Recently, a discussion about short story markets broke out on a writers’ message board. One poster said they were tired of seeing new writers submitting their stories to the New Yorker and Atlantic Monthly. The poster felt they should aim their sights lower.
I disagree with this statement wholeheartedly. Writers, new and old, should aim as high as they can. While I agree, a new writer stands little chance of having their story accepted by the New Yorker first time around, there still exists a chance and because there is that chance, they should send it. What’s the worst that can happen? A rejection slip. So what? Give it a go, I say.
A writer does him or herself no favors by aiming low. I speak from experience here. I lacked my faith in my own work at the beginning. I found the name magazines intimidating, so I didn’t send my stories there. But one incident became my wakeup call. I sold a story to a small press magazine and I received a small paycheck for my trouble–for which I was grateful. To my surprise, the story picked up an honorable mention in Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror that year. Then, at a convention, I was giving a reading of the story and a very renowned editor was in the crowd. She’d worked with a number of big name writers, such as Stephen King and Peter Straub. She’d been told to listen to me. After I finished the story, the editor came up to me, introduced herself and asked for the story for their next anthology. I had to admit that the story had already been printed, but mention that she could buy reprint rights. She wanted first rights and the offer was withdrawn. That reading and that story put me on their radar for next time, but it lost me a big opportunity. I kicked myself for weeks for not sending the story to the best markets, but it taught me a lesson. I submit to the top and work my way down, not the other way around.
The tricky thing about writing is that it’s subjective. There isn’t a right or wrong answer. A story doesn’t work that way. A story one person loves can leave another person cold. I’m always amazed by the stories I sell immediately because I could have sworn the editors would like some other one more. This makes it hard to judge which stories should go where, so the writer might as well start at the top.
If there’s a moral to this essay, it’s that aiming high shouldn’t just end at the magazine markets. Aiming high should be every writer’s watchword for everything they do–whether it be searching for an agent, a publisher, a publicist or other facet of their writing career. Writers shouldn’t settle for second best. They may not hit the heights they’ve always aimed for, but they should at least try. Because in the writing world, you just never know.
Flying high (or at least trying to)