You've written a story you're proud of, one you want others to read, one for which you'd even like to make some money. Where do you send that story? How do you find out about the markets seeking fiction submissions, and learn which ones are looking for a story of the type you've written?
Not too long ago, tracking down information on potential markets would have required some detective work, perhaps a cash outlay, but nowadays the Internet makes finding out about the available markets for your story easy and, usually, free.
You can sign up for emailed writers' newsletters like Writing-World.com's own newsletter (see the signup link at the bottom of this page), and you'll have magazine and publishers' guidelines and contest announcements delivered regularly to your Inbox. Join a writing newsgroup or an email writers' forum and you can share market tips with other writers. Many of the writers' resource web sites also offer pages listing recent calls for submission and contests.
Aside from the Internet, where can you find the writers' guidelines for magazines or publishers to whom you'd like to submit your work? Writers' Digest Books puts out Writer's Market every year, listing full information on hundreds of magazines, publishers, and agents. Literary Market Place also contains extensive listings and is updated yearly; most libraries carry the current issue in their reference section.
Writers' magazines such as Writers' Digest, The Writer, and Britain's Writers' Forum often profile markets, and the newsletters and magazines printed and mailed out by writers' groups and organizations usually include information on publications seeking submissions. And don't forget the magazines and books you're already familiar with--those that you read. Look at the magazine's masthead or the book's copyright page for contact information and write to the publisher directly to request guidelines, if you can't find the information elsewhere. Remember to include a SASE.
Best of all, though, are the web sites that offer databases containing nothing but market listings. Often compiled from information gathered and organized by fellow writers, they contain the searchable guidelines for hundreds of magazines and book publishers. Many also contain notes regarding the current status of a market, or warnings and tips sent in by other writers who have dealt with specific markets. For an extensive list of market guides and guideline databases, see Writing-World.com's Guidelines Links.
One thing you might notice when you peruse some of these market listings is that they're divided into categories with titles like "pro," "semi-pro," "small press," "e-zine," and "fanzine." What do these categories mean, and how do they affect you?
"Pro" markets, loosely defined, are those publications that pay 3 cents or more per word. "Semi-pro" and "small press" markets pay less than 3 cents per word--this can mean anywhere from a token $5 flat payment to fractions of a cent right on up to 2.9 cents per word. "E-zine" markets are electronic publications--work sold to these zines will appear on web sites, be delivered to readers via email or downloadable files, be compiled on CD, or published in some non-printed form. Pay rates for e-zines range from no pay right on up to pro rates. "Fanzines" are often created by the fan of a particular "shared universe" (a TV show, a movie series, a book series, etc.) or genre and are often low-budget publications that, like "for the love" or "non-paying" markets, pay nothing other than perhaps a complimentary copy or "exposure" for the stories they publish.
Most obviously, these categories determine how much money you'll make for your story. But there are other things you should consider when looking for a market for your story or novel. For instance, if you're trying to build a list of publication credits to include in cover letters so you can impress editors with your track record, don't submit to fanzines, which have little or no prestige in the publishing world. However, if you're a raw beginner just starting out, fanzines are often a receptive market while you're learning your craft.
If you're trying to qualify for membership in one of the established writers' organizations such as the Horror Writers Association, the Mystery Writers of America, or the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, you'll of course want to submit to markets that meet the requirements that such organizations require for membership--the pro markets. You may be surprised to learn, however, that some markets paying pro rates still don't qualify toward your membership. Why? The SFWA defines a "pro" market as one that is regularly published at least three times a year and has a minimum paid circulation of 2,000 copies per issue, along with that three-cents-a-word pay rate. Book publishers must appear in Literary Market Place, or they don't count. These stipulations exclude a large number of otherwise very good markets. The Mystery Writers stipulates "a 'legitimate' publisher" without going into detail, but suggests that Web-based publications are "gray areas." Don't make admission into a professional organization your one burning goal when choosing markets. Many established professional authors don't belong to them; membership is not essential for you to succeed as a fiction writer.
Of course everyone dreams of seeing their work in one of the glossy pro magazines available on every newsstand--the ones with the best pay rates and the work of well-known authors between their pages. But those magazines are paying the best rates to attract skilled authors, those adept storytellers who have spent years honing their craft. If you're just starting out, don't expect to break into these markets easily. Go ahead and submit your very best work, but prepare yourself for rejections. Your fiction writing career may be better served if you submit to small press markets at first, and build up to the pro markets as you build your writing skill.
What about e-zines? These are gaining legitimacy, although as mentioned in the Mystery Writers membership criteria, they're often considered a gray area by professional organizations. Generally, it's easier to break into the electronic market. E-zines also usually accept e-mailed submissions, which makes submission faster and much less expensive than postal submissions. An added perk is that you often get more feedback from readers of your work published in electronic form--something a writer working in isolation can appreciate.
The down side? It's usually very difficult to resell a story initially published on the Internet, because Web-published stories potentially receive worldwide exposure, whereas stories published in printed magazines often have more limited exposure--it's more likely that such stories will still be "fresh" for more readers when reprinted in another magazine, and so these are more attractive to publishers for reprinting.
The most important thing you should consider when choosing markets for your fiction is this: Is the story you've written appropriate for that market? I'm not just talking about the folly of sending your romance manuscript to a mystery market, or a Western to a fantasy magazine. No magazine is going to change the slant of their content just for you, no matter how good your story might be--they have their readers and their advertisers to consider, all of whom have specific expectations of the type of stories they'll see in that magazine. Obviously, you'll only be wasting your time and an editor's time if you submit to a market that's wrong for your story. Choose the market that's most receptive to your story--in terms of both content and your current level of writing skill.
Get specific when you peruse the market lists. For instance, you'll increase your chances of a sale if you submit to markets that publish the specific type, or sub-genre, of fiction within the broader categories of fiction that your story falls into--be it romance or mystery or speculative fiction or mainstream fiction. You'll find an editor more receptive to your story if you send your Regency romance to the magazine that publishes historical romances rather than the one that publishes contemporary romance. Literary journals may say they welcome "examinations of the human condition" but it's unlikely that your romance or teenage angst story will find a home there.
Choosing the most appropriate market for both your type of story and your current level of writing skill will mean a higher likelihood of a sale. Which means you can spend less time submitting that story again and again and get on with the important stuff--writing more stories, and honing your craft.
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