Month: September 2018

To Advise or Not to Advise

Last year was good in terms of grants, so I am entering the next three-year period well funded (knock on wood). I also have a relatively new group, with only one senior person and the rest are brand new or only a year in. I have enough funds to cover everyone for the next three years, and also funds to pay self summer salary and not stress out about going on a yearlong sabbatical next academic year. The group members seem bright, content, and jovial.

Then comes an additional student who wants to join the group.

Pro: He seems to be really strong in math and physics and really into the type of stuff we do. Based on what he’s done so far, he might be an outstanding talent.

However, there are two cons.

Con 1: He is extremely uncommunicative. I don’t know if he’s shy, socially awkward, terrified of me, or perhaps he’s simply not neurotypical. My students who met him all brought this up with concern. He has serious issues respecting personal space (stands really close to people), which really weirds me out. Honestly, I don’t know that I have it in me to deal with all this.

Con 2: I didn’t actually plan to hire anyone else. I would love, for once, to not have to stretch every last penny until it breaks. I want to pay myself more than a month of summer salary and not always have to use that money to cover additional students instead.

Basically, he might work out great, but it would be tough money-wise (not so much tough as not as relaxed as I’d hoped) and I have serious concerns about my ability to work with this kid and about his ability to become part of the group.

Esteemed academic blogosphere, what say you? Would you take a chance on this kid or not? 

So You Wanna Write Short Fiction

BioBrains asked:
I was wondering if you could give a bit more insight into how you are getting your writing ‘out there’. Do you treat it like grant applications and submit to as any venues as you can, fearless (or used to…) rejections? Do you submit to contests? Fees/no fees? How did you first start? Or maybe you did elaborate on that already and I missed it? I’m just really curious…

I know most folks are here for academic fare, but I hope you won’t mind a bit of a detour, as I am in the mood for some writing talk.

First things first: I cannot give advice on writing novels. From what I gather, in order to publish a novel, you first need to get an agent, and then the agent tries to sell your novel. Getting an agent is not easy, and it helps if before writing a novel one has good short-story credits. The short pieces really help to develop the craft as well as serve as bullets on one’s creative-writing CV. I know a couple of excellent short-story writers who recently got agents and/or sold their first novel. I am pretty sure you have to have a finished novel, then you start querying agents; if they’re interested, agents ask to see your work. There are also some publishers that take unagented submissions, but I haven’t looked into it too much because I personally don’t see myself writing a novel anytime soon.

However, I can give some advice on writing short fiction. I’ve only been doing it for a year but with reasonable success, so take it for what it’s worth. My first piece (a micro) was published on September 14, 2017.

Let’s assume you have written a piece of fiction and are thinking about publishing it.

1) Do you know what your piece would be lengthwise? Do you have a flash (<1000 words), a short story (1-7.5k), a novelette (7.5-15k), a novella (15-40k), or a novel (40k+)? The lengths are somewhat flexible, but not too much. I am quoting lengths from Duotrope, a search engine described below.

2) Do you know what genre your piece is in? Further below you will find some links on how to classify your story by genre, but here are some quick rules of thumb:

2a) Is your piece set in a realistic world, either present or past? Are the beauty of the language, character development and/or setting much more pronounced than the plot? Then this sounds like a piece of literary fiction.

2b) Is it set in a realistic world but is plot-centric? Then it falls under genre fiction, such as thriller, mystery, crime fiction, romance, erotica, some types of horror, etc. (If things are happening in the past, but a realistic past, then add “historical” in front of the genre).

2c) Is it set in a world that’s mostly realistic, but has some supernatural elements? It could be surrealism or fabulism. Under certain conditions, it would be magical realism (I recently learned this term refers to postcolonial narratives).

2d) Is it set in a world that differs significantly from the real one, either present or past, and does so through either extrapolation of scientific advances or through supernatural elements that are critical for how the world operates? Then you are in the realms of science fiction and fantasy, respectively, each with many subgenres. Science fiction and  fantasy constitute what is known as speculative fiction.

I personally write literary and speculative fiction (sci-fi and fantasy), horror, humor, and a smattering of creative nonfiction. Horror and humor tend to cut across the genres listed above, so more on them shortly.

Where to send your story? Now you know that you have, say, a short story (X words long) in the Y genre. Ideally, you read a lot in the Y genre or adjacent genres. You could try sending to the short-story magazines that published the stuff you liked. But if you have no idea where to start from, there are search engines Duotrope (for a fee) and The Grinder (free), both listed below, that let you search by length and genre and tell you which magazines and anthologies (market is the term typically used) are open for the length and genre of the story you have. You can order the markets the search engine gives you according to pay or, if you have the personality of an overcaffeinated bunny as I do, order them according to their response time, from shortest to longest.

A note on horror and humor:

2e) If your piece really scary? Some horror belongs to speculative fiction, but to do so it has to have strong speculative elements. For example, aliens eating humans is dark sci-fi/sci-fi horror, i.e., a speculative brand of horror, and as such could be sent to horror markets or to speculative-fiction markets that are open to dark fiction. On the other hand, Creepy Joe Nextdoor eating humans would be (realistic) genre horror, i.e., one of the genres discussed under 2b, and as such should be sent to markets (magazines or anthologies) that specialize in horror or thriller/crime fiction or even dark literary fiction if the language is beautiful, but it should definitely not be sent to speculative-fiction  markets.

2f) If your piece hilarious? Humor is sometimes its own genre (think satirical Onion pieces) but is also a style, i.e., you can have humorous realistic or humorous speculative fiction. As such, you could send to straight-up humor markets, or you could send to literary or speculative fiction markets that are open to humorous pieces; many will take funny stories on a case-by-case basis.

When choosing where to send your work, it helps to ask yourself what you want from your writing. It’s OK if you don’t know and it will probably change over time anyway. I started wanting to have anything published and I did (a whole bunch of literary fiction and some humor). Then I wanted to have anything speculative published, and I did. Now I am moving toward wanting to get speculative fiction published in higher-tier paying markets: I have sold stories to token-paying markets (under 1 cent/word) and recently to semipro (1-8 cents/word) but I want to be able to sell reliably to semipro markets and move to occasionally sell to professional-paying markets (8+ cents/word). I don’t expect to get rich, but I would like to one day become a member of the SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) and/or the HWA (Horror Writers Association), which both require a certain number of words published in magazines or anthologies that pay at least 8 cents/word (5 cents/word for HWA). Also, with at least one so-called pro sale there are other opportunities, such as becoming part of exclusive writing critique groups (e.g., Codex).

It’s a good idea to read widely, use the search engines, and then start submitting. There will be many, MANY rejections, but that’s only natural.

Now as to BioBrains’s specific questions: I tend to submit to magazines and only rarely to contests (there are people who really like contests and do well in them). I have submitted to some literary contests, but haven’t gotten far; I don’t think my literary writing is literary enough for what is usually sought; it is on the drier, less florid, more plot-centric, genre-leaning side. Actually, over time I’ve been drifting towards speculative fiction more and more, as my writing style is more acceptable there plus the speculative element tends to relax me. (Btw, horror writers are the nicest and coolest people you are ever likely to meet, perhaps because they deal with their demons on the page.)

As I don’t think what I write is a natural fit for most literary contests, I no longer submit to them, except very rarely, when Twitter writer friends twist my arm in a “let’s submit to this call together” pact. By the way, short-fiction writers on Twitter are a phenomenal bunch; they make everything so much more fun than it would be otherwise. I will not submit if a contest requires an author to pay money to enter…unless I actually really really like the contest and think I have a realistic chance. I did recently get longlisted in a cutthroat dark-fiction competition, & that story was probably the best thing I’ve ever written; I’m currently shopping it around. There’s also a humor contest I’ve entered some stories in; we’ll see if I place.

The submission game is quite interesting. Literary magazines — even some very good ones — often don’t pay to publish your stories, but encourage simultaneous submissions (sending your piece to multiple magazines at the same time; once one of them accepts, you’re supposed to withdraw from the other places). Speculative-fiction magazines are more likely to pay, but those that do pay typically don’t allow simultaneous submission (i.e., send only to them and wait). No simsubs is fine by me if the magazine takes a few days or a couple of weeks to respond, but it’s downright inhumane if it takes months. I am extremely impatient and will not send to markets that are too sluggish to respond, no matter how coveted they are.

Rejections. So, so many rejections. My best pieces tend to get rejected more because I am more likely to send them to “reach” markets, while the stories that I am not that in love with I perhaps even shortchange a little, but they find homes quickly. (In that sense, it’s just the same as sending to Glamour Magz vs society journals for academic writing). No magazine is a sure thing.

Duotrope reports my success rate of about 25%, which they say is higher than average. I have had stories accepted by the first magazine that I submitted to, and I have had a story accepted after 22 rejections (my maximum so far).

The rest of this post contains some resources I’ve collected over the past year. I hope you find them useful.

Please leave questions in the comments, or if you have something specific you can always email me. 

General resources for short-story writers

Duotrope — statistics on markets (each market’s recent response times and acceptance rate, how much they pay, interviews with editors, listings of markets based on response times and selectivity, etc.); free trial for a week, $5/mo thereafter

The (Submission) Grinder — free search engine with recent publishing market stats, giving you the same type of information that you get from Duotrope for pay (recent response times for rejection/acceptance, acceptance rate, etc.). Plus awesome graphs! It is particularly good for speculative fiction markets; for literary zines, there is sometimes less user-reported data so poorer statistics. — a comprehensive and up-to-rate list of speculative-fiction markets, organized  according to pay rate, with critical information (subgenre, response time, story length, editor names, etc.) presented in a compact format

Poets & Writers — information about various publishing markets

Literary Devices

On Writing (Heinlein’s Rules) — by Robert J. Sawyer

How to classify your story by genre (from Suzanne Vincent, the editor of Flash Fiction Online)

Managing story length (same author as above)

How to write a short story (elucidates the “moving parts” of a successful story)

Standard formatting for a short story (many markets link to this template for desired formatting)

A list of tired speculative-fiction tropes as per Strange Horizons magazine. The list is so long and exhaustive that it will likely make you wonder, “Why bother? They’ve obviously seen everything.”

Common tropes to avoid in fiction (from Alisa Golden, editor of *82 Review)

Tropes to avoid in humor (from editors of Defenestration Magazine)

Top Ten Plotting Problems (by Alicia Rasley)

Why Stories Get Rejected, Even Good Ones (from the editors of On Spec)

A Comprehensive and Totally Universal Listing of Every Problem a Story Has Ever Had (hilarious and informative, from the editors of Andromeda Spaceways)

From the Slush Pile (by Marie Vibbert)

Rejectomancy  — this excellent blog written by Aeryn Rudel sheds light on the process crafting short fiction, the expectations that accompany submitting work for publication, and learning from inevitable rejections.

Chris Fielden’s aggregator of short-fiction advice, competition calls, and other writerly goodness

Six Questions For…  Blog by Jim Harrington, where editors and publishers discuss writing flash fiction, short stories, poetry, and novels.


Publication markets that might be suitable for the type of fiction I write

This is mostly a list for myself. Some of the markets below focus on science fiction, some on literary fiction, and some welcome all genres.

The list is in no particular order, other than by maximum length and/or somewhat by genre (lit/spec; humor has its own list as there are few dedicated markets). I am definitely drawn to markets that are fast and likely to give personal feedback. (If you want a finer search by length, DL Shirey has a great list.)

MICROFICTION (generally up to 101 words)

50-Word Stories (exactly 50 words, weekly best story gets a small prize)

Blink-Ink (50-word stories, themed issues)

101 Words (exactly 101 words)

Microfiction Monday Magazine (M3) (no more than 100 words)

The Drabble (no more than 100 words)

Drabblez Magazine

100 Word Story

Martian Magazine (100 words exactly, science fiction)

A Story in 100 Words

101 Fiction (speculative fiction only, themed issues; 100 words plus a one-word title)

Speculative 66 (speculative fiction only; 66 words sans title)

Nanoism (no more than 140 characters)

FLASH FICTION (generally up to 1000 words, but some require shorter)

Flash Fiction Online

Flash Fiction Magazine 

Jellyfish Review (very fast response and very personable)

Ellipsis Zine (web zines plus print anthologies)

Every Day Fiction  (great variety, but 4-6 months for response)

Smokelong Quarterly

Freeze Frame Fiction

Daily Science Fiction (speculative)

Factor Four Magazine (speculative; up to 1,500 words, prefer under 1,000)

Arsenika (speculative)

The Arcanist  (speculative)

The Molotov Cocktail (dark)

The Grievous Angel (speculative; up to 750 words; newly SFWA )

Brilliant Flash Fiction (check out prompt-based contests)

Zeroflash (up to 300 words, monthly prompts; generally speculative)

CHEAP POP (up to 500 words)

HUMOR (many other zines will take humorous stories on a case-by-case basis;
Lee Blevins has a comprehensive list of humor markets here)

McSweeney’s Internet Tendency

Robot Butt


The Dirty Pool

The Community Heckler

The Big Jewel

Funny in 500

Jokes Review

Space Squid (SF and humor, slow to respond right now)

The Higgs Weldon

Drunk Monkeys

Fabula Argentea

Jersey Devil Press

SHORT STORIES (consult The Submission Grinder or Duotrope for more listings)

Short stories — literary (woefully incomplete)

Note: Many will also take speculative or slipstream

Split Lip


Gone Lawn (fast response)

Riggwelter (fast response)

Sick Lit Magazine (no length limit; magazine emphasizes author-editor interaction)

Jersey Devil Press (<4,200 words; they like wacky, humorous, beautiful fiction)

Literally stories

*82 Review (very short fiction and art)

The Nottingham Review (quite fast)   (“…looking for diverse characters, voices and settings in stories that focus on the ordinary, mundane aspects of contemporary life…”)

The Fiction Pool


After the Pause

Necessary Fiction


Atticus Review

The Forge Literary Magazine

Fabula Argentea

3Elements Review (quarterly issues, story must include three specified words)

Short stories — speculative (shamefully incomplete)

(List of pro-paying zines that qualify for SFWA membership can be found here; directory of semipro zines can be found here; the best thing is to use The Submission Grinder and seek open markets for your story by length, genre, payment, and/or response time)




Intergalactic Medicine Show

Fantasy & Science Fiction


Strange Horizons


Compelling Science Fiction

Galaxy’s Edge 

Unidentified Funny Objects (anthology)

Liminal Stories

Lightspeed Magazine

Nightmare Magazine


Diabolical Plots

The Dark


Black Static

Three-Lobed Burning Eye

Abyss & Apex

Metaphorosis (SFF with focus on quality of language, atmosphere; very fast, gives personal feedback)

Syntax & Salt

Andromeda Spaceways

On Spec


Exoplanet Magazine

Aphotic Realm (dark fiction)

The Martian Wave


Kasma SF

Alien Dimensions (“Set it in space, in the future, and include some friendly non-humanoid aliens”)

Liquid Imagination

Altered Reality


Here are OTHER PEOPLE’S LISTS that I found very useful (some skew literary, some SF): (microfiction venues)   (emphasizes some up-and-coming markets that are, as Doutrope would say, approachable)        (as promised, they are incredibly comprehensive) (click to see the markets that qualify for the membership in the Science Fiction Writers of America) (directory of semipro zines) — a comprehensive and up-to-rate list of speculative-fiction markets, organized  according to pay rate, with critical information (subgenre, response time, story length, editor names, etc.) presented in a compact format