Submissions Guidelines and Developing Stories

For the past week, I’ve been researching possible publications to submit a short story to. The most helpful website in finding publishers/markets that accept genre stories (science fiction/fantasy/etc.) has been, but just searching has also yielded a few possibilities.

This post, however, begs the question of whether I may be getting ahead of myself. You see … I haven’t actually written a new short story to submit to any of these publications. I’m mainly seeing what’s out there and reviewing their submission guidelines. And that’s making me (re)consider my current writing approach.

The reason? Nearly all the stories I’ve been writing recently have been based on provided themes. But as I research other publications, I’m finding a lot of options that give free rein (within the SFF space). This, in turn, means I’ll need to adjust how I end up writing this new story. Instead of getting ideas from (re)interpreting story prompts, the entire idea and its development are on me. Which is exciting! Yet also terrifying.

That’s not to say that these publications are entirely without guidelines. Most of them are extremely helpful in explaining what they’re looking for in stories (though the best way to figure that out is always to read past issues). And as you can imagine, writing a story based on what a publication likes to see increases its odds of being selected. Even if many of them don’t have specific themes, they do have certain elements that they’re looking for. If I write a new story with those notes in mind, it would likely perform better than a story written without such guidelines.

(It’s worth noting that this doesn’t refer to instructions about how to format or submit a story — those are set in stone to make things easy on editors. The “guidelines” I’m referring to here are broad notes about what kind of stories they do or don’t want to see.)

On top of all that, these publications have deadlines that are all over the place. Some are a week away. Others don’t close for a couple months. But if I start writing a story for a specific publication, you can bet I want to make sure I finish and submit it before the submissions period ends. Yet if I write a story without guidelines, there’s no telling when relevant submissions periods would be open to it.

It’s an almost paralyzing situation to be in — which is never good when your goal is to write as much as possible. I wonder if I’m putting too much pressure on myself to write something that gets selected. I need to remind that that’s a stretch goal, not a goal-goal.

At least I’m still writing blog posts, haha.