Traversing the Volatile Short Story Market

I ran this post a year ago, but I have refreshed it to reflect evolving experiences in getting my short stories published. I hope it helps some of you.
I. Where Do I Look for a Publisher?
If there is one thing I've noticed since entering the short fiction market, it's the following: it's largely underground. It takes a lot of persistence and digging to find good places to send your stuff. 

Oh, that isn't to say the old stalwarts like Fantasy and Science Fiction, Playboy, and The New Yorker aren't plugging along. They are, and they pay quite well. But they're growing rarer and they're harder to get into than ever. In many cases, you'll need an agent (Playboy, for instance).  But while it may seem like the well is drying, there are a plethora of markets when you really start looking. Duotrope is a great, free directory of publishers for fiction both long and short. Writer's Market is also good, but you have to pay for it. Still, they offer other resources like workshops and contests through regular and informative newsletters. 

Trade magazines like Writer's Digest are also good places to learn about short story markets and competitions.  Writers associations like the Science Fiction Writers Association, Horror Writers Association and others also list paying markets, many at professional levels. Also, most colleges and universities have literary magazines or at least publishing them, and many pay for good short fiction (American Short Fiction is one well-known example), so don't forget the academic circuit in your searches, especially if you write literary fiction.  Another invaluable resource to finding good publishing markets is to network with other writers. More and more, Facebook and Twitter are becoming essential aspects to my life as a writer. There are oodles of authors, agents, and editors in every level of writing and publishing who can provide you with information you might never have had.

II. Adjust Your Expectations
You won't be an overnight success. A lot of publications have very small circulations, and you will find that if you want people to read your stuff, you have to do a good bit of your own marketing. It's really no different if you're writing novels too.  Ultimately, it's about lowering your expectations. What do you want to accomplish right this second? If you're looking to be the next Stephen King, well he also got his start in short stories, and it was no easier breaking in back then either. Any time someone big or small publishes a piece of your work, it is an honor. From the big time literary shirts at the New Yorker to the fledglings trying to establish themselves, there are hard-working, smart people looking for good talent. And they're slogging through slush piles up to their ears. That they happened to see something special about your words out of the millions that pass through their synapses in any given year is an accomplishment on your part. 

III. Show Me the Money
Will they pay you? Well, define "pay." Chances are the small, novice markets won't be able to offer you more than a token gratuity. The pros can pay upwards of 5-8 cents per word, which isn't a bad paycheck. But when you're starting out, it's best to not expect more than a token.  Your real payment is the growth of your publishing portfolio, which will soon look nice and meaty for prospective agents. No, you don't have to have publishing credits to get an agent, but it definitely doesn't hurt. 

IV. Print is Dead
Never have Egon Spengler's words been more relevant than they are now. Print publications are keeling over like your plants during an extended vacation. Magazines expensive to produce, and fewer people are inclined to buy them when they can access nearly everything on the internet or download it onto a Kindle or iPad. With the entire market currently in flux, it is wise to expand your publishing search to online magazines.  I have had one print publication and three online. I can tell you that while it's sentimentally nice to see my name in hard copy, in the practical sense it's great having instant access to my work whenever I want to share it. And in most cases, online short story mags archive your work indefinitely, even after they've released their rights to it. And because running an online magazine requires so little overhead, you don't see many of them folding either. You are no less legitimate as a published author for having your story published on an e-zine. Anyone (real or imagined) telling you otherwise is clinging to the bow of a sinking ship. Those laboring pairs of eyes I mentioned earlier still saw something special in you. Take heed in that. Besides, having your work online means that more eyes can see it at any given time. You can plug your published stories on your website, Facebook, Twitter, etc.

And finally, who says your story has to appear in word form at all? One growing segment of the market is Podcasts. Those little audio broadcasts you can download from iTunes that feature topics ranging from your favorite television shows to the latest headlines are pumping well-read fiction into the ears of avid listeners. Imagine having your tale read H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds style! Escape Pod and other similar broadcasts may just be worth looking at.  

Yeah, it's a tough world out there for any author, whether you're writing short horror tales or self-help books. As the market continues to contract and contort into a whole new monster, you'll discover there are still many ways to get your work seen (or heard). You just need to make sure you're writing what you love, writing it well, and believe in it.  Having a good editor doesn't hurt. ;)

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