Today I sold my first fiction story. It’s hard to express my thoughts and feelings. I will keep working hard, and I will eventually sell more, but today I am elated.
Below are some musings and reflections on what led me to today’s achievement. This is hardly to say that I am an expert after a single publication; it’s a list of things I think I did right that might be useful ideas for others. I have read many tips on getting published from experts. They doubtless have more experience than me, but they got published when the industry was really different. They have had years to gain some distance from the hard emotions associated with the process.
I learned to finish projects. I used to be good at big ideas and poor at execution. I made grand plans and I never finished anything. I dreamed but I didn’t labor. I credit grad school and aging for teaching me to finish and work on the long scale. The Fairy Tales collection featured on the side of this page was the first big project I finished; it took about a year.
I exposed my work. For some people, this is easy. It was very hard for me. To me, exposing my work involves more than having others read my work–it’s about hearing what they say about it. Unlike engineering, writing is subjective (which is terrifying!). If enough people say it’s bad, they’re likely right. As a first step, I started this blog, slightly over a year ago. Then I joined a local writing group.
I accepted critique. This is related to the point above. Of course I think my work is good, but sometimes it just isn’t. If one reader didn’t get the joke, maybe they’re a little dense. If several didn’t, the joke wasn’t properly conveyed. I’ve met a lot of other aspiring writers who are uncomfortable with this fact. It’s very hard. I wrote in a vacuum for years; sometimes I got it wrong. I got great critique at critters.org.
I wrote regularly. For the first several months of this blog, I posted three times a week. Three times a week I had to say something (semi) coherent. My writing group has a monthly theme, and I made myself write something every month. It wasn’t always good, but that was good motivation. Recently I’ve been writing at least one writing prompt a week and posting it here. This month I’ve been doing NaNoWriMo.
I submitted. And I submitted and I submitted. Stories are rejected for tons of reasons; inadequacy is just the tip. Many places accept only 1% of what they get. Some places only publish half a dozen stories a year. Some places are vague about what they are looking for (in my experience, beware the “we never get enough of x” statement). Sometimes they already have a story about a cat, or a story where the protagonist is disappointed, or a horror story, or an intimate first person story. Any of the above are reasons to get rejected. My story got rejected three times before it got accepted; it was the 32nd thing I submitted since the end of June. My favorite story has been rejected 8 times so far. Others in my writing group have excellent work that they have submitted and have had rejected. And then they stopped.
I researched those markets. I read what they said about themselves. I used places like The Submission Grinder and Duotrope to find out their response times. A lot of my rejections have come from sending pieces to unsuitable markets–it’s hard, but I got better at it.
But mostly, I am so happy. I worked hard and got very frustrated sometimes. This post is as much to motivate myself as anything, since the journey is hardly begun. I hope it will be useful to others as well.
Last year I wrote about Duotrope, a website with market information for writers. You can get info on market statistics, and track your own submissions. It went behind a pay wall at the beginning of the year. I was recently mulling whether I should pay their $50 annual subscription fee, or whether I could find something else. One of the things I liked best about Duotrope was their extensive, user-sourced info on rate of response, rate of personal response, time for response, and so forth. Could they possibly offer as much as they had pre-paywall, since they must now have fewer users? Is there an alternative?
I think Submission Grinder is that worthwhile, free alternative. They have great submission statistics, with histograms of when submissions are accepted and rejected as a function of days since submission. Like Duotrope, you can sort by pay, response time, genre, and all that good stuff. It doesn’t have Duotrope’s submission theme calendar (that was a great feature, as I find those themes impossible to keep track of). It also lacks the editorial interviews that Duotrope has, but reading the submission guidelines and reading a market’s website often give similar insights. I put my info into it yesterday, and it was very straightforward.
Before I found Submission Grinder, I found some nice market listings too. It’s as easy as a google search; for example, the search “science fiction markets” turns up great websites in the first handful of results. Here are some great resources for science fiction and fantasy short story writers:
Ralan.com– lists markets on different pages by pay. Each market has a helpful blurb with their word requirements, genres, pay, and average response times. They keep up to date on when markets are open or closed or have become defunct.
SFWA qualifying market list– the cream of the crop, those markets that pay at the SFWA (science fiction and fantasy writers of America) professional rate. Each listing includes a link to the market’s submission guidelines as well. These are very exclusive markets, and some accept only a handful a year.
Flash Fiction Chronicles– a listing of markets under 1500 words, broken into several categories, by length (such as less than 300 words). Some are pay, most are not, and there’s something for every genre. It’s a lot like Ralan’s for flash fiction.
Sites and sources I don’t recommend:
Critters black hole– this site is intended to track market acceptance rates and time to response, similar to Duotrope. However, the info is unacceptably out of date. You are as likely to find a dead market from the 90s as an active one. Critters.org is an excellent critique site, but skip this feature.
Writer’s Digest Science Fiction Markets- I wondered if I should buy this, recently. When I did the research, it sounds like it has some errors. It’s only $6, but you can do better with the sites I list.
Quintamid– A great looking site, but alas, out of date too. I thought this would be a good resource, but I got a helpful tip in the comments about it.
Happy writing! And go join Submission Grinder–the more information it has, the better for all!
As I mentioned in Monday’s post, I attended a talk by comic book writer Barbara Slate (at the VA Book Fest). She was one of the first female comic book writers, and has since branched out to her own graphic novels. After her talk I picked up one of them, “Getting Married and Other Mistakes“. It looks like a lot of fun, and like Slate herself, seems to have a nice sense of humor. She also has a book about how to write graphic novels.
She also spoke about the process of getting “Getting Married” published. She said that she was rejected about 60 times. I didn’t pay attention to that detail much that day. I wrote Monday about my own excitement, that I perhaps had a publisher interested in Zish and Argo. After further research, it looks like one of those pay-to-self-publish rackets, dressed up. I felt so duped! I was so excited, and they misled me. Fortunately, I figured it out quickly and for free. I channeled my frustration to overcome my fear of sending the manuscript off; on Monday after my realization I sent the manuscript to 5 places. Afterwards it occurred to me–if a woman like Slate who is familiar with the industry, knows publishing and knows people takes 60 rejections to place her book– then people aren’t going to be jumping out of bushes to publish me. It will take sober, dull work for me to get published, just like her. As it likely will for all of us. Please, may some eager publisher fall from the sky and praise me, but it’s not something I can expect or even take at face value. So last night I thought up a new story for Zish and Argo, and I will continue the slow marathon towards my goals.