We broke off last time at getting your ducks in a row…before you even start writing.

I know, I know, you probably won’t take my advice right away. “Surely,” you’ll say, “It’s not necessary to do all THAT before I write a story. I need to be creative! Right! Now!”

But that’s exactly why you should set all this stuff up before you write–so when the muse hits, you don’t have to think about it. Professional writers are professional, dude. They aren’t slapdash. They don’t lose work. They don’t send out the wrong version. They especially don’t send out the version with six font styles and an inline image of David Hasslehoff in it for inspiration.  They know that creativity is in the words you put on the paper, not in the font.

A brief note on the muse: Some days, the muse will stike. Some days, the muse will be on strike. Professional writers write; they do not wait for the muse. Listen to your muse–it’s you. But it’s better to get a million adverbs, flat characters, and overdone plots on paper than it is to sit around and wait for perfection. You have that million words to get through, and Bad Words Count. As long as you don’t keep writing the same ones.

Okay, so you’re ready to write; you’ve built a new folder for the story, copied your templates over, and renamed them.  Open your story, write it, and save it.  Make a new copy of the story, name it .2 instead of .1, and move .1 to your archive folder.

Ah, so much more easily said than done, but how to actually write the story is a topic for another day.

Polish your story, have someone who doesn’t love you unconditionally read it (for preference), check that the headers and wordcount on the story are correct, and update your cover letter.

Then look for a place to try to sell your story.

I, personally, use Duotrope’s Digest, which is a free website that lists 3275 (ish) markets for all types of fiction and poetry.  It isn’t complete (and doesn’t work for nonfiction pieces), but you can add entries to it if you find unlisted markets.  It has a database that you can use (if you register, again, for free) to track 1) where your stories are now, 2) whether you should query to find out if they’re ever going to review your story, 3) how many rejections you’ve had and from where.*

You need to track all three of those things.  If you don’t use a website like Duotrope, you’re going to have to track them by hand.  If you don’t, you’re going to be sending stories to multiple markets (a no-no for most markets), forgetting where you sent your story last and sending it to the same market again (embarrassing), and not knowing whether you should bug an editor to see if your story’s lost or what.  Professional writers don’t do that.

If you do use Duotrope, you’re going to have to back up that information and save it with your fiction backups in all locations on a regular basis, once weekly or thereabouts.  You can back up Duotrope to Excel/CSV format (at the bottom of the Submissions Tracker page).  Open the file in Excel or another spreadsheet program so it doesn’t look like a bunch of gibberish, and save it to your files.

At any rate, you’re going to have to figure out where to send your work.

In order to do this, you have to decide who your audience is.  In this section, we’re covering short stories, so we’ll start with that audience:  people who want to be entertained.  Different people have different ideas of what’s entertaining, so don’t panic if you secretly suspect that your story isn’t entertaining.  However, you’re going to have to narrow your audience down.

“My story is entertaining for all types of people, everywhere” is not a useful statement.  As we’ve discussed, not every reader likes to read everything.  Therefore, your story will not be liked by all types of people, and saying they should won’t help you at all.

Generally, the first decision you have to make is genre.  A genre, according to Merriam Webster, is ” a category of artistic, musical, or literary composition characterized by a particular style, form, or content.”  In the fiction world, genre is a marketing tool.  Before you sneer at the word “marketing,” please remember that marketing means “an aggregate of functions involved in moving goods from producer to consumer.”  I’m assuming you want to move your story from your brain to an audience, yes?  Then don’t sneer at marketing.  Also, take into consideration that I treat “literary fiction” as a genre.  It’s a category that people use to sort and sell content.  It’s a genre.

Think about how you choose what stories to read.  Generally, the answer’s going to be, “I like X story, and I found out that it was similar to X.”  Selecting a genre is the broadest way to tell people that your story is “similar to X.”

If you have a story that uses techniques from multiple genres, and you’re not sure what genre to put it in, consider who you want to read the story.  Do you want mystery readers or SF/F readers?  Which group will probably buy more copies or recommend it to friends?  Again, “both mystery readers and SF/F readers should like this story” doesn’t cut it.  Your story will be liked more by one group than the other; it’s your job, as a writer, to read a lot of both genres and talk to a lot of fans from both genres and find out which group that is.

You must pick a genre, that is, you must decide how you want to sell your work.

You are not locked into that genre–if the story doesn’t sell in that genre, take it as a sign that you don’t know your genres as well as you’d like, and try to sell it in your second-choice genre.

You are allowed to make mistakes when it comes to genre; genres change all the time, and it’s impossible to say, “Follow these rules if you want to sell in a certain genre, guaranteed!”  Even if a publisher or a set of publishers try to define a genre in a certain way, if the readers want to read something, the genre changes to suit them, or stuff doesn’t sell.  So worry about genre–but worry about genre the same way you worry about the weather, something important that may or may not be what the experts predict.  Sure, the experts have expertise, and you should listen to the weather report.  But you may want to bring an umbrella even if they predict a sunny day, and you may want to write different types of things, rather than writing just urban fantasies, even if they’re predicting that’s what’ll sell.

Okay, you’ve picked your genre.  Next time…narrowing down your markets.

*Other recommended websites:

  • Ralan.com (Spec Fic and Humor markets)
  • Writer’s Market (any market listed in a Writer’s Market book, like non-fiction, magazines, novels, agents, etc. Pay site).
  • Publisher’s Marketplace (fiction agents and editors–invaluable for finding out who is actually selling books in your genre and who hasn’t sold a book in over a year. Pay site).
  • If you know more, leave the sites in the comments for me!