31 August 2013

Marketing 101

by John M. Floyd

A quick explanation: my title implies that this is an instructional piece, but it's not. My plan today is to tell you a little about how I approach marketing my writing, and to--more importantly--ask you what your approach is. So this is actually sort of a fishing expedition. Besides, I once heard some good advice about teaching and mentoring. I was told that good instructors don't say "This is how you do it"; good instructors say "This is how I do it," and then let the student take it from there. Not everything works the same way for everybody.

Another qualification: this is a discussion about marketing short stories, not novels. Most of us here at SleuthSayers have written both, but my expertise (if I have any at all, which I often doubt) is in the area of shorts rather than longs.

Given those clarifications, here are a few random notes on the topic of selling what you've written.

Beating the bushes

In the old days I usually located markets for my stories via the Novel & Short Story Writers Market, an outstanding print reference by Writers Digest Books, published each fall. I still buy every new edition, and I still look at it from time to time, but most of my scouting is now done via the Internet. I either consult a list like the ones at ralan.com or my friend Sandra Seamans's blog, or I Google phrases like "short fiction markets" or "short mystery markets" and see what turns up. If a particular site looks promising, I find a hotbutton called "submission guidelines" or "writer's guidelines" and I'm in business.

Question: How do you go about finding markets for your stories?

The latest and greatest

I usually submit my new mystery stories to one of four places, first. They are The Strand Magazine, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, and Woman's World. How do I decide which? That's usually based on either content or length, or both. The Strand prefers stories of between 2000 and 6000 words; EQMM will consider stories up to 12K; AHMM will also take submissions of up to 12K, and seems to be more receptive than EQ to occasional stories with paranormal elements; and WW wants 700-word mysteries featuring a "solve-it-yourself" interactive format.

Another good print (and paying) market is Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, and I've sold several mysteries to a Colorado publication called Prairie Times (which also pays). Online markets (e-zines) include Over My Dead Body, Mysterical-E, Kings River Life, and Orchard Press Mysteries. OMDB is a paying market, Myst-E and KRL are not, and I'm not sure about OPM. There are certainly others I haven't mentioned--if any of you have favorite markets for mysteries, I'd like to hear about them.

The other two possibilities for short stories are anthologies and collections. The already-mentioned ralan.com features a number of current anthologies, and there are many more that are associated with organizations, writers' groups, charities, etc. (Anthologies also often seek reprints, which can be handy.) Collections are, well, collections--of one author's stories rather than those of a group of writers.

Submission accomplished

The way you submit a fiction manuscript is determined from the writer's guidelines for that market, and it's usually done in one of three ways:

Snailmail. It seems a little out-of-place in this day and age, but some short story markets, including AHMM, still require submissions via regular mail, along with the cover letters and postage and envelopes that have to accompany them. A disadvantage of this method, besides the time and expense, is that responses sometimes seem to take longer.

Submission via the publication's website. A growing number of markets (EQMM is one) now allow fiction subs via an online "form." You just (1) enter your name and the title of your story, (2) type a cover letter into the appropriate box, (3) browse and select the computer file containing your manuscript, and (4) click SUBMIT. A good thing about website submissions is that you can then check the status of your manuscript (received, rejected, accepted) online, at any time.

E-mail. Sending your stories this way involves one of two approaches: (1) attaching the manuscript or (2) copy/pasting the text of the story into the body of the e-mail. The first is the easier--you just type your cover letter into the e-mail and then attach the manuscript's file. NOTE: When e-mailing a story I always use the word "submission" somewhere in the subject line, whether I'm told to or not.

The care and feeding of editors

There are a few rules of thumb on this subject, and I think they're mostly just common sense:

- Don't contact editors via phone. Stick to snailmail or e-mail.
- Don't pester them unnecessarily.
- Don't include anything in your cover letter that's not relevant.
- Don't staple your manuscript.
- Don't tell them where your manuscript has been rejected.
- Don't use uncommon fonts (Courier and Times New Roman seem to be the standards).
- Don't put a copyright notice on your manuscript.
- Don't use a font size of less than 12-point.
- Don't divulge your Social Security number until/unless your story's accepted.

By the way, if an editor asks me to change something in my story, I do it. I mean, why not? When I try to later sell it someplace as a reprint, I can always change the story right back to the way I had it originally. Question: What's your take on editorial changes, requested or otherwise?

The Hints & Tips file

A few pointers, for anyone who might find them useful:

To prevent spacing and formatting errors when copy/pasting a manuscript into the body of an e-mail: (1) take out any special characters like italics--you can substitute an underscore before and after the text to indicate italics, (2) single-space your story with no indentions and with double-spacing between paragraphs, (3) save the story as a .txt file, (4) close the file, (5) open the file again--it will now be in Courier 10-point font--and (6) copy/paste the newly formatted manuscript into your e-mail after the cover letter. To be absolutely certain everything looks right, you can always e-mail it to yourself first.

If I want to snailmail multiple stories to the same market in separate mailings, I usually print the story's title in pencil on an inside flap of its SASE. That way, if I get a rejection letter that doesn't mention the title of the rejected story (many of them don't), I can look inside the SASE flap and see which story it was.

I don't use an editor's first name until after he or she contacts me and either (1) uses his or her first name or (2) addresses me by my first name. After that, we're on a more casual basis forever, but until that time it's Dear Mr. Smith or Dear Ms. Jones. And if I don't yet know for sure if an editor is male or female, I play it safe and use the full name in salutations: Dear Pat Jones, Dear Lee Smith.

I used to fold shorter stories (less than five pages, say) in thirds and mail them in #10 business envelopes, but lately I've been submitting my snailmailed manuscripts flat and paper-clipped in a 9 x 12 envelope, no matter what the length. (For stories of more than 25 pages I use a butterfly clip instead.) Editors have told me they hate folded manuscripts, and--believe me--I want to make reading my stories as easy for them as possible.

More observations, more questions

- E-mailed submissions and online plug-it-into-the-box-at-the-website submissions are easy and economical, but I suspect that those processes (because they're easy) have led to a higher number of submissions to those publications. Even though snailmailed subs are a lot of trouble (and expensive, if you do enough of them), there are those writers who say it might actually be an advantage, since it probably means less competition. Once again, though, this isn't a decision the writer makes--it's usually dictated by the publication.

- Would you ever consider collecting your unpublished stories into a book? So far I have chosen not to. Only two of my 130 stories collected in my four books were originals--the rest were previously published. Not only did that allow me to get double duty (and double payment, I suppose) out of those stories, my publisher said he felt more comfortable with that approach because it was less of a financial risk for him: each of the stories had already been "vetted" and accepted someplace by at least one editor.

- I don't think writers should ever pay anything to anyone--an agent, publisher, editor, anybody--to consider or publish their work. I don't pay reading fees or even contest entry fees. Maybe I'm just cheap, but there are plenty of editors and publishers out there who'll pay you for what you write--I can't see doing it the other way around. What are your views on this?

- I've not yet waded very deeply into the e-book/e-story marketplace. I have a couple of stories at Untreed Reads (a mystery and a western), I had twenty or so stories at Amazon Shorts a few years ago, and my most recent two books are available via Kindle, but otherwise I've concentrated more on print markets and--to a lesser degree--e-zines. I'd love to hear the opinions of those who have tested the e-waters.

- I'm sort of middle-of-the-road on simultaneous submissions. I recognize that the best way to get published faster is to send the same story to different markets at the same time, but I also know I don't want the (admittedly remote) possibility of two places accepting first rights to one of my stories. That not only puts egg on your face, it can put a black mark beside your name forever, on some editor's list--and all these editors know each other, by the way. I've heard some writers and writing teachers say you should ignore the "no simultaneous submissions" request/demand that many pubs put in their guidelines because the editors expect you to simultaneously submit anyway, but I think it's a little risky. No one wants to suddenly find out he has two dates for the dance and then have to tell one of them, "Sorry, but I've already asked this other girl, and . . ." How do you feel about this issue?

In closing . . .

I should point out that, despite all my efforts to write well and market wisely, my rejections probably still outnumber my acceptances. Sad but true. But it's also true that it doesn't bother me a lot. I just try to send out more submissions and write more stories. Today I'll be at a booksigning in Vicksburg, Mississippi, and that's a good thing, storywise--I always seem to meet people at signings who later become quirky fictional characters.

Proof of my persistence: A few days ago I submitted eight mysteries and one sci-fi story to six different markets. And this month I've sold new stories to both Woman's World and The Saturday Evening Post. The main thing is, keep reading, keep writing, and keep submitting.

When someone tells me there's a lot of attrition among writers, I just say "Then don't get attritted."

I'm pedalling as fast as I can.


  1. As always full of excellent advice.
    I was interested that you single space electronic submissions, though. Even with spacing between paragraphs that seems hard to read.

  2. Thanks, Janice. As for the single-spacing, I've found that most guidelines specify doing it that way in a copied/pasted manuscript for emailed submissions. I too think double-spacing would be better.

    Better still is just attaching your already existing manuscript file--and thank goodness, most zines that I've submitted stories to have allowed that.

    By the way, I see that you have a story coming up in AHMM's December issue--congratulations!

  3. John,

    This is such a wonderfully helpful article for short story writers. Like you, I write both novels and short stories. I love both genres equally. I've bookmarked your article because I intend to reread it carefully again.

  4. Great post, John. Thanks so much for all the helpful suggestions.

  5. Thank you, Jacqueline--good to hear from you. If anyone finds these pointers helpful, I'm certainly pleased, but again, this is what has so far worked for ME; others may have a process that's just as good or better.

  6. Excellent post, John. I agree--can't be said too often--ignore submission guidelines at your peril! And I think the advice to ignore simultaneous submission rules is meant for novelists, not short story writers. The unstated premise of your marketing method is that you're very prolific and always have another story to send out. I don't know any novelists who are writing more than one manuscript a year without a contract already in hand.

    The last three stories I've written have been inspired by anthology calls for submissions setting a theme. If rejected for the anthology, I then try the paying print markets first and, if necessary, work my way to the reputable e-zines you've mentioned.

  7. Paula and Liz -- Thanks for your kind words. Liz, I think you're correct to always try to target anthology and paying print pubs first, and only then move on to e-zines. It's worth remembering that online magazines are much more receptive to reprints that consumer print mags, so it often makes sense not to try the e-zines first and waste those first rights.

  8. Great piece, John.

    I do many drafts of my stories and I always do them single spaced to save paper. I was once mortified to realize i had sent a story to an editor single spaced. He bought it anyway, as it happened, but I felt like a complete newbie.

    I am hoping to put out an ebook of my SHanks stories and one third of them will be unpublished. Feels like a reasonable use of rejected stories, and a reason for AHMM subscribers to buy the book. My only regret is that they won't be eligible for prizes, which I am certain, ahem, they would otherwise win.

  9. Great article, John--thanks! I've always been curious about how other authors would "rank" submissions
    --like, who do you send a story to first? I haven't seen the Sherlock Holmes magazine in a while; I need to look it up. bobbi c.

  10. As usual a great post. I will have a story in the next Holmes Issue (#10), but to the best of my knowledge I haven't received payment. Do they pay on publication? Or has my sloppy bookkeeping failed me (again)?

  11. Hey John,

    Re: sim subs. I don't.

    I just sold a piece after 918 days, and by being patient I sold to a better market (and a better paying market) than than if I'd jumped to accept publication elsewhere.


  12. Hi, John--

    Thanks for another savvy article with lots of specific, useful advice. I printed a copy and will put it in my slim file of truly helpful advice on writing, along with other articles by John Floyd.

  13. Hi John,
    Thanks for this very informative post. I tend to write in response specific calls for submission. I am not prolific so I only write 2-3 stories a year. I'd like to especially agree with you on two points. One--always follow the submission guidelines, and Two--listen to the editor's suggestions. She or he knows their venue much better than you do.

  14. Hi, John--great article. I do almost exactly what you do, but because my acceptance rate is smaller than yours, I also go down into the non-paying markets quite a bit to get my name out there. I never do simultaneous subs--too worried about that egg on the face. I keep a running list of markets, putting in new ones as I find them (usually randomly) and deleting them as they go away (too often, it seems, unfortunately). Hope your latest signing went well.

  15. Just got in from being out of town most of the day. Thanks to all for the comments.

    Rob, I look forward to that collection of Shanks stories. When do you think it'll be released?

    Bobbi, I feel a little guilty when I say this, but I try to target the largest and highest paying publications first. If they don't bite, I rebait the hook and move on down the list. As for Sherlock Holmes Myst. Mag., I'll send you the contact info.

    Herschel, I think your payment from SHMM must've fallen behind the piano or something--they've paid me for both stories I've published there, so far. (My payments were made at the time of publication.)

    Stephen, you've beaten my "longest positive response time." I once sold a story to Grit after two years and one to The Strand after almost two years. Like you, I wait a long time before giving up.

    Thanks, Bonnie. And congrats again on your recent honors.

    Terrie, you might take awhile to finish your stories, but you're one of those talented folks who sell most of what you write. As I think I mentioned, I get rejected more than I get accepted.

    Thank you, Jan--always good to hear from you. And yes, had a good signing today. Glad to be back home.

  16. John, I will probably need to pay someone to make the collection look neat and pretty and I first have to put the stories into a nice form and ad intros, so I would guess they will be ready sometime between next year and eternity.

    Is SHMM accepting stories currently? Their website says otherwise, unless I am misreading it.

    I would like to second your recommendation of Sandra Seaman's blog My Little Corner. I will have a story out in September in a new market I heard about through her.

  17. Rob, I hope the release date is closer to next year than to eternity.

    As for SHMM, your info may be more current than mine. I'll contact the editor (Marvin Kaye) and ask, and will let you know.

  18. Thanks for this great information. I've only recently started with short fiction and I'm digging it!

  19. Alan, I wish you the best with your stories--writing AND marketing. Thanks for stopping by.

  20. John, I am filing this with info that Paula Benson put on her Writers Who Kill blog last month. With great tips like this, I keep the faith that I will sell another story. Writers are the most generous of Homo sapiens. Probably because we are competing with ourselves more than with others. Thank you for sharing.

  21. I have found and sold to many open-call anthologies by using Google and searching for

    anthology "call for submissions"

    (Note how I've placed the quotation marks.)

    Many open-call anthologies have such short windows of opportunity for submission that they never get listed by sites such as ralan.com.

    Also, I recently started to search on Twitter for

    "call for submissions"

    and have found via Twitter a few anthology calls that Google didn't find.

    Depending on how busy am I, I may do this search as often as twice a week so that I find calls for submission within a few days of their being posted.

  22. Thank you John and thanks to all the commenters for your advice as well as the info about some more places to scope out markets. This is among the many reasons I'm glad I read Sleuth Sayers!

  23. Good advice, Michael! You're right--unlike magazines, anthologies are often a one-time-only opportunity. Thanks for sharing that information.

    Georgia, I'm glad you found some of this helpful. Best of luck with your future submissions.


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