SUBMIT! How You Get a Short Story Published
I felt a twinge, something along the lines of angry defiance the first time I noticed the link on a literary journal’s website:
Later, I figured out that this was the link I needed to click to get my fiction published. It had nothing to do with domination of any sort.
“How do you get a story published?”
I’ve been asked that a few times lately, and there are entire libraries written on craft and storytelling and selling your novel. So I’m going to skip all that for now. Instead, here’s a quick explanation the submission process and how writers’ creative brain-dribbling ends up on public display.
1. Find prospective publishers
Often, writers will have a specific magazine or journal in mind when they finish a story.
Writers are readers, and we write what we like to read, so often we’ll already know of publications where our story would fit in.
(Remember, just because you love The New Yorker doesn’t mean they’ll buy your paranormal erotica werepossum adventure.)
If you’re not sure where a story should go, or are looking for additional places that might be interested, you’ll search for other publications. One of the best places to do that is duotrope.com – lots of fun features and info to focus your search.
After you find a publication you like, check out its website or a print edition. Most post writer’s guidelines right on their websites, so you’ll check those and follow all of the editors’ suggestions.
Sometimes they want submissions as an email attachment, sometimes there’s an online form, sometimes they want a file with no mention of the author’s name at all so they can do blind reading. Sometimes they want it delivered with the text painted on a duck.
Questions to consider before submitting:
Are they accepting submissions right now? Minimum and maximum wordcounts? Do they publish fiction in your genre? Is this an appropriate venue for your piece? Do you want an online journal, or print publications only?
Most places tell you exactly what you should do to submit your short story for consideration. I always try to follow their advice … except painting my stories on a duck. I have terrible handwriting.
This is the beginning of the nerve-wracking part. You’ve written the story, found the perfect publication where you can’t wait to see your words, followed their guidelines perfectly, and sent your story via email or post or an online form.
Now some stranger decides whether your story lives on in glorious glory, or if it gets the giant literary axe to the face.
Most publications are inundated with submissions, so it can take a while for them to respond. Some reply as quickly as a day or two, but they’re the extreme exception. Usually it’s more like three months or more.
5. Submit some more
Because you’re waiting forever to hear back, you might consider what’s called simultaneous submission. That means you send the same story out to more than one magazine at a time for consideration – first come, first serve.
WARNING: some publications get very grumpy about this, so before you send out an entire batch, make sure simultaneous submissions aren’t verboten by one of your prospects.
6. Collect rejections/hope for acceptance
Even good stories get rejections. Sure, sometimes it’s just that the story sucks. But sometimes it’s not quite the right story, genre, or length for a publication. Or the editor just picked up a similar (but clearly inferior) story. Maybe the editor just got dumped by some two-timing jerk who has the same name as you and you obviously have the same mother issues. Who knows.
Rejections happen. So when you get them, just roll with it and keep trying. Find a new place to submit. Write a new story.
Sometimes, after dozens and dozens of rejections, I’ll take a fresh look at an old story that still hasn’t found a home. I’ll either decide it wasn’t any good to begin with and feel a rush of relief that the public never saw this dreck, or I’ll give it another edit and keep submitting.
And at some point, some editor sees the beauty in your story and says, “Yes, Story, I will publish you in our WereMarsupials Anthology.” And you are forever after a published author.
And that’s how it happens.