01 August 2015
by John M. Floyd
As some of you know, I write mostly short fiction. I've done SF, fantasy, romance, Westerns, horror, and all kinds of combinations, but most of my stories are mysteries, and for good reason: that's what I prefer to read. My favorite books, stories, and authors have always been in the mystery/crime/suspense genre.
I have also come to realize that a mystery story can sometimes fit into a non-mystery market. It probably won't surprise you that most of my mystery/crime stories are submitted first to either (1) themed anthologies or (2) magazines like AHMM, EQMM, and The Strand. If you're a writer of that kind of fiction, I suspect that you do the same. But occasionally it makes sense to also send mystery stories to other kinds of magazines and anthos.
A few months ago, I wrote a story called "Saving Grace," that was sort of a sentimental paranormal mystery. In fact I wrote it with the mystery mags firmly in mind, and planned from the start to submit it first to Hitchcock because they sometimes seem a bit more receptive than the others to stories with otherworldly plots. When I finished it, though, it had a "literary" feel to it as well--it dealt heavily with family relationships and the main character changes his outlook on life in the course of the story, etc.--so I decided to send it first to The Saturday Evening Post, which has been kind to me lately anyway. I was pleased to find that they liked it, and it wound up being published in their current print issue (July/August 2015). It will also be released online on August 7 at their web site--I'll try to remember to post a link to it in my next SleuthSayers column.
The idea for that story came to me years ago, from a Sidney Sheldon novel--I can't remember its name--that included what I considered a clever way to emotionally "connect" the reader to a protagonist. In that book, as I recall, an always-reliable female prison inmate had been asked by the warden to watch over his small child each day, out in the off-limits area near the prison gates. As any fan of crime fiction knows, routines can be risky, and sure enough, the inmate winds up planning an escape via the laundry truck that departs through that area every morning. But on that particular day, as she prepares to jump into the truck and hide on its way out of the prison grounds, the child she's babysitting slips and falls into a water tank and is about to drown. The inmate abandons her escape attempt, dives into the tank instead of into the truck, and saves the child. This happens early on and is not really that big a plot point in the novel, but it's one that stuck in my memory. After all, few things are more endearing to readers than the sacrifice of personal gain--the prisoner's freedom, in this case--in order to perform a noble and selfless act.
With that idea in the back of my mind, I built a story that begins with a situation happening in the present, goes back twenty-five years to tell a different story with a different plot, and then flashes forward again to the present for the conclusion. I sort of like that kind of "framed" story-within-a-story construction anyway, where the events of the past connect directly and unexpectedly to the protagonist's current dilemma. That of course doesn't work for every story, but for some it does--and when it does, it creates a "circular" ending that seems to appeal to readers.
The long and short of it
My point is, I think there will always be places to sell mystery/crime stories, short or long, lighthearted or profound, straight or diluted--and not just to the mystery pubs. All good stories need conflict, and I believe one of the two advantages of crime stories is that a degree of conflict is always there, already built in. (The other advantage is that in crime stories justice usually prevails, and readers are attracted to that.) If you don't like that kind of story, if you prefer reading/writing only "literary" fiction, so be it--or, as Arthur Fonzarelli might've said, Go sit on a watchman. Seriously, as for myself, having now read both of Harper Lee's novels, I've decided that one of the many reasons I prefer Mockingbird to its sequel (prequel?) is that TKaM was, at its core, a mystery story. It was of course many other kinds of fiction as well--Southern, coming-of-age, historical, courtroom drama, literary, etc.--but I think the mystery/suspense element involving Boo Radley was what made it special, and enduring.
Let's hear it for crossing genres
All of you are readers, and many of you are writers. To those of you who (exclusively or occasionally) write short mysteries: Do you always have certain markets in mind when you craft your stories? Do you write them and only then think of where they might be sent? Have you tried submitting any of your mystery/crime stories to a non-mystery publication? I'm a firm believer that some mystery stories and novels can be just as "literary" as the Zhivagos and the Cuckoo's Nests and the Grapes of Wraths of this world; in fact I would put crime/adventure novels like Mystic River and Deliverance and The Silence of the Lambs up against any of them, literaturewise. Pet peeve alert: Why should the fact that a crime is central to the plot (the widely accepted definition of mystery fiction) make it any less literary? Over the years, my mystery stories have sneaked in under the wire at Pleiades, Thema, The Atlantean Press Review, and several other so-called litmags.
The only advice I would presume to give, about all this, is (1) write the story or novel you want to write, without worrying much about the category; (2) submit it to an editor or publisher who'll make you proud if it's accepted; and then (3) forget it and write something else. I've been doing that for twenty-one years now.
God help me, I love it.
27 June 2015
by John M. Floyd
I was talking to a beginning writer the other day (a writer of short stories, since most of what I do is the short stuff), and she said to me, "Yeah, I want to get published--but the main thing is, I want to get paid."
Hard to argue with that. All writers--including me--want to be paid for what we produce. And while I didn't tell her that she shouldn't aim for that (I'm dumb but I'm not stupid, and neither is she), I did tell her that there are times when she might want to also consider publishing something for which she's not paid. At least not in dollars.
Here you go, buddy--no charge
Let's say you're an aspiring writer of short stories, and let's say I'm a teacher who's smarter than I really am. What I would tell you is, I believe it can be helpful to a shorts writer, especially when starting out, to occasionally submit something to a magazine or anthology that pays only "in copies"--which means they will send you a least one copy of the issue containing your story, sometimes called an "author copy" or a "contributor's copy." This gives you a couple of things besides just something to put on your coffeetable and brag to your friends about. It gives you (1) a publishing credit and (2) exposure.
Well, whoop-de-doo, right? Credentials and exposure won't pay the rent--they won't even buy you a burger and fries, or a stamp to put on your next snailmailed submission. But, hey, if you build up several respectable credits that you can use later in your cover letters and bios, or if a publisher or agent or another editor happens to see your story in, say, a non-paying university litmag, and likes it . . . well, that's not a bad use of your time and your effort.
The same thing goes for speaking engagements. Most writers are regularly asked to visit libraries, schools, senior centers, civic groups, book clubs, etc.--any venue that needs someone to come in and teach a quick workshop or fill a program slot. These places will sometimes reward you with a payment or cover your travel expenses or both, and when they do, that's great. But sometimes they don't, or can't. IF they don't, or can't, why should you do it? Well, if you're Stephen King or J.K. Rowling, maybe you shouldn't. But if you're me, and probably if you're you, there are times when doing these events can be a good move. For one thing--as mentioned earlier--it's exposure. It lets you get your name and your work out there in front of more readers and potential customers. Once again, this kind of goodwill gesture won't pay the light bill--but it can pay off in the long run. And free events often lead to fee events.
On the other hand . . .
Show me the money!
There is a second school of thought--and the longer I write, I find myself inching more and more into that camp--that says "If I'm creating a product and providing a service, I expect to be paid for it." Those who take this approach insist that it's not only sensible but time-saving. It involves less research and fewer submissions. You just concentrate on the publications that pay, and avoid all the others.
While there aren't a ton of paying markets these days, there are some, including AHMM, EQMM, The Strand Magazine, Over My Dead Body, Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, and Woman's World. And a good many more if you consider anthologies, and the so-called literary markets that are sometimes receptive to mystery/suspense stories: Zoetrope, The Sun, Thema, The Missouri Review, Harper's, The Saturday Evening Post, Ploughshares, Glimmer Train Stores, Pleiades, Tin House, and so on. We've talked many times at this blog about what it takes to make a story "literary," and the fact that crime fiction sometimes fits into that category. My friend and fellow Mississippian Tom Franklin's short story "Poachers," which won an Edgar Award and appeared in The Best American Mystery Stories 1999, was originally published not in AH or EQ but in The Texas Review.
If you're a writer of short fiction, what's your opinion on this kind of thing? Are you ever willing to send your work to a non-paying publication? If so, which ones do you prefer? If not, under what conditions might you be willing?
Also, what paying mags and anthologies do you submit stories to? At which of these have you been successful, and which ones might you recommend? What do you think about fee vs. free speaking/teaching engagements?
This little piggy went to market . . .
In closing, here are some Web resources I've used in the past, to find possible homes for my work:
- Ralan's Webstravaganza -- This isn't just for SF/fantasy stories (even though it says it is). The big mystery magazines, for example, are included. It also lists anthologies.
- My Little Corner
- The Short Mystery Fiction Society Blog
- Mystery Readers International
- Fiction Factor
Those last two sites might be a bit dated, but there are still some good listings and good tips to be found there.
Another place--and a great print reference--that lists pay and no-pay markets is Novel & Short Story Writers Market (WD Books). A new edition is printed every year, and it features a "genre index" section that lists those places that consider mystery submissions. And sometimes the best approach is the simplest: Forget the market listings altogether and just key something like "short mystery markets" into Google and check out the resulting links.
Wherever you go and however you do it . . . good hunting! Or, to paraphrase one of my boyhood heroes: Write long and prosper.
23 June 2012
by John M. Floyd
There's been a lot of talk lately in online blogs and forums (I can't bring myself to say "fora") about short mystery markets. Most of the discussions have focused on the fact that there aren't many of them left.
On the one hand, that's true. There certainly are fewer now than in the short-story heyday of the forties and fifties, and I would guess that there aren't even as many as there were ten or twelve years ago. Sometimes--especially if I find myself in a gloomy mood anyway--I still mourn the passing of magazines like Murderous Intent, Red Herring Mystery Magazine, Mystery Time, Futures, Detective Mystery Stories, Crimestalker Casebook, etc. The editors of those publications were extremely kind to me.
On the other hand, there are still a number of places out there that publish short mysteries, and consider unsolicited submissions. I've come up with four categories that short-story writers might want to investigate, and have listed a few magazines that I know about first-hand.
1. Print markets
Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine -- AHMM and EQMM have both been around for more than fifty years now, and they remain two of the top choices for mystery writers and readers. AH is digest-sized and considers original stories up to 12,000 words in length; payment is based on word count. They publish monthly except for two double-month issues each year, and occasionally feature short-shorts. The magazine is available via subscription and at most large bookstores. Editor: Linda Landrigan.
Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine -- Sister publication to AHMM, although they operate seperately and do not share submissions. Includes a "Department of First Stories" for unpublished writers. They too are digest-sized, publish monthly with two double-issues, consider original stories up to 12K, and pay by the word, and they offer an online submission system that makes it easy for you to submit and check the status of your manuscript. Available via subscription and bookstores. Editor: Janet Hutchings.
The Strand Magazine -- A rebirth of the famous Strand that began in London in 1891. It features original mystery stories of almost any length, plus articles, book reviews, interviews with top writers, and a series that profiles the fictional Great Detectives. Full-sized glossy magazine, published quarterly, available via subscription and off the rack at major bookstores. Usually includes five or six mystery stories in each issue. Editor: Andrew F. Gulli.
Woman's World -- A weekly publication that features one original romance story and one mystery in every issue. For mysteries the maximum word count is 700, and the payment is a flat rate of $500. Full-sized magazine, established in 1980, circulation around two million, receives 2500 submissions per month. Available via subscription, and can also be found on the racks at most supermarkets, Targets, Walmarts, etc. Fiction Editor: Johnene Granger.
Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine -- Digest-sized, published quarterly by Wildside Press. A paying market (some have called it more of a book than a magazine) featuring original mystery stories, reviews, Holmes pastiches, nonfiction articles, and even some supernatural stories in the style of the old London Mystery Magazine. Several issues have been published so far, with #8 upcoming. Editor: Marvin Kaye.
2. Online markets
Over My Dead Body -- Monthly e-zine, billed as "The Mystery Magazine Online." Paying market. Each issue features interviews, short stories, book reviews, and movie reviews. Editor: Cherie Jung.
Mysterical-E -- Online magazine of mystery/crime/suspense/fantasy, for more than ten years. Includes a dozen or more short stories and several interviews and reviews in each quarterly issue. Many, many stories are available in its archive area. Non-paying market. Editor: Joseph DeMarco.
Orchard Press Mysteries -- Longtime e-zine of mystery stories, general fiction, and poetry. Guidelines instruct submitters to query first, using the OPM website's query form. Non-paying market. Editor/Publisher: Richard Heagy.
The most familiar of these are probably the annual "best-of" publications sponsored by national organizations like Mystery Writers of America, but many other anthologies pop up from time to time. Some might contact you and request that you contribute a new story or allow them to use a previously published piece, and some might put out a general "call for submissions" and then choose from those as magazines do. Many anthologies wind up published before we as writers even know they were being planned, but if you find out about them in time they remain a good market for shorts.
I should note that some anthologies require original stories and others take reprints. (Some even prefer reprints.) Payment can be via royalties or a flat rate, and in some cases anthologies--like some magazines--pay only "in copies," by sending you at least one copy of the book in which your story appears. Even if you wind up working for free, it's still a publishing credit for your resume.
There's another advantage as well. If your story is accepted in an impressive anthology, it gives you the satisfaction of appearing in a book alongside names that you might know and respect.
There are some non-mystery publications that occasionally feature mystery fiction. I've sold a bunch of mystery stories to places like Grit, Pleiades, Listen, Thema, Phoebe, and even Star Magazine--no typical mystery/suspense markets in that group. So it never hurts to use the Internet or a guide like Novel & Short Story Writers Market to help you ferret out mainstream or literary magazines that also happen to use mysteries now and then.
Another alternative is to find a traditional publisher that will produce a collection of your short mysteries. I've had three such books published by a small press, and another is scheduled to be released next spring. And there's always the option of self-publishing your stories (individually or in a collection) in e-book form--something I've not yet explored, although I do have a couple of stories out there and e-available via Untreed Reads Publishing.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained
So that's my pitch for today. Some of the markets I've suggested are more prestigious than others, some pay better than others, some take longer to respond to submissions than others--but they are all buyers of what we as writers have to sell, and producers of what all of us suspense-fiction junkies like to read. Personally, I try to regularly send something to all of them, and I try not to sink into a deep depression when I receive rejections, of which there are many. (I've been fortunate lately, though: new stories are scheduled for publication in AHMM, The Strand, Woman's World, Sherlock Holmes, and several others. Nothing upcoming in EQMM, but believe me, I'm trying.)
Unfortunately, there is no magic formula in the marketing of short fiction, mystery or otherwise. It's like roulette or bingo or the shooting arcade at the county fair: You pays your money and you takes your chances. (As R.T. said in his column yesterday, you might "step right up" and not be a winner.) But don't let your concerns about rejection keep you from playing the game. As I told one of my writing students, I can't promise you your manuscript will be published if you send it in--but I can promise you it won't be if you don't.
Now where did I put that salesman suit . . . ?