Editors at literary journals spend countless (and often thankless!) hours reading through hundreds of short story submissions from writers who hope to get published. But at Writer’s Relief, we know that many of these stories get tossed into the “thanks, but no thanks” pile relatively quickly. Why? Certain short story deal-breakers pop up again and again in submissions. Here are the elements that will muck up your chances of getting your short story published!
5 Short Story Writing Mistakes You Must Avoid
Unchecked verbosity. Good writers write. Excellent writers rewrite. They make every word count. Editors loathe submissions that exhibit sloppy word choices and poorly constructed sentences. There are many techniques you can use to ditch verbal gobbledygook in your short stories and make your prose more efficient (fewer words, more meaning).
Lack of voice. Editors love short stories written by writers who have something to say—and a unique way of saying it. When you find your authentic voice as a writer, editors will sit up and take note.
Forgettable characters. Some writers (and readers!) argue that character is at the heart of all good stories; everything within a story stems from character. If you want your story to catch the eyes (and hearts) of readers, you must create memorable characters.
Lack of originality. In the world of literary journals, many themes have been written about again and again. Death. Love. Money. You name it. After a while, editors grow weary of seeing the same old themes explored in the same old ways. To dazzle editors (and readers), find out what other writers are saying on timeless themes. Then, explore those themes in a way that is fresh and new!
A “what’s-the-point” factor. If, when reading a story, an editor doesn’t feel recognition, sympathy, rage, regret, etc., the story probably won’t have a good shot at getting published. In the hands of a great writer, a story isn’t just a vehicle of change for a character; it changes readers too. What do your stories have to say about the world that will leave readers drop-jawed and born anew?
A Note About Short Story Submission Strategies
Even the best short story will fail to be published if the writer can’t muster the focus, energy, and professionalism to get submissions out the door. If you submit a great short story to only a dozen markets, you’ve barely scratched the surface of the publishing opportunities available. And if you submit to the wrong editors (or if you submit with typos or other silly mistakes), your amazing story won’t be at the top of any editor’s publishing wish list.
Learn more about how to develop a strong submission strategy that gets results. Or contact Writer’s Relief and discover how we can help you get published via professional submissions.
QUESTION: What element of a short story is most important to you?
I don’t think editors are concerned enough with the “what’s the point” factor. I’ve read some published stories only to go “what did I just read?” afterward. I’ve read “SF/F” that was neither “science” nor “fantasy”–nor anything close to either genre.
Tori. I don’t mean to be a copycat, but I strongly agree with Wendy about the “what’s the point” factor–I find that in prose as in poetry in the post-post-modern or the contemporary writing scene, there is much that is too needlessly obscure and meant for only one reader (the writer him- or herself). It reminds me sometimes of what Picasso said about modern art–that it was sometimes hard to come up with an aesthetics of it because it could be so easily faked; for example, was the person producing the art really a competent draftsperson who could produce a real drawing, or someone just slinging paint at a canvas and calling it art? A key point to know about some contemporary fiction that’s got too private a focus, too.