Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Print Short Story market -- by Larry D. Sweazy

In 1950, The New York Times declared that the pulp magazines were dead. The culprit? The introduction of the paperback book. After WW II there was no paper shortage, and Bantam and Dell burst on the scene to bring paperbacks to the masses. As far as I know, the Times has not declared the print magazines dead because of the introduction of the Internet, but there is no question that the market is small and growing smaller.

For mystery writers, the standard of excellence in the short story field still remains to be Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock. Both publications continue to have a large amount of subscribers, but I think even they are being squeezed by all directions in current times. Both maintain a presence on the web and have not ignored the new technology. Pay rates remain static at .04 to .06 cents a word. And they are tough markets for a writer to break.

I sold a short story to EQMM last summer (it will appear in the March/April 08 edition, available in late January) after trying for 15 years. Now, that was not consistent effort, but when I went back and check my first rejection slip from them, it was dated 1991. I don’t know how many times I’ve submitted to EQMM over the years, but it was quite a few. Interestingly enough, Hitchcock had rejected the story that Queen bought, with comments, asking to see more of my work. I thought what the heck, I’ll send it to Queen. I’m glad I did.

Jim Huang, owner of The Mystery Company bookstore in Carmel, Indiana, maintains that selling to Queen is harder than getting a novel published. I agree.

There are still paying markets out there, but the competition is tough. Check out the cover of an Ellery Queen and you’re likely to find writers like Lawrence Block or Loren Estleman—writers that you are competing with for a slot in the magazine. Needless to say, I’m honored and excited about having a story in Queen. The sale was a milestone for me that would have never happened if I would have given that story away for free.

The last time I checked, Women’s World still takes mysteries. The Strand accepts unsolicited manuscripts. You have to search out the print magazines, and be consistent with your submissions. And, you have to think outside the box.

I recently had a short story accepted by Boy’s Life. I wrote a 1500 word mystery for them. They publish one short story an issue, and the guidelines are stringent. Again the competition is tough. In an interview, the editor says they receive 100 submissions a month, 1200 a year, for the 12 short stories they publish. And, like EQMM, they have regular writers they work with. That story will appear sometime in 08—I’ll post the exact date when it’s confirmed.

If these are markets you want to publish in, you simply cannot give up. Like I said in my last post, start submitting at the top and work your way down. But most importantly, make sure you’re sending quality material. If you’re just starting out, worrying about becoming a better writer instead of being published. Learn all you can about the short story format. It’s not a novel. It has its own requirements. And editors know a good one when they read it.

Is the print market dead? No. And I think it will be around for some time. Don’t let the negativity of the current times sway your thinking. If you work hard and never give up, you never know what might happen. You might sell a story to Ellery Queen or Boy’s Life.

Good luck, and keep writing…

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