Reference Desk #15 — Duotrope vs. Submission Grinder

The Short Story Series

It’s the ultimate crossover event! Today we have a continuation of my short story series, as well as my Reference Desk series detailing useful tools for writers. Get ready for a battle of publication catalogues and a submission tracker showdown!

Finding the right place to submit your short fiction isn’t trivial. Back in the olden days, you might have to subscribe to an actual dead-tree trade journal just to have a somewhat up-to-date list of publications. These days, the internet gives us some easier options.

The two most popular submission tools for short fiction writers are Duotrope and Submission Grinder. Both of them are designed to help you find markets for your stories and track your submissions. Today, I’ll be comparing some of the different features between these two tools to give you a better idea of which one you might want to use.

Price

Let’s get this out of the way up front. Duotrope is a paid service. After a 7-day free trial, it costs $5/month or $50/year. Submission Grinder is completely free to use, although they have numerous options to donate.

If you don’t want to pay or can’t afford it, Submission Grinder is the tool for you.

Listings

Duotrope maintains listings of publishers of fiction, non-fiction, poetry and visual art. It also lists literary agents for fiction writers. Submission Grinder maintains fiction and poetry listings.

At the time of writing, Duotrope lists 5,027 fiction markets. They claim that they keep their listings accurate and up-to-date by checking each active listing for changes about once a month. They also run more thorough check twice a year, contacting the editors or agents if anything appears to be inaccurate or if there are signs that the market may be dead or on hiatus. (Websites not being updated is honestly a pretty big problem with small markets.)

At the time of writing, the Submission Grinder has 2,669 listings for fiction and poetry. It’s not entirely clear from the webpage how the listings are kept updated, although there are links for users to suggest a new market listing or suggest a correction, so it seems to be mostly crowdsourced.

Submission Tracking

Both tools let you

  • Add stories to your tracker
  • Add submissions for a story
  • Mark a submission as accepted, rejected, or no response
  • Track and search personal statistics
  • Track deadlines

Both tools also aggregate the statistics across their user base. This allows them to show information like what percentage of submissions are accepted or rejected by a specific market. They both have anonymized feeds of recent activity.

Duotrope has a plethora of statistics*, including the markets that are fastest and slowest to respond, and those that are most or least likely to accept (or even respond!)

*Note: you can see the list, but not the actual statistics, without a subscription

Additional Features

  • Both tools have an optional newsletter with new listings and other publishing news.
  • Duotrope has transcripts from hundreds of editor and literary agent interviews—possibly useful for getting a better idea of what your favorite market is looking for, or just general good practices.
  • Duotrope has some basic guides for writers, especially around submitting your work. It also has guides to using their various tools.

Takeaways

Honestly, both of these tools get the job done. They make it easy to search a lot of different markets, and to track your submissions as you send them out.

Overall, I do find Duotrope to be a little bit nicer. It has a few more features and a little more polish, but that’s to be expected when they have a subscription fee. If you don’t mind spending the money, I think Duotrope is good value for the cost.

Submission Grinder feels a little more like a community project, crowdsourcing market info and relying on donations. Maintaining a popular tool site takes work, and based on their Patreon, I think Submission Grinder is powered more by love than money.

If you have a story or two that you’re looking to send out, you should definitely try out one of these services. It will make it a lot easier to find ideal markets and keep track of what gets sent where.

Reblog — How to Be a Professional Author… — Chuck Wendig

Alright, the full title of today’s reblog is “How to Be a Professional Author and Not Die Screaming and Starving in a Lightless Abyss.” Hyperbole is Wendig’s brand. This is also a two-for-one deal, because Chuck takes as his inspiration Heather Demetrios’ Medium post, “How to Lose a Third of a Million Dollars Without Even Trying.”

Heather was a debut author who had some success early on, and made the mistake of assuming that would equate to the authorial equivalent of a steady paycheck. She found out the hard way that one or two big advances do not necessarily mean that subsequent novels will fetch the same amount of money, especially for new authors.

Most authors write for the joy of the art. Unfortunately, if you also want to make a living with your art, business savvy becomes a significant concern. Most professional authors make a fairly modest income, and it doesn’t come in the form of twice-monthly paychecks or health insurance.

Demetrios advice comes in the form of a list of regrets, in the hopes that other authors won’t make the same mistakes she did. Wendig adds his own rambling advice as a successful professional writer with quite a few years’ experience.

I feel deeply for the writer, because this shit we do comes with no real map. No creative map, no story map, no industry map, no money map. “HERE IS A BUNCH OF MONEY,” a sinister shadowy figure says in an alley. “IN SIX MONTHS, WE WILL EXTRACT FROM YOU A BOOK, AND THEN THE DEAL IS COMPLETE.” And then the shadowy figure is gone, and all you’re left with is the crisp smell of burning paper and a mysterious whisper in the well of your ear that says, “deckle edge.”

But, the good news is, there exist answers to a lot of these conundrums, and so I’m going to do some painting-with-shotguns here and try to broad-stroke some thoughts and answers about the challenges this writer faced in her Authorial Journey.

Read the rest over at Wendig’s blog, TerribleMinds…

Submitting Short Stories

The Short Story Series

Make Sure It’s Ready

Writing a brilliant short story isn’t enough. When it comes time to submit, you’re in a competition with every other author who’s submitting to the same magazine, anthology or contest. And often, that’s hundreds of other people—hundreds of other stories—you’re going up against. Make sure to seek out critique and make revisions. Polish that story until it shines.

If your story is accepted, an editor may certainly ask for changes, but you still need to show your very best work up front if you want to get that far. Editors and readers are looking for any excuse to reject your story to whittle down that huge pile of submissions. Don’t give them an easy excuse like typos or sloppy grammar.

Where to Submit

The first thing you need when submitting a short story is someplace to submit to. Hopefully you’ve been reading short stories, because this is a great way to do field research on publications in your chosen genre(s). The publishing landscape is ever-shifting, but it’s a good idea to read widely to get a sense of who the heavy hitters are.

For example, as someone who writes a lot of sci-fi and fantasy, I know that The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Analog Science Fiction And Fact, and Asimov’s Science Fiction are three of the biggest speculative fiction magazines. They’ve been around for decades and pay professional rates for short stories. There is a prestige to getting published by them. However, there are a number of other magazines and websites that are popular and pay well, and an even larger number of smaller magazines and websites that often fill specific niches and tend to pay less.

Ultimately, what you want to do is understand your options and match your story to the places with the best chance of accepting it. The best way to do that is to read some sample stories and look at the submission guidelines.

Submission Guidelines

Most actively publishing magazines, open contests, and anthologies with open submissions will post submission guidelines on their website. Submission guidelines are just the publisher’s description of what kinds of submissions they want, and how they want to receive them.

Tools like Duotrope and Submission Grinder collect the submission guidelines of many different publications and make them easier to search, so these can be a real boon. However, they sometimes take a while to add new publications, remove defunct ones, or update guidelines that have changed. Always, always, always double-check the publication’s website, and follow those guidelines if there’s any discrepancy.

Submission guidelines typically have some subset of the following:

  • Genres, Subgenres or Topics – A description of the kind of stories the editors like. This can be very broad (“hard science fiction”) or considerably more specific (“steampunk,” “stories related to climate change”). Contests and anthologies often have a theme, and even big magazines will sometimes have “theme issues.”
  • Word Count – Most publications have hard limits on the size of story they will accept. They might also note the size of story that they prefer, even if they occasionally accept larger submissions.
  • Submission Windows – Anthologies and contests always have cutoffs, because they eventually have to publish or judge. Some magazines only accept submissions at certain times.
  • Pay Rate – Legitimate publishers say up-front how much they will pay. This is often a rate like X cents per word, although you will sometimes see a flat payment per story/poem. What counts as a “professional rate” is often decided by your genre’s professional organization. For example, the SFWA currently considers 8¢/word to be the minimum for sci-fi and fantasy.
  • Form and Formatting – Some publications only accept stories sent as Word documents to an email address. Others have a form directly on their website for submission. They may specify a specific font, font size, or line spacing. These may sound pedantic, but they’re designed to make it as easy as possible for the editors to wade through a sea of submissions. You do not want to be the person who makes an editor’s life a little more difficult.
  • Response Time – Submitting stories is slow! Most publishers take weeks or months to respond to a submission. Patience is a virtue, but if you wait for the specified response time and don’t get anything, you should feel free to reach out to the publisher, or move on and submit that story somewhere else.
  • Other Stuff – Submission guidelines may also say whether a publication accepts simultaneous submissions (sending one story to multiple publications at the same time), multiple submissions (sending several stories to the same publication at the same time) or reprints and translations. As a rule, don’t send any of these things unless it’s explicitly allowed.

Formatting

There is a standard format for short stories, and the incredibly detailed visual guides on William Shunn’s website have become the go-to place for writers to find them. Remember, the specific instructions within a publication’s submission guidelines should always be followed first. If the instructions aren’t specific on a particular point or leave something out, you can default to Shunn’s recommendations.

Submission Considerations

When you first finish a short story, there will probably be a number of publications that fit your story. The next step is to decide which of them to submit to first.

Consider starting with the best pay or highest prestige. Sure, I’m less likely to have my story accepted by Analog than a smaller magazine, but if they do accept it, I’m getting an excellent pay rate, and a really nice publication credit. If they reject it, I can always send it out to another.

There are other approaches, however. If you’ve found several potential publishers who accept simultaneous submissions, you can send your story to all of them at once. Simultaneous submission can really speed up the submission process, where you’re often waiting weeks or even months for a reply.

If one or more of your potential publishers has a submission window, you may want to submit to them while it’s open. If they reject it, you can submit to the others at any time.

Tracking Submissions

When you’re submitting your first short story, it may seem silly to talk about tracking your submissions. After all, it’s your baby, your pride and joy, and that publisher will surely love it. And even if it gets rejected, it’s not that hard to keep track of one story.

The truth is that writing and submitting short stories is a grind. Statistically, most publishers don’t take simultaneous submissions, it usually takes weeks to get a response, and most stories don’t find a home on their first submission. If you’re going to write short stories, you’re likely to end up with multiple short stories out for submission at once. Possibly a lot of them. You’re going to get rejections. And you’re going to have to keep writing.

Tracking your submissions ensures you know what stories are currently out, who has already looked at them, and who’s looking at them now. You’ll want to track the expected response time so you know when to check your spam folder, send a query, or give up and send to another publisher. You may want to make a list of the publications you’re interested in sending a particular story. You might also find it a useful place to track acceptances and payments (don’t forget those taxes!)

If you want to do your own tracking, Excel spreadsheets and Google Docs are infinitely flexible, and as long as you’re willing to put in the effort, you can craft exactly what you want. Alternatively, both Duotrope and the Submission Grinder have built-in submission tracking, and tracking your statistics in those systems helps to build statistics that can be useful to everyone.

Rejection

The hard part of the short story grind is the rejection. Nobody likes pouring their heart and soul into a story, only to be told that it’s not good enough. Unfortunately, the simple math of publishing is that there are far more stories being submitted than there are slots for publication. The majority of stories are never published.

The way to fight that math is to craft the best story you can, and then submit as much as you can. More (good) stories and more submissions raise your odds. You will need to build up the fortitude to be rejected over and over again and keep on going.

It’s also important to note that not all rejections are created equal. There are a few different kinds:

  • Form rejections – These are most common. The story didn’t pique the interest of the publication.
  • Higher-tier rejections – These may still be form rejections, but they usually mention that the editors were interested, or that they considered the story but ultimately didn’t find a spot for it. Some publications have multiple tiers of readers, and the story didn’t get all the way to the top.
  • Personalized rejections – These are rare and valuable. They are specific to you and your story, and explain in more detail why the story didn’t quite make the cut. If you’re lucky, they may suggest improvements or invite you to submit more work to this publisher.

While all rejection may seem bad, it’s a great sign to receive any personalized feedback from a publication. These people are constantly wading through the slush pile of submissions and working on tight deadlines, so they only spend time on a personalized response when they really like something. Unfortunately, due to the complexities of publishing, they may really like your story and still not be able to publish it. Take it as a win, and move on.

More Advice

Finally, I’m going to point you to Aeryn Rudel’s new author starter kit.

Rudel is an incredibly prolific short story writer who tries to make 100 short story submissions every year. His blog is a great general resource when it comes to writing and submitting stories, and his monthly recaps show just how much rejection even a successful author has to power through.

Submit!

At this point in the Short Story Series, we’ve been through all the basics of writing short stories. I’ll probably still have one or two more articles, but you know enough to get started. If you haven’t done it before, it may seem daunting to write a short story and send it off to a publisher. Great! The best way to gain experience is to try it.

Once your story is submitted you can forget about it for a few weeks and write something new. It’s the authorial circle of life. Don’t give up, and keep writing.

Short Story Categorization

The Short Story Series

When you’re writing short stories with the intention to publish, you’ll want to pay attention to your word count. Short story publications most often pay per word, and will have limits on the size of stories they are willing to publish.

As a general rule of thumb, shorter stories are easier to get published than longer ones. Many publications won’t accept longer stories at all, and those that do accept them will often only accept a small number per issue.

On the other hand, the internet has provided new opportunities for longer stories that still fall short of novel-length. Novellas are becoming more common on e-book services like Amazon. If your story lends itself toward serialization, you can also consider breaking it up for episodic publishing, like Vella.

Microfiction/Nanofiction (<500 words)

Not everyone agrees on the definition of these terms, but they typically refer to the shortest of stories. I’ve used the microfiction tag for twitter-sized stories, but some people apply the term to stories up to a page long, or up to 500 words (about two pages).

Drabble (100 words)

Drabbles focus specifically on a length of 100 words. Some publications, like Martian Magazine, require exactly 100 words. Others, like The Drabble, treat 100 words as an upper limit.

Flash Fiction (<1000 words)

Flash fiction is a blanket term for the shortest fiction. One thousand words is a common upper bound, although some publications will categorize up to 1,500 or even 2,000 words as flash.

Short Story (<10,000 words)

Again, this is a little nebulous, but once you get beyond ten thousand words, you’re getting outside “standard” short story territory. Many publications will have tighter limits for what they allow, like 7,500 or 5,000 words.

Novelette (10,000 – 17,500 words)

There is a weird limbo between the short story lengths typically published by magazines, and the length of full-fledged novels. Novelettes live at the shorter end of this range. They’re typically defined as anything from ten thousand to 17,500 words, although some definitions cap them at an even 20,000. Sometimes novelettes are considered a subset of our next category, novellas.

Novella (20,000 – 40,000 words)

Novellas are the top end of the range before you get into novels. These are rare in traditional paper publishing, but they’ve become more common with the proliferation of cheap e-books.

Novel (40,000+)

Anything above 40,000 words is typically considered a novel. If you’ve participated in NaNoWriMo, this is the default goal. However, a higher word count is expected in most genres. This leaves “short novels” in a similar situation to novellas. As with novellas, these have become more common in e-books, where customers are less likely to consider how thick a book is before buying, and the economics of printing are less of a concern.

Others?

Any length-based categories I missed? Let me know in the comments.

Why Write Short Stories?

Recently, I’ve been looking for ways to write more. I’m currently in the middle of my serial novel, Razor Mountain. A novel is a huge commitment, and while it can be immensely satisfying, it can also feel like a slog sometimes when it’s all I’m working on. So I decided to do something I hadn’t done in years—start writing short stories again.

This is the first post in a series I’ll be doing about short stories—reading, writing, editing, and submitting. Modern fiction has become really fixated on the novel as the most prestigious form of fiction, but novels are just one of the many shapes a story can take. Short stories have a lot to offer.

This week, let’s get into some of the advantages of writing short stories.

Write More

At the risk of controversy, I think that great writing is more about execution than ideas. A great idea is the foundation of a story, but we’ve all read stories with an interesting premise that just fell flat. Likewise, a master of the craft can sometimes make a great story out of a very mundane premise.

Most writers have piles of ideas and just not enough time to figure out the story for each one, let alone actually write it. Even very prolific writers usually don’t manage more than a couple novels per year. For slow writers like me, that kind of pace is impressive. But how many of us only have a couple story ideas per year?

One of the joys of writing shorter stories is that you can write them quickly. A thousand-word flash fiction story can be drafted in a single sitting. Short stories are easier to outline and prepare, if you’re the sort of writer who prefers to do that. Even if you would never dream of jumping into a novel without a thorough outline, you might be tempted to try exploratory writing on smaller stories.

Finish More

Listen to your crazy writing uncle, Chuck Wendig, and finish your projects. Finishing your stories forces you to practice every step in the writing process, and practice is what helps you become better.

Of course, if you’ve ever played a sport or an instrument, you’ll know that the best way to practice is through purposeful repetition, especially of the basics. That’s why you run drills at football practice or play your scales and arpeggios every day.

The truth is that it’s hard to practice writing through novels. Short stories are great because they take you through the full cycle of writing, from ideation to draft to editing and critique and final polish. The shorter the stories, the more you get to practice all of these things. And beyond honing your skills, you can also develop a better understanding of what you like and dislike; what your strengths and weaknesses are; what styles and themes you enjoy.

Publish More

Short stories aren’t only an opportunity to practice your craft and explore more ideas. They also represent more chances to publish.

If you’re going the traditional publishing route, it can take months or years to write a novel, then months or years more to get an agent, go through revisions, get an editor, go through more revisions, and (hopefully) actually get published. If you’re self-publishing, you need to take on the editing and publicity yourself. Either way, a lot of effort goes into the publication of a novel. Even scarier, many authors write several books before they come up with something that catches an editor’s eye or climbs the Amazon lists. Each novel takes a lot of effort and carries a lot of risk of failure.

By contrast, there are hundreds of active publications, anthologies and contests that accept short story submissions. You don’t need an agent to represent you, and the turnaround time is typically measured in weeks, not months or years. Because each story takes less work, it represents less risk of failure. Authors who write a lot of short stories aren’t phased by rejection letters. They know that they can just submit that story somewhere else. They might have five, ten, or more stories out for submission at any given time. And while some of those stories might never find a home, others will, and may even find a long life through anthologies and reprints.

Short stories are not as lucrative as books. You’d have to sell a lot of stories to match the a single mid-list advance. But they provide more opportunity to get your work, and your name, out there for others to see. There is a small (but not insignificant) advantage when you’re able to list a few recent publications in that cover letter for your novel submission.

Level Up

For better or worse, modern authors tend to measure success by novels. But if you think short stories are beneath you, you’re wrong. Great short stories can be every bit as artful as great novels, and while building a big cohesive story in a novel can be challenging, the brevity of short stories can be equally demanding.

If short stories don’t sound fun to you, you might be surprised. Short work provides the opportunity to play, and to try out all sorts of new ideas and techniques. And if you’re trying to get better at writing (as I think we all are, perpetually), each short story is an opportunity to level up.

From the Blogroll: Aeryn Rudel’s Rejectomancy

Aeryn Rudel is a sometimes-editor, sometimes-RPG-designer, and writer of stories. In fact, he is an unstoppable story writing machine.

On his Rejectomancy blog, he talks about various writing topics, but what I find most interesting is his thorough documentation of the sheer quantity of short stories and flash fiction he writes, along with his submission, acceptance, and rejection numbers.

There’s plenty of advice out there about writing and submitting short stories to publications, but I haven’t found another person who is so thorough in documenting their own personal experience. He really embodies the idea that writers should embrace rejection as a natural part of the publishing process and build up a thick skin.

Earlier this month, he compiled some interesting information and advice to commemorate his 500th rejection, a feat that took him almost ten years of submissions.

Check it out over at Aeryn Rudel’s Rejectomancy.