Last time we talked about how to select the genre for your piece.  Now, we’re going to talk about how to select your market.

You may be tempted to send your work to markets you know you can get into.  I don’t recommend this.  I believe you should always send your work to the markets at the top of your genre, if your story fits.  Send your story to either 1) the highest-paying market or 2) your dream market first.

Yes, this means you will probably get rejected a lot more than if you sent your story to markets who pay in contributor copies.  There is nothing wrong with getting published in those markets.

However, there is a lot more that’s right when you get published in a higher-paying market.

For example, if you sell three short science fiction/fantasy/horror stories to “pro” level markets, then you’re eligible for membership in the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SWFA).  SFWA can help you promote your book, resolve contract disputes, and generally gives you a larger voice in the SF/F community.

There are different professional writing groups like SFWA you can join:

There are probably more groups, but I wasn’t having luck finding them.  It seems that general fiction writers, poets, and nonfiction writers don’t have a professional-level guild or group.  Please correct me if I’m wrong.

If you publish in paying markets, you’re also much more likely to be read by people building anthologies, including the “Year’s Best” anthologies.

If you publish in paying markets, you’re much more likely to be read, period.

Also, it goes without saying that paying markets pay money.  Not much, but some.

So here’s how to determine the level of your market (I use the guidelines at Duotrope.com):

  • Professional:  5 cents a word and up.
  • Semi-pro:  1-5 cents a word.
  • Token:  Less than 1 cent a word.
  • Non-Paying:  No money; may include contributor’s copies.

Okay, let’s say you write 1000 words an hour.  If you’re selling stories at the professional level, you’re making $50 an hour, minus the time you spent looking for markets, submitting, etc.

If you’re selling at the semi-pro level, you’re making $10-$50 an hour.

At the token level, you’re making less than $10 an hour.

Hobby writers are okay with making less than $10 an hour or even working for free.  If you’re trying to become a professional writer, one of the things you need to commit to is getting paid.

Harlan Ellison has a famous rant on paying the writer; if you haven’t seen it, you should.  This is the attitude that you have to take, as a professional writer.  I’ve only just started working as a freelance writer, and I see it all the time.  Even clients that I normally think of as trustworthy think nothing about asking me to work for free–writing back cover blurbs, making templates, editing bios, adding whole chapters of material that needs to be heavily researched–that aren’t covered under the original contract.

If your dream is to become a professional writer, then do everything in your power to get paid.

And now, a word on self-publishing short stories, whether you do it for free (on your website, etc.) or as ebooks (Smashwords, etc.).

Self-publishing is a whole new world.  I highly recommend not self-publishing short stories until you’re writing stories that can get published in a paying market.

Don’t take my word for it.  Self-publishing, especially in ebooks, where you can have a completely $0 overhead cost (except your time and normal overhead), is cheap and quick compared to traditional publishing, and it’s so much more open to things that normally don’t fit in a category.

However, most writers have a hard time knowing when they’re writing good stories.  Personally, I think the part of the brain that loves unconditionally, the part of your brain that loves your kids, puppies, kittens, and bacon, takes over when you write a story.  In order to write, at least part of you has to love, unconditionally.

It’s really hard for a writer to be an accurate judge of what’s good writing, because of that love.

However, editors really are trained to sort the wheat from the chaff, and while their opinion is biased to whatever their tastes are, as a whole, they’re pretty good judges of what’s working and what isn’t.

So:

1) If your stories aren’t getting published anywhere, you probably aren’t writing well enough to sell self-published stories.  Probably.  You might be writing something so unpopular that no editor will buy it.  This might be an indication that it’s not popular enough to sell as a self-published work, either.  Then again, it might not.

2) If your stories are getting published, find out when the rights to your story revert back to you.  You can always self-publish it at that point.

Again, this is only my personal opinion on the subject.  Self-publishing is a huge experiment with even fewer guarantees than traditional publishing, and you should research the subject by reading up on material put out by writers who are doing it successfully, like J.A. Konrath, Amanda Hocking, and the extremely helpful Dean Wesley Smith, whose blog currently features a series of thinking like a publisher for people wanting to go into self-publishing, including posts about money.

I love the idea of self-publishing ebooks, but I’m not ready to jump in with both feet yet.