Early last summer, when I had just started taking my short stories seriously, my brother insisted that I email one of his friends with a background in fiction. I was hesitant at first, and horribly self-conscious about my work, but after my brother’s persistent nagging, I finally relented and sent his friend an email.
What I got back was some of the best writing advice I’ve ever received. Among a whole mountain of other good suggestions, the single largest nugget of wisdom was this: stop trying to write stories for every magazine out there. Instead, just pick three.
It was a simple suggestion, but I clung to it, and it’s made a huge difference in the way I write and the reception my stories have received. Pick three markets, he said, that you think you have a realistic chance of being published in. Choose markets that are within reach, but that you’d be proud to have your work published in. Read every single story they publish, and send every story you write to those three markets first. Continue to bombard them with submissions until they eventually decide to buy one of yours.
So that’s what I did. Starting last summer, I decided to write for three magazines: Nature, Daily Science Fiction, and Flash Fiction Online. And I was amazed at the results. As I started to read these mags non-stop, I found myself quickly writing more and more pieces that I felt would fit. And as I sent those pieces out, I found myself getting more and more personal rejections with better and better feedback (not only from those three markets, but from others, too).
My goal was to place a story in each magazine within twelve months, and I’m pleased to say that goal has been accomplished. As of March, I’ve had pieces published in Nature and DSF with a forthcoming story in FFO and second stories coming out in DSF and Nature sometime soon. All in all, I call that a good first year, and I’m convinced much if it is because I got the good advice to focus my efforts.
This year, I’m hoping to write some longer pieces, and now that I’ve sold to those first three markets, I have my sights set on three more. If you’re looking for focus in your writing and submissions, it might not hurt to do the same.