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The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

21 July 2010

Choosing where to submit stories, and contest

Start with the best and work down.

That was my rule when I first began submitting short stories. I sent them to the biggest-name magazines first and then, as they acquired rejections, to progressively more obscure and lower-paying markets. My reasoning was that this strategy would land the story in the best place it deserved.

I sometimes made exceptions to this rule. When my critique group judged a story too flawed to fix and I agreed but still liked it, I submitted it to a minor-league  magazine . . . and they bought it. When I discovered that my success rate was higher at anthologies—because I could send them exactly what they were looking for—I began seeking out anthology markets.

Despite these exceptions, I still think my rule is a good one.

But it's not very precise. "Best" has been a fuzzy judgment based on name recognition and prestige, quality of production, size of distribution, and pay rate. Recently I saw a friend's spreadsheet that ranked 266 sf/f markets based on 21 variables, including awards, SFWA pro market status, and number of stories in various "Year's Best" anthologies, weighted by a process I didn't grasp.

Wow! It's not often I meet someone more obsessive than I am.

Now that fiction is my main job and not a sideline, I need a more rigorous set of standards for choosing the "best" places to submit. I'll use my friend's spreadsheet, of course, as one source of information. But he and I have somewhat different priorities. One example: I want to make a living at fiction now, so pay rate is more important than the awards a magazine has won.

I hope you will help me decide what my personal ranking for sf/f should include. What do you consider when choosing a market to send a story to, and why? What do you think I should take into account?

In appreciation for your ideas, I'll draw one name from those who comment by midnight Pacific time, 28 July. The winner will receive a softcover copy of my historical novel Like Mayflies in a Stream or, if they prefer, any book at of equal or lesser value.


Coming 28 July: Contest and author interview with Kathryne Kennedy, author of several fantasy romances. People who post comments will be entered in a drawing to win her new novel, The Fire Lord's Lover.


Abhishek Duggal said...

Thanks for the opportunity!

Shauna Roberts said...

You're welcome, ABHISHEK.

Lana Gramlich said...

Good luck with your rankings & the contest. I can offer no insight, unfortunately...

Angie said...

I generally start at the top of the pay rank too, modified a bit by perceived prestige (based on my own perception -- I'm not obsessive enough to track awards and such) and where I think a story is likely to sell. For example, if I have a S&S fantasy to send out, a market that specifically calls out S&S is probably more likely to take it than a market that just says "fantasy" in general. And realistically, markets tend to group by pat rate rather than falling into a neat single-file rank, so there's room for some juggling there.

Oh, and response time counts too! :/ I use Duotrope, and all else being equal, a market that responds in 40 or 30 or 10 days gets my submission way before a market that responds in 60 or 80 or 200 days. Looking at the actuals on response time, you really have to wonder what's up with some of these folks. More importantly, if they claim a 90-day response and are actually closer to 200-day average, will they be that late with my check too?

I tend to avoid contests, and particularly contests where the "prize" is publication in a magazine or anthology. That's sort of what reading slush is for, you know? [wry smile] And if they charge an entry fee on top of that, I consider them a scam and cross them completely off my list.

Note that I'm not talking about contests where the prize is some significant amount of money, plus publication -- at least $$$ more than the story would usually bring at pro rates, so you're getting a prize on top of what you'd get for a normal publication. That's fine. It's when being published is the entire prize that I just eyeroll and move on.


Charles Gramlich said...

These days, I hardly ever write anything on Spec. I generally have a particular market already targeted for the stuff I'm working on. I do remember trying big magazines first, but I typically make a prejudgmenet about whether I have any chance or not. If I'm sure that a story won't have a chance at Weird Tales, say, then I'll go with lower level markets right off the bat.

Shauna Roberts said...

LANA, thanks for entering the contest.

ANGIE, thanks for your detailed description of your method. I need to start paying more attention to response time, and that should be on my list of criteria for bestness.

CHARLES, I have the bad habit of getting an idea and writing a story without considering whether there's a market for it. I'd prefer to start with a market and then write a story to suit it.

Steve Malley said...

I wishIwishIWISH I could write a short story-- the few times I've tried, I've ended up with novels! :)

Shauna Roberts said...

STEVE, I think different lengths come more naturally to different people. I find it much easier to write in novel length than in story length myself. And congratulations! You were the winner of the contest. Do you want me to sent you an autographed copy of Like Mayflies in a Stream or would you prefer to choose another book costing $12 US or less from or at

Steve Malley said...

Oooooh, Mayflies please! I'm so excited to read your book!

You can send it to
Steve Malley
The Ink Spot
205 Hills Road
Christchurch 8010

(I like to have a nice public storefront for my legions of crazed stalkers: we're having a workshop next week called "Sewing in Leather: Tips and Tricks for Making that Suit Out of Human Skin")

Thanks again! (dancing a happy little jig)