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

 

Advertisements

FREE STORIES Y’ALL

I have talked about QuarterReads before, where you can read short fiction for the low, low price of twenty-five cents per story. I have a couple stories over there. BUT NOW, you can read one of them for the low, low, LOWER price of NOTHING AT ALL. That’s right, you cheap bastards, ‘Far’ is free this week.

Go read it.

Bring tissues.

Tip your writer.

DESR

Short Fiction is Alive and Well

In case you haven’t heard, there isn’t much short fiction available online. WHAT, you say, ABOUT SUCH MARKETS AS TOR AND LIGHTSPEED AND STRANGE HORIZONS AND FIRESIDE AND BASTION AND PROBABLY A GAJILLION OTHERS I CAN’T NAME OFF THE TOP OF MY HEAD.

Short Fiction, rising from the grave

Short Fiction, rising from the grave

A valid query, my friend, yet new market Terraform has informed us that there is a dearth of short fiction available online. And then they updated it when a large part of the internet informed that, oh yeah, there is a ton of short fiction out there. Now, I write short fiction, so anyone willing to pay me $0.20 a word is a welcome addition to the market, and another short fiction market in general is something I am happy about. And if you want to present your market as new-and-exciting, by all means, do so. But saying there aren’t other markets is tone-deaf, at best.

Because short fiction is kind of the lifeblood of the industry. Not in the sense that it rakes in the publishing dollars the way blockbuster novels that get turned into blockbuster movies do, but in that it is what injects new writing blood into the industry. As a writer, writing short fiction (that anyone buys or not) allows me to hone my craft, improve myself and flex muscles I otherwise wouldn’t. Each sale is a publishing credit to my name, which agents and editors look at, and/or directs new readers to my longer (and more profitable) works.

And perhaps, as their hasty retreat-statement implies, short fiction is for the geeks, not the common folk. To which I say, yeah, probably. But that’s the way of the world, really. There are levels of geek-dom, fandom in anything, and it only makes sense that the ‘harder’ fans of SciFi in general will be the ones who read short fiction, rather than the ones who lump all SciFi into a Star Wars and Star Trek shaped bucket. So, hey, if you can get more people to read it, more power to you. But if you expect a ton of new short-fiction-reading-Uber-geeks to turn out because they loved the don’t-think-to-hard-about-it style of the Avengers and Star Trek: Into Plotlessness Darkness, you’re only setting yourself up for disappointment. That’s not to say that those people aren’t out there, waiting to discover how awesome short fiction is- they are- but the more constructive way to go about  it is to embrace those who came before, and try to spread the Short Fiction Gospel* together.

 

DESR

*I am using this term somewhat facetiously.

Weighted Words

There was some little to-do recently about short stories being little more than a learning exercise for longer form works. I’ll talk about the merits of short fiction as stand-alone entertainment another time, but I wanted to talk about my own experience with writing in the medium.

You may be aware that I have a short fiction collection out (you may be aware I have a Kickstarter for it. You may not have backed it. Please rectify this). This wasn’t my original intention; I didn’t really pay much attention to many short stories (though there are some I have always loved). I considered myself a long-form guy, and never thought I’d write much short stuff. But as I worked on the 3024AD universe, I liked the idea of a lot of short stories set in that universe, around ostensibly minor characters. I started writing some (‘The Bounty‘ was the first, if you’re curious, although ‘The Gathering Storm’ I started first, but later re-wrote), and they began to form a major part of the universe, and my writing projects in general.

But I learned something from writing them, something that applies to long and short form, and that has to do with the words. In long form, it’s a sandbox. You can go anywhere, do anything, and I always viewed that as a positive. You can explain Every. Little. Detail. But is that really so good?

Allow me to back up- growing up I loved The Wheel of Time series, by Robert Jordan. Needless to say, I was ridiculously excited for A Song of Ice and Fire and devoured the first couple books. But the same problem started to creep in that had killed my loved for The Wheel of Time. I remember thinking this is never going to end, is it? I don’t know if it’s because you never kill the golden goose, or it’s just that fun to write, or what, but Robert Jordan died writing WoT, and I’m pretty sure GRRM is going to do the same.

The words because wasted to me. It wasn’t even information overload- it was why am I even reading about this? I love details as much (more) than the next person, but there comes a point where it doesn’t contribute to the story.

And that’s what I have learned from writing short fiction- not to leave out details, but to make sure the right words are used, that they have weight and bearing on the story. To be sure, it’s improved my longer-form work, but I think it’s a good lesson that applies across the field. If each word carries weight and adds to the story, it will be richer and vibrant, without the lulls and clutter so common to scifi and fantasy.

DESR