11 February, 2012


Two short story rejections and counting. Three more pending. Stephen King lost count of how many rejections he got before he finally sold a short story, but it was at least a hundred.

Although my primary concern is finishing my novel, Mindfire, it's difficult for me to monomaniacally focus on it when I have other unrelated ideas floating about in me 'ead. So I've been writing a number of short stories lately, in the 1k-3k word range—flash fiction seems to be quite popular these days, and a lot of paying markets are seeking stories in that length range (or even shorter!).

So I alternate between writing the novel and writing short stories. Some of these I'll post for free on the blog (such as The Destiny of Kajiyama Shen), some of these I'll self-publish (such as The Demons of Lashtë and Chalice and Knives), and others I will put through the rigors of submitting to paying markets.

It's this last that is the simplest approach, and yet the most difficult. For an unknown author, the editors of these markets (short fiction magazines and so on) have to really like the submission in order to publish it. Even if you do a lot of research—reading all the back issues to find out what kinds of things they publish, and tailoring stories for the individual market—a story that most folks would enjoy reading, if they had a chance to, might get rejected because that particular editor just didn't happen to get grabbed by it.

That doesn't mean it's not good enough to get published anywhere; maybe the twentieth market you submit the story to will accept it, and you'll never know unless you keep trying. Since the list of (e.g.) SWFA paying markets is both finite and relatively short (about 30 markets currently), it would be reasonable and feasible to submit a given story to every market on the list (or at least the appropriate ones; some only accept SF or fantasy, not both).

From a probability standpoint, having a lot of stories to submit helps, because prose fiction markets don't tolerate simultaneous submissions. Each story can only be submitted to one market at a time, and it might be weeks before you hear back. In the meantime, that story can't be submitted to anyone else. So if you write another one, you can be shopping that one around as well. Each story in the pipeline increases your chance of selling one.

Do the math: If each story has a (let's be generous) 1% chance of being accepted on each submission, and there's 30 paying markets, then a given story will have a (1 - 0.9930) ~= 26% chance of being sold, if you were to submit it to all the markets. (For a given story, this might take a year or two, if each market takes a couple of weeks to respond.) Shop enough stories around to all the markets, and one of them might get sold.

You could get lucky and sell a story on your third or fourth submission. Or it might take hundreds, like Stephen King. The only thing you can do is not let yourself get discouraged, and keep at it: "Never give up. Never surrender."

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