Thursday, February 24, 2011

Guest Blogger Lydia Sharp on Marketing Your Short Story

By Lydia Sharp

We're closing in on the end of Story Story Week, so it's only fair to share some tips on how to get those short stories published. Lydia Sharp is back today with a breakdown of finding the right market for your shorts and how to submit.

To Market, To Market: Hey, I Wrote a Short Story! Now What? 

As I'd discussed yesterday, writing short fiction is a good way for novelists to sharpen their skills. Many authors don't pursue publication for their short stories once they've finished a piece. They might not even revise them after completing the first draft. To them, this is just a writing exercise.

Which is fine.

But there is no reason why you can't pursue publication for your short fiction while you continue working on your novels, or while querying for an agent, or the like. It's a resume builder.

If you do choose this route, the first thing you will need to do is polish your story into a publishable state.

Short fiction is highly constrained by word count. Short stories are generally less than 10,000 words. Flash fiction is 1,000 words or less. Micro fiction usually falls into 500 words or less. Always check the individual editor's guidelines before submitting. Always.

Novellas (usually between 15K and 40K words) are a beast all their own, and unfortunately, difficult to sell to the usual venues, such as magazines and anthologies. However, there are exceptions, so I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to thoroughly research all the available venues before submitting your work.

Once you've determined your word count and made your story as ready as it can possibly be, then it's time to find your perfect market. And I think this is where a lot of writers get lost and frustrated.

The main research tool I use is Duotrope's Digest. It has the simplest search function that I've found, and the database is huge. It also has a submissions tracker that has saved me (more than once) from submitting the same piece twice to the same market. I often have multiple stories out on submission at the same time. If I didn't have a clear and easy way to keep track of everything, I'd be sunk.

This is how I narrow my search:

1. Genre -- the bulk of my short fiction is either sci-fi or fantasy. While Duotrope's lists venues for pretty much every genre and type of short fiction in existence, I think the SF/F market offers the best quality, the most variety, the largest distribution to the most loyal readers, and includes the most number of writers who are also novelists.

(Not official stats. Just a completely biased observation.)

2. Sub-genre -- is it hard sf? urban fantasy? sword & sorcery? alternate history? zombies? slipstream? Many short fiction markets specialize in a subgenre. If you can think it up, there is a magazine or anthology editor who wants it.

3. Word count
-- for me, this means either short story, flash fiction, or novella.

4. Pay scale
-- of course I'm going to search through the higher-paying markets first. But I'm also not going to cry if I don't get top dollar for my story because a lower-paying market was a better fit. In the long run, this is not where you make your living. Don't be overly picky when it comes to payment.

Then I analyze the content of the search results. This means browsing the publication's website. Not just a click--ooh that looks cool--and a quick read-through of the guidelines. There is much more to it than that, and this is where the majority of your time is spent--doing research.

What is the overall appearance of the website? The publisher should have a professional online presentation, easy to read and navigate.

Are the guidelines clear? Do they have a submission form, or a specific email address/ postal address for submissions? Do they state an expected response time? Do they discuss payment and selling rights? Do they have a blurb stating the gist of what type of stories they're looking for?

Are there examples of what they publish freely available?
For print publications, such as F&SF, authors are encouraged to read an issue before submitting, and they make this easy for you by providing a place on the website where you can request a copy. For online publications, they should have a free library available for authors to browse. Take the time to read.

This part of the process could potentially take days, if this is your first time feeling out the markets. But once you know the details of each venue and narrow down your list of what you think is a good match for you and your work, it won't be so overwhelming the next time.

Here are some terms you might run into during the submission process, that are sometimes not explained in the guidelines:

multiple submissions -- this refers to sending the same venue more than one story at the same time

simultaneous submissions -- this refers to sending the same story to different venues at the same time

cover letter
-- a single page accompanying your story for a print sub, or the message in your email for an electronic sub. A cover letter is NOT the same as a query letter. Short story cover letters include the following: a greeting; a sentence stating your story genre (if necessary), your story title, your story word count; relevant publication credits; a thank you and a closing. That's it. It's usually only 2 - 3 sentences.

reading period/temporarily closed -- a reading period is a specific timeframe in which the editor is accepting submissions; anything submitted outside of this timeframe is not eligible for publication. Temporarily closed is the status an editor will give to the venue when they are outside of the reading period.

reprint -- a story accepted for publication that had been previously published elsewhere. Reprints are only accepted once story rights have reverted back to the author, and usually under very strict conditions. Read the guidelines carefully.

No matter what venue you choose, if your story is accepted for publication, always review the contract with a critical eye. Any legit editor will be willing to answer questions you may have about anything. And trust your gut. If something doesn't feel right to you, it likely isn't. You still own the rights to your story until the moment you sell those rights to an editor by signing the contract.

And once you do sign the contract… CELEBRATE! You worked hard at creating your story and making sure it found the best possible home. Even with small financial return, every sale you make is worth celebrating.

Happy writing,

Lydia Sharp is a short story writer and novelist-- SF/F, women's fiction, and YA. She blogs about writing at The Sharp Angle with her husband and fellow SF/F author, Joe Sharp. She also tweets  her favorite writing links and logs her reading on GoodReads.


  1. Another helpful post from Lydia and another chance to win an anthology-- all in a day's work!
    - Sophia.

  2. Love Lydia! I haven't really tried the short story route although it intrigues me no end. Once the book is finished I may look into it. Thanks Janice. Great post.

  3. I'd never actually thought about the challenges of short story publication. I kind of assumed they were something only established authors or lucky contest-entrants got to see in print.

  4. Good to keep in mind. Thanks, Lydia! Hope to read yours someday. :)

  5. Terrific advice.

    Thanks, Lydia.


  6. Oh, cool! Thanks, Lydia, for providing such valuable insight into short stories; writing, revising and selling. It's neat to read about what works, especially from someone who's had success in that market :) Can't wait to see what Janice has in store for Friday :D

  7. Lydia, thanks again for stopping by to share your short story secrets :)

  8. I love Duotrope... just started using it earlier this year. The stats they keep are amazing. Thanks for another helpful post.

  9. Good advice, Lydia. :)

    I agree with everything.

  10. Very helpful! Thank you!

  11. You always give great advice. Thanks. :)

  12. Thanks Lydia! More than helpful as always! And thanks, Janice, for hosting this series. I'm really enjoying it!

  13. I know it's not a perfect correlation, but I always look at the payment as a general gauge of how much a certain publication with help "build my resume" and what kind of circulation it has. It seems like getting published in Asimov's or winning Writers of the Future, wouldn't be just better in payment, but better for an overall career than a pub that pays a fraction of a cent per word, or nothing at all. It would go towards an SFWA membership, too. For those reasons, I tend to stick to pro markets and a few semi-pros that I just love.

    Okay, sorry to be a voice of dissent -- other than that, I loved the article. I've been really excited all week to read these articles on short fiction, because I love shorts.

  14. I love Duotrope. I've found some publications that I want-want-want to be published in, someday, although none of what I've written so far evidently suits them. Bummer. But when I check 'em out, what they publish is what I want my writing to be.

    Reading all those short stories are great exposure for learning what makes a short story publishable, too. :)

  15. I use Duotrope, and this is all good, solid advice. As Megan indicated, though, my first desire and priority is to make sales that will be counted as pro sales by SFWA. So along with Duotrope, I use the list here:

    Unlike a lot of people, though, I no longer start with the top paying and work my way down. I used to, until it occurred to me that my main goal right now is not to make a pile of money, it's to get a real credit. For that reason, I use Duotrope to figure out their average response times, and begin with the appropriate market (right style of story, right word count, etc) that answers fastest.

    If you start with the highest paying, you're going to start with But guess what: they take like 260 days to reply, they say no to virtually everybody who is not already published, and they don't allow simultaneous submissions. (Almost none of the pro markets do.) In the nine months I could be waiting for Tor, I can probably get my story out to almost all the other markets out there. I'll be just as happy to take five cents a word as ten cents a word right now, so it's much more valuable to me to get a quick answer, and to be able to get my story on more desks in an equal amount of time.

  16. Great overview, Lydia! I'm a big fan of reading and writing short stories. It takes a different set of writing skills, and I think is good practice to help tighten your prose for longer pieces.

    And, yes, submitting and publishing them is a wonderful perk, too.

  17. Just getting a short story ready for an attempt at publication myself. Timely advice and much appreciated.

  18. Great information, Lydia! One of my goals for the year is to get a short story published so Duotrope's Digest is a gem! Thank you!

  19. I'm so glad I was catching on on post reading today. Great article. I really need to finish one or more of the short stories I've started. If only to prove to myself I can finish something. Payment for the story would be frosting at this point.