Writer’s Corner: Lessons for submitting to short fiction markets

Writer’s Corner

Short fiction doesn’t sell well. – That’s what I keep hearing. Anthologies are hard sells. So why would you even write short fiction, if it is so difficult to sell?

What many authors need to realize, is that while an anthology may be harder to sell than a novel, when you have work featured in an anthology, it is a project involving many authors, each with their own following which they bring to the table, creating a much bigger marketing network than you would have for a novel. Being a part of an anthology expands your marketing reach exponentially by the number of authors involved, which could actually make the marketing and promotion of the anthology easier and allow marketing to a much larger audience.

For the past few months I’ve been exploring short fiction and short fiction markets from the other side of things, as I worked to compile two separate anthologies. My solo project for my masters in publishing is The Best of Weird Tales 1926-27, which meant reading twenty-four issues of Weird Tales and selecting what I felt were the best stories to represent the publication, then compiling them into a single collection. It had to be a careful selection process, because much of what was socially acceptable in 1926 & 27, is far from acceptable in 2021.

The other project required for my degree involves being on the editorial team for the Mirror, Mirror anthology. You may have seen the call for submissions posted here on writing to be Read back in July. And there’s a chance that you even submitted to it, since we had over 600 submissions. That’s a lot of short stories to read. But I learned some valuable lessons from the experience:

  • It pays to get your submission in early. The early submissions get fresh eyes and open mind. But those submitted closer to the deadline, are seen by eyes that are tired by minds that have read so-o-o many stories, many of which are similar in theme or concept, if you wrote to the submission guidelines.
  • Follow the submission guidelines. This experience drove home to me how important this one really is. Going into this, my instructor and mentor, Kevin J. Anderson drilled in the importance of following the submission guidelines and took great care to make them clear in the call for submissions. It called for proper manuscript formatting, something every author should be familiar with, but just in case, he also included a link to a site that defined and explained what proper manuscript formatting is, and still we got manuscripts that were not formatted properly. Toward the end, I know improperly formatted manuscripts got set aside without a full read, because it hurt my tired old eyes too much, so this is really an important one, but many authors just didn’t get it. Publishers don’t want to work with authors who cannot follow simple instructions and format their manuscript properly or follow the guidelines, because this hints that they might be a pain to work with.
  • Only submit a story that fits what the call is looking for. I was surprised how many stories we got that didn’t have a mirror in them at all; not even a compact for the character to check their make-up. Who sends a story without mirrors to an anthology titled Mirror, Mirror that requests a mirror be central to the story. I’m told that last year someone submitted Christmas cards for the call for submissions for Unmasked, last year’s anthology, which may evoke a chuckle when you hear it, but for editors overwhelmed with submissions, reading through a story that doesn’t even come close to meeting the guidelines or match the theme, it feels like a big waste of time. Editors have feelings, too. Be kind and only submit stories that meet the theme and guidelines, instead of trying to cram your story into a frame that doesn’t really match.
  • In today’s market, busy editors are looking for something that is close to being publishable as is, so be sure your manuscript is polished. I feel like I shouldn’t have to state this one, but with as many seemingly unedited submissions, I guess it needs to be said. I was expecting it toward the end, when authors were rushing to meet the deadline, but even early on there were manuscripts that were riddled with misspellings and typos. Many of these may have been good stories, some even written to guidelines, but they were passed by because they would have required too much editing to ready them for publication. It would have required more time than my class of student editors would be able to give. So, I strongly urge having another set of eyes give a critical look over all stories prior to submission. Turning in a clean manuscript will strengthen the chances of your submission being accepted, or at least read clear through for a fair evaluation.
  • Choosing favorites is much harder than I thought it would be. We were cautioned that last year’s anthology received over 500 submissions, with more than 100 received in the last week of submissions. Mirror, Mirror received over 600 and so many of them were truly excellent stories that choosing the few that we had the budget for was really difficult, especially since not everyone had the same favorites. In the end, we ended up with a heck of a selection of stories for this anthology. I think it will be great!

Although all of my personal favorites couldn’t be included, I did find a way to make 2022 a great year for anthologies at WordCrafter Press, with two by invitation only anthologies in addition to the annual short fiction contest and anthology. I gave you a sneak preview for the submission call for the annual anthology, which will be titled Visions, here. The official call for submissions will be posted in January, so stay tuned.

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6 Comments on “Writer’s Corner: Lessons for submitting to short fiction markets”

  1. Very helpful guidelines for submitting to anthologies. I’ve had pretty good luck with anthology acceptances. If a story is only tangentially related to the theme, I don’t submit–even when I want to!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, in my slush pile readings I could definitely tell when an author took a story they already had written and then made revisions to stick a mirror in to try and meet guidelines, because it didn’t feel organic at all, and we had many, many that didn’t even include a mirror element. It was an eye opening experience.

      But you know, it can be fun to challenge yourself and try and write to guidelines for a specific call. I did that with my short story, “Last Call” and came out with a wonderful story, but I ended up way over the word count, so I didn’t end up submitting it. Lol.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. […] some helpful tips for submitting short fiction here, but mainly just follow the […]

    Liked by 1 person


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