Counting up, when A House for the Wazungu and Peace-and-Quiet Pancake are released by their respective publishers, I’ll have thirty-seven short stories at large in the world. Perhaps I’d have had more credibility if I’d hung on for a nice round forty, but I was inspired by a recent post from Rowena reminding me of the beauty of primes, so I’m resolved to celebrate their quirkiness when I remember from now on. Either way, it’s more than the two dozen I’d had in mind, suggesting I might know something (if only in the sense of more than nothing) about short story publication for the nonprofessional. So, without more ado, here’s how:
Courses, writers’ groups, all alone in your garret: if you want to write,
you’ll quickly have something to show for your efforts, but it takes longer than you think to get that something to a standard that people who have never met you before you will want to read. Let’s assume you’ve been through that, or can find the right advice on the internet or through my competition.
2. POLISH YOUR BEST STORIES.
Edit edit edit! Chop out all superfluous words. It depends what you’re writing and where you want to publish, but with our short attention spans on the internet, you stand a better chance of publication if you can keep your word-count well below 2000 words.
If possible, get someone of a nit-picking disposition to proof-read. Follow best practice regarding formatting and layout (generally double-spaced, Times New Roman, although, see below, some editors will have different requirements).
Decide whether you’re sending out just one story (less work) or several (less trauma: editor X may decline story A but you’ve still got hopes for story B and you’ll have sent A back out again before B comes back from editor Y).
3. RESEARCH THE MARKET.
Of course, if you’re writing short stories you’ll be reading them too, so you’ll already have some potential markets in mind. Now go back and look at them with a more critical eye, perhaps casting your gaze a bit wider as you go.
There is a list of places I’ve been published on this site but beware: just like you, editors are unpaid and some of these magazines may not still be in operation (hopefully not as a result of taking my work). Another good place to look is in the bios of people whose short stories you admire.
Duotrope has an extensive database of literary magazines with information on submission periods; accepted genres, styles and subjects; word limits; payment (extremely rare); publication type (electronic or print) and frequency; submission methods (many are now moving from post and email to electronic submission managers like submittable which is much easier for both parties) and response times. They have recently introduced a small charge to access the database but, of course, you can find the information about each individual magazine on its own website.
4. FIND A POSSIBLE MATCH FOR EACH OF YOUR STORIES.
This is where it gets a bit like an internet blind date.
Editors often advise ensuring your work is similar to what they publish but I often find that difficult to tell and tend to go on the more basic judgement of whether I like the stories there. The real essential is to check for word length and subject matter, although the latter is always open to interpretation.
5. RECHECK THE SUBMISSION CRITERIA AND PRESS SEND.
See 2 above in relation to formatting and layout: editors get upset if you’ve blatantly ignored their instructions about how to send your work to them. They’re having to read through a load of stuff and they know what’s easy on the eye.
Think of it like sending your kid off to school. It’s up to you to ensure he’s got all his kit. You might not think he actually needs a protractor and set square these days but when the teacher asks the class to get them out, and he’s the only one without them, he’s going to feel pretty useless, and you won’t be there to defend him.
6. BE PROFESSIONAL.
Keep a record of where you’ve sent your story (you don’t want to send it to the same place twice) and when (in case you need to follow up its progress). On the latter point, don’t go hassling busy editors, check their expected response times, but a polite email after three or four months doesn’t go amiss in many cases.
Although some publications will accept simultaneous submissions (you send your story to more than one place at a time), I generally send my sequentially (wait till it comes back before sending it to the next place).
7. COPING WITH DISAPPOINTMENT.
The state of mind in which you write the stories is different to the state of mind which you edit which is different again to the state of mind in which you sent those stories out. I see it as of necessity getting progressively more hard-nosed and emotionally detached.
Remember that literary magazines and ezines receive substantially more
submissions than they can use, so the most likely outcome is that your story will be declined. Don’t take it to heart and don’t, whatever you do, try and persuade them to change their minds.
Don’t expect feedback – they rarely have the time – but count yourself lucky if it is offered and use it either to revise your story or to understand better what this particular editor is looking for, or both.
Get ready to send it out again:
8. REPEAT POINTS 2 TO 7 UNTIL YOU GET A YES.*
Actually it’s 1 to 7 because we are always learning.
10. GO BACK TO NUMBER 1 AND DO IT ALL AGAIN.
* Only you can decide how many times to keep offering the same story to (different) editors before you let it go. I have a couple of stories that were snapped up the first time I sent them out and a couple that were rejected as many as twenty times before someone wanted to publish them.
I haven’t actually given up any of my stories, but there are a few that
have sat in a drawer for a couple of years.
This has turned out to be a longer post than I expected and I still can’t tell if it’s saying anything more sophisticated than the literary equivalent of how to boil a kettle. I’m hoping you’ll add your ideas to the mix.
I’m off to try to adapt my ten-point plan for short story publishing for getting my novels out to agents. After all, they can only say no. (Again and again.) And by sheer serendipity, my next post is a review of an author's agents database.
The best of luck with publishing your stories!