Someone on my Facebook Friends list (waves to Angela) suggested that I should write a post about the rash of short story acceptances and publications that I’ve had this year so far.
Twelve so far in 2015, and March isn’t over yet. That’s really good for me. Some years I’ve only sold two or three stories in the whole year and other years none at all. So why is it coming good now? Are editors suddenly being impressed by my three book deal from DAW? Have I at last learned to write perfect short stories that no editor can turn down?
Ha! I wish!
My sudden run of good luck is entirely down to a kick in the pants administered by my Milford writer buddy Deborah Walker, who writes and sells an amazing number of excellent short stories. Deborah points out in no uncertain terms that unless you actually send out short stories, no one is going to buy them. It seems obvious, yet writer types are often great at writing but utter rubbish at marketing.
Because I’ve been busy working on the novels, I haven’t had much time for short story writing, but towards the back end of last year I took stock. I had a backlog of about thirty stories. Some were previous sales and therefore available to be resold as reprints. Others were new stories that had been sent out to a few markets, but had not sold. Just because a story doesn’t sell on its first submission doesn’t mean that it’s a poor story, all it means is that you didn’t land it on the right editor’s desk at the right time – and that’s often a matter of luck. I’ve sold stories on their first time out and on their twentieth.
So, with Deb’s advice in mind I started to send out my backlog of stories. Each time one bounced back I sent it out again, and again and again… And I had an acceptance, and another, and another.
So now it’s time for honesty. Yes I have eleven sales and publications to my credit in 2015, but how many submissions have I done to get those sales? Well, taking the last 3 months of 2014 and the first 3 of 2015 together (because some of the sales for 2015 were submitted in late 2014) I’ve made 88 submissions, had 41 form rejections, 19 encouraging personal rejections, 12 sales in 2015 plus 3 in 2014, and I still have 13 submissions out there. So of the 75 subs that I’ve had a response to I’ve sold 15. That’s a success rate of 20% if my maths hasn’t let me down completely. I’m delighted with that
So what about the ones that didn’t sell?
Rejections can vary from a simple: This story does not suit our needs at the present time, to an encouraging: I’m going to pass on this one, but I like your writing style, so please send something else. Sometimes writers pore over their rejection slips, trying to figure out whether their story was rejected by the first slush-pile reader, or whether it had been passed upwards for consideration before it was finally rejected by the editor-in-chief. Writers refer to this as ‘rejectomancy’ and to be honest, figuring anything out in this way is next to impossible. Save your time. Just send the damn story out again.
In fact that’s all there is to it, really. Write a story; polish it until it’s as good as you can make it; format it correctly; research potential markets; pick one that looks like a good fit and send it out. Unless the market’s own guidelines say that they are prepared to accept sim-subbed pieces (i.e. pieces submitted simultaneously to more than one market) then send it out to one market at a time. There are several good market listings, but I recommend Ralan and The Grinder as being the two I find most useful.
Whatever it says in the market listings you must go to the publication’s own web page. Read the guidelines. If the editor asks for your story formatted in purple ink on pink paper in curlicue font, then do it. Most likely you’ll be asked to submit it in standard manuscript format, i.e. double spaced on letter or A4 paper with one inch margins in 12 point font (Times New Roman will work, but you can still use Courier if you have a yen for it). Most markets are happy to have your story as a .doc or .rtf file. Some accept .docx and some prefer you to paste it into the body of an email. Whatever they ask for, do it! Make sure your address and contact details are included on your actual document. No one can buy your story if they don’t know how to get in touch with you.
If the story sells, great. If not, don’t take the rejection as a personal slight, just shrug and send it out again.
So this is what I’ve had published or sold since the beginning of 2015.
Late Breakfast published in Every Day Fiction
Mort’s Laws sold to Nature’s Futures (Due to be published in April)
Pitch sold to Ten: Thou Shalt Not, anthology, Knightwatch Press, due in July 2015
The Loneliness of the Long Distance Panda (reprint) published in Buzzymag.com
Last Train published in Grievous Angel
The Urbane Fox (reprint) published in Trysts of Fate
Times Two published in Saturday Night Reader
Mirror Mirror sold to Alfiedog.com (to be published shortly, online)
A Taste of Oranges sold to Perihelion (to be published shortly)
The Oracle is Never Wrong (reprint) to Beam Me Up (podcast)
The Jewel of Locaria (reprint) in Sorcerous Signals and Mystic Signals
And A Murder of Crows has been accepted by an anthology pending a Kickstarter bid for funding.
So there you have it. Go forth and sub!