Just using the word “submit” ignites my defensive nature to say “I will never submit! I am He-Man Writer. I am master of my universe!” However, self-perception often is too biased to recognize when the sword we think we are pointing in the air is really just an uncooked hot dog. Sometimes there is benefit in submitting to professionals and waiting until they deem our work to be a sword instead of a hot dog.
As part two of my post “Anthologies and Ezines: Are Readers Reading?” I pose this question to aspiring authors with a handful of short stories: Do you submit them or self-publish?
I decided to ask two of my lovely podcast guests, Mercedes Yardley of Shock Totem Magazine (AudioTim 31), and Hugh Howey, indie author of the breakout SF series Wool Omnibus (AudioTim 32 and 33). I can’t argue with either side, as both make great points.
Ladies first, Mercedes. Should I submit my short fiction or self publish?
I’d always suggest submitting to markets over self-publishing for a few different reasons. The market is always changing, of course, and self-publishing is rapidly losing the stigma that it once had, but there is still a stigma. While some self-publishers go through the same editing and vetting process that a paying market goes through, there are still quite a few examples of people that write it on Friday and offer it on Amazon by Saturday, for example. The pieces aren’t critiqued and edited like they would be if they were going through a tradition market. In a sense, this tends to leave a stain on the self-pub label.
I’d also suggest going through a paying market because 1) you’ll get HWA and (if you choose from the list of qualifying markets) SFWA credit. I’m a member of both these organizations and I enjoy them. I do better as a writer if I have a certain goal that I’m working toward. “Qualifying for the HWA” made me strive for pro-paying markets when I might have been tempted to give the pieces away. There are also perks. For example, there are a few HWA only anthologies. If you’re not a member, you can’t submit to them. Also, I was lucky enough to interview a few of the SFWA Nebula nominees for the SFWA site last year. I couldn’t do that unless I was a member. And once you’re an active member, you’re able to compete for awards. That’s extremely motivating!
Besides that, if you submit to traditional markets, you’ll make relationships that you most likely wouldn’t make otherwise. These relationships will enrich both your personal life and your career. If I hadn’t submitted to Shock Totem, then I never would have met the crew. They never would have embraced me, and I wouldn’t be working with them now.
Ultimately it’s your choice, of course, but this is what I see. Also, another idea is to keep your short stories and make a collection out of them, which is what I’m doing. I wish I had a few more unpublished stories to go into it. Everything you write, no matter how displeased you are with it at the time, is gold, so keep them filed away somewhere.
Sheesh, look at me going off. Anyway, those are my thoughts.
–Your thoughts and presence, no matter how digital, is always appreciated, Mercedes.
Now, for Hugh, humanity’s most recent immigrant to Jupiter (Florida, that is).
Science fiction, the genre I primarily write in, has a long history with the short form. Many of the great science fiction novelists cut their teeth on smaller works. The career path from the 30s until quite recently seemed to follow these steps: Write dozens of short stories, submit them to the plethora of magazines and anthologies, collect rejection slips, acceptance letters, and the minuscule checks that came with the latter, and build yourself a reputation. After a handful of sales, you’d be ready to send off a longer work, find an agent, hopefully get published.
This is still a viable path, of course, and many authors walk it. The decline of the print magazine has been matched by the rise of the webzine. The rejection slips are largely unchanged, as are the size of the checks that come with the acceptance letters, but there is still a windy path to success one may stumble down. Or, one could embrace a sweeping change in the publishing world and bypass the time-consuming submission and rejection routine. This is what I decided to do with WOOL.
The challenges of self-publishing are many. Quality control is entirely up to the author. But if you are satisfied with your work and feel it deserves to be read, there’s no substitute for going directly to the reader. There’s a chance it will only be read by a few dozen, but there’s also a mechanism in place to allow it to be read by hundreds of thousands. There’s a feedback system that allows word-of-mouth to push your work to the next level. The same is not true of a magazine with limited distribution or a webzine where more hits only enriches the advertisers.
I believe the short story has an even greater role in science fiction’s future than it has in its past. And that’s saying something. E-readers don’t care about length as long as the price is right and the quality is stellar. For those with limited time to devote to a story, the short form can be a rewarding distraction seen to completion. And if it’s good, the sky is the limit. The author will be privy to the reaction from readers as he or she monitors sales and checks out reviews. It was this process that clued me into WOOL’s appeal and spurred me to write more in the series.
What terrifies me is that WOOL was written while I was between novels. Had I not been self-publishing at the time, which meant I was free to write and get my work out there immediately, I probably would have been too busy crafting query letters and keeping up with submissions and rejections to even craft the story. Idle speculation, I know, but I only have so many hours in the day. And every ounce of energy wasted in the submission process is a bit of time taken from what matters: Writing my best work. And sending it out there not to be judged, but to be read.
Thank you, Hugh. As a fan, I am glad you spend the time you do on your craft. I can’t wait for I, Zombie.
If you are Kevin J. Anderson, the answer is both sides have merit depending on the situation and goal. I recently read a fun Christmas story, “Santa Claus is Coming to Get You” in Shock Totem 4.5 about what would happen if kids felt their lives threatened by Santa Clause… would their parents be safe? Kevin obviously still submits stories to ezines, but he also plans to self publish. A recent story from MediaBistro.com said:
Anderson is using the self-publishing eBook medium as a way to give back to fans as well. For his latest print book series about a zombie detective which is coming out from Kensington in September, Anderson said that he is going to release a free eBook short story in between each of the six novels. “It’s a lot faster than having to deal with writing a story for a magazine, which can take a year,” he said.
There you go, three different perspectives, and really only the tip of the iceberg in regards to this discussion. What’s your perspective?