Happy New Year! Tools for Writers

Good evening lovelies,

Well, this was going to be part of my “Christmas gift” blog post – but the data mining took a little longer than anticipated. What data mining, you ask? Why, the mining of information about my favorite 19 speculative fiction markets to submit to.

I’ve noticed an interesting dynamic present in many writing groups this year – there are those that publish a lot, and those which have a lot of very skilled member but do not publish at all.

The difference between these two kinds of groups, of course, lies in how frequently they submit work.

For many writers, “submissions” is an extremely intimidating process. Rejection letters hurt, and even if those don’t scare you, maybe you simply don’t know how or where to submit your work. Maybe you’re determined that your work is not yet “perfect” and so should not be shared with the world.

This year, I knew I had to get published. I’d been “perfecting” my work for the better part of 15 years and had not yet gotten around to sharing it any further than my critiquing circles.

So I thought I’d share with the writers in my audience – where do you find publications to submit to, how do they work, how much does a rejection letter really sting, and what was the most surprising thing I found in the course of submitting this year?

How I Do It

My Christmas gift for my fellow speculative fiction writers this year is this.

This is a model of the spreadsheet I use to schedule and track my fiction submissions. It has three tabs:

  • The Submissions tab shows how I keep track of which of my pieces is currently sitting in which markets’ submission queue.The most efficient way to use this is to have a list of publications you know you want to submit a given piece to, and submit it to the next one as soon as it’s rejected from the previous.
  • The Markets tab is what took a bit of data mining. This contains information including submission windows, average response times, pay-per-word, and more for 20 speculative fiction markets which pay authors professional rates for short fiction.All of these markets accept either science fiction or fantasy, and some accept horror. I hope some of you will submit to some of these!

    My personal approach to using this is to prioritize the markets with the shortest acceptance times – a rejection letter is much more frustrating when your pieces has been tied up in that queue for seven months prior to getting a “no thank you.” So I always submit to any appropriate markets that have shorter queue times first.

  • The publicity calendar tab is another handy thing that I’ve started keeping in the same spreadsheet, just for convenience’s sake. It’s a very simple editorial calendar that can be used to schedule releases for your “author platform” – i.e. your blog, Twitter, Facebook page, etc..

Where to Find Publications

Duotrope.com and Ralan.com have emerged as leaders in compiling lists of publications that are looking for submissions.

Duotrope is a searchable database containing literally thousands of publications looking for submissions of varying genres and lengths. It can be searched and sorted by genre, word count, and pay rate. Duotrope does charge a subscription fee, but last I looked they offered a 30-day free trial – more than enough time to bookmark your favorite publications – and the subscription fee after that is quite modest at $7.99 per month.

I personally use the search feature to submit only to professionally paying publications because I have ethical objections to publishers that don’t pay writers, but others I know have had lovely experiences submitting to non-paying publications with high standards and large readerships.

Ralan is not as easy to navigate as Duotrope, but it lists quite a few markets that Duotrope doesn’t. I turned to Ralan after maxing out Duotrope’s list of professionally paying sci-fi markets that accept submissions on a regular bsais.

I’ve heard other databases mentioned this year which I have not yet looked into in detail – if you know any of these, please share them in the comments.

How Do Submissions Work?

First and foremost, be aware of what you self-publish. Stories that have been posted to a blog or published to your Amazon Kindle store will likely not be of interest to most publications. They want to be the only place where readers can get this content. So anything you want to publish for pay and glory, you can’t publish to your blog.

Secondly, and no less important, always read the submission guidelines of every publication you’re submitting to.

Some will ask for manuscripts formatted for print, while others will request stories formatted for a digital display. Some may accept stories as short as 750 words, while others may be willing to take novellas up to 40,000 words.

It’s also a good idea for a submitting author to become familiar with different types of rights. A good contract is one that leaves all rights with the author except for a limited period after publication during which this publication wants to be the only place people can read your work.

I’ve yet to look at a contract for short fiction, for example, that said “we hereby obtain exclusive rights to be the only party allowed to publish this story, ever,” but if I did, that would be a contract not to sign. 

When you get into full-length books, you even get into things like merchandising rights and movie rights – which writers should absolutely negotiate to keep, and will rarely ever be denied. I’ll likely to an article on contract rights for books later this year.

How Often Do You Get Rejected?

Regardless of who you are and how good you are, the answer to “how often will I get rejected” is “a lot.”

Sometimes it has to do with the quality of the piece of writing. Goodness knows I’ve submitted some short stories to half a dozen venues, only to get exactly the same rejection feedback every time. In that case, there’s probably something about the story that can be improved.

Other times, however, it might be as arbitrary as “the publication just accepted a similarly flavored piece and doesn’t want to repeat itself.”

I’m not aware of any writers whose submissions are accepted the majority of the time. This includes people who are unquestionable geniuses.

If you’re a genius prodigy, you might get accepted up to 1/3 of the time you submit. It’s not going to be higher than that. And that’s okay.

It’s admirable to be dedicated to refining your craft. However, if you do want to become a published writer, you’ve got to submit for publication eventually. And I’ve known of writers who literally spent their entire lives working on refining their crafts while rarely, if ever, submitting to publication.

One of those guys won a bunch of awards for literary greatness – after he died and his best friend started submitting his manuscripts to publishers posthumously.

What has been the most surprising thing?

The most surprising thing to me in my Year of Submitting has been that stories that have gone through more revisions are not necessarily more well-received.

In fact, a fairly strong trend has emerged in my acceptances; after I put something through more than two revisions, it actually seems to get worse.

Revision and ponderance are certainly important parts of the growth process for writers. But feedback from others is also crucial – and feedback from others who have a lot of experience in the industry is one important kind.

The fabled “personalized rejection letter” is a rare thing – probably at least 95% of rejections are form letters, but for stories that almost made the cut, feedback about why they didn’t quite make it may be included.

These are essentially pieces of free advice from editors and publishers. Seek these, and cherish them highly when they come to you.

There is of course such a thing as bad advice from a publisher. The book that won Robert Sawyer his first Nebula, for example, did so only after he refused to work with a publisher who wanted him to remove a controversial chapter from his story. That very controversy ended up being key to the Nebula committee’s determination that the story had profound literary importance.

But most pieces of editorial advice are not “make it more bland so we can sell more.”

1 thought on “Happy New Year! Tools for Writers

  1. Stanmolar.

    the futuristic approach to science belongs to science fiction…


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