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March 03, 2005

The Virtue of Smaller Markets

(I put a post on submitting short stories to science fiction markets in a message board, and I think it's interesting enough that I'll repost it here for discussion. Have at it:)

I'm planning to send out some short story work this year, and I'll tell you why it's rather more likely that I'll submit to small press venues as opposed to some of the larger markets. It's simple: because smaller venues accept electronic submissions and larger ones don't.

To be fair, I understand why they don't. Several years ago I ran a humor area on America Online and I bought about 20 humor pieces a month -- and told my writers to submit through snail mail. The reason: The price of postage acted as a first-line bozo filter, protecting me from every half-assed, dashed-off thought. And it worked; I still had a slush pile, but it wasn't anywhere the size it would have been if I had let people have an e-mail box into which they could send material.

Be that as it may, on this side of the millennial dividing line, all my professional work is handled electronically, both in my creative and corporate sphere. It's more flexible, and quicker, to use and send electronic files. I don't even own a printer anymore, and haven't for more than a year. By and large I haven't missed it, either personally or professionally. It only becomes a problem if I want to submit work to, say, F&SF or Asimov's or SciFiction.

I don't begrudge these their submission guidelines -- they have them for a reason, just as I had my reasons for not accepting electronic submissions when I was an editor. It simply means that when it comes time to send stuff out, they won't be on my list. That being the case, I am deeply pleased we live in an era with a thriving "small press" scene, because many of them *do* accept electronic submissions. When I schlep my wares, I expect my first stop will be Strange Horizons, and then after I'm rejected there I'll go on to other places.

I do wonder as time goes on how feasible it will be not to accept electronic submissions. I accept that I'm almost certainly an outlier -- the vast majority of writers hoping to be published are not as lazy as I when it comes to shopping their work -- but at the same time I think the current and emerging generation of writers is likely to be more comfortable doing business electronically; I do think it's a matter of time.

I hope so -- I'd like to see those markets that don't accept electronic submissions today become available to me eventually. In the meantime, I'll be a small press short story writer.

Posted by john at March 3, 2005 12:06 PM

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Dawn B. | March 3, 2005 01:19 PM

I wouldn't personally call SH small press, but I see your point about the whys.

I agree that snail mail acts as a first line of defense. I'm still subbing to print-sub markets AND the ezine ones, 'cause I don't want to limit myself [having fiction published at all for me would be a first]. But I do like SH best because of the e-subbing. And reasonable response time. I'm subbing to Chizine for the first time if a piece doesn't get picked up at SH this time around, and am pleased they do e-subs. I was very happy to learn that even though Interzone doesn't accept e-subs, they will respond via e-mail, which meant I didn't have to track down to IRCs.

John H | March 3, 2005 01:32 PM

Printing and mailing - isn't that what literary agents are for?

John Scalzi | March 3, 2005 01:35 PM

Not for short stories. There's not nearly enough money in it for them to bother.

Mark J Musante | March 3, 2005 01:46 PM

For those people contemplating submissions, Strange Horizons have got a great list of plots to avoid. See http://www.strangehorizons.com/guidelines/fiction-common.shtml for some interesting insight into what the typical F/SF submission is like, and why SH might reject it.

But my reason for posting is to ask whether there exists a list of publications which DO accept email submissions. Not necessarily comprehensive, but at least something that'll give this poor writer-to-be some hope that a one in a hundred chance of getting published might just be out there.

John Scalzi | March 3, 2005 01:49 PM

Don't know of one off the top of my head, but I'm sure one probably exists.

Stephanie | March 3, 2005 01:59 PM

It does.

FSanchez | March 3, 2005 02:10 PM

I dunno, John. I don't email queries, I don't email proposals, I don't email outlines, I don't email manuscripts (unless someone specifically asks, which has only happened once, with my foreign rights agent who needed it before sundown in Kuala Lumpur or somewhere). Because my words deserve paper. They are more substantial than a spray of electrons--I want to send them in physical form, with heft and shape. Okay, I'm old, and have both feet firmly on the other side of the m. divide, but still: until a story ruins a ream of paper, it's only half-alive.

John Scalzi | March 3, 2005 02:17 PM

Well, you know. I want you to be happy. So by all means please continue in the manner most pleasing to you. As for me, I like the end result to be printed matter, but the prior steps I prefer to be electronic. It's just easier to deal with.

Mark J Musante | March 3, 2005 02:28 PM

Thanks very much Stephanie.

Tim Pratt | March 3, 2005 03:06 PM

I want the end result to be read by as many people as possible, and at this point, that still means the end result is best on paper. It wouldn't upset me if that changed, though.

My book editor prefers to mark up a physical printed manuscript and mail it to me, after which I make changes to the computer file and e-mail the book back to her. The line-straddling approach works pretty well in our relationship. I don't mind sending out paper submissions of short stories, though, but I send out a lot of short stories and have been in the habit of doing so for many years. That said, I take e-subs for my own 'zine, Flytrap, and wouldn't have it any other way. It saves me having even more piles of unwieldy paper around the house than I do already, and it's much easier to keep things organized.

Jon Hansen | March 3, 2005 03:19 PM

I'd like to recommend another market info site as well: Ralan.com. Doesn't display it in handy chart form, but in a short summary form, which includes E-subs yes/no/maybe information.

I also note that it seems, in general, that if a magazine is print (Asimovs, F&SF, Realms of Fantasy), they seem to want their subs in print. If it's electronic (Strange Horizons, Abyss & Apex, Fortean Bureau, Ideomancer), they want it electronicly. Call it the "Like Attracts Like Rule of Submission Format".

John Scalzi | March 3, 2005 03:46 PM

I wouldn't be entirely surprised if frequent contributors of some of the print magazines are given an e-mail back door for their submissions, the admission of the existence of which is guarded jealously upon pain of death. I suspect this because when I was an editor, I had an e-mail address I gave to certain contributors who I knew I could get reliable material from. Now, I would still reject stuff from the "reliables," and accept stuff from the regular submission pile. But it did make it easier to keep in touch with the folks who make my job easier.

John H | March 3, 2005 04:32 PM

Not for short stories. There's not nearly enough money in it for them to bother.

Sorry John - I was trying to be funny there. The goal should be to become big enough that you can get away with prima-donna shit. Like making your agent mail out short stories for you... :)

JamesG | March 3, 2005 06:02 PM

Or you know you have really hit it big when you can make outlandish requests that your agent hand-delivers all your queries, walk them through the entire process and have an answer for you within a day or two.

Bill Peschel | March 3, 2005 06:12 PM

Your decision had me perplexed until I read that you had no printer. Even at today's prices -- and given the small chance you have of succeeding -- I wouldn't be able to justify buying a printer for the possibility of so little return.

So, if you had a printer, would you submit to Asimov et al?

Dawn B. | March 3, 2005 06:20 PM

SCIFICTION (online zine) does not accept esubs, so that goes against the "like to like" rule. But then, they also pay 25c/wd, so they break a couple of rules.

The linked list is handy, but doesn't seem to be updated regularly for which markets are open and which are not.

I've seen this debated on the Nightshade forums a ton. GVG & Ellen Datlow SWEAR they accept no e-mail subs and say they have blasted authors who presumed to use an e-mail address they had for a submission. So, while I suspect some magazines (Interzone/TTA come to mind) have a super, secret e-mail back door, I doubt that F&SF, Asimov's, Analog or SCIFICTION does. JMHO.

Re: Bill
I actually bought a printer again for the expressed purpose of subs. And I have less of a chance of selling than John.

Jon | March 3, 2005 06:56 PM

Every rule has an exception.

Yes, yes. Except this one.

John Scalzi | March 3, 2005 07:21 PM

Bill asks:

"So, if you had a printer, would you submit to Asimov et al?"

Well, then there's the issue of envelopes, and stamps, and...

I don't know, actually. Possibly. But then again, I am the same guy who didn't mail out the OMW manuscript because prainting and mailing it was such a damn hassle. Had not Patrick seen the book here, I'd still very likely be unpublished in fiction. So maybe I wouldn't submit to Asimov's, et al even if I did have a printer.

I don't know -- sometimes I wonder about the pathology of my writing bug, you know? It is weird for a writer who wants a wider audience to blow off submitting stuff unless it's dead easy. Honestly, if the Internet didn't come along when it did, I don't know what I would be doing with myself now. I'd probably still be in Fresno, watching movies (which, you know, wouldn't have been a horrible fate).

Dave | March 3, 2005 09:34 PM

Mmm. Fresno.

There's one side of me that thinks printing out a submission is so easy that you should just do it. Seriously, you could spend two hours buying your supplies (including a $150 printer), another hour setting it up, and you'd be done. Seems a shame to rule out F&SF or Asimov's just for 3 hours' work.

But then, there's the part of me that would never send gifts to relatives out of town, since it involved actually packing a box and going to the post office. I'm a much better brother/uncle now that I can send a gift, including wrapping, via Amazon.

In other words: I feel your pain.

Karen Meisner | March 3, 2005 11:16 PM

On the subject of finding a wide audience: while the long-established print publications may have larger immediate readerships, there can be other benefits to being published in an online venue. I've gotten interested in many new authors purely through seeing their fiction linked to and then reading it. If they'd only been printed on paper, I might never have gone to the bother of looking up and buying the magazines, but if I can just google and find stories, it's a great way to get a taste of their work.

As Scalzi knows, having your writing online can pique an editor's interest, not to mention the other readers who will find you. Making it accessible over the long run can bring you all kinds of good attention, and while that isn't as easy to quantify as print zine subscriptions, I think it's proving to be pretty valuable.

This medium is still so new, relative to the history of print, that we're all still learning what its real strengths are. Most people still have a gut feeling that print publications "count" more than online magazines; if you're not completely comfortable online, then it's probably not where you'd think of getting published. And of course it's a good feeling to hold a book in hand. Once you get used to online magazines, though, it's amazing how easy it is to appreciate reading that way. I never read fiction online until I started editing at Strange Horizons, but now it's become very natural to me. A different experience from sitting down with a book, which I'll always love doing too. But being able to read at my computer is very satisfying, and the words hit me pretty much the same as they would on paper.

Jed Hartman | March 4, 2005 03:24 PM

I'm not finding it in a cursory search, but a while ago I wrote up some extensive comments about email submissions (and counterarguments to the common reasons not to take them) for the Rumor Mill.

One of the things I mentioned was that a lot of editors fear drowning in a sea of awful slush if they allow email subs. I don't think that's actually based on experience with email subs, though. We've been taking exclusively email subs for nearly five years, and our slush mix is roughly the same as everyone else's I've talked with: about 10% truly dreadful, about 80% okay but not great, about 10% really good. And we don't have to deal with submissions in crayon or in blood, or on tissue paper or construction paper.

It's true that higher-profile venues might get more submissions and therefore more drek. But my understanding is that Realms of Fantasy and Sci Fiction (neither of which take email subs) get roughly the same number of submissions a month that we do.

The main reason that most editors of print magazines don't take email subs, as far as I can tell from what they've written, is that they don't like reading on a computer screen. That's a totally valid reason as far as I'm concerned.

But I haven't yet seen any real evidence that the lower barrier to entry for email subs results in a higher percentage of drek than for paper subs. It might result in a greater total number of submissions -- but if the percentage of drek is no higher, that shouldn't be a problem per se in most cases.

It may help that we have a relatively high barrier to entry in the form of detailed formatting guidelines; there are plenty of authors who find it easier to print out a story and put it in an envelope than to format their stories for us. But I don't think there's a correlation in either direction between bad writers and writers who aren't comfortable following a series of technical steps.

Dawn B. | March 5, 2005 12:00 AM

Jed, I think your comment about formating is dead on. I think that serves as a "gate".

dan | March 6, 2005 08:47 PM

My belated two cents on epublishing: I submitted to Strange Horizons a few years ago (lasting props, by the way, to Jed for his fine editing of the initially very rough "Other Moments") not only because I appreciate SH's quirky taste in speculative fiction, but because they're an electronic magazine--and, even better, one with a comparatively lightening swift response time. I just can't abide leaving something I've written frozen out there in the exosphere for months (and months) on end. Rather not push the poor little bastards out the door at all. Online magazine editors either read much faster, or read much less before deciding to hit the trusty Delete/Return button. Or something. Having edited SF over at Ideomancer for a while I'm betting it isn't because online mags recieve fewer submissions: I damn near drowned under the slush. Still recuperating, in fact. (Pray for me.)

So I'm with Scalzi on this one--if for slightly different reasons.

Jed Hartman | March 7, 2005 09:04 PM

Addendum re Dawn's response to my comment: my point was that the formatting is a gate that only keeps out the people who (a) are uncomfortable following detailed computery directions, and (b) aren't willing to just ignore the formatting guidelines and submit anyway. I know that there are such people -- but I have no reason to believe that they're bad writers.

So that was meant as support for my overall point that e-slush isn't, in my experience, significantly *worse* in general quality than paper slush.

...Dan: Hi! Thanks for the kind words. But of course you did the hard part; the story was good enough for us to want it in the first place.

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