Writers like to talk, and a favorite topic of conversation is where to submit manuscripts. How do you decide where to send your latest masterpiece if it wasn’t written with a specific market in mind? It’s a good questions, with as many answers as there are writers.
I subscribe to the start-at-the-top-and-work-your-way-down philosophy (for the most part). I consider pro-rate publications first, then semi-pro publications, and finally token-rate ones. In general, I don’t submit to non-paying markets by principle—I put a lot of work into my story, and I’d rather publish it myself than give it away.
Within each of these categories—pro, semi-pro, and token—how do I decide where to send something? This is where things get subjective, and there’s no easy answer. I first narrow my choices based on the story itself by asking: “Does the magazine publish this type of story?” For example, Analog (one of the “Big Three” in speculative fiction) doesn’t publish fantasy, so if my story has magic and dragons, I cross Analog off the list. (This may seem obvious, but I’ve read interviews with editors who talk about receiving stories in the wrong genre.) This will shorten my list, sometimes considerably.
From there I consider a combination of the exposure my story would get, the prestige of the publication, and the response time. I find it a little surprising, but my first cut is based on response time. Some publications take a ridiculously long time to review manuscripts (Tor.com, I’m looking at you and your 365+ day response time). Most pro-rate publications frown on simultaneous submissions, and I simply don’t want to tie up a manuscript that long, especially when the acceptance rate at many pro-rate publications is significantly less than 1%. I’m usually willing to wait two or three months for a response, but the shorter the turnaround, the higher on my submission list I’ll place a publication.
Prestige and exposure tend to go together. The higher the prestige of the publication, generally the larger the readership. I want people to read my work. I want a lot of people to read my work, so I aim for markets with large readership. Most of the pro-rate publications have good readership, but some don’t. I’ll submit to Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine before I submit to one of the lesser known pro-rate publications because I know Asimov’s has a large readership.
I know some writers will only submit to pro-rate publications, but I not one of them. I don’t make a living writing short stories, and in all likelihood I never will, so I have few reservations about submitting to semi-pro and token rate publications. Besides, many of the semi-pro and token publications are well-respected and have strong niche readership, for example Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine and Shimmer are well-respected and have their diehard fans. For semi-pro and token rate publications, I use the same three factors when deciding where to submit: response time, prestige, and exposure. I submit until I sell the story, lose faith and trunk it—this has only happened once—or I run out of markets, which has yet to happen for any story.
So there you have it, my philosophy of submissions. Is it the right approach for everyone? Probably not, but I find it works for me. If you have a different approach to chosing markets, I’d be interested in hearing about it.