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A Checklist to Start Publishing Short Fiction

Posted by on Jun 2, 2017 in Blog Posts, Work and Career, Writing, Writing Advice | 0 comments

This post originally went live on Fictionvale in 2014 and was reprinted in Short Story Writer Magazine. Unfortunately, Fictionvale has since closed and the article is no longer available online. I’m taking the opportunity to repost it while I’m moving to my new apartment and have less time available to blog. While it’s focused on writing short fiction, the advice may also be helpful to novelists, article writers, artists, and anyone curious about how publishing works on the small scale.

A Checklist to Start Publishing Short Fiction

“How did you get it published?” must be the most common question people ask when I announce I have a new short story out (the second most popular is “Have you written a book?”). I suppose that to those outside it, the world of short fiction publishing looks utterly arcane and intimidating. Even from within, it can be confusing. Its rules change rapidly as markets incorporate ebooks, print-on-demand paperbacks, webzines, and crowdfunding into their operations, and as market trackers come and go, preferred submissions format alters (is it safe to open .rtf files anymore? Does this publisher use Submittable or email or a WordPress plugin to receive submissions? Can I use Times New Roman instead of Courier?), and payment rates and terms change, plenty of longtime pros can get dizzy.

Happily, the best practices carry over whatever changes. To publish short fiction, you only need, at core, a handful of things:

  • First, you need a completed story ready to submit. This is probably the most difficult part. Make sure it’s polished and proofread (several times over). Actually, you’ll probably want more than one story ready to go—response times are long, and you’ll do better with several pieces under consideration at different markets at the same time. If you only have one finished story, that’s easily fixed: start writing the next as soon as you hit Send.

Whether you subscribe to Duotrope or create an Excel spreadsheet, it’s important to keep track of your short fiction submissions–where each story’s gone and where it might go next.

  • Where are you going to send your story? Once you’ve committed to publishing short fiction, start your market research. Subscribe to databases and market listings like Duotrope and Ralan and follow blogs like Published to Death. You’ll find periodicals (magazines and webzines) looking for short fiction as well as themed submissions calls for anthologies. Periodicals can offer a steady market for any moderately prolific writer. Anthologies and themed calls, though, can be the most motivating, as they provide both a subject to write about and a deadline.
  • While you decide which market to send your story to first—reach as ambitiously as you can, for one with an excellent reputation, solid pay rate, and wide circulation—you should also make a list of markets you’d like to write for in the future, including backup markets you can send this story to if it’s rejected. Be prepared for rejection; it stings, but it’s not uncommon even for longtime writers. All the same, to better your chances, read a few issues or books from the publisher to get a feel for what they like. Then go through your story one last time and double-check spelling, grammar, and formatting before submitting.
  • Research and plan your submissions enthusiastically, but maintain skepticism, too. You shouldn’t become a cynic, but do watch out for offers that look too good to be true. Among your market research resources, include Preditors & Editors and Absolute Write. Before submitting to a publisher, see what other authors’ experiences with them are. While vanity presses are much more likely to prey off novelists than short fiction writers, you should still be cautious of paying for obscure contests or meaningless prizes, and make sure each short fiction publisher is fair to work with and pays on time.
  • Be sure you understand common terms in submissions guidelines. Do the editors accept multiple submissions (more than one story to the same market at the same time)? Simultaneous submissions (the same story sent to more than one market)? Reprints (stories that have already been published elsewhere)? Do they want the piece in Standard Manuscript Format or pasted in an email? Is there any special information you should include in your cover letter?
  • Once you’ve sent out submissions, be sure to keep track of them so you know where each piece is, where to send it next if they pass on it, and how long to wait for a reply. Use whatever method works for you. For some writers, Duotrope’s advanced tracking system is worth the monthly fee; others use an Excel spreadsheet or even a paper notebook.
  • Some markets still accept paper submissions, but new writers may find it more financially and environmentally sound to make most of their submissions online instead. Make sure your email address is professional (first initial and surname are a good choice, as is your penname, which of course should also sound professional).
  • Speaking of conducting your business online, it’s the work of minutes to make yourself a page on Blogger, WordPress, Facebook, or Tumblr, or even a Twitter account. At minimum, this is a place to share links to your publications as your bibliography grows. To get more traffic, consider blogging about topics of interest to your readers.
  • One last convenience to prepare ahead of time: an author biography of 50-100 words. These are often included with publications or author interviews, and it’s unnerving to be caught on the spot with no idea how to describe yourself. Include your writing background, geographic location, and an interesting or humorous fact about you.

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