Saturday, June 20, 2009

Right Story, Right Market

I've been quiet way too long, I see. After spending April biting my nails wondering if anyone was ever going to give me a contract again, the flood gates opened in May and this week was the first breather I've had since. Sheesh. It's true that it never rains but it pours. Ahh, the life of a freelancer.

I have not sent anything out the door since the end of April, barring a novel to someone I hope will become my agent. However, replies on shorts sent out before that continue to trickle in, including an acceptance from Third Order Magazine for my short story, "4000 Roads to Hell." I knew when I wrote it that there would be a limited market for it. Not only is it a weird Western, written with a strong dialect, which many editors dislike, it also has a strongly Christian message, which, sadly, would bar it from many markets. I am so happy Third Order took it. It absolutely suits their editoral slant, and that is the point of this post (aside from a little marketing pitch there. Watch for their June issue!)

Everyone wants to sell to the big markets, and that is where most people send their stuff first. Unfortunately, too many people send their stories to the "pros" regardless of whether the pro market would be interested in their story's slant at all. They just start at the top and work down. I believe in sending the story to the right market, regardless of the pay scale. While I have twice that I know of unintentionally screwed up and sent a story to a place that did not want anything remotely like it, I do try hard to match the sub to the market to avoid wasting everyone's time. People who load up editors' slush piles with junk in no way suitable for that market just make it harder for everyone else.

Genre markets are not all the same, even though some authors treat them as such. They send SF to fantasy mags and vice versa, or horror to places that state right in their guidelines they don't want anything dark. Why do people assume their deathless prose will be so great it will just break down any editorial prejudice? Guess what? The editor personally may love it, but their audience won't. And since the magazine is targeted to a particular group of readers who expect certain types of stories, the editor who disappoints them soon has no job, or no magazine.

I personally would love to get a story into Analog or Asimov's or SF&F. Hopefully some day I will. Until then, I'll keep trying to match stories to markets, and keep racking up sales.


Swapna Kishore said...

Hi Sue, congrats on your sale.

This post has got me thinking yet again about the famous 'start from the top' philosophy. Especially so as it is often coupled with the "get it back and send it out again pronto" approach. I imagine a whole bunch of eye-weary editors going through a huge pile of sent-any-which-way-you-can stories, with my not-so-sparkling story getting lost in the margins. If an editor reads slush for more than one magazine, I can imagine him/ her falling asleep or tearing out hair over the same bunch of stories. Then again, it also means that at least for the top markets, my story is competing against the same stories at every publication. Frankly, it is such a waste of time and effort for everyone concerned.

This approach also means that when we see the stats of subs a magazine receives, the overall totals across the industry are not a reflection of creativity but of writers bouncing back stories to subsequent markets, month after month, year after year--the thought depresses me :-)

I suspect, as you point out, the returns on investment of subbing effort would be much higher if we research and position stories correctly.

Cheers, Swapna

Works of S. A. Bolich said...

Indeed. I sometimes imagine my story making the rounds, leaving a toxic trail of editor angst in its wake. I wonder if they're thinking "Don't ever send me anything else!" or when they see my name on a MS they are encouraged to read it, knowing it won't be entirely drivel. But I am encouraged when one sends me a personal note asking, nay, sometimes demanding, to see the next thing I write. So, if they liked it so much, why didn't they but the first one??? I know, I know, all those other reasons. Grumble, grumble.