Last week I drew out a very long analogy to demonstrate why having a professional writing routine before publication is, in my opinion, one of the most important skills you can develop as an unpublished author. I claimed that, “Having a predictable, productive, and sustainable approach to your writing is just as important as writing well.”
Now, if I’m going to claim that predictability, productivity and sustainability are the three keys of professional writing, I should probably define what I mean by those terms.
Key 1. PREDICTABILITY
I work analogous to a lot of women who, on top of writing, carry the majority of the domestic duties in their home, such as parenting, childcare, cooking meals, keeping house, and supporting their other family members’ careers, hobbies, educations, interests and pursuits. Some of them also have their own full-time or part-time jobs on top of those responsibilities. Because these responsibilities are constant, pressing, and relatively important, it’s easy for writing to get put at the bottom of the stack. When writing time becomes contingent upon these unpredictable factors, it becomes unpredictable itself. There’s no way of knowing when the next writing session will come, how long it will be, or whether or not that time will be interrupted.
Predictable writing time comes from prioritized writing time. I know that’s a tall order. We all come from different families and situations. But remember, I’m comparing the development of a professional writing method to the development of a professional manuscript. It’s okay if it takes just as long to evolve.
Personally, I’ve found my most useful method of predictability is writing at the same time every day. Last year I had to break my writing time into three blocks throughout the day. Other options might include having a designated writing day of the week, a few days every month, or otherwise basing your writing time off of something you know you can count on. Think of it this way: it’s better to make your writing time rely on the position of the sun rather than everything under it.
Key 2. PRODUCTIVITY
Blocking off time to write is the first step, but actually writing within that predictable period is just as important. Some authors create a quota for themselves, whether its hourly, weekly, or monthly. Some use websites and applications like Write or Die, a terrifying, seat-of-your-pants application that “punishes” you when you don’t write fast enough, or Written Kitten, a much pleasanter website that shows you pictures of kittens as you meet certain benchmarks. Googling “productivity methods for writers” will provide you with plenty of fun and effective ideas. My personal productivity method is a combination of a 600-word daily quota, using the Self Control application, and Victoria Schwab’s “calendar trick” or “sticker method.”
Finding the productivity method that’s right for you can be just as challenging as honing in on a predictable writing time. Be patient with yourself and experiment with different techniques.
Key 3. SUSTAINABILITY
Once you’ve found a predictable, productive writing routine, it’s time to focus on making sure it stays balanced with the rest of your life, and is something that you can maintain over long periods of time. Methods that work during NaNoWriMo, for instance, might wreck your life if you try to apply them every other month of the year. What is more, your definition of sustainability may change — like when your baby who took a nap for two hours every day becomes a toddler who doesn’t like naps at all — in which case, your ability to adapt may become the secret to sustainability. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, learning when to be flexible and when to make exceptions, is a key component to consistency. Rigidity and austerity may carry you for a time, but their uphill-nature is doomed to burnout. Sustainability means working to balance your predictability and productivity, while also nurturing your inner and outer life. Find a method that feeds your soul.
For me, the trick to creating a sustainable writing practice has been not only making my writing predictable and productive, but making my domestic life predictable and productive as well. When I have a time designated to make dinner, for instance, I don’t have to multitask. I don’t carry my entire mental load every hour of every day, I just carry one thing at a time. I know when I’m supposed to be writing and when I’m supposed to be making dinner, so there’s no inner battle about what should be taking precedence at any point in the day.
So, there you have it. A non-professional writer’s definition of a professional writing routine. I suppose only time will tell how effective my three keys are. In the meanwhile, thank you for coming on this journey with me.
p.s. Next week, I’ll share the exact schedule I used last year to get six hours of writing time in every day — with two hours to make dinner and limited screen time for my kiddos. It’s kinda magical, so stay tuned.
Imagine you have a horse, a newborn foal, fresh out of the caul and at first it can’t even stand on four legs. It learns to walk, awkwardly, and you fall in love. Let’s say there’s a parade coming up in a few years with a prize for the best horse, and you believe in your horse and want to get that prize. So you feed your horse and give it water. Sometimes you give it treats — apples and carrots — and it nuzzles you and oh, isn’t everything just wonderful?
It comes time to train the horse, which you thought would be easy, since you and your horse had always gotten along so well, but now it’s bucking and butting and you’re yelling its name like an expletive and you’re yelling its name and expletives, and part of you still loves it, and part of you is starting to hate it, and part of you wonders why you ever thought you could raise a horse and train it. Eventually, though, you and the horse learn to cooperate with each other. You give it more food and water, more apples and carrots, but most of all, you give it sweat and tears, and somehow that results in you loving the horse more than ever.
After what should have been an inspiring four-minute musical montage, but actually ends up being a grueling decade spent mostly in isolation and the somewhat-disturbing throes of obsession, your horse is full-grown, a purebred champion with a shining coat. Tada! You take it to the horse-parade. Your wildest dreams come true, and your horse gets first place. Everyone is so excited about your horse they want it right at the very front of the parade and you are so, so proud. You have arrived.
And then the parade starts.
And you realize something terrible.
You don’t know how to ride a horse.
You, however, are tied to your horse, and now this parade is moving. There’s no stopping the parade and there’s no stopping your horse. There’s no saddle and no stirrups. You can try and get on the horse now, or you can try to keep up. Heaven forbid you lose your footing, or get tired, or burn out and end up dragged along by the horse and trampled by the parade. Morbid? Certainly. And suddenly, this dream-come-true has turned into a complete nightmare.
The horse is your book. The parade is publishing.
Here’s a thought I’ve had a lot lately. It can take years, sometimes decades, for an author to get a book published. I work with a lot of writers, I share their hopes and dreams, and I get a lot of advice from people who have “made it.” Most of that advice has to do with writing a really good book. Everyone is obsessed with writing the most amazing book they possibly can. And almost everything I read and hear about how to do that has to do with writing craftsmanship. How to craft wonderful prose and compelling dialogue and believable characters and worlds and magic systems that work. How to write a synopsis, and a query, and a pitch. The idea, of course, is that if you produce a marvelously-written book, and a marvelously written pitch, you’re going to get published. Your awesome horse is going to be in the big parade. And that seems to be the focus 99.9% of the time. Because what matters more than the sheer awesomeness of your horse?
Well, you. And your ability to ride it.
So. How do you learn to…ride a book? What’s the equivalent here?
You learn to “ride” your book by refining your riding process — I mean, your writing process. Having a predictable, productive, and sustainable approach to your writing is just as important as writing well. Learning to organize yourself, to create a schedule or a quota, is just as crucial to a writing career as the material you produce. Think for a moment about some of your favorite (living) authors. Do they appear to be riding on top of their horse, or does it look like they’re being dragged behind? Because the truth is, you can get a book published without knowing how to keep a deadline, or without knowing how to keep yourself healthy — mentally and physically. Just like you can get a horse in a parade without knowing how to ride it. The difference is going to be whether you’ll be able to enjoy that success, or feel trampled by it.
Consistency and organization are learned skills. They don’t come automatically, at least not to me. People who meet me in my adult life often assume I’m a “Type-A” personality and I’ve always had my ducks in a row, was probably class valedictorian etc. Which is hilarious, because I didn’t walk with my class and barely graduated high school, but that’s another story for another day. The fact is, I’m advocating for a healthy method of writing because I’ve struggled to find a healthy method of writing. And after almost ten years of writing every day, I can finally say I’ve hit my stride. I’ve cracked the code on my own productivity, and, frankly, happiness in my work.
This isn’t an article about putting your “butt in chair, hands on keyboard,” or “writing every day.” It’s about realizing the value of a method that feels as professional and polished as the manuscript you’ve been slaving over. My writing advice? Make your method match your manuscript.
Today, I just wanted to convince you it’s important.
Next week, I’ll break down what makes a method professional — before publication.
And the week after that, I’ll tell you what works for me.
Thanks for coming on this journey with me.
In the world of science fiction and fantasy short stories, getting a Hugo Award is like winning an Oscar. As a short story writer currently in the throes of submitting her work, I’ve been really interested in which anthologies tend to get their stories nominated for, and win, Hugos. Of course getting something published in one of these carries no guarantee of success, but it does demonstrate the fact that there are Hugo-voting eyeballs looking at these collections. I figure if I want to make the team, it’s a good idea to show up for tryouts.
Since making bar graphs is apparently my definition of fun, the following charts are all created by me. The data was collected from the Hugo Awards website.
The graph below illustrates which publications have had their short stories nominated for a Hugo in the last twenty years.
As you can see, Asimov’s has dominated the short story Hugo Awards with 38 nominations in the last two decades. Analog and the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction come in second with 10 each, Clarkesworld goes for bronze with 7, and Tor gets an honorable mention with 6.
When it comes to actual wins, not just nominations, the odds are even more stark. Asimov’s has 11, while the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction is the only other publication with more than one. However! It’s worth noting that this trend has changed greatly in recent years. Short stories online have grown in popularity, new anthologies are popping up every day, and there’s been a relatively recent pushback to the not-so-affectionately called Sad Puppies, as well as the Rabid Puppies.
For whatever reason, Asimov’s actually drops off the list of short story nominees completely in 2013.
Currently, the 2018 nominees are:
- “Carnival Nine,” by Caroline M. Yoachim (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, May 2017)
- “Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand,” by Fran Wilde (Uncanny, September 2017)
- “Fandom for Robots,” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad (Uncanny, September/October 2017)
- “The Martian Obelisk,” by Linda Nagata (Tor.com, July 19, 2017)
- “Sun, Moon, Dust” by Ursula Vernon, (Uncanny, May/June 2017)
- “Welcome to your Authentic Indian Experience™,” by Rebecca Roanhorse (Apex, August 2017)
We won’t know who this year’s winners are until August, but that’s three more nominations for Uncanny and one more for Tor and Apex. It’s also the first nomination for a story from Beneath Ceaseless Skies, which is pretty exciting! Look how much it changes the dynamics of our five-year graph:
Over the years, a few of the short story winners have come out of print anthologies, but most of them were published in print and online magazines. If you’re also looking to submit your work, I recommend this very handy list I put together of short story magazines and anthologies currently taking unsolicited submissions. It has a lot more information on many of these anthologies, plus a few more I believe we’ll see make the list in the near future.
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For anyone interested, here is my list of science fiction and fantasy magazines/anthologies I plan on submitting my short stories to. These are, in my opinion, the very best SFF collections out there that accept unsolicited submissions. In other words, you can submit your work to them without an agent. I’ll be updating this information as time goes on. I haven’t numbered or rated the venues because they each have different strengths and specialties. Zoetrope, for instance, is the most literary on this list, while Beneath Ceaseless Skies only publishes second-world fantasy. I think it’s a good idea to peruse the list with a specific story in mind and consider which would be the best fit.
Not gonna lie, it’s a very good list.
Here’s a breakdown of what we’re lookin’ at:
- Title (links to the magazine’s submission guidelines page)
- If the title is followed by (SFWA), that means publication in the venue qualifies the author for membership in the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.*
- Pay (in cents) per word and acceptable word counts
- Notable authors published by the magazine
- Whether or not submissions are exclusive (you can’t simultaneously submit your story to another venue)
- Average response time
- Special notes or exceptions
Analog Science Fiction and Fact (SFWA)
8-10 cents per word for short fiction up to 20,000
6 cents per word for serials up to 40,000-80,000
Published: Isaac Asimov, Poul Anderson, Greg Bear, Ben Bova, David Brin, Lois McMaster Bujold, Michael F. Flynn, Robert A. Heinlein, Geoffrey Landis, Spider Robinson, Robert J. Sawyer, Charles Sheffield, Michael Swanwick, Harry Turtledove, Timothy Zahn, Orson Scott Card, Frank Herbert, Anne McCaffrey
Exclusive (response time 2-4 months, tracking number provided)
Apex Magazine (SFWA)
6 cents per word for short fiction up to 7,500 words
Published: Neil Gaiman, Poppy Z Brite, Cherie Priest, Eugie Foster, Maurice Broaddus, Ben Bova, William F. Nolan, Sara King, Brian Keene
Exclusive (response time 30 days)
Asimov’s Science Fiction (SFWA)
8-10 cents per word for short fiction up to 7,500 (1000 word minimum)
8 cents per word up to 20,000
Published: Isaac Asimov, George R. R. Martin, Octavia E. Butler, Jonathan Lethem, Kim Stanly Robinson, Orson Scott Card, Ursula K. Le Guin, Fran Wilde
Exclusive (response time 5 weeks, tracking number provided)
Beneath Ceaseless Skies (SFWA)
6 cents per word for short fiction up to 14,000
Non-Exclusive, but no Multiple Submissions (response time 1-7 weeks, avg 2-4)
Special note: Fantasy (secondary world) ONLY/ no science fiction
Clarkesworld Magazine (SFWA)
10 cents per word for short fiction up to 5,000 words (1000 word minimum)
8 cents per word up to 16,000 words
Published: Elizabeth Bear, Kij Johnson, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Sarah Monette, Catherynne Valente, Jeff VanderMeer, Peter Watts
Exclusive (response time 2 days, tracking number provided)
Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores (SFWA)
6 cents per word for short fiction unlimited (1,000 minimum)
Exclusive (response time 1-12 weeks)
Special note: also accepts podcast, video, comics
Escape Pod (SFWA)
6 cents per word for short fiction 2,000-6,000 words
100 dollars for reprints of any length
Some reprints have won the Hugo
Exclusive (response time 3-6 months)
Special note: sci-fi ONLY/ no fantasy/magical realism
Fireside Fiction (SFWA)
12.5 cents per word for short fiction up to 4,000 words, flash fiction up to 1,000
$100 per poem up to 100 lines
Published: Amal El-Mohtar, Jennifer Campbell Hicks, Mary Robinette Kowal, Daniel José Older, Chuck Wendig, Caroline M Yoachim, Ken Liu, Kevin Hearne
Exclusive (response time 1 month after close of submission period)
Galaxy’s Edge (SFWA)
7 cents per word for short fiction up to 7,000 words
Published: Orson Scott Card, Mercedes Lackey, George RR Martin, Larry Niven, Lois McMaster Bujold, Gregory Benford, Robert J. Sawyer, Robert A. Heinlein, Kevin J Anderson
Exclusive (response time 6 weeks)
Interzone (does not qualify for SFWA)
4 cents per word for short fiction up to 10,000 words (£30/1000 words)
Published: Brian Aldiss, Sarah Ash, Michael Moorcock, Bruce Sterling, William Gibson, M. John Harrison, Stephen Baxter, Iain M. Banks, J.G. Ballard, Kim Newman, Alastair Reynolds, Harlan Ellison, Greg Egan, Gwyneth Jones, Jonathan Lethem, Geoff Ryman, Rachel Pollack, Charles Stross, Jon Courtenay Grimwood
Exclusive (response time unknown)
8 cents per word for short fiction 1,500 to 10,000 (5,000 preferred)
Exclusive (response time 2 days, 2 weeks if under consideration)
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (SFWA)
7-12 cents per word for short fiction up to 25,000 words
Published: Stephen King, Walter Miller, Daniel Keyes, David Gerrold, Ursula K. Le Guin, Terry Bisson
Exclusive (response time 8 weeks)
Motherboard: Terraform (SFWA)
20 cents per word for short fiction up to 2,000 words
Exclusive (response time 4 months)
Special note: tech, science, near-future
Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show (SFWA)
6 cents per word for short fiction up to 17,500 words
Published: Peter S. Beagle, David Farland, Tim Pratt, Eugie Foster, Bud Sparhawk, Mary Robinette Kowal, James Maxey, Mette Ivie Harrison, Sharon Shinn, Eric James Stone, Orson Scott Card
Exclusive (response time 3 months)
6 cents per word for short fiction 2,000-6,000, $100 for reprints of any length
Exclusive (response time unknown, narration auditions 3-6 months)
Special note: Fantasy ONLY/ no sci-fi
Strange Horizons (SFWA)
8 cents per word for short fiction up to 10,000 words (5,000 preferred)
$40 per poem, unlimited length.
Published: Nnedi Okorafor, Saladin Ahmed, Aliette de Bodard, Zen Cho, Nino Cipri, Becky Cloonan, Amal El-Mohtar, Kameron Hurley, N.K. Jemison, Yoon Ha Lee, Ken Liu, George RR Martin, Garth Nix, Naomi Nowak, Yukimi Ogawa, Daniel José Older, John Scalzi, E. Kristin Anderson, Aimee Bender, Gwenda Bond, Roshani Chokshi, Cory Doctorow, Ursula K. Le Guin, Rachel Hartman, Mary Robinette Kowal, Kelly Link, Sylvia Moreno-Garcia, Phoebe North, Brenna Yovanoff
Exclusive (response time <40 days)
Pay confidential for novella-length fiction from 20,000 to 40,000 words
Published: Maria Dahvana Headley, Karin Tidbeck, Nnedi Okorafor
Exclusive (response time 6+ months)
Uncanny Magazine (SFWA)
8 cents per word for short fiction up to 6,000 words (750 word minimum)
$30 per poem of any length
Published: Neil Gaiman, Elizabeth Bear, Paul Cornell, Catherynne M. Valente, Charlie Jane Anders, Seanan McGuire, Javier Grillo-Marxuach, Alex Bledsoe, Kameron Hurley and Ken Liu, Amal El-Mohtar
Exclusive (response in 30 days)
Zoetrope All-Story (does not qualify for SFWA)
Pay confidential for short fiction and one-act plays up to 7,000 words
Winner of National Magazine Award, Best American Short Stories, O. Henry and Pushcart Prizes
Published: Gabriel García Márquez, Haruki Murakami, Margaret Atwood, David Benioff, Mary Gaitskill, David Mamet, Ha Jin, Elizabeth McCracken, Yiyun Li, Don DeLillo, Andrew Sean Greer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Salman Rushdie, Woody Allen, Yoko Ogawa, David Means, Susan Straight, Charles D’Ambrosio
Non-exclusive (website states: simultaneous submissions are accepted)
If you see anything that’s become outdated, or if I’ve accidentally omitted pertinent information, please let me know in the comments.
*I’ll talk about why I think qualification for the SFWA is worth prioritizing in a future blog post.
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