Q: I wrote my first short story and I can’t wait to publish it. What should I do now?
A: Mazel tov on writing your short story! That’s an accomplishment. While publication is never guaranteed (unless you’re self-publishing, but that’s another post), there are a number of things you can do to help your story find a home. Start with this seven-point guide below:
1. Don’t rush. Is your story ready for publication? One of the biggest mistakes new writers make is sending out their stories prematurely. Don’t do it.
2. Make sure you’ve written a story.
Is your story actually a short story? Huh? You would be amazed at how many writers send me stories that have been repeatedly rejected and ask me if I can help them pinpoint the problem, only to discover that they have not been sending out stories at all.
What have they been sending out?
· Personal essays
· Opinion pieces
· Slices of life
· Prose poetry
Just as there are a wide variety of homes: apartments, condominium, duplexes, mansions, two-story, semi-detached, and even tree houses, there are a wide variety of forms when it comes to writing.
What’s a short story?
A short story has a specific definition that includes a clear beginning, middle, and end, as well as location, conflict, and character development.
It is terribly frustrating to go through a year or two of rejection, only to find out that you’ve been sending in a personal essay to short story editors the entire time.
If you need help deciding if your short story is actually a story, there are many articles online to help you, or you can consult a professional writer with a short story publication history.
Once you’ve established that you have, indeed, written a short story, start with the basics:
3. Grammar & Spelling. Is your story free of grammar and spelling errors? Often writers are so enthusiastic about their work, they neglect spell-check.
Don’t be one of them.
Other grammar tips:
· Read your story out loud. This will make it easier to spot misplaced commas and missing punctuation marks in dialogue.
· Print your story. Errors stand out more on the page than on the screen.
4. Formatting. Most publications have their formatting requirements listed on their sites. Follow them! If you don’t, you’re making it easy for them to reject your story. Their submission pile is enormous and they’re looking for reasons to reject submissions in order to reduce the load.
If they don’t list specific formatting requirements, here’s a basic formatting guide:
Your story: Double-spaced, 12-point, Times New Roman font. Number your pages. No giant or bolded titles, fancy fonts or other distracting formats.
On the first page: Name, mailing address, phone number, email address, and word count, typed in the upper left-hand corner, single-spaced.
Successful Story Road
Publication City, USA
5. Cover letters and author bios. Most publications list bio and cover letter requirements on their sites. Follow them! I can’t stress this enough.
What if you can’t find any published guidelines?
If there are no guidelines, keep your cover letter to three lines, polite, modest, and to the point. Do not use any self-flattering statements such as, “you will love this story,” or “my colleagues loved my story”.
You may include a line that is relevant to the publication or the current theme. For example, “I am submitting my story to your California-theme issue, and I have been living in California for five years.” It’s fine to mention something that makes you uniquely qualified to write this story—just as long as it isn’t self-applauding.
Find out the name of the editor. It’s professional to address your submission to someone specifically. Take the time to look around the site and find out who will be receiving your work.
Now that your story is error free, formatted properly, and you have a good understanding of how to include your bio and cover letter, you’re ready for the next step: where to send your story.
6. Target your story. There is no point in sending a romantic story to a publication that doesn’t publish romance. Only send your story to a publication you have read thoroughly at least once, preferably several recent issues.
Don’t send your story to more than three or four places to start. Carpet-bombing publications is a bad strategy. If your story is rejected, you won’t be able to revise it and send it again if you’ve already used up your whole list of potential publishers on the first go.
7. Track your work. Keep an Excel file or Google doc with the name of the publication, editor, and submission date. You might think you will remember these details, but some publications can take up to one year to get back to you, while others will tell you to nudge them if you haven’t heard back from them in three months. You want to take your work seriously and a professional knows where and when they have submitted their work.
Don’t be disappointed if your story is not accepted on the first try. Rejection is standard for writers. Review these steps. If you’re sure you targeted the right publication, consider a revision, or just try somewhere else.
There are dozens of reasons a story doesn’t get accepted for publication, and many of them are not a reflection on your work. They may simply have had too many submissions for that issue or too many submissions on similar themes.