When I finally had a short story ready to be seen by others, I researched the process of submitting a short story, adapted it to fit my own needs, and hit submit.
Below are the steps I followed, and what I learned in the process.
Five (Easy but Time-Consuming) Steps to Submitting A Short Story
1. Write a Good short story.
This one’s obvious. Until you have a short story that you like and are ready to publish (or hate and are ready to publish–that’s fine too), all the steps below are a complete, utter waste of your time.
Before my short story “Byresh” was finished, I thought I’d take a gander at finding places where I could submit it. Just see what’s out there. Except that I didn’t know exactly how the story would end or how many words it’d end up having or any of those other important things I needed to know in order to pick publications in the first place.
Besides, if the story isn’t good, it doesn’t matter how much of a “perfect fit” that publication is or how nicely I craft that cover letter. They won’t take it.
Put your effort into the thing that counts.
Duotrope a crazy powerful search engine for publications accepting work (fiction, nonfiction, and poetry). I can select any number of criteria that relates to the story I’m trying to sell (theme, topic, word count, if they’ll pay me, etc.), and then it’ll pop out a list of publications that meet ALL OF THOSE CRITERIA (and nothing more). Talk about a huuuuuuuge time saver.
And then now, after submission, it’s helping me keep track of where my stories are in play and how long they’ve been out in the big world waiting for responses.
I’ve heard that Submission Grinder is also decent, and it’s free (bonus). And there are definitely other ways to find publications. But in general, reviews on the interwebs were pretty unanimously in favor of Duotrope, and I’m definitely happy with the purchase.
3. Find the Right Market.
Using Duotrope, I searched for the right market for “Byresh.” This took about four more days, or three more deep dives into that search engine than I had anticipated. I hated it more than I thought I would too.
In all honesty. . . *glances around, then leans in to whisper* . . . I don’t really read literary journals. That probably makes me a bad person in the writing community, but it’s true. Short stories have never been my first choice of things to read, and I usually find literary journals to be, um, boring. Oops. I said it.
But now I’m trying to get them to publish my things. I know. It’s bad. It’s hypocritical. It’s probably bad publishing karma and I should buy some subscriptions ASAP.
And I probably will at some point. Forcing myself to read tons of short stories last fall definitely increased my appreciation for them. I’m starting to like them more.
Anyway, all that is to say that I had absolutely ZERO publications in mind when I started searching. I knew I didn’t want to submit to the top tier, because this wasn’t the story to pin that kind of hope on. But aside from those top markets, I had no idea what’s out there.
So I went to the engine. I plugged my criteria for “Byresh” into Duotrope (general fiction, literary fiction, 5000 words, free to submit, submit electronically, have higher acceptance rates, etc.), perused the list of publications it spit out, and glanced through (or fully read, if I was interested) the short stories the potential publications already have online to see if they match my own story in tone, topic, length, etc.
Notice that I didn’t skip this step. You have to read the stories that the market has already published. Because if there isn’t a dark story in the lot, your macabre tale of Uncle Fred isn’t going to get a second look. Not reading literary journals is no excuse for skipping your homework.
Ultimately I found four publications that feel like a good fit. And without thinking too much harder about it, I sent off those letters.
4. Write a Cover Letter (and Format It Properly).
Most publications were normal and had normal expectations on the formatting of my story (like double-spaced, 1″ margins, Times New Roman). Others wanted me to do weird things like format it single-spaced with extra space after every paragraph. Whatever floats their boat. It wasn’t hard.
The cover letter was also really easy. A quick Google Search for “How to Write Cover Letters for Short Stories” turned up tons of articles with examples. And after doing enough research to get a handle on the format, I picked my favorite template, copied it, and swapped out the relevant information.
I did some research, found the editor’s name (usually), and then quoted something from their “what we’re looking for” section. Do I think my story is a “glimpse into a different psyche”? Not really. Maybe. I hope. But regardless, the description fits my work generally, and honestly they probably aren’t even thinking about that at all. They’re already on to my story.
Before starting this whole thing, I thought the cover would be the hardest, or at least the most anxiety-producing, part of the process. But it was the easiest.
5. Hit Submit
At this point, it would be incredibly easy to not follow through. You could delete the cover letter, or worse, leave it it to die a withering death in the Drafts folder of your email.
DON’T LET THAT HAPPEN.
Take a deep breath, reread for spelling errors if you must, and then hit send.
If it makes you feel better, you can do what I did and create a folder in your email Inbox labeled “Rejections.” Just like Stephen King collected his rejection letters as a sign of success–forward momentum, moving in the right direction, yada yada–so can you. I’ve set a goal for fifty this year. That means I have to submit a short story (or novel) to more than FIFTY places in the next eleven months. I’m ready.
And that’s it! In five steps, I submitted the first short story of my life!
*insert happy dance*
Lessons I Learned (So Far) From the Process
1. Aim Higher
When I made my list of potential publications, I purposefully aimed for publications with higher-than-average acceptance rates. It was my first time submitting any story, ever, so I wanted to be successful at it. You know. To feel good about myself.
Therefore I had no “reach” or “dream” publications on the list. I didn’t include the big hitters like Tin House or The New Yorker. At the time, I was content with that. But of course, now I wonder a little….what if my story was good enough to get accepted to those top places? Now I’ll never know.
Good thing it’s not the only short story I’ll ever write.
2. Patience, My Young Padawan
It takes a long time to hear back from anywhere. I expected acceptances or rejections to take a while, but I at least expected to get some confirmation emails. I got one.
3. It’s Nothing to Be Afraid Of
I was seriously afraid of sending my short story out into the world. It made me incredibly uncomfortable, no matter how many times I pumped myself up by thinking about Stephen King’s love of rejection letters or any of those other motivational things (like my own “Miss 100% of shots” motto) that writers tell themselves to make rejection more palatable.
It’s not that I was expecting some laughing clown to show up at my doorstep and ridicule me for not being a good enough writer to get accepted anywhere.
But. I kinda did.
Well, I’m pleased to report that so far, no clowns. No one’s laughing (yet) at my audacity to submit. To think I might be good enough.
So, I’m breathing. And I’m waiting.
And in the meantime, I’m going to keep writing.