Nathanael Green's Blog

An advertising copywriter, novelist, and freelance writer's brain goo.

SUBMIT! How You Get a Short Story Published

with 15 comments


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 – lots of fun features and info to focus your search.

2. Investigate

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.


I hate the passive voice!

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.

4. Wait

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.

Images: Flickr/Vicky TGAW, stuant63

Written by Nathanael Green

March 24, 2011 at 7:28 am

15 Responses

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  1. Thank you! I really enjoyed this. Lots of useful tips delivered in a way that made me smile. I kind of want to write a paranormal erotica werepossum adventure now … ;-)

    M. Howalt

    March 27, 2011 at 5:00 pm

    • M,
      Glad you enjoyed it. Duotrope’s probably old hat to you now, though. Any word on your own accepted story? Feel free to comment here and let us know when and where it’ll be appearing.

      Nathanael Green

      March 29, 2011 at 8:14 am

      • Oh yes, it’s a very useful site.
        Wow, I’m flattered that you remembered! Thank you. It was published this month, and I actually had one accepted on another site that will appear in April or May. I just made an entry about it on my blog if you’re interested. :)

        M. Howalt

        March 31, 2011 at 5:19 am

  2. To be published is very important for a writer it is a Bingo.


    July 6, 2011 at 12:38 pm

  3. Thanks for allocating the process of how to get a short story published. Reading this post details is really interesting and fun. I enjoyed this post. Keep it up… :)

    Tomas Edn

    September 22, 2011 at 9:01 am

  4. Other amount Nn Teenie =)


    September 22, 2011 at 9:48 am

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    September 22, 2011 at 2:47 pm

  6. Where’s the nearest cash machine? Kds Bbs 394884


    September 25, 2011 at 4:04 pm

  7. Hi Nathaneal,
    I was hopping you could give some insight on a submission question I have; do you know if you can publish a story if it already exist on your blog? Do editors care about that? and how do you address it in your cover letter, if at all?

    Thanks, Rob.


    November 21, 2011 at 6:56 am

    • Hi, Rob. My experience has been mixed. Some editors don’t mind if you’ve posted your story on your personal blog, but many others view that as a previous publication and they’re looking for first-time publishing rights. Personally, I don’t post fiction on my site so I don’t run into issues like this, but I know a lot of writers enjoy sharing their work right away. My recommendation would be to read potential publishers’ guidelines thoroughly and see if they mention their criteria for unpublished stories. Or look for journals that also accept reprints, and then you’re covered either way.

      Good luck and definitely let us know how your search goes!

      Nathanael Green

      November 21, 2011 at 10:00 am

      • Thanks for such a prompt response to my question last month. My research showed me that there are many publications that don’t mind printing what was already posted online, but it’s also clear that it does limit your submission choices. I will be more thoughtful of that in the future.
        As for the story in question, I’m happy to report that it will appear in the next issue of The Storyteller Magazine. Their guidelines left me somewhat unsure whether they would accepted it, so my approach was to make it clear in the cover letter that the story was online- I figured that would always be the best policy.
        They took it.
        Thanks again.


        December 15, 2011 at 8:22 am

        • Congrats on the publication!

          Hope you’ll post a link to where we can read it when it’s ready.

          Nathanael Green

          December 19, 2011 at 1:41 pm

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