It’s getting so my Duotrope control panel is a double edged sword. This is what it tells me:
*Congratulations! Your acceptance ratio is higher than average for users who have submitted to the same markets.
Attention-getting asterisk, excitement-generating exclamation point… I don’t wanna lose that! So I’ve been picking my markets carefully. I’ve been trying to figure out editorial needs like an episode of CSI: Slushpile. And my latest venture has me entering Redstone Science Fiction’s “Show Us a Better Way” Contest.
You would think I’d have an aversion to contests by now right? But no, I read their contest guidelines carefully, wracked my brain, wracked it some more, and wrote a 3,200 word hard science piece that I think is a good story. Yet it doesn’t feel like a good fit for the contest. I don’t exactly promise a future utopia, and a big part of me wants to shelve the story and wait for the “Show Us a Slightly Better Way… Hardly Different From Our Current Way” Contest.
I was one shred of doubt away from not sending it in. Then I realized I was self-rejecting my story. That’s when I sent that bitch in.
NEVER self reject, guys. There are people who get paid to hate your work. They will tell you as much in a politely phrased form rejection letter. Let them do their job. Your job is to write the best story you can. And once you do your job, send your newly drafted soldier out from your trench into combat. That soldier may win the day, and it may not, but it can’t do anything if you keep it out of the fight.
Send it out. Granted, targeting the market is important. Many places have content that is free to view, which is the best way to get a general idea of what they’re looking for. But in the absence of free content, if you’re devoid of a fricking clue on what X publisher wants, if your story is so unclassifiable you swear you’re inventing a genre by yourself, there’s only one first option.
Send it out.
They’ll tell you soon enough. Meanwhile, the best thing you can do for your story is to make sure it falls in the guidelines. A publisher’s guidelines can range from highly specific, as in the case of Redstone’s annual contest (which devotes a full blog page to the specifics) to extremely vague, as with Chizine’s guidelines (Dark. Well-written. 4k words or less.).
And if you interpret Chizine’s specification of “Dark” as a viable market for your upbeat, light-hearted comedy about two Black Panthers selling window tinting services while eating blackberry jam on Myrtle Street at midnight, then send it out. I mean, it’s one way to look at “Dark”. You let them tell you if it’s a good fit or not. Don’t tell yourself it’s not a good fit when you’re not sure.
When in doubt, send it out.