Finding markets for short stories

I subscribe to the Gotham Writer’s Workshop newsletter, and in the latest issue, I found a link to an essay by Jacob Appel on Tips for Placing a Short Story.

One comment caught my eye:

In 1998, I won the Boston Review’s annual short fiction contest for my story, “Shell Game with Organs”—a breakthrough event in my career that led me to obtain my first agent. At the public reading sponsored by the Review, I informed the audience that more than seventy-five other journals, both large and small, had previously rejected the piece.

I commend Jacob Appel’s determination to get his story out. I marveled that it got rejected 75 times. I percolated on this, because it gave rise to an important question:

Is it possible that 75 markets could be a home for one story?

I spend a lot of time on Duotrope combing through the database, but I often find myself lost trying to figure out where to send my work. It takes homework to know a market.

There are a few things to know about a journal before you submit:

1. Editorial guidelines

2. The tastes of the editors based on real selections – read, read, read the stories

3. Interviews with the editor

4. If the editors are also writers, read their writings (optional)

Lauren Becker is a case and point for me. Her work as the Editor at Corium is tremendous, but there are many of my pieces I shouldn’t send to Corium because it’s not close enough to her editorial mark. And yes, she’s rejected my work because of that but her feedback has been helpful to get closer to the bullseye.

Editor Kevin O’Cuinn at Word Riot drives me (pleasantly!) batty with his wonderful rejection notices. Really I can’t thank him enough for the time and effort he puts into those notes. Alas for me, I still haven’t cracked the code on Word Riot yet. I will someday, damn it. When I do, it will be because of Kevin’s persistent guidance on what is appropriate to submit.

This leads me back to Mr. Appel. How is it possible to have 75 different markets that could have been the right place to submit the same story? Is it possible?

I don’t have THE answer, but I have MY answer: probably not.

The fact that Mr. Appel won a prestigious award from The Boston Review flies in the face of my comment, but I don’t think his experience is typical. If you got rejected for a story 75 times, chances are good you need to either rewrite it, or scrap it altogether.

After reading Jacob Appel’s essay I looked back over the list of journals I’ve submitted to over the past few years. I couldn’t say if there are more than 75 journals on the list. This year, even before I read his essay, I’d already begun combing through the hit lists of other writers as a way to introduce myself to new journals.

For example, I met Nicolette Wong, editor of A-Minor, on Court Merrigan’s blog. Later, I submitted to A-Minor … and yes, got rejected … but it was a great experience. Ms. Wong is an editor who certainly knows what she does and doesn’t want, which is always helpful.

I’ve raved on my blog before about Court’s “Failure” page, and he’s introduced me to journals like Neon, Revolution House, and Flywheel. I hadn’t looked at those markets before seeing them on Court’s list, but I’m glad I came to know of them.

There is no magic when it comes to finding the best markets to submit your stories. It takes upfront work to identify a market where a story could fit editorial tastes, and each interaction you have with the editor or staff is an opportunity to refine your understanding of that market.

After that, hopefully you can step back and watch your hard work and persistence pay off.

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