Recently, as I was looking at submissions at Duotrope, it struck me how some of my submission records for various markets paint an interesting picture of how submissions and publications tend to work. Primarily, these records show how important it is to match up the right story with the right editor/market. Not every story, no matter how good, is going to be a good fit for every publisher. I pulled my submission records for one of my favorite flash fiction markets, Factor Four Magazine, to illustrate this point. Below, you can see the 18 submissions I’ve sent to Factor Four, the outcome of each, and if the story was subsequently published elsewhere and with who.
Note, that Factor Four or any publisher is not wrong for rejecting a story, even one that sells elsewhere. That’s extremely common, even with stories rejected and bought by the biggest pro markets. As I said above, publishing a story is about finding the right market for it, and I think the submission record below is clear evidence of that.
|Pieces of Heaven||Factor Four Response||Published|
|Coffee Fiend||Factor Four|
|Pieces of Heaven|
|Reporting for Duty||Flash Point SF|
|When Gods Walk||Radon Journal|
|Hail to the King|
|Mixed Signals||Flash Point SF|
|What You Pay For||The Arcanist|
|Time Waits for One Man||Factor Four|
|Far Shores and Ancient Graves||NewMyths|
|The Inside People||The Molotov Cocktail|
|What Kind of Hero||Ellipsis Zine|
|Your Donation is Greatly Appreciated|
|When the Lights Go On||The Arcanist|
Okay, let’s dive into this and see if there’s anything we can learn. In my experience, one of the best ways to learn what kind of story a publisher likes is to, well, send them stories. Reading the magazine is definitely a good place to start, but after that, paying close attention to your rejections and acceptances can be absolute gold.
So, is there anything similar about the two stories and one close-but-no cigar rejection from Factor Four? There is. One, each of the stories deals with some aspect of Christian/biblical mythology: “Time Waits for One Man” is about well-known biblical figure, “What You Pay For” is about a Faustian deal (with a little Greek mythology thrown in), and “Coffee Fiend” is an urban fantasy piece about angels and demons. Two, each story has a fair amount of dialogue. Three, each is written with a sense of grim humor. And, four, each has kind of a twist ending. Now, it should be noted that writing a supernatural story with lots of dialogue, a little humor, a twist ending, and with Christian mythological themes is not a recipe for instant success with Factor Four. In fact, they rejected my story “Another Path”, which features all those elements. It is entirely possible that these elements are simply coincidental, and the editor just liked each story regardless of their similarities. Keep that in mind before you start writing that grimly hilarious, dialogue-laden story about Moses the vampire. 🙂
As for the stories that Factor Four rejected and were published elsewhere, there’s something to learn there as well. The biggest thing, again, is that a story that doesn’t fit for one market might be a great fit for another. Once more, for the folks in back, this is not about an editor being wrong when they reject a story. It’s about editorial taste and market fit. Interestingly, before The Arcanist sadly went on indefinite hiatus, they published a lot of my supernatural/humorous stories, so it’s not too surprising they picked up “What You Pay For.” The two stories accepted by Radon Journal are fairly bleak dystopian pieces that comment on religion and the value of human life. They’re similar in tone, and I felt like they might be a good fit based on Radon’s guidelines and want list (it’s nice to be right every now and then). The two stories I sold to Flash Point SF are both near future sci-fi pieces, and although somewhat bleak, they have what I’d call hopeful or even uplifting endings. The other sold stories here run the gamut of themes and genres, and I wouldn’t say they give me any strong indication of the publisher’s tastes. Those that haven’t sold yet, well, all but one have been retired after close to or more than double digit rejections.
To sum up, pay close attention to your submission track record with a publisher, even if you haven’t cracked them yet. If you’re getting close-but-no-cigar rejections or if you’re actually getting accepted with the same kinds of stories, you’ve likely hit on the market’s individual tastes, and that, my friend, is damn fine information to have.
Have you identified the specific tastes of any of your favorite markets? I’d love to hear about in the comments.
It’s nice to read the other side of the coin and that’s some sterling market analysis on your part. I wonder if Factor Four will comment?
Thanks. As for Factor Four commenting, maybe, but it certainly isn’t the goal of the post. I’m always leery of talking about markets directly for fear it might be misconstrued, but there was no real way to do this article without it.