7 Top-Tier Horror Markets: My New Story Gauntlet

Once I’ve finished a new story and it’s ready for submission, I have a short list of top-tier spec-fic markets that it goes to first. I have dubbed this list “The Gauntlet,” and they are some of the toughest but most prestigious publications I know of that accept horror. They also work very fast, and I often get a response to my submission within a few days or even a few hours.

Here’s my list, presented in no particular order:

My current record with these publications is one original acceptance (DarkFuse Magazine), one reprint acceptance (Pseudopod), one further consideration letter (Apex Magazine), and a whole bunch of rejections (every last one of them). The order in which I submit a story (or if I submit a story at all) is due in large part to when these markets are open to submissions, the length of the story, and which market is best suited for the piece. Like I said, these are some of the toughest publications to crack in the spec-fic market, and most of them have acceptance rates well under one percent according to Duotrope. And, let’s face it, that acceptance rate is probably a lot smaller because rejections are more likely to go unreported than acceptances.

One quick note about response times. I mentioned earlier that these publications work fast, and they do for an initial response. That’s usually a rejection, but in my experience, these markets will send you a note if they’re considering your story for publication. After that, the wait can be much longer, months even, before you hear from them again. That said, I’m thrilled to just be considered by these publications, so that second wait, when it happens, isn’t too bad. Some of these markets do accept sim-subs, by the way.

So, why submit to these markets first? Here are four good reasons.

1) Reach. From what I’ve been able to gather through a bit of internet research, most of these markets have readerships in the thousands or even tens of thousands. So if you can manage to get a story accepted by one of them, that story is going to be read by a lot of people interested in the type of fiction you write. That’s the kind of thing that helps you build a brand and can maybe affect the sales of something like that novel you’re thinking about self-publishing some day

2) Group memberships. Stories accepted by these markets often count toward membership in professional writing organizations like the HWA (Horror Writers Association) and the SFWA (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America). If you want to be a member in one of these groups and get access to the benefits that entails, you have to publish at qualifying markets. All the markets in my list qualify for one or the other or both.

3) Awards. If you’re a spec-fic writer who dreams of winning awards like the Hugo Award or the Bram Stoker Award, then publishing at one or more of these markets (and others like them) is a good step toward the fame and glory you seek. Stories nominated for both awards and probably a few others are often drawn from the pages of some of the publications on my list.

4) Pro rates. Simply put, these markets pay the most. Nearly all of them pay the pro rate of .06/word, and some pay a lot more. For me, money is at most a tertiary consideration, but getting a chunk of cash for a story is still awfully damn nice.

Some of you might be wondering why I haven’t included one or more [super huge famous spec-fic] markets on my list, and the reasons are pretty straightforward. Factors that disqualify a market from my gauntlet include but are not limited to:

  • Longer wait. I don’t usually submit to markets that take longer than 30 days to respond in my first go-around unless the story is just a perfect fit. I’ll invariably start hitting these markets once the story has run the gauntlet, so to speak.
  • Bad fit. I write horror in a fairly specific style, and there are magazines that just don’t publish the kind of horror I write. For example, I rarely write anything that could be considered weird fiction, a popular fantasy/horror subgenre.
  • Content restrictions. A few top-tier publications have a strict PG-13 content restrictions, and while there’s nothing wrong with that, I just have trouble writing without an R-rating. I have a strict rule that the word “fuck” must appear at least twice in every one of my stories (a personal failing, I know).
  • Ignorance. Yep, finally, there are probably lots of great markets I just don’t know much or anything about. Please enlighten me in the comments if you know of one that should be on my list.

So, there’s my gauntlet run (so far) and the reasons new stories typically go to these markets first. Got a gauntlet run of your own? Maybe for another genre? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

11 Comments on “7 Top-Tier Horror Markets: My New Story Gauntlet

  1. Aeryn, these are a lot of the same criteria–apart from maybe the “2 fucks per story,” which could be a story in and of itself–that I follow. I tend to get impatient, and, if I feel like I’ve written something that I qualify as decent to good, once it’s rejected I want to strike while the iron’s hot as the cliche goes. I also, as I’m progressing with my craft, don’t want to bother with most “exposure” markets and anything that offers really substandard pay (or, obviously, has worldviews completely different from mine: like fundamentalist Christian horror markets . . . wouldn’t that be something, though; I guess they could have an abortion-doctor murdering serial killer or something . . . true crime more than horror, I suppose, depending on how they spin it). I also, due to circumstances and stubbornness, generally refuse to pay to submit. Molotov Cocktail, which I know I’ve seen your name in the shortlists of several times, is one exception I do make. As a sort of fledgling fiction writer, I can’t pay everybody . . . The only others that I have direct experience with that I might suggest, although they are not strictly horror, are Daily Sci Fi and Analog. Those would go on my top tier, even if I’ve never submitted to the latter. Another market I like, who tend to favor spec fic, is On the Premises (as you probably know, they run contests around themes or phrases sometimes; so they are not a regular journal/pub per se). Mind, I’ve never broken into their market yet either. Sounds fittingly criminal, though. 🙂
    BTW, I thought the blast-from-the-past story, “A Red Night,” from your hard drive was very well within the genre, and compelling. A nice snippet, FWIW.

    • Hi, Leigh, thanks for commenting. Heh, well, my two “fucks” per story is meant to be in jest; I have actually written stories without that word. I swear. 😉

      Daily Sci Fi and Analog are fantastic markets, but they usually fall into my “bad fit” exclusion because I write so little sci-fi.

      Thanks for the kind words about “A Red Night.” I’ve been kicking around the idea of jumping back into epic fantasy, though I’m sure there’s a whole other gauntlet I’d need to run for that. 😉

  2. Nice writeup!

    I was thinking this morning of that guest blog on editorial tolerances. Still interested in something on that?

    Btw, I’ve been plugging along at working out this summer and just started with a personal trainer at the Y. Now I understand why you were always so cranky on “leg days.” 😉



    • Thanks, Darla. Absolutely; you’re editorial expertise would be very welcome on my humble little blog. 😉

      I found the trick to getting over leg day was to do legs every day. Then I’m too tired to complain. 🙂

  3. Shimmer was on my list for awhile, but I think I’m a little too genre, and they prefer literary with a dash of spec. Shock Totem used to be on my short list for horror, but I guess they’re closed? Temporarily? Permanently? Sad to see so many good markets closing.

  4. Hi Aeryn,

    Have you checked out Gamut? Pretty new but good rates and dark/horror content.
    First time visitor to your site – great detailed posts and info!
    Cheers, Janet

    • I have checked out Gamut. They’re closed for submissions now, but they’re definitely one I’m considering for my next submission run.

      Thanks for the recommendation and for stopping by the blog. 🙂

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