Submission Protocol: New Story Strategy

I recently finished a new short story, and what I like to do before a send a shiny new word baby out on its first submission is strategize a bit to make sure I’m maximizing my submission efforts. I do this by looking at four market elements to create a submission road map for each new piece. Those elements are:

Fit: Simply, is my new story a good fit for a market? Is it the right genre, and if it is, is it the right sub-genre. What I mean by that is I write horror, but I rarely write anything that could be considered weird or cosmic horror. There are markets that specialize in those subgenres, and I generally avoid them. Other factors that might affect fit are story length. For example, if I wrote a 6,000-word story, and a potential market takes stories up to 7,500 but prefers stories under 5,000, I’ll move them down the list. My track record with a market is a big indicator of fit. If they’ve actually published me, they tend to go right to the top. I mean, nothing says you’re a fit like an acceptance, right? Still, a market that has shortlisted me or provided an encouraging personal rejection gets more weight in the fit department as well.

Tier: With short stories, I generally start off with pro markets (though there are some semi-pro markets that go to the top of the list when they’re open). By pro I simply mean those that pay the SFWA or HWA recommended per-word rate. This is not to say that some markets that pay less are not good or prestigious. Some definitely are. The downside here is that even with a good story, pro markets are tough to crack, and I generally pile up the rejections before I break through.

Wait Times: I often start with markets that are quicker to respond unless my story is a perfect fit for a slower market (like a themed anthology). Since many genre markets do not allow simultaneous submissions, wait times do influence where I send a story first. Many pro genre markets respond in under two weeks, sometimes much faster. They may take longer if they hold your story for consideration, but they’ll send you a hold notice, and I’m fine waiting in that scenario.

Submission Window: Some of my favorite genre markets have short or infrequent submission windows. If one of these markets happens to be open, I’ll generally put them at the top of the list, even if another market that’s open year-round is a slightly better fit.

So how does this all look in action? Well, I just finished a 5,500-word horror story, and I’m contemplating where to send it. The first thing I do is look for pro markets that accept horror short stories over 5,000 words and are currently open to submissions. When I do that, I come up with five markets I want to target.

Fit Avg. Wait Tier Notes
Market A ++++ ++++ Pro Submission window, prefers under 5,000
Market B ++++ +++++ Pro Often open to subs
Market C +++++ +++ Pro Recently shortlisted
Market D +++ ++++ Pro Slightly off-genre, good feedback
Market E +++ ++ Pro New market

Some quick explanation of the table. Fit is scored on a scale of one to five pluses (I generally won’t submit to a market under three pluses). Average Wait is the time it takes for a publisher to send a rejection. I rate that on a plus scale too (the more pluses the faster the response). Tier is the payment tier of the market. I should note there are semi-pro markets I’d rank higher than the markets above, but none of them are open at the moment. Finally, Notes are anything that might sway me one way or the other as far as prioritization goes. Here’s my reasoning behind the scores for each market.

  • Market A gets four pluses for fit because they prefer stories under 5,000 words (but accept up to 7,500). My story is a tad over 5k. However, their submission window was about to close (I actually did submit here), and that bumps them to the top. Without the submission window, they’d be more like 3.5 pluses.
  • Market B gets four pluses because they also publish horror in the neighborhood of what I write and have no stated preferences for word count (other than a maximum). They are very quick to respond and are generally open to subs year-round.
  • Market C gets five pluses mostly because of the recent shortlist. It was for a story similar in tone to the one I just finished. They are one of the slower markets to respond here, but still very reasonable.
  • Market D gets three pluses mostly because they don’t publish a lot of horror (from what I’ve seen) but they will accept it. They’re quick to respond, and, more importantly, I’ve received good feedback from the editor.
  • Market E gets three pluses because they are a new publisher and I just don’t know that much about them or what they publish yet. I actually have a submission out with them currently, and the results of that submission will invariably tell me a lot about how to prioritize this publisher in the future.

With all that in mind, I’d prioritize these markets just as they’re listed, starting with A and working my way down through E. Market A goes first because of the submission window. I basically had one shot for a good long while, and I think my story might be something they’d like (despite it being slightly outside of their preferred length). Market B comes next because they’re ultra fast to respond, don’t mind the length, and my story might be a good fit thematically. Despite being a 5-plus market for fit, Market C goes third only because they take a bit longer to respond than the first two. That said, a good argument could be made for me submitting to them after Market A (and I might). Market D is next to last because it’s probably the worst fit genre-wise (though they do accept horror), but I received excellent feedback on a horror story from them a while back, so they’re worth a try. Finally, Market E comes last because I have the least amount of information on them.

I’d be thrilled with an acceptance from ANY of these publishers, but I prioritized them in a way I think gives me the best chance for success. Obviously, I hope Market A accepts my story, and I don’t have to submit to the others, but, if experience is any indicator, I’ll probably end up submitting to all of them. Now I should note that the table above is based on potential markets currently accepting submissions. That could change if say a pro or semi-pro horror market that’s published me before opened tomorrow. They’d probably go to the top of the list.

How do you prioritize submissions? I’d love to hear about in the comments.

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