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Thursday, September 24, 2009

ANYBODY SEEN MY SHORTS? - Michael Bracken


Professional short story markets are disappearing at an alarming rate. Soon there won’t be any professional publications left that publish short stories.
Sound familiar? I’ve been hearing variations of this refrain for several decades. Every generation of short story writers complains that the previous generation of writers had it easy.
Guess what? It’s never been easy. Yet short story writers with only a moderate amount of talent have been able to overcome the odds against them by applying a great deal of hard work and dogged determination to their efforts.
How do I know? I have only a moderate amount of talent, yet I’ve sold more than 800 short stories, and I’ve had one or more short stories published every month for the past 74 consecutive months.
Here’s how you can duplicate my success:

1. Develop an intimate relationship with the English language. You don’t need to become a grammarian, but you do need to know how to spell the words you use and how to punctuate the sentences you write.

2. Develop an understanding of what constitutes a story. Read widely and voraciously and study every story you read.

3. Don’t allow another writer’s blinders to become your blinders. If another writer convinces you that there are only a few markets for short stories in your genre, you won’t make an effort to find the hidden markets.

4. Don’t allow your love for a particular genre to limit you. Write in multiple genres and you may find, as I did, that you are more successful writing outside your favorite genre.

5. Volunteer to read submissions for a small press, literary publication, or Webzine so that you can see the manuscripts other writers are submitting, and learn why some of the best submissions are not accepted.

6. Develop a familiarity with the publishing process. Understand why submitting a Christmas story in December is a waste of everyone’s time.

7. Study the magazines to which you are submitting. Pay particular attention to the advertising because it will tell you a great deal about the magazine’s readers.

8. Always, always, always, look for new markets. If you see a magazine, pick it up and study it. Some of the best short story sales I’ve made were to publications that weren’t listed in Writer’s Market and didn’t post their submission requirements on their Web site.

9. Write. Write until your fingers bleed, then continue writing.

10. Submit. Keep submitting. If your short story manuscript is rejected, send it out again. And again. And again. One of my stories sold for $150 to the twenty-third editor to see it, 17 years after the first editor rejected it.

11. Stop fretting. Writers with a single manuscript under submission tend to obsess about that submission. Writers like me who have dozens of manuscripts under submissions often forget what’s where and are pleasantly surprised every time an editor responds.

12. Set a goal. Some writers advocate writing a set number of words or pages per day. I prefer a goal that advocates finished manuscripts. For example, some short story writers I know advocate the “Rule of 12.” That means having 12 short story manuscripts under submission at all times. During the first year, write one short story each month. That’s half-a-page a day or less. At the end of a year you’ll have 12 manuscripts making the rounds. If you sell a story or if you retire one to your filing cabinet, you must write and submit a new story. My goal is to write and sell a short story every week. That’s 52 short stories every year.

13. Keep good records. Know where your manuscripts are, when they were submitted, and what the editors’ responses were. Keep copies of all contracts you sign. Keep a copy of every publication containing one of your stories. If your career lasts as long as mine, you’ll have multiple opportunities to sell reprint rights and may even find a publisher to release one or more of your short story collections.

Follow my advice and you probably won’t become rich and famous. You will, however, have a long career as a short story writer.
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Learn more about Michael Bracken at http://www.CrimeFictionWriter.com. Follow his progress and see if he meets his goal of writing and selling a story a week at http://crimefictionwriter.blogspot.com.

27 comments:

Shirley said...

Hi Michael,

Thanks for dropping by today. Since you've published over 800 short stories, can you tell us where you find your markets? Do you have a particular genre you like to stick to, or do you write a bit of everything.

Michael Bracken said...

Although I've sold short fiction in nearly every genre, I've had the most success with women's fiction and crime fiction.

Over the years, I've found many markets just by standing in front of various magazine racks and opening every magazine. For example, Sun, a tabloid similar to the National Enquirer and sold at grocery store check-out lines, used to publish a short romance and a short science fiction story every issue. They weren't listed in any writer's publication that I'm aware of, I discovered them at the check-out line, and I sold them several romances and science fiction stories.

I also belong to discussion groups on-line where members share info about new or newly discovered markets, and I use Google to search for writer's guidelines.

Janet Kay Gallagher said...

Thanks. Great information. Question: You mentioned hidden markets. What are they and how do we find them?
Was that already answered by "checking out all types of magazines?"
Is there a special way of organizing all the information we need to keep? By Month,submission location,story name, etc.???

Janet Kay Gallagher said...

What discussion groups online please? I will try Google for Writer's Guidelines

RTHRBRTN said...

I like what you said about writing in different genres. Sometimes when people ask what I write I fumble for an answer not wanting to say "anything and everything". Would you comment on your opinion of critiques?

Michael Bracken said...

Janet, "hidden markets" are those markets that do not get listed in publications such as Writer's Market or included in the on-line market lists such as Ralan.com. They are, however, available on newsstands, or left as reading material in your doctors' offices, or sitting on the coffee tables in your friends' houses, or sent to you for your membership in a charitable, social, or religious organization.

Every writer develops a method to track their finished manuscripts, submissions,and so forth. Some have fancy Excel spreadsheets or databases. Mine's simple and was developed pre-computer.

Every manuscript gets its own file folder. Into the file folder goes a hardcopy of the manuscript, copies of any research material, and a sheet of paper for tracking submissions (I put the name of the story at the top and then I list the name of the publication I sent the story to and the date I sent it, and after I receive a response, what the response was. If it's rejected, I list the name of the second publication I sent it to, and so on). If the story sells, I include a copy of the contract or acceptance letter and, if I can get it, a copy of the published piece.

Then the file folders move through various file drawers. One drawer contains all stories under submission. One contains all stories accepted, not paid for. Another contains all stories paid for, not published. And a whole bunch of drawers contain stories published and paid for.

And all folders are in the drawers by date order (oldest in back, newest in front).

Michael Bracken said...

Discussion groups include:

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/shortmystery/

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/wwwriters/

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/truewriters/

I'm sure there are others, but these are the three I follow most closely.

Michael Bracken said...

Critique groups can be quite beneficial, but I don't participate in them.

Whether you participate in a critique group or not, the most important thing to remember is that there are only two people in the entire world who have to like what you write:

1. You. You have to like your finished manuscript well enough that you'll spend the time and money submitting it.

2. One editor. You have to find one editor somewhere in the world who likes your manuscript well enough to want to publish it.

Everything else is gravy.

Susan Macatee said...

Hi, Michael,great advice! I started off writing short stories, but figured novels was where the best market was. But I recently tried writing short again for the e-book and anthology market and now would like to try magazines.

I find switching between lengths and genres energizes my writing and can always use more cash. LOL.

Gary said...

I think the same good advice could be "taken" by an essayist.

My problem always has been sloppy record-keeping. I think I'll try the hard-copy system you use, Michael. Maybe if I see the essay printed out I'll remember to keep submitting it.

EmilyBryan said...

The title of this post alone was worth the trip! But the rest of your advice is also golden and applies to longer fiction as well. Thanks, Michael!

Shirley said...

Michael,

I was a member of Short Mystery Fiction Society for years, but recently dropped out because the group seemed to be constantly arguing among themselves. Has that changed? Can you tell us more about the benefits of this group?

I know they also sponsor the Derringer Award each year. I've been a judge of that for the past two years too. That was fun.

Michael Bracken said...

The Short Mystery Fiction Society is an organization for writers of short mystery fiction. The only requirement for membership is joining the Yahoo group.

Every two years the SMFS elects a President and Vice President, whose responsibilities include overseeing and moderating the Yahoo group. Every year the SMFS elects a Derringer Awards Coordinator whose primary responsibility is to oversee the submission, nomination, and, ultimately, the awarding of the annual Derringer Awards, which honor excellence in short mystery fiction.

More info about the organization may be found at http://www.shortmystery.net/

The discussions on the group list sometimes drift off-topic and the members can be a bit opinionated, but that isn't unique to the SMFS. They key, I think, is to filter all the posts and use the good information (writing tips, new market info, etc.) while ignoring the rest.

Janet Kay Gallagher said...

Hi, Thanks for answer.
How long are your short stories, words, pages? Are you using double space lines? And two spaces to start a new sentence?

Janet Kay Gallagher said...

Another question:
Do you write your stories and then find where to send it or do you pick a magazine, get the guidelines and then write a story to fit them?

Michael Bracken said...

Unless an editor specifically requests something different, I follow standard manuscript format, a sample of which is available at:
http://www.shunn.net/format/story.html

I never learned the proper way to type, so I never learned to put two spaces after periods. This actually turned out to be a good thing because I spent much of my early non-writing life as a typographer and you don't use extra spaces when setting type.

That carries over into what we do today. Two spaces was considered the norm when using monospaced typefaces (such as Courier) but not when using proportional typefaces (such as Times). Whether you use two spaces or only one in your manuscript isn't critical as long as you're consistent. The editor (or typesetter or page layout person) at any good publication will strip out extra/unnecessary spaces before or during the production process.

Michael Bracken said...

My stories vary in length from only a few words (flash fiction) to nearly 20,000 words (novella or novelette length).

I have found particular success writing stories that range from 2,500 words to 3,500 words. This is long enough to include a plot, setting, and characterization, but not so long that I forget where I'm going. It also happens to be a length that many publications use.

On the other hand, if I am targeting a specific publication, I look at that publication's requirements before I start writing and try to create a story that can be told within that publication's parameters.

A good example would be Woman's World. They want 800-word romances. If I want to sell a romance to Woman's World, I'll write an 800-word romance.

Michael Bracken said...

Janet, I've written stories both ways. The stories I write with no market in mind are often the hardest to sell.

One thing I often do these days is to start writing a story that comes to me in a flash of inspiration, but find an appropriate market before I finish writing the story. That way I can slant my work in a particular direction during the creation phase instead of having to do wholesale revisions after I have a completed draft.

And those flashes of inspiration? I've learned that the more I write, the more often I'm inspired. So, I write whether I'm inspired or not and sooner or later inspiration catches up to me.

Janet Kay Gallagher said...

Michael, Thanks again.
We are hearing a lot about self-publishing, what do you think?

Michael Bracken said...

"Self-publishing" is a slippery term, so let's define some terms.

"Self-publishing" means creating a company to publish a book you wrote, and, unless you can do every function yourself, hiring everyone involved in the production, from the editor to the designer to the proofreader to the printing company to the distributor to the accountant, and so on. It also means keeping all the profit.

iUniverse and the like, though they promote themselves as self-publishing companies, aren't. They are inexpensive vanity presses. And they earn their money from selling services to the writer, not from selling books to readers.

Of course, other types of self-publishing exist, especially for things shorter than book length. When you post something on your blog or on your Web site, you're self-publishing.

I know people who have successfully self-published non-fiction books (visit http://www.intercourses.com/ to learn about Intercourses: An Aphrodisiac Cookbook; a self-published book that's had enormous success...but the two people who created it were an experienced cookbook editor and a multi-award-winning designer).

And a few self-published/vanity published novels have been successful, but had their greatest success AFTER a traditional publisher bought the rights and republished them.

For short stories, the Amazon program has made a few bucks for a few people, but the ones I'm most familiar with were already established writers with followings. Unknowns don't seem to be making money.

So, in general, I would shy away from self-publishing fiction as a beginner. Become established. Make a name for yourself. Develop a following. Then, maybe, just maybe, consider self-publishing.

Michael Bracken said...

RTHRBRTN, there's no need to fumble when people ask what you write. Provide a generic answer. How about "I write fiction" rather than trying to explain the various genres of fiction you write.

Shirley said...

Michael,

Can you share of few of your favorite magazines that print short stories?

Shirley said...

Micheal,

I want to thank you again for sharing your knowledge of the short story market. Next time I'm at a bookstore, I'll be browsing through ALL the magazines instead of just the ones I usually purchase.

Thanks so much for stopping by. Very enjoyable.

Michael Bracken said...

You're welcome.

And good luck, y'all.

Kevin R. Tipple said...

A couple of thoughts:

1) Michael defines self publishing a little narrower than I do. As far as I am concerned--if the author paid for publication, the author was/is self published.

2)SMFS---it was rough there for awhile. I should know--I was on the receiving end of quite a few missiles. lol But, things are a lot calmer these days. Every group goes through that sort of thing from time to time. It does pass.


Kevin R. Tipple
http://kevinrtipple.com/

Beth said...

So sorry I missed this one. Michael's guest blog post is one of the best I've ever seen and I've read several.

Such great advice. Thank him for us. He's quite an inspiration and so motivated. Wish I could have asked him some questions!

Michael Bracken said...

Beth and the rest of y'all:

You're welcome to join me at my blog ---crimefictionwriter.blogspot.com -- and can ask any follow-up questions or new questions that come to mind.