A solid short story submission strategy won’t help you write better short stories, but it will help you get more acceptances faster. Writing short stories is lots of fun, and it’s a good way to start before working your way up to longer pieces. I’ve posted an article in the past where I am talking about why I think writing short stories is good for you.
Unlike a novel that takes months or even years to finish, short stories are written much faster. If you work hard enough and have the proper routine, you could become a short story production machine in no time. Also, unlike a novel where you have one massive piece of writing that you are submitting to a hundred outlets, with short stories, you are faced with the opposite: you have a few short pieces that you must submit to a limited number of markets, and in most cases (since most markets won’t allow simultaneous submissions) you may not be able to submit it to more than one market at one time. So, what do you do? Is there a possible strategy?
Have Your Best Work Ready
This goes without saying—do not submit your story until it’s completed, edited, reviewed, proofread, and if you can, critiqued by people who know your genre. You don’t want to shoot yourself in the foot by submitting work that is not 100% ready. If you get feedback from markets who reject you, judge that feedback rationally and if it makes sense to you, see if you can make the story better. The editor will indeed work with you and improve your story, but your story must be as close to perfect as possible. The editor will only try to make it stellar.
Research Short Story Markets
Once you have a completed piece, you must know which market best fits that story. Is it literary fiction or genre fiction? Is it a mystery, romance, or speculative fiction? Make sure you know your niche very well. The worst thing you could do is submit your story to the wrong market. You will waste your time and the editors’ time.
When it comes to looking for markets, there are a few places out there that you can use:
- SFWA Pro-Market List
- Writer’s Market – paid
With this in mind, to become a successful submitter of short stories, you must maintain your own database of preferred markets. To know them, it’s not enough to just read about them. You must read those magazines, become familiar with the type of stories they prefer – length, style, voice, etc. The editor of each magazine will accept stories that are in line with the magazine’s overall style.
So, before you start submitting, make sure you read a lot!
Short Story Submission – The Rights You Give Away
This is not to be construed as legal advice, but just a heads up: before you submit to any market, read their terms and conditions or their contract. Try to understand what kind of rights you are giving away. If you sign a bad contract, you might lose your rights to your piece for good. It’s unlikely, but be careful. If you send your stories to brand new markets, read their terms very carefully and if you are unable to understand something, ask someone. There are forums out there where people can help you.
Top To Bottom Short Story Submission Strategy
Once you know what type of story you have, and once you have selected a few markets from the resources above, one idea is to take a top to bottom approach: submit to high-paying pro-markets first, and walk your way down.
Usually, the markets are divided into Pro, Semi-Pro, Token, and Unpaid. The Pro markets can pay anywhere between $0.06 per word up to $0.24 per word or more. Semi-pro markets pay around $0.02 – $0.06. Token markets pay around $0.01. These are not fixed numbers and are changing all the time. Read the market’s guidelines to get a better understanding of what they are paying. Some markets put minimums and maximums, and others provide royalties on sales, royalties on anthologies, and so on.
A top to bottom strategy says this: You are confident in your writing, and you believe your story is good enough to be accepted by a Pro market. If you can’t say that in good faith, then go back to the keyboard and work on your story until you can honestly say it is good enough for a pro-market.
Chances are, statistically speaking, that your story will get rejected from a pro-market. Don’t despair. Even award-winning authors still get rejections. Keep going. Please send it to the next market. Then the next.
Some tools, like Duotrope, allow you to order the markets by their likelihood to accept. Another highly important factor is the market’s response time. If you have 3 fairly similar markets, submit to the one that answers faster.
Lightspeed Magazine and Clarkesworld are known for their very quick rejections. They don’t like to waste their time and the writer’s time. By rejecting fast, they give the authors the ability to submit someplace else.
Like TOR, Asimov’s, or Analog, other markets might take 100, 200, maybe even 300 days to reject. So, if your story is rejected, you just wasted a full year without having your story published.
Seek and Get Feedback
There are a few markets out there that provide feedback when they reject your stories. Sadly, their number decreases every time. Colored Lens, Ideomancer, Stupefying Stories—these are some of them. There are others, but you might have to discover them yourself by searching on Duotrope and the like, or from other writers.
Once you find an editor that gives feedback, make sure you save that name like gold. Please don’t abuse it, though. Keep your submissions far enough apart. You don’t want that editor to become your personal critique buddy, because he won’t.
But a first-hand direct feedback from an editor is a very valuable tool. Their response will usually pinpoint problems in your story. Don’t take their answer to heart or too personally. Look at it objectively and realize if it helps your story, and if it does, fix it.
How Many Times To Submit?
Sometimes you submit a story, and it keeps getting rejected. What do you do? How many times do you keep going? It’s tempting to say forever, but that’s not realistic, so let me tell you what I think.
If you have a story that you deem perfect and match it with pro markets, and it gets rejected more than 7 times, there’s definitely something not right with it. I suggest you go back to that story and take it to a critique group. See if you can make it better. See if there are some things that you don’t see. A short story submission strategy is good, but it’s only as good as the material you are submitting.
Just keep in mind that this is not a hard rule: I’ve seen stories rejected 16 or 20 times only to be eventually accepted by a Pro market, without any changes. That’s to prove that acceptance is a combination of what the editor likes and what their market had already published or has in their inventory. Sometimes your story is perfect, but it’s too similar to another story published last month. In that case, you are out of luck.
Short Story Submission Pathway
If you fail to sell your story to a pro-market, move down to semi-pro markets and then to token markets following the same logic as above. If you get some feedback and feel like your story got stronger, go back to Pro markets, but keep in mind not resubmitting your work to the markets that rejected you, unless they specifically asked so.
Publishing for free: good or bad?
If you are serious about becoming a professionally published author, the answer easy: no, do not publish for free (unless you donate your work for certain worthy causes). Would you ever go to work and work for 8 hours then go to the boss and say: “you know what, don’t pay me today. Just working and having people look at me and appreciate my working is good enough for me.”
Of course, you won’t. As a writer, I recommend that you strive to publish to paying markets for the most part. In the beginning, it is going to be hard, but try to get anything. Even if you get $5 for your work, it’s something that you earned for your potential future career.
Now, let me play the devil’s advocate for a minute. There is a situation in which I think you should be allowed to give your work away for free: You’ve been writing for a while, and you’ve been getting tons of rejections. Your short story submission strategy is just not working. Your morale is really low, and you need a mental boost. Fine. Please take what you think is your weakest piece and market it to some free markets. There are a few out there that are quite nice.
Putting something of yours out there will help you get a boost of confidence; it will give you reasons to show something to your friends, it will validate that you can, in fact, do it. But don’t fall into the trap of sending too many. Remember – you want to make this your career. If you are okay with keeping it as a hobby, it’s a different story.
Gatling Gun Short Story Submissions
Many writers take it heavy when a market rejects a piece. It happened to me and any author that has ever been published. You must learn to develop a thick skin. The knee-jerk reaction is to feel invalidated. You get a kick in your confidence’s butt. Many authors react by putting that piece away and think: “Okay, I’ll fix it later.”
No. Don’t fix it later. Fix it now.
If there is anything to fix, do it right away. If you have no additional feedback and have nothing else to fix, submit the story right away to a different market. You have nothing to lose if you do, but you have something to lose if you don’t: time.
Remember that your story’s lifetime is this: idea, creation, perfection, submission, publication. During the submission time your story is essentially “dead” – you can’t really work on it anymore, and nobody besides the editor who has it gets to read it. It’s dead until it gets rejected or accepted. So, if you add “dead” times by keeping it in your drawer between submissions, you are not helping yourself in any way.
Short Story Submission Strategy Recap
Let’s bullet point the ideas in this article:
- Read, read, read — the more markets and stories you read, the better you’ll become at writing
- Write, write, write — the more stories you write, the better your writing will be
- Get feedback — pair yourself with other writers or critique groups to improve your stories
- Edit, edit, edit — don’t let a story go out until it’s near-perfect
- Submit to high-paying markets and work your way down
- Submit to markets with fast response times first
- When you get a rejection, fix if there is any feedback
- Re-submit a story right after rejection
- One bonus point: Before you submit: MAKE SURE YOU FOLLOW THE MARKET’s GUIDELINES – My Caps are not enough to emphasize that.
Other Short Story Submission Resources
- Advice and Strategies for Submitting Short Stories
- Submission Strategies: Advice From A Literary Magazine Editor
- 10 Writing Submission Strategies to Get You Published
Now, before you go, I have…
3 Questions For You
- Are you writing short stories, and if yes, what is the best one you’ve published?
- Do you have any difficulty switching between short stories and longer stories, such as a novel?
- What are some of your favorite short stories?
Please share your answers in the comments below. Sharing knowledge helps us all improve and get better!
Hi there! I’m Iulian, and I want to thank you for reading my article. There’s a lot more if you stick around. I write about personal development, productivity, fiction writing, and more. Also, I’ve created Self-Growth Journey, a free program that helps you get unstuck and create the beautiful life you deserve. Enjoy!