20 July 2019

A Saturday Post About The Saturday Evening Post

A few years ago I discovered a new market for my stories--or, more accurately, I was told about it. It wasn't a mystery market (those are the ones I usually look for), but one that is occasionally receptive to mysteries as well. It was a magazine whose name I recognized, but I had never considered submitting a story there.

When I think of The Saturday Evening Post, the first thing that comes to mind is probably Norman Rockwell's covers. But they do publish one short story in every bi-monthly print edition, and the one in the current issue is mine. (I would prefer they make things easier by just using one of my stories in every issue, but they might not agree with that idea.)

A little Post history

Like me, the SEP has been around awhile. It began in the 1820s, and I'm told it did pretty well until the 1890s, and then sank to a circulation of around two thousand. Then--under new leadership--it rose to around 250,000 in 1900 and a million in 1908. Apparently it continued to flourish until the 1960s, reaching a circulation of around seven million. In the late sixties, though, the Post had another downturn, and by 1982 it had become, according to its website, a non-profit entity focusing on health, medicine, volunteerism, etc. In 2013 it underwent a do-over, returning to its original policy of celebrating the storytelling, art, and history of America. I am now a subscriber and I truly enjoy the magazine.

One thing of interest to folks like me is that the Post--as I said earlier--features one piece of fiction in every print edition, and then makes those stories available online about two weeks after their appearance in print. My story in their current (July/Aug 2019) issue became available online this past week. I understand the SEP is also a market for strictly online stories, where a new story is featured every week. I have not investigated or sent anything to that venue, but I know several fellow SleuthSayers who have submitted and have been published there, and I would welcome their comments and information on that piece of the market.

What does all this have to do with mystery writing? Not much. Only three of the eight stories I've had published by the SEP are mysteries--or at least mysteries in the sense that a crime is central to their plots. (That remains the criteria by which Otto Penzler selects the content for his annual Best American Mystery Stories anthologies.) That of course means that more than half of my SEP stories are not mysteries. But most writers like to dabble now and then in other genres anyway.

My Post history

Looking back at the past several years, here are the short stories I've been fortunate enough to sell to the SEP, along with a mini-synopsis of each:

1. "The Outside World" -- 2600 words -- March/April 2013 issue. A mysterious old woman helps a
young man who's been blinded in an accident regain his hope for the future. I remember that I wrote this non-mystery story really fast, after the idea first entered my head.

2. "The First of October" -- 1600 words -- Nov/Dec 2013. Fate brings two college sweethearts back together after many years of hardship and separation. This was sort of a romance story with a twist, and one that I was surprised (but happy) that the Post accepted.

3. "Margaret's Hero" -- 5300 words -- May/June 2014. A white child, her beloved horse, and an African American foreman create an unlikely and strong alliance. This was fun to write because it was done in a familiar southern setting and about the kind of folks I grew up around.

4. "Saving Grace" -- 4500 words -- July/Aug 2015. A grown son estranged from his mother returns to his hometown to find that an unfortunate (and illegal) incident in his past has miraculously affected later events. The plot for this story, which includes some fantasy elements, came to mind after one of my many viewings of It's a Wonderful Life.

5. "Business Class" -- 1500 words -- Nov/Dec 2015. A confrontation between an executive and an employee shows a planeful of office workers what's really important in life. No crime in this story, just issues of professionalism and power and corporate ethics. A few memories of my IBM career in this one.

6. "The Music of Angels" -- 2000 words -- Sep/Oct 2018. A home-healthcare nurse visiting an elderly patient in a rural area makes a discovery that will change the lives of two people. A lot of this story was based on real events, both at the college I attended and in my hometown. Also, not that it matters, I gave the three main characters the first names of our oldest son's three children.

7. "Calculus 1" -- 4000 words -- March/April 2019. A wealthy engineering student convinces his cash-poor roommate to help him cheat on a college exam. Again, no crimes committed here, just dishonesty and deception.

8. "The A Team" -- 2300 words -- July/Aug 2019. A drugstore employee and her five-year-old daughter find themselves in the middle of an armed-robbery attempt. This is one of those "framed" narratives, where everything starts in the present, goes into the past to tell the story, and ends in the present again.

If anyone's interested in this kind of thing, six of those stories were written in third-person, two in first-person, all of them feature very few named characters, and all were written in past tense.

Editorial stuff

One odd thing that I've noticed about these stories: the SEP editors like to use numbers instead of spelling them out. My policy's always been to spell out numbers from, say, one to ten--"I'll pay you five dollars at two o'clock"--but when I do that, they always change it to "I'll pay you 5 dollars at 2 o'clock." From an editing standpoint, I think that's the only thing I've differed with them about. (They won.)

Contentwise, I usually try to send stories to the SEP that are family-friendly. Most of those I've seen in the magazine seem to be geared to a wide audience and have sort of a down-home, "all-American" flavor. If I do a crime-related story and it's at all gritty or controversial, I usually target one of the mystery magazines with it instead.

The SEP also tends to publish accepted stories almost immediately, unlike many other markets.


How many of you have read the Post lately? Have you ever submitted a short story there? A nonfiction piece? How often do you venture away from mysteries and into the other genres? Where do you usually choose to send those other-genre stories? Do you occasionally try the literary journals? Have you had success there? How often are your stories influenced by novels or movies or other shorts you've read?

Whatever the case, keep up the good work! I'll be back in two weeks.


  1. Congratulations on your latest story in the Post, John. I used to subscribe to it a long time ago. It's good to see that it's getting back to form.

    I do venture away from mysteries on occasion and have had things published in various places. Sometimes I think it's good for us to try something new -- a good challenge.

  2. Way to go John. I am still confused about their submission process. Submitted a story to the magazine and it was accepted for their online stories. I found two different submission portals. Maybe I sent the story to the wrong one. I accepted of course and happy to be published there. Maybe you can help us by letting us know where you submit your stories. Magazine submission portal. Online submission portal.

  3. Wow, I didn't realize the SEP was still publishing. It was always on the coffee table when I was growing up, along with Collier's and a few of the other late-lamented standards.

    This is a fascinating post, John, because it shows your versatility. Almost everything I write is "crime fiction" by Penzler's definition, which I also subscribe to, but a lot of it isn't really "mystery." Some of my faves are borderline literary because I tend to worry a lot more about my characters than about my plot.

    I definitely have to look at the magazine again, both for reading and for a possible market.

    Thanks for writing this piece.

  4. Thank you, Paul--they've been good to me lately. Like you, I didn't even know the SEP was still around (or had been reborn) until I was told. As for different genres, I do still write a lot of fantasy/SF stories, seem westerns, etc., and a few that I guess could be called "literary," but mystery/crime stores are still, for me, more fun to write.

    O'Neil, I too am unsure about the best way to go about submitting to the SEP--I think all stories wind up archived online in the same place whatever process and portal is used. I found out about the magazine via my agent, who represents the two novels I've written and recently handled a film option deal for me. He usually stays out of the short-story world, but he happened to suggest to me, a few years ago, that I send him something to submit to the Post, and since then he has always made those submissions for me--so in the case of the SEP I'm not familiar with the regular submission process. I would suspect that writers could say, when they submit a story, that they'd like that story to be considered for the print edition as well as for the online venue (?). Wish I could be more help.

    Steve, I'm not sure whether I'm versatile or whether I just don't have sense enough to focus my efforts toward only one genre. My stories do tend to be crime-related because that's what I most enjoy reading, but now and then I find myself fascinated by a plot that goes off in an entirely different direction. I'm probably still not sure what kind of writer I want to be when I grow up. Thanks for the thoughts!

  5. Ah, that should be "some" westerns. I'm not sure what a seem western is. Sorry.

  6. Congratulations, John & Steve. Way to go!

  7. Congrats on your SEP success John! It’s not a magazine that’s been on my radar, but it definitely seems worth checking out. I’ve never written a story that could be considered family friendly, unless we’re talking the Addam’s Family, but maybe one day...

  8. Thanks, Larry. Hey, you can't go wrong with Morticia and Gomez.

  9. As soon as I saw the title, John, I knew what the article would say, but I was astonished, amazed, and pleased how thoroughly they're taken with your stories. Well done, John!

  10. How kind of you, Leigh. I have definitely been fortunate there--but as I've often said, I continue to get my fair share of rejection letters too. The thing to remember is, the markets do seem to be out there if we look hard enough for them.

    Many thanks!

  11. I still can't believe that I know TWO authors who have been published in SEP! (Jeffrey Ricker is the other, his story appeared in the online version!) Congrats again, John! Hmmm.... I've been reading another author who appeared in SEP way back when---Edgar Allan Poe!

  12. Thanks, Jeff. I have great memories of reading the old SEP, and the new version has certainly been kind to me so far.

    Hope all's well with you!

  13. Congrats yet again, John, on so many successes. I’m not a bit surprised. I smiled when I read “It’s a Wonderful Life” as it’s one of my favorites, too (for many reasons). Thanks for the great info!

  14. Thank you, Deborah! Still hoping to see you at Bouchercon this year.


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