With a combination of excitement, fulfillment, and exhaustion, you type “The End.” Looking it over for the tenth time, you decide it’s ready to roll. It prints and you lovingly tuck your new baby into a carefully prepared manila cocoon with a self-addressed return envelope. Then it dawns on you-to whom will you send your fictional masterpiece?
Choosing the right publisher will make the difference between success and failure, especially in today’s tight market. Having invested days, weeks, or months in developing a meaningful story in hopes of attracting a Pushcart nomination, hesitation holds you in check as you ponder the best route for your creation. Exactly what is your goal?
*to enter a competition?
*to impress an editor or be published in a particular publication?
*to influence readers?
*to make a sale?
Deciding on a mission for your story will determine its first step toward publication. Perhaps you should enter the Boulevard Short Fiction Contest for Emerging Writers (http://www.richardburgin.com) if you are willing to pay the $15 fee to compete for a $1,500 prize. Canadian writers may aspire to the Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction (http://www.canadacouncil.ca) with its $15,000 award.
Contests abound for writers of varied genres, including science fiction, romance, and regions as distant as Japan. Some require entry fees while others review at no cost. Winning awards can help to build your reputation and gain faithful fans for your reader base, which in turn will help to promote future works. The down side is that out of hundreds and maybe thousands of entries, there will be just one winner, with perhaps second and third place awards to comfort the non-winners.
Editors and publications.
When my friend Martie learned that her short story had been accepted in an exclusive New York “name” journal, she felt she had arrived.
“I finally made it!” she exclaimed over coffee one afternoon, waving her acceptance letter at me.
“So that’s it-the hallmark of your writing career?” I ventured.
“Yes,” she asserted. “I just wanted to get my name into that snobby periodical. Now I can die happy.”
For some writers, it’s all about prestige. Getting your work into a “snobby” magazine is enough to fuel some egos for years. For others, though, publication in the “name” magazines is a stepping stone to a national reputation or a writing / speaking platform.
As with contests, competition is fierce. Submit your work to The New Yorker or The Saturday Evening Post, knowing that you are in the best of authorial company. Literary journals often encourage experimental writing. If that is your goal, check out The Chattahoochee Review (http://www.chattahoochee-review.org), Dreams and Visions (http://www.bconnex.net/~skysong), or Frank (http://www.readfrank.com). Some editors provide useful feedback with rejections; others send silent form letters. But at least you’ve tried.
Readers make strange pets. Just when you think you have them eating out of your hand, they can turn on you and retract their loyalties. In re-reading your story, decide who is most likely to find it entertaining-younger parents, college students, single men, busy executives. Craft your story to the audience’s taste, using characters, settings, and conflicts that will likely appeal to them and keep them hanging on every page.
Then look for publications that cater to your target readers. Woman’s World serves “family-oriented women” across the U.S., while Esquire accepts fiction for “smart, well-off menÃ?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½between ages 30 and 45.” If your plot is simplistic and fun, it may be geared toward teen readers like those who subscribe to Boys’ Life. Whatever elements find their way into your tale, there is probably a specific readership who will get the most out of it, so find them before mailing your work to just anybody for any type of reader.
Even some of the trade magazines print occasional fiction, including Teacher’s Discovery and Stitches, a journal of medical humor. So if your story is about a teacher or a doctor, be sure to consider this market as well.
If you’re looking to make a quick sale, you may want to start small and work your way up after building a portfolio. Century (http://www.centurymag.com) pays four cents a word for experimental, fantasy, or science fiction work. West Branch (http://www.departments.bucknell.edu/stadler_center/westbranch) offers ten dollars a page for historical, humorous, or experimental stories. Writers who incorporate art as a theme may want to submit to Art Times for a twenty-five dollar honorarium and a free one-year subscription.
As your style develops and matures, you may begin to consider higher-paying markets. The Christian Century (http://wwwchristiancentury.org) pays $75 to $200 for stories of 1,000 to 3,000 words for religious or slice-of-life vignettes, though they are uninterested in moralistic fiction. Literary types can submit stories to Book for rates of $300 to $5,000. Commercial fiction geared to a wide range of readers, including internationals, is of interest to Hemispheres, Pace Communications for United Airlines (http://www.hemispheresmagazine.com), which offers fifty cents per word for stories of 1,000 to 4,000 words.
When you’ve set a goal for your story after musing over available facts, go ahead and mail it to the appropriate editor. After all, if it doesn’t get accepted this time, there’s always tomorrow, to quote a famous fictional figure. Then have a cup of tea before sitting down once more at your computer to begin the next story. Ah, fiction; so much more interesting than fact.