Sunday, January 6, 2008

Publishing short stories

Happy Monday! The following will probably be of interest only to unpublished short story writers. If you want to skip it and go straight to the comments for hot coffee and conversation, I'll understand! :)

For some time, I've wanted to raise a particular curtain to give unpublished writers a glimpse behind the publishing curtain. They may be agonizing over not getting their short stories published, when in fact, it is harder to do than they even know.

If you're a short story writer and you've done any market research at all, you already know there aren't many paying, reputable markets for printed short stories. (I'm not talking about "flash fiction," or any web-based publishing. Just traditional print.) What you don't know, however, is that some of those markets aren't open to you and never will be until you cross the Catch 22 threshold of being published.

Printed short stories are generally published in just two venues: magazines or anthologies.

New writers have a chance at some of the magazines. Some, such as Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, actively encourage and look for new writers. (That's where I got my start, in their "Department of First Stories.")

Anthologies (and some other magazines) are a different story, pardon the pun. Most of the writers--if not all of the writers--in a short story anthology have been invited into it. For instance, a few times a year I'll get an email telling me that such and such publisher is going to publish a collection of short stories, and that some well-known author is going to be the big name on the front of it, and would I like to submit a story to it? Who decides whom to invite? Sometimes the publisher picks the invitees, but often it's the author who "fronts" the collection. Why do they invite me? Because they know me. How do they know me? Because I have a publishing history, and sometimes because we're friends or acquaintances. Just as you always suspected, sometimes it really is who you know.

New writers have few chances to get into those anthologies, because anthologies don't sell many copies, and so the publishers need all the "names" they can get. (The "names" often aren't actually very big, but they are at least known professionals.) Now and then an opportunity arises for newbies to compete on an even competitive field with oldies, but not all that often. For instance, the Mystery Writers of America (MWA) publishes an anthology a year. Half of the stories are by invitation only, but the other half are open submissions. I judged one of those competitions this year, so I can tell you they're truly blind submissions. I had no idea who wrote the stories.

What good is this information to you? Am I telling you this just to depress you even more? No, I'm telling you for a couple of reasons. One is so that you won't be so hard on yourself if you're having a hard time figuring out how to break in. You literally can't break into some publications because they're by invitation only. It's not your fault. It's also not a case of unfairness, because, as I said, it's about the economies of publishing anthologies. The other reason I'm telling you is so you will know that once you DO get short stories published, that may open up to you an anthology market that you may not have known about, or didn't know how to get into. Once you're published, if you do want to get into anthologies, it will be very helpful if you get to know people in your particular genres. Go to conventions, and get active in the organizations, so that you will make friends with people who create anthologies, so that you'll hear about them in advance, and so you'll qualify for anthologies that may sometimes be open only to the members.

In the past couple of months, I've written several stories. Here's where and why they're being published: I sent two of them to Ellery Queen, because I have a history and relationship there. I can email the editor and query directly. Two other stories will go into hardcover anthologies. One invitation came from a best-selling author I don't know, and the other one from an author I do know. I don't know for sure why the first author invited me, but I assume it's because I have a reputation as a short-story writer. The second author invited me because I practically got on my knees and begged my way into it, because I love the theme of it so much. I first heard about the anthology over lunch, at a convention. I also have an invitation from another magazine, but I haven't written anything I think is right for them.

So that's how it's done, from the inside.

Any questions? If any of you published authors who are reading this have had different experiences with this kind of thing, let us know.

40 comments:

Nancy P said...

I have done nothing useful today (Sunday) and have had a very happy time doing it. :)

See you when it's Monday.

Kimberly Frost said...

Good Morning, everyone! I am here first by virtue of still being awake at 2 am.

Nancy, thanks for this post. This sort of "behind the scenes" information is so helpful to the unpublished (or soon to be newly published writers in my case) who don't know how the various markets work.

My brain is kind of fuzzy so I'm trudging off to bed, so I'll just leave it at thanks.

I will be up when Fam Man or Andif puts on the coffee.

Nancy P said...

Hi, Kimberly. And here I am, awake at 3:30. I wonder who'll be up and posting at 4?

AndiF said...

Who could be posting at 4:00? Looks like no one. Wonder who'll post at 4:30? :)

Kimberly, coffee just finished.

The Monday picture post has nothing to do with publishing short stories but is all publishing about my recent scientific discovery that dogs create fog:

Cause

More Cause

Effect

Rick Bylina said...

He read the blog, closed the computer, and crumpled the short story he'd written, tossing it into the pile in the corner of the room. Gunshots erupted in the alley. He was tired of them and didn't react but took another swig of Jack as Conan droned on on the silent television in the corner. A cockroach emerged from behind the stale loaf of bread. It circled the empty can of Raid like a kid at a campfire. Soon it slowed, and then rolled over on its back, legs kicking in the air like a break dancer who'd forgotten his routine. The writer chortled once before falling forward into an unfinished slice of apple pie.

Rough shaking woke the writer. The face staring at him had seen better days. Teenage acne had pock-marked the cheeks, a scar interrupted the sneer, and an eyelid drooped like a flagging curtain.

"You okay, kid."

The writer tried to speak, but the pain in his side shot through him like fire. He tried to grab the spot and realized he couldn't move.

"The bullet must have ricocheted and caught him." The man stood and his badge caught the light.

Others worked on the writer, he had a story now. It was he.

---

Thanks for the insiders view. Onward toward publication.

paul lamb said...

As scant as the venues are for short stories, there are still a lot more out there than it seems. I've found a lot of engines that will cough up markets. Duotrope's Digest is a good one. Neatly and sensibly organized. Updated regularly.

It takes a lot of work to get something published. My first story found a berth because of a casual conversation at a literature conference. My second (in an anthology) from scouring the internet. My third from an old relationship with an editor I tried to do some non-fiction for earlier. My fourth and fifth and beyond will be from continuing to put stories out there and trying again and again.

Beth said...

This post was useful, Nancy, so you did SOMETHING! But what were you and K doing up so late?

This kind of info is great! I don't write short stories, but now I feel even less guilty that I don't. Hopefullly it will help those who DO write them. Thanks for sharing your expertise with us newbies - any crumbs you want to throw out, we'll eat 'em up!

andi, do you not have much snow, or are these old pics? Thanks for the pack shots, btw!

Morning, everyone!

AndiF said...

Hi Beth. Those aren't current pictures and we did have some snow after I took them but it's all gone now and what's more we're heading for a record high of 65 today.

katiebird said...

Maybe I'll just stay home all day and look at Andi's photos.....

(sigh) I guess not.

Hi Nancy, Kimberly, Andi, Rick, Paul & Beth. I'm working on a post at Eat4Today, if anyone would like to POP over and say HI.

Family Man said...

Morning Nancy and everyone.

The writing business sounds like hard work. Another reason for me to stay away from it. :)

All of you just keep writing. I'll be in the recliner. :~)

Beth said...

What a crazy winter! My sister in NH had -3 on Friday, and supposed to have 50 tomorrow. I won't worry about y'all freezing body parts off today, then!

You're right, fam, lots of work, but the good kind. Not the shoveling snow or punching a time clock kind. Just keep an extra recliner around for those times when we need a break!

Family Man said...

Plenty of recliners and couches around Beth. Of course someone has to be a worker though. Who'll bring us our coffee and cinnamon rolls?

FARfetched said...

I know that Asimov's takes new author submissions as well for sci-fi. The Good Doctor had make his mark during the so-called Golden Age by becoming a regular for Astounding (now Analog) and other mags of the day, and he wanted to make sure that open was available for the modern crop.

And I go on, yapping away like I've actually had something published. Feh. Paul, thanks for the reference to Duotrope's Digest… anyone else have links to potential new-author markets? And of course, there's always the online route — it's a way to get your stuff out in front of an audience, and it has worked for several people (example: Scott Sigler). I'm sort-of hoping that FAR Future will be a similar vehicle for me, but I'm writing it mostly because I want to.

But the sun's out, it's supposed to get close to 70 today, it's well into the 40s already, and the motorcycle is calling me to a commute.

FARfetched said...

That should have been, "had MADE his mark." It's Monday. Damn typos.

Beth said...

Maybe we can talk far into being the cinnamon roll guy - and I'll do coffee, as long as you don't mind decaf! I don't mind leaving the recliner for food...

Nancy P said...

Hi, everybody. Our weather's wonderfully MILD today.

Love the photos, Andi. Thanks. And very funny. Who knew? I think cats make windows.

It's truly hard for me to believe you won't get there, Rick, with that wonderful imagination of yours.

Paul, that's a new one to me. I'll look it up.

Nancy P said...

Beth, you're doing plenty "just" learning to write novels!

Katiebird, I'll pop over today.

Far, you yap away. It's the writers who are out there seeking publishers who really know the latest. I'm glad to hear that Asminov is still, like Ellery Queen, a friend to newbies.

Nancy P said...

Family Man, lol. We count on Far for the rolls, of course.

Conda said...

Ralan.com is an excellent listing of short story markets. And for mysteries, the yahoo group Short Mystery Fiction Society is good.

Hi all, hope this posts, for some reason blogger didn't post any of my comments on any site yesterday afternoon, including my own!

AndiF said...

Took a walk with the Pack in the record high temps. I was wearing a cotton t-shirt, no coat at all. Giddy complained loudly but to no avail that she didn't need her coat either.

Beth said...

Yay for no coat, andi! Giddy will need hers again soon enough.

Thanks, Nancy - it's interesting to study and say "yep, know that, know that, know that - didn't know that" - so I guess I AM learning! :-) It sure is fun.

And when I get lonely, there's always someone in the Village to play with!

Nancy P said...

Conda, that's a great contribution, thanks!

It's, like 63 degrees here! I'm going for a walk. Along with one of Andi's dogs, I'm Giddy.

FARfetched said...

Pushing 70 here. I don't trust the knee to walk very far just yet, but did hop on the motorcycle for a lunch break.

Hey, is Ghost around? One of my non-Village blog buddies has kicked off his own blog with a first-person ghost encounter in upper Michigan.

Conda, thanks for the link & thank God you got through today to deliver it! :-) I'll be coming back here this evening to peruse & bookmark.

Beth said...

He said he was going to Ohio for 2-3 days, and he's up against deadline for his book proposal, so I think he's MIA.

If he isn't, hi Ghosty!

Jen said...

Stale rolls and cold coffee, see how y'all are? ;p It's in the mid-60s around here today, too -- man, this weather has more personalities than my mom used to have, which is quite a feat. Very best wishes to everyone who's getting ready to submit!

Rick Bylina said...

Thanks for the link, Conda.

71 degrees here. Put all the plants outside for the next six days to get a sun bath. My tomatoes have flowers. Where are the bees. I may have to have sex with my plants to get the fruit.

Getting ready for the fourth piece of chocolate cake. Life is so rough today.

Nancy P said...

Rick, lol! Well, plants are very pretty.

Jen, I don't know whether to laugh or cry! :)(:

I think Ghostie may still be gone. If you're here, GF, but hiding so you can work, WE MISS YOU! And we understand!

Guy Hogan said...

Yes, I believe what you're talking about is the old "networking." Writers need to not only work on their craft but must also promote themselves, make contacts. It's the law.

maryb said...

Well, as a non-writer I found this fascinating. I always love behind the scenes looks at careers that aren't mine.

I'm having trouble focusing on anything today. It's hard to go back to work in January. We have no scheduled holiday until Memorial Day. And ... it's a gray day. Again.

Conda said...

I forgot one. It's a newsletter called The Gila Queen's Guide to markets. You have to pay for this one, but it's dirt cheap for everything you get, pages and pages of market and publishing info, including occasionally an anthology that is open to newbies--a rarity as Nancy discussed.

Nancy P said...

Hi, guy hogan, and nice to meet you! Boy, do you know a few things about flash fiction (I see from your profile). I know next to nothing, but it seems an exciting new market. New to old timers, anyway.

Welcome. I hope you come back.

Nancy P said...

Hi, Maryb. We're sending really REALLY nice weather your way soon, unless we can manage to keep it here.

I'm glad you enjoyed the post. I wasn't sure anybody but fiction writers would.

Beth said...

I just stumbled onto something that might not be news to you, but hit me pretty hard. I just posted about it...

boran2 said...

Hi all. Nice to see you getting around, Mary! (There actually is a good reason to be a civil servant with our many holidays, a couple are upcoming.) Our weather here in the Hudson Valley was actually rather nice, 50s or so. It's a good time to start walking again.

Kelly said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Usiku (oo-SEE-koo) said...

The world is full of possibliities. For instance, writers could get together and use their individual and collective networks to publish and market their own book of The Best Neglected Short Stories or magazine of the same.

Whatever You Do, Think Again!

Beth said...

I think this is a different Kelly, Nancy. S/he uses British spelling (favour). I bet our Kelly is watching a sunset just about now! :-)

Are you footballing tonight? LSU looks good (yay) - but I haven't written Ohio State off yet...

Nancy P said...

I'll bet you're right, Beth.
I had to forsake football for dancing tonight. :)

Beth said...

Dancing? You ARE a busy woman!!
:-) You have a quarter left, if your toes are finished twinkling...

Tracy said...

Thanks for this, Nancy. I vow to maintain my optimism, but I am always thirsty for info about how it really is from published authors. My first fiction piece was just published in Kansas City Voices. That's a step, right?