I don’t write much short fiction these days unless I get an invitation to contribute to an anthology. Mostly it’s because I’m too busy writing long fiction. My novels are published by DAW in the USA. I’ve just signed a contract for Amber Crown to be published in January 2022.
Let’s go back six years… I’d just delivered my first two books to DAW, so I set aside some time to try and place the backlog of stories I’d written, sent out a couple of times, and shelved. I decided that I would send them out and keep sending them out until they sold. Within a few months I’d sold nineteen stories. In less than 6 months I’d doubled my all-time total of short story sales.
Some years I’ve only sold two or three stories in the whole year, and other years none at all. So why the sudden surge? Were editors suddenly being impressed by my book deals from DAW? Had I at last learned to write perfect short stories that no editor could turn down?
Ha! I wish!
My sudden run of good luck is entirely down to a kick in the pants administered by my writer friend 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 (like me) are often good at writing but utter rubbish at marketing.
Towards the back end of 2014 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 submitted 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.
With Deb’s advice in mind I started to send out my backlog of stories. Each time one bounced back I immediately (same day) 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 achieved nineteen sales and publications in 2014/15, but how many submissions did I make to get those sales? Well, taking the last three months of 2014 and the first three of 2015 together (because I started my submissions project in October 2014) I made eighty-six submissions, had forty-one form rejections, nineteen encouraging personal rejections, sixteen sales in 2015 plus three in 2014. So in total I sold nineteen short stories.
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. Either cast the runes or, better still, 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. When it comes back, pick another market and send it out again. If it sells, that’s a bonus. Some writers select their preferred markets by the remuneration, others send first to markets that are known to have a fast turnaround. A rejection in two or three days leaves you free to send the story out again. whereas some markets take two or three months, or even longer.
Always remember that the best answer after YES, is a fast and firm NO. It leaves you free to find a market better suited to your story. The worst thing from a writer’s point of view is a long wait of six months followed by a rejection, or simply never hearing back at all.
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 your story 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.
Ralan and The Grinder will point you in the right direction, but then go to your chosen publication’s own web page. Read the guidelines. If the editor asks for it formatted in purple ink on pink paper in curlicue font, then do it, but most likely you’ll be asked to submit it black on white, standard format, i.e. double spaced on American letter or A4 paper with one inch margins in 12 point font. Times New Roman will work, but you can still use Courier. Most markets are happy to have your story as a doc, docx, or rtf file. Some prefer you to paste it into the body of an email. Hardly any require paper submissions these days. Whatever they ask for, do it! Make sure your address and contact details are included on your actual document (unless they ask for an anonymised submission with your contact details separate). 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.
As proof of the pudding I can tell you that my frequency of sales has dropped back to one or two a year since my spurt in 2014/15. That’s because I’ve been so busy finishing the latest novel that I haven’t had time to follow my own rules and send out the returned stories. It’s also because I haven’t written many new short stories in the last few years, and most of the ones I have written have been for specific anthologies.
So, write your stories and send them out. When they come back in, send them out again. It works. A funny thing happens when you stop sending them out… they stop selling. Who’d have guessed it?
My short story sales are logged on my website here: http://www.jaceybedford.co.uk/shorts.htm