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Publish Your Fiction

This page aims to help new writers understand the basics of publishing. Here you will find tips and resources to better understand the process of publishing your original fiction.

Contents

  • Before You Publish
  • Resources for Writers
  • Finding Publishers for Short Fiction
  • Videos on Publishing
  • Examples of Sci Fi Magazines/Websites
  • Five Science Fiction Novels - A Comparison

Before You Publish

While every story is different and presents a writer with unique considerations and challenges, the following checklist will help you identify common steps writers take prior to publishing their work.

Storytelling

  1. Can you summarize the theme of your story in a sentence or two?
  2. Can you summarize the plot of the story in a short paragraph?
  3. Is your plot appropriate for a short story? Is there enough detail? Some beginning writers compose "short stories" that are really summaries of novel-length ideas.
  4. Does the main character change in a meaningful way through the events of this story?
  5. Are there random events, characters, or dialogue that don't contribute to the resolution of the conflict?
  6. Are you retelling a famous story? Fan fiction is great, but it should be clear when something is fan fiction. Also, there are many common themes that recur in many stories, like the hero's journey. However, if your story is a near-exact retelling of a well-known story with the names and a few details changed, it will be hard to find an audience.
  7. Is this a story you would want to read?

Content

  1. Who is your audience? Is your story appropriate for that audience? (For example, a story featuring graphic sex/violence probably isn't a great fit for a middle school audience).
  2. Do you have stereotyped characters? (For example, sexualized women who need rescuing by men.)
  3. Is your story culturally sensitive? Modern readers expect authenticity from characters, so characters portraying people of color, LGBTQ+ identities, or other marginalized identities must meaningfully represent the identity they convey. Writers who lack an authentic connection to a character's identity often write characters that convey or perpetuate stereotypes. Many readers and editors do not accept this.

Revision

  1. Have you read the story out loud to yourself?
  2. Can you read the story through without finding things to revise or change?
  3. Have you obtained feedback from trusted, reliable readers?
  4. Have you spent time thinking about the story since you completed it? It's a bad idea to send out a first draft for publication immediately after you finish it. Your subconscious mind might not be done with it yet. Take your time.
  5. Have you thoroughly proofread the story, fixing any spelling, grammatical, or formatting errors/inconsistencies?

Market Research

  1. Do you have a magazine or website in mind for your story? Something you read yourself?
  2. Have you found a few options for submitting your work to editors? Alternatively, have you found a community you can self-publish to who you believe will appreciate your story?
  3. Have you read other stories from the outlets you plan to submit to? Do you have a feel for the editor's or community's unique interests?
  4. Have you carefully reviewed the submission guidelines, taking care to obey ALL requirements? Ignoring guidelines is a quick way to have your work rejected or ignored.
  5. Are you emotionally prepared for readers reactions to your work? Expect a variety of reactions from positive feedback, critique, trolling, and being ignored.
  6. Are you emotionally prepared for your story to be rejected by editors? This is the most common outcome of a submission and a writer must be OK with that for publishing to be fun and worthwhile.

Resources for Writers

Some of these resources are specifically for science fiction writers; others are helpful resources for fiction writing in general.

Finding Places to Share Your Short Fiction

There are many magazines and websites that share original science fiction. The list below features databases and lists that catalog websites and magazines to help writers find places to share their writing. Most of these resources are not specific to science fiction, but features publications from a variety of genres, such as literary fiction.

Videos on Publishing

“Eric's Sabbatical Project” is a series of videos designed to help new writers understand what it means and what it takes to publish their short fiction.

This first video discusses what publishing means and reviews types of publishing. It also provides an in-depth look at literary magazines and websites.

This second video provides insights to help you decide if your writing is ready to publish and discusses the choices writers make when they decide to publish their writing.

The third installment in this series explores resources for finding websites and magazines open to unsolicited fiction submissions.

This final video goes through the submission process, step by step, to help new writers visual what it's like to submit their work for publication.

Example Magazines

While there are many magazines and websites publishing short sci fi, this page highlights several publishers and provides an overview of each. Some of very well-known, such as Analog Science Fiction and Fact, while others have smaller readerships, such as Electric Spec. The objective here is to show the similarities and differences across these publications to help new writers get a better understanding of what they may encounter as they look for places to publish their fiction.

Analog Science Fiction and Fact

  • Genre: Science fiction and nonfiction
  • Readership: (2018) 20,189 subscribers, 2880 newsstand sales (From Locus Magazine)
  • Pay: Professional (8-10 cents/word)
  • Promote social justice: Yes. For example, Analog features “The Analog Award for Emerging Black Voices.” Judges included notable African American writers such as Steven Barnes. Award includes publication and mentorship.
  • Competitive: Highest level/most competitive. Analog does accept unsolicited submissions through online submission system. The grinder showed a 1.02% acceptance rate over the last year, with 878 submissions in that period.

Apex Magazine

  • Genre: Fantasy, Horror, Science Fiction
  • Readership: (2018) Moderate – 20,500 site visitors/month, 1500 subscribers
  • Pay: Professional. 8 cents/word + 1 cent/word more if story is featured in podcast.
  • Social Justice: Yes. Apex states diversity is one of their editorial standards and the publication is managed by a diverse staff of editors. Issue 126 (2021) was a special focus on Indigenous creators.
  • Competitive: Very competitive. Apex receives 2000 submission/month. They do accept unsolicited submissions. From The Grinder, of 2471 submissions in the last 12 months, the acceptance rate is .48%.

The Arcanist

  • Genre: speculative flash fiction – science fiction, horror, fantasy, 1000 words or less
  • Readership: Smaller. The Arcanist is hosted by Medium, a webhosting site that handles subscriptions/payment for publishers. There are currently 1,600 followers. No site views/month listed.
  • Pay: Substantial but not professional. The Arcanist pays $50 per flash story. Currently working to pay pro rate (8 cents/word per Science Fiction Writers of America)
  • Social Justice: No specific mission or information that shows social justice as a major editorial focus.
  • Competitive: Competitive, but accessible. Per “The Grinder,” of 468 submissions in the past 12 months (as of 10/27/21), the acceptance rate was 1.28%.

Asimov’s Science Fiction/

  • Genre: Science fiction
  • Readership: (2018) 17697 subscriptions, 2265 newsstand sales (From Locus Magazine)
  • Pay: Professional (8-10 cents/word)
  • Social Justice: Could not find evidence that social justice is an editorial goal.
  • Competitive: Most competitive, but they do accept unsolicited submissions via their online submission tool. They DO NOT accept simultaneous submissions, but claim to respond within 45 days.

Clarkesworld

  • Genre: science fiction and fantasy
  • Readership: 42000 online readers/ 13000 podcast listeners per month. 3800 digital subscribers
  • Pay: Professional – 12 cents/word
  • Social Justice: Yes. It is a major theme of fiction/nonfiction on the site, though they have also gotten in some hot water on this front (see “Attack Helicopter” story)
  • Competitive: Highest level competitive, but do accept unsolicited submissions and they respond very quickly. The Grinder showed an acceptance rate of 1.38% of 1948 submissions in the last year.

Daily Science Fiction

  • Genre: science fiction and fantasy
  • Readership: The Daily Science Fiction website gets about 90,000 page views every month, reaching 15,000 unique readers. Email subscriber list is 9,000.
  • Pay: Professional (8 cents/word)
  • Social Justice: No specific mission or information that shows social justice as a major editorial focus.
  • Competitive: Less competitive. Per The Grinder, of 1050 submissions in the last 12 months, the acceptance rate was 7.4%. They do take unsolicited submissions, but not simultaneous submissions.

Diabolical Plots

  • Genre: science fiction, fantasy, horror (everything must have a speculative element, even horror).
  • Readership: I was unable to determine a number of site visits per month.
  • Pay: Professional 10 cents/word
  • Social Justice: Includes this statement on submission page:
  • Diversity: We encourage writers from underrepresented or marginalized communities to submit their work. This includes, but is not limited to, writers who identify as BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, women, people with disabilities, and religious minorities. We recognize the potential for bias to affect our reading of submissions, so we also encourage writers from these communities to self-identify in their Notes For the Editors if they feel comfortable doing so–the contents of this box will only be visible to our Editor and Assistant Editors. This is completely optional and the omission of such information will not affect your submission.
  • Competitive: Over 1097 reported submissions in the last 12 months, the acceptance rate is 1.91%.

Electric Spec

  • Genre: science fiction, fantasy, and the macabre
  • Readership: Unable to determine
  • Pay: token - $20/story
  • Social Justice: Nothing specifically noted
  • Competitive: Less competitive. The Grinder noted 1.54% of 194 submissions in the last year were acceptances.

Escape Pod (podcast/audio magazine)

  • Genre: science fiction
  • Readership: (2018) 37000 listeners
  • Pay: professional – 8 cents/word
  • Social Justice: Yes. For example, October 2020 featured an issued titled “Black Future Month” edited by Brent C. Lambert that featured black writers and artists. Also lists this statement on their submissions page:
  • Diversity: Escape Pod welcomes submissions from writers of all backgrounds. We are especially interested in seeing more submissions from people of backgrounds that have been historically underrepresented or excluded from traditional SF publishing, including, but not limited to: women, people of color, LGBTQIA or non-binary gender people, persons with disabilities, members of religious minorities or non-religious people, and writers from outside the United States. When in doubt, please don’t self-reject. We appreciate you entrusting us with your stories. If you identify as part of these or other underrepresented groups, we welcome and encourage you to indicate so when you send us your story. We acknowledge the reality of unconscious bias and will make our best efforts to account for it during the editorial review process. Our goal is to publish fiction that reflects the diversity of the human experience.
  • Competitive: 2.72% of 551 submissions in the last year were accepted per The Grinder

Fantasy and Science Fiction

  • Genre: Fantasy and Science Fiction
  • Readership: (2018) 6688 subscribers + 2652 at news stand. Does not include digital subscriptions.
  • Pay: Professional, 8-12 cents/word
  • Social Justice: “F&SF encourages submissions from diverse voices and perspectives, and has published writers from all over the world.”
  • Competitive: highest level. Per Grinder, 2032 submission in last 12 months, 1.57% accepted.

Tor.com

Tor.com is included in this list as a well-known publication that does not accept unsolicited submissions. Their content comes from notable writers and they are not looking for new writers to submit their work.

Five Science Fiction Novels - Thinking About Trends

By Eric Aldrich

Throughout the thousands of science fiction titles published over the years, many common themes and trends appear and fade. To assess some of those trends, I read five novels and one collection of short fiction, then compared them to ascertain how each reflects the genre. While not a particularly scientific study, the comparison is useful to writers wishing to publish their writing. Thinking about what is popular now vs what was popular in the past, how science fiction has changed in response to social awareness and scientific discoveries, and the diversity of what stories get published are all topics a writer must consider. I encourage writers to recreate this comparison for themselves, potentially with more books and stories, to develop a stronger understanding of the genre.

1. Alien Stories – E.C. Osondu (2021)

E.C. Osondu’s “Alien Stories” is a collection of short fiction. I included it because I was motivated to read very new fiction by a writer from Africa. Osondu is a writer from Nigeria and a writing professor at Providence College in Rhode Island.

In “Alien Stories,” Osondu played with the duel meaning of the word “alien” – both an extraterrestrial and a person from another country/culture. In each story, he would show an interaction between humans in a recognizable culture (sometimes American, sometimes African) and an extraterrestrial to comment on how human cultures treat outsiders.

For example, in the story “Visitors,” the narrator’s wife invites a newly arrived extraterrestrial family to dinner. The narrator displays all the fears and biases that someone may experience meeting people from a different culture for the first time. He thinks the aliens should have moved to a city where there would be other aliens, he admits to knowing nothing about their customs or culture, and he worries they will be “moochers,” seeking charity. The narrator compares his dinner with the extraterrestrials to a time his wife invited a family from Africa and demonstrates how he felt all the same discomforts. In the end, the narrator realizes the extraterrestrials love their children, just like him, and they are happy to watch sports. Those very basic elements of common ground make him comfortable with the family, but it’s clear that the next time his wife invites newcomers, his reaction is unlikely to change.

"Alien Stories” was really brilliant in how Osondu used science fiction tropes for clever social commentary. He didn’t involve much world building or exobiology in his stories; “aliens” were more metaphorical than speculative. It was really fascinating to see how an African writer adapted science fiction, too, such as how the author told some stories in a folktale style, even when they involved spaceships and abductions. The collection showed how flexible science fiction can be for a writer and how insightful it can be for a reader. It was atypical science fiction and broadened my understanding of the genre.

2. Dune and Dune Messiah – Frank Herbert (1965 and 1969)

With Dune’s November 2021 release as a huge blockbuster film, I wanted to re-read this classic, as well as read the sequel for the first time. All the hype around a book I’ve loved for my whole life scared me, as the Lord of the Rings film series turned one of my favorite childhood stories into a commercial mess. So far, it seems like Dune has somewhat escaped that rampant commercialization.

What I noticed in my read through of Dune this time that I had never noticed on my previous readings is that the story exoticizes Middle Eastern cultures into alien cultures. Compared to “Alien Stories,” Dune may have something of an opposite effect on readers. Rather than making them more open to other cultures, it may enhance the feeling that the “other” is dangerous or exotic. Certainly, the Fremen, the rebel characters who overthrow the empire and retake their home world, Arrakis, have similarities to rebel groups around today. To see them as protagonists felt in conflict with how rebels fighters are portrayed in our culture. In a sense, America today feels a bit like the Empire in the novel and the Fremen would be like the so-called “terrorists” we’ve been fighting for thirty years in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. This was emphasized by Herbert’s use of the word “jihad” to describe the Fremen overthrow of the system and their religious fervor as a motivator.

Dune contains many environmental themes about water usage and human impact on the ecosphere which were, unfortunately, not continued in Dune Messiah. Also unfortunately, the second book maintains the exoticization of Middle Eastern cultures, placing the hero from the first novel, Paul Atreides, in the role of political and spiritual leader of all Arrakis (and the universe). The novel is full of rituals and intrigue, as well as “noble savage” type characters (aka Paul’s Fremen concubine, Chani).

Dune’s age is showing. While a masterwork of planetary imagination and a gripping hero’s journey tale, modern social developments make the Middle East-as-alien aesthetic uncomfortable to read. I’ll always love the giant sandworms, though. Long live Shai Hulud.

3. City in the Middle of the Night - Charlie Jane Anders

City in the Middle of the Night was published in 2019. The author hosts a popular podcast called “our opinions are correct" with her partner, Annalee Newitz. I’ve read and admired Newitz’s work as very insightful modern “hard” science fiction, as so I thought Anders’s work may be in the same vein.

Unfortunately, City in the Middle of the Night was not as compelling as I’d hoped. The novel was a pastiche of very obvious science fiction allusions. For example, there was a scene so close to Ursula Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” that it was distracting. The two human cities - one time-obsessed and the other anarchist - was pretty close to Le Guin's The Dispossessed and the characters' trek across the ice reminded me immediately of The Left Hand of Darkness, Le Guin's most popular work.

The pace of the events, the changes to characters throughout the story, and the perspectives (both first and third person depending on character/chapter) didn’t feel complete. To put it bluntly, this book felt like a developmental draft, not a finalized novel. There were even sentence-level editing issues, such as distracting repeated words. The titular “city” where the main character goes to live with aliens had promise as a concept, but it was such a small part of the book that I felt cheated. The characters were modern in so far as the main relationships were same-sex relationships and both hero roles were intended to be occupied by women with non-traditional gender roles and concepts, which was a positive aspect to the story.

The question I left with was if the novel was published on its own merit or on Anders’s popularity as a figure in the science fiction literary scene. She can talk compellingly about science fiction on her podcast, so she is well-versed in the genre, but the novel didn’t show how the author put her particular mark on the genre. The novel could have used a couple more developmental drafts and a better editor.

4. Consider Phlebas – Ian M. Banks (1987)

Consider Phlebas was the first novel in Banks’s series known as the “Culture Novels.” Banks created a galaxy-wide society with detail enough to support several novels. I very much enjoyed the second Culture novel, Player of Games, and had high hopes for Consider Phlebas.

Following a mercenary bound to recover a missing artificial intelligence, the novel is a classic space opera. Some sections feel like side-quests, meaning they're diversions from the main plot that don't propel the story along along. I learned a lot about pacing a novel from this book. While I enjoyed the story, I found the side quests tedious and I’d flip ahead to see when the main thrust of the narrative picked back up.

Overall, though the plot left something to be desired and the characters (especially women) fell flat, the depth and complexity of the societies, politics, cultures, and so on made Consider Phlebas a worthwhile read. It was also interesting to see how Banks’s Culture series compared to and differed from Herbert’s Dune series. Twenty-years after Dune, Banks had a world equipped with personal computers and emerging from the Cold War. Where Herbert adopted a Middle Eastern aesthetic for his novel, Banks was more successful at creating people and cultures that felt new and influenced by modern concepts of the future. For example, in Banks’s novels, many people live on artificial worlds known as orbitals and their utopian society is governed by benevolent artificial intelligence; in Herbert’s world, emperors and dukes rule with near-medieval absolutism and intelligent machines are banned because they caused an apocalypse at some point in history. Herbert’s fear of technology is far from Banks’s vision of the promise technology holds to create positive change. Perhaps that’s why Elon Musk is an Ian M. Banks fan.

5. Providence – Max Barry (2020)

Another very contemporary work, Max Barry’s Providence is the story of a human crew on an autonomous warship on its way to destroy an alien world. Having read Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, John Scalzy’s Old Man’s War, and Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, the trope of humans attacking aliens they don’t understand felt a bit worn out to me, but I was still interested to see how Barry handled it.

My main comment about this book, which is also my comment on John Scalzy’s work, is that I don’t understand contemporary science fiction’s fascination with “wacky” characters in serious situations. The contrast between quirky-but-loveable characters and interplanetary destruction feels off, at least to me. It’s harder to get invested in the suspense and drama of the story if you are rolling your eyes at the characters’ decisions every few pages. Barry’s crew included a Breakfast Club-like cast – the unsure protagonist, a slapstick weirdo who happens to be strong, a cold, by-the-books captain, and a pretty, do-gooder psychologist. When we learn that the crew is not even essential to the mission and the ship could have completed the mission without them, my investment in the characters diminished. Their role was to convey the mission on social media to build support for the war, which was clever and contemporary, but deflated my connection to the characters.

Like Anders’s novel, Providence felt more like it was hitting popular science fiction tropes than inventing anything new. It made me wonder if modern science fiction publishers are afraid to try new things and too reliant on reworking what’s familiar. While Barry’s book didn't pillage Heinlein to the extent that Anders’s book stole from Le Guin, the obvious creative lineage was distracting.

In Conclusion

Overall, these five novels gave me an opportunity to think about science fiction both in terms of themes and time.

While the themes and presentation of culture in Dune may have suffered a bit over time, the worldbuilding and storytelling were clearly a cut above the other novels. The ecological themes remain relevant. It was also interesting to observe how even Dune Messiah struggled to capture the magic of the first novel in Herbert’s series.

Osondu’s “Alien Stories” had one foot in sci fi and one in literary fiction, which was great, but also felt like it was written for a different audience than the other four books. In its newness and re-imagining of what sci fi can do, we can see the value of reading sci fi from non-western cultures.

Anders’s City in the Middle of the Night felt most in touch with modern ideas about cultural diversity, changing views of gender norms, and millennial culture. The novel had promise, but it was, in my opinion, poorly executed. By the end, characters who were important at the beginning – people who seemed to hold positive values about social revolution – were reduced to tired mean girls with little in common with themselves at earlier stages in the novel. The creative ideas were overwhelmed by the copycatting of Le Guin and others. This novel felt like something published because the author is popular. Of course, I can’t prove that, but my suspicion comes from the sloppiness of the editing. The author, and her ideas, deserved better and perhaps if she didn’t offer the publisher a sure-fire shot at selling books, her book would have received the developmental attention it needed.

While Consider Phlebas fell short of Banks’s other works I’ve read, it was still interesting to see how much a science fiction novel could modernize its concept of technology compared to the fear of technology present in Dune. It was also interesting to see how the foundation of Banks’s Culture series began with a novel that only peripherally included the Culture, and cast the Culture as the enemy to the protagonist, Horza, who feared losing his humanity to technological control. That said, this book trusted the reader to deal with concepts, language, and complexity that was lacking in City in the Middle of the Night and Providence.

That observation deserves some elaboration with a theory. In the past decade or so, science fiction publishing has been heavily influenced by young adult literature. YA literature is extremely popular with both young people and adults. In my theory, this has created an unfortunate “dumbing down” of content that leaves adept adult readers feeling like the YA-influenced works are thin and underdeveloped. I could certainly be misguided here, but contrasting Dune and Consider Phlebas with City in the Middle of the Night and Providence suggests an ongoing simplification in the science fiction genre. Thank the stars for Ted Chiang and Cixin Lui, both contemporary writers who don’t hold back on the complexity. Here's hoping more people read E.C. Osondu, too!

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