Okay, it wasn’t a bar, it was just me at the computer with a glass of wine. But anyhoo . . .
So I’ve got this short story I’m fond of, “The Sad Rains of Mars,” an homage to the late, great Ray Bradbury. It had a couple beta readers during the first few drafts, and I was happy with it. Over the last year I’ve been sending it to various markets. I started out big, sending it to Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, then to the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. After a form rejection from both of them, I had another friend read it, and she had some nice comments that led to a few minor tweaks.
Next it went over to Tor.com. Then Clarkesworld after that. Two more strikes. Yeah, that’s up to four strikes now, pardon the sloppy baseball metaphor. I took another look at it and restructured the first page or two a bit. It struck me that those opening paragraphs were a bit back-story heavy, and I think I achieved a better balance between the dialogue and the exposition necessary to set up the world for the reader.
At this point I should mention that I don’t advocate rewriting after every rejection. That way madness lies. On the other hand, if a story isn’t getting placed you should be open to the idea that there might be good reasons for that. You have to find the right time to double down for your art and when to admit that your manuscript isn’t the shiny stack of awesome and rainbows you first thought it was.
With the repolished opening, I once again felt pretty good about the story. But I needed to pick a new market. I started going through some old bookmarks I had in my browser. Wow, that was depressing. Several cool markets, both print and online, had gone out of business over the last couple years. The URL for Lissette’s Tales of the Imagination now takes you to a Japanese porn site. Either that or Lissette’s has substantially changed its format and target audience.
The other thing I noticed was how many of the remaining markets I had bookmarked paid quite low rates or minimal flat fees. Like, say, $50 for a short story. That’s the business model that keeps these periodicals going, and I recognize that’s the cold reality of a lot of small markets. I am not dismissing them as a group; there are a lot of fine publications and publishers that work on that level, and they’re publishing great stories. (Of course, there are also others who take advantage of eager beginners desperate for publishing credits, young writers willing to essentially give away their work to see it in print.)
As I clicked through more markets, I realized that simply getting another publishing credit isn’t important enough to me to justify handing over a story for a few bucks. At this point, I’d rather sit on a story or self-publish than get underpaid. I eventually found a market that pays a reputable six cents a word, which is the rate that the Science Fiction Writers of America uses in its definition of a professional sale.
So off the manuscript went. We shall see what happens.