Breaking the deadly loop of the debut writer

I’ve heard it time and again. If you’re a debut science fiction and fantasy novelist out there shopping your nine part epic fantasy on the Aardzork empire wars – don’t. Your first novel must stand on its own, regardless of the wordy sequel you have planned. Secondly, in this genre you must have short fiction credits to catch the eye of an agent or a publisher.

That’s easier said than done, isn’t it? There you are with your first novel workshopped and edited till you have Aardzorks coming out of your ears. Yet no one takes the bait. Agents and publishers stay away in droves. Why? Why?

One word: publish. It’s an awful loop but there it is. To be published, you have to be published. Okay, not always, but it sure gets you a tad more attention if you can say in your query letter that you’ve had stories published in Inter-galactic Gal, or Darkensong, or Alien Nation.

Those are not real magazines – I only wish they were. They sound pretty cool. The era of pulp has gone and science fiction magazines, at least in the west, have declined in the multitudes. Such delights as Galaxy, Galileo, Gamma, Infinity, Omni and Astonishing are all dead.

Listed below, however, are some magazines that are still hale and hearty (one hopes), both print and online, in no particular order. My one criteria was that they must currently be open to e-submissions. In English. Apparently the Chinese Science Fiction World is the biggest mag out there in terms of readership but sadly, as I neither read nor write Mandarin, I can’t break into that one…

But try one of the markets listed below. Dust out a short story written years earlier, or better still, write a completely new one. Get a couple of trusted readers to comment on it. If you don’t have a crit group, try an online group like Critters. You’re sure to learn something, even more from reading and critiquing other writers’ work than from the crits you receive on your own. Make your edits, polish it till it shines, and do read the guidelines before sending it off into the ether…

 Asimovs  Asimov’s Science Fiction
Looking for ‘character oriented’ stories, this prestigious mag has been around since 1977 and published several award-winning writers. Good luck with trying to break into that.
 Analog  Analog Science Fiction and Fact
Published since 1930, Analog/ Astounding is where science fiction was born, grew up  and continues to hold its spell. I love this mag.
 Strange-Horizons  Strange Horizons
A weekly online speculative fiction magazine that has one of the fastest response rates out there. Mostly form rejections, although they do say they’ll include a personal note if they have anything useful to say to the writer. And if they have the time.
A short fiction market with a pretty broad definition of the ‘speculative’ stuff they’re interested in. They’re one of the highest paying markets, and you’ll get great exposure. Definitely worth a read and worth a try.
 clarkesworld  Clarkesworld Magazine
A monthly science fiction and fantasy magazine published since 2006 and a two-time winner of the Hugo Award for Best Semiprozine.  AE
An online Canadian science fiction magazine that was launched in 2010. It’s named, as you might have guessed, after AE Van Vogt. There aren’t enough Canadian mags out there – may the force be with you, AE.
 Andromeda  Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine
This doughty Australian magazine has been around since 2002. They have what they call an online ‘Slush-o-matic’ with about one out of hundred stories making it to print. Regardless, you often get useful reader comments back with your story, which I think is great.
 Three-lobed-burning-eye  Three-lobed Burning Eye
Horror is not my thing. But I included this one because it got my prize for the most weirdly named magazine. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be able to say they’ve had a story published in the Three-lobed Burning Eye? It would be a whole conversation by itself.

The process of writing, editing, and submitting a short story is an end in itself. Sometimes it takes years to find a home for a particular story. Don’t be disheartened. Rejection is an inevitable part of the game. If you keep working at your craft, the rejections start getting nicer – ‘We like your writing style – can you send us another?” Never mind that it’s going to take six months to write another. Never mind that the rejection took ten months to arrive in your inbox and you feel like screaming and throwing your laptop out of the window.

Don’t. Just write. No matter what it is. The act of writing something different will get those creative fires burning. You may even end up with greater insight into your own Aardzorks. Face it, one book does not a writer make. Unless you’re Margaret Mitchell. Or Harper Lee.

ETA: Just popping in to say that this post is seven years old and a lot of the market stuff is dated. TOR no longer accepts unsolicited submissions, for one thing. AE went into a 3-year hiatus (their site and data were hacked) but are apparently back in action. Pro rates are currently 8 cents a word. We have a brand-new Canadian magazine – yay! Check out Augur Magazine. Also check out Apex Magazine, Uncanny, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and – recently reopened! – Fantasy Magazine. Not all of them are open all the time – do check open sub dates, and do read and support them if you can.

About Rati Mehrotra

Science fiction and fantasy writer. I blog at: Thanks for dropping by!
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11 Responses to Breaking the deadly loop of the debut writer

  1. Linda Abbott says:

    Love your sense of humour. Your advise is right on the mark and great inspiration.


  2. jdsfiction says:

    I LOVED this post! The old pulps used to get my blood boiling for adventure to strange new worlds and dangerous jungles! A loooooong time ago I got my first sci-fi short story published in Analog, so that one has a special place in my heart. This was a great article Rati, really good advice for those looking to break-in to the market! Keep up the great work!


  3. Joachim Boaz says:

    Unfortunately, people are much more willing to simply dump their epic Aardzork empire wars into a self-published ebook instead of actually trying out magazines etc…. Which are obviously the place to start.


  4. Lara Chase says:

    Thanks for the advice. Did you happen to come across any fantasy specific publications, or just science fiction?


    • Lara, many of these mags accept fantasy too. Just make sure to check the guidelines. They have very clear ideas on what they like, and what they see too much of. Best is if you can read some issues before submitting.


  5. Widdershins says:

    Three-lobed Burning Eye – priceless!


  6. thesectorm says:

    Hey, stop reading my mind with all your useful information and so forth!


  7. “If you keep working at your craft, the rejections start getting nicer” … too funny! And great resources here – thanks!


  8. I like this. It sort of digs at me to put pen to paper, or at least finger to keyboard


  9. shovonc says:

    Thanks. This is brilliant.


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