Saturday, January 14, 2006

The Best Kind of Marketing

Attending conferences. Buying ads. Passing out flyers, bookmarks, and postcards. Speaking at libraries. Doing signings. Attending conferences. All of these help a writer build name-recognition.

But the best form of self promotion is one that many writers don't actively pursue. You can reach millions of demographically targeted fans, and impress them greatly. It's possible to establish a fan base before your novel is even published.

And best of all, it's free, or you get paid for it.

Sell short stories.

Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock have circulations of 250k each. The Strand Magazine is 50k. (I've been in all of them, some several times) is viewed by millions (my story should be up in a day or two.)

Anthologies range in circ from 5k to 200k (the new THRILLER anthology edited by James Patterson will be out in May and received the biggest advance ever paid for an antho---I'm in it.)

I've done several Writer's Digest articles, and have appeared several times in Crimespree (very big market for the mystery world.)

Also, in the past two years, I've appeared in Cemetery Dance, Horror Garage, Horror Express, Apex, Surreal, The Many Faces of Van Helsing, Spooks, Cold Flesh, Small Bites, FMAM, Requiem for a Radioactive Monkey, and on over a dozen websites (another reason to get your own website up ASAP, so people can link to you.

I currently have ten stories on submission, and eight stories scheduled for publication within the next six months.

This amounts to several million people reading my writing. If they like it, some will seek out my books.

You won't get rich writing shorts. Many pay in contributors copies. The high end markets pay between $250 and $1200. But this isn't about money. It's about exposure.

Your query letter should be the essence of simplicity.

"My name is JA Konrath. I've been published a few dozen times, and just signed a second three book deal for my Lt. Jack Daniels thriller series. Enclosed is a 1500 word short story for your consideration. Love the mag, hope to hear from you soon."

I always include a SASE. Why? Most magazines are labors of love. They barely cover costs. Help them out. You should also help them out by buying copies of the magazine you submit to, or getting subscriptions. This is essential anyway, so you can write a story geared specifically to certain periodicals. EQMM doesn't want the same thing as AHMM or FMAM or The Strand.

Always read the submission guidelines. They're mostly pretty standard, but occasionally the editors ask for special formats or extras (a bio, a picture, a bibliography.)

If you have no prior sales, here's the query you should use:

"My name is JA Konrath. I love your magazine. Enlcosed for your consideration is a 1500 word short called 'Editors are Gods.' Hope to hear from you soon."

That's all you need. Don't give them a synopsis of the story---why should they read it if they already know what it's about? Keep it brief.

In your query heading include your address, phone number, email, website URL, and Social Security number (optional.)

In some cases, I don't even include a cover letter. The editor is smart enough know it's a submission. The story is what sells the story, not your query.

In other cases, I use an email query. Find out the submission format they prefer. Some like Word doc attachments, or txt, or rtf. Some like the submission in the body of the email, with no formatting other than paragraph breaks.

Many markets are tough to break into, but once you do break in, it gets easier and easier. The more you sell, the more you sell. And pretty soon, markets will approach you. I've had several invitations to submit, as well as several reprints that fell into my lap.

Don't know where to submit? Go to your local bookstore and check the periodicals. Buy some magazines. Read them. Write a kick ass story that the editor will find familiar, yet unique.

Much success!


  1. I love the Amazon shorts. Based on reading a few of them I have ordered the author's books. Damn, any only $0.49 each, what a bargain.

    How many do you plan to put up there Joe?

  2. I've got a 12,000 word mini collection called "A FOUR PACK OF JACK" which features four stories from the Jack Daniels universe.

    One of the stories is hard hitting and tragic. One is scary. One is funny. One is a straight forward mystery.

    When it's live, I put a link up on my blog.

  3. Two posts in two days?? That'll catch some of the regulars out. (lol)

    I'm a firm believer in short stories and their weedier cousin, flash fiction. A newbie writer can improve the quality of their writing much more quickly with feedback from flash fiction stories - and people are much more likely to read and critique very short stories than novel extracts.

    I'm also, maybe deluded, thinking that a history of short story publication in 'quality' markets like AH and EQ will give the mystery writer a better chance of their novel being read by an agent / publisher than without that history. Joe - did you have some of the shorts published before your novels? Do you think they improved your chances?

  4. I made many mistakes when I was trying to break in. One of them was never concentrating of short story sales.

    I'd written a few hundred short stories (no exaggeration) before I published a novel, and hadn't really tried to sell any of them.

    Granted, most of them sucked, but I was always swinging for the homerun rather than the first base bunt.

    If I could do it over, I would have tried to sell to some of those big genre markets.

    Getting your short stories published probably won't impress an agent to the degree that they'll sign you (though I've seen this happen twice.)

    But going through the write-rewrite-submit-rejection-acceptance process forces you to become a better writer, which will eventually lead you to an agent and a book deal.

    It's always wise to get your feet wet before jumping into the ppol

  5. Anonymous1:01 PM

    Joe, I've heard you say you would never enter a contest with an entry fee (even though you are judging one), and I've heard you defend Writers Digest when it was under attack online. My question is, what is your opinion of Writers Digest's contests with their entry fees? Are these prestigious to win?

    Your advice about selling stories to magazines is excellent, but how do contests fit into the equation?

    Thanks, Suzanne

  6. Don't pay to enter contests. Writers are supposed to get paid, not pay others.

    I've been a judge for paid contests, and I say: Don't pay to enter. But, if you ever have a chance to get paid to judge a contest, I heartily endorse it.
    You'll learn a lot, you'll help some good writers win money and prizes, plus you'll make a few bucks.

    People disagree with me on both ends. Some contest winners have gone on to secure agents and land publishing deals. Some who are against paying for contests believe that by being a paid judge, I'm actually endorsing them and being a huge hypocrite.

    Everyone needs make these decisions for themselves.

    If my name were attached to any kind of contest, I wouldn't allow there to be an entry fee.

  7. "Love the mag, hope to here from you soon."

    Ha! I'll fix that.

    Thanks for the kind words!

  8. Great advice! Unfortunately, the romance industry doesn't seem to have the kind of short story market that mystery does. Magazines come and go (usually go).

    OTOH, I haven't paid much attention to this recently. I did publish a 12500 word short story in nine parts in a local magazine, and I have a short story in a local anthology. It ain't much, but it makes me feel like the wheels are carrying me forward and not just spinning incessantly. :)

  9. Good advice, perfect timimg. I've got 6 shorts going out Monday to various mystery mags. AHMM, EQMM, The Strand, Hardboiled, & New Mystery - all paying.


  10. I got a rejection letter today, in fact, from Analog.

    I've been submitting short stories to EQMM, AHMM, Asimov's, and Analog since 1995. Probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 20-30 stories over the years.

    I've never come anywhere near to getting published. All I do is write fiction, send it out, and get rejected. I'm a full-time (rejected) writer. Million words+ and counting.

    That said, I'm sending out a story tonight to EQMM and AHMM.


  11. Oh, yes, and I sent out 36 query letters yesterday for Claws, my suspense novel.

  12. Stacy, Love the title, Claws,.

    Joe, short stories make a lot of sense.

  13. I have an 18K story I'm having a hard time finding a home for, because of the length. I've edited it down as much as I want to. What are your thoughts about online magazines, like Web Mystery Magazine, that have no word limit?

  14. "What are your thoughts about online magazines, like Web Mystery Magazine, that have no word limit?"

    I've got a lot of stories on online magazines. I think they're great.

    Peter Benchley wrote about lobster traps in his book BEAST, and how one trap, if left unattended, could kill thousands of lobsters. They crawl in, die, and become bait for more.

    That's what an online magazine does. It's there forever, constantly luring more and more people to your writing and your website.

    This is the order I follow:

    1. Try to sell the story to a print magazine. If it doesn't work:
    2. Try to sell the story to a web magazine. If it doesn't work:
    3. Give the sotry away to a print magazine. If it doesn't work:
    4. Give the story away to a web magaine.
    5. If none of the above work out, post the story for free on your website.

  15. Thanks Joe! I'll give it a shot.

  16. Anonymous1:16 AM

    Oh glory, now you're telling us to send a SASE.

    Why does it matter that you send one to a magazine, but not an agent?


  17. Anonymous6:35 AM

    I want to see you post an entry on the idea of legitimate publishers having their authors pay (rather than the publisher paying) for freelance editing because their editing staff is too busy.

  18. "Why does it matter that you send one to a magazine, but not an agent?"

    Because the Publishing Fairy only puts short story contracts under your pillow if you take the time to READ THE BLOG ENTRY.

  19. Thanks for the answers to my questions, Joe. Much appreciated.

    I especially liked the 'sub order' further down - paid print, paid online, free print, free online, website. Sounds like a job for 'Spreadsheet Boy' - or maybe a piece of paper and a pen. At least, having a plan like that might stop me adding to the 67,000 words-worth of flash and short fiction languishing on various hard disks.

  20. Anonymous5:46 PM

    I have to disagree on one minor point: never, ever put your social security number on your submission. Why? Generally, it makes you look like a hack. If the magazine wants and/or needs your SS, they'll ask for it after they've agreed to publish it. In the numerous times I've either guest edited a literary journal or judged a contest for one or, in college, edited one, the submissions that came with a social security number invariably also included a copyright symbol, an "all rights reserved" statement and a terrible story. I would also say that for people writing crime stories, EQ and AH are not always the best outlets -- especially for people just starting out and trying to get published. Many of the good old fashioned literary journals will take crime stories as well, provided they aren't PI stories, usually, and their readership is often constituted by the types of people you want reading your work -- agents & editors.

  21. I'll revise my advice on the social security #.

    I put it on submissions that have requested me, where I know I'll be paid.

    Anthologies and major mags need your SS for tax reasons.

  22. Anonymous2:45 PM

    There are few things more pleasurable than looking at JA Konrath's shorts.

  23. "There are few things more pleasurable than looking at JA Konrath's shorts."

    In my next blog post, I'll talk about why length is important.

  24. Anonymous6:47 PM

    JA Konrath has something thick and long in his drawers.

    All of his unpublished manuscripts.

  25. It's a shame no one wanted to see.

  26. Sounds like Anon is looking for something "deep" and "Penetrating."

    I'm not sure if A FOUR PACK OF JACK will fill that cavernous slot.

    But, one more draft (beer) and Anon might be ready for submission.

    I feel like I've died and gone to lame-ass-double-entendre Hell.

  27. Anonymous8:07 AM

    Somehow, I'm not surprised that hundreds of people have turned down an opportunity to see what's in JA Konrath's drawers.

    Konrath isn't picky either. He's apparently "queried" both men and women. Is that what they call it these days?

    I guess I'm not up-to-date on the current lingo for this type of activity. Call me old fashioned.

  28. Thanks so much for all this valuable info. I recently received similar advice from an acquaintance who is just now on her way to publishing her novel...."get noticed in the short story market". She didn't elaborate, and I wasn't entirely sure what she meant. You've explained it well.



Thanks for the comment! Joe will get back to you eventually. :)