Top Markets in Speculative Fiction
By Margaret McGaffey Fisk
Copyright © 2010, Margaret McGaffey Fisk, All Rights Reserved
Speculative fiction is an umbrella that covers fantasy, science fiction, horror, and sometimes historical fiction depending on how fantastical the works are. Not only that, but there's a thriving market in both crossovers, which mix two or more genres, and interstitial stories, which add a speculative element to a tale that would otherwise belong to another genre or market segment. Because it covers so many genres, a story appropriate to this market will not necessarily meet even the most general guidelines for every magazine. In this first article, I will discuss how to find markets that should offer you the attention necessary to attain professional status within the genre as well as mentioning some of the markets I have at the top of my submission list that take most if not all of the speculative fiction genres. In coming months, I will look at those markets that are interested in only one of the included areas.
The traditional ranking in speculative fiction is set by the Science Fiction Writers Association (SFWA) as a combination of pay, circulation, and how long the market has been published. While not all professional writers of speculative fiction belong to SFWA, this criteria is generally accepted as the goal to which new publications aspire.
A list of short story markets that meet SFWA's guidelines can be found here: http://www.sfwa.org/join-us/sfwa-membership-requirements/#shortfiction. While not exhaustive, any of these markets are good stepping stones for writers attempting to achieve professional standing.
Another way to identify markets that have caught the public's eye (which includes editors who might be considering one of your stories) is through researching awards lists and year's best anthologies. With awards, it's important to look for those that are accepted as genre leaders, the type of label a reader might look for in a biography or on the cover of a novel. The main awards in speculative fiction are the Hugo, the Nebula, and the John W. Campbell Award. Each of these considers both long and short works. Looking at who published the works in the nomination lists can indicate which publications have attracted notice. Similarly, if you happen to like the editor of a year's best anthology, look at where those stories came from to see which publications that editor follows.
I've given you a couple of ways to find top markets in speculative fiction, but there are some aspects that don't show up in general research which make specific markets attractive. I have highlighted a few of the markets on my list, along with some of the reasons I submit to them first. All of these meet the SWFA standards for pro markets, but it is not an exhaustive list of ones that do. The criteria for pursing a market may change from writer to writer. What I offer below is to give you an idea of how to set your own guidelines. Any of the listed markets would be worth your while, though your reasons may end up differing from mine.
However, just because these magazines are on my list doesn't mean I submit every single story to every single one of them. This is my starting point unless the story was written for a particular market, a themed anthology for example. From there, I evaluate whether the particular story falls within the market's guidelines. Even with these markets, which accept a broad spectrum of speculative fiction, there will be stories that do not match their interest areas.
Still, when in doubt, don't do the rejecting for the editor. If a story falls within the big scope of the magazine but you are unsure on some of the smaller details, better to send and let the editor choose for the magazine instead of never giving the story the chance for an acceptance. This does not mean send a straight police procedural to a science fiction magazine, but a police procedural that crosses over into the paranormal may be just the edge the editor is looking for. Always read the guidelines carefully. Stories that fall into the gray areas may turn out to be exactly what the editor is looking for. Stories that violate the criteria set out in the guidelines will not be welcomed, and a writer can get a poor reputation because of it.
A quick reminder: These markets accept at least two of the genres considered part of speculative fiction. More specialized markets will be discussed later.
Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction - http://www.sfsite.com/fsf/
The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (F&SF) comes first on my list as a potential market for most of the stories I write. Not only has F&SF been published as a print magazine since 1949, but the previous editorial assistant, John Joseph Adams, started a tradition of incredibly fast turnarounds at a time when submitting meant putting a story on the shelf for 30 to 90 days...and that was for a form rejection. While many markets have adopted this goal (some are even faster because F&SF still works on the snail-mailed paper copy model), I know of no other printed pro-level magazine that does so. The new editorial assistant (JJA has moved on to head his own magazine) is apparently maintaining the same standard.
Why does this matter? For you as a writer, it means if your story does not have a reasonable chance in a particular market, you know about it quickly so you can send the story off to the next market, which might have a different opinion. Editorial choices are subjective, and beyond the basics, a story's chances depend on factors out of your control. These factors differ from market to market, so a story may be submitted many times before finding a home. By offering a quick turnaround, F&SF helps you keep your story circulating. The advantage to the magazine is simple: writers like knowing faster, and so F&SF often gets first look at the available stories.
Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show -
On the other end of the spectrum, there's Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show (IGMS). This online magazine began in October of 2005 and provides subscription-based online content that is published on a bi-monthly schedule. IGMS offers an electronic submission system that generates a trigger email which you reply to with your story. It's quick and efficient.
That said, the turnaround on my short stories has averaged around 100 days, with the shortest coming in at 27 days and excluding the longest, which was held for over a year. So if speedy turnaround is a major criterion, why is IGMS on my list? I have enjoyed the stories published in IGMS, and I appreciate the convenience of the submission system, but that's not the main reason.
The order of markets on any writer's list is often as subjective as the selection of stories. In this case, the editor short-listed a story of mine and sent me periodic emails so I knew the tale was still under consideration. Though ultimately he couldn't find a slot, this is a sign that at least some of my style meshes with his taste. Since this makes it more likely that one of my stories will be accepted, it makes sense to send my stories to IGMS early in the submission cycle despite the turnaround delay. Obviously your markets for this particular aspect must be dependent on your submission feedback, but even without such an indicator, IGMS is a solid pro market.
Strange Horizons - http://strangehorizons.com/
This is possibly the first pro-level, 100% online magazine. Known for its interest in multicultural content, Strange Horizons has published some wonderful stories in the time I've been a reader. Unlike most other the pro markets, the fiction department is made up of an editorial team. You can run into a case where one editor goes to bat for your story and it still isn't accepted, but it also leaves opportunity for discussion to give your story a boost.
Additionally, they have one of the best set of submission guidelines I have run into, enough so that I have recommended it as a model to editors starting new publications. Between the clear description of what they're expecting and the easy, online submission system (including an automated confirmation of receipt), they make submission easy.
If that isn't a good enough reason to see if your story connects with their editorial team, the Strange Horizons editors are more likely than most to provide a little feedback on those stories that stand out, whether in a positive or negative sense. This means that you have the chance to strengthen your story before trying it at the next market.
Clarkesworld Magazine - http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/
This online magazine was known for a while for the delight of receiving a pointed, and often useful, bit of feedback when your story failed to come up to snuff. While that consolation prize should your story not make the cut disappeared with a changing in the editorial guard, the magazine continues to publish interesting stories and offers a chance at pro-level credits.
Clarkesworld Magazine pays double the established pro rate for the first 4000 words (standard after) in return for online (worldwide text and audio), first print, and anthology rights. Your story will appear alongside many award winning authors, and be available to a broad spectrum of readers. Additionally, the online submission system with tracking number allows for easy submission management, and the turnaround is generally quick.
While it's nice to keep a list of the "submit first" magazines for your stories, new markets are appearing at all levels, even pro. It may take some time for SFWA to recognize a new market because of the membership requirements and you run the risk of the new magazine disappearing as quickly as it was formed. That said, new markets give you the potential for getting in on the ground floor and establishing a connection with the editorial staff. Should the magazine then achieve acceptance as a pro market, any additional stories of yours that are published there will count, and you already know that the editor likes your work.
In checking http://www.ralan.com, one of my favorite market resources, I saw the listing for Bull-Spec, a brand new market to try. More information is available at the magazine's site: http://bullspec.com/. Besides the risk of folding, though, submission to a new market is somewhat blind. You cannot read an issue, or look at online samples, because nothing has appeared there before. In these cases, you must read the guidelines and make your best guess at whether your story will connect with the editor. However, don't be too tentative. The worst that can happen is that you need to keep looking for a market.