES. Seriously. It makes a difference. Especially since a fair number of markets auto-reject the stories where the writer hasn’t made the slightest effort to research and follow the guidelines.
You get a feel for markets, and for what kinds of stories DON’T sell, by reading lots of recent short stories. Some markets rather helpfully tell you what stories they don’t want to see. Mostly because these stories are so cliched that when the slushpuppies see them their eyes start dribbling from their sockets.
When I have a short story ready to go – unless I wrote it with a particular market in mind – I head over to The Grinder to look for open markets. Some I know already that I want to submit to, but since almost all markets do not allow simsubs (when you send the same submission to several markets at the same time) I might not be able to submit to those markets at that time. I usually keep track of my submissions with a simple colour-coded table that allows me at a glance to see what story is out, who has rejected it, or when a story has sold.
I generally start submitting to pro-paying markets first, and work my way down the pay scale. You’re more likely to get rejections from the top markets, but if you don’t try, there’s no chance at all of an acceptance. Also keep an eye on calls for anthologies – some of them are very cool. Again, you’ll soon get an idea of which editors you respect who put together great anthologies, and which to avoid. Never pay to submit to a market. Chances are it’s a scam, or the market is clueless and has no audience.
Here are a couple of my favourite markets (some just to read, not necessarily to submit stories to – you’ll get a feel for the type of stories they want to see by reading.). I focus on speculative and fantasy fiction, so these are the ones I know. There are more than this, you’ll just need to go through The Grinder for pro- or semi-pro markets. If you are more into lit fic, you’ll have to find those markets yourself.
TOR.COM – the biggie. Pays VERY VERY well, has giant reach. Also, is a black hole market. You send a story in and forget about it, write something else and carry on as though that tor story never existed. I’m not even kidding. Trust me.
CLARKESWORLD – Again, a top-paying market, and very very difficult to get into in. They pick the kind of stories that win Hugo awards. They are also extremely fast. You’ll probably get a rejection within 2 days. I like to call them the elastoplast market. Submitting to them is like pulling a plaster off a scab. It stings, but it’s over quickly and you can move on. 😉 After a while, you even start to enjoy the pain….
FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION – One of the Grand Old Dames of SFF still published in print. Top market, and now finally open to email submissions.
Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet – tend to the off-kilter, and they only take snail mail submissions, and have a long response time. A wonderful market though, if you can get in.
That’s enough to get you started: read their stories, read award nomination lists and get to know your markets. Write, polish, submit, move on, repeat.
Aim high. Even if it’s scary.