I can’t tell you how to write your short stories. That you’ll have to learn through all the other means available. But if you write short stories that are written well and have something to say creatively, then I may be able to help you get over the next hurdle of getting your short story published.
I know nobody wants to hear this, but the truth is the longer your list of publications the more seriously you’ll be taken as a writer. Especially if your bibliography spans multiple publications. This is essentially your writing resume. Think of it as your “job resume.” The more experience you have, the more qualified they’ll view you.
I’m just now submitting queries to agents and publishers for my first novel, and with those queries I’m able to submit a fairly substantial writing resume. And now, I want to share the love. I want to help you build your writing resume so that you too will increase your odds of being selected by an agent or publisher.
You may be asking, what qualifies me to tell you how to get your stories published? Well, today is March, 6, 2019, and yesterday I had my 278th short story accepted for publication. I began writing in June, 2016. I’m averaging about 100 stories – new and reprints – being published per year. I’ve been published in e-zines, print magazines, anthologies, and journals. I’ve won a few contests and made a little money along the way. I’ve become friends with at least two dozen short story editors and publishers. And as a result of all that hard work, I’ve had three collections of my short stories published by two different publishers, as well as a YA collection of short stories based on one character also published. And my guidebook Getting Your Short Stories Published was released this February.
Let me disabuse you of the thought right now that I’m just lucky or a master wordsmith. Luck had nothing to do with it. I work hard.
As for being a wordsmith, my writing is sometimes sloppy, not well thought out, and to be honest, I sometimes cringe with embarrassment when I read my stories later.
In the beginning, back in 2016, I did what most of you probably do. I wrote a story and then went on the hunt to find a publication to submit the story to. Around the time my tenth story had been submitted, I thought there must be a better way. It was then I realized I was doing it backwards. I stopped hunting for publications after I had written a story, and instead I began to look for open calls and write stories that for those publications.
Writing a story only after knowing what a specific publication is looking for seems like a simple approach, doesn’t it? Yes, but it requires research, networking, and a new approach to creativity.
There are several online resources for writers to locate publications accepting short story submissions. Some well-known examples are: Authors Publish, Writers Market, and Submission Grinder. Each have their advantages and disadvantages, and your access may depend on your bank account. I’m going to leave it up to you to explore those options on your own. I almost exclusively use Duotrope, and estimate that 80-90% of the publications that have published my stories, I found out about because of Duotrope. Duotrope is a subscription based service that costs $5.00 per month or $50.00 per year. It has thousands of publications, publishers and agents in its database and the search tools to find the type of publication you’re looking for are very easy to use. But here’s why I prefer them over the others. Every Sunday they send an email with a list of publications, paying and non-paying, looking for submissions. I don’t even have to go to the Duotrope site. While having my Sunday morning bear claw, I just go down the list and bookmark the publications looking for stories that I believe I could write. You can check out Duotrope at https://duotrope.com/
This leads to my second point, about inspiration.
I’m known for having a vivid and active imagination, which helps a lot because I write in most genres. But even I run out of fuel for my imagination from time to time. Often when I read what a publication is looking for specifically or they have a theme, it acts as a “prompt” that triggers my imagination. I then write the story knowing it’s what they’re looking for and at the word count they want. Knowing those two things alone saves me days and days of wasted time trying to imagine a story idea and I end up writing the story per the publication’s guidelines.
Oh, I haven’t mentioned guidelines, have I? Every publication has them, and they vary, sometimes widely, from publication to publication. Guidelines include everything from how the pages are to be formatted to what topics the editors will reject outright. The guidelines may include how long it will take for them to notify you whether your story has been accepted.
I’ve read guidelines that were so complex I needed a road map and a flash light to get through them. Though luckily to counter this, I’ve also read some so simple that I hugged my computer screen in gratitude. Complicated or simple, the one thing that will get your story immediately thrown into the slush pile is non-adherence to the guidelines. It’s the largest complaint editors have about submissions. So be the writer editors love to love, and be sure to thoroughly read and follow the submission guidelines.
Speaking of editors
Editors almost always respond positively to good manners. The email to them that accompanies your submission should be short, polite, and professional. If the guidelines tell you they want your life story, then include it, otherwise keep your bio short and refrain from unnecessary humor. Also, unless they request it, do not provide a synopsis of any kind of your story. Editors will remember your story, and you, if both leave a good impression, which may be valuable if you want to submit to them again.
In general, publications get hundreds (sometimes thousands) of submissions at a time. This means that a lot of stories are going to be rejected, regardless of talent or quality. When your story is rejected don’t lose heart. Paste that rejection scrip on your wall, and try again. Learn to be proud of those rejections. They’re symbols of your hard work.
Lastly, know the publication you’re going to submit to.
Look at the publication’s mission statement on their website, and then follow that up by reading stories in their archives. If it’s a onetime anthology that you’re submitting to, be certain you fully comprehend what the publisher is looking for. The skill of writing a story that fits exactly what a publication is looking for improves the more you do it. Even then, it won’t guarantee your story is accepted, but it certainly improves the odds.
In summary, to grow your writing resume you simply need to learn to research open calls of publishers and write the story to what the publication is seeking. Doing this should drastically improve your odds of your short stories getting chosen for publishing. And no matter what, never quit trying. The biggest predictor of success is hard work.
-by Steve Carr
About the Author: Steve Carr is an author from Richmond, Va. He began his writing career as a military journalist, and he now has over 270 short stories published internationally. He has two collections of short stories, Sand and Rain, that have been published by Clarendon House Publications. His third collection of short stories, Heat, was published by Czykmate Productions. His YA collection of stories, The Tales of Talker Knock, was published by Clarendon House Publications. His plays have been produced in several states in the U.S. He has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize twice.