I’ve been writing short stories recently. It’s really fun.
Is it a challenge? Usually. It depends on what kind of stories you are writing. Are they for a publication? If they are just for fun, then don’t worry about anything. They’re for your own entertainment.
But if you’re looking to publish these in real magazines and journals—print and online, I wish to pass on some things I’ve been learning so far. Take me, for example, since I’m the only example I know really well.
For the past two or three weeks, I’ve been submitting original short stories to various publications. I hope to have my writing quality judged by real professionals in the publishing industry. While I publish under my pen name, I want to get that name and my writing out there.
PAY ATTENTION. Each publication has its own requirements and deadlines. You have to be prepared to meet these requirements to make it into the ‘consideration pile.’
Get Submittable. Don’t let the page scare you if you went straight to “submittable.com.” If you want to submit, you just need to make an account—which is free. A lot of the publications I’ve submitted to publish print and online, and take online submissions. A few accept via email (which might mean they are pretty small) but many take submissions through Submittable. I’ve found a couple of magazines that have their own submission manager, so every case will be different. I’ve even found a few that will only take submissions via mail… like, real-life mail. So check everything.
- Do some homework. Check each publications’ submissions guidelines and requirements thoroughly.
Format is very important. Most publications I’ve submitted to have directed writers to this example of formatting for their short story manuscripts. Oftentimes, they’ll immediately reject it if it’s not properly formatted. You want to make it through the first round, so study the formats. Be sure to read through their submission guidelines. They might tack on their own variations. Some might ask for a cover page with your bio info and a synopsis.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions if something is not clear to you. Editors are looking for the next ‘big thing.’ While you don’t know what you have yet, the editor doesn’t either, so they should be willing to answer questions you might have about submitting and formatting.
Cover letters scare me. Not all publications require one, but I’ve submitted to a few that did. I found many sites for cover letters, but they often went alongside resumes. I was looking for cover letters specifically for short stories or fiction. I found this article about it and found it helpful. Of course, I was looking for a template I could ‘steal’ and use—with my own modifications. If all you want is an example, don’t worry—this article has a couple of examples at the end.
Here is another example of a cover letter from Writer’s Digest, a bit of a what-not-to-do. It follows that with a proper example:
Notice that the writer included “I enjoy reading Cool Story Magazine” bla bla. You should only put something like this if you actually read the publication on a regular basis—preferably before you even decided to submit something. If you don’t, then don’t lie.
- DON’T LIE. The only fake part of your submission should be your pen name (if you use one) and your story (if it’s fiction). NO LYING.
Word count varies. The largest amount I’ve seen so far is 7,500 words for short fiction. There is also flash fiction, which is less words, but I haven’t tried that yet. Here is a nice, enjoyable article from The Guardian about flash fiction and a method of writing it. Anyway, word count—be sure to check the guidelines. Always the guidelines…. I’ve made it a habit to keep my submissions a couple hundred words short, just to be safe. The William Shunn format I referred to earlier (in Formatting) includes a space for stating your approximate word count. Some sites say to round to the nearest 100 or even 10. Personally, I go to the next hundred.
- Keep track of word count requirements. Don’t reach the limit—keep at least 100 or 200 shy of the word count. I imagine it’s something to do with spacing when printing.
At this point in time, I’m not sure what else to pass on. This is what I’ve learned so far. If there is anything more to the technical aspect of submitting to print and online publications that I didn’t cover, please, comment below.
Finally, my last bit of personal advice:
Don’t just do it for the money. Writing is NOT a get-rich-quick career choice. I write because I love to write. If any money trickles along with it, that’s just a bonus. Some publications offer payment as well as a contributor copy. Of the ones I’ve seen, the range is often $20-$250 (a few a little more, a few less—it varies). Some pay a certain amount of cents per word, with word count limits.
I hope this has been helpful to any aspiring writers. I’m nowhere close to being an expert. This is a journey I have just started. As writers—as artists—we should help each other when we can.
Thank you for your time.