Through The Lit-Fic Jungle With Pen and Notepad

My fiction-writing efforts over the last several months have been mostly concentrated on what turned out to be a 17,000 word novella, quite a bit longer than I usually write. Those are harder to market than shorter work.

But the biggest problem with marketing the story is that it's non-genre.

With very rare exceptions (see "Lost Creatures"), the fiction I've written has been solidly in either the SF/Fantasy camp or the mystery/detective genre (with occasional combinations of the two). I know where to send those stories; those markets are familiar to me.

But the new story lies pretty solidly in the middle of the mainstream/literary river. It's a family drama set in 1944 Home Front America, shortly before D-Day, told by a 10-year old boy. Stuff happens; things get complicated. It might be one of the best things I've ever written.

But it's definitely not suitable for SF/Fantasy markets. There's a marginal chance at the mystery markets, since an attempted child-abduction is the instigating incident of the story, but the tone and emphasis isn't the type of storytelling one usually sees at those publications. It's pretty clear that I've managed to write a "normal" story. (How the hell did that happen?)

So my best bet seems to be to try and place the story with one of the various literary journals. But I've been only marginally aware of the literary fiction marketplace for a long time, so I've been researching, trying to get a better handle on which have the best reputations and largest audiences.

(Money? Not likely to get much, if any, writing for literary journals. A lot still have "pays in copies" policies. Let's not discuss how many try to finance themselves with writing contests that have a hefty entry fee.)

So what I did was get contents information for five years each of the annual BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES series and the similar PEN/O. HENRY PRIZE AWARDS series, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Anchor Books, respectively. The BASS data came from the 2009-2013 volumes, and the OHPA data from 2010-2014.  Here are the sources for the stories included in the ten best-of books, and how many stories were chosen from which publications.

41 -- New Yorker
18 -- Tin House
11 -- Granta
8 -- McSweeney's
7 -- Paris Review
6 -- Narrative
5 -- New England Review, Ploughshares, Public Space
4 -- Atlantic (5, if you count "Atlantic Fiction for Kindle" as part of Atlantic), Ecotone, Epoch, Harper's, Kenyon Review, One Story, Threepenny Review
3 -- American Short Fiction, collection, Hobart, Southern Review, Subtropics, Zoetrope
2 -- Agni, American Reader, American Scholar, Cincinnati Review, Glimmer Train, Harvard Review, Orion, Santa Monica Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, Yale Review
1 -- Antioch Review, Atlantic Fiction for Kindle, Bellevue Literary Review, Black Warrior Review, Callaloo, commentary, Conjunctions, Electric Literature, Esquire, Fairy Tale Review, Fence, Fifth Wednesday Journal, Gettysburg Review, Indiana Review, Iowa Review, New Ohio Review, New Orleans Review, Oxford America, PEN America, Prairie Schooner, Sewanee Review, Southwest Review, TriQuarterly, Witness, Zyzzyva

The New Yorker is clearly the 800-pound gorilla of literary fiction markets. Also reportedly the hardest to break into. By one source, they receive 40,000 submissions a year, and only very (very) rarely do stories get picked from that Mount-Everest-scale slushpile.

The word "Review" in a literary journal's title is apparently code for "Here There Be Serious Lit-Fic".

While a lot of the journal titles are familiar (for descending values of "familiar"; roughly, the fewer stories selected for the best-of books, the less likely I've heard of it), there are very few I've actually read. (An occasional New Yorker, less occasionally McSweeney's and Narrative, and I think I've read one or two issues of Glimmer Train and Granta over the years. Everything else I only know -- vaguely -- through reputation.)

Checking websites and submission guidelines, a lot of the journals listed here don't accept novella-length fiction.  But there are a few. Ploughshares has a separate program, Ploughshares Solos, where they publish novellas in short-book format; I might give my story a shot there.

NOTE: Googling around, I found a writer named Clifford Garstang has been doing similar breakdowns of selections for the Pushcart Prize collections. The Pushcart Prize is for independent publishers, so the New Yorker isn't included in that database.  But Garstang's lists are yet more data for writers of literary fiction.


D Gary Grady said...

Try offering it as a low-priced e-book on Amazon, B&N, Kobo, etc. Make it free for the first week or so, then raise it to whatever the minimum price might be. There's a good chance you'll make more than you would with magazine publication.

Bruce said...

I've given some thought to the self-publication route. Doing a better than half-ass job of prepping a work for publication, and then trying to publicize and market it, can be as much or more time and effort as writing the original work. The story still needs a couple of final editing passes, though, before it's ready for either submitting to potential markets or self-publication.