Playing the Short Game: How to Sell Your Short Fiction (Part 1)

Introduction: Who I am and what this series will cover

Hi and welcome. This is the first in a weekly series of posts I’ll be doing on how to market and sell short fiction. In this initial post, I’ll explain who this series is aimed at, why I think I can help you sell your short fiction, and finally, outline what I plan to cover in the series (and what I won’t be covering).

First, let me say how very cool it is to be part of the relaunch of Amazing Stories. One of my first professional sales was to AS back in the late 90’s (“State of Disorder” in issue #595) when Kim Mohan was the fiction editor. I still remember the thrill of being in an issue with Jack Williamson and Frederic Pohl. Back then, AS was also one of the few magazines with a circulation large enough to be a “qualifying publication” for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. My sale to AS eventually led to me being one of five finalists on the 2001 Campbell ballot (I lost).

Who This Series is Aimed At

Let’s get started. I’m aiming this series at the new (or fairly new) short fiction writer. That’s not to say that more experienced writers might not pick up some tips, but I’m assuming that my target audience is the newbie. Also, although much of the advice I give here will apply to any short fiction, I’ll be aiming at genre writers, and mostly SF, fantasy, and horror writers, since that’s what I mostly write.

Who I Am

So why do I think I can help you sell your short fiction? Well, I’ve been selling stories since 1997, and selling them regularly with multiple sales each year. I have over a hundred sales in thirty countries and twenty-five languages around the world, including Amazing Stories, InterZone, Cicada, Baen’s Universe, Weird Tales, The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror, Postscripts, On Spec, The Third Alternative, as well as ever so many professional anthologies and other magazines.

I’ve twice won Canada’s Aurora Award for short fiction, and have been a finalist for the international John W. Campbell Award, Canada’s juried Sunburst Award, the CBC Bookies award, and France’s juried Prix Masterton and Prix Bob Morane. I’ve published three collections of short fiction: Chimerascope (ChiZine, 2010), Impossibilia (PS Publishing, 2008), and a translated fantasy collection, La Danse des Esprits (Dreampress, France, 2011). Check out my website at for more information.

And if you still not convinced, here’s a quote from Hugo and Nebula award winning author, Robert J. Sawyer: “Douglas Smith is, quite simply, the finest short-story writer Canada has ever produced in the science fiction and fantasy genres, and he’s also the most prolific. His stories are a treasure trove of riches that will touch your heart while making you think.”

But ultimately, you’ll decide if my advice is worthwhile based on its value to you. So let’s get to what this series will cover.

What This Series Will Cover

Below is a list of the topics that I’ll be addressing in the order that I expect to deal with them. I think that each bullet will translate into a weekly post, but I really won’t know until I write each topic.

  • Why Are You Writing?: Deciding on the writing career that you want
  • Why Short Fiction?: The benefits of the short game to a writing career
  • Why You Never “Sell” a Story: Understanding rights and licensing
  • I’ve Written a Story. Now What?: Marketing short fiction
    • But How Do I Know It’s Ready?: Dealing with submission fear
    • Where to First?: How to choose short fiction markets
    • Dear Editor… : How to submit short fiction
    • The No-No’s: What not to do when submitting
    • The Numbers Game: What to do after you’ve submitted (Hint: write)
    • Behind the Curtain: How an editor chooses (or rejects) a story
    • Oh God, They Hate Me: Dealing with rejections
    • To Fix or Not to Fix: Handling feedback in rejections
    • To Drawer or Not to Drawer: When to stop submitting a story (Hint: Never)
    • Drawing the Line: What to do when you run out of your markets
  • I’ve Sold a Story. Now what?: Contracts, Editing, and Reality
    • Sign Here: What to look (and look out) for in short fiction contracts
    • I Love Your Story. Now Change It: Working with an editor
    • Miles or Kilometres: How to handle copy edits
    • But You Bought My Last Story: What your first sale really means
  • Let the Band Ring Out and the Banners Fly: To promote or not promote
    • Me, Me, ME!: How much is too much? (Hint: most of what you’re planning)
    • All You Need is Love: The key promotion tools
  • I’ve Published a Story: Is that all there is?
    • The Magic Bakery: Selling your story again (and again, and again…)
    • This story first appeared in… : Selling second rights (reprints) in English
    • Bonjour / Hola / Ciao: Selling foreign language rights
    • Curling up with a good podcast: Selling audio rights
    • Lights, Camera, Action: Selling film rights
    • Curling up with a good epub: Selling ebook rights
    • Cool stuff that might happen: Awards
    • Cool stuff that might happen: Best of Anthologies
    • Cool stuff that might happen: Movie deals
  • I’ve Sold a Bunch of Stories. Now What?: Career progression for a short fiction writer
  • But Isn’t There Another Way?: Direct to ebook as an option for the short fiction writer
  • Useful Links and Resources (I’ll be building and adding to this as we go along)

The above sequence may change. I may combine some of these into one post, or I may find that some topics require more than one post to deal with. Also, I fully expect that I will think of other topics that I want to cover. Or you folks may suggest other topics in your questions and comments. But at this point, the above is my best guess of what the series will look like. Assuming that, then the above list should take us past the first half of 2013, or to sometime in July.

I’m also inviting some of my professional writer friends to drop by this blog series to add their own comments and advice each week. So hopefully, you will also benefit from the experience and knowledge of a very wide range of pros beyond myself.

And What this Series Will Not Cover

Finally, a few words on what I will not be covering, at least not in this first series. I will not be dealing with the creative side. I’m not going to tell you how to write a story or how to improve your craft. This series will start from the point where you have finished at least one short story that is as good as you can get it, and you’ve decided that you want to send it out into the cold, cruel world.

Once I’ve finished this series, I do plan to turn to the creative side. Why not start with that side? Quite frankly, it’s harder. Selling short fiction is straightforward. All it takes is some basic knowledge of how things work, a thick skin, and a very, very, very stubborn persistence. Once you understand the process, it’s a numbers game–a game won by the writer who keeps the most stories out in front of the most markets. Seriously, that’s the secret. You’ll hear that advice repeated through this series, and hopefully you’ll come to understand why it’s true.

But trying to teach someone how to write short fiction is another story, no pun intended. Writing is in the end a very personal process for every writer. What works for me may not work for you. And you may not write the type of stories that I do. My creative writing advice would start from the way I write, which begins with character and point of view. Another writer might start with the idea or the plot or the world. Eventually, you need all of those elements for a good story, but every writer takes a different route to get to the point where they type “The End.”

So we’ll start with trying to help you sell that wonderful story you’ve written. I hope that you’ll join me here each week. Please feel free to add comments and questions for each post, and I’ll try to respond as best (and as soon as) I can.

Next Week: Why Are You Writing?: Deciding on the writing career that you want



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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  1. Sounds like a useful series, Douglas. Is it possible to put links at the end of each posting to the previous and next weeks' posts? Thanks!

    1. Michael, thanks for your comment. Yes, that's the plan. I hope to have a single link that will list all of the posts, but at a minimum include the link to the prior week's post in each new post. Hope that you'll keep dropping by.

    2. Michael, for now, if you click on the "Douglas Smith" link at the top of the post, at the left under the post title, it will take you to a page of all my posts — which will be this series, since these are the only posts I'm doing for now.

  2. I am really looking forward to this series. Short fiction is my preferred form, for reading and for writing. If anyone has a spare time machine I could borrow so I can go forward and read all the posts at once, I'd be highly appreciative.

    1. Hi Keith. I'd like to borrow that time machine myself–to skip forward to the point where I've written all of them. I'm working on week 5 right now, and I'm planning on sticking to a weekly posting schedule. Thanks for the interest.

  3. I am definitely going to be reading every one of these posts. You're bringing a level of knowledge short fiction that's obviously the result of decades of hard work and persistence. One thing though: I don't think you need to about a proviso that your methods won't work for every writer. The most common mistake the beginners seem to make is that they they think that they can "break the rules" without first mastering them. I'm looking forward to "learning the rules" from a master. Please keep posting!

    1. Thanks, Geoffrey. You make a good point that newbies sometimes think they can break the rules or that they don't need to learn the rules to start with (for their craft or for the business of writing). I actually deal with that sort of beginner in my next post, so thanks for the great segue.

      And thanks for the interest in the series. I look forward to your comments.

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