Short Stories: What's the overview on submissions to contests vs. magazines vs. agents

dneuschulz

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Is there an order an unpublished short story writer should take with submissions? Like: sub to contests until you have some wins/mentions there, then ditto w. magazines, then agents? All three at once?

What are the considerations for subs to one type of outlet vs. the others?
 

alexvss

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Is there an order an unpublished short story writer should take with submissions? Like: sub to contests until you have some wins/mentions there, then ditto w. magazines, then agents? All three at once?

What are the considerations for subs to one type of outlet vs. the others?
First of all, I always tell people that writing and publishing short-stories are not easier than writing and publishing novels. It’s simply a different format, and you won’t be enriching your curriculum with short-story credits if you plan to sell novels. So let's keep agents out of this.

I recommend magazines. Most short-story markets don’t require agents (I actually don’t know of any that does), and they don’t charge to submit. That’s why I recommend those.

Between selling a piece and winning a contest, anyone would obviously choose winning the contest, but most of them aren’t free. Assuming that you’re starting off now, it would be a waste of money.

Submitting your stories for critique (this forum has this), polishing them, and submitting to markets that are free-of-charge may be your best option right now.
 

The Judge

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Stomalomalus asked a similar question last month which might be of interest Never had anything published, where to start?

Agents won't be interested in receiving short stories from an unpublished writer, not unless you've got enough to form a good anthology and you're famous in some way, so they don't come into the issue. (However, if you do get shorts published and/or you've been placed in contests, then to my mind it is worth mentioning in your covering letter if you're submitting a novel to agents even though novels and shorts are, as alex says, different disciplines.)

As for magazines and contests, write and submit to both -- contests will likely have theme restrictions and may cost you to enter, while it's free to submit to magazines but the competition may be fiercer. Just don't send the same story to a magazine and a contest at the same time.

Before submitting anywhere, though, do ensure the story is as good as you can make it. If you're not a member of a writing group or you don't have beta readers you can rely on, start getting them together now, they're invaluable. Meantime, use the Challenges and Critiques here to hone your craft, but do remember that if you put up work up here, it will likely be treated as already published (certainly if it's the whole story or the greater part of it) so won't be accepted elsewhere. (As a by-the-by, for instance, I won't accept a 1,000 word story for Kraxon which is based on a 300 Word Writing Challenge entry if it's basically the same story but padded -- it would have to take the original in a new direction in order to be accepted.)
 

dneuschulz

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Thank you, everyone, for clarifying.

(I am [was?] a professional screenwriter that has also been a Story Editor for a prestigious studio and managed a script slush pile. I just didn't know the finer points of the short story market. So, yeah: many drafts, *quality* writing circles, and two online sites reviewing my work.)
 

Tirellan

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Selling to the top tier magazines is of a similar degree of difficulty to landing an agent/selling a novel to a pro publisher
 

sule

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And what are the top tier (and how does one calculate points)?
My opinion is that the "top tier" magazines are the ones whose stories most frequently appear on awards lists (Tor, Asimov, Clarkesworld, to name some) - they have the largest reader base and therefore also have the most people submitting to them. I haven't compared recently, but it might also be because they pay the best rates - but that might not be accurate. Mostly, I would say these "top tier" magazines got there through name recognition and the inherent promise that their stuff is the best (whether that's actually the case is very much up for debate).
 

Tirellan

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My opinion is that the "top tier" magazines are the ones whose stories most frequently appear on awards lists (Tor, Asimov, Clarkesworld, to name some) - they have the largest reader base and therefore also have the most people submitting to them. I haven't compared recently, but it might also be because they pay the best rates - but that might not be accurate. Mostly, I would say these "top tier" magazines got there through name recognition and the inherent promise that their stuff is the best (whether that's actually the case is very much up for debate).
I agree with this. A simple test is whether the mag pays the SFWA pro rate for fiction of 8 cents a word or above. In addition to those mentioned Analog and The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy are both longstanding "top-tier" mags that most SF/F agents will have heard of.
 

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