In his 2000 craft book On Writing, Stephen King says,
As a beginning writer, you’ll be most interested in the little magazines if you’re writing short stories. If you’re writing or have written a novel, you’ll want to note the lists of literary agents in the writing magazines and in Writer’s Market. Submitting [stories or novels] without first reading the market is like playing darts in a dark room — you might hit the target every now and then, but you don’t deserve to.
There’s something you should always take the time to do as a writer no matter where you are in the process — research the market.
You really have no excuse in 2019 to not take the necessary time to research the best magazines to send your short fiction to and the best literary agents to send query letters of your novel to.
Stephen King is absolutely right in that if you just send your work to everybody with a beating heart, sure, you might hit the target every now and then. And sometimes, when I’ve been sending a short story out for a year or two, I might take a chance on a few magazines I don’t really know much about. Here and there I’ve even had my work published in a few!
But I do think it’s in every writer’s best interest to take the time to research, research, research. Especially when it comes to novels. You just spent six months or a year or even longer on your novel? Why in the world would you blow past the research and start sending query letters out to just anyone?
Send your query letters to the right people, and you might actually save yourself lots of time in the process!
So where do you go to research?
When it comes to short fiction, there’s no web site I love more to help guide me to the right places like Duotrope.com. I’ve been subscribing to Duotrope since 2014, and I absolutely love it. At least once a month, if not twice a month, I’ll go into the website, update any rejections or acceptances I’ve recently received from editors, then search for new magazines I might be able to send my work to, including newly posted anthologies that might be looking for a story like mine.
I’ve had a lot of work published in magazines during the last five years, but I still have five— count them, five! — short stories that still haven’t found a home. All of these pieces I love. All of these pieces I hope to get published one day. But they just haven’t found the right home yet. Duotrope helps me with that.
Another good one to look at for your short fiction is Poets & Writers, which is completely free online. They list a lot of fantastic magazines to send your work to, along with contests. I try to go on that website once a month, too.
For your novels, the easiest thing to do is go to querytracker.net, create a username and password, and start a Word Document of every agent and agency, and what exactly each literary agent is looking for.
I started a Literary Agents Master List in Summer 2010 for my first novel I queried, and I’ve been updating it ever since, at least once every six months. I’m a big believer in having your own database — not just relying on some database online — and even though this process will take you weeks and weeks of research, it’s totally worth it in the long run. Especially when you find yourself querying a second novel, or a third, in the months to come.
Start today and not tomorrow when it comes to researching the writer’s market!
Again, you have no excuse. Take the time now, not later, to research potential magazines and literary agents to send your work to.
If you only ever write one short story or one novel, then sure, maybe it’d be easier to just send your work to everybody and see what lands. But if you’re in this for the long haul, and want a writing career of many, many stories and books, the more you know about the market, the better off you’ll be.
Do the research you need to, keep updating your databases for future use, and send out your work!