Thursday, February 6, 2014

To Submit or Not to Submit?

Themes of Creation. Leonid Pasternak.

Louis Shalako

To submit or not to submit?

That might not even be the right question these days.

What to submit, and what not to submit, might be a better way of putting it.

So far this year I’ve been focusing on short stories, an art form in their own right.

The only way to master something is to do it, and when I run out of steam, only then will I worry about my next novel, (or novel #13.)

Other than blog posts, a poem, something unfinished, something ready to begin, (another blog post,) it looks like the one I just started working on is story number seventeen for 2014.

So here’s the question: should I submit it and keep on submitting it until it is sold, (according to Heinlein’s Rules) or should I just go ahead and publish it myself?

It’s not strictly an either-or question.

There is always a chance, right?

But think about it first. If there are fifty-one pro markets listed on, then those fifty-one markets probably get anything up to ten or twenty thousand submissions a month between them. It might be more—a lot more.

Do the math. Calculate the odds. I’ve got one new story, and maybe a dozen worth submitting. They’re already out there and many markets won’t accept multiple submissions. They don’t want to see the same story twice, either.

Right now, I have a handful of stories under submission. When I submit a story, it could result in a sale, although it is a hit-and-miss thing. It’s not even a question of quality or competence at some level. I just have to put the right story in front of the right editor, in the right genre, just when they’re looking for just that certain kind of thing. The right time and place sort of thing.

But I do submit stories in the Pro, Semi-Pro, (fifteen listings at time of writing) and Pay, (35 listings, mostly closed to submissions right now) as well as checking out token markets, looking for other markets and finding new lists independently. I’ve also checked out Mature markets, etc.

But here’s the thing.

Let’s say you’re not making any pro or big-bucks sales. Never mind if they’re listed with the SFWA or not. 

You need some pro sales to get into the SFWA, right?

How important is that? What does it actually do for you? Those have to be pro sales.

Are you going to let a good story go for five, ten or twenty dollars? Will you give it up for free and some kind of validation?

Are you looking for mere justification?

What does that get you? Publication, yes. Your story is even kind of safe for awhile—it’s safe from being published on the blog or being lost if the computer goes down. People can read it if it’s accepted, and maybe you really will be discovered.

But that story might not appear for a few months. When it does appear, they have a license for a stipulated period of time. Afterwards, your story might be archived on their site in perpetuity.

You might give all that up for five, ten or twenty dollars and the chance to say you got published.

And it doesn’t even help you get into the SFWA, either. Assuming that’s important to you.

So we have to make the comparison.

Let’s take a story I just wrote. It was 10,200 words. In that particular genre, there was nowhere to submit it, even to a minimal pay or token market. There wasn’t even any place to submit it for exposure, although, there is at least one historical fiction market listed on Ralan. But my word count was way over their limit. No point in submitting it there...

Part of the challenge was the nature of the material.

So, being too short for a book, and with nowhere to submit it, what was I supposed to do with it?

Answer: publish it. That even sort of follows Heinlein’s Rules, in the here and now—the Brave New World of Publishing.

Think about it.

Say it costs five or ten bucks for a cover. It took four and a half days to write, edit, format, find an image and make a cover, get an ISBN, etc. You need a blurb, right? It probably took a minimum of ten or twelve hours just in the writing time—it’s 10,200 words after all.

A story which would otherwise be useless is now in the store.

If it sells for $2.99 and ten or twenty of them leave the store per year, then that, honestly, sounds like peanuts. I admit that.

It is also something like twenty or forty bucks a year for a story that might have gone for even smaller peanuts. Over ten years that’s two hundred to four hundred bucks, for a nice little story that might have gone for exactly that much (once) in a professional sale at two to four cents a word.

And, I write a lot of stories. Do the math. Calculate the odds.

But consider those odds over the long term—the next ten to twenty years, when, arguably, I should be submitting that story, over and over again until it is sold.

But there's nowhere to fucking submit it.

Reprints are admittedly worth fifty percent of the original sale price. This holds true at four hundred dollars. It also holds true if you sell your story for five or ten bucks. There is a judgment call here, and you have to decide before publishing it yourself, just exactly what it is that you are risking.

Mike Resnick or Robert J. Sawyer can sell any story they write.

So far, I have not learned how to do that in that traditional sense—I have to rely on what few readers I can get!

It’s a whole ‘nother ball of wax.

I have never claimed that this is any easier than the traditional path.

It is merely the path that seems to be open right now, in this Brave New World of Publishing.

In the very early days of a long and distinguished career, we’re not risking that much, right? It depends on where you’re at and what you hope to achieve. It depends how much time you have left.

Now, assuming I have a story in science fiction, fantasy, horror, or mystery, maybe a little something in the romance or erotica line, then of course I would know where to submit it.

There are also ways of finding more markets.

Even then there is some kind of judgment call. If it’s talking cats, then one editor doesn’t want it, and if it’s vampires or werewolves, some other editor doesn’t like that. You might have already submitted a story or a book to all the markets that you can find in a genre.

Or maybe you just don’t care to keep looking.

Now, my next story, or number whatever for this year, has the sort of material that’s not going to make it into iTunes. There are themes of non-consensual sex in the story. If you read the submissions guidelines, you will see that in some markets they have very specific guidelines as to what they will and will not accept. Many magazines would not want to see this story.

So, again, write it, edit, format it…make a cover. Stir and repeat, right? And now another pen-name, has another new product, this one in an edgy, erotica-for-hetero-males sort of a way. It’s 5,000 words, took a couple of days to produce, and I had total creative control over something that has social redeeming value, but might be offensive to some readers.


And I can mark it at $2.99, give discount coupons on Smashwords, set it for free sometimes, whatever it takes to move a few copies of that story on the long list of bookselling platforms…a list that will grow over time.

Some other story might be a good candidate for the blog ( or, an unpublished book of dubious nature could be published as a serial.) Or as a free promotional book or short story. It still only costs five or ten bucks for the cover.

At some point down the road you get to set a price on it and set up your next freebie.

Once you’ve paid for the cover image, it’s all gravy, folks.

If I write three or four stories for one pen-name, then at some point I write one specifically for a free giveaway. When I’m working in a specific genre, I generally know, or soon figure out, who I’m writing it for, whether it’s for the blog, my lady-erotica writer or my thriller guy. Sooner or later they’ll all have pretty long lists of titles.

Everything involves a judgment call and some assessment of the benefits, the rewards and the costs.

Other than that, you put in the time, you do the work.

Have fun doing it and you’ve got the world by the ass.

That’s what it’s all about, ladies and gentlemen.

It's all about writing things and putting them out there into the world.


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