These days, it seems everyone—from professional writers to that guy in the coffee shop—is submitting short stories to literary journals. How do you give your short story every possible advantage so that it grabs an editor’s attention? First and foremost, your story should be page-turning terrific. But just as important: Does your short story make it easy for an editor to say, Yes, let’s publish that?
Here are some tips that will make it easier for an editor to give his or her stamp of approval.
Tips For Writing And Submitting An “Easy-To-Publish” Short Story
Is your manuscript error-free? The less correcting an editor needs to do to make your story fit for publication, the more likely you’ll get an acceptance letter. So find a second reader (or better yet, a professional proofreader) who can spot the errors you can’t.
Have you hit the word-count sweet spot? Some lit mags publish long stories. However, more lit mags prefer shorter shorts. So if your short story is less than 3,500 words, you’ll have more markets available to you and, therefore, more opportunities to connect with a publisher. Learn to shorten your short stories.
Are you following submission guidelines? If you’re serious about getting published, you already know that not following submission guidelines is the fastest way to annoy an editor and end up in the rejection pile. So follow the rules as closely as possible.
Does your short story start from the first word? If your short story really takes off on page five—keep editing, because an editor will lose interest and stop reading a ho-hum story on page one. A good short story will grab readers right from the beginning.
Are you exploring a new angle? From what we’ve seen, the short stories that get snapped up the quickest are often those that immerse readers in a unique “world,” whether it’s the culture of a long-lost civilization or the economic environment surrounding a particular dysfunctional family. Editors love sharing something new with readers.
Do your characters shine? Have you ever watched “audition” shows like American Idol? If so, then you know that when viewers hear two singers of equal merit, they’re going to get behind the singer who has an X factor—something a little bigger, bolder, more memorable. It’s the same with short story characters. The best characters have an X factor that makes them stand out in editors’ minds.
Did you research the right markets? Sending the best story in the world to the wrong editors won’t get it published. Nor will sending out a story only a few times, then quitting. Even the most “publishable” short story needs a good submission strategy behind it. If you would rather be writing than researching markets and tracking submissions, Writer’s Relief can help.
Are you reading lit mags? We love reading the submissions that come into our Review Board from writers who want to join our client list. However, some of the writers lack the technique and depth that can only come from lots of serious reading of literary journals. If you want to be able to write an “easy-to-publish” short story, you must read good-quality short stories. We encourage you to support literary magazines—because they support writers!
Writing Short Stories For The Market
As always, here’s our caveat: Don’t write solely to meet the demands of a market. The best stories tend to be born of a deep, internal inspiration that doesn’t always cater to what the market wants (sometimes, not even to what the writer wants).
So we encourage you to be aware of the elements that will make your short story more publishable. But most importantly, follow your muse. Then, see if your muse is open to just a little negotiation (aka editing).
Photo by @Doug88888
QUESTION: Do you think it’s important to write a short story that’s “publishable”?