Mar's Top Markets #1:
Shoot for the Top Markets
By Margaret McGaffey Fisk
Copyright © 2010, By Margaret McGaffey Fisk, All Rights Reserved
Fiction writers often hear the concept of apprenticeship, of working your way up, as the way to win on the publishing track. This could not be further from the truth, even without considering that writers who have been successful in "for the love" markets often find it difficult to move away from the emotional high. Small markets that accept almost anything do not encourage writers to improve, and it can be disheartening to go from getting welcome acceptance for every scrap you throw out there to a market where the majority of submissions result in rejection, even when the submissions may be very high quality.
Here's the thing about publishing. It's subjective, yes, but even more, a small market is unlikely to turn down a quality story even though publishing in that market will not gain the author recognition on the level that the work deserves. This is not deliberate on the part of small markets but rather the nature of the beast. There are many startups that, while working toward recognition, have not made it yet. Many, though not all, small editors are either unaware of or fail to submit to the awards for their particular market segment. Additionally, small markets usually lack the readership necessary to qualify the author for the rewards that come with publication, such as SFWA eligibility for genre works. Despite all that, very few of those new and unpaying markets will turn down a story because it is too good. They're thrilled to get quality submissions and happy to be able to say that such a brilliant author started in their humble magazine, assuming the author later moves on to bigger venues.
With that understanding, it should be clear why fiction writers (non-fiction is different) need to start at the very top of their segment. Instead of working your way up, you should be working your way down.
It's simple mathematics. You can only sell the first rights to a story once. If you sell them for exposure in a magazine with thirty dedicated readers when it might have been accepted by a leading publication with a readership measured in the thousands, what have you gained? Leading editors have been known to say if your publication credits are on par with or better than the magazine you are submitting to, mention them. Otherwise, they're not worth the time and could appear as though you're desperate. So what is the real value in submitting to a market that offers very little chance of being read broadly, little to no remuneration, and can't even be used in your publication credits? Very little.
Here's the other thing that the "work up from the bottom" folks fail to recognize. If your story is not ready for the pro level, if it doesn't find a home in the well-known semi-pros, nothing stops you from submitting it to those smaller markets if you so choose. But if you sell it to that small market, you're done. Whatever future that story might have had, whatever attention it might have garnered for you, it now has almost none. You might possibly be able to sell reprint rights later, but the shine is gone off it. Rarely are reprints eligible for the awards that might make other editors aware of authors.
There are many good reasons to submit a story to a small market. The market may have a philosophy you believe in, you may know or have met the editor, the editor may have solicited a story, or any number of other possibilities. However, each and every one of those reasons are (or should be) the exception.
The real reasons many authors submit to smaller markets is because they're afraid of rejections. Those responses, whether little pieces of paper or emails, often contain nothing but a generic message and yet have such an amazing power over authors. Rejections can keep an author from finding the perfect niche, from being recognized, from becoming a leader in their particular genre. But it's not the rejections themselves that are doing this. They are nothing more than an indication that the particular story didn't work for the editor, whether because it needed work or because it subjectively didn't appeal. Looked at in another way, rejections are encouragements to do better, especially those that say to try again or have a personal comment. Collecting them is a badge of honor. Searching for rejection letter stories on the web comes up with any number of greats in almost every market segment who have their own pile. Not only that, but if editors see the same name coming up in their pile, they sometimes track that author's process and look for the next to see growth.
Even more, the majority if not all pro and semi-pro markets have at least one debut author to their credit. Each one of those writers braved the professional markets to discover this story, whether it was the first that author had written or just the first to sell, was ready for the big time. Had those writers submitted any lower on the publishing food chain, their stories would probably have found a home still, but the authors would never have known that their tales belonged right up there with industry greats and were fully capable of holding that position.
So, if neither the belief that you should start from the bottom nor fear of rejections is holding you back, if you're ready to start from the top, what are some markets you should be considering?
Over the years, Vision has profiled a number of markets that are open to beginners. Beginning with the next issue, the market column will be geared around highlighting the starting points in various segments of the short fiction publishing market. These are magazines that would start you off strong if your story is accepted, or maybe just encourage you to better your craft and keep improving until one of your works graces the cover of a leading publication. So keep an eye out for the next issue where we will be looking at top markets in speculative fiction.