I wrote a short story called “Googly Eyes” that was just published in 101 Words. It’s my first published story. I want to thank Shoshauna, an editor with 101 Words, for working with me on improving “Googly Eyes” and getting it ready for publication.
Though my focus is on science fiction and fantasy, “Googly Eyes” is neither. In fact, it’s not a story I planned to write. It originated in a dream I had one night. I found myself in a pediatric cancer ward talking with a group of patients when a young boy raised his hand and said something endearing about googly eyes. I woke up soon after that, opened my laptop, and typed what the boy had said verbatim into a blank document. I immediately thought of 101 Words and wrote a 101-word story around that quote from my dream. I submitted it later that day.
Please take a few moments to read it (it’s very short, after all), and feel free to leave a comment on the story.
Rejection as a writer isn’t easy, though I hear it gets easier. I’ve only submitted four stories so far. Editors have rejected two of them, while the other two are still pending. I have more than a dozen more stories waiting in the wings, so I need to get used to disappointment if I’m going to make it in this business.
Frequent rejection was not at all unexpected. Most short fiction markets accept less than 10% of the stories they receive. Others are less than 1%, so it’s highly competitive. I knew what was likely to happen.
I’m on a few Discord servers haunted by short fiction writers. We encourage one another amid our frustrations. Someone said they got more than twenty rejections on the same story before it finally found a home. That sounds like a painful process, but I’m sure it was worth it in the end.
I plan to keep submitting my work for publication. Fingers crossed that I eventually get some good news.
Recently, I started to submit some short stories for publication, and I realized something interesting. I have no problem sending my work to editors I don’t know who are all but certain to respond with a rejection letter. The odds of success are typically in the low- to mid-single digits, and I’m all right with that.
At the same time, I’m at least a little reluctant to have family and friends read my work—not much but a bit. I think this feeling will pass as I get more into writing and more used to the idea of being a writer. But for now, it’s there.
Due to the typical exclusivity requirements of online magazines and podcasts, I’m waiting until stories are accepted and published before posting links for people to read or listen to them. Depending on my success in the publishing game, it could be weeks or months before that happens.
In the meantime, I’ll imagine the feeling of clicking the Post button on Facebook to tell 400 people about a story I wrote.
In my previous post, I discussed the publishing landscape for short fiction and the intricacies of the submission process, including the different market tiers, payments, and odds of success. Now I want to provide an overview of the stories I’m preparing to submit.
Eternal Bargain is a fantasy flash fiction story about a pair of adventurers who strike a deal with a Gorgon and realize not every bargain is at it seems. I’ve worked with an editor to polish it, and now I’m researching markets to decide on a submission plan.
Interstellar Oatmeal is a sci-fi short story about an engineer who is awakened from stasis to fix a potentially catastrophic problem with the ship’s warp drive. Calamity ensues, and he must make a difficult choice. This one is close to ready. I need a few more pairs of eyes on it.
Manhattans and Miles Davis is a sci-fi short story about a bartender on a generation ship who grapples with her place in the galaxy and how her ancestors sealed her fate hundreds of years earlier. When offered a chance to escape, will she take it? I just wrote this yesterday, so it’s a few weeks from being ready.
In addition to these three stories, I have about half a dozen more in various stages of readiness and a few ideas rattling around in my head. Time will tell how things play out, but I’ll chronicle all of it right here.
Imagine you’re a high school counselor helping seniors apply to colleges. Each student has a prioritized list of the schools where they want to apply. The students then submit applications to all their chosen schools and wait to hear back. Then they select from among the schools that accept them, and off they go the following fall. Sounds familiar, right?
Now imagine we introduce a wrinkle into this familiar process. Students apply to one school and must wait for a decision before applying to the next. Also, each school’s average response time varies widely from a few days to several months. Would this change your approach as a counselor working with these students? Absolutely!
Short story markets
The process of submitting short stories for publication is very similar to what I just described. Most markets (magazines, anthologies, etc.) don’t allow simultaneous submissions. That means authors can only submit each story to one market at a time and then must wait for a decision before moving forward. A lot of markets also don’t accept multiple submissions at the same time. Strategy becomes an essential element in deciding how to proceed.
In addition, like colleges, the sci-fi and fantasy short fiction markets can be divided into tiers. The top tier consists of the SFWA qualifying markets that pay authors professional rates (typically 8 cents per word). As I mentioned in a previous post, one of my goals is to join the SFWA, so I have my eye on several of these markets. Naturally, competition is fierce at this tier, and roughly 1-2% of stories are accepted.
Next are the “semi-professional” markets that aren’t on the SFWA list and typically pay lower rates (maybe 1-3 cents per word). These are still desirable places to be published, so they’re competitive and usually accept less than 5% of stories submitted.
Then we have the markets that don’t pay anything. Publishing for free isn’t a deal-breaker for me since I’m under no illusion that I’ll make a lot of money from short stories. I’m more interested in getting published than getting paid. Most of these markets accept less than 10% of stories.
Playing the game
So how do I formulate my approach? That’s an excellent question that I’m still working on answering. Each story is different and needs its own strategy, so I’ll be playing this game multiple times.
Fortunately, I have an excellent source of intel on all the short fiction markets. The Submission Grinder is a clearinghouse of data on nearly 400,000 short story submissions by about 8,000 authors to more than 2,800 open markets. It contains detailed data on acceptance rates and response times for every market.
Naturally, analysis paralysis is a risk, so I’ll need to study the data, make a plan, and execute that plan without overthinking things. Single-digit acceptance rates are daunting but not disheartening. I know I’ll get a lot of rejection letters before I find a home for each story. That’s just the nature of the game.
I have a confession to make. I’ve been a “stealth writer” for a few years now. By day, I’m a mild-mannered mid-career tech worker. By night, though, I write sci-fi and fantasy—mostly short stories, but I also have four novels in the works. Up to this point, only my wife and kids have read any of my writing.
That’s about to change. I’ll be working with a professional editor to polish a few of my short stories before submitting them to online magazines. My short-term goal is to join the SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) by meeting their membership requirements.
After that, I’ll focus on one of my novels—a YA (Young Adult) fantasy story about a girl who discovers a doorway to another world and takes a leap of faith into a challenging and dangerous adventure. I’ve written about 8,000 words so far, so I have a long way to go considering the expected word count for this genre is 70,000 to 100,000. My current outline will get me halfway there, so I’m expanding that before writing any more.
In a way, I feel like my novel protagonist, leaping into the unknown. I’m not sure where this will lead, but I look forward to the adventure.