By Steve Carr
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. If you’re not interested in getting published, or you’re one of the fortunate ones who have no problem getting your stories published, then feel free to get back to your writing instead of reading this. I won’t be offended.
Getting an occasional short story published is perfectly fine with many of you, as it should be. I didn’t really start out with a plan to have a lot of stories published either, but about the same time I was published for the fourth time I happened upon an article about why writers need “writing resumes” to be taken seriously as a writer. One thing I take seriously, is being a writer. What the article taught me was that the more often you’re published, and by a variety of publications, you’ll be taken more seriously when/if you plan to approach agents and publishers with your novel, if you ever plan to write one. 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. What I’m about to pass on to you is how you can build your writing resume, or simply get a few stories published.
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 since I began writing them 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. As a result of all that hard work I’ve had three collections of my short stories published by two different publishers, and have had a YA collection of short stories based on one character also published. And my guidebook Getting Your Short Stories Published was released in 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 since I work hard.
As for being a wordsmith, my writing is sometimes sloppy, not well thought out, and because I do my own editing and allow no one to see or read a story of mine before it’s published, I sometimes cringe with embarrassment when I read it later. At the beginning, back in 2016, I did as 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 stopped hunting for publications after I had written a story that would fit what I had written, and began to write stories that fit what publications were looking for. Practically 90% of the stories I write and submit are written based on what a specific publication wants.
Writing a story only after knowing what a specific publication is looking for seems like a simple approach, doesn’t it? It is, but it requires you to be directly connected to the resources that will tell you what the publications want, and to consider a different approach to what inspires you to write a story.
There are several online resources for writers to find publications to submit short stories to: Authors Publish, Writers Market, and Submission Grinder, to name the more well-known ones. Each have their advantages and disadvantages and the use of them 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 or language the editors will reject outright. The guidelines may include how long it will take for them to let you know if they have accepted or rejected your story, or if they will contact you at all. I’ve read guidelines that were so complex I needed a road map and a flash light to get through them, and some so simple that I hugged my computer screen in gratitude. Complicated or simple, the one thing that will get your story rejected without even being read, is not following the guidelines. It’s the largest complaint editors have about submissions. After all this time I still miss things on occasion that are in the guidelines. It’s then that I hope for the mercy of the editor.
Speaking of editors,
they 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 (most publications state the maximum number of words allowed) and refrain from trying to be funny. Unless they ask for 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 of submissions for each period they are seeking submissions, or for the theme of the anthology they are going to publish. This means that a lot of stories are going to be rejected, and some of the rejected stories may be excellent. When your story is rejected don’t lose heart, faith in the story, or your skill as a writer. Set is aside until you find a publication looking for what you’ve written, and if you subscribe to Duotrope, that will happen fairly quickly in most cases.
Lastly, know the publication you’re going to submit to.
Look at the publication’s mission statement on the publication’s Duotrope page, and then follow that up by looking at 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 chances.
If you put in the past the days when you wrote short stories without knowing where you were going to submit it, and apply the simple principles of getting published I use, then I have no doubt your writing resume will quickly begin to grow.
Steve Carr, who lives in Richmond, Va., began his writing career as a military journalist and has had over 270 short stories published internationally in print and online magazines, literary journals and anthologies since June, 2016. 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.
His Twitter is @carrsteven960.
His website is https://www.stevecarr960.com/
He is on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/steven.carr.3597
His guidebook that can be found on Lulu. http://www.lulu.com/shop/steve-carr/getting-your-short-stories-published-a-guidebook/paperback/product-23975474.html