Greetings, fellow sci-fi fans! From steampunk to solarpunk, artificial intelligence to alternative history, and time travel to teleportation, writers and consumers of speculative fiction share a common love for the realm of possibilities. When it comes to exploring the world of “what if’s,” no genre does it better than science fiction.
Sure, there are literary magazines and publishers willing to provide free content for writers to read before submitting work of their own. But what about science fiction and fantasy specifically? When it comes to sample content from paying magazines, finding free speculative fiction online is simply a matter of knowing where to look.
Flash Fiction Online
Do you like bite-sized fiction that fits neatly inside a busy schedule? Visit Flash Fiction Online, a digital magazine that accepts stories between 500–1,000 words. A member of Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA), Flash Fiction Online pays $60 per accepted flash piece and $0.02 per word for reprints. They also accept other fiction genres including fantasy, horror, literary, and humor. Check out their “Issues” page to read current work and back issues.
Daily Science Fiction
Looking for more speculative flash fiction? Try Daily Science Fiction, an online sci-fi and fantasy publisher that pays $0.08 per word for stories between 100–1,500 words. For the discerning (or just plain picky) reader, Daily Science Fiction organizes stories by subgenre. Are you in the mood for a good disaster story? There’s a category for that. Maybe clones are more your thing. There’s a section for that too. And if you just can’t get enough flash fiction, you can subscribe to receive a new story every weekday by email for free.
Freeze Frame Fiction
Do you like to mix and match genres, such as sci-fi and mystery or fantasy and horror? As long as your story is 1,000 words or fewer (and isn’t young adult paranormal romance), Freeze Frame Fiction may be a good fit. Payment is $10 per accepted story, which means at least $0.01 per word. Recently published flash fiction is available free on their website for three months. After three months, stories are compiled into an e-book anthology that costs $2.99.
Did you know there’s a magazine devoted entirely to science fiction poetry? You read that right. Science fiction poetry is a real genre. How cool is that? If your poetry boldly goes where no poem has gone before, check out Star*Line. Since 1978, Star*Line has been the newsletter for the Science Fiction Poetry Association (SFPA). A quarterly publication, Star*Line pays $0.03 per word with a minimum $3 per accepted poem. Numerous sample poems are available in their online archive.
Three-Lobed Burning Eye
If you want to read a mixture of flash fiction and short stories, look into Three-Lobed Burning Eye Magazine. A biannual online magazine featuring science fiction, fantasy, and horror, 3LBE publishes six stories per issue (check out their “Issues” tab), some of which are available as audio recordings. Flash fiction from 500–1,000 words pays $30 while short stories from 1,000–7,000 words pay $100. 2,000–5,000 word stories are preferred. 3LBE asks that writers only submit a few pieces per calendar year, so choose your submissions carefully.
Syntax and Salt Magazine
Sci-fi is clearly in the realm of genre fiction, but what if there were a market for speculative stories that are more literary in nature? Say “hello” to Syntax and Salt Magazine. Open to submissions year round, Syntax and Salt is looking for science fiction and fantasy short stories up to 3,500 words that avoid common tropes and clichés. In addition to offering free back issues, Syntax and Salt provides valuable links to favorite speculative stories published by other magazines including Lightspeed and The New Yorker. Contributors to Syntax and Salt receive $10 via PayPal, but one story per issue is awarded the Editor’s Choice payment of $25.
Although not a science fiction magazine per se, The Sun has been known to occasionally publish speculative short stories. A well-established literary magazine, The Sun has more than 70,000 subscribers and pays contributors well. Published short stories up to 7,000 words can earn a writer $300 to $2,000 and perhaps a nomination for the Pushcart Prize. To get a feel for the kinds of speculative work this literary magazine accepts, read archived short stories by Debbie Urbanski. Also read non-speculative pieces to help absorb the magazine’s general tone.
Do you prefer podcasts to reading? If so, Escape Pod may be the science fiction publication for you. Accepted work is posted online in both written and audio format. Editors accept science fiction short stories from 1,500–6,000 words. Payment is $0.06 per word for original fiction and $100 for reprints. Looking for fantasy or horror? Escape Pod’s parent company, Escape Artists, has you covered with their other publications PodCastle and Pseudopod. For the young and young at heart, check out their YA speculative fiction publication Cast of Wonders.
Want more science fiction podcasts? Visit Apex Magazine for science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Apex Magazine doesn’t create podcasts for all their published stories, but new audio recordings are posted on the first Tuesday of every month under their “Podcasts” tab. Read complete back issues on their “Past Issues” page. Stories up to 7,500 words are accepted. Payment for short stories is $0.06 per word with a $60 minimum. Podcast payment is $0.01 per word.
Strange Horizons showcases speculative fiction up to 10,000 words as well as nonfiction, poetry, and podcasts free on their website. They also provide a convenient list of 51 things they don’t want to read about. If these commandments don’t scare you off, you could earn $0.08 per word for fiction and $40 per poem.
For even more science fiction and fantasy short stories with podcasts, visit Clarkesworld. A Hugo Award-Winning magazine, Clarkesworld provides more than 140 back issues to peruse. Stories from 1,000–16,000 words are accepted, so get ready to do some heavy listening, reading, and writing. Payment is $0.10 per word the first 5,000 words, and $0.08 per word after that.
If you’re in the mood for something longer than a short story but shorter than a novel, visit GigaNotoSaurus. Named after one of the largest carnivorous dinosaurs, GigaNotoSaurus publishes one 5,000–25,000 word science fiction or fantasy story per month. Payment for accepted work is $100. So if you’ve ever written a speculative story in that unusual word count range, GigaNotoSaurus is worth checking out.
For verbose sci-fi writers who find their story about forbidden intergalactic romance has evolved from a novelette into a full-blown novel, Carina Press may be the market for you. The digital-first imprint of Harlequin, Carina Press accepts speculative novellas and novels greater than 25,000 words, provided the story contains a central romance that concludes with a “happily ever after” or “happy for now.” Check out their “Free Reads” section to peruse two of their steampunk stories. Free previews of published science fiction romance books are also available on Harlequin. Carina Press typically requires authors to submit a completed manuscript, synopsis, and cover letter. Royalty payments for published stories are 50% net digital receipts on e-books purchased through Harlequin, and 40% net digital receipts on e-books purchased through third parties.
As writers, reading is an essential component of our job. Today, thanks to technology and the age of free content, finding speculative short stories online is becoming less of a challenge. So check out the publications listed, submit your best work, and financially support your favorite speculative magazines if the money starts rolling in. Oh, and don’t forget to always read guidelines carefully before you submit. (But you already knew that, right?) Don’t wait. The future of science fiction short stories is already here.