The Rejectonomicon

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Rejectonomicon, Volume IV, July 2022

Welcome to the Volume IV of The Rejectonomicon. This month’s questions are all about publishers. With queries about nonpaying markets (should or shouldn’t I?), potential red flags, and how to go about choosing the best market for your story. I attempt to answer these questions with my patented numbered lists. Let’s get to it.  

Should I submit work to nonpaying markets? —Emily

Some will argue you shouldn't, but I do submit to nonpaying markets. I just make sure to limit my submissions to these markets to no more than five to ten percent of my total submission output. Also, I only submit flash fiction to nonpaying markers. No short stories or novellas. I feel like I can part with 1,000 words in exchange for some of the other benefits a for-the-love-of-it market may provide. So, what are those benefits?

  1. Exposure. Sorry to use the E-word here, but in some cases it’s true. A few nonpaying markets do offer fairly good exposure, either on their site, through social media, or both. In fact, one of my most-read stories is through a nonpaying market. I was able to track links from that story to my blog, and it did gain me followers as well as some good traffic on social media. That’s worth something. That said, make sure the nonpaying market you’re considering offers this kind of reach. One that doesn’t might not be worth it.
  2. Niche stories. Sometimes you write a story that’s so niche it can be hard to find a paying market. Case in point, mystery/crime flash fiction. There are so few markets that publish this that you end up in a beggars-can’t-be-choosers situation.
  3. Confidence booster. This is true especially when you’re starting out, and an acceptance can really boost your confidence in your work. Nonpaying markets often publish frequently and need a lot of stories, which increases your chances of an acceptance. This is not to say that such markets are publishing substandard material, just that there are differences between a market that needs 36 stories per year and one that needs over 100 stories per year.

When evaluating a potential market, what are some red flags to watch out for? —Jennie

Let's discuss first what a red flag is in this context. Red flags for me are: 1) A market that might be difficult to work with; 2) An editor that might be inexperienced; and 3) A general lack of professionalism by the publication or editor. I’m going to restrict my comments here to new publishers, the so-called fledgling markets that pop up and often quickly disappear. The reason for this is markets that stick around don’t generally meet my criteria for red flags. Here are three things to keep an eye out for.

  1. Presentation. Looks aren’t everything, but the market should have a professional-looking website that’s easy to navigate. Authors shouldn’t have to hunt for the submission guidelines or struggle to find editor bios. This is, of course, not indicative of anything shady, but it does indicate, at least to me, that the editors might not be particularly experienced, which makes me a little uncomfortable sending my work to them. First impressions are important.
  2. Guidelines. As I mentioned above, they should be easy to find. They should also be clear and concise. What I really want to see are industry standards. Don’t know what those are? The SFWA model contract spells it out for you. In fact, when I see a new publisher that copies that model contract for their own, I get the warm fuzzies. It tells me they understand a writer’s rights and expectations, and I give high marks for that.  
  3. Rights. This is usually part of the submission guidelines, but it deserves its own mention. I need to know what rights a publisher will be acquiring when they accept a story. There shouldn't be any mystery about that, and if there is, I get twitchy. If I see huge deviations from the norm, like say a two-year exclusivity clause or ANYTHING that looks like a rights grab (even an unintentional one), I run the other way fast.


How do you find the right publication for your stories? Cathy

This is a question that many fledgling authors struggle with. Like usual, I’ll give you my own process for choosing markets, and as befits the theme of this article, it’ll be a numbered list.

  1. Search market databases. I use Duotrope, but the Submission Grinder is just as good (and free). This is the first step to narrowing down appropriate markets. You can enter genre, sub-genre, word length, and pay rate to get a list of likely publishers. So, for example, if I had written a 4,000-word cyberpunk story, I’d enter sci-fi for my genre, cyberpunk for my sub-genre, short story for the length, and semi-pro for pay rate. With those parameters, I’d get three potential markets that match my criteria. It should be noted that these markets specifically list cyberpunk in their entries on Duotrope. Other markets may still consider such a story.
  2. Read the guidelines. Armed with markets from my Duotrope search, I’ll head to each publisher’s website and look at their guidelines. The first thing I’m looking for is if their guidelines match up with the Duotrope data. One thing to be careful with is word count. A lot of the databases list a range for short stories of 2,000 to 7,000 words, but you need to check the market guidelines for the exact limit. I’m also going to look for things like rights acquired, do-not-send lists, and a few other things to make sure the market is one that would be a good fit for my work.
  3. Read published stories. Once I’ve narrowed down a publisher, especially if it’s one I’ve never submitted to, I’m going to read a story or two they’ve published to see if the tone and style of the stories they generally accept matches up with what I write. Many publishers offer free stories on their website, so it isn’t difficult to get a sense of what they publish. Now, while reading stories a market has published is recommended, it’s not foolproof. For one, some markets publish an eclectic mix of stories, so it might be hard to zero in on their exact needs. Two, markets sometimes change editors and the tastes of the incoming editor may differ from the outgoing one. So stories published before the new editor took over may not be useful examples of what the market is presently looking for.
Those are the basics, and they certainly do help. Also getting personal rejections from a publisher helps you zero in on what they want better than anything, even after you’ve hit all the points above. But, you know, you have to get rejected first.


Got a burning question about rejections, submissions, or writing? Fire it off to, and maybe I’ll answer it on the next volume of The Rejectonomicon.

Submission guidelines:

  1. Put REJECTONOMICON in the subject line of the email.
  2. Write your question in the body of the email. Try to keep it relatively brief.
  3. Please let me know if you’d like your first name published along with your question or if you’d like to remain anonymous.
  4. Please restrict your questions to the subjects of writing, submissions, and rejections. Those are pretty broad categories, though, and I’d be happy to field questions about my past career as a TTRPG game designer/editor and media tie-in writer.