Writing Short Fiction: Part III

And now for the final segment of “How to write short fiction and maybe (possibly) get it published someplace people will actually read it.”

In the last segment we talked about the actual writing of the story and finding a venue for your work. Really what I should have mentioned is that your goal at the beginning of your publishing scavenger hunt is to find a variety of venues. You want options. A smart idea would be to create a list of a dozen or so possible venues for your intriguing short story about a time-traveling bear who finds love with a misunderstood leprechaun.

Now, at this point, you may think the next step is to send out your masterpiece to all 20 venues on your list. Well, it ain’t. When you’ve got your list of venues, now the real work begins because now you’ve got to…

Step #5: Do your homework!

This is the step I feel more writers of short fiction need to work on. If you do your homework, your chances of having your short story published multiply exponentially! THIS step is what will get you your first writing credit, even more so than the writing of the actual story. Just because a literary journal or website publishes your genre doesn’t mean you should immediately send your story there. I think of it a lot like dating (from a guy’s perspective): Just because a girl has a vagina doesn’t mean she’s right for you. You have to find the RIGHT vagina. If you’re a female, just switch “vagina” with “penis”…unless you’d prefer to keep it vagina…that’s cool, too.

This is where doing your homework comes into play. There are two main places you’re going mine for information. One is the journal or website’s submission guidelines and the other is Duotrope (if you’re doing what I told you and signed up for Duotrope). Now, here’s the information you’re looking for immediately:

1) How do you get your story to them?

Some journals want you to email stories straight to their editors, some have online submission forms, and many use submission managers like Submittable (you have to have an account with Submittable to use it, but it’s free so go ahead and do it right away). If you don’t know how the proper way to get the story to the editors, you’re dead in the water right away.

2) Are they looking for anything in particular at the moment?

Many journals will run contests or have special “theme” months or issues so it’s something important to pay attention to because it’s the #1 way to improve your chances of publication. One time I stumbled upon a dystopian lit journal that was running a zombie-themed month for October. I just happened to have a story about zombies working at Walmart on the shelf so I sent it their way even though it wasn’t a horror story. Turned out they loved it because it fit the theme but was something a little different. They published it a month later.

3) Are they accepting submissions?

Many journals have submission windows where they will actively seek stories. Once those windows are closed, they won’t look at any new work. Pay attention to these windows because it’s pointless to send a story to a magazine that won’t read it. Just a tip: Send your story as early in the window as you can. Journals will start filling their magazine as soon as they start reading stories so if you wait until the end of the window, the allotted space may be filled even though the journal is technically still open to submissions.

4) What is the magazine’s acceptance ratio and response time?

Ah, this is where Duotrope comes in handy. Acceptance ratio refers to the percentage of stories sent to a particular magazine that they accept. The more prestigious the magazine, the lower the ratio. Many of the heavy hitters often score around the .01% mark (no joke). Journals open to first-time authors will have higher percentages. Response time refers to the average length of time a writer will have to wait until they hear back from the journal about whether or not their story is accepted. Duotrope tracks both these figures for you. If you’re just starting out, you may want to target the journals with higher acceptance ratios to build your confidence. Response time is important so you know when to move on or send a polite “You read that story yet?” email (which they won’t answer).

5) Do they pay and which rights are they buying?

Here’s what writing short fiction is all about: Getting paid! Oh wait, no, that’s the complete opposite of what it’s about. Sorry. I got confused. If getting paid for your work is important (it shouldn’t be because you won’t make any money anyway) then take note when you’re compiling your list. The paying markets are also the hardest to get into (duh!). Also, pay attention to the rights the journal will acquire upon acceptance. If it’s online they usually “buy” first electronic publication rights (even though they didn’t give you any money). This is all the legal hoopla you need to be aware of. As with anything, read the fine print.

Once you have all your information compiled, send out your subs STRATEGICALLY. A reading window about to open up? Get your stuff in early! A mag running a theme that corresponds to your story but it’s two months away? Sit on the story until then. I’m telling you, submitting strategically WILL improve your chances of publication. If there are no special circumstances, send the story to your top choice first (the paying market or the one with the most prestige points). It’s the ‘ole prom date mentality: Ask the hottest girl first; when she says no move on to your back-up and then your third string and so forth until you’re showing up in a limo with your sister on your arm (I guess that would be self-publishing).

Step #6: Send your story out into the world

You’ve written a great story, found a few possible venues, did your homework, and now you’re ready to get that baby published! So do it. Have the courage to send the story out and have the courage to be rejected…over…and over…and over again. When I first started writing short fiction I made it my goal to rack up 50 rejections by the end of the year…and boy did I ever succeed! But in the midst of reaching my 50 rejections, I also had two stories accepted for publication. I’m at the point now that I have to rack up 10 rejections before I hear a yes. That’s the nature of the game. Most people will say no and when they do you say fuck ’em and move on. Some will sting worse than others, but never let a rejection stop you. Let it be just another milestone before the next yes…and if you keep going long enough there will be a yes.

A few things to make your journey easier:

1) Keep track of your submissions

I keep a folder of all my submissions, when they were sent, a projected date to hear back, when I actually do hear back, and any feedback I receive from the rejection/acceptance. Duotrope will actually do this for you, but I like my system better. Use what you like.

2) Hang on to any feedback

Most rejections are form letters they send out to everyone whose story they’re rejecting (they’re the worst and belong in the garbage). If you receive any personal feedback from an editor, even if it’s from a rejection, file it away. It might just be a line of encouragement or some advice, but it’s all valuable. I once had an editor tell me he loved my story, but was outvoted by the other editors so I knew at least one person at that journal liked my work. I sent another story there a few months later and it was accepted. Follow the bread crumbs.

3) Celebrate your victories

A writer needs to be her own harshest critic and her own biggest advocate. When you crack through that glass ceiling and you get that first yes, celebrate it…no matter how small or insignificant it may seem. Each victory is one step closer to the next one. When I received the news of my first writing credit, it was for $0 in a magazine no one had ever heard of…and I celebrated like I had just won the freakin’ lottery. My wife wasn’t home so I danced around the room with my cat and then I got drunk and watched “Back to the Future”…also with my cat. It was a great day. Celebrate yourself. It will make all those rejections just melt away until you’re bulletproof.

So that’s it. There’s a bunch of stuff I left out like getting feedback on your story from a writing group and about how certain journals get pissy if you send out simultaneous submissions (but seriously, screw ’em), but these  posts turned out to be long enough. Hopefully these six steps are enough to get someone interested in writing short fiction out the gate. I wish I had had someone to show the way when I was first getting started, but sometimes it’s better to learn the hard way.

Oh well. Happy hunting!

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~ by themoderntranscendentalist on May 21, 2014.

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