Have you ever written a short story and tried to get it published in a magazine? Chances are you have. Many authors, both traditional and indie, write short stories and try to get them published in print magazines, on e-mags, or in anthologies. I’ve been published in a couple of magazines and I’m hoping for more in the future (though with my writing schedule these days, it’s hard to make time for short stories). And there are benefits to doing so, including:
- Short stories are a whole different beast to tame than novels, so writing and sending out short stories lets you know what works and what people look for in a good short story. Sometimes magazines will even give you feedback if they decide to reject your story, so you get an idea on how to improve it.
- At the very least, you’ll get some exposure from having your work published in a magazine. At the very most, they’ll pay you some money for a nice dinner out.
- For those critics who accuse indie authors of trying to skirt around hard work and just put any old book out, this is a way of saying “Hey, we can do it your way too.”
If you haven’t ever sent a short story out to magazine, this might give you some help in going about it. If you’ve already done it before, then maybe this’ll be a useful reminder. And like I said, you should try it. You never know what’ll happen if you do.
1. Find a publication. Once you’ve written a short story and edited it to the utmost perfection, it’s time to find a magazine. Publications like Writer’s Digest’s Short Story & Novel Writer’s Market contain may useful listing of magazines in all genres, as well as contests and agencies and conferences. You can also get info from friends or family members who write. Another blogger told me about a magazine she published a short story in, and I think that I might have a short story I could submit to them, I just have to make sure it’s ready before I send it out.
Also, it’s helpful sometimes to read the short stories they publish. This generally gives you some idea of what they tend to publish, so you’ll have a better idea of what might be accepted.
2. Read over the rules. Every magazine has its own set of rules about submitting to them and the terms you’ll get should you be accepted. They may want the short story sent in a particular attachment, or they may prefer the story in the body of the message. There may be restrictions on length, subject matter, or a hundred other things. And being published by them might mean signing over all rights to the story to the magazine, or only first North American publishing rights. So know what you’re getting into when you decide, “I’ll send it to this publication.”
3. Write that query letter. A query letter is a letter stating who you are, what you’re sending, and why you’re sending it. Once you’ve done your research, write up a query letter and send it along to the magazine with your short story. Here’s an example of me sending a query letter to a fictional magazine:
Dear Darkness Abounds magazine,
I am submitting my manuscript “Hands” (5,732 words) to your publication for your consideration. I decided to submit to your magazine because your website said you were into “dark, creepy fiction with an interesting twist on old stories” and I thought my short story matched your description.
I am a self-published novelist with two novels and a collection of short stories published, as well as short stories published in Mobius Magazine, The Writing Disorder, and the Winter 2011 issue of TEA, A Magazine (now The Daily Tea). I also write for two blogs, Rami Ungar the Writer and Self-Published Authors Helping Other Authors. I am also a senior at The Ohio State University double majoring in English and History and expected to graduate in May 2015.
I look forward to hearing from you and would like to thank you for your time and consideration.
Hoping you are well,
[contact information, including address, phone number, and e-mail address]
Make sure to include the word count of your story (that’s an important factor in many publications), why you’re selecting the magazine, and any relevant publications. Also, don’t make your biography too long. Just keep the relevant stuff and don’t give them your life story. You can save that for your memoirs.
4. Wait. Every magazine has its own quoted turn-around time, so you might as well be patient. However, it’s not uncommon for a magazine to let work pile up and miss your short story entirely, so if you find two or three weeks have gone by and you haven’t heard anything, it might be helpful to send an email asking politely if you are still being considered for publication (I’ll write a post about that another time).
5. How to handle the reply. Assuming the magazine didn’t lose your work in the pile of submissions they get and you get a reply, the important thing is to be grateful one way or another for their reply. If you’re accepted, that’s wonderful. Talk terms with them and then decide if you want them to publish you. If you get rejected, possibly look at getting published somewhere else, and take into account any feedback you might receive on your short story as a possible way to improve the story.
What tips do you have for submitting to magazines your short stories?
Thanks for the tips, Rami, on submitting short stories to magazines. I’ve never done this, but maybe someday I’ll give it a try.
You should. At the very least, you’ll learn a lot about writing and about what people look for in short stories.
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I’ve sold around seven short stories that weren’t solicited, and here’s an example of my cover letter with notes where mine is different from yours:
Dear Editor(s) (always safest; better than putting the name of the magazine in. If you have communicated with the editor before do use their name)
Attached is my 4300 word short story (always approximate the word count; different word processors may give you a different count), “Nameless,” to be considered for publication in NONAME MAGAZINE.
(Unless I know the editor or the market or it is extremely specific in qualifying and requests this information, I don’t personalize this part of the letter.)
My credentials include recent sales to Fantasy Scroll Magazine, Trust and Treachery, Gears and Levers 1, River (finalist for the EPIC anthology award in 2013), and other publications. My novella “Seeking Shelter at the End of the World” will be coming out from eTreasures Publishing in late August. I am also a former special education teacher.
(In the speculative fiction genre, we talk about this stuff, and one thing is to be wise about your credentials. It’s all right not to have any, and better not to mention lesser markets when submitting to bigger markets. But awards need to be mentioned–though dropped after a time. I have a Writers of the Future SemiFinalist and a Finalist for a lesser award, but both are over five years old. They need to get dropped off.
Thank you very much for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.
Additionally, instead of 2-3 weeks, give a market MUCH longer than that before querying. Figure at minimum around 2-6 months. Some markets get back within days but they are either very competitive (figure that rejection comes in the first paragraph) or have a lot of slush readers.
Within the spec fic genre, we generally don’t have a big problem with manuscripts getting mislaid or forgotten; in the course of my eight-year submission history I’ve only had it happen less than five times (and I try to keep 10-20 short stories circulating regularly; that’s how you sell). In other genres, however, the assumption may well be that after x number of weeks, you should assume a rejection instead of expecting a rejection slip. Mileage varies.
Wow, that’s a lot of experience. Thanks for your helpful advice.
Thank you. It’s really not much compared to others. I just updated my submissions and I have eight unsolicited stories out right now with one solicited one. Time to write more. ;-). Short stories are good practice for longer works; they are also excellent exercises in plotting scenes. My problem is that too dang many of my short stories read like the first chapter in a novel. I have to learn how to simplify the plot rather than write something more complex. It is good practice.
Practice is the keyword when thinking of short stories. I think it’s a good idea to write short stories when you’re figuring out characters or worldbuilding for a novel. Doesn’t have to be about the events in the book, necessarily, but short stories lend themselves to developing those tangents that don’t fit in a book, but what you want to read.
The other thing is to keep the stories circulating. I’ve had stories sell that were ten years old or older. It’s all about editorial tastes, and those change back and forth.
Can’t argue with that logic. A lot can definitely change in ten years. Thanks.
Thank for the tips. Much appreciated. I have a short story out right now with a promise of about a five month return period. It’s now eight months and status: ‘in progress’
Good luck. I hope you hear back soon.
Thanks Rami. Patience is not one of my strong points, but I know we have to have it in this business.
You’re welcome and good luck with everything.
I haven’t done it myself, but I don’t really write in the short story format.
You should try writing them more. They’re great teachers of brevity in storytelling.
What Rami said. Shorts are about paring the essentials down to nothing (now if you really want to pare back, try writing flash stories–500 to 1000 words. ARRRGH).
Yeah, that is tough! I’ve tried it and it is hard to do!
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Great tips Rami Ungar and Joyce Ward. Please tell me, If a rejection letter is received, should we send a reply saying thanks for considering our story, or let the rejection stand on it’s own door slamming feet?. 🙂
I tend to usually send thank you letters, because at least they took the effort to look at my short story and figure out that it didn’t belong. But that’s just my personal opinion. If you feel uncomfortable replying with a thank you, don’t do it.
Don’t respond unless specifically requested to do so (in which case it is not a rejection but a request to rewrite). Again, this is from the spec fic genre, not from the literary genre. Unless feedback explicitly says “rewrite and I’ll look at this again” you are much better off not responding. The thank you for consideration should be in your cover letter.
Thanks for the reply. I chose the right way and said thanks for the consideration in the cover letter. I know it’s very important to read the submissions guidelines carefully. Sending them files with an incorrect extension, or in the wrong font, single spaced or double spaced is important. When they open that submission, it better be in order.
Glad we could be of service. Always happy to help.
The best tips I can give you are, 1. Don’t give up. 2. Make sure your story fits the magazines requirements
Otherwise short stories are a craft worth working on.
Tell me about it, that’s why I’m taking one more creative writing workshop before I graduate. Thanks for commenting, Maria.
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Great stuff. I write the occasional short, often for competitions. If they don’t get selected I try somewhere else. Just had one that was rejected by the bbc selected for an anthology by a small press. It’s the first piece of work I’ve ‘sold’ rather than donated. I’m really excited as it makes me, officially, hybrid. 🙂
It’s harder to write a short story than it looks. 🙂 I can’t even imagine doing flash fiction. But I have done a couple shorts, and I have submitted a couple to magazines. I got rejected, but I am glad for the experience.
And that experience helps us grow and learn as writers. In fact, I’m taking a creative writing workshop now where all we do is work on short stories. I’m hoping it’ll help me become a better writer than I already am. Fingers crossed and hoping for the best!