Hey friends! Last month, I started a new series called Pitfalls of the Slush Pile. This series is born from my few months of experience reading slush for Apex Magazine (and loving every moment of it). After reading for some months, I decided that I wanted to extend a helping hand to anyone interested in improving their chances in selling to pro-magazines—either for the first time or the twenty-first.
This post is not specific to Apex, but to pro-magazines in general.
So what are we gonna talk about this month? We’re gonna talk about reading, and how it’s a FUNdamental part of selling to short story markets. How? Well, it’s a lot easier to sell a story to a magazine if you know what stories they publish. Essentially…
PITFALLS OF THE SLUSH PILE — KNOW YOUR MARKET.
In 2014, I started writing my first novel (so bad) and my first original short stories (also so bad). I also started reading my first SFF magazines. Because I was a misguided soul with no fear and no filter, I submitted these (very bad) short stories to places like Apex and Clarkesworld and Fantasy & Science Fiction without any idea what they were looking for. But over time… that stopped happening. (Spoiler Alert: I kept sending them terrible stories for a while.)
How? I kept reading the magazines. And by June of 2015, I had my first sale (to the Lorelei Signal), and had read five pro-magazines for a year. Well, I didn’t stop at 2015. I kept reading those magazines, and added more to my list. I added some semi-pro ones. Some lit-fic magazines for the poetry. I added some magazines I had just learned about, I added some more magazines I had found in my online searches.
It’s 2018, and I now read two short stories a day on top of my slush reading and my novel reading. I read novels a lot more slowly than I’d like, but I’m devouring short fiction. Bonus? When I write something new, I know the best four places to send it. Yes, it took four years to get to this point but writing it all about the extremely long game.
Why does this story matter?
Because, sometimes I get a story so good in my slush queue that I read it all the way to The End even though I know it’s not an Apex story. Even though I know it’s an Unidentified Funny Objects story. The story is just that good. I can’t stop reading it, but even so, I have to say No to it, because it was sent to the wrong market.
In short—if you can write a story this good, I can’t wait for you to find the right market. But how do you know what the right market is? Reeeaaaaad theeee magaziiiiinnnnes.
It’s that same old adage you’ve heard thousands of times: Writers Read. Well, you hear it a lot because it’s true. Reading improves our prose; it improves our storycraft; it can get us out of a plot problem; it de-stresses us; it teaches us; and it’s also a great way to connect with fellow writers. Also though, it’s a great way for us to better our chances in the short fiction world.
Case in point: I love Clarkesworld and Analog and Asimov’s. They have great fiction, and I love reading it. But friends, I don’t write Clarkesworld/Analog/Asimov stories. I’m not a science fiction writer. I’m a high fantasy writer who writes horror sometimes. My stories aren’t good fits at those magazines, so I send them to magazines where they might fit better. PS: They’re still not fitting most of the time, but I feel like I’m getting closer. Maybe.
This isn’t Self-Rejecting. This is Knowing the Market.
Knowing the market is not the same as writing to market. Knowing the market is knowing that Clarkesworld will shred your story in a vat filled with acid-bathing lizards if it has zombies in it. Whereas writing to market is trying to figure out what the current publishing trend is and leaping onto that bandwagon before it takes off without you. I’m not going to address whether you should write to market or not, dozens of other writers have already done that. I’m talking about learning about the magazine you submit to before you send your zombie story to a vat filled with acid-bathing lizards.
But Jorrrdaaaan, how do I read these magazines?
Well, friend, a lot of magazines have content up for free on their websites! It might not be all immediately free all at once (magazines have give bonuses to their subscribers somehow). Apex has content on their website for free. So do most other SFF magazines. Basically, if you’re on a magazine’s Submissions page, might want to click over to read some of their stories. Maybe even make a point of going to read that stories page regularly.
And if you like what you read there (and you have some extra cash), you can subscribe! Subscribers get certain perks like getting content early, or all at once—rather than it being portioned out during the month on the website.
Some magazines are print-only: Fantasy & Science Fiction, Asimov’s, Analog Science Fiction & Fact, are the three I can think of off the top of my head. You used to be able to pick up copies at Barnes & Noble, but I don’t know what that situation is anymore. (I subscribed with the current B&N news.)
Remember: Read The Magazine isn’t a hard and fast rule. It’s just one that might help you out some. I started getting a lot more personal (and nicer personal) rejections once I started targeting magazines with stories I thought they’d like.
I think about all those perfect-for-someone-else stories that came across my submissions queue a lot. I hope they found their home. I hope they’re settled in nicely.
I hope your stories do the same very soon, too,