29 November 2016

To the MMs and Beyond

by John M. Floyd

Like most of you who read this blog, I like mysteries. Mysteries of any kind--shorts, novellas, novels, plays, movies. And one good thing for those of us who write and read mystery short stories is that there are a number of magazines that specialize in that genre: AHMM, EQMM, Strand Magazine, Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, Mystery WeeklyFlash Bang Mysteries, Over My Dead Body, Crimespree, Mysterical-E, and so on. I submit stories to these publications on a regular basis, and sometimes, when the stars line up just right, I get stories published there. FYI, one of the best lists of these short-mystery markets can be found at my friend Sandra Seamans's website, My Little Corner.

I should probably mention here that a lot of the MMs are no longer in business. Examples include Murderous Intent Mystery Magazine, Red Herring Mystery Magazine, Mystery Time, Orchard Press Mysteries, Detective Mystery Stories, Mary Higgins Clark Mystery Magazine, New Mystery, HandHeldCrime, Mouth Full of Bullets, Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, Nefarious, The Rex Stout Journal, Crime and Suspense E-zine, Blue Murder, Futures Mysterious Anthology Magazine, Black Mask, Whispering Willows Mystery Magazine, Raconteur, and Crimestalker Casebook. I have fond memories of many of these, because they were extremely kind to me and my creations.

Genrecial profiling

Here's the rest of the story. As you know from the other columns at this blog over the past several days, mystery publications are not the only markets for our shorts. There are a number of general-interest magazines, sometimes even the literary journals, that occasionally publish mystery stories. (On the other side of the coin, there'll always be those who consider mysteries and other genre stories inferior, but that's another matter.)

The saving grace here is that, thankfully, not everyone thinks mysteries are limited to whodunits. Elmore Leonard, who won the Edgar Award and was recognized as a Grand Master by Mystery Writers of America, once pointed out that he had never in his life written a story or novel in which the identity of the villain remained unknown until the end. He wrote crime/suspense fiction, not traditional mysteries.

Otto Penzler's definition, clearly stated in the introduction of each edition of his annual Best American Mystery Stories anthology, is that a mystery is any story in which a crime, or even the threat of a crime, is central to the theme or the plot. If you write a story that fulfills that requirement, you've written a mystery. This rather broad definition can apply to a lot of unlikely stories. One can write a romance, a science fiction tale, a Western, a horror story, even a literary piece, and if a crime plays a major role in the story, it can--theoretically at least--also be categorized as mystery fiction.

Crashing the party

What are some of these "other" markets? I'll let real life be an example: most of my mystery stories are and have been published in the mystery magazines listed above--but my mysteries have also appeared in the following NON-mystery publications, some of which are still around (Google their sites for more info):

Spinetingler Magazine
Prairie Times
Western Digest
Amazon Shorts
Champagne Shivers
Ancient Paths
Star Magazine
The Big Adios
Thirteen Magazine
Short Stuff for Grownups
Writers' Post Journal
The Atlantean Press Review
Eureka Literary Magazine
The Copperfield Review
Yellow Sticky Notes
Woman's World
Desert Voices
Writers on the River
Dogwood Tales Magazine
Ethereal Gazette
Scavenger's Newsletter
The Oak
Dream International Quarterly
Kings River Life
Apollo's Lyre
Medicinal Purposes
The Villager
Short Tales
Green's Magazine
The Saturday Evening Post
Roswell Literary Review
Untreed Reads
Taj Mahal Review
Just a Moment
Reader's Break
Writer's Block Magazine
Illya's Honey
The Mid-South Review
Pages of Stories
Ficta Fabula
Spring Fantasy
Lines in the Sand
Anterior Fiction Quarterly
Mythic Delirium
Flash Tales
Lost Worlds
Listen Magazine
Penny Dreadful
Hadrosaur Tales
Pegasus Review
Outer Darkness
Matilda Ziegler Magazine for the Blind

Some of these are paying markets and some pay only in copies--and I've had multiple stories published in most of them (19 at Amazon Shorts, 4 in Dogwood Tales, 4 in Flashshot, 7 in Reader's Break, 5 at The Saturday Evening Post, etc.).

I also have a mystery story ("Flu Season") in the November 4th issue of The Norwegian American, another ("Survival") in the November 26 issue of Kings River Life, and a third mystery ("A Green Thumb") coming in January in Seeds, edited by my old buddy Michael Bracken. Again, in keeping with the theme here, none of these three publications deals exclusively with mystery shorts.

NOTE 1: My reference to The Saturday Evening Post is its print edition, which is published every two months. That's where my five stories for them have appeared--and three of those five fit the criteria for mysteries. BUT . . . the SEP also has an online version that I'm told specializes in mystery fiction. I've not verified that and I've never submitted to the online edition, but it might be worth checking out.

NOTE 2: I didn't mention anthologies. I've sold a lot of stories to both mystery and non-mystery anthos. Sandra's My Little Corner website also lists anthology "calls for submissions," and so does Ralan.com. As you probably know, anthologies--like magazines--are among the markets that are examined to determine Edgar nominees, Best American Mystery Stories candidates, etc.

Chick fic

Several references have been made this past week to Woman's World, which of course is not a mystery magazine (WWMM?) but which has always included one romance and one mystery in each weekly issue. These mysteries are a little different in format from most that I write: for one thing, they're very short--700 words max--and for the past dozen years or so, they've been "interactive," which means the solution to the mystery is provided separately at the end of the story so the reader has a chance to solve it herself/himself.

Their November 28 issue featured my 82nd Woman's World story (all but two have been mysteries), and I recently sold them my 83rd, which is scheduled to appear shortly. Almost all my mysteries for WW have included the same two co-protagonists--a retired schoolteacher named Angela Potts and one of her former students, Sheriff Chunky Jones--which is probably why I've been fortunate enough to sell so many of them. Readers AND writers seem to like "series" stories because of the familiar characters: readers know what to expect, and writers are able to get quickly into the plot without much need for backstory. Feeling adventurous, I deviated from the path a few years ago and sent Woman's World a mystery starring two other main characters--a female sheriff named Lucy Valentine and her nagging mother Fran--from another of my series. WW bought and published the story, but when I asked if I should continue on that track for a change, the editor said no. "We want more Angela stories," she said, and I saluted and obeyed. I'm not very smart, but I'm smart enough to write what they tell me they like.

WW specifics

For anyone who's interested, Woman's World pays $500 for mystery stories, and the fiction editor is Patricia Gaddis. Longtime editor Johnene Granger retired at the beginning of this year. FYI, the email address to use for submissions is FictionPro@WomansWorldMag.com if you've had a contract with WW in the past; if you've not had a contract with WW before, the submissions email is Fiction@WomansWorldMag.com. For problems only, you can contact Patricia at her personal email address, Prose@dnet.net.

More guideline info: Put "mystery submission" in the subject line of your email, and attach your story as a Word document, double-spaced, 12-point font. You should receive an auto-reply confirmation that your story's been received, but you won't get any further responses unless your story is accepted. If you've heard nothing back in four months, assume it was rejected. You should submit holiday-themed stories two to three months early, and snailmailed submissions will still go through if you don't have access to email--but again, be aware that you'll only get a response if your story is accepted. (Most of the above info is paraphrased from WW's "unofficial guidelines for 2016," which are the only guidelines I've seen.)

If you decide to send them a mystery, remember that 700 words is the absolute limit, and be sure to include the "solution" in that wordcount. Stay away from too much sex and violence (at least in your story) and also avoid politics, religion, or anything controversial. And whatever you do, don't put a pet in jeopardy. Seriously.

Final thoughts

I'm told that we'll soon wrap up this "themed" week about writing for non-mystery magazines, so it might be appropriate to mention several different sources of market information. They are (1) the Internet, (2) the print reference Novel & Short Story Writer's Market, (3) trade magazines like Writer's Digest and The Writer, and (4) the publications themselves. Any of these should tell you whether certain markets would be receptive to mystery/crime submissions.

Another option for getting your short stories published is of course to ignore the traditional venues altogether and--although I've not personally waded into those waters--self-publish them via Amazon and elsewhere. Steve Liskow, our latest employee at the SleuthSayers asylum, posted an extremely helpful column recently, on the subject of self-publishing--here's a link.

In summary, you can sell mystery stories to mystery magazines, non-mystery stories to non-mystery magazines, or (as in my long list above) mystery stories to non-mystery magazines. The only thing I've not yet done is sell a non-mystery story to a mystery magazine. So the only formula that doesn't work is NMS = MM.

Main thing is, don't let your completed mystery manuscripts sit there in a drawer, as I once did. If they're good enough, they'll find a home and a readership. And if you do choose to submit them to traditional markets, remember that there are also places other than the big mystery mags that might take them.

Go ye, and procrastinate no more.


  1. Lots of great info, here, John. Thanks! And congratulations on your 82nd WW story! Wow.

  2. You're right, John, there are a great many markets for mystery fiction that don't include "mystery" as part of their publication name, and writers do themselves no favors by ignoring them.

    You briefly touched on it, but it's important to remember how well mysteries work in cross-genre stories, which opens up many more potential markets.

  3. Now that's a thorough article. Thanks for all the information, John. 82nd WW story. Wow.

  4. Thanks, Paul. As I've said before, I'm still a little amazed to have had so many stories published at a women's magazine--but the mysteries really are fun to write. I was fortunate enough to sell them a couple of romances years ago, back when the romances paid $1000 each (now they're $800), but those stories just don't come as easily for me. I envy those who are good at that.

    Thanks for the comment, Michael. Since there are fewer "mystery magazines" out there than there used to be, it's indeed a good thing that a lot of the general-interest publications are still receptive to that kind of story. On a larger scale, I think a lot of well-known fiction that's not thought of as being in the mystery genre (To Kill a Mockingbird is an example) actually has a mystery at its core.

  5. That's kind of you, O'Neil. (This was probably more info than anyone really needs.) What's impressive is YOUR output of crime stories AND novels.

    I'm reading one of your novels right now, matter of fact. And just finished reading the story you had in the Bouchercon anthology. Good work!

  6. John— A terrific post here, and a wealth of information. You're great always! Congrats on your 82nd story!

  7. Many thanks, Art! Seeing all these posts this week, these different takes on the same theme (writing for non-mystery mags), has been interesting. There really are a lot of markets out there for our stories, if we look around a little.

    As for Woman's World, they've truly been good to me, this year. Writing that kind of puzzle-based story is a lot of fun.

  8. Terrific list of markets, John, and solid advice. I'll have to check out some of the markets and see if a few of my dusty orphans can find a home.

    I didn't even realize that Saturday Evening Post still existed. Great news, but it'll teach me to do my own homework, too, won't it?

    Thanks too for the shout out about the self-pubbing column. The sequel, which it the better news, will be my next offering.

  9. Thank you, Steve! Yep, the Sat. Eve. Post publishes six print issues a year, with one piece of fiction in each--and, as I said, seems to be receptive to mystery/crime stories.

    And I think at least one of our Short Mystery Fiction Society buddies--my old friend Bill McCormick--has published several mysteries in the SEP's online edition.

    It's great to have you in SleuthSayers, Steve. Looking forward to part two of your self-publishing column.

  10. John,

    You offer lots of helpful information. Congrats on your publishing success which I well know takes much dedication, hard work and talent.

  11. Thanks, Jacqueline, for stopping by! Most of the work is ferreting out these markets, but sometimes that can be fun too.

  12. John, another great column. This is exactly the info I was looking for in reference to WW. Thanks.

  13. Thanks, RT. The only downside I've seen, at WW, is that they no longer inform you if/when a story's rejected. I've heard they get thousands of submissions every month (more for the romances than the mysteries, but still . . .) and I guess they're trying to cope with that as best they can. Good luck there, and with all your submissions!

  14. Congratulations on your 83rd WW story, John--that's amazing. The last time I read a post of yours on a similar theme, I vowed to start submitting to a wider range of markets. I haven't kept that vow yet, but maybe this post will make me finally get busy. Can I ask for an additional bit of information? I'd never heard of Amazon Shorts before, and when I tried Googling it, I got a bunch of links showing me where to buy men's shorts and boys' shorts. Could you point me in the right direction? Thanks!

  15. Hey Bonnie! Hope you WILL start subbing to a lot of different markets--sometimes I'm surprised at how many are out there, and how many are interested in mysteries even thought it's not their main thing.

    You're right, Amazon Shorts isn't just underwear for the Brazilian jungle. It was a great program, but is, alas, no longer around. The Amazon Shorts experiment began in--I think--2005, and ran for three or four years. They handled original short stories exclusively, in many genres, and those were sold online via Amazon.com for a dollar or so (or maybe it was 50 cents), and the author got a percentage. Obviously, you had to sell a lot of them to make much moola, but I helped my odds a little by placing a lot of stories there. It was great exposure and no work on the part of the writer, and they reached a vast audience. The thing I remember most is that it involved a ten-page contract--other than that, I enjoyed dealing with them.

  16. Thank you for all your great information, John! I hope to take advantage of some of this soon.

  17. John-
    A column rich with infomation, thank you. And, 83 sales to WW! I am awed.
    Great post.

  18. Eve and Larry -- Thanks for stopping in. I didn't mention that most of my market information I get via the Internet, Googling things like "short mystery markets" or "short story markets," and then focusing on submission guidelines for the sites that look promising. In the old days, it was just the print references, the writers' magazines, and the publications themselves!

  19. My wife Laurie and I sold a collaborative mystery to the SEP online edition. Not much $ involved, but nice people to work with and of course it's the Saturday Freaking Evening Post. Great piece, John!

  20. Hey Josh!! That's great to hear. Is it true that the online edition of SEP specializes in mysteries, or did that just happen to be what you and Laurie sent them?

    Sounds as if writing's a family affair for you AND Art--and for Bill Crider & daughter as well.

  21. Always enjoy your posts, John. They inspire me to try harder. Btw, have you guys ever thought of adding an email subscription option to the blog?

  22. Thanks, Su!

    I'll have to ask our corporate guru, Velma, about the email subscription option--I just work here. Seriously, though, sounds like a good idea.

  23. What a great blog post! So much wonderful info. Thank you for sharing. I especially like that you gave Sandra Seamans a shout out, her Little Corner is such an invaluable resource. I second that idea about an email subscription to your posts. Please check with Velma but don't give her our names unless she likes the idea (since she packs a .38 & a flask, always a dangerous combo). :-)

  24. How kind of you, Sati--thanks for the comment. I agree that Sandra's site is a great resource. It's pointed me to some great markets--especially the calls for submissions to anthologies.

    As for Velma, yes, we know who the boss is, around here.

  25. Wonderful post! I'm sharing it around. Thanks so much.

  26. Thanks, Kaye! Good to hear from you, and I'm glad you found this helpful. Keep in touch!


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