Playing the Short Game: How to Sell Your Short Fiction (Part 8 in series)

Where Do I Look?: How to find short fiction markets

Welcome back. This is the eighth in my (mostly) weekly series of posts on how to market and sell short fiction. This series is written in a specific sequence, with each post building on earlier ones, so if you haven’t already, please read my earlier posts here.

Last week, in part 7, I explained why you should “start at top” when deciding where to first send a story, meaning starting with the very best markets and working down your list from there until you get a sale. A top market is defined as one that pays professional rates (at least five cents a word), publishes stories that regularly appear on award ballots, and has a good cachet in the business.

This week, I provide some online resources for identifying available short fiction markets, and talk about how to use them to select your list of top markets.

Magazines versus Anthologies

A short fiction writer has two basic types of markets for selling first rights: magazines (either print and/or electronic, where electronic could be a web-based magazine or one provided in ebook or PDF format) and anthologies (again, either print and/or electronic).

I mentioned this in part 4, but it bears repeating since so many beginners confuse the terms. An “anthology” is a book-length work that contains stories from different authors. A “collection” is a book-length work that contains stories from a single author. The terms are not interchangeable, people. (I’ll talk about publishing a collection of your short fiction in a (much) future post. Before you can publish a collection, you need to have both sold a bunch of short stories and built a name for yourself.)

Between magazines and anthologies, my personal choice is to focus on the big pro magazine markets first, including Asimov’s, Analog, Magazine of Fantasy & SF, Ellery Queen, and Alfred Hitchcock. I’ll send to other non-genre top markets before these, but you should understand that they are a harder sell, in general and for genre in particular. These include The New Yorker, Playboy, Glimmer Train, and the Carus Publishing age-bracketed magazines like Cricket and Cicada. All of these magazines meet the criteria for a top market.

I send to the top magazines before anthologies simply because of the visibility a sale to those markets brings, both in terms of award potential and looking good on your resume. I’ll consider anthologies after I’ve run out of the top magazines. The exceptions are anthologies with a high profile editor or an anthology in a series that has a very good name in the market (the cachet factor on your writing resume). I’ll also consider a pro anthology before a top magazine if the anthology’s theme is a very good fit for my story, especially if my story is a little off-beat and might have a hard time finding a home in a magazine.

Finding the Markets: Ralan.com

The good news for short fiction writers is that a number of excellent and free market resources exist on the web. In my opinion, the best market list for speculative fiction markets is www.ralan.com. The site is maintained by writer Ralan Conley, and since 1994 it has consistently been the go-to, one-stop-shopping place to find current short fiction genre markets: science fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery, slipstream, etc. (but not so much romance). And it’s free.

Yes, there are other market lists out there, but I’ve relied on Ralan’s list for fifteen years. A market may from time to time appear first in another market list, but Ralan will add it to his very quickly. Save yourself time and effort–get to know Ralan’s list and visit it regularly. You can also sign up for his mailing list and receive a summary of changes to the various lists each month.

Ralan’s site is organized into separate pages based on pay rate (pro, semi-pro, etc.) and market format (magazines, anthologies, audio etc.). Ignore the audio markets for now. I’ll be talking about selling audio and other rights to your stories in a future post. For now, we are focusing on selling first print rights (either physical print or electronic print), so you should focus on magazines and anthologies.

For pay rates, Ralan separates magazines into professional (paying at least 5 cents a word), semi-professional (3-4 cents per word), pay (1-2 cents per word), token (less than 1 cent per word), and exposure (no pay–and, by the way, no exposure either, because no one reads these mags). He splits anthologies into those paying at least one cent per word, and those paying below that.

So how should you use Ralan’s site? For a first rights sale, you’re only interested in the top markets (meaning those that pay at least 5 cents a word), which means you need to look at just two of his pages:

  • Professional magazines (http://www.ralan.com/m.pro.htm); and,
  • Anthologies paying at least one cent per word (http://www.ralan.com/m.antho.htm). For this page, simply ignore the anthologies that are paying below professional rates. We’ll come back to lower paying anthologies in a future post, when we discuss reprint markets.

 

Other Genre Lists

I’ll mention a couple of other genre market lists. One is Duotrope (https://duotrope.com), which until recently was a free and popular service. You now need to purchase a subscription to access their list of markets. Duotrope also offers the ability to search markets based on a number of factors, such as pay rate, genre, word length, and whether they take reprints.

Another market list option is The Grinder (http://thegrinder.diabolicalplots.com/thegrinder/), with a search feature similar to Duotrope, but unlike Duotrope, The Grinder is (so far) a free service.

Personally, I’d never found a search feature to be that useful. Professional magazine markets aren’t that numerous, so becoming familiar with all of them is not that onerous. If you plan to be a professional writer, than you need to spend the time and effort to learn your market. Review Ralan’s list and then check out the websites for the online magazines or purchase some sample copies for the print magazines (many of which now offer ebook versions of their issues).

Ralan also posts new markets and updates at the top of each category page, so once you’ve learned a market list, it’s pretty easy to keep up with new, updated, or dead markets by simply checking his site once a month.

Literary (non-Genre) Markets

If you write mainstream short fiction and are interested in literary (non-genre) markets, than you should check out http://www.pw.org/literary_magazines. This list also provides a search feature, includes a filtering option for selecting markets based on their format (print, web, etc.), genre (in this case, fiction vs. poetry), and most importantly, paying vs. non-paying (the payment feature is under “more filter options”).

Submission Tracking

A popular feature that both Duotrope and The Grinder offer is a submission tracker. I’ll discuss submission tracking in detail later in this series, including some free software in addition to these two sites. Right now, I want you to focus on getting your first story out to the right market. For now, just understand that once you have multiple stories out to market, you will need some process or tool to track your stories and their status, or you’ll get into big trouble.

Next week

So now you have some resources to let you identify the professional markets that are out there along with some rules to develop your own list of top markets. Next week, I’ll discuss how to determine which of the top markets on your personal list is the best fit for your story.

Next week: Markets, Markets Everywhere: How to select the right market

As always, please feel free to add comments and questions, and I’ll respond as best (and as soon as) I can.

~~~~~

PLAYING THE SHORT GAME  — The Book!

I am thrilled to announce that I have now repackaged the 32 separate posts that make up this blog series into a book titled Playing the Short Game: How to Market & Sell Short Fiction. The book is completely updated and reorganized, with new material not in this blog series, plus an introduction from multi-genre, multi-award winning writer and editor, Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Here’s an extract from Kris’s intro:

Douglas Smith is the best person to write this book. … He’s one of the few people who has probably published more short fiction than I have, and in more countries, and more high-paying markets. He loves the short story as much as I do, and he’s good at writing them.

He’s just as good at the business side of the profession. He knows more about marketing short stories to other countries than I do. He understands how to manage short fiction contracts very well. He’s up-to-date on 21st century publishing practices, and he has a toughness that the best business people need.

We short story writers have needed a book like this for decades. I’m glad Doug decided to write it. Read and reread this volume. Because you’ll learn something each time you do. And take Doug’s advice. It’s spectacular.

—Kristine Kathryn Rusch

More information on the book, including full buying links for all major retailer sites, is available on my website here.

As a special offer to Amazing Stories readers, I’m offering discounts in my bookstore. Get the ebook or print edition at a discount by using the coupon codes AS-SHORT-E or AS-SHORT-P respectively at my website bookstore. Enjoy!

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10 Comments

  1. I need some help identifying which genre to place my short story. Is that something you could help with? I am familiar with the basics and some sub-genres, but there are so many.

    1. Nearest I can tell it is some sort of mix between Age Regression Sci-Fi and Fantasy. Because the particular age regression in my story does not fit the science part of science fiction.

        1. They don’t. Magazines will state the type of story and genre that they publish, but they don’t generally get that specific. And you don’t need to identify the genre or sub-genre of your story in your cover letter. So basically, don’t worry about it. Just make sure that you read the mag or antho’s guidelines and that your story is a good match for what they are looking for.

  2. This is great info, Doug! I can personally attest to using some of the resources you mentioned here to great success. Your own listing for foreign markets was very useful for me: it opened several wonderful doors! Thanks again!

    Best,

    Nina Munteanu

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