24 July 2018

Just Like Starting Over

by Michael Bracken

Beginning August 2003 and ending May 2018 I had one or more short stories published each and every month. That’s 14 years and 10 months (178 consecutive months), and I know of no living short story writer who has come close to accomplishing a similar feat. (Edward D. Hoch accomplished something similar—and far more impressive—with a story in every issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine beginning May 1973 and continuing through March/April 2009.)

The streak began with the August 2003 Hustler Fantasies, which contained “Married vs. Single” and “Slice of Heaven,” and ended with the May 2018 publication of the anthology A Wink and a Smile (Smoking Pen Press), which contained my story “Too Close to School.”

During this run, my stories were published in nearly every genre; in anthologies, magazines, and newsletters; electronically, in print, and in audiobooks; in several countries and in at least three languages. They appeared under my own byline, under a variety of pseudonyms, and, in the case of confessions, without any byline at all.

Excluding self-published work and those months when I had collections released, my best months were April 2008 and June 2012 (nine stories each); July 2006, December 2010, and November 2012 (eight stories each); and April 2011, May 2011, September 2011, November 2011, January 2012, and August 2014 (seven stories each).

During this multi-year streak, 132 stories appeared in True Story and 125 in True Confessions. My longest single-magazine run was 29 consecutive issues of True Story, which is only slightly longer than a previous run of 26 consecutive issues of the same magazine.

Thirteen times I had three stories published in a single issue. This happened most often with True Confessions (May 2012, July 2012, March 2017, and April 2017). I had three stories in three issues of Ruthie’s Club (June 19, 2006; July 17, 2006; and April 28, 2008); three stories in two issues of True Love (April 2011 and May 2011); and three stories in single issues of True Romance (March 2005), Black Confessions (August 2006), True Story (January 2012), and The Mammoth Book of Uniform Erotica (Running Press, 2015).

My wife can attest that I grew nervous as month-ends approached without anything published, and at least twice I had single-story months in which that month’s lone story was published only a few days before the month ended.

HOW I DID IT

If I can trust my personal blog, I first noticed this streak at the three-year mark in May 2006, and I began to pay attention to what was happening.

Because editors determine which stories to accept and which issues to put them in, this is a publication streak over which I had little control. Even so, there are a few things I did that helped maintain the streak once it began:

Maintained high productivity. The more stories I wrote and submitted, the greater the odds that I would publish regularly.

Targeted multiple genres. There aren’t enough paying markets in most genres to support a highly productive short story writer. So, I wrote in multiple genres.

Targeted multiple publications. Even within genres, I spread my work among multiple publications.

Wrote themed and seasonal stories. I wrote several stories tied to themes or seasons, thus producing stories most suitable for specific magazine issues. For example, I had good luck with New Year’s Eve stories (published in January), Valentine’s Day stories (February), St. Patrick’s Day stories (March), Halloween stories (October), Thanksgiving stories (November), and Christmas stories (December).

NOW WHAT?

As the streak lengthened, I began to believe I had control over it. I believed the sheer momentum of my achievement would propel it forward, and writing to the streak (themes and seasons!) would ensure its continuation.

It didn’t.

Editors changed. Markets disappeared. Anthologies tanked or missed scheduled publication dates. My productivity faltered. I can identify any number of reasons why the streak ended, but rather than assign blame for its end, I prefer to be amazed that it happened at all.

And now that the streak has ended, the pressure’s off. I no longer feel driven to write to the streak, and I wonder how that will impact my writing going forward.

The count starts over. With the July publication of “Good Girls Don’t” in Pulp Modern (volume 2, issue 3), the publication of “Decision” in the Summer 2018 Flash Bang Mysteries, and the release of “Fissile Material” as a stand-alone audio release, I have now had one or more short stories published for one consecutive month.

37 comments:

O'Neil De Noux said...

Now this is something to wake up to - "14 years and 10 months (178 consecutive months)."
What a phenomenal feat. In the trenches, writing and writing and the time spent submitting and submitting. How you did it without a clone is amazing. Takes me to the old writing cliche - A WRITER WRITES. Way to go, Michael. Way to go.

Art Taylor said...

Congrats on the extraordinary publishing streak! And good luck as the count starts over! A tremendous achievement, and appreciate the reflection on how you did it--inspiring to us all!

joshpac said...

You are an inspiration to us all, Michael! Congratulations on beginning your new streak!

Smoking Pen Press said...

Congratulations Michael!!! Delighted that Smoking Pen Press could be a part of your amazing record.... sad that we were the final entry in this list.
Good luck on your new streak.

Ann Aptaker said...

Wow! What an achievement! Okay, you've inspired/shamed/prodded me to keep my tushie in the chair and my fingers on the keys. Thank you, Michael Bracken, Gentleman of Crime.

Alan Orloff said...

Simply amazing, Michael! Good luck on the new streak!

John Floyd said...

Congratulations, Michael! As several have said, you're always an inspiration. Keep up the good work!

Al Tucher said...

Got me beat by a little.

OK, a lot!

Steve Liskow said...

An amazing record, Michael. Congratulations.

I'm not even sure how many stories I've written (probably about a quarter of this number), but my current streak is zero months in a row, so I guess we're beginning even again. ;-)

Great advice on doing multiple genres...and staying productive.

Robert Petyo said...

Congratulations, and I'm sure you're starting on another long streak. I, and I'm sure many others, are jealous of your success, and wish you the best.

Pamela S Thibodeaux said...

Definitely accomplishments to be happy and proud of.
Good luck and God's blessings in moving forward with your writing!
PamT

Lisa Ciarfella said...

Hey Michae,
So great! And u just gave me a new goal-line! Something to aspire to!

Richard said...

Congrats MB! And thank you for linking to Pulp Modern No. 3 with your terrific story!

Michael Bracken said...

Thank you all for your kind comments. Achieving this did require a lot of butt-in-the-chair time, but it also—and I failed to give credit here—involved working with a great many editors who, sometimes in small ways and sometimes in significant ways, ensured that my work was suitable for publication. Whether their efforts involved little more than correcting a few typos or something as significant as requiring a wholesale revision (as one editor recently asked of me), the editors who published all these stories played significant roles in the longevity of the streak.

Vicki Batman, sassy writer of sexy and funny fiction, blogger at Handbags, Books...Whatever said...

Congratulations, Michael, on the publishing run. A fantastic streak and I'm sure many of us are envious.

Rusty Barnes said...

Glad to have played a small role in the that streak. Here's to another long run, but with less self-induced pressure.

Jay Hartman said...

So proud of you! Thank you for allowing Untreed Reads to be part of that streak. We love you, love your work and have no doubt a new streak is being born as we speak.

Best,
Jay Hartman
Editor-in-Chief
Untreed Reads Publishing

Julie Leo said...

Michael, you amaze & inspire me! Congrats on the incredible run. A new beginning is a wonderful thing.

Larry W. Chavis said...

Fantastic record, Michael! And inspirational to many of us. As O'Neil mentkioned in his comment, "A writer writes," and your embodiment of that is both an inspiration and a challenge to me. Great going!

Deborah Elliott-Upton said...

Whoa, Michael! You are phenomenal. You are a true inspiration!

R.T. Lawton said...

Michael, keep on writing.

Debra H. Goldstein said...

14 years 10 months - impressive! and probably never to be surpassed.

Vicki Kennedy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael Bracken said...

Wow. Thanks for all the comments that have come in since I last checked! Y'all are too kind.

Jan Christensen said...

Michael, you are amazing. And as others said, an inspiration. I hope this month is just a blip and that you will now see a new story published every month--forever!

Jean said...

Awesome Michael, Congratulations!

Jeff Baker said...

Wow, Michael! And again, wow! Thanks for the story! And the encouragement, as we keep plugging away!

Leigh Lundin said...

Bloody hell, that's impressive Michael. Vicki Kennedy said you were a living god in the Trues business. The advice is kind and excellent, and it lends encouragement. Congratulations, Michael!

Judy Penz Sheluk, author said...

Sounds to me like that old adage I try to live by: The harder I work, the luckier I get.

Your streak didn't end - it took a much needed break. Let the new one begin and kudos on your accomplishments.

Patricia Dusenbury said...

Wow. that was an amazing streak. Congratulations. You are an inspiration.

Earl Staggs said...


Phenomenal, Michael, absolutely phenomenal. Maybe it's the beard. Maybe I'll grow one.

Kathy Waller said...

Wow. Not just for the streak, but for the writing that kept it going.

My regards to Velma. Seamed hose have to be straightened so often--she could free up a lot of time for office work if she switched to the new improved hose experience.

Kaye George said...

If someone passes this record, my money is on you, Michael. Everyone's allowed one off-month. Congrats on an amazing feat!!!

Gigi Pandian said...

I'm so inspired by you, Michael! And you're giving me the push I need to finish up the stories on my shelf I really want to finish.

Michael Bracken said...

Thank you all.

Jessica Ferguson said...

You’re a writing machine! I’m thrilled that you’re coming to our Bayou Writers Conference in October.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on a fabulous run. It sounds like you may be starting another. Mary