After my post Resolve earlier this month, writing friend Sandra Renee asked me to clarify what I meant about the “right fit” in the comments, since I talked about how important fit is when submitting your work.
My first reaction was you know it when you see it, which isn’t very helpful. So in this post I’ll try to dig a little deeper.
Fit is Doing Your Homework….
In order to know where your work fits, you have to have some understanding of what you write. This isn’t always as straightforward as it sounds. Maybe you wrote a story that straddles two or more genres. Maybe you wrote something so different from what you normally write, you’re not sure what to do with it.
Next comes research. In the first case, you’ll need to figure out which markets accept genre-mashups or at least don’t autoreject them. In the second case, you might have to do a bit more hunting around. Ask writing friends how they would classify your story (especially if it’s in an area you are ignorant of) then try to find other stories similar to yours and see where they were published.
Duotrope.com is the single best tool I’ve found for researching literary markets. Their search tool allows you to search markets (including small presses) on a variety of parameters including genre, payscales, and length of work. I would also encourage you to sign up for their weekly mailing list, which includes information on new calls, markets’ openings and closings, and interviews with editorial staff. I make a point to scan the calls every week to see if there’s something that either piques my interest or would fit with a story I have yet to place. The interviews are also helpful in discovering markets you may not otherwise run across.
If you are hunting for the perfect agents, the Guide to Literary Agents’s Agent Advice column is great for learning more about agents. You should also take a look at their Publisher’s Marketplace page to see their current client list and recent sales. If you don’t like the look of the books/authors you see there, maybe another agent is better for you.
…And then Exceeding Expectations
After you’ve zeroed in on your list of potentials, it’s up to you to do your best to make your work shine. Sometimes this means taking out the red pen one more time to ensure you’ve caught everything you possibly can before submitting. Or workshopping it with trusted readers. Or sometimes you may have to tweak it just a bit to fit the market or the editor’s preferences based on your research. Remember, half the battle is not giving the editor (or agent) an excuse to reject you right off the bat.
But above all else, follow the submission guidelines, even if they ask for ridiculous things (except money—never that). Some places are sketchy on the specifics, so when in doubt, stick to standard manuscript format.
And then cross your fingers. Because the rest is out of your hands. You have to trust that you did the best research you could and sent in your best work. Take comfort in that. Not all writers take the same pride in the submission process—as any editor or agent can tell you.
For more on the submission process, check out my post Planning for the Worst for short story submissions and my latest Resource Roundup post Querying Your Masterpiece.
Stages of Fit-ness
I will say that I’ve noticed differences in how I approach short story markets over the course of my writing journey.
Find the Fit – In the beginning, I was desperate to find any place that accepted stories that were remotely close to what I was writing. I took my square stories and tried to shove them into round markets. Sometimes it worked, but a lot of times it didn’t. I wanted to get published right now to justify and validate my work. I was also immature enough in my craft that the market had to fit my piece, not the other way around, since I wasn’t confident enough in my abilities as a writer to make the needed changes.
Make the Fit – Time passed, and I became more confident in my work and my abilities. I started targeting specific venues, primarily speculative fiction markets with themed calls. And I’ve had a lot of success in that department (more of which I *should* be able to share with you soon). I think it’s a confidence issue, but it’s also taking the themes and putting your own unique twist on them. Give the editors a story they didn’t even think about when developing the call, and make sure they can’t say no. The next step, for me at least, is to have a story accepted for an open call.
Be the Fit – I’d like to think at some point in a writer’s career fit is not something you have to worry about anymore. Markets seek out your work instead of the other way around. You no longer have to worry about where you fit in the market because you already have a place. Must be nice. But in the meantime, keep writing.
How do you determine fit?