Want some juicy publishing credits to beef up your query letter when find-an-agent time comes around? How about getting some short stories published? Here’s how.
Check with your school, college, or local library first to see if it offers any writing competitions. You can look up other competitions online, though these usually have entry fees. Writer’s Digest is a trusted source, and lists several competitions here.
Literary magazines offer another great outlet. Some even pay for stories. Here’s how to approach them:
- Format your story.
Format the same way you would your novel manuscript, except round the word count to the nearest 10 (instead of 500) and start the story two spaces down from the byline (instead of on the next page). NOTE: The magazine’s submission guidelines trump all.
- Find magazines that publish your story’s genre and length.
Duotrope’s Digest is the best tool for the search I’ve found so far. You can search by literary, science fiction, romance, horror, etc., as well as length. A “short story” can be up to fifty pages (about 12,500 words), while 1,000 words or less will probably be considered “flash fiction.”
- Research, research, research.
Visit the website of each magazine you find; study their submission guidelines carefully and read samples of stories they’ve published to see if yours fits the tone and subject matter. Find out if they pay for stories, how long their response time is, and which editor you should address submissions to.
- Write a cover letter.
Like a query letter but 100 times easier. You don’t have to write a hook. Just start by saying you would like to submit your story, Title, to their magazine. Concisely list any other publishing credits. If you don’t have any, just include a brief sentence about yourself, like “I’m a [student/working writer] living in [town and state/province you live in].” If submitting by snail mail, let them know you can send an electronic copy, and in what format you can send it (.doc is most common). Format like your query letter.
Most magazines forbid simultaneous submissions (submitting the same story to two or more publications at once), but I read an article that pointed out it isn’t likely two magazines will show interest in your story at the same time. Still, break the rule at your own risk.
Most mags also have limits on how many stories you can submit in a given time period (e.g. no more than two in one year) so keep track of which stories you send to which publications, and when you can expect to hear back. TIP: Have multiple stories ready (even out on submission) in case they ask to see more of your work.
- Know your rights.
Typically, by submitting to a publication, you are giving (or selling, if they pay) first serial rights. This means they can publish your story for the first time, but will need to get permission from you to publish a second time. But rights may vary per magazine, so here’s more about rights.
WARNING: A story posted on a public blog (like here) is considered “previously published.” Which means you can’t submit it. But if all you posted was a 500-word flash fiction, and for submission you expand it to a 5,000-word short story, you’re okay.
Thanks to PianoLover for prompting this post. While, aside from a few competitions, I haven’t submitted any short stories for publication, I’ve read enough on the subject, and compiled all I thought would be useful.