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Get it out - 10 steps to getting your short story published

Getting your short story published is a great way to validate yourself as an author. Whether you’re doing it for a little extra money, to increase your visibility, or improve your reputation, a short story can improve your standing in the writing world, but it can be difficult. Here are ten steps to help you give you the best chance.

Most writers just starting out think it’s just a case of writing a story, sending it to publications, and waiting for a cheque, but that’s not the case. In the competitive world of writing it’s difficult to get your story out there, especially if you’re missing the fundamentals. Here’s a list of things you need to consider before sending your short story out.

1Ask yourself what you want

There are a few reasons for wanting to get your short story published. You could be in it for the financial reward, publishing shorts to get some extra money. You could be doing it to raise your profile as a writer, giving your full novels a better chance of success. Or, you could be doing it for the acclaim, winning awards and getting the recognition you deserve.

In a perfect world you would want all three, but when you’re starting out it’s important to focus on just one to give your story the best chance of publication.

There are hundreds of places where you can submit your story, with different exposure, readership, and publishing strategies. You need to pick the right one to get the result you want.

If you want to publish mainly for visibility then you should be looking at writing websites or online publishers where you’ll be put in front of a larger number of readers than traditional forms of publishing.

If you want there recognition, you should be looking to submit your story to publications with higher readerships and awards.

If you’re in it for the money, you’d be better off looking at anthologies and entering writing competitions.

Decide why you want to publish your short story and make sure you focus your efforts on submitting to the right places.

2Research publications

Once you’ve decided why you’re publishing, you need to focus on where.

A quick google will provide a comprehensive list of publications, literary magazines, journals, anthologies, and online opportunities, enough of a diverse mix to definitely find somewhere that you story belongs.

Pick a few, and thoroughly read their submission guidelines. Different publications require different things, get it wrong and your story gets trashed without a second thought.

The best way to find out what publications are after is to read them. Guy a couple of copies of each magazine to get a good overview of what sort of stories are getting accepted.

3Write more than one story

Hanging around waiting for an answer on a submission can seem like an age. There can be a lot of dead time between your original submission and finding out whether it will be published, anything between weeks and months.

Take advantage of this time, write another story. Keep your head in the zone and get a few stories on the go. Build up a pipeline of stories so that as your work gets rejected or published you have another one to move on to and concentrate on.

It will make you a better writer, as you practice and practice, and give you more chances at getting your story published.

4Proofread, proofread again

After you’ve written your story, you will need to proofread thoroughly. Basic errors in your writing will get your submission thrown in the bin as soon as its noticed.

A lot of writer spend a lot of time and effort going over their work, getting it ready for publication. If your story isn’t up to scratch it almost shows disrespect for the art form, and there are plenty of other writers waiting to take your place.

After you’ve proofread your story, have someone else read it, then proofread it yourself again. Go round and round until you’re sure that your submission is perfect. Only then should you consider it ready for submission.

5Use standard formatting

Don’t try and use fancy fonts, don’t try and be clever, don’t do anything that you might deem as eye-catching. Editors won’t see it that way, they have to read hundreds of stories, and if yours slows them down, or makes it difficult to read in any way, your story will end up discarded. Make your words matter, not your presentation.

Check the submission guidelines to see if there are any special rules you need to follow. If not, keep it in a plain, simple font at 12pt. Include your word count and contact info in the top corner.

6Write a cover letter

Like your formatting, keep your cover letter simple. Don’t try and be clever with it, no fancy intros. Remember, it’s your story that should do all the talking, but a bad cover letter will get your story rejected before it’s been read. You just want the bare minimum in your letter.

Read the submission guidelines for each publication to check if you need anything specific. Otherwise, just a short intro with the name of the piece and word count.

A very short description of the story, but not a full-blown synopsis. Enough to give the editor a brief idea what the story is about.

You can also include a very short bio of yourself, and list other places you’ve been published.

Make your letter specific to the publication you’re submitting to, and the editor to which your sending your story. They can tell if you’re using a standard letter and blanket sending your story, so make it right for them. Use the editor’s name and make sure you spell it correctly.

However, keeping a simple letter makes it easier to adjust for sending out to different publications.

7Submit more than once

Sending your stories out to more than one publication at a time gives you more chance of being published.

Always keep in mind the various submission guidelines for different publications, making sure that they allow for simultaneous submissions, and that your follow their specific rules.

Once your story does get accepted, it’s important that you let the other publications know as soon as possible. A simple email to the editor, thanking them for their consideration, but withdrawing your story makes sure you don’t burn any bridges for the future.

8Track your submissions

If you’re writing multiple stories, and sending them to multiple publications it’s important to track your submissions. A simple spreadsheet with publications titles, dates, and statuses is enough.

Keeping track ensure you don’t send the same story to the same publication twice, as well as ensuring you are able to send withdrawal letters to everyone that needs one.

Tracking your stories will also allow you to figure out realistic response times, giving you an idea on when you should be following up, and letting you plan projects for the future.

9Try, try again

You’re not going to get it right first time, and even when you do get it right that won’t guarantee publication. Don’t give up hope. However, you need to be prepared for rejection and have an alternative up your sleeve.

Once you have decided why you want to publish and where you want to submit you have to accept that it’s not a given, and consider what you might do if your story is not used, if you want to submit it somewhere else, and if it’s the right fit.

Things like word count and tone will determine whether your story gets published, with different publications have different guidelines.

Most competitions and anthologies will be based on certain themes. If you write a story that covers those themes it may be too specific to submit elsewhere.

You need to consider this before writing. Is your story so ingrained in the theme that it can’t be tweaked or adjusted to make it suitable for somewhere else? Is your story so complex that it can’t be trimmed from five thousand to three thousand words?

If not, then you may want to consider submitting elsewhere, at least until you have more experience in getting your stories published.

Make sure your stories are reusable elsewhere, even if they require a little editing.

10Don’t give up after rejection

Rejection is not the same as failure. Your story might be very good but just not a good fit for the publication you’ve submitted to, or it might not fit their theme at that time.

You may well get a reason for the rejection, along with feedback. Use it. Constructive criticism from established editors is valuable, they know what they’re talking about.

Don’t give up after a rejection, it’s an inevitability of being a writer, take advantage of any feedback you get and use it to make yourself a better writer, increasing your chances of being published on your next try.

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