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.
27 June 2015
04 January 2014
by John Floyd
Two weeks ago I posted about story sales in 2013 and tried to address some issues about the number of submissions that we writers make to short fiction markets. What I didn't address was the number of rejections I received for the stories I submitted in 2013. Counting those up is always about as enjoyable as eating a live frog with blue cheese and anchovies, but I did it--and discovered that I was given a thumbs-down 14 times last year. That's a lot.
We always hear and read about the fact that rejections are to be expected and not dreaded, and that writers have to learn not to dwell on them. Well, that advice may be true, but--as with most other pieces of advice--it's easier given than followed. Nobody likes to be rejected, whether the subject is manuscripts or salary increases or dates to the prom.
Allow me to digress a moment. Years ago, when I hired on with IBM, I went through an eighteen-month training period during which I--like all sales and systems-engineering rookies--shuttled back and forth between my local branch office and classroom courses at various IBM education centers across the country. In my case, I first spent a month at the branch office; then a month in class in San Jose, California; several more months in my home branch; two months in class in downtown Los Angeles; several more months back home; two more months in class in L.A.; several more months at home; and finally a month in class in Endicott, New York, to end my year-and-a-half. The time at the local office was always spent getting field experience and studying for the next trip to a course location, and the courses themselves were a marathon of lectures, case studies, presentations, and eighteen-hour days that made me wish I was back in military boot camp.
My point (there is a point here, believe it or not) is that those ed-center classes served a second purpose: they thinned the herd. On the morning of the first day of every course, we newly-arrived students were given an entrance exam covering the material that we'd studied for the past few months, and those who didn't pass were quietly approached during lunch, kicked out of the class, and flown back home at the expense of their branch. The rumor, and this was never verified, was that anyone who failed one of those exams never continued with the company. I do know that I stayed with IBM for thirty years and I never once saw any of those folks again.
That, my friends, is rejection. To me, it's on a par with being abandoned in your wedding dress at the altar, or turned down for a loan by the last bank in town. And though no one knew it back then, similar fates would await some of those who went through the widespread downsizing of the national workforce twenty years later, when so many large companies "restructured." Those were grim times. We used to joke (miserably) that the motto in Corporate America in the 1990s was "Beheadings will continue until morale improves."
On a lesser scale…
I realize I'm being a little extreme, here. Literary rejection, although certainly unpleasant, doesn't compare to any of that. The rejection of a story or novel manuscript is not only a rite of passage for new writers, it can be a regular occurrence to many fiction authors throughout their careers. Lawrence Block once said that rejection letters are membership cards to the universal fellowship of writers. But they're still no fun.
In a 2012 piece for Glimmer Train, author Katherine Ryan Hyde (who wrote Pay It Forward and many other novels) revealed that she was rejected 122 times before her first story sale, but was able to put it into the correct perspective. I especially liked one of her observations: "I think the most damaging misconception about rejection is that your work has been judged as 'bad.' . . . In reality, you don't know how it was received."
The following are some of her suggested (and paraphrased) reasons that an editor might have for rejecting a short story:
1. I just didn't like it.
2. I liked it but I didn't love it.
3. It was good, but suited to a different type of publication.
4. I short-listed eight stories and had space for only four.
5. I liked it but couldn't sell the other editors on it.
Good reasons. And there are probably many more, including "we ran a story similar to it last month," or "it's a bit too long," or "my back hurts, and I didn't get enough sleep last night." As Ms. Hyde mentioned, there's usually just no way to know the reason a story got rejected, and it does no good to worry about it. One point, though: if you've already sold a lot of stories to a particular editor, he or she will sometimes come right out and tell you why a story didn't make the cut. I know for sure that some of my stories have failed because of reason number 5, above. If the editor-in-chief vetoes it, it doesn't matter how many lesser editors okayed it. Does that knowledge make me feel any better, or make it any easier to make a sale to that market in the future? Not really. But, again, it's important to remember that not all rejected stores were rejected because they were poorly written.
Do you recall how many rejections you received (novel, short story, nonfiction) before the publication of your first work? Did you at any point find yourself discouraged or frustrated? Did you ever come close to quitting? I think all writers suffer some measure of self-doubt, and a long run of rejections is a frequent cause.
To paint all this in an brighter light,
Consider the following:
- Grisham's A Time to Kill was rejected by 16 agents and 12 publishers.
- 12 publishers rejected J. K. Rowling's first Harry Potter novel.
- 20 publishers turned down Thor Heyerdahl's Kon-Tiki and William Paul Young's The Shack.
- 21 publishers rejected Richard Hooker's M*A*S*H.
- Catch-22 was bought on its (?) 22nd try.
- 23 publishers rejected Frank Herbert's Dune.
- 24 agents turned down The Notebook (Nicholas Sparks). A week after the 25th accepted it, it sold to Time-Warner for a million dollars.
- Carrie got 30 rejections.
- Gone With the Wind got 38.
- The Cat in the Hat got 46.
- Stephen King's early short story "The Glass Floor" received 60 rejections, before selling for $35.
- 60 agents rejected Kathryn Stockett's The Help. The 61st accepted it, and it was sold three weeks later.
And the REALLY big numbers . . .
- The Chicken Soup for the Soul series was rejected 140 times
- Louis L'Amour was rejected 200 times before Bantam published his work.
- It took Alex Haley eight years and 200 rejections to sell Roots.
- F. Scott Fitzgerald is said to have received more than 300 rejections before he sold a story, and Jack London received 600.
- John Creasey, the world's most prolific crime writer, wrote his first published novel on the backs of 743 rejection letters.
So the next time you get one of those cold, prissy little notes that says "We regret that your submission does not meet our requirements" (which, for me, will probably be tomorrow), go ahead and say a dirty word. I do. But remember this:
You're in pretty good company.