Submitting stories – going against wise counsel

I recently attended the NSW Speculative Fiction Festival where many fine speakers imparted much accumulated wisdom. A good time was had by all. There was one session focusing on the art and craft of short story writing, chaired by Cat Sparks and including Angela SlatterLisa Hannett and Dirk Strasser. All very accomplished writers, editors and publishers with a plethora of awards between them. One of the main pieces of advice they gave was submit to pro markets first. Why publish your story for free when someone might pay you for it? Why take 2c a word when someone might pay 10c a word? Why miss an opportunity for your work to get out to the wider audiences that the pro markets command?


It’s good advice. It is logical. Across the room I could feel the pluck of my fellow neophyte writers stiffen as we all resolved to send our short stories to Asimov’s as soon as we got home. I suspect the online submission systems of many a professional magazine were swamped with stories from down under. I did it myself, adding some prestigious names to my steadily growing pile of rejections (always boilerplate rejections, never those good personally written ones that everyone talks about :-). And as we’re always told, you’re probably being rejected because your work isn’t quite right for that particular editor at that particular time. Sure, some work is rejected because it isn’t good enough, but not yours. Never yours. Right?

I like my stories. When I leave them for long enough that I can barely remember writing them and re-read them as if I’m reading a strangers work, I enjoy the experience. They aren’t literary, but then I’m not a literary guy. I think they are OK. And considering I’ve only been writing for a short time, that’s good. I’m proud of the work I do.

But OK work that I’m proud of does not necessarily a pro market publication make. And some markets take months to get back to you. By my rough calculations, if you submitted to every pro market that gives you credit towards say joining Science Fiction Writers of America, your story could be tied up for years. And stories sitting in slush piles do not help me learn how to be better.

I’m beginning to think that what I need to be focusing on is mid-tier semi-pro markets where an editor might take some interest in my work, and perhaps provide suggestions on how it could be improved. At this stage, that would be much more valuable to me than large amounts of money. The flash fiction pieces I’ve published on Antipodean SF have been fantastic experiences, working with the editor there (Ion Newcombe) to make them better. Perhaps I need the equivalent for longer works.

I’m undecided. The lure of a pro market sale is strong. But I know I’ve got a lot to learn about the craft of writing, and wasting time sending solid but not dazzlingly brilliant stories to markets that are never going to publish them might not be such a great idea.

So, my friends – what do you think? For the writers out there, what is your approach to short story submissions? Is it all-pro-all-the-time? Free to a good home? Somewhere in between?


Author: mark

A writer of speculative fiction and all round good egg. Well, mostly good. OK, sometimes good.

6 thoughts on “Submitting stories – going against wise counsel”

  1. The other thing about the submit to the top advice was that it seemed to assume you had a reasonable number of stories to submit. the way they were talking gave me the impression that you should have a good half dozen stories or more so that one story stuck in some slush pile didn't matter, because you've got plenty of others to push. I know I'm not in that position. Rick.

  2. Sounds like you want to prioritize markets that send personal responses. According to Duotrope, Beneath Ceaseless Skies (pro), Every Day Fiction (semi-pro) and Aoife's Kiss (token) all have personal response rates of 90% or more. I've gotten very useful, free feedback as part of rejections from semi-pros ASIM, Ideomancer and Three-Lobed Burning Eye. Good luck!

    1. Yes, I think you're right – personal responses are exactly what I'm looking for. Now that you mention it, I've submitted to ASIM previously and got some good feedback there. I haven't looked at the others (there are so many semi-pro markets out there!) , so I'll have to check them out immediately.


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