For some reason, lately my head is full of ideas for stories.
No, seriously. It’s always been full of ideas for a single story, one that had many parts and threads. Now, the ideas are independent of that tale, branching out into a number of different directions and genres. Two new novels are simmering amongst the other clutter in my brain – a crime/detective story, and a tale of dystopian society where everything is not as perfect it seems. A number of short story ideas also clamored for attention until I finally wrote them, including a ghost story, a tale of what happens when you get what you wish for, and an inspirational piece based on an interesting real-life encounter with a street person in my city. I’m still working on a literary story about an elderly man’s life as it comes full circle. (I’ve gotten a lot of help on this one from the Island Pond, Vermont historical society. Use your resources, people.)
Maybe these ideas were sparked when my friend Chris sent me an e-mail with a contest challenge. Sponsored by the American Philosophical Association, entries required a limited word count (naturally) and had to include some sort of philosophical thread. The deadline for submission was only about a month away, and at first I thought I couldn’t possibly make up a whole new story, much less write and finalize it by that date. I shoved the idea to the back of my brain and left it to simmer.
About a week later, just as I was drifting off to sleep (told you!), an idea for the story exploded into my mind almost fully fleshed out. I dragged myself out of the warm bed to make notes, started plotting it the next day, and submitted it more than a week early. I’m actually pretty proud of this little tale. The contest offers a $500 first prize, plus publication in Sci Phi Journal, and of course I hope to win. But the money is secondary to publication. So far, I have no credits on that score, and a published short story would be a notch in my belt, so to speak, something I can mention in my queries for a novel. Better still, it’s encouragement, better than any carrot on any stick. Also? Short stories are, well, shorter than a full manuscript. I can finish and submit multiple stories in the time it would take to finish one novel. It feels oh-so-good to finish a project that quickly, especially when I put so much of myself into every piece!
It was after that story began to come together that other ideas began popping up here and there at odd moments. (Friends and family, I hope that explains the distant, somewhat loopy look that comes over my face at unpredictable moments during our chats.) Now they’re coming so fast it’s hard to know which one I should write first.
I’ve only done very basic research into short-story markets, so I can’t offer much input on those yet. Still, common sense says “Do your homework.” Before I submit to anyone, it’s smart to check out any fine print on their website, specifically:
- Do they allow simultaneous submissions? In other words, can you submit the same piece to other forums while waiting for their decision?
- Do they pay? If so, how much? How long after acceptance/publication before you can expect payment? Sometimes, as I mentioned above, payment in cashy money isn’t the only (or even best) benefit to exposure in this market.
- Do they require exclusive first print rights for a specified period of time? If so, how long must you wait before submitting it elsewhere?
- Does it need to be previously unpublished? (The APA contest mentioned above fit this requirement.)
- Other than first printing, do they make any exclusive claim on your rights to the story? (This is important! Don’t give up your rights to your work!)
- What requirements are placed on you, the writer? For example, Sci Phi Journal’s normal pay rate is a percentage of subscription sales. They ask their writers to promote the journal on their social media, websites, or any other online platform since it can’t continue to exist unless the issues sell. Also, SPJ requires that fiction submissions be accompanied by a “Food for Thought” paragraph, touching on or explaining the main Deep Thought from the story.
Look for other details, like word count, submission format, content focus, readership, and be smart—don’t submit a sci-fi story to a romance magazine. (Duh.) Read reviews of the forum. What do readers have to say about its content? Do you want to be associated with it?
I must say, I’m excited at the thought of forays into this new market. The APA contest results will be announced at the end of April (we hope), so I’ll let you know what happens. Now I just have to decide which story I’ll write next.
(An afternote: I wrote this blog post a couple of months ago. I know now that I did not win the contest, but I have gone on to submit it elsewhere. I’ll keep you posted.)