Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Wordcraft – Building an audience through short stories

Second in an occasional series about literary publication and promotion

A couple of weeks ago I began this series with information about finding critique groups to help us write the best stories possible. (And as a former journalist, I include nonfiction in the term “stories.” Because writing is writing is writing. Right?)

Today I’m following up with information, both from this summer’s ArmadilloCon writing workshop and other sources, for getting those stories in front of an audience. This post will focus most heavily on publishing outlets for short pieces, with further information on book length works to follow.

Before anybody can say, but I don’t write short pieces, let me say, don’t diss the shorts. Consider that the Great American Novel (or any country’s great novel) can take years to write and years more to find a publisher, for those of us who don’t already have a Pulitzer or Nobel Prize backing us. While we’re honing that really long piece, we can start building an audience for it with shorter forms.

Consider also that a novel may grow from a piece of short fiction, a novel can grow. Or a book length work-in-progress can spawn characters and situations that don’t fit in the longer work but deserve their own place. We may even find we love the short pieces enough to write an entire collection of them.

I’ve written before about publishing sources for short fiction, but here’s a refresher of the biggest, all accessible online: Duotrope’s DigestNew Pages, Submissions Grinder and Ralan.

(By the way, please resist the urge to self-publish, especially on free sites, unless you’re an established writer who simply wants to maintain a presence between longer works. Publishing a work, even on our own websites or blogs, will usually count as a “first publication” and may limit our ability to find additional markets for the work. And while it’s nice to get our words out there, it’s even nicer to get them on a site that has some editing credibility. Nicer still if we can get paid for them.)

Duotrope is still my favorite source for short fiction publishers. Yes, it’s a pay-for site: $50 for a year’s subscription (or try a trial subscription free, or pay as you go for $5 per month). Its listings of more than 5,800 sites for fiction, nonfiction and poetry are hard to beat.

That said, other sources, including J.W. Alden’s, list free alternatives to Duotrope, especially for genre writers. Still, I haven’t found anything to compete with the way Duotrope handles its statistics: length, genre, topic, pay rate, response time, acceptance rate, and more.

Duotrope’s closest (free) contender is the Submissions Grinder, whose search engine strongly resembles Duotrope’s. I have used the Submissions Grinder and found that its listing of publishers has a significant, although not exclusive, overlap with Duotrope.

Of particular value to writers of genre fiction is Ralan, maintained by Ralan Conley, and aimed at writers of fantasy and science fiction. New this month is its listing of “under 1K, poetry, audio and twitter markets”.

For exclusively literary writers, try New Pages, whose classified pages also list writing workshops and conferences.

Whichever site we use will help us target the best possible publisher for our stories. And while we hope for publication in the most prestigious sites, we shouldn’t ignore the more modest publications. When I was starting to publish short stories, I blatantly searched for markets with the highest acceptance rates, but checked their websites to be sure I wouldn’t be embarrassed to be associated with them. There are many small, new publications eager for stories that nevertheless maintain high standards. And they’re not only sites to gain recognition, but places to learn and to make friends.

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