If you’ve ever submitted a short story to a magazine for publication, you know how easy it is to just give up when the rejection slips start coming in, and they will come in, even if your story is magnificent. However, if you’ve mastered your craft, and you’ve done the best job possible writing your story, giving up really shouldn’t be an option.
It’s not easy to get a short story published, even an excellent one, unless, of course, your uncle is the fiction editor at “Vanity Fair,” and I’m assuming he’s not, or you wouldn’t be reading this, but neither is publication impossible, even for a new writer. New writers are being published almost every day, and with a lot of dedication and hard work, you could be one. However, don’t think you can submit less than your best and be published anywhere. You have lots and lots of competition, and your work’s going to have to be good. It’s going to have to be very, very good.
I’m going to assume that you’ve mastered your craft, and if you’ve mastered your craft and if you’ve written the best story you can, you’ve also been meticulous about checking your spelling, punctuation, and grammar. The one and only time a mistake in spelling or grammar is acceptable is when you’ve created a character who uses less than perfect grammar herself. Whose poor spelling or grammar is a part of his or her everyday speech.
Your story might make perfect sense to you, but then, you’re the author, you know exactly what you want to convey. Before sending it out, it’s a good idea to let a few other people, preferably not family members, read it. (Family members are just too close to us to make good readers.) If these people have a hard time keeping track of what’s going on, or find gaps in your narrative, you’ve obviously still got some rewriting to do.
There are hundreds of magazines and Websites that publish short stories, some of them glossy and prestigious, others a little more humble looking. Obviously, we’d all love to be published in “The New Yorker” or “The Paris Review,” but realistically, this probably isn’t going to happen, and truth be told, these magazines, prestigious as they are, might not be the best fit for your story. This is where research comes into play, research you’re going to have to do.
Grab a copy of the current Novel and Short Story Writers’ Market. This indispensable book lists thousands of publications and gives you enough relevant information about each so you can make a decision as to whether your story is likely to find a warm welcome or a rejection at the magazine you’ve been considering. You don’t want to send a romance to a magazine that only focuses on highly literary stories. Why waste their time and yours?
You should make it a habit to become as familiar as possible with as many literary publications as possible. It’s imperative you read as many literary magazines as possible that publish work similar to your own writing style. Why? Because you need to stay abreast of what’s being published, and because you don’t want to submit a story, no matter how good, to a magazine that’s just published one very similar in plot or theme to yours.
Set realistic goals for yourself. The big glossies pay the most for short stories, and certainly being published in “The New Yorker” is a “career maker,” but if you have no publication credits, it’s far better to stick to the smaller presses, ones that make it a point to consider and support superlative new writers. You won’t make much money at first. In fact, you might not make any money at all, but publication in a reputable literary journal, at this stage, should be reward enough.
If you’re not determined to see your story printed on actual paper, you might want to try an online literary site. The upside of this is that there are a lot of online literary journals, and most of them consider novice writers. The downside is that though you’ll be published, your chances of being read won’t be nearly as great as if you’d been published in a traditional magazine, instead.
If you really, honestly, truly believe your story is stellar, but you lack publication credits, you might consider entering it in a contest. You’ll have to pay an entry fee in the range of $10 - $20 per entry, and the prizes will probably range from nothing but publication to $5,000. Just make sure the contest is legitimate because there are a few bad apples out there that can spoil the whole barrel.
Remember that uncle we talked about? The one who’s the fiction editor at “Vanity Fair?” Now’s the time to summon all of your courage and ask him if he’d consider your story for publication. Use any contacts you might have – professors, editors, other authors. I know, I know. I hate to “ask” others for help, too, but sometimes we all need a little.
Some publications are incredibly picky about their submission guidelines, while others are much more flexible. Whether picky or flexible, it’s absolutely imperative you read and understand each publication’s submission guidelines carefully, then follow them to the letter.
Happy writing and good luck.