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Cat Rambo

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Finding Markets For Stories [Dec. 8th, 2009|09:45 am]
Cat Rambo
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[mood |coldcold]
[music |Smile Kid - She Takes Me High]

Recently, John Scalzi wrote about Black Matrix Press's pay rates and it's led to a lot of discussion about pay rates and publications. For what it's worth, I'm in the "you do not need five million tiny publications" camp, but I understand the urge behind it. I think when you're first starting, sure, some publications help you realize you're a writer, but there comes a point where you need to start having a strategy when sending stuff out. jimhines has weighed in on this, as has Cat Valente.

My friend lonfiction divides markets into three tiers, based on pay rates and prestige. When he starts sending a story out, he starts with the suitable markets at the top, and works his way down. That's pretty much what I do, and I try not to trunk stuff. I send to markets that pay well, because I like to have money to buy my morning latte, I send to markets that appeal to me because either they're put together beautifully (Shimmer, for example, or One Story) or they get a certain amount of critical notice. I try to send something when I'm solicited for a new magazine or endeavor, because it's nice to be asked. And the thing is this: we all want to be read. We want our stories out there, rather than sitting in a drawer. But we'd like them to find a good home, a pretty magazine that lots of people see, and which the editors put some love into. Money is just a bonus. To make a living off short fiction, you'd have to work awfully goddamn hard.

It's good to get exposure. But I dunno how much it helps with publication. I TOTALLY agree with what Rachel Swirsky says here:http://www.jeffvandermeer.com/2009/12/07/bad-credits-wont-help-publish/ and which Ann Leckie has also talked about. The more exhaustive the list of credits in a cover letter to Fantasy Magazine, I've found, the more likely the story is to be crap.

Your mileage may vary. For one thing, if you're a slow writer, you may choose to focus your submissions more closely than your friend who writes five pieces of flash fiction a day.

The Horrific Miscue, Seattle Branch, writing group just had a session where we focused on marketing, which was really interesting. People came in with a sheet for each story, which held the writer, the name of the story, the word count, the genre, a brief description, and a list of the markets that had already been tried. We passed those around the table and jotted suggestions down

Here, FWIW, is my list of places to find spec fic market info. I've found that passing along market info freely is a good thing, and works much better than trying to keep them to yourself in order to diminish the competition. :) Actually, I haven't tried the latter, but the former seems like much better karma. Get your writer's group in the habit of freely passing along news.

Duotrope - http://www.duotrope.com

Ralan's Market List - http://www.ralan.com

SpecFicMarkets - http://community.livejournal.com/specficmarkets

The CWROPPS mailing list rarely has anything specifically spec-fic, but is worth skimming. So is Mediabistro, but I wouldn't pay the fee for it just for fiction opps. It is excellent for nonfiction, though.

Writer's Market - I found the online version USELESS and badly put together. Cynthia Ward's Market Maven seems to be best of the pay-for market lists, but I have heard Gila Queen mentioned as good as well.

I also look at Year's Best and reprint anthologies to see where stories are coming from, and investigate markets that intrigue me. I go through my stories every couple of weeks and try to make sure everything's out.

I have sold a story after seeing an editor lament on Facebook about a lack of stories for her anthology and querying, so it's worth keeping an eye on editors via social networks.

I also try to be bold about asking. For example, I just had a story come back from an anthology that I'd like to be in. The deadline had passed, but I politely asked if the editor would look at something else, making it clear that I knew he was under no obligation to do so. He did, and is holding onto the story to think about.

I use this excellent utility, which draws from Black Hole data, to track who's sending rejections out, and to find some magazines I wouldn't otherwise. (And I urge people to submit their data to Black Hole, because it's very helpful.) I also spend some time once a month or so going through the magazine rack down at our newstand, looking for mainstream mags that might be interested in a story that deals with issues that appeal to their audience. These are scarce, but worth finding.

Once you've got something published, of course, that's not the end of it! Plenty of audio markets out there (although there's no decent guide to them that I've found), plus a plethora of international ones contained in Douglas Smith's excellent guide or perhaps mentioned on the PlanetaSF mailing list. I *heart* reprints, they're like free money.

So...weigh in! How do you find markets, and how do you decide what to send where?


[User Picture]From: asakiyume
2009-12-08 06:02 pm (UTC)
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?

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[User Picture]From: catrambo
2009-12-08 06:14 pm (UTC)
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.
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From: (Anonymous)
2009-12-08 06:16 pm (UTC)
Hi asakiyume!

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.
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[User Picture]From: nihilistic_kid
2009-12-08 06:48 pm (UTC)
It seems like asking for a grounds on which to bias one's judgment, reading the work.

As it should be.
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[User Picture]From: j_cheney
2009-12-08 06:41 pm (UTC)
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.
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[User Picture]From: catrambo
2009-12-08 06:42 pm (UTC)
Awesome, I didn't know about either of those! Thank you!
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[User Picture]From: nihilistic_kid
2009-12-08 06:48 pm (UTC)
I find "markets" by reading extremely widely.
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[User Picture]From: catrambo
2009-12-08 07:03 pm (UTC)
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?
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[User Picture]From: tchernabyelo
2009-12-08 06:59 pm (UTC)
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.

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[User Picture]From: catrambo
2009-12-08 07:29 pm (UTC)
That's pretty much my strategy. Mention 3-4 solid publications and then say, "here's the story, I hope you like it."
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From: (Anonymous)
2009-12-08 11:56 pm (UTC)
Why am I forced to watch a Best Buy ad to read your blog?
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[User Picture]From: catrambo
2009-12-09 01:21 am (UTC)
I don't know, I assume it's because I'm too cheap to buy a full LJ membership, but it certainly is annoying.
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[User Picture]From: polenth
2009-12-09 01:06 am (UTC)
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.
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[User Picture]From: catrambo
2009-12-09 01:23 am (UTC)
"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.
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[User Picture]From: hradzka
2009-12-10 03:53 am (UTC)
Very interesting and useful post; thanks.
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