Join guest columnist and author, Aeryn Rudel, every month right here at Dark Matter Magazine to get tips on writing, publishing, and the subtle art of rejection. Read more of Aeryn’s work over at his Rejectomancy blog.


THE QUEST FOR THE PERFECT PUBLISHER

Column by Aeryn Rudel

September 8, 2020

So you wrote a short story, had others read it with an objective eye, then you revised it, proofed it, and now you’re ready to send it out into the wilds of Submission Land in hopes of publication. But where do you send it? What kind of publisher might be interested in your story? And, most importantly, how the hell do you go about finding that publisher?

In this article, we’ll discuss how to identify the right publisher(s) for your work. First step, make it easier on yourself with an online searchable database. 

THE DATABASES

Most short story markets maintain a listing with one or more online databases that allow you to search for publishers by genre, pay scale, length of story, and a host of other criteria. These are, in my opinion, the best places to start your search.

The two most popular databases are Duotrope and The Submission Grinder. Both are easy to use, chocked full of information and market listings, and just plain invaluable to any short story writer. The primary difference between the two is one of cost. Duotrope charges a small monthly fee for access and The Submission Grinder is free. I’ll let you research which is the best fit for you, but you can’t go wrong with either one.

Once you’ve chosen a database, you can start narrowing down your options. I suggest using the following three criteria to do so.

Genre

What genre is your short story? Genre goes a long way to determining how many markets might publish your work. Some genres are more common with short story publishers, as discussed below.

  • Science Fiction & Fantasy: These two genres tend to be the most popular among paying markets, and the bulk of professional genre markets publish one or both.
  • Horror & Mystery: There are still a fair number of markets that publish horror and mystery (including crime, thriller, etc.) but fewer than publish science fiction and fantasy.
  • Romance & Everything Else: Once you get outside the four genres above, pickings are slim to nonexistent, especially if you’re looking for a professional market. NOTE: There is no shortage of publishers that feature literary fiction, but these publishers operate by a slightly different set of expectations than the others.

Story Length

How long is your story? Every publisher focuses on a particular word count range, which will fall under one or more of the following four (broad) categories.  

  • Micro-fiction/Drabbles: Definitions vary, but these are stories as short as a single sentence up to about 300 words. Over that and it’s usually considered flash fiction. There are quite a few markets that specialize in these tiny stories, and some even pay professional rates.
  • Flash Fiction: These are stories up to 1,000 words, though some publishers might cut off as high as 1,500 words and as low as 500. Flash is a popular story length, and markets that publish flash exclusively are not uncommon.
  • Short Story: Most publishers consider a short story to be somewhere in the range of 2,000 to 7,500 words. In my experience, the sweet spot is between 3,000 and 5,000 words, and the vast majority of short story publishers accept and routinely publish stories in that range. Short story markets often publish flash fiction and even longer works like novelettes and novellas.
  • Novelettes and Novellas: Definitions of these two story lengths differ from publisher to publisher, but novelettes are generally works between 7,500 and 20,000 words and novellas are roughly between 20,000 and 40,000 words. Because of the cost and space they demand (among other things), novelettes and novellas are more difficult to sell.

Pay Scale

How much do you expect to be paid for your story? When you start out submitting short stories, payment may not be a primary motivator, but it should be considered. Payment generally falls under four tiers.

  • Non-paying: These publishers do not offer monetary compensation to their authors, though they may offer a copy or two of the magazine or anthology in which the author’s work appears.
  • Token: Token markets offer under one cent per word. This is often a flat fee. For example, a market might offer ten dollars per short story, which works out to less than one cent per word.
  • Semi-Pro: This category comprises a wide range of payment between once cent and five cents per word. These publishers also sometimes pay a flat fee that works out to a per-cent-per-word rate in the range above.
  • Pro: This rate for genre markets is often suggested by professional writer organizations like the SFWA (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America) and the HWA (Horror Writers Association). The definition of professional payment can differ by organization, but it ranges between five cents and eight cents (or more) per word.

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

Armed with the information above, you can reduce the number of possible homes for your work down to a manageable number. As an example, let’s say I’ve just completed a 4,000-word science fiction story and I’d like to get paid a professional rate. If I enter genre, story length, and pay scale into Duotrope or The Submission Grinder, there are around twenty publishers that fit my parameters currently open to submissions.

You could refine your search by plugging in options like sub-genres or even how the publisher accepts submissions, but, ultimately, you need to go to the publishers’ websites and read their submission guidelines carefully. Most publishers will further expound on the type of stories they prefer in their guidelines, noting things like sub-genres and tropes they want to see (or, just as importantly, ones they don’t want to see).

Once you’ve narrowed it down to three or four publishers, you can further improve your chances of publication by reading a story or two from those markets. Many publishers offer one or more stories free to read on their websites, and these may tell you, more than anything, if your work is a good fit for the publisher.

Of course, there’s a lot more that goes into submitting a story, and we’ll cover some of that in upcoming articles. But if you’ve done what I suggested here, you should be ready to roll those dice and submit your first story.

Check back next month for more advice on how and where to submit your work or head over to my blog Rejectomancy for oodles of overly analytical articles about the various and sundry parts of writing, submitting, and every author’s favorite subject, rejection.