Submitting to fiction publications?

Timo added this to the end of a comment on a previous post:

“By the way, are planning to submit your novellas to any science fiction magazines? Analog/Asimov’s/F&SF?”

I’d never given the idea any thought, so I looked up the relevant websites and mulled over the concept for a day. Maybe this won’t be a very interesting blog post, but I thought I’d share my answer here. Someone I know writes reviews of shows on her blog by adding or subtracting one point per positive or negative aspect. The final score says if it was a good show or not. Minus scores are typical, but a really good show can get +10 if she’s in a good mood. I’ll take the same approach here.

To submit or not to submit.

I don’t read much short fiction. I like novels. Therefore I have never read a science fiction magazine in my life. In fitting with my “make/write/do stuff you like to see/read/watch” outlook on creativity: -1

Not only have I never read a science fiction magazine, I’ve never even seen one in real life, not in a shop nor on someone’s coffee table. How relevant are magazines these days in the age of the internet? Sure, that the authors are paid and editors are involved means the quality is kept high, but Year’s Best and other anthologies select even fewer (therefore better) fiction stories. Not sure if this is a plus or minus, just that I’ve no intention of aiming to be published in the second to last issue of a dying title in a dying format. Let’s just say -1

But it would mean I get a few thousand readers who wouldn’t otherwise even look twice. That would make me happy: +1.

I’ve no interest in writing short stories, nor epic length doorstops, so my fiction will probably continue to come in at 40 to 60 thousand words. The magazines are only interested in short fiction, or if they do take novels at all they need to be serialized. This means that instead of (off the top of my head) 20 short stories a year they want (maybe) two novels to serialize. My chances of publication drop: -1.

And I can’t see my fiction working very well as a serial, especially my first novel, as it is quite complex and develops in ways that only make sense if you read it in one go, not spread over months: -1.

But longer fiction means more pay. Fiction sales get about 6 cents per word. For a 40,000 word story that would mean I get paid $2,400. For a short story that pay goes WAY down. But any amount of money would be nice: +1

Now $2,400 sounds like a whole lot of money, but I have to consider what my time is worth. The submission guidelines say I’d need to print the document out and prepare cover letters and include international postage stamps and self addressed envelopes and postcards. What the hell? All three magazines state they don’t take email submissions, which is a sure sign they are going to slide into obscurity. So I get to do all the paperwork (three times) for the remote chance I might get some money: -1.

Meanwhile, I get paid considerably more than that per juggling gig I take, and that usually includes a week of seeing the world, sitting in jacuzzis, drinking in bars and doing more of what I actually love: reading, writing, juggling, and making people laugh while I show off on stage. At home, while not getting paid, I pretty much do what I want: write new material for my show, build big toys, hang out with my girlfriend, play my guitar, play table tennis (way too much of this recently), eat out with friends, juggle with other friends, etc, etc, etc. This is my life as I choose it. I could do much more work and get paid for it. However, Pola and I really like our lifestyle, so we do far less work than we are offered to accommodate non-work pursuits. Time away from my current lifestyle to stress out about submissions? -1

After submission I get to wait 8 weeks for a note saying I’m accepted or rejected. And I’m not allowed to submit the manuscript to two magazines at once, so we’re talking a minimum of 8 months to a year in total to receive the final rejection note from the third magazine. If I do get published, add a few months after acceptance until publication. If serialized add another 6 months for the last part to be read. Total time to feedback from readers: between one and two years. By contrast, I could post my novel online and get feedback within a week of two. So: -1

Maybe if the story is bought by the magazine it will increase my name recognition. Then an agent will like my work and offer me a book deal. This would be great! Of course, the more realistic scenario for some kind of book deal is for me to pimp my work directly to the agents, via post, in person or online. I’m not confident that any kind of book deal is going to magically land in anyone’s lap without this human to human contact. The only thing a magazine sale would do is for me to include it on the cover letter, eg: “I’ve had my work published in this magazine.” But it is a good thing to have: +1

Those are all the factors I’ve considered so far. A quick tally up of the score gets me: -4

Minus four means this really isn’t something I think is worth my time. It comes down knowing what I want, and what I don’t want, from my fiction writing.

What I don’t want:

  • stress.

    What I do want:

  • enjoying the writing process,
  • writing exactly what I want (not what a random editor is looking for),
  • letting other people read my work at a time I want,
  • letting people read in a way they want,
  • getting quick feedback from others (positive would be great, negative would help me improve).
  • What I’m neutral about:

  • getting small amounts of money (as offered by magazines),
  • lots of readers with whom I have nothing in common, nor with whom identify in any way,
  • padding for cover letters for hypothetical future agents.

    Unfortunately the only plus points from my analysis of submitting my work to fiction magazines are the three things that fall directly into the neutral category.

    I’ll pass for now.

    Feedback, comments, pointing out of mistakes and omissions all welcome in the comments or by email:

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