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Thread: FAQ: How to publish a short story, the quick version

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    killin' all teh werds AW Moderator zanzjan's Avatar
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    Feb 2010

    FAQ: How to publish a short story, the quick version

    The Incredibly Oversimplied List of Steps Toward Short Fiction Publication.

    (All of these things are of course much more complicated than this.)



    Finish it. Make it as good a story as you can. Check it for grammar and spelling errors. If you can, get someone else to read it and give feedback, preferably someone who is a critical reader or competent fellow writer and who won't try to spare your feelings by not telling you things you need to know to make the story better. Accept that not all feedback given will be correct or useful, but if honestly given is still something to be thankful for. Make the story better. Some writers find it helpful to read their story out loud. Some writers do their final edits on paper. Figure out what works best for you; there isn't one right answer on how to do this. At some point, when you've crossed a line of diminishing returns on revision, decide you're done.

    Unless you're going to self-publish (which can be a perfectly valid choice but would be a different conversation):


    There are market search engines like Duotrope (paid) and Submission Grinder (free), and listing sites such as Ralan. You can google, or ask in the different genre rooms here on AW. Look on your own bookshelves to see what publishers put out the books you like. Look at the magazines you've bought where you enjoyed the stories inside. While we don't always write the same things we like to read, in general if an editor appeals to our tastes, our stories are more likely to meet theirs, and likewise if you hated every story in a magazine, your story may not be their cup of tea either. Aim high. Even if you don't sell to the top markets, if you try there first and work your way down, where your story lands gives you objective information about where you are with your writing, and gives you a handy goal to beat.

    Do your research. Always keep in mind Yog's Law: Money flows toward the writer. Non-paying ("for the love") markets should compensate you in other ways, either by being a prestigious or notable publication, or for a good cause, or have a *verifiable* readership exposure. Most non-paying markets are none of the above. Check the quality of other stories they've published. Any market/contest that expects you to pay fees should be looked at very carefully. There are MANY scams out there that feed on the dreams of unwary writers.

    When you've found a market that is:
    * open to unsolicited submissions
    * accepts stories in your genre and length
    * is decently reputable
    * is asking for reasonable rights



    Most markets will have submission guidelines somewhere on their website. If not, you can write to them and ask for a copy.

    Many, but not all, short story markets take electronic submissions. If so, they generally want stuff as a .doc or .rtf. (Remember that .docx is NOT .doc)

    Standard manuscript format is, generally:
    * white paper, single-sided [if submitting as a hardcopy]
    * 1" margins.
    * double-spaced lines
    * 12pt fixed-width font such as courier
    * your (REAL) name and address at top left of first page
    * your wordcount on top right of first page
    * title centered below those
    * byline (your name, or your pen name) under the title
    * header on subsequent pages with your last name / story title / page #
    * use an underline to indicate italics

    If the story ends really close to the bottom of a page such that it is unclear it's the last page, stick a "THE END" at the end.

    Round your wordcount, but not aggressively so. Err on the side of rounding up.

    Some markets will want a variant of that format. For example, some markets do "blind" reading of submissions, and so don't want your name on the manuscript or in a header, just in your cover letter. Some places may have you cut & paste the text of your story into a web form. They will tell you what they want you to do in their submission guidelines. Follow them.

    If they say they don't take simultaneous subs, that means they don't want you to send them a story at the same time as you've sent it somewhere else -- one market at a time. If they say they don't want multiple subs, it means don't send them more than one story of yours at a time. If they don't say anything about being okay with either simultaneous or multiple subs, assume they don't want them.


    Spell the editor's name right.

    Make sure your contact info is on the letter.

    If you are unfamiliar with the standard formatting of a business letter, google it.

    Cover letters do not sell stories. A very bad cover letter may push a borderline story over into a no, but in general a cover letter is a simply a brief intro/record-keeping thing for whoever is opening submissions. If there is something relevant that you think makes you particularly interesting to the editor and you can describe it briefly (ie, "I attended Clarion in 19xx") do so. If you have awards or publishing credits, list a few of the best or most recent. If you don't, don't worry about it. The basic cover letter:

    Dear [Name Of Editor if you know it, or Editors if you don't],

    I am submitting my [brief genre tag] story "This is My Title", xxxx words, for your consideration. I have been previously published in XYZ, and was a 20xx recipient of the ABC award.



    That's all the cover letter needs to be. You can expand it if you want, tinker with the phrasing, etc., but unless they explicitly tell you in the submission guidelines to include additional info (such as a bio) don't feel you have to put any more content in.

    Don't write your cover letter to read like a used car sales-pitch, or write it in Klingon, or giant purple comic sans, or soak the paper in your favorite cologne, otherwise you may clever yourself right into the recycle bin.


    If you're sending it by postal service, make sure you included a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE). If you just want the response back, you can mark your MS "Disposable" on the front page, typically on the right-hand top under the wordcount. If you want the whole MS back (which was typical back in the days of typewriters, but a bit weird now) include an envelope and postage big enough. If you're sending it electronically, make sure any emailed response is not going to get caught up in a spam filter, or check your spam regularly. Do not consequently buy a fake rolex and blame me.

    It is often helpful to keep a spreadsheet or other documentation of your submissions; some market search engines will also give you an option to save your submission info there. They aggregate that data and use it to generate statistics on response times, and the more data they have, the more reliable those statistics. Which brings us to:


    Sometimes it can be a very long wait. Sometimes you'll hear back that same day. DON'T TAKE RESPONSE TIMES (LONG OR SHORT) AS INDICATING ANY SORT OF JUDGMENT ON YOU OR YOUR WORK. Editors tend to be busy. Some have more help than others. Some are more efficient at reading through slush (unsolicited submissions) than others. Some times of year are more crazy for the publishing industry than others. If you're still within the rough response estimate either in their submission guidelines (which are sometimes woefully optimistic) or gathered by a market engine, don't worry about it. Instead, WRITE ANOTHER STORY. If the wait is making you crazy, talk to other writers; AWers are good about being supportive of each other.

    If you go well past the expected response time, you can send a polite query. Many markets will tell you how/when to query in their guidelines.

    If you go waaaay waaaaay past there, and still haven't gotten a response (this happens) check to make sure there isn't anything specific going on with that market (editor had a heart attack, owner eaten by zombies, etc.) and then decide if you want to wait. If you don't, send them a polite letter withdrawing the piece, and send it to the next market on your list.


    Move on. Rejections aren't personal. Don't complain loudly about the market and editor in public forums, unless they sent you the rejection duct-taped to the body of your dog (in which case, call the police.) Don't write back to the editor to argue with them over why they rejected you. (I once got a rejection that said, in its entirety, "It's snowing, so no." That seemed particularly unfair because it was snowing on me too, but I moved on and sold the story to the next market I sent it to.) If an editor provides feedback, consider it when you've stopped being upset about the rejection. If you need to mope, give yourself 24 hours of self-indulgent moping, eat some chocolate, then get that story back out there and get your butt back in your writing chair. If an editor says they want to see more of your work, they mean it -- they don't ask that lightly -- but unless they *specifically* ask you for a rewrite of your story, don't send them the same one again.

    Don't spend a lot of time trying to read hidden meaning or subliminal clues into rejection letters, like by the size of the font or what color the paper is or if it was wrinkled. Editors don't have the time to mess with your head. Writers can get obsessive about this, and if you absolutely need to indulge in rejectomancy, try not to get too crazy with it. Your time is better spent on other things.

    At some point, if a story has been rejected by all the reasonable markets, you may be faced with deciding to submit it to some less-than-desirable places, or trunking (setting aside indefinitely) the story. This is a decision you have to make for yourself. Keep in mind that new markets open up all the time, or change editors, or otherwise undergo shifts in what they are looking for, and that story's opportunity may still come. Don't submit a story somewhere solely out of desperation.

    If you get down, TALK TO PEOPLE. This is a hard business, but you're not alone in it. We all have crises of confidence now and then, but do what you can to keep perspective and get through. And every 100 rejections? Throw yourself a BIG DAMNED PARTY, because persistence is an essential part of succeeding as a writer.


    YAY! W00t!

    You should get a contract, which should look reasonable to you, and if it doesn't, ask someone. You should get paid, and/or get contributor copies (if it's a print publication.) When you receive any of those will vary by market, but it should tell you either in the guidelines, acceptance letter, or contract itself.

    Dance with your story around the house like a madperson; you deserve it. Get more stories out there. Keep going!

    8. REVIEWS

    Great! Your story's been published! Now to just wait for the accolades to roll in...

    Well. Repeat after me: You can't make everyone happy.

    Don't respond to bad reviews, no matter how wrong or mean or stupidheaded they are. We call this the Author's Big Mistake. Several big-name authors have catastrophically ABM'd themselves, usually to the general merriment and funpokery of the internet. Don't be one of those people.

    Don't read reviews if they make you crazy sad. It is okay not to read reviews of your work. You can't make everyone happy, but if you made someone happy -- someone who you've never met and don't know and would otherwise never have the slightest connection with -- that's an amazing thing. And the rest... well, maybe you'll get them with the next story.

    Now go back to the beginning and start all over again.

    Good luck!

    Last edited by zanzjan; 09-25-2014 at 05:17 PM. Reason: typo - twitter - facebook
    Finder, DAW, April 2019 (& coming in May, 2020, the sequel: Driving the Deep)
    Taking Icarus Home, Asimov's Jan/Feb2019
    The Painter of Trees, Clarkesworld, June 2019
    Waterlines, Asimov's July/Aug 2019
    Dave's Head, Clarkesworld, Sep 2019

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