The Other Magazine Quest

If you’ve been following this blog lately, you know about my original magazine quest. I’m reading at least one issue from 24 (up from the original 12) different science-fiction magazines, and picking which one(s) I’ll subscribe to. I’ve only posted 14 magazine reviews so far, but I promise I’ll write up the others over the next few months.

This post is about another kind of magazine quest: I’m trying to get a story I’ve written published in a science-fiction magazine. I’ve never submitted a piece of fiction before (unless you count scientific papers where a co-author inserted dubious statements and/or data), and I thought some of you might enjoy reading about the process or about my progress.

I wrote this story in November of 2014, and since then, I’ve been holding onto it with some vague idea of writing more stories and self-publishing a short-story collection. The time demands of my day job and finishing my latest graduate degree have made that plan seem unrealistic, but the magazine quest got me interested in my story again, so I hit the “submit” button.

I’ve done everything I can to succeed. I’ve given my story to several beta-readers and made revisions based on their comments. I’ve run through it several times myself to improve wording and remove ambiguities. I’ve chosen a magazine which I think is a good fit for my story. As requested by that magazine, I’ve reformatted into standard manuscript format, even though many aspects of the format seem incredibly archaic to me.

I can hear my author friends: “How adorable, he thinks he can get an acceptance with his very first submission. That’s so cute.” Yes, I’ve looked on The Grinder and seen that this particular magazine rejects 97% of its submissions — and that’s 97% of submissions recorded by authors who are savvy enough to use The Grinder; I’m sure the actual figure is much higher.

It’s probably time to be more like this guy:

My story is about 3,700 words long, and involves an admiral and an AI trying to stop an alien invasion. I’m not sure when I’ll post about this topic again — the magazine says it will respond in 2-6 weeks, but the authors who use The Grinder claim that the average is closer to 22 weeks.

I think I need to achieve the following four things before I can consider myself a writer, from easiest to hardest:

  1. A story rejected without explanation
  2. A story rejected with an explanation that makes no sense
  3. A story rejected due to legitimate criticism
  4. A story accepted

Leave a comment below to let me know what you think of my latest quest, or tell me about your own publishing experiences.


  1. It’s kind of like the lottery, you have to play to win. They can’t accept a story you never submit. I played that game many times before I set out on my own.

    1. Did you try with novels, short stories, or both?

      1. Mostly novels and agents, but a few short stories.

  2. If you are compelled to write stories, you are a writer–what other people think of your writing doesn’t change this. My high school English teacher told me long ago “A writer’s job is to write.” There is a difference between being a writer and being a published author. If you read Heinlein’s “Starman Jones” you’ll see the same kind of gate keeping mentality applies to the publishing business. Thanks to self publishing, more stories are getting into the hands of readers which don’t rely on whether or not a company can make money off the author. Hoping for your success with the magazine, but wanting to read your stories in any format!

    1. Thanks for the Heinlein reference – I can’t remember if I read that one when I was younger, I’ll have to take a closer look.

      I think the publishing companies are trying to get away from the gatekeeper model, and move to a venture capital model. They want to throw 20 new authors’ books out there, spend no money marketing, promoting, or maybe even editing them, knowing that 19 will flop, but hoping that one will turn out to be the next Stephen King or George RR Martin.

      Of course, this new model fails horribly when they also continue employing the gatekeepers, because that ensures that all 20 of the books will be very similar, and they end up with 20 flops out of 20.

  3. The story of mine that just appeared in New Realm in May had been rejected 19 times. The only time I’ve had a story accepted on the first try was when I wrote something specifically for an editor who requested it. It is possible, but unlikely to hit with your first submission. Good luck!

    1. Wow, 19 times. That’s perseverance!

      I should do some research about the average number of rejections before acceptance.

      Or, maybe I’ll just stick with Han Solo.

      1. I’d definitely go with Han Solo.

  4. I think your progression is right. You realize editors aren’t there to run writer’s workshops.

    I’ve dabbled — very slightly — in short story writing and submitting stories. Unsuccessfully. Silvia Moreno-Garcia over at Innsmouth Free Press (winding operations down now, I understand) rejected stories fast and with no feedback. That seems a good compromise for writer and editor.

    I’m not sure it’s applicable, but I’d also add my experience in actually getting paid for a bit of poetry: effort spent on a story may not correlate closely with editors’ rejection.

    1. I’m curious to see what will happen with this one. I’m hoping it has a shot at one or two of the magazines, but it’s not in one of today’s hot-button subgenres.

      Sorry to hear about Innsmouth.

  5. I’ve only submitted to agents for my books, so I can’t help with expectations for magazines. Regarding books:
    Numbers 1 and 2 are easy to achieve, in my experience.
    I’ve never experienced 3 and 4.
    I did get a nice rejection from a top agent saying that someone loved my work and were certain I’d be successful (I’m totally serious). That’s when I decided to go indie. 🙂

    1. I guess the nice rejection was because your story wasn’t in a “hot” subgenre?

      Care to share any nonsensical rejection reasons?

      1. The non-sensical one was really just annoying: I sent a query with the requested attachments, all according to the guidelines. I got a auto-response one second later, advising me that they reviewed my submission and it wasn’t what they were looking for at this time.

        1. An auto-rejector? That’s just crazy.

          1. Ha ha. Yep.
            I did eventually find a publisher, but I’m in the process now, six years later, of taking back all my publishing rights. I’m re-releasing all books as indies. I’m much happier.

  6. Good luck with your quest. I’ve experienced one through three. Still waiting for number four.

    1. Do you have anything submitted right now?

      Are you still re-writing TNN?

      1. Not at the moment. I’m totally focused on TNN for the foreseeable future.

        1. Some of the magazines still accept serials, you could submit TNN as one, although you’d also have to check their policy on material previously posted on blogs.

  7. Have you submitted to SciPhi Journal yet? I’m also considering starting something, but don’t know what that will look like just yet. I do know I’d be open to serialized novels.

    1. This was my first submission, but it’s not to SciPhi. I’ll announce where I sent it after I get a response.

      I may try to clean up a second story and submit it somewhere else.

      I’m doing a little bit of work on a new publishing project, but it won’t be ready for an announcement until mid-2017.

  8. […] some news: I received a rejection letter for my first short story submission. I was originally going to give this post the pessimistic title of “Rejection #1”, […]

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