What to do with short stories

A comment and reply on my short story primer raised the issue of what to do with short stories.  It’s a good question, but the answer depends on your direction as an author.  Personally, I’m in favour of submitting them to short fiction markets such as magazines and anthologies, for the following reasons.

Toughen up

There’s nothing like a string of rejections on a story to desensitise you to the sting of the latest “no thanks” in your inbox.  And while submitting to short fiction markets, you will collect rejections. It is inevitable.  Enough to re-paper the study, if you so desire.

The good thing is, the more rejections you get, the less they affect you.  I love form rejections, now.  They’re quick, painless and I can just move right on to the next market.

Practice querying publishers and agents

When submitting short stories, you face many of the same restrictions and frustrations as you would when submitting query letters.  There are the different versions of “standard manuscript format”, different requirements for attachments versus in the body of the e-mail.  There are the long wait times, and the impersonal responses.

Learn to deal with them now, and querying that novel will be a piece of cake.

Build a professional profile

Nothing screams “new writer” like an empty profile page.  Give visitors something to look at.  Let editors and readers find your work in other places.  You don’t have to do this to get a novel published, but if you have the time and the skill, why not?

As well as that, if your work is available you can attract writers and readers who enjoy your writing.  This is always good, not only for building a readership, but also for meeting your peers.

Get feedback

While a lot of short fiction markets don’t give feedback, there are plenty who do.  And comments from an editor can be worth their weight in gold.  If you are really unsure about your work, this is a good place to start.  Editors will give you more honest feedback than your writing mates.  But don’t forget, opinions can be subjective.

To find out which markets are more likely to offer feedback, search for markets using Duotrope’s Digest.

Get to know your peers

The people submitting to short fiction markets are your contemporaries, and it pays to make connections.  This is a lonely pursuit, and it’s great to have friends with the same passions.  Check out webpages and blogs of authors from the markets you like, and see if you can make some new writing buddies.

Earn some pocket money

While you’ll never get rich from short stories, you can make some pocket money, useful for buying subscriptions, contributing to website hosting, spending on magazines and books, donating to worthy causes.  It may be miniscule in the scheme of your standard of living, but it is not to be sneezed at.

Gain a sense of accomplishment

There is nothing like opening your e-mail and finding an acceptance.  Each one is a wonderful moment.  And quite honestly, that part is better than the money.  Because someone else loves your story enough to share it with others.  Rock on.

Support short fiction markets

People who love to write short fiction usually love to read them, too.  It’s an interesting form that doesn’t have as much appeal as the novel.  So the majority of short fiction magazine subscribers and anthology buyers tend to be writers.  Get involved in the community.  Get to know the markets, read the stories, spread the word.  More people reading and buying means more markets to submit to.

If this sounds like just what you need, step back for a moment and consider these eight reasons you should NOT submit to short fiction markets.

  1. You want validation now, and think your story is good enough to be accepted by the first market you submit it to.
  2. You have a thin skin and don’t like it when people criticise your work.
  3. You expect to earn a reasonable income from it.
  4. You’ve banged out this short story, but don’t really like the format and don’t plan to write any more of them.
  5. You’ve never heard of any of these short fiction markets.
  6. You’re not even sure you’ve read short fiction.
  7. You’ve read some short stories, but you hated them.  You think you can do better.
  8. You don’t want to spend any time on finding the right home.  Any market will do.

If any of those options sound like you, do yourself a favour and don’t submit.  You’ll just end up frustrated and bitter.

So there’s my take on what to do with your short stories.  I hope you’ve found I helpful.

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11 thoughts on “What to do with short stories

  1. Clearly, I haven’t done enough research on this format. I love writing short fiction but I didn’t know magazines existed! Can anyone suggest any short fiction magazines to submit to?

  2. When your cat throws up on your rug, it stalks away, an embodiment of disdain from whisker-tip to tail-tip. Other cats may come along, give the residue a cursory sniff, and then do the same. A dog, on the other hand, thinks ‘That looks good!’ …

    When I send out my fiction, I always hope to get the dog.

  3. Great post. I’m new to the writing world and really appreciate the kind of advice you’re giving out here. At the moment I’m just posting my short stories on my own blog, and trying to cultivate my voice, but I’ll certainly be coming back here for more tips!

    All the best!

  4. This post is a goldmine of advice, especially for someone like me who’s just starting out. Thanks.
    I’d never considered that the readership of short fiction magazines are mostly other writers, but the way that you explain it makes a lot of sense.
    I just mailed my first short story submission since high school a couple of weeks ago. Am I masochistic to be almost as eager for a reection as for a sale? Such is the case because I’m primarily submitting short fiction to gain experience rather than income.

  5. My tutor on an earlier course told me ‘Just keep sending them in until they cry ‘Uncle’!’ So I do, and I am slowly building a new small family of male relatives! Terrific post, Merrilee. This business has the capacity to destroy souls on the basis of subjectivity because, all things being equal, that’s what it comes down to – they like it or they don’t. Our business is to ensure we keep a sense of perspective, polish our work, learn from our critics, and make each new piece the best thing we’ve ever produced.
    Think I need a lie down now …

  6. I know what you mean about standard rejections but it’s really the personal ones that are saying the most. It means they like you a little and you must be doing something right. I haven’t submitted for a while because of problems at home. I got into the habit of sending off several short stories a week and receiving regular rejections too… along with the occasional ‘Yes!’ Now I’m out of that routine it’s hard to force myself back into that pain-zone but I will… soon!

  7. I’m playing the submissions game. I’m at the point where I don’t even care about rejections anymore. I just shrug and move on.

    Oh, okay, perhaps after cracking a can of beer. But that’s standard operating procedure for most minor disappointments in my life, so nothing new there…. ;)

    Very good points, BTW, good lady.

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