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Short Story Markets and Why They Are Important

There seems to be an opinion that, other than a few yearly anthologies, the SFF Short Story market died out in the 1960’s. However, although it is not as prevalent or as well-paid as it once was, there are still plenty of magazines/websites that  want your work and are willing to pay for it, publish it or, in most cases, both! At very least, the short story market provides something for writers to invest their time into. In today’s article I will look at why the current publishing climate is dangerous for new authors and why Short Stories should probably be your first port of call if you’d like to have a novel published one day.

If you're wondering what relevance a Ferrari has... keep reading!

If you’re wondering what relevance a Ferrari has… keep reading!

To begin with, in 2014, I feel it mightily important that writers practice writing. Writers should not consider themselves any different from the martial artist who needs to practice punching if they want to fight in the UFC or the gymnast who needs to practice their maneuvers if they’d like to compete in the Olympics. Sadly, we live in a World of ‘short cuts’, don’t we? We want to believe that magic pills will help us lose a stone (about five kilograms) in a few weeks or that sitting on a machine that vibrates will help us get a six pack. Well, the same seems to be happening to writers. What I mean by this is that writers are paying for online courses or books that promise to ‘make you a writer in seven days!’ or, worse, are falling into the trap of seeing self-publishing as a fail safe that they can use should an agent not be interested in their book. To me, this risks ruining your chance at ever becoming a respected, renowned writer…

Let me explain: ten years ago if you wrote a book and it wasn’t very good then you’d send it off to an agent and they’d say “Sorry, you need to get better before we will publish you.” Then, as a writer you’d analyse your work, consider what could be better and move on to the next one. Three, Five, Ten, novels down the line you’d be a LOT better writer because you’d invested time into the craft – practicing and reviewing your work. Now, compare that to what happens far too often today… You, a writer, write a book and it is not very good. You send it to an agent and they say “Sorry, you need to get better before we will publish you.” ‘OK’ you think, ‘now I have to write another book and man… that is a heck of a lot of work’. So, looking for the quick-fix society has conditioned you to look for and expect, you find Amazon. Instantly you’ve got a solution: you will convert your word document into a .epub and throw it up on Amazon. All you have to do is update your Twitter and Facebook profiles to include the word ‘writer’ and you’re done – success! Except… no one really buys the book and those that do give it a poor review. All that you’ve achieved is the feeling that you’ve failed and are put off the idea of writing.

Of course, I should add that there are exceptions to this rule. Perhaps your book is so unique that an agent isn’t willing to take a chance on it or they can’t quite see the revenue they’d require to take a chance on your book… In this case, and as long as you are confident enough that you can reach that niche on your own, I say go for it. However, please, please, please do have a long hard think as to whether that is really the case. As a general rule I’d say that if you do not yet feel confident enough that you can write a novel that can rival the quality of the authors you currently read – for me that is say Peter V. Brett or Myke Cole or Mark Lawrence or Francis Knight or Anne Lyle – then you are probably not yet good enough to send your work to an agent and, therefore, need more practice.

writing-stressThat said, if you’ve just finished writing a novel that didn’t work out or are yet to start one and it fills you with dread: why jump in at the deep end? Short Stories are… well… short. They allow you to play around with ideas, concepts, worldbuilding, characters and everything else that you would be putting into a novel, but on a smaller scale. Author Janny Wurts explains how they can help creation of tension and the editing process, saying that they are: ‘murder to write, but speed the learning curve for handling suspense and why a scene stays, or gets pitched.’ That said, many people will tell you – rightly – that you ‘can’ spend as much time on a short story as you can on a novel. Indeed, Janny adds: ‘short stories want to become novels, gotta stomp them down, ruthlessly, and chew nails to rein them in.’ This is the problem with a short story: you need to get enough content into it that it is memorable and – in SFF especially – offer the reader something new whilst ensuring it remains concise and within your chosen magazine’s set word limit – once you can achieve this then you will be one heck of a writer.

So, as I’ve said, time isn’t the ‘main’ advantage with short stories (although, if you follow what I’m about to suggest you WILL NOT spend as much time on your short stories as you would a novel). For me, the best part about short stories is that you can use them to turn your early dabbling with writing into a game and train yourself to meet strict deadlines. Additionally, they can get you used to editing and the inevitable rejection you face as a writer as well as the elation that comes with acceptance.

Imagination by kelleybean86 (detail)So, here’s the game: you find every single magazine and website that is accepting short stories under 10,000 words. You promise yourself that from now until you are as good as the writers you are currently reading that you will enter a minimum of one competition a month. That means, each year you will be submitting twelve short stories. Now, another benefit to short story competitions is that they tend to set a theme or, at very least, a preference as to genre. As a result, some months you will be relatively free to write within your favourite genre, e.g. an epic-fantasy story of your choosing, whereas some months you will find yourself forced into another, say the Science-Fiction genre, and some months months you may be as constrained as needing to write a story about a Magically enabled Monk who has a pet Dragon… who knows? And that’s the point!

One of our forum members, Travis Anderson, has put together a list of Magazines currently seeking short stories. For me, these are the best kind of writing contests to enter. If you can write a short story that gets featured in a magazine it is a truly wonderful experience getting to see your work in print. However, I don’t want you to limit yourself to printed magazines, so below I will also paste links to websites that list online writing contests. Although some will not offer you ‘publication’, if they have a decent online readership, so, if the theme takes your fancy – do it! Remember, the reason you are doing this is practice 🙂

Here is the list that Travis Anderson put together of Magazines/Websites currently looking for work:

Albedo www.albedo1.com/submission-guidelines/
Apex Magazine http://www.apex-magazine.com/submission-guidelines/
Beneath Ceaseless Skies http://www.beneath-ceaseless-skies.com/submissions/
Black Static http://ttapress.com/blackstatic/guidelines/
Buzzy Mag http://buzzymag.com/submissions/
Clarkesworld http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/submissions/
Crossed Genres http://crossedgenres.com/submissions/
Daily Science Fiction http://dailysciencefiction.com/submit
Fiction Vortex http://www.fictionvortex.com/submissions/
Ideomancer http://www.ideomancer.com/?page_id=20
Interzone http://ttapress.com/interzone/guidelines/
Lightspeed Magazine http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/about/guidelines/
Lovecraft Ezine http://lovecraftzine.com/submissions/
Nightmare Magazine http://www.nightmare-magazine.com/about/guidelines/
Niteblade http://niteblade.com/home/submissions/
Shimmer Magazine http://www.shimmerzine.com/guidelines/fiction-guidelines/
Strange Horizons http://www.strangehorizons.com/Guidelines.shtml
Stupefying Stories http://stupefyingstories.blogspot.ca/p/submission-guidelines.html
Sword and Sorcery Magazine http://www.swordsandsorcerymagazine.com/submissions.html
Tor.com http://www.tor.com/page/submissions-guidelines

Here are resources for Finding Markets of your own (although, remember, Google works as well!):

Duotrope https://duotrope.com/
Ralan http://www.ralan.com/
The (Submission) Grinder http://thegrinder.diabolicalplots.com/
Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy  http://www.davidbarrkirtley.com/teenwriter/Contests.html

So, once again, if you are a writer who wants to one day write a novel: start practicing. If you decided tomorrow that you wanted to be a professional Formula 1 driver you wouldn’t go knocking at the door of Ferrari before you’d ever got in a car, would you? Even if you’ve driven in some capacity for a decade you’d still not do it. No… you’d start off on the local circuits to see how you do. As you start to win prizes at the smaller leagues you’d start to push yourself and practice more and more. There would come a point where driving suddenly becomes easy and you are looking at the big name Formula-1 drivers on television and thinking ‘I can take them… I know I can’. When, as someone who writes, you start thinking ‘my work is as good as this’ then I think it is time for you to start sending work to agents. If you are reading work thinking ‘I wish I could write this well’ then please, please, please do yourself and your ambitions a favour and commit to putting in practice and work hard – you’ll get there.

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16 Comments

  1. Mike Cluff says:

    I am glad that you are so blunt about the self publishing. Although I personally know some people that have been sucessful going that route, I still think that the greater majority of self published authors are underdeveloped. I have things I could self publish, but, at this current stage of development, they are rubbish. They need polished, and the rejections motivate me (and should motivate us all) to do better and never settle.

    Thanks for the link to Fiction Vortex. We appreciate the support!

  2. Great article and I’m glad that my thread played a role in it! I’ve added a few more to the main list that I hadn’t gotten around to until now. You can find the thread here: http://fantasy-faction.com/forum/open-for-submissions/magazine-directory-for-submissions/

  3. Dominic Bromley says:

    I am so glad this has been posted. I am currently trying to write but I have the smallest confidence in success, so even though I have ideas noted down and spend weeks day dreaming scenes I don’t write. But I somehow plucked the confidence to add a 300 word Short Story for a competition Mark Lawrence began (ended today unfortunately). For anyone in a similar scenario I implore you to use these competitions, even just for the pratice, as the article states.

    Great article.

    • Overlord says:

      Thank you so much, Dominic.

      Statistically, if you think about it… let us say that you enter 12 short story competitions in a year. Each one is between 1000 and 10000 words (so average of 5000), by the end of the year you’ve written about 60,000 words. Not only is that half a novel, but you’d have had chance to experiment with 12 sets of characters, 12 worlds, 12 magic systems, 12 story structures, 12 plot ideas, and so on. It’ll only be a matter of time before you begin to feel ready to write that novel. Keep on writing! 🙂

  4. Speaking from personal experience – I would avoid Tor.com like the Bubonic Plague!

    • Overlord says:

      Hey Jeff, why do you say that?

    • zalost says:

      can you elaborate more please?

    • Cameron Johnston says:

      What makes you say that? I’ve had very nice rejections from them before.

      They are very slow, and very selective, but they are also probably the highest paying short story market out there and will gain you massive exposure if a story is accepted.

    • Jeff Seymour says:

      I’m not the OP Jeff, BUT:

      I’ve had great experiences with Tor.com, even in rejection. The only trouble with them is that they can take six to eight months to respond.

      A lot of short-story markets, particularly the higher-end ones (who also *sigh* ask for submission exclusivity), are like that though. So I tend to treat short stories as fire-and-forget weapons. I send them off, go work on other things, and then sometime the next year I hear back about them and fire them off somewhere else if they’re rejected.

      And since I’m commenting anyway, I’ll add that I tend to use short stories as palate cleansers or to fill periods of time that are too short to get a full pass on a novel done in (I wrote my latest while waiting for my editor to send edits to me). They’re a great way to experiment with new voices, styles, and techniques, because even if they fail MISERABLY (which some of mine do), you haven’t invested so much time in them that you’re heartbroken about it.

  5. E.Maree says:

    Great article, though I will add a caution against your advice that “Google works as well” — various scammers and companies of ill-repute rank highly on Google’s search results.

    Make sure to research your market thoroughly before submitting. AbsoluteWrite, Write Beware, Preditors & Editors and Duotrope are all good resources for that research.

  6. A good article. Easy self-publishing is a great resource in the right circumstances but, as you say, it can make writers very lazy. One thing that’s often ignored is that, even if your novel is good enough to attract an agent or publisher, it goes through a rigorous editorial process before it comes out the other end as a published novel. Unless you’re willing to pay a lot for a good independent editor, a self-published book just doesn’t get that level of polishing.

    I’d just add that, besides the magazines, many epublishers are now publishing novellas, novellettes and even longer short stories as stand-alone ebooks, so it’s worth checking out the book publisher sections of those sites as well as the magazines and anthologies.

  7. John Cowell says:

    Great article, Marc. Finally got round to reading it. I’d only add the advice I’ve been given: Verse yourselves in the markets you are submitting to. Read short stories if you want to write them, and see what they offer–what’s out there. Most importantly, stories are more than just stepping stones for unititiated novelists; they are an art form in their own right. And they’re not just for writers: everyone should read them: on the bus, on the train, when you have 30 minutes to spare or are between novels–Heck, most of the e-zine and usually all of the award-nominated stories (Nebula, Hugo, etc,) are available online–wait for it–for FREE! Subscribe if you can, support if you can, but you can read them for free. Right now. ALL those listed above and more. What are you waiting for? 🙂

  8. Tim Ellison says:

    Great article! My friends and I over at the Strangelet Journal are always looking for short fiction, flash fiction, poetry, and art in the sci-fi, fantasy, and magical realism genres. http://www.strangeletjournal.com/. The first issue of the Strangelet Journal will be available as a DRM-free ebook and in a limited print edition this September.

  9. Laura J Drake says:

    I agree whole heartedly. As I write this, I am working on my third short story contest entry. These have been helpful, not only in learning the writing craft, but also for filling in details of my story world. I would encourage all writers to learn and practice their craft in whatever way works best. This is one more tool to add to your arsenal.

  10. You make a good point here, but I’d caution against taking a “one size fits all” approach. First, not every writer wakes up one morning deciding to write a novel, assuming that their first efforts will be literary gold. Many have been honing their craft for decades before they release their first book.

    Second, short stories are not necessarily a perfect stepping stone to a full-length novel. They’re two different structures. Learning how to write a great short story doesn’t necessarily mean you can simply multiply your effort and churn out a great novel. Short stories are a good way to experiment with ideas without making the time commitment required of a novel, and they’re a valid form on their own, but in the end, if you want to learn how to write novels, you have to write novels.

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