How to Submit Short Stories to Publishers
BY: ZACHARY ANKENY
For me, and for many other authors and readers out there, the short story is an art form held in very high regard. A short work of fiction can, (in some cases), cross genres more easily than longer novellas and even novels. Why? Because the story is a quick glimpse, or vignette of the story’s ideas; and the characters’ attributes, struggles and lives. The story is required by its constrained length to give all of the elements of a novel, novella or novelette at a quicker pace than longer works. This often makes writing a clear, concise and complete story more challenging for the author; but, (if written well), gives the reader immediate gratification. In this day in age—when technology makes our lives easier, and gives us the ability to obtain information and entertainment without putting forth much effort—the short story, and publishers actively seeking salable short fiction, seems to once again be a booming market in the literary world.
So you have made the biggest step and written a beautiful and complete work of short prose. You feel the story has both merit and a little something that editors might be looking for. What now? First, I’ll ask you a question: ‘How well do you know the short fiction market?’ Before submitting anything—whether it be a 900 word flash-fiction story or a full length epic novel—you should know as much information as you can gather about the market you are submitting to. Lucky for you, short story publishers make-available a wealth of knowledge on the subject; nearly always posting their guidelines, what types of fiction they are looking for, what to expect once you’ve submitted, and even a pay-scale to let you know the average-payment you can expect to be receiving when and if your story is accepted.
First thing’s first. Do you know where you would like to send your submission? If you have a favorite magazine that you would like to submit to, check their website. Usually you can find either a section titled Guidelines that will have exactly that: everything you need to know before submitting. If you cannot find a Guidelines section on the website, check under the Contact Us section. I have come across many publishers that prefer to keep different guidelines for different employees and positions. In this case, the website’s contact list will be where you’ll find your guidelines for submission. If you cannot find the guidelines anywhere on the site, chances are they don’t accept unsolicited submissions. If you aren’t quite sure where you want to submit to, here’s a little trick: Go to Google.com; search the following phrase: ‘Short Story Guidelines.’ Note: it is often beneficial to try out variations such as ‘Short Fiction Guidelines’; ‘Short Story Submission’; etc. This simple search will return results for all sites that include guidelines for submission of your shorts.
For the purpose of this article, I will use the guidelines given to me buy Editor Doug Lance of eFiction Magazine; a wonderful monthly publication that strives to assist and educate new and emerging authors with all aspects of short story publishing.
Mr. Lance was eager to give readers some examples and tips for submitting to his publication and to others as well. “I started eFiction to be an inclusive submission process. Most other publications are exclusive. They have their “slush pile” that is skimmed over for good submissions. The large majority of those manuscripts are simply tossed out. eFiction receives really good manuscripts that don’t need any editing. For the manuscripts that I feel aren’t quite ready, I work with the author to improve not only that manuscript, but their entire craft. I teach ‘the man to fish.’”
This is a very good example of how monthly publications of short prose can be beneficial to both experienced and emerging authors. These publishers and editors—more often than not—are excited to work with authors in honing their craft, and give constructive criticism and feedback. If the author takes their feedback, dwells on it, and learns from it: said author will return to the publication with a higher quality of writing, and it is win-win for both parties.
This is just one example from one magazine. eFiction Magazine may not be for every writer, though. My advice is to search out the perfect home for your work.
Now, any publication that accepts submissions is bound to receive hundreds, sometimes thousands of manuscripts. For this reason, some magazines will only actively accept submissions during their pre-set reading periods. If the magazine is swamped or backlogged, they will usually have an open-period, averaging six out of twelve months per year. These open reading periods will be posted on their website—usually on their Guidelines Page—and I cannot stress enough how important it is for writers to adhere to this. If you submit your manuscript during their off-times, you are wasting their time, and probably won’t make any friends in the editing room. Follow the rules set by the magazine’s guidelines (ie. formatting, reading periods, word counts, etc.) and your story is guaranteed to be read and given serious consideration based on its merit.
Among the guidelines a publication may specify, formatting is probably the most important. Every editor has their own idea of how your manuscript should be formatted while he/she reads it. Often, it will be in Standard Manuscript Formatting, but this is not true for all printing houses. Just like a writer likes to format their story in their own way while writing, editors like to see everything they read in their own preferred format. Second: word-counts. This is also very important; guidelines for a publication are usually set-in-stone. If the guidelines tell you that the magazine accepts submissions of 2,500 to 7,500 words, than the ideal manuscript they are looking for, is right around 5,000 words. If your story comes in at 9,000 words, query the editor first, (if they accept queries); and if they would like to make an exception, they will let you know. Otherwise, you might want to look for another magazine, or do some editing to cut-down length. An editor knows exactly how many words his/her issue has room for; and just like playing Tetris, he will try and fit the highest amount of quality work into a single issue. This is one of the main duties of an editor, so take word counts very seriously. As a guide, I have listed word-counts below to give you an idea of what your story may be, based on its word-count:
· MICRO FICTION: 0 – 100 Words
· FLASH FICTION: 100 – 1,000 Words
· SHORT STORY: 1,000 – 7,500 Words
· NOVELLETE: 7,500 – 20,000 Words
· NOVELLA: 20,000 – 50,000 Words
· NOVEL: 50,000 – 110,000 Words
· EPICS and SEQUELS: Over 110,000 Words
Again, this is a beginner’s guide to the wonderful world of short fiction and the submission process. Serious writers of short stories should use this article as a jumping-off point and continue their own research into the guidelines of separate publications. I feel the need to reiterate the fact that the short story market, its submission and editing processes, can be one of the most useful tools a writer can utilize. Follow this guide and delve into as many publishers’ guidelines as can be obtained, read them thoroughly, take them seriously, and your story will see its day as a concise and publishable piece of work.