Updated March 2023
Wondering what kinds of short stories literary magazine editors are publishing right now? We have the answer! At Writer’s Relief, we track thousands of literary journals and hundreds of short story submissions every year, and we’re always keeping an eye on short story trends. We know the elements literary editors love to see in short stories—so they’re more likely to offer an acceptance!
(Is it any wonder our clients have so many short stories published in literary magazines?)
Check Out These Short Story Publishing Trends That Editors Are Loving
Fresh new perspectives and insights. Literary magazine editors tire of reading the same old themes again and again. And while it may be true that there are “no new ideas,” there are definitely modern, new perspectives to explore on perennial subjects. What fresh angle can your short stories bring to familiar subject matter?
A strong voice. Great ideas become that much greater when the voice relaying them is memorable. Your voice as a writer consists of your thoughts, concerns, and passions—and the way you handle language. Some writers may choose a brazen, in-your-face prose; others may opt for a quieter style that allows ideas to shine through without the distraction of narrative pyrotechnics. Once you find your voice as a writer, amplify your strengths to make a meaningful impact.
Memorable characters. Most short stories have a character (or characters) at the center. And many editors confess that character development plays a primary role in the success of a short story. Whether you’re writing about an average person or a larger-than-life hero, the way you develop your characters influences the way that readers and editors will connect with your short story. Learn more about how to write great characters.
Narrative risks and twists. Experimental stories, and those that push the envelope, arrive on editors’ desks like a breath of fresh air. But if you’re going to break the rules of storytelling, be sure you do it well and submit your work wisely. Learn more about the market for experimental fiction and how to break in.
An appropriate word count. Editors—and readers in general—don’t have patience for stories that start slow and move at a snail’s pace before they finally get going. They also don’t have lots of time for extraneous words, long-winded language, and overwriting. In today’s short-attention-span world, the shorter your short story, the better. Short stories with fewer than 3,500 words will see the greatest number of markets available to them.
A willingness to tackle tough subject matter. Society is full of misunderstandings, gray areas, delicate subject matter, and taboos. Writers who are willing to explore tough subjects with sensitivity and sophistication are often appreciated by editors who are trying to keep their literary magazines fresh and relevant.
Authentic cultural perspectives. Literary magazine editors love short stories that reflect authentic experiences of varying culture perspectives. It’s important to keep in mind, though, that every editor will have his or her own strong feelings about how cultural perspectives are portrayed (or who is portraying them). Here’s where you can learn more about writing characters of varying backgrounds and ethnicities.
The unexpected. Above all, literary journal editors—who have been there, read that—love it when writers surprise them. Sometimes, a narrative surprise can be as bold as a twist ending that no one saw coming, or an experimental narrative that pushes the limitations of storytelling. Other times, the surprise element can be as subtle as a new voice.
Should You Write Short Stories With Marketing Trends In Mind?
Although keeping an eye on trends in short story publishing—and routinely reading literary magazines that publish short stories—can help ensure that your writing stays plugged in and relevant, you might want to think twice before you write to meet the expectations of anyone but yourself.
Learn more about the smart way to write for the short story market without sacrificing your personal writing style.
Question: Which of these trends do you already use in your writing?
This has been very helpful. I just finished a 3000 word short story and before I submit it to a writing contest, I will tweak it using this insight.
Hello Steve, could you please tell me which writing contest it is?
Those of us who prefer to write the traditional short story of 7,500 words see a new breed of agents who are very young and many are fresh BFA and MFA graduates who hang up their shingle for business with the reading preference of a 3000 word short story. What ever happened to writing the novelette and novella for contest and publication submissions? My question is linked to the agents preferences of works with word counts of 3,000.
Just what does the new agent do for the writer? Even established writers now have to “Bark” their writings. What agents of today are influenced and mentored by the established agents from the 20th century?