In a lot of ways, this is a hard post to write. I’ve sold plenty of short stories. Earned placements in competitions including Writers of the Future (SemiFinalist, Honorable Mention x 2).
But I’m done with submitting unsolicited short stories to markets. Period. It is no longer worth the misery and the time it takes away from writing books.
I’m not writing this as a disgusted or frustrated amateur. I’ve been writing and selling short fiction off and on since 2008, plus a short stint of submitting shorts in the 90s before life complications pulled me away from writing fiction for a while. I know William Shunn’s submission format backwards and forwards. I have Ralan and the Submission Grinder bookmarked. I’ve had things published in anthologies, including ones that have placed in competition. I actually have a sale to a SFWA-qualifying market (and a couple of those anthologies paid SFWA rates).
What I haven’t done has been obsessively turning out short work and putting the effort in that is required to make the sales in this era. Look. At one time I had twenty stories out at a time for submission. Most of them have sold. For a while there I was trying to build up that number while writing novels, but then the short stories kind of fell by the wayside and I started focusing on novels and self-publishing, which means…writing a lot of novels and building a backlist. In the last year I’ve completed five novels in rough draft (two now published, the next three this fall as part of a quick-release trilogy). With that sort of focus my short story production and tracking kind of died. But now that the trilogy is progressing through edits, I have time to look around. I had thought about working on some shorts that I’d made notes for future composition.
And then I opened up my submissions record spreadsheet. The sense of dread that clutched my gut almost made me cry. Still, I carefully noted the stories I had recorded as out for submission, then searched through my email to see if I could account for all of them. Here’s what I found:
8 stories total
4 stories clearly rejected (2 within 48 hours with the good rejections…ie, not a fit but we like your work, please send more. Longer sub periods were similar. That’s my standard rejection these days)
2 stories at markets that died
2 stories that appeared to have fallen through cracks somewhere in the submission process (and yes, I had sub confirmation emails, one had been requested for a further hold)
I almost burst into tears at the thought of the several hours of work ahead. Clicking through open markets at Ralan and the Submission Grinder. Winnowing out the weird formatting requirements, the cut and paste in email only markets, the “if you don’t hear from us you’re rejected” markets, the weird subscription processes for submitting to some markets. And then the speedy rejects anywhere within 24-48 hours. If I were truly dedicated to writing short stories, I’d be writing and updating my submissions weekly. Write a new short story every week. Rejects back out within a week. That’s the sort of grind that short fiction success requires…and the markets are narrowing. Additionally, I have this suspicion that part of short fiction success may be visibility on social media, especially on Twitter. Networking through workshops. I’m not connected very well these days, certainly not as well as I was back when I was selling more short fiction. Plus I’m cis-het, white, female, and over sixty. Not exactly the burning demographic for a lot of short fiction markets.
Did I really need to keep flogging this dead horse of short fiction writing for traditional markets?
After all, I’ve republished some of my short stories as ebooks and chapbooks to sell at bazaars and in-person events as loss leaders. I’ve self-published short stories that are outtakes of events in my two series, The Netwalk Sequence and Goddess’s Honor. They do sell.
I looked back at those statistics. Half clearly rejected but with the sort of positive rejects that writers keep getting told “that means you’re getting close! Keep it up!”
Yeah. Tell that to someone else. Been doing this for a while.
But it’s the other four that pushed me over the edge. The dying markets. The work involved with submissions falling through the cracks. And then contemplating the work that needs to be done to send out the six whose fates I know. And at that point I just said enough. I’ve had it. Had it with quirky formatting requirements. Had it with weird submission portals. Hell, some of those portals make Kindle look simple. Had it with digging through market listings where when you click through, you can’t back away fast enough because of political considerations (some of these stories are horror and hoo boy, there’s some weird and toxic stuff out there).
I. Have. Just. Plain. Had. It.
So I’m dropping out of the commercial short fiction market. I’m going to make covers for my remaining stories as I have time, and they’re going up for sale. If and when I ever do in-person events again, I’ll make more chapbooks, or perhaps offer a chapbook collection through an online store or something. But now it’s goodbye to that damn submission sheet. Goodbye to formatting games. Goodbye to bizarre submission portals. Goodbye to trying to trace stories that fell through the cracks.
Nobody’s gonna miss me in that market anyway. But I can and will sell a few stories in ebook and chapbook, and they’ll get read. I know that one for sure.