Why maybe you shouldn’t start at the top

It’s the mantra amongst short story writers: when you submit a story, start at the top. Send your submission to the highest-paying, best respected market and work down from there.

Personally, I’ve never done this until recently, and I don’t think it’s something I would advise everyone to do, certainly not if you’ve never or rarely sold a story to a paying market. Sure, it could well be that your work is so awesome that a pro-level magazine will buy it immediately, but more likely (much more likely) it isn’t. So by starting at the top, you set yourself up for a lot, and I mean a LOT, of rejection. To give any indication, I made 169 submissions last year, most to pro venues, and not even 10% of those ended up in sales. To be honest, there were some very good sales, but had I done this a few years ago, I would have collapsed in dejection and poor confidence.

One of the strange things about Twitter is that you become a voyeur into other people’s moods. Since almost everyone I follow is a writer, I’m seeing writers slide into rejection-depression almost every day. Not everyone easily climbs out of this. Not everyone has the stomach to shrug off 130 rejections, especially when you’re not selling anything. Because that will happen when you start at the top.

But you never know. They might like it.

No. They won’t. When you’ve just started writing, and haven’t sold much, your writing is probably mediocre at best. You may have some original ideas, or you may be good at writing about your characters’ emotions, but you probably need more practice to write a pro-level story.

But you may just be a natural talent!

Sure, that may just be true. However, what do you have to lose if you submit a story to a low-pay magazine, they buy it immediately, then you submit a story to a semipro magazine, they buy it immediately, too? OK, in that case, you are obviously a talent. You have just ‘lost’ two stories you *may* just have been able to sell elsewhere, but…

Words are cheap. If you can sell a story that easily, you’ll be able to produce more words just as easily. It’s unlikely that those stories were the best thing you ever wrote anyway.

Most likely, though, you may get an acceptance or two at the low-pay level, but will often take much longer to consistently sell to semipro magazines. A lot of them, including ASIM, are quite hard to get into.

Words are cheap, but the writer’s confidence isn’t.

If you’ve never sold a story, start submitting at a lower level, until you find those markets where you have a reasonable chance of getting accepted. Then submit at a higher level. Sure, try pro level magazines every now and then, but only send your very, very best stories.

Don’t be a princess. You just need to develop a thicker skin!

Sorry, but for a great number of people, it does not work like that. After a while, when you get ‘used to’ rejection, you may no longer display any princessy behaviour and wail all over your blog each time you get a rejection, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t feel anything about your inability to sell anything in the darkest hours of the night. Staying positive matters, a lot. It matters to your health, your work output and to the people around you. With a few small sales under your belt, you will feel better about your writing. A stressed and dejected writer most likely doesn’t produce great fiction. A stressed and dejected writer is a pain-in-the-you-know-where to his or her family.

If constant rejection makes you stressed and depressed, find another way of achieving your goal. Start at the bottom, or somewhere in the middle, and sell your way up into respected venues.

Just don’t forget to keep challenging yourself.