The Proliferation of Dross

Duotrope's Digest

In this age of electronic publishing it is so easy for someone to call themselves an editor and put out a call for submissions for an anthology. Personally, I scan the market listings almost daily, looking for new and fledgling markets, more places to send my short fiction, because I’ve got quite a bit of it. Unfortunately, for writers, this landscape is a minefield full of traps. I felt moved to write this post as a result of some of the recent market research I’ve undertaken.

If you are a new or aspiring writer, make sure you do your research, and that’s not just about background material for writing a story. There’s a number of writer’s market listing out there, Ralan, Duotrope, others, and though they provide a valuable service to we who require homes for our stories, though they do monitor the responses and the turnaround times, they are not the gatekeepers of the quality of the markets themselves. Just because something is listed, does not mean you should send your work there.

Following, here are some of the steps I go through and the questions I ask myself when considering a market. They appear roughly in the priority of the question.

  • How much do they pay?
  • Is it a recognised market?
  • What does the website look like? Does it look professional?
  • If you were accepted would you feel comfortable with having your name associated with the publication?
  • Who have they published before?
  • Do they actually ever come out with any issues?

Do not be fooled by markets that claim exposure as payment. Exposure is not payment. Exposure is something you can be arrested for. Also do not be fooled by the oft-stated payment is a percentage of profits. What profits? Anthologies are rarely profitable, and after all of the ‘administration fees,’ ‘distribution costs’ and anything else they might cite, there is likely to be a vast profit of less than zero. Up front (or on publication) payment is better, even if it is a token, because that’s really all you are likely to see.

Certainly, I will make exceptions to these rules. But, and it is a big but, those exceptions are driven by conscious decisions. Things that might influence that? I know and respect the editor and his or her work. I know and respect the publication and its reputation. I particularly want my work to appear in a certain venue for other well considered reasons. So, do your research. Know why you are sending a story somewhere before you send it.

And one last thought. The desire for publication is fine and it’s undeniable. However, try to start at the top and work down. If you start at the bottom, you will never know whether the top markets might have bought your story in the first place.




The Proliferation of Dross — 5 Comments

  1. One additional piece I also look for is “how much specific formatting is needed for this market?” IOW, if I have to go into my story and do many market-specific changes to standard formatting, then I take a pass on it (unless the market pays SFWA rates or is highly acclaimed). Generally, the more the editor rants and raves about formatting errors, the less likely it is that the product is something decent. I do standard market format, in Courier. I’ll reluctantly change to Times New Roman, and that’s an easy change. I already do straight quotes, not curly quotes. Anything more and I look askance because that tells me that the editor does not want to do a lot of formatting, which makes me worried about what the final product will look like.

    If the editor goes off on rants about esoteric points in the submission guidelines, then I don’t submit. Doesn’t look professional, and usually the magazine/anthology product doesn’t look that good. If the guidelines are cut and pasted from a larger market such as Clarkesworld or Strange Horizons without attribution, I’ll take a pass as well (hint to small market editors: who on earth do you think you’re fooling by doing this? Anyone who’s a decent writer is already submitting to the market you nicked those GLs from and knows you did it. Earns you an automatic pass and a mental blackball, and I don’t think I’m the only one).

    Sure, I’d probably have more things published if I wasn’t picky about my submissions. But lots of pubs doesn’t necessarily mean a good thing, and I’d rather be published in something I’m proud to be a part of, rather than something that makes me cringe.

  2. @joycemocha Yep, I hear all of that. The other thing that has started to annoy me is the number of e-sub venues that suddenly demand single space, line between paragraphs, weird plain text formatting, all non-standard ms formatting stuff. Definitely makes me think twice.

  3. @ Jay–the other part of it is that if I have to put that much work into submitting a story to a market that may or may not buy it, then why not self-publish it? Same amount of work, and the money comes directly to me.

  4. Certainly there may be the self-publishing route, but in reality, if I am trying to build a career with short fiction, I would be actually trying to build it with short fiction. The e-format lends itself readily to the short form, but I am in two minds about self publishing short fiction without having the runs on the board. Self-publishing a short story throws it into the wilds where hundreds of thousands of other publications of various lengths either sink or swim. Recognsied venues are there because they are recognised and trusted sources for good fiction. At least there you may have some real chance of having your work recognised without having to spend hours and hours in that lovely tacky business of self-promotion. It comes back to the dross equation.

  5. Like novels, short fiction needs a ‘platform’ to stand on, in order to be found. That might be an established magazine (digital or paper), or a consortium website like BVC, or a single site with enough Name oomph to drive traffic. Self-publishing without that is as dangerous as publishing through a sub-par market – the odds are high that very few people will actually find and read your story.

    Plus, no matter how wonderful we might think a story may be, having a professional editor (i.e. someone with the skill set to edit, not merely someone who set up a digital display site) can do wonders for the final work. That, as well as the payment and the distribution, are hallmarks of a useful market.

    As Jay says – start at the top, not the bottom. If you aren’t that confident in the story, it’s not ready to go out yet.