Gray Listing

As you may know, if you’ve been following this space for a while, I quit subbing short stories for publication to run them myself. The paying markets for crime are almost nil unless you get an anthology invite. So until then, short fiction is going to be something of a garage band arrangement.

As Jim.

As Dick, I’m still subbing to paying markets. After a couple years of fine-tuning and reworking, I’ve discovered something. I am going to have to “gray list” a handful of markets. What’s gray listing?

While science fiction has a wealth of places to submit, there are a handful of markets that, despite what they say, really want to see a track record. Are you famous amongst the spec ficcers? Do #gamergate idiots want to boycott you? (Hint: That means you’ve made it, kids. Go thou and piss them off. It’ll boost your sales.) Did Tor or some other imprint buy your work? If so, you can get into these magazines because your name will sell copies. (Or in the case of tor.com’s short story page, draw page hits.)

When I first started subbing stories to pro markets, I decided to aim high and send to the biggest names in SF fiction. Every one has been shot down. Then it occurred to me that, until Dick either sells a novel to a trad house or manages to move a bunch of copies on his own, they’re not going to talk to me. Do I want to sell to them?

Does a tauntaun shit in the snow?

But that’s not going to happen now. So I’m gray listing them. What’s gray listing (for the second time, Jim)? Simple. White listing is a list of people, markets, or whatever that meet your approval automatically. No questions asked. Black listing, which many of us do to car companies, insurance carries, brands of beer, and so on, means this person, company, market, whatever is banned from doing business or interacting with you. Do not pass go. Do not collect two hundred dollars. Go directly to jail. For instance, I will never own another Chrysler product again. The Neon was just such a sloppily built vehicle that I can’t bring myself to make five years of payments on another one. So I have blacklisted Chrysler. I also have blacklisted one short story market for sending one set of specs for a story, then publishing a completely different set of specs. Mind you, I know there are exceptions, but their submissions requirements were so obscure that I had to go through back channels to get them. After being asked to submit. Sure, the pay there would be good, but I think a writer has a right to ask for some clarity.

Gray listing is different. Gray listing means you take the person, place, or thing out of the equation until the time comes when you and the person, place, or thing in question can work for mutual benefit. Hence, Large SF Market Oligarchy™ will not get anymore submissions until Dick becomes someone they would be interested in. Or they ask, which would be cool. One market I’ve stopped subbing to because of this, but also because they only take hard copy submissions. Hello! It’s 2014!

The reason is simple. If it’s highly unlikely an editor is not going to accept a submission regardless of how good it is, then the time spent waiting on approval or rejection is time wasted. Yes, prestige is all well and good, but I (as Dick) want two things: SFWA-approved credits and payment. I really want that last one. I’m a middle-aged man staring at years of student loan payments and want to get rid of a couple of mortgages.

So gray listing’s your buddy. You’re not wasting your time. You’re not wasting a magazine staff’s time (and believe me, the slush pile is an enormous time suck). You’re being efficient. And if one of those gray listed markets sends you a request, then the list has done its job. Win-win.

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