23 June 2012

Selling Short

by John M. Floyd

There's been a lot of talk lately in online blogs and forums (I can't bring myself to say "fora") about short mystery markets.  Most of the discussions have focused on the fact that there aren't many of them left.

On the one hand, that's true.  There certainly are fewer now than in the short-story heyday of the forties and fifties, and I would guess that there aren't even as many as there were ten or twelve years ago.  Sometimes--especially if I find myself in a gloomy mood anyway--I still mourn the passing of magazines like Murderous IntentRed Herring Mystery MagazineMystery TimeFuturesDetective Mystery StoriesCrimestalker Casebook, etc.  The editors of those publications were extremely kind to me.

On the other hand, there are still a number of places out there that publish short mysteries, and consider unsolicited submissions.  I've come up with four categories that short-story writers might want to investigate, and have listed a few magazines that I know about first-hand.

1. Print markets

Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine -- AHMM and EQMM have both been around for more than fifty years now, and they remain two of the top choices for mystery writers and readers.  AH is digest-sized and considers original stories up to 12,000 words in length; payment is based on word count.  They publish monthly except for two double-month issues each year, and occasionally feature short-shorts.  The magazine is available via subscription and at most large bookstores.  Editor: Linda Landrigan.

Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine -- Sister publication to AHMM, although they operate seperately and do not share submissions.  Includes a "Department of First Stories" for unpublished writers.  They too are digest-sized, publish monthly with two double-issues, consider original stories up to 12K, and pay by the word, and they offer an online submission system that makes it easy for you to submit and check the status of your manuscript.  Available via subscription and bookstores.  Editor: Janet Hutchings.

The Strand Magazine -- A rebirth of the famous Strand that began in London in 1891.  It features original mystery stories of almost any length, plus articles, book reviews, interviews with top writers, and a series that profiles the fictional Great Detectives.  Full-sized glossy magazine, published quarterly,  available via subscription and off the rack at major bookstores.  Usually includes five or six mystery stories in each issue.  Editor: Andrew F. Gulli.

Woman's World -- A weekly publication that features one original romance story and one mystery in every issue.  For mysteries the maximum word count is 700, and the payment is a flat rate of $500.  Full-sized magazine, established in 1980, circulation around two million, receives 2500 submissions per month.  Available via subscription, and can also be found on the racks at most supermarkets, Targets, Walmarts, etc.  Fiction Editor: Johnene Granger.

Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine -- Digest-sized, published quarterly by Wildside Press.  A paying market (some have called it more of a book than a magazine) featuring original mystery stories, reviews, Holmes pastiches, nonfiction articles, and even some supernatural stories in the style of the old London Mystery Magazine.  Several issues have been published so far, with #8 upcoming.  Editor: Marvin Kaye.

2. Online markets

Over My Dead Body -- Monthly e-zine, billed as "The Mystery Magazine Online."  Paying market.  Each issue features interviews, short stories, book reviews, and movie reviews.  Editor: Cherie Jung.

Mysterical-E -- Online magazine of mystery/crime/suspense/fantasy, for more than ten years.  Includes a dozen or more short stories and several interviews and reviews in each quarterly issue.  Many, many stories are available in its archive area.  Non-paying market.  Editor: Joseph DeMarco.

Orchard Press Mysteries -- Longtime e-zine of mystery stories, general fiction, and poetry.  Guidelines instruct submitters to query first, using the OPM website's query form.  Non-paying market. Editor/Publisher: Richard Heagy.

3. Anthologies

The most familiar of these are probably the annual "best-of" publications sponsored by national organizations like Mystery Writers of America, but many other anthologies pop up from time to time.  Some might contact you and request that you contribute a new story or allow them to use a previously published piece, and some might put out a general "call for submissions" and then choose from those as magazines do.  Many anthologies wind up published before we as writers even know they were being planned, but if you find out about them in time they remain a good market for shorts.

I should note that some anthologies require original stories and others take reprints.  (Some even prefer reprints.)  Payment can be via royalties or a flat rate, and in some cases anthologies--like some magazines--pay only "in copies," by sending you at least one copy of the book in which your story appears.  Even if you wind up working for free, it's still a publishing credit for your resume.

There's another advantage as well.  If your story is accepted in an impressive anthology, it gives you the  satisfaction of appearing in a book alongside names that you might know and respect.

4. Other possibilities

There are some non-mystery publications that occasionally feature mystery fiction.  I've sold a bunch of mystery stories to places like GritPleiadesListenThemaPhoebe, and even Star Magazine--no typical mystery/suspense markets in that group.  So it never hurts to use the Internet or a guide like Novel & Short Story Writers Market to help you ferret out mainstream or literary magazines that also happen to use mysteries now and then.

Another alternative is to find a traditional publisher that will produce a collection of your short mysteries.  I've had three such books published by a small press, and another is scheduled to be released next spring.  And there's always the option of self-publishing your stories (individually or in a collection) in e-book form--something I've not yet explored, although I do have a couple of stories out there and e-available via Untreed Reads Publishing.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained

So that's my pitch for today.  Some of the markets I've suggested are more prestigious than others, some pay better than others, some take longer to respond to submissions than others--but they are all buyers of what we as writers have to sell, and producers of what all of us suspense-fiction junkies like to read.  Personally, I try to regularly send something to all of them, and I try not to sink into a deep depression when I receive rejections, of which there are many.  (I've been fortunate lately, though: new stories are scheduled for publication in AHMMThe StrandWoman's WorldSherlock Holmes, and several others.  Nothing upcoming in EQMM, but believe me, I'm trying.)

Unfortunately, there is no magic formula in the marketing of short fiction, mystery or otherwise.  It's like roulette or bingo or the shooting arcade at the county fair: You pays your money and you takes your chances.  (As R.T. said in his column yesterday, you might "step right up" and not be a winner.)  But don't let your concerns about rejection keep you from playing the game.  As I told one of my writing students, I can't promise you your manuscript will be published if you send it in--but I can promise you it won't be if you don't.

Now where did I put that salesman suit . . . ?


  1. What a timely post, John. :) You modestly don't mention how many stories you've sold to these and other markets. Are you up to four figures yet? And what good stories they are!

  2. A useful post.
    I've found The Strand very slow at responding, however.
    Has that been your experience?

  3. Great post, John. Very.informative.

  4. Excellent info, John. Thanks much. My understanding is that Sherlock Holmes is currently closed to new submissions.

  5. Janice, The Strand is indeed slow sometimes in responding to submissions. It's been my impression that almost all markets are slower than they used to be, except possibly some of those that take electronic submissions. But I love that magazine, and Gulli's a terrific editor.

    Thanks, Liz and Dale, for the kind words. I suppose this was timely, Liz, since you and I were discussing markets just the other day. As for your question, I'm into four figures if you count sales of all published pieces, like poems and articles. I've sold around 500 short stories. (I've also received a bargeload of rejection letters.)

    On the subject of electronic submissions (either e-mailed or direct-from-the-website), I think they're both good and bad. Good because the process is faster, easier, and less expensive; bad because it's almost too easy, resulting in way more submissions for editors to have to deal with, these days.

  6. Thanks, Brad--and thanks also for the update on SHMM. I didn't realize they'd closed the portal. I'm not too surprised to hear that news, since they've apparently had a lot of activity since their "call for submissions" was announced a few months ago.

  7. I have a story scheduled for issue 10 of Holmes, and they are currently working on #8. So they are indeed closed for submissions. But it is temporary. Stay tuned.

  8. John, when you look in one of Otto's best mystery short stories books, it shows where all of those stories were originally published. Many came out in University or "literary" magazines, which could be considered as new paying markets. I've tried a few of those, but have yet to crack that market.

  9. John, when you look in one of Otto's best mystery short stories books, it shows where all of those stories were originally published. Many came out in University or "literary" magazines, which could be considered as new paying markets. I've tried a few of those, but have yet to crack that market.

  10. Good point, R.T. I seem to recall that Tom Franklin's excellent short story "Poachers"--which I first saw in one of Otto's "best mysteries" anthologies--was originally published in The Texas Review.

    Congrats on your upcoming story, Herschel. I think you were the one who first told me about the Holmes magazine (or was it vice versa?). Any idea what the schedule is, for issues 8 to 10?

  11. Great information, John. Always something new to learn about markets, you are certainly an expert on those.

  12. John, although they're closed for submissions right now, I'd add Beat to a Pulp to the list of webzines. It's a non-paying market for noir/pulp-type stories.

  13. Many thanks, Jan. I'm no expert, my friend, but you're right, there's always something to be learned about fiction markets.

    Anita, I appreciate your mentioning Beat to a Pulp. I listed only those that I've had dealings with first-hand, and I've not submitted anything to BTAP. I believe Crimespree might also still be in operation, but I'm not sure.

  14. Thanks for the post, John. I've found The Strand so slow as to never respond to one submission of mine at all... But I'll try again.

  15. Eve, I have no answer or explanation for that, but I can relate to it. I have received both rejections and acceptances from some places as long as three years after I'd submitted stories to them--and in every case I had inquired several times about the status of the manuscripts. At least twice I had already given up and sold those stories to other markets by the time I received responses.

    Who knows why this happens. I always have a mental image of someone cleaning behind the copy machine or underneath the break-room refrigerator and finding my wrinkled and dusty envelope.

  16. Guy Belleranti23 June, 2012 17:23

    Great info, John. I certainly remember some of those long gone markets you mentioned. I sold a lot of fiction and/or crime poetry to Crimestalker Casebook, Murderous Intent, Futures, Mystery Time and Detective Mystery Stories back in the day. Another current market worth mentioning is Big Pulp. They only pay a penny a word, but they do publish mystery fiction. I sold them a solve-it style mystery a couple of years ago, and recently had a horror/crime story published by them.

  17. Very useful, thanks. I was going to add a word about A Twist of Noir (electronic, nonpaying) but I see they're currently closed to new submissions. Still it's a fun read. Also (speaking of noir) horror markets will sometimes take darker mysteries.

  18. Guy, good to hear from you! I bet you've placed stories at just about every market I could think of. And thanks for bringing up Big Pulp.

    James, I'm glad you mentioned A Twist of Noir. Maybe they, and SHMM as well, will soon open up to new submissions. And I agree that horror markets can sometimes good homes for the creepier mysteries. Weird Tales comes to mind, and Spinetingler, and Penny Dreadful.

  19. Thanks for all the info, including in the comments! I just got a rejection from something I submitted in October, and I've had longer times to wait. Congrats on the acceptances,I have a story in Sherlock Holmes #8.

  20. Terrific post, John. Thanks for the info.

  21. Jeff, a June reply to an October submission IS a long time to wait. Again, I honestly think most markets are just taking longer these days to respond, in general.

    Congrats to you as well, for your upcoming story. Sounds like my story in Issue #8 will be in excellent company . . .

    And Gail, it's good to hear from you! Thanks a lot, and keep in touch.


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