Short stories, submissions, and vanity publications #amwriting

Despite being primarily a novelist, I submit a lot of short stories to various publications over the course of a year. Many times, they are rejected for various reasons, but I polish them up and submit them elsewhere.

Therefore, I keep a list of what short story was submitted to what magazine or anthology. If it is rejected with comments, I make a note of the remarks. I then consider them, and if they are valid, I make changes and immediately submit it elsewhere. The fact is, rejection can be a positive thing.

Only submit your work to reputable publications and contests.

I strongly recommend you do not submit your work to vanity publications. Don’t even consider submitting to the slick-looking publishing house that contacts you by your WordPress blog email saying they want your work for “regional anthologies.” They want your work all right—and want to sell you publishing services you can do for yourself. You won’t benefit from any of their “services” but they will benefit from your desperation to be published. They will publish your work, and your payment is the glory of having it published, as they offer you no payment or royalties. They will expect you to market their product and they will offer you all manner of for-payment services that are dubious at best.

I prefer cash to glory, thank you.

When I first began this journey, I didn’t understand how specifically you have to tailor your submissions when it comes to literary magazines, contests, and anthologies.

First, you must research your intended market. This means you must buy magazines, read them, and write to those standards.

Go to the publisher’s website and find out what their submission guidelines are and FOLLOW THEM. (Yes, they apply to EVERYONE, no matter how famous, even you.) If you skip this step, you can wait up to a year to hear that your manuscript has been rejected, and they most likely won’t tell you why.

Formatting your manuscript to your intended publisher’s standards is crucial. If you are unsure how that works, see my blogpost of July 24, 2015,  How to Format Your Manuscript for Submission.

Only submit your best, most professional work. It’s not worth a publisher’s time to teach you how to be a writer—you have to learn that on your own.

A sci-fi magazine like Analog Science Fiction and Fact will not be interested in fantasy from an unknown author. If you read Analog, you can see they mostly publish hard, technology driven sci-fi. If they publish a fantasy piece at all, it will be by one of their regular contributors, and will likely have been solicited by them for a particular feature.

Analog’s Submission page clearly says: “Basically, we publish science fiction stories. That is, stories in which some aspect of future science or technology is so integral to the plot that, if that aspect were removed, the story would collapse. Try to picture Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein without the science and you’ll see what I mean. No story!

The science can be physical, sociological, psychological. The technology can be anything from electronic engineering to biogenetic engineering. But the stories must be strong and realistic, with believable people (who needn’t be human) doing believable things–no matter how fantastic the background might be.”

You have been warned. Analog wants science, not magic.

Therefore, I never submit to this magazine as I don’t write hard science fiction. I don’t enjoy the kind of work they publish, and that is an important clue: If you don’t read what they publish, you likely can’t write it to their standards.

An excellent article that addresses that well is  “What Editors Want; A Must-Read for Writers Submitting to Literary Magazines.”

Because I have so many short pieces floating around in the ether, I now keep a document listing all my submissions by the

  • Title
  • Date of submission
  • Where the story was submitted to (including internet address of submission details page)
  • Whether it was accepted or not and date of rejection/acceptance
  • Any comments received

Remember, only submit your best work. If you have a well-written piece that reads smoothly when read aloud and is rejected for whatever reason, find a different magazine, contest, or anthology to submit it to. Chances are it simply didn’t resonate with the editor at that place, and who knows–it may be exactly what the next place is looking for.

However, finding these contests and publications has been challenging, as often by the time I hear about them, the closing date is approaching which means I may not have time to get a rough piece into the right shape for submission.

But even that is becoming less of a problem for me. I use an app for a submissions warehouse that makes it easy to find publications with open deadlines and contests which have several months lead before their closing date.

The Submittable App.

Many contests and publications use the Submittable platform to accept and review the large volume of manuscripts they received from writers. When a publisher uses this platform, it’s great for us as authors because we can use the app to keep track of what we have submitted, and where it currently is in the process.

On your personal page, Submittable lists four stages in the process:

  1. Received
  2. In process
  3. Declined
  4. Accepted

I can connect though both my PC and my phone so no matter where I am, I can check the progress of a particular story. It is the responsibility of the contest manager or publication to notify Submittable as to the status of their entries and submissions, and while most do, some contests managers aren’t as diligent about that. I assume that if it has been in process for more than a year, they didn’t want that piece.

But, even better than being able to track your submissions, all the contests that are currently open via Submittable are listed on the Submittable Website in one place on the “Discover” tab, so the question of where to submit your work is easily answered. Every open call for submissions is listed, and any entry fees are clearly shown.

At the top are the contests and calls that are closing that day. But if you scroll down to the bottom, you will find calls closing thirty days from now and beyond.

If you are new to this, a good place to start is the Lascaux Review. This is a literary magazine, but they have great contests for flash fiction, drabbles, and poetry–and offer cash prizes. Their rules are fairly relaxed.

The Lascaux Prize in Flash Fiction


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2 responses to “Short stories, submissions, and vanity publications #amwriting

  1. Stephen Swartz

    Ah! Those teenage years
    Of fighting against my fears
    To submit or not to submit
    To cower and just pray for it
    The fame of being put on some pages
    While readers worship me like the sages!
    The head swells with repeated dreams
    Now it’s so easy, or so it seems.

    Liked by 1 person