This year, I focused on writing short fiction. I had just finished a very long and emotionally demanding novel, and writing short fiction was a healthy shift for me in terms of creative rhythm.
The great thing about short fiction is that it’s SHORT. It’s entirely possible to write, edit, and submit in a matter of weeks. The turnaround time and the gratification of finishing something is refreshing, especially after years of sitting alone with novels only a handful of people have read.
I decided, too, that I would try to get my short fiction published. I was partly inspired by a talk I heard, where a poet was explaining her strategy to the staggering number of acceptances she had. She treated it like a numbers game: she submitted as many pieces to as many publications as possible. I took on this mentality…
…and I had seven acceptances in 2022! Some are available now (hyperlinked), and others have upcoming publication dates.
- Crawling Back, Well, This is Tense, Bag of Bones *Contest Winner!*
- The God of Liminal Spaces, NonBinary Review, Zoetic Press
- The Seams in Your Skin, Rewired: Divergent Perspectives in Horror, Ghost Orchid Press
- Bought at a Price, The Dark Side of Purity, vol. 3, Band of Bards
- Fairy Tale for an Acorn, lavender bones
- Baba Yaga Goes North, Breath & Shadow
- Remnant, Gothic Romance Anthology, Brigids Gate Press
I am so proud of this result! I love every single piece so much, and I’m so glad they’re finding resonance with others.
But submitting isn’t just acceptances (unfortunately). Here are my stats for this year…
Pieces written: 10
Total submissions: 101
Anybody who wants to take on a similar goal absolutely can and should! It’s extremely possible to write and publish short fiction (and poetry and essay, though I know less about those). Here are a couple of tips based on what I found helpful this past year.
Write for specific submission calls.
In January 2022, I wasn’t confident in my ability to write short stories, which is hilarious, looking back on the success I’ve had this year. One trick I found to overcome that mental block was to write for specific submission calls. For example, my flash piece The God of Liminal Spaces came from a call for submissions from Apparition Literary Magazine with a Wanderlust theme. Apparition didn’t end up taking the piece, but the NonBinary Review did–and they even recorded a podcast episode of it!
Writing for submission calls is a great way to get inspired, break through writer’s block, and to broaden your repertoire.
Find as many markets as possible.
There are so many amazing journals and publishers out there! Any piece you can conceptualize has a perfect market. But how do you find it? And how do you find submission calls to write for, if you want to try that?
- The Submission Grinder. This is a free database of markets (places that accept submissions for publication) and submission histories. There is a search function so you can sift through the markets they have on record. However, it’s hard to get a full sense of the market’s vibe without visiting its website. Several times I had about a million tabs open, and narrowed that down to only one or two viable submission options.
- Authors Publish. This was the best tool I had for finding new markets. It’s a free, weekly-ish email newsletter with curated lists of markets to submit to. It includes a description of the market, submission windows, and payment details. This saved me a lot of time, as I didn’t have to sift through more general descriptions to find markets that actually fit my work.
- Submittable. Many publications use Submittable as a submissions portal. However, the website also allows publications to list calls for submission. I found one or two homes for pieces this way. I would warn, though, that this is a very incomplete list of markets. It doesn’t seem like many/most journals take the time to list via Submittable.
- Social media. Journals and publishers follow other journals and publishers. If you sift through Twitter follower/following lists (or the Instagram/TikTok/etc. equivalent), you will likely find some new markets. You can also use other authors’ publication announcements. If someone was accepted at a place that seems cool to you, check it out and submit yourself!
Have a plan for tracking submissions.
I used The Submission Grinder, which is a free database of creative writing markets, along with a tracker function that allows you to keep record of where you submitted, when, and the result. They aggregate that data, too, so you have a general idea of when a market might get back to you.
Tracking submissions is crucial if you are going to submit the same piece simultaneously to multiple markets (otherwise known as “simultaneous submissions”). That way, when a piece does get accepted, you have a list of the other places you need to withdraw it from, and can do that fairly easily.
Simultaneous submissions are a point of contention. Some markets forbid them; they want to know that a piece they’re reading is still available until they decide if they want it or not. However, this system doesn’t work in the author’s favor, especially when wait times are months long. Here’s a secret: there’s no way for those markets to know if you’re submitting elsewhere or not. Do with that information what you will. All I’ll add is, I wouldn’t have gotten 7 acceptances in one year if I hadn’t submitted simultaneously.
Don’t take rejections personally.
This may feel impossible, because creation is personal. I don’t mean don’t take your work or your craft personally. I don’t mean submit everywhere, even places you don’t want your work to be. Send to places where it will be respected and loved. Be discerning.
What I mean is, within the numbers game of submitting, rejections are just data. The goal is to submit to as many places as possible, and rejections are a sign that you’re accomplishing that goal!
I don’t get excited about rejections. I’m not that kind of masochistic. But rejections shouldn’t be taken personally, because they are personal–to the editor who wrote them. They are subjective to the extreme.
The journey of my piece Fairy Tale for an Acorn is a great example of this. One editor personally rejected it by describing it, as though elements of fairy tales were fundamentally bad storytelling, and told me me it “wasn’t a story.” Another editor personally rejected it, but described my prose as “glistening” and said they loved its “storybook texture.”
Wildly contradictory reactions…!
It’s important for me to note that personal rejections that feel vindictive are few and far between. In fact, this is the only one I’ve gotten. I did get mad about it. And then I submitted it to about 15 more places out of spite.
Fairy Tale for an Acorn was accepted for publication at lavender bones, and the editors commented that they were honored to be including my work. And lavender bones is such a good fit for this piece, I can’t wait to see it there!
My point is, every reader and editor has an opinion. They aren’t always right. In fact, opinions, by definition, can’t be right or wrong. It’s a matter of preference and taste, and those vary. We all have writers we love and writers we love…less. That’s part of it. Not every story is for every person. That’s okay.
I don’t know if I will have the same creative goals in 2023, but I will say, getting acceptances is VERY addictive…
I hope your artistic and creative goals for the new year inspire you, that you succeed in all of them, and that your work finds a home in the world!