A short fiction submission strategy

This is a description of my strategy for submitting short SFF for publication. It’s information I wish I’d had back when I started writing; a way of aiming for the pro markets, but avoiding my story languishing for months when I had little chance of a sale. Like many writers, I was too nervous to submit to the most prestigious markets – and while I was absolutely right that my early work would not have sold there, I wish I’d got into the habit (and learned to roll with the rejections) far earlier.

I initially made these notes for a friend, and other people found them useful, so here’s a proper write-up.

Before you start

I’m going to assume your story has been edited, proofread, and where possible critiqued. If you don’t know about Standard Manuscript Format then that’s important to learn, as many venues require it. If you’re not sure how to write a cover letter, Strange Horizons gives excellent advice which I believe holds true almost everywhere except when stated otherwise in the submissions guidelines.

I strongly recommend signing up to either The Submission Grinder (which is free) or Duotrope (which isn’t, but does have a free trial) and getting comfortable using them.

Now here’s the disclaimer: this is a description of a process, not a set of rules. It’s not even a process I follow exactly – and some things, like themed anthologies, aren’t covered. Always, always, defer to the submission guidelines over anything I say here! That said, I hope this will give you some useful starting points.

Step One

The following markets are almost always open, pay well, are prestigious, and crucially respond very quickly. I always submit to them first:

Step Two

The following markets are infrequently open but rank highly on prestige and pay, and have a short to medium response time. I’d advise checking them regularly, keeping a note of their submission windows, and trying to send them something in each window.

Step Three

This one is open for a short window once a week, high on pay/prestige, medium response time:

Step Four

Consider the pods. This group of sibling publications are great, but also are sometimes better for selling reprints to rather than originals. So you might want to keep trying elsewhere first.

Step Five

The remaining pro-paying markets are listed on the SFWA website. I wouldn’t submit to all of these – some of them are very specific in what they want, some of them take forever to respond, some of them I have ethical issues with, etc. But I’d try at least a few more of these before moving on to the semi-pros.

Step Six

Moving on to semi-pros (or markets that pay less than what SFWA considers a professional rate, but more than a token amount). There’s a lot of variation here, both in quality and in approach. I think it’s a matter of reading and finding the ones that you like most. But here are some of mine to get you started: