Submissions: The Genre Wasteland

I have often lamented the lack of paying horror markets on this blog, and while I certainly wish there were more paying publishers for horror, I’ve still got it pretty good compared to writers in other genres. You see, I’ve recently been dabbling in crime (not so much mystery) and action/adventure, and, wow, the number of paying markets for those genres is, well, thin would be an understatement. Let me illustrate.

Note, all numbers are from Duotrope (because it’s the service I use), and these are markets currently accepting submissions.

First, let me give you a quick look at the horror market landscape for comparison (which I consider to be the smallest of the big three speculative genres).

  • Pro Markets – 7
  • Semi-Pro Markets – 10
  • Token Markets – 34

This doesn’t look too bad until you compare it to sci-fi and fantasy, where the number of paying markets, especially pro-paying markets, jumps considerably. Last I checked, there were 21 pro markets for sci-fi and 20 for fantasy (though, there’s some overlap). If you get into semi-pro or token, then you have dozens and dozens of markets to choose from. Yes, you can do horror sci-fi and dark fantasy and hit some of those sci-fi and fantasy markets I mentioned, but for pure horror, pickings are still pretty slim.

So, what about those other genres I mentioned? Let’s look at mystery/crime first.

  • Pro Markets – 6
  • Semi-Pro Markets – 6
  • Token Markets – 7

There are really just two big pro mystery/crime markets, and they take just about everything that relates to the genre (I’m sure most of you can guess which two I’m talking about). The other pro markets are either anthologies or markets for middle-grade stories. The semi-pro choices are more of the same, though on further research I’ve found many of these markets are specifically looking for mystery stories (from cozy to hard-boiled) and not so much crime.

Okay, now let’s look at action/adventure.

  • Pro Markets – 5*
  • Semi-Pro Markets – 1
  • Token – 3

You see that asterix next to the number of pro markets? I put that there because everyone of these markets is for middle-grade and below. Yep, there isn’t a single pro-paying action/adventure market for adults. That single semi-pro is the one paying adult market that specifically asks for action/adventure. The token markets? One adult, and two for kids. Pretty depressing, huh? Makes me glad I haven’t dabbled in westerns (there is literally ONE paying market for westerns in all of Duotrope).

Those are the facts, but this isn’t just a big ol’ complaint post. There are solutions. So what can I do with my crime and action/adventure stories?

  1. Work with what you got. With the crime stories, specifically, there are enough markets I can take a shot at what’s out there. Like I do with other genres, I’ll submit to the top markets and work my way down.
  2. Phone a friend. Luckily, I know a few very good and prolific mystery/crime authors who pointed me in the direction of markets I hadn’t heard of and that aren’t listed on Duotrope. That’s been helpful and educational.
  3. Make a few changes. For the crime stories, if I add more of a mystery element, it’ll open up a lot of new markets for me. I could also add speculative elements that would open up that huge swath of sci-fi/fantasy markets. For the action/adventure story, a change is pretty much a necessity if I want to sell it. The easiest thing to do would be to add supernatural horror and turn my historical pirate actioner into a historical horror actioner. 🙂

Thoughts on these two genres? Something I missed? Or if you have a market recommendation for either genre, please let me know in the comments.

2019 Acceptance Rate Check-In

With 2019 three quarters of the way through, let’s see how I’m doing with regards to submissions and rate of acceptance. In this post I’m gonna run the numbers for the year to date and compare it with the numbers for all the years I’ve tracked my submissions through Duotrope. Before I get to the numbers, let me first tell you about my methodology. The acceptance rate is calculated with the following formula: total acceptances/(total submissions – pending subs and withdrawals). Obviously, the pending subs only applies to the current year. Additionally, these numbers only count short stories I’ve sent to various genre markets and contests. It does not count any of my contract work for Privateer Press or when I’m invited to submit a story to a market or basically anything that more or less guarantees publication.

Note, 2019 looks a little weird, mostly because of how Dutrope tracks certain things (and because a few of my submission went to publishers not in their database). In other words, the 2019 numbers are very close, but not perfect (though we’re talking fractions of a percentage when it comes to acceptance rates). When I do my end-of-year calculations, I’ll sit down and figure out where the discrepancies are and publish a final, correct 2019 accounting.

Okay, with all that out of the way, here’s eight years of submissions:

Year Subs Reject L/N/W Accept Acc %
2012 6 5 1 0 0%
2013 16 14 2 0 0%
2014 38 29 4 5 15%
2015 46 37 2 7 16%
2016 53 43 2 8 16%
2017 73 64 4 5 7%
2018 120 100 4 19 16%
2019* 55 42 0 11 22%
Total 407 334 19 55 14%

*year to date

I always aim for a 10% acceptance rate. If I get above that, awesome. If I dip below it, as I did in 2017, then I am a sad writer. Luckily, it looks like 2017 was more anomaly than trend and things got back on track in 2018 and look pretty solid for 2019. Full disclosure here. Three of the acceptances for 2019 were part of a #vss365 Twitter anthology, and they were not submitted in the usual sense. They were chosen from microfiction I’d posted on Twitter during the “submission window.” If you remove those three acceptances, then my acceptance percentage for 2019 is 16% (which seems to be about my average).

That 15 to 20 percent mark seems to be where I live for the most part, and I’m okay with that. Of course, I’d like to crack more professional markets, as more than half of my publications in the last three years or so have been at least semi-pro (though a bit more token this year). Not that I’m complaining, mind you, just that I’d love to see my name in certain publications. I’m sure most of you can guess which ones. 😉

In short, 2019 is going okay. I’d like to have submitted more, and though I’m still hoping to hit 100 submissions, at this rate I’ll be closer to 80. That’s not terrible, of course, and if I can keep up the submission rate, maybe I’ll get close to 2018’s acceptance numbers.


How’s your 2019 submissions going so far? Tell me about it in the comments.

The Post-Acceptance Process

In a recent post, I discussed my process after receiving a rejection. Well, there’s a flip side to that, and I have a post-acceptance process too. It’s just as important as the post-rejection ritual, maybe even more so. Here’s what I do (or try to do) after what I like to call “the blessed event.” 🙂

  1. Enjoy it. This is a do as I say and not as I do kind of thing because, well, I suck at enjoying my successes. Here’s what you should do, though. Take a moment, revel in that acceptance, bask in the warm glow of validation, and tell yourself, “See, I am good enough.” It’s good for your confidence, it’s good for your soul, and it strengthens your resolve and determination for the rejections that are always right around the corner.
  2. Report. Okay, now that you’ve enjoyed the moment and read all the nice things the editor said about your story at least five times, it’s time to get back to work. Like a rejection, the first thing I do is go out to Duotrope and report the result of the submission. Unlike a rejection, however, this feels fucking fantastic. For me, it’s the best part. I get to select the acceptance option when I update the submission and then watch as my acceptance rate increases. It’s a wonderful burst of validation, and for some reason, it makes the acceptance feel more official, more real. All of that aside, it’s important to record the outcomes of all your submissions, whether they be rejections, acceptances, or anything in between. That data can be invaluable later.
  3. Respond. Now, unlike a rejection to which you NEVER respond, you need to respond to the acceptance quickly. Maybe not right that second, but within twenty-four hours at the very least. You need to let the editor know you’ve received their email and that the story is still available for publication. I guess you don’t have to say thank you, but I think you should. It’s the polite and professional thing to do in my opinion. In addition, many acceptance letters will ask you for additional information, like a bio, or include a contract. You need to address those things right away and get them back to the editor so they can get on with actually publishing your story.
  4. Celebrate. This is another thing I’m not particularly good at, but I think you should celebrate your successes. That could be as simple as heading out to Twitter and announcing the acceptance (unless the publisher has asked you to keep it under wraps for the moment). Or maybe you pour yourself a glass of wine (or your libation of choice) and drink to the win, because that’s what it is, a victory.

And that’s the post-acceptance process I try to follow. What do you do? Tell me about it in the comments.

Submission Protocol: Further Consideration Letters

A recent discussion with another author about further consideration letters (sometimes called short-list letters) prompted the question of whether or not you should respond to them. It got me thinking about how I generally handle short lists and further considerations. So let’s talk about that. First, what is a further consideration letter? Here’s an example:

Hello Aeryn, 

The editorial team has read your story, [Story Title]. They have decided to put this story on the “short-list” to be considered for publication. We want to respect your time as an author, so we will make a final decision as soon as possible. 

Thank you, 

Should you respond to a letter like this? I don’t think it’s necessary, and here are two reasons why.

  1. It’s really just a status update. In my experience, a lot of further consideration letters are form letters to let you know what’s going on with your story. They’re not too dissimilar from the auto-generated notifications you get when your story is initially received (in other words, they are meant as one-way communications). Basically, no response is required. The letter is just a “Hey, here’s what’s up with your submission.”
  2. It’s not expected. Piggy-backing on point number one, I personally don’t think editors expect a response to further consideration letters, even if they sent a short personal note. Like responding to a rejection (or generally anything but an acceptance), it’s not necessary and is probably just clutter in an inbox already filled to bursting.

I have not responded to most further consideration letters (but see below), and it doesn’t appear to have affected my chances of publication.

Okay, so are there times you should respond to a further consideration letter? That answer is yes, when the editor asks you to. See below:

Dear Aeryn,

Thank you again for your submission. We really like this story and would like to add this on our short list, if that is okay with you. We will have the final decisions by July 1 at the latest. Let us know!

Thanks!

This is something I’ve seen a few times with further consideration letters, especially if it’s going to take the editors a while to make decisions. Like in the letter above, the editors will a) tell you how long the decisions is going to take and b) ask you if you mind letting them hold on to the story for that long. In this case, yes, absolutely respond to let the editors to let them know what you decide. I really appreciate a letter like this, as it allows me to make an informed decision about what happens to my story. I’ve never pulled a story back after a letter like this, but it’s nice to have that option.

I have kind of a funny outlier story about responding to a further consideration letter. I once sent a story to a pro market (now sadly out of business), and after not hearing back for over six months, I sent a query letter. When I received no response to the query, I sent a withdrawal letter. About a week after I sent the withdrawal I received a further consideration letter from the publisher. In a panic, I sent the editor a note explaining I’d withdrawn the story, but if he didn’t mind too much, I’d like to, uh, withdraw my withdrawal. Luckily, he was a very understanding person and added the story back into his final review. I received an acceptance about two months later. (Yay! Happy ending.)


Thoughts on responding to a further consideration letter? Tell me about it in the comments.

Submission Protocol: For the Record

No doubt you’ve seen me post copious amounts of stats and analysis on this blog relating to my submissions, rejections, and acceptances. I’m able to do that because I keep track of every single submission I send and its outcome (plus a bunch of other details). You don’t have to be a stat wonk like me, but you should keep track of all your submissions. Here’s why.

  1. Avoid dumb submission mistakes. Once you get into triple digits with submissions that comprise dozens of stories, it can be pretty easy to forget where you sent each one. So one of the things I do before I send out a story, especially one that’s racked up a fair number of rejections, is to check my database. That way I can make sure I’m not sending it to a publisher that’s already rejected it. Full disclosure: I’ve actually made this mistake a few times. Wanna know why? I didn’t check my fucking database before I hit send. (Let’s call that a cautionary tale.)
  2. Submission analysis & targeting. Look, you don’t have to get all crazy with the data like I do, but having some data at hand can be useful to determine how your submissions are doing overall. You can look for trends and anomalies that might help you dial in your submission targeting. Are you only getting standard form rejections from that one magazine and then going on to sell those stories elsewhere? Yeah? Then maybe that market isn’t a good fit for your work. Are your horror stories landing at a market but they’re consistently rejecting your fantasy stories? Okay, then stop sending them fantasy stories. A submission database that keeps track of not just when and where, but also genre, length, and other details may slightly increase the likelihood of an acceptance.
  3. Big-picture progress. One of my favorite things about a robust database is it really lets me see how I’m doing month to month and year to year. I can see if my acceptance numbers (and rate) are improving, if I’m getting more higher-tier and personal rejections than standard rejections, and all sorts of other info that can be quite encouraging. Having a database can help you take a big-picture view of your work rather than the isolated snapshots that come with each rejection. That’s always a confidence booster for me.

I’ve told you why you should keep a submission database; now let me tell you how. My preferred method is to let someone else do the bulk of the work, which is why I track all my submissions through Duotrope. They keep that database for me, and I can filter by market, by story, by rejection (and type of rejection), and so on. I can also download all this data with the click of a button if I want to manipulate it further. Yes, Duotrope is five bucks a month, but if you submit as often as I do, I think that’s a bargain. The Submission Grinder (which is free) has similar functionality, but since I don’t use that service I can’t give you the exact details.

What if you don’t want to use Duotrope or the Submission Grinder to track your submissions? No problem. It’s super easy to set up an Excel spreadsheet that’ll do the trick. If you’re Excel savvy, you can even get a lot of the same functionality you get at Duotrope with a little work. What should your submission database track? Here are the basics you should include: story title, genre, length, market, date sent, date received, and response. That might look like this.

This is a cobbled-together snapshot of some of my own submissions as an example of how you might track your own (No, I don’t generally rock a 50% acceptance rate; I just grabbed a bunch of old submissions for variety). Pretty simple, right? I can sort and parse this data in a number of ways to get all analytical if I want or just to make sure I don’t send a story to a market that’s already rejected it. If you want a more functionality, consider keeping tracking things like the days between submissions and responses and if the submission is a reprint or a sim-sub. That’s all great data. Whatever your database looks like the real key is to be consistent and diligent with keeping track of your submissions. Record every submissions and every response right away (if possible). Yeah, I know recording rejections kind of sucks, but trust me, it’ll serve you in the long run.


How do you keep track of your submissions? Tell me about it in the comments.

How Many Rejections Add up to an Acceptance?

I was perusing my Twitter feed recently, and I happened upon a tweet asking about the maximum number of rejections authors have received before they sold a story. My personal record is sixteen, and while I think that’s a bit of a fluke, I rarely have one-and-done submissions either. I find this subject fascinating because, for me, it’s one of the core principles in my submission philosophy. What I mean is, yes, you have to write a good story, but you also have to send that story to the right market at the right time.

To illustrate my point–and because I love charts and data and stuff–let’s take a look at my acceptances this year and see how many rejection each story racked up before it was accepted.

Story Rejections
Luck Be a Bullet 2
New Arrivals 2
The Food Bank 3
Scare Tactics 6
Simulacra 1
Two Legs 5
Burning Man 7
The Inside People 2
Do Me a Favor 0
Scar 6
What Kind of Hero 8
Far Shores and Ancient Graves 2
Bear Necessity 0
Old as the Trees 2
Time Waits for One Man 0
When the Lights Go On 9

That’s an average of about three and a half rejections per story. Not too bad. One of the stories “Scare Tactics” is interesting because it’s a reprint, and I’ve now sold it twice after it’s initial six rejections. Another interesting one is “Far Shores and Ancient Graves” because it’s my first acceptance from a market that has rejected me ten times prior. (I could write a whole blog post about not giving up on a market just because they’ve rejected you before, but I’ll save that for another time.) But let’s look at two stories at the extreme ends of my chart, “When the Lights Go On” and “Time Waits for One Man.” They were both ultimately accepted, but “Time Waits for One Man” sold on its first submission while it took ten submissions to find a home for “When the Lights Go On.” Why is that?

Could it be simple quality that determined the fates of these two stories? Though I’m hardly unbiased, I think these two stories represent some of the best flash pieces I’ve written, and “When the Lights Go On” was short listed three times by pro markets and received very positive feedback. Was it submission targeting that made the difference? That’s always a bit of a gamble, but I sent “When the Lights Go On” to markets with which I’m very familiar. Which leads me to genre. Could that be a factor? Maybe. “When the Lights Go On” is sci-fi with a strong horror element and “Time Waits for One Man” is firmly urban fantasy. Admittedly, horror can be a tough sell for some markets, even if the story is within the primary genres they publish, so that could have played a role.

Taking all the above into account, why was “Time Waits for One Man” accepted on its first submission while nine publishers passed on “When the Lights Go On?” Well, with the possible exception of the horror element, I’d chalk it up to two things. Editorial taste and dumb luck. Though a number of publishers liked “When the Lights Go On” and said as much, it wasn’t quite what they were looking for. Whereas “Time Waits for One Man” happened to be more or less exactly what one market (and editor) wanted. I just lucked out and sent the story to them first. I think that easily might have happened with “When the Lights Go On.”

To sum up, remember, good stories get rejected all the time, and nearly every story on my list was rejected by a market that ultimately accepted another story on my list. So don’t get discouraged because your story receives a couple of rejections (or nine). It might mean you just haven’t sent to the right market yet.


What’s your record for number of rejections before you sold a story? Tell me about it in the comments.

Replying to a Rejection: Dos and (mostly) Don’ts

A topic I see a fair amount among authors is whether or not you should reply to a rejection letter. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I’d say the answer is no, but my views on this blog are kind of an evolving thing. Something I said you should never do a couple of years ago, I might now say don’t do very often or don’t do it unless it’s under these very specific circumstances. So let’s revisit replying to a rejection letter and talk about some specific reasons you might think about typing out a reply and whether or not it’s a good idea.

1) To argue with the editor for rejecting your story. Do. Not. Do. This. It’s real bad form, and it’s probably (definitely) going to hurt your chances at future publications with that market. Look, rejections aren’t fun, but they’re part of the gig, and, most importantly, they are not personal. Editors reject stories for lots of reasons that often have nothing to do with the quality of the work, and what doesn’t work for one market may very well be exactly what another market wants. So, suck it up, move on, and submit that story somewhere else.

2) Because you didn’t like or agree with the feedback. If the editor took the time to actually give you constructive feedback, that’s probably because they saw some merit in the work. That’s a good thing. You should submit another story to that market. If you don’t agree with the feedback you received, that’s okay too. There’s no point in attempting to argue with the editor over something like that. It’s an opinion, and, again, it’s not personal. Absorb the feedback (or don’t) and move on.

3) Because the editor was rude. But were they? Really? I conceded that it’s certainly possible an editor might be rude in a rejection, and I’m sure it’s happened, but after receiving hundreds of them, I can’t remember a single one where the editor was anything but professional. Sometimes form rejection letters are short and to the point, and if you’re feeling salty about the no, you might be tempted to read terseness or rudeness into that (I’ve actually seen this happen). Don’t. See reason number one. It’s not personal.

4) They made a mistake. I mean an actual mistake. See reason number one for the “mistake” of not accepting your story. I once received a rejection for someone else’s story. Our pieces had very similar titles, and the editor made a very understandable error. I replied with a polite note explaining the situation, and the editor responded with an apology and then read and replied to my submission within the next couple of days. In a sense, my response to that error worked a lot like a submission status query, and my story was read well ahead of the publisher’s usual schedule.

So, yes, this is the ONE time you should absolutely respond to a rejection letter. I can’t imagine an editor being anything but appreciative, just like the editor in my example was.

5) To thank an editor for providing feedback. The last time I talked about replying to rejection letters, I said you shouldn’t do this. Mostly, because it’s not necessary or expected. That said, my thoughts have evolved slightly on this specific example. Let me explain.

A market I hugely respect published one of my stories a few years ago, and I send them a lot of my work. I generally get personal rejections, and, as is my standard operating procedure, I don’t respond to them. In this one case, though, the editor gave me some thorough and very insightful feedback that vastly improved the story. I was so grateful I wanted to let them know. I sent a quick, “I never do this, but thank you so much for that incredibly useful feedback.” They sent me a nice email about how they rarely take offense at responses to rejections (you know, unless they’re for those first two reasons), and they don’t mind hearing their feedback was helpful.

Despite my example, I don’t think you should do this often (I’ve done it exactly once), but if the market has published you before and you’re somewhat familiar with the editor and they’ve provided you with something really helpful, then, a quick, polite thank you after a rejection is probably not an issue.

Please note, however, some publishers straight-up tell you in their guidelines not to respond to rejections, even if it’s something like I outlined above. In that case, follow the guidelines and do NOT respond to a rejection from that publisher (with the possible, very rare exception of reason #3).


So, to sum up, replying to a rejection letter is almost always a bad idea or simply not necessary, but there are a couple of corner cases where you might consider it.

Can you think of a reason I left off? If so, tell me about it in the comments.