Short story submissions: Ten case studies

I had a fun and informative conversation this morning on Twitter with numerous folks, including Ann Leckie (of GigaNotoSaurus), Michael D Thomas (of Apex Magazine), and Damien Walters Grintalis (of talented writer fame). Others joined in as well and then I had to go leave and help my fiancee register online for a convention, so I probably haven’t even seen the entire conversation in its final form.

But one of the points that was raised is that established writers often don’t share information about how often they are still rejected by magazines. That’s probably true, though I do see successful writers sharing their statistics now and then.

Then another point was raised. Even those stats don’t really communicate the full weirdness of what being a short story writer is like.

Compared to a lot of people, I could be considered a successful writer. I’ve sold 32 short stories to science-fiction, fantasy, and horror markets over the past eighteen months. Of those, 15 were sold to markets to pay a professional rate according to SFWA (at least 5 cents per word).

Yet, here are some case studies from my life as a writer who submits a lot of stories. I’ve held back the names of the publications from these case studies, but these are not hypotheticals.

I sold a story to this pro market ten years ago. Since then, I’ve sent them at least 15 other stories (recently, for the most part) and they haven’t bought any. The closest I’ve gotten is one rewrite request.

I’ve submitted five stories to this market in the past eighteen months. They bought the last three in a row that I sent them.

I’ve submitted 14 stories to this market in the past eighteen months and haven’t sold any. The closest I got is one that made it to final consideration. (Repeat this case about eight times for other pro markets that I’ve sent anywhere from 2 to 6 stories without success.)

Sixteen submissions, and five sales. I once sold them two stories in a row. Another time, I went 0 for 4 (even after selling them a few).

Six submissions, and two sales. I’ve gotten three rewrite requests from this market. I’ve never sold to them without doing a rewrite. In one case, the editor and I went back and forth for weeks through three or four different versions.

Sent them one story and they bought it.

Nine submissions, no sales. (Again, repeat this case many times over. More times than I can count.)

Fourteen submissions. They bought the third one, and have given me straight rejections since. Only a couple reached a second round of consideration.

Nine submissions, two acceptances. The second acceptance followed a rewrite request. After receiving the request, I procrastinated on it until the editor wrote me a note saying the story would be a good fit for an upcoming theme issue if I could make the needed revisions. This is the only time an editor has asked me to send in a specific story.

Six submissions, two sales. One acceptance followed a rewrite request that more or less required the entire story to be rewritten.

I could go on and on. But the point is that there’s no easy road to success. Some markets will buy three stories in a row, and some will send you fifteen rejections over two years. Even though I may be getting rejections for 80% or 90% of my submissions (it hovers somewhere between there), that doesn’t apply equally to all markets.

So far, I’m not writing what a lot of markets are looking for. Or not writing it with the requisite awesomeness to beat out everything else in their submission pile and win one of the few open spots. But, on the other hand, there are a few markets that I seem to be pretty in tune with — at least for now.

Sometimes I get an acceptance from a prestigious pro market one day, and a rejection from a token-paying market the next day. (Seriously. CASE 11: TOKEN PAYING MARKET… Four submissions, no sales. This is a market that pays $5 per story.)

What’s more, many stories rejected by one market will go on to sell to others. One story I sold to a pro market was rejected by seven semi-pro markets along the way — some of them very small. Their loss? Not really. Their editors were choosing stories for their own idiosyncratic tastes and needs, just like the pro editor was. It just turned out the pro editor wanted or needed what I was selling, and they didn’t.

During the Twitter conversation this morning, somebody made the point that being successful at selling short fiction is a matter of persistence. Based on my experience, I think that’s true. Einstein is supposed to have defined “insanity” as “doing the same thing and expecting different results”. Either Einstein was wrong, or the world of short fiction sales isn’t what he would consider “sane”, since that’s exactly what I end up doing all the time.

As time has passed, I have found myself a lot less likely to be surprised by anything that happens. I wrote a story about a year ago that I was certain would be easy to sell. It’s now been rejected by twelve markets and is still looking for a home. Honestly, I still think it’ll sell someday, even if it has to go to twenty or thirty markets.

But I’ve learned not to place too much faith in any one story. Early in my career, I got paralyzed by the idea that every new story had to be better than all the others that came before it. And that if I didn’t keep ruthlessly moving up and up with every single submission, I’d be recognized as a fraud.

The truth is that individual data points don’t matter that much in the grand scheme of things. Writing and selling short fiction is not like a growth chart that progresses linearly through time, always going up and never going down. It’s more like the stock market or weather patterns. Things can swing wildly up and down from one data point to the next (gushing pro-rate acceptance, followed by humiliating token market rejection), but somewhere (if you stick with it long enough and amass enough data) a trend should emerge. And hopefully that trend is what’s going up.

So, in a very real way, these case studies don’t matter. They just don’t encompass enough data. To get a meaningful idea of how my writing is progressing, I need to look at the biggest possible picture. But in the moment, when I’m working on a story or reading a response email from a market, the individual case is also all that seems to matter.

It’s natural and it’s human. We can’t always see the bigger trend, and sometimes localized patterns take on out-sized importance. I got three acceptances in one day! I’m a master of the universe! Or, conversely, it’s been two months since I’ve gotten any acceptances. I’m a fraud and utter failure. Neither is true, of course, but feelings aren’t always rational.

These kinds of posts usually end with a call to action, and some bits of advice. I don’t usually like to give advice like that — to be a successful writer, you need to figure out what particularly is holding you back and take steps to correct it. To the extent that other people can help you with that, it’s people who are familiar with your writing, your habits, and your goals. I don’t know you. I can’t tell you what to do.

But I can tell you that even though my trendline appears to be climbing up at the moment, I still have my momentary troughs and valleys. (I actually got two rejections in the time it took me to write this post.) Some setbacks last longer than others. Some come from surprising places. Some take a lot of work to dig out of. But they happen to everybody — or at least to most of us.

So there you go. It’s a weird world, and some parts of it may never make sense to us. All we can do is write the best story we can today, and then write a better one tomorrow.


Short stories from February

In January, I wrote a couple of blog posts listing some stories I enjoyed that had been published that month. I’d hoped to do the same for February, but my reading has been lacking, alas. Still, I’ve read about 40 stories that were first published in February, appearing in 16 different zines (including some zines I’d never read before). That’s something at least!

As it’s award-nominating season, I see lots of folks these days pledging to read more short fiction in 2013. There’s never really enough time to read adequately for the short fiction awards — even reading just the pro-paying markets would be a monumental task. A couple years ago, I counted how many pro-rate stories are published in a year, and came up with about 1000. Some markets have closed since then, but even more have opened… And there are many, many less-than-pro markets — some of which are extremely worthy of reading. I’m hoping to highlight a few of those as I write about stories I enjoy.

But enough about that. What can I say about February?

“The Long Road to Deep North” by Lavie Tidhar, in Strange Horizons. Easily my favorite story from February, it imagines a future Solar System populated by all the nationalities of Earth. (Or, at least, most of them.) As with any such mixing place, off-world pidgin dialects develop. Really fascinating stuff, and a future that feels more real and lived-in than most.

“Dirge–’68” by Mike Wilkerson, in Shotgun Honey. I read a fair amount of crime fiction, but not much of a recent vintage. (I’m a Dashiell Hammett/James M Cain kind of crime fiction reader.) When I first came across Shotgun Honey, I thought they’d set themselves an impossible task — publishing crime stories less than 700 words long. And many they print fall back on the same few tropes: double-crosses, bloody revenge, black humor. This one doesn’t totally transcend those either, but it’s got great language and feels more vivid than any 700-word story has a right to feel.

“Zero (or, The Collected Correspondence of Patient Zero)” by Cameron Suey, in Mad Scientist Journal. Speaking of zines setting themselves an impossible task, this one has a doozy — original sci-fi written in the form of found documents. There’s not a whole lot of this kind of thing to begin with, and it gets tedious fast in less-than-confident hands. But I’d read the zine a lot more often if they found more stories like this one. Its a series of letters that follow a disturbed scientist around the world as he plants weapons of mass destruction. The plot and characterization aren’t anything special — I wish there’d been a few surprises along the way — but I love the snippets of history about the cities, and the musings on mankind’s relationship to nature.

“The Secret Life of Princes” by David Barber, from Electric Spec. Every biographer’s dream — the ability to watch an historical figure’s entire life as it unfolds. The only problem is that the sound doesn’t work, so there’s still ample room for interpretation. I loved the idea here that even if we knew impossible amounts of information about the history, we’d still argue about what events really meant.

Full disclosure: To the best of my knowledge, I’ve never interacted with any of these writers in any way. However, I’ve been published by Strange Horizons and Mad Scientist Journal, and have submitted to Electric Spec.


More short stories from January 2013

So far, I’ve read about 75 short stories that were published in January 2013. Despite this, there are still markets I haven’t even looked at yet — I haven’t read a word of Shimmer 16 yet, for instance — so even though it’s February, I’m definitely not done reading stories from January yet.

But I’ve read stories from 24 different zines so far, which is the most intensive reading I’ve ever done of short fiction as it’s being published. These zines run the gamut from pro markets to token-paying markets. (One or two non-paying markets may have slipped in too — I’m not discriminating much.) Most are free to read online.

The most surprising finding so far is that reading 75 new short stories was easier than I expected. That may be partly because it’s winter in Cleveland, and I’m not tempted much by anything outside my apartment. But once I made a list of stories to read for the month, it was relatively easy to switch on my iPad and read a few of them before bed or to knock one off during lunch at work. Apparently, the keys are being organized and having goals and tracking progress.

I don’t even feel like I’ve fallen behind in my other reading — I still managed to finish a few novels in January. (Bunny Lake Is Missing was the best. If you like old detective stories, go read it.) I suspect that most of the time I spent reading zines would have otherwise been spent watching TV or goofing off on Twitter. If anything, I’ve fallen behind on old episodes of The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents, which is a bit of a shame… But ah well.

This is not to say that I want to read 75 new short stories every month for the rest of my life — or even the rest of the year. The main reason I think it’s worthwhile to read all these stories is because I love coming across something truly wonderful. The secondary reason is because I think it’s good for a writer to know how different markets look from the point of view of a reader. Is this zine fun to read? Ultimately, that’s what it’s all about.

And both of those goals are likely to eventually lead me to read a smaller, better curated list of zines than the anything/everything list I currently have now. The twist to this is that if I decide a zine isn’t much fun for me as a reader, it’s pretty likely to fall to the bottom of the list of places I want to send submissions too. So the stakes are high! But luckily, I’m pretty forgiving.

Anyway, here are some stories that I enjoyed from my reading in the second half of January.

“Boat in Shadows, Crossing” by Tori Truslow, in Beneath Ceaseless Skies. This is the “something wonderful” that makes reading 75 short stories in a month worthwhile, and it’s my favorite from this batch.

Bue comes from a fishing family in the swamps near a bustling metropolis full of canals, but decides to take a servant’s job in the city as an alternative to an unwanted marriage. The swamps and city alike are full of ghosts, and Bue seems to have a particular talent wrangling them. This comes in handy, as ghosts are needed to make some of this society’s machinery work (they power Bue’s master’s boat, for instance).

The plot involves a love triangle — or maybe quadrilateral — that includes both Bue and a ghost who peers from the window of a room with no door. But you’ve probably already guessed that the plot is not the star attraction here (though it’s a perfectly fine plot). What sets this story apart is the detail with which the world is rendered, and the depth of its invention. I’m not sure if this city and its ghosts are based on anything in particular, but I can confidently say that this is not your usual western ghost story at least.

The structure is also unusual — there are stories within stories, and some parts are told out of order. But the way the story is told adds to the dreaminess of the setting, and the slow rhythms are fitting.

“Harlequin’s Butterfly” by Toh EnJoe, in Asymptote. I had never heard of Asymptote before this January, but I’m glad I know about it now. (I think Bogi Takács is the one who mentioned it. Thanks, Bogi!) It’s a zine committed to translating the works of non-Anglophone writers into English.

To be honest, a lot of the stories in Asymptote didn’t connect with me. The prevailing style seems to be literary, with an emphasis on language and imagery (at least in this particular issue). But “Harlequin’s Butterfly” adds a strong dose of whimsy and humor, both of which really appealed to me.

The story relates the narrator’s encounters with Mr A. A. Abrams, a multi-millionaire entrepreneur who uses a tiny butterfly net to catch loose ideas that he can turn into successful business ventures. The idea in this case has to do with publishing books especially made to be read under specific circumstances — on a plane, on a boat, while standing on your head. It’s a fun idea, and an enjoyable read.

“Body Language” by Alex Aro, in Bourbon Penn. There are a number of interesting stories in the January issue of Bourbon Penn, but this is my favorite. It’s short and a little vague and extremely metaphorical. But this tale of a narrator rendered helpless by his disintegrating lover perfectly captures what it feels like to lose control of a certainly doomed relationship with a lack of communication on its way to quiet dissolution.

“The mMod” by Ken Liu, in Daily Science Fiction. Raymond’s partner gives him an experimental tablet computer (the mMod) made by her company (Abricot) to play with while she’s on a business trip to Hong Kong. Her reasoning is that if its assertive customer bonding features can win over technophobe Raymond, then it’ll be a hit with anybody. The story proceeds mostly along the expected path, but there’s a lot of attention to detail in what makes the mMod so alluring. It’s also nice to see a story about an addicting gadget where the corporate creator isn’t a cartoonish villain.

“Distance” by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, in Our Own Voice. This is another market that I didn’t know existed — its mission is to publish works by Filipinos in the diaspora. Fittingly, “Distance” is a short tale of a Filipino emigrant who lives in the west and marries a foreigner. It’s a brief and wispy story, a bit like something Colette might have written, but without the sharp barb at the end. And though it’s not speculative in the least, there’s some planetary imagery that I like a lot.

Full disclosure: I’ve been published by Beneath Ceaseless Skies and Daily Science Fiction, and I’ve submitted stories to Bourbon Penn. I’ve exchanged friendly words with Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, and I once critiqued a story for Ken Liu (in addition to friendly banter).


Stories I’ve been reading so far in January

In November of last year, I put up a post with some of my favorite stories of 2012 that were published by zines that aren’t considered “pro-paying markets” by SFWA. (Typically, this means they pay less than $0.05 per word.)

This year, I wanted to be a bit more proactive and not wait until November to talk about stories I enjoy. So consider this post the first of many (or so I hope) that may appear throughout the year, highlighting recent stories I’m especially fond of.

I’ve been making an effort to direct my reading to zines that don’t always get as much attention as the best-known ones do. That’s a subjective criterion, and I’m sure at times I’ll mention stories from across the spectrum of zines (including justly renowned and oft-reviewed pro-paying publications). But even though I think the world would be a better place if more people engaged in dialogue about the stories in Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, Apex, Strange Horizons, et al., those aren’t really what I hope to focus on the most.

So with that in mind, here’s some of the stuff I liked best so far in January:

“Désiré” by Megan Arkenberg, in Crossed Genres. I’m happy that Crossed Genres is publishing in magazine format again (and now paying pro rates!), because this story is my favorite of 2013 so far. I was skeptical at first — it’s a story about an artist (which can be a self-indulgent topic for writers) and is composed entirely of snippets of found documents and interviews (which can often result in bloated and impersonal stories).

But this story is fascinating, and it makes good use of its unconventional format. I was won over long before the end. And the world it paints is big and compelling enough to fuel a dozen stories.

Désiré is a composer of operas in a future (or perhaps alternate) society that has somehow retained wholesale the trappings of 18th and 19th century European aristocracy. There are titled nobility, masquerades, afternoon carriage rides through the park, and little acts of chivalry sprinkled throughout the story. But there’s also a war, and the true heart of the story is the guilt that Désiré feels at how his operas contributed to the nationalistic feelings… as well the shifting reactions of his audience to his evolving work as his awareness grows.

“Remembering the Days That Hurt Us” by Crystal Lynn Hilbert, in Kaleidotrope. Like Arkenberg’s story, this one is about the indirect effects of war on people and nations. This time, the protagonist is Doe, a retired mage who served in a modern military during a vicious war. Doe was part of a unit or agency composed of operatives with magical abilities of tactical utility, but is now haunted both mentally and physically by the things he did and saw while in combat.

The story takes place some years after Doe’s time in the military has ended, and follows the relationship of Doe and a young man who is his assigned “medic”. It wasn’t entirely clear to me what this arrangement entails, but the role of the medic felt a bit like a cross between a physical therapist and a buddy in an addiction program. The medic is on call to respond at a moment’s notice whenever Doe is in need, to soothe the lingering pain and (presumably) to keep him from doing anything destructive. (Unlike other veterans, Doe himself is inseparable from the weapon he wielded.)

A friendship and more develops between the two men. The story doesn’t going anywhere too surprising, but it’s interesting reading while it lasts.

“The Third Attractor” by Mjke Wood, in Abyss & Apex. While attending a conference on chaos theory, a young mathematician meets a renowned Jesuit-cum-jazz musician-cum-mathematician name Fr Johnson. After some starts and stops, she ends up discussing with him a new discovery she has made while using chaos theory to analyze music–a discovery that appears to provide evidence for the existence of a human soul.

There’s no doubt that the premise behind this one stretches credulity–especially since both the main characters are quick to discard all other possible explanations for the findings. But Wood takes his time introducing the characters and their dilemma, so it’s possible to look past those rough edges if you squint just right.

As a Roman Catholic myself, I was very happy to see a religious character (a priest, no less!) with varied interests. If anything, the Catholic aspect of Fr Johnson’s character is the least well developed. We know what kind of jazz he plays and what kind of math he does–but we never know exactly what his relationship or role is in the Church. That does make his sudden retreat into dogma at the climax feel a bit abrupt and artificial–but ultimately this is a story that suggest science and religion can play in harmony, so long as both sides are willing to make compromises.

“Corentin the Divine” by Eric M Bosarge, in Buzzy Mag. This one is an interesting counterpoint to “Désiré” in the sense that it also takes the form of snippets from interviews. (Though I think the format is a lot less successful here, and it does ultimately come off as too impersonal.)

In this case, the interviewer is attempting to uncover the truth about a celebrity magician and apparent cult leader named Corentin. A wide range of people relate key events that led to his transition from one to the other, and many attest that Corentin’s magic is no illusion. There are some genuinely creepy moments along the way, and I liked both the plot and the weirdness. Unfortunately, the climax requires the interviewer to take an active role in the story… but the rest of the story hasn’t given us enough information about the interviewer to be invested in that moment when it comes.

“The Shadow Artist” by Ruth Nestvold, in Abyss & Apex. An enjoyable chiller, set in Alaska during the time of the midnight sun. This story concerns a vindictive pantomime artist who (three years after a traumatic break-up) learns how to cast a shadow across the continent and over his former lover’s life…

I love this idea, even if the notion of a pantomime artist (especially in this odd corner of the Arctic) is vaguely ridiculous, and even if the pettiness of the protagonist is unattractive. But it’s a tale about the temptation of revenge, and how distance can remove our compassion. Interesting stuff!

EDIT: Updated to add disclosures, which I originally forgot. To the best of my knowledge, I haven’t interacted with any of the writers mentioned here. (Alas!)

I’ve sold stories to Kaleidotrope and Crossed Genres… And, as usual, I’ve submitted to all the zines mentioned and probably will again.


Final published stories for 2012

Several of my stories have been published in the past couple of months, and I’ve done a very bad job of keeping up with that. Here’s a quick post rounding up what’s been going on.

Monsters in the Monastery
My novelette “After Compline, Silence Falls” was published at Beneath Ceaseless Skies. This is a spooky (I hope!) tale about a community of beer-brewing monks in 1890s Winnipeg, Manitoba, who discover they have a monster in their midst. The title refers to the monastery’s custom of observing strict silence after the last prayers of the day — an observance which makes nocturnal monster-hunting a little more difficult.

A few years ago, I visited Trappist Monastery Provincial Heritage Park in Manitoba, which helped inspire this story. (The park preserves the ruins of a Trappist monastery vacated in the 1970s when the brothers moved to a more remote location. After they left, the abandoned buildings were destroyed by fire.) But the details of monastic life in the story — such as the times of prayers, the sleeping arrangements, the rules and vows followed by the brothers — came from reading about the Rule of Benedict and the customs of historical Trappist communities.

This is my first story in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, but I’ve already got another one (called “The Penitent” — also inspired by a visit to another ruined historical location) in the queue with them for sometime next year. I’m hoping they’re the first and second of many!

My Mother’s Favorite Story
In November, The Journal of Unlikely Entomology published “The Famous Fabre Fly Caper”. It’s the tale of two decent tree frogs, pushed too far and backed into a corner, forced to stage a daring daylight fly-heist to survive in their increasingly dangerous pond. It’s also my mother’s favorite story of those I’ve written. (Tip: It’s good to write something your mother likes now and then.)

One night during dinner, for lack of anything better to do, I spent my time trying to imagine what on Earth a frog would want to steal. Lots of flies was the answer I came up with. And where do you get lots of flies? From an entomologist — in this case, the father of modern entomology himself, the great French naturalist Jean-Henri Fabre. After jokingly mentioning this idea on Twitter, A.C. Wise (who is one of the editors of JoUE) encouraged me to actually write the story. It’s thanks to her that this one exists at all, since otherwise I’m not sure I’d have thought it would have any chance of selling.

Fabre is a fantastic and fascinating writer, by the way, and was praised by Charles Darwin for his observational skills. I wholeheartedly recommend his books to those interested in Victorian science texts. (My favorite so far is The Life of the Fly, which is quoted in part in my story, available for free download from Project Gutenberg.)

A Little Something from Cleveland
I’m from Cleveland, so I try to slip Ohio into my stories whenever it seems to fit. That’s why I decided to set “‘You’re Heads,’ She Says. ‘You’re Tails.'” (published by Daily Science Fiction) on the campus of Case Western Reserve University, which is where I got my two undergraduate degrees.

(Yes, I have two undergraduate degrees — a Bachelor of Science in Business Management and a Bachelor of Arts in English. It’s not quite the same as a double major, since I had to fulfill two full sets of core requirements of 30 hours each and was awarded the degrees in two different years. I even attended both graduation ceremonies, but I decided to do the second one as a spectator only.)

In any event, the story features a mad (or perhaps just inappropriately passionate) scientist working away in the third floor of Bingham building, which is located on the south end of CWRU’s main quad. As I say in the story comments on the DSF site: “In reality, Bingham Building is home to civil engineers, a microchip clean room, and a laser lab.” Cool stuff, if you’re into that sort of thing, but not quite the way I tell it in the story.

Operator? Operator? Hello?
In December, the irregular anthology series Stupefying Stories published my story “Avocado Rutabaga Aubergine” in their “end of the world” theme issue. (The story isn’t available to read for free, but the whole issue is only two bucks.)

This story is about two telephone operators in Pennsylvania coal country in the late 1950s who stumble upon what appears to be the first stage of an invasion conspiracy. Eventually the heroines end up in the abandoned (fictional) town of Mediana, below which a fire has been raging in the underground coal seams for fifteen years. Mediana is obviously based on the real town of Centralia, Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, the true history of Centralia didn’t quite line up with what I needed for the story, so I reluctantly fictionalized it instead.

Taiga, Taiga, Burning Bright
Finally, I’m extremely pleased that included my novelette “Desert of Trees” in its Issue 21. (I can’t figure out how to link directly to the story, but it’s easy enough to find on the site if you look for Issue 21.)

This is a tale of an Athabascan woman stranded in the Alaskan taiga in early spring with no gun, no map, no compass, and almost no food. She teams up with an unlikely companion to survive the worst of the journey as she makes her way back to civilization.

The story is set in 1901 during the Alaskan gold rush, which means that four out of five stories in this blog post count as historical fiction. I started using a lot of historical settings in my stories about a year ago, and I’m very pleased that several of them have now been published. It was a big breakthrough for me when I realized I could write against the backdrop of things I love to learn about — like history and nature. “Desert of Trees” relies heavily on both history and nature, and even though it’s something of a strange story, it’s also one of my favorites.


A little more about One Sentence Story submissions

It’s been a few days since submissions for the One Sentence Story mini-anthology opened, and so far I’ve received about 50 stories. That’s incredible! I want to thank everybody who has submitted something. I’m having a great time reading these stories.

Submissions are open until December 24, 2012, so there’s still plenty of time to write a story if you haven’t already.

I’ve replied to just over 30 of the submissions already — either to say “This isn’t exactly what I’m looking for” or “I’d like to hold this for further consideration”. So far, the replies have been almost evenly split between those two categories. I figured this would be a good time to mention some of the patterns I’ve been seeing, and what I’d like to see more of.

What Happens Next?
By its very nature, a story told in a single sentence is going to be short. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be about something momentous! One pattern I’ve been seeing is “slice of life” type stories — stories where the conflict amounts to a moment of embarrassment, a moment of regret, a moment of anything.

The most common type I’m seeing are “missed connections” — a boy and a girl share a spark in some public space, but neither does anything about it, and later they wonder what might have been… This kind of thing happens every day. Usually, what might have been is “nothing”. Unless there’s some special reason to believe that this missed connection was going to be the one that changed the characters’ lives, it’s just not enough to hang a whole story from.

That’s why I ask myself “What happens next?” after I’m done reading each story. If the answer is “Life goes on just as it did before”, then the story probably isn’t momentous enough.

Tones I’m Looking For, and Tones That I’m Not
I’ve received some submissions that are perfectly fine from a storytelling point of view, but which I can tell just won’t fit with the tone of the anthology. In hindsight, this is something that I should have addressed in the call for submissions.

Here are some tones that I like:
Exciting, funny, spooky, mysterious, wistful, melancholy, sweet, charming, beautiful, hardboiled, suspenseful, creepy, witty, catty, absurd, atmospheric, cerebral, mind-bending, optimistic

Here are some tones that I don’t like as much for this project:
Gory, disturbing, shocking, disgusting, mean, vindictive, violent, twisted, miserable, hopeless

In another anthology, with more words and more stories, a shocking or violent one-sentence story might be a good addition. But with only 15 stories and probably fewer than 3,000 words in the whole book, the effect is more jarring. (Especially since the cover is not likely to tip people off that the stories may be shocking or violent.)

Dark is okay. Sad is okay. Angry is okay. But I like characters who don’t give up and who have some measure of control over what’s happening to them. They don’t have to win, but they do have to have a choice. The story should be about what they decide to do — not what happens to them.

Don’t Send Me Stories That Are More Than One Sentence Long!
I don’t really think that anybody bothering to read this blog post would make this mistake, so I’m just including this one to make the rest of you feel better. If you’ve sent me a story that is only one sentence long, then you’re already ahead of the folks who apparently didn’t read the guidelines at all. So congratulations!

A Final Word About Length
I’ve seen great stories so far at all different lengths. However, I’ve seen relatively few stories in the 50 – 200 word range, which is a pretty good length for the stories that I hope to publish. (Especially considering there needs to be room on the pages for illustrations… This is a graphic design project as much as a writing project!)

There have been a couple excellent stories under 50 words, but by and large the very short ones have a tough time competing with longer stories that contain more characterization, more physical details, more sense of setting and place. For some stories, sparse minimalism adds to the effect. But for the rest, take advantage of the chance to really tell your story!

I’ve also been getting an awful lot of stories that are between 300 and 350 words. Many of these are very good and contain many interesting details. But many of them are also too long and contain too many words that don’t add much to the story.

This isn’t necessarily the kiss of death — if I love a story that I think is 50 words too long, I’ll just ask for it to be edited down. But if you really want to wow me, then make sure that every single word adds to the effect you’re trying to achieve. Revise, revise, revise — and get rid of the words that aren’t needed!

And now: Good luck and all the best! I hope to be reading your stories soon!


Open submissions for a one-sentence story mini-anthology!

Special announcement! I’m going to edit an anthology, and submissions are opening NOW.

Together with artist and designer Katie Sekelsky, I’m looking to put together a miniature anthology of one-sentence stories. A one-sentence story is exactly what it sounds like: a complete story told in a single sentence. You can read many excellent examples here.

Note that your sentence should tell a complete story. I am not looking for a “first sentence” or any old nice sentence. I’m looking for a whole, round, satisfying story told beginning to end in a single sentence.

Katie and I will be self-publishing this anthology in both print and PDF formats. The print version is going to be printed in these cool little booklets, so the design will be based around that format. Katie will be laying out the stories and doing illustrations for them. You can see a sample layout (minus illustration) below here:

So here’s what I need from writers…

I’m looking for submissions of one-sentence stories. I’ll be accepting them during a two-week window from December 10 through December 24. Stories may be in any genre. Recommended length is 300 words or less. Absolute maximum length is 350 words. Anything longer won’t fit in the space available.

Note: As with any story, your submission should be as long as it needs to be, but no longer. These will all be run-on sentences in one way or another, but I am not giving bonus points for hilariously long sentences!

Send stories to 1sentencesubmission [at] gmail [dot] com. Just paste the story in the body of the email. Each writer may send up to three stories each, but I’ll probably only pick one story per writer. (Unless they are REALLY genius.)

Send each story in a separate email. No need to wait for a response to the first story before you send the second or third. Reprints are fine, but please no simultaneous submissions. If you want to post your story on your website or blog at the same time as you submit it, that’s fine.

This is for fun… So have fun!

When you submit, the subject line should read: SUBMISSION – [your story title]

Please include the following information in a short cover letter:
— Your real name (the name we should put on a check)
— The title of your story
— Your byline (how you want your name to appear in the book)
— The approximate number of words in your story

You may address the cover letter to “Dear Editor” or to any polite variation of my name.

I will be choosing about 15 stories for inclusion in the mini-anthology, and will be buying non-exclusive print and digital rights for those stories. I’ll pick the stories that will be included by January 31, 2013. Anybody of any age and in any country may submit a story, but to be printed in the anthology you (or a parent/guardian if you are a minor) must be able and willing to sign a contract.

Payment for accepted stories will be US$15, plus a copy of the print version. All stories receive the same payment, regardless of length or reprint status. The money will be paid within 30 days of when I receive a signed contract. The print version of the anthology will be mailed to you when it’s finished.

The goal is to have the print and PDF versions of the anthology finished by April or May of 2013. Once the book is published, the PDF will be posted for free download. I may solicit donations or have a pay-what-you-want model with the PDF as well, but it will always be available for free for people who cannot (or simply don’t want to) pay. The print version will probably retail for $5 + $1 shipping. It will be available online through Katie’s store as well as in person at conventions we exhibit at (usually two or three per year).

If you have any questions, please send an email to 1sentencesubmission [at] gmail [dot] com. But really this is pretty straightforward — this anthology is for fun, so just try to have fun writing some one-sentence stories. And then send them to me!


My favorite stories of 2012

I’m not the novel-writing sort, so I didn’t participate in National Novel Writing Month in November. Instead, I decided to use the month to catch up on reading zines from earlier this year — partly so I could feel at least slightly informed when nominating stories for the Nebulas and Hugos. For somebody like me (who has no immediate plans to write a novel, but who likes to read short stories) it was a great use of time.

Ordinarily, I’d focus my reading on the pro zines that I like most — places like Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Apex Magazine, Lightspeed, Redstone Science Fiction, Daily Science Fiction, and so on. After all, the pro zines usually attract the best writers and have the most consistent quality. But I decided not to do that.

Instead, I decided to spend my time with a pile of zines that can’t be considered “pro” by SFWA rules (mainly because they pay less than $0.05 per word). I’m less familiar with most of these zines (even though a few of them have published me), and I don’t usually see them talked about as often as the pro zines (though some of them are regularly reviewed by Locus or Tangent Online). In any event, I thought it would be a good idea to get more familiar with these publications as part of my writer’s education.

So, without further preamble, I present my list of stories from the non-pro zines that I read from 2012. Thanks to all the writers and editors for making such lovely stories possible! They are presented in no particular order, and they are all free to read online. I’ve linked directly to the stories where possible.

— Mary A Turzillo, “Someone Is Eating America’s Chess Masters”: Kaleidotrope Autumn 2012

Short story:
— Sunny Moraine, “The Scarred Utopian Takes a Wife”: Jabberwocky 14
— Becca De La Rosa, “Talbot’s Anatomy”: Jabberwocky 10
— Petra McQueen, “The Dauntless Girl”: Scheherezade’s Bequest Issue 15
— Joshua Gaga, “Salt”: Demeter’s Spicebox Issue 2
— Benjanun Sriduangkaew, “Chang’s Dashes from the Moon”: Expanded Horizons Issue 36
— Nathan Tavares, “Some Theories on Time Travel”: Expanded Horizons Issue 35
— Ibi Zoboi, “The Muralist”: Expanded Horizons Issue 34
— E Catherine Tobler, “Ladybird”: Three-Lobed Burning Eye Issue 22
— Ferrett Steinmetz, “Riding Atlas”: Three-Lobed Burning Eye Issue 22
— Frank Ard, “The Sensation of Falling”: Ideomancer Volume 11 Issue 2
— George Galuschak, “The Wanting Game”: Ideomancer Volume 11 Issue 1
— Liz Hahn, “Chrysalides”: Scape Zine Issue 4
— S Q Eries, “The Empress and the Comic”: Scape Zine Issue 3
— J T Glover, “Strong Enough to Shatter”: Issue 20
— Mjke Wood, “Dead Man’s Shoes”: Issue 18
— Alan Baxter, “Crossroads and Carousels”: The Red Penny Papers Fall 2012
— Katy Gunn, “The Extravagant and Venturesome Lives of Women Pyrates”: The Red Penny Papers Fall 2012
— Anatoly Belilovsky, “Durak”: Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine (Blog)
— Su J Sokol, “Je me souviens”: The Future Fire Issue 2012.24
— Samantha Henderson, “Everything You Were Looking For”: Bourbon Penn Issue 5

Flash story:
— Luna Lindsey, “Let the Bugs Work Themselves Out”: The Journal of Unlikely Entomology Issue 3.5
— D K  Mok, “Goodbye Beetle”: The Journal of Unlikely Entomology Issue 2.5
— Alexandra Seidel, “A Lie Written in Scarlet”: Scheherezade’s Bequest Issue 16
— Michael Haynes, “Twenty-Seven Rules for Coping”: Goldfish Grimm’s Spicy Fiction Sushi Issue 3
— Deborah Walker, “I Honour My Ancient Ancestors”: Eschatology February 2012
— Nathaniel Katz, “Strings”: Eschatology February 2012

I still have a lot of reading left to do before I make up my final list of nominations for the Nebulas and Hugos, especially among the pro zines. But if I were to make those ballots today, the short story category would likely look like this:

— Nicole Cipri, “A Silly Love Story” from Daily Science Fiction
— Katy Gunn, “The Extravagant and Venturesome Lives of Women Pyrates” from The Red Penny Papers
— George Galuschak, “The Wanting Game” from Ideomancer
— Su J Sokol, “Je me souviens” from The Future Fire
— D K Mok, “Goodbye Beetle” from The Journal of Unlikely Entomology

***Full disclosure: I’ve sold stories to Kaleidotrope, Three-Lobed Burning Eye,, The Red Penny Papers, and The Journal of Unlikely Entomology. I’ve submitted to most of the rest of the other publications on this list.

I’ve exchanged friendly words with E Catherine Tobler, Ferrett Steinmetz, Alan Baxter, and Alexandra Seidel. I’ve critiqued stories for Anatoly Belilovsky and Michael Haynes, and Anatoly was kind enough to send me a signed copy of the ASIM issue his story is printed in.

Any list of “favorites” is bound to be subjective, but that’s all the stake I have in these publications and writers. I wish them all well. End disclosure.***

EDIT: This post originally referred to these zines as “semi-pro zines”, which is a confusing term that I shouldn’t have used. “Semi-pro zine” has a special definition under Hugo rules — a definition that actually does encompass zines like Beneath Ceaseless Skies and Apex Magazine. It’s much more accurate to say that these are “non-pro magazines under SFWA qualifying rules” and I’ve edited accordingly. Sorry!


Obligatory award eligibility post

The end of the year is nigh, which means that the nomination period for most of the yearly awards will be opening soon (or already have). According to my records, at least sixteen of my stories will have publication dates of 2012 once the dust all settles. Yikes!

The full list is available elsewhere on my website. But in this post, I’m going to steal an idea from Ken Liu’s award nomination page and just make note of the stories that disinterested readers and reviewers have been most enthusiastic about.

In looking over the stories that folks seemed to enjoy most, I noticed that the longer pieces are mostly spooky ones. So if you’re a member of HWA (or if you are Ellen Datlow), please take note! Where possible, links go directly to the stories. All except the two from Stupefying Stories are free to read online.

“After Compline, Silence Falls”: Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Nov 2012 — “RECOMMENDED” by Lois Tilton in Locus — Reviewed by Cyd Athens in Tangent Online

Short story:
“No Onions”: Stupefying Stories, Aug 2012
“The Book in Dutch”: Three-Lobed Burning Eye, Oct 2012 — “RECOMMENDED” by Lois Tilton in Locus
“The Famous Fabre Fly Caper”: The Journal of Unlikely Entomology, Nov 2012 — Reviewed by Lois Tilton in Locus
“Avocado Rutabaga Aubergine”: Stupefying Stories, Dec 2012 — Reviewed by Lois Tilton in Locus

Flash story:
“Older, Wiser, Time Traveler”: Daily Science Fiction, Apr 2012
“Reversals”: Daily Science Fiction, Aug 2012
“‘You’re Heads,’ She Says. ‘You’re Tails.'”: Daily Science Fiction, Nov 2012

It looks like I may have a couple stories published in December, so I’ll keep this page updated if anybody says anything good about any of them. And  I’ll be writing a much longer post soon about stories by other people that I really liked this year.


Complete, Free Etexts for All of Dickens’s Christmas Books

As another year draws to a close, it’s time for me to engage in one of the few traditions I adhere to: an annual reading of one of Charles Dickens’s Christmas books.

Every year about this time for the past five years, I’ve gone to my library and pulled out one of the Christmas books Dickens wrote (to much popular acclaim) in the 1840s: A Christmas Carol (1843), The Chimes (1844), The Cricket on the Hearth (1845), The Battle of Life (1846), and The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain (1848).

But this year is different. It’s been five years, and I’ve worked my way through all five of those short Christmas novels. So what’s a traditionalist to do?

Luckily, Dickens knew a good thing when he saw one. Even though he tired of writing Christmas books himself, he saw the commercial upside to publishing special Dickens-branded Christmas material at the end of the year. To that end, he oversaw sixteen Christmas editions of his two magazines — seven special editions of Household Words, and nine special editions of All the Year Round.

Some of these special editions were like miniature anthologies, containing half a dozen or more short stories by a range of contributors (including Wilkie Collins, Elizabeth Gaskell, Amelia B. Edwards, and many other less famous writers). Others were more like short novels — for these, Dickens typically collaborated with his friend Wilkie Collins.

The quality of the stories (or at least the ones I’ve read so far) can be extremely uneven, and it’s questionable that there’s much literary merit in a lot of the works. But for folks like me who are interested in the popular tastes of bygone eras, they help paint a picture of what the middle-class readers of London were reading in the 19th century. Plus, as I said, this has become a tradition for me — and traditions aren’t necessarily supposed to be fun.

Since these “books” are really issues of Victorian magazines, there can be a bit of a challenge in locating them. Many of the stories were collected and reprinted in the years following their original publications, but they were often separated. To do this day, many etexts of these works are incomplete and omit great swaths of material.

In particular, many etexts I’ve found include only Dickens’s contributions and strip out the rest. And the fact that they’re incomplete isn’t always well documented or obvious, since often Dickens’s contributions stand just fine on their own. In addition, even when all the material is preserved, often it’s not properly attributed to the contributors.

So I’ve spent some time researching each of the sixteen Christmas editions, attempting to locate the most complete etexts possible. I’ve been able to find what I believe are complete (and free!) etexts for all of the numbers, and have linked to them in my order of preference (Project Gutenberg first, second, and Google Books third). I’ve also attempted to list all the contributors when I could find their names, but in some cases I wasn’t able to locate that information.

Note: Alternate etexts do exist for many of these numbers. In some cases, these alternate versions are also complete. In other cases, some of the etexts have the problems described above. (The same is true, I should note, for some dead-tree reprints of the books as well.) You should be able to determine if another text is complete by comparing it to the versions I’ve marked as “complete” below. (Hint: Count the chapters.)

Meanwhile, Hesperus Press has been putting out excellent print editions of many of the issues as well. Where those editions exist, I’ve linked to them. Between the free etexts I was able to locate and these print editions, it looks as though my Dickens Christmas tradition will last for another fifteen years at least!

Hopefully this list will also be useful to others who are interested in Dickens’s Christmas books.


1843: A Christmas Carol — Charles Dickens
— Full etext at Project Gutenberg:

1844: The Chimes — Charles Dickens
— Full etext at Project Gutenberg:

1845: The Cricket on the Hearth — Charles Dickens
— Full etext at Project Gutenberg:

1846: The Battle of Life — Charles Dickens
— Full etext at Project Gutenberg:

1848: The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain — Charles Dickens
— Full etext at Project Gutenberg:


1850: “A Christmas Tree” — Charles Dickens
— Full etext at the University of Adelaide:

1851: “What Christmas Is, as We Grow Older” — Charles Dickens
— Full etext at the University of Adelaide:


1852: A Round of Stories by the Christmas Fire — Charles Dickens, William Moy Thomas, Elizabeth Gaskell, Edmund Ollier, Edmund Saul Dixon, Harriet Martineau, Samuel Sidney, Eliza Griffiths
— Hesperus Press:
— Full etext at Google Books:

1853: Another Round of Stories by the Christmas Fire — Charles Dickens, Eliza Lynn Linton, George A. Sala, Adelaide Anne Procter, Elizabeth Gaskell, Edmund Saul Dixon, W.H. Willis, Samuel Sidney, William Gaskell
— Hesperus Press:
— Full etext at

1854: The Seven Poor Travellers — Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Adelaide Anne Procter, Eliza Lynn Linton, George A. Sala
— Hesperus Press:
— Full etext at Google Books:

1855: The Holly-Tree Inn — Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins
— Hesperus Press:
— Full etext at Google Books:

1856: The Wreck of the “Golden Mary” — Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins
— Hesperus Press:
— Full etext at

1857: The Perils of Certain English Prisoners — Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins
— Full etext at

1858: A House to Let — Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Elizabeth Gaskell, Adelaide Ann Procter
— Hesperus Press:
— Full etext at Project Gutenberg:


1859: The Haunted House — Charles Dickens, Hesba Stretton, George A. Sala, Adelaide Anne Procter, Wilkie Collins, Elizabeth Gaskell
— Hesperus Press:
— Full etext at the University of Adelaide:

1860: A Message from the Sea — Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins
— Full etext at

1861: Tom Tiddler’s Ground — Contributors Unknown
— Full etext at Google Books:

1862: Somebody’s Luggage — Charles Dickens, John Oxenford, Charles Collins, Arthur Locker, Julia Cecilia Stretton
— Hesperus Press:
— Full etext at Google Books:

1863: Mrs Lirriper’s Lodgings — Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell, Andrew Halliday, Edmund Yates, Amelia B. Edwards, Charles Collins
— Hesperus Press:
— Full etext at

1864: Mrs Lirriper’s Legacy — Charles Dickens, Charles Collins, Rosa Mulholland, Henry Spicer, Amelia B. Edwards, Hesba Stretton
— Hesperus Press:
— Full etext at

1865: Doctor Marigold’s Prescriptions — Charles Dickens, Rosa Mulholland, Charles Collins, Hesba Stretton, Walter Thornbury, Mrs Gascoyne
— Full etext at

1866: Mugby Junction — Charles Dickens, Andrew Halliday, Charles Collins, Hesba Stretton, Amelia B. Edwards
— Hesperus Press:
— Full etext at Project Gutenberg:

1867: No Thoroughfare — Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins
— Full etext at Project Gutenberg: