Challenge,  On Writing,  publishing

A Problem I Am Just Starting to See…

Submissions to Major Magazines…

I flat believe that everyone writing short stories and who wants a writing career long term should get into the habit of sending short stories to major magazine markets. I have gone over the reasons may times. All upside when your stories start to hit.

And I have just assumed it was some fear thing that stopped writers from submissions of stories to major magazines. Fear caused by baseless critical voice issues that I just assume that if a writer can’t get past the fears, they will never be a long-term writer.

And I think all of the above is true still. No opinion change on my part.

But what I am hearing over the last year (and a couple times in letters about the challenge I suggested last night) started to bother me.

Now my challenge last night just assumed, in my own mind anyway, that a writer in the challenge would use stories they had already submitted and got back. My suggestion to write a couple a month was just a way of suggesting to build up inventory. At least in my mind. I just assume any writer will automatically submit short stories to major markets because of all the benefits of having a story in a major magazine.

Here is what I am hearing, put as clearly as I can.

Writers are not writing short stories because they fear submission to major magazines, so just easier to not write short stories.

Oh, shit…. That is a bad, bad thing.

That is letting the publishing process get in the way of the creative process. And that is flat dangerous and will end any thought of a career in fairly short order.

And it dawned on me after a couple of letters today that was what was happening to not a small number of writers. Writers who have no fear of indie publishing, but have a massive fear of sending a story to Asimov’s.

So the challenge I suggested last night got some people excited, but others felt guilty about not submitting to magazines first, so why bother or even write. And thus they will find themselves at the end of 2021 in the same position as they are at the end of this year. No progress because of fear and critical voice winning.


Let me say this clearly…

If submissions to major magazines is stopping you from writing, then take submitting to magazines out of your thinking.

Writing stories is all that matters.

Let me say that again: Writing stories is all that matters.

Practice, creativity, gaining confidence. Producing new IP. That is all that really matters in the end.

So do the challenge, publish 52 short stories in 2021, write new ones and publish those also.

But then take the confidence of making that goal and start submitting in 2022 to major magazines. Or not if the idea stops you from writing new.

The key is never let the critical voice, the publishing side of this business, smash in and stop your writing of new work. No matter how good the reasons.

(Sad note: It dawned on me that on this topic of sending stories to major magazines, I have done exactly the same thing I say the “write to market” folks have been doing, shouting that there is only one way. I am very sorry for that. I am sorry I didn’t see this before now. Writing new is all that matters. How you publish it is flat up to you. Just don’t let anything, writing to market or sending to major magazines get in the way of the writing.)




  • Maree

    A few years ago I read an anthology The Best of Connie Willis, which is a collection of her short fiction, with commentary from the author. After one story she talks about the time she amost quit sending out submissions, the day she got 7 rejections back at once. But of course she sucked it up and sent those stories out again and kept writing and became an amazing writer.

    I think every sucessful writer has a backstory along similar lines of ‘so much rejection and then acceptance!’ but what it really got me wondering was how many stories did she have out to get seven rejected in one day?

    I had to work to get the volume of material on hand to get to the place of having multiple submissions out, (highly recommend the story challenge to anyone) but let me tell you, it really cuts down on the sting of rejection when you get a no thanks from Asimov’s but you can think ‘oh well I still have six other stories out, maybe one of them is going to be accepted.’

    I’ve learned that rejection from a professional magazine is brief and polite. It’s never nice to have a story rejected but 10/10 prefered to dealing with any critique group anywhere.

    My biggest obstacle is organizational. The largest magazines have nice online submission forms and simple instructions, but the further you get down into the murky depths the more complicated it gets to submit. And then there’s submission windows and themes and peculiar formatting requirements, and this one wants a blurb included and that one wants a bio, etc etc.

    Keeping on top of the admin with my scatty brain is my real obstacle to submission. (I do have notes and spreadsheets and so on, but it’s still messy)

    • dwsmith

      More than likely Connie had thirty or forty stories out at that point. Most major professional writers could hold that many stories out solidly in the mail in their early days. I got up to about 70 different stories out at one point, but Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch just toasted that number. I could never catch them. And you are right, organization and back-up organization was always a joy.

    • J.M. Ney-Grimm

      I find that getting the story back out on submission immediately (within 30 minutes) upon receiving one magazine’s rejection really cuts my reaction. I think: “Okay, F&SF didn’t want it, but maybe Beneath Ceaseless Skies will.” 😀

  • Philip

    I took your Critical Voice workshop and it was a game changer for me. Really forced me to work through self-inflicted barriers to writing.

    A lightbulb went off when I realized my most productive period of writing was my pre-teen and teen years in the 90s! Why? Because I was having fun and didn’t realize there were “rules” to writing. I also submitted tons of stories to markets, including Ellery Queen and Hitchcock. I was a little kid, for Pete’s sake, and didn’t think twice about throwing a story in the mail.

    • dwsmith

      And that freedom is what you need to work back to, Philip. Just remember how it felt and realize that doing that didn’t hurt you at all, did it? (grin)

    • richard schneck

      My experience is similar to Phillip’s. In the nineties I used to just write and send, and collected rejection slips as landmarks to progress.

      I also was clueless and figured that if I kept writing I would keep getting better till I finally started selling stuff.

      Then I started seeing how deep things could get and kinda got overwhelmed. So , now, my critical voice kicks my ass with rejections. Irritating.

      So, I have decided that I will just write and publish directly. And at some point when my critical voice has backed off, or been beaten down, then I will start sending to magazines again. (I was thinking of acceptance as “validation”. Yea. I know… That will mess you up.)

      It’s more important to keep writing than anything else. Once I can keep that going, then the other stuff will fall into place.

      PS-I like the idea of getting 52 things PUBLISHED in 2021. So, I’m going for that.

  • Kate Pavelle

    In regards to above, I find that the money pressure of having a story tied up for many months before anything happens to it keeps me from submitting to major mags. It may be short-term thinking on my part and I am revising that. The 52-story challenge helped me build up enough inventory that I can send stories out and not feel like I don’t have anything to include in my collections. Also, when a story resulted in a new world, and then I knew the story was submitted (or spoken for, to be published in a year or more,) I felt like I couldn’t write in that world anymore. Of course, writing in that world would be beneficial in both creative and marketing ways, but my critical voice just kind of nixed it.

    Part of the “got to get it out now” attidude comes from the years on the hamster wheel. Only recently I made a birthday-to-birthday publishing schedule and realized that I have one or two things to offer every month. I’ve also found out from others (you all know who you are, thank you,) that writers will hold stories or series until they are all done, and will publish old stuff in the meanwhile.

    This is immensely freeing. Doing a challenge to build up inventory has allowed me to take a step back and breathe. Which, in turn, allowed me to start submitting to a magazine or two again.

  • Kristi N.

    I hadn’t thought about doing the publishing challenge simply because I don’t understand the framework for short stories yet. But since I have a backlog of books waiting to be published, I thought “Why not do a 35 books (half of Dean’s age) published in one year?” It’s a good way to get that backlog up, and I would still have to write about 12 books in the year. Eminently doable. And after this year, it would be a bright, shiny win that I could celebrate.

    And since I promised my late father that I would ‘out’ myself as a writer to family and friends after the 20th book went on sale, it’s a good way to get that little hurdle out of the way fast and painlessly.

  • Sheila

    I have to admit, I got beat down by the “write to market” folks. Should have followed by granny’s advice and never wrestled with pigs (not that they’re bad people, just what works for them doesn’t work for me). Neither of us came out happy, to the point I seldom go to the same private groups they’re in anymore. It’s just demoralizing and hurtful to hear I’m always wrong, I’ll never be “successful”, and so on. It’s not like I haven’t heard that crap all my life.

    Anyway, the writing has been pretty much dead for me the last year, but I’m beginning to feel like it can come back. I’ve decided 2021 is going to be better, at least in the writing part of it. I doubt I’ll ever submit to magazines, but who knows? Might be fun.

    • dwsmith

      Yup, write to market can be deadly and most never come back, so do come back, write all of 2021 and just get it out there and forget about the market or promotion, make it a year of building things for people to buy and getting them out there. Pretend you are me, just write because you love it and publish it because that is rule #4.