So You Want to Be a Professional Short Story Author?

Not that *I* am, or whatever (OK, I kinda am), so take all this with appropriate grains of salt. But friend o’ the blog David Winchester recently challenged me to write a short story, submit it, have it rejected, repeat. To which I replied:

DONESO.

I’ve done that once or twice, and have received more words in rejection letters than I have written in my life. I’ve written about rejection before, and why it shouldn’t be that big of a deal. If you want to write, commercially, you’ll be rejected. It’s a fact. If you have written and tried to peddle your wares, you crack up every time you read one of those breathless headlines about how someone was rejected X times before being published.

futurama_benderBut, for what it’s worth, here is my approach to writing and submitting short stories. Feel free to use and/or ridicule it as you see fit.

Write: I mean, obviously. But it’s not as easy as that; not always. Life prevails upon us all. And, at least in my case, at a certain point, writing becomes a job- which is fine- but we are not as excited to get to our jobs as we are our hobbies. In any case, this is the obvious first step. So do it, and do it well.

Submit: Here is where is gets interesting. Where does one submit their stories too? Ralan is great resource. Here is my method, such as it is:

  • Market specificity: Sometimes I will write a piece with a specific market in mind- either because something in the market (such as an anthology or collection) inspires me, or because I have something that seems to suit them. In either case, it goes there first.
  • Best opportunity: Some markets are only open for a period of time, and these are the ones I usually submit to first- generally the reason they are open for a limited period is because the pay is better, or they are a large market, so these opportunities are usually at the top of my list.
  • Pro-Paying Markets: SFWA defines pro rate as $0.06 a word. If I am rejected by the above, I look to the markets which are continually  open. This is generally the longest part, and at this juncture, I want to say this: READ SUBMISSION GUIDELINES.  Look, you can write the all-time crappy story, and the next time you submit, they will read it with fresh eyes. If you submit in 8-point comic sans, in the body of your email? Welcome to the auto-reject list. If you think that’s not a thing, you need to meet more editors. Be professional, be respectful. Read each guideline, and follow it.
  • Semi-Pro Markets. One should not confuse this with ‘lesser quality markets’. There are many places that publish fantastic fiction, and have fantastic editors, but pay less than $0.06/word. Nor should you confuse with selling to these markets with any manner of failure- it is a SWFA guideline, used for their membership criteria. So selling to a semi-pro market isn’t a knock on you, or them. That said, I submit here next because, hey, I like money.

win.gifIn light of the above, though, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Know your markets. Read them, and while you can’t read them all, at least read one issue of places you plan to submit. Have an idea of what they are likely (or not) to accept. In line with the first point up there, start with the place that publishes fiction most similar to your own. That’s not to say a market won’t accept your work if it is of quality, but, you know, keep the odds in your favor.
  • READ SUBMISSION GUIDELINES. Literally, if there is nothing else you take away from this, it is READ SUBMISSION GUIDELINES. Because here’s the thing about submission guidelines: If you write a catastrophically bad story- like, really bad- they will reject it. And the next story you write, they will read and judge on its own merits. If you send in a story in single-spaced, 8pt, comic sans format, they will never ever read anything you send them again ever. Here is a guide to standard manuscript format– which will guarantee you are at least not offensive- read it, know it, love it. Start a SMF template. Read submission guidelines.
  • Learn to deal with rejection. Because you will be rejected. Sometimes it will be a total form letter, sometimes person. Sometimes it will say get better and sometimes it will say it was very good and just missed the cut. Each one stings in its own special way, so get over it. Have a routine. Eat an Oreo every time you get rejected. But then log it (submission grinder is a great way to track your submissions), make a joke, and submit somewhere else. Also helpful: write, and submit, enough that it doesn’t matter. If you only submit a few things, each rejection stands out. If you submit a lot, it just kind of happens, and it’s easier to take in stride.

Over the coming year, I am going to be doing a few things. I am going to

bender

All of us in a year

write at least one (1) new short story every single month, and submit it (and submit it, and submit it, and..). I am also going to track the results here (I already track them on submission grinder, obviously). Why? A couple reasons: Accountability. This way y’all can yell at me hey jackass you haven’t submitted anything this month. It’s a big motivation. Also, to encourage you to do the same- set some goals, be it word counts, submissions, sales, whatever. Post your results as well. That way, at the end of the year, we can look back and you can laugh at me for not selling anything while you have a book deal. Wait, no, we can celebrate our success. Yeah, that.

 

*drinks*

DESR

 

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