On Short Story Submissions
Writing a full-length novel is incredibly time-consuming, taking years for most writers, especially those that haven’t been published before. Learning that a writer you’ve met online spent upwards of 4-8 years on their first book is more common than you might think.
This is why writing short stories can be a great stepping stone towards that larger goal. Completing a story in a few thousand words is far more palatable than committing to something that can go north of a hundred thousand words.
For those that already wrote their first novel, short stories are great for not only keeping your writing skills fresh, but also gives you a chance to flex your creative muscle in ways your novel may not have allowed. Short stories can be your gateway towards writing in different genres, trying out different tenses, and potentially take more risks in how you write.
Writing short stories is great, I suppose is what I’m saying.
That said, the process by which you would go about submitting shorts is pretty different in some ways when compared to submitting a novel manuscript. More importantly, there are far fewer steps toward getting a short story published. This makes it much more critical that you don’t shoot yourself in the foot because you rushed through the submission process with a magazine or online website. Or, in your excitement for getting your story shared with the world, you forgot to double-check your work for grammatical errors.
As a writer that’s written my share of shorts and have most of my works in submission, I wanted to share some quick pointers so the work that you submit is a polished diamond.
Edit and proofread multiple times.
You want to leave the best possible impression when your short is picked up from the slush pile. Of all the things that can invalidate your story, regardless of the quality of the plot, is rough content. This can range from simple grammatical errors and typos that you missed to structural/plot-related issues that weren’t resolved. Once your short is complete, don’t skimp on reviewing and revising your work. Multiple times if needed.
Finally, be sure that your short story is formatted properly. For just about every magazine I’ve submitted to, they all expect your manuscript to be in the Shunn manuscript format. Fortunately, Scrivener does this for you by default so I’ve never had to worry about it, but if you’re using software like MS Word or Google Docs you’ll have to be mindful about before you start submitting.
For most submission locations you have only one chance to submit for any given story. Being shot down because you mixed up your tenses in the span of a few paragraphs is a terrible way to go.
Understand the market.
Like writing a proper novel, you want to know what works and what doesn’t in the market today. Reading stories in the genre you plan on writing in, particularly stories written in the last few years, will give you a strong sense of what both readers and magazine editors look for in publishable content.
On top of that, since you are submitting directly to the publisher (no agents to help you for short story submissions!), you’ll want to pick up a magazine or two and read the sort of content they routinely publish. This leads into the next pointer…
Read and follow the publication guidelines.
Clarkesworld Magazine. Strange Horizons. Apex Magazine. Three different magazines with three different sets of guidelines provided at different levels of detail. Once your story is polished and ready to be submitted, be sure to always read the publication guidelines for any place you intend on submitting. Check out the above submission links for examples.
You will quickly understand exactly what their editors want and don’t want, what they consider to be hard sells, and more formal details such as pay rate per word and word count limits. If you don’t follow the guidelines, your story will be rejected before it’s even read.
Read everything. Seriously.
Proofread your cover letter.
Much like your story, you don’t want simple mistakes to be present in the very first thing editors see before opening your story. However, the worst thing in this case is not paying attention to critical details like the name of the editor or publication (imagine submitting to Clarkesworld, but you forgot to replace the previous publisher name). Mistakes like that can speak volumes on their own and tend to lead down one road: to rejection.
Even if your cover letter is very short, be sure that all details are accurate and reflect the publisher that you’re submitting to before clicking “Submit.”
On a related note, unlike submitting queries to agents, short story cover letters don’t have to be verbose. Keep it super-short, especially if you don’t have anything already published.
If you follow everything above, then your story will hit the slush piles of publishers, ready to be read and evaluated based on the story you’re sharing - and not rejected because of grammatical mistakes, ignored guidelines, or a cover letter with another publisher’s name on it.
Receiving feedback based on the content of your story is the best that one can ask for.