The idea of trying to publish short stories can be daunting, but it's not hard to make submitting stories part of a writing routine. Having a good system in place will minimize the time and energy you spend on submissions, and help you present yourself as a professional -- which is key to getting editors to pay attention to your work.
If you have doubts about whether it's the right time for you to start this process, see "Are You Ready to Publish?" You can also test your knowledge of publishing with the publishing quiz. If you're interested in publishing a novel, see "How to Find an Agent."
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While you may not have control over an editor's tastes or preferences, you can make sure your work is free of errors in spelling and grammar using this self-editing checklist. You might also workshop your stories in a class
or writing group
. Have more than one piece ready for submission in case an editor asks to see more.
© 2006 Ginny Wiehardt.
A little research will make your efforts to get published more successful. Start by researching the overall publishing market, finding out which magazines and journals will be open to your work. Once you've narrowed the market down, find the submission guidelines for the journals you've selected.
Editors expect to find certain information on each short story that is submitted. For example, they want to know up front if your story is the right length for their journal, so it's common practice to include the word count at the top of the first page (click cover letter thumbnail at left to enlarge). And you want to make sure that your contact info is on the story in case your cover letter gets lost. So do yourself and the editor a favor by following these conventions for short story submissions.
Your cover letter doesn't have to be long; in fact, most editors prefer short ones. However, do include a brief biography
, listing any publications. (Don't sweat it if you don't have any yet.) You might find it easiest to keep the cover letter saved on your computer, adapting the heading and salutation for each journal. For more on writing a professional cover letter, see "Cover Letter Advice
Track your submissions; a spreadsheet works well (see one example at left; click to enlarge), though some people use index cards. You should be able to see at a glance where each story has been sent to avoid submitting to a journal more than twice in one year, or re-sending the same story. This will also help you track simultaneous submissions
, so when you get that acceptance letter, it's easy to contact the other journals who have the story.
Each journal has a policy on simultaneous submissions: whether they prefer an exclusive read or not. If a story that you have simultaneously submitted is accepted somewhere, write the others to withdraw your submission. (For more on how to do this, read one writer's cover letter advice
.) If you don't hear back from a journal in a year, it is acceptable to write to inquire about or withdraw your submission. (Otherwise, don't email or call editors.)
Keep sending out, especially after a rejection. It's easier to weather rejections if you still have some work out there. On the other hand, if you've been at it awhile and find yourself growing bitter, take a break and concentrate solely on writing.