Submission: Impossible

The first stories I wrote were detective and mystery stories. The first stories I had published were literary stories. Of course this is a gross generalization, the first stories I wrote were technically science fiction stories but for all intents and purposes they were mystery stories set in space. I wrote a couple stories in high school, submitted them to EQMM and AHMM, had them rejected by both and that was it.

I did the same thing a couple more times in college until I ran into a creative writing workshop in which I couldn’t write mystery stories. Instead I wrote two funny short stories and a couple months later decided I probably shouldn’t waste them and submitted both of them to two online journals. Each story was selected by a different journal and rejected by the other journal so on two submissions I had two acceptances. I liked those odds.

Fast forward to this year where I’ve been writing my butt off in both crime and literary fiction and submitting everything I write to journals. So far I’ve had three mystery stories accepted after just a couple of submissions each but the two literary stories I wrote for workshop last year I haven’t been able to unload despite submission numbers well into double digits. There are a few immediate reasons I can see for this.

First is that I’m more prone to exhaustive editing on my crime stories. This is because there are two top tier print mags and maybe four or five top tier online mags. To get into any of these, my stories needed to be first-rate stuff. With the literary stories there are many more markets with some lower standards and since I had such luck having the first drafts of my previous literary stories accepted out of the gate, the inspiration for editing the next batch wasn’t really there.

This time is a little different because I have different reasons for submitting the literary stories. After I’m done with my M.A. in creative writing I’d like to apply to a couple of the top rated MFA programs so I stand a better chance of getting a teaching job after school. Because of this, I’m looking to diversify my publishing resume so the more journals that don’t have “Detective” or “Crime” in the title, the better.

As I started putting togther a submission list for these stories though, I was immediately overwhelmed by the volume of potential journals. I was sort of able to weed the lot down a bit because I knew the stories (which I’d edited a wee bit, though still not to the degree of my crime stories) weren’t good enough for The New Yorker or even the big university journals but I also knew they were better than the really amateurish fly-by-night places at the bottom of the pool.

So after scraping the tippy top and deep bottom of the submission pool I came up with another brilliant plan, I’d submit to every journal that had “Review” in its title. I figured this was an easy way to add some prestige to my publications. Well, six months later I’m almost to the end of that list and still haven’t been able to find a home for the stories and now I’m getting frustrated. There are just so many places.

I’ve sort of narrowed it a little further by concentrating just with online places because for the most part they take email submissions (poor college student liked not having excessive postage costs) and they have much quicker response times. To narrow this list even further I’ve decided to just use the list of magazines that had stories in the notable list of the Million Writers Award. Even with that though I’m still at a loss of where to start.

I usually send out batches of 5-10 submissions at a time but I have no idea which 5-10 to start with. I’d like to have some sort of plan, but short of reading an issue of every single one of them to get a feel for their taste there’s nothing else I can do. With the print mags it was easy because I’d use the Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market to find all the places that accepted humerous short stories. Sadly, most of the online mags still aren’t represented in the guidebooks.


I could go on but this post has become unweildy as it is.

7 thoughts on “Submission: Impossible

  1. Out of curiosity, why go from an MA in Creative Writing into an MFA program, instead of doing a PhD in Creative Writing? When I did my MFA, everyone went to great pains to emphasize that while it may have been a terminal degree back in the day, the thing to do if you wanted a good teaching job was to queue up for the doctorate.

  2. Mark– I will be applying to one PhD program in creative writing at Western Michigan University and another in Rhetoric at Michigan State. I want to apply to the MFA program at U of M because mainly it’s U of M. That way I get to still live in Ann Arbor without actually having to have a real job. I also don’t want to have to take the GRE subject exam in English. Blech.

  3. I think instead of submitting, you should bind these stories, start Quertermous Press, and then run up and down your prospective MFA campuses yelling “LOOK AT ME I”M PUBLISHED. LOOK AT ME! I’M PUBLISHED!” And then, after that, you should stage a sit in. Because that’s what people do at colleges.

  4. Barry Eisler told me yesterday that he received 49 rejection letters from AGENTS, not publishers. He then sent one more out – the 50th agent – and that agent agreed to take him on if he would make some changes to the ms. Eisler agreed. Little did he kn ow that those changes would take 2 and a half years!But then the agent sold the ms to Japan – with houses in a bidding war – and then sold to the US with Putnam making a monsterous preemptive bid. And then sold to eight other countries. What if Barry had quit after rejection 30, or 40, or 49?Ron Jeremy said it best: “It’s all about staying power.”

  5. Bryon,I am loathe to give you advice, since you are more educated and can write better than I! But persevere at all costs. Seriously, everyone is rejected constantly.I say this as I wait on a very big editor to come through contractually for me as well. If I don’t get this one, I’ll be writing you for some sympathy — make no mistake.

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