This is a post that I have been thinking about for a while, but a recent comment from The Parasite Guy gave me the nudge I needed to sit down and do it.
I have written a lot about the importance of short fiction and why you should be writing it. Now I want to talk about how to sell it.
I am not going to claim to be some kind of marketing guru (I’m not even offering this course at the low, low, price of 199.99$) but I have noticed a few things about the short fiction market since I started focusing on that instead of novels.
There are basically three places to sell short fiction–magazines, anthologies, and self-publishing (singly or in collections.)
First, Magazines: There are a lot of them, and there is a fair amount of turnover. I’ve listed some on my Dark Corner Newsstand blog (and yes, I know I need to work on updating that…) but if you type [genre] Fiction Magazine into your favorite search engine you’ll find plenty of potential markets.
Now, most fiction writing blogs would cover things like how to write a good hook and what to put in the cover letter, but since you’re reading my blog I’m going to assume that you’re the advanced class and go straight to the big secret, known only to the Elite Masters Of Fiction:
Read the fucking submission guidelines!
Seriously. I see so many rants from magazine editors about getting submissions while they are not accepting submissions, submissions that don’t fit the genre of the magazine, that are outside the word count guidelines, that aren’t formatted they way they want, that contain content they specifically say they don’t accept, and so on.
It’s really not rocket science. Don’t send Romance stories to someone who is looking for Horror. If the editor says “12 point Courier” then take a moment and format the document that way. If they say put SUBMISSION, [author name], [story title], [word count] as the subject line of the e-mail, then write the subject line that way. If they say to use their submissions widget on their website, don’t send the story as an attachment to the editor’s e-mail. The guidelines should be clear and simple to follow–if they aren’t then maybe you want to give that magazine a miss and go on to the next.
Also, pay attention to estimated turnaround time for submissions. If someone says she or he usually responds within a month, don’t start bugging them for an answer a week after you submit the story. My personal guideline is that if I haven’t heard anything within twice the expected turnaround then I send a follow up email. If no turnaround time is specified on the magazine’s webpage, then I do a follow up in 90 days. If I don’t get any reply from a follow up (not a “we’re received it and we’re considering it” but no response at all) after two weeks I send a “I’m withdrawing my submission” email and put the story back into my available file.
I strongly recommend sending a “I’m withdrawing” letter if you intend to shop the story elsewhere, by the way. It’s just professional courtesy. Even if they don’t respond to it, you can bask in the warm glow of knowing you have done the right thing.
Anthologies come in two basic flavors–those put together by small presses and those put together by self-published authors. In both cases everything I just said above applies (particularly the Read The Submission Guidelines bit), but there are a few extra things to consider.
Small press anthologies are run more like magazines–in fact, there is a lot of overlap between the two. Millhaven Press, for example, has a regular schedule alternating between magazines and anthologies, with little difference between the two. Superversive Press’ Planetary Series of anthologies, while they have different editors, have a similar format and a regular schedule for publication.
Running an internet search on [genre] calls for submissions will usually uncover a fair number of these.
Self-published anthologies tend to be a lot more fast and loose. There is a certain element of “Hey, we’ve got an old barn and some bedsheets, let put on a show!” (I say this with all due affection, having worked on several). Generally an author will have an idea and put out a call for other authors to contribute. Quality can be all over the board, but someone who is used to putting together novels for publication can put together an anthology, in most cases. Usually in addition to supplying a story contributors will be asked for editorial help, and almost always for marketing help.
Anthologies tend to have a specific theme, sometimes very specific, and before taking the time to write a story tailored for a particular project you should consider whether or not, should the story be rejected by its intended publisher, you can sell it elsewhere. (In most cases the answer will be “yes” if the story is good. I managed to sell my Pizza Horror story after it was turned down by the project I wrote it for, after all.) The big exception to that, of course, is anthologies of stories set in a particular intellectual property owned by the publisher. (I’ve considered putting together an anthology of stories set in the world of The Book Of Lost Doors, if I did so I would specifically allow stories that I did not accept to be published elsewhere, but that might still cut down on contributors options.)
On the other hand, some of the stories originally published in Fauxpocalypse have found homes elsewhere. (Most in author collections, about which more below.)
Self-Publishing Short Fiction is something that I know nothing about, but when have I let that stop me? A number of authors that I know have put together collections of previously published stories, often with a few new stories, and published them on whichever platform they favor. For example, Will There Be Watermelons On Mars? and An Unquiet Calm both contain stories originally published in Fauxpocalypse.
And here is where I’m going to talk about rights reversion. Generally speaking, when you sell a short story what you are selling is first publication rights, and a period of exclusivity during which no one else (including you) can publish the story. That includes publishing on an online forum like a blog, although generally you’d be allowed to put up a short segment of it for promotional purposes.
The period of exclusivity varies from 0 days (you can republish it right away) to up to two years. (I haven’t seen anyone ask for longer than that.) After some soul searching I have decided that I am not going to be selling exclusive publishing rights on a commission basis going forward–if you want exclusive rights to my work I want something upfront. But that’s just me.
The point is that it is important to keep track of publication rights for short fiction. When I sell a story I save a copy of it with an annotation “Originally published in X on Abc, 201x, rights revert on Abc, 201x”. I also keep a subfolder for “Sold” stories and “Sold/Reverted” stories. This way I know what is available to publish again.