Publishing Short Stories

There is an art to writing short stories. It’s not as easy as many people think. There is also an art to getting short stories published. The internet and various digital platforms have made it easier for writers to publish short stories, but easier doesn’t mean easy.

In what ways has the internet made it easier to publish short stories?

The most obvious way is the ease with which writers can now find and contact literary magazines and journals, publishers and publishing houses, and self-publishers. A quick Google search for ‘literary magazines’, for example, will return millions of results, giving you no end of names and contact details. You can refine the search for ‘science-fiction literary magazines’ or ‘literary magazines in South Africa’.

Other ways include:

1)     Email and direct electronic submission forms make it easy to submit work to magazines and publishers, etc. They also make it easy to enter competitions. Some publishers still like to receive hard copies, but most accept electronic submissions.

2)     E-books make self-publishing a far more viable and popular alternative to print publishing.

3)     Self-promotion is easier via social media and personal websites.

4)     Personal websites and social media provide excellent platforms to establish a writer’s reputation and serve as digital portfolios of work.

5)     Writers can network, connect and communicate online via email, social media, blog comments, forums, chats, and instant messaging.

Ways in which writers can make publishing short stories easier

There are several things you as a writer can do to make the publishing process easier. The most obvious of which is to ensure that you can actually write. Yes, writing and storytelling are innate talents, but you still need to know about syntax, and you need to know and be able to work with (and manipulate) the elements that are critical to a good short story. Take writing courses and attend workshops to hone your talent and buff up your skills, and don’t underestimate the value of joining writers’ groups. Even online groups can provide you with the support, advice and constructive criticism necessary to transform your writing.

Other ways include:

1)     Using a trusted proofreader and editor before submission. Don’t trust your own eyes. Chances are good that no matter how often you read and reread your work, you will miss some typos (it’s unbelievably easy to miss something as basic as ‘has’ instead of ‘as’). An outsider might also be able to spot inconsistencies or loopholes of which you were blissfully unaware. You can ask a friend or family member if you want, but if you’re serious about the whole publishing process and about becoming a professional writer you should find someone who offers professional services.

2)     Researching the different magazines, journals and publishing houses (small and large) that publish short stories. This is especially important for genre-based writing. You’re more likely to get published by a magazine that specialises in your niche rather than in a general interest magazine. Research extends to submission guidelines. You don’t want to fall foul of gatekeepers, so ensure that your submissions follow the rules to the letter, especially regarding length and formatting.

3)     Being very picky about the stories chosen for submission. Not only do you want to match the story to the publisher, but you also want it to best reflect your style and talent. This is something that you can ask someone to help you with. Writers often have a blind spot about a particular story. An outsider can help you be more objective in your choice.

4)     Being professional and polite in the approach. The way in which you introduce yourself and your work plays a major role in your success. You need to strike a balance between conversational and clinical, and humility and confidence. It’s not easy, so practice.

Publishing options

There are several paths to publication, including:

  • Competitions

Writers have been using competitions as a pathway to publication for aeons. The point of competitions, usually, is to give emerging writers a fighting chance in a highly competitive industry. The prizes usually include publication in a magazine or inclusion in an anthology of short stories.

Various magazines, writers’ organisations and associations, and writing websites host competitions throughout the year. Your research will bring to light the ones that are relevant to you. Enter as many as you can, but ensure that they have a degree of credibility, and that they’re not going to use your work for their own nefarious purposes. Read and understand the terms and conditions.

  • Unsolicited magazine submissions

Many magazines and journals accept unsolicited submissions. However, the general consensus is that they favour known or identified up-and-coming writers and not complete or relative unknowns. You need something really special if you’re going to stand out from that crowd.

  • Literary websites

There are a lot – a lot – of literary websites whose sole purpose is to publish short stories from new authors and to give them some much-need exposure and publication credentials. But, not all websites are equal. In fact, some are pure rubbish. A good rule of thumb is that if the home page (or about us) is peppered with spelling mistakes, the site’s credibility is shaky.

  • Self-publishing

Self-publishing (online and print) is increasingly popular. It’s affordable and accessible and gives writers a degree of control that they don’t have if they go via publishing houses. It’s also a great way to publish a collection of your own short stories, rather than joining an anthology of other writers.

An easy way to enter the self-publishing world is simply to start your own blog or website and publish your stories there. A website can be a gateway to bigger and better things, if you use it properly.

  • Publishing houses

Try to find small publishing houses that specialise in short stories. Some specialist publishers print at least one collection of short stories per year, which they cobble together from various authors who have submitted work over the preceding 12 months, or from authors they have published previously. Others will consider publishing a collection of stories from a single author, even ones that are relatively unknown. They are a good option for writers who have already been published in a magazine or two, or who have won a couple of competitions, or who have sold copies of self-published books (e-books or print).