I was asked some questions about submitting to short story markets recently, and I thought it would be a good topic for a blog post. There are a lot of markets out there, which means countless options for your stories. So how do you choose where to submit?
First, we'll get the obvious stuff out of the way.
The number one item to look for is that the genre requested by the publication matches the genre of your story. Submitting a mystery to a speculative fiction market isn't going to fly, no matter how good that story might be. Publications will list this information on their submission guidelines pages, but it will likely also be obvious from other aspects of the web page.
Some other things to consider:
Magazine or anthology?
This may not matter to everyone, but it's something to consider. With an anthology, your story is in an actual book. They're usually put out by small presses in an attempt to bring in more readers for the single author books they put out. Their readership may be lower than a magazine, but that certainly isn't a hard and fast rule, and it completely depends upon the publisher.
Hard copy, e-copy, or audio?
Some magazines are put out in a paper version, some as online/email only, and others are put out as podcasts. There are, of course, also publications that come out in all three or some variation of them. If this is an important detail for you, make sure you check out what format the publication will be in, and don't submit if you don't like the format.
Pay can vary widely, with the offering being anything from zero pay to pro pay. With zero pay, you may get a contributor copy or a discount on copies. Pay could be royalties or a profit share, with no guarantee of a minimum amount of payment. It's important to consider whether you're okay with the payment offered before submitting. It's completely up to you, but I have two specific recommendations here. First, start at the top. You'll never know if your story is good enough for pro pay if you don't submit to a pro pay market. As you get rejections, you can trickle down to semi-pro, then token. Just don't start by selling yourself short. Second, if you're going for a royalty-type payment, understand that you may never see a dime. For me, this isn't an automatic no. I make the decision based upon the publication itself, and whether I'd like to work with them, what their reputation is, etc. Some of my favorite publishers to work with have been those that paid royalty split or a token amount. I'd work with them over and over, even if I never saw a dime. A category I didn't mention previously is charity pay. In this case, you don't get paid, but any profits get donated to a specific charity. Make sure they list the charity in advance. If they don't, they may be trying to pull one over on you. Plus, you want to be sure you support where they're donating it.
Pay to Play
There are markets that charge for you to submit a story. My personal rule is to not submit to anyone I have to pay for the privilege. However, my personal opinion on it is by no means the be all and end all on the subject. Plenty of people choose to pay to submit. One thing you might consider is what reason they give for asking you to pay. For some, it's to support their ability to pay those they publish. For others there might be a different reason, such as the ability to pay their staff (most magazine staff is unpaid, and are doing it for the love.) make sure you're okay with their reason for asking you for money to submit. (Side note: some give the option to pay for a critique or a quicker response. I also don't opt for these, but you may want to, especially if you're just starting. You have to decide what's best for you. I personally believe you shouldn't pay to be published--your goal should be to GET paid.)
In addition to those things mentioned above, there are plenty of other things to consider. Look into the market you're submitting to and make sure you're okay with everything you see/hear/read. For example, as shallow as it sounds, I look at the covers of their other publications (and the one they're taking submissions for if it's posted in advance, which often happens with anthologies). If I don't like the quality of the covers, I may not submit. I want to be able to be proud of what I'm in, and that includes the exterior. Reputation is even more important. If you've seen authors complaining about working with them, you should consider whether you want to do so. At least if it seems like the author is giving valid reasons. Are they hard to work with? Did they cheat the author out of pay? Do they provide trustworthy contracts?
If there's anything that makes you doubt wanting to submit, maybe consider why that is. Even if it's just a bad feeling that you can't quite put a finger on. That means you've seen something that put you off, whether you realize what it was or not. This is something you'll be attached to as long as it's in print. Make sure you're okay with that.
Places to look for submissions:
Duotrope (paid service)
Authors Publish (sign up for the newsletter)
Search for Facebook groups with "open call" in the name.
Did I forget anything? Do you have any questions on this topic or have another you'd like to see answered? What are some reasons you've decided not to submit (or that you overlooked and wish you'd seen)? Do you know of any resources for finding publications that I haven't mentioned?
May you find your Muse.
Microphone Clipart, OCAL, clker.com
Nosmoke Clipart, OCAL, clker.com