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How to Break into Short Story Markets

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Philip Overby, Mar 12, 2012.

  1. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

    I've submitted short stories in the past with mixed results. I'm hoping to build up my "resume'" with some short story pubs and wondering if anyone can give advice on how to break into the fantasy markets.

    Is there a certain style that the more reputable markets are looking for? What's the turn over for hearing back for such stories? Do you find that submitting short stories is easier in that if they get rejected, they're not as difficult to go back and edit?

    Just wondering if anyone has any tips on how to have success in writing short stories as it's something I've regrettably ignored for quite some time.

  2. TWErvin2

    TWErvin2 Auror

    I've had some short stories published, but none in the major fantasy magazine/ezine markets.

    For some reason some writers get the notion that writing short fiction and getting it published is easier than writing a novel and getting it published. Writing short fiction is a slightly different animal than writing novel-length works, although there certainly is some crossover in skills and techniques. Certainly it takes less time to complete a short story, based on word/length alone, so it's easier to complete and submit far more short stories than novels over the same time period.

    But competition for the slots available with the magazines and ezines is very competitive.

    The best thing to do is to target your work as closely as you can to what the magazine/ezine normally publishes. If a magazine doesn't touch high fantasy, but tends to favor urban fantasy, and you write high fantasy, they're not a good place to submit. This may seem like a no-brainer, but I read slush for a small ezine, and you might be surprised the spectrum of submissions received that have not chance as they're not even in the genre, or the content is wholly inappropriate for our audience. The writers obviously didn't even glance at the guidelines. Or they ignored them, figuring their work was so superior that it didn't matter?

    As for hearing back, some markets have listed in their guidelines an average response time. A couple of thoughts on that. First, my experience is that it may well take twice as long, and easy rejections tend to get a faster response than those that require a second reading and more consideration. Duotrope.com, which is a good place to begin a search, also has information on response times. There's another website, Submitting to the Black Hole, is out there, but less up to date. (I can provide links to both if anyone wants them.)

    I really am not sure how much short stories published, unless in very high profile magazines, will do to attract the attention of editors of major publishing houses. In the end, it's the quality of the work in front of them that will carry the most weight. However, getting published in magazines does demonstrate the ability to write something others want to publish, the ability to work with an editor, that the writer is serious and more than a 'one novel in me' type, has had at least some experience with contracts, etc.

    After second thought, I'll just post a link to my website that has links to a lot of places one can explore for potential markets to submit their short fiction to: market search sites

    Good luck!
  3. I'm going that route as well as working on my novel -- the multi-vector approach does spread me a little thin, but 1) it helps me figure out who I am as a writer, and 2) it, I think, increases the chance that I'll achieve one of my goals (get published).

    I've been going down the list of paying markets at this link, submitting each story I have to each market in turn. I've gotten six rejections so far, but the most recent one actually took the time to explain what they thought was wrong with the story, which was highly encouraging (the other five rejections were all "Thanks, but no" with no useful information).

    It is discouraging to get each rejection, but a lot less so than it was at first, and I've committed to receiving at least a hundred rejections before I reassess my plan. Which does not mean "give up;" it just means that if I hit 100 rejections without getting anything published, I'll need to take a long hard look at what I'm doing.

    I've got four stories in rotation at this point; when one gets rejected by one market, I submit it to the next market on the list (whose criteria the story meets; no fantasy to Asimov, for example). I've got a spreadsheet detailing each story, who I submitted it to, when, the status (pending/rejected/and, Godzilla willing, accepted), and a dynamic column that tells me how long it's been since the submission OR how long until I got a response. (So far for the rejections, it's been 20, 6, 6, 15, 26, and 12 days respectively, for a mean of 14.16 days.)

    I've got two more stories I'm going to start into the rotation soon; my plan is eventually to have a dozen stories and submit each one to every paying SFWA market that is appropriate. If a story gets rejected by all the markets then I'll shelve it.

    I haven't rewritten any stories between submissions because I haven't gotten any feedback about why they rejected it, except for this latest one, which I plan to rewrite and continue submitting. I figure it's probably not a good idea to keep tinkering with a story that I think is in good shape; better to write something new.

    There's also something to be said for narrowly targeting stories to the particular market in question, as that obviously increases your chance of success; on the other hand, most markets have overlap in what they'll publish, so it's not like you need to write something specifically for each market.
    kennyc likes this.
  4. SeverinR

    SeverinR Vala

    I was finally inspired with a SS. So I am working on it for a contest.
    My inspiration before was full length.
  5. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

    @ Benjamin: I'm actually planning to do the same thing as you by submitting to the markets you linked to. I think it's an excellent idea as those markets are not only paying, but are widely recognized as being reputable in our genre. So I hope to do the same as you. I'd also tried making a spreadsheet in the past but I'm not good at making them so I couldn't figure it out.
  6. The spreadsheet I made is pretty simple. Six columns:

    - Story (which story I submitted)
    - Market (which market I submitted it to)
    - Submission date (when I submitted it)
    - Status (pending, rejected, or accepted)
    - Response date (when I got a response)
    - Timespan (how many days between submission and response)

    Then I just make one row for each submission. One of the stories has been rejected four times; so it shows up in four rows. Normally I sort it by submission date but using the basic sort functions, I can sort by story name or market if I want to see where I've submitted a story, or which stories I've submitted to a given market.

    I'm really no expert in spreadsheets either, but this is pretty straightforward. If you want, PM me and I'll send you my doc so you can see what it looks like.
  7. Elder the Dwarf

    Elder the Dwarf Maester

    This is really helpful, guys. Now, if only I could write a short story...

    Ben and (anybody else who is doing the same thing) be sure to tell us when it works out for you!
  8. Oh, never fear, I'll be shouting it from the rooftops if I ever make any money at this ;)
  9. Short stories are places to experiment, do things that can be started and completed rather quickly (depends on your writing speed) and lets you see how something may or may not work. It's a sandbox for us to play in without dedicating 100k words to it.

    What you do have to do is give it a beginning and ending, and along the way a story in the middle. It is a bit challenging to work in a decent story in a few thousand words, but it is easier to do than a full length novel. Speaking of which, I have one I need to get completed myself. :)
  10. Kaellpae

    Kaellpae Inkling

    I've been struggling to write something, anything really. I'll probably post it to Mythic Scribes whenever I finally do get something finished. That way I can get a bit of feedback before sending it off to a Short Story Publication.

    Good luck to you guys in your publishing!
  11. Digital_Fey

    Digital_Fey Troubadour

    Very useful links, thanks guys:D Most of my writing seems to take the form of flash fiction and short stories these days, so I'm always on the look out for reputable publications to submit to.

    Sure, a short story can be a playground for concepts that don't demand a full trilogy, but I think the form itself should be seen as more than just a miniature canvas for doodling on. The short story, in whichever genre, is not just a compacted novel - it's a craft on its own.
    kennyc likes this.
  12. kennyc

    kennyc Inkling

    Yep, that's basically what I do, have been doing for years but just a sheet of loose-leaf paper - one for each piece of writing.

    Where/Market When Submitted Response Date Comments


    I also keep a "master" submission list, again on just a sheet of paper

    Story Where Sent Date Resp Date Comments
  13. kennyc

    kennyc Inkling

    I must disagree with this. Stories are a legitimate form all on their own. Many (such as myself) prefer reading short stories to novels. To characterize short stories and just a playground is disingenuous and simply wrong. While it may be true for you, it is not in general.
  14. WilliamElse

    WilliamElse Dreamer

    I've been lucky enough to have had a few short stories published, and I agree with all the advice above, particularly regarding the need to keep track of your submissions and research your markets carefully. Also, as others have noted, the short story form is a completely different beast to the novel, with its own rules and requirements, and needs to be approached as such.

    Duotrope is a tremendously useful site for finding markets.
  15. Thanks for the Duotrope link; looks like there's a lot of other markets out there I hadn't considered yet. Might be worth it to submit there, under the idea that less prestigious markets are more likely to accept the work of starting authors, and then when I submit to the more prestigious markets, I can point out places I've been published. Hmm...
  16. WilliamElse

    WilliamElse Dreamer

    That has been my approach too. I won't say that listing places I've been published has helped me to get accepted, but I'm pretty sure I now get more personalised rejections!
  17. When I was younger and used to draw all the time, I had a sketchbook where I drew whatever I felt like. Some I felt warranted more effort and so I would clean them up and turn them into an actual finished drawing. I still have most of my sketch books, and they still have maybe one or two finished drawings for every ten that are partially started or half finished works.

    Some short stories are failures before I get finished...I drop them and move on. Others turn out to be good short stories, and I polish them up and make them something I like. Then again, I've had two so far that were only the beginnings of novels and are waiting for me to give them the proper attention they need to become novels.

    There is a difference in style between a short story and novel, but changing from short story to novel is far easier than trying to cut a novel down to a short story when you realize the story wasn't really a novel, and just a short story.

    To discount it as a place to experiment with new ideas and possible stories is like saying I should never have drawn on a piece of paper without having decided what the final drawing would be and have decided that I must put full effort into it before starting. A bit stuck up attitude to me. I wasn't discounting short stories as a form of writing, only one that is easier to use as a place to experiment with ideas that are not fully formed, or ideas that might sound better to us when we are thinking of them than when they end up in words.

    I'm amazed at the negativity at using short stories as a format for trying out different things. Maybe I'm the only person here who actually has bad ideas, or ones that really don't work, but if any of you, like me, aren't perfect from the moment we have an idea, the short story format is a good place to see if it works.
  18. Ghost

    Ghost Inkling

    I don't think kennyc said you can't experiment through short stories. I think he was saying that short stories stand on their own. It's like that little adage about how a story isn't a just a short novel and a novel isn't just a long story. I might use a short story to get more information on a character's past, but I don't use a short story as a stepping stone to a novel. Some might, but for me it has to be complete in its own right otherwise it's only a vignette or a bit of brainstorming. I don't look at a short story as a place to experiment with a novel idea before I commit or a place to essentially get its feet wet. It's its own animal.

    I read a comparison once that a short story is a miniature and a novel is a mural. I think it's more apt than calling a short story a sketch since short fiction should be a finished product when published.

    As for publishing fantasy, I'm not sure I'd be much help since my short fiction ends up being horror. I'd recommend looking at Duotrope or some other market directory and going to various websites for magazine and e-zines. A lot of them offer a few stories to view. You can also look at up-to-date anthologies at the library. You can see where your style fits and what the current trends are.

    A common plea I read on submission guidelines (for higher places with pro rates) is for authors to send something new or at least a new take on an old idea. I've seen weird stuff in submission guidelines. I've seen things like "we don't want first person" or "no more stories about crystals." That last one was a while back, though. It's still kind of trippy.

    I think a 3-4 week turn around is (or was) common, but it varies.

    I haven't been published yet so I don't know what it takes to be successful, but I think a strong voice is key. I know it's true of novels as well, but in short stories you have less space and time to make an impact on the reader.

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