Thursday, May 11, 2023

Getting Your Short Story Published: What You Need to Know About Submission, Rights and Payments

By Rayne Hall, @RayneHall

Part of the Focus on Short Fiction Series

JH: Writers are on their own when it comes to the business side of short stories. Rayne Hall explains what you need to know when submitting and publishing your short fiction.

We’re in a ‘golden age’ for short stories, with more opportunities for short story authors than ever before. This doesn’t mean that getting your tales published is easy, or a way to earn riches fast.

You need to be sure that your stories are good, and you need to submit them to the right markets.

Where To Submit Your Story

If your story falls under a category (a ‘genre’), focus on markets specializing in that genre, because there your chances of acceptance are greatest.
If you write Science Fiction, submit to Science Fiction zines. If you write Horror, seek out Horror publications. Their readers want this kind of story, therefore their editors are actively looking.

Most publications have ‘Guidelines for Contributors’ where they explain what they’re looking for – genres, length, flavors and so on. Read those carefully and submit your story only if it matches their requirements.

Several websites offer ‘Market Listings’, showing which publications are currently open to submission and what they want. My favorite site is, a free-to-use comprehensive site with frequently updated information about markets for speculative fiction, horror and humor.

Find a site listing markets in your genre, and make sure the information is up to date.

Print magazines are a rapidly shrinking market, and your story is unlikely to find a place in one of them. The chances are much bigger with e-zines (aka webzines, or simply ‘zines’) because this market is expanding and hungry for good fiction.

Anthologies are themed collections with works by several authors. Whether published as ebooks or paperbacks, they are treasured by their buyers who often re-read them several times. In ebook form, they remain published for many years and attract reviews on bookselling sites such as Amazon. If you’re listed as one of the authors, there’ll be a link to your other books, which will help promote your novel. Getting your story into a quality anthology—preferably one edited by a respected editor and containing stories by established authors—can be a big step in your writing career.

Some markets pay professional rates, others offer semi-professional payment or a token. Some pay nothing at all. Depending on what you seek to achieve in the long term, the quality of the exposure can be more important than the level of pay—but keep in mind that the publications that offer the best exposure are usually the ones that pay the most.

Don’t be discouraged by rejections. All writers get those. Your story may simply not be what the editor wants at the moment, or perhaps the editor has just accepted a similar story already. However, some publications take months before they decide your story’s fate, and it can take years of continuous submission before your story finally finds a home.

(Here's more with How Saleable Are Short Stories? The Benefits of Writing Shorter)  

Check the Rights

When submitting the story to other people for publication, check what rights they require. Some want ‘first rights’ (that is, they want to be the first to publish it), and some want ‘all rights’ (that means, you can't publish it anywhere else).

Don’t sign anything until you know which rights you’re giving away. Here’s a quick run-down of the basics. Disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer and this doesn’t constitute professional legal advice.

Non-exclusive: This is ideal. You own all the rights to your story and can use it elsewhere in any way you like. Go for it.

Exclusive for a certain period: This is reasonable. Most magazines and e-zines require this. It means you can’t publish the story for a year or whatever that period is, but afterwards, you’re free to do with it what you like. If the magazine or e-zine specializes in your genre or reaches many readers who are similar to your Average Reader, it’s worth it.

First Serial Rights: This means they don't care what you do with the story afterwards, but they want to be the first. This often comes in combination with ‘exclusive for a certain period’. It’s acceptable, but needs careful planning, because you can surrender your story's virginity only once. For a prestigious zine, it’s worth it. However, pay attention to the Rights Reversal clause. More about that below.

First Regional Serial Rights: Contracts used to be for First North American Serial Rights, First British Serial Rights etc. In the Internet age, this has become almost obsolete.

Exclusive: Caution! This means you can’t publish the story anywhere else, not even on your own website. Some anthologies demand exclusive rights. Agree to this only if it's a very prestigious publication and they offer you a lot of money.

All Rights: Caution! This is similar to ‘exclusive’ (you won’t be able to use your story elsewhere), but it's worse: now they own the story and can even sell it on. Agree to this only in special circumstances if they offer you a breathtaking amount of money.

Rights Reversal Clauses

What happens if a publication folds? If you own the rights to your story, that’s not a big problem, because you can simply submit the piece elsewhere. But if you’ve signed away the rights, your story may never get published or read.

Many writers get caught out by a contract clause in which they agree to give the publisher exclusive rights until X months after publication. If the publication folds, your story is lost because nobody can publish it.

To prevent this, most agreements contain a paragraph about ‘Rights Reversal’ which says that under certain circumstances, the rights will return to the author. Ideally, the clause says something like, ‘If the story is not published by X date, all rights will return to the author’.

Be wary of clauses which promise Rights Reversal only if the project is cancelled (because the publisher may never cancel it but simply postpone it for decades), or require the author to write to the publisher to demand the rights (because the project may have been sold to someone else and you may not even know the new publisher’s name).

Consider this situation especially if it is a new publication. Many newly-launched projects fail within the first couple of years, often leaving the story rights in limbo.

Hiring a lawyer to vet each short story publication contract may not be practical. However, you should read the Rights Reversal clause carefully. If in doubt, show it to other writers who have experience with contracts, and if necessary, ask the publisher to provide clarification in writing.

(Here's more with Selling Short Fiction, Part One: The Basics)    

Exposure-Only Markets

Some publications offer ‘exposure’ in lieu of payment. Are these worth submitting to? Yes and no. If your story is strong, it deserves to get paid. This is not just a matter of money, but of reaching the right readers.

New zines spring up all the time, usually closing within a few months when the wannabe publishers realize how much work it is. They seldom attract many readers beyond the publishers and the handful of authors themselves. If your story gets published in one of those, it will soon be forgotten.

Many failed writers, fed up with rejections, decide to become editors or publishers. They launch a zine or an anthology, just so that they can showcase their own writing and that of their equally unsuccessful writing buddies. The resulting publications, poorly written and poorly edited, attract nothing but derision. Even if your story is the best of the lot, the low overall standard can damage your reputation. If in doubt about a market, research the editor’s background, because the editor is responsible for the project’s quality. If she or he is respected in the genre, has edited other zines and anthologies or won awards, that’s a good sign. If nothing is known about the editor, and no payment is offered, getting published there won’t help you much.

However, if you’re new to writing and lack the confidence to approach the quality markets, if your stories are nice but not yet great, then these amateur markets can be a good rehearsal space. Just view them as a step on the way to greater things.

(Here's more with People Get Arrested for Exposure (A look at "For The Luv" Anthologies))    

Novice Mistake to Avoid

Never pay to get your work published. Whether it’s called ‘reading fee’, ‘contribution to printing costs’ or ‘crowdfunding’ – just walk away. Real publishers make money from selling their books and zines to real readers, not from charging na├»ve new writers.

Pro-tip: Make a list of possible markets. Sort them by desirability, with the ones offering the best exposure at the top. Submit your story to the best market first. If it gets rejected, immediately send it to the next market on your list until it finds a home.

What is your view on ‘Exposure Only’ markets? Would you submit to them? Have you had stories published in this kind of publication? Tell us about it in the Comments below.

Rayne Hall lives in Bulgaria where she has created an eco-project for organic gardening. She has adopted several rescued pets and trains cats. Yes, cats can be trained – if they want.

She is the author of over seventy books, mostly fantasy, horror and non-fiction. Her books have been published by several publishers in several countries, and translated into several languages.  A trained publishing manager with more than thirty years’ experience in the industry, she also publishes her own books and champions indie-publishing for authors. 

She edits and publishes short story anthologies, mostly in the Horror, Gothic and Fantasy genres. Her bestselling Writer’s Craft series (the ‘blue guides’) teaches writers advanced and professional skills. 

About Writing and Publishing Short Stories

Do you want to entertain readers with short tales? Do you want to know how to construct a powerful story plot that grabs the readers’ attention and won’t let them go?

Step by step, this guide shows you how to
  • Find ideas that make great fiction
  • Build solid plot structures
  • Craft great characters, compelling conflicts and sparkling dialogue
  • Keep stories from growing too long
  • Sell your stories for publication
  • and much more.
Author Rayne Hall shares insider tips, such as how to win writing contests and how to make sure your story catches an anthology editor’s attention.

This book is structured as a self-study course with lectures, professional tips, hints about novice mistakes to avoid and practical assignments which will guide you to write at least one complete story.

1 comment:

  1. Great information. Especially the part about rights. The Ralan.con site is closed since Feb 2023. is a good and free alternative.