Submission Strategies: Aim High and Work Down

How do you prioritize short story markets?

After dozens of drafts, workshops, and consultations with editors, my vampire solarpunk short story, The Sun Also Rises in Space, is finally ready for publication. My grammar is on point, my plot holes are all filled in, and my villain—Bojunk Bojanx, the star-surfing vampire—is a complex antagonist with the perfect blend of pathos and hatefulness. Plus he has a solar surfboard and some sci-fi sunscreen that keeps him safe from UV rays while he’s riding the electromagnetic waves of the sun.

Now all that’s left to do is find it a good home. 

I scroll through lists of literary journals, trying to find a good home for it, but the search is daunting. 

Where to begin? Should I go for pro rates? Semi-pro? A token payment and a contributor copy of the issue it appears in? A coupon for 20% off my next purchase of printer ink? Exposure? Double exposure?

As a new author, it’s tough to know how to approach the publishing game. Submitting to the big names can be daunting when you are virtually unknown. They want a bio with your cover letter, and you have nothing to say other than you are an aspiring writer (whatever that means). 

You begin to doubt yourself and look for smaller publications where the pay is lower (or nil), but your chances of getting in are better.

Writers seem to think that the best way to break into the game is by getting a lot of publication credits, but they fail to recognize that if those credits don’t come with the clout of a bigger publishing company, they mean very little. You can have a CV as long as your arm, but if none of those publication credits are from reputable, quality magazines, they may not mean much. Unpaid exposure from an obscure online lit journal that folds after its first year is unlikely to get you very far.

I believe The Sun Also Rises in Space is good enough to publish. If it isn’t, why am I rushing to submit it? I want people to read it and love it. Shouldn’t I try to get paid as much as possible for it? Shouldn’t I aim for the biggest magazine with the widest readership? Just because I don’t have any writing credits to my name doesn’t mean I don’t stand a chance. In fact, editors love finding a diamond in the rough and being the first to polish it up and show it off to the rest of the publishing world. What editor isn’t hoping to find the next bestseller?

When submitting, believe in your story and in yourself. Find the highest-paying, most-read publication that fits your genre and start there. If they reject your story, work your way down the list of possible publications until you hit the lowest levels of payment and exposure you are willing to accept. For me, if The Sun Also Rises in Space doesn’t get picked up at pro rates, I am willing to go as low as five cents a word. If I get through all the publications offering pro and semi-pro rates and still haven’t found a home for it, it goes into the vault, and hopefully, the perfect submission call will come along later.

If I believe in my work, I have to remember that it is worth waiting for the right publisher to find it. To do otherwise is to sell myself (and Bojunk Bojanx) short.

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