01 July 2017

Mags and Anthos

The other day R.T. Lawton and I were e-chatting about the new issue of AHMM--this isn't the first time he and I have been fortunate enough to be featured together in those pages--and we got onto the subject of submitting stories to mystery magazines and anthologies. And it occurred to me, also not for the first time, that these days I seem to be focusing as much on anthologies as on magazines.

Names and titles

There are probably several reasons for that. One: There aren't a lot of mystery magazine markets to submit stories to, lately. The longtimers are AHMM, EQMM, The Strand, Woman's World (they publish one mystery and one romance in each issue), and electronic zines like Mysterical-E and Over My Dead Body. (Am I leaving anyone out?) More recently, we also have Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, Mystery Weekly, BJ Bourg's Flash Bang Mysteries, the upcoming Black Cat Mystery Magazine, and a few others.

And there seem to be more anthologies out there now than there were in the past. Either that, or I'm now more aware of them. Besides regulars like the annual MWA antho, the Bouchercon antho, etc., there are a lot of anthologies from places like Down & Out Books and Level Best Books. As has been mentioned before at this blog, there are some excellent websites (Ralan.com and Sandra Seamans's My Little Corner are two that come to mind) that allow writers to stay up to date on which anthos are out there and which are issuing calls for submissions. Occasionally I've been lucky enough to be asked to contribute a story to an upcoming anthology--and I have yet to turn one of those invitations down.

NOTE: This discussion does not include the annual "best-of" anthologies like Best American Mystery Stories, Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy, etc.

Assets and liabilities

What are the advantages of magazines over anthologies, and vice versa? Well, for one thing, the leading magazines usually give a writer more exposure and (sometimes) higher pay than an anthology. Also, since some of the magazines have been in place for a long time, most mystery writers are already familiar with the kind of submissions those publications want and don't want.

Another point: When you publish in a well-known magazine, whether it's print or online, your story will probably be in their archives forever, like an episode in a TV series. Magazines, like newspapers, are periodicals; an anthology is more of a one-time event, there and then gone, and its individual stories are possibly not as easily retrievable in the future. The flip side of that argument, of course, is that anthologies give the aspiring writer the chance to have his or her work appear in a "real" book, and sometimes alongside big-name authors.

Another item on the plus side of the ledger for anthologies is the fact that, in some cases at least, the response time for stories submitted to anthos is less than for stories submitted to magazines. Also, you might face less competition that you would at the leading magazines, because of the often-tight submission windows for anthologies. Some writers don't find out about these "calls" until it's too late, and even if they do, there might not be enough time for them to write or re-vamp a suitable story. Besides, most anthologies are themed, and that alone can thin the herd. If you can't write (or find in your inventory) a story that fits the theme, you're out of luck.

There are at least three things that I've heard about anthologies that are sometimes considered to be advantages, but aren't. One: Anthos are more likely to accept reprints. Well, some are, and some are not. There are a number of magazines, especially e-zines, that will consider reprints as well. Two: Anthologies, since they sometimes pay via royalties, are a better financial opportunity for the writer. Untrue. As mentioned earlier, this depends solely on the publication--and on how well the book sells. Three: An anthology's editor is often a fellow author, and might be a friend or acquaintance and therefore more apt to squeeze your story in. That's certainly possible--but I consider myself a friend to several magazine editors, and I assure you that doesn't guarantee publication. The best editors, regardless of the kind of market they oversee, are more interested in acquiring quality stories than granting their buddies a free pass.

Questions and answers

I haven't gone back and studied the statistics, but I suspect that I now submit about the same number of stories to anthologies as to magazines. My question for you short-story writers is, how about you? Do you actively search out antho submission calls? Are you ever invited to submit? Do you usually stick to the tried-and-true magazines instead? Do you ever target non-mystery magazines with your crime stories? Do you use either of the market-listing sites I mentioned, and maybe some others also? What has your success rate been, for both magazines and anthologies?

One market we haven't talked about is collections of your own short stories. Have any of you tried publishing collections of your shorts, either at big or small traditional presses? Any successes there? If so, did those books consist mostly of your reprints or of your original stories? Has anyone self-published a collection, maybe via Amazon? Any experiences you'd be willing to share with the class?

Thanks in advance. And meanwhile, keep writing!


  1. Nice to see so many Sleuthsayers in the forthcoming Black Cat MM.

  2. I agree, Janice. The debut issue'll be out in a couple months, and I think it'll be a good one.

    Glad to have a new mystery magazine out there.

  3. Thanks for an informative article, John. This was especially interesting to me because although I've had short stories published in the past, my primary interest has been in writing novels until recently, and I look at you as an authority.

  4. Great article, John. I'm going to have to read it a few more times to absorb everything. I'm trying to write more short stories, probably because you and Art and R.T. and O'Neil are so prolific and I like so many of them, but also because they give me the chance to get away (or not) from my series characters.

    I've only published about fifteen stories, which is a decent month for the rest of you, and my success rate is about six percent. But two stories won the Black Orchid Novella Award, one was nominated for an Edgar, and three won Honorable Mention for the Al Blanchard Award. I tell myself I'm going for quality over quantity, but my cats don't buy it for a second. And I'd prefer more quantity. Short stories are still a foreign way of thinking for me, and I envy people who can produce so many, never mind so many good ones.

    The anthologies are a great source--if, as you point out--the writer hears about them in time to write something suitable. Being an MWA or SinC member or a regular contributor to a publisher (Level Best, as you point out, for one example) helps a lot there. I'm certainly going to peruse your other links here soon and often.

    There are a few new markets out there, too. In the last few months both Switchblade and Occult Detective Quarterly have bought stories I've had sitting around because there was nowhere else I could send them. Several of my stories have appeared in Level Best, too.

    I published a collection of my stories through Create Space (Amazon) a few months ago and can't really say much about sales yet. I think I have one review and the royalties would pay for gas to get to my local stop and shop. But I have a couple of events coming up and we'll see if I can sell some copies there. I think it might help if I change my name to Stephen King, but my wife tells me that name's already been used somewhere.

  5. Fran, I doubt I'm an authority on anything, but I know I love the short story form and, like R.T. Lawton and several others, that's mostly what I write. I envy your success with novels, though, because those are fun as well, and probably go a lot farther toward paying the light and water bills.

    Steve, you have a GREAT track record with short stories. And I bet the more of them you write, the more you'll like them. I would never say they're as hard to create as novels are--they're not--but I truly love the process of trying to tell a complete story in the space of only a few thousand words. And the main advantage of shorts, to me, is that you can finish them fairly quickly and move on to something else. I suppose, bottom line, I have a short attention span.

    Thanks for mentioning Switchblade and ODC!

  6. Nice column, John. I haven't had a lot of time for writing lately, but I still get ideas for stories. So I jot down notes that go in a file for the mythical time when I'll have tons of writing time. The few story ideas that get pulled from the file and written usually are ones that fit a story call. If a story doesn't fit a call, then I feel no urgency to write it. I guess I'm deadline oriented. It's a silly system I've unpurposely developed, but there it is.

  7. Mythical is right, Barb--you'll never have tons of writing time.

    But you really ARE deadline oriented. I think that's a good system to follow. I too write stories tailored to certain calls, but if there are no outstanding calls, I just churn 'em out anyway, and try to fit them in someplace when a call does surface. Besides, I try to send a steady flow of possible stories to AH, EQ, Strand, and WW. I also try to keep stories flowing to Mysterical-E and Flash Bang Mysteries because those two editors (Joe DeMarco and BJ Bourg) have been so kind to me in the past.

    Whatever works.

  8. Hi, John --
    Great post here, and like you, I've had the feeling that there are more anthologies out there--from the publishers that you suggest here and also with various publishers (Wildside Press for us!) working with chapters of Sisters in Crime across the country to produce anthologies. I think it's a great opportunity, this wealth of new anthology possibilities, both for beginning writers and veterans alike.

    I did have one thought/question on something you said about a story being in a magazine's archives forever--versus an anthology being a "one-time event." I actually think the flipside could be true as well, looking at it from a different perspective. Readers can buy in July or December an anthology that came out this past January, say (Coast to Coast, for example!), but the January/February issue of a magazine is gone from the shelves as soon as the March/April "replaces" it. Granted you can track down the older magazines, but it might require a different approach to find/purchase it, while anyone can go to Amazon or local bookseller and buy/order the anthology outside of its immediate publication month.

    Just a different perspective on this question. And in any case, a great column, as I said. Always enjoy your commentary and perspectives!

  9. Another good read, John — as always, thanks!

    Although I've published around 100 stories over the years, we're talking about 50 years, so on an annual basis I don't really write a lot. In fact, I go in spurts: I've had decades when I've only published a single story and years when I've had a dozen or more appear in print. For the most part, I stick to the magazines, rarely responded to anthology calls. I do have something coming out in the next Chesapeake Crimes volume, and oddly enough I have ideas for stories which would fit the upcoming CC, Malice and MWA calls, so I think I may well submit to all three of those.

    In 2015, Wildside Press collected all 10 of my Mahboob Chaudri stories (which originally appeared in EQMM and AHMM) in a single volume, which appeared in trade paperback as The Tree of Life and in e- as The Mahboob Chaudri Mystery MEGAPack. John Betancourt, Carla Coupe and their team did a terrific job with it, really gave me everything I asked for. The reviews were enthusiastic, it was shortlisted for a Silver Falchion (in the wrong category, unfortunately) ... but sales? Okay, decent, not spectacular.

    Keep these thoughtful and informative columns coming, John — and, probably needless to say, the wonderful short stories!

  10. I'm very glad to see this column--so informative but also supportive of short fiction. I find writing short stories very satisfying--tight, focused but flexible in the freedom they offer to try different characters and settings as well as plots. I marvel at the ideas you and writers like R.T. Lawton come up with; I'm not nearly as prolific in the short form (or any other form) but I do enjoy it. thanks for all the good information.

  11. Interesting post, John. I wish I could be half as prolific as you are--or one-tenth as prolific, for that matter--but I have an unfortunate tendency to fuss endlessly over everything I write, including short stories. When I do finally get a story finished, I usually send it to a magazine rather than an anthology. I've published a few stories in anthologies in recent years, but only one of them paid an amount that even came close to what a magazine would pay. Occasionally, I'm happy to donate a story to an anthology that benefits a charity or organization, but with some anthologies being published these days, I'd guess the only one who profits at all is the publisher (and perhaps, in some cases, the editor).

  12. Good point, Art. Well said. In fact, I WANT folks to continue ordering copies of those earlier anthologies, and I find myself doing that myself sometimes, when I hear about some I've missed. I was thinking more of the fact that I see so many older copies of Hitchcock and Ellery Queen lying around, and I often snap those up and find great stories there from long ago, some by favorite authors and some by writers I never even knew about.

    I also keep hoping that one of these days we'll see at least a mild resurgence of mystery magazines out there, and while I realize there's little chance of it being anything similar to what was there 50 or 60 years ago, the introduction of magazines like Black Cat MM makes me hopeful. Looking forward to reading your story there, by the way!!

  13. As for editors, I get along so well with one that I actually tried to fix him up with a friend of mine (he still hasn't bought one of my stories!) And I've found out about new markets from blogs like this! Thanks John!

  14. Thanks, Josh--I always look forward to your stories, old friend. And I LOVED The Tree of Life! I have it right here on my shelf. As you said, sales are rarely great for collections of shorts, but I like to buy 'em mainly because it's a chance for me to have in my hand a bunch of stories by a writer I know I like, rather than a lot of stories by a bunch of different writers. Pluses and minuses, as always . . .

    Thanks Susan! I agree completely. Shorts allow us to explore a lot of different plots, settings, characters, even different ways to use POV, and all of that's fun to do. As for how many stories I write, I think I do that because I have so many different ideas boiling around in my head and wanting to get out.

    Bonnie, I think you (like Steve Liskow) have perfected the "quality over quantity" approach. I've always loved your stories. As for your comments about magazines vs. anthologies, I (like you and Josh) usually write stories with the intention of submitting them to magazines--but when I happen to see a call that matches a story I'll target an anthology, and of course when I'm asked to send a story to a particular anthology I often write it from scratch. I'm just glad both opportunities are out there for us. Thanks for the insights!

  15. Hey Jeff--always good to hear from you. Yes, it's almost impossible NOT to grow friendly with editors you work with again and again--but I was serious when I said I'm not sure that guarantees anything in terms of sales. I suppose we're only as good as our last creation, and maybe that's a good thing, who knows? Keep writing, old bud, and keep selling too!

  16. John, here it is my XXth birthday and I wake up to find my name listed in the lead off sentence of your blog. Thanks for the uplifting birthday gift.

    As prolific as you are in writing short stories, I'd say you have a good handle on the short story market. I'll have to look into a couple of the markets you mentioned. On the matter of magazines vs. anthologies, I tend to choose by what interests me and what rates they pay, he higher the better, although a freebie for charity or a good cause is also on my list. A few times I've been asked to submit to anthologies, but for most of them, I read the call for submissions and then brainstorm for an entry. With 5 series in AHMM, series stories usually go to AHMM, while standalones go to anthologies and other magazines. As to story collections, I do have 4 out there on Amazon for Kindle, and at Smashwords for other e-readers. Most of those stories are reprints, but some are not previously published. The problem with them is how to promote them without constantly e-flogging them or becoming nationally infamous to achieve name recognition. So far, being on author panels seems to work best.

  17. R.T., I agree with you about targeting the best-paying markets first if possible, and also about contributing stories to charity anthologies from time to time. The Bouchercon anthos are good examples of writing-for-a-cause-rather-than-for-pay, and I also edited an anthology once for Wolfmont Press in Georgia whose proceeds went to Toys for Tots. I recruited several future SleuthSayers for that one, along with a lot of other friends, and it was a good experience.

    You make a good point, about series stories. I too have a couple of magazines that always receive certain stories because they're installments in a particular series--but since I write mostly standalone stories that isn't always a consideration. One of my biggest problems is keeping track of what's been submitted where, and i admit to having made some errors there in the past. And, as a matter of fact, I just finished a story that could go to any of a number of places--I'll have to decide where. (Maybe that's a good problem to have . . .)

  18. News and views on short mystery markets always interest me. Thanks for an insightful post.

    Some additional markets:

    Spinetingler is a superb ezine with a print edition coming in October. (Still accepting subs, but nearly full.)

    Down and Out announced a new magazine - titled Down and Out: The Magazine - with a cool editorial slant. A June launch was scheduled, but it looks like they’re running late. (Subs open.)

    The ezine Trigger Warning accepts reprints and produces new artwork to accompany published stories. (Subs temp closed.)

    I’ve had stories rejected by almost all of the markets you mentioned (and soooo many others), but I get lucky about a half dozen times a year. So far this year, one each in: Trigger Warning; the newest (July) Mystery Weekly; the upcoming issue of Switchblade; the Level Best Books anthology Busted! (April); and the cross-genre Kindle mag Kzine (way back in January).

    I’m always on the lookout for new places to get lucky, so thanks again for your post!

  19. Thanks, Peter! I had a story in Spinetingler several years ago, and I now recall hearing about the launch of Down & Out's new magazine. Looking forward to seeing that one. I'd also forgotten about Trigger Warning. Great information.

    As for rejection, I've been rejected by just about everybody in the business, at least once--and I'm convinced that I made it into some markets only because I pestered them until they finally gave in.

    Sincere congratulations on your recent successes. Keep it up!!!

  20. By the way, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, R.T. LAWTON! Be sure to blow out all XX of your candles.

  21. The biggest drawback to writing for themed anthologies is what to do with rejected stories. If 100 writers submit stories to a tightly themed anthology, only 15 are accepted, and yours isn't one of them, then your ms. is competing with 84 others in the slush piles of AHMM, EQMM, and etc., and those editors will soon sicken of reading submissions all with the same theme. Do you toss yours into the mix anyhow? Do you sit on it and wait until the wave crests? Do you attempt to revise it to fit another market and make the original theme less obvious?

    Developing relationships with editors can give you a leg up when submitting to open-call and semi-open-call anthologies. Your story might be pulled out of the slush and given a little extra attention. The editor might cut you some slack with an almost-right story because they know they can work with you to tweak it into acceptability. Or they might be willing to provide some insight before you begin writing.

    For example: I've placed several stories with an editor in other genre. Without providing all the backstory that got us to this point, I can say that I will usually ask him what he isn't seeing in his submissions that he would like to see. Once he said he was seeing too many young protagonists, so I sent him a story with a middle-aged protagonist. Another time, he was editing an anthology with a military theme, so I asked which branch of the military was under-represented. When he told me, I wrote a story involving a protagonist in the Air Force.

    I do actively seek anthology submission calls (Sandra Seaman's blog is my primary source for mystery-related markets, but I use several others as well) because it would be easy to overwhelm editors if I limited my submissions to only the top couple of periodicals. Over all, I probably sell more short stories to magazines than anthologies, but my magazine/anthology ratio in crime fiction is probably near-even recently.

    I often target non-mystery markets with my crime fiction. Most of my early mystery sales were to non-genre publications, and a few years ago I had a good streak of cross-genre sales.

    I've been invited to contribute to several anthologies (and guest-blogged for you about it back in 2013: http://www.sleuthsayers.org/2013/10/market-first-write-second.html ), have had several collections of my stories released by various imprints of Wildside Press, and have self-published a few for Kindle via Amazon.

    I've also edited five anthologies, and now's as good a place as any to remind y'all that I'm currently editing another. Find the details here: http://www.crimefictionwriter.com/TheEyesOfTexas.htm

  22. Thanks, Michael--the voice of experience!! Good observation, regarding rejected submissions to themed anthologies. Depending on how obscure the theme is, you indeed have to do some creative marketing to sell those rejections someplace else. And there's another wrinkle (as Bruce Willis might say, another monkey in the wrench) that we haven't talked about: what if one of your series stories doesn't get accepted by the place that's doing your series? When that happens, there's a lot of rewriting to be done.

    And I'm glad you mentioned selling crime stories to non-mystery markets. Why not? I've done that a lot, over the years.

    (One area where I have no expertise is in self-publishing collections of stories. Glad to hear that seems to have worked well for some of you.)

    Thanks again for bringing up these points. And, by the way, best of luck with The Eyes of Texas! Great title.

  23. Other than a sell, the best side effect of selling to an anthology is becoming "one of the group of writers" in an anthology.

  24. True, Deborah. I keep thinking of the Seven by Seven anthology put together by Tony Burton back in '06 or '07 that you and I were in, and how most of the seven writers in that book have kept in close touch over the years. And even now, it's fun to have one of my stories included alongside those of other writers I know and admire.

  25. John,

    A fine post. You've listed all the publications for mystery that I'm familiar with as well. As to submissions, I send work to both anthologies and magazines--as long as the anthologies offer payment other than royalties or only royalties.

    I also appreciated the comments by other writers. Lots of good thoughts and ideas shared here.

  26. Thanks, Jacqueline. I realized, when reading your comment, that I didn't mention the fact that anthologies often pay a flat rate for stories, instead of royalties. That sometimes works out best for the writer: it means his or her payment doesn't depend on how well the book sells, although everyone involved of course hopes it'll be successful. And that one-time payment certainly makes things simpler for the publisher.

  27. John, great post - and thanks for the Ralan.com as another place listing anthology calls. (I need all the help I can get.) I look for markets and anthologies; ironically, I've had more success with sci-fi anthologies than mystery ones, I don't know why. And I've been told by friends that I need to get a collection of my own together and sell it on Amazon / Kindle. The trouble with the last one is that I seem to be always busy with something else... Maybe someday.

  28. Eve -- Thanks so much! Yep, Ralan.com is a great reference, especially for SF/fantasy markets but also for other genres as well (AHMM, EQMM, etc.). And their anthology section is especially helpful.

    I too should probably investigate self-publishing at some point, but so far I've gone the traditional route, with both the shorts and the collections.


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