I like just reading around and seeing where people whose stories I've enjoyed are published. Beyond that, Ralan's page and Duotrope are just marvelous.
Can you tell me about why places ask for publishing credits in a cover letter? It seems like asking for a grounds on which to bias one's judgment, reading the work. Imagine the same story, but imagine it first submitted by someone who had attended Clarion and published previously in Asimov's, and then imagine it submitted by someone with no publishing history. Surely the publishing history influences the care and attention given the reading? If it doesn't, then why ask for it? If it does, then how is that a good thing? Is it just a way of winnowing slush?
For us, it's a way of winnowing slush and not much else. At Fantasy Magazine, if you're got some pro credits, it will bump you out of the slush reader's domain and get you looked at directly by an editor. But, as Rachel notes, if it's a story that the slush reader would turn on, odds are exceedingly good that the editor will as well.
I could see how it might affect some cases, but they're pretty scarce. Imagine, for example, I read a story and think it's absolutely terrible. If the writer has five Nebulas under their belt, I might go back and reread, trying to see what I'm missing. I'm still pretty unlikely to buy it, but I'd give it a second chance that I might not extend to the same story without that mentioned in the cover letter.
But that first paragraph of the story matters about a bajillion times more than any cover letter. I was talking to one of our slush readers about this, and he pointed out that, much more often than any writer would like to think, you can tell whether or not a story is worth reading in its entirety from the first paragraph or two. My suggestion would be to look at the first three paragraphs with the following checklist:
Is the physical setting conveyed?
Is there a hint or foreshadowing of the story's main conflict?
Is a character that the reader can identify with, like, or be intrigued by introduced?
Is there something to interest the reader and make them want to read more?
Is the language clean and clear and free of typos and/or grammatical errors?
That's not set in stone, but all of those help the majority of stories.
It makes most sense for writers to spend their time getting stories just right, that's for sure.
2009-12-08 06:16 pm (UTC)
Cat will probably have a more real answer, but I've always found that the credits establish your professionalism. If you've been published (really published) before, then you are likely to know the ground-rules, understand what an editor does, how quickly you see something in print (how soon the check will arrive) etc. It can also establish how serious you are about writing, is it your bread and butter or do you do it casually and send stuff out only rarely.
Yes, I can see that the credits will establish your professionalism, which may have some bearing on how easy you are to work with (because, as you say, you'll have more reasonable expectations). And, I can see wanting to support writers who are trying to make writing their profession perhaps more than people who are just writing on a lark or on a whim--though, if a story is good, and from a hobbyist, the fact that the person is a hobbyist shouldn't count against them. Readers will enjoy a good story just as much if it's by a hobbyist as they will if it's by a pro. But probably pros tend to write better stories--they are practicing that much harder.
It seems like asking for a grounds on which to bias one's judgment, reading the work.
As it should be.
Well, I can definitely understand it as a winnowing tool.
I suppose I might plug the ra_log
here, which is lj's version of the Black Hole. And at aboutmarkets
one can post a question about a market and see if the community can answer it.
Awesome, I didn't know about either of those! Thank you!
Also, the Black Hole is on Twitter, too (which is where I watch it).
I find "markets" by reading extremely widely.
Which is probably the best tool, for sure, particularly since it gives you the best sense of what an editor likes. But some folks don't have as much bandwidth to spend reading, or read very slowly, or perhaps even live in Podunksville, where there's not a lot of bookstores, and can't afford to buy much. They've got access to the online stuff, but it may be harder for them to find print mags. Or they may need a list like Duotrope in order to know what they're interested in finding samples of. I read pretty widely, but I still got some useful tips from my writing group's marketing session, including going back to look at a couple of markets I'd dismissed.
Why "markets" in quotation marks? Do you prefer "venues" or some other word?
Yes, I despise the term markets and prefer venues.
At any rate, all endeavors involve sacrifice. I never had much money either, but what I did have I spent on reading materials. I still buy shoes or new eyeglasses perhaps once every three years or so. I did tend to live in places with well-stocked newsstands, but that was just another sacrifice. (If I wanted to be an actor, I'd live in NY or LA and live humbly, etc.)
One thing my method does that duotrope doesn't: it helps me find magazines that aren't known as fiction venues despite occasionally publishing some.
Sure, they involve sacrifices. But you have to pick and choose among those. Most of my disposable income goes to books, and has throughout my life, even when living on brown rice and condiments stolen from the local deli. But someone trying to feed their kids may have different priorities, and I don't think that disqualifies them as a writer. I don't agree with the loftiness of "all endeavors require sacrifices". Sometimes you're already making them by necessity and have to be pragmatic and figure out how to make the most of what you have.
I don't think there's anything all that lofty about it. Plenty of people make larger sacrifices simply to procure the basics of life. A fair number of my relatives are "illegal aliens" (or some legal ones who managed to bribe the right junta officials) who made great sacrifices for the privilege of wiping someone else's ass or building sheds or serving hamburgers. I spent a couple of years living extralegally (no certificate of occupancy) on a dirt floor in a one-room foundation with members of my family while my father and I built the upper floors to the house in which my parents might live. Nothing lofty about saying, "If you want to do X, sacrifice Y," since most of the people doing more of the sacrifices have no elevated position from which to be lofty in the first place.
Frankly, I don't think I'm talking from some weird position where "feeding the kids" is an alien idea, it's exactly from the position of having to feed kids while also trying to accomplish something else.
Maybe it's the faint religious aroma to the word "sacrifice" that's putting me off. I guess I get uneasy about this, because it seems to fit into the larger problem in spec fic, where it's the people with money/time to spend on things like conventions (or lots of reading material) who get advantages that those who can't afford those cons don't. But that's a larger discussion. Plenty of people make larger sacrifices simply to procure the basics of life, sure. For most of us, every day is about sacrifice of one kind or another, when you take it to that level, so I think that becomes not particularly useful to the discussion of how to find venues for F&SF.
I agree that the very best way to research places to publish is to read. But it seems to me - and correct me if I'm wrong, because I'm as bad about misreading as the next person - that you're dismissing market lists and saying that instead people should spend money on buying as much reading material as possible or moving to a place where they have access to that material. And while I agree that reading stuff is the best way to find some markets, I don't think it's the only way, and that the market lists (or networking in some way) can help with finding stuff to read.
I may be showing my military cultural background here, but I don't think in terms of sacrifice so much as priorities. If you attend to your highest priorities, those things unattended to are not "sacrifices", IMHO. They are just lesser priorities. Where something becomes a sacrifice is when you attend to a lower priority at the expense of a higher one.
But not too many people like to accept the responsibility for ranking their priorities and attending to them in that order, so it's easier on the conscience to call everything a sacrifice.
Hmm, maybe just different experiences. I've been to plenty of cons, back when I was a kid, with no more of a plan then to sleep in the movie room all night or on a chair by the elevator doors on a party floor. Heck, even at World Fantasy, which work paid for, I took chair space in a friend's room over a bed in a room I would have been reimbursed for. I consider cons/reading lots a site for sacrifice and cleverness, not always or only the site of privilege. (I also do a lot of reading via the library, used bookstores, picked-over garbage cans in college town moving days, etc.)
I recommend reading very widely. That doesn't necessarily involve buying, especially when it comes to magazines, which are disposable by design. I also don't think towns with well-stocked newsstands and bookstores are all that hard to come by or more expensive than other areas. At least I've lived in plenty of cheap dumps in such places. (If anything, middle-class suburbs are less likely to have stores that cater to the bohemian/student sensibilities of someone who might want to read a piece of short fiction, and will involve near-mandatory need for a car.)
Frankly, I find the subjective sense of entitlement a far more common problem among would-be writers than the material poverty we're talking about as an actual obstacle.
I've met plenty of would-be writers who fold their arms, hmph, and refuse to put in any hustle or commit any sacrifice. They have plenty of excuses too -- too many magazines to read, not enough magazines, it's not fair to have to write a synopsis for a novel, it makes no sense that non-fiction doesn't work like fiction (or vice-versa), it's not fair that agents only want the first three chapters of a book, etc.
I do think market lists lead to many bad things. How many conversations in this year alone involved someone traipsing over to a list, counting up the number of venues marked "temp closed" and declaring "SHORT FICTION IS DEAD DEAD DEAD!" or "SFWA/HWA IS FOR SNOBBY ELITES!" or something similar. I can remember five off the top of my head (though two of those were in the horror field, so you may not have seen) and all of them were began by well-published writers who should have known better. The same happens in the literary fiction field -- you may remember my trolling of Literary Rejections on Display. They love (mis)using Duotrope to "prove" some pre-existing opinion as well. And people also confuse market lists for the marketplace, which is a sucker bet.
What market lists do well is collect URLs—most venues have at least a couple of sample stories or some content up on their homepages. And sure, that's fine. But after a few thousand utterly inappropriate submissions to the venues I've edited, I'm not convinced that market lists really capture the spirits of the venues they list.
Fair nuff. I agree that market lists aren't a substitute for actually looking at the mag. And there's a lot of lazy people out there who aren't willing to take the time to research, and just fire something off. That's why god invented slush readers.
Re: cons, yes and no. A lot of them have pretty hefty fees, sometimes a couple hundred bucks. If they're not in your hometown, you may have travel expenses. And if you're employed, you may not be able to spare the time. See also: workshops like Clarion, Clarion West, Clarion South, Clarion Subtropical, Clarion Antartica, etc. Along the same lines, I recently had someone tout a workshop with two pretty prominent writers and mention that "it was a good way to get into the anthologies they edit." Sure enough, he went to the workshop, paid his fee, and got an invite to an anthology that he wouldn't have gotten on his own. Presumably that wouldn't have happened without a certain level of competence, but to me, that seems...iffy.
When I worked on the MUD, we had two major cities. Every few months, someone would start a thread on the game boards about how there were no players in one or the other. To me, the short fiction is dead/SFWA is for snobs/e-publishing will kill us all/etc discussion seem much the same.
Outside of the biggies like Worldcon or World Fantasy, I've not run into many cons with membership fees in the couple hundred bucks. A New Yorker, I spent a lot of my con-time heading up to Boston or down to Philly, taking cheap public transit or carpooling since there were really no cons in NY proper. Even the most "local" cons were either in Rye, NY or on Long Island, a two-hour LIRR trip, one way. (Of course, in other parts of the country, major cities won't be so close together.)
I certainly wouldn't recommend that anyone attend Clarion, btw, largely due to the expense and time commitment of the same. (Well, that and my several-thousand-story sample of Clarkesworld
slush that showed me zero difference between Clarion grads and non-attendees when it comes to quality.)
On the other hand, a pal of mine who went to a smaller, shorter, less expensive workshop, did just sell a story to Tor.com, and he had few to no credits prior to that. But for every person for whom that happens, there are plenty of workshop alumni with dick to show for shit, as we used to say on the playground. Better off buying a few magazines than spending a few grand and six weeks reading nothing but someone else's slush!
I agree, re: those discussions, but market lists are such an important rhetorical tool in them that I am convinced that the partial information given such by lists leads to misinformed writers. Here's an example of this in action.
I used to have the exact same hangup about markets vs. venues. Nowadays, not so much--if I'm talking about place for a writer to sell a story, market seems to fit the context better. But the rest of the time, I'm there with you: venue is the more appropriate word.
It's not a hang-up :P
I just think terms like "markets" feed into bad thinking on the part of not only writers but editor-publishers (especially those who are themselves mediocre writers)...I've seen come and go too many periodicals and publishing companies that had no other reason for being than to "provide a market for X writing" and then, garsh, it turns out to be hard to keep an operation going when one hasn't given most of one's energy over to the readers rather than the writers.
Edited at 2009-12-08 08:00 pm (UTC)
Granted, hangup is probably a more loaded word than I meant. (Blame the Theraflu I had instead of lunch.) :)
Also, I tend to agree with you on the perilous direction thinking in terms of markets can go. I'm especially leery of guidelines that refer to themselves as a market. Secretly, every time I see a low- or non-paying niche anthology proposal, I implicitly assume that the reason the editor is doing the antho is so they can publish a favorite story of their own: the antho is built around legitimizing the publication of one of their own stories. (Sometimes under pseudonym, but often not.) The times I've checked, I've not been wrong.
Yup, it happens a lot, if you keep your eyes open to it. Either someone has the bright idea to put out a call for Vampiric Mathematician stories because they have one they really like and haven't been able to sell it, or perhaps they didn't make the cut to a well-paying narrow-theme anthology and still want their story published. Now that Shine's TOC has come out, I'm expecting a small or micropress antho announcement anyday now... Probably something like "Gleam: Upbeat Stories of Tomorrow".
Is there a hidden code to which of your icons goes with which comment?
My cover notes for submissions are always brief and I mention three or four markets that I've sold to. They are always the top markets unless there is a reason for mentioning some market as being particularly similar - so I'll tout IGMS, Fantasy and BCS plus maybe one other. I will also mention if I am submitting to a market that I have already sold to - at some it matters, at some it doesn't (e.g. ASIM's system makes it pretty irrelevant that I've sold there once, while I know at Abyss and Apex that my stuff will get a serious reading because of the sales I've made there and other submissions that have come close but ultimately fallen by the wayside).
The story HAS to be capable of selling itself but it's possible to break (or at least bend) the rules if you can show evidence as to why you are doing it. An editor might read on further through an "odd" opening if they have reason to trust your work, and saying "I have sold pro-rate stories" is one way to get a chance of that trust.
That's pretty much my strategy. Mention 3-4 solid publications and then say, "here's the story, I hope you like it."
2009-12-08 11:56 pm (UTC)
Why am I forced to watch a Best Buy ad to read your blog?
I don't know, I assume it's because I'm too cheap to buy a full LJ membership, but it certainly is annoying.
My biggest source is other writers. I read their bibliographies. Once I have a name, I use Duotrope to track down the site and read the stories.
If I like the stories, they've been edited and the presentation is decent, I might submit there (assuming I have something suitable). I don't write as quickly as most people though, so I don't run out of markets that quickly.
Generally, I don't list credits. My credits are low paying, and I know it's looked down upon by a lot of editors. I don't want them to think badly of the story before they've started reading it. I don't agree with the idea that all low paying markets are a waste of space (or I wouldn't submit to them), but a cover letter isn't the place to argue it.
"I don't agree with the idea that all low paying markets are a waste of space (or I wouldn't submit to them), but a cover letter isn't the place to argue it."
Agreed on both counts. I do publish in some nonpaying or lowpaying markets, but it's because they have something else to recommend them, like a kick-ass editor or beautiful content.
Very interesting and useful post; thanks.