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A friend of mine asked me for advice when it comes to submitting short stories for publication. Which actually surprised me a little at first, but hey. I've finally gotten to the point where I'm dropping things off my cover letter publication list to keep it down to six items, so I guess I must be doing something right on occasion.

This is not meant to be exhaustive (please ask questions if there's something I haven't covered) and neither is this meant to be a guide about writing. Here, we're starting with the assumption that you have a short story that you've polished to a golden shine, which you believe in enough to fight for it and put up with rejections.

Nuts and bolts all the way, baby.

So let's imagine: you have your golden, shiny story. You want to knock the socks off of an editor with the emotional power of your art, and as a result be showered with dirty handfuls (hah!) of cash. Where do you start?

Pick a market.
I use Ralan.com and Duotrope for the most part to locate markets, though I have other ways now. These sites are good places to start, however. Duotrope is lovely because it's searchable, and has parameters like payscale, genre, sub-genre (though this is of limited use at times), and story length. Ralan is for scifi/fantasy/horror in particular. I like it for its list of open anthologies.

So what is your story? Scifi? Fantasy? Horror? Dark fantasy? You need to have this figured out before you can even really start picking and choosing; sending a magazine a story in a genre they aren't interested in will get you a guaranteed rejection. Once you've decided that you're, say, scifi, you can do a search in Duotrope for markets that publish that genre, and additionally tell it what length and payscale you're looking for. (I don't normally bother with subgenre, myself.) Hopefully you already read some of the publications on the list that comes up, so you have an idea of what kind of stories they publish. Otherwise, when you think you might want to try a market, read at least a few of their stories first. This helps you get an idea of the general type of stories the editor likes, though that certainly doesn't mean they want carbon copies of their current offerings.

The other thing you should think about is payscale. I advocate the principle of go big or go home. Start with the pro-paying markets and then work your way down to semi-pro, token, and free. If you aren't confident that your story is worth $.05 per word, you'd better keep working on it until it is. It's hard to get into even free markets. You need to have your best work, work you are willing to set in front of any editor without shame.

Read the submission guidelines.
Read the submission guidelines.

The submission guidelines? Read them.

No, really. Read the submission guidelines.

The guidelines will tell you everything you need to know about submitting to the market. If they want your manuscript formatted a particular way, do it. No matter how magically delicious your story is, if you don't bother to format it properly, it'll get tossed because you couldn't be bothered to read the guidelines. (Hint: most places use a variation of William Shunn's excellent format, so I recommend starting out having your manuscript formatted like this. The only major difference I've seen is that italics are normally okay to be left as italics instead of underlined.)

The guidelines also tell you what the editors want, story wise. They tell you what the word count limits are. They tell you how to send the MS (file attachment? plaint text in email? electronic submission form?). The guidelines are the source of all manner of useful information. Read them. Love them. Read them again. Live by them.

Do not submit your story to more than one place at a time.
This technically fits under "read the submission guidelines" but I feel it's important enough to need its own section. Unless a market specifically says "simultaneous submissions okay," do not do it. Period. And if one market is okay with simultaneous submissions, the other markets you send your story to had better be as well.

I know it's frustrating. A lot of markets can take 3-6 months to get back to you, or more. The waiting sucks. But too bad. You have to wait for one market to pass one your story before you send it to another. It's the height of rudeness to withdraw stories once submitted because you've gotten them picked up elsewhere, and don't think editors don't talk to each other, or don't have memories when someone annoys them. I'm not guaranteeing this would be a permanent black mark in your record, so to speak, but it's just really not worth risking it. Be polite.

Okay, this is running kind of long, so I will continue on tomorrow.

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