Frederik Pohl is one of the veterans of the science fiction scene, a writer and editor whose been writing since the 1930s. He also maintains an award-winning blog, The Way The Future Blogs, where he talks about the history of SF and the people he’s known along the way. His most recent post about Robert Scheckley contains some oft-repeated advice about submitting short stories, but advice that’s always worth repeating:
Then, when we started talking business, he asked if I could get him better pay than he had been receiving for his short stories. I assured him I could, and I did. Actually I doubled his monthly income almost at once. It wasn’t hard. I just changed the destination of each new manuscript that came popping out of his typewriter, for, like many new writers, Bob had convinced himself of a crippling fallacy. The fallacy is that beginners would have to work their way up through the low-paying markets — then paying about a penny a word, like Imagination — before they would be able to earn the rates that were double or triple that from Galaxy or the other leaders in the field.
What makes that a fallacy is that submitted stories come in roughly three levels of quality. There are the winners, which almost editor will buy as soon as he shakes it out of its envelope. Then there are the total losers that hardly anybody is desperate enough to buy and, finally, the stories that need a little work, and an editor will generally help the writer work its flaws away. The only sensible procedure in marketing a story is to send it to the highest-paying markets first, and work your way down if you have to.
Some times a higher-paying editor will help a writer along, as Playboy’s fiction editor did for me at a party when he poured me a drink and said, “You know, I would have bought about half of those stories you’ve been running in Galaxy.” To which I said, “Oh,” and quickly changed my ways.
I first heard this advice long ago and immediately followed it, but I’ll admit it’s easy to grow complacent and forget Pohl’s last point. In honour of his advice, my mission for the day has instantly become find a higher-paying market than the places where I already submit my work regularly.
How about you, Speakeasy readers? What market can you stick on top of your submission list that’ll make a difference?