The secret to publishing short stories in Asimov's Science Fiction or any magazine

Over on the Codex Author's Forum someone asked me the secret is to being published in Asimov's Science Fiction. My answer: Hell-in-all if I know.

I'm not trying to be sarcastic or mysterious. I write the best stories I can and submit them to the best markets out there. I'm also a subscriber to Asimov's — as was my grandfather before me —so I've been reading the magazine for a long time. That gives me a sense of the type of stories they're likely to accept. Finally, I'm a big fan of the fiction picked for the magazine by editor Sheila Williams.

But that doesn't mean I know the secret sauce to publishing stories with Asimov's or any other magazine. For example, last week I received a rejection from Sheila for a story I thought would be a good fit with Asimov's. There's nothing personal about that rejection. It happens. Sheila even gave me some good feedback on the story.

To help people figure out any "secret" to having stories accepted at Asimov's or any other magazine, I downloaded all the submissions* I've sent to Asimov's since they began accepting electronic subs in 2010. Below are my submissions, along with outcomes, word counts, and type of story. The dates are when I submitted the stories.

My Submissions to Asimov's

  • 02/12/2016: "Her Zero-Word Periplus of Human History"
    Rejected. 5,300 word science-oriented fantasy. 
  • 11/19/2015: "Toppers"
    Accepted. 7,900-word time travel/science fiction novelette. To be published in August 2016 issue of Asimov's.
  • 10/20/2014: Death Flowers of Never-Forgotten Love"
    Rejected. 1,700-word dark science fiction short story. Later accepted by Apex Magazine
  • 08/01/2014: "Duller's Peace"
    Accepted. 6,400-word science fiction short story.  Published in Sept. 2015 issue of Asimov's.
  • 06/27/2013: "What Is Sand But Earth Purified?"
    Accepted. 7,400-word science fiction short story. Published in Oct./Nov. 2014 double issue of Asimov's. Placed #4 among short stories in Asimov's annual Readers' Awards.
  • 03/29/2012: "Mondays Monk"
    Accepted. 8,700-word science fiction novelette. Published in March 2013 issue of Asimov's. Named to the Locus Recommended Reading List.
  • 10/24/2011: "Heaven's Touch"
    Accepted. 7,800-word hard science fiction novelette. Published in August 2012 issue of Asimov's. My first Asimov's acceptance. The story is a stand-alone sequel to my story "Where Away You Fall," published in Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Dec. 2008. I submitted "Heaven's Touch" to Analog but it was rejected. I then submitted to Asimov's and the story was accepted. The novelette was named to the Locus Recommended Reading List.
  • 05/01/2011: "Mirrorblink"
    Rejected. 12,000-word science fiction novelette. After extensive rewrite, I submitted to the British magazine Interzone, which accepted the story and published it in their Nov./Dec. 2012 issue.
  • 07/03/2010: "Peacemaker, Peacemaker, Little Bo Peep"
    Rejected. 8,600-word dystopian science fiction novelette. I submitted to the British magazine Interzone, which accepted the story and published it in their Nov./Dec. 2010 issue.

As you can see from my acceptances and rejections, it's hard to determine a pattern to what makes the mark. Since Asimov's focuses on science fiction stories I generally submit that type of story to them. But beyond that I dare anyone to find a pattern.

The pattern above holds up for other magazines. For example, I've published 13 stories with the British magazine Interzone. But the magazine has also rejected a number of my stories and continues to reject them, with my most recent rejection arriving in January 2016.

So what's the secret sauce to publishing your short stories? Here it is:

  • Write the best story you can.
  • Know — ie, read — the market you submit to.
  • Don't take rejection personally.
  • When a story is rejected make sure to submit it somewhere else.
  • Be persistent with both your writing and your submissions.

Beyond that there is no secret to publishing your short stories. I hope this helps.

* End note: My list of submissions to Asimov's is incomplete because I've been submitting there for a long time, nearly as long as I've been reading the magazine. My first submission was a science fiction story when I was a teenager, which Gardner Dozois rejected. In addition, for many years Asimov's only accepted print submissions. I submitted at least a dozen stories during this time, all of which were rejected. A few of them ended up being published in other magazines. But I have no records documenting those submissions and outcomes.