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.
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.
That 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.
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:
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/
Crossed Genres http://crossedgenres.com/submissions/
Daily Science Fiction http://dailysciencefiction.com/submit
Fiction Vortex http://www.fictionvortex.com/submissions/
Lightspeed Magazine http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/about/guidelines/
Lovecraft Ezine http://lovecraftzine.com/submissions/
Nightmare Magazine http://www.nightmare-magazine.com/about/guidelines/
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
Here are resources for Finding Markets of your own (although, remember, Google works as well!):
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.