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.

Tips for submitting your short fiction

If you want to get serious about selling your short fiction, here are some tips.

Cream of the crop

Don’t bother sending out anything but your best.  You are competing with thousands of other writers for a very small number of spots.  Get feedback, workshop that story, make it sing.  If it’s cliché in any way, put it in a drawer and forget about it.  Editors have seen everything.  Your story needs to be fresh, innovative and engaging to stand out from the crowd.

Ready, aim…

Don’t scatter-shot your submissions.  Choose your markets carefully, with the tone of the magazine, the intended audience and the editors’ tastes in mind.  It will take time to get to know the markets you are interested in, but you learn pretty quickly which ones are more suited to your stories.  And wherever possible, read a copy of the magazine first.  If you think all the stories are poorly written or just dreadful, then why would you submit to that market?  Don’t imagine you will get in because you are “better”.  If you don’t connect with the magazine, the editors aren’t going to connect with your story.

Format to the bone

Check the guidelines.  Do they accept simsubs?  Multisubs?  Do they want courier or times?  Indents or double spacing?  Attachment or body?  Check and double check before you send.  Submit each story as if it was a novel query to an agent.  Be professional.

My mum loves this, so…

Decide what you want before you start submitting.  Do you just want your name out there?  Then find a good token or non-paying market with a high acceptance rate.  Or are you ready to compete with the best?  Go for markets that pay pro or semi-pro rates.  They are tougher to get into, but worth it.

Use the data

If you are submitting short stories, you need Duotrope’s Digest.  They take a lot of the donkeywork out of the process, and are an invaluable resource on market preferences, acceptance rates, pay rates, reading periods etc.  Join up, it’s free, but do consider supporting them with a donation if you make a sale.

Hop on the merry-go-round

Keep stories in circulation at all times.  As soon as a story gets rejected, send it straight out to the next market on your list.  Unless you have feedback from an editor that makes you think “by jove, they’re right!”, don’t revise between markets.  Endless revision is not cost effective for short stories.  Accept the fact that some stories may never find a home, because they just aren’t saleable, or aren’t fresh and interesting enough.

Good luck!

A short story primer

I know some of you are not familiar with the short story form, or haven’t written as many shorts as you would like.  So here is a quick primer for those of you who struggle to write short.

The first thing to remember is:

A short story is just a climax scene without the buildup.

And a very useful piece of advice from Kurt Vonnegut:

Start as near to the end as possible.

With those two bits of advice in mind, think of the short story as a moment of change, from one state to another.  It can be either a physical change, or a mental change.  But what you are illustrating is a cusp, an edge, within a greater, untold story. Continue reading