Keeping 'em on the Street

Keeping 'em on the Street

by Terry Hickman (from The Market List #9)


Are you an "A", or a "B":

A: A story comes back, and you rip it out of the manila envelope and toss it on one of the piles on your "writing desk," among the grocery coupon box, the clothes iron, the skate with the broken blade, and your son's Wax Trax! boxed CD set that he had to have for Christmas and then never listened to. You promise yourself to find another market to send that story to, that very evening, right after your daughter's piano recital.

Three weeks later you come across the now-folded and butter-smeared manuscript and realize it's sitting here on the desk instead of out impressing editors worldwide. It's a quiet evening, so you swipe the stacks off the top of your writing desk and haul out the market research materials: 1997 Writer's Market (installed as a CD on your hard drive), Gila Queen's Guide to Markets, Science Fiction Writer's Marketplace and Sourcebook, Inklings (you subscribe via e-mail), The Market List, the loose-leaf notebook you've filled with guidelines you've sent for, and that precious collection of scribbled market skinny on cocktail napkins, library scratch paper, planner notepaper, yellow sticky notes, business cards, matchbook covers...Let's see, now, which story is this... how long is it? Is there any language or sex that's going to disqualify it for certain markets? Who takes sociological science fiction? Who hates vampires? Which editor was it who rejected a story but said that he'd like to see more of your unique furry crystal beings?The evening wears on, and you are buried deeper and deeper in the drift of books, magazines, and paper bits, as you search for the perfect market for this little story of yours...

B: The story appears in your mailbox with its rejection note. You put the note into the story's own pocketed folder (it's only the first place you sent it; if you get comments from several rejecting editors, then you'll sit down and tear it apart in those lights), and you pull out your market plan for that story. The next market on the list is Asimov's. On the computer's word processor, you get the address labels printed off, and bring up the story's tracking file. You enter the date you got the first rejection, and the date you're mailing the story to the next market (tomorrow, of course). You write your cover letter and sign it, and slide it, the story, and the self-addressed envelope into the outgoing envelope and place it with your bag next to the door, to be sent back out into the world on the way to work the next day.

I'm happy to say that I'm working my way more toward "B" than "A" these days. After floundering around like "A" for a year or so, it dawned on me that as long as I have all that market research material out, I may as well make a whole long list of places to send my story in one sitting. And I may as well do it immediately after finishing the story, since that week or so after finishing a story seems to be a gormless, lost and hollow time for me anyway.

The problem for me, mostly, was decision-making. How to decide, amongst all the dozens and scores and hundreds of magazines and story markets, which one to send it to first? Prepare yourself, dear reader, a government bureaucrat is about to attempt to help you: One of the things I've had to learn in the belly of the beast is how to Prioritize. (If you're wondering why I capitalize it, rest assured that somewhere, there are at least two other readers, government workers also, who reflexively stood at attention with their hands over their hearts when they saw the word. We have to; we're beaten with sticks if we don't.)

So I'll tell you how I set up my own system. You can adapt it as you like to suit your own needs.

I've got a story: "The Snarts Vehicle". (I don't really, honestly I wouldn't name a warthog "Snarts", but let's just pretend.) I evaluate its distinguishing characteristics (from a marketing viewpoint):

It's 12,300 words long.

It includes two of George Carlin's "7 words you can't say on TV" and a romantic scene that doesn't explicitly take you between the sheets with the hero and heroine, but leaves no doubt that that's where they end up.

I've developed a new form of government for my fictional world, that uses psi factors and cucumber juice to keep the citizenry under control. But there's not much gear-grinding or plasma-layering in my story; I decide it qualifies as "soft" science fiction.

There's no horror in it at all.

These are all the things I keep in mind as I peruse the markets. A couple of them, such as word length, and the "soft" science fiction category, can help me narrow my search right off the bat. I go through The Market List's Search procedure to find markets that will accept stories longer than 10,000 words, and come up with a handful of them. Unfortunately, the 1997 Writer's Market doesn't have that handy capability, but it has only a few markets listed that TML doesn't, so it doesn't take too long to check their word length limits. Likewise with the other sources I've collected.

As I find them, I look for two things to note down on a worksheet I call my "Market Ranking Sheet": their per-word pay rate, and their estimated turnaround time for manuscripts. I keep it to just two items because confusion compounds exponentially with the number of categories when you're prioritizing. You should think about what two things you're most interested in for your work. I chose the money not because I'm greedy (well, not for that alone, anyway) but because, when I get that 6-figure advance on my book, and get ready to pay taxes, I want to be able to prove to the IRS that all these years I've really been trying to make money at this, by showing them that the first places I always sent my stories were all in the higher-paying ranges. My greed is moderated, however, by my impatience, so I picked turnaround time as another factor to weight my ranking with.

As I look up the list of magazines I came up with from my resources, I note those two things down, and think about other, subtler factors: Is this magazine known more for its upbeat endings, or for the space-noir approach? Has this editor been civil in the past, or rude? (I have "Rude! Boycott!" crayola'd across one magazine's entry in the SFWM&S -- and I do. It hasn't caused a noticeable dent in their profit & loss sheets yet, but just you wait.) Have I had near-misses with this one? If so, is this story similar enough in theme, flavor or content that she might like it? And now (this is put in to assure you that my method is working) I have another one to think about: I just sold a story to him so I'd better wait awhile on this one. Try a few other places first.

So I end up with a sheet that has the story's title across the top, and six columns in a table (see below). I have put the magazine's titles into that third column willy-nilly, just as I think of them or come across them in my research. Then when I look up the decsion-aiding data, I fill in the columns, skipping the first and fifth for the time being.

Here's what it looks like after this first pass (I included lesser-paying markets because I had a sense that they might like "Snart".)(You can do that; it's your office!)(Please note that these markets don't necessarily pay this much or accept this length of story in real life; I'm using them as fr'examples):

# days  # days  magazine              pay        pay      final  rank                                            rank     rank             10    Keen SF              1.5c/wd           60    Aberrations          1/4c/wd           60    Aboriginal SF        $200 flat           ?     Plot                 $10 flat           18    Absolute Magn.       3c/wd           12    Worlds of F & SF     6c/wd

You get the idea. Then you go through it and look first at the "# days" column, and write each magazine's turnaround rank in that cell. Ergo, Keen SF would be 1, Aberrations and Aboriginal tie for 4th place (because I couldn't find an estimated turnaround time for Plot, it gets a 5), Absolute Magnitude gets a 3, and Worlds of Fantasy & Science Fiction got a 2:

# days  # days  magazine              pay        pay      final  rank                                            rank     rank     1       10    Keen SF              1.5c/wd   4       60    Aberrations          1/4c/wd   4       60    Aboriginal SF        $200 flat   5       ?     Plot                 $10 flat   3       18    Absolute Magn.       3c/wd   2       12    Worlds of F & SF     6c/wd

Next is the pay ranking. I'll just fill those in for you:

# days  # days  magazine              pay        pay      final  rank                                            rank     rank     1       10    Keen SF              1.5c/wd      4   4       60    Aberrations          1/4c/wd      5   4       60    Aboriginal SF        $200 flat*   3   5       ?     Plot                 $10 flat**   6   3       18    Absolute Magn.       3c/wd        2   2       12    Worlds of F & SF     6c/wd        1

* for "The Snarts Vehicle" at 12,300 words, this equates to 1.6 cents per word. ** this equates to 8/100 of 1 cent or 0.08 cents per word.

The next step is to simply add up each market's ranks from column 1 and column 5:

# days  # days  magazine              pay        pay      final  rank                                            rank     rank     1       10    Keen SF              1.5c/wd      4        5   4       60    Aberrations          1/4c/wd      5        9   4       60    Aboriginal SF        $200 flat*   3        7   5       ?     Plot                 $10 flat**   6        11   3       18    Absolute Magn.       3c/wd        2        5   2       12    Worlds of F & SF     6c/wd        1        3

I have a second sheet I call "Market Plan", which I fill out for each story, too. I transcribe the results from the Ranking worksheet to the Market Plan, listing the markets in the order they fell out of the ranking exercise:

Market                 SS?     Pay       Turnaround        Notes 

Worlds of F&SF          ?     6c/wd        12 d Abs. Magn.              Y     3c/wd        18 d Keen SF                 ?     1.5c/wd      10 d Aboriginal SF           ?     $200 flat    60 d Aberrations             ?     0.25c/wd     60 d Plot                    Y     $10 flat      ?

The SS? column denotes whether a market accepts simultaneous submissions or not. In this instance, I could send "Snart" to both Absolute Magnitude and Plot at the same time and not run afoul of their "simsub" policies.

In the notes column I put pertinent info I've found while looking them up, such as "Only accepting Jan. 1 through April 30"; "Prefers stamps to SASEs", "Has themed issues", etc.

These two sheets go into the left-hand pocket of "Snarts"' very own folder. The story itself is tucked into the right-hand pocket. I've got it on a diskette in its own subdirectory, along with the cover letters I've written for it, and its tracking worksheet(see the "B" paragraph above).

Just one more thing left to do:

I scavenged two 11" x 17" laminated posters from a long-past conference, taped them together, turned them over, and in permanent black marker I made another table, with these columns:

Story                  Market                   When Sent     

I taped it up on my writing-room wall. Using dry-erase markers I record each story's destination when I send it out, and the date, and update it as necessary. That way I have a one-glance gauge of how many stories I've got "out there". This very minute... let's see... there are nine. Three of those have been sold and I'm leaving two them up to remind me not to send them out to any FNASR markets. The third sold one was to a foreign market, and it's got a second destination, FNASR, listed now, too.

Writing all this down like this makes it look terribly cumbersome and time-consuming, but I have a lot more time to just write these days, than when I was going through the market search process every time a story was sent back. I look on it as something like sending your kid out into the world with her college degree. Sure, she might come back, but it won't be for long. It's just a matter of time before she starts sending home those checks. Right? Why are you laughing?

Copyright © 1997 by Terry Hickman. All Rights Reserved.

  • Posted by Admin
  • August 24, 2012 3:12 PM PDT




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