Writing short stories is a great way of practicing the craft of writing. They are satisfying to write, and they help build your profile as a writer.
Publishing your work, in addition to being good for the soul, is good for your resume. Having a publishing record will help you down the track with securing both agents and publishers.
Before we delve into the market, let’s get some preliminaries out of the way:
- Make sure your stories are the best they can be – quality is key, regardless of length. Revise, edit, and edit some more, and never send out a story with typos.
- Beware of scams – research a contest or magazine to make sure they are legit before submitting your work. You can find more information on scams on the Writer Beware website.
- Do it for the love (and exposure) – there is little money in short stories. Because of this, there are few publishers that accept short story collections, especially from first time writers.
- Research Writers’ Centres or organisations in your area. Writers’ Centres generally provide up-to-date information on contests and publishing opportunities, and are also a great way of staying connected with the writing world.
- Always read and follow submission guidelines.
- A general guide when it comes to word count: flash fiction is usually below 500 words; novellas are over 20,000 words; and short stories are anything in the middle. But remember that different publications have their own definitions!
- Response times on submissions will vary – it’s a good idea to keep busy while you wait. How about writing some more?
- Some publications send out form rejections but others do not – if you haven’t heard back within three months you have probably not been successful. You may optionally inquire at that time.
- Rejections are tough, but they get easier. Don’t take these personally. Take feedback for your story where offered.
What if someone steals my idea?
This is a common concern for new writers, and an obstacle to sending out work. Remember that it is exceedingly rare for publications to steal stories or ideas. It doesn’t make sense, from a business perspective—if they like your story, they will accept it. If they don’t, they won’t.
Stealing stories or ideas is simply not worth the risk. And while there is always a (very) small chance that someone might steal your idea, the only way to get published is by sending your work out into the big wide world. If you are suspicious, make sure to do your research and confirm that the publisher is legit.
Publishing Your Short Story
Magazines or journals and contests are the main markets for short stories. A bit of research will save you a lot of pain in the long run – make sure the contest or magazine is a good fit for your work before submitting!
A handy tip is to have more than one short story in circulation at the time. Remember that some contests and magazines do not allow simultaneous submissions. This means that if you submit a story to them, you will have to wait for their reply before you can submit that story to anyone else.
Magazines & Journals
These make a good place to start. There are many (many!) magazines and journals, both in print and online, which consider short stories and provide new writers with a range of publishing opportunities. Here is a handy list of magazines by country. The magazines and journals to look out for are those who accept unsolicited submissions (which means that anyone can send in their work, even without an agent).
Here are a few important things to bear in mind:
- Familiarise yourself with the magazine or journal before sending your work in. Different publications prefer different styles and different genres. Don’t set yourself up to fail by sending in your literary story to a journal that only publishes sci-fi!
- Some publications pay—this is a good sign.
- The sci-fi and fantasy short story market is particularly lucrative. Publications like Analog, Apex Magazine, Clarkesworld, Fantasy & Science Fiction, and Strange Horizons pay between 6-12 cents per word for stories up to 25,000 words (have a look at the individual submission guidelines).
- If successful, the publication might ask you to do some small edits and your work will be copyedited before publication. Do not fear this process—it is essential to making your work shine!
- First publishing rights are the usual deal – this means that most magazines and journals will only want to publish original work that has not yet been published. Some publications (like Eunoia Review) will publish reprints, if you hold the rights to the story.
- Many magazines, like The Lifted Brow, publish stories both in printed and online editions (offering different rates of pay).
A Word about Rights
On the legal side, here is a clause on rights taken from The Lifted Brow submission guidelines:
“If we publish your work, you agree to license to us the first publication rights of the stated work for a period of three months from the date of first publication. You retain permanent copyright of the work. Full licence to use your work reverts to you at a period of three months from the initial publication date.”
You should always retain permanent copyright of your work and the full licence should revert back to you X many months after the initial publication (so that you can publish the work elsewhere). Never give away the copyright of your work, and always find out when the full licence reverts back to you. Be very suspicious of publications that aren’t clear about these details!
There are hundreds of short story contests across the globe. Have a look here and here for a couple of short story contest lists. Generally, contests will charge a small admin fee to enter and will offer cash prizes and/or publication. Depending on the contest, the publication could be online or in a printed anthology (a collection of stories by various writers).
The top contests offer big cash prizes, but are also very competitive. It’s a good idea to start small and work your way to the top. Have a look around for local contests, run by Writers’ Centres, universities, or magazines in your area (or close-ish). Publications like local voices, and this will also provide you with valuable networking opportunities.
Chose a short story you are happy with and give it a good edit. If possible, get someone to read it and give you some honest feedback. Have a look at the lists of magazines and contests above and choose one that is a good fit for your writing. Then take a deep breath and send it in! Best of luck!
Alex J Coyne •