J.M. Williams

A home for all things fantasy and sci-fi.

My Story Submission Process

Dec
04

It feels like I haven’t written about my current writing process in quite some time, but a recent comment from the wonderful Joy Pixley has me thinking about it again. She is not the first to comment to me that I seem to have had a lot of success in publishing.

I posted long ago about my story submission tracker. This is my method of keeping notes on all my submissions, which is necessary since my basic strategy is to write and submit a lot. The tracker is based on spreadsheets I use all the time in the Army.

Here’s part of the tracker as it looks now:

1

The tracker is now much too large to try to share in full. It has more than 60 rows and 28 columns. I have extended the submission attempts for a single piece out to 13, though in practice, the most times I have submitted a single story is still only 11. I have two stories currently on their 11th attempt, stories I like to think are particularly good.

If I were to sum up my submission strategy in once picture, it would be this:

2

My current acceptance ratio is around 1 in 5. Is that good or bad? I cannot say. I’ve also submitted almost 60 stories in total. At least 30 of these were first sent out by the middle of February. I am slowing down now as larger projects (and real work) take more of my time.

I think success is highly subjective. I’ve have 33 stories accepted for publication (also a novella and a fantasy series). Is that success?

I have not yet been published in a pro-rated magazine (SFWA defines pro rate as 6c/word). For a 5000-word story, a pro-rated sale would be over $300US. Currently my best sale is only around $50, though I did win $300 in a contest. Of course, I want a pro-rated sale. That would make all this work feel like it accomplished what was intended. Does that mean I am not yet a success?

To be brutally honest, I am not sure. I feel good about my writing and publishing so far, but I know I have a long way to go.

If I could offer any advice, it would be to not give up. Don’t send your story to a single publisher and give up if it is rejected. After a rejection, you have to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and try again. At first, I was always feeling on tenterhooks, waiting for a response, only to be devastated when the form letter came. I’ve come now to expect rejection. This makes it easy when rejection does come, and a delightful surprise with each acceptance.

Also, don’t read too much into a publisher before submitting. A lot of places will suggest to read a copy of the mag before sending, but this is often A) a ploy to get sales and B) an arbitrary restriction on the content of submissions. Editors often don’t know what they like until they see it. If the publication is in the same genre as your work, and doesn’t have a blanked rejection on some aspect of it (for example, some speculative fiction publishers won’t take certain subgenres and others have specific content such as sex or gore that they won’t accept), send it in.

Think about it. What’s the worst, and best, thing that could happen? Worst, you get a form rejection. Let me tell you, you’re going to get a whole lot of those no matter what you do. But the best thing would be getting a sale! It seems entirely worth the risk, doesn’t it?

The review process is completely subjective. A certain editor might just not like your style or voice, no matter the content. And many places have only one or two people doing initial reads, that first step that gets your work from the slush pile into the hands of someone who will actually give it the time and attention it deserves.

I learned over the past year that the editors of Daily Science Fiction don’t like my style. Each one of the stories I have sent to them–which varied significantly in style and content and even structure–got form rejections, despite being clearly better written, at least technically, than much of what they do end up publishing. On the flip side, the editor of Bards and Sages seems to enjoy my style, as she has accepted three of my pieces so far, currently my best sales.

While I am now more inclined to send my stuff to Bards and Sages, since I know the editor likes my work and have enjoyed working with her, I still continue to try new places. Most of my submissions in the past month were to new publishers.

That’s really it. Submit often and submit a lot. Not much of a strategy.

Of course, you must read each publisher’s submission guidelines carefully, often necessitating substantial formatting changes to your manuscripts. And you want to be sure you are submitting to places that publish your genre. But other than that, just write a whole lot and don’t let rejections discourage you.

What comes along with submitting often is a deeper understanding of the publishing process. My experience with other publishers, and in reading many publishing contracts, allowed me to quickly identify a sketchy publisher who offered me a contract for my book In the Valley of Magic. I was quickly able to not only identify behaviors the editors and other members were demonstrating that were not right, but also quickly see a dozen significant problems with the contract. That deal was dead before it even started.

All of the writing has also helped me develop my skills and personal style. The stories I write now are clearly better than the ones I wrote even 6 months ago. After 4 or 5 submissions to the Writer’s of the Future Contest, I finally earned an Honorable Mention. My writing is getting better with each story, so maybe that pro-rate sale will come eventually.

That’s about it. No magic. No special rituals. I don’t have the chance to do any networking, as I live in Asia and do not have access to conferences and conventions. I just spam my work to anywhere I think it might fit. Maybe it was inevitable to find some being accepted.

Thanks for reading. If you have any specific questions, drop them in the comments.

Good luck with your writing!

~J.M.

 

25 Responses to My Story Submission Process

  1. Thanks for the extra insight! Based on what I’ve heard from other writers, a 1 in 5 acceptance rate is pretty good. But I know what you mean about wishing that was 1 in 5 for professional level pubs. That’s my goal too, but at this point you are clearly a lot closer to getting there than I am. For one thing, I don’t have nearly that many stories finished that I could send out, so step one would be: find (even more) time to write! I think I also fret too much about which place to send the story to next, and I set everything aside and… yes, forget about it. So step two is simply to make this a higher priority (unfortunately that means choosing something else in my life to make a lower priority).

    Here are some more specific questions:
    (1) When you decide where to send a story, do you generally start with the highest-level magazine you think might possibly accept it, or do you limit how many things you send to the highest-level ones, to not spam them with too many submissions?
    (2) Do you do a lot of simultaneous submissions? I imagine that’s harder to keep track of with so many stories submitted. I have one story I submitted to two places that both allowed simultaneous, and the first one rejected me right away, and the second is still considering it two months later (to be fair, the deadline hasn’t passed).
    (3) How many of your submissions are to special themed issues, or even to prompt issues? I keep running across online magazines that have very special requests, and am wondering if it’s worth it to write a story specifically for that prompt.

    • J.M. Williams

      So to answer you questions. 1) I usually start with pro rated publishers. But I always leave some time after a rejection before sending to the same place again. I send to daily science fiction a lot because they are one of the few pro rated pubs that take flash.

      • What about Strange Horizons and Beneath Ceaseless Skies? I think those are the only others that I know of.

        • J.M. Williams

          What do you want to know about them? I think those are both pro pubs. I’ve sent to them, got close at BCS once. But I have a list that’s easliy over 100 pubs of different levels now.

          • I was pointing out that they also fit your criteria and was asking if you knew of any others. I have a long list at different levels too, but I’m always on the lookout for any paying and especially SFWA ones that I’ve missed.

          • J.M. Williams

            I will look it up when I get back to my computer. I think there are a couple dozen good pro rate SF/F publishers out there. There’s a website that organizes pubs by pay rate. I think its Ralan.com, but I could be wrong.

          • Oh, that would be a great resource!

          • J.M. Williams

            Also “Authors Publish Magazine” has a mailing list where they send out infomation on open submissions calls. I’ve discovered quite a few from that, especially themed issues and anthologies

          • Thanks for the rec. Shortstops is another one I follow. https://shortstops.info/blog/

          • J.M. Williams

            Nice! 😀

    • J.M. Williams

      2) I used to do a lot of simultaneous submissions. But as I mentioned to another commenter here, most high paying pubs won’t accept it. As far as the tracking, I mark the block with a (sm) for simultaneous and set them to pending. I don’t think I ever sent a piece to more that three or four places at once. At a certain point it just becomes too much extra work. And then if it is accepted, you have to write to all the other places and withdraw the piece. I would say, if you have the chance to do simultaneous submissions, go for it.

    • J.M. Williams

      3) I rarely write a story specifically for a prompt (I have done a few). Some of my acceptances were for themed work, but it was more often that I just happened to have a story that fit. Another benefit of having lots of stories. I would advise, if you have a piece that even vaguely seems to fit the theme of whatever anthology or issue you found, send it. It’s very hard to detect what a publisher is thinking in regards to the theme, how strict or literal they take the idea and whatnot.

  2. Loved this blog. Thank you for sharing your insight. I noticed your list of publications a while back and was impressed. What’s his secret I asked myself! I often wonder about simultaneous submissions. Do you just say in your cover letter it’s a sim sub and you’ll let them know if its been accepted elsewhere? Do you go with the first publisher that accepts you? I’m going to reblog this too!

    • J.M. Williams

      You always have to check the submission guidelines carefully to make sure they accept simultaneous submissions. The highest level pubs never do and mid level is iffy. If you find a place and they do accept it, just say in your cover letter that you intend to send it to other places.

    • J.M. Williams

      Oh, and yes if I am doing simultaneous submissions I accept the first one that comes. The only alternative is to reject an acceptance which seems just silly to me. Publishers will want an answer quick when they send the acceptance letter.

  3. This actually sounds like a good thing to do, but at the same time I don’t think I want to have a visual representation of my rejections. Rather to forget and move on as though they never happened haha. Naive of me I know.

    • J.M. Williams

      The important thing is keeping track of where you’ve sent all you stuff to. I’ve caught myself preparing to send a story back to a pub that already rejected it. Or send a new story to a place that is already reviewing another story. Gotta have a way to keep it all straight.

  4. It’s kind of comforting to know i’m not the only person out there collecting rejections from DSF. And that I submit to them for nearly the same reasons – I’m not always impressed by what they publish but they’re one of the few ezines which publish flash fiction and pay pro-rates. Anyway, from time to time I really like their stories and widh I was there too!

    Very insightful post, even if you’re method is indeed as simple as you claim it to be. And great stats; I think that’s a very high rate of accepted stories. It’d probably be higher if you break it into pro markets and token or not paying markets.

    • J.M. Williams

      Someone who got published in DSF told me the editors there have a very specific sprt of thing they like. I guess that’s not me.

  5. Great post! I am thoroughly impressed by your spreadsheet, I need to get more organized! By the way- you said you are stationed in Asia, where are you station? South Korea? I’m actually leaving Korea tomorrow haha.

    • J.M. Williams

      I was “stationed” in Korea in the past, now I live here as a civilian. I do a lot of teaching, some drills with the Reserves and hopefully will make some money with writing soon. Somehow I get by. Where are you headed after Korea?

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