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Ask a Scientist

Ask A Scientist is your chance to pose a question to our staff. We'll pluck questions from our e-mail bag and answer as many as we can. Submit your questions to publishme@colum.edu. Please put "Ask A Scientist" in the subject line of you email.

Q: What's the deal with the short story market today?" - M. Randall, college junior

A: From Lab Director Jotham Burrello:

It is a buyer's market, or rather, an editor's market. Thousands upon thousands of folks are writing and submitting short fiction and editors have the pick of the litter. Many literary journals have closed submissions because they have a backlog of stories. Thankfully there are hundreds of markets for short prose (and more pop up daily). In terms of a writer making a career from writing short fiction, those days are long gone. The decrease in glossy general interest magazines publishing short prose means the lion's share of work published is by small literary journals, online magazines and high circulation genre magazines like Ellery Queen and Cricket.

Given this publishing reality, one problem I see is that writers are not supporting magazines. One lit journal editor put it bluntly: "How can writers expect me to publish their stories if they don't buy my magazine?" Editors I speak with say submissions are increasing but their sales don't budge. While you can't be expected to be familiar with every magazine out there, you should be familiar with a handful to which you might submit. By buying a magazine you are entering into a larger writing community and developing your understanding of the craft. And you might be able to write off the cost of the magazine at the end of the year. Support the magazines that might launch your career.

Q: Do I need an agent to submit to glossy magazines? - A. Bradford, college freshman

A: From Lab Director Jotham Burrello

The short answer is no. Anyone can submit to the New Yorker or Harpers or Playboy. Go for it. But agents also submit their client's stories to these magazines, plus editors of high-circulation, high-profile magazines request stories from writers they admire. The slots left for stories discovered in the slush pile is limited. An emerging writer will have better success submitting to magazines whose contributors match his or her experience. You can submit to glossy magazines as part of your submission plan, just don't make it your only strategy.