You’ve workshopped, edited and polished a wonderful short story, and now you’re thinking of sending it out on submission. But submitting your work to a publication can seem daunting.
Where do you even send a short story? And to whom?
When I first started trying to sell my short stories, I had no clue about how to get them out in the world. There’s so many things I wish I knew when I started. So, I’ve written an epic guide below on how to publish a short story from start to finish.
Research your markets
Researching your markets is the first step to getting a short story published. A big part of finding the right home for your work is to find the right market.
There is no point sending a hard science fiction story for consideration in a gory horror anthology. It’s a waste of your time and the slush readers’ time.
It helps if you read the magazines and anthologies you are trying to submit to. Buy a copy and read through the stories they publish. Most of the pieces I’ve sold have been to places I knew would suit the story and the audience.
But where do you find said markets? I’ve written an in-depth guide on where to find short story markets here.
Tip: If you are unfamiliar with the market, check Writer Beware before submitting.
Follow the guidelines
Once you’ve identified an appropriate market for your story, search their website for their submission guidelines.
The submission guidelines will outline how the editors want your story presented. Some will take submissions through online platforms like Submittable or Moshka. Some take email with a certain subject line. Some take a secret handshake and courier pigeon. Every publication is different, so READ THE GUIDELINES AND DO NOT STRAY FROM THEM!
Check that they are open to submissions. Some publications have submission windows. Others have hard publication deadlines. If they’re not open yet, but you think your story would be a suitable fit, mark down when they’re opening in your calendar.
If your story doesn’t fit their guidelines, DO NOT SUBMIT IT. There have been rare chances when I have queried an editor because a story has fit a call out, but my word count is outside their guidelines. NOT I have a zombie story and you say you don’t publish zombie stories, but this is the greatest zombie story ever written.
Format your short story correctly
The guidelines will also include how to format your short story correctly for the editors. Most editors prefer Shunn manuscript format, but pay attention to the specifics. Some publications prefer Courier New to Times New Roman (and vice versa). I stick with Times New Roman and convert if needed.
I have a handy guide on how to format your book manuscript in Word, which equally applies to short stories.
Write a cover letter
Unlike agent and book publisher query letters, short story cover letters are straightforward. You need not make them long or sell the synopsis of your story. Editors will outline what they want in a cover letter in the submission guidelines. If they don’t, a handy rule of thumb is:
Dear [editor’s name],
Please find attached my [genre] short story [title][x words] for your consideration.
1-2 sentence bio: My work has been published in x, y, z, and I have been nominated for the x award.
You don’t need to include anything else apart from attaching the story, unless the editor has specified.
If it’s a reprint, mention where and when it was previously published and the relevant contract terms.
If you don’t have any publications, you can list any relevant publications or qualifications such as “I’m a graduate of x writing course”. Keep it short and sweet.
Press the big submit button
Once that is all done, it’s time to pull on your big girl pants and press the big green submit button.
Before you do, double check that you have a) spelled the editors’ names correctly and b) attached your story.
When a short story is submitted to a publication, it usually goes through a round of slush readers. After that, if the story is good enough, it will be pushed to the editor for consideration.
Log your submission
While you are submitting your stories, it’s important to keep track of your submissions. This is to help make sure you don’t submit a story twice to the same publication, submit a story to multiple publications at the same time (unless they’re okay with simultaneous subs), to track sales and the inevitable rejections.
Easy ways to track your short story submissions
- Excel spreadsheet – Office even has a template for short story submissions
- The Submission Grinder
Get used to rejection
It’s hard to crack pro markets. Only a small percentage of short stories ever get published. It’s inevitable that you will get rejections. We all do. It sucks. The best thing to do is to revise and resubmit your work to a new market.
Keep track of your rejections. Are they form rejections or personal notes? If you’re getting personal rejections from editors, keep going! They wouldn’t take the time to write a note on your story if it wasn’t close to being ready for publication.
If you’re constantly getting form rejections, it might be time to revise the story, or write something new. Having said that, I’ve had stories that have had form rejections which ended up getting published at another market. You need to back yourself and your work. Don’t lose heart.
Tip: If you get a rejection, DO NOT write back to the editor to question their decision. This is almost always a blacklist mark against ever submitting to that publication again. Don’t reply and don’t whinge about it on social media. Stay cool.
Despite all the rejections, sometimes you get a wonderful email in your inbox. Someone would like to publish your story! It’s a wonderful and exciting feeling after all those months of waiting. Make sure you take the time to celebrate your win before moving onto the next project.
Now all you need to do is write another short story!