You probably noticed that I completely blew it last week in that I didn't manage to post the second part to J.W. Alden's fabulous short story market research tips piece. I blame it on unexpected travel and a sick 8 month old. Please forgive me.
But here we are! Better late than never! Please enjoy!
When in Doubt, Query
So what if you've done all your reading, but you're still not sure you have a bead on a particular market? What if it's a publication you can't research before submitting, like an anthology or a new magazine? What if it's a market that asks for a particular theme, but you don't quite understand what they want? In these instances, consider querying the editor. Shoot them an email. Send them a tweet.
Uh-oh. I feel your hackles going up! I know. Interacting with editors can be intimidating. They are the masters of your story's fate, after all, and you want to stay in their good graces. You don't want to feel like you're bothering them or wasting their time with a dumb question. But I promise you, editors are not as scary as we writers build them up to be in our minds. They're people who love fiction, like us! No matter what your inner Impostor says, an editor won't read your email and say, "What? Who is this person? How dare they interrupt my morning with questions? TO THE INSTANT REJECTION LIST."
Now, obviously you shouldn't get in the habit of peppering editors with simple questions that you can easily answer yourself by reading the market's submission guidelines or picking up an issue. But when all else fails, it usually doesn't hurt to ask.
When STILL in Doubt, Submit
So what happens when you've sent your story to every market you're intimately familiar with and still have nothing but rejections to show for it? What happens when you get to a market on your list you haven't read, and you just can't afford the proper amount of time (or money) reading up before submitting? Maybe the market sounds like a good fit based on the guidelines, but there's a rapidly closing submission window and not enough time to properly research. At the end of the day, it still doesn't hurt to submit. Your only worst-case scenario here is a rejection, and those aren't the end of the world. Trust me; I have a lot of them.
My aim here is mostly to save you time. Even if you don't write your story with a particular market in mind, if you figure out which markets will or won't like the kind of stories you write, you might save yourself weeks (or months) of waiting to hear back from an incompatible editor just to find a form rejection in your inbox. What I'm definitely not trying to do is scare you off from submitting to a market just because you think you haven't properly researched it yet. When in doubt, submit. I'll leave you with a quote from Sheila Williams, editor of Asimov's Science Fiction. She was a guest lecturer my year at Odyssey Writing Workshop, and she had this to say on the subject: "Don't reject yourself. Let me do it."
That last line in particular really grabs me. You never know what will be accepted where. You have to give your stories a chance to be successful. Great stuff from J.W. Alden.
Please check back in next week for a writing tip from young adult author extraordinaire, Cara Bertrand!