In response to some comments on a relatively long thread at SF Signal, I tried to answer the question of how I decide where to send my work. People were curious about how people hear about magazines, how magazines gain reputations, and how some semi-pro and token-paying magazines end up being name-checked as respectable or even enviable places to get published in.
Firsts things first. This conversation only applies within the spec community. In other communities, different standards apply.
Now, it’s been proposed that people tend to use three broad categories when figuring out whether a market is worth submitting to:
1) Pay rate.
2) Audience size.
This works in a general way, but I think I actually have a slightly different system. There are specific goals I want to accomplish with any story, and specific ways I think of different publication achievements. For instance, if I ever publish in Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, I think of that as earning prestige points. In my own mind, in my own world, I would feel like I had gained prestige by publishing there, because it’s such an awesome zine, and the editors rock so many different colored socks.
Some writers have talked about trunking stories that they don’t think are pro material, or about only ever doing their best work. I respect that. I don’t always do it, though. Sometimes I write something silly in an afternoon because I felt like it. I’m not particularly proud of that piece. It’s not particularly good. But it does amuse me, and my goal was to make an editor laugh. Just one. Apparently, it did. Goal for that story accomplished.
So this whole conversation is on slippery footing. Not only will people’s criteria for what they want out of publication change, but also people’s individual evaluation of how good markets are. Further, people may want different things for different stories.
Nevertheless, here are some general thoughts on markets. These are offered for what use they may be to others. They are not intended to be proscriptive. They are only things that I think about places. Take some elements, discard others, ignore the whole thing, whatever you like. But I do think it can be useful to see how other writers think about the business.
Speaking as a writer, I generally will not submit to a publication — no matter the pay rate — if it’s just starting out. In 2005, when I was starting to submit, a magazine called Son & Foe briefly came into existence. It paid 5 cents — sometimes it paid that 5 cents to my friends — and I submitted there. Then it died. The stories it had published did get some readers, but the project never went anywhere much and everyone was disappointed.
Later, I watched this situation play out with other magazines. Sometimes the editor had a daring vision, but clearly no way to pay for it, as he or she somehow seemed to expect that once they started publishing, money would just naturally flow in. These people were often severely undereducated about publishing. As a consequence, once they folded — and they did — many authors were caught with stories that had been published but not paid for, or stories that were in limbo for years, or other problems. This isn’t good for me.
Some people on the long thread asked how new markets were ever going to get writers, then, if everyone followed this policy. Well, my first thought is, as a writer, I don’t care. That’s the editors’ problem. Mine is to make sure I’m well-treated and well-compensated.
But there are ways to do it, I think. One way is to come in with a really strong idea of what you’re doing. If people know you know how publishing works, they might be more inclined to submit to you. Another technique is solicitation. I won’t spontaneously submit to a new market, but if someone asks me — well, I just might, if I have a story around. The most reliable way is just to make sure you publish the best of the stories you receive. If you make consistently good selections, then people will whisper and gossip and pass the magazine around, and your reputation will build to the point where you don’t seem new anymore. My one year rule is an aberration, I think; most people seem to play it by ear.
“Beneath Ceaseless Skies,” edited by Scott H. Andrews, is a great example of a magazine that proved its excellence during its first year by publishing stories that generated a lot of buzz. Andrews displayed competence as a publisher and an editor. I submitted work to him once he got close to being around for a year, and recently appeared there.
Lightspeed is another new magazine with a good plan. Personally, I will sub to them even though they’re new, for two reasons: A) they’re being edited by a well-known, well-respected editor, John Joseph Adams, and B) they’re coming into existence as part of a project from Prime Books, which runs Fantasy Magazine very well. Both factors indicate the magazine will be run with knowledge and competence.
On the other hand, whether or not a magazine is new, a professional pay rate alone is not enough to encourage me to submit somewhere. I will not submit to Flash Fiction Online, even though they pay five cents a word, because of their public, homophobic positions.
There’s at least one more pro-paying magazine that’s on my black list. Emails are rarely responded to, the magazine is rarely spotted in person, and I’ve heard rumors of serious author mistreatment. The only times I interacted with them, they were nice, but it’s not okay for magazines to treat their writers poorly.
Now that I’ve talked about pro magazines, I want to talk about semi-pro and token paying magazines. The factors that determine how I feel about them are slippery and relative. Pretty products help, as does critical attention, excellent editorial input, and the company of stories I like. I’m also affected by what other writers are saying about the magazine and how they feel about having been in it.
People on the other thread asked for examples, so here is an incomplete list of semi-pro and token paying magazines I sometimes submit to and why:
Sybil’s Garage pays little, but is run by Matt Kressel, who knows what he’s doing as an editor (his press, Five Senses, recently produced an anthology that
was nominated for won! a WFA award). The magazine itself is gorgeously produced and incorporates beautiful graphic design, courtesy of Kris Dikeman. High quality writers like Cat Rambo and Kathy Sedia have appeared here. The stories are good, though I often find them too static, the weight going more toward prose and mood than to structure.
Shimmer pays little, but is run by an editorial staff whose names are recognizable as people who know what they’re doing. This magazine is distinguished by particularly lovely design, courtesy of Mary Robinette Kowal. As many of the big magazines have mediocre design, it can be a pleasure to appear someplace more lovely, which is why the graphic design of places like Shimmer and Sybilâ€™s factors in. The stories here are well-written, and the ones Iâ€™ve read have a disjunctive magical realist flavor like that of non-western magical realism. I find that they emphasize language over structure and satisfying endings.
Electric Velocipede pays little, but itâ€™s a niche market â€“ it publishes experimental and strange fiction. Many places claim to, but EV actually does. Much experimental and strange fiction is labeled such because it fails to accomplish more mainstream goals, rather than because it’s attempting something novel â€“ EV seeks out work that is intentionally and intelligently experimental, reflecting a keen editorial eye. John Klimaâ€™s keen editorial eye was critically trained as a publisher in NYC which is also why he seems to have a great grasp of publishing. I donâ€™t like everything he publishes, but itâ€™s all intelligently chosen. When I published here, I received positive reviews and a yearâ€™s best reprint; this inclines me to publish there again.
Lady Churchillâ€™s Rosebud Wristlet is also a niche market. I donâ€™t have a grasp on what they publish. This market is run by Kelly Link, whose writing I kind of worship, and her very smart husband, Gavin Grant. Itâ€™s kind of like a speculative, more feminine version of McSweeneyâ€™s, often supplemented with editorial remarks that are amusing and absurd. I think they pick up stuff that amuses them, which comprises a large range. I havenâ€™t sent here for a long time because they tend to take six months or longer with my subs. I probably wonâ€™t send in the foreseeable future for the same reason. But damn, Iâ€™d love to be published there.
Ideomancer is the first market I fell in love with because they were publishing someone I really respect â€“ Jeremiah Tolbert. I first came across his work and their magazine in 2003, and I put Ideomancer on my list of places I wanted to sell to when I was ready to start submitting. At the time, their website was top of the line; itâ€™s still pretty good, but not as remarkable. These days, I donâ€™t send to them much, but I can add another reason for liking them â€“ their editor, Leah Bobet, who is smart and has a strong aesthetic (though itâ€™s not quite mine) and their publisher, Marsha Sisolak, who is practical and has kept that thing running in a professional way for quite a long time in e-zine years.
Abyss & Apex â€“ This market came to my attention because of their poetry publication. When I was writing poetry, I often used poems (which I can write in an afternoon, as opposed to stories, which usually take me weeks) to test markets out. If I liked being published somewhere, Iâ€™d try them with fiction. Iâ€™ve never actually published fiction with A&A, but I do still sub occasionally. Their aesthetic is pretty far from what I write â€“ they seem to prefer stories with happy endings, for instance â€“ but they respond reliably and theyâ€™re eminently respectable. Also, Iâ€™ve enjoyed talking to their editors, Wendy Delmater and Kelly Green.
Talebones â€“ When I first read this slick magazine, story after story felt whole and satisfying. The production was lovely and the material was good. What else could I ask for? Alas, I could ask that they were still able to keep producing, because this market died earlier this year.
Lone Star Stories â€“ Another market that unfortunately died. I had never sent here until my friend Sarah Prineas sang many praises of Eric Marinâ€™s editing skill. Apparently, he had a talent for taking stories that werenâ€™t quite working and tweaking them so they would. Many great authors â€“ Hal Duncan, for instance â€“ appeared in Lone Star Stories, and authors seemed to love being published there. I did publish one story and one poem with Eric before the magazine closed, and Iâ€™m happy for that.
Weird Tales â€“ I used to read this in high school. In addition to its venerable publishing history and the fact that itâ€™s a respected venue (which means many eyes!), its modern revamping makes it look slick, and its new editor, Ann VanderMeer, has excellent taste that moves this magazine in an interesting new direction I like. I want to call it the future of horror, but since I’m not a horror writer, I donâ€™t think I have that right.
Interzone â€“ This formerly pro-paying magazine has been in circulation decline, but despite the fact that there are relatively few copies, it gets into the hands of the people who review work. Not only that, but the magazine is beautiful. When I made my first sale here, I joked that they didnâ€™t need to pay me anything but the full-color illustration by a professional artist that accompanied the piece. My story was read by many people, reviewed many times, and ended up in a yearâ€™s best collection.
Futurismic â€“ A niche market, looking for hard-hitting near future SF. This seems to be where the hip kids who are heirs to the cyberpunk movement hang out. Their writers, including names like Chris Nakashima Brown, and lesser known figures who I respect, like Karen Roberts and James Trimarco, make this smaller magazine stand out. Its
$100 $200 pay rate isnâ€™t bad for medium-length stories.
Kaleidotrope — I submitted a poem to this small magazine on a whim and discovered I like the editor, Fred Coppersmith. The magazine publishes quirky material and is occasionally uneven, but I like Coppersmith’s aims and he treats me well. Already, the magazine has improved. The first contributor’s copy I received made me wince because of its bad design. These days, it’s still not Sybil’s-Garage-gorgeous, but it looks like a respectable ‘zine. I don’t send my top of the line fiction here, but when I have an appropriate poem, reprint, or piece of short fiction that doesn’t seem elsewhere, I’ll send it Fred’s way. I can see this magazine getting bigger and more successful as time goes on.
Helix â€“ Another dead magazine that provided something you couldnâ€™t get elsewhere, its interest in stories that contained material that would be hard for other magazines for publish. Many phenomenal stories ended up here. Some were controversial, others disgusting, still others both controversial and disgusting. It was well-reviewed and getting attention from editors like Dozois and yearâ€™s best anthos, but unfortunately, it was pounded by controversy â€“ although its closure was planned anyway.
Expanded Horizons — I know little about this market, but I love the reason it exists, and it has published some newer writers whose work I think is exciting.
So, anyway, this isnâ€™t a guide to â€œyou should publish here,â€ obviously, since some of these places are gone. But it is a guide to how Iâ€™ve picked which magazines I will submit to as an author, how places gain attention, and what kinds of attention are relevant to me.
Of course, these thoughts and evaluations differ from the way I look at things as a reprint editor. As I said in my original post, as an editor, I evaluate venues based on the material they published that later shows up in my inbox as potential reprints. I start to notice trends, both positive and negative. For instance, as a writer, I’d always thought of RoF as a place I didn’t like much — what I write doesn’t usually overlap with what they publish. As an editor, I discovered that I enjoyed their accessible, diverting, highly structured work, which translates well to podcasts. The flip side of this phenomenon — where some markets publish fiction that is reliably poor — has already been discussed.