In 2005, the Pioneer Library System invited readers and writers from all over Oklahoma to attend the Red Dirt Book Festival. It was free, and it featured Oklahoma literary luminaries like Tim Tingle, Rilla Askew, Marcia Preston, Tim Tharp, and Bill Bernhardt.
As an additional incentive the festival invited attendees to submit short-short stories (no more than 2,000 words) to be evaluated for publication in the 2005 Red Dirt Anthology. I had written a 190,000 word novel (That one is still unpublished) so 2,000 words seemed like a walk in the park.
I wrote my first story ever for that publication—“Gypsy Ghosts and Nicknames”. It wasn’t very good but competition was minimal (About 75 submissions), and the anthology took it. I was hooked.
Short stories are a lot more fun to write than novels. You can turn them out faster. You can give up on them when it’s clear you should. Rewrites and revisions are relatively easy: you can add characters, switch points of view, change tense, even change the sex of your protagonist. Anything is possible within twenty double-spaced type written pages.
My second and third short story publications came two years after my first. “Footprints,” and “Mystery Land” made it into 2007 Red Dirt Anthology. Those were better stories and made encore appearances in other magazines later on, but Red Dirt Book Festival rejected my submissions in 2009 and never conducted another event. My only market had dried up.
Where do you send a piece of short fiction once its finished? Agents don’t represent them. Small presses usually don’t want singles. Slick magazines like The New Yorker, and Vanity Fair aren’t interested unless you’re already famous.
I didn’t publish another story until Regina Williams (I met her at OWFI) accepted “Pure D Truth” for the Storyteller magazine’s 2011 second quarter issue. That was publication number four in a six-year period. Since that time I have had about 40 additional stories published and several more scheduled to come out this year.
My writing improved, but it didn’t improve that much. Many of those recently published stories were written during the long dry period from 2007 to 2011. The thing that changed my publication success rate more than anything else was a website I discovered, https://duotrope.com.
Duotrope was a free site when I first signed up. They tried to support themselves with contributions. I gave them what they asked, but not many people did so now the site costs five dollars a month—$50.00 a year if you’re willing to commit that long.
You can sign up for a 7 day free trial by going here: https://duotrope.com/index.aspx
Once you are a subscriber, a newsletter comes in the mail each week, It breaks down the current market into the following categories: paying market listings added, non-paying market listings added, markets opening or re-opening for submissions, markets closed for submissions.
The paying market category looks like this:
Monkey Star Press: Adventures in Potty Training (themed antho)
Baen Books: Baen Fantasy Adventure Award
If you find a market that interests you, click on it and you go to a page that tells you what the publication pays (if anything) and what it wants in terms of style and length. If you are still interested, a link on that page takes you to the publication website where you learn more details. You can often read examples of published stories and even submit right from that site.
Duotrope currently tracks 5,003 markets, including fiction, non-fiction and poetry. They provide a search feature that allows authors to find markets that fit their individual needs. The Duotrope site offers submission and publication statistics including acceptance rates, response times, and types of responses (form vs. personal). Most weeks there are interviews with editors that provide insights into the selection process.
The site is good for novelists too. The Big Six don’t show up there unless they are seeking un-agented submission, but there are plenty of small houses, and publishers that specialize in e-books, short story collections, and novellas. My publisher, Pen-L Publishing is listed on the site. I pitched Owl Dreams to Duke Pennell at the 2012 OWFI conference rather than submitting blind. Personal contact is almost impossible for short fiction, but it’s still the best policy for placing novels.